pt.8

~ooAIoo~

Angel's world roared back to life in a wave of pain; the pounding in his head made worse by the screaming. His eyes flew open the moment he recognized what was happening but this time he couldn't offer any comfort as Lindsey re-animated. They were in separate cells. Pulling against the bars without success, Angel tried to reach out to Lindsey, calling to him, but his voice couldn't break thru. After what seemed an eternity, the screaming stopped and Angel heard only the ragged breathing and racing heartbeat in the cell next to his.

"Lindsey?" Angel waited for any sign of being heard but there was none. "Just listen to my voice. You're going to be fine. Slow deep breaths...remember? Just like before. In...out...in...out." It took a couple more tries but soon Lindsey's breathing settled and his heartbeat returned to almost normal. "That's it," Angel coached as he settled against the bars, getting as close to Lindsey as their situation allowed.

~ooAIoo~

Thru a haze of pain, Lindsey could hear a soothing voice...familiar...safe. He struggled to hold onto those feelings even as they ebbed, only to return a short time later. Finally, the pain lessened and the voice ceased to fade away; his breathing matching the hypnotic rhythyms spoken. There was a lull and Lindsey felt the panic welling up again but the voice returned, calming his fears. His eyes slowly drifted shut as sleep found him. Angel could sense Lindsey's breathing even out and knew the man was asleep but still he continued talking, hoping his voice offered some small measure of comfort.

"I must say, Angel, you continue to surprise me. After all that's occurred upstairs, you care what happens to Lindsey." Holland walked further into the room until he was standing just outside Lindsey's cell. "You've formed a...bond, I guess I can call it. A sort of brothers-in-arms, maybe? Interesting." Holland smiled down at Lindsey's sleeping form. "I had such hope for you, son. A shame, really."

"You're the shame." Angel moved to the front of his cell, waiting.

Holland laughed. "Please, Angel. You really think I'd be careless enough to come anywhere near your reach? I'm insulted."

Angel shrugged. "You're arrogant enough; I can always hope."

"Yes," agreed Holland, "it does seem hope springs eternal for you." Holland pulled at his sleeves slightly, adjusting them to the correct position for a man of his stature. Appearances were important afterall. Satisfied, he turned his attention back to Angel. "I've decided to let the two of you recuperate a few days since you've done the heavy lifting and taken care of a threat to my position here...although I'm sure that was just a lucky happenstance for me."

"Maybe we'll all get lucky and they'll succeed next time."

Holland smiled at the contempt in Angel's voice. "Actually, there won't be a next time...at least not for Darla and her cohorts. They've dropped down into the lowest level. The very fires of hell. There's no coming back from that."

Angel flinched.

Chuckling, Holland commented, "You have empathy for them even after all that's happened." He gauged Angel's reaction. "Or for Darla, at least. How amusing."

Angel crossed his arms, eyes narrowing. "You here for a reason? Where's Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum?"

"I only came to visit and to offer my gratitude for your help. People just don't take the time to acknowledge the importance of inter-office cooperation."

Angel rolled his eyes. "This is hardly an office."

"Maybe, but you are still the CEO of the LA branch of Wolfram&Hart...although I'm sure they'll be replacing you soon enough. They don't take kindly to betrayal. Ask Lindsey when he wakes up."

"You finished?"

Holland smirked. "I can see now the enjoyment Lindsey got out of...how did he put it?...Ruffling your feathers, I believe is the correct terminology." Holland walked closer to Angel's cell but stayed just out of reach. "In fact-"

A gust of wind swirled thru the room, gaining strength as it whipped around. Dust, caught up in the twisting winds, blinded both men even as they tried to shield their eyes. The winds moved away from Holland Manners, settling over the two cells.

"No," hissed Holland. "Guards. Guards. Get in here."

Angel squinted against the debris that flew around his cell. He clutched the bars as the wind increased and pulled him from his feet. Glancing into the other cell, he saw Lindsey circling in the vortex. "Lindsey!" A powerful gust caused him to lose his grip and he too was soon caught in the cyclone. The feeling of weightlessness was unsettling. He thought he could hear Holland's frantic yelling but couldn't make out the words. His vision began to narrow - darkness creeping in. Light-headedness was soon followed by black as consciousness left him. The last thing he heard was Holland Manners shouting, "Kill them...now!"

~ooAIoo~

Lindsey woke with a start...a very painful start. He hurt all over but the worst of the pain seemed to center over his left side. He tried to move but found himself pinned under a pile of debris - a large beam holding him firmly in place. A low moan escaped as his stomach muscles began to spasm. Increasing the agony was his shivering. Each movement bringing another ripple of pain. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this cold. Lindsey pushed against the beam but only succeeded in causing more settling of the debris. Coughing against the displaced dust that filled his lungs, the movement caused increased pain and he cried out. Fighting the black dots dancing across his vision, Lindsey thought he could hear a voice calling to him from a distance. Eyes shut tight, trying to breathe thru the pain, he jerked when a hand fell to his shoulder. The sudden movement caused a shift in the debris, releasing some of the pressure to his chest.

"Easy, Lindsey. I've got you."

Lindsey gave a short laugh. Breathing heavily, he replied, "Somehow, Angel...(gasp)...I don't find...(gasp)...that comforting."

