SEA CHANGE

by Yahtzee
Yahtzee63@aol.com

 

The following characters are the property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy, Fox and others. They are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. The following story is rated NC-17; if you are offended by slash or under the age of 17, you should read no further. I do not use any other kinds of warnings on my stories; you keep reading, you take your chances. All gratitude to the wonderful beta team of Rheanna and Kita, whose help is much appreciated, as well as the Angel Fanfic Workshop. This story is set in the summer of 2001, just after the end of ATS' second season, and readers may expect spoilers for anything up to that point. Any and all feedback is very welcome; please send praise or flames to Yahtzee63@aol.com <mailto:Yahtzee63@aol.com>.

 

Part One

 

Lindsey has sold half of his belongings and thrown away most of the rest. Everything else he owns, in a material sense, is bundled in the oversized backpack in the passenger seat, next to the guitar. Lindsey doesn't care for the backpack; it's obviously new, and obviously expensive. It seems ill-suited to the journey he's about to take. Something careworn and well-traveled would be better -- a secondhand army duffel, perhaps, or a leather trunk. Something that proclaims him as a man who has never been tied down.

That, of course, would be a lie. But Lindsey has never been averse to lying when it suits him.

He will keep a few things here in the States; taking care of the few possessions that matter to him is all that brought him back to L.A. His various diplomas and stock certificates are in a safe-deposit box; certain bits of information about Wolfram & Hart are in another, far more secure location, should the present truce ever dissolve. And his truck is too damn cool to bear selling, not that the thing's blue-book value could be more than a couple bucks at this point. So he's driven it here for storage, and he gives the door a friendly pat, much as he might a horse, as he shuts it.

Lindsey walks around to the passenger side, takes out the backpack, and catches a glimpse of a crinkled sheet of notebook paper as it falls to the ground. Even as he stoops to pick it up, he recognizes it by the shaky, too-careful writing. He hasn't read this note over since he received it three weeks ago, since he crumpled it up and crammed it in the glove compartment. But as he reads it again, he realizes he already knows it, almost word for word.

"Lindsey. I am glad to here you are working on your own. I know you said that law firm was a good one to work for but I was not sure and I knowed you was not happy. Working for your self is better and you don't have to answer to nobody. So I am glad that is what you are doing. We all miss you. You would not know Tom and Kristie, they have got so big now. But you must get your self situated now. When you have some money together we will be so happy to see you back home. Take care. Love, Dad."

He hates this note because it is so badly written, proclaiming his father's junior-high education. He hates it because it reveals that his father had enough sense to distrust Wolfram & Hart long before Lindsey (educated, worldly Lindsey) caught on. He hates it because it reminds him of the first eighteen years of his life, spent in poverty and humiliation and the single-minded desire to use his good mind and his smooth tongue to get the hell out.

Most of all, he hates it because it makes him feel guilty. Not much has the power to do that anymore.

He wants to throw it away, but he can't quite bring himself to do it. Then he wants to leave it in the truck, to wait the six or nine or twelve months it will be before he returns to America. But that seems to give the note too much power over him. Lindsey is tired of anyone or anything having power over him. In the end, he just tucks it into one of the backpack's pockets.

Then he grabs the guitar, makes the final arrangements for the truck's storage and catches a cab to Long Beach. His ship will be leaving in about an hour, and this is the last Lindsey hopes to see of Los Angeles for a very long time.

 

One of Lindsey's DZK fraternity brothers told him about traveling by freighter. "It's about the journey, man," he said. "You see the world like it is."

Of course, that kid had a trust fund waiting at the end of all his journeys. Lindsey had no such security. He's always been careful with his money -- just saving up from after-school work had earned him a decent-sized bank account before he started college -- so he could have afforded to pay for a trip like this before now. But he's never before been able to afford the time. Freighter voyages are measured in weeks or months, not hours, and Lindsey's never had weeks or months to call his own. But for the better part of the next year, Lindsey plans to go where he wants, when he wants. To the Far East, first, then into Europe, then maybe down to Africa and South America. He will take as long as he wants. This is the luxury he's treating himself to; it means more than a plush stateroom or elegant hotel ever could.

The freighter is the Hanjin Ottawa -- a name that's half-Japanese, half-Canadian. The owners are German; the flag it flies is Liberian, and here it is in an American port. Lindsey has already thought of three different arguments about jurisdiction over the ship before he can stop himself. It's piled high with containers of -- something. Lindsey doesn't know what, and he doesn't care.

In the twilight, Lindsey can see that a few other passengers are getting onto the boat. A crewman checks out their tickets and passports and waves them vaguely back; there's no fanfare, no streamers or confetti, none of that Kathie Lee Gifford shit, thank God.

Lindsey makes his way on board, answers the few perfunctory questions he's asked and checks out the other passengers. Most of them are exactly what he'd expected -- perpetual college students with dog-eared paperbacks and Peruvian cloth caps. He would like to sneer at their pretensions, but suddenly the guitar feels very heavy across his back, and he keeps his silence.

