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that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
Edgar Allen Poe - Dream within a Dream
CHAPTER SIX - ANGEL December 2004
As if this day wasn't bad enough, having to have Buffy here without really knowing where we stand and having to go to dinner with my son, now Lindsey was on my doorstep. He looked scared and I really didn't need this.
We arranged ourselves around the hotel lobby, leaving Lindsey more or less in the center. He didn't care for it, judging from the look in his eyes. And I had to concentrate on why he was back. I would have bet Lindsey would never come back in L.A.. If I had known then what I know now I might have tried to stop him from leaving. I'm shocked Wolfram and Hart hadn't hunted him down. Lilah's death hadn't freed her. Maybe Lindsey had a different contract than she did. For his sake, I hope so. Still, something had brought him to my door step.
"Talk," I said.
Lindsey curled his lip at me. "Still pleasant as ever."
"You didn't come back here to exchange pleasantries," I snapped. I wasn't in a mood to deal with Lindsey's usual slipperiness. Hell, dealing with him normally put me in a bad mood.
He took out his wallet and removed a piece of well-folded paper. He handed it to Wes who unfolded it, reading it out loud.
"'Dear Mr. MacDonald, as per your contract agreement, you shall report for work at our L.A. branch on Monday the twentieth, 2004. You will find temporary lodgings with your immediate supervisor, Mr. Angel, at the Hyperion Hotel. Details of your first assignment will be disclosed when you report to work. Your lapsed Bar dues have been paid. Failure to show will result in sanctions as described in your contract'."
"Work for us or we take your soul," Faith said, crossing her arms across her chest.
"I didn't sign that sort of contract but let's just say I'd die a lot more horribly than I even want to think about. So I came here playing twenty questions with myself." Lindsey took off his hat, ruffling his hair. It was shorter than the last time I'd seen it. "Starting with what in the hell are you doing, Angel? I didn't believe that letter at first or the taunting little note Lilah tucked in there with it. I had to call and find out for myself. Have you gone insane?"
"Things have changed with Wolfram and Hart," Wes said in our defense.
"In your dreams." Lindsey snorted. "The Senior Partners are threatening to have me murdered, tell me how that's a change?"
"I'd like to know that myself," Buffy interrupted and I was surprised by the fire in her eyes. "On the way here, Faith told me that Wolfram and Hart are the ones who asked her to kill you." Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Explain to me how they've suddenly changed so much we can allow my sister to work for them?"
"It's okay, Buffy. She's just OPS, no contracts involved," Wes said before I could say anything. He wilted, realizing that only made things worse.
"Tell me you didn't do anything as moronic as sign a contract," Lindsey said, his mouth dropping open.
I was beginning to feel as stupid as he seemed to think I was. "There were extenuating circumstances," I said weakly.
"Let's start hearing them, Angel." Buffy stalked over to me, her fists jammed into her hips.
"It all started with The Beast. When Lilah died we thought we had lost our last hook in Wolfram and Hart," Wes said and I started pacing the room. I couldn't look at Buffy and the accusations written on her face.
"Lilah's dead?" Lindsey's eyes bugged. "Then how..." His face slowly melted like ashen wax into a look of utter horror. "She finally made it, didn't she? She was the one running things for the Senior Partners. That's when they make you sign the beyond death contract."
"Lilah's dead?" Xander asked, seeming more surprised the second time around. "I'm working for a dead woman?"
"No, you work for me," I said. "Lilah just likes to pretend she's boss. She wears the scarves and turtle necks to hide where Wes cut off her head."
Lindsey's eyebrows rose. "You cut off Lilah's head."
Wes managed to look guilty and I shifted uncomfortably. "Lilah's decapitation was my fault."
"We thought Angelus had killed her," Wes said. "We didn't want to chance her coming back. We had too many other worries."
"Yes." Lindsey nodded. "L.A.'s brief descent into eternal darkness was world news."
"So what is she?" Buffy asked. "Obviously not another vampire."
"No," I replied. "I'm not sure what to call Lilah. She's too mentally intact to be a zombie. She's simply been dragged back from hell, animated flesh, her own words." I said and judging by the look in Buffy's kaleidoscope eyes that was utterly the wrong thing to say.
"You're not this dumb, Angel." Lindsey's voice was cold, matching the ice in his blue eyes. "I mean you have never been too smart."
"Smart enough to stop you every time," I shot back. Not good, Angel, you're just letting him know he's getting to you.
"Fine. So you should be smart enough to know that Wolfram and Hart doesn't change. And if you aren't." Lindsey stalked over to Wes. "You were, Wyndham-Price. How could you sign onto this?"