Angel smirked. "Shut up and let me help you."

Lindsey thought he could hear kindness and worry in the vampire's voice. Opening his eyes slowly, they widened slightly at Angel's battered condition. "You look...(gasp)...like the one...(gasp)...who needs help."

Angel frowned. "What part of shut up don't you understand?" Not waiting for a reply, Angel walked cautiously around the pile of debris trapping Lindsey. He lightly touched different areas to test the stability. After a few trips around it, Angel knelt down at Lindsey's head. "How bad you hurt? Can you move?"

Lindsey looked up at the vampire with raised eyebrows. "Depends on what...(gasp)...you mean by...(cough - gasp)...move."

Angel was concerned by the breathlessness and coughing. He hoped it was simply the pressure and dust of the debris and not a sign of internal injuries. "This one beam seems to be what has you stuck. If I lift it, think you can pull yourself out?" Angel stared intently at the man.

Lindsey held the stare before finally nodding. "Do I really have a choice?"

"Lindsey-"

"Do it," he snapped.

"It could make things worse," cautioned Angel. "I move this beam and this whole pile could crush down on top of you."

Lindsey took as deep of breath as the beam allowed. "And if you don't?...Just do it."

Angel nodded. "On three." After checking that Lindsey was ready, Angel put a shoulder under the beam, "One...two...three," and pushed up with all his strength. At first there was no movement, but slowly the beam began to raise. Angel increased his push against it and the beam moved enough to allow Lindsey to start pulling himself free.

Lindsey bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain. Dark spots threatened his vision, trying to send him into darkeness but he continued to slide himself back.

"Keep going," ordered Angel, gritting his teeth, his body starting to shake from the exertion. Angel could sense Lindsey's tenuous grip on consciousness.

Turning onto his stomach, Lindsey could move better. With the occasional piece of rubble pelting his back, he continued to drag himself along until he felt hands pulling him further away. The speed of movement tunneled Lindsey's vision and dizziness swept over him.

Taking care, Angel pulled Lindsey a safe distance away as the pile of debris collapsed onto itself in a final loud crash; everything at the bottom of the pile crushed. Angel attemped to lean Lindsey against the wall but the man's eyes rolled back and he passed out. Angel gently lay Lindsey in a flat position and after only a few seconds, was rewarded with blue eyes fluttering open.

"What happened?"

The weakness of Lindsey's voice concerned Angel. "You passed out."

"Oh." Lindsey glanced, first one way then the other. "Where?"

"Just take it easy, Linds. I'll check it out in a minute. First, tell me where you're hurt?"

Lifting his trembling right hand, Linsey motioned towards his left side then up to his right temple.

Angel brushed Lindsey's hair back, noticing the plainly visible knot forming there. It wasn't the worst Angel had seen but he was sure Lindsey had a killer headache. Moving over to Lindsey's left side, he lifted the man's shirt, wincing at the mottled bruises coloring the area.

"That bad, huh?"

"I've seen worse," Angel tried to cover. "Take it easy. I'm going to check things out."

"It was different this time...the fall."

Angel turned back at the statement. "Yeah, not so sure it was a fall. Seemed more like-"

Lindsey coughed, interupting Angel. The vampire hurried back to Lindsey's side as the man curled into a tight ball, moaning and cursing.

"Easy," calmed Angel. "Breathe thru it." Angel rubbed Lindsey's back, not sure exactly how to help him. Slowly Lindsey seemed to relax. "That's it. Can you lay back for me?" Angel helped Lindsey turn onto his back.

"Son-of-a...," whispered Lindsey, stopping mid-sentence as his attention was drawn to the right, his hand reaching out. "Angel?"

Angel looked up, following Lindsey's gaze and saw the light filtering between Lindsey's moving fingers. Mesmerized, he followed the shaft of light back to its source - a small hole in the side of the building. The light seemed brighter than normal and somehow...warmer. Tentatively reaching across Lindsey, Angel placed his hand into the beam. Instantly, his skin began to smolder. Pulling his hand from the light, a wide grin pulled across his face. "We made it, Lindsey. We're home." Angel glanced down at Lindsey, the grin quickly disappearing. "Lindsey?" He shook the man's shoulder but only received a low groan. "No, you don't," growled Angel. "You don't give up now, you hear me?"

Angel could hear a rapid heartbeat but it was weak and the breathing, shallow and rapid. "Don't even think about giving up. We did not survive that...hell, for you to quit now. You hear me?" Angel lightly tapped Lindsey's face but received no reply this time...not even a moan.

Stalking quickly towards the door, Angel peered outside. The sun was setting but still too high for him to venture outside. He estimated another fifteen or twenty minutes. Trouble was, he wasn't sure Lindsey could spare the time. The man obviously had internal injuries. Searching the building for sewer access, Angel came up empty. He had to wait for the sun to set. It seemed to take forever but finally it disappeared from the horizon. Carefully, Angel picked up Lindsey and slipped out of the building. Things were eerily quiet and darker than he remembered the evenings to be. Were they really back or was this another one of Holland's games? Shaking that thought away, he took a moment to get his bearings; he needed to head for the nearest help. If he remembered correctly, there was a hospital a few blocks east of their current position. "Hang on," he urged.

