The cold was what she felt first. Cold so biting it made her bones shake.
Dammit. Dawn must have been playing with the thermostat again. Looked like they would have to have another utility bill talk. Buffy wasn’t opposed to cranking on the AC, but Mom’s medical bills couldn’t be paid with IOUs, and Dawn seemed to think that it wasn’t cold if it wasn’t snowing.
A few seconds passed before Buffy noticed the whine of muscle stretching from her calves to her hamstrings. Then at once, her body came to life in all its achy glory. Her shoulder was sore and, unless she was mistaken, the mostly-healed wound in her side—given to her by random 80s vamp a few weeks prior—had reopened.
What the hell had hit her last night?
Buffy frowned, her mind foggy. She tried to turn over—when in doubt, reposition—but found she couldn’t. And it was then she realized she wasn’t in a bed at all, rather propped against a smooth, cold surface.
That couldn’t be good.
More details now. Her arms were sore because they had been twisted behind her and tied at the wrist. Her feet were stretched out before her, tingling and likewise bound at the ankle.
Trussed up like a goose.
Yeah. Something was really, really wrong.
Buffy opened her eyes, and immediately wished she had not.
She was no novice to being knocked out and tied up, of course, but the rules seemed to change each time. Judging by the semicircle of seriously-serious men that surrounded her, she’d either crashed a frat party or robbed a bank. Her mind, swimming in blank spots, provided no help.
How much had she had to drink last night?
Buffy eyed the men warily as more of the room came into focus. They were staring at her in an expressionless Children of the Corn way, which was wiggy enough without considering that they all looked armed out the wazoo. Blunt instruments, night sticks, tasers…was that a broadsword? And someone in the back had brought a machine gun to the party.
Safe to say none of these guys had ever looked up the definition of fair fight.
“Okay.” Buffy groaned, attempting to stretch before deciding that was a very bad idea. “I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
No one moved or flinched.
“Get it? Kansas?” Nothing. “Wizard of Oz?” Nothing. “Do my stylish pop culture references go completely over your heads, or are you all mute?”
“Ms. Summers.” A voice she didn’t recognize sounded from the back of the greeting party, and the men began to break rank as someone approached. A male someone with brown hair, a strong jawline, and dressed in what had to be a ten thousand dollar suit.
“Welcome,” he said, “to Wolfram and Hart.”
The man had a face she didn’t recognize any more than she had his voice, but it was a nice face. If he’d approached her at the Bronze, she would’ve said yes to a dance. Hell, she might have even given him a real phone number.
Yeah, she had a type. Evil.
“To…huh? Who are you? And what the hell am I—”
“My name is Lindsey McDonald. You are a guest in the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart, law offices for the… Well, I suppose you’ll know what I mean when I say ‘sometimes-unexplained.’”
Buffy tried to stretch again and her body whined in protest. “You people sure have a funny definition of guest,” she snapped. “What the hell am I doing here? What’s going on? Where’s Dawn?”
“One question at a time, please,” Lindsey said, holding up a hand. “You are here because the late Holland Manners thought your expertise in certain areas would be very beneficial for the firm. I apologize for the barbaric manner in which you were obtained, but Wolfram and Hart does not have a history of taking no for an answer. As to what is going on…that will be revealed in time. And Dawn, your sister, I’m assuming, is safely in Sunnydale. We are not interested in her.”
It took a few seconds, but she managed to fight to her feet, which was not easy with her arms behind her back and her legs tied together. But Buffy was nothing if not flexible, and she would not have this conversation while sitting on the floor.
When she was upright, she met Lindsey’s gaze again. He looked moderately impressed.
Just wait until he sees what I can do when my hands are free.
Cold sweat beaded at her brow. “Okay, I don’t know what’s going on here, but let me tell you up front that is not smart to piss me off. So let’s save ourselves the trouble of the bad guy spiel, because I am so over Bond moments. Tell you what—we’ll just call this one even since I’m in a hurry, and I’ll leave you with your head still attached to your neck. Sound good?”
She took a step, or half a step as her feet were still bound, and immediately got a face-full of nightstick for the effort. Buffy grunted as the left side of her face went red hot with pain, and stumbled back to the wall, her legs suddenly way too wobbly for comfort.
“That’s enough,” Lindsey snapped. “Everyone out.”
When she looked up, she caught him glaring at the guard. So he wasn’t down with bodily assault. Good to know. For now. “I take it,” Buffy coughed, stretching best to her ability, pain be damned, “that when you say everyone, you don’t mean me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said in a tone that made her almost believe him. Almost.
The guard-dogs filed out, and the rest of the room came into focus at last. She was in what looked to be a run-of-the-mill law office.
