Lindsey McDonald didn’t even bother to glance up when the door opened. He had known it was only a matter of time before a spokesperson for the unholy trio decided to break the silence that had settled since the Slayer had been brought into the picture. As it was, he had been looking to call Angelus into his office for some time now. There were things to discuss and a meeting to arrange.
That didn’t mean this was a welcome visit. Lindsey preferred to move at his own pace.
Unfortunately, he knew the same could be said for his guest.
“Well, well,” Angelus drawled in greeting. “Alone at last.”
The lawyer snickered but maintained his focus on his work. “Hello, Angelus.”
“You know, I just can’t seem to figure out why… Now, before I get ahead of myself, don’t get me wrong. This not-having-a-soul business is really working out for me. Granted, I have a lot to catch up on, and the pups over at my old stomping grounds aren’t really helping out.”
Lindsey sighed and finally looked up, dropping his pen. “You’ve only been here two seconds, and I’m already tired of listening. Is there something I can do for you?”
A rich chuckle colored the air. Angelus leaned forward, supporting his weight on the desk with open palms. “All that hostility and you still maintain your sense of humor. Maybe I underestimated you, Lindsey. You aren’t quite the sniveling crybaby I made you out to be. Close, don’t get me wrong, but I give credit where credit is due, especially to those I’ll likely be killing within the next five minutes.”
Even at that, McDonald refused to bat an eye. The past few days had proved Angelus was about as much talk as he was action. That wasn’t to say the vampire wouldn’t follow through; his torture sessions with Buffy had been split between words and lashes. Oh no. This was a creature that enjoyed the buildup.
“Is there a point you would like to make?” he asked. “Or should I have you escorted out by force? I do have work to do if you don’t mind.”
“Ah, right to the point. I always liked that about you, Lindsey. So direct. Forceful.” Angelus glanced down, sliding his hand across the length of the desk before finding what he was looking for. A pen. He ran his forefinger over the ballpoint, tossing Lindsey a brief look as a smile curled his lips. “You’re really not afraid of me…are you?”
Lindsey’s eyebrows shot skyward. He gestured dismissively. “Should I be?”
“I could kill you with this, you know. Your head would hit the floor before you could think to call for help.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Lindsey replied. “But you didn’t come up here to threaten me.”
“Didn’t I?” Angelus smirked. “You really think you matter to her? That she lies awake, dreaming of you when the day is done? That she touches herself and calls out your name when she—”
“No need to be crude.”
Angelus tilted his head and studied him. And in a brief moment of triumph, Lindsey realized he’d irritated the vamp.
Something he doubted many could claim and still live. But unfortunately for Angelus, Wolfram and Hart still wanted Lindsey alive. And being that Wolfram and Hart knew how to punish someone, Angelus couldn’t so much as sneeze on Lindsey as he could kill him.
Angelus knew it, and he knew that Lindsey knew it. And it pissed him off.
Lindsey sat up a little straighter and tried not to grin too much. “As it is, I don’t see why would you come up here and brag about that? In fact, why would you come up here at all? Don’t you have a slayer to be playing with?”
That remark didn’t roll as fluidly off the tongue as he’d hoped. The last thing Lindsey wanted to do was send Angelus back into the bowels of Wolfram and Hart to engage in another round of bleed the Buffy. The monitors in the room that weren’t technically supposed to exist had become something of an addiction. He couldn’t stop watching—a morbid fascination. For every flinch that crossed her face, for every tear of her skin, for every time she bit her lip to keep from screaming, he hated the vampire more.
And it wasn’t just that. It could never be so simple. His insides twisted with self-loathing that refused to grant him leave. For as often as he watched her torment, he never made move to interfere. To end it. To get her out of there. To save her and himself from this haven of sin. He couldn’t. He remained. He had to. Wolfram and Hart was what he knew.
It had only been two days. Two days. And she bled. She had bled too much.
And yet it was he who was dying.
This conscience thing was a horrendous pain in the ass.
“Funny that you should mention the Slayer,” Angelus replied. “You’ll never believe what Dru shared with us over breakfast.”
Lindsey froze and glanced up.
If the vampires knew that their torture sessions were being videotaped, things would go from bad to worse in record time.
“I’m sure you’ll tell me,” Lindsey replied, attempting to maintain a cool, disinterested façade.
“Seems Spike is in town. In town, and looking for us. Imagine that.” Angelus’s eyes narrowed and blazed with an intensity that could melt an iceberg. “I’m thinking, you knew about this, didn’t you?”