Angel had thought he'd run into people somewhere along the way but the streets remained empty. That concerned him. L.A. was never this quiet, not even in the dead of night. Something was wrong but he pushed those thoughts away as he continued on. As more time passed, he was sure he should have come upon the hospital by now but nothing...and no one. He didn't know how many minutes ticked by, but finally he spotted the hospital. The place was alive with activity. Apparently this was where everyone in the city had gathered. People were rushing around while others wandered dazed and confused. It was chaotic. Something bad must have happened. Ignoring them all, Angel barged thru the hospital sliding doors, yelling, "I need a doctor. Now!"

The place was packed and the majority of the people looked at him blankly, turning back to their own problems. A nurse had heard his call and rushed over. Taking one look at both men, she called for a gurney. An orderly manuevered thru the crowded hallway, finally arriving to help.

"Here, lay him down." The nurse started checking Lindsey's vitals, giving a quick glance back up at Angel. "Do I need another gurney," she asked, observing Angel's wavering stance.

"What? No, I'm fine."

The nurse had her doubts about that but didn't have time to argue. "Take a seat and a doctor will get to you as soon as he can." The nurse waited - for what Angel wasn't sure. "You need to let go, sir."

Angel looked down at the vise-like grip he had on Lindsey's hand. The orderly moved to pry his hand loose and Angel pushed the man back, growling. Instincts were kicking in and he could feel his face starting to morph.

"Is there a problem?"

Angel turned at the sound of the familiar voice; coming face-to-face with...

"Angel?" She took a small step back from the vampire, not wanting to crowd him, placing her hand lightly on his arm. "You need to let them do their job so they can help. Do you understand?"

Shocked to see her, he did as she requested. The nurse and orderly quickly pushed the gurney down the hallway and thru a set of double-doors.

"Kate?"

"Yeah." She smiled. "It's been awhile, hasn't it."

Angel stared as the blonde detective...or former detective...continued to talk. Her words were being drowned out by all the heartbeats that were resounding within the room. A sudden, fierce thirst was making itself known and it took all of Angel's resolve not to attack. He was starving and the draw of human blood was almost irresistable.

"Angel? Angel?"

His attention snapped back at the touch to his arm. He pulled away and slowly began to retreat, seeing the confused look cross Kate's face as she took a step closer. "Stay back," he warned.

She seemed to realize the danger. "Angel?" She slowly began reaching into her pocket.

"I have to go...keep him safe, Kate." Without further comment, Angel fled.

Kate let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She let go of the wooden stake hidden in her jacket pocket, relieved she hadn't been forced to use it on her old friend. She wasn't sure where Angel was headed but she hoped there wasn't going to be a run on dead bodies with bite marks come tomorrow morning. Turning her thoughts from Angel to the man he'd brought in, Kate went to check on his condition. If her eyes weren't deceiving her, that man was Lindsey McDonald. Angel and Lindsey together? Another in a series of questions that were quickly piling up with the return of Angel. The vampire had been MIA since the last earthquake and now his return with the new earthquake. This was obviously not a Mother Nature thing but a demon thing. She had lots of questions for her old friend.

~ooAIoo~

Angel ran from the building, pushing past the mass of humantiy that loitered outside the hospital. He could feel his hunger surging forward now that he was back home. In Hell, he hadn't needed to feed but up here, he was a starving vampire. He needed to find blood...the non-human variety, and soon, if he was going to control his hunger. Scurrying thru the back alleys, where humans wouldn't travel, Angel went in search of food. He only hoped one of his old suppliers would be able to help.

~ooAIoo~

Kate yawned. The morning had come quickly and the chair she sat in hadn't allowed her much sleep. At the sound of the door opening, Kate looked up from the book she was reading, studying the visitor closely before commenting, "Well, Angel, I must say you look better than when I saw you last night."

A weak smile graced the vampire's face. Nodding towards the bed, he asked, "How is he?"

Kate looked back at Lindsey's still form. "The doctor says it's a miracle he's still alive. Sounds like they hadn't expected him to make it thru surgery. They're optimistic now. Saying the worst is over." She turned back to Angel. "Is the worst over?"

"I hope so." Angel walked up to the bed and took his first close look at Lindsey since bringing him in last night.

"So, what happened to him...and you?"

"It's a long story."

"You both look like hell."

Angel gave a bitter chuckle. "You have no idea."

"I'm a good listener and the doctors say Lindsey should sleep for awhile yet. Floor's all yours."

A deep sigh escaped Angel. "I don't even know where to start."

"How about telling me where you've been the last three months? An earthquake hits L.A. and suddenly you're the invisible man. People needed you, Angel. I needed your help."

"Sorry," Angel retorted, "guess I was too busy trying to survive Hell."

"It's been hell for all of us-"

"No, I'm talking Hell. Capital H-E-L-L. Sorry I wasn't more available."

Kate stood still, shocked.

"Yeah, that's right, Kate. I've been...we've been," corrected Angel, " in Hell. And guess what? It was hell."

"Angel, I'm sorry," stuttered Kate. "I don't know what else to say."

