Lindsey McDonald watched, breathless, as the door to his bedroom rattled and rattled. Wisps of grey--blue fog insinuated themselves through the cracks, curling around the legs of his bed, and the wind moaned through his apartment. Let me in, he heard it say, let me in. Something banged on the door heavily, three times, and he thought he saw it crack.
"All right, that's it," he said, suddenly on his feet with the dagger from his nightstand in his right hand. "You're going to be liable for my security deposit----"
He threw open the door...and found himself standing in his darkened, deserted living room, shirtless, unarmed, completely alone. The air--conditioning made the sweat on his back crawl. He blinked. Another nightmare. Nightmare wasn't the right word for it, actually, he thought, almost giggling, the demonologists probably had some specialized term...
He shook himself and glanced over his shoulder. The clock read 4:55 am. He knew he wouldn't get any more sleep that night; he might as well get started on the day. His billable hours had been coming up a little short lately. That was not what the firm expected from a promising young junior partner. And it took him a lot longer to get ready these days.
He padded into the bathroom to get a drink. As he bent, holding the glass under the stream of water, he caught sight of his face, and a flood of loathing washed over him. His hair was tousled, his eyes sunken, his face drawn. He knew that look, only too well. It was the look he had seen on his father's face, early one morning just before they had taken the house. Haggard, hopeless, pathetic----the look of a man being ground up by forces beyond his control. He was not going into the office like this. He was in control. And if he wasn't, the last thing he would do would be to look like it. He was not going to leave any blood in the water.
For just a moment, it was all over his hand. Lindsey dropped the glass, hearing it shatter into the sink as he spun around. "Who's there?" he called out loudly. There was no reply. He looked down at his hand. Nothing.
"That's it," he muttered. "It's time to let this creature know I have resources to call on, too."
Wesley Wyndham-Price flipped through the sorcery manual, absently reaching for his coffee. The spell on the scroll which the Vocah demon had cast had so far proved maddeningly difficult to track down, despite its apparently simple form. It seemed like some form of conjuration, but he couldn't identify it precisely. Though Angel refused to be alarmed, he, at least, would be far happier if he knew exactly what Wolfram & Hart's next gambit was going to be--
"I didn't know you could get kippers in Los Angeles. But I suppose this city caters to every taste, even...the more questionable ones."
Wesley glanced up irritably. Lindsey McDonald was standing on the sidewalk in front of his table, smiling in his shark-like way. Unable to help himself, he glanced down along his right arm until his gaze reached a neatly-bandaged stump, then hastily jerked his eyes away, back to Lindsey's face, hoping that he had not caught the look. The lawyer was wearing his usual expression of oily overconfidence, but there was a touch of blear in his soft blue eyes which Wesley had not seen before, not even when he had turned up at Angel Investigations two months ago, desperate to get out of his firm's latest scheme.
"Yes," he said finally, dryly, "even the taste for dealing with demons and murdering children."
"Wolfram & Hart is a full-service law firm, Mr. Wyndham-Price. We try to meet all our clients' needs," Lindsey parried. "But that's not what I want to discuss with you."
"Oh? I wasn't aware we had anything to discuss."
"It's a matter of a personal nature."
"Don't tell me you contracted something unpleasant at Madame Dorian's."
The smile on the lawyer's face might have been glued on. "No. It's something for which I need to consult your...particular expertise. You're the only man in Los Angeles who's qualified to deal with it."
Despite himself, Wesley felt intrigued. "Well?"
"This has to be be kept strictly confidential."
"I can't do that."
"You have my assurances that it has nothing to do with Angel Investigations or any of its clients or employees. Nor does it pertain to any affairs of Wolfram & Hart's," he added, in a peculiarly loud and strained tone, before reverting to his normal voice. "It's an entirely private matter."
"I'm sorry," Wesley said, going back to his book. "I can't possibly make such an agreement with a minion of evil."
