Angel tucked his bookmark in its place and carefully set his book down on the nightstand before settling back onto the bed. Hands laced behind his head, he stared up at the ceiling, willing himself to drowsiness even though he knew sleep would be a long time coming.
Days like today, he missed working with a team. Missed having somebody to take him out of his head and his thoughts – missed Cordelia especially.
Falling in love with Buffy and being drawn into her circle had awoken a need for companionship that Angel hadn't realized he'd been repressing for a close to a century. Loneliness and isolation had become second nature to him after the soul – after Darla had sent him away. With Buffy, he'd discovered he liked being an ally in a fight for something bigger than himself, liked being part of a group again. Things had been good – until he'd managed to lose his soul, along with what limited trust Buffy's circle had placed in him.
Burrowing deeper into his pillow, Angel thought about his final months with Buffy. He still believed leaving had been the right choice. Nobody there had trusted him after his return from hell, with good reason. Nobody except for Buffy.
He'd clung to her trust and to her fierce love, but Joyce's confrontation had been a wakeup call. No matter how much he loved her, he could only bring Buffy pain. It wasn't just that she deserved a normal life, something other than a monster in the dark, as Joyce had pointed out. By staying in Sunnydale, he'd been asking her to choose, every day, between the vampire she couldn't ever love completely and the rest of her family and friends. She'd never said anything to him, but he wasn't so clueless that he couldn't see how hard it had been on her every time she chose him despite the misgivings of Giles and the others.
After leaving Sunnydale, Angel had tried to isolate himself again, but the Powers had had other plans for him in the form of Doyle. And then Cordelia. He smiled to himself, remembering her brash, no-nonsense personality. How she'd refused to let him brood – the way was doing now, he thought with a wry smile.
God, he missed her so much.
Missed all of them. Doyle. Wesley. Fred. Gunn.
He'd gotten them all killed. All the people who'd been part of his team, part of his family. Being on his own was for the best. For everyone. He wouldn't risk it again.
Even the ones who hadn't died, he'd lost just the same. Lorne had disappeared, and Angel had honored his promise never to contact him. Illyria had stayed with Angel for a time, but had grown bored with his company and simply disappeared one day.
Buffy… wasn't Buffy anymore.
After Wolfram and Hart, there'd been Spike. They'd met on occasion to touch base, or to compare notes on the search for Buffy. Spike needed people, and that need had driven him to connect in person when over the phone would've sufficed. Not that Angel was complaining – well, fine, he might've complained whenever Spike had showed, even if he'd been secretly pleased to see him. Their relationship had never been an easy one, but Spike's company was something. Something more than the self-imposed isolation Angel had chosen, and those short times together had left him energized despite his inevitable irritation with the younger vampire.
It never took long for him to miss Spike again once he'd left. It was the mark of just how lonely he was.
But then Spike had finally – amazingly – found Buffy.
And now Angel was alone again. If you could call being surrounded by a couple million strangers alone.
New York was a good choice, though. In the city that never slept, nobody questioned his hours. Nobody cared if he kept to himself. He could get back to his mission. There was plenty of work to be done here. Plenty of other things to keep him occupied, too. He could indulge in his love of opera every single night, if he chose. Go to an art exhibit. Check out the ballet.
Anything but call Connor, or visit him at his dorm, or worm his way into his life.
His boy had a life. A normal, safe, well-adjusted, happy life, and that was the way it was going to stay.
Sometimes Connor texted him – brief updates on how he was doing in school, or a picture of him and a friend at a party, arms slung around each other, a beer in hand. Angel spent hours examining each picture, reassuring himself that he'd made the right choice. Seeing those smiles, so unlike his memories of his own time with Connor, Angel usually decided he'd made the right call.
But it was good this way. Better than good.
He reached for his phone, wanting to see his son's happy, smiling face one more time before he went to sleep, only to drop the phone when it vibrated unexpectedly in his hand. Angel picked it back up and flipped it open.
"We know what Lindsey did to Buffy. What we don't know is how to undo it."
"Spike?" Angel said, confused, and then his brain caught up to what the other man had said. Eyes narrowing, he sat up, fully alert. "Tell me everything."
"Not good enough." Angel ran his sword through the small, hairy demon's shoulder, and pulled it back out with a vicious twist. "I hope you have a better answer. Or not." Fangs bared, he grinned. "'Cause I could do this all night."
"Swear, I swear. No seeing of Lindsey, not for many season times. Gone he is, maybe dead. Ejobee not knowing! Ayeee!"
Grimacing in disgust, Angel dropped Ejobee to the ground. He dug the tip of his weapon into the little demon's belly. "Well, where would you look for him, if you wanted to find him?"
Ejobee squeaked in pain. "Always he is talking of Okiehoma. Most magical place. Looking there, yes?"
