Wow, so, hey - we're done! And to make up for such a long gap in the middle, the last two parts on the same day. I hope it was enjoyed, sorry AGAIN for the wait and thank you so much everyone kind enough to leave a comment :D
Sophie, Angel and Spike were waiting just inside the main loading area of the warehouse when Hardison drove Lucille's rented half-sister through the massive doors. Nate opened his window and leaned out; no one seemed to be screaming, nothing was on fire and the Elo'k were already there.
In fact, he realized, the crates were empty and one of the trucks was ... glowing.
He looked askance at Sophie as she walked towards him.
"They work fast," she said. "Most of the vessels have been put the some kind of stasis ward, thing. They explained, honestly I didn't really follow. Apparently, it's quite technical."
"Huh." Nate pursed his lips and nodded. "Okay. Well, I guess they can take it from here. Kind of nice to have someone else do the break down."
Her elbow nudged him in the ribs. "You never do the break down."
"Not the point."
They watched as the Elo'k made the remaining vessels safe and then waved them off, after Kraddof's assurance that every item would be returned to its rightful owner. For a price, of course - there was always a price.
That was what made Nate inclined to believe him. Not that his opinion had mattered much after Kraddof had, with some embarrassment, hummed a few bars of Rocky Mountain High to let Lorne verify there would be no double-cross.
They'd been left in an empty warehouse with the last remaining vessel.
Now, Lindsey's fingers closed around a plain, slightly battered pocket watch and his jaw tightened. Nate could see that a decision was being made, quickly and painfully; he glanced around. Sophie's eyes were narrowed intently and Lorne was looking at the floor. It was hard to tell, but Nate thought he looked a little paler than usual.
"Maybe we should," Nate started, stepping forward.
He was cut off as Lindsey shoved the watch at his brother. "You do it."
Eliot reached out slowly and took it. "You used this?" The question was almost toneless, but Nate thought he could smell a storm.
"The vessel had to mean something to both of us." Lindsey sounded almost stilted. "I figured he wouldn't mind."
"Figured he wouldn't mind," Eliot repeated flatly. His voice hardened, but the storm passed. "Does it have to be broken?"
"No." Lindsey almost recoiled. "You just have to open it."
So he could lie, and scheme, and kill, but apparently he firmly drew the line at the destruction of a 10-dollar timepiece.
Eliot's mouth thinned warily. "Then it's over - I'm good, you're good, we're done?"
Lindsey stared at the watch like he expected it to bite. "Just do it."
Eliot grabbed him by the front of his shirt and jerked him closer. "For once in your goddamn life, tell the truth. What happens when this opens?"
Lindsey's eyes darted to Lorne. Without releasing him, Eliot followed his gaze. "What happens?" He asked the demon more calmly.
Lorne winced. "Whoever opens it is good, whoever doesn't, not so much."
Gunn shook his head in disgust. "So if it hadn't gone missing, you just call time and some place a thousand miles away, your brother drops dead? Nice, McDonald."
Lindsey kept his attention on Eliot. "Open it," he insisted hoarsely. "He's right, I would have done it."
"No." Eliot released him abruptly and took a step back. "Ain't happening."
Parker spoke slowly into the heavy silence. "What if neither of them opened it? I could open it, it doesn't know me - it might get confused."
Lorne considered her and then regretfully shook his head. "I have no idea. Chances are they'd both die and probably you too."
"Do you want me to sing? I could sing. I know songs."
"There's things I can't see and the spell was never meant to let both survive, I'm sorry, Pumpkin."
Eliot glared at him. "You knew what would happen and you were just gonna let him do it?"
"I said he wouldn't be saving any orphaned puppies any time soon - I don't think you qualify," Lorne said defensively and then his voice softened. "It's his choice to make, kiddo."
Eliot looked back to Lindsey. "How long do we have?" he demanded. "When does the time on this thing run down?"
"Day, maybe." Lindsey glanced at Nate and managed a smirk. "Give or take a day or two."
There were any number of questions and accusations just waiting for Eliot to throw, and if Nate were in his place, he couldn't honestly say he wouldn't be tossing in one or two, but the other man skipped to the finale. "You die, where are you going?"
Lindsey flinched, then tried to cover with a fast grin that just looked sickly. "I don't know. Probably some Wolfram and Hart sponsored Hell." He rubbed at his chest, then realized what he was doing and dropped his hand.
Nate looked back to the van. "Hardison, I think we've hit Plan M."
Hardison swallowed, but nodded. "One crash cart and some heartfelt prayer time coming up."
"Wait. What if they both open it?" Gunn looked around. "Think about it. The spell works by bouncing the death, right? It wouldn't be able to ground."