But as he heads toward the stairs that lead belowdecks, he sees a few that don't meet his expectations. There's an older couple, spry retirees, who give him cheerful but perfunctory waves as they go downstairs. And then there's a man, about his age --

The man turns, and the first, stupid thought Lindsey has is -- no, much older.

Angel looks surprised to see Lindsey, as well he might, but the reaction's a lot milder than Lindsey would have thought. Or hoped. Angel has left his leather at home for once; he's wearing a black wool coat that looks like something out of Melville, heavy boots not unlike the ones the sailors have on. And slung over his back is a shabby old bag that has undoubtedly seen countries, continents and perhaps centuries that Lindsey never will.

Angel, God damn him, looks like he belongs here. It's a new look for him.

"Angel," Lindsey says, stepping close, smiling ever so slightly. "What happened? Wolfram & Hart finally turn up the heat so high you had to get out of the kitchen? Or did your so-called friends finally wise up and throw you out on your undead ass?"

That's Angel's cue to come back at Lindsey with his own put-down, or maybe just to hit Lindsey with a sledgehammer. It can go either way, and Lindsey's hoping for the former, but he'll take his chances. Instead Angel just stares at him. Whatever surprise he felt upon seeing Lindsey has dimmed, and now he is -- blank. Emotionless.

It's more crushing than anything Angel could have said, and it fires Lindsey's anger anew -- the same reasonless anger that Angel has inspired ever since the first moment Lindsey laid eyes on him, in the boardroom of Russell Winters Enterprises. "Thanks for the sign on my truck, by the way. Real classy move there. You thought I paid 50 grand for law school without learning how to talk my way out of a ticket?"

Angel opens his mouth then, and Lindsey lifts his chin, getting ready to take the insult that's coming. Instead, Angel just says, "Sorry."

He doesn't sound sorry. He doesn't sound sarcastic. There's no feeling in those words, none at all, and as Lindsey looks up into Angel's dull eyes, he is suddenly, forcibly reminded that he is speaking to a dead man. And all 50 grand must have been wasted, because now Lindsey's left with absolutely nothing to say.

If Angel notices, he doesn't care. He turns away from Lindsey without another word and vanishes into the dark corridors of the freighter. Lindsey is left on deck, shivering slightly -- the wind sweeping in off the water is cold, erasing every trace of the summer day's heat.

So much for getting away from it all.

 

Lindsey had imagined that the cabins on a freighter would be fairly primitive -- cramped and small, with cast-iron bunks bolted to the walls, maybe scratchy, heavy blankets like the one his dad had left over from his tour of duty in Vietnam. Sometimes, when he was being very romantic, Lindsey imagined that this cabin would be located right next to the engine room, that he would be unable to sleep for the clanging of metal and the hissing of steam, perhaps shouts and curses of sailors who spoke languages he didn't know.

Instead, to his dismay, his cabin looks like a small, but not cramped, version of a standard hotel room. Nothing fancy, but there's a double bed, a minifridge, a dresser and closet. There's even a CD player and TV with VCR; the appliances don't look new, but they seem to work. A laser-printed note informs him that he can check out tapes or CDs from any of the officers. Soft drinks and snacks are on sale in the galley, which is a few decks below. There is even a swimming pool, though apparently you have to have to ask the captain to fill it for you before you swim.

The overall effect is disturbingly civilized. Lindsey imagines he'll be grateful for the comforts six weeks from now, but at the moment, his great adventure appears to be a lot less adventurous than he'd planned.

He unpacks only as much as he must -- toothbrush here, shoes there. This is somewhat absurd of him, and he knows it; this ship will be his home for months to come, and he could easily go ahead and get settled. But he likes the feeling of being on the move too much to surrender any of it so quickly.

Lindsey pulls back the curtains that cover his small window, expecting to catch a glimpse of the night sea. Instead, he just sees dark-blue containers, stacked higher than he can see. Whatever it is they're transporting, they're loaded with quite a lot of it.

That'll be convenient for Angel, he thinks. No chance of sunlight coming through.

Angel. Everything about the past two years that's haunted Lindsey, driven him half-crazy and back again -- all of it is wrapped up in that one name, that one man. The work he did for the firm, both in its brilliance and its bitterness, is best summed up in the fact that Lindsey's billed a thousand hours toward causing Angel pain. His icy determination to rid himself of guilt and his desperate, ineffectual struggles to accept it are reflected -- better than he often likes to admit, but too well for him to entirely deny -- in Angel's struggles. And desire -- physical desire in all its shades, the need for sex either as connection or as cruelty -- has been embodied for Lindsey in Angel's face and form ever since the first time Lindsey saw him. Black leather and clenched fists and dark eyes.

In other words, everything Angel personifies is everything Lindsey's trying to put behind him by boarding a ship bound for the other side of the world. And Angel has spoiled the plan by climbing aboard himself.

