DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Angel's confession prompted Buffy to increase security around Dana, Wes and Faith had sex, and Spike decided to go see Lindsey while Buffy met with Dana…
Chapter Twenty-One: Got a Soul That Cannot Sleep
Though she understood the necessity of the straps that held Dana in place, Buffy's heart broke when she saw the girl's pale face against the stark white sheets. This was a world of worse than seeing her with her makeshift raft. This reeked of everything that Buffy had tried to forget in coming to Watts. This was the crushing of a spirit. She had the sudden inexplicable urge to undo each and every one of the leather straps and set Dana free. Only the memory of what she had done the last time she'd gotten free stopped her.
She tried to be as quiet as she could as she closed the door shut behind her, but the soft latch of the lock was followed instantly by the fluttering of Dana's sooty lashes. Everything in Buffy froze. She held her breath, waiting to see what Dana would do, but as the seconds passed and all the other Slayer did was stare up at the ceiling, she slowly exhaled and edged closer to the side of the bed.
"Dana?" she said, keeping her tone as gentle as she could. Her fingers fluttered over the tightly drawn blankets, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles. "It's Buffy. Do you remember me?"
Time stretched while she waited for a response, Dana's eyes unblinking as they fixed on the acoustic tiles over her head. The longer it took, the more Buffy feared that Dana had slipped into some type of catatonic state, a result of too many memories or too many drugs or not enough attention breaking what little will there was left in the girl. What had Dr. Guerrero given her this time? Buffy wondered. But just as she was about to give up and go find the doctor to demand insight into what had happened, Dana blinked.
Buffy leaned closer. "Dana?" she tried again. "Can you hear me? You've been asleep. You had a…an experience last night, and Dr. Guerrero thought it best if you got some rest to recover from it." No response. "Do you remember anything that happened, Dana? Can you talk about it?"
This time, Dana closed her eyes in response to Buffy's questions. Her nostrils flared, and at her sides, her hands balled into fists. Buffy stiffened in anticipation of a fresh attack, but it didn't come. Instead, Dana licked her dry lips and whispered, "Angel."
It was different than hearing Dr. Guerrero's claims or Angel's protestations. This was a single accusatory word, laced with fear. Buffy's heart broke a little more.
"Yeah," she confirmed softly. "He was here."
Dana turned her head, opening her eyes to gaze upon Buffy. "Tried to stop him. Tried…failed."
"No, no, you didn't." Carefully, Buffy rested her hand over the nearest of Dana's, though the other girl's remained clutched into a fist. "You're here, aren't you? And you're going to get better. We're going to see to that. Don't worry about Angel. He's not going to be able to get to you any more."
"Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong." Every word was punctuated by a shake of Dana's head. "Try again. Try. I can feel it. I can feel it."
Dana's eyes welled with tears, but they didn't fall, trapped by whatever nightmares were careening inside her head. Buffy stroked the back of her hand, trying to relax her, trying to get her to speak some more, but when it didn't seem like it was coming, she prompted softly, "You can feel what? Tell me, Dana."
The movement of her head stopped, eyes fixed again on the ceiling. "My soul. It's really there." She paused. "Kind of stings."
Buffy's heart lodged somewhere in the back of her throat at the familiar words. Why was it Dana always seemed to choose Spike's words to throw back at her? She knew she was channeling memories of other Slayers, but Spike was a vampire. She wasn't channeling vampires, too, was she?
Buffy dismissed that thought as soon as it popped up. No, Dana was only repeating things she could hear. Buffy had heard those words in the Hellmouth right before it had collapsed, and for whatever reason, Dana was opting to select those to convey her thoughts now.
The question was why.
Looking around the room, Buffy frowned when she realized there was nothing to sit on. She went back to the door and poked her head out, getting the attention of the three Slayers lounging in the hallway.
"I need somebody to get a chair," she said, ignoring how they all scrambled to their feet as soon as they saw her.
While one rushed off, another – Blonde Thing Two from the earlier meeting, Buffy realized in dismay – frowned and said, "Isn't she still dangerous? She could use the chair as a weapon."
"That's my problem," Buffy bit out. "Not yours."
She took the straight-backed chair the first girl brought back to her and retreated back inside Dana's room, leaning heavily on the door after she closed it behind her. "Be glad you get to be in bed all day," she said. "Bossing around a bunch of teenaged girls is only fun if you're a teenaged guy."
Dana didn't reply. Buffy never really expected her to.
Placing the chair next to the bed, Buffy sat down and leaned forward so that Dana wouldn't have to strain too hard to look at her. "You don't have to talk," she said. "I just want you to get comfortable with me being around. Which means I'll be big with the talking and probably not making much sense. But hey, maybe it'll make sense to you. Who knows?"
