THANKS: To the usual suspects. *smooches* Oh, how I love you all! Erin and Dani for inspiration. Snowpuppies and Skrip for listening to me bitch and moan about how I would never get it finished. Jes for the hand holding, typo catching and telling me it didn't suck. And Dani (again! boy does she rock!) for the super quick beta work.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Don't wanna give the surprise away, so AN is short 'n sweet. But be warned, SLASH lies within. And that's all I'm sayin'... ;)
He was in the mall. He hated the mall, and yet there he was.
Several saleswomen were giving him the eye, probably looking to make a good commission. He had that expensive yet useless look about him (or so Spike always insisted), which was a bit like chumming the waters. Within moments, the sharks were circling.
The nearest of the bunch, a petite brunette with pretty eyes, smiled at him winningly. "Have you tried one of these?" She gestured to a rack that stretched from wall to wall. "I think it would really bring out your eyes."
On each hanger there dangled a fresh, human heart. Still beating. As he watched, blood slowly dripped to the floor and began to form a puddle around his feet.
Cordelia was going to kill him. These were new shoes.
He looked at the saleswoman again and found that she had changed. She pushed blue hair out of her face and blinked calm, icy eyes at him. "In my day, the gods wore these as adornments, ripped from the hearts of vermin who dared to venture into our presence. They were like ants beneath our feet, and we crushed them without care. Their pain was our pleasure."
Angel blinked at her. "You know, your sales pitch could really use some work," he commented helpfully.
She cocked her head to one side and studied him for a long moment. "As you wish," she finally said, her words slow and measured. "I shall endeavor to be more convincing, though it matters not. This world will soon be mine again, its people paying homage to my greatness."
He smiled encouragingly. "Now that's better. It's always good to have a goal."
His cell phone rang and Angel frowned. Since when did he have a cell phone? He thought he'd thrown the thing out of the car window once when its ringing almost startled him into driving into a concrete wall. (A fact he still thought made the cell phone's death entirely justifiable, no matter what Cordelia said to the contrary.) But apparently someone had forgotten to tell the phone that, because there it was making itself at home inside his coat pocket like it had never left.
After several failed attempts (And whose idea was it to make these things so damn small, anyway? It made him feel like some kind of oversized giant with bad hand to eye coordination.) he managed to find the button to answer the call. "Hello?"
"You have a visitor."
He didn't recognize the voice on the other end of the line. "What? Who is this?"
"Someone close to you. You can't see it, but I'm there."
Angel's head shot up. He looked around him in growing dismay. The store was entirely empty. Even that strange salesgirl was gone. The hearts from the rack that proudly proclaimed "50% Off! Act Now!" were gone as well, though the blood still pooled at his feet.
"I don't understand."
He could practically hear the smile in the man's voice. "You will."
There was a click and Angel was left staring at a dead phone.
The wheels of the shopping cart squeaked as he slowly pushed it down the produce aisle. He was surrounded by familiar faces as he walked, each with their own cart and a pair of bite marks on their neck.
Angel averted his gaze and walked faster.
Turning a corner, he found himself in the meat section. Behind the counter stood the butcher. He had green skin and horns, but he wasn't the devil. Angel wasn't sure how he knew that; he just did.
"What'll you have, sweetcheeks?" The butcher smiled at him, and while he waited for Angel's reply, he hummed a little tune to himself.
"Um... I don't know." Angel shrugged his shoulders, staring down forlornly at his empty cart. "I can't seem to find what I'm looking for."
The butcher gave him a sad smile. "Well, I should say not!"
He leaned forward, placing his elbows on the counter, and looked at Angel intently. "It doesn't take a mind reader to see that you're carrying a lot of weight on those well-toned shoulders of yours. But I'll tell you what, Angelcakes, I just might have the thing you need right here!"
He grinned and pulled out a box wrapped in butcher's paper, bloody fingerprints adorning it like some kind of special pattern.
Angel reached out a hand and took it from him, looking at it doubtfully. "The answers I need are in here?"
The was no reply, and when he looked up he saw that the butcher had vanished.
