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Better Days

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Toby leans back in his chair, fiddles a pen between his fingers, and contemplates the Christmas lights filling the office.

They're pretty, he has no problem admitting that, and watching Walter's face every time he walks into the space and is forced to face the decorations again is pretty damn entertaining. Walter can do five minutes on why Christmas is a futile amalgamation of commercialism and sentimentality, wrapped in mythology, with no basis in rational reality. On the other hand, Walter also really likes listening to Paige singing along with Christmas music, when she forgets and does it out loud. Also, her sad, disappointed face when Walter initially tried to put the kibosh on decorations was really well done.

Toby knows for a fact that she practiced that face, preparing it at the same time she more-or-less dared Happy to put together the most amazing indoor light show ever. Happy absolutely knew she was being played, but the challenge (and the opportunity to drive Walter up the wall) had been too much even for one of Happy's Grinchly tendencies to resist, and she'd been well into the project before Walter showed up. Up against the combination of Paige, Happy, and more than 1000 strings of lights draped over every available wall and surface, Walter had proven his intelligence by conceding defeat.

As a trained master of the art of manipulation, Toby absolutely respects Paige's growing skills, especially since he knows she would never use them for anything but everyone's own good. Between her and Walter, the team is more tightly cemented than ever -- like epoxy, like it took two different chemicals to cause the right reaction, and now they're all locked together.

Sylvester quietly likes the lights, which seem to have helped calm some of his understandable post-traumatic issues with the office; Toby found him there once with all of the normal lighting turned off, and only the twinkling rainbow glow illuminating Sylvester's content face. Happy is still stalking around the space every few hours, staring narrow-eyed at one patch of lights or another as if they're personally offending her, then reaching for electrician's tape and voltmeters to upgrade whatever it is that's not up to her standards.

And Toby? Toby is no fan of Christmas, but he is having a really good time seeing Sylvester being happy, Happy being challenged and focused in a way that's really hot (and there are worse ways to spend an afternoon then standing eye-level with Happy's rear and handing her tools), and Walter struggling to reconcile his rebellion against his childhood religion, and thus, his estranged family, with watching Paige floating around practically glowing with holiday joy.

They're thankfully past being forced to perpetuate the Santa Claus myth, but Paige brought Ralph in right after the lights were finished (and before they started assembling his present), and the look on the kid's face was phenomenal. It seems the Dineen household budget has never run to extravagant Christmases -- thank you, Drew the overindulged man-child -- and Paige is really determined when it comes to making sure Ralph gets everything she thinks he should have. Toby also respects that. Their entire family-challenged team respects that, and would happily trade in their own dysfunctional families to have had Paige as a mom.

Except Walter. For obvious reasons.

"All right, people, we've got a priority--" Cabe blows through the front door with his usual volume and lack of courtesy, then stops cold. "What the hell happened in here?"

"Paige happened," Toby tells him without bothering to sit up straight. "Then she enlisted Happy and--" He gestures widely to encompass the entire space. "--this. Which, let me be clear, is awesome," he adds hastily when Happy aims the narrow-eyed look at him.

Cabe glares at Toby for a second, then squints around the office. He pauses for a moment at the impressive chain of interwoven icicle lights that covers an entire wall, then shakes his head and gets back on track. "Where's Walter? We've got a priority job courtesy of the NSA, needs to happen now."

The urgency in his voice and the promise of a paycheck is enough to get everyone clustered around Walter's desk in a pretty impressive display of speedy professionalism. Cabe doesn't look impressed, but Cabe never looks impressed; Toby has a theory that Cabe deliberately looks pissed off at all times to encourage faster compliance. It's sadly wasted on the Scorpion team, who (aside from Paige) mostly don't give a crap if Authority is pissed off, but it's probably reasonably effective within a military or bureaucratic setting.

"Rylan James, 23," Cabe introduces them to their target, passing around a photo, because Cabe has still not totally accepted the technology of the 21st century.

"Hipster wanna-be," Toby notes out loud for everyone else's benefit. "Crappy too-large beard, cuffed raw denim jeans, general air of misplaced superiority, ridiculous too-small hat--"

Three people look pointedly at Toby's head. "My hat was cool," he say, careful not to reveal any defensiveness or grief. "His is tragic. Also, if I ever start talking like a hipster, Happy has permission to hit me."

Happy looks a little too pleased about that, so Toby moves on quickly. "Anyway, how does a hipster wind up on the NSA's radar? Did he keep listening to a band after more than 50 people discovered it?"

Cabe glares at him harder. "He's acting as a go-between for the hackers who stole the latest round of data from NSA servers, and the overseas buyer who wants to spread our secrets all over the internet."

