Hours later, Eliot was just finishing up with a round of Tai Chi when Hardison stumbled out of his guest room, clutching bleary-eyed at an iPhone. He stifled a yawn, then kicked at the couch as he passed it, jarring Lindsey out of slumber. Eliot slowed his routine to a halt and swiped a hand towel over the back of his neck as Lindsey blinked his way awake and Hardison continued his zombie routine into the kitchen, heading straight for the refrigerator and its stash of orange soda.
"What d'you do that for?" Lindsey grumbled, rubbing at the crease the pillow seam had left on his face.
"'Scuse me, maybe I was hearing things, but I thought you wanted to know when the eagle had landed," Hardison bitched right back at him. "You didn't tell me she had wings!"
"The hell do you mean, wings?" Eliot asked, drifting over to crane his neck at the slick little screen.
A blurry window of imagery that looked like the view from a security camera across the street from Wolfram and Hart was cycling through a small loop, tracking a blonde-haired woman as she briefly moved through its angle of view to enter the building in question. She looked about the right height, though Eliot couldn't have positively identified her; if Hardison's software had flagged the clip, though, he trusted that it was indeed the girl in question.
"I don't know how the hell else she could have got here so quick," Hardison replied, turning the screen to shove it in Lindsey's face as the ex-lawyer followed them into the kitchen.
"Damn," he swore, staring at the picture. "When was this?"
"Two-- no, three minutes ago," Hardison said, pouring himself a glass of soda with one hand while he jabbed at the image to bring up the timestamp with the other. "No airports, no train stations, no mall security, no nothing; this is the first clue I had she was even in the country!"
"Well, I did say she was unpredictable." Lindsey shook his head. "Guess she thought it was urgent enough to teleport. Let's just hope that means she's got a lot she wants to say to them." Then he reached out, snagging the glass of soda out of Hardison's hand just as the hacker raised it to his lips, and tossed it back like it was water.
"You did not just do that," Hardison stared at him, thoroughly nonplused, then turned to Eliot like he could do something about it.
"Don't look at me," Eliot told him, then turned and strode for the bedroom, picking up speed as he moved. He pounded on Nate's and Parker's guest doors as he passed them-- not that he thought Parker was actually either sleeping, or in her bed, but he trusted her to be at least in earshot-- and made straight for the bathroom, peeling off his workout clothes as he went.
Twelve minutes later they were all out the door, dressed and ready for at least the first iteration of the plan, if not in the depth of detail they'd hoped for. Lindsey and Eliot, who would be all too recognizable if they went in the front doors, would be taking a slightly more circuitous route into the building; Parker, dressed in her sharpest professional wear and with a heavily fluffed hairstyle to dissociate her from the ponytailed girl in the jumpsuit caught by security the day before, would go in the front to distract the secretary; and once Ms. Kendall was thoroughly engrossed in Parker's dramatics, Nate and Hardison would choose their moment to slip in unobtrusively and bypass the front desk.
Thanks to Parker's aborted exploration, they had a good idea where they needed to go, regardless of what might have changed in the building since Lindsey had left, and Hardison had the tools they'd need to quickly snapshot, scan, and search the undoubtedly multiple-page document to pinpoint the clauses Nate needed to verify in order to pull the rest of the plan off-- in whichever iteration it might best unfold. Security in the perimeter halls was expected to be light due to Ms. Summers' presence in the building; she had yet to reappear on the front door cam, and the few threads of code Hardison had been able to sneak into their external phone and high-speed access systems suggested that the whole office had, indeed, gone into a frenzy of activity since her arrival.
Odds were still against them getting out again unobserved, of course. Not without more time than they had to prepare. But since any means of freeing Lindsey from his contract was going to require actual confrontation with an agent of the firm, that wasn't so much an issue. No, the issue was making sure that when they were confronted, they were routed to one of Angel's men, rather than the less-distracted and more ruthless agents left behind by the firm's previous leadership. It would be Eliot's and Lindsey's job to make sure that happened.