"It was an executive decision. I was told after the fact," Wes said, then slumped, embarrassment edging onto his thin face. "But I was ready to sign on. We all were. You have no idea what they offered us. The chances to do good, the scientific resources, the mystical texts. They could truly aid our cause." Wes pounded his fist into the palm of his hand, excitedly punctuating the pluses of the deal.
Lindsey snorted again. "You think I don't know how tempting Wolfram and Hart can make it look? How they can blind side you? Trust me, you've been had and you don't even know it yet."
"So far they've kept their word. They've stayed out of our way and they're done nothing to stop us for more than a year," I said emphatically, like I was trying to convince myself more than anyone else. I was failing miserably. This was the first time we had taken our new boat out to sea and it was sinking fast. "We've helped a lot of people since we've signed on."
"I don't doubt you have." Lindsey came to roost on the circular couch. I wanted to shoo him off. That was Connor's couch. He was the one who liked to perch there. "What you have to ask yourself is what have they been doing while you guys were playing hero?"
I wanted to protest. They couldn't have snuck anything past us. I could see that same protest in Wes' eyes but the truth was Wolfram and Hart could have been doing anything. Wes and Fred were so over the moon about their new resources, they barely left the office. Who knew what Gunn was up to. And we all had Cordy on our minds. As for me, Connor occupied my every waking thought to the point I thought I might be going as mad as Dru, a fitting punishment really.
"Ask yourselves why am I here?" Lindsey stared straight at me, thumping his cowboy hat back on. The effect was disconcerting. It's surprising how much a hat can hide. All I was really aware of were the intense blue eyes burning holes in me.
"I'm guessing it's not because the divorce cases have started to pile up while you were..." Faith's brow wrinkled. "Where the hell were you hiding out?"
"Good choice. Nobody willing goes there," Faith shot back.
I could see his mouth twist unpleasantly. "He's an Okie," I told her but she didn't look apologetic.
"So what now?" Buffy asked, catching up to me, matching my pacing. "You can't be thinking that this is mere coincidence and that there isn't something wrong? You can't keep working for them."
"Actually I can," I said and she gave me a look that said she thought I was insane. "If we quit now, it'll tip them off that we know something is wrong."
"We're in a good position now to pry into their dealings secretly," Wes added.
"There's just one problem," Lindsey said and in a flash my mind cleared enough to realize what he was thinking.
"If you're here, then it's already in motion. They'd never have sent you here to stay with me otherwise," I said, burying my hands in my pockets to hide their clenching.
"Exactly. This is just Lilah's way of rubbing your face in it," Lindsey said.
"Then we'll have to work fast and try to head it off," Wes said.
"Why are we always two steps behind?" Faith asked, tugging at a lock of her dark hair.
"No matter where we are; here, Cleveland, Sunnydale," Buffy snarled. "We're always in the dark until too late. Just for once I'd like to know what the hell is going on. All I wanted is one nice, quiet holiday. I should have known better." She stomped her foot then gave us all an apologetic look. "Sorry, I know that was selfish and childish especially since the end of the world is probably coming yet again. That's how these things always turn out."
"Wolfram and Hart being finally ready to execute their end of days would explain why they called me back," Lindsey said, rubbing at a spot on his boot with the toe of the other one.
Buffy's eyes bugged. "You're telling me they actually have plans for the end of the world?" She whirled on me. "Did you know, Angel?"
"They abandoned the plan," I said weakly, wondering how I could ever have believed that; Connor, it always comes back to him. The price for giving my son a better life was always high but I thought I was the only one paying for it with my heartache. Now the whole world might pay for it. There hadn't been time to think through my actions. I did it impulsively, desperate to save my child. It might have been better to sacrifice him but I couldn't do it. For the first time, I understood my own father. I had always thought him to be ogrish, and in many ways, I still did, but now I could see how much he indulged me. How hard it was to say no to your child, how you'd do anything for them. Please let this be salvageable.
"I should have known better than to take any job Dead Boy offered me," Xander grumbled and I couldn't even muster a protest.
"You've made your case for trying to maintain the status quo but I want Dawn out of there. If she won't quit, you fire her," Buffy insisted, grabbing my arm, dragging me to a halt.
"Fine." I rubbed a hand over my face and added tiredly, "Now what?"
"We start the research. Should we cancel the party tomorrow?" Wes asked.
"No," I replied. "Lilah knows about it. We'll just carry on like usual. Let her think that we're too dumb to know anything's wrong. Wes, you and I can do the bulk of the work. Buffy, you, Faith and Xander can keep Dawn and her friends occupied."
