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TITLE: Smoke ('Burning' Sequence, No. 3)
AUTHOR: FayJay
FEEDBACK: Constructive criticism received with real gratitude. Praise received with mindless dance of joy.
CONTACT: pandorapandarus@hotmail.com
ARCHIVE/DISTRIBUTION: fanfiction.net, List Archives, Wherever. Just ask.
SUMMARY: Lindsey, Darla, Angel.
SPOILERS: None. AtS Season 2, concurrent with 'Darla' episode.
CONTENT/WARNINGS:
RATING: PG-13, for a dash of immoderate language.
DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Numfar. Not even a little bit. Any text inside quotation marks inside brackets is from episodes & belongs to magnificent Jossverse writers. 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 was out of the loop.

When he approached Holland his thoughts were full of blood and broken glass. If anyone *ever* had justification for a nervous breakdown then it was his girl; alive, then dead, then undead, then dead, now alive - she could surely be forgiven for any lingering existential uncertainty. He felt dizzy just thinking about it. The knot of nervous tension in his belly had tightened convulsively when he entered her apartment and took in the mirror-strewn chaos it had become. Angel, he had assumed automatically - not pausing to follow the thought to its logical conclusion, that she would have had to invite him in. Not wanting to wonder whether she would have invited him in - *why* she would have invited him in.

But it was not Angel after all, as it turned out - it was Darla who was coming apart at the seams.

"She is way ahead of schedule," Holland had said thoughtfully when Lindsey brought her to the office and tried to broach the subject of her fragility -and Lindsey felt the floor turn to quicksand under his feet. Stupid of him not to realise they were playing her, were playing him. Stupid, stupid, stupid; you could never afford to take your eye off the ball with Wolfram and Hart, not for a moment. And Lindsey had been distracted for considerably longer than a moment, but he simply hadn't realised how much of his edge he'd lost.

Lindsey McDonald had turned his back on redemption but he hadn't poured his energy back into building his career with Wolfram and Hart, not quite; he'd poured it into The Project. Darla. His enemy's enemy. The princess they'd awoken from a four-year sleep in a ceremony that finally cost Lindsey his hand. She fascinated him, but he hadn't realised how much off guard he had become until he spoke to Holland and took in the other man's response.

They *wanted* her to crack up.


Watching the grainy CCTV footage afterwards, Lindsey felt curiously calm. Free fall. Knew he was a dead man walking, but he'd known that in his gut for months now. (And there were plenty of dead men walking around LA.) It was even possible that they still might not kill him just yet - he found that he didn't really care. He was afraid for Darla, though - kicking himself for having let her get so thoroughly under his skin, but it was far too late now. First thing he thought of in the morning, last thing he thought of at night - Lindsey McDonald was thoroughly hooked. On a hooker.

He was afraid of what the firm would do to her and he was afraid of what she might do to herself, afraid that she wasn't as strong as she thought she was.

No damned good thinking like this now, though. He should have been thinking like this *then*. Couldn't think straight in her presence, couldn't think of anything but how much he wanted her. For a frighteningly smart guy, he really did do too much thinking with his dick.

But it wasn't like that - or not *only* like that.

Wasn't scared for her *then*, just burning to touch her. Sunlight in her hair - and it just astonished him to think of her as only moonlit for all those years. Hardly even listening to her words, just wondering what was the right thing to say that would make her look at him the way she looked at Angel; make her breathe "Lindsey" with the inflection that was reserved for her "dear boy" - the dear boy he hated more than ever since setting eyes on Darla.

And it wasn't even her real name. That had surprised him, made him realise how little he really knew about her. All these weeks of gentle questioning, of listening to anecdotes, filing reports with Holland like a good team player. Keeping other things to himself, little nuggets of information that he guarded jealously. Weeks and weeks of Darla 101 and he still knew nothing. It also surprised him how little he gave a shit whether she was that not-Darla human girl or whether she was the bloodsucking demon who had left a trail of carnage in her wake for centuries. He didn't know and he really didn't give a damn - he just knew that he wanted her, whoever she was. Whatever she was.

"Why haven't you kissed me? - You've been dying for it, haven't you?"

And there it had been, out in the open without any warning. Weeks of wanting her, wondering whether she would welcome his touch. Weeks of being a gentleman and then she just up and *said* it like it was no big deal. Made him feel like an idiot then, but he couldn't change his nature - he'd been treating her like a lady. Perhaps that made him seem like less of a man to her? And this might all be another fucking mind-game, but he didn't care - he'd been waiting for an invitation (God, the stupid irony) and this was invitation enough.

