**As always, thanks for any and all reviews. Constructive criticism is also appreciated.
"Actually," informed Holland, "their skills extend well beyond mind reading. You were fortunate that in your years at Wolfram&Hart you never had to experience their full powers." He smiled at his captives. "Now, however, I'm afraid that time has arrived." Holland nodded towards the cell and the five demons advanced.
"I don't suppose you can tell me what's coming?" asked Angel as he and Lindsey backed up a few steps. Angel spared a quick glance at his cellmate.
Lindsey shook his head once, his attention firmly planted on the demons.
"That's what I was afraid of." Angel waited until the door swung fully open then charged the demons. The fight was brutal but short-lived. The size and strength of the demons, along with their numbers, quickly overmatched the two prisoners.
Two demons held Lindsey in place as the other three demons wrestled Angel against the cell wall. His wrists were encased in cuffs that hung just above his head - the same cuffs that had been used to hold him in place when he was forced to watch Lindsey being tortured within their cell. Angel pulled against the restraints but the cuffs were firmly set in concrete. He hadn't been able to break free before but he still tried. Once the demons were sure that the vampire was secure, they slowly moved away, looking to Holland Manners. He motioned them further away, satisfied Angel was secure and couldn't interfere.
Holland turned towards his former employee. "Now let's find out what's going on in that head of yours." He nodded at the mind readers. As the two women moved closer, Lindsey struggled against the demons that held him but his efforts didn't even budge them. "Lindsey," admonished Holland, "you'll only make it worse by fighting them."
Lindsey stopped struggling and attempted to clear his thoughts. He could feel as the women breeched his mind. They stood before him only a few minutes but Lindsey felt drained when they pulled out of his thoughts. The feeling had been more intense than his previous encounter with the mind readers.
The women moved back and engaged in a quiet conversation with Holland Manners. Angel glanced between the two groups. Holland seemed surprised and impressed with what the mind readers were telling him, glancing back at his former protege, smiling. Angel tried to gauge Lindsey's status but the man's head hung down hiding his face; he seemed to be concentrating on calming his breathing while the demons kept a firm hold on each arm.
Finally, Manners turned from the readers and motioned to the three demons that stood near Angel. They immediately headed out of the cell and down the hall. Holland smirked at Angel before slowly walking towards Lindsey. With a nod of his head, one of the demons kicked the back of Lindsey's legs causing him to fall to his knees. The demons held him there.
Holland came closer and the mind readers followed, standing on either side of the ex-CEO. "Lindsey." Holland waited but his former employee ignored him. He stepped closer, grabbing Lindsey's hair and pulling visciously. Lindsey's head snapped up at the force of the pull. "Seems you've lost your manners, Lindsey. How disappointing."
Holland's open hand slapped hard across Lindsey's face and for a few seconds all Lindsey saw was stars. He spit out blood, smiling up at his old boss. "That all you've got?"
Holland ignored the taunt, pointing to the two mind readers. "They told me an interesting story. Successfully blocking a reader is a difficult skill...one you didn't use during your previous visit here. It can't be something new as there's no one down here to teach you, so it's something you learned previously that you've chosen not to use prior to this. Why?" Holland jerked Lindsey's head back but the man remained silent. Holland studied his captives for a moment longer. Taking a quick look at Angel, Holland smiled broadly before turning his attention back to Lindsey. "Is it because of Angel?"
Angel frowned, confused.
"Do you think Angel can get you out of this?" Holland let go of Lindsey's hair, walking slowly around the man kneeling before him, stopping when he was once again standing in front of Lindsey. Lightly grabbing the man's chin, Holland forced Lindsey's face up until he was looking directly into his eyes. "He can't save you. That time has passed and I think you know it. Your life is this..." Holland motioned around the room, "...for eternity."
Lindsey moved his head from the man's grasp, staring defiantly back at his old boss.
Holland laughed out loud. "My word, Lindsey, tell me you are not this naive. You still think you can be saved? Son, you signed a binding legal document. You belong to Wolfram&Hart. Your contract is unbreakable."
It was hard to see with the demons standing in the way but Angel could detect a slight slumping of Lindsey's shoulders and thought he could see defeat in his eyes. "Don't listen to him, Lindsey."
