They immediately retreated upstairs. Nate's loft was the one even remotely safe place in all the world for them now. They had their tech, they had the tools of their trade – and most importantly, they had each other to rely on.

Home field advantage.

"We wait for contact," Eliot said flatly, as they all grabbed seats. "We hear their terms. And, if it means getting Nate back safe, we agree to those terms." He was the Retrieval Specialist now – the one who bargained with the dregs of humanity to get back what shouldn't have been lost in the first place.

Eliot glanced at Faith and saw the truth of the situation mirrored in her eyes. They each knew what was going to happen – what the price of Nate's safe return was likely to be.

Faith obviously cared as little as Eliot did. For Nate they would pay it, and gladly.

All they had to do now was wait.

"W-Was it a vampire?" Parker asked hesitantly, looking at Faith. She was sitting on the couch next to Hardison, twisting her fingers in her lap.

Faith suddenly looked miserable. "Yep. Really bad one too."

"You called her Drusilla," Sophie said. "Is she something you've faced before?"

Eliot studied Faith's body language. He'd assumed when she flipped out that it was entirely about Nate, but watching her now he was ready to reconsider that. Pain…lots of pain. Faith was hugging her arms tight across her chest, pulling back from the others. There's history there.

He was surprised, therefore, when she shook her head. "Not me. I've been lucky. Bitch is all kinds of nasty crazy."

Great, Eliot thought, wishing Faith had been a little less forthcoming with her information.

"We've fought vampires before," Parker insisted. "I mean, I know it was dangerous, but Eliot's not half dead now and we have you. How hard could this one be?"

Hardison saved Faith or Eliot the trouble of replying when he shook his head. "We make a move before they give us the go ahead, and who knows what they'll do to him."

"I don't care," growled Sophie. Then, when the others stared at her in shock, she sighed. "I do. You know that. But this is the third goddamned time that they've screwed with us, and we can't just let this lie!"

Eliot tried to soothe her. "We won't. They'll get theirs'. But not until we have Nate back."

Sophie glared back him. Eliot realized with an uncomfortable jolt in his stomach that she had reached the same conclusion he and Faith had, and she was much less willing to accept the verdict.

"We can't let them take anything else from us," she said. "We can't let them get away with this. If we do, then what is the point of us? Why do we do this?"

Dead silence followed her words, because there was nothing any of them could say. She was right – Nate himself had once argued the very same point.

If they let the bad guys walk just because it was easier, then what did that make them? What use were they? If they just took down the easy bad guys, all that did was make room for the big ones to move in.

Eliot was the one who finally answered. "We're the good guys. Like Nate always says – we pick up where the law leaves off." He glanced at Faith and swallowed uncomfortably. "We're champions. And people need us. But if we go up against them now, Wolfram & Hart will annihilate us – and all those people we're meant to save have to manage without us. Without Nate…"

Without Nate, we're not a team. It was cold fact that a team needed a leader, and here there could be no other leader than Nathan Ford.

Sophie opened her mouth – maybe to agree with him, maybe to argue with him. Eliot would never know, because, at that moment, a familiar voice sounded over the coms.

"If you're all quite finished…"

As one, they froze. The voice was obviously Lindsey's, and since Hardison hadn't had a chance to tweak the frequencies again, the com he was using could only have belonged to Nate.

Eliot held up a hand, forestalling anyone else from replying – then put a finger to his lips, just to be sure. They were in his territory now – making deals with hostile parties was a specialty of his.

Even when the hostile party was his own brother.

Inwardly, he was reviewing the time line – trying to determine how much Lindsey would have been able to hear before revealing himself. Too much, he decided. They'd do the dance, but they'd already as much as told Lindsey outright that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

"Are you prepared to deal?" he asked, keeping his voice steady – trying to smooth out even the slightest inflection that might give Lindsey a clue as to what he was thinking or feeling.

"I am. My demands have not changed. You and Faith for your precious leader."

"I want proof of life." It was the standard opening demand of any hostage negotiations. Without it, no proper deals could be made.

"Of course. Hardison, would you mind booting up your laptop?"

Eliot tried not to grind his teeth loud enough for the coms to register. "You talk to me," he growled, although Hardison immediately moved to do as he had been bidden.

"You want proof of life. I'm giving you proof of life. I'd like Hardison's laptop up and running to be able to do that."

