Promptly at noon, a bookish-looking young woman in an ill-fitting blouse met the Jacobs in the building foyer. She stumbled over her introduction and stammered her name and, despite Greta's warmest smile, was decidedly nervous as she led the Jacobs towards the Kilkenny Securities offices.
Greta wrinkled her nose at the mustiness in the air and eyed décor that appeared to have been abandoned some time in the late nineties - hardly encouraging.
Neal gave a short bark of laughter as they were led to a door whose crooked, cracked company sign had clearly been tacked over another. He rounded on their escort. "Is this some kind of joke?"
The mousy assistant's eyes widened behind her glasses and she shook her head rapidly. "No, not at all. Unless you'd like it to be," she added brightly, overly eager to please. "We at Kilkenny Securities make every effort to be as-"
"Never mind." Neal pushed passed her and opened the door.
Inside, the main office was as shabby as the reception, even worse lit and the smell of cheap cologne was almost over-powering. The desk was piled with papers and the stuffed drawers of the filing cabinets huddled around the walls were hanging open.
Kilkenny half-stood as Neal approached and offered his hand with an ingratiating smile. "Mr Jacobs, Mrs Jacobs - such a pleasure to meet you."
There was a Boston twang to his accent; it didn't quite fit with the powder-blue suit and slicked back hair, or the glint in his eyes. Neal took the man's measure in seconds: an operator, a dealer, a fixer, and not nearly as clever as he thought he was.
Neal smirked and shook the offered hand. "Setting up shop in the Wolfram and Hart offices," he opened. "Bold. Or stupid."
Kilkenny shrugged, his expression probably aiming for guileless, but finding a home somewhere around unctuous. "We wanted to make it easier for DelSec's previous clients to find our services. Please, please – sit. Coffee? Tea? Soda?" He didn't wait for their reply. "Marsha! Coffee!"
Greta took a seat, trying to ignore the stains on the leather. "Thank you for meeting us so quickly," she gushed after a beat, presenting the softer side of the couple while Neal remained sternly standing. It was an approach that tended to work well for them, in a variety of situations.
Kilkenny turned the oily smile her way. "Hey, no problem at all - we pride ourselves on a three hundred sixty-five, twenty-four seven service, and I can tell you, our small print is a whole lot bigger than DelSec's." His smile widened to a gold-accented grin. "Am I right?"
She didn't have the time to reply before he looked past her and yelled, "Marsha! Coffee!"
Marsha's face, unruly hair pinned haphazardly and eyes wide behind slightly crooked glasses, appeared around the office door. She ducked back when Jacobs impatiently waved her away.
"No," he said shortly. "Cut to the chase: what exactly do you think you can do for us?"
"Well, I can tell you that the thieves hitting your area are professionals, they're focused, they know what they're looking for - and we're pretty sure they have at least one shaman.
"Now, at this point most companies would try to sell you on a whole lot of measures that would basically turn your lovely home into a prime location prison, right?" Kilkenny leaned forward intently. "But you don't want that, we can - what the hell?"
Greta turned in her seat. In the doorway, a woman stood palely swaying, hand gripping the doorjamb tightly. Her cheeks were lined with the salt of dried tears and mascara and her breath came in short, fast gasps. "Mr Kilkenny, please, you have to help me!"
Kilkenny swallowed and peered around her. "Uh, Marsha? Marsha?"
Marsha appeared again and put a gentle hand on the woman's shoulder. "Come with me, Mrs Morgan."
The woman flung herself forward, staggering to the desk and holding it as if it were the only thing keeping her from her knees. "No, please, you've got to help me."
Greta shrank back in her seat while Kilkenny folded his arms and shook his head. "I tried to help you, you didn't want that help. Remember? 'Portals are too expensive.'" He darted an embarrassed glance at the Jacobs. "I'm really sorry about this. Uh - Marsha? Why don't you get Mrs Morgan a-"
"It was so fast," the woman sobbed. "And, and Michael is in the hospital - they just played with him." She drew a ragged breath. "The doctors don't think he's going to make it. And I'm sure I'm being followed."
Her wailing ratcheted up and Kilkenny looked up to his assistant. "Okay, Marsha, get Lillian a glass of water and call her a cab to the hospital, she should be with her husband. You know. While she can."
This time the woman didn't throw off the hands that led her out, her soft sobs sounded broken and lost. Kilkenny sat again with a "what can you do?" expression of plastic regret.
The Jacobs spoke together. "What's the portal option?"
Kilkenny's eyes narrowed. "Eh, it may be a little beyond what you're looking for – we're talking top-tier secure dimensional holding. Fully accessible through your own viewing room, security keyed both to your DNA and your unique psychic aura. It's impossible to bypass."