"Please, Angel," admonished Holland, "we're trying to have a private conversation." He noticed Angel's eyes were fixed elsewhere. Following the vampire's line of sight, Holland could see some kind of silent communication passing between his two captives. He stepped between the two and ended their connection. "Looks like the time for talking is over. Bring it in," ordered Holland. One of the mind readers went to the door and motioned. Satisfied his order was being followed, Holland turned his attention back to his former employee. "I'm sorry it had to come to this, Lindsey. I really thought...oh well, it doesn't matter anymore. I'd like to offer you the comfort that it will be over quick, but I just can't find it in my heart to lie to you." Holland bent down close to Lindsey so only he could hear. "The pain will be unlike any you've endured and it will take a very...very long time. You made the wrong choice, son." Holland gently cupped Lindsey's cheek. "So much potential," he sighed, patting Lindsey's cheek lightly before stepping away.
One of the demons that had left the room earlier, returned, pushing a gurney. He postioned it in the middle of the cell, setting the brakes before stepping away. Holland and the two mind readers stepped outside the cell. Holland nodded and the two demons holding Lindsey, pulled him to his feet and started dragging him towards the gurney. Lindsey's fight-or-flight instinct kicked in and he started struggling against the demons, managing to pull free of one demon and punching the other, causing it to loosen its hold. As Lindsey pulled free from that grip, he was tackled from behind by another demon. He elbowed it in the face and the demon bellowed in pain. Lindsey had just gotten to his feet when the original two demons attacked again. Lindsey fought against them and in the end, it took all three demons to finally bring him down. Roughly, they tossed him on the gurney and began restraining him.
"Are you sure, Willow?"
She nodded enthusiastically. "There's clearly something happening in LA. Look." She pointed to the table that held her holographic image of LA. There were storm clouds brewing...only the clouds were red in color and were bubbling up from beneath the city.
"I'm not sure what we are seeing is actually a good sign," cautioned Giles. "I mean it could be-"
"It's our spell, Giles, I know it." Willow smiled brightly.
"Why now? What makes you so certain it's our spell? It could be some evil force...doing something." Giles was hesitant. He wanted it to be their spell releasing LA but it had been seven weeks.
"I've been thinking about the spell," admitted Willow, "and I know this is our work. It's doing exactly what the books indicated."
"Seven weeks later," countered Giles, staring at the image Willow had conjured.
"Yes," agreed Willow. "Here, read this." Willow gave the spell book to Giles.
Giles skimmed the text. "Yes, so? It's the spell you recited."
"Look at the last two lines," urged Willow.
Giles looked again but shrugged, baffled by Willow's complete belief in it being their spell.
"Read it backwards...and in grokman."
"Grokman? Why would I want to read it in that language. The spell was written in-"
"But written by Sebius Nortum, whose second language was?"
Giles looked up at Willow, surprise clearly showing. "His second language was Grokman...my god, you're right. I'd forgotten."
"So had I until this storm came up. I knew we were missing something but Grokman is so easy to disguise as another language that the meaning wouldn't be the same but then Kennedy said everything was backwards...well, she was talking about something else entirely, but then it was like a light bulb went off...ping! and it all made sense to me."
Giles smiled broadly as he went back to the spellbook and read the lines again. "Forty nine...today is that day."
"We need to get to LA...now. We don't know what shape they'll be in or if...we should call Spike."
"Already tried. Nobody's picking up."
"Never mind. We'll keep trying on the plane...we need tickets."
Giles raised his eyebrows.
"Open-ended from our previous trip. I knew we'd have to go back sometime."
Giles smiled. "Good thinking, young lady. Let's go."
"Don't you need to pack?"
"Actually," admitted Giles, "I've been prepared for this day too."
They smiled and started from the room. As they reached the door, Willow pulled to a halt causing Giles to look back puzzled. "Should we call Faith?"
The watcher thought a moment before replying, "Let's make sure we have something to tell her, why don't we? She's flying back from Rome in a few days. We'll call her then."
