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TITLE: Embers ('Burning' Sequence, No. 2)
FEEDBACK: Constructive criticism received with real gratitude. Praise received with mindless dance of joy.
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SUMMARY: Darla and Lindsey get acquainted.
SPOILERS: Nope. AtS Season 2.
DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Numfar. Not even a little bit. The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, and David Greenwalt Productions, 20th Century Fox, and whoever else may have a hold upon them. The situation is wholly mine, and I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.

Lindsey liked to watch her eat.

He was drawn to her, fascinated by this fragile wisp of Angel's history, this memory made incarnate at the whim of Wolfram and Hart. His interest was vividly, viscerally personal - Angel's memory was made flesh in exchange for Lindsey's flesh made memory. She was a weapon, a puzzle, a lever, a key - for whom his blood had been spilt, for whom his right hand had been severed. She was a mystery, sweet-voiced and sinful and wholly self-contained. Fierce but achingly vulnerable in her unholy new-formed flesh. Shameless. She was a piece of Angel, of Angelus - his dark, hidden heart. His weakness. Lindsey could not take his eyes off her.

In the early days and weeks after they pulled her back into existence Darla floundered in a sea of memories. Her body was whole, perfect - but her mind was a baffled chaos of sensation and shifting recollection. Holland said there was nothing to worry about. She seemed to recover from the trauma of rebirth with impressive speed.

At first they kept her under close watch in a luxurious private clinic - company-owned, of course -while she adjusted. The doctors ran test upon test while she pulled the threads of self back together again. It was a little way outside LA in a secluded spot with an excellent sea view - only the best for Wolfram and Hart. Holland was there often, Lilah occasionally and Lindsey drove out to visit her several times each week (sometimes daily, when he could manage) all in the name of research, diligently sifting through her memories in order to get under Angel's skin and take him out of play. Charted his mileage up to business travel and handed his gas receipts in at the end of each month, but Lindsey knew that he would have found a way to visit her even if it had not been part of his job.

Holland commended his dedication but chose not to share any details of the Senior Partners' plan with him just yet. Lindsey didn't mind. It was enough to know that there was a plan and that he could for once combine business with pleasure. His employers seemed happy enough to have him spending time with Angel's Sire and that suited him just fine.

Most of the time she was perfectly composed and would discuss her past with cool equanimity and sly humour, with flashes of hunger and delight. She would talk about moonlit gardens of night-blooming jasmine in eighteenth century Paris and of convents turned into charnel houses. Discussed the shifting tides of fashion, the variations in hemline and waistline, the nuances of dress that identified one's social station. Recalled attending countless operas and concerts and plays and, should the performance prove disappointing, expressing her displeasure in no uncertain terms. "My criticism was quite...pointed. The understudies were always grateful," she laughed. At other times she sat perfectly still and silent, staring out at the sunlight with an unreadable expression.

He took her little gifts - worried that this was kind of an adolescent thing to do, but she was an invalid of sorts and it seemed appropriate. And he *wanted* to. Swiss chocolates. CDs. Novels. Perfume. A silk scarf. Sunglasses. Small, banal offerings - he even took flowers once or twice (orchids) - but this made him feel safer. Less exposed. They were impersonal, casual-seeming little gifts, things that he might have had a secretary pick out and written off as expenses. She seemed pleased, if rather amused - took it as simply her due, like a queen languidly accepting tribute. A glint in her eye persuaded him that she saw right through his nonchalance, knew he had spent a good hour shopping for her, had agonised for twenty minutes over whether she would find a Venus Fly Trap a tasteless gift or whether it might make her laugh, before finally settling on some safer, more prosaic knick-knack; had watched the salesgirl gift-wrapping it and stopped her from using the pink paper because it seemed too girlish and Darla was a woman. Oh, he had it *bad*, his professional demeanour the flimsiest of veils over the schoolboy crush that was overwhelming him.