Nate eyed them both as they piled out of the rental car a block away, frowning at the differing hairstyles and jewelry distracting from their identical maintenance uniforms. "It's a shame we didn't have time to cut your hair to match," he said. "As it is, you'll probably fool the guys on the security cameras, since Lindsey himself won't show up in the images, but you won't do more than briefly confuse anyone who sees the both of you in person; it'll be easy for them to tell which one of you is their former employee."
"It's not as if I'd be able to pass as him once I opened my mouth, anyway," Eliot said, warningly. He'd briefly considered it himself, but his Hail Mary wouldn't require that they look alike, just that they were together. "You ever come at me with a pair of shears, I'll feed them to you, I swear."
"Didn't you know? He's like Samson," Parker confided, mock whispering behind a shielding hand. Her tone was perfectly serious, but Eliot would have sworn her eyes were twinkling as she continued. "His hair's the source of his strength! If you cut it off, we'll have to find a new hitter."
"Parker," Eliot growled at her, warningly.
"You haven't told any of your girlfriends about that particular weakness, have you?" Hardison asked, drawing his face into a concerned expression as he wedged his comm into his ear.
"We don't have time for this," Nate barked, but he was biting his lip against a grin as he put in his own comm and gestured everyone toward their routes of entry.
Lindsey chuckled to himself as he and Eliot headed for one of the employee entrances with the pass he'd 'borrowed' from Eve. "That gal of yours is something else," he said.
"You can say that again," Eliot snorted. "Though she's not anyone's but her own, so get your mind right out of that gutter."
"Just saying," Lindsey smirked as they approached the door.
Once in, some careful maneuvering soon earned them a line of sight view on the hallway leading to the records room. The wide, high halls of the main office area narrowed down to more compact, utilitarian spaces in the areas where the firm's real work took place, and they tucked themselves into a shadowy niche out of direct line of the security cams to watch and wait.
The usual bustle of a busy office in the middle of the day was notably absent in the halls around them. A few people did pass by, but most were in a hurry, and Eliot caught murmurs over his comm from Parker's conversation with the ditzy receptionist suggesting that most of the nonvital personnel had been given the afternoon off. 'Harmony' sounded pretty displeased not to be among their number, actually; apparently she and the 'VIP visitor' had some past grievances, and she'd rather have been anywhere but sitting behind that desk when Buffy went through. Hardison and Nate had got in without any problems, and hadn't seen a soul since locating the file cabinets; it was beginning to look like Lindsey and Eliot might have to actually seek out someone to catch them, in order to move the plan to its next step.
"We've got it," Nate finally announced over their earpieces. There was a sound of rustling pages, and Hardison muttering to himself in geekspeak; then an incomprehensible grunt and an 'ah, thought so' from their mastermind.
"You sure we can't just burn this, man?" Hardison asked, wistfully.
"All you'd do is attract attention from security," Lindsey told him. "Like I said, it's been tried before, and all that happened was a fresh copy got regenerated in the drawer."
"Hmm. Perhaps I should try it anyway?" Nate replied, thoughfully. "We've got to attract attention somehow, right? And I think this might actually work better than having you walk up to someone who'd recognize you."
"You sure 'bout that, Nate?" Eliot cautioned him. "We can't control who shows up if you do it that way, remember. The distraction's still here, so it's not like it's going to be Angel himself, and some of the people he's got on the payroll...."
"Trust me," Nate said, audibly amused. "Just because we've all got used to working with a grifter over the last year, doesn't mean I've let my skills go to rust. Or have you forgotten Jimmy Papadakoulos already?"
Eliot lowered his face into his palm, remembering that ridiculously awful suit, and the even more ridiculous behavior Nate had adopted while playing a mediocre, suspended Nevada lawyer. He always picked the most bizarre identities when he had to be a public face for a job, and the sad part was they usually worked. "Oh, god," he said.
"Here we go," Hardison announced, followed closely by a faint crackling sound.
Lindsey sighed. "So go ahead, check the drawer again," he told them, cocking his head to listen for incoming security.
"Well, would you look at that," Nate said softly, after a long pause. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to magic being real, but it's hard to deny proof when it's right in front of me."
Eliot glanced at his brother as Nate spoke; like Lindsey had said earlier when talking about running into Lilah again, there's a difference between believing something to be true, and knowing it down to your bones. He had to've been hoping, even just a little, that burning the contract would solve all their problems. There was no sign of it on his face, though, beyond a slight, self-deprecating smile.
