Title: The Soul Job
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Summary: It's been a long time since Lindsey McDonald and Eliot Spencer went their separate ways... but if ever a man was in need of the leverage their team could apply, it was Eliot's brother. 25,000 words.
Warnings: Language, and mentions of adult behavior.
Notes: Leverage/Angel teamfic, from Eliot's POV. Set during 5.8 "Destiny" for Angel and post-2.9 "The Lost Heir Job" for Leverage. Dates given for Lindsey and/or Eliot are based on actor Christian Kane's actual age, and the assumption that this takes place during the canonical time setting for Angel.
Acknowledgements: To my beta, maevebran, for general awesomeness and for introducing me to Leverage in the first place; and my artist, lyl_devil, for her fabulous artwork (link in profile)!
"So, I was thinking," Eliot began, staring across the table at Nate. He'd asked the man down to McRory's for a solo meet after the final wrap up for their previous job; the topic he wanted to air was a little on the personal side, and he wanted to discuss it one-on-one before it got brought up in committee. Public space or not, the bar actually held less risk of eavesdropping than Nate's apartment-slash-office.
"While Sophie's gone," he continued cautiously, "it might be a good time to take a job or two that really don't need a grifter. Nothing against that friend of hers-- but we don't know her, and she don't know us, and I get the feeling she's not really down with the alternate revenue stream thing." If Sophie had even bothered to explain it to her. The way Tara had demanded her cut of Ruth Walton's inheritance argued against it-- not that Eliot blamed Sophie for not filling her in. The way the team did things was kind of outside the usual parameters for their line of work, and their reputation really didn't need any more softening.
Nate nodded thoughtfully, though his forehead pinched a little at the mention of their grifter. "And I suppose you happen to know of a job that fits that category?" he asked, tapping at the handle of his coffee cup as he stared back at Eliot.
"Yeah." Eliot sighed. "I've known about it for a few months, but it's kind of personal. I thought I might be able to handle it on my own, but things are starting to get urgent, and it's gone beyond the scope of what one man can handle."
"A few months," Nate mused. "Counting from after the team joined back up-- or before?"
"Before," Eliot admitted. It had been a long six months between when they'd scattered in Los Angeles, and when they'd reconvened in Boston at Sophie's invitation. Kicking his feet up had lasted all of two weeks before the boredom had driven him back to work; he might not need the money any more, but Eliot Spencer would never be the kind of guy who could just sit around and do nothing, and he'd got kind of addicted to the whole 'making a difference' thing. "You know how I said I was in Pakistan?"
"I wasn't sure if you were actually being serious about that, or if you were just yanking Hardison's chain," Nate admitted with a slight smile.
Eliot snorted. It had been pretty amusing to find out that Hardison had been tracking the rough shape of what Eliot had been up to without ever knowing it. "Not this time. I actually was in Pakistan." A lot of folk there in need of defending; a lot of terrorists the legit government agents and PMCs couldn't get to without causing a politically inconvenient ruckus. "And I crossed paths with someone I knew from before, on his way to Nepal."
He paused there, debating just how much he really wanted to reveal. If he was serious about helping his brother, though-- and he was, or he'd never have got as far as even hinting about it in earshot of Nate-- it was only a matter of time until the full truth came out. It would be obvious the first time Hardison pulled up a picture of his face, and Eliot could hardly avoid giving the team his name.
"This friend have a name?" Nate asked, echoing Eliot's thoughts.
He sighed again, rubbing at his chin. Better to just get it over with. "Yeah. Lindsey McDonald. Known him all my life. We sort of fell out of contact a while ago, though; he went to college on a wrestling scholarship and got his JD, but I had other plans for my life." Which had caused more than one bitter argument, and ended in an absolute refusal to compromise on both their parts. "He was the golden kid back then, and I was the black sheep, and of course our sisters always took his side of things."
"Sisters?" Nate's eyebrows flew up at that, and he sat forward in his chair a little, stilling his fingers as he wrapped both hands around his mug. "Then this Lindsey--"
"Is my brother, yeah. Twin, actually." Eliot grimaced. "Don't ask."
Nate's eyes were alive with curiosity, but he thankfully took the hint and skipped over the obvious next question about the difference in their last names. Eliot wasn't exactly ashamed that he'd taken to using the surname of the aunt and uncle who'd raised the McDonald kids after their parents' home was repossessed when the twins were seven, but this meeting wasn't about eroding even more of the tough image he'd spent so many years constructing; it was about his brother.
"So what was his purpose in traveling to Nepal?" Nate asked.
Eliot shrugged. "Searching. He said he'd been looking for something that would keep him safe from his former bosses for awhile-- the law firm that hired him out of grad school is more than the usual kind of crooked, and his contract has a few clauses that would let them crucify him for leaving if they ever caught him." Literally, or damn near-- which Eliot might have taken for exaggeration on Lindsey's part if he hadn't seen a few of the things he'd seen back in Croatia, and a few other places since.
Lord only knew how the team was going to take it, or if any of them had ever run across evidence of the other sort of nightlife on a job. Parker, maybe. It would explain a few things about her particular brand of crazy, but he doubted the others had ever seen so much as a wandering spirit.
Nate took a sip of his coffee. "I'm assuming he found it, since you said the problem is only now getting urgent," he said. "Is he still in Nepal?"
