He sits alone, sliding an unfinished tumbler of bourbon along the surface of the table, uncaring that he has escaped the thrall of the blond-haired hypnotist onstage. Instead, he stares at his fingers. At the prosthetics that have become a part of him over the last several years. They have taken him on a long journey.
A journey that ends here. In this city of change. Of the future.
Or so he hopes.
Or so he has hoped every night for the last six months.
Since he glimpsed a face that reminded him of another. A smile with equal charm. A body that brimmed with equal power.
He thinks that, on some level, his old friends would be proud. That they would understand this as the completion of what began the first time he was able to give name to the concepts of taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch.
He watches the shadows shift. Watches white smiles and dark eyes flicker and move towards him with a rising sense of excitement. He had once been dead inside. And now he is alive again. Blissfully alive and pulsing.
And all he wants is a second chance.
When his other hand came off, he didn't feel it.
Buffy Summers sliced clean through the bone with the links in her handcuffs. Her scream of grief had twisted around into such pain that he had been too busy listening to the sound, too busy trying to let it deafen his own interior wail, to notice that he now had a matched pair of wrists that ended in nothing.
And it didn't matter. As his stump bled...as her tiny fists beat on his chest...as Cordelia and Gunn and Wesley and Giles all shouted for Buffy to "please, stop!"...as the firm's hired goons lost their lunches and the partners all drifted away with satisfied smirks.
The vortex had closed and Hell had taken away all his hope of redemption.
He didn't feel it.
He didn't feel.
It was three years before he could bring himself to set foot outside the City of Angels. Or, as he had come to think of it, the City of Angel. There had been so much to do...so much vengeance to mete out.
An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
Lilah. Holland. The senior partners.
He did it slow. Watching. Waiting. Crafting each punishment with the utmost care. Gunn supplied the weapons...a fine Chinese blade here...a Glock there. And the alibis. "What'chu talkin' about, Kate? Yo, we were out drinkin' and watchin' Kane over at Jack's Sugar Shack. Just ask my boy Christian."
It was three years before the grand finale. Before the Wolfram&Hart building exploded in a mass of flames and glass. And he laughed, staring at two plastic palms and reveling in the stain of blood. The advantage of not having skin. A little Windex and all would be clean and pure again.
He didn't feel it.
Even when Gunn nudged him and said "We got to bail before the cops get here." He didn't feel the touch.
Not then...and not when they dared stop driving and the darkness of the seedy Santa Clarita motel room almost made ebony look like ivory. Not when his companion gently pushed him away and pulled the moth-eaten coverlet up to his chin and merciful drug-induced sleep made him all the number.
The last thing he heard before his eyes fluttered shut and he was dragged in by the undertow was a series of disembodied words. Something that sounded like, "I wish I could be him for you, Bro'. But I can't."
Once they were in Sunnydale, it didn't take long to find the house of Wesley and Cordelia Wyndham-Pryce. A red brick two-story affair with a well-manicured lawn and a van parked in the driveway.
They had driven around for days to throw off the trail of anyone the explosion might have left alive and when they pulled the black Plymouth Belvedere up behind the dark green Chevy van, it was like reaching an oasis.
And still, he felt nothing.
Even when the front door opened and the reinstated Watcher and his statuesque wife exclaimed their surprise, hugged Gunn tightly, and then turned to him with a mix of pity and understanding. He just let Delia gently tug him inside by the edge of his shirt sleeve and offered no recriminations for their painful kindness.
He just stood in one spot as three voices rose and fell with the urgency of old friends catching up. *How's married life treatin' y'alls?...fine, fine...you did WHAT?....how long have you been on the road?....is he okay?...are you okay?...we're cool, just beat.*
A thick British accent echoed from somewhere deep in the bowels of the 'Martha Stewart Living' showcase. "Petra Summers! You come back here!" And then he heard the high-pitched giggle. A sound full of dimples and joy paired with the thrumming of tiny feet skidding into the foyer.
A half-naked elf with big, green eyes, and a mop of blond curls, smiled and pulled her reddened thumb out of her mouth. "Hi, Mr. Man," she said, with the unconscious brass that all two-year olds seemed to have.
He swallowed. Felt the knot working in his throat.
"Hi, Mr. Man," she repeated, tugging at his pants leg.
She was a miniature Slayer in unbuttoned overalls. She looked just like her mother. Just like the woman he'd last seen snapping a pair of handcuffs like twigs. Except short. And innocent. With no memory of carnage...of spells and traps and ensouled vampires being damned.
"Mr. Man!" She was annoyed now. Lower lip sticking out like a rosebud as she demanded his attention.
"I'm Lindsey," he corrected, voice hoarse from the lack of use. He hunkered down on his knees. They groaned in protest and he winced. "Hi."
"Hi, Mr. Lindsey Man." She giggled again and it was like listening to wind chimes. Her chubby fingers reached out and touched his. And she didn't seem to care that they weren't real. One of her tiny hands explored each of his big, artificial appendages. Her thumbs brushed his plastic palms.
"You're a git," she pronounced after several minutes of silent appraisal.
"You're right." The knot in his throat expanded. It exploded, sending out a rain of fire and glass. And not until he heard himself did he realize he was laughing. He pulled the little girl into his arms, letting the hilarity drown him until he sobbed. Until his tears dampened his cheeks and her soft, baby skin.
"There, there. 'S'okay. You're safe." she assured, no doubt repeating the words of one of her many guardians.
Her lips brushed his cheek in the barest of butterfly kisses.
And he felt it.
All this and more flashes before his eyes as the audience breaks out of the thrall and spends a few uncomfortable moments gathering composure. As Jason's hand on his shoulder urges him into the back with a snappy, "Come on, Loverboy."
Finally, he is gaining what he has desired since he first set foot in this town. From Los Angeles to Sunnydale to St. Louis. The circle remains unbroken. Complete.
Dark blue eyes drag him close. He has been waiting for this. To amplify everything that a miracle child unlocked. To feel all that he lost one night amidst red rocks and a mix of friends and enemies. As long, curling, dark hair brushes his cheek, he feels the whisper grow inside him. The vibration of wholeness. The hands are cool. And consuming. Full of memory. Full of promise. "I can be him for you. Him and so much more." Lips brush his cheek in the barest of butterfly kisses. "There, there. It's okay. You're safe."
His mouth reverently traces a cross seared deep into pale flesh. And then Jean-Claude tips his head back and laughs. A rich, charming sound with no guile. "I never knew how much I needed a lawyer until now. Welcome to Guilty Pleasures, *mon cher*."