"That's too bad," Lindsey said. "Our files had no indication you were so deep in Angel's pocket. I was hoping to save myself the trip to Sunnydale, but, perhaps, considering the superior credentials of Mister--"
"All right," Wesley interrupted him. "Tell me about it."
Lindsey set down his briefcase, pulled out a chair, and sat down. His maimed arm rested awkwardly in his lap, and Wesley had to remind himself firmly not to stare. "It started the night that Angel terminated our consultant, the Vocah demon."
"The demon you brought in to cast the spell?"
"Yes. I assume he told you that when he distracted the demon, I finished the spell myself. It was in the best interests of the firm."
"Yes, he did."
"Well, ever since then, I've been having these...dreams. That is, I thought they were dreams at first. I had the feeling that something was trying to contact me in my sleep. The dreams kept getting more and more vivid, and the creature more real. After a while, I realized they weren't dreams at all. They were messages. This creature wants me to aid it in communicating with this universe. It wants to...speak through me, I think. It's not always clear. In return, it's promising me all sorts of benefits."
"You haven't agreed, I hope."
"Not yet. But last night--it wasn't limited to my dreams anymore. It made me see something when I was awake."
"And that disturbs you."
"Hell, yes." Lindsey leaned forward. "I don't intend to let anyone coerce me into closing a deal. Not even a demon."
"You want me to tell you what you're dealing with."
"And how to refuse its invitations. If necessary."
Wesley closed the book and set it on the table. "Exactly what spell did you cast?"
"I can't tell you that. It's privileged."
"If you don't give me the information I need, Mr. McDonald, I can't help you."
"If I discuss the firm's business with you, your help won't be sufficient."
"Can you at least tell me what sort of spell it was?"
Lindsey considered for a moment. "A revivification spell."
Wesley's mouth dropped open. "For vampires! Of course!" It was so obvious; he should have thought of it himself. But he had been so sure that they had been raising a demon, it had never even occurred to him.
"I can't discuss the firm's business with you," Lindsey said, again in that loud, strained tone.
Wesley looked at him narrowly. He was fidgeting, and some of his hair had fallen into his eyes. Either the strain was getting to him, or something else was going on, as well. "All right, then. I'm not surprised. When Angel told me you'd finished the spell, I wondered about it. Revivification is one of the branches of the black arts, and an intensely dangerous one, at that. By casting that spell, you've thrown yourself open to all sorts of evil influences. Clearly, you've attracted the attention of some malevolent creature who wants to use you to wreak havoc in this world."
"And if I object to being used?"
"There are methods--charms, spells--you can use to help ward off this demon--"
"Excellent. Tell me what I need. I have connections--"
"--but," Wesley continued firmly, "they are only half--measures, especially if the demon is as powerful as I suspect he may be. What attracts him, what makes it possible for him to reach you, is the affinity for him in your very soul. The evil spell that you cast drew him in; the evil that you do every day keeps him close. As long as you continue along the path you have chosen, this demon will continue to haunt you. Soon you may not be able to resist him. You need to leave Wolfram & Hart at once."
"That's not an option," Lindsey declared, drawing back immediately. "My commitment to the firm is total."
"You're committed to the people who left you behind in that columbarium?" Wesley asked incredulously.
"They had vital resources to protect. They had full confidence in my ability to handle the situation on my own."
Wesley shook his head. "If you stay with them, Mr. McDonald, I can't help you. No one can."
Lindsey smiled contemptuously, rising. "Well, if you're not up to the challenge, I'll have to handle it myself."
"You mean, the way you handled Angel?"
Lindsey, who had been reaching for his briefcase, froze. He looked up, and his eyes were icy. "I'm not finished with Angel," he said softly.
Embarrassed, Wesley stood also. "I'm sorry; that wasn't very tactful of me. But you must understand that you may be in grave danger. The consequences of demon possession can be terrible. You might go mad. You might die. Worst of all, you might be permanently taken over. The demon could gain purchase on your soul and become part of you. You can't manage this on your own."