Angel shook his head, the anger dropping away. "Forget it. Sorry I snapped." Angel pulled a chair up to Lindsey's bedside and sat down. "So what's this about an earthquake?"

"About three months ago, a major earthquake rocked the area. Considering the strength of the quake, it was amazing the casualties weren't higher. There were several missing but not that many dead." She paused, gauging his reaction. "A few bodies showed up from time to time as the crews cleaned up the mess but their injuries were...unique."

Angel looked up. "Demonic."

Kate nodded. "The big brass tracked me down and asked me to head up a special unit to handle these unusual deaths. Needless to say, I tried to find my favorite vampire but it was like he'd disappeared. I guess you had."

"I'm glad you got your job back."

Kate smiled at the sincerity of Angel's statement. "Thanks but I'm not sure how long it will last. Things have been hopping so far."

"That earthquake...it was a dimensional doorway opening."

"And yesterday's?"

"There was another earthquake?"

"Angel, why do you think all those people were in the waiting room? And the people outside looking for relatives? Didn't you notice them?"

Angel shook his head. "What time was the earthquake?"

"Yesterday's?"

He nodded.

"About six hours before you showed up at the hospital. You didn't feel it?"

"I think we were it." At Kate's questioning gaze, Angel continued. "I'm thinking that's about the time we came back from Hell."

"Both earthquakes were dimensional doorways opeing?"

"Not just any dimension, Kate. The doorway for Hell."

Kate sat back, trying to absorb what Angel was telling her. "So Hell spit you out? Maybe you should start from the beginning."

Angel shrugged. "It's a long story."

"I've nowhere else to be."

~ooAIoo~

"...and that's about it," finished Angel. It wasn't a detailed account but it gave the main points.

Kate's eyes widened. "I'd say that's enough." She observed Angel's covert glance back to the bed. "You seem worried about him."

Angel's eyes shot back to Kate. "What?"

"Last I knew, you two were on opposite sides. Has something changed?"

Angel remained silent.

Not wanting to ask but needing to know, Kate continued. "I heard about you becoming the CEO of Wolfram&Hart...Seemed a little-"

Angel raised a hand, palm out. "We were trying to use their resources for good...It didn't exactly work out that way."

"It changed you."

Angel looked into Kate's sad eyes and nodded.

"Life seems to have a way of doing that."

"It wasn't life, Kate. It was choices...bad choices that I made because I couldn't see another way out." Angel stood up and began to pace the room. "I screwed up and I've lost so much..." Lashing out, Angel punched the wall. His anger so strong, he hadn't pulled the punch and his fist broke thru the drywall. Pulling back, Angel stared at the gaping hole in the wall. He turned to Kate expecting to see fear or anger but instead, sympathetic eyes stared back at him.

Coming to him, Kate gently took his hand, checking his bloody knuckles. "Come on. Let's clean those." She led him to the bathroom and he followed without comment.

~ooAIoo~

Angel stared at his fist, alone with his thoughts. After cleaning and wrapping Angel's hand, Kate had taken her leave but promised to return later. She was exhausted after dealing with the earthquake and then spending the night at Lindsey's bedside. Kate seemed stronger and more sure of herself than at their last meeting and Angel could admit to himself he admired her. They had been thru a lot in their brief friendship and the fact she still had trust in him after all that had happened...it meant a lot.

A low moan had him turning his attention back to Lindsey. He watched as the man struggled awake; his eyes finally blinking open. Angel remained quiet, watching Lindsey take in his surroundings. His movements were sluggish but eventually his head turned towards Angel. "We made it?"

Angel winced at the hoarse, cracking voice. He filled a glass with water, bringing it to Lindsey's lips. "Drink."

Lindsey's eyebrows raised minutely. "You realize how creepy that sounds coming from you?" His voice barely audible.

"Shut up and drink." Angel held Lindsey's head up enough so he could drink, pulling the glass back when he was done. "I'd ask how you're feeling, but you still look like hell."

"Matches the way I feel then." Silence lingered for a moment. "What happened? How'd we..." Lindsey's shaking hand, motioned around the room.

"Near as I can tell, a portal opened and pulled us out."

"They did it?" Lindsey hadn't fully believed it was possible.

"So it seems."

Lindsey frowned. "You don't know?"

"Haven't talked with anyone."

"How long?" Lindsey's whispered voice a telling sign of just how weak he was.

Angel walked to the window to check the sky. "Looks like about a day... give or take a few hours. You should probably take it easy," he added, turning back to find Lindsey sleeping once more. Picking up the book Kate had left, Angel sat back down, flipping absently thru the pages. He shook his head, smiling - a gothic romance novel.

~ooAIoo~

"What time did your flight arrive?" asked Lorne, carrying the lightest of the suitcases thru the hotel's garden door.

"It didn't," replied Willow, "you know, because of the earthquake and all. We were diverted to Las Vegas."

Lorne frowned. "So how did-"

"Don't ask," muttered Giles, still dizzy from the spell Willow had performed.

Lorne looked between his two new guests. "Alrighty then. Subject closed."

Giles huffed out a sigh. "Thank you."

"Red."

Willow smiled at the familiar moniker. "Spike."

