Cross posted in sickchicks and my regular journal.
A slight break from the usual pain and suffering. I couldn't take it anymore, either!
Hell Is In the Details – Chapter 5 – Casting Stones
~ Nine Months Later ~
Angel’s mind was filled with happiness as he looked out his office window. Unlife could not get better than this. Life had settled down to a satisfying routine – paperwork, delegation, and the occasional meeting. Decisions he made were responsible for saving lives on a larger scale than the old one-by-one he and the AI gang had been used to.
His friends had stopped asking about Spike after the first few weeks. He’d sold them some cock and bull story about the bleached pest using his head for once and leaving Los Angeles – actually, leaving the country altogether after their last fight.
He felt totally justified in removing Spike from the picture. Nobody cared about him. Angel felt free for the first time in ages. Free of his past, free of the monster he’d created in his own image. Now, if only he knew where Drusilla was – maybe…
Nah, he wouldn’t worry about her now. Buffy was more fun to think about. Ah, she was the pure cream in all of this. She’d never found out that Spike had made his brief reappearance, so he never had to lie to her.
She had called about a month ago, telling him about her life now – how she’d decided it was time to stop actively mourning for lost friends and possibilities and move on. She’d told him she was lonely, and tired of it.
Now she’d decided to come back to him. Well, to be totally honest, to come back to Los Angeles and see where they stood. No promises, other than to try. What more could a vampire ask for? With his soul firmly anchored, they were free to pursue a full adult relationship. Just another benefit of working for Wolfram & Hart.
The ability to give Connor the life he deserved was the primary reason for listening to their offer, but the guarantee of finally anchoring his elusive soul is what put the deal over the top. A total win-win situation.
Ever since the spell had been cast, Angel felt more comfortable within his skin. The demon no longer raged to escape – it seemed far more content. As if it were more integrated with the soul – creating a single being. He felt more like Liam than he had in decades. Liam – with power.
Looking like the proverbial cat that ate the canary, Angel strode through the hallway with a song in his heart and on his lips, singing:
Well you came and you gave without taking,
but I sent you away.
Well kissed me and stopped me from shaking,
and I need you today.
…discreetly to himself, since nobody appreciated his musical efforts.
Walking past the mailroom, he heard a muffled thud, followed by a startled “Shit!”
He didn’t bother checking, but continued on his merry way. Wolfram & Hart had mailroom staff for a reason, he figured. Picking up a dropped box didn’t constitute an emergency for the CEO.
Lorne felt like his head was going to explode. One moment he was sending out a package of publicity photos for some starlet or other, the next moment his mind was assaulted by blackness and betrayal. The level of ‘wrongness’ was so overpowering, the green-skinned demon couldn’t immediately discern who had revealed such malevolence.
Using the packing table for support, he levered himself up and brushed the mailroom dirt off his cream colored linen pants. Maybe he had time to find out who was throwing off such harsh vibes.
He peered around the door and saw Angel striding towards the elevator. Ah, no. No, no, no! Someone’s trolley has jumped the tracks big time. Making a concerted effort, Lorne launched himself down the hallway, hoping to anyone who would listen that the elevator didn’t get there before he could.
He caught Angel just in time.
“Whoa there, big fella – you’re in an awfully good mood today. Wanna tell your old pal Lorne what’s makin’ you so happy?” He nudged Angel playfully in the ribs. “It still is Angel, right? No ‘got a happy issue and the Evil One is back for a visit’ scenarios?”
“Things are good, Lorne. It’s a beautiful day outside, demon problems have been minimal lately and I might be getting a handle on my love life at long last.”
Lorne’s raised eyebrow spoke volumes.
It took a moment, before Angel figured out just what he’d said to put the amused look on his friend’s face.
“Very funny, Lorne – who do you think you are, Sp…” The vampire caught himself just in time – it certainly wouldn’t be good to bring that name into play, raising questions that were better left unasked. “Never mind. For once, if everything worka out, I’ll have my job, my friends and my girl. For the first time I can see some kind of future for myself. That’s all I need to be happy. I’m a simple kind of guy.”
“I’m just playin’ with you, cupcake. It’s not like you’d still be fighting the good fight with all your chums if you were back to being devil’s food again. No worries here.”
~No worries my Aunt Fanny~ There was something off, really wrong with the vibrations Angel was giving off. It set Lorne’s teeth on edge – a bit like chewing on tin foil. Nothing inherently evil in and of itself, but it sent little prickles of warning running up and down his spine.
“Where are you off to, Angel-cakes? Want me to come with?” Lorne tried for casual, hoping to pick up on whatever it was setting him on edge.
“Nah – I have a meeting with the head of some demon cabal on the far side of town. The lead item on their agenda is whether or not they should be allowed to eat the homeless. I mean, really – it’s important, but you’d be bored. Thanks for offering, though.”
Lorne knew he couldn’t push the matter; he didn’t want to raise suspicion by grilling the boss. Definitely not a smart move. Just when he was about to give up for the time being, the green-skinned demon caught a break.
Angel began to hum.
This time, Lorne was prepared for the wave of animosity he’d experienced earlier passing by the mailroom. It was strong and constant, but not exactly current. Something bad had gone down, bad enough to have marked the vampire permanently. There was also the distinct crackle that signified the use of magicks directly aimed at Angel. The empath demon couldn’t feel anything sinister about the spell – something he’d have to ask the boss about another time, or dig into on his own. Probably.. yeah, probably better on his own.