Though Dana was watching her as she spoke, it wasn't until Buffy started babbling that she seemed to respond. Slowly, her hand uncurled, the fingers spreading flat. "It's all a jumble," she whispered. "Inside my head. Out. Everywhere."
"I know." Buffy matched her tone. "But we're going to fix it."
"Can't. No time."
"I told you. You don't have to worry about Angel any more. You're safe."
"He'll be back. They always come back. You can cut, and cut, and cut, but there's always more."
"That's my job to worry about. Your job is to get better. To be strong again."
"Better." Dana rolled the word around on her tongue, as if testing it out, and then shook her head. "Don't want to jump. Doesn't work. Doesn't make things better. Makes things…" Her lashes lifted, her dark eyes fixing so intensely on Buffy that she shivered. "You come back wrong."
Buffy's heart slammed into her throat, choking off any more reassuring words or any more assertions that everything was going to be better. Maybe this was all a pipe dream. Maybe she was fooling herself into thinking she could actually help Dana. Because the more Buffy heard, the more of Buffy's life that came spilling from this girl's mouth, tossed about without thought of how it might sting, the more Buffy wondered how she was supposed to stay neutral.
"Nobody's wrong," she said, pushing aside her doubts. "And nobody's going to make you do anything that you don't want to do, Dana. That's what life is all about. You get to decide the course of it. If it's what you want, you're going to get better and not have to worry about what we're doing to protect you."
And if she had to repeat it until her lips were numb, she would. Sooner or later, somebody was going to believe her.
Angel stood outside the door for over thirty minutes before finding the courage to knock. Even when the elderly neighbor lady opened her door and peered out, giving him the Stop lurking in my hallway or I'll call the police because I know you're secretly a gang member out to rob and kill me look, all he could do was smile at her and lift his hand, pretending to get ready to knock until she closed her door again. Then he moved to the opposite side of the door so that she wouldn't be able to see him without coming out if she cared to look in the hall a second time.
But it was the realization that he didn't have anyplace else to go that finally drove him to rap at the door. He had to do this. Regardless of whether or not he got the door slammed back in his face.
The sound of rustling from inside was followed by the low murmur of voices, footsteps approaching and then the easy turn of the doorknob. Angel looked up to meet Wesley's surprised gaze, but it was Faith's, "Well, fuck," that startled them both back into reality.
"Angel." It always surprised him that Wes could sound so calm, especially when he knew he was anything but. "What can we do for you?"
That was when he noticed the scents rising from both the room and Wesley's skin. Faith and sweat and sex and others that had Angel's body reacting against his will. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask what was going on, how they'd come from torture to this, but he bit it back in time. Right now, he didn't have any rights to demand anything. After everything…
He caught Faith's eye beyond Wesley's shoulder. The anger boiled in her, just waiting for someone to turn the heat up, but under it was the hurt that he wasn't the man she'd expected him to be. It was easy to recognize. He'd seen it in Buffy's face more than once. And it still stung every time he saw it.
"I talked to Buffy," he said. "Like I told you I would."
Wes nodded. "She rang and told me." He paused. "I should inform you that she's reinforcing Dana's guards, on the chance that you actually go through with this mad exchange."
"That's what I'm here to talk to you about." Angel nodded toward the living room. "Can I come in? I'd rather not do this in the hallway."
It took a moment for Wes to step aside, remaining mute to the invitation he'd issued earlier that day. The roll of Faith's eyes was all Angel needed to see her disgust with Wesley's decision to let him enter, but she didn't run, instead opting to take the most comfortable seat in the room, gaze bold as she dared him to argue.
He couldn't sit and was mildly grateful when Wes didn't either. He didn't want to seem like he was towering over both of them. "I've been thinking a lot about things you and Buffy said to me today," Angel started, not bothering with any more social niceties. "Hell, I've been thinking a lot lately, in general."
Faith snorted. "Tell us something we didn't already know."
"If you're here to try and convince us that it's a good thing to make this exchange, Angel—"
"I'm not. I'm here because I want Cordy back."
Wesley's mouth tightened. "You do realize Buffy will kill you before she lets you anywhere near Dana again, don't you?"
Angel nodded. "Which is why I came here. I want you to help me figure out how to wake her up again."
With a heavy sigh, Wes shook his head. "Don't you think we've been trying? Fred is always in correspondence with medical, and I've been looking for ways ever since we started at Wolfram & Hart. We haven't found anything, Angel. Which is why I think this suggestion from the Senior Partners is ludicrous."
"No, it's not ludicrous. Think about it, Wes. There is no way the Senior Partners would offer me something, something I really want, and have it fall through after I gave them their asking price. They know it would piss me off, and that's the last thing they want right now. That means there's a way to do it."