This is what she got for even vaguely wondering if her life could ever get any weirder.
The instant they were alone, Lindsey knelt beside her and helped her to her feet. “Sorry about that,” he said as he assisted her to a chair in front of a desk. A desk that was now in view thanks to the absence of the weapon-wielding buffoons. “The men were supposed to be there just for show. I told them that you weren’t to be harmed…” He dropped his gaze to the faint spots of red leaking through her shirt. “Any more than you have been already.”
“Sorry if that’s not at all reassuring.” Buffy winced, willing her head to stop throbbing. “I don’t suppose you’ll let me out of these…what are they? Cuffs?”
“Enchanted manacles. The company always keeps them in stock. Inescapable unless you have the key. Which I do.” Lindsey sighed and parked his ass on the edge of his desk. “And again, I’m sorry. Not to absolutely kill the cliché, none of this was my idea.”
This? There was a this?
“None of what?”
“Holland Manners was the former Division Head of Special Projects,” Lindsey said, as if that mattered to her. “He was a visionary. For the past two years, the firm has been the object of focus of someone I believe you know quite well.” His voice became abruptly bitter. “My condolences in that regard. I’m sure you’d recognize him. Tall, dark hair, always brooding, occasionally bumpy in the—”
“Angel?” Oh God. “This is about Angel?”
These guys actually took the whole damsel thing to the next level. Kidnapping a guy’s girlfriend was so freaking lame. Especially when the girlfriend was an ex.
“Tangentially,” Lindsey said. “Angel has been a thorn in Wolfram and Hart’s side ever since he arrived in Los Angeles. While the dent he has made in our interests remains minimal at most, he still proved to be…well, thorny.” He stood abruptly and began pacing the office, moving behind her so that her eyes couldn’t follow him. “Getting in the way, messing with our projects…generally being an all around ass.”
”I’m sorry. Would you like me to play you something on the world’s smallest violin?”
Lindsey came into view, and though he didn’t so much as acknowledge she’d spoken, Buffy was certain she saw the ghost of a smirk on his lips. “Last year at the end of our spring term, Holland concocted a brilliant idea to keep Angel off our backs so that the more important projects could be given the attention they deserve.” He returned to his desk, and she noticed for the first time that he was absent a right hand. The sinking feeling in her gut told her that Angel was responsible. “Believe me, I never thought it would go this far.”
“I want you to know I never wanted you to be involved.”
“Thanks,” she replied dryly. “That means a lot.”
He stared at her for a moment as though trying to determine if she was serious, then heaved another sigh. “I don’t have much time to brief you, Ms. Summers. Things have since happened that forced the control out of our hands and into…well, I suppose you can call them clients. When they learned about Holland’s vision, they were very eager push forward and bring you into it. My authority as far as these matters go has reached its end.”
Buffy felt her stomach drop. That was not good. Not good at all. Despite the circumstances, Buffy could tell already that she would much rather be in the company of this man than whoever he planned to hand her over to. He was human at least, and humans could be overpowered. He also seemed to have a conscience, or at least enough of one that appealing to it might get her somewhere.
“Please,” she said softly. “Please, I can’t be here. Whatever this is, you’re going to have to find someone else. There’s…my sister. My mom isn’t well. I can’t be away from home. My sister needs me. Can you please just tell me what I’m—”
“If I could, I would.”
And again, she believed him, and she wasn’t sure what to think about that.
“In the meantime, I am going to do everything in my power to see to it that you… Well, I’m going to do everything in my power to help you,” Lindsey said. “I never thought I’d be so wrong. That it would come to this. But I was and it has.”
“Come to what? Just tell me what the hell is going on, give me something pointy, and I’ll—”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It’s always that simple. Believe me, if it weren’t, I’d know it by now.”
Lindsey looked slightly aghast. “With all due respect, Ms. Summers, you’re not entirely familiar with how we do business in Los Angeles. This isn’t what you are used to. And trust me, they aren’t going to go soft on you. You’ve formed some pretty powerful enemies doing whatever it is that you do, and—”
“Whatever it is that I do?” she repeated, her voice ratching up an octave.
“I didn’t mean to degrade your work, and I certainly don’t want to get you into any more trouble than you’re in already.” He ran his left hand through his hair and shook his head. “But this…this is nonnegotiable. Completely out of my hands. I’ve risked enough asking to have any time with you at all. Do you understand?”
“I understand that you don’t grasp the consequences of what will happen if you don’t let me go. Right. Now.”
“I can’t help you. I’ve already said more than I should have.”
“And still managed not to make one lick of sense. You really are a lawyer.”