"What about me?" Lindsey asked. "I can help with the research."
I stared at him in shock. I didn't think he would volunteer so easily and oddly, I believed he wanted to help. His blue eyes were wide, earnest. He didn't want to be back here. He had made his break, had a new and maybe better life. He was afraid and he had inside knowledge albeit old, of Wolfram and Hart. I could definitely use Lindsey.
"Thanks, Lindsey. Why don't we get you into a room," I said.
"I'll get my stuff." Lindsey headed for the door.
"Need help?" Xander asked.
Lindsey was out the door, all of us moving numbly behind him. Buffy spared me a vicious look. I couldn't blame her. I had put her sister at risk. We caught up to the others in time to watch Lindsey undo a bungee cord and remove two suitcases and a guitar case from the bed of his truck. He set it all down on the sidewalk, then opened the truck.
"Sorry, girl. I didn't mean to be so long," Lindsey said and I could smell dog.
A large bloodhound lolloped out of the truck, its lead in Lindsey's hand. He patted the beast's head.
"You have a dog," I said, dispirited. It was one too many surprises for one day. Besides, dogs didn't like me or most vampires. I think it was our scent.
"This is Vi," Lindsey said, picking up his guitar. Xander and Faith had his suitcases.
Vi started growling at me and Lindsey said something to her in German, I think. It wasn't my best language.
"She used to be a cadaver dog," Lindsey said. "But she had hip dysplasia. I paid for her surgery and the police force retired her into my care. She gets excited by the smell of dead things." Lindsey flashed me a cold smile. "But with you, Angel, it's personal."
"What?" I was too surprised to be more erudite.
"Remember that cute little sign you hung on my truck?" Lindsey's grin went more wicked. "I put it in plastic to help retain the scent and Vi and I have been having lots of fun attacking the Angel dummy, haven't we girl?" He ruffled the dog's head, loose skin flapping everywhere. Xander snickered. Oh sure, trust him to find this funny.
"Thanks for training your dog to hunt and kill me," I sneered.
"You're welcome," he said cheerily and took the beast into my home after letting her water the grass. "Couldn't risk you coming after me so I was prepared."
Just what I needed, a cowboy lawyer and his hound, both of whom despised me. No one waited for me to go upstairs, Faith and Buffy playing hostess. I was getting the distinct impression I was being ignored. Faith managed to steer Lindsey into a room across from her. That was far from shocking.
"Lindsey," I said as he went into the bedroom. "Dawn's friends are normal college kids. They don't know about stuff like this." Was that a lie? Connor and his friends were into magic. I had no idea if it went beyond mere candle lighting and incense or not. It sounded like Connor could do real magic. I would shelter him, regardless. "I'd like to keep it that way."
"And the courtyard should be fine if you want to let Vi run loose," I added.
Lindsey's expression softened a bit. "Thanks."
"Just make sure you clean up after her."
He rolled his eyes and closed the door. I turned and found myself surrounded by my friends. I edged past them. "I have to go. There's someone I have to talk to," I mumbled. No one stopped me but Buffy followed me out to the car.
"Plan on telling me about these extenuating circumstances?" she asked.
I scrubbed a hand through my hair. It felt stiff, in need of a wash. "Not yet, no. I'm sorry and I'm more sorry about Dawn."
Buffy seemed to sag then hugged me impulsively. It felt good, that bit of forgiveness because it was the only bit I would get. I couldn't forgive myself. "Angel, I know something's wrong. You've been so distant all year. I know I haven't been...well, let's just say Wes and Fred have noticed it too and asked me if I had any ideas. I thought maybe it was all the changes in the world with Cordelia's condition on top of it but is it more?"
"I don't like keeping secrets from you, Buffy," I said, and I doubted she'd believe that given how many had been kept. The haunted veneer over her eyes suggested I was right. "But this only deals with me. It's a personal problem and you can't help. If you could, I'd tell you."
She cocked her head to the side. "Does it have to do with Dawn's boyfriend?"
I slipped out of her grip, surprised at her perception. "Why do you ask that?"
"Because you're acting really weird around him. Angel, if you know something about him..."
"I don't," I interrupted. "If I knew anything bad, Buffy, wouldn't I say something?"
Her lips pulled into a thin line. She didn't believe me completely even though I could see she wanted to. "You don't like Dawn dating him. I can tell."
"I don't know him, Buffy. I guess I'm just not used to the teen-aged hearts and flowers." That sounded lame even to me but it seemed to mollify her.
