It was the first time it hurt.
Roughly grabbed...slammed up against the wall...scraped skin and sharp teeth.
But no, the pain hadn't come from that. The scratches stung and bled...and he gasped with pleasure despite them. Or maybe *because* of them.
It was the look in the dark eyes--the taint of guilt--that broke him.
It was relative quiet, with only the telltale sounds of the L.A. night floating on the air, when speech and respiration came back to him. Baser impulses sated, he was ready to speak the word that had been strangling in his throat for hours...for days...for weeks.
The accusation was stark and silver-gray, like the moonlight filtering into the alley. The first word Lindsey had uttered since Angel had found him a few blocks from Wolfram&Hart and silent signals, brimming with need and tension, had been exchanged.
Oh, sure and McDonald was a trained housecat now, wasn't he? Coming when his Master called. But Angel couldn't feel guilty. Not about this. Not anymore.
"I...I was going to tell them...and I...I couldn't. They were leaving by the time the lift stopped moving," he murmured, feebly. "Cordy had an audition. Wesley...I don't know where he was headed."
Lindsey made a sound of disgust. A kitten's growl. And his face was pale against the dark red bricks. "But you can come to me? You can follow ME? You can push me up against this here wall, but you can't give us a name? You can't admit what you do with me?"
He had no response for that. For the bitterness. For the anger.
"*Coward*," his lover spat, biting off the word as his back arched. As the short hairs on the nape of his neck bristled.
This was the wall where it all began. The dark enclave near Helen's Kitchen. So close to the public thoroughfare but private enough for the completion of the hunt, for the victor to claim his spoils.
But he didn't feel victorious. He had never quite felt victorious. "You're right. I *am* a coward. And a monster. And a complete bastard."
"At least we agree on *one* thing." Lindsey's tone was bitter, acidic...very nearly rancid. "You've got it easy. I'm the one whose ass is on the line here, Angelus. Pretty goddamn literally, too," he reminded, with a not-so subtle nudge. "I'm the one with no power and no control and no escape. The partners could kill me for this...and you? You could destroy me even faster. Crumple me up and throw me away without even thinkin' twice."
He chuckled harshly, buried his face in the younger man's hair, wishing he could truly inhale the softness and the slightly medicinal and masculine scent of his shampoo. "You really think I have control? You think I have power? Believe me, I would've stopped this long ago. I wouldn't have let it get this far."
"This is crazy." More helpless laughter. "I don't even LIKE you...why should I die for you?"
"The feeling is mutual, McDonald," he assured, quietly.
A ragged breath. Shifting. Twisting around until the beautiful silver-blue eyes were staring into his, full of splintered emotion. "I-I don't like you...but I love you."
His nails dug into the brick on either side of Lindsey's lean hips...he felt a few of them crack. Or was it chips of stone and mortar? "Th-that feeling is mutual, too," he whispered.
And then the word "Why?" hung between them again--spilled from the lawyer's throat on a sigh--but just for an instant.
He couldn't let it hang there any longer than that.
Not when Lindsey's mouth was so close...
Later...much later...he kissed the back of Angel's neck and whispered, "You don't have to tell them."
The basement apartment was quieter than the alley...virtually silent except for his own sharp intakes of breath and the occasional rattle of the battered fridge. It gave a hollow stutter every four and a half minutes on the nose...like a demented cuckoo clock in drag.
The vampire turned, slowly, to face him, in the tangle of sheets. And he remembered how he'd thought of him as the Dark Knight, Batman. *Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?* That comparison was more than accurate now...in the expression on his handsome face...such fierce sadness. "We can't protect you if they don't know."
"P-protect me?" he repeated, as their foreheads touched...as long, white fingers traced the red-gold bristles on his jaw.
"I never should've let you go back to them when you came to me last spring. None of this would've happened," Angel murmured, casting his eyes down to the damned prosthetic hand caught between their bodies. "I can't let you go back this time. I can't fail you again."
"You're not failin' me," he said, instantly. And the dark thought came, unbidden, to his mind...and his lips, before he could stop it. "I'm failing *you*."
"What do you mean? What is it?" Butterfly kisses were brushed, swiftly, across his forehead. "You can tell me..."
Compassion. Oh, God, compassion.
He wasn't sure he could handle the sweet Angel...the lover. He almost wanted the abusive stalker back. The abusive stalker was someone who hadn't deserved consideration. Who had victimized him and, therefore, hadn't deserved any truths.
But Angel...sweet Lord in heaven...Angel deserved them.
He thought of the windows in his office. Those wide expanses of glass that revealed all of L.A. for the taking. And he thought of how Maintenance never kept the heat on. Of how every single room was icy cold...his office doubly so, it seemed.
He had begun to compartmentalize his life. Cases ...missions ...directives...he all but forgot about what he was doing most of the time. Just handling things robotically...as if his entire body was made of plastic and metal, not just a hand. None of what he did at work mattered...all that mattered was Angel. The times in the past...the times to come. It was how he survived.
And he'd managed to forget, to repress, one thing all summer.
One thing that could damn him forever.
"Do you remember the box?" he asked, hoarsely, shifting onto his back. Staring up at the ceiling that, with it's glaring whiteness, was much less painful than the other man's eyes.
"The box?" Angel moved up on his elbow, leaning over him. "The box from the crypt?"
Lindsey swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat. "Uh huh."
There was tight suspicion now. But, still, gentle fingers curling around his shoulder. "What did they bring forth?"
He pulled away, sitting up and staring across the sparsely furnished bedroom...at a sword hanging on the wall. 16th century Spanish steel, he guessed. Silver. Gleaming. Sharp.
It would cut through flesh and bone without leaving a single tendon hanging. Would he deserve such mercy?
"Not 'what'...*who*." *Huddled in the dark corner...shivering* She shivered no longer. That much he knew. He had seen her...gliding through the hallways like a ballet dancer. Perfect. Healthy. Accustomed to her new surroundings. He had even heard her laugh...a tinkle of bells drifting from Lilah's office. "Darla."
The ensuing silence was deafening. Louder than anything he had ever heard before and anything he would ever hear again.
He could barely make out the word.
The only word.
March 17, 2001.
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