Angel must have done this a hundred times. Freighter travel would be the only way he could move from country to country, and Lindsey, as well-versed in Angel's history as any man now living, knows that Angel has circumnavigated the globe several times. As a general rule, vampires avoid air travel, even redeye flights that might be expected to be sunlight-free.

"You never know," Darla had explained, pulling Lindsey's bathrobe more tightly across her chest. This had the effect of tugging the robe slightly off one shoulder, giving him a glimpse of pale skin. He had looked, just as she had intended him to look. "A flight can run into delays, or be stuck in a holding pattern, or something. And airports have a lot of windows -- did you ever notice that? All that glass? No, we keep to the old ways. The safe ways."

As if anything about Darla had been safe.

Lindsey lies back on his bed, so caught up in the memory of her black eyes and scarlet smile, in the dreams her words had inspired, in his own long-denied exhaustion, that he misses the moment when the ship slips from its mooring, and his journey finally begins.

 

"It doesn't matter to us, you know. To vampires."

Darla smiled at him over the rim of her crystal glass; Lindsey pretended that the deep-red liquid within was Merlot. He leaned toward her on the sofa, nice and easy, one arm along the back, the way he used to when he was sweet-talking Tri-Delts at the DZK house. "What doesn't matter to you?"

Given the vast number of things that don't matter to vampires, Darla could have gone on all night. But she went straight to her point -- that was one of Darla's few virtues. "Men. Women. These inhibitions you humans have about who you will and won't screw."

"You don't care anymore, after you die? Does that go too?" Fascinating idea, that sexual preference would stay down in your grave, moldering along with your soul, after your body got up and walked away.

"That's not it." She stretched languidly, like a cat; the liquid in her glass sloshed all the way to the very rim, but did not spill. "You're still attracted to the same kinds of people you were when you're alive. But when you awaken -- you want to try everything. You understand? Especially the things that were denied to you, the things they told you were bad or evil or wrong. And once you try them, you realize that it doesn't much matter who makes you feel good. As long as you feel good."

She brushed her cornsilk hair away from her face, pursed her lips, studied his face. Lindsey tried hard not to let his eagerness show, not to let her guess where his imagination was wandering. She knew, though. Darla always knew.

"Take -- Dru, for instance." Neither of them were thinking of Dru. "Her mouth feels like anyone else's mouth. As long as she knows what to do, and she does. After all, if you're being touched -- just right -- does it matter whose hands are doing the touching?"

Lindsey had only one hand then. The smirk on her mouth revealed that she remembered that quite well. He looked down at the place where flesh became plastic, and felt rage and lust slam into each other, alter each other, explode outward in a reaction he couldn't control --

"Bitch," he growled. "You BITCH --"

And even as he swung his one hand toward her face with all the strength in his body, her face changed into Angel's --

Lindsey awakens with a start. He runs both hands -- the one he was born with, the one stolen for him -- through his hair. A quick check of his watch reveals he's slept all the way through the night and into the morning. He was more tired than he'd realized.

The dream-memory is still making him shake as he sits up. Instinctively, he pulls the bedcovers around him, as if the chill came from outside his body.

Darla had been at his apartment, supposedly recuperating from what Angel had done to her. (How healthy had she been then, in reality? Lindsey had thought her an invalid, utterly dependent upon him, until the moment he saw her in the very center of Wolfram & Hart, just seconds away from avenging her resurrection upon a Senior Partner.) She did tell him that about vampires, about Dru; she was pretending to tantalize him about the thought of her and Drusilla together, making love, a mental picture that admittedly had its charms.

In truth she was tempting him with thoughts of Angel, with the information that Angel had taken men to bed, had enjoyed it, would enjoy it even now if the man in question knew what he was doing. And Lindsey did.

Sorority girls aren't the only ones steered upstairs, drunken and laughing and incapable, at DZK parties.

But when Darla made her little joke about hands -- when she opened her eyes wider, drinking in his embarrassment and remembered pain even as she took another sip from the crystal -- he hadn't lashed out. He hadn't called her names. That was dream, not reality. In reality, he had just poured himself another drink.

Lindsey would like a drink right now, matter of fact; it's early in the day, but that wouldn't stop him if he had access to some liquor.

Instead, he dives into an almost adolescent irrelevance, a form of escapism that turns out to work almost as well as alcohol ever did. He buys up a supply of soda and snacks from downstairs (tiny cans, sizes they don't sell in the States, and candy bars he doesn't recognize, like the "Aero") and stocks his minifridge. It's raining outside, so whatever he might have thought to do on deck is out. He pulls out the first book he'd brought for this trip (Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy, book one, "Mr. Lincoln's Army") and alternates between reading, fooling around on the guitar and trying the new candy. (The Aero is actually fairly tasty, with bubbles in the chocolate.) It fills the day, occupies his mind, almost drowns out the remembered sound of Darla's laugh, the remembered fantasy of Angel trying everything he'd been told was bad or evil or wrong.