He heard catches of a vague melody drifting over the store's sound system and thought it sounded familiar somehow, though he couldn't quite place it. The singer spoke of fire raining down and a golden ring.
When he opened the box, he saw that it contained a gun.
Hands carded through his hair, massaging conditioner into his roots. Angel sighed, eyes closed, and tried not to think. But apparently somebody else had different ideas.
"Why won't you see me?" asked a familiar voice. The name was on the tip of Angel's tongue, but he just couldn't make the connection.
He tried to open his eyes, but they wouldn't cooperate. The hands tugged harshly at his hair, making him wince. Frowning, Angel shrugged blindly, and replied, "Sometimes I miss things. I'm not always the most observant."
There was a snort of laughter from above him and the hands resumed their gentle ministrations, following behind with water to rinse everything clean.
"True enough. You never were the best at seeing things clearly." He heard soft laughter, though it wasn't malicious in nature. "Though you sure do know how to brood over it all afterwards."
He felt dry lips place a chaste kiss on his forehead.
"Don't worry," the voice assured him, so quiet that it was almost a whisper. "You'll figure things out."
Suddenly, the hands vanished and he could open his eyes again. But when he turned around, nobody was there.
The sun was bright and it made him squint and bring a hand up over his eyes. The beach blanket he was laying on was bright crimson, and it made him think of blood. But the sand was warm and wet. It felt good when he wriggled his toes down into it.
"God, you're pale. Really, really pale. Like a corpse, only you still walk and talk and kill monsters." There was a soft, amused chuckle. "I'd say it was like a fairy tale, only it's all too fucked up, and fairy tales don't exist any more. Eve told me once, but I didn't want to believe her."
Looking up, Angel saw a man standing there in a pair of blue swim trunks. The sun was behind him, leaving a halo of light around his shaggy hair and making it impossible for Angel to see his face. He had a white towel draped over one arm and Angel noticed an odd scar circling his other wrist.
"That looks pretty bad," he commented, wincing in sympathy. "You could've lost that hand."
The stranger shifted on his feet a little bit, looking somewhat uncomfortable. "I guess you could say that," he replied, his voice sounding off somehow. Not that Angel knew what his voice was supposed to sound like, but somehow he just knew that this wasn't right.
"Um, why don't you have a seat?" Angel offered the guy a small smile. "There's plenty of beach for us both."
"Thanks," the man replied awkwardly. "But I can't stay long. They're waiting for me."
Angel noticed circles of red begin to appear on the towel where the guy was holding it against his chest, slowly growing larger and larger. Blood. The stranger was bleeding.
"Hey, you're hurt," Angel said, his voice soft and stunned. He looked down and was shocked to see that he held a smoking gun in his hand.
"Don't worry about me. I don't feel a thing, not any more."
The circles of red continued to grow larger and darker. Angel wanted to grab the towel and wash it out, make it clean again. But something held him rooted to his spot on the ground.
"Besides," the man just continued speaking, like bleeding from chest wounds was an every day occurence for him. "I can take care of myself. It's not me I'm worried about."
He reached out a bloody hand and touched Angel's face. His fingers were gentle but insistent. "You gotta wake up and get your head outta your ass, Angel. People are counting on you."
"But, I don't-" Angel sighed, averting his eyes.
"Don't nothing, buddy." Laughter, warm like sunlight, washed over Angel and made the corners of his lips twitch. "I don't know what it is. Maybe you've got too much hair gel weighing down on that brain of yours, rendering you unable to deal when shit happens. I'd look into it if I were you. Over-gelling is nobody's friend."
Angel blinked, feeling suddenly self conscious. "My hair's fine," he grumbled.
The man's voice was kind but wryly amused. "I think you missed my point. Which was unsurprising, considering its huge obviousness and all."
Angel could smell the blood now, its scent overwhelming in its intensity, but it didn't make him hungry. It just made him feel sick to his stomach.
"I don't understand," he said, his voice cracking over the words. "Why won't you help me? Tell me something!"