Hardison glanced up at Eliot nervously, and gave him a brief thumbs-up – tilting the screen so that Eliot could see the operating system was running.

"All right," Eliot said. "We're online. Proof of life, Lindsey – now."

"Keep your pants on."

A notification popped up on the screen of Hardison's laptop – an invitation to web chat, sent by "Lindsey M." Eliot motioned Hardison away from the laptop, and took his place. The others tried to gather around, but he waved them away as well. Silence was a good start to things, a good way to deprive Lindsey of further leverage, but Eliot knew that facial cues could be as good as words. They couldn't afford to give up any more of an advantage to Lindsey than they already had.

Once he was absolutely certain that everyone was out of sight of the laptop's webcam, Eliot accepted the invitation. The program took a few seconds to initiate. Once it had, a window opened and Lindsey appeared on screen.

He smiled sarcastically, gave Eliot a quick, two-fingered wave, and then slowly turned the monitor until Eliot could see two people – a man and a woman – curled up together in an armchair.

The woman was the pale vampire who had been at the bar. Drusilla, Faith had called her. She was sitting in Nate's lap, curled up with a contented smile on her face. Her head rested on his chest, and his arms were around her shoulders.

Both of them appeared to be asleep, but Eliot could see the vampire was gently stroking Nate's cheek.

"He doesn't look very alive to me," Eliot said, watching the scene and trying not to be sick. "I want to talk to him."

"Dru's got that effect on people." There was sound over the com units and over Hardison's speakers. Eliot made a note of that, keeping his ears peeled for any hint that the two weren't in sync. Wouldn't put it past him to try and slide by on a recording.

"I want proof of life. Now."

He heard Lindsey sigh, and then speak. "Drusilla, get him up."

Eliot got his first proper look at the woman. She sat up straighter, looking directly at Lindsey and frowning petulantly. "You do not give me orders. I am the lady of this house, and you have already been so impolite to me." Her hand clenched slightly from where it rested on Nate's face. Eliot thought he saw his boss stir slightly, but it was nothing he could be definite about.

"The man I'm speaking with is worse than I am," said Lindsey, and Eliot almost smiled at how much effort it was obviously taking for Lindsey to keep his cool. "The Slayer wants to take him away from you, Dru."

The vampire bared her teeth and made a sound that could only be called a growl. "No! He is my daddy now. The Slayer does not deserve him! She is a bad girl."

Eliot forced himself not to glance at Faith.

"I know, Dru." Lindsey clearly did not want to be having this conversation. He almost sounded nervous, but he was trying his best to keep his voice pleasant.

I know that tone, Eliot thought. Lindsey had used it on him many times when they were younger, when Eliot had had one of his violent fits against the world. He's in over his head with this one. It wasn't a comforting thought.

"If…your Daddy could just say something – tell the Slayer that he's happy with you..."

Drusilla glanced back at Nate, and Eliot thought he saw her smile. "Everyone can see how happy he is. I am his family now, and I will be a proper daughter for him. Isn't that right, daddy?"

Eliot heard Lindsey grumble something under his breath. His view changed then, as the monitor was turned – putting Nate and Drusilla out of sight and bringing Lindsey into view again. "Unless you really want me poking the psychotic vampire some more, I think that's the best you're going to get." His expression darkened. "I didn't want to do it this way," he said. "Drusilla is…unpredictable. I can probably guarantee Ford's safety for another couple of hours, but beyond that I make no promises Eliot."

Eliot glanced at the clock in the bottom corner of the monitor. Too many hours until dawn. "A couple hours puts us on your turf in full darkness, Lindsey. I've got no guarantees you won't take the others out the second Faith and I are inside.

His twin looked seriously annoyed now. "Two hours, and I'll put Damian Moreau back on the table. We'll deliver him to you, no strings attached." Lindsey smiled suddenly. "Play nice and I might even let Faith have a crack at Drusilla before we're done."

He's not going to budge. Eliot knew his brother well enough to know that if Lindsey could have given him the time concession he would have. "All right. Two hours in exchange for Nate's safe return and Damian Moreau to do with as we decide." Two hours. Just enough time for him and Faith to pack a bag and say their good-byes.

The monitor went dark. The line went dead. The team was alone in what had once been Nate's apartment, and time was running out.