Neal nodded. "How quickly can it be set up?"
"Well, it's just a matter of transport and of course our vehicles are fully equipped to handle whatever's needed, but the cost is quite prohibitive and honestly…"
"Cost is immaterial. When can you start?"
Kilkenny pulled the calendar on his desk closer and ran his eye over it. He looked back up. "How's August?"
"August? To hell with that."
"I'm already pushing you to the head of the queue because of your position as valued customers of our good associates Wolfram and Hart-"
Neal smirked. "Don't even try it - your man already made it clear there's no love lost." He pressed on when Kilkenny flinched. "I bet they don't even know you're poaching, do they?"
"Hey, now, let's not get pejorative, here."
"Tomorrow, or I'm making some calls."
Neal straighened and Greta stood to join him. She rested a hand on his arm. "Neal, I'm sure they'll help us in every way they can, there's no need to be unreasonable." She smiled kindly. "This week?"
"This week," Kilkenny repeated weakly.
"Payment after installation." Jacobs leaned over the desk, hands gripping the edge. "Get it done."
Kilkenny cringed in his chair and swallowed. "Within the week," he agreed.
Once the Jacobs and their amateur double-act had swept out, Nate stayed at the desk, idly toying with the Newtonian Cradle its previous occupant had left behind. The metal balls clicked back and forth as Sophie walked in, swiping at her face with a wetted tissue.
She arranged herself in the chair Greta had vacated. "Well, they're a piece of work. We barely had to put down any hints at all."
Nate made a non-committal sound as he slipped his ear bud back in. "Illyria, you're back with Lorne. Angel, Spike, follow them. Make them work to see you. Uh, please," he added.
"Since you asked so nicely, and all."
Nate could actually hear Spike's smirk.
Sophie's eyebrows rose. "We never get a please. Or a thank you, actually."
"Yeah, well, you can't eat me," he pointed out.
"We could try," came Parker's voice. "Eliot could fry you. You'd taste like duck."
"Duck?" Sophie looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook her head. "No, something … pickled."
Nate ignored them. Dignity, always dignity. "Hardison, keep track of Angel and Spike. Parker, go be visible in the neighborhood for when the Jacobs get back; stay off the grounds - no sight seeing and definitely no souvenirs. Gunn, we're moving you to wall man for today - stay mobile and be ready if anyone calls in."
"Do I have to wear a tie?"
"You do not."
"Then you got it."
"And us?" Eliot or possibly McDonald sounded rough; so Eliot, Nate guessed.
"You two are staying indoors today - we can't risk another incident. Besides, you need time to-"
"I'm fine," Eliot growled.
"To work on the extraction plan," Nate finished evenly. "We'll need it by end of play today. Sophie and I'll stay here and wait for their call."
There was no reply; he stood and made a shooing motion towards the door. "Okay, moving on."
As the wheels stopped screeching in complaint, and the angry blaring of horns faded behind them, Spike righted himself. "Ford said to make them work for it, remember?"
Angel ground his teeth and took a firmer grip on the wheel. "Do you want to do this?"
"Great. I'll just pull over - we'll swap sides. It's LA, who even notices people bursting into flame any more?"
"Touchy." Spike narrowed his eyes and nodded to the car ahead. "They're making a left."
"I can see that, thanks. Signals - some people actually use them."
"No. I mean, why are they making a left? They're over on Bellagio, yeah?"
"They're checking to see if they're being tailed." Angel drummed his fingers on the wheel. "Doesn't mean they've definitely seen us."
"Trust me, mate - they saw us. If they didn't, they'll probably be listening to the traffic report in a couple of minutes."
Angel glanced in his side mirror to check for suicidal moped drivers - this time - and then started to drift into the lane behind them. "Let's make sure."
"We're pretty sure they saw you. And, hey, so did Airwatch America, so I hope you waved." Hardison's voice sounded muffled and there was a crunching sound over the comms. "Bring it on back, Team Edward."
"That better not be my Weetabix you're eating," Spike growled.
"Mmph?" There was a thick swallowing sound. "Eating? I'm not eating. Hey, wait; is that Lindsey McDonald I see? I believe it is and, yes, he does seem to be carrying some kind of cereal box. Are there no depths that man will not sink to?"
"You're just lucky I have a soul."
There was a slurping noise. "And you're lucky I can hack traffic cameras."
When the Jacobs' car made its next turn, Angel let it go. "We done?"
"Yeah, it's all on Lorne now."