Lindsey missed breakfast, but he does get to the mess for lunch; there's no menu, just whatever the cook has seen fit to make, which you can take or leave. Today it's rather gluey macaroni and cheese. The older couple Lindsey saw before sit at his table and chat him up; he'd prefer to be alone, but he's courteous. He might want to borrow books from them at some point. And this too, helps distract him. Every moment he's not making small talk with them ("Oklahoma. You?" "We're from Maine, Bangor, do you know it?") is a moment that his mind has to run free. To ask questions.

What is Angel doing? What the hell is he going to eat for the several weeks they're at sea? Why wasn't he angry to see Lindsey again? Why is he leaving Los Angeles? What happened to Cordelia and Wesley and that other guy, the new one, what was the name in the file -- Charles something?

Lindsey wants to know, and he hates that he wants to know. The obsession with Angel is just one of the many things he's trying to escape; if Angel's going to stay holed up in his cabin the whole time, he might as well not be on board, and Lindsey's no worse off. He just needs other things to occupy his mind and his time, and soon, he'll move past this.

This is what he keeps telling himself, between bites of something that purports to be a sloppy joe and polite laughter at the older couple's jokes.

But by the time lunch is over, Lindsey knows he's going to have to push himself past it. Maybe physical exhaustion is the way to go -- it worked well enough last night.

He goes to the captain and asks for the pool to be filled; he is informed that someone's already asked, so the pool is ready. Lindsey quickly goes to his cabin, finds his swimming trunks in the depths of his backpack and heads down to the pool. It's not on deck, the way it would be on a cruise ship; it's below decks, in the very belly of the beast. Lindsey's ready to make nice with whoever is there, probably some hacky-sack-playing sixth-year senior who'll want to talk about "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." He's ready to do 20 or 50 or 100 laps, whatever it takes to wear him out and drive Angel right out of his head.

So when he goes into the pool area, Lindsey's ready for anything -- except the sight of Angel, all but naked, wet and gleaming by the side of the water.

Angel turns slowly -- as though he were already underwater -- and takes in the sight of Lindsey. Again, his cue for the put-down, the bitter joke. Again he lets it go. "Hi." The man has never been long on words.

"Hi," Lindsey says. Two can play that game. But no matter how he matches the nonchalance verbally, his body won't obey. Lindsey can feel his heart beating faster, knows Angel can feel it too. And almost against his will, his eyes travel down the length of Angel's body -- he's even more muscular than Lindsey had thought. He seems sleeker, more streamlined, in all that black, but it turns out Angel's powerfully built, almost to the point of looking brutish rather than beautiful. But not quite.

And the swim trunks -- trunks doesn't even seem the right word. They're a weird shade of blue, one you don't see much anymore, and they lace in front, and they cover Angel's package and his ass and not a hell of a lot else. Lindsey realizes they're probably 35 years old -- something from the late 60s, maybe. Something Rock Hudson might have worn in a movie.

Angel sees where Lindsey's looking, takes up the safer topic of conversation. "I don't swim a lot."

"Guess not," Lindsey said. "So how come you're doing it now? Shouldn't you be asleep?"

"I don't always sleep during the day," Angel says. "You should remember that."

And there it is -- a bit of the edge, a touch of the anger. Because their daytime meetings were few, unpleasant and memorable -- whichever one it is Angel's hoping Lindsey remembers, it's not good. Feeling refreshed already, Lindsey stalls by jumping into the pool --

-- and comes up, sputtering in shock. He wipes his eyes, feels stupid for reacting, but still feels the need to explain his surprise. "This is salt water."

"It's sea water." Lindsey couldn't see out of his stinging eyes at the moment, but he can hear the muted amusement in Angel's voice. "You thought they carried around a few hundred gallons of chlorinated stuff so you could have fun?"

Sea water. Thick with salt and fucking cold. Lindsey can feel himself starting to shake. "You could've warned me."

"I didn't think I had to." Just as Lindsey's finally able to open his eyes, he hears the splash of Angel jumping in with him. He surfaces a couple feet from Lindsey, his hair slicked back, dark and shining. He's still got a gold chain around his neck, some kind of pendant or ring hanging from it; the necklace ought to make him look like a gigolo, but somehow doesn't. The cold isn't bothering Angel -- of course not, Lindsey thinks. His body temperature just changes to match. As Lindsey stares, he realizes whatever shadow of fighting spirit had flickered with Angel before is already gone. Angel just says, quietly, "Do you want me to go?"

"No," Lindsey says, which is true. He then adds, "I don't care," which is a lie.

Angel doesn't reply, just sinks back into the water and starts doing laps. Lindsey moves to the other edge of the pool, presumably to give Angel room, but really to give himself a little time to watch. Angel's not very polished; what he said about swimming rarely is undoubtedly true. Lindsey (swim team, 2,3,4) can see imperfections in the strokes, mistakes in the turns, inefficient moves that cost him time.

