Six hours later, Eliot and Lindsey sat in a rented truck, dubiously watching the building across the street. The flight had been long, loud and cramped, Eliot had burned the only two IDs he was pretty sure Hardison didn’t know about, and now he was looking up at a building that kind of gave the impression it was looking back.
“We should do this during the day,” Lindsey said, for maybe the fiftieth time since they’d flown out. He didn’t sound like he expected to win anymore, just like he wanted to be able to say ‘I told you so’ for a while.
“We’re doing this before my crew gets here,” Eliot replied automatically, just like he had the forty-nine times before. He knew exactly how fast they could move when they had to, and Parker wouldn’t have wasted any time at all phoning it in when he’d headed for the airport. “They don’t know the risks,” he added, just to be different.
“Then tell them.” For a moment Lindsey looked almost concerned, and then ruined the effect by trying that lawyer smile. “They’re no safer kept stupid. Less safe, probably.”
That Eliot ignored as he abruptly changed the subject. “You’re staying here.”
“Nate was right; they’re not going to mistake me for you, it’ll be fine. Maybe they’ll buy I’m just looking for my dead brother’s gear. Hell, maybe they won’t even know I’m there.”
“They’ll know, trust me.” Lindsey laughed, quiet and bitter. “Trust me. Right. Whatever. Fine - go get us killed.”
As he opened the truck’s door, Eliot was more aware of the silence in his ear than he really wanted to be. He shook his head, then paused and looked back, one foot on the road.
Lindsey tensed, not liking the expression. It turned out he was right; Eliot moved fast - faster than Lindsey could jerk away- grabbed his wrist and slipped a cuff around it. Half a second later Lindsey found himself handcuffed to the steering wheel.
“Give me the key.” He rattled the cuff furiously. “Now.”
“Not happening. Shut up and sit quiet. Anyone who lets themself get cuffed to a car, I don’t want with me.”
“You don’t know what you’re walking into,” he tried desperately. “You need me there.”
“There something you haven’t told me?”
“Good.” Eliot slammed the door shut and jogged away. He didn’t have long, maybe ten minutes before Lindsey picked the cuffs. He kept a mental countdown in his head as he slipped around the side of the building.
Eliot put his palm to the section of wall Lindsey had described and felt it warm before it slid soundlessly to the side. A safe greeted him; he punched in eight digits and touched his thumb to the scanner; he flinched when it sent a needle into his skin. How it was meant to recognise him, he didn’t know. Probably magic; he hated magic.
After a moment, a red light turned green with a soft chime and the safe door opened.
There was nothing inside.
“Looking for something?”
Eliot turned fast, but in the darkness he couldn’t make out a shape to go with the voice. A man, definitely, that was all he had. He stood from his crouch and warily put his back to the wall.
“You look like Lindsey McDonald, but you’re not him,” the man said quietly.
“He left something here, I need it.” Eliot thought he had the location of the speaker now: a couple feet from the door, definitely inside the office. He made an educated guess. “Angel, right? Used to run this little bit of hell?”
“Lindsey told you about me? Hey, I’m touched. You must be one of the McDonalds that didn’t tragically catch the ‘flu and die.”
Eliot stilled. “The ‘flu? He told you it was ‘flu?”
“Hell of a sob story; shame I can tell when someone’s lying. Easier with Lindsey than most: his lips move.”
Eliot resisted the urge to bang his head back against the wall, just so Lindsey would feel it. “Idiot.”
“You really want to call someone thinking about killing you an idiot?”
The voice sounded amused; Eliot wasn’t in the mood. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
He could feel the tension in the room shift as menacing gave way to an almost injured air. “Excuse me?”
“Turn on the damn light.”
“I can see fine.” Even so there was the sound of a flicked switch and a moment later he was squinting at a dark blur stood near the door, which became a dark blur standing less than a foot away before he could blink.
Despite himself he jerked back, hitting the wall hard. He hoped Lindsey felt it.
The man - vampire - smirked. “At least one of you has a survival instinct. What are you doing here?”
“I told you, I’m looking for something Lindsey left.” He heard his voice catch and winced, knowing the vampire heard it too. “Back off,” he growled, covering.
Angel’s head tilted as he considered Eliot’s features and completely failed to move away. “You his brother?”