Eliot shook his head and made a quick visual sweep of the bar before replying. "No, he came back to the States. And that's the problem. I'd thought he was still overseas, but I guess he figured taking the high road wasn't satisfying enough and decided to take a leaf from the evil twin's playbook. He's in L.A. now, trying to run a con on 'em. Just small time stuff so far..."
"But you don't think he's going to stop there," Nate observed, sharp-eyed, "and you're worried about him. And you're right to. Mixing vengeance with a job makes every detail twice as risky, as we've all learned the hard way; and your brother doesn't have four other... associates... to back him up."
Eliot shrugged, uncomfortably. Sometimes, he wondered just how much Nathan Ford actually saw when he looked at someone; the former insurance fraud investigator seemed damn near psychic at times, at least when it didn't involve his own issues. "He's a grown man," he said.
"But he's inexperienced at this kind of thing."
Eliot nodded. "There's some crazy stuff going down with that firm, things I guarantee you won't believe until you see proof I ain't lying, and Lindsey don't have the instinct for my kind of work. Gets too involved. If he gets himself killed, our sisters are never going to forgive me."
"Now I'm really intrigued," Nate said, cocking his head a little. "What is it you actually want us to do, though? I'm assuming it is for you, by the way; if your brother had actually asked for our help, you would have brought him here with you."
Eliot grimaced at the idea; as angry as Lindsey currently was at the world in general, that would not have gone down well. "What I want is his contract. The one he signed when they waltzed into Hastings his sophomore year and offered him the world on a plate. With it, Wolfram and Hart can ruin his life; that's why he's trying to ruin their business. Without it, though? He's a free man."
"If he's really as upset as you say, that may not stop him," Nate cautioned him.
"I know. But if we can get his foot out of the damn bear trap, he might be more inclined to see reason." As different as they were in many respects, that was one thing Eliot and Lindsey had in common.
Nate considered that, then sat back in his chair. "All right, set Hardison on it, work up a briefing for the team." Then he paused, eyeing Eliot in speculative amusement. "You know, this is only the second time I've ever heard you offer any real information about your past. And the other time, you were trying to sell me on a job, too."
Eliot rolled his eyes by way of response, then picked up the beer he'd neglected on the table and took a long pull. "Worked, didn't it?" he asked.
Nate chuckled. "You should do it more often," he said.
"What, sell you on jobs?" Eliot snorted, knowing damn well that wasn't what the other man had meant.
"Talk," Nate replied, smiling, then drained the last of his coffee and got up from the table. "How does tomorrow at nine sound? I've got a few errands to run this evening."
"Sure, whatever." Eliot shrugged, then tossed back the last of his beer as he watched Nate head for the door. He had a few errands to run himself after he broke the news to Hardison, none of which he was looking forward to-- but all of which needed doing.
Like he'd told Nate, their sisters would never forgive him if he let their little brother get himself killed. Better to be too prepared than not enough, especially considering whose turf they'd be treading on.
Good thing he still had a favor to call in from that job gone bad in Italy. Good thing Wolfram and Hart had offices in Massachusetts, too. It looked like it was time to pay a visit to some lawyers.
The next morning, Eliot sulked into his coffee as he waited for Nate to finish in the kitchen and call a start to the briefing. He was aware that Parker was frowning at him from the other corner of the couch, but didn't care enough to either tell her to move again, or explain what was up. She'd see soon enough.
Hardison was throwing him puzzled glances, too, but there was as much calculation in them as worry. He'd surprised the hacker, throwing his past open to him; even Aimee and her dad had called Eliot by the last name of Spencer since his teens, and Eliot had been careful not to let any other crumbs drop for his teammates to trace during the time they'd worked together. He might have actually, maybe, started to trust the four of them to a certain degree, but even that only went so far, as Sophie had proven rather conclusively during that mess with the two Davids. He'd protect them with his life, but until now the lives of his family had been another story entirely.
No help for it, though. He scowled more fiercely, taking solace in the high-quality caffeine stocked in Nate's kitchen.
"So," the man himself finally announced, yawning his way out into the living room with a fruit cup and one of those godawful toaster pastries for his breakfast. "What have you got for us, Hardison?"
Hardison threw an irritating grin at Eliot, then clicked his remote, and the wall screens went live. A snapshot of Lindsey, three or four years old, flew up to fill the center of the six-paneled display, framed by smaller photos of the Los Angeles Wolfram and Hart building and a scattered sampling of his brother's former co-workers.
Parker took an audibly shocked breath at the image, and even Nate made an abrupt, startled movement in the middle of settling into a chair.
"So that's what you'd look like with short hair," Parker said, sounding fascinated.
"No wonder IYS kept getting false hits on you from our L.A. sources," Nate marveled, shaking his head. "I thought his name sounded familiar."
Hardison snorted, still grinning. "Yeah. Hard to believe the world hasn't ended yet, with two of y'all wandering around."
Eliot sighed, eyeing the photo again. "Shut up, Hardison." Clean cut, wearing a suit, blue eyes more vivid without the need for glasses or contacts, no scar on the lip; he couldn't help but see their differences whenever he looked at his brother, but he knew those things were rarely visible to others at first glance. Story of their childhood. If he never had to deliberately match outfits with Lindsey ever again, it would be too soon; bad enough Lindsey'd started to grow his hair out lately, too.