"But even if that's so, we've exhausted all our means thus far to find it," Wes argued.
"I don't think so." Angel ignored Faith's eyes boring into him to concentrate on Wes. "I think there's a connection between the Senior Partners wanting Dana and them being able to offer this. Because Eve has said time and time again that there is no cure for Cordy if I don't bring Dana in. It's there. I know it is."
Though Faith snorted in disbelief behind him, there was enough hesitancy in Wesley responding that Angel took faith. This was what he had hoped for. Wesley with a problem to solve was a Wesley who set aside personal and emotional issues to accomplish his goal. This was a Wes who would work with Angel in spite of feeling betrayed. If enough time then passed, perhaps they could forget this nastiness and move on. They'd done it before, after all.
"I had Records pull some information on Dana earlier today," Wes mused.
Angel glanced back to see Faith frowning, not at him for a change, but at Wesley. Obviously, sex didn't mean they were sharing everything just yet.
"After I sent you up to my office," Wes replied. His mouth canted. "And don't think I've forgotten your failure to do as I requested."
When Faith suddenly grinned, a fresh wave of arousal coming from between her thighs, Angel stuffed his hands into his pockets, uncomfortable with this new shift in their relationship. "Did you look at them?" he asked Wes.
"Not yet." He paused, lost in thought for a moment. "They're on my desk. I left them there when I realized Faith wasn't where I'd directed her. But, Angel, I specifically asked for anything that might connect her to the Senior Partners. If there's an answer to be had, it has to be there."
"Then let's go."
Angel was halfway to the door when he realized neither Wes nor Faith had moved. They exchanged a look that said more than if they'd spoken out loud.
"I'll leave the numbers where you can reach me," Wes said. To Faith, not Angel.
She watched him as he scribbled down the information and brought it over to her. Her heart rate jumped when their fingers brushed in the exchange.
"I don't know when I'll be back. Late, most likely."
"Do me good to get a decent night's sleep for a change," she replied.
Wes glanced at Angel. "Give me a moment to put something else on."
He left him alone with Faith, but only for a second. As soon as she realized it was just the two of them in the room, she uncurled from the chair and strode to the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her.
It was better than getting hit.
But not by much.
The Hyperion was dead. Not a sound came from the floorboards above his head, nor from the walls to indicate any other form of life finding tenancy at the hotel. In spite of how sore he was, Lindsey would have welcomed even Angel back at that point, if only for something to break the monotony. He hoped for Spike, though. He had a feeling that all was not lost there just yet.
When the door at the top of the stairs opened, he pushed up to sit against the wall, facing the front of the cell so that there would be no surprises. Still, when the slim figure of Gemma Guerrero appeared, first her legs and then her unsmiling face, a ripple of shock went through him. Her proposals had been food for thought, but Lindsey hadn't taken them too seriously. After all, Buffy had been the one to bring her in, and she'd left without enough hints to indicate that she intended on following through with them. How long had he been in the basement if she was back already?
"Well, you're a sight for sore eyes," he said with a lopsided grin.
She cocked an amused brow. "The way you look, I would've said it was more than your eyes that were sore."
Lindsey shrugged. "I'm a big boy. I know how to take my knocks." That was when he saw the keys to the cell dangling from her hand, though his acknowledgement of anticipation was a quick glance. "Speaking of knocks, tell me this isn't a joke."
"It isn't a joke," she replied automatically. She slipped the key into the lock with ease and opened the door. "I'm ready to get you out of here, get you someplace safe, if you're willing to play for my team for awhile."
His smile faded. "No offense, but I've had my stint as a team player. Didn't take. I'm a free agent these days."
Gemma stopped beyond his reach, though Lindsey wasn't fool enough to try anything. "It looks to me like being a free agent is a deadly road to take."
"I'm not dead yet. And I'm not stupid. You still haven't told me what you want me for."
"I want your expertise. Your intelligence. Your dogged perseverance."
Only one part of that demanded further clarification. "My expertise on what?"
She was serious. It only took one look into those unwavering dark eyes to know that Gemma Guerrero had never been more serious in her life. Lindsey had seen too many liars in his time not to recognize honesty when he saw it.
Discarding his glib tone, he asked, "What's your interest in Angel?"
Gemma paused, weighing his question. "I work for people who want to see Angel…controlled."
"You're a Slayer."
"You work for the Council."
"And I'm still failing to see your point."
"Doesn't Buffy Summers work for the Council, too?"
Before she could answer, the stairs behind her creaked, and both of them looked to see Spike leaning against the rail, watching them with a curious tilt to his head.
"Well, well, well," he drawled. "Looks like we've got a cat and a canary here. Only question is, which one of us is singing?"
To be continued in Chapter 22: Greedy Little People in a Sea of Distress…