The vampire walked out from behind the front desk, smiling. He had a fondness for this one starting when the Initiative had chipped him. He remembered her trying to make him feel better even as he was trying to bite her. Their friendship had had its ups and downs but now maintained an even keel for the most part. "So what brings you to our burg?"

Willow's smile faltered. "Angel? We thought with the earthquake..."

Spike's head dropped. "Sorry, pet. No word from him or Lindsey."

"But the earthquake...and the signs...we saw signs-"

Giles touched her shoulder. "Willow."

"No, Giles. I know what I saw. You saw it too."

Giles hated the pleading look in the wiccan's eyes but he couldn't lie to her either. "We don't really know what we saw."

Willow refused to back down. "Just because he hasn't called doesn't mean he's not back. I mean...the phone service, it's all wonky right now, right? Yeah, that must be it. They made it out."

"I'm with the little, red spitfire here," interjected Lorne, "cause the Angel I know, wouldn't quit."

Hating himself for being the voice of reason, Giles quietly replied, "It might not have been up to him."

~ooAIoo~

Lindsey squinted at the light trying to peek into his closed eyes. He tried to roll away from it but the blinding pain caused him to gasp. He slowly lowered himself back, flat on the bed. "Son-of-a..." He took a few moments to breath thru the pain then cautiously opened his eyes. Someone had drawn the blinds inside his room allowing the sun to glare thru. He heard a slight sizzling sound and turned in that direction. "Angel, wake up."

Even though Lindsey's voice was still weak, the urgency of it had Angel's eyes snapping open. He immediately realized the problem and scrambled away from the direct sunlight, tightly gripping his injured hand and cursing under his breath.

"As a vampire, you should be more careful."

Angel glared at the man standing by the window. "Who are you?"

"I'm your new liason, Jonathan Fischer."

Angel eyed the man. He was in the mold of Marcus Hamilton - a smug, muscle-bound henchman...and once again really tall; dressed in a very nice suit.

"Are you guys cloned or what?"

The man shrugged. "Senior Partners find size tends to matter. Their experience with Eve," the man looked at Lindsey, "showed a weakness that needed fixed. I assure both of you, I won't fall for a pretty face."

"What do you want?" Angel's hand hurt and this man further irritated him. The last thing he wanted was to deal with anything related to Wolfram&Hart. Angel and Lindsey both tensed as the man reached into his jacket.

"Easy. I'm just taking out some paperwork for you to sign." True to his word, he pulled the folded pages out and offered them to Angel.

Angel nodded towards Lindsey. "Give them to my lawyer." Lindsey's head snapped his direction.

The crooked smile offered by the new liason looked so much like Hamilton's that Angel was tempted to beat it off him but the man continued to stand in direct sunlight.

"Of course. One should always consult their lawyer." He dropped the papers onto Lindsey's lap.

Angel didn't miss the disdain in the man's voice and by the stormy blue eyes, neither had Lindsey. Angel crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, waiting as Lindsey read over the forms. He smiled as Lindsey took a pen to the document and started crossing lines thru certain areas and making notes in the margins. The more Lindsey worked on the papers, the darker Fischer's scowl became. Finally satisfied, Lindsey held the document up. "Make the changes indicated and I'll think about letting my client sign it."

Fischer glanced at the changes, his mood continuing to darken. Looking at Lindsey, he pointed to a specific change. "Really?"

Lindsey smiled slightly. "Non-negotiable."

The man's jaw tightened and for a moment Angel thought he could actually see steam coming out of the man's ears. "I'll run these changes by the Senior Partners and return with their answer." Without waiting for a reply, the man stalked from the room.

"You really have a knack for that, don't you?" Angel circumvented the sunlight and proceeded to close the blinds.

Lindsey snorted. "Pissing people off? Must've picked that up from you."

Angel cocked his head. "I meant the law. You know your stuff, I'll give you that."

Lindsey shrugged.

"Did they put all that information in your head?"

"You mean like Gunn?...No, I learned it all on my own."

"So you're really smart."

"I guess-"

"And yet so stupid."

Lindsey frowned. "What?"

"Why Wolfram&Hart? You obviously could've worked anywhere." Angel pulled a chair up and sat down, watching as Lindsey debated on a reply.

"I started to tell you once...you didn't seem too interested."

Angel had to agree. "It wasn't one of my best moments."

Lindsey shrugged.

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry." Angel heard the slight intake of breath and the almost imperceptible widening of his eyes. They were saved from further awkward silence by the doctor entering.

"Good morning, Gentlemen."

"Doctor," greeted Angel, only now realizing another day had passed and it was morning again.

"Well, Mr McDonald, I'm happy to see you're awake and with such good vitals." The doctor continued to look over Lindsey's chart.

Lindsey fidgeted as the doctor kept perusing the clipboard. "When can I get out of here?"

The doctor shook his head. "You just had some pretty major surgery, young man, and although your vitals are beyond any expectations I had, you need time to heal."

"That's not really an answer. I can sign myself out AMA, you know."

"I'm certain the detective here would disagree with you. Now, let me inspect my work." The doctor proceeded to poke and prod his patient, checking that all the sutures were holding and no infection was apparent. Finally satisfied, he snapped the rubber gloves off and deposited them into the medical waste receptacle before turning back to his patient. "You are doing remarkably well but you're not ready to fly solo just yet. Maybe in a week or so."

