World on Fire
Living in a world such as he did, Lindsey McDonald did not like to depend on the fear of the possible, but in watching the monitors that had held his captive interest for what seemed like weeks, he could not tear himself away. Seeing her dangle there. The proverbial worm on a hook. Reminding himself needlessly in his role. In his position that seemed to worsen by the minute.
Then something had happened. Spike had appeared on camera. William the Bloody. The same vamp Lindsey had tried to kill, who was now, for all intents and purposes, his best friend in the building.
There was no denying the fevered look in the vampire’s eyes. This was a man in love.
Thank god for that.
Of course, it didn’t take long for Lindsey’s attention to shift to one of the other feeds. And then his relief had taken a hiatus. Because Angelus was approaching, and he did not look happy.
Decisions from that point were fast making. Lindsey spared himself little room to think about it. He hurried out of his seat and rushed to the cabinet that lined the wall. There wasn’t enough time to peruse his selection, but he supposed it didn’t matter. As long as he could pass it for believable.
Lindsey refused to fool himself. He knew that what he was about to do could potentially get Buffy killed, not to mention himself. It could also undo everything his unlikely allies at Angel Investigations—which they should consider renaming—had worked toward. And it would be Spike’s fault. Not that Lindsey didn’t understand, of course. Had Buffy been the woman he loved, knowing what she was going through would have rightly driven him out of his mind. Hell, it had driven him out of his mind; he couldn’t begin to think of how much worse the last few days would have been had he been in love with her. So in that respect, Lindsey admired Spike’s restraint.
Of course, if he got Buffy killed, Lindsey might just have to stake him himself.
In later days, Lindsey would wonder how he managed to race the seemingly endless miles to the bowels of Wolfram and Hart without running into obstacles, especially with the gnarly instrument in his hand. At the moment, however, he didn’t care. Nothing mattered except getting to her. To him. To both of them before Angelus decided to act.
As he approached the final hall, Lindsey forced his long strides to a hasty walk, panting entirely too much. He heard Angelus speaking—his words coated with that mocking condescension he wore so well.
The elder vampire’s back was to him at present. Lindsey paused and considered. Had he brought something made of wood, this would have been the chance to beat all others. To finally get something done. However, even before he could resent himself for not having considered it, he realized that any such attempt would be tantamount to suicide. Angelus knew he was there. He hadn’t lived as long as he had or developed the sort of reputation he so enjoyed by being an idiot.
Plus, Cordelia’s good faith or not, Lindsey didn’t trust Spike to stand between him and Angelus should the older vampire decide to sample lawyer meat.
Infinitely better this way. At least he would know where he stood.
“Now, now,” Lindsey said in a tone much calmer than he felt, “don’t be cranky. The Slayer is a guest of Wolfram and Hart’s, after all.”
Angelus turned, his eyes narrowed. “Lindsey,” he said slowly, “so glad you could join us. I was wondering if you could help me as I’m having trouble with this picture. Spike here has taken it upon himself to snoop around what’s mine. But that’s not what bothers me. Not really. You see, I always thought you and I were friends. Good friends. Close enough that we would never keep anything from each other. And yet he insists that you gave him permission.” He tilted his head, his gaze daring him to lie. Or confirm it. It could go either way. “Don’t you think it interesting?”
Lindsey released a steadying breath and shifted his attention to Spike, and saw they understood each other.
“I didn’t think you’d mind,” he replied, all too calmly. “After all, your reservations in keeping the Slayer’s presence a secret from our newest acquisition was a question of character. I think last night proved his loyalty.”
He had done it. In two minutes, Lindsey had siphoned all of Angelus’s attention from Spike and embraced it for himself.
Angelus’s gaze had darkened, his bulking body pivoting face him in full. “You went against me,” he said very softly.
“Actually, Angel, had you read our contract, you would see that I was entirely within company policy in part of my actions.” Lindsey thought he sounded much calmer than he felt. He knew that everyone present—likely including the Slayer—could feel the race in his pulse, but that did not stop him from continuing. “Spike has every right to your…guest.” He hated that word. “Just as much as you do. He is no more out of line than Darla and Drusilla were when they interviewed her prior to your sessions.”
Angelus’s eyes looked damn near black now. “You know me, Lindsey,” he said. The worse thing about his voice was the lack of a snarl. There was anger because there was anger. Just because. He needed nothing else to get his point across. “I do not favor being treated like any other client.”
“Well, you see, the Senior Partners are concerned.” That lie was easy enough. The Senior Partners were often concerned about something. “They wanted you to be sure that you knew whose playing field you were on. This isn’t what you’re used to, Angelus. This is a whole new ballgame. And we have an interest in meeting the needs of all our associations.” He nodded at Spike, who had, for whatever reason, enough sense about him to remain silent. “Your colleague said he was bored. We thought it best to give him something to do. Rest assured, that’s as far as it’s gone. He doesn’t have the…liberties that you so enjoy.”
Angelus seemed to consider this, then glanced down at the device in Lindsey’s grasp. “Mhmm. And what is that for?”