Lorne wasn't so much sitting as reclining in the over-stuffed armchair that he'd been shown to, with repeated assurances that today - definitely today - he'd be seen.
It was a new room, deeper into the lair and even more lushly decorated than the one he'd been entertained in previously. The thick red carpet was covered with soft rugs and velvet drapes hung across the walls. The air smelled faintly of cinnamon and vanilla and a glass of Merlot had been pressed into his hand as soon as he'd arrived.
He could get used to this. Not the actual crime, of course, but the trappings had their appeal.
Illyria was a silent presence standing next to his chair; her expression was impassive and her eyes cold, and whenever anyone scurried by they shot her - and by extension Lorne - nervous looks.
Really, really used to this.
He twisted in the ridiculously comfortable chair. "You know, I could get," he started.
"No," Illyria said shortly. "I enjoy their fear, but not my boredom. This will not continue beyond its purpose."
He turned back and sighed wistfully. "Top of the world, Ma."
"This is not the top of the world," she said implacably. "And your mother cannot hear you."
"And we can all be grateful for that small mercy, I'm sure."
A robed figure appeared at the doorway and bowed, though not as deeply as their greeter had: they were moving up in the world. "You will be seen now'k."
When Lorne smiled and began to stand, the figure shook his head. "No. You will be seen now'k."
"Oh. Good. Great. Certainly looking forward to being … seen." Lorne glanced up at Illyria, who seemed unperturbed, but her expression had tightened. And didn't that bode well?
He settled himself back in his chair; a thin orange light began to wash through the room.
When Angel finally made it back to Wes' office, the city was creeping its way down towards dusk and someone was waiting on the couch again.
Lorne had been welcome, Lindsey really wasn't. Especially when it smelled like he'd spent his day of enforced confinement with a bottle of sour whiskey.
Angel pointed to the door. "Out."
Lindsey stayed where he was; his head rolled back against the chair and he smirked. "Objection."
Briefly, Angel considered picking him up and throwing him out, pretty sure Eliot would understand. It was tempting, but less tempting than it would have been yesterday.
Maybe he was growing as a person. Great. "What do you want, Lindsey?"
There was hesitation; apparently Lindsey hadn't actually expected to get this far. His expression firmed almost defiantly. "You gave everyone else a second chance, never even gave me one. Why was that?"
Angel turned abruptly away. "Why do you think?"
"I figured you knew, somehow." Lindsey shrugged. "Knew it would never be worth it, so you didn't try. That right?"
If Lindsey had been angry, or demanding - or anything but quiet and curious and weirdly hopeful and really, really drunk - Angel would have thrown an insult in his general direction and gone.
He should never, ever have asked Eliot what had really happened, because now it felt like this wasn't just Lindsey asking, it was Eliot too. And Eliot at least deserved benefit of the doubt.
"Because you were proof I couldn't win," he admitted quietly. "I could fight vampires, and demons, and prophecy, and dragons, but I couldn't fight human nature. You - you and Lilah - threw that in my face every damn time."
Lindsey stared blankly; whatever he had been expecting, this wasn't it. "What?"
"Everyone else, the dark found them. Nothing except your own ambition made you what you are." Angel rubbed a hand over his eyes; he didn't need to sleep and he was still so damn tired. "I thought."
Lindsey's expression shuttered abruptly. "Eliot told you."
"Some of it." Wolfram and Hart had found a smart, angry, desperate kid - a little weak, a lot hungry - and promised him he'd get through any door he wanted; Lindsey had never stood a chance.
Now Lindsey was angry; his eyes blazed with it, but he didn't move. "He had no right. And you - you don't get to feel sorry for me. I knew what I was doing, I made my own choices and I don't regret any of them. You know what? You were right not to try."
"Yeah, well, glad that's clear," Angel said dryly, and didn't bother to point out that the esteemed counsellor had argued himself in a circle. From Lindsey's unguardedly rueful expression, he was already well aware.
Angel dropped onto the other end of the couch. "I don't know if I could have helped you, but I should have tried. So, I'm sorry. For that. Everything else you had coming. A lot."
Lindsey watched him with fresh wariness.
That seemed a little unfair; Angel hadn't threatened the guy for … at least hours. "What now?"
"Last time you apologized, you beat me up and stole my truck."
"Borrowed." Angel frowned. "And you hit me first. With the truck."
"Stop livin' in the past, man - it ain't healthy." Teeth flashed in a wicked, but for once not malicious grin.
"You're starting to sound like him," Angel said. Then because he was curious, and because for once they weren't circling each other like wolves, he asked, "What's it like?"
To his faint surprise the question didn't set Lindsey off again.