Lindsey was about to dispute that claim but Angel stepped in front of him, extending his hand to the doctor. "Thanks, Doc."

"Detective." Without further comment the doctor left.

"Detective? Since when?" challenged Lindsey, struggling to keep from laughing.

Angel glared at him. "It was the easiest way to be allowed to stay after visiting hours. They think you're in protective custody."

"Protected from...?"

"Whoever attacked you."

"So you're here to protect me from Hell? I don't think-"

"Senior Partners," interupted Angel. "I don't know what the Senior Partners will do."

"You think they're coming after me?" laughed Lindsey.

"Yeah," replied Angel, completely serious, "I think they'd want you dead."

"I think you should be more worried about yourself. I'm not the one that made a frontal attack on their surrogates."

"Actually, you did."

"Like you said, I can talk my way out of it. How about you?"

"So you still want to work for them. I should've figured."

"No," assured Lindsey, "I don't but I'm also not just going to let them kill me. I have leverage if I need to use it."

"What leverage?"

Lindsey smiled. "Let's just say that I have information they don't want falling into the wrong hands and I know someone that would be willing to use it. If I die, that person gets the information."

"And you think you can trust this person?"

Lindsey wanted to laugh out loud but kept a straight face. "For the most part, he's trustworthy." Silently, he wondered what Angel would think if he knew he was the person Lindsey was referring to. Anything happened to Lindsey and Angel would be receiving a surprise package in the mail, detailing all of the Senior Partners secrets. Eve had helped him set it up way back when. It was his ace-in-the-hole. It was going to be protection for all of them but he was the only one who would know of its existence. He and Eve.

Angel considered Lindsey response carefully before he turned to leave. "I've got a phone call to make." Without turning around, he continued from the room.

Lindsey shrugged, closing his eyes. "Whatever."

~ooAIoo~

Once outside the room, Angel headed for the nurses station. The lone nurse sitting behind the desk smiled as the handsome detective approached. All the nurses had been discussing the detective, coming to the conclusion that he wasn't married as none of them had seen a wedding ring. There was debate on whether he would wear a ring if he had one but since this wasn't an undercover assignment, they were pretty confident the man was single. The gossip had now ventured into whether he were straight or gay as he didn't seem to give any of them more than a passing glance. The only female he reacted to was the blonde detective that had been stopping in periodically. That didn't appear to be more than friendship so that circled them back to gay or straight. Her heart fluttered as he graced her with a smile.

"May I help you, detective?"

"Do you have a phone I can use?"

Her smile dropped a little as he seemed all business. Trying one more time, she flirted. "You can borrow my phone anytime." The offer fell flat as the man didn't react."Or you can use that phone." She pointed towards the end of the desk. "Just dial 9 to get the operator."

"I was hoping for something a little more private. Police business. Is there an office phone I can use?" Angel watched as a frown crossed the woman's face. "Lost my phone in the earthquake."

"Oh! Yes, of course. Umm...I could check with one of the doctors?"

Angel smiled. "I'd appreciate that."

The nurse's smile returned. God, the man was handsome. She checked to see which doctor might have an office available.

"Never mind." Angel turned from the nurse and left to meet the blonde detective as she stepped off the elevator.

The nurse sighed. Oh, well. She turned back to her work.

~ooAIoo~

"Kate."

The detective startled as she stepped from the elevator. "Angel. Is something wrong?" She could sense how anxious the vampire before her was.

"No, I need to borrow your phone."

"My phone?" Kate blushed slightly, realizing she was parroting Angel. Shaking her head, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. "Here."

"Thanks," Angel replied as he took the phone and walked away to a secluded corner.

~ooAIoo~

"Wolfram&Hart."

Angel grimaced. "This is Angel. I need a courier to bring me some files." Kate had informed him the law office, although it had received earthquake damage, was still up and running.

There was a moment of silence on the line before the voice returned, the pleasantness gone. "I'm afraid I don't recognize your authority."

Angel was ready. "What's your name?" he demanded.

The voice returned, sarcasm dripping from it. "Melanie Porter, receptionist."

"Well, Melanie, as far as I know, I'm still the CEO of the LA branch and as such, I can have you fired...literally. Now if you don't want me to make that call, I suggest you pack up your attitude and do as you're ordered. Understood?"

Angel could hear her shifting in her seat and the increasing heartbeat. A shaky voice came back across the line, "I'm sorry, sir. What files do you need?"

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Inwardly, Angel sighed in relief. He hadn't been sure he would still have the power. Obviously, the Senior Partners hadn't anticipated this move. With more confidence, he hurriedly told the receptionist which files he needed and that he expected them within thirty minutes. He almost felt bad as the receptionist stuttered her compliance. He snapped the phone closed as he walked back to Kate.

"That didn't take long," noted Kate.

"Probably a good thing. Doubt I'm going to be in charge much longer."

Kate walked with Angel as they headed back to Lindsey's room. "Wolfram&Hart?"

Angel nodded.

Kate placed her hand on Angel's arm, stopping him from entering the room. "Did you really want to still be in charge?"