"It could kill both of them," Angel said slowly, but more like he was testing the theory than discarding it. "Lorne?"
"Like I said, this is out of my league. But if they're going to try it, the rest of us should probably stand back. Way back."
"Double or nothing." Eliot smiled faintly at Lindsey. "Make the old man proud, huh?"
Lindsey shook his head in disbelief. "C'mon, man. Open the watch, go live your life."
"Not happening," Eliot said flatly.
"Eliot…" Nate began, but wasn't sure exactly where to go next.
"Get out of here." Eliot nodded towards the warehouse door. "I got this."
"Eliot," Sophie said, not even trying for more words, but managing to inject just about all her worry and concern into the one.
"I know." An almost shy smile appeared. "I know. Go."
Parker flung herself forward, hugged Eliot and - to his apparent shock - Lindsey and then ran quickly for the door. Sophie hesitated and then followed, pulling Hardison with her.
"For morale, man!" He called miserably, tapping a fist against his chest as he was dragged away. "Morale!"
After a muttered 'good luck' to Eliot, Angel and his crew trailed silently in their wake.
Lorne lingered, apparently having a mini-battle with himself. Finally, he won. Or lost. It really wasn't clear. "Lindsey, if you make it, don't run off without saying goodbye, okay?"
Lindsey looked at him blankly. "Why, you want to shoot me again?"
"I didn't want to do it the first time." Lorne smiled sadly as he turned away. "Get it done, cowboy."
Nate stood where he was, desperately searching for one more angle, one more play. Plan Z remained stubbornly out of his reach. "Okay," he said. "We'll be…" He gestured towards the door. "It's been…" He glanced between them and then straightened. "Good luck," he finished.
"One show only, Nate." Eliot nodded towards the door. "No encores."
Nate nodded sharply and pulled the heavy door shut after him as he left.
When he'd gone, Lindsey made one last attempt. "You don't have to do this."
Eliot took a step closer, reaching for his hand. "Yeah, I do."
Tugging back against the pull, Lindsey's hand stayed exactly where it was. "I don't want you to do this."
Lindsey's mouth opened and then closed; he looked down.
Eliot smiled tightly. "Because if this goes bad, you're not sure you can live with it. Because maybe it'll be a few days before you manage to weasel out a way it's all okay."
Yeah, well. "Frank always said I wasn't right," he muttered.
"Frank was an asshole."
Lindsey shrugged. "Doesn't mean he was wrong."
Eliot grunted and pulled again with a determined expression that said Lindsey was giving his hand, whether he liked it or not.
Lindsey slipped from his grip and skipped back a step, speaking quickly. "All the reasons I did it, they're the reasons I shouldn't have: because it was my problem, because you're my brother. Because I could. And I'm sorry, okay? And you can believe what the hell you want, but…"
He trailed away awkwardly and then shook his head, giving up. "You know what? Doesn't even matter - we're both dead, because you're an idiot who can't even open a damn watch."
Eliot pulled up short, not hiding his surprise. He studied Lindsey for a long moment whilst Lindsey looked defiantly back, and then he smiled. "Hey, Lin," he said offhandedly. "How you been?"
Startled, Lindsey huffed a laugh. "Okay. Travelled - met some interesting people. Kinda in-between jobs right now. You?"
"Got a crew, they're good people. Don't tell them I said that."
"Secret's safe." Lindsey put his hand the other side of the watch, fingertip opposite Eliot's on the release. Suddenly it wasn't so hard to think twenty years back: to smile, and mean it. He looked up. "Hey, Eli. You want to go catch a game? Maybe get a few beers in?"
Eliot nodded agreeably. "Sure, let's do it."
The watch clicked softly as it opened.
Lorne looked up sharply. "It's done."
Sophie pressed her hand tightly over her mouth and spun to put her back to the door.
Hardison raised his head and started to stand, expression grim. Nate dropped a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him back. "I'll do it."
"No. I'll do it." Parker stood in the way; her chin lifted. "He'd do it for me."
Without waiting for a reply she turned and jogged towards the warehouse; unsure whether he should, Nate stayed where he was. She tugged the door open and disappeared inside without any particular expression and no hesitation. Still with a hand on Hardison's shoulder, Nate pulled Sophie into a loose, one-armed hug, and looked up.
You owe this, he prayed. So pay up, you son of a bitch.
Parker hit the warehouse door so hard it slammed back against the corrugated iron, kept running at full speed and threw herself at the huddle of Nate, Sophie and Hardison.
Some of Hardison's training with Eliot paid off - he managed to catch her before they all went over the back of the crate.
It took Nate a moment to be sure that she was laughing, not crying; he looked quickly back to the warehouse door, to see two figures standing at the edge of the dark interior.