"So. Lindsey McDonald," Hardison continued, clearing his throat. "Former junior associate at the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart, hired on straight out of U.C. Hastings in 1999. Did some time in the mailroom, but was quickly transferred to the Special Projects division. Seen as something of a golden boy; lots of internal chatter in '01 about a pending promotion to the head of the division straight over the head of a gal who'd been on the team since her internship back in '94. Followed by some dicey medical records having to do with a hand transplant that I couldn't make head nor tail of; and then-- nothing. He just disappeared, and the other lawyer, Lilah Morgan, took the job."
He pointed with the remote again, and the inset image of a thirtysomething woman in a power suit with intense dark eyes and slightly wavy, shoulder-length brown hair flew up to fill the center of the screens. "She was killed a year and a half later; her autopsy records read like something out of a horror flick. Stab wounds to her neck and abdomen-- and get this, someone cut off her head with an axe after she was already dead. And then her body disappeared from the morgue." He shuddered.
"Someone must have really hated her," Parker commented, arms wrapped around her knees as she cocked her head at the screens.
"Or loved her," Eliot said, thoughts stuck on stab wounds to her neck. He wondered if it had had anything to do with that bastard of a vampire his brother was so obsessed with.
Nate threw him a sharp glance as he broke off a piece of his pastry. "What do you know about it?" he asked.
Eliot shrugged. "Nothing." Not specifically, anyway; he wasn't going to lie, but it wasn't a good time for the ghoulies and ghosties conversation, either. "Lindsey didn't mention it; probably doesn't even know the details himself. But if you knew the kind of thing the firm deals in, you wouldn't be surprised."
Nate frowned, but let that pass, turning back to Hardison. "So what kind of thing does Wolfram and Hart specialize in, exactly?" he prompted.
"Historically, they've had a lot of heavyweight scumbags on their defense roster," Hardison answered with a grim frown, keying up a constellation of headshots ranging from actresses, to famous musicians, politicians, crooked businessmen, and other power players from all corners of the country. The only thing all of them had in common was that they were filthy rich-- and every one of them had something to hide. "I'm actually surprised we didn't run across them when we were headquartered back there, since our usual type of marks would be right up their alley. Mosconi, for example."
Nate's eyes cut to Eliot again; and Eliot was sure he was remembering a few potential cases that Eliot had reported 'bad feelings' about, which they'd ended up passing over. Yeah; let him think what he wanted. Lindsey had moved out of the city by the time Eliot had been added to the payroll of the elaborate piece of fiction they called Leverage Consulting, but his coworkers at that law firm sure as shit would have recognized Eliot's face if the team had ever crossed their paths. The last thing he'd wanted at that point had been to drag his private life front and center of his professional one.
"Speaking of alleys," Parker observed, peering distractedly at one of the smaller images still up on the screens, "they have tinted windows on their offices. All of them, from what I can tell. What are they made of? The refraction index is unusual; it's not like anything I've seen before."
Trust Parker to know what a window was made of by the way the light reflected off it, Eliot mused.
Then again, he could name almost every weapon ever made, and most methods of combat training, just by sound or stance. Sophie read body language like it was English, and Hardison could write computer code in his sleep. And then there was Nate. To each their own.
"Funny you should ask that," Hardison replied, eyebrows raised as he flicked the display over to some kind of line drawing. "I actually wasn't able to get my hands on any kind of schematics for the building. I mean, there's something on file with Public Works that says it's supposed to represent their offices," he gestured with the remote at the drawing filling the screens, "but it sure ain't the real thing; even I can tell the dimensions on that piece of paper don't even come close."
"Did you find anything useful on their own servers?" Nate asked, brushing crumbs off his shirt.
"Not a damn thing," Hardison admitted, scowling. "I mean, I hacked the White House; I could get in and out of any government system on the planet and not get caught, as long as the network's hooked up to the Web. But these people? They've got security like nothing I've ever seen."
"Sounds like they definitely have something to hide," Nate mused.
Yeah. Like the deed to his brother's immortal soul, as crazy as that still sounded. If nothing else worked, they might have to look up Nate's contacts from his seminary days; neither Eliot nor Lindsey'd had much to do with the church in years, but Nate's friend Father Paul might be willing to put in a good word for them-- provided he'd got over the whole fake miracle job. It couldn't hurt, anyway.
"Stranger yet," Hardison continued, bringing up a new series of pictures. "You remember last year, that thing with the freak cloud of smog blocking the sun while we were out on one of our jobs, and all the flights back got delayed for several days while it cleared?" He pointed to a few of the pictures, depicting a clearly ruined building. There was even what looked like a body on the sidewalk in one of them, shrouded by a deep pall of shadow.
"Apparently, shit went down while we were gone that did not make the papers. This is what the place looked like, according to this one journalist's online archive, in the middle of it all... and here's what it looked like when the sun came back out a couple of days later." Hardison clicked again, and the building reappeared, looking completely different: pristine and whole, windows glinting in the sunshine, a pair of suits clearly entering through the front doors.
"I'd like the name of their contractors," Nate said, whistling lowly.
"No, you wouldn't," Eliot threw him a dirty look. "Trust me on this one. The kind of power that gets that done on an instant basis? Not the kind of power you want to go up against."
"Isn't that kind of what we're doing, though?" Parker asked, uncurling enough to poke at him with one long, gracefully arched foot.
