Secret Slasha – The Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel Slash Fanfiction Secret Santa Project
Secret Slasha – The Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel Slash Fanfiction Secret Santa Project

Second Chances
By Alex
For Cosmic

There was something inherently wrong about a Christmas without snow. Despite the years he had spent in California, he still felt a pang of disappointment every time he looked out a window in December and saw not rolling fields of sparkling white, but concrete and barren, brown earth. Lindsey turned away from the depressing view and wrapped his hands around the white mug in front of him, relishing the warmth.

The tiny diner was exactly the sort of place he wouldn't have been caught dead in only a year ago. It was just barely on the right side of sanitary, with worn vinyl seats more orange than red, grease-fogged chrome trim and chipped Formica tables and countertops. The pattern on the tiled floor was indistinguishable now under layers of dirt and grime. Still, the food was top notch, the waitresses knew his name, and the coffee was always fresh and hot. He loved the warmth these days...he felt so cold inside.

"Anything else for ya' today, sweetie?" Lindsey looked up from his contemplation of the depths of his coffee mug to see Judith, one of said waitresses, smiling down kindly at him. She gestured to the remains of a pancake breakfast at his elbow and he obligingly handed the plate to her.

"No, thank you. I'd better get going," he said before pulling a few crumpled bills out of his jeans pocket. He leaned back in his seat and downed the rest of his coffee while Judith bustled over to the ancient cash register at the end of counter and rang him up.

"So what're you doing for the holidays? Got family coming in?" Judith asked brightly as she returned with his change. A year ago, Lindsey would've laughed at the mere idea of doing anything other than putting in extra hours at the office for the holiday season.

A year ago, a lot of things would've been different. Still, the slight twinge he felt in his chest was a surprise.

"No, nothing like that. Probably just gonna spend some quality time with the TV and a carton of eggnog. How 'bout you?"

"Oh, my son and his wife fly up from Tucson every year. You ought to come over for dinner...no one should be alone on Christmas day." There was no pity in the offer, only a genuine affection a desire to see him happy. Still...

"Heh, thanks Judith. That means a lot to me-I don't want to be a third wheel though."

"Oh Linds, you wouldn't be," Judith insisted earnestly, laying a bony hand on his arm. It felt good; to hear such caring in a voice and know it was directed at him, to feel such warmth. Part of him wanted desperately to accept the invitation; it would be so wonderful to just bask in that affection, even just for one evening. He couldn't bring himself to do it, though. As much as Judith might insist otherwise he knew he'd just end up making things awkward.

"Nah, really Jude. I don't want to put you out. Thanks for the offer though." He smiled softly and began gathering his belongings together. Judith, seeing that she wasn't going to be able to change his mind, shook her head and patted his shoulder.

"New Year's then. And I won't take no for an answer." Lindsey slid out of his booth, slinging a battered denim knapsack up on his shoulder.

"Okay, New Year's I can do. I'll see you later Judith," Lindsey said as he shoved a baseball cap on his head, pulling the bill low over his eyes. He left the diner and turned left, heading down the main street towards the small apartment building he was currently calling home.

La Rosa, New Mexico was the classic "Small Town USA," rife with damn near every quaint stereotype Lindsey had ever seen on the Andy Griffith show. He honestly couldn't say why he had chosen to stay after rolling into town almost six months ago. Maybe it was the fact that no one would ever think to look for him in a place like this. Maybe it was the way the closeness of the community appealed to something inside of him that had been starved and stifled for years. Whatever the reason, he had stayed.

He'd gotten a job with a local construction company, falling back on old skills he'd acquired as a teenager in Oklahoma. The pay he drew was miniscule compared to what he'd made at Wolfram and Hart and the work was hard, but somehow he thrived on it. There was something comforting in the manual labor...he felt as if he earned everything he got as a result of it. It was a nice feeling. The apartment he rented was barely big enough to suit his needs, and like the diner it was showing the wear and tear of years, but he liked it well enough. He even had a few friends in town and twice a week he drove out to a bar and grill on the freeway, where he and his guitar were favorites of the patrons. Life was decent. He'd broken free of Wolfram and Hart, for the first time in a long time he could go to sleep at night knowing nothing he'd done that day was going to hurt someone, he only occasionally got evil twinges from his hand, and those were becoming easier to ignore with each passing day. Life was just...decent.

