Open Mic

Series: Birthday fics, menomegirl
Pairing: Angel/Lindsey
Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, and darkness
Setting: Season 1, post-Blind Date
Word Count: 2,119 words

Disclaimer: Angel was created by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. All characters, places, and events are the property of the aforementioned and Twentieth Century Fox.

Summary: There are monsters, and there are monsters. Where is the line drawn?

**

 

There's a word for this, he's sure.

There's time in the office, and there's time in the study. And then there's downtime, dwindling faster than the ruddy liquor in his glass mug. It's an interesting tradition, glass mugs. People like to see what they drink, yes, but right now he doesn't want to see what else he's drinking.

The light's waxy through the glass's bottom. He taps the cracked bar, the bartender brings him another.

This isn't his normal haunt—haunt's a good word for that—but not all of Caritas' clientele appreciates his work. His singing, maybe, but his work?

The Host asked him never to bring it.

Here, in this place, most people see a lawyer. Most of these people have probably seen the wrong end of a lawyer, really, but no one's holding that against him. Maybe it's the jeans and the hair he hasn't washed in a couple of days, the tang of sweat that's not exclusive to him, that makes them see him as one of their own.

Lindsey manages to suppress a disgusted scoff.

Disgusted. No, that's not the word. There's a word, but that's not it.

Most people see a lawyer, but that's not all there is to see. They don't see the drive, the ambition, the things that every man, woman, and child wishes they could have in the multitude he has. Everything he would give up, every step he would take, every throat he would cut, it all started there, with what they couldn't see. What no one could see.

Except him.

The photo's black and white, but he's so pale that it doesn't make much of a difference. The photo shows shades of gray, but he's infuriatingly black and white. Pale. Black clothes. The world's not that simple, and dichotomous as he is, there's no way he isn't, either. It's infuriating.

Infuriating. That's not it.

There are notes and details, his hangouts and allies, but it's all one-dimensional. His address, but not why it's his address. It makes no mention of the sewers beneath the building, the access in his living quarters on the lower floor. It doesn't mention the fact that the kid leading the street gang had to put his own sister down when she was turned.

There's a lot Lindsey has had to discover on his own. A city like this, it's not as hard as you'd expect to find the right kind of people to learn those kinds of things, but it's not as easy as crime dramas might like to show. You have to know the right people, push the right buttons, say the right words. It's complicated.

Complicated. That's not it.

There's someone singing on stage, but not the kind of singing Lindsey appreciates. This isn't anything more than the drunken warbles of a man too inebriated to know that he's making a complete ass of himself in front of people who wouldn't care when they were sober and won't remember now. This isn't the kind of place you go to drink with your friends, to unwind after a long day.

This is the kind of place where people drink to satisfy an addiction. Where they go to drink because not drinking means they remember, and the only thing worse than remembering is experiencing. And this guy, croaking Weekend in New England like it was a weekend in Oklahoma, is one of the sad few who hasn't realized that he's drinking to forget, not to make other people laugh.

No one's laughing, though, because it's not funny.

It's during the flourish, right when he should be hitting a crescendo but he is, instead, hacking up a lung, that Lindsey realizes he's not alone. That the folder open in front of him while he was trying and failing not to look at the Fanilow on stage isn't in front of him anymore.

There's a cold hand wrapped around his wrist, keeping his hand still while the newcomer looks at the photo.

Angel doesn't comment on it, though, because his eyes are onstage.

“Great song,” he says, his face unreadable. It's that thing he does, sometimes, where he could show you in an instant what he's thinking, if he just allows the faintest shred of expression cross his features.

Lindsey chooses not to think how very specific a thought that was.

“I'm more of an Eagles man,” he whispers. It's quick, if not cutting, but he wishes his voice weren't quite so husky just then. Angel doesn't hide his smirk.

Lindsey spent a long time becoming the man he is now. Maybe not the man half-blitzed in a bar that smells like burning hair and cigarettes, his arm still in locked in an icy hold that doesn't bother him nearly as much as it should, but the man who, tomorrow, will wake up and go to work and earn his six figures.

“You made the wrong choice, Lindsey,” Angel says.

“Should've gone with Barefoot Jerry?” It's a thing he's learned, that your body will only betray itself if your mind does, first. This man—this thing he hates, everything about him could set Lindsey off. His proximity, his lack of smell in the otherwise pungent establishment, the fact that he's lived a violent life of more than two hundred years and hasn't even got a blemish. Even here, this close, Lindsey doesn't feel the heat rise on the sides of his neck. His breathing doesn't quicken, and neither does his pulse.

It occurs to him that the same can be said of the thing sitting next to him.

“The easy gloves are off,” Angel says. “I've got this thing, you know? I think, 'hey, let's give humanity a chance. Even the bad ones, right?'”

“Is this going somewhere?” Lindsey asks, and just the slightest hint of his accent creeps in. Careful, no, that only happens when he's nervous.

“So when you say you want out, I just think one thing,” Angel continued. He gets close, and Lindsey's stuck between falling away and holding his ground. Conviction or fear?

Fear. That's definitely not it.