He intercepted the outstretched toes before they could make contact with his side, capturing her heel with one hand and gently stroking up the sole with the fingernails of the other. All the worrying and reminiscing he'd been doing lately, the motion came automatically to him; as one of six kids all within ten years of each other in age-- though only four had survived to adulthood-- certain patterns of behavior had become pretty ingrained, growing up. And as focused as he was on the conversation, he didn't even register what he'd done until Parker yanked her foot back, scowling at him in surprise.
Eliot folded his arms across his chest and scowled back at her. Apparently his subconscious had gone and filed her in the 'sister' box without even bothering to check in with him. He blamed Lindsey-- and Aimee before him, during that damn horse job-- for stirring up the question of family in his mind again after all those years and complicating things that really didn't need any more complication.
"Not directly," he told her. "There's ways and ways to deal with people like that, and a con's always going to work better with that type than brute force. You know that, we do this all the time, just not on quite this scale." He glanced back at Nate, saw no censure in the other man's thoughtful stare, and continued. "Lindsey's already got a way in, but he's just the one guy, and he's at a disadvantage; he worked for these people, he's already conditioned to think and act around them in certain ways, and they know more about him than a dozen Alec Hardisons could find out in a week of hacking."
"Maybe, maybe not," Hardison commented, pointing at the screens again. "They swapped out all their upper management in the last few months; there's been some serious upheaval in certain sectors of the client roster, too, though the proportion of scumbag to actual victim is still fairly high."
Eliot turned to him, surprised at the interruption, and blinked at the image that had replaced Ms. Morgan's on the display: a solid guy with dark hair, dressed kind of casual for a CEO in a dark shirt unbuttoned at the collar and a pair of black slacks. So that was what Angel looked like. He wasn't exactly hard on the eyes, but the lack of smile lines and the pallor of his skin would have tripped all of Eliot's subconscious alarms even if he hadn't already known the guy was a vampire.
"New boss's name is Angel," Hardison announced for the others' benefit. "Not sure if that's a last or a first name-- you should appreciate that, Parker."
The hacker grinned at the lithe blonde thief as he directed the comment to her; Parker smiled back, unfolding a little on the couch as she watched him. Eliot rolled his eyes at them both.
"From what I can find out, he was a P.I. before that, and he brought most of his senior staff with him when he changed careers," Hardison continued. Other pictures flowed up around the vampire's mug shot: a young Black man in a high-priced lawyer's suit, a slim twenty-something woman in a scientist's white lab coat with cascading falls of long, curly brown hair, and a slightly older man in glasses wearing shirtsleeves and a tie. "Called themselves Angel Investigations back then."
Lindsey had never told Eliot their names, though he'd referred to the group on the screens more than once as 'Angel's minions'. The information Eliot had acquired at the East Coast office had gone into just enough detail to hint that they weren't quite the idiots Lindsey liked to cast them as, nor yet the font of evil the law firm's reputation suggested, but Eliot wouldn't have wanted to have to rely on them regardless. Not even in their pre-law days. Too quick to judge, despite the do-gooder line they liked to spin.
"Charles Gunn, lawyer," Hardison elaborated, confirming Eliot's information as he gestured to the first of the three photos. "Self-educated, as far as I can tell-- there's no college records or anything before he passed the bar, just incomplete high school transcripts and some minor criminal activity-- but he's pretty sharp, according to recent trial records. Then there's Winifred Burkle, aka 'Fred', a scientist who bailed on a PhD program in physics at UCLA several years ago and dropped off the map entirely until she took up with this crew, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, a Brit with all kinds of degrees in obscure history and languages and a really sketchy employment history since he came to the States in 1999."
"A strange collection of resumes," Nate observed. "Even for a P.I. firm-- and even stranger as management for a law firm as high-octane as Wolfram and Hart. What was their angle? Did they come into a windfall of money and decide to buy out their old nemeses, or what?"
"Haven't turned anything up so far," Hardison shrugged. "It's like the former CEO just woke up one day, decided he was sick of running the place, and signed everything over. There's no trace in their financials, no flurry of unexplained calls in their phone records, no nothing. I'm not sure it matters, though. If they've had no prior contact with Eliot's brother...."
Eliot sighed; time to speak up again. "Except they have, and he has as big a grudge against them as he does against the firm itself. He went to them for help a couple of times when he thought the firm was going too far, and they treated him like something that crawled out from under a rock, even when they were working together. Never mind when they were actually on opposite sides of a case. That thing with the medical bills for his hand? You can put that down to Angel. I've got no idea how they ended up on Wolfram and Hart's side of things instead of trying to pin evidence on the firm's clients, but the fact that they have just makes things even murkier."
"And of course, we'll be right back under IYS radar the minute we cross into the city," Nate sighed. "We aren't going to be able to use any of our real names or any aliases that were established before our little contretemps with Sterling, and we'll need to fly into another city and use some other form of transportation into L.A. if we don't want him on us the minute we arrive."
It was a pretty tall order. In fact, it was the kind of looming impossibility of a situation that led normal people to look to them for leverage instead of the law; but there wasn't anyone for the team to turn to but themselves. And Eliot wasn't even sure he'd be able to protect them against the kind of foot soldier Wolfram and Hart could call up, if things went all to hell; he'd seen plenty of examples on his visit to their local offices. The thing was, though-- it was his brother. He'd be going regardless, and he hadn't wanted to lie to them about why. If he went down, they were the only real chance Lindsey might have at surviving, so he'd figured, why not bring them in from the beginning to maximize their chances? But it just might be that they didn't actually have a realistic chance at all.
