Buffy tumbled through the portal, still caught in Faith's vise-like grip, and shook her head to clear it. She shrugged Faith off and took several quick steps to the right before the next wave of Slayers could crash in to her.
They'd popped out onto an empty street, but despite the lack of activity, an ear-splitting din suggested the battle somewhere very close by. Faith was already directing the incoming Slayers to it, sending them off in groups of four. They looked highly organized and efficient. And deadly.
Why had Faith thought they needed her? They were doing just fine on their own – probably better.
Eyeing the street for hidden dangers, Buffy wondered what had possessed her to change her mind. She'd been all set to give Xander a firm 'thanks, but no thanks', same as she'd done with Faith, when she'd found herself agreeing with him. Not just agreeing, but meaning it. She'd had the sudden feeling she was needed, immediately, on the far side of the world. Giles had told her about Slayer dreams and premonitions, and Buffy had no idea if you had to be actually sleeping to have one, but the feeling had been so strong, so urgent, she'd figured better safe than sorry. Something had told her to get her ass to L.A., pronto, and now here she was.
It seemed as though even magic had been conspiring to get her here, considering how the portal had opened a good hour earlier than the coven had predicted. Now that she had arrived, the feeling that had possessed her earlier was just as strong. In fact...
Buffy whipped around. A low, square building halfway down the block beckoned to her. She eyed it, confused. It was clearly in the opposite direction of the battle, but whatever force had summoned her here was coming from in there; the moment she recognized it, the pull grew even stronger.
Glancing over her shoulder to where Faith was organizing the next squadron of girls, Buffy came to a snap decision. She hurried to the building, then paused outside the front doors. Nothing pinged her Slayer senses, other than the now-fading imperative to find whatever it was that had been calling to her.
She entered cautiously, ears straining for any signs of life. With each step she took, it became apparent a major struggle of some sort had occurred here. The blood splashed across the walls was still wet, and not all of it was of the red variety. Nose scrunched, weapon at the ready, Buffy slowed her steps.
Something loud screeched a few blocks away. When the sound died out, she heard, two doors down the hallway, "... like the Senior Partners are ticked."
Buffy froze, shocked to realize she recognized that voice. "Giles?" she whispered.
She edged her way around the smashed doors in time to see Angel's pet green demon with the blood-red eyes pull a gun. Another step confirmed that he'd pulled it on Giles – er, Lindsey.
Lindsey. Her mind reeled. Buffy had thought he was gone forever, dead or worse, but there he was. The jumble of relief mixed with anger, and a crushing sense of betrayal, blindsided her. But when she realized Lindsey might actually die, she didn't hesitate to rush to his side. Whoever he was, whatever he'd done, he'd saved her life.
And if anybody was going to kill Lindsey, it would be her.
Buffy paused as Lindsey turned back to answer the green demon.
"Give Angel my regards." Hooking his arm through hers, he added, "Should I say – our regards."
Finally noticing her glare-of-death, Lindsey offered Buffy a semi-contrite smile as they continued on their way. "First I've got to check up on somebody."
She pulled free and stalked ahead of him, down the hallway. "The secret girlfriend, I take it?" Her tone came out more forgiving than her body language. Buffy deepened her glare and steeled her spine. She was not happy to see Lindsey. Not relieved he wasn't dead. Not one little bit.
"Not so secret anymore. Her name's Eve." Grinning, he said, "I'd say 'I think you're gonna like her', but I hate to tell a lie."
"No you don't," Buffy said, a sharp edge to her voice.
Lindsey looked at her. "No. I don't." They'd come to a stop just outside the main doors, and he turned to face her. "But a part of me does. Sometimes that part even wins."
Buffy searched his eyes, wondering if she'd made a mistake in stopping the green demon. From what everybody had told her, Lindsey was not one of the good guys, and he'd as much as confirmed it. He'd lied to her. Used her. Hurt her, deeply.
But things had been so simple with him. And if he really did want to turn over a new leaf… shouldn't she help him?