He was inordinately pleased when she wore the scent he had brought her - it satisfied a pathetically primitive sense of possessiveness somewhere in his soul, an urge to mark out his own territory. //Mine! Mine! Mine! Keep away!//

Lindsey was no stranger to dealing with vampires, was used to clients who would happily eat him alive if he weren't so useful; many of his non-supernatural clients were much the same, truth be told. Darla still carried herself like the predator she had been for centuries, but with a difference - he wondered whether the streak of vulnerability was calculated, or if it was an honest reaction to her newfound mortality. The vulnerability undid him, hard nosed professional that he was; the way she would sometimes look at him and make him feel that nobody else in the world existed for her, that she depended upon him to protect her from it all. //She must have been a *very* successful hooker// he told himself, scrabbling unsuccessfully for the protective shell of cynicism, knowing he was a sap but melting anyway.

Within a few weeks they moved her out into her own apartment. He wanted to show her the city by sunlight, take her walking on the beach in the middle of the day - marvelled at the thought of all her centuries of experience bereft of that simple pleasure. Wanted to take her out to all the finest restaurants, because food was something else that she was rediscovering. She had mentioned how reduced her other senses had grown, but taste was a revelation. Not an adequate compensation for what she had lost, but still a palpable source of delight. But working for Wolfram and Hart did not exactly leave a person with a surfeit of spare time for enjoying the simple pleasures, and even if it had, there was the matter of concealment.

Lindsey loved to watch her eat, to see her registering each new taste and texture. He wanted to take her out, but they had to be careful, didn't dare risk spoiling the game planned by the Senior Partners. And besides, he didn't want to share her with anyone - not even with waiters and fellow diners. So instead Lindsey had the restaurants send their finest delicacies to her. It became a ritual of sorts - Friday nights he would be at her apartment door with a couple of bottles of wine and half an hour later room service would arrive courtesy of a restaurant Lindsey had chosen. She let him choose and this passive acceptance of his authority excited him - even though he knew it was insignificant, even though he thought it was probably part of a game. Always half a dozen different dishes, so she could pick at whatever took her fancy. French, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Spanish...whatever style of cuisine Lindsey had selected that week. Lindsey ate little himself, acutely conscious of his missing hand and embarrassed at his new-found awkwardness. He loved the fact that she was perfectly made up when he arrived, but that her lipstick had all gone by the end of the evening, her mouth bare and a little swollen.

She made him hungry.

"Angelus was never very bright," she announced one evening, licking sticky fingers with cat-like neatness, a consciously seductive gesture. Lindsey couldn't help watching her tongue dart out and traverse her pale flesh. She watched him watching her and her moist lips curved in a smile both warm and mocking. He really never knew where he was with Darla, but Lindsey found that he didn't care. She dazzled him.

"Yeah, tell me about it," he agreed, thinking there was an understatement if ever he'd heard one. He found himself staring at her mouth and imagining it with fangs. Tiny, fair, vivid where Angel was big, dark and silent - but two sides of the same coin. It excited him beyond words. Oh, they had him now. Flesh that knew his flesh so intimately, a mind that knew precisely what made him tick. Angel had no idea what was about to hit him.

"I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be rude or nothin', but what did you ever see in him?" She flicked an unreadable look at him, quizzical, amused. Arched one delicate brow.

"But he is so very beautiful, my boy, don't you think?" And there was a teasing note in her voice, a very knowing expression in her eyes that Lindsey really didn't feel like analysing. He felt acutely conscious of the artificial hand gleaming with its dull plastic sheen in the soft candlelight.

"He may not be very *bright* but he was always beautiful. And he had such a vicious passion for brutality, such an exquisitely twisted imagination. Inflicting suffering was always an art form for Angelus, something to be savoured at length." She paused, gazing into a past only she could see. Her voice was husky when she continued: "I have never met anyone or anything that took greater delight in darkness. He balked at nothing - each depravity sweeter and bloodier than the last. It was bliss."

Lindsey's mouth was dry. He could feel himself hardening under the table and had an uncomfortable conviction that Darla knew it. He found himself licking his lips and picked up his glass to take a gulp of the Cabernet Sauvignon, his left-handed grip a little too tight. She smiled at him through lowered lashes and he had a very nasty feeling that he was blushing. Which was inexplicable. God, he hated that man. Vampire. Whatever.