So why was he still so damn cold inside? Why was he still haunted by the feeling that he had left some cosmic scale horribly out of balance? Why did he feel as though he should be doing something more?

Why did he wake up at night with the image of brown eyes sparkling with resigned anger and pity racing through his mind?

"Hey Mister, got a light?" Lindsey was snapped out of his musings by the soft question and he turned around to see a teenaged girl standing almost directly behind him. He was certain he'd never seen her around town before...he would've remembered someone like this. The kid was dressed from head to toe in white-white cowboy boots, white leather hip-huggers that may as well have been painted on, a white sleeveless shirt that barely covered her breasts, and a white cowboy hat perched at a crooked angle on her curly blonde hair. When in the Hell had Britney Spears gone country? Bright blue eyes regarded him quizzically, with just a touch of impatience. "Yo, anybody home?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure." He reached into his pocket and dug out a plastic lighter while the girl smiled gleefully. He handed the lighter over and watched as she pulled a cigarette from behind her ear and lit up, taking a deep drag with an expression of pure bliss. "Those things will kill you, you know," Lindsey said wryly as she handed the lighter back to him.

"So I've heard. I'm not worried, though. Thanks a lot. Any way I can repay you?" She crossed her arms over her chest and fluttered pale eyelashes at him. Great, not only had Britney Spears moved to town, she was hooking. Lindsey rolled his eyes heavenward.

"That's all right, really." He turned away and began making his way down the street again, grimacing as a light breeze kicked a cloud of dust up in his face. Yes, there was definitely something wrong with a snow-less Christmas.

"You sure there's nothing I can do for you, Lindsey? Nothing you want? I find that hard to believe. You lawyer types always have an agenda." Lindsey didn't flinch or freeze...he'd stopped reacting externally to anything out of the ordinary after his first month at Wolfram and Hart. Internally, though, was another matter. His stomach dropped somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes and his mouth went a little dry. It wasn't all that implausible that she could know his name. La Rosa was tiny and everyone knew everyone else. Nobody here knew he was a lawyer, though.

"Who sent you and what do you want?" he asked tersely. No sense feigning surprise or beating around the bush. Silently, he reminded himself that he had enough incriminating evidence on Wolfram and Hart to keep them off his back...and if she had been sent by them, he would probably be dead already. He turned back around and wasn't entirely surprised when the girl drew her legs up so that she was sitting Indian style...on thin air. He glanced around the deserted street, sparing a moment to wonder where everyone was. Even at the early hour, it was unusual for the place to be completely empty. Crap, what kind of an entity was he dealing with, here?

"I told you Lindsey; I'm here to give you something. A Christmas present, if you will. As for who sent me, well, that's a little harder to explain."

"I've got time."

"I don't." There was just the slightest edge to her voice now, a distinctive feel of don't push me. Lindsey allowed himself a small sigh, slipping into the old role his tenure at Wolfram and Hart had defined for him more easily than he was comfortable admitting.

"All right, then. What can I do for you?"

"You're not listening, kid. I'm here to do something for you." The edge had disappeared, to be replaced with something that sounded like fond amusement.

"Oh right, a Christmas present. You'll have to forgive me; it's usually the other way around."

"Hmmm, yes, I suppose it is." She took another drag on her cigarette, blue eyes never wavering from his own. "You're an interesting case, McDonald. I have to admit, I was surprised when they pitched this gig to me."

"They being?" Lindsey slid his backpack off, dropping it to the ground beside him. Despite her protestations of not having much time, he had the feeling this was going to take a while.

"You had potential you know," the girl breezed, ignoring his question. "I mean...damn, kid, you got more grit in your little finger than most people your age have in their whole body. You're smart, you're determined, and you aren't afraid of hard work. You could've done so much good in this world." It took a lot for Lindsey to retain his carefully neutral expression; he knew what was coming. "And you wasted it all on the slimiest bastards to ever crawl the Earth. Wolfram and Hart and everyone associated with it have bought themselves a one-way ticket to Hell; you know that? And as if that weren't bad enough...even when you had the chance to bail, you ignored it. Blows my mind, kid. Really blows my mind."