"So which plan was that, Plan E?" Lindsey asked, mildly.
"For 'E Ticket', best possible ride out of here?" Hardison joked.
"No, no, that was a spur of the moment addition--"
"Which is about to earn you a visit from the boys in blazers," Eliot broke in, pulling his brother back farther into the shadows as a group of security hurried down the hall. "You're sure you know what you're doing?"
"One hundred percent," Nate said confidently, then took a deep breath. "Going radio silent now; it would probably be a bad idea to be caught with these comms."
Eliot had been expecting that, but it still made him hiss through his teeth with apprehension as Nate and Hardison dropped off the network just in time for the group of security men to storm the door of the archives and slam it open. "Damn it," he muttered under his breath.
"Aw, come on," Lindsey said, nudging him with an elbow. "Trust your friends. I never thought I'd say this after the last time I made nice with a bunch of do-gooders, but they're good people. They've got your back, and you've got theirs."
Lindsey was right, of course; but it was still hard to watch as the door flew back open and a protesting 'Jimmy Papadakoulos' in full voice was led out by the guards. Hardison followed close behind, arms wrenched up behind his back, but thankfully kept quiet.
"I'm an attorney at law! Las Vegas, you can look it up! I have just as much right to be here as you do!" Nate was objecting.
"Really. In our secure file room," one of the guards replied, skeptically.
"One file! One file!" Nate protested again. "You can search that whole room, and you'll only find my fingerprints on that one drawer. All I wanted was access to my client's unmodified file. Since he wasn't allowed to take it with him when he left the firm, I think you'll find I have a right to access it on his behalf."
"Then you should have put the request in through the proper channels, rather than sneaking in and trying to steal it," the same guy sneered, then brought the procession to a halt a few yards down the hall. The other guards swiftly patted Nate and Hardison down, and they weren't gentle about it, either; one of them even had a scanner wand. When they'd finally verified that the two men had nothing on them but Hardison's souped-up iPhone and a spare file folder Nate had brought in, the group started moving again, chivvying the two men toward the central offices.
Still tucked into the niche they'd been watching from, Eliot held a hand up to keep his brother from following them. Then he reached into a pocket, pulled out a rubber band, and reached up to finger-comb his hair into a ponytail. Another pocket yielded the thick-framed, prescriptionless glasses he often used when he was wearing contacts and trying to obscure his features rather than actually reading with the lenses, and he hastily pushed them onto his nose for an instant disguise.
"What are you doing?" Lindsey whispered, harshly.
"Now I look like some guy hired to be your body double, not your brother," Eliot whispered back. "I'll hang back a couple paces when we get closer, keep my head down."
"I thought the whole idea was to distract them with your identity," Lindsey frowned at him.
"Yeah, well, Nate changed his plan, I'm changing my part. Now shut up, and come on."
His nerves were on edge constantly over the next few minutes; he was ninety-five percent certain by the time they'd reached the vast atrium and the banks of offices that opened out onto it from at least three floors that someone was following their progress, either physically or over the security cameras. It didn't make any sense that they could have got so far without someone noticing them, and the suspicious way the halls had cleared even further along their route was a clue, too. Fortunately, that seemed to be encouraging the security guys to herd the whole mess straight toward their boss' office-- they might also be trying to capitalize on or compound the souled vampire's current state of distraction. If Lindsey's Eve was any example of their typical employee, he wouldn't be surprised.
One of the security guys lifted a walkie-talkie, calling ahead to inform someone else of the problem-- probably Angel's receptionist comma secretary, from the snippets of conversation that carried back over Parker's comm. Ms. Kendall claimed that Mr. Angel had cleared his entire afternoon's schedule and wasn't available for meetings; but the words 'former client's lawyer' must have made it through, because the security guy paused again, turning to Nate.
"And what did you say your client's name was again?" he asked.
"Um, actually, I didn't," Nate replied, rocking on his heels, hands thrust into the pockets of his suit.
The security guy waited a second, then when nothing else was forthcoming, took an impatient breath. "Then I'll ask again, and you'd better answer this time. What is your client's name?"