"History," he said quietly. "Eliot and me, we didn't used to be so different." His expression went somewhere Angel couldn't follow. "Soon as the spell's broken, I'll be back."
"So that's something to look forward to." The amusement faded as he remembered exactly who was sitting on his couch - exactly what that man had done. "When it's broken, you go. Understood?"
Lindsey laughed under his breath. "Really? Because I was looking at some nice beach-front-"
Angel turned to give him the full force of an entirely sincere glare. "Understood?"
Lindsey snorted. "Like I'd want to stay." He hauled himself upright and weaved towards the door.
Someday, Angel thought, someone would remember that they couldn't lie to a vampire.
Eliot lay along the couch he'd claimed as a bed and stared up at the ceiling. He didn't bother to wonder why it was spinning; he could take a wild guess. Drinking wasn't usually something he did until he was ready to fall down, but Lindsey hadn't consulted him and now the world had turned soft and hazy and - swear to God - he was going to kill his brother just as soon as he could remember how knees worked.
On the plus side, he grudgingly admitted, the aches and pains still lingering from the fight earlier were floating just past the numbness where he didn't care any more. Beat ice. He should have healed up a while back, but it looked like that was turning on them now too. So that was awesome.
A shadow loomed over him. "Hey, man. You okay?" Hardison fell more or less into focus. He was carrying something that Eliot couldn't make out.
"I look okay?" Eliot tried for a growl, but missed by a mile if Hardison's grin was any indication.
"You look kind of mellow, actually. And that's a little freaky, but I can roll with it. Maybe …" Hardison trailed away.
"Nothing." Hardison shifted uneasily. "Hey, I bet they got hockey. You want hockey?"
"No, I don't want…" Now Hardison was looking even more nervous. "What?"
"Okay, you know what? Embrace that mellow. How do you feel about the soothing sounds of rain? Or Koi. Koi are calm as hell - three hundred apps can't be wrong."
Eliot gave up trying to follow him and waved at the set. "Put the damn game on."
"Yeah, no, I changed my mind. Have you even watched hockey? It's like Call of Duty on ice - only they're throwing unexploded seafood all up in everything and it's nasty. No, I got the thing." Eliot had a moment's warning, enough to pull his legs up, managing fast if not coordinated as Hardison dropped heavily onto the couch and pressed a button on the remote.
There were a series of electronic whirs and then, "Play ze movie, ja? Ja, play!"
Eliot craned his head up just enough to see some kind of animated … "Is that a cartoon?"
"You're a cultural wasteland and I take it as my solemn duty – my vocation ifyou will - to improve your mind. There's a grumpy ogre, you'll love it."
Music began to swell and Eliot closed his eyes as the narration picked up. He was only dimly aware when Parker unceremoniously joined them with a flying leap that Hardison took the brunt of, from the pained wheezing.
Some time later, Eliot opened his eyes to see Sophie perched on the edge of the couch, chin propped on her palm, the shifting colors from the movie flickering across her skin. When he opened his eyes again, she was slumped against a snoring Hardison, her mouth open, making the soft catching, popping sound she denied to the point of violence. Parker's cheek was pressed against Eliot's shoulder, her breath warm and slow on his neck. Silent. Always.
The sense of movement across the room would normally have made him tense, but between the combined weight of what seemed to be most of his freaking crew - he knew they had their own beds, dammit - and the unwillingly borrowed whiskey, he couldn't move.
Lindsey was stood in the doorway and suddenly Eliot remembered how it had been when the weather was cold and it was all them kids, piled together in one bed, just trying to keep warm.
From Lindsey's expression, so did he.
Hell, maybe it was his memory.
But Eliot couldn't make it okay for him to come closer, couldn't tell him to leave either, and they were stuck staring at each other, caught and stupid until, like some lounge-singing angel of mercy, Lorne took it out of their hands. The demon slung a companionable arm around Lindsey's shoulder and pulled him back and away towards the kitchenette.
Eliot closed his eyes and, Parker's fingers twisting gently in his hair, slept.
Under the strip lights of the kitchenette, Lindsey hunched over his coffee and concentrated on trying to see just the one mug. He'd settle for one and a half. Lorne hummed to himself as he made a tall glass of something orange. Or green. Lindsey blinked and the bubbling liquid turned purple. He decided he didn't want to know; it smelled like lilacs. "So what happened?"
Lorne glanced back over his shoulder. "In the beginning was the High C … want to be a little more specific there, Oliver?" Off Lindsey's incomprehension, he rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "The magnificent Oliver Reed. Although he could hold his liquor, unlike some people I could mention."