He had nearly forgotten he was holding anything. Lindsey held up the instrument, doing his damndest to ignore the whimper that tellingly spilled from Buffy’s lips, as well as the rattle of her chains as she shifted.
“Well,” he said, fearing his voice’s betrayal, “you have a variety of devices that you refuse to share with anyone. Spike expressed an interest in developing his own collection. I thought to start with this.” Lindsey glanced at Spike, who looked to tear his head off for even suggesting such a thing. “It’s medieval,” he explained, mind immediately racing to the vaults of otherwise useless information stored there from his college days. “You said you wanted something rustic. They call this The Spider. It was forged from iron to resemble a spider, as you might have guessed. We’ll need to heat it until the iron glows. It’s used most commonly to mutilate or even tear off a woman’s breast.”
Spike glared at him a minute longer, but his expression changed the second Angelus looked his way. Immediately, he adopted a look of interest. “Right,” he said. “Well isn’t this nifty? Whaddya think, Angelus? Do your girl proper, wouldn’t you reckon? Promise I won’t hurt her too much. You were a bloody selfish bastard in your day. Had to have all the best screamers for yourself.”
“Buffy isn’t a screamer,” Angelus said. He raked his eyes up her naked, abused body. “Much.”
Spike smirked. “Well, what can I say, mate?” he retorted, “some Slayers are fickle like that. Needing a real man to help ‘em hit those high notes.”
Angelus glanced to the Spider with a perked brow. “And you think this is going to help you? Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You always were one for toys.”
Spike shrugged. “What can I say? I just like them.”
Something raspy and tainted perturbed the air. It tore at Lindsey’s chest—but not so much that he missed the agony that flickered across Spike’s face. And again, to his credit, he covered it up before Angelus could see it.
What she said, though, amazingly made the younger vampire smile. Soft, poignant, and ringing with the hint of an inside joke. “They…they make him feel all manly.”
Angelus arched an eyebrow. “Is that a fact?”
Spike snickered. “Told her as much myself once. Don’t worry, Angelus. You’ll get her back.” With that, he seized the Spider from Lindsey’s grasp and held it up. “In mostly one piece.”
“You flatter yourself,” Angelus snarled, “if you think I’m going to allow this.”
“And you flatter yourself,” Lindsey said, stepping forward bravely, “if you think you’re in any position to stop it. Face it, Angel, you’re not the head honcho around here. The Senior Partners want to you remember that. Spike has every right to torture the Slayer. He is a part of the Order.”
Angelus cocked his head, eyes forming slits. “He also, up until recent, claimed to be in love with her. Right up until the time we told him she’d kicked the bucket. Yet here he is, and here she is, and here you are. Isn’t that convenient?” He smiled a nasty smile. “You’re not stupid, are you, Lindsey?”
Lindsey’s heart thudded against his ribcage. Still, his voice didn’t shake when he spoke. “If you’re planning that route, you’d have to say the same about yourself.”
“Maybe you are stupid.”
“Maybe I am. I’m also in charge here. Kill me or don’t, my contract’s not going anywhere. And neither is yours.” Lindsey waited a beat, then forced himself to pull his gaze from Angelus long enough to nod at Spike. “Wolfram and Hart contracts are binding.”
If he were standing anywhere else, if Buffy weren’t here, Lindsey might have laughed. Angelus was very clearly not used to being bossed around. He wasn’t used to restraint. Not used to not ripping off the heads of his enemies after first driving them mad.
It’d be a fun experiment to put a chip in that head.
“You have to go home at some point,” Angelus said at last.
“Still Wolfram and Hart, my friend. Kill me or—”
“I never said anything about killing you. Just that you have to go home at some point.” He smiled a nasty smile. “Who knows what could happen there?”
“You’re not invited.”
“Pity. I was so hoping.”
The next happened all too quickly. Lindsey found himself pressed against the cold surface of the wall, a very dangerous vampire snarling with too much interest at his throat.
“I don’t appreciate being played,” he growled. “And I don’t give a damn about your Senior Partners. You know what troubles me, Lindsey? The idea that I can’t trust you. I mean—honestly—here I am, playing nice, and the minute my back is turned, you’re making arrangements that you know are just going to Piss. Me. Off.” He enunciated each word with a forceful blow against the wall, eyes blazing but not yellow. “It makes me feel, oh, I dunno, betrayed. And I don’t like feeling betrayed.”
Lindsey gasped for air as the vampire threatened to steal it from him altogether, but refused to lose the edge to his voice that gave him some sort of authority. “I suppose you could allow me to rectify it.”
“Wouldn’t advise it, mate,” Spike suggested, eyebrows perked as he reached for his cigarettes. “You might make Big Daddy even angrier than he is now.”
Angelus tossed him a mildly inquisitive glance.
“What?” Spike stretched out his arms, cigarette dangling from his lips. “I’m on your bloody side, here. Kill the wanker, don’t kill the wanker. It’s your bloody business. I’m just in it for the fun.” He glanced to the Spider he held with sparkling eyes. “But let me play with that a bit, either way you choose to go. Fair’s fair and all.”