Angel quirked a smile at Kate's concern. "Of Wolfram&Hart? No. I've learned my lesson, believe me. I just need to know some things and this is my last chance to find out." Angel could still see the worry lines etching across Kate's face. "Trust me, Kate. I don't want them and they don't want me. It's all done except the paperwork."

"Paperwork?"

"Want to make sure my people are free and clear. Got my lawyer working on it." Angel smiled, motioning towards the door.

Kate's eyes widened. "Lindsey?"

Angel nodded.

"Are you sure that's wise? Do you really think you can trust him?"

Angel looked directly into Kate's eyes. "With my life."

Kate's head tipped to one side. "Wow. I get the feeling you haven't told me everything that happened down there."

"Gave you the cliff notes," Angel answered as he pushed the door open. He ventured close to the bed, listening to the steady sound of Lindsey's heart and the breathing rhythm of sleep. Satisfied, he sat down and picked up the book Kate had been reading. "Gothic romance? Really?"

Again Kate blushed, grabbing the book from Angel. "I borrowed it from one of the nurses, smartass."

Angel chuckled. "Sure you did," he teased as she settled in the other chair, opened the book and ignored the vampire.

As Kate read, Angel pondered everything that had happened. Had he really meant it when he said he trusted Lindsey with his life? Surprisingly, the answer was yes. Things had changed...they had changed. Lindsey might try to deny it, but Angel knew the man had finally faced up to what he had been - what he had done - and didn't like what he saw in the mirror. He had already changed. The old Lindsey would not have sacrificed himself so the others could escape Hell. He wouldn't have fought so hard to survive...well, that might not be true. He had always fought for survival but this time he had allowed Angel to help him. That wouldn't have happened before...not without some ulterior motive. No, Lindsey was different.

Angel also knew he had changed. He still didn't understand his instant rivalry with Lindsey on their first meeting but perhaps it was because it was also his first failure. He hadn't saved the girl and Lindsey represented the people who had killed her and in his mind, represented his own failure. He wondered what would've happened if he had tried harder to help Lindsey leave Wolfram&Hart. He had been so angry again with his failure to put Vanessa behind bars and once more, Lindsey represented that failure. Even when Lindsey gave them the information to save the children, Angel couldn't forgive the man his part in freeing Vanessa from the original murder charge. He hadn't stopped Lindsey from returning to Wolfram&Hart with the claim that Lindsey was a grown man and had to make his own decisions. He made no attempt to turn him towards a better path like he had Faith.

Angel rubbed his temple to ease the stress his contemplations were causing. He looked up as the door softly whisked open and one of the nurses stuck her head in.

"There's a courier at the admittance desk. Says he has a package you need to sign for." The words were softly stated so as not to awaken her patient. Once Angel had acknowledged her, the nurse quickly left.

"I've got it covered here."

Angel looked into Kate's smiling face. "Thanks." Stretching the kinks out, he nodded and left.

Kate glanced to the bed at the sound of slight murmuring. Stepping close, she lay her hand across the man's forehead. "Just rest. Everything's fine." She was amazed when that seemed to do the trick as Lindsey settled deeper into sleep. She was still standing at the bedside when Angel returned.

"Is something wrong?"

Not having heard the door open, Kate jumped slightly. Composing herself she turned to face Angel. "Everything's fine. He was just mumbling a bit." Kate noticed the folders Angel held. "Those what you were expecting?"

Angel nodded, coming closer. He placed the folders on the tray next to Lindsey's bed. He wasn't sure how long he had before Wolfram&Hart would be demanding their files back so reluctantly he shook Lindsey's shoulder. It took a couple tries before tired blue eyes opened. Once he had Lindsey's attention, he pushed the button to raise the head of the bed. Lindsey winced at the movement and Angel released the button. Lindsey motioned him to go ahead so Angel pressed the button to raise the bed a little further. Satisfied the bed was in the right position, Angel pulled the tray table over and settled it in front of Lindsey.

Lindsey had closed his eyes as the bed continued to raise. Once it stopped, he took a calming breath and opened his eyes. Angel was hurriedly pushing a tray table up to him. Lindsey stared at the folders laying there, then up at Angel.

"I need you to look these over."

"What are they?"

Kate winced at the hoarse voice, pouring a cup of water and offering it to Lindsey. Warily the man took a few sips before turning his attention back to Angel.

"Contracts...for my people."

Lindsey thumbed thru the folders, each labeled with a name: Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; Winifred Burkle; Charles Gunn; Lorne aka Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan. Hesitantly, Lindsey opened the first folder: Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. "What am I looking for?"

Angel pursed his lips, staring blankly outside. "I need to know they're okay. That they aren't...that Wolfram&Hart doesn't..."

"You want to know if Wolfram&Hart snuck in a Perpetuity Clause," guessed Lindsey. It wasn't really much of a guess.

Angel gave a slight nod. "And if their...souls are safe."

Lindsey bit his lip, wishing someone cared that much about him. Forcing those thoughts away, he delved into each of the files as Angel paced and Kate rotated between watching and reading. As Lindsey finished each file, he lay it aside without making a comment. Finally, he closed the last file, setting it atop the others.

Angel immediately stopped pacing. "Well?"

"They're all free of the law office."

"That's good," smiled Kate.