He ignored her. “This is my neck on the line, I don’t even care for these people, but if the Senior Partners don’t demand my life for this, they’re going to demand something else.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Lindsey was pacing again, his once calm expression deteriorating into something desperate, damn near mad. “It’s not just your boyfriend that the firm objected to.”
“—your boyfriend. Yeah, yeah, I know. Trust me, aside from Lilah Morgan or the person down in records, I don’t believe anyone knows more about Angel than I do. And he has been a considerable pain in the ass.”
“As you’ve said. Stop wasting—”
“His associates have also proven a liability to the firm.” Lindsey turned away again. “And as you might have guessed, the firm has a way of dealing with obstacles, including the personnel.” He waved to indicate himself. “I’ve done things against the Senior Partners’ wishes, and those actions have put me at great personal risk. This leaves me subject to investigation.”
Buffy thought about telling him how much she cared about that, but opted to bite her tongue instead. If she wasn’t careful, he might conveniently forget to tell the next guard to stop with the beating.
“You were brought in when you shouldn’t have been,” he went on, “but at the same time, you can’t possibly have any idea what you’re asking me to do.”
“Well, maybe if you actually told me something rather than keeping with the lame excuses, I’d at least have a clue.”
And that might have been the straw that broke the lawyer’s back. Lindsey’s calm demeanor snapped, his confused, conflicted face at once a mask of anger. “I can’t tell you anything. Haven’t you been listening at all? It’s out of my hands. Ms. Summers—”
“Stop with that. The name’s Buffy, Lindsey. Use it.”
“Okay.” Breathe in, breathe out. Buffy forced herself to relax. Struggling and name-calling wasn’t about to get her anywhere. Of course, it hadn’t exactly worked in the past either, but these were different circumstances. Lindsey’s pity-party aside, she believed him when he said he did not want to see her hurt. That made him valuable, and it was not wise to piss off people who stood between you and the door, especially when you had the disadvantage of being tied up. “We’re getting somewhere.”
“So it would seem.”
“Okay then.” Potential for rational discourse. This was progress. “Instead of trying to explain to me what you can’t explain to me, start at the beginning. Is there anything that you can tell me?”
“You are familiar with the Order of Aurelius.”
She couldn’t help it; she snorted. “Familiar? I dated one of them, as you’ve reminded me several times now. Plus I’ve had another trailing me the past two years. Familiar with the Order? Hell, I could write a book on it.” A pause. “Not that I would or anything.”
“Yeah, well, this involves them. Or most of them. As it happens, William the Bloody—”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Spike? What’s he got to do with it?”
“If you’d stop interrupting me…” Lindsey scowled. “Spike turned down the offer that was proposed when you were retrieved from Sunnydale. Evidently—”
“What offer?” And he’d turned it down? Spike Spike? Spike as in Spike? An offer from a law firm that trussed up slayers like it was no big deal?
Buffy swallowed hard, her heart hammering, her mind dragging her back to their conversation in Restfield. To the panicked way he’d burst into the Bronze—yes, she did remember that. He’d been trying to warn her of something then.
Had it been about this?
“I only know the highlights,” Lindsey said. “Spike was offered the opportunity to rejoin the Order and have that government chip removed, and he refused.”
That made absolutely no sense.
“Spike had the chance to have his chip removed and he turned it down?”
“It came at a price.”
“What price? Two months ago, he was all about getting that thing out of his head.” And now that she thought about it, Spike’s behavior since the doc-napping had been a little…strange. Stranger than usual. “Why the hell did he say no?”
Something even weirder happened then. Lindsey smiled. The sort of smile Dawn aimed her way when Joyce had snapped at her for picking on her little sister.
”It’s not my place to say,” he said, that damn grin still there. “But one of the stipulations of the offer would have been rejoining the Order here. That was Holland’s objective, you see. When Angel refused to play by our rules, we… Well, changed the rules.”
Buffy’s stomach pitted as though she had been pitched downhill, realization setting in. “You want Angelus.”
“That’s why I’m here.” She shook her head. “I don’t believe this. This is the mission? You can’t begin to know what kind of pressure I’m under back home, and you snatched me up to…what? Be your whore? I don’t think so.”
“Then tell me what is! Angel and I are not involved anymore and will never be again. If I’m not here to get him to go all homicidal again, then what the hell am I supposed to—”
A vampire entered the room.
Buffy started, her body buzzing with immediate awareness. She twisted in her seat, straining to see who was at the door. The only thing she could say for certain was it was not the ex-boyfriend; her special Angel-senses, while duller now, were still reasonably functional.
And, she realized belatedly, it wasn’t Spike, either. Turned out she had special radar where he was concerned too.