Eliot stared at him wordlessly and Angel smirked. “Yeah, that’s not actually such a stupid question when you’ve seen what I’ve seen. What is it? Some artefact? Scroll? Baseball card?”
He forced himself to stand straighter; the vampire didn’t give an inch. “Lindsey pulled me in on some kind of contract and if I don’t figure out how to break it, I’m dead.”
“What’s your name?”
“What is it with your parents and girls’ names?”
Eliot smirked. “First - not a girls’ name. Second, you’re going there? Angel?”
Angel’s expression did something complicated. Sophie could probably have read it easy, but Eliot just caught a touch of surprise and a hint of amusement. The vampire backed up. “The Senior Partners stripped everything - whatever you wanted, it’s gone.”
Eliot nodded once and pushed past him, heading for the door and ignoring the stare he could feel crawling at the back of his neck. He stopped when a hand dropped on his shoulder and turned his head to growl, “What? You got more good news?”
“You’re really not a people person, are you?”
“At least I don’t eat them.”
The hand tightened warningly and he fought down the instinct to shake it off.
“Where is he?” Angel’s face dipped closer. “Lindsey. I can smell him.”
“Look, man - whatever you had going on with Lindsey, I don’t give a damn. Last I heard, he’s dead.”
The hand shook him, not enough to rattle, but enough to let him know it could.
“Which part of I know when you’re lying was unclear? Are all McDonalds this slow?”
Eliot laughed and felt the other man tense in surprise. “You think you can rile me like you could rile him, you’re wrong. I ain’t Lindsey and I will break your hand if you don’t get it off me.”
He didn’t wait for a reply; he moved. No way to match a vampire on speed or strength - wasn’t happening - but they didn’t think any faster and he figured there’d be a half-second worth of surprise he could use.
Half a second was all he needed.
He bought his hand up to twist at Angel’s as he ducked away. Leverage was leverage and speed and strength couldn’t stop the vampire being flipped away.
He made it to the end of the corridor before everything went briefly blue and then very black.
Angel headed up the hallway, taking his time. Illyria was staring curiously down at the crumpled figure at her feet. “The green one failed,” she said. “Or lied.”
“No, Lindsey had a get out of death free spell. Again.” He crouched and tugged up the man’s shirt. There were two little bullet holes, just where Lorne had agreed to leave them. “He put his brother’s head on the block instead.”
Eliot was already stirring; his eyes moved rapidly under closed lids as he struggled stubbornly back towards consciousness. The man was a fighter, that was clear, but no one Illyria put down got up that fast. No one.
“Or maybe he put both their heads there. Lindsey will be somewhere nearby.” He stood again. “Take this one upstairs, give him some Tylenol. Don’t let him leave.”
Illyria considered the request for a moment and then nodded. “Yes.”
Angel made his way towards the elevators.
Lindsey had almost cracked the lock when a wave of vertigo hit; brief and painless, but enough to let him know Eliot hadn’t made it out and - worse - make him drop the bit of wire he was using as a pick. He swore quietly as he reached down to try and retrieve it, and then loudly when he heard the rapping on the window above his head.
He sat up slowly, hoping for Eliot or Eliot’s crew or traffic cops or demons or Holland Manners his goddamned self, but he knew. He knew exactly who was there.
“Lindsey McDonald. Still alive.” On the other side of the door, Angel’s expression was impassive. He looked relaxed enough, but that didn’t mean a damn thing. “You know, I can help with that.”
“You can’t kill me.” As opening arguments went it wasn’t his strongest, but Lindsey thought it was worth putting out there.
“Yeah, see, I’m pretty sure I know what you did and you’re assuming I’d have a problem killing your brother - and I gotta tell you, we didn’t hit it off.” The door was wrenched open and Lindsey found himself dragged half out by his collar. He yelled when the metal cuff reached its limit and bit hard into the skin of his wrist.
Angel leaned in and saw the handcuffs; he smirked. “He doesn’t trust you either, huh? Maybe we do have something in common.”
He jerked away from Angel’s grip. “Get this thing off me.”
“You really think you’re in a position to make demands, counsellor?”
Lindsey glared belligerently back. “I’m not dead and that means you want something. While you want something, it’s my game. Get me the hell out of this.” He rattled the cuff for emphasis.
“Temper,” Angel reproved mildly. He reached forward and wrenched the locking mechanism open.