The hand moved away from his cheek and the stranger took a step backwards. Angel tried not to watch him (he didn't want to see the blood) but he couldn't stop his eyes from tracking the man's movements anyway.
"I am helping you. Don't you get it? That's what this is all about. You just keep refusing to see it."
"No, I'm not," Angel protested, feeling frustrated. "I'm the one sitting here asking for your help, aren't I?"
The stranger sighed. "If you really want my help, then why won't you see me? I'm standing right here, Angel. All you have to do is see."
But the sun was just too bright, and all he could see was the glare.
He was at Caritas, and there was a man on stage strumming idly at his guitar. But when Angel tried to see who it was, the stage lights flipped on, and he was forced to blink and look away from their glare.
"Finally," came a voice from the stage. The soft picking of guitar strings abruptly stopped. "I thought you'd never get here."
Angel took a seat at a nearby table. "I guess you won't believe me if I tell you that traffic was hell."
The man snorted and set his guitar down. "Not very likely, no."
A waiter came by. He was British and there was a scar on his neck.
"Here you go," he said, setting a drink in front of the vampire. "A Bloody Mary, on the house."
As the waiter moved away, Angel wondered who was in charge of the uniforms in this place. A hospital gown wasn't really a very flattering choice.
Angel watched him for a moment, raising an eyebrow when he picked up a pillow from behind the counter and brought it over to the table.
"This is yours, as well."
Angel shook his head, eyes wide, as he stared down at it. For something made up of fabric and feathers, it had a strangely menacing look. "No, it's not. I don't need any weapons."
The waiter shook his head. "It's not about need; it's about choice. I should know. It's my job to watch for these things."
"Hey, when you're right, you're right," called out the man from the stage, nodding in agreement. "Now why don't you run along? Mr. Broods-a-lot and I need to have a chat."
Angel turned to catch the waiter's reaction to the abrupt dismissal and blinked in surprise. He was already gone.
"Hey, where'd he-" Angel broke off in astonishment when he turned to look at the guy onstage. Now a demon with purple colored skin was standing at the mic, butchering some show tune that Angel didn't immediately recognize.
Then there was a rustle of movement beside him and he turned to see the man from the stage sitting down across the table from him. He set his guitar down carefully on the next table over.
"Lindsey?" Angel whispered, eyes wide.
The younger man smirked, chuckling to himself. "So now you see me. Sure as hell took you long enough."
"I don't get it. What's going on? Is this some kind of trick?"
Lindsey sighed. "God, you are so dense, you know that, Angel? I swear, the fact that you managed to foil each and every one of my plans continues to amaze me. Because between the two of us, the brains were obviously on my side."
Angel rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks, Lindsey. Glad to know you think so highly of me. Now what are you doing here?"
Lindsey shrugged. "Well, I'll say this much, somebody sure as hell thinks a lot of you. That's why I'm here."
Angel frowned. "So what are you saying? That you were sent from beyond the grave to help me... what? Chew with my mouth closed? Look both ways before I cross the street? And how the hell did you manage this, anyway? I don't normally give people all-access passes into my head."
"Hey, the how's aren't important. Hell, knowing you, by the time you wake up you'll have convinced yourself that I was never here to begin with. You'll say that I was just an element of your dream, a personification of your subconscious used to make you deal with shit you didn't want to face up to yet."
"Is that true?" Angel asked. "Is that what you are?"
Lindsey grinned and waved one hand lazily, dismissing the question. "Don't look at me, buddy. Sadly, I'm not the brains of this particular operation. I just work here."
Angel almost jumped out of his skin when their surroundings suddenly shifted, everything seemingly dissolving away, and then before he could even blink they were standing in his old office at Wolfram and Hart. Except this time, he wasn't the one sitting behind the desk, Lindsey was.
The lawyer smiled, swiveling the big chair back and forth a couple of times. "Isn't this better?" he drawled, grinning brightly up at Angel. Lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, he added, "I don't know about you, but if I had to hear Merl butcher one more Rogers 'n Hammerstein number, somebody was gonna wind up dead. And seeing as you and I are both already dead, something tells me it wasn't gonna be one of us."