Willow was doubtful that Faith would appreciate being kept in the dark but knew Giles wanted to protect the slayer from more disappointment. They had been waiting for this moment for so long and each time they thought it might happen, they were let down. Even though Willow was sure this time it was their spell, she would abide by Giles' decision ...of course, when Faith found out, she would also make sure the fiery slayer knew exactly whose decision it was to not tell her right away. With that thought firmly in place, they headed for the airport.
Angel pulled against the cuffs and felt the slight dust of crumbling cement fall upon him. He had been working on the restraints for some time and had made a bit of headway in working the cuffs free from the cement. He could feel the cuffs twist slightly as he continued to work them against the concrete. His wrists had grown slick with blood from the constant pulling. Taking a breather, he looked towards the gurney that still sat within their cell. Lindsey's unmoving body remained strapped to it. The memory of the screaming still punctured his hearing. There wasn't more than a mark or two on the man but this time the damage had been done by the mind readers. They ripped thru Lindsey's mind with steadily increasing pain until the man broke. Angel closed his eyes, remembering the bucking of Lindsey's body as the readers continued their relentless assault. His screams drowned out everything until finally his voice had gone. Angel thought maybe that was even worse. Watching as they continued to torture the man and he couldn't even scream...couldn't make a sound...could barely move with the restraints holding him tight.
They had been left alone for hours, perhaps even days. Angel couldn't be sure. All he knew was he needed to break free so he could check on Lindsey. The man had not moved, not even a twitch since Holland and the readers had left.
"Well, I think that's all for now," Holland had stated as Lindsey hadn't reacted to the tapping of his cheek. The former CEO had grimaced as he wiped his sweat-stained fingers on the remaining shreds of Lindsey's shirt. The mind readers removed their hands from Lindsey's temple and stepped back from the gurney. Holland motioned to the doorway and the readers had departed. Holland had stared down at the gurney, clearly disappointed in the waste of someone who once held so much promise. Without a word to Angel, Holland strolled from the room.
Angel shook the memory from thought. He could hear Lindsey's heartbeat and see his chest move ever so slightly with each breath but no other outward sign the man was alive. "Lindsey?" Angel tried once again to reach him but there was no response to his voice. Angel gave a hard pull on his chains causing more concrete to fall from the wall and more pain to encircle his wrists. He tensed as he felt a presence coming closer - the scent familiar but elusive.
A cloaked figure entered the room, almost without sound, making a beeline for the man laying motionless on the gurney.
"Get away from him," growled Angel, certain this was a threat. He froze in shock as the figure turned and lowered its hood.
"Shhh, my dear boy. We mustn't let them hear us."
It took a moment but finally Angel found his voice. "Darla?" he whispered.
She looked up from her task of releasing Lindsey's restraints and smiled at her former lover. "Hello, Angel." Without further comment, she went back to work on Lindsey's bonds.
"What are you doing?"
Darla looked up, cocking her head. "Why, helping you escape, of course." She held Ange's gaze as she walked closer to him. "You look pale. I would have gotten here sooner but I'd only just heard. My poor sweet boys." She stepped close to Angel, taking hold of the wrist cuff and pulling it from the wall with little effort. She smiled sadly at Angel. "Your strength is failing. You should have been able to free yourself." Stepping up to his other side, she pulled the other cuff free. After snapping both cuffs from his wrists, she turned her attention back to Lindsey.
Angel, still dazed by her appearance, stood motionless as Darla gently ran her hand thru Lindsey's hair, speaking softly to the unconscious man. "Lindsey, it's time to go." She kissed him gently on the forehead before proceeding to lift him carefully, holding him close. As she turned to leave, Angel was pulled from his frozen state.
"Here, I can take him," he offered.
Darla smiled indulgently but refused the offer. "Come. We mustn't tarry."
Still stunned, Angel followed silently behind his sire.
Angel's strength was completely spent by the time Darla stopped. She hadn't said anything since they'd left the cell, except to encourage Angel to keep up and to stay quiet. He wondered how they could've made it out without being seen but for the moment he let it go. Even if this was just a ruse of some kind, it got them out of the cell at least for a little while.