"Oh, I'm perfectly willing to tell you," Nate shrugged, cheerfully. "He's a former employee of this place, actually. Guy by the name of Lindsey McDonald? Smart man. Might even be a better lawyer than I am, but you know how it is. Didn't trust you guys not to screw him over if he showed up alone."
The security guy's eyes widened; he must've recognized the name, because his next conversation with the receptionist was delivered in much firmer, quieter tones. So far, no surprises; it would have been weird if the firm's loyal employees hadn't been interested in seeing how their supposedly moral new boss would react to the presence of one of his known antagonists.
"Didn't trust them not to bury me or shanghai me to a holding dimension, more like," Lindsey muttered. "That's hideous. Does he do that act often?"
"You should have seen him playing principal at a private school a few weeks ago," Eliot snorted. "And-- I think this is our cue."
More security guys were flooding into the hallway; apparently, speaking Lindsey's name aloud had given the silent watchers an excuse to move in. They seemed briefly surprised to see two men instead of one-- must've been the security system, then, which made him feel a little better about his craft-- but were quick to usher them toward the other group.
Eliot went without objection, hands up, not saying a word as Lindsey turned on the cocky attitude and strolled over to Eliot's teammates with a smirk, not deigning to give any notice to the armed men surrounding them.
"Mr. McDonald, you're here early!" Nate enthused, clapping his hands together and then rubbing them palm to palm. "All the better, I suppose. From what I saw of your contract, we might just be able to get this all over with in one meeting. I take it we're on our way to see Mr. Angel?" he continued, with a bland smile at the head of the security detachment.
"You'll find out soon enough," the guy said, smiling toothily back, and gestured him across the atrium toward an open pair of dark wooden doors. "He's a busy man, though; I don't recommend keeping him waiting."
Eliot took a deep breath, then followed in Lindsey's wake as the party proceeded into the large, windowed office. Showtime. Angel was standing in front of the glass panes, tall and solid and paler than Hardison's screenshot of him in the filtered sunlight; four other people were also in the office, but the only one Angel was paying attention to was the blonde woman seated in a chair in front of his desk, with whom he was absorbed in a fierce conversation.
"Fine," the woman bit out as they approached within hearing range, then surged up from the chair. She speared a glance toward the other vampire, who was lurking in his leather duster on the other side of the room, and turned to stride out of the office. "Spike? A word," she said, not even bothering to watch to make sure he was following.
Eliot sucked in a breath as she drew close to his group; the vague impressions he'd had of steel and sharp edges under the Slayer's soft, frothy surface were even clearer in person than they had been on-screen. Buffy Summers was a little thinner than she'd been in her photo, more woman than girl now, and still dressed to kill; her hair was drawn back in a messy bun, no doubt artfully arranged for maximum effect around the silvery metal picks thrust through it, and the three-inch spike heels on her brown leather boots could have-- and probably did-- double as stakes in their spare time. Her green eyes locked very briefly with his as she passed, and in that moment he knew without a doubt she'd trounce him in a hand-to-hand fight if he gave her even a second to center herself and prepare.
Mikel Dayan who? he smiled to himself, then winced inwardly as her gaze sharpened and she paused, giving him a full head-to-toe once over. He braced himself, silently swearing as he saw all their plans sliding toward the edge of a cliff-- then blinked as she glanced back over her shoulder toward Angel, shook her head, and visibly decided to ignore him, continuing on out of the office.
He let out a silent, shaky breath, then shared a relieved look with Hardison. One unexpected hurdle down. How many left to go?
Angel followed Ms. Summers out with his eyes, then snapped his focus back to the group, narrowing unerringly in on Eliot's brother. "Hello, Lindsey," he said, all malice and brooding expression.
"Hello, Angel," Lindsey replied, smiling viciously back. "Fancy meeting you here, of all places."
"If you've come back for some kind of revenge--"
"Now, now," Nate broke in, shaking off the guard at his elbow and stepping into Angel's line of sight. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. My client isn't here for you-- well, at least not you as yourself, though I think you'd agree he as some legitimate grievances. He's actually here to negotiate with the CEO of Wolfram and Hart, Los Angeles."