Lindsey rubbed at his wrist. “What do you want?”
“It’s been a while. No small talk?”
“We ran out of things to talk about when you sent the cabaret hour to kill me.” He shook his head in disgust. “Couldn’t even find the time to do it yourself - I didn’t even get that?”
Angel’s expression tightened, then he shrugged ambivalently. “It didn’t take, so I think that’s off the table as far as this little grudge fixation you have goes.”
Lindsey stared at him, mouth open and momentarily lost for words. He found some. “I’m - I’m - fixated? Me? You son of a -“
“Get over it. Start walking.” Angel’s push sent him stumbling towards the office building. “You going to ask what happened to your brother any time soon?”
“I’m not dead, so he’s okay.”
“Wow, that’s some Hallmark moment. Bet those family dinners must have been something at your house, huh?”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know enough not to let myself get handcuffed to a truck right outside the building I’m trying to break into.”
Lindsey grinned. It wasn’t the white-toothed, bright-eyed smile he used to give the court or the vicious, twisted thing he usually kept for Angel - he was actually amused.
Angel looked disconcerted. “What’s funny?”
“You and Eliot - you’re gonna get along.”
Angel dropped Lindsey on the couch next to his now-conscious brother and then turned to Illyria. “Problems?”
She studied Eliot and Lindsey impassively, but whatever she was thinking, she kept to herself. Which was new. Her head turned. “He didn’t wish to consume the medication. He did so anyway.”
Angel glanced at Eliot - he did have the shell-shocked look of someone who’d been the victim of Illyria’s slightly terrifying concept of caregiving. “Thanks. Gunn and Spike are late, could you…?”
“I will find them,” she promised. “I can already smell them.”
When she’d gone, he stared down at the still-silent men.
Seated together, there was no way of mistaking one for the other. Lindsey looked more or less the same as he had the last time Angel had seen him, plus a few miles, minus a few pounds. Eliot was more solidly built, scarred on his face and hands, and probably a lot of other places too. He didn’t have the sharpness that Lindsey carried like a knife; he just had the knife.
Identical glares, though. Angel tried not to grin, pretty much failed if their deepening scowls were any indication.
He heard the elevator chime a floor down, a muted rise of voices: Spike and Gunn.
Eliot stayed quiet, watchful and weighing; Lindsey went on the offensive. “Hey, love what you’ve done with the place.” He looked around the almost barren office space. “How’d you manage that?”
“I didn’t do anything; the Senior Partners took all their fun toys and went home.” Lindsey’s expression flickered and Angel nodded with false sympathy. “Yeah, including whatever you needed. I feel for you. Really. We still have the paperwork, if you feel like a little light reading.”
Lindsey returned fire with a cruel glint in his eyes. “Where’s Wes? You lose him? Hey, did he cry? Always seemed like he was kind of a -”
Angel’s hand curled into a fist, but it was Eliot who growled at his brother. “The hell’s wrong with you?”
Lindsey blinked, derailed. “You don’t understand-“
“No, I don’t,” Eliot agreed and sat forward, attention on Angel. “If you lost one of your crew, I’m sorry. You say what we want’s not here - fine. Tell me where it is and we’re out of your hair.”
“Did I just hear someone who looks like Lindsey McDonald say he was sorry?” Gunn dropped his axe by the door, where it clattered onto its side. “The world end again? I thought we’re supposed to get a memo.”
Angel was kind of shocked himself. “Maybe.”
“McDonald? McDonalds. I’m loving it.” Spike grinned widely as he wandered closer. “We can both have a go killing him.”
“I don’t get a turn?” Gunn dug in his pocket for a quarter. “Flip you for it.”
“Not a chance.” Spike started forward, features twisting into the demon and even the morbid amusement gone. “He’s mine.”
The twins began to rise and Gunn reached back for his axe; Angel stepped in Spike’s way. “No one’s killing anyone. Yet.”
Spike gave a frustrated snarl and then backed off, face returning to its human mask.
Eliot turned to Lindsey. “What the hell did you do to these people?” His voice was steady, but Angel could hear both men’s hearts hammering.
Lindsey held his brother’s eyes for a moment before he looked away. “My job.”
Eliot didn’t look impressed. “How much overtime you put in?”