Eliot looked around the ring of concerned faces and then smirked, trying to hide a grin - badly. "You think something like that would take me," he managed before he staggered back under the sudden combined weight of hacker, grifter and thief.
Eliot grumbled and Eliot bitched, but he didn't push them away.
Lindsey edged his way around the pile, nodded to Nate and made his way towards the van.
Sophie found him sitting against the wheel, hands hanging between his knees and expression … well, she assumed he was trying for stoic, but it really wasn't working for him. He was too like Eliot: their eyes always gave them away. She sat next to him and stretched her legs out in front of her, crossed neatly at the ankles.
She watched as he picked at the leather bracelet around his wrist. It was cracked and old, and probably wouldn't stand for much more abuse; she closed her fingers gently around his wrist to stop him, left them there when he didn't pull away. "Where will you go?"
He shrugged. "Alaska."
"No." He rolled his eyes, but there was no bite in his tone.
"You know, Boston's quite nice. I mean, it took me a while to get used to it, but …"
Lindsey shook his head emphatically. "The best thing I can do for Eliot is leave him the hell alone. I'm not like him and now the spell's broken, pretty soon I'm …" He stuttered to a stop, staring at the patch of ground at his feet. "No."
Those eyes. She knew Nate had assumed she was just that good – well, all right, she was - but Lindsey had been an easy mark after so long with Eliot. She could see the question under the flat statement, practically read the words he wanted her to say so badly, even if he didn't even know it.
So she said them. "Not if you decide not to. Eliot wasn't like Eliot until … until us, really. That's what we do for each other. None of us are saints. It's hard, but we manage. More or less. If you've let Parker within ten feet of you, you might want to check your pockets."
"You saying I should get a crew?" He looked somewhat less than sold. "Run around like some kind of Robin Hood?"
"I think you already have one." She glanced over to where Angel, Gunn, Spike and Illyria stood, talking to her … oh, fine. Her family. Saying their goodbyes, good lucks, see you again, but not too soons.
He turned to follow her gaze and laughed. "Them? No way."
Her nose wrinkled as the mental image won. "Well it helps if you don't picture them in green tights and little hats. What are you scared of?"
"I'm not scared of anything," he said quickly, but the flash of heat faded and took the denial with it. "Sometimes there isn't a way back," he added, subdued.
"Sometimes there is. Sometimes. What's the harm in trying?"
"They don't want me around. They know me," he objected, but didn't have the certainty now. The seed was there, she just had to trust it would grow.
"You fight so hard for all the wrong things." She dropped a kiss on his cheek, startling him, just as she had Eliot the first time she'd displayed affection. "Take care of yourself, Lindsey."
As she stood, she squeezed his wrist gently and then, finally, let him go.
On the drive to the airport, Parker sat sideways in the front passenger seat, knees pulled up to her chin and hair tangled around the seatbelt. "Does this mean Eliot isn't Batman now?"
At the wheel, Hardison glanced at her. "I - what? That was between us, Parker."
Eliot leaned in from behind them. "I'm what now?"
Hardison avoided looking at him in the rear-view. "I may, sometimes, on rare occasions, have called you the goddam Batman. Because you had all that Fu going on. And there was that time you swooped, man. You swooped."
Eliot sat back. "I still have all that Fu going on. And I don't swoop. Well, there was that - I almost never swoop."
Parker twisted until she was kneeling, chin propped on the backrest. "Yeah, but you can die now." Her mouth pinched unhappily. "So don't die, okay?"
"That thing saved my life twice, and both times were before I ever worked with any of you," Eliot said flatly. "So can we stop the morbid-ass death talk?"
"We can do that," Hardison agreed.
Parker turned back to investigating the glove compartment; Eliot wasn't sure if she was taking something or leaving it and was even less sure he wanted to know. She seemed reassured and he'd call that a win.
When he settled back; Nate was studying him. "What?"
"Both times, huh?"
Great. He fixed Nate with his best glare. "You want dates?" He demanded.
"No. No, I really don't." Nate held his hands up, and then moved them through the air like a confused sculptor. "Look, about Lindsey …" He trailed away; apparently he had no idea what to say about Lindsey, and neither did his hands.
This was usually Sophie's area, but she didn't seem inclined to pitch in with whatever platitudes were appropriate to bring out, which Eliot was grateful for. And he doubted Hallmark made an 'I'm sorry you have an evil twin' greeting card, so he was pretty confident Hardison wouldn't be bringing it up any time soon either.
He looked away, staring at the side of the van while he painstakingly put the words he needed together. When he had some he could live with, he looked back and spoke slowly; it still felt disjointed. "Lin ran into a burning house when we were kids and the way I saw it, he never came out. And I lived with that. Now I think, maybe I'll see him again, you know? Maybe. That's all I got."