"The latest round?" Pretty much all of them repeat it at once, and Cabe redirects his glare to cover everyone at the same time, which is scary.

"Do I need to tell you that none of this leaves this room?" he demands. Paige shakes her head, but no one else does, and Cabe snarls under his breath. "I need you geniuses to find out who the buyer is. The plan was to track this James kid to a meet, then grab him, the buyer and the hard drive. But James slipped the NSA's surveillance, so we need to find him again before the meet goes down, sometime in the next two hours."

"He slipped the NSA's surveillance?" Sylvester asks, startled, and Cabe looks even more disgusted.

"Yes, the NSA's surveillance," he almost growls. "The kid isn't as stupid as he dresses."

"Phone data," Walter demands, and Cabe slaps a memory stick into his hand. Walter plugs it in, and James's entire past call and data history is scrolling past them in moments. Toby shakes his head as he speed reads over Walter's shoulder, but decides the time probably isn't right for a diatribe on illegal government surveillance.

Sylvester has his laptop open, and is tracking the kid down in social media. "Found his Instagram account," he reports, "and his FourSquare account is active."

"I thought hipsters were over FourSquare," Happy says, shifting to look at Sylvester's screen as he flips through the accounts.

"This guy's gotten too mainstream," Toby shrugs, changing desks to join her. "Did he ever eat a meal he didn't post a picture of?"

"Um…" Sylvester suddenly looks very focused; his eyes dart between the Instagram and FourSquare accounts like he's having a seizure. Alerted, Walter joins the rest of the team staring over Sylvester's shoulder.

"Got it," Sylvester says a moment later. "He does post every plate of restaurant food he's ever eaten -- except from this place." Sylvester pulls up a FourSquare check-in from a diner in downtown LA. "He's been here at least three times, and never posted the food."

"It was ugly food?" Paige guesses. Sylvester wordlessly shows her one of the other pictures, and she makes a face. "So, not that, then."

"You think this diner is his covert rendezvous point?" Cabe asks. "Then why the hell is he -- what do you call it, checking in?"

Walter steps quickly back to his laptop. "That does seem pretty careless, even for-- Got it." He looks at them across the office, shaking his head. "Automatic check-in app on his phone, linked to his GPS. He forgot to turn it off."

"The app or the GPS?" Sylvester asks.

Walter looks even more disgusted. "Both."

"Because actually getting your phone out to check in is too much work." Happy rolls her eyes. "So, that's one subject found for the NSA in... less than ten minutes. You told them we bill out to the nearest hour, right?"

"You're not done yet," Cabe tells them, even as he's pulling out his phone, presumably to start yelling at agents and other minions of the government. "NSA let this guy get away once. I want you to get eyes on him, and keep them there until he and the buyer are in custody."

"On it," Happy says, moving over to her desk as Walter slams his laptop shut and shoves it in his bag. Cabe begins the aforementioned yelling before he's even out the door, Walter two steps behind him, while Happy works intently, calling up separate video feeds on each of her monitors. "Okay, we've got… three traffic cameras in the area and two ATMs."

"The dry cleaner across the street has a front door webcam," Sylvester offers without looking away from his screen. Happy nods and pulls the footage up. Toby sticks with Sylvester, studying James' social media imprint, and Paige hangs out behind them, watching intently as they shuffle through the kid's life.

"Is it just me," she asks after about twenty minutes, "or is it a little weird that the same person who constantly posts to Tumblr and Twitter protesting electronic surveillance, and FISA, and that the NSA even exists, also puts pretty much every second of his life on the internet for them to find?"

"Your classic hipsters specialize in compartmentalization," Toby shrugs. "They're environmentally correct unless it means not driving old four-wheel drive gas guzzlers, they're into organic health and chain smoking, and they hate that Big Brother is watching, but they don't bother to hide anything from him. It's a major disconnect in their reality, as Rylan James is about to learn."

"No sign of him yet," Happy says, at the same time Walter says over the conference bridge speaker, "His GPS just pinged outside the diner."

"FourSquare checked him in," Sylvester agrees with Walter.

Happy gives both of them a harassed look. "No way, there is no hipster with a terrible beard anywhere near the diner. It's not like I could miss that."

"Well, his phone is here," Walter tells them. "Cabe's got people on the ground, no sign of him yet."

"Maybe he changed his look?" Paige offers. "He's not really stupid, and this is his big Edward Snowden moment, you know? He might think it was worth the sacrifice."

"Not good," Happy says after a moment, which means she thinks Paige is right; she stands up and leans forward so she can check the footage more closely. "Do we even have a recent picture without the beard?"