"You're underestimating my capabilities. All of you." Lindsey set the briefcase down again and reached into his pocket. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Wyndham-Price. I'm sorry we couldn't come to a more mutually agreeable arrangement." He tossed a check on the table. "I trust that's an acceptable consulting fee."
Wesley glanced down at the check--which was generous--and when he looked up again, Lindsey was gone. He shook his head. That could be serious trouble. But right now he was more concerned with the spell. What vampire could Wolfram & Hart have summoned? He'd seen a volume on revivification at the bookstore on Main...
Lindsey knew he should have asked for a continuance the next day. He wasn't as prepared as he should be, and he felt more than a little woozy from lack of sleep. But he couldn't afford to appear unable to do his job, especially after losing his hand. Holland had been giving him far too many long, appraising looks lately--and he was well aware that his own associate was feeding information to that bitch Lilah, who would be only too happy to fill in their boss about any failure to give the client full satisfaction. So he hurried into court and smiled reassuringly at the defendant as they stood for the judge's entrance. Alicia Jordan was young and pretty, as well as very skilled in knife--throwing, and his mind drifted off into fantasies as the court ran through the usual routine, but soon enough it was time for his cross-examination of the key prosecution witness.
"Mr. Winslow," he said, "you've testified that you knew Mr. Jordan well?"
"We were...friends," the middle-aged man said cautiously.
"Just friends. Nothing more?"
He spread his hands. "What else?"
"You mean," he sneered, "you actually have the nerve to claim you weren't having an affair with him yourself?" It was hot in the room, but Lindsey knew better than to be seen wiping his forehead in the middle of an examination.
The district attorney was on his feet. "Objection! Relevance!"
He put on his most earnest look. "Goes to credibility, your honor."
"Objection overruled," the judge said. "Answer the question, Mr. Winslow."
"Was I having an affair with Arthur? Of course not! Don't be ridiculous!"
"Ridiculous? This is defense exhibit thirteen." He went back to the table and tried to pull a letter from a folder. It kept slipping through his fingers; his associate had to hand it to him. He came back and gave it to Winslow. "Is that your handwriting?"
The man glanced at the paper, then shot him a look of pure horror. "I...maybe. I'm not sure."
"Do you know that we have a handwriting expert who will testify that it is?" The lights were so bright. He had to force himself not to squint.
"Well, then, maybe...maybe..." His voice died away.
"Will you read the highlighted portions to the court?"
Winslow was staring past him, over his shoulder, to where his wife was sitting in court, as Lindsey had made sure she would be. That would teach him to smart off during depositions. His mouth hung open. Lindsey was smelling the kill, but he felt tremendously remote, in the glare and the heat. "Mr. Winslow?"
"Don't make me do this..."
"Mr. Winslow," Lindsey managed from a hundred miles away, just barely able to remember what he had planned to say, "don't keep the court waiting just to hide your dirty little secrets."
I grow weary of waiting myself, Lindsey...
He put his hand on the witness stand, feeling his knees try to buckle. Not now. Not til I say so.
No. The time is now!
"Mr. McDonald? Are you all right?" That was the judge. He must be showing something. He had to...he lifted his head, which was impossibly heavy, and tried to speak.
"I'd like...to request...a recess..."
Then the world around him fused into a white glare.
When Lindsey awakened, he found himself lying in a hospital bed. The rays of the setting sun fell softly into the room, leaving most of it bathed in twilight. Holland was sitting in the corner, half-hidden by shadow. He appeared to be dozing, but as Lindsey stirred, he looked up immediately.
"Welcome back, Lindsey."
"Sir," he said, shifting uncomfortably, "I didn't expect to find you here."
"I know the younger partners think we're heartless, but when one of our own collapses in a courtroom, babbling about demons, we do take an interest." He saw the alarm in Lindsey's expression. "Oh, don't worry, we've managed to hush up your little indiscretion, and we've kept the medical personnel as far away from you as we decently could, considering you are in a hospital. I've been sitting here alone with you for a long time, Lindsey. A long time." He smiled paternalistically and patted his hand. "But I don't mind. It's been worth it."