He didn't think Lindsey was to be found in Oklahoma, not again. Besides, old contacts from Wolfram and Hart who still owed him favors had reported seeing Lindsey around Los Angeles in the past few weeks. Angel leaned into his sword. "Try again."
"This Angel City! Lindsey having many friends in Angel City! Them knowing, not Ejobee!"
"Give me a name. One," he added with silky menace, "that I don't already know."
"Trying The Destroyer you are. The Destroyer finding anybody!"
Angel froze. The almost indiscernible trembling of his hands magnified downward along the blade, making the tip jitter on Ejobee's hairy flesh. The little demon squalled in terror.
"What did you say?" Angel whispered.
"The Destroyer! He is finding all!"
Angel's sword clattered onto the ground. Ejobee scuttled away on hands and knees and disappeared around the corner. Angel didn't notice. He was too busy trying to tell himself he'd heard wrong.
On the upside, worrying about Connor's extracurricular activities kept Angel from worrying quite so much about Buffy. On the downside, now he had to worry about Connor. Who was maybe not quite so well adjusted and safe as he had thought.
The name The Destroyer was being whispered by demons on every street corner and in every seedy, underground bar, all over Los Angeles. Angel did his best to ignore the rumors. If he didn't know, he didn't have to confront Connor about it. Didn't have to wonder if everything he'd given up, everyone he'd sacrificed, had been for nothing.
Instead, he threw himself into the hunt for Lindsey. Call after frantic cross-Atlantic call from Willow and Spike had him searching the city day and night. Lindsey was in Los Angeles, and, tattooed or not, he wouldn't be able to hide forever.
The coming sunrise sent Angel stalking back to the abandoned Hyperion, Spike's most recent call replaying in his head. He wondered how Buffy was holding up. Angel hadn't spoken to her since the night of the Apocalypse he'd brought down on Los Angeles, which was both a relief and a disappointment. He was glad Spike and Dawn had found her, for their sakes', but he hadn't let himself think about it beyond that.
Buffy was no longer part of his life, by his choice, by fate, by the passage of time. By what Lindsey had done. After the jerk had run off on her, Angel would've cared for Buffy if there had been nobody else, but there were plenty of somebody elses.
If and when they found Lindsey, and made him reverse whatever he'd done to Buffy… well, Angel tried not to think about what might happen then. It was too dangerous to hope, and after two and a half years, it seemed more like a beautiful, distant dream than a real possibility anyway.
Besides, he had his own reasons for finding Lindsey. The ex-lawyer might currently be in hiding, but Angel knew it wouldn't be long before he was back in the game. The power vacuum in Los Angeles was still waiting to be filled – and guess where Lindsey had run to.
Pushing his way through the boarded-up back entrance of the Hyperion, Angel debated whether to call Spike with a lack-of-update, or wait until later in the day. Busy calculating the time difference, and working out whether his moronic progeny would be awake or not, he didn't notice the figure lurking in the shadows of the lobby until he was almost upon them.
"Connor! What are you doing here?"
"Heard my old man was in town," Connor said with a deceptively disarming smile. "Just, you know, not from him. For some reason."
"You mean besides the fact that 'in town' suggests that I would be in Stanford? Where you're supposed to be?"
"What do you care?"
Angel stepped back a pace. The look on Connor's face, the tone of his voice, was familiar.
And it scared him.
"Look kid, your parents –"
"Are they? I mean, I remember them being my parents. But I remember you being my parent too. So…"
"They're your parents," Angel said, willing his expression calm despite the unbearable agony in his chest. "That's your life. Go back to it, Connor."
Connor shook his head. "Go back? That's it? I've got all these mad skills, all these memories, and you expect me to, what, just forget them and be some boring, regular college kid?"
"Yes," Angel said flatly.
"Nah. It doesn't work that way, Dad. You might have abandoned the city, and abandoned me, but there's still work to be done. What used to be your work."
Angel felt a sliver of hope pierce the fear that had gripped his heart like a vice.
Connor was angry. He was furious with Angel, no question. But he wasn't angry mixed with crazy, not like before. At least, Angel didn't think so. It sounded more like...
"You're fighting the good fight now? That's what this whole Destroyer business is about?"
"Somebody's got to, right? And, drunk frat boys aside, not many monsters at Stanford. I got bored."
Angel eyed his son, wondering what it was Connor wanted from him. Worrying that your kid was going to lock you in a steel box and drop you to the bottom of the ocean, again, wasn't the best of feelings. Not that he looked vengeful… but then, Angel had been wrong before.
"Am I one of those monsters?" Angel said.
"I dunno. Are you?" And there was that smile again.
His phone shrilled before he could answer, blaring out the abrasive music Spike had programmed in as his ringtone the last time Angel had seen him. Keeping a cautious eye on the boy in front of him, he snapped, "What is it?"