"Look, if all you're gonna do is throw my faults back in my face, save it okay? I got enough of that from-" Lindsey forced himself to reign in the flare of temper before it got too far off the ground. Maybe it wasn't quite as easy to slip into his old habits as he had thought. "I don't need a, whatever-you-are, to point out that I messed up. I want...I'd change things if I could, but I can't. So why don't you just take your Christmas present and shove it up..."

"I'd think very hard before I finish that sentence if I were you." The girl leaned forward; resting her elbows on the tops of her thighs, and smiled dangerously. Lindsey shook his head and scrubbed his hands over his face.

"What do you want?" he asked yet again, tiredly.

"Did you mean that?" The girl cocked her head in a strangely birdlike movement, her cowboy hat tipping further to one side. "About wanting to change things, I mean."

"What?" He hadn't been aware he'd said that bit out loud.

"Look McDonald, I'm gonna level with you. You're not where you're supposed to be and I ain't just talking geographically. Some of the higher-ups had plans for you. Interesting case, really. You seem dead-set on staying in that gray area. All those truly despicable things you did and yet there's still some spark of good in you that just refuses to die."

"What, you gonna pull a Jacob Marley on me? Three spirits gonna haunt me and make me renounce my evil ways?"

"Hardly. That's so last century, and I don't think you need to be convinced that Wolfram and Hart was a stupid move." The cigarette had burned down to the filter and she dropped it on the ground, then laced her fingers together and rested her chin on top of them. "What do you want Lindsey? No bullshit, no half-truths, no lawyer speak. Just tell me what you want."

Candor had become something foreign to Lindsey...his mind just didn't work like that anymore. Obfuscation and word mazes-those were his specialties, that was the language he spoke. So, he was shocked when he found himself answering with the simple truth that he had only ever been able to admit to himself in the dead of night.

"Another chance." The being's expression relaxed into something gentle and almost proud. She smiled at him and suddenly seemed to drop out of the air, landing on her feet with catlike grace.

"Are you sure? I mean really sure? You've supposedly had changes of heart before, my dear." The girl tilted suddenly, as though she was resting her weight against a wall, and again the very air seemed to support her. Lindsey hesitated before answering, swallowing convulsively. One wrong word here and he would very likely be paying a nasty price. Had he spoken the truth?

For all of his adult life, he had been driven by one thing: survival. It was a lesson he'd had drilled into him as a child, a knowledge that had slowly eaten away at his beliefs, his ideals, and finally his conscience. Survival was the first priority...you were the biggest, baddest dog on the block, or you got taken down, hard. The ends always justified the means.

Deep in his heart, however, Lindsey acknowledged something he had struggled to repress and ignore and deny since the night he had accepted a promotion instead of returning to Angel Investigations. It wasn't enough for him anymore. He'd learned another painful lesson in the past two years: surviving was not the same as living. Sure, he had the education, the money, the fine things that meant he had played the game and won, but he didn't have anything to show for it. Even if he hadn't meant to say it, the sentiment was true. He wanted another chance. He wanted the chance to be everything his Mama had hoped for him to become, he wanted to go to sleep at night knowing he had made a difference for the better. Survival was no longer enough; he wanted to live. God, if Lilah could see him right now, she'd probably fall over laughing.

"Yes. Yes, it is," he answered softly. The girl cocked her head again, a disturbing intensity lighting her eyes.

"By God, I honestly didn't believe them," she murmured in such a way that Lindsey got the feeling she hadn't meant for him to hear. "Very interesting case. You've had chances before, Linds, and you threw them away every time. Just so's you know--there's also a lot of higher-ups who are perfectly ready and willing to cast you into the deepest pit of Hell. They had plans for you, but now they really couldn't care less what happens to you."

"Then why are you here?" Lindsey was very pleased that he managed to keep the quaver out of his voice. It was no more than he had expected, but to actually hear that he'd been written off by whatever Power governed human destiny...damn it hurt.

"Because somebody up there still likes you. Loves you, even. And they begged me, begged me to let you have one more chance. Insisted that you could still be redeemed. I'm not so sure, myself, but I'm willing to give it a shot." Despite himself, Lindsey's eyes widened and his heart leapt into his throat.

"Wh-what do you mean?" This had to be some kind of cruel, cosmic joke.