The elevator finally arrived at their floor. Angel smiled, and told Lorne he’d see him later. Before the door could close, the Anagogic demon reached out to impede its progress.
He’d had a clear snippet of a vision flash through his mind – of platinum blonde hair, a swathe of black leather and a gun. Closing his eyes, he could feel pettiness, jealousy and vindictiveness surrounding the incident he was sensing. This was the focal point of all the badness he sensed.
“Angel-kins, before you go off to tilt at the homeless’ windmills, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, pal – anything for you. What’s up?”
Troubled waters, Lorne, but… he stuck his oar in. “For some reason, your duster made me wonder if you’ve heard anything from your prodigal childe lately?”
“Any particular reason you’re asking me?” Angel’s expression gave nothing away; he was cool and collected when he continued. “It’s not like you ever got to know him. Why do you care?”
“No real reason, my little peach-pie. It’s just something about the black leather that sparked a memory. I guess I’m just curious about where he might be, and whether he’s found some happiness after all he’s been through.”
Angel frowned. “You know, I truthfully haven’t given him more than a moment’s thought since he left the building. Knowing him, he’s off being a pain in the ass somewhere. I wouldn’t worry – Spike always manages to look out for himself.”
Lorne let the elevator door close after bidding the vampire adieu, with the uneasy suspicion that Angel was hiding something big and bad.
“Well, there’s only one thing I can do while the cat’s away,” he said aloud. “Snoop through the boss’ office and see if anything reeks of discord.”
There was nobody in the vicinity of Angel’s office, and Lorne’s relief was palpable. He harbored no delusions about video security – he’d just have to bribe the guard with tickets to his favorite show. No skin off his green nose. Working with evil had its plus side.
~Now, if I were evidence, where would I hide?~
He sat at Angel’s desk, opening drawer after drawer, finding nothing even remotely personal. Office supplies, a tranquilizer dart gun – always paid to play things safe. None of the regular flotsam that most people accumulated by existing.
The bottom drawer was locked. With a quick poke of his tie pin, the demon managed to bypass the catch. “Let’s see what you’ve been hidin’ on us, Angel-cakes.” There’s a picture of Cordelia – good to see she’d not been forgotten. A picture of a small baby which was puzzling, but nothing to be concerned about.
But then – “Hello, what’s this?” Underneath a manila folder, there was a small plastic bag. Just as he was about to open it to examine the contents, Gunn walked into the office.
“Yo, Jolly Green, what’re you doing in the boss man’s office?”
Refusing to be rattled or distracted from his task, and knowing he’d need help from someone, Lorne decided to take the bull by the horns.
“Have you noticed anything unusual about our head honcho lately? Is he acting strange, or setting off any mental alarms with you?”
“Not particularly, no. In fact, I’ve never seen him so at ease with himself and other’s. He’s smiling more, and he’s not broo… wait, is that what you’re talkin’ about? Damn, man – that is out of character for him. What’s he got to be so happy about?”
“That’s what I’ve been wracking the old noodle about, my little cup of java. He’s still Angel – no worries there, but he’s different. And it’s giving me all kinds of ookie feelings. I’ve felt some bad things coming off that boy – heard him singing in the halls earlier.”
“God, no – don’t tell me he’s still doin’ the Manilow bit? That would make anyone feel ‘ookie’ as you put it.”
“Oh yeah, and I got a headache from it that just won’t…” Lorne freezes, a wave of overwhelming pain ripped through him. He’d been toying with the bag as he spoke with Gunn – and the small silver ring inside had slid into his palm, unnoticed. Well, he’s noticing now… it seared his hand like it was snatched out of the flames. Again, an image of black leather and platinum hair. This was too much to be a coincidence.
“You alright, man? You look a bit… well, greener than usual.”
“Do you remember seeing this ring before? Is it familiar to you?”
Gunn peered at it. “It’s been awhile, but I think I remember seein’ it on Blondie, when he first showed up here. Where the hell is he? I thought for sure he’d be here tormenting the boss man forever. He took such joy in it.”
“That’s just it. I asked Angel if he’d heard from him, and he claims he hasn’t given him two thoughts since he walked out almost a year ago. But everything I’m reading from him and this ring… says our blonde piece of fluff has met with serious harm.”
“So, what’s the what with that piece of paper still in the bag?”
“Seems to be a receipt of some kind – it’s dated… Oh great green mother earth… it’s dated the last day Spike was in the office. The logo says Dante’s – ‘Property Delivered’ received by Pret, cost – one dollar.”
“You ever hear of a place called Dante’s with all your connections? Got a feelin’ it’s not a flower shop we’re talkin’ of.”
“Tell you what, pumpkin – why don’t I go check with entertainment, see if they’ve heard of this place, maybe give us a clue as to what we’re facing?”
“Sounds good, I’ll head down to records, to see if there’s somethin’ the boss wanted hidden that corresponds with this date.”
“Let’s get this show on the road, then. How about we meet at my place in a couple of hours? After work, say six o’clock?”
“Works for me, man. See you there. Gotta tell you, I’m not feelin’ real good about this.”
“Me, either, buckaroo. Me, either.”