"Angel, mate?" Spike puffed out between grunts and loud crashes. "Gonna need you to step it up on the Lindsey front. Find the bastard right now, would you?"
"Spike? What's happening?"
"Trying to laser off the tattoo turned out not to be the best of plans. Seems we've turned our girl into some sort of homing beacon for these Shamaya. Figure at the rate we're going we'll have killed them all off eventually, but for now they just keep coming, like bleeding cockroaches."
Angel heard the clashing of steel, and the sound of Spike cursing viciously. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!" The phone went dead.
He stared at it.
"So," Connor said. "Who're we looking for?"
Angel couldn't decide if he was proud of his son, or terrified of him. With Connor at his side, they'd accomplished in less than two days what Angel hadn't managed in weeks. Years, really. He focused on the man before him and tried not the think about the swath of destruction they'd left in their wake, or how apt his boy's nickname was.
"Oh look, it's a father-son outing," Lindsey said. He smirked up at Angel from his seat at the bar. "How sweet."
"I don't have time for games, Lindsey." Angel stepped closer, using his larger bulk to loom over the other man. "Buffy's under attack by the Shamaya. We need to know how to remove that tattoo you branded her with, and get them to back off."
Concern and remorse flashed across Lindsey's face, just for an instant, and then the smirk was back. He leaned back against the bar, elbows propped up on the counter. "You need my help, do you?"
"No," Angel said. "Buffy does."
The smirk slipped a little.
"She cares about you. She believes in you. Even now, after you used her and abandoned her. While we're here posturing over who's got the bigger dick, Buffy's fighting for her life – because of something you did to her. So what's it going to be, Giles? Is her faith in you justified? Or am I going to have to torture you to get you to help her?"
Lindsey looked away, his countenance a mixture of worry and disgust. "We're going to need a book back at my place," he said at last, and slid off his seat and made for the door.
Angel followed closely behind, ready to spring after him if he tried to run. Connor took up position on the other side of Lindsey, and the three of them marched, grim-faced and silent, down the street and to a nearby apartment building.
As they rode up the elevator, Angel said, "Why didn't you tell her about the tattoo before you ran off on her?"
Lindsey shrugged. "It's handy having a Slayer in your pocket. Can't deny I liked keeping your girl from you, either."
Angel's hands tightened into fists, but he kept them to himself. For now. Buffy is more important, he told himself, repeating it like a mantra.
In the apartment, Lindsey headed straight for his bookshelf and carefully slid an ancient, brittle book off the topmost shelf. "All right, let's go," he said.
"She's on the other side of the world. We don't have time." Angel pulled out his phone. "We'll call Giles, and you can tell him what to do."
Lindsey hesitated. "It's tricky. And if it doesn't get done just right…"
"Or we could wait, and Buffy could be dead by the time we get there thanks to your pissed off and homicidal friends."
"Damn. All right, I can do my part of it from here. Make the call."
Angel did, counting the rings and hoping they weren't too late. Giles picked up on the fifth ring, and when Angel gave his news, he could have sworn Giles let out a whoop. He turned on his speakerphone and set it on the dining room table next to Lindsey, who read Giles the directions. Lindsey had to repeat himself on occasion, to be heard over the muted sounds of battle coming through from the other side of the world, but it wasn't long before he was done.
"Do you want to call back, or should we wait on the line?" Angel said.
"Er…" Giles said. "I don't have all of these supplies on hand. Hopefully it won't take more than a quick trip down to the local shop. I'll ring you back, shall I?"
"Pip, pip, cheerio!" Lindsey added in an obnoxiously loud fake accent. Connor scowled at him and Lindsey grinned, unrepentant.
"Angel?" Giles said, his tone of voice smoothing from harried to something calmer, and far more menacing. "Would you be so good as to make sure Mr. McDonald is with you when I ring back? I'd have some things to discuss with him."
"Don't worry," Angel said. "He's not going anywhere."
After Giles had hung up, Lindsey lit three tall, red candles, and did his part of the removal spell. "Assuming everything goes well on their end, it's done," he said.
Some chanting, a few herbs, and it was over? After years of frustration and pain on Buffy's part? Too easy, Angel thought. Way too easy.
Mouth pressed in a thin line, he pointed for Lindsey to resume his seat at the table. The three of them waited in tense silence. Lindsey opened his mouth to speak several times, only to change his mind under Angel and Connor's combined glares. At last, the phone rang.
"The tattoo is off," Giles said.
"And the Shamaya?"
"Are still here. They made mention of blood atonement –"
" – and appear to be waiting on an appeasement sacrifice. However, they seem somewhat more amenable to discussion than they did previously. I believe the crisis has been averted."
Angel let out the breath he'd been holding. "Buffy's okay then? She's back to her old self?"