"You sure you want to do this?" Eliot asked, meeting Nate's gaze squarely.
"Of course," Nate said, firmly. "It won't be easy, but I like to think we'd do the same even if this wasn't your brother. People like Wolfram and Hart--" or like IYS had been under Blackpoole's control, Eliot could practically see him thinking, "--need to be stopped. That's what we do."
"Vengeance-- and money," Eliot agreed, glancing over at Parker.
"Money-- and vengeance," she replied, smiling sunnily at him.
"Damn straight," Hardison agreed, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows in Eliot's direction.
"Well, then," Nate clapped his hands together, straightening in his chair. "Let's get to work."
They arrived in Los Angeles two days later, armed with the skeleton of a plan, the usual collection of high- and low-tech toys, and the keys to the secondary apartment Eliot had maintained there under a false identity. He'd had more than enough money to keep it up when they'd left town and abandoned their primary residences there, and had hung on to it with the idea of using it as a temporary bolt hole in future. That foresight was coming in handy now-- and not just because it kept them off IYS' radar. The last thing they wanted to do in a town full of demons, facing off against Wolfram and Hart, was to stay someplace public or brand-new that didn't have a previously established threshold.
Even if the place was a little short on electronics. As in, Eliot didn't have any. Hardison had bitched like a whiny little girl when he'd discovered the lack of geeky amenities, then spent several hours of that first evening using Eliot as a pack mule around town while Nate and Parker were out doing their different flavors of reconnaissance. He'd retaliated by dragging Hardison food shopping with him afterward; if they were going to be living at his place for the next however many days, he had no doubt they'd all be expecting him to cook at some point, and besides, his cupboards were decidedly bare of such necessities as coffee, beer and orange soda.
The next step on Eliot's part was to get in contact with Lindsey again. Hardison had issued the team brand-new, secure cell phones along with the ear buds as soon as they entered the city, and Lindsey had assured him when he'd contacted him the week before that his own arrangements were secure, too. Whatever the hell that meant. Probably magic; Eliot didn't want the details. He waited until after the normal workday started the morning after they arrived, in hopes of avoiding any chance of Lindsey's contact at the firm hanging around to overhear the call, then dialed his brother's number.
"Linds?" he said gruffly, when the receiver at the other end picked up after five rings.
"El?" That was definitely his brother's voice; nearly the echo of his, though not quite as rough. Prolonged brushes with torture had a definite effect on a man's vocal cords.
"I'm in town for a few days," he began, then smiled ruefully as Lindsey cut him off.
"Bullshit you just happen to be in town," his twin objected, his tone half amused and half irritated. "You're here to check up on me, aren't you?"
"What are older brothers for?" Eliot replied.
"Older by how many minutes, again?" Lindsey shot back.
Eliot shook his head, staring through a gap in the curtains at the traffic passing outside his apartment. "You're in over your damn head. What did you expect me to do, stay in Boston and send flowers to your funeral?"
Lindsey laughed. There was something bitter and resigned about it that made Eliot's stomach sink a little more; he knew he should have just bit the bullet and stopped by L.A. years ago, pride be damned, but it was far too late for that now.
"You haven't been home in eight years, Eliot. And there won't be a funeral if they catch me."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Eliot told him, the plastic of the cell phone case crackling under the force of his grip. He forced himself to take a deep breath, then refocus on the call; this was Lindsey's life on the line, not just the prelude to another iteration of a very, very old argument.
"Listen," he said. "If you think you can get out of your apartment for awhile, I've got the team with me. Most of them, anyway. I thought I'd get their advice on your little problem."
"Excuse me?" Lindsey objected. "Look, you showing up here is one thing. But having another set of do-gooders stick their nose in my business and tell me what I should be doing is the absolute last thing I need right now. I've got this under control, Eliot. It's my problem, and I'm going to solve it my way."
A very, very old argument. "We're not Angel Investigations, Lindsey. Just 'cause we go around helping people now, doesn't make us fucking do-gooders. We're still a band of thieves at heart." Then he chuckled. "It is kind of ironic, though, isn't it?"
"What?" Lindsey asked, grudgingly.
"After all this time, we're still on opposite sides of the fence-- but now I'm the white knight and you're the black one, by choice."
Silence fell on the other end of the line, but Lindsey didn't hang up. Eliot waited patiently, phone to his ear, until his brother finished weighing the situation and made a decision.
"Three thirty," Lindsey finally said, and gave an address. "Understand, I'm only agreeing to this meeting because I'm afraid I'll end up with y'all stalking me across town if I don't, and I don't want you to trip Wolfram and Hart's radar and bring 'em down on me before I'm ready."
"'Course," Eliot told him. "See you then."
The line fell silent again, then cut to dial tone.
"How much of that did you get, Hardison?" he called back over his shoulder.
"Cell phones are my playground, remember?" Hardison called back, tapping away at the keyboard of his laptop. "I'm forwarding the audio file to Nate now. We'll be ready-- least, as ready as we're going to get in the next couple of days."
"Good," Eliot said, tucking the phone away in his pocket. "Damn stubborn idiot."
"Bet he's said the same about you a few times," Hardison suggested, mildly.
"Shut up, Hardison," Eliot replied automatically.
"Sure thing, big brother El," Hardison fired back.
Eliot glared over his shoulder at the younger man's cheeky expression, then turned back to his window watching with a sigh. Fucking Lindsey. Fucking family vibes. If he ended up thinking of Nate in paternal terms any time in the next few days, he wouldn't be answerable for his own behavior.