Darla had taken them thru dark alleys, abandoned buildings and even thru the sewers. Their path always meandering one way then another. Angel was so turned around by the time they stopped, he had no idea where they were. The sounds in the darkness were eerie and more than once, Angel felt eyes following them as they traveled along but Darla seemed confident so Angel followed obediently without protest. So deep in thought, he almost ran into her when she stopped suddenly.
She looked expectantly at Angel. When he didn't move, she said, "Be a dear boy and get that door for me." Once he had the door open, she stepped thru, careful not to injure the unconscious form she still carried, showing no signs of fatigue even after the long journey they had taken.
Angel was to the point of collapse and he thought maybe Darla had been right - his strength was waning. They passed thru several more doors before Darla set her precious cargo down. She lay Lindsey on a soft bed, stroking his cheek softly before turning her attention to Angel. "You should rest."
"Rest first," she interupted, "then we'll talk."
"Angel, you are so tired. You must rest then we'll talk."
He flashed a quick glance at Lindsey.
"I'll keep him safe...and you too," promised Darla as she pulled Angel to the other bed in the room, manuvering him to sit down. She ran her hand thru his hair and kissed him gently on the top of his head. Without realizing it, Angel fell into Darla's embrace. They had been in the darkness so long that the comfort and safety Darla's presence offered had Angel's defenses dropping completely. He felt himself giving into complete oblivion.
"So what do you think?" Lorne was anxious to get his friend's opinion. Spike moved about the club and the more time he took to answer, the more nervous Lorne became. "You do know that I'm about to hyperventilate here, right?"
Spike turned, a serious look on his face. "You didn't put all your money in it, did you?"
Lorne's face fell.
Spike couldn't keep it up. He laughed and clapped his friend on the shoulder. "You're too easy, mate."
Lorne gave a relieved sigh. "For that, drinks are on you opening night."
Spike laughed. "So, you decide on a name?"
Lorned shrugged. "A few different names popped up but think I'm going with a classic - Caritas II."
"Got a nice ring to it," replied Spike. "Can't say much about the service though. Been here over twenty minutes and no one's offered me a drink."
"Well, technically, we aren't open yet as my liquor license is still being processed."
"As long as no money changes hands, it's just two friends getting together for a visit," countered Spike.
"Oh fine, let's break it in right. Sea breeze?"
Spike frowned. "Are you kidding? Give me a T-n-T." Spike jumped as the bottle crashed to the floor. "Not going to make much of a profit that way," joked Spike. When no reply was forthcoming, Spike turned to his friend, finding the green demon pale and trembling. "Lorne?"
Spike's voice pulled Lorne back. "Sorry. Guess I'm a little out of practice with the bartending." The green demon went back to pull another bottle from the shelf, his hands shaking as he poured Spike's drink.
"Want to try again?"
Lorne looked up, about to offer another brush off but instead quietly said, "That's the same drink Lindsey used to order. Guess I..." Lorne shrugged.
"You know, a sea breeze sounds like it'd hit the spot."
Lorne appreciated Spike's attempt and gave him a half-smile. "Two sea breezes coming right up."
Angel stirred, slowly coming awake. The bed he lay in was comfortable and he was warm. It seemed it had been a long time since he had felt either. He was reluctant to leave the calm darkness but something was just at the back of his mind and it wouldn't let him rest. He could hear a soft voice talking but not make out the words. Curiosity finally forced him to open his eyes. He was confused. Nothing looked familiar. Again the soft voice drew his attention. He turned his head in its direction and suddenly the world came crashing back. He sat up quickly, throwing the covers off, intent on stopping what was happening in the bed next to him.
"Get away from him," he yelled.
Darla's head came up and she smiled in delight at seeing Angel awake.
"I said get..." Angel stumbled, falling to his knees.
Darla rushed to his side and helped him back to bed. "Angel, you shouldn't be out of bed-"
"What were you doing?" growled Angel.
Darla looked guilty. "He's warm and it feels so good. I only wanted to lay with him for a moment."
Angel saw the truth in Darla's statement but reached out with his senses anyway, finding the slow, steady heartbeat of sleep. Satisfied Lindsey wasn't in any danger, he turned his attention back to his sire.
Darla smiled. "It's time for that talk, isn't it." It was more a statement than a question. She knew her boy.