Before her mind could open door number three, though, a chillingly familiar voice broke through the silence.
“My, my,” it drawled. “She certainly thinks highly of herself, doesn’t she Lindsey?”
There was a flash of blonde hair, then the vampire was in view. A vampire with a face nearly five years dead.
This was not possible.
Buffy blinked once, twice. The picture in front of her did not change.
Darla’s grin widened, her eyes twinkling. “Surprise,” she said.
Shit. Buffy snapped her attention back to Lindsey, but when their eyes met, her blood chilled.
Bad guys were not supposed to look that concerned for hostages.
“I have ten minutes left, Darla,” he said. “That was our agreement.”
“I’m changing the agreement.”
“I’m changing the agreement, darling. Living with it.” Darla kept her gaze fixed on Buffy, then leaned forward with a wicked smirk. “It’s time for our guest to be escorted to her quarters and…broken in.”
Buffy shook her head, her mind officially giving up. Every nerve in her body was numb with raw astonishment. She opened her mouth and said the only thing she could think of, “I saw Angel kill you.”
Darla smirked. “I remember. I was there. Do you think the laws of nature bend only for your precious Angel? Not very quick, is she?” The last was directed at Lindsey, even though the vampire didn’t so much as twitch in his direction. “You’re a fool, Buffy. You didn’t know us when we last met. We’re going to fix that now.” Darla drew nearer, running her fingers through Buffy’s hair. “Angel always had a thing for the weak-minded, even more so after the gypsy whores stuffed that soul in him. His victims, as I remember, followed the same pattern. So much easier to find. To fuck.” Her eyes glinted as she leaned forward. “To kill.”
Buffy jerked, fighting for composure. “Keep away from me.”
“Sorry, dear. We’re fresh out of that. But I do believe Lindsey has had enough time trying to soften things up for you.” Darla turned to the lawyer. “And there will be no arguing. Untie her. We have a little trip to make.”
That was enough to silence her. The prospect of being freed nearly made her eyes bulge out of her head. Darla didn’t seem to realize she’d said anything significant, and perhaps she didn’t think she had. Buffy was content to let her think that.
Even if the vampire only freed her legs, Buffy knew she could get out of here. Then she could alert Angel and be home before her mom started to wig.
The nightmare would be over by bedtime.
Buffy did her best to school her features not to give anything away as Lindsey neared to undo her bonds. Ankles first, arms second. God, they really were a cocky crew, weren’t they? He whispered a warning into her ear not to try anything, but he couldn’t honestly expect her to comply.
The instant the manacles fell away, Buffy bounded to her feet and sent Lindsey flying over the mahogany desk with a hard punch. She whirled, ready, and kicked an advancing Darla into the wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Her more primal senses told her to search out a wooden weapon, but she didn’t have that kind of time. So instead, Buffy abandoned fight for flight and bolted for the door.
The hallway was brighter than she expected. Lindsey had had the blinds drawn in his office—now she knew why—and Buffy’s eyes hadn’t adjusted to regular-person brightness. She saw enough to confirm, once and for all, that she was indeed in a law office. An ordinary-looking upper-scale firm, which, in spite of everything, surprised her.
How could a place like this even exist? No one seemed bothered by the deranged woman tearing through the hallways. The guards that had greeted her were nowhere to be seen, and the people she sped by looked thoroughly nonplussed.
Something was seriously wrong here.
In later days, she would have time to consider this and more.
A lot of time.
It happened so quickly it might as well have been a dream. Someone grabbed her wrist, and Buffy immediately pivoted to strike her assailant. Before she could so much as take a breath, her arms were bound behind her and she was pulled tightly to a broad, strong chest.
A very familiar chest.
“I knew that it was only a matter of time before you came running back into my arms. Welcome home, sweetheart.”
No. No. It couldn’t be.
A strangled sob commanded tore at her throat and she jerked once more, but he was too strong. Her muscles whined in protest, still drowsy from whatever she’d been juiced with and wilting under fresh exhaustion.
And though she knew the answer, she couldn’t help herself. It was the last strand of hope she had and she refused to give it up. “A-Angel?”
That laugh. That awful laugh had chased her nightmares for years. Buffy’s eyes stung and she bit her tongue to keep from sobbing.
This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be.
But it was.
Then Darla was there behind him, grinning, her hand on his shoulder. “Do yourself a favor, Buff,” she said. “When you start to feel sleepy, go with it. It’ll be easier that way.”
“But not nearly as much fun,” Angelus chided.
Buffy opened her mouth to retort, but something heavy fell against her, and then she was falling. Again down the endless tunnel where the clock chimed no more.
All went black.
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