"Whatever." Lindsey sipped the hot coffee, trying not to feel kind of proud he had enough coordination to swallow. "What happened with you and Team Angel? I thought you guys were tight."
Lorne picked up his glass of whatever the hell it was and took the seat opposite. "Why do you care?"
"I don't," Lindsey denied quickly. "Just making conversation. Or maybe it's part of some plan to … to do something. Something evil," he finished lamely.
"It might help if you throw in a mwah hah or two." Lorne waited expectantly.
Lindsey shook his head. "Yeah, that's not going to happen."
"And that's a pity. You know, I always thought you'd make a good Bond villain."
"Not really a cat person. So what was the Yoko? Shooting me? 'Cause saying 'sorry you shot me' is where I draw the line on this whole white hat rodeo."
"Well, I won't say that didn't move things along, but when it comes down to it, I'm just not the hero type."
Lindsey looked doubtful; Lorne ignored him. "By the time I got past it, Angel had locked himself up here and honestly, I didn't have it in me to wave my pom-poms one more time. Anne," he added before Lindsey asked the obvious question. "Anne was his last straw."
Lindsey searched his memory. "Ran a shelter downtown? We didn't think she was a player."
Lorne shook his head. "She wasn't, but she was the hero type. After it all went to hell, literally, she wanted to help. A vampire snapped her neck on her second or third patrol." Lorne smiled faintly. "No big conspiracy, no prophecy, no apocalypse. Just half a second while no one's watching and it's goodnight, Gracie. I heard about it from a Fer'lli demon with a real thing for Liza Minnelli." He waved a careless hand. "Who doesn't?"
"You liked her," Lindsey guessed, nothing better to say.
"I didn't know her, not really. But for me it was a good excuse not to talk to Angel, and for Angel it was a good excuse to give up. Again. The others do what they can, bless them, but …"
"But, they're not Angel," Lindsey finished for him.
Once the fact that Angel was Angel had been fuel for a burning rage that Lindsey had found it impossible to see past. Now it was just fact: sky was blue, grass was green and Angel was Angel.
Except when he wasn't.
Lindsey finished his coffee and looked blearily around - not quite sober, but nowhere near drunk enough any more. He stared over Lorne's shoulder and spoke quickly, as if he could rush the words out under the wire. "You're a good guy, Lorne. I'm sorry you were the one he sent. Son of a bitch should have done it himself."
He bolted before Lorne could answer, leaving the demon blinking after him.
A low, throaty laugh filled the silence in Lindsey's wake. Lorne turned to see Sophie lounging in the other doorway, so artfully rumpled he had to pause for a moment to admire the presentation.
"Well, color me impressed, you've done quite the number on him," he said after a beat, one professional to another.
Sophie eyed him as she crossed over to the coffee machine: weighing him with the same courtesy. "Thank you," she said simply, accepting the compliment. "Although I can hardly take all the credit."
"But what's in it for you?"
She adopted an expression half way between affronted and pious, not even trying for believability. "Goodness is its own reward, or so they keep insisting."
"You like him."
She smiled thinly. "I like Eliot."
"And we can't choose our family." He swirled the last of his drink around his glass, gathering the foam. "Trust me - I tried to trade my brother for a plank of wood when he was still an egg. I think that was the only time mother said she was proud of me."
"Oh, no." Sophie shook her head quickly. "We're just colleagues, not family."
"With that accent, I'd never have known."
Sophie was too refined to stick her tongue out at him, but she hummed a few off-key notes from The Sound of Music that relayed her intent quite neatly. Filling her mug, she changed the subject. "How's the life of the shadowy underworld figure going?"
He gave a heart-felt groan. "One more caviar aperitif and I'll never be able to look a sturgeon in the eye again."
"Really?" She didn't look entirely convinced.
"Are you kidding?" He grinned widely. "Sturgeon? Please, who needs their approval? It's amazing - I'm seriously considering a change of careers. The suits alone."
"Well if you ever feel like a change of scenery, we're not exactly the criminal masterminds we used to be, but I'm sure we'd always have room for a demonic crime boss. And I'd finally have someone to go shopping with. So did they bite?"
"They bit and they bit hard. I was going to tell your glorious leader, but he had a prior engagement with a bottle of whiskey."
"Mmm, there's a lot of that going around." Her eyes flickered in the direction Lindsey had taken. "But Nate's not always like this, you know," she followed quickly. "He's - it's under control. I think he's just having a bit of trouble adjusting."
Before Lorne could reply, there was a plaintive groan from the main room. Sophie scooped up the mug of coffee and a couple of Tylenol from the cabinet. "Back to the trenches, then."