But that doesn't matter. Lindsey couldn't give a damn about the stuff his swim coach said 13 years ago when he watches Angel's body move through the water. Long arms, big hands, pulling him forward, working the muscles in that powerful back. The tattoo on his shoulder (what is it? Something celtic-looking) moves as the planes of his body flex and pull. Angel doesn't turn his head to breathe, which makes sense, even if it looks strange.

Angel's pushing himself, swimming hard, the way Lindsey used to do when he was showing off. And so he figures the thing to do is push himself even harder.

If Angel wants to beat Lindsey at something, he'll have to choose something else. If, on the other hand, he wants a look at what Lindsey's body can do --

Lindsey shakes off his own lack of practice, braces his feet against the edge of the pool and pushes off. His body remembers more than his conscious mind; he finds his old patterns and rhythms quickly, more quickly than he would have thought possible. His competitor's instincts revive as well and give him a sense of where Angel is in the pool, how fast he's moving. Not nearly as fast as Lindsey, as it turns out; Lindsey grins in the water, salt slipping into his mouth as his lips part. You wanna keep it up, Angel? he thinks. We'll keep it up.

And they do.

And they do.

Ten minutes. Twenty. Forty. Lindsey's moving slower now. His whole body is shrieking in protest -- hot cramps snaking their way through his calves, down his back. He hates himself for wanting to stop, hates himself more for thinking he could win a war of attrition with a vampire.

Finally he gives up -- just stops kicking. His muscles are suffused with both pain and blessed relief as Lindsey slows his strokes, spreads his arms out in the water. He floats there, still, waiting for Angel to surface. Will he mock Lindsey? Just look at him in that calm, superior way that never fails to make Lindsey berserk with rage? Or will he -- just --

-- keep swimming.

Lindsey realizes that Angel wasn't racing him. He wasn't trying to prove anything to Lindsey. Wasn't trying to show off for him. He doesn't even notice that Lindsey's stopped. Just keeps going, clumsy strokes and iron will pushing him through the pool, edge to edge, over and over.

After about five more minutes, Lindsey uses his quivering arms to pull himself out of the water; he wraps his towel around himself and stumbles to the door.

Angel doesn't even seem to remember he's there.

At least the swim fulfills its original purpose. Lindsey goes back to his cabin and collapses, exhausted, into a sleep too deep for dreams.

 

The freighter is not small, and the general atmosphere isn't social, but there are only so many people on board, and by day six they've all begun naming and categorizing each other.

Against his will, Lindsey has learned the names of Louis and Marjorie (the older couple from Maine), Tony (last big trip before med school at LSU) and Bryan (aspiring poet, forever scratching in a notepad.) He has come up with names for the ones he hasn't met: Orange Parka, Three Helpings (every lunch, every dinner, no matter how much the food sucks) and Hyena Laugh. A half-caught snippet of conversation has revealed that some of the others call him Guitar Guy. Okay, he can live with that.

And they have all mentioned the Swimmer.

The Swimmer is down there all day, every day. They don't understand how he can do it, how anybody can have that kind of strength and single-minded obsessiveness. The crew members grumble about it sometimes; apparently the pool is one of their few means of exercise, and now the Swimmer is in it all the time, and they are reluctant to swim when he is there, for subconscious reasons that speak well of their survival skills. The Swimmer asks for the pool at the earliest possible time, and he doesn't leave until the last hour the captain will leave it filled.

They've all seen him, at certain points, headed to or from the pool. Lindsey thinks he is the only one who ever watches him. He doesn't actually go in, just peers through the glass in the door. Angel moves unceasingly through the pool, just beneath the surface, the water rippling around him like a sleeve.

"He must leave sometimes," Marjorie says, looking suspiciously at dinner, which the cook claims is lasagna. "I mean, he has to eat, if nothing else. We just don't see him."

"Sounds right," Lindsey says. People can justify anything. He knows this well, has relied on it for most of his professional career.

"Guess that's as good a way to spend the trip as any," Louis says, as Three Helpings goes back for pseudo-lasagna helping #2. "Getting yourself in shape. We could stand to do a few laps around the deck ourselves, you know."

"It just seems as though he'd be very bored," Marjorie says.

"You never know," Louis says. "Swimming, running, anything with repetitive motion -- it helps you think. Maybe he's thinking something through."

Marjorie folds her wrinkled hands together, considering that. She has a ring on every finger -- no truly precious stones, just turquoise and jade. "Or he's trying not to think about something."

For the first time, Lindsey's glad he met Louis and Marjorie.

 

Lindsey's been tipping one of the lower officers generously since day one, because you never know when you might need a loyal assistant; this kind of planning pays off tonight. It only takes a few words and $20 to get him a bottle of cheap Scotch from a sailor's private stash, as well as the directions to Angel's cabin. He dresses for the occasion: his most comfortable jeans, a white cotton T-shirt, no underwear. With the bottle in one hand and two paper cups from the galley in another, Lindsey goes down one flight of steps, heads halfway down the corridor, takes a deep breath and knocks.