“What's that?” Lindsey asks. Angel has to feel his breath across his skin, but the reverse isn't true. Even when Angel talks, the air doesn't stir. It's like his words are in Lindsey's head.

“Bullshit,” Angel says. He leans away again, and Lindsey thinks it indicative of his own strength that he doesn't sigh in relief when it happens. “You and yours, you're not part of humanity. The people—sorry, the things you work for, I think they take more than just your legal advice.”

“I'm not interested in what you think,” Lindsey says. “I made a choice. It was my choice.” Angel's quiet for a moment. That look comes again—he's just a fraction of a second away from an expression when he closes off and replies.

“You did,” Angel says. “It was your choice. And you screwed up that choice.” His face finally does contort; he almost looks regretful. “You could've been better.”

Lindsey can't stop the laugh, and he finally wrenches his arm free. Angel looks confused, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“Thanks,” Lindsey finally says when he can breathe. “But I'm not taking advice on the sanctity of my soul from the guy whose got a yo-yo for his.” He stands, slapping more bills down on the bar than strictly necessary. “You're preaching to the choir, Angel. It's not about my sob story anymore. You know it, I know it.” He feels a grin creep across his face. Angel watches his every move, and this time, there is heat. “Besides, your body count's always gonna be higher than mine.”

He turns his back on Angel, then. In an alley, it would be a mistake, away from prying eyes. Angel doesn't just know how to kill a man without leaving any evidence of himself on the body, but he probably knows how to kill a man and not even leave a body. Wolfram & Hart knows what it's doing, but it does operate within—and sometimes between—the law.

Lindsey has given up the illusion that he would be avenged, anyway.

Disillusioned. No, still not it.

He hits the door at what approximates a power-walk and turns right. It's warm, even late at night like this. The clients are always buzzing at this time of year, like there's something going down in their community that they're trying to avoid. Something worse than them.

It occurs to him that he's left all his notes and information in Angel's hands, but that doesn't matter. He's spent so long staring at the intelligence that it's ingrained, won't come out.

He's passing an alleyway when he gets pulled in. He shouldn't be surprised. Do-gooder like Angel won't let a conversation like that end that way. Cold hand clamps over his mouth, other one clasps his throat, and he finds himself looking Angel in the eye. In the yellow eye.

“Sorry,” Angel says, grinning around fangs. “I got the feeling we weren't done yet.”

It's scare tactics. Intellectually, Lindsey knows that. Even pissed and cornering an opponent, Angel isn't going to just snap his neck or drain him, not if he's human. And while that classification might seem a little up in the air at times, Lindsey knows that, at least skin-deep, he's not the kind of thing Angel kills.

He's close again, and Lindsey snaps to attention. It's not the same kind of close in the bar, where it was quiet and dangerous. This is obtrusive and terrifying, and even all the human strength in the world can't keep Lindsey from swallowing hard under Angel's tight grip. If this is Angel when he's good, Lindsey doesn't want to meet him when he's evil.

“When people like you die,” Angel begins, and Lindsey swallows again, “they get what's coming to them. Trust me. I've seen it.”

Lindsey would love to point out here the standard perpetuity clause in his contract, but he can't breathe quite well enough to do that. Plus, Angel's cold hand is still clamping his mouth shut.

“Believe me when I say it's never too late,” Angel continues. “I spent generations making death my hobby. I've done things that would make you piss yourself, boy. Seen things and caused things they teach you about in school. But do you want to know the difference between you and me?” He forces Lindsey to nod. “It was my nature.”

Nature. That isn't the word. It doesn't even make sense.

“I was just doing what vampires are made to do. They hurt and kill and think nothing of it. It wasn't until I got my soul back that I thought to make amends. You, though?” He shakes Lindsey violently, slamming him into the wall. “You're born with this—this gift. A soul. You don't just know the difference between right and wrong. You feel it. You showed me, when you tried to get out.” The hand over Lindsey's mouth tightens even more, so tight Lindsey fears his jaw will break. “And you chose to go back. You went against your soul and you went back.”

When he lets go, it's so sudden that Lindsey stumbles and falls, sliding against the wall and landing in the filth. On the other side of the wall, he can feel the bass from the karaoke machine, and the muted sounds of someone singing Horny in the Morning. He coughs, hand rubbing what's going to be a bruise tomorrow. If Lilah sees it, she'll never let him hear the end of it. When he looks up at Angel, though, all he's feeling is anger. Rage. That this thing touched him, that it's looking down at him even now.

“You're the one going against his nature here, Lindsey,” Angel finishes. “Tell me. Which of us is wrong?”

He's gone then, the way only he can be. The flap of his coat, a small brush of wind, and he's just gone. Lindsey bites back a yell of frustration and pushes himself up, wincing when he swallows. He gingerly checks his face for bruising, finds it tender, and suddenly wishes he were drunker.

But if he doesn't ice this, people will talk tomorrow. And it's going to be bad enough going in with a partial hangover. As it is, he's going to spend more time tonight obsessing over what Angel said than he's going to spend sleeping.

He pauses, halfway out of the alley.

Obsession.

Lindsey tries very hard not to admit just how good a word that is.


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