Lindsey knew Angelus could hear his heart pounding. He could only hope he misinterpreted the meaning. Let him think that he’d managed to strike fear in the lawyer after all. As long as he remained ignorant of the security cameras, Angelus could think whatever he liked. “Our resources aren’t really focused on new arrivals,” he replied steadily. “But yes, I was informed. By Spike himself, actually. He claims to have rethought Darla’s offer. He wants in.”
Angelus drew back, his face expressionless. Then he released a long chuckle. “Perfect!” he decided richly. “How absolutely perfect. It never ceases to amaze me how centuries can change, but the people remain…” He paused, cocking his head. “Irrevocably the same. Spike, one of my own. Same guy. Same mindless enthusiasm. Different cause.”
“I think it runs in the family, myself.” Lindsey wisely avoided the vampire’s eyes at that, glancing once more to his work. “Anyway, I told him the Slayer was dead. He didn’t seem to care.”
Angelus quirked an eyebrow. “Interesting. I never thought he’d be inventive enough to go with apathy.”
Lindsey leaned back in his chair. “You’re so sure it’s a rouse?”
“Of course it’s a rouse, Bright Boy. Spike always reeked of way too much humanity to give up that quickly. And man—that kid becomes obsessed with something, he stays that way.” Angelus rolled his eyes. “On and on and on until I wished I had never even mentioned the Slayer. It was almost worth getting souled to not hear another word of his mindless rambling.”
“He wants to meet you tomorrow at Caritas. At sunset.”
Angelus inclined his head. “Interesting choice.”
“Not nearly as interesting as what our tracers picked up.” Lindsey leaned forward and retrieved a single-sheeted document from his desk. “The phone he used was issued to a Wright, Zachary Stephens. Anyone you know?”
“Name doesn’t sound familiar.” Angelus frowned.
Lindsey saw the question there and felt another jolt of satisfaction that the vampire had been caught off guard. Even if he believed Spike’s change of heart to be Buffy-related, Angelus knew that Spike’s best option was to go to Angel Investigations.
It could be the phone had been stolen off someone. Borrowed, perhaps, but it was just enough unexpected that it had lent Lindsey pause.
Of course, it was entirely possible that Spike knew what he was doing. Possible, but unlikely. To hear Angelus talk, Spike had not once had a clever thought that was his and his alone.
And the fact that he was soulless led Lindsey to believe the Angel Investigations crew wouldn’t welcome him with open arms. An obsessed soulless vampire was still dangerous, chip or not.
“Well,” Angelus said at last, “I guess there’s never any harm in looking, now is there? Caritas at sunset… Well, I suppose we’ll just have to wait until then.” He turned to flash Lindsey a cheeky grin that dripped with disdain before waltzing out of the office to his leisure.
For everything the Angelus’s souled counterpart had once kept under lock and key, this version of the vampire practically shouted from the rooftops. Lindsey never thought the day would arrive when he would miss the shadow of his former rival. Every minute mounted more surprises.
He did not want William the Bloody in these offices, especially if he had spoken the truth earlier. Vampires were fickle creatures—and despite whatever romance Spike might have felt a few days ago, the man was a notorious slayer killer. He prided himself in it. Had already done two in and—by the files—had spent the past three years of his life doing his damndest to kill the one currently chained up downstairs.
Drusilla thought that he was in love with Buffy. Hah. Rich. That was all very well for Drusilla. Lindsey much preferred to keep his opinion based on factual evidence, not the sporadic claims of a rambling undead lunatic. He did not know what Spike was trying to pull, but Lindsey sure as hell refused to do anything that made the Slayer’s situation worse. Unchipping Spike and sending him in would all but sign her death warrant.
Angelus’s hostility toward Buffy was founded but aged. When he tired of her, it was going to take every string in Lindsey had at his command to keep the girl alive. Spike was a different story. His hostility had had time to brew. To bubble and fester. All scars were fresh and likely still bleeding. After all, the vampire had been imprisoned in his own body for more than a year. That wasn’t something he would just walk off.
Which brought Lindsey full circle to an irrevocable fact he’d done his best to ignore. But there was no more pretending. If Buffy was to survive, it would be because he got her out. He had to do it in order to sleep at night, and he had to do it soon. Before things got worse. Before William the Bloody was implicated.
It was merely a question of how.
This time, she knew she was dreaming.
He stood in the doorway, his features blurred, either for the lack of convenient lighting or due to the mask of tears that had long since dried and crusted under her eyes. She didn’t know. Had long since stopped caring.
How much time had passed? Days? Weeks? Years?
Days. It was only days. Two or three at best. Likely three. Three sounded good. A sturdy, wholesome, reliable number. Three days since she’d seen him. Since he’d burst into the Bronze to tell her what was coming. To warn her about Drusilla and Darla. What they had planned for her.
To warn her about Angelus.