After a very long pause, Angel's voice says, "Can I help you?"

"You've helped me enough, thanks," Lindsey says. "But I'd bet anything you could use a drink."

Another long pause -- then Angel opens his door. He's shirtless, wearing only loose black pants -- the sort of thing you'd have on if you were doing martial arts or t'ai chi. That gold necklace is around his neck, the ring still on the chain, resting just above his breastbone. Lindsey tries very hard to keep breathing slowly, to keep the same lazy smile on his face.

"I'm not good company right now," Angel finally says.

"Like you ever were," Lindsey replies. "We're on this boat for a while, Angel. And I don't know about you, but I'm already bored as hell. We might as well use whatever entertainment options we've got." He holds up the Scotch, as though this were what he was referring to.

Angel isn't seriously tempted, either by the Scotch or anything else, Lindsey can tell. He's not looking at Lindsey, exactly -- more like looking through him. But it would take more energy to resist Lindsey at this point than to comply, and after a moment he steps back, allowing Lindsey to come inside.

Lindsey has to work even harder to contain his triumph. Getting in the door was the hardest part, he tells himself. From now on, all I have to do is keep pouring.

He does just that, opening up the Scotch, filling the paper cups about three-fourths full. The calm seas they've been having are cooperating with him tonight; the only ripple in the cups is from the low, omnipresent vibration of the ship's engine. Lindsey hands one to Angel, who stares down at it as though he'd never seen Scotch before.

And then he moves, whip-snap fast, bolting a swallow of it. Lindsey does have to grin now, but he hides it behind the rim of his own cup. Twenty dollars was way the hell too much, he thinks; his throat burns from the cheap liquor, and his voice is raspy when he says, "So, Angel. Why the Orient? Some ancient evil about to rise? I heard a rumor about this giant lizard that stomps all over Tokyo --"

If Angel's seen a Godzilla movie, he doesn't see fit to respond to the reference. "I switch ships at Kyoto. I'm on my way to Sri Lanka."

When no more words are forthcoming, Lindsey prompts, "Because -- what? You like to vacation in places torn apart by violent internal warfare? Wait, I remember now. You do."

"I know a monastery there," Angel says. He sits heavily on the edge of his bed. "I'm going to stay there for a while."

The obvious jokes about monks, celibacy and Angel come to mind, but Lindsey lets it go. Angel's not in a sparring mood, and he's not going to be anytime soon. This leaves Lindsey feeling strangely at odds -- if he's not baiting Angel, trying to provoke him, he doesn't really have a whole lot to say to the guy. He'll have to wing it. "They're gonna miss you at the office."

"I guess." Angel takes another deep swallow. Do vampires get drunk as easily as humans? Darla never seemed to lose control, no matter how much wine they drank together. Then again, she always had as much blood as she wanted. If vampires are like humans, and an empty stomach makes you vulnerable --

"What are you eating?" Lindsey says. He'd like to sit on the bed next to Angel, but that's rushing things. He grabs the room's one chair, turns it around so he can straddle the back, cross his arms over the edge. "I've been counting. We've still got all the passengers and crew we started out with, so it's not the obvious."

"I brought a few pints with me." Angel points toward his own minifridge, which probably does not have any soda or Aero bars inside.

"A few pints? Not much for a big, strappin' guy such as yourself."

"It'll hold me," Angel says. "I've lived on less for longer."

"Bet you weren't pushing yourself all day when you did. What happens if you run out?"

Angel shrugs. "Even modern ships have rats."

Lindsey grimaces at the thought, forces down another swallow of the bad Scotch. Angel's already gotten nearly to the bottom of his own cup, and it looks less suspicious if he refills them both. Which he does. "What's with the swimming, Angel?"

"It fills the hours."

Okay, then. Lindsey is, in some corners of his mind, curious about exactly what has put Angel in this state -- but he's pushed that aside as savagely as every other complexity he's on this ship to run away from. He's on this ship to fulfill one fantasy; tonight, hopefully, he's going to fulfill another. He will ask himself what it all cost later. And not until then, Lindsey reminds himself, looking at Angel's broad shoulders in the dim light. He deserves to get back as much of what the firm took from him as he can. He deserves to collect on some of those long-denied dreams. He can't stop himself from thinking what Angel deserves -- but among the many punishments Angel has coming, this could be by far the most pleasurable. His lips curve in a smile along the rim of the paper cup.

Lindsey swallows, then says, "Didn't think vampires would be able to swim. Dead bodies don't float. No buoyancy. That's in the firm handbook, you know."

"No. I don't float," Angel says. "If I quit moving, I'd sink."

Lindsey's clearly going to be the one doing the work in this conversation. "Aren't you gonna ask what I'm doing? Where I'm headed?"