"Negotiate?" Angel echoed, staring at Nate, nonplused.
One of the two other men in the office-- Wyndam-Pryce, Eliot recognized him from his photo-- sucked in a breath. "The perpetuity clause," he said, in a British accent worn around the edges from time spent away from his home country. "I'd wondered what could bring you back here, after your rather dramatic exit."
"Got it in one!" Nate answered. "Mr. McDonald is eager to move on with his life, but his employment with this office has been, and continues to remain, an anchor holding him back. Now, I'm no expert, but I think it's fair to say that your 'eternal employment' concept, rather than being a source of security for your employees, has become a means of illegally retaining their services against their will; in fact, preventing them from ever successfully reestablishing an existence separate from the organization."
Angel crossed his arms over his chest, glower fading toward something a little more ominously self-satisfied as he faced Nate down. "And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him because...?" he said. "He knew what he was doing when he signed that contract. And he definitely knew what he was doing when he went back to them the first time he tried to leave."
"Us," Lindsey interjected, then. "You mean us."
Angel glared at him, startled briefly out of his smugness. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You said them," Lindsey replied, gesturing around at the office they stood in. "Just saying."
"Angel," the other of the vampire's remaining co-workers interrupted; the lawyer this time, Gunn. "Don't let him get to you, man; he's trying to distract you." Then he moved away from his quiet conversation with the book-guy to stand next to Angel, scowling thoughtfully at Nate.
"He did sign the contract," Gunn continued, "and even if he didn't believe it at the time, I know damn well they explain all the pertinent parts before offering the quill. I'd like to know how he thinks he's going to get out of it."
"Oh, but he's not!" Nate parried, smiling widely. "Your boss there is going to do it for him."
"And why would I do a thing like that, even if I could?" Angel growled. "I don't owe him a damn thing."
"I beg to differ on that," Lindsey said. "But you know, bygones, and all that."
"And you'll do it because it's the right thing to do," Nate added, virtuously. "The legal thing. If I could have my file back, young man? Thank you." He took the folder from the guard who'd been holding it and flipped it open, jabbing a finger at the first page concealed within. "Given that the contested clause effectively deals with ownership of my client's soul, I took the liberty of researching previously existing claims which would conflict with your firm's interest in him. For example, the fact that he is a twin--"
"Oh, god, there's more than one of you?" Angel blurted.
"--Has nothing to do with the provenance of the soul," Gunn said firmly, torpedoing plan A. "We've heard that 'one soul, two bodies' angle before, and even if it were true in Lindsey's case, it wouldn't matter. If Wolfram and Hart started making allowances for that, we'd have to start making allowances for 'two souls, one body' as well, and what about 'one body, no soul'? It would get all kinds of ridiculous. All arguments along those lines are clearly disallowed in the language of the contract."
"Ah, if you say so," Nate rocked back a little, blinking, then turned back to the file and turned a few more pages. "And in cases of prior dedication of the soul to another, more senior Higher Power..."
"Nobody's going to stop him from believing in God, if he wants to," Gunn said. "If he even really does. The firm doesn't ask its employees to worship them... except in select cases, and those are dealt with on an individual basis." He waved the argument away. "If he'd been a dedicated priest of an official, recognized religious order, it would be another story entirely; but in that case, the language of his contract would have been changed to reflect his agreement to formally relinquish any other sworn oaths regarding the disposition of his afterlife."
"Right, okay." Nate chewed his lip, then flipped distractedly past a few more loose pages in the file. "Which brings us to the fact that the document in your filing cabinet labeled with Mr. McDonald's name is, in fact the original contract he signed when he was first hired at your firm. Despite subsequent renegotiations, to which Mr. Angel has already referred, I saw no evidence of any new or updated language. My client's words at the time were, and I quote, 'You're offering me back my job?' to which a Mr. Holland Manners replied...." Nate squinted at the page in front of him, reading as though from a transcript. "'Oh no, I'm offering you a new job.'"
"Without ever terminating his overall employment," Gunn insisted. "It's well within the rights of the CEO or any of the division heads to verbally renegotiate the exact terms of any employee's contract aside from their own or those of their equals or superiors when a situation arises that might require it. Your client agreed to accept continued employment at that time, and thus remained party to all of his original contract's subsidiary clauses."