"You made a start, I'll give you that. But you have to know that just walking away from Wolfram and Hart doesn't even come close to mitigating what you did." Oh he knew, all right. He was under no illusions that leaving the firm suddenly made him a good person. He'd been fooling himself to think he could just start over again somewhere else...he'd left too many bridges to burn, too many demons (both literal and figurative) to exorcise for him to just make a clean break. "I want you to understand something, though, kid. I'm powerful...but if you screw this one up, that's it. Your fate's sealed, for good or ill. And this ain't gonna be a cakewalk; you want to try again, you're gonna have to earn it. Understand?"

"I think so," Lindsey said slowly, "but what are you going to do, exactly?" The girl smiled at him again and Lindsey felt a sliver of nervousness shoot through him. She reached up and gently took his face in her hands, pulling him down to plant a light kiss on his nose.

"You want a chance to change things? You got it. A last chance...and what you do with it is completely up to you. Good luck, kid." Even though he was expecting something of the sort, he couldn't keep from crying out as the world seemed to explode in a bright flash of white. Hot wind kicked up around him, stinging his exposed skin and a dull roar started up in his ears. The world spun around him and he literally felt the ground drop out from under his feet.

For a few agonizing seconds he was sure his head was going to explode, or something equally messy. Just when he thought he couldn't take it any more, it was over. The wind died down and the world stabilized again. Lindsey coughed loudly, rubbing at his eyes to clear the sunspots from them. God, how he hated demons. Or whatever the Hell the girl had been. All right, she'd had her fun; hopefully he'd never have to see her again.

"Well. That was...interesting. Merry Christmas to me." His eyes watered fiercely, stinging like mad. "Somebody, somewhere, really enjoys messing with me," he mumbled to himself. Some of the pain abated in his eyes and he blinked furiously, reaching down for his backpack. In the same instant he discovered his backpack was nowhere to be found, he realized that he was no longer dressed in the worn jeans and T-shirt he'd been wearing. "Oh, you're kidding me." He opened his eyes finally and a thrill of disbelief shot through him from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

The girl was gone. So were the streets of La Rosa. And Lindsey was standing in his old office, staring at the open double doors that he knew, he knew Holland had just exited after offering him his promotion.

"This ain't happenin'...this can't be happenin'." He raked his hands back through his hair, noticing that it was, indeed, longer than he had kept it in months. He didn't have to look at the calendar on the desk to know what the date would be. What in God's name had he been talking to? Even with all he had encountered since joining Wolfram and Hart, he couldn't think of a creature that had the power to manipulate time itself to this degree. Not permanently, anyway. And yet, that was what the girl had offered him.

Another chance. To with what he would. He had stood at this crossroads before, balanced on this same precipice and taken that single step that had inevitably sent him wandering down Wolfram and Hart's path. Yet, here he was again, faced with that same choice, and something inside of him trembled as it realized the enormity of what he had been given. Now, what was he going to do with it?

Angel was waiting for him on a rooftop out in the city, offering some kind of protection and at least a possibility of something even more precious. If he left now and asked, perhaps he could find a place on the team that had foiled so many of Wolfram and Hart's, and by extension his, schemes. He knew his skills as a lawyer would be invaluable to Angel Investigations-with an ally of Lindsey's caliber in their corner in the courts, they could offer the hopeless that much more help. With his knowledge of what was to come they could prevent so much needless pain and death. Here was a true opportunity to mitigate what he had done in the past.

Holland had just left him with a tremendous opportunity, offering wealth and power the likes of which few could even begin to comprehend. If he stayed, he'd be on the fast track to an even higher position. With his knowledge of what was to come, he'd be an invaluable asset to the senior partners-anything he wanted would be his for the asking. He could advance Wolfram and Hart's agenda more quickly than any associate in the history of the company. Here was an opportunity to secure for himself a future fit for a king.

It was tempting. It was so, so tempting. Somewhere inside Lindsey, a thin, ragged boy with holes in his shoes and a shirt far too big for his thin frame was howling at the thought of accepting the uncertainty a partnership with Angel offered. That hungry little boy who had watched his youngest brother and sister wither away to nothing in one of the two double beds all six of them shared hissed that they couldn't go back to what they had been before. They would rather die. The small child who in less than thirty years had seen, felt, and endured enough hurt for ten lifetimes reminded him that they hated Angel.