Something big slammed into the other side of the door, breaking her scrutiny and reminding her that now wasn't the time to resolve the myriad issues between them. "Meet me back at my apartment?" Buffy frowned. "Do I still have an apartment?"
"Yeah – and it's still protected too, so it should be safe from all this." He jerked his head at the commotion outside. "We'll meet you there. If we make it through the night." Lindsey took her hand, and squeezed it. "I was worried about you, you know. I'm glad you're okay."
"I –" The doors bulged inward, knocking Buffy off balance. She shook her head. "I'm really, really pissed at you. And I owe you a major ass-kicking." The hinges groaned under the weight of whatever was on the other side of the doors. "Which will apparently have to wait until after everything else is done with the kicking. But... I'm glad you're okay too."
The walls around the doors trembled. Gripping her weapon more tightly, Buffy gestured to the door handles. "Ready?"
Lindsey grinned. "Let's do this."
Buffy was exhausted. More than exhausted. Whatever word meant more than exhausted, that's what she was. She couldn't sleep, though; instead she paced her apartment, her worry for Lindsey mingling with afterimages of the night before –
Lindsey disappearing into the night, sword dripping a trail of blood and gore as he went.
A Slayer caught by a pair of vampires, drained before she could get there.
Barely dodging a mace aimed at her head; grabbing the chain as it whistled by; reversing the momentum so it wrapped around the neck of the ogre who had wielded it.
A gang of well-armed humans, fighting alongside a squadron of Slayers.
Angel gazing at her with soulful, puppydog eyes; the naked longing on Spike's face; their transparent emotions painful and disconcerting.
Screams. The high-pitched, terrified screams of a child.
Oh, god. The carnage inside those houses.
Buffy stumbled to a halt, back of her hand to her mouth, willing herself not to retch again. When she thought she had it under control, she moved to peer out her window into the empty, devastated street below, wondering where Lindsey could be. Should she go look for him? Wait there? She couldn't make up her mind.
A pack of dogs wandered down the street, the leader stopping to sniff at one of the more interesting chunks of dead demon before taking a tentative lick.
Buffy bolted for the restroom.
After, she curled up against the tub, the cold porcelain soothing her overheated cheek. "What am I doing here?" she muttered. Maybe she should go find the others, Faith and the girls, go back to England. Be with her friends and family.
She rejected the idea before it could fully form. They expected so much of her. She was done with that life, done trying to pretend she was somebody she wasn't. This was easier. Simpler.
Or would be, if Lindsey ever showed up.
A loud rapping sounded at the door, and Buffy jerked, startled from the half-doze she'd fallen into. She leapt to her feet, shrieking when her aching muscles protested the sudden move.
"Buffy?" The door shook, causing the painted glyphs on the doorjamb to shiver.
"Coming," she called. "Don't worry, I'm –" She threw the door open, and Lindsey stumbled inside. Buffy grabbed him before he could fall, horrified by his condition.
One side of his face was black and blue, swollen beyond recognition, the other was coated in dried blood from a flapping scalp wound. His clothes were worse than rags, his knuckles split, and one arm hung at an odd angle.
Buffy didn't want to see what lay beneath his clothes.
"My god. What happened to you?"
"Should see the other ten thousand guys," Lindsey slurred. He looked her up and down with the one eye that hadn't yet swelled shut. "Not doing so great yourself."
"Shhh. Don't talk."
She settled him on the couch, and hurried to retrieve the first aid kit. With a wince, Buffy eased his shirt off, then went to work. "I think we need to get you to a hospital."
"They're all full."
"Right. Didn't think of that. And I told you not to talk."
Lindsey grunted. Seconds later, he passed out, which Buffy figured was a blessing. How had he made it to her door in this condition? God, she shouldn't have let him go off by himself to get –
Eve. Where was Eve?
Buffy bit her lip.
Part of her wanted to shake Lindsey back awake, to see if there was something she should do. Some way she could help. The other part of her suspected there was nothing she could do, otherwise it would have been the first thing out of his mouth.