Whatever brief spark of second-hand shame Lindsey may have had, it was smothered quickly as he rounded. “Hey, you think I don’t know what you’ve done? Think I wasn’t watching? I saw, and I know, and you don’t get to judge me or anyone else. How’s Moreau doing?”
Angel looked back over his shoulder. “Gunn, can you run me a search on Eliot McDonald? Let’s see who we’ve got here.”
Gunn held up his slime covered arms. “Sure thing. Not like I need a shower - man, I love being covered in F’Tari goo. Mmmm, smell it.”
Angel made a mental note that Gunn was spending way too much time with Spike.
“Spencer.” Eliot said after a beat. “Eliot Spencer. I got nothing to hide.”
He did; Angel could hear his heart beat uptick. But he was still giving the name, so he was probably counting on whatever it was he had to hide being well hidden.
Angel would ask, but later, when Lindsey had been shut in a cold, dark basement room somewhere and he could talk to Eliot alone. For now, he just smirked at Lindsey. “Twins with different last names. Guess they really do do things different down South.”
Eliot didn’t even look as he gripped Lindsey’s arm and tugged him back. “How about you stop pulling each others pigtails, huh? How’d that be?”
In the back of Lucille’s smaller, rented half-sister, a block away from Eliot and Lindsey’s abandoned truck, Hardison leaned back in his chair and watched the network activity inside the building. After a few seconds he nodded confirmation. “Yeah, they’re running a trace on Eliot Spencer and Eliot McDonald in there, we’ve found them.”
Nate leaned in to look over Hardison’s shoulder. “What are you feeding them?”
“Eliot McDonald grew up in Oklahoma, same as Lindsey. Changed his name when he was eighteen, joined up, went mercenary a few years in. I’ve thrown a little hinky stuff into the mix, nothing on American soil.”
“Good.” Nate raised a hand to his ear. “Parker, you got eyes on them yet?”
Her voice was quiet, but clear even over the rushing wind. “I can see two Eliots and three others. One of them has an axe,” she added, apparently more as a point of interest than concern.
“The elevator’s mine, all mine. Power and security cameras too.” Hardison looked to Nate. “I could trigger a fire alarm, that’d bring all the boys to the yard.”
Nate straightened, as much as he could, and shook his head. “No, then we’d just have all of them down here. This is divide and conquer.” He looked over to Sophie. “Ready?”
“Nearly.” She blinked rapidly up at the van’s light. Her eyes began to water, she rubbed at them to smear the makeup she’d just carefully applied and then looked back. “How do I look?”
“Terrible,” he said, honestly.
She flashed a quick, pleased smile and stepped out of the back of the van; he pulled his tie crooked and followed her.
Gunn couldn’t say that watching monitors was his thing; trouble was, it wasn’t anyone’s thing anymore and of all of them, he was voted least likely to accidentally blow shit up pressing random buttons.
At least he’d finally been able to shower. F’Tari kind of lingered.
Via a static-filled screen, he watched the couple standing nervously outside the building, clearly debating whether to even go ahead and open the door. They stood close to each other - his hands curling helplessly into fists again and again, her eyes puffy from crying, makeup running down her cheeks.
Gunn glanced at the three-way staring match going down in the middle of the room. Spike had gotten bored half an hour ago and was flicking idly through a copy of NME; Illyria hadn’t even bothered to come back. Gunn coughed. “I don’t want to alarm you, but we got clients.”
“We’re closed,” Angel said automatically.
Lindsey smirked. “Hey, don’t let us stop you.”
“They look in a pretty bad way,” Gunn said. “If we’re not going to help them we should point them someplace else. Unless we’re just gonna go ahead and hinder the helpless now?”
Angel made a frustrated sound and stood. “Fine.” He gestured to the men on the couch. “Spike, you got this?”
Spike glanced up. “Well, I was hoping to spend a little quality time with the weepy and depressing, but okay.”
“You know, ’yes’ would work just as well.”
Spike flipped a page in his magazine. “Yes, great and poofy-haired leader, I got this.”
Angel quit while he was behind.
Once Angel and Gunn had left, Spike dropped the magazine on the floor and looked thoughtfully at Lindsey. “How’d you do it? Mirror spell, right? Revibro?”
Lindsey smirked with a dark glint of amusement. “Something like that, Champ.”
Spike flinched and Lindsey looked satisfied; Eliot smacked him upside the head on general principle.