"I think you will." Sophie looked between them. "Sorry, it's a bit difficult not to eavesdrop in the back of a really cramped van."
"Yeah, you miss Lucille now," Hardison called from the front.
"Whatever." Eliot settled himself more comfortably. After a beat, he asked, "Why?"
She gave a small smile and a fluid shrug. "Just a feeling."
Gunn and Spike were still on patrol and Illyria didn't make a sound when she walked, so Angel didn't have to take too many guesses who'd made their way into the building, spent ten minutes pacing in the lobby and then finally made a decision.
Lindsey had spent another five minutes in the hallway outside; he'd called the elevator back three times. Angel stayed in Wes' office, at the window, watching the sun sink behind the city.
When the door creaked open, he turned unhurriedly.
Lindsey was standing against the jamb, one hand gripping it tightly. "I need your help." His mouth twisted into a bitter little smile. "Déjà vu, huh?"
"If we follow the script, this is the part where I threaten you and you lie for a while." Angel crossed his arms and leaned back against the window. "Then I tell you not wanting to hurt kids isn't the same as changing and you ask me if dying will prove anything."
Lindsey took a wary half step into the room. "Does it?"
"Not being able to kill your own brother doesn't make you a saint."
"Last time - before - I told you I wanted out." He looked down, then up again, eyes intent. "Now I want in. I get that you don't trust me, and you shouldn't trust me. Hell, I don't trust me. And I still got all these demons on my tail …"
"So far, I'm not seeing any particular reason not to tell you to get the hell out of my city."
"Yeah, this was a bad idea."
Angel jerked his head towards the door. "Get the hell out of my city."
Lindsey turned, took a step and then stopped. He took a long breath and then spun back. "No."
"Leave before I throw you out a window." Angel straightened for emphasis, but he stayed where he was, even though he was achingly tempted to do it - to call the Lindsey McDonald chapter well and truly closed with a hundred foot drop and a shower of shattered glass.
With a determined expression, Lindsey stalked stiffly forward until he wasn't much more than a foot away. "I need your help and if you don't give me your help, we both know how this ends." He jabbed a finger, riding on anger, confusion and the desperate kind of tenacity. "So if you won't do it, you finish what you started. You get it done like you should've."
So many lines to read between, but Angel wasn't in the mood; besides, he'd been invited. Somewhere between impulse and decision, he moved. His fingers found a familiar grasp around the other man's neck and he squeezed.
Lindsey's hands clawed desperately, struggling before his brain caught up and they stilled, dropped back to his sides. When his chest began to hitch, they rose again. Dropped again. Still fighting, still trying to win, but punching the other way.
He didn't close his eyes and Angel watched as they began to glaze, pupils blown wide as they desperately held out for light. When the lids began to flutter and the pulse under his fingers skipped fast and light, he grimaced and let Lindsey fall, gasping and choking to the floor.
When he could, Lindsey looked up, confused. "What the hell?" he rasped.
"After patrol, Gunn needs to eat and Spike and Illyria like to eat and the only thing I can do is eggs," Angel explained. Well, kind of explained - watching Lindsey attempting to make sense of uneven ground was fun.
Lindsey pulled himself up to an unsteady crouch. "Yeah, I can cook." His voice was still rough; he rubbed at his throat. "Clean, sew, whistle while I work."
"Can you type?"
"Sixty words a minute." He still looked dazed; he focused. "You're hiring me to make breakfast and take memos?"
"I'm not hiring you at all yet - this is the interview." Angel smiled offensively brightly, showing just a little too much tooth. "Describe your work ethic."
"Borderline psychotic. And I don't make coffee."
"Yeah, you do."
Lindsey braced his hands on the desk and hauled himself to his feet. "Fine, I make coffee, but you'll really wish I didn't."
"And you go to the printers. We need new business cards - Lorne's got a lead on some potential clients. You can stay in one of the rooms here for now - the one you were in before. Call it a probation period." Angel crossed back to his place at the window. "Screw this up and I will kill you."
Hearing the dismissal, Lindsey nodded and turned away.
When he'd opened the door, Angel said. "No promises you're going to get it right this time?"
Lindsey didn't turn back. "Think I'd fool either of us?"
"Not even on your best day." This wasn't going to end well; Angel knew it down to the bone. Then again, in his experience, nothing really did. Besides, the end wasn't the point.
"So, no promises." Lindsey hesitated, as if he had something else to say.
Angel turned back to the sunset. "You even think about thanking me and you're fired. Without references."
Lindsey smirked and pulled the door shut behind him.
And went to make the coffee.
- EPILOGUE -
Two hours later, the vision hit.