"He's intense. I'm not sure I like him or not." Buffy flipped her hair over her shoulder. "But I guess it's not my decision."
"The heart wants what it wants, Buffy. Generally we're pretty powerless over it," I said, thinking of me and her.
She glanced away. "And that sucks, too."
Before I could reply, Fred's new Lexus drove up and she got out. She bounced over to us.
"Fred, Buffy and Wes have some really bad news," I said, turning away from them.
"So that's it, just say that and leave?" Buffy called after me.
"Wes will do a better job than I could at explaining and this can't wait," I said. Everyone was already mad at me so why not add Fred to the list. I got into the GTX and roared off. I didn't care for all the cars Wolfram and Hart had given me. I wanted my own car and I had had them bang out the dent Connor's body had made in the hood where I dropped him. It was the only car I drove.
I knew going to Wolfram and Hart was a mistake. In the state my mind was in, I was likely to do something even more stupid than I already had but I couldn't help it. I wondered what would happen if I just plucked Lilah's head off and played soccer with it in traffic. I wanted to kill her in ways I hadn't wanted to kill anyone in a long time. It didn't matter that she was already dead. That just meant I could torture her longer, if she did indeed feel pain.
I wasn't surprised to see her in her office. Did she ever go home? Maybe not. She probably no longer needed rest. I locked the door behind me. She raised an eyebrow at me as she smoothed the silk scarf that hid where her head had been reattached.
"What can I do for you, Angel?" Her eyes twinkled. She must know Lindsey was in town but I wasn't here to talk about that.
"How could you put Connor with a lawyer of all things?" I asked, slamming my hands down on her desk, looming over her.
Lilah was singularly unimpressed. "You said 'put him with a good family' so I did."
"There's nothing good about lawyers."
She made a clucking sound with her tongue. "Angel, Angel, how can you say that? You work for a law firm."
"Technically you work for me." Yes, I wasn't up to the level of repartee I needed here.
"You wanted good family. Good means money. His new father is rich as Croesus." She grinned at me. "Poor little boy, he goes through fathers like tissues."
She was trying to get a rise out of me and I had to fight not to give it to her. "Are you grooming him to be a lawyer here, Lilah?"
She got out from behind her desk, heading for the window. She looked out over the fantastic view of the city at night. "Why not?"
"So, you're not going to deny it?" I growled.
She turned to face me. "You gave up all rights to his life, Angel. We went through considerable effort to work that magic. We deserve compensation."
I felt my mouth go hard as my features shifted without me even realizing it at first. "Not this, you don't. Stay out of his life."
She wagged a finger at me. "Not part of the deal, Angel. But how do you know he's pre-law? You're the one who's supposed to be staying away from him."
My fangs dug into the curve of my lip. I'm not sure what I thought I'd do with them. There was no blood in Lilah to lap up as if I'd want to. I've tasted her before. Once was enough. "And the magic, Lilah? Are you priming him to be a mage, too, getting yourself a two for one deal?"
Lilah's dark eyes sparked and I realized I had made a fatal error. She hadn't known about the magic. I had put my son in even more danger. What was I going to do about this? "Magic, you say?"
"So I guess you know nothing useful." I turned my back on her. I had to get out of here before I caused any more damage. "Just keep out of his life, Lilah. He doesn't need either of us meddling."
Lilah just chuckled as I let myself out. I headed for my car, half blinded by emotion. I nearly bowled over someone. I mumbled an apology and kept walking.
"What world are you in, man?"
I jerked around. I hadn't heard Gunn's voice in days. He was giving me a peculiar look. "Sorry, Gunn. Working late aren't you?"
"And you're not?" He glanced toward the windows in the lobby. "Then again, maybe for you this is early."
I forced a smile. "You do know Fred's planned a tree trimming party for tomorrow?"
He nodded. So I guess I was the only one who hadn't known. "I'll be there."
"Great. I'm sure Faith would like to see you," I said, thinking that might be true. She had seemed to like him when she helped put Angelus back in his cage. "And Dawn's having some of her college friends over, too."
"Cool," Gunn said then started back on his way. Did he know about Lindsey being here? It was hard to say. He spent so much time here now I wasn't sure if he was truly with me any more. This wasn't the place to mention it so I headed out.
I drove to a dive Irish bar that Doyle had taken me to once. Nothing here but humans. That suited me just fine. I sat and drank to nearly dawn, thinking deep thoughts and making stupid plans. It was like I had been transported back two centuries and I was the same thick-headed boy I had been then. And as I came stumbling in just before the sun caught me, I had the feeling I'd be treated at home much like Father used to treat me. And I deserved it as much now as I had then.