And before that? A walk through Restfield cemetery. Cordial. Nice. Side-by-side, as though they had been doing it for years. Like they were old friends rather than bitter enemies.
She had opened up to him that night. She had gone against her own established rule. She had opened up, and Spike, never one to shy from a challenge, had admirably stepped up to the plate.
Everyone is wrong, he had told her. And he had been sincere.
Like the way your mind works.
And now he was here, and she was dreaming. She had to be dreaming. Trapped in a daze where what she wanted was within reach, even if the same couldn’t be Spike. Couldn’t. Never had been, never would be.
What she wouldn’t do to see his face now. His face. Xander’s face. Willow’s face. Hell, right now, even Parker’s face. Someone to remind her that the world existed outside these walls. That she wasn’t in Hell, repaying for some sin she didn’t know she had committed. That life in all its blessed routine, complete with demonic Hellgods who were after her sister, was still the basis of reality outside her suffering.
But that wasn’t entirely true, was it? Because if Spike were here, it certainly wouldn’t be for her. He was a vampire after all. He was a very notorious, very dangerous vampire with two slayer deaths under his belt. And he had been jonesing to kill her since he’d first blown into Sunnydale three years prior.
Funny, though, how the thought of him right now—in this distorted version of her even more distorted reality—brought with it some sort of peace.
Flash. He was standing there before her, now. The open sea of his eyes welcoming her own—those eyes that seemed to see more than anyone else ever had. Despite everything, their differences, their banter, their mutual hatred, he somehow managed to know her better than anyone. Better than even Willow at times, and that was scary. Vampires weren’t supposed to be that perceptive. Spike wasn’t supposed to be that perceptive. He knew her. Oh, he knew her. He always had.
He knew slayers, he had said. That was true. But he knew Buffy better than any of the others. He knew Buffy.
When he spoke, his breath fanned her lips—her chapped, raw, sore lips. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t scream. That hadn’t been explored, pulled, or cut. Angelus was a connoisseur of such things, and by the way he touched her, he never wanted her to forget it.
“What’s this?” the Spike-apparition demanded. “My girl all chained up? That won’t do, now will it?”
Buffy lunged forward at that—or rather, tried to. Her bindings held steadfast, pulling on skin that had long ago outstretched its limits. Her muscles were sore and abused, tired from struggling. Tired of holding her up while the others made their play. Simply tired. She was grateful for the lack of mirrors—feeling the grime and blood caked upon dirtied flesh was enough. The last thing she needed was a diagram.
The chains would withhold anything, even and especially images conjured simply because she wished it so. Buffy gave up after a few seconds, releasing a pitiful wail as she limped in defeat. “Spike…” she whimpered. “Please…”
“Things are gonna get rough. You’re gonna have to sit tight. Close your eyes. Pretend It’s not real. And wait. Just wait. I’ll make it all go away.” He reached out to caress her cheek and she was surprised when it didn’t hurt. When she didn’t feel the need to flinch. Rather, it was exquisite. Being touched out of feeling rather than unsatisfied anger. Rage. Fury. Everything that made Angelus who he was. “Hold on for me, all right, love? Can you do that? We’re trying.”
“Spike,” she moaned, biting back tears. She had thought she'd drained her body of tears, but somehow they kept coming. Stinging her eyes, waiting to trek painful rivers down swollen cheeks. “Please, don’t… Angelus…he’s…”
“I’ll find you.” He flashed a grin, then leaned forward softly and caressed her lips with his own. It wasn’t passionate or unkind, not teasing or cruel, rather gentle and reassuring. And yet, somehow, it was the sweetest kiss she could remember. And real. Oh god, it felt so real. She could almost smell him. Cigarettes, leather, whiskey…tears? Were those his tears or her own? Why would he cry for her?
Too soon it was over, and he pulled back, drawing locks of bloodied hair between his fingers with a look on his face that she had never seen before. Never seen. Couldn’t place. But she loved it.
“I promise, Buffy. I’ll find you.”
She opened her eyes and allowed her tears to sting, but before she could call him back, beg him to stay, he had dissolved.
There was a slam and she jerked awake.
The fantasy was over. Reality stepped forward with all its wretched glory.
This was it. She was alone.
Angelus had returned.
He flashed a smirk and tossed some foreign object to the ground beneath her feet. Buffy refused to blink; refused to look at it. Rather, she lifted her head with whatever kept her going and met his eyes. Beat by beat.
And, as she had at every interval, refused to show him any fear.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he greeted, then smashed his lips to her forehead in a biting, mocking kiss. “Miss me?”
The warmth the dream had given her faded. Truth returned. Nasty, spiteful, and real.
The same that could never be forgotten. Wanting did not make it so.
She was alone.
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