Angel regarded Lindsey closely. "But?" He could hear the hesitance in the former lawyer's voice.

Lindsey cleared his throat, stalling. He wasn't sure how Angel would react to what he had to say.

"Damnit, Lindsey. Tell me." Angel stalked closer and on reflex Lindsey pulled back slightly. Realizing his mistake, Angel raised his hands and backed up a step. "Please, just tell me."

In the old days, hearing Angel plead would've been a victory, now it meant nothing. Sighing, he said, "Everyone is free from Wolfram&Hart but Gunn-"

"Gunn's contract is different? Because of the brain thing?" interupted Angel, concerned.

"No, not that." Lindsey looked from Angel to Kate and then back again. "He's a vampire, Angel. He's got no soul now. He can't be saved."

The news slammed into Angel. In the back of his mind, he was already aware of it but no one had said it aloud. He fell heavily into the chair, feeling the last folder crunch a little inside his coat.

"I'm sorry," mumbled Lindsey.

Angel looked up meeting Lindsey's eyes only for a moment before the man looked away. Angel again noted the difference. The old Lindsey would've taken great pleasure in rubbing it in. Turning to the blonde detective, he asked, "Can you give us a minute?"

Kate didn't think it was a good idea but with a slight nod from Lindsey, she agreed. "I'll be right outside." She wasn't sure if that was for Angel's benefit or Lindsey's.

As the door closed behind her, Lindsey suddenly felt very vulnerable. He was in no shape to battle the vampire. He looked away from Angel's intense gaze and began fingering the blanket covering him. Lindsey flinched as Angel stood up suddenly. Tensing more as Angel reached into his jacket, pulling out...another file. The vampire set the file down in front of him and Lindsey felt his breath catch. Lindsey McDonald. He picked up the file and offered it back to Angel. "I know this file inside and out. I don't need to read it."

Angel watched as Lindsey's shoulder's had straigtened and his chin lifted up slightly. Pride. Angel shook his head, tempted to grab the file back but instead he quietly said, "I think you'll want to read it again. There's an addendum."

Lindsey's brow furrowed. Slowly he opened the file, reading thru the familiar pages, pausing as the added page caught his eye. He read it several times before looking up. "I..."

"Yeah, that's kind of what I thought too," agreed Angel, smirking at Lindsey's unusual lack of words. The man seldom was without a comeback. "Looks like you've got another chance. Don't waste it." Angel left the room, deciding Lindsey needed time to come to terms with what he'd read.

"Everything alright in there?"

Angel smiled at Kate. "It will be. Lindsey got a bit of a shock is all. How would you feel about grabbing a coffee?"

Kate's eyes lit up. "I'm dying for a coffee."

~ooAIoo~

Lindsey continued to stare at the page before him, having read it carefully thru one more time. Angel was right. He was free of Wolfram&Hart and he had Marsoff to thank for it. The man had wanted his life and now he had it...or at least part of it. Marsoff must have taken control for a fraction of a second but enough that the "in perpetuity" clause had transferred over. Lindsey couldn't stop the shaking that was slowly overtaking him. Everything had changed. He was free. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly, trying to calm his racing heart.

~ooAIoo~

Angel and Kate, coffee cups still in hand, could hear loud voices as they exited the elevator. "I'm sorry, sir, but the detectives are not on the floor. If you could just wait-"

"Is there a problem, Fischer?" growled Angel.

The man turned from the nurse, glaring at the vampire. "We have business to finish. I suggest we get it done quickly."

"Sooner, the better." Angel turned his attention to Kate. "Stay here. This shouldn't take long."

"Angel-"

"It's alright," assured Angel, squeezing her arm lightly. Turning back to the large man at the nurses' desk, he motioned towards Lindsey's room. "Let's get this done."

Fischer nodded, following Angel into the room. The nurse glanced at Kate but the detective could only shrug her shoulders. "Men."

The nurse snorted. "I hear ya." Walking back behind the desk, she started on the task she had been doing before the rude man had interupted her. Kate settled herself in the small seating area beside the elevators. It was obvious Angel hadn't wanted her involved in whatever was going on and, for the moment, she would honor that but if voices were raised at all, she'd make herself known.

~ooAIoo~

Forty minutes later, at the sound of the door banging open, Kate looked up from the magazine she'd been reading and watched as the man Angel had called Fischer stalked from the room, folders clutched tightly in his hand. He punched the call button for the elevator, pacing angrily as he waited. She spared a glance towards Lindsey's room, seeing Angel watching from the doorway. When the doors opened, the man entered, punching another button, tilting his head slightly at Kate before the doors closed, taking the scowling man from her view. Kate let out a sigh of relief. She hadn't really met the man but she could sense he was dangerous.

"Kate."

She looked to Angel as he walked towards her. Taking one last glance at the elevators, she hurried from the area. Somehow it seemed safer to be closer to Angel.

"He didn't look too happy."

Angel smiled. "My lawyer has that affect on people."

Kate rolled her eyes and gave a small laugh.

Angel turned serious. "Listen, Kate. I want to thank you for your help. It means a lot."

"Well, Angel, you know the motto: Protect and Serve."

"Somehow I doubt that refers to vampires."