Angel blinked, taking one of the seats in front of the desk on instinct. "Merl?"
Lindsey rolled his eyes. "Don't ask."
Angel nodded slowly, still a bit bewildered over this whole turn of events. "Right."
"So," Lindsey began, bracing his elbows on Angel's desk and steepling his fingers together thoughtfully. "I guess we'd better get started."
"Get started on what?" Angel growled. "You seem to be forgetting the part where I'm still a card carrying member of the clueless party."
Lindsey sighed. "You know why I'm here, Angel. You just refuse to admit it to yourself."
"I think you're just here to make me miserable," Angel huffed, crossing his arms and shooting Lindsey a glare.
Lindsey studied Angel through narrowed eyes. "You really can't just say it, can you? Why is that? Do you hate me that much? You obviously can't stop thinking about it, otherwise I wouldn't be here. And yet you won't say it."
Angel shrugged. "I don't hate you, Lindsey. I mean, sure, you're evil and all... and I don't really like you very much... but I don't hate you."
"God, stop acting like everything's black and white, Angel. The good guys aren't always good; the bad guys aren't always evil. You, of all people, should know that. There are no absolutes. That's just a bunch of bullshit people want to believe so they can sleep easier at night."
Angel rolled his eyes. "Fine, Lindsey," he replied, his voice practically dripping sarcasm. "You win. You are the prince of perfect goodness. I bow before you, humbled by my own unworthiness. Now could you please get over yourself already and stop acting like an insecure, teenaged girl? I know it's hard. After all, your parents named you after a girl, so you're just playing to type."
"Oh, like you're one to talk," Lindsey replied, making a face. "Angel isn't exactly the most masculine name ever invented."
"Hey, if this is my dream," the vampire sulked, "then how come you get to insult me?"
Lindsey gave him a dazzling smile. "It's a perk."
Obviously noticing the vampire's mutinous expression, Lindsey sighed and continued speaking. "You continue to miss the point. You're thinking this is all about me, but it's not. I'm dead, Angel. I'm kind of beyond hurt feelings."
"Well, if we're not here because of you," Angel allowed cautiously, "then why are we here?"
"Do I have to spell it out for you, big guy? We're here because of you, because you need to deal with something that's eating away at that precariously perched soul of yours, and I've been tapped to help you do it. Trust me, there are plenty of things I'd rather be doing with my afterlife than ushering you through the many stages of self realization." He paused consideringly before adding, "And the majority of them don't have this many clothes."
Angel shifted in his seat. He would've sworn he could feel his ears getting hot, except he was a vampire and, even in dreams, vampires don't blush. "Um, yeah. Not a mental image I needed, thanks."
Lindsey smirked. "Sorry, didn't mean to get you all hot and bothered there, pal. I know you have some libido issues, what with that little curse and all."
Angel squirmed a bit more, looking anywhere but at the smug lawyer currently sitting behind his desk.
Lindsey grinned and stretched in his seat, slowly raising his arms and rolling his head back, each move filled with a languid sensuality that made Angel squirm even more.
Giving a contented sigh, Lindsey settled back in his seat and studied his companion for a long moment. "Look," he said finally, "This isn't getting us anywhere, and I don't have a lot of time."
He stood up and made his way around the desk, advancing on a suddenly nervous Angel. Dropping to his knees in front of the vampire, Lindsey reached down and grabbed the hem of his shirt, removing it in one smooth motion.
Angel blinked at the now-shirtless lawyer owlishly, feeling certain parts of his anatomy sit up and take notice. "Oh, god," he whispered, eyes locked on Lindsey where the younger man knelt before him. But then something began to nag at the corner of his mind. He could feel the weight of a non-existent gun in his hands.
As he watched, bullet holes began to appear in Lindsey's chest, blood dripping sluggishly from the wounds.
"Pay attention, Angel. Because I'm not going to tell you this again. I'm dead. My body is rotting in an abandoned warehouse somewhere as we speak." Angel opened his mouth to object, but Lindsey rode right over him. "I am not your friend, and this is not playtime. You're in trouble. You don't even see it, but you are. And that's why I'm here. This isn't some last ditch effort to piss you off or get some kind of petty revenge. You're dying inside, and you won't do a damn thing about it!"