He hated Angel. He hated him for taking his hand, for the entire Darla fiasco, for constantly making him look bad in front of his superiors at Wolfram and Hart. He hated Angel for mocking the past that had driven him to become the man he was, for discounting his suffering as though his means of dealing with it somehow made it less than the suffering of others. He hated him for not helping him when he had been scared and confused and all he'd wanted was someone to tell him he was making the right choice, that what he was doing was worth it. There had been a time, however brief, when he'd wanted Angel to save him, to count him among the 'lost souls' that he was so hell-bent on protecting. Their tentative peace as he had left LA notwithstanding, he despised the vampire.

However, all the poison that had ruined any chance of alliance between them had not yet come to pass. Here and now, Angel was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. At this time, there was a chance that Angel could trust him. If he returned to the vampire, he would be taking a giant step in earning that trust.

Lindsey was very surprised to realize that part of him wanted that trust. Badly. He hated Angel. And he admired him. In all their dealings, Angel had always been a worthy opponent-exactly the sort he liked to match wits with in the courtroom. The vampire's obvious love for and loyalty to his friends had in some ways reminded him of his mother, before hard liquor and harder life had gotten the better of her beautiful spirit. Angel was the sort of man his Mama had wanted to raise him to be. Sans the whole bloodsucking creature of the night thing, of course. Angel was smart, righteous, caring...everything Lindsey was not and had wished to be at some point in his life.

Wolfram and Hart was the Devil's law firm...but at least it was a devil Lindsey knew. There was security, power, wealth, all the things that half-starved, scared little boy longed for to be had here if Lindsey played his cards right. Angel and his friends were genuine heroes, fighting the good fight against evil in the world. There was love, purpose, friendship, and all the things that both the boy and the man longed for in the most secret places of their heart to be had if he left this office now and never looked back.

Lindsey walked slowly towards the door, the sense of dj vu growing stronger within him with each step. The Devil's advocates or Angel...which would it be? Do with this chance what he would, the girl had said. He laid his hand on the door handle and stopped, a chill skittering its way down his spine. It wouldn't be easy, the girl had said. This was the hardest decision he'd ever made. The devil he knew, or the Angel he didn't? Security or uncertainty? After this, his fate was sealed, the girl had said. There would be no more chances to change his mind.

Once again, Lindsey trembled on the edge of the precipice, two paths stretching in different directions far below him. He looked down at the hand resting on the door handle...smooth, unscarred skin on the wrist, not even a hint of an "evil twinge." It was his hand. His. Whatever he chose, Angel would not get the opportunity to take his hand. He could prevent every fiasco Angel had caused the senior partners from here on...could even take care of Angel permanently if he chose. Or, he could prevent Brad from ever disappearing into the bowels of that awful laboratory. Temptation on both sides and this was his last chance. Lindsey closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and whispered a prayer that hadn't crossed his lips since childhood.

He chose.

The sounds of the double doors clicking shut echoed through the silent outer office.

 

Angel aimlessly tossed a few broken bits of mortar at the building opposite him, listening as they dropped down onto the empty street below. Somewhere further up the street the sounds of music and laughter spilled out of a nightclub, clear to his sharp hearing. They weren't the sounds he was hoping to hear. He let his gaze drift once again to the foreboding steel and glass tower that housed Wolfram and Hart.

The lion's den he had let an injured and confused lamb wander back into.

A bitter, cynical laugh spilled from Angel's lips at the thought of comparing Lindsey McDonald to the ultimate symbol of innocence. The man was anything but innocent...and yet somehow he was an innocent. Which made absolutely no sense, yet Angel couldn't deny the truth of it. For all the savvy and attitude Lindsey projected, Angel had seen something fragile at the core of him tonight. It made him regret the harshness he had greeted Lindsey's request for assistance with.

He checked his watch again, though he already knew Lindsey was late. If he were honest with himself, he wasn't terribly surprised...but he was disappointed. He had truly wanted to believe the young man had started to turn over a new leaf-Lindsey had so much potential; it was a shame to see it wasted on Wolfram and Hart. Angel had sensed the evil that permeated those walls the moment he'd gotten within ten feet of the building. It was like an oil coating every surface and person who ventured close. The thought of so many souls losing themselves in that cesspool was more than depressing for one who had dedicated his life to protecting them. The thought of even one person clawing his way out of such darkness had given Angel more hope than he cared to admit. If he could help someone as far gone as Lindsey, maybe he really had a shot at his own redemption. That hope was quickly fading, however.