Angel takes another swallow of Scotch -- he's clearly considering, and going for, the advantages of blackout. Lindsey intends to stop him a little bit before that. In any case, he obviously doesn't care what Lindsey's doing or where he's heading. But, out of what appears to be a purely automatic politeness, he asks, "Why are you here?"

'I'm going to see the world," Lindsey says, exaggerating the words, holding out his hands. "Do I sound like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life? Because that's what I was going for."

"A little," Angel says. So, he has seen some movies after all.

"I'm just taking a few months to do whatever the hell I want. See what I want to see, move on when I want to move on. Nothing to tie me down."

For some reason, this of all things gets a reaction out of Angel -- he half-laughs, a bitter sound. Lindsey waits for an explanation, doesn't get one.

He casts about desperately for something else to talk about while Angel's getting himself good and plastered. Wasn't there something in the files about Angel traveling in the Far East before? "So, you've been all around these parts. What should I see, Angel?" When that doesn't draw an immediate response, Lindsey tries being more direct, "What about -- Angkor Wat? Everything they say?"

Angel tells him about Angkor Wat, then about Mt. Fuji, then about the Taj Mahal. Lindsey asks; Angel answers by rote. It is, Lindsey thinks, not unlike a CDROM -- he clicks, the explanation pops up. The transaction is as empty, as devoid of meaning. Lindsey's making Angel talk, and Angel's too beat up -- and, increasingly, too drunk -- to resist. Which is a good sign.

Angel's into his fourth cup of Scotch when his voice begins to slur, just the littlest bit. He leans forward, rests one arm (strong, well-muscled) on his knee. The ring at the end of the gold necklace dangles. Lindsey gets a glimpse of the tattoo again, just a bit he can see over Angel's shoulder.

Pour again or make his move?

When he sees Angel rub his forehead with the back of one hand -- a tired, disoriented move -- he knows the guy's pretty well drunk. More and he'll pass out. Now or never.

Lindsey takes a deep breath, finishes off his own cup as he tosses his head back. A wave of dizziness hits him; he hasn't kept up with Angel, but the Scotch is getting to him, too. All the better. Lindsey doesn't lack nerve, but he'd be hard-pressed to do this stone-cold sober.

"I'm glad you're here," he says. It's the first sincere thing he's said all night, and, if he has it his way, the last. Angel doesn't look up, just stays slightly slumped over, a disheartened Rodin. "I mean it. You and me -- I always thought if we got past all the mortal-enemies stuff, we'd probably get on."

"Probably," Angel says. Still no real response. Heart pounding, Lindsey swings his leg around, gets up, comes to sit by Angel on the bed. When Angel only half-turns to look at him, Lindsey knows this plan is working. Working better than he'd really thought it would, down deep.

"Always wanted to get to know you better," Lindsey says. A bad line, one that wouldn't work at the sleaziest pick-up bar in L.A. But Angel seems to be past caring. Lindsey puts one hand on Angel's arm -- warm skin against cool. "I can think of some better ways for you to fill the hours."

And Lindsey kisses Angel, hard, on the mouth.

At first he can't even feel it. All he can take in is the psychological shock of it -- holy shit, I actually did it, I just kissed Angel. Two solid years of fantasy just paid off, and he can't even enjoy it for the surprise.

If Angel's going to punch his lights out, it'll be now. Doesn't happen. Angel's staring at Lindsey in Scotch-dulled shock, but he's not doing anything else, not even pulling away. Lindsey leans forward and kisses him again. And this time he feels it, feels his whole body begin responding to Angel.

Cool lips against his own, a cool mouth that doesn't resist his tongue slipping inside. Lindsey takes Angel's face in his hands and starts kissing him deep, tasting that cheap Scotch again. He shifts his weight without ever breaking the kiss, straddles Angel's legs with his own, presses his rock-hard erection against Angel's belly. Wouldn't take the guy but about two moves to get him out -- but he doesn't.

Angel's letting Lindsey do this, but he's not participating. Which could work up to a point, but Lindsey thinks he can do better.

Lindsey pushes Angel back onto the bed, an act that seems to restore Angel's sense of reality for a moment. "Lindsey --"

"Come on," Lindsey coaxes, running his hands along Angel's chest, marveling at the cool, hard, marble perfection of it. "I've seen you swimming. I watched you down Scotch like it was B-negative. You want to escape, don't you, Angel? Don't you?"

Angel closes his eyes. After a moment, he nods, very slightly. The least consent he could possibly give, but it's given, and Lindsey feels all the energy that's been coiled up within him tonight go kinetic, light him up from inside.

Lindsey kisses Angel's lips again, then his throat, dipping his tongue into the hollow between the collarbones. He can taste sea salt on Angel's skin. His own flesh is tingling, as though electricity were flowing over him, through him, as he waits for Angel's answering touch, which doesn't come. As he works his way down, he brushes his thumbs against Angel's nipples, waiting to feel them harden in response. Nothing. This is less discouraging to Lindsey than it is challenging.