"Why?" Angel broke in, spitting the words out like something that had been rotting in his mouth. "Because I feel bad about having you killed? Because I'm so consumed with guilt that I can't function? I hate to break it to you, Lindsey, but you deserved what you got."
Lindsey sat back on his heels, watching Angel. "You realize it's not just me, right?" he replied quietly. "You've left a slew of bodies in your path, and I'm not just talking about the Angelus days. People who trusted you, who fucking believed in you. And they're dead. Wesley, Fred, Cordelia, Drogyn, Gunn... me..."
"You never trusted me for one second, Lindsey," Angel snapped. "And don't try and say otherwise."
Lindsey smiled sadly. "Maybe not. But I did believe in you, in your goodness. Sometimes I hated you for it." He quirked an eyebrow and added ruefully, "Okay most times I hated you for it. But I believed in it, regardless."
Angel grit his teeth, looking away. "Stop it, okay? Just stop it."
Lindsey smiled, though it lacked any real mirth. He reached out and placed both hands on either side of Angel on the chair. Rising to his feet, he moved forward until he was in Angel's lap, straddling the vampire's thighs and hooking his arms over the chair back.
"Why?" he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. He leaned forward until his lips were right at Angel's ear, his breath tickling the hair at the nape of his neck. "Tell me why."
"I don't know," Angel breathed, closing his eyes and fisting his hands at his sides.
Lindsey growled deep in his throat and tangled his fingers in Angel's hair, using the leverage to pull his head back sharply and causing his eyes to snap back open. "Yes, you do," he replied, his mouth hovering over Angel's lips. "You can't block me out, not here. Now fucking say it."
Angel felt a tremor course through him and finally met Lindsey's gaze. He imagined he could feel it burning a hole through him; the heat was almost cleansing.
Lindsey nodded, eyes never leaving Angel's even as his tongue snaked out and traced a line across Angel's lips. "Just say it," he mouthed.
It was spoken so softly that it was almost inaudible. "I'm sorry."
And once it was spoken, once the words were released, Angel felt something like a dam inside of him break open, so many emotions he'd kept locked back flooding out of him like a tidal wave.
"God," he gasped out, broken voice and haunted eyes. "I'm sorry, Lindsey. So fucking sorry."
Lindsey's eyes slipped closed briefly and his head fell back, exposing the smooth line of his throat. "Oh, thank god," he muttered, a wry smile curving across his mouth. "Finally."
Before Angel had a chance to blink, Lindsey seemed to metamorphize right before his eyes, going from relief to intensity in a heartbeat. He twisted his fingers painfully in Angel's hair and slammed their lips together in a kiss that felt like an attack. He devoured Angel's mouth, seeking out every unexplored place like he was trying to memorize him.
Angel's hands came up to grip Lindsey's hips as the kiss overwhelmed his senses and when Lindsey rolled his hips just like that one of them groaned loudly, though Angel had no clue which it was.
It seemed like an eternity before Lindsey pulled away, tearing their lips apart, and left Angel gasping for air he didn't need. "What... the hell...?"
Lindsey beamed at him, practically radiating smug contentment. "Never let it be said I don't reward people for a job well done," he replied, nipping lightly at Angel's lower lip.
Angel blinked at him without a clue of how to respond.
Raising one eyebrow, Lindsey said softly, "As fun as this has been, I think our time is up. You have a lot of thinking to do, not to mention lives to save, and I... well, I have places to be."
Angel shook his head, a dazed expression on his face. "Wait a minute-"
Lindsey placed his fingers over Angel's lips, smiling ruefully. "Them's the breaks, big guy. Life sucks and this ain't a fairytale. We both know that."
He removed his hand and leaned forward, brushing his lips across Angel's lightly. "Now, it's time for all good little champions to wake up."
Angel closed his eyes. And when he opened them, Lindsey was gone.