This time, Lindsey pushed back.
He managed one wild swing that half-connected before he was doubled over with a knee buried in his solar plexus. He curled over wheezing as Eliot stumbled away with an arm wrapped tightly around his ribs like he’d taken the hit.
Hands on his knees, Lindsey grinned up, eyes bright behind the hair hanging over them. He threw himself at his brother and both went down to the floor.
Spike watched, torn between the undeniable amusement value of Lindsey beating his own face in and - and actually, now he thought about it, he really wasn’t that torn.
He felt the impact of the Taser hitting his back, but by then it was far too late.
Eliot and Lindsey froze with their fists raised, staring at Parker as she smiled happily at them over the twitching body of her victim. “Hardison, I’ve got both Eliots.”
“Lind-sey.” Lindsey waved an exasperated hand at himself. “Lindsey!”
The smile switched off and she glared narrowly back. “You know you’re fooling no one, right?”
Eliot ignored them both; it was getting easier. “What’s our exit?”
Parker looked towards the window and he pulled back rapidly. “Oh, hell no - no way.”
“Go, go, go, go.” She pushed at them and Eliot had never found a good defence against Parker’s shoving, wasn’t even sure there was one, so he found himself standing unwillingly next to an open tenth floor window.
With relief that he would never, ever admit to, he saw a cleaner’s platform waiting outside.
Mallory Langton wiped her tears away with a crumpled tissue; her makeup smeared even further, but she was clearly past caring. Her mouth was firm, but she couldn’t quite hide the tremble in her chin. She’d done most of the talking so far; her husband, Ned, sat silently staring at his hands.
Angel leaned forward and spoke as gently as he could. “Mrs Langton, we’re sorry for your loss - we are. But in these circumstances, the police really are your best option.”
She swallowed thickly and then nodded sharply as she composed herself. “I understand. Thank you for your time.” She reached for her purse. “Please, what do we owe for the consultation?”
He waved her away. “Nothing, no charge.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes softened briefly, but then hardened again as she mentally fortified.
They stood and he stood with them, leaving Gunn to clear the room. He accompanied them to the elevator bank, pressed the card of a detective at the LAPD into her hand and smiled encouragingly in response to the watery smile Mallory gave as the elevator doors closed.
All things considered, that had gone pretty well, he thought. People. He totally got people. Doyle would be proud. Or, okay, laughing his ass off.
The warm sense of a job well done lasted until Spike appeared in the consulting room; he looked a little wild around the eyes, but mostly he just looked pissed. “They’re gone. Someone got me from behind. Bloody stun gun or something.”
Angel turned and yelled back to the consultation room. “Gunn, lock the building down!”
“On it!” Gunn appeared in the hallway, tapping quickly at the tablet he’d wired into the security. He frowned. “We really can’t. It’s frozen.” He shook the tablet; it wasn’t even turning off.
Angel ran to the elevators and stabbed at a call button; the bank of lights went dead. He ran for the stairs as the hallway plunged into darkness.
Hardison pulled up outside the building as Parker, Eliot and Lindsey came around from the side, running flat out. They were piling into the back of the van when Nate and Sophie appeared at the front door, walking, but doing it quickly.
He started the van moving and once the side door slid shut with a bang, floored the accelerator. In the rear-view he saw the main door of the building burst open and four figures spill out.
One was - one was blue. Definitely a whole blue theme going on. A sudden screech of a car horn pulled his attention back to the road, and he forgot about it. For the moment.
Nate tilted his glass from side to side and listened to the calming clink of ice and whiskey blending in perfect harmony. Fortified, he turned from the room’s mini bar and surveyed his troops. Sophie was sat cross-legged on his bed, deftly cleaning the remnants of mascara from her cheeks. Parker lurked near the door, Taser still gripped tightly in her hand.
Hardison sat, one foot propped on the desk, tapping at his computer as he hacked his way into the CCTV cameras in and around their motel. Not a great early warning system, but it would be something.
That left Lindsey seated against the door at the other end of the room, studying Nate with an opaque expression, and Eliot on the floor at Nate’s feet, not looking at anyone.
Good times. Nate knocked back half the whiskey, grimaced with satisfaction at the burn and then looked over the rim of his glass. “So that happened.”
And everyone started talking at once.