Fine, Angel, Lindsey thinks, while he presses his hands against Angel's ribcage, nips gently at the skin of Angel's belly. You think you're too damn good to want me? We'll see about that.

He tugs at Angel's black pants, gets them down to his knees. Lindsey has to take in a sharp breath as he sees Angel's cock for the first time -- still quiescent, but long and thick even at rest, uncut, with foreskin that tapers close to his flesh, a perfect sheath. With a groan of pure hunger, Lindsey leans down and takes Angel's cock in his mouth.

It's been a while, but all the old tricks come back to him now. Lindsey tightens his hand around Angel, gently pulls so that the foreskin rolls back, revealing the sensitive head to Lindsey's swirling tongue. Angel tenses, and Lindsey begins sucking.

As he pulls Angel deeper into his mouth, he feels Angel's cock begin to go thick and stiff. In triumph, Lindsey sucks even harder, dipping his mouth up and down, already simulating thrusting. His tongue flicks across the ridge, strokes the faint indentation at the very tip, tastes cool salt there. Angel's hands clamp down on his shoulders with all his considerable strength -- oh, you're with me now, aren't you, Angel? -- holding Lindsey in place. But Lindsey's got him hungry, and he intends to make Angel work for the rest.

One last caress with the tongue, and Lindsey lets Angel's cock slip out of his mouth with a soft pop. Angel makes a sound that's not quite a hiss, pure frustration. Lindsey's smiling when Angel sits up, pulls Lindsey to him and starts kissing him savagely.

Oh, God.

This is what he's wanted, this is what he's dreamed of for two years, this moment, when Angel wants him and nothing else, when Angel's kissing him as though he'd die if they pulled apart. He tugs one of Angel's hands away from his shoulder and puts it on his own hard, throbbing cock; he's so desperate for Angel's touch now that even this pressure, through thick denim, is enough to send a jolt of near-orgasmic pleasure through him.

Angel whispers, against Lindsey's mouth, "You're alive." He takes his hand away from Lindsey's erection, slides it up to his chest, right above Lindsey's pounding heart. "You're alive."

That's what Angel wants, what Angel's after. He doesn't want Lindsey; he wants to touch something alive.

But if it isn't Lindsey Angel wants, it's Lindsey Angel's about to fuck. And shouldn't that be good enough for the fantasy?

But it's not. Dammit, it's not. He doesn't care if Angel fucks him out of love or out of hate, out of desire or contempt or boredom. But Lindsey wants Angel to fuck HIM -- not a warm body who happened to show up with Scotch.

Shit, Angel would probably be doing the same thing with Marjorie.

Lindsey pushes Angel back, stares into his face. He wants to wake Angel up just a little more -- just enough to get him to understand what's going on. But whatever it was that was hounding Angel before Lindsey came in suddenly hits him again; he can see the pain darken Angel's eyes to black, feel his shoulders slumping inward.

For a terrible moment, he looks a lot like he did when Dru turned Darla. Lindsey wishes he hadn't thought of that.

"I'm sorry," Lindsey lies. "I'm sorry. It's okay."

Angel lies back down onto the bed. He doesn't look up at Lindsey, doesn't even seem to care if he's still there.

Lindsey pulls Angel's pants back up for him. Then he lowers himself onto the bunk next to Angel. Angel's turned away from him, but Lindsey curls along his back and slides one arm around Angel's waist. He is close enough that Angel should be able to feel Lindsey's heartbeat against his spine.

So it's not a matter of one night. This is a longer game, one with higher goals, more complex strategy. Lindsey tries to ignore his painfully erect cock, to tell himself this is what he wanted anyway. Any damn fool at the DZK house could lay somebody drunk off their ass. What he's after is more than sex -- he wants more intangible victories too. That was one of the things Wolfram & Hart promised you, when they recruited you; he could still hear Holland's voice, genial and calm, saying, "You get more than monetary gains from working for our firm. The other benefits -- the intangibles -- they matter even more."

Lindsey's been after more than pure gain ever since he was an tenth-grade boy who tried to pretend that his jeans were ripped only because it was trendy, since he sat through lunches pretending not to notice how everybody from town laughed at the country kid who brought his lunch in the same greasy paper sack, over and over.

That's what Lindsey's reminding himself of as he lies next to Angel. Angel isn't crying, but there's a tension in his body that's not unlike the kind that accompanies tears. Angel's on the brink, and Lindsey's lying there pretending to hold him back.

But Lindsey is having other memories too, unwilling ones. He remembers a Tri-Delt early one morning after a party, creeping around his room, crying quietly, looking for the bra he'd taken off her semiconscious body. He remembers the office of one of his law school professors, the pile of the Oriental rug against his knees as he ensured himself the highest grade in the class. He remembers watching one of the guards lift Darla's dead body up in his arms, then pushing Angel, still duct-taped, down to the floor with a shove of his heel.

And at none of those times did Lindsey feel as cheap or as dirty as he does right now, lying next to Angel, pretending to be kind.

 

PART 2

 

 



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