She finished ministering to him as best she could, and then went to poke around the kitchen cupboards to see if there was anything still edible left. The fridge, she'd already discovered, was best left shut tight. Buffy found some dry cereal that had gone stale, but it went down fine with a glass of tap water.
Hunger sated, she curled up in the armchair next to sofa, and willed herself to sleep.
Buffy reached to take the glass from Lindsey once he'd washed down the painkillers she'd given him. "What happened to you?"
His mouth twisted. "Got there too late. The building was overrun, and Eve…" He closed his eyes, and let out a bitter laugh. "She gave up immortality for me, you know. If I'd never –"
"I – I'm sorry."
"I loved her. But not enough. Not enough to be worth that kind of sacrifice."
Buffy took his hand, not knowing what to say.
"And Angel –" Lindsey sat up abruptly, gasping when the movement jarred the arm she'd just splinted.
"Shhh," Buffy said. "Relax."
"Relax? Relax? He left her there. To die!" He was on his feet now, pacing, limping painfully with every step but too wrought up to care. "Of course, he was going to double-cross me, kill me, and not even bother to do it himself, the fucker, so –" Lindsey whirled and punched the wall. Shaking his hand out, he faced Buffy, his visage a mask of anguish. "Tell me he didn't make it through the night."
"Sorry. I saw him and Spike just before sunrise." When she'd not killed them, despite her instincts to the contrary. If either one of them would have fought back, or moved even a muscle, the outcome might've been a different story.
Lindsey began to pace once more, un-splinted arm gesticulating wildly. "You know what? Good! Gives me a reason to live – to kill him. Or maybe torture – think he'd appreciate that."
Buffy grimaced, not sure whether he was venting, or serious. Aiming to distract him, she said, "Besides killing Angel, what are our plans?"
"Our?" Lindsey stopped, his scattered attention suddenly focused on her. "Is there an our?"
"Here I am. Here you are…" She shrugged. "I was kinda thinking you could be my Watcher again." The idea had come to her while he was sleeping and hadn't let go, no matter how insane it felt to want to team up with the guy who'd betrayed her. "We could go fight evil, just you and me, like old times. Might be fun."
He stared at her.
Picking at the bandage on her arm, she added, "But maybe you had other plans…"
Brow furrowed, Lindsey said, "You – you want to stay with me? Figured you'd be running back to your real life with the others."
"What real life?" Buffy jumped up and crossed the room with jerky, agitated steps. "I don't remember them – don't remember any of it! All I remember is you!" She stopped in front of him, almost nose-to-nose, hands on her hips. "Did you have something to do with that? Is it your fault I smell wrong, according to the vampires? Did you fix it so locator spells don't work on me?"
Lindsey flinched backwards at her vehemence. "If I did, don't you think Angel and Spike would have gotten it out of me by now? And believe me, they tried. They can be very persuasive when they put their minds to it." He collapsed onto the couch with a mirthless smile. "But there was nothing to tell."
Eyes narrowed, arms crossed, she stared Lindsey down. It didn't seem to perturb him in the slightest. "They wanted to check me for tattoos," she said. "Like you have – er – had."
She tugged the front of her t-shirt away from her body and peered down at the bare skin of her chest, as she'd done multiple times since Spike had first questioned her. Then she held her arms out and twisted them, exposing both sides, before craning her neck to examine what she could of her back. "Don't see any. Other than that Celtic-looking one on my hip, but they tell me I already had that."
"Exactly what I told them too."
Buffy whumped down on the couch beside him. "Then what's wrong with me?" She dropped her head into her hands, and in a defeated voice, said, "I was really hoping you would know."
Lindsey reached out to rub her back with small, soothing circles. "You were close to death, Buffy. With serious head trauma. And you were in the Hellmouth for days, bathing in whatever voodoo it was pumping out all that time. I'd be surprised if there weren't weird after-effects."