His smile sent ice down Lindsey's spine. "What--what did I say?"
"Well, none of it was very clear. In fact, most of it was garbled nonsense. But I think I've managed to gather the substance of it. There is a particular being who wishes to enter into negotiations with us, but he lacks a representative in this dimension. He wants you to be that representative, Lindsey. He wants you to speak for him."
"You mean, he wants to possess me."
Holland smiled again. "You're becoming very learned in these matters. I'm glad; it's good knowledge to have in our line of work. Yes, he wants to possess you. Only once. If we can just establish an unimpeded dialogue, he should be able to instruct us in how to arrange for a more reliable means of communication." He paused, and silence filled the room. "The senior partners are very interested in this project, Lindsey."
"Of course, I am, too," he said quickly. "But I have some concerns--"
"So do we. After all, we've made a substantial investment in you now. We don't want you damaged unnecessarily. We'll take every precaution; we'll have a mindreader standing by to make sure that the demon has vacated the premises, so to speak." Holland chuckled. "And we'll bring in a top exorcist to be ready to serve an eviction notice if he doesn't. The danger to you should be at an acceptable level."
"What sort of demon is it?"
"It's better if you don't know, at least for now. I know you trust me. Or, at least, I thought you did."
He was taken by surprise, his head still sludgy from the day's events. "What--what do you mean?"
"How long has this been going on, Lindsey? When were you planning on telling me?"
"Oh! Sir, I didn't know what it was--"
"Since the night we brought Darla back, wasn't it?" he cut him off, the look in his eyes regretful. "I'm very disappointed you didn't come to me earlier, Lindsey. It makes me wonder whether you've really accepted your place here. There's no room in the firm for people with half-hearted commitments."
Lindsey stared at Holland's mild face. If it hadn't been for the respect that he automatically granted to a partner in a major L.A. law firm, he would never have been able to take him seriously when he first met him that summer during law school. He looked so banal, so harmless. But now he could see the glitter behind the gaze, hear the bullying in every phrase. He thought of Lee's blood, on his hand, his collar, his cheek. He thought of the last time he was in the hospital, screaming in pain as they tried to stop the flow of blood from his wrist. Wolfram & Hart had sent flowers to his room every day--nice, tasteful arrangements. No doubt there'd be even better ones at the mental hospital...or the funeral. The hatred he suddenly felt was so intense he had to turn his head away.
"Of course not," he said through his teeth. "Tell the senior partners I'll be ready as soon as they let me out of here."
"I knew I could count on you, Lindsey." Holland stood up. "Believe me, the senior partners will look very favorably on this."
"Thank you, sir."
"I understand the hospital wants to keep you overnight--just as a precaution, for observation. We'll arrange everything for tomorrow. Get a good night's sleep, Lindsey. There's nothing better for keeping a clear head."
"Oh"--Holland was halfway out the door--"I almost forgot to mention it. There'll be security right outside. In case there are any problems."
The door shut behind him. Lindsey sank back down on the pillows, then scanned the room through almost--closed eyes, searching restlessly for a way out.
That afternoon, Wesley returned to the office after tea with his head down, absorbed in one of his new books on revivification. It really was quite a fascinating process. If they could just identify the vampires that Wolfram & Hart had used in the ritual, they might be able to--
"Wesley," Angel said quietly.
He looked up and found him and Cordelia standing there, waiting for him. Angel's face was serious; Cordelia was fidgeting irritably, obviously spoiling for a fight. "Yes? What is it?"
"Cordelia had another vision."
"Really?" He put the book on his desk and started to fish the key to the weapons cabinet out of his pocket. "Who was it?"
"You'll never guess," Cordelia said bitterly.
"Probably not, Cordelia, so why don't you simply tell me?"
"Born-again boy. Can you believe it?"
Wesley had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Lindsey McDonald? Are you quite sure?"
"Yep," said Cordelia. "The Krycek look? It's kind of distinctive."