"He's not coming," Angel murmured, genuine sadness in his voice. He didn't want to be Lindsey's enemy. Not when he had seen what a tremendous ally the young man could be. "Damn it." His fist pounded into the small ledge he had been leaning on, crumbling still more of the mortar away. He didn't want to think of Lindsey's slide down into the darkness becoming irreversible. Whatever he had done in the past, Angel could no longer think he deserved to share the fate of everyone at Wolfram and Hart. "I should have gone with him."

He didn't want to think of losing a companion he could so easily come to care for before they'd even had a chance to get to really know each other. The company of the Lindsey McDonald he had seen tonight would have been welcome at Angel Investigations, for more reasons than Angel was willing to readily name.

"I should have gone with him," Angel said again, dropping his head briefly. He punched the ledge again just for the satisfaction of feeling something give under the force of the turmoil brewing inside of him. He whipped around and stalked towards the fire escape he had used to scale the building, fists still clenched. Oh, he would be angry at Lindsey tomorrow. He'd be angry at the young man for being weak, for ignoring the helping hand he'd extended, however reluctantly.

Tonight though, he'd be angry at Wolfram and Hart for ensnaring Lindsey so tightly he couldn't leave. Tonight he'd quietly mourn for the man he'd gotten a glimpse of tonight, and for what might have been if that man had been given a chance to flourish. He leaped over the edge of the building, taking the rusty metal stairs three and four at a time. When he was only a little over a story from the ground, he jumped off of the fire escape, landing on the ground with uncanny ease. He straightened and turned towards the mouth of the alley, where he had parked his car.

Even with the distance and darkness, it was easy for him to make out the figure leaning against the driver's side door, his back to Angel.

Lindsey had shed his suit jacket and tie, but was hugging himself tightly as if to ward off a chill. As Angel drew closer he could see the fine tremors that wracked Lindsey's frame, and hear the deliberately slow, deep breathes that probably meant he was trying to keep from hyperventilating. All in all Lindsey was the picture of misery, no longer sure of his path in life or his place in the world. But he was there. Angel couldn't keep the smile off his face as he approached.

"I was beginning to think you weren't gonna show," he said gently when he was within earshot. He hadn't meant to startle the other man, but Lindsey started violently and whirled around, his eyes wild for a moment before they came to rest on Angel. As he realized who was in the alley with him, he relaxed, but only marginally.

"I almost didn't," Lindsey admitted, his voice rough with exhaustion and something more. His arms slowly unwound from around his waist and he looked down at his hands, flexing the fingers of one slowly. "They offered me a promotion." Lindsey's voice dropped still lower, and there was a definite quaver now. He laughed mirthlessly to himself. "Six figure salary and a full benefits package." Angel stopped on the other side of the car and rested his elbow on the windshield.

"Why didn't you take it?" he asked, careful to keep any condemnation out of his words. Again, that bitter laugh sounded and Lindsey finally looked up at him again.

"It wasn't enough."

"Well, Angel Investigations sure as Hell can't offer a six figure salary and Cordelia tells me our benefits package sucks, but you think it might be enough?"

"I don't know. But I want to find out. If you're hiring, that is." Angel allowed another smile to cross his face and nodded shortly.

"Consider yourself hired." Lindsey returned the smile, half-heartedly and looked down at his hands again. Angel watched as the trembling became more pronounced and Lindsey finally lost his battle with the harsh gasps that were trying to claw their way out of his lungs. On the heels of the gasps came the desperate tears Lindsey had been holding in since he'd walked out of the office building, hardly daring to believe they were actually going to let him go. There was no going back now.

The young man swayed suddenly, and Angel was around the hood of the car and beside him in a flash, ready to catch him if necessary. Lindsey's entire body shook with the force of his sobs and his bruised ribs protested each and every movement. He couldn't stop, though. It was too much pain, too much emotion...he couldn't hold it in any more.