Which left them with the option Lindsey really hadn't wanted to deal with, as it required actual persuasion and a favor, however forced, from a man he thoroughly despised.
"So you agree, then, that Mr. Angel here has the right to dismiss that clause from Lindsey's contact if he should choose to do so?" Nate brightened, seizing upon Gunn's statement with an air of triumph.
Gunn looked thoughtful at that, visibly pulling his concentration back a little before glancing over his shoulder at Wyndam-Pryce, looking pained on the sidelines. "Since it hasn't yet come into play--" he said, hesitantly. "Legally speaking--"
"For all the good it does him," Angel snorted. "Let me just reiterate, he knew what he was doing when he signed his contract. Why the hell would I choose to help him avoid the consequences?"
"Oh, don't think of it as helping me avoid the consequences of my actions," Lindsey spoke up again. "Think of it as helping yourself avoid the consequences of not acting."
"What do you--" Angel began, then cut himself off, startled. "The package. The amulet? That was you?"
Lindsey let his smile fade and leaned forward, adding in a confident tone, "I have access to a lot of things these days that might surprise you."
Angel's fists clenched at his sides, and Eliot chose that moment to step forward, gauging that there would be no better time to play his card. He pulled off his glasses and narrowed his eyes at the dark-eyed vampire, working his best intimidating glare.
"Whatever you're thinking now?" he said in low, calculated tones, "don't. You don't have the moral high ground here and you know it. All you've got to do is say the words, and you'll never have to see or hear from us again."
Everyone in the office shifted at his move, startled; but Angel recovered quickly, eyeing him up and down before glancing back at Lindsey. "The other Mr. McDonald, I presume," he said. "Just what the world needs; more tiny Texans with delusions of adequacy."
"It's Spencer, actually," Eliot corrected him. "Eliot Spencer."
From the way the guards reacted to that, they definitely knew that name. Sometimes his reputation really did come in handy.
"There's another option here, you know," a new voice added itself to the conversation.
A brunette Eliot didn't recognize was striding from the direction of the office's private elevator; Eve, presumably, from the way Lindsey was studiously not reacting to her. She was attractive enough, but nothing special at first glance, and the faux sweetness dripping from her voice was already aggravating his nerves.
"And what's that, Eve?" Angel asked, through gritted teeth.
"Why, that you accept the exchange already on offer," she said brightly, sashaying for maximum effect as she walked across the office. "A soul for a soul; even the Senior Partners can't fault you for that."
A little of Eliot's confidence faltered at her comment. He'd been assured of the confidentiality of his request at the Massachusetts branch, but clearly, either they didn't consider that to apply between offices-- or the people he'd taken it to for independent verification had squawked. Damn it. She'd put two and two together with his appearance here, and thrown an unexpected wrench in the works.
Lindsey's expression went ominously blank as he watched her approach. "Something you want to tell me, Eliot?" he asked, tersely.
Eliot swallowed as Eve passed Lindsey by to trail a hand up his chest, and tried to think of a reply that might salvage the situation.
"It would give everyone what they wanted, and always leave you the option of trying again in the future," she continued. "It's not like we'd even require you to stop doing what you love; we'd just... redirect a few additional 'retrieval' clients your way." She smiled cloyingly up at him, then tilted her head toward Angel. "Seems like a win-win situation to me."
Eliot could feel Nate's and Hardison's concerned glances on him as well, but he couldn't directly speak to either of them, or to Parker over the comms, without tipping his hand too far. The firm knew him as an independent hitter, not a team player, and the last thing he wanted was to give them extra leverage on his coworkers.
"I reserved the option to make that exchange," he finally said, aloud. "I never actually agreed to any such thing."
She clicked her tongue at him. "Same difference, sweetie," she said.
"No," Lindsey replied, throwing him a sharp look that spoke of words to be had later on. "That's not going to happen. I'll let the Senior Partners take me before I let him do that."
Eve stared back at him, taking in his determination. "You would, wouldn't you," she said after a moment, a small frown starting to gather between her brows.