"Urgh. You think it will ever go away?"
"We can hope."
As much as she wanted to be comforted, Buffy was still too mad at him to let herself enjoy it. She moved to the other end of the couch from Lindsey and leaned back with a sigh. Then she swiveled her head so she could glare at him. "You lied to me. About Angel, about Spike, about Slayers –"
"I did. Used you for my own personal agenda too."
"Well, that's something," she said, huffing out an un-amused laugh. "Should I bother asking why?"
"Do you need to? Thought you would've figured it out by now."
Lindsey grinned. With his swollen, battered face, it looked grotesque. "Angel. We don't see eye-to-eye, you might say."
Rolling her head back to stare up at the ceiling, Buffy said, "I should hate you."
"I do. But being with you also feels more… I don't know what the right word is. Comfortable? Familiar?" She scrunched her nose. "Comfimiliar?" Buffy sighed again. "You don't expect me to be me. The old me. Everybody else does – that, or they think I'm some kind of sleeper agent, all set to murder them in their sleep. It's exhausting. I feel like a bug under a microscope, and I can't do it anymore. So, I'm running away." She turned back to Lindsey. "Wanna come with? Be my Watcher buddy again?"
Lindsey blew out a long breath. "You know I'm not really a Watcher, right?"
"And I don't have – I'm just a regular human now. Not super-strong anymore."
"But you're still wicked good with a sword."
"I get by."
"Plus, you know, if you're serious about this whole atonement thing…"
One side of his mouth quirked upwards. "Gonna turn me into one of your redemption projects? Add me to your list of conquests?"
Buffy looked at him askance. "As long as you don't mean that in a romantic sense. Because ew. You're – well, not really my Watcher. But you're, like, my dad or uncle… or teacher… or something..." Her mouth could stop moving any time. Really.
"I didn't mean –"
Lindsey waved her protests away. "Don't worry, I already have a girlfr –" He jerked and crumpled in on himself, chest heaving, breathing ragged.
"Oh, shit, Lindsey, I'm so sorry…" Buffy scooted back to his side, and wrapped her arms around him when he let out a harsh cry. The state he was in, any thoughts of thumping him had long since fled, and now she couldn't help but feel for him. Making soothing, shushing noises, she did her best to hold him together while he vented his grief.
When he trailed off into occasion hiccoughs, she handed him a damp paper towel, then went to look around the kitchen for some food to give him some time to compose himself.
"Hey," she said as she approached the sofa. She handed him the box of cereal she'd snacked from earlier, and a fresh glass of water. "It's not much, but it beats, well, nothing."
"Thanks," he said, his voice hoarse. He grimaced as he chewed a small handful. "Think I'd rather have nothing."
"Suit yourself," she said, snatching the box back and taking a handful for herself.
With another grimace, Lindsey climbed to his feet and went to the window, hissing at every pained step. "Think somebody out there's willing to deliver a pizza?"
Lobbing her all-circuits-are-busy-please-try-later cell phone at his head, Buffy said, "Good luck with that." He fumbled his one-handed attempt at a catch and dropped her phone, and she snickered at his grunted curse. "Maybe you shouldn't have helped fang boy start an apocalypse, dumbass."
"Yeah, maybe, huh? Hindsight's a bitch." Lindsey looked out the window a long time, absently rubbing at the thin scar encircling his left forearm. He sighed, and turned to her. "Did you have somewhere in mind?"
"This running away plan of yours. We can't stay in Los Angeles – not if you want to avoid being found."
Buffy blinked. She hadn't actually expected him to agree. Nor was she sure it was actually what she wanted. But it was a plan, and plans were good. Much better than feeling lost and alone and plan-less. "Um… I guess someplace with vampires and demons, so we can do our thing… But not too many? Not enough to warrant a Slayer being posted there."
"Good thinking. You look into that."
"What are you going to do?"
Lindsey held out his un-splinted arm, examining the skin left exposed by his t-shirt the same way Buffy had examined her arms earlier. "I'm feeling kind of naked."