"I'm afraid I haven't yet had the chance to question her –"
Spike's voice overrode Giles'. "Oi! Rupes! That Angel?" There was a beat, and then Spike was on the line. "Our favorite lawyer still there?"
"I haven't killed him yet, if that's what you mean."
"Good. Whatever that tattoo was, it's not the whole story. There's no more talk of vessel destroying, and Buffy smells like herself again. But she still doesn't know anymore about her past other'n what she's been told."
"That doesn't mean Lindsey had something to do with it," Angel said, watching Lindsey carefully. He looked mildly curious, nothing more.
"You an' I both know he did. I'm thinking a little more persuading might be in order. Before you try to off him this time."
Angel pursed his lips. "I'll let you know what I find out."
If Lindsey felt any trepidation over what was going to happen next, he didn't show it. Angel studied him for a long minute, wondering if he'd give in as easily a second time. Maybe if he played on the man's obvious fondness for Buffy…
"You did a good thing, Lindsey. You saved her."
"My quarrel was never with Buffy."
"You saved her before, too. After the crater collapsed. I never got to thank you for that."
Lindsey laughed. "I only saved her so she could kill you."
Angel grabbed a chair and turned it around so he could straddle it facing Lindsey. He rested his crossed arms on the back. "Here's the thing. Buffy would never do that. If she had all her memories."
It was so minute, Angel almost missed Lindsey's flinch. Almost.
"She's still missing them, huh? That's too bad," Lindsey said.
"Say, son," Angel said to Connor. "It's been a long couple days, and I'm getting hungry. Do you think you could get me some blood while I have a friendly conversation with Mr. McDonald here?"
"I don't care if you torture him," Connor said. "It won't bother me."
Without taking his eyes off of Lindsey, Angel said, "Who said anything about torture? I'm just really hungry."
Connor grumbled, but he left. As soon as the door shut, Angel leaned forward. "Used to be, I could keep a man on the brink of death for months. I'm a little rusty now. You want to help me sharpen those old skills, or you want to just fess up now?"
"Thought you told the kid you weren't planning to torture me."
"Oh, you know. Children. You gotta set a good example for them. Dr. Spock frowns on the whole teaching-your-kid-how-to-make-a-man-beg-for-mercy thing. So we'll just have to get this over with before he gets back."
"Yeah? I'll make it easy for you," Lindsey said. "There's nothing to fess up. Buffy had a nasty fall. She almost died. It's a miracle the only lasting damage was memory loss." He and Angel stared at each for long moments, and then, before Angel could react, Lindsey threw himself sideways. He rolled out of the room and into his bedroom.
Angel followed, only to come up against the tip of a sword.
"You and me, big guy," Lindsey said. "This is long overdue."
"You're still jonesing to fight me?" Angel said incredulously.
"Hey, you cheated me out of our final showdown. Twice. This is the way it's supposed to play out. Welcome to Thunderdome."
With a growl, Angel grabbed the sword, the two of them struggling over it for long minutes. He finally wrested it from Lindsey's grasp and turned it on him. "You still can't beat me." He pressed the point to Lindsey's chest. "You never will."
Lindsey shrugged. "Maybe I can't kill you. But I won." The smirk returned. "I took what mattered to you, and you're never getting her back."
Angel dug the point the sword a little deeper, and a trickle of blood bloomed on Lindsey's shirt. "Are you really going to doom Buffy to a lifetime of amnesia just to hurt me?" When he didn't answer, Angel said, "Dammit, Lindsey, you care about her. I can see it in your face. And despite everything you've done, she still cares about you. Is this really how you want it to end?"
"Feels right. You, doing the deed. Not some flunky. I'm satisfied."
"You're not my nemesis, you retard. You're not even evil! Stupid, yes. Power hungry, yes. Evil? No."
Lindsey looked Angel in the eye. "Yeah, I never did get the hang of that." He grasped the blade of the sword with both hands, and yanked it into his own chest.
Angel stumbled backwards, shocked. "Why?"
Hands still clenched around the sword, Lindsey gritted out, "Your girl's got a way of making a man want to go straight, no matter his intentions. Turns out I don't like the idea of disappointing her. Ironic, huh?" Even coughing up blood, he managed a cocky smile. "This is as close to redeemed as I'm ever going to get. Let's hope it's enough."
He staggered, and Angel caught him. "But what about Buffy?"
With a trembling hand, Lindsey reached up and tapped the back of Angel's head, just above the hollow at the nape of his neck. "You'll know what to do." Coughing wetly, he pressed his forefinger to his red-soaked shirt, and then painted a bloody sigil on his own forehead. "Blood atonement," he gurgled. His eyes rolled back, leaving only the whites visible.
"What does that mean?" Angel shook him. "Goddamit, Lindsey. What about Buffy?"
Lindsey didn't answer.
He was dead.