"Big brother El my ass," he muttered.
Behind him, bent over his computer, Hardison snickered.
Mindful of what he'd last seen Lindsey wearing, Eliot had packed solid-colored shirts and sneakers for the excursion to L.A. One McDonald boy revisiting his roots in plaid flannels and steel-toed boots at the same time was more than enough, in his opinion. He was much annoyed to walk into the cheap restaurant Lindsey had picked for the meeting to discover his brother in a navy shirt the same style as the crimson one Eliot had chosen that day, his shaggy hair tucked behind his ears to show off matching earrings. Except for the curling lines of tattoos visible at wrists and throat, and the lack of bracelets, he could have easily passed for Eliot after a clean shave and a half-assed haircut.
Lindsey took one look at the expression on his face and chuckled. "Still can't let it go, can you?"
"We're brothers, not bookends," Eliot growled in response as he sank into a chair opposite his brother, avoiding his teammates' eyes. The intent silence emanating from Nate's direction and the intrigued hum from Parker told him everything he needed to know about their reactions to Lindsey's little display of style coordination.
"That's not what you said yesterday," Lindsey replied, a note of teasing in his voice, then shook his head. "But I'm sure you didn't come here just to bitch some more about the fact that I never minded our aunt buying our clothes at two-for-one sales and signing us up for all the same activities the way you did. You didn't seem all that concerned about me when we ran into each other in Pakistan, and let me tell you, what I'm up to in L.A.'s no more dangerous than what I was doing over there. What makes you so determined to pitch in now?"
"What you were doing over there wasn't exactly something I could help with," Eliot said gruffly. "That ain't the case now."
All that business with tests and shamans and empowerment; even if he could have helped Lindsey then, Eliot probably wouldn't have done it. The part where the magical tattoos made their wearer invisible to surveillance-- both electronic and magical-- would have been damn useful for the job, but he'd spent a lot of years shaping his body into a weapon, ingraining the exact degrees of force required into his movements until he could cause exactly as much harm as he intended to, no more and no less, without even thinking about it. Throwing that all out of whack with some kind of mystical power-up, being effectively out of commission and therefore useless to both himself and the team until he could retrain his every reflex, wasn't Eliot's idea of a good time.
"And what makes you think you're more equipped to go up against Wolfram and Hart than I am?" Lindsey asked, a mulish expression on his face.
"It isn't our lack of experience with Wolfram and Hart you should be concerned with," Nate inserted himself smoothly into the conversation, "but our wealth of experience in... shall we say, redistributing resources unjustly held by entities that can't be confronted through legal means."
Lindsey's gaze shifted from Eliot to his companions for the first time. The lines around his eyes tightened briefly as his eyes skimmed over Parker, but he made no comment until his focus settled on Nate. "I don't know about that," he said. "Wolfram and Hart has a long fucking record of doing exactly the same thing, only the other way around. I don't know what Eliot's told you, but I have a better chance of getting struck by lightning tomorrow than I do of getting out from under my contract. So you can forget your damn resources; what I want from these people is vengeance."
"Why don't you tell us what you think Eliot should have told us, and we'll go from there," Nate replied evenly, lacing his fingers together as he leaned forward over the table.
Lindsey stared at him for a long moment, looking for and failing to find something in Nate's expression, then glanced back at Eliot, raising his eyebrows. "Seriously?" he asked.
Eliot shrugged, knowing exactly what he meant and fully unapologetic about it. "What did you expect? Boston's been a null zone since the shitstorm that went down in '99, and far's I went when I lived here was mapping out where not to get caught after dark."
"You want me to play tour guide." Lindsey curled his lip in disgust.
"They ain't going to believe a word unless someone shows 'em, and I'm not that anxious to get us all killed. Didn't you say something about a karaoke bar? I thought we could start there."
"Karaoke bar?" Hardison broke in, tone equal parts intrigued and horrified.
Lindsey quirked up a corner of his mouth, but his expression remained sour. "Aw, come on. A little singing never hurt anyone. Especially with an anagogic reading your aura while you do it. The place was accorded neutral territory; the host had nonviolence spells cast on the whole building."
"Aura reading?" Parker commented, perking up. "Do you mean that really works?"
"Forget aura reading, spells?" Hardison did not look impressed; he threw Eliot an eloquently disbelieving look. "Seriously? This is the real world, not World of Warcraft-- and I can't believe I'm even the one saying that."
Nate held up a hand, silencing the other two as the waitress approached. They all placed orders for beverages, mostly coffee or water; Lindsey ordered a sandwich as well, but the others had already eaten lunch before the meeting.
"I think the more relevant part of that statement was the use of the past tense," Nate said, after the waitress had sashayed back toward the kitchen. "It was accorded neutral territory?" he asked.
Lindsey nodded. "The club closed down a while back, and it doesn't look like it'll open up again anytime soon. Angel wrecked the place enough times, he finally offered Lorne a place on his staff as compensation, and the green guy took him up on it. He works for the Entertainment division at Wolfram and Hart, now."
"Damn," Eliot commented, scowling, then ran a hand through his hair. "Well, there goes that idea. Know anyplace else I could take the team without putting their lives in danger?"