"He tries to pretend that he is human, now, and it sickens me. Trying to ingratiate himself with the food. Playing at being good." Darla laughed. "It's beneath him. He isn't good. He's still Angelus under the skin - I *know* him. This dull, stolid mask of virtue doesn't fool me for a minute. The fire hasn't gone, it's just been contained. Inside he *burns*...he wants to rip and tear and bite and drink hot human blood. In his dreams he stops pretending." Her voice was practically a purr now and Lindsey's cock was straining uncomfortably in his pants, but he felt quite sure that she would know exactly what he was doing if he shifted his position however discreetly.

"What does he dream of?" the lawyer asked, trying to sound nonchalant. Her smile widened. She delicately cut a piece of tarte au citron with her spoon, raised it to her lips and devoured the morsel of dessert with her eyes closed, clearly relishing the explosion of tartness and the meltingly crisp sliver of buttery pastry dissolving on her tongue.

"I don't know yet," she replied softly. "Not the details. But he dreams of blood. I know he dreams of blood."

Once the plan had been put into action he saw her less regularly. Angel kept erratic and unsociable hours. Still Lindsey managed to see her at least once a week, often several times. He had little excuse now, since the Senior Partners' plan for Angel was well under way and so they presumably knew all they needed to know -still, nobody had tried to prevent him from seeing Darla yet.

"So what *does* he dream of?" asked Lindsey. The question had been burning in his mind for weeks now, along with the image of Darla straddling Angel while he slept. He was torn between arousal and jealousy but couldn't banish the thought of the two of them. The image cropped up at the most inappropriate moments, leaving him sitting in client meetings with a schoolboy hard-on under the desk.

Her smile was secretive and wicked as she spooned golden sugar crystals into black coffee and stirred.

"Blood. It's always blood. Blood and sex." She lifted the china cup to her lips and peered slyly at Lindsey over the rim as she drank. "My boy hasn't gone - he's still right there." She smiled fondly. "When I first made him he wiped out his entire village - left his parents' house a dripping shambles. It was beautiful. He would throw himself into bloodshed, revel in mayhem and destruction. He was...glorious. Angelus was always one for obsessions - it was always extremes, always going a step too far and then further still."

Lindsey was embarrassed but not entirely surprised to feel himself starting to harden again as she spoke -it seemed to be pretty much par for the course during his visits. He leaned forward a little and tried to hide the telltale bulge with his coffee cup. Darla's attention was not focused on Lindsey just then, but he suspected she still knew the effect she had on him. The effect she always had on him.

"I'm not surprised he's such a thorn in your side -with this *conscience*," her voice dripped unbridled scorn, "he would have to be the noblest, the most self-righteous and tedious of martyred saints. He knows in his heart that it isn't true, of course -talk about over-compensating!"

She paused a moment and a slightly saddened expression crossed her face. Her fingers curled more tightly around the coffee spoon.

"I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when he started sniffing around The Slayer. She looks a little like me, this one...although it always used to be Spike who had the self-destructive streak; provoking mobs, chasing Slayers. But I suppose there is a twisted logic to it. *She* did this to him, though - who would have thought the little cheerleader had it in her? But she's the one that's got him trying to save the world." After a longer pause she added with feeling, "I still cannot *believe* he staked me for that simpering little bitch."

Lindsey drank his coffee silently. He was often silent around her - odd for a man whose fortune was so bound up in his words, perhaps, but she had that effect on him. He grew tongue tied in her presence. He couldn't begin to understand how Angel could have brought himself to kill her. //Bastard// Nor could he understand why the much-vaunted soul made such a difference - he really couldn't. The vast majority of Lindsey's clients had been in full possession of souls, but it hadn't stopped them from doing all manner of terrible things to their fellow men. Lindsey really didn't get it.

For some reason he wanted very badly to know whether Angel dreamed about him, but he couldn't quite bring himself to ask. He had a suspicion that Darla knew it too, could somehow detect the question hanging unspoken in the air.

No power on earth would get him to admit it, but he too had been dreaming about Darla a lot recently. And about Angel. And blood. And sex.

"So it's working? You're getting to him?" he asked instead.

She laughed at the question.

"Oh yes. Yes, my sweet boy is coming apart at the seams. I've given him a much more exciting obsession than this thankless dark avenger kick he's been on. I'm opening up the sweet dark places inside." Her smile was serenely confident.

"My Angel is going to teach Lucifer how to fall."

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