"Checking Instagram," Sylvester says, and starts skimming through the archives, but Toby stops him after a second.

"Wait." Raw denim. The kid wears raw denim. "Paige, you go through his Instagram, and find a recent selfie, from the knees up if you can. Sylvester, we need the FBI algorithm for matching wear patterns."

The light dawns and Sylvester beams at him. "Got it."

Happy and Paige, however, are both looking at him like he's crazy. "Raw denim develops wear patterns and whiskering that are absolutely unique to each wearer," Toby explains. "Guys like this, who wear them for months before they wash them for the first time, might as well be wearing a big, shiny fingerprint."

"Cool," Happy offers, and they get down to business, Paige looking for selfies and Happy refocusing her surveillance to stare at everyone's pants. Paige hits the jackpot with a mirror selfie of a shirtless James proudly displaying his broken-in jeans -- "The guy loves his denim," Toby observes, a little skeeved -- and Sylvester waltzes in and out of the FBI servers like he's done it a hundred times, which he has.

Armed with the selfie and math (and Happy's somewhat disturbing ability to get a butt-shot of everyone who walks by), they spot the footage of Rylan James -- beardless and wearing a Dodgers baseball cap, that must have wounded his soul -- going into the diner, and have his buyer nailed down three minutes later. Then they sit back and watch the arrests on livestream; Paige even goes to make popcorn.

Walter and Cabe are back at the office an hour later with the heavily encrypted hard drive. Walter apparently swore to Cabe that he would just break the encryption and verify the contents, without making any copies, and the NSA, already with egg on their federally mandated faces, had to agree to let Scorpion do the job. It takes a few hours of combined hacking, under Cabe's very distrustful eye, and Paige has gone to pick up Ralph from school and gotten back by the time they're done. Three NSA suits turn up to courier the hard drive back to its government-secured home; as soon as the suits are gone, they order enough Chinese to feed an army, and Toby and Walter con Cabe into paying.

As Christmases go, Toby thinks a little while later, twirling his chopsticks around and getting sweet-and-sour sauce on his shirt, this one is shaping up to be kind of okay. Everyone has survived, against all odds -- they got Cabe out of the nuclear plant, and Sylvester out of the hospital without anyone having a breakdown. Sylvester might still not be up for walking long distances, but he's still standing, and currently trying to interest Ralph in a Super Fun Guy comic, pretty successfully. The company is in the black and their electric hasn't been turned off in two months -- both of these things may change after this month's power bill, but what the hell. They even have a kid around who's pretty cool, and Paige to keep Walter from going off the deep end, and taking everyone else with him.

"Hey, Doc." Happy appears next to his chair, and Toby grins up at her.

"Hey. Nice lights, in case I forgot to mention."

"Thanks." It comes out a little gruffly and she clears her throat. "Look, some people from the robot combat circuit are doing a holiday thing at this bar. I don't want to show up alone, too awkward. Plus-one me?"

Toby does not ask why Peyton is unavailable for plus-one duties, but gracefully answers, "It would be my pleasure, Ms. Quinn."

"Don't call me that, it's weird. Thursday night, 7:00." She stalks away as if she's trying to pretend the conversation never happened, which she probably is, and Toby continues to grin to himself.

He loves these people; he really does. He loves that he doesn't have to spend time and effort figuring out what anyone really feels or really means, because they just put it out there. Even Paige and Cabe, who are much more well socialized, are still easy for Toby to read because they trust him enough not to hide. They trust the team, and Toby is part of the team, and it's probably the best thing he's ever had in his life.

Across the room, Ralph has abandoned Sylvester for Walter and the last repairs on Proton Arnold; the console powers up for the first time since the break-in, and Ralph whoops with pleasure as he dives for the joysticks. Paige tells him to keep it down, but she's laughing, and Walter smiles broadly at them both. Sylvester and Happy are consulting on the lights on the stair railings, Cabe is muttering about fire codes mostly because he thinks he should be, and Toby ambles over to slap the traditional quarter on the game console to claim the next round.

Looks like they might actually have some happy holidays for once….


A batch of non-dangerous, but deeply embarrassing, NSA data is released to the Washington Post, Mother Jones, The Guardian, and three carefully selected international bloggers on December 24 (just a few hours before a sinkhole opens up at Zuma Beach, but that's another story).

Cabe gives the team the side-eye for the next month; Walter and Happy's 'innocent' expressions look just like their 'don't give a crap' expressions, but Paige and Sylvester can both look absolutely angelic when they want to. Toby just smiles, sits back in his chair, and fiddles with a pen.

Ho ho ho.