"A few places," Lindsey shrugged, tapping a finger thoughtfully on the tabletop. "None of the ones left in town are guaranteed secure, though, not since the Scourge came through a few years back. The Transuding Furies don't work for cheap, and most places that can afford to hire them to ward down their property belong to either the larger predatory clans, or Wolfram and Hart. There are neutral districts-- the transients and nonhostiles have to trade and gather somewhere-- but a bunch of clueless humans would attract more attention down there than flies to horseshit."
For a group of thieves and con artists who'd spent most of their lives making a living out of diverting attention-- even Nate, who'd been so successful as an insurance investigator mostly because he'd learned how to out-Roman the Romans he hunted-- that would probably be an even worse idea than Eliot's first, which had been to stake out a graveyard and wait for a fledge to rise. (There had to be a lot of them in Los Angeles, and most of the supernatural hunters he'd run across in the back ways of Europe and Asia had used that initiation method on their apprentices for a reason. Vampires were already the lowest of the low on the supernatural power scale, and new-made ones were especially weak before their host body's human intelligence and mental flexibility regained enough strength to overpower the demon's thirst for blood. They were still a danger to most humans, of course; but Eliot wasn't most humans. Problem was, the graveyard method could take a while to produce results, and Eliot really didn't see Parker or Hardison having the patience to stand around very long.)
"Neutral districts?" Nate asked, glancing cautiously back and forth between the brothers. "Clans? You're talking about some kind of-- supernaturally inclined minority culture?" He sounded skeptical, but was still giving Eliot the benefit of the doubt, thank the patron saint of small favors.
"I guess you could call it that," Lindsey said with a wry twist of lips and a flat, knowing distance in his eyes that Eliot had never wanted to see on any of his family.
Eliot had earned it, had chosen this life with eyes wide open and a readiness to do violence and never tried too hard to make his siblings understand. Lindsey had been the good brother, chasing law and textbooks rather than finding ways around them, the 'sleep peaceably in their beds' half of the twins' personal equation. He should have been living it up in a corner office somewhere, not sparing so much as a thought for what lurked in the shadows.
Eliot had been flippant earlier, teasing Lindsey that their roles had flipped, but seeing that glacial expression on him-- somehow, it didn't seem all that funny anymore. "So what do you suggest we do?" he said roughly, shifting in his seat as the waitress reappeared with their glasses and coffee cups.
Lindsey stared at the team again for long moments as she moved and poured, gaze lingering longest on Parker and Hardison as if evaluating them for potential weaknesses, then glanced down at his watch. A few seconds later, the phone behind the restaurant's entry counter began ringing shrilly, carrying clearly over the background hum of customer conversations; the cashier picked it up and opened her mouth to answer, then grimaced and held the receiver away from her ear as a loud shrieking sound emitted from the earpiece. At the same time, the waitress at their table frowned as the cell phone in her pocket also began ringing; she lifted it out to glance at the number displayed in glowing letters on its small screen, then gave them a hurried, apologetic smile and moved away, thumbing the call button and lifting it to her ear with the hand not wrapped around the handle of the coffee carafe. Seconds later, she flinched and held it out at arms' length, giving it an offended, startled look.
"So far, so good," Lindsey said, watching the waitress' actions. Then he grinned widely at Eliot, as though suddenly reminded of something he found vastly amusing. "I suppose I could take y'all with me out to Death Valley. I hadn't planned to stick around after I set things up, but it should be safe enough to hang out and watch the fireworks afterward."
"I get the feeling you don't mean the literal kind of fireworks," Hardison chipped in, warily.
Eliot's reaction was a little more visceral. He'd seen that expression on Lindsey's face before, after he'd pranked one of his siblings-- usually Eliot-- but good. "What did you do?" he asked, suspiciously.
"Oh, just knocked the wheel of destiny off its axis a little," Lindsey replied, smirking.
Next to him, Nate frowned over at another group of patrons whose cell phones were ringing just as insistently as the waitress' had. Eliot saw him slip his own cell phone from his pocket out of the corner of his eye and switch it on, and the frown grew even more pronounced at the noisy results. "I wasn't aware that destiny was tied directly into the electromagnetic spectrum," he said, dryly.
"That's just a side-effect," Lindsey said, matter-of-factly. "The main problem's more that there's suddenly two of something where there's only supposed to be one, and the universe is out of balance."
Nate's brow furrowed at that response, but Parker spoke up before he could reply. "Kind of like you guys, then," she said, matter-of-factly. She'd ended up seated next to Lindsey at the table, and had been inspecting him furtively throughout most of the conversation. "That's what Hardison said, when we saw your picture-- that he was surprised the world was still around if there were two of you."
Eliot snorted. "Somehow, I don't think he meant it quite that literally, Parker," he said over Hardison's sputtering, then took a long sip of his water. He had a sinking feeling he'd need the hydration later on.
"As far's I know, there's never been an apocalyptic prophecy pointing to one of us," Lindsey said, giving his brother a darkly amused look. "Vampires with a soul, on the other hand, are a different story entirely."
"Souled vampires," Nate echoed flatly, curling his hands around his coffee cup.
"And we're back to the part where I have to ask, seriously?" Hardison shook his head. "You don't actually expect us to believe any of this, do you?"
Eliot had expected both reactions; what he hadn't expected was Parker's. She leaned a little closer into Lindsey's space and stared back at him, an expression of alarmed curiosity on her face. "You mean vampires don't usually have souls?" she asked. "Then why would one be nice to me?"