"That can be arranged," Angel added, glancing between the brothers with no give in his expression at all.
"Now wait just a minute," Hardison blurted, stepping forward out of his role as Nate's silent assistant. Eliot saw the glow of his iPhone's screen disappear into his pocket, and had a pretty good guess what he'd been doing while the rest of them talked. "No need to be hasty. Why doesn't everyone just take a step back and we'll get ourselves out of y'all's hair."
His words fell on deaf ears. Eliot glanced around, taking in the positions of everyone in the room, and readied himself for whichever way the situation might break next.
When it did, however, it was in the way he'd least expected. Eve sighed, then turned to Angel with a more subdued smile. "Well, it was worth a try," she said, lightly. "At this point, you might want to consider cutting your losses. Which do you think the Senior Partners will hold against you more-- cutting loose one former employee, or exposing the firm to more of the kind of thing we went through yesterday? On a pure cost-benefit analysis..." she trailed off with an apologetic shrug. "We can always find cheaper ways to reward him for his... independence. I'm just saying." Then she sashayed back toward the elevator, as though she hadn't a care in the world.
Angel watched her go, then turned back to Lindsey, jaw firm. "I don't have time for this," he said.
"C'mon," Lindsey replied, calmer than he'd been during the entire rest of the conversation. "Just let me go. I'll even throw in a piece of advice for free: you know the firm ain't going to sit around and let you use their resources for 'good deeds' resources forever, right? One of those claused employees found me easy enough and sent me straight back at you. Think on that, next time you're doing a 'cost-benefit analysis' of running this place."
Wyndam-Pryce, who'd been calculatedly watching during most of the conversation, closed his eyes at that; it was clear he knew who Lindsey meant without even having to ask. "Lilah," he said, heavily.
A brief silence fell; and in it, the sound of voices carried clearly through the doors, the voices of the vampire and Slayer who'd stalked out earlier. Angel frowned in that direction, took a deep, unnecessary breath, and then let it out in a frustrated sigh. "Damn. Fine, whatever. But if I ever so much as hear your name again...!"
Lindsey raised his hands. "You don't need to say another word," he said, triumphant.
There were still plenty of loose ends to tie up, of course-- though after all that build-up and no actual fighting required, it all felt kind of anticlimactic to Eliot.
Nate put his fake lawyer's hat back on and verified specific language with Gunn, then blustered his way through obnoxious farewells; Hardison set off a cascade of errors in the building's security system as they left and blanked the cameras along the route to the company carpool, to reduce chances they'd be tracked; and they exited the building without further ado. Parker had exfiltrated there and had the rental car waiting... along with another, unexpected passenger.
From the way Lindsey clutched at Eve's hand on the way back to the apartment, Eliot guessed he hadn't expected her to actually choose him over the firm-- and was more attached to her, too, than he'd been willing to admit before. At least she wasn't a four hundred year old vampire.
Between Lindsey, Eve's choice, and the thing still in his pocket, Eliot was about ninety percent sure that they hadn't heard the last of Wolfram and Hart. They'd bought themselves some breathing room, though; and Eliot thought-- or at least hoped-- that his brother would give up the vengeance kick, rather than waste the slightly tarnished slate that had just been returned to him. Regardless, it was up to Lindsey now; Eliot had done everything he could. Or-- almost.
He pressed a copy of the key of his Boston apartment in Lindsey's hand when they dropped he and Eve off on the way back to Eliot's place, and made a mental note to air that grifter idea with Nate after the inevitable 'so, any other secrets we should know about?' conversation.
Black knight, white knight; maybe both designations were too simplistic, after all. Maybe they were both grey knights now-- and for once, Eliot wasn't upset by the comparison. Whatever happened in the future, he had his brother back, and that was worth every moment of the time and tension of the last few days. Hell, he had more than that; whatever impulse had led him to follow Nathan Ford that day nearly a year before had probably been the smartest decision he'd ever made. Enjoyable work, more than enough money, and a team he could trust; what more could a man want?
Well; maybe a challenging woman-- but there was still time to work on that. Eliot made a mental note to have Hardison track down that Summers woman's current address, and set about helping his team pack up the apartment again, whistling to himself as he worked.