Heaving the last of the bags into the back of the beat up old SUV, Buffy said, "And we're ready to go."
"You sure you want to do this? You can still change your mind." When she shook her head, Lindsey added, "They're probably worried about you, you know."
"That's the problem. Everybody worries so much. It's a giant worry-a-thon, and I'm the object of it. I can't take it anymore." Buffy pulled the tailgate down with a determined yank. "Tell me one thing before we go. Am I the really real Buffy Summers? You didn't replace me with some clone, or doppelganger, or something?"
He smirked at her phrasing. "You are the really real Buffy Summers. The gen-u-ine article. Promise."
She squinted at him. "So you say. But you tend to lie."
"Not this time." He grinned. "Double promise and cross my heart."
"Hmmph. You forgot hope to die."
"Damn right. Because if you're lying to me again…" Buffy poked him in the chest, and he hissed in pain. "Sorry! Sorry!"
Lindsey undid the next button down on his shirt and eased the fabric open, examining the bandages below with a pained grimace. "Forgot how much tattoos hurt when you don't have superpowers."
"Right. Sorry," she said again. Walking to the passenger side, she asked, "You sure you're okay to drive?"
"Have you gotten any better since I've been gone?"
"That would be a definite no."
"Then I'm more than okay."
Lindsey climbed into the driver's seat, but instead of turning the car on, he sat, looking out the window, contemplating the people in the road. Buffy followed his gaze. A group of old men were trying to right an overturned car on the other side of the street. A little farther away, a woman wielded a push broom, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed. At the opposite end of the block, a pair of firefighters had rigged a hose to the fire hydrant, and were spraying away the blood and gore that had dried into a sticky, congealed crust after two days under the hot sun.
"Maybe we should stay and help them…" she said.
"We'd be here forever." Lindsey shook his head. Gesturing at the woman with the broom, he said, "This part they can handle. The cleanup. You did your part when you kept them alive long enough to be here for the cleanup."
"Maybe… Hey – that guy." Buffy pointed to a small, robed man shuffling along the sidewalk. She frowned, trying to figure out why he looked so familiar, then snapped her fingers. "He looks like one of the dead guys, the night I found you." The old man peered up at Buffy's apartment building. "Do you think he's looking for you?"
"Could be." Lindsey reached across the wheel with his good arm to turn the keys and shift the car into to gear, then pulled away from the curve, managing to swerve only a little despite maneuvering the vehicle with just one arm.
Buffy was impressed. It was still better than she could have done with both hands.
The old man turned slowly, his rheumy eyes scanning the street before looking up at the apartment building again. Lindsey frowned, and let go of the wheel to rub at the tattoos under his shirt. "Good thing we're out of here," he said, and took the wheel again.
"Who is he?"
"Somebody you don't want to meet."
His harsh tone made Buffy fall silent. She scowled, but figured she'd ask again later, when he wasn't trying to drive an SUV one-armed.
They turned the corner, and Lindsey relaxed, his grip on the wheel loosening and the whiteness of his knuckles fading. As they neared the freeway entrance, he said, "Don't suppose I could talk you into killing Angel before we skip town? Just for old times' sake?"
Buffy trailed her fingers over the cool glass of the window, and thought of all the damage the city had endured. "You know, I'm surprisingly ambivalent about the idea. But no. I'm ready to move on from all this. Move on from my old life." She turned to look at him. "Aren't you?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"Yeah. You are." She rested her head against her window, and tried to ignore the guilty feeling that she was abandoning the people who loved her. Just as Xander had predicted.
Lindsey was right. They were going to worry. And even though she tried to deny it, Buffy was going to worry about them worrying. Her stomach clenched as the SUV accelerated onto the freeway, and not from the sudden burst of speed.
But she couldn't go back. She wasn't the person they wanted her to be. It was best for everybody if she moved on.
She'd send them a postcard next time they stopped for gas. Then maybe everybody could quit worrying.