Angel watched as one of the most collected, in-control humans he had ever encountered completely broke down. The young man cried as though he was being ripped apart...and in a way he was. Angel knew this pain; he knew the confusion and the regret that had to be heaping on Lindsey's shoulders. He'd been there himself, and would not wish the feeling on anyone, let alone a man who had chosen to bring it on himself. That had taken more guts than Angel would have been willing to admit Lindsey had just a few days ago.

Silently, Angel reached over and offered what he had been unwilling to see Lindsey needed when he had first come to the office: support. He encircled Lindsey's shoulders with one arm and when that met no resistance, drew him close. Lindsey stiffened in the circle of his arms for a moment, then abruptly seemed to collapse still further. He clung to Angel as a drowning man would clutch at a life preserver.

"It's all right," Angel said soothingly, reaching up to cup the back of Lindsey's neck. "You're going to be fine. You made the right choice."

Angel held him, mumbling the same type of nonsense he had once used to comfort his sister when she had a nightmare. And Lindsey simply allowed him to, shame and the need for control lost in the onslaught of tears. He'd been afraid, so afraid that he wouldn't be able to do it, that Angel would reject him even if he did manage to reach him.

Angel didn't let go even when Lindsey seemed to have cried himself out, instead allowing the other man to push away when he was ready. Finally, Lindsey did so, rubbing furiously at his eyes and sniffling loudly.

"Shit. Sorry," he mumbled, his accent coming to the fore.

"Not a problem," Angel replied seriously. Lindsey looked up at him, his eyes bloodshot and still watery...pathetically childlike. And beautiful. Angel reached up and rested one hand on the back of Lindsey's neck again. "You did the right thing, Lindsey. Don't doubt that. It'll be worth it." He didn't think about it...didn't consider it or even really intend to do it. Still, despite their past and the possible ramifications and the very real fact that it could be construed as taking advantage of vulnerability, it seemed right.

Angel's other hand came up to rest on Lindsey's cheek and he leaned forward slowly, giving the other man every opportunity to back away. Lindsey did no such thing. Their lips met in gentle contact, sliding against each other in a perfect fit. Slowly, chastely, they drew back and touched again, cool satin on warm silk. Angel pulled Lindsey a bit more against him, tracing the outline of the other man's lips with his tongue, nipping playfully, before he pulled back fully. He didn't let go his hold on Lindsey though, stroking one thumb along Lindsey's cheekbone.

"Was that part of the sucky benefits package?" Lindsey asked after a moment, breathless and flushed in a way that had nothing to do with his earlier crying jag. Angel couldn't help a snort of laughter escaping him, and he leaned in again, touching his forehead to Lindsey's.

"Maybe. Let's wait and see, all right?"

"Sounds good to me. So where to now?" A bit of insecurity crept back into Lindsey's words and Angel brushed his lips over Lindsey's again, pulling him into a brief embrace.

"Home. You can crash with me until you find a new apartment." Lindsey smiled up at him, a real, genuine smile that would have set Angel's heart to skipping if it had been capable of it.

"Sounds good to me," Lindsey repeated. "Let's go."

 

She watched from the rooftop as the human and the vampire got into the car and sped off, smiling slightly. She glanced up at the sky and tipped a quick salute, her smile widening as the car vanished into the LA traffic. A soft sound reached her ears and she closed her eyes briefly, banishing the white leather and cowboy hat in favor of the more traditional flowing ivory robes. Glowing golden wings stretched out from her shoulder blades, fluttering slightly in the wind. She'd never particularly cared for this form, but it was what her clients wanted to see...and it wouldn't do to tarnish her co-workers' images in the eyes of two of their clients. She turned around and smiled warmly at the two figures who had joined her on the rooftop.

"I guess you were right...he did have it in him," she said softly. The two children giggled and clapped their little hands together, grins nearly splitting their faces.

"Linny's gonna be all right now?" the older of the two, a little boy with serious blue eyes and sandy brown hair, asked shyly. The angel returned their bright grins and nodded.

"Yeah darlin'...I think your brother's gonna be just fine. He's very lucky to have you guys watching out for him." The children giggled again and waved shyly, before fading out of existence, back to where they had come from. The angel turned around again and cast one more look in the direction Angel and Lindsey had taken. "Damn lucky. Merry Christmas, Linds." Then, she too was gone.