Four heads swiveled to stare at her. "What?" Eliot and Hardison blurted, together.
"Parker?" Nate asked, in that protective paternal tone he sometimes slipped into when dealing with the team's youngest members. "When did you see a vampire?"
"And what was its name?" Lindsey asked, speaking over him.
Parker glanced back and forth between them, cautiously. "I don't know what her name was," she said, shrugging. "She was sucking on the neck of a guard in a museum I broke into in Rome a couple of years ago. I thought maybe they were just making out at first, and they were standing in front of the painting I wanted, so I stopped to wait them out. Except she knew I was there, somehow. She had long, dark hair and an old-time velvet dress, and when she dropped the guard and stared at me her face looked—kind of strange. Really wrinkled. I didn't like it."
She frowned a little and wrung her hands together, gaze distant as she relived the memory. "I wanted to leave, but-- I felt like I couldn't, for some reason, and then she came up the stairs and suddenly I didn't want to anymore. It was weird. She wasn't scary up close, though. She was pretty, kind of like Sophie, and she was carrying a little ceramic-faced doll. She called me Marian, and wished me luck playing merry hob with the silver, then handed me the doll; she said I'd need it more than she did."
Eliot had seen that doll; she'd brought it into their offices in L.A. to keep her plant company when they'd taken off for that long con in Juan. Eerie little thing; he'd turned it around so it was watching the interior of her office instead of the hallway.
"Sounds like you met Drusilla," Lindsey said, looking disturbed and a little concerned. "She's been through here before. She got set on fire the last time, though; I wasn't sure she was still alive. She's more than a hundred years old, but kind of..." He whirled a finger in the air next to his ear.
Eliot snorted, reminded of the first job he'd worked with the team-- the first time he'd seen Parker working, up close and personal. He'd adjusted to her ways since, but at the time he'd had no frame of reference for dealing with her skewed outlook on life. The vamp must have sensed a kindred spirit. "Twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag?" he suggested.
Hardison coughed into his fist; Parker shot him a reproachful look.
Lindsey chuckled. "Exactly. You can't judge all vampires by her example. And if she'd met her on a different day...." He shrugged.
"Why would she have called Parker 'Marian'?" Nate mused, still caught up in Parker's account.
Lindsey shrugged and took a sip of his sweet tea. "She's a little psychic. Spooky as hell, especially when she looks at you like whatever your future is, it's going to be tasty." He shuddered.
"Then playing merry hob with the silver...." Hardison straightened in his seat, grinning over at Nate.
"Sterling, perhaps?" Nate commented, raising his eyebrows.
Parker looked pleased at that interpretation of her encounter with 'the evil Nate', as she'd referred to the agent. "So I was supposed to meet you guys and be a part of this team all along?" she asked brightly, tracing a finger around the rim of her water glass.
"Maybe, maybe not," Lindsey replied. "Destiny's a funny thing. Sometimes it's set in stone; sometimes all it takes to change it is a little elbow grease."
"Destiny, my ass," Eliot heard Hardison mumble under his breath. Nate didn't look much more convinced. Philosophically, Eliot agreed with them; but factually... well, they'd see, soon enough.
Lindsey ignored their byplay as he pushed back from the table and stood, glancing over at a new server finally approaching with his sandwich. "Mind boxing that up?" he asked the guy. Then, as the server hurried off to comply, he turned his attention back to Eliot's boss. "Back to the point: do y'all want to come along? Angel and Spike should be too distracted to notice anyone watching, and what I've got planned for them-- well. It should be all the convincing you'll need."
"We needed to do some observation of Angel anyway," Eliot commented quietly.
"I don't know, man," Hardison said skeptically, shaking his head. "Death Valley's way the fuck out there; that'll be a hell of a drive for a day-trip."
Nate considered that, then nodded slowly. "It wouldn't necessarily be that much of a loss. Since Parker apparently already believes in..." The older man paused, searching for an accurate way to describe the situation, "...vampires, and whatever else you wanted to show us, Eliot, she could scout the building while he's off chasing your brother's distraction." Then he seemed to realize what that implied and jerked his attention back towards Lindsey. "Wait. You're telling us that a vampire is running Wolfram and Hart?" he asked, incredulously.
"I told you there was crazy shit going on with them that you wouldn't believe," Eliot pointed out. "I know how it sounds, but the vampire thing is only the tip of the iceberg with these people."
Nate stared at him, then huffed a sigh and rubbed at his forehead. "You know, I think it's the fact that you said that with a straight face that bothers me the most. Whichever way things go tonight, we'll need to have a conversation afterward," he said, firmly. "Either about checking you and Parker into an asylum for a while," he softened that with a wry smile, "or about how you got involved with the supernatural world in the first place, and why you never said anything about it before."
"Fair enough." Eliot wasn't looking forward to that conversation, but he knew it was inevitable. He tossed a few bills on the table, then got up to take the sandwich box as the server returned. "Y'all mind if I ride with my brother?" he asked.
Nate glanced at Hardison; Hardison sighed, then tapped his ear and shook his head. "Whatever has the phones down is affecting the earbuds, too."
"Make sure you stay in sight of us," Nate decided after a moment.
"Will do," Eliot replied, with a significant glance at Lindsey.
Lindsey sketched an approximation of a salute in Nate's direction, then headed for the door.
Eliot paused long enough to hear Nate give the other two their marching orders, then nodded to himself and followed after him.