That meant the demon must be ready to seize control by force. "Do you know what was wrong?"
"I just saw him fall over in a courtroom and start babbling something. But I got the impression it was really serious. He's in a lot of danger." She looked over at Angel. "Though I still don't know why we should care."
"Cordelia," Angel said patiently, "we don't get to pick and choose."
"Not even when the picker and chooser has totally lost his mind?"
"Wesley, I think you should go talk to him. I doubt he'd be happy to see me."
Wesley sank into his chair. "I'm not sure that would work, either."
"Why not?" Cordelia asked.
"I saw him yesterday. We had words." Wesley stared off into space. "I think he'd be more likely to listen to someone he hates than someone he...has contempt for."
"Words? About what? Did he insult the royal family or something?"
"I can't say. I promised I wouldn't."
"You promised the world's sleaziest lawyer you'd keep a secret and you feel even a little bit bad about telling?"
"Cordelia," he said sharply, "some of us do have a concept of honor to--"
Angel cut in. Gazing steadily at him, he asked, "Is it serious, Wesley?"
He looked up at him, glad to divert his attention from Cordelia. "Yes, Angel. It is. I believe he could be in grave danger indeed."
"Then I'll go talk to him as soon as the sun goes down."
Cordelia threw up her hands. "Fine. I'll just change our slogan to 'We help the hopeless...and the people who try to kill us.' That'll bring in a lot of new clients." She stormed out of the room.
Wesley leaned forward. "Angel, I'm sorry. At the time, it seemed like a safe promise to make."
"Don't worry about it. I know you have to make judgment calls."
He tapped a pencil on the desk, thinking, then threw it down and said abruptly, "I hope you can help him, because I couldn't. He may have put himself beyond help."
"Nobody's beyond help, Wesley," Angel said firmly. "Nobody."
Every nerve in Lindsey's body felt battered, and his head ached. His hand--the one that wasn't there--ached, too. The hospital bed was soft, the room dark, and the nurse had already been by twice to offer him sedatives. It would have been so easy to fall asleep. But he was not going to waste time on sleeping. Especially on what very well might be his last night as a sane and free human being. This was just like the all-nighters he used to pull in law school. Not a problem. So he lay still for the benefit of the security guard who checked on him every half hour and tried to think. He could come out of this on top. He could. He could...
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he almost missed the scuff of the foot across the floor. Panic shot through him at the thought of another vision. He jerked himself upright and scrabbled for the lamp desperately--with the wrong arm. The stump thudded against the switch uselessly and he cried out. With agonizing slowness, terror burning through his muscles, he rolled himself over and fumbled at the switch, then threw himself back against the head of the bed to see what horror awaited him.
Standing there by his bed in the circle of soft white light was Angel.
For a moment, he could do nothing at all. Then he laughed harshly, wishing that it didn't sound so much like choking. "What are you doing here? Come to gloat? I'm not in the mood." Without turning his head, he called, "Guard!"
"He's out of it for a little while," Angel said, glancing at the door. "I came to help you."
"I told you already"--his fingers found the cross around his neck, and jerked it out--"I'm grateful for your assistance in my time of crisis, but I don't need it any more."
Angel took two slow steps backward, but his face remained impassive. "Yes, you do. You're in serious danger."
"Who told you that? That fruit Wesley?"
"No. He kept your secret, Lindsey; he wouldn't tell me a thing. It was Cordelia. She had a vision of you. You know what that means."
Oh, God. Without thinking about it, he dropped the cross. "What are you suggesting?"
"We have to get you out of here, to somewhere safe. Then you can explain what's going on and we can decide what to do next from there."
Safe. For a moment, the word sounded so sweet. He wanted to throw himself at it. Then he sneered at himself. Safe? Did you do all this for safety, then? That's what you want? Just like every other loser out there that Angel protects? Go ahead, then. Go crawling to the creature that turned you into a fucking cripple. Be safe. He laughed again. "Somewhere safe? Like Angel Investigations? Forgive me, but I wouldn't feel particularly safe there."