“Kill me and you just have the Senior Partners to contend with,” Lindsey answered, gasping for breath and successfully drawing attention back to himself. “And trust me, Angel, you don’t want that. At least with me, you have some leeway. They won’t put up with you like I have.”
Angelus tightened his grip. “Oh, I dunno. We could always find out.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Just do what you’re gonna do and let me get to it. I’m bored.”
Angelus snickered and tossed a half-interested glance over his shoulder. “You wanna torture the Slayer, boy, there’s nothing stopping you.”
A muffled whimper rumbled from the girl in question, but no one answered her.
Spike offered a petulant pout. “It’s no fun with you here.”
That was it. Angelus vampire released Lindsey without another word, disregarding him like an unwanted toy. As Lindsey slid to the floor in a heap, his lungs heaving for air, the elder vampire put his back to him. “I don’t like the idea of leaving you alone,” he mused. “Especially with what happened the last time.”
Spike sighed. “You gonna hold that against me forever?”
“I don’t take well to those who form alliances with Slayers. Especially when it involves me not ending the world.”
“Oh, but you’re perfectly content with your bloody star-crossed love affair, suppose? And I wasn’t the one making googly eyes at her after she sent me to Hell. Point of fact, I haven’t been there as of late.”
“You couldn’t survive it.”
Spike cocked his head with interest, blowing out a pillar of smoke. “If memory serves, neither did you. It was your less interesting half that cashed that ticket.”
From somewhere deep within himself, Lindsey found the strength to rise to his feet, good hand caressing his throat. “Point being, Angel,” he said, “you don’t have a say in the matter. Spike is permitted at least an hour uninterrupted—less if he chooses, but I’ll leave that up to him. You can make all the fuss you like; it doesn’t change anything. And despite how much you care to talk, I don’t think meeting the Senior Partners is on your bucket list. Work for us or work against us. But from the sound of things, if you choose the latter, you and yours are going to be on the outs. If the Senior Partners don’t do you in, your friends at Angel Investigations will.”
“Oh yeah,” Angelus replied, snickering. “They terrify me.”
“Maybe they should. Word has it that they’re building artillery enough to take you out of the picture for good.”
Angelus snorted again. “Do you listen when you talk? How can you stand the whine?”
“I’m just hoping you’ll look at this logically. You’ve made a lot of enemies in this town. Some demon, others not. And your former friends are not without their resources. And that’s only if Wolfram and Hart doesn’t step in first.” Lindsey rubbed his throat absently. “Deals around here aren’t made to be broken. You know that. You agreed to it. Like it or not, it’s our house, our rules.”
There was nothing after that, and for a moment, Lindsey was sure he was breathing his last breaths. But Angelus didn’t attack. Didn’t lunge. Didn’t taunt. Instead, he just stared, and he let that stare do his talking for him.
Instead, he turned slowly and left the room.
Lindsey didn’t feel victorious as he might have expected. If anything, he felt close to passing out, either from an adrenaline crash or the crushing knowledge that he’d just crossed a line he couldn’t uncross. Angelus was not meant to play second fiddle to anyone. It was only a matter of time before he convinced Darla that what the firm really needed was a repeat of Holland’s dinner party.
Wolfram and Hart might operate in other worlds and other planes, and they might be bigger than the Order of Aurelius, but they also had rules. Angelus, Darla and Dru did not.
And Angelus didn’t walk away from confrontation. He might postpone his retort, but it would come, and it would be bloody.
Lindsey didn’t move until he was certain Angelus was well out of earshot, and that only came when Spike shifted at last.
“This,” the vampire said, throwing the Spider to the ground at Lindsey’s feet, “never comes near her again. You hear me?”
Lindsey nodded. “I didn’t actually mean for you to—”
“I know. Just a friendly warning, mate.” A sigh rumpled through his body. “She’s seen enough without putting more ideas in that wanker’s head.”
Another nod. This one of understanding rather than agreement. Lindsey still refused to look at Buffy, admiring her for her silence. He feared losing what little control he had left if he studied the thing she’d become in person. He also worried that one look would root him to the spot; he would keep his eyes fastened on her with morbid fascination. Nothing more than a rubbernecker.
“You’re really here for her?” he asked Spike instead.
“Yeah. You really gonna help?”
“Right then. Guess we have some talking to do.”
At that, a muted whimper touched the air, and Spike began walking backward immediately, not taking his eyes off Lindsey. “But first I’d like that hour with my girl. No bloody interruptions.”
Lindsey tilted his head. “I actually might have an idea. Nothing I was sure of until…well, if we get everyone in on it…but I need to do some research.”
“Right. You do the research.” Spike turned away from him at that, and from that moment, he was lost.
Lindsey knew enough to recognize that.
“I’ll be in my office,” he said. And then he sent himself away. So hasty to leave that he likely would have missed the vampire’s low but sincere thanks had he not bent to collect the Spider.
He had every intention of seeing it destroyed before Angelus thought to ask.