Angel actually looked slightly abashed. "Look, I'm sorry about your hand, but--"
"Save it. One of the things they teach you in law school is that the only people who settle for apologies are those who can't get revenge instead."
"Lindsey, you need my help. I don't know exactly what's going on with you, but I do know this. Cordelia doesn't have her visions about people who are going to die. She has them about people who are going to lose their souls."
"According to you, haven't I already lost my soul?"
"No. Working for Wolfram & Hart isn't losing your soul." The vampire's features suddenly resculpted themselves into the face of a demon. "This is." He came back to the edge of the bed, bringing his face into the light. "Is this what you want?"
"You're not scaring me, Angel."
Angel shook his head, and his features became human again. "I don't think I have to. You're in over your head, and you know it. You're terrified. I can smell it. And you're right to be." He leaned forward and put his hand on his arm. "Let me help you."
Holland had touched him there, too. It was truly heart-warming, how many people were concerned for his welfare. He pulled away. "I said, I don't need your help," he declared flatly, wishing that his voice would stop shaking. "Now get out of here."
Angel sighed in exasperation. "Come on, Lindsey, can't you drop the macho routine for just a minute and listen--"
He caught himself almost immediately, but Lindsey was sitting up straight, almost rigid. "I'm calling Detective Lockley now." He picked up his cellphone from the bedside table. "I have more than enough to get a restraining order on you."
He kept punching the buttons, though his fingers trembled. When someone answered, he lifted his eyes to Angel again, but he was gone.
"Never...never mind," he said into the phone, and switched it off, then let it drop from his hand and fell back onto the pillows again.
All right, he said silently, defeated, to the audience he was knew was waiting for him, let's talk terms.
It all went much more smoothly than he had expected. He came into one of the better conference rooms to find Holland, a mindreader, an exorcist, and a few people he didn't recognize waiting for him. They had a seat ready, leather, padded, and comfortable-looking, but with ominous straps dangling down from the side.
"Good morning, Lindsey."
"Good morning, sir." He looked at the chair. "Is that really necessary?"
"It's for your own protection." Holland smiled widely. "It would be very unfortunate if the demon got away with you."
"Especially if you had to kill me to get me back." He knew it was a dangerous thing to say, but, damn it, he had earned it today.
Holland only raised his eyebrows. "Tsk, tsk, Lindsey, cynicism isn't good for your blood pressure."
He laughed, then sat down and let one of the strangers strap him in. He felt intensely self-conscious. To lose control of himself in front of his boss--it wasn't what he usually aimed for.
"Whenever you're ready."
"Yes, sir." This was it. With a feeling of finality, he thought, Go ahead, and let the world floresce...
When he came back to consciousness, he was reclined in the chair, the mindreader hovering over him. He sat up so he could see Holland. The older lawyer was staring off into space, his expression distinctly disappointed.
"How did it go, sir?"
He blinked, then looked over at Lindsey and shook his head. "Unfortunately, we were unable to come to terms with the demon. The senior partners are not going to be pleased."
"We're not going to need to do this again, I hope."
"No. He gave us the means to communicate with him ourselves. But I suspect we may not be using them." He looked at the mindreader. "Well?"
"He's clean," she declared indifferently.
"Absolutely. There is no one in there but Lindsey McDonald."
"All right, Lindsey." Holland waved to one of the men, who came over and released him from the chair. "The firm appreciates your efforts on our behalf. Why don't you take the day off? Just remember that you are not to discuss this with anyone who wasn't in this room today."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
He couldn't get out of there fast enough. With the nervous energy coursing through his system, it was all he could do not to run to the elevator. He stepped out into the lobby, and it was beautiful. He wanted to sing for joy. He had come out on top after all, and no one suspected a thing.
What are we going to do first? the demon asked, letting visions of the possibilities spill out in front of him. The feeling of power made him dizzy.
I haven't quite decided yet. So much vengeance to take, so little time...