//Mine//

She was sweet and warm and *alive* under his mouth, under his hand. And Lindsey hadn't entirely forgotten about the cameras, hadn't forgotten that every action, every word, every thought you had was monitored by the firm. . . but the part of his brain responsible for caution seemed to have taken an unexpected day off. Suddenly schoolboy-clumsy - how did she always do this to him? - he surrendered his composure along with his common sense. Made no attempt to hide his need or his desire - he knew she could feel his hard-on through their clothes but was beyond worrying about rejection. Beyond thinking of consequences. He was famished for her.

"It's nice, but it's not me you want to screw."

So dispassionate! And there were layers of meaning there that had excited Lindsey even as they sent a jolt of pure anger through him. She always came back to Angel, dammit, and she was *still* thinking about him now. And there was no truth to it, none at all. He'd only been dreaming about Angel because she talked about him so much, because it was work. Nothing more. He didn't want Angel, he wanted Darla - soft and warm and delicately scented in his arms. He wasn't imagining skin like cold silk, shoulders broader than his own, cool hands that could lift him like a child and pin him to a wall. Not at all. ("You always have a choice. I mean, you sold your soul for a fifth-floor office and a company car.")

She always came back to Angel - and it was Angel she called for help. Called from Lindsey's office, using Lindsey's phone.

Watching the footage with Holland afterwards, he felt numb. The events unfolded with perfect inevitability -desire and death in miniature, all neatly rendered in black and white. Although not actually black and white when you looked properly - it was all in variegated shades of grey.

Lindsey's whole life was played out in grey areas.


Smoke and mirrors. Walls within walls. Lindsey was being taken for a fool but he was damned if he was going to let the bastards hurt her - so he gritted his teeth and made the call. It rankled, just as it had stung when he caught Darla calling her "dear boy" for help from his office - but in the end it came down to this: Angel could save her, so Lindsey would swallow his pride. Again.

("This situation has gotten too far out of control. I'm terminating the project.")

But of course he didn't get the chance to make the call, because suddenly Lindsey's world contracted to a circle of pain around his bruised throat and he was dangling like an idiot while Angel loomed behind him and played the macho card. Again.

The lawyer was just all kinds of pissed about that.

In the stillness of the parking lot they both heard Cordelia trilling her inane promise to help the helpless, which struck Lindsey as more than a little ironic in the circumstances. The self righteous bastard behind him still didn't let up, though; kept right on not-breathing down his neck, but Lindsey hoped that - in the face of this evidence of Lindsey's good intent - the damned vampire at least *felt* like the big jerk he was. Wasn't sure whether Angel knew the meaning of the word 'embarrassed', though -possibly too many syllables in it for him. What Darla had ever seen in Angel he really couldn't guess.

("Hell, I just might be coming back for you anyway")


Afterwards Lindsey swore under his breath as he slid in front of his steering wheel and sat perfectly still for a long time, fingering his tender throat cautiously and waiting for his pulse to return to its normal rate. Lindsey was tired and suddenly really, really sick of all this *shit*. He was still pretty keyed up about Darla, but if Angel's track record was anything to go by the sonofabitch would save her. That was what he did, after all - rescue damsels in distress, leap tall buildings in a single bound, save the day, all that comic book bullshit. Forgive assassins sent to stake him, forgive the Sire who stole his soul in the first place - forgive just about anybody other than Lindsey McDonald, in fact. Lindsey had been naïve - no, *stupid* - to think that Angel might give a damn about his redemption. Might understand why Wolfram and Hart had seemed like a dream come true to a white trash sophomore at Hastings. Might respect the fact that he wanted out, that he was willing to risk his life to help three kids he'd never set eyes on. Angel didn't *give* a damn. Unless you were a mentally unbalanced little slip of a girl with a history of homicide, in which case he was just falling over himself to help you down that thorny path. Bastard.

But just now Lindsey was grateful - because it meant that Darla had a chance. And that was the only thing Lindsey cared about at the moment.

He ran his fingers cautiously over the tender skin of his throat once more. The vampire was just So. Damned. *Strong*. If Darla had that kind of strength, he reflected, she wouldn't be so appallingly defenceless against the Senior Partners; and she wouldn't need to go running to Angel for help.


Days passed, nights passed, and still Lindsey saw no sign of Darla. Oh, he knew Angel had succeeded, knew it for a fact, but he still wanted to see her in the flesh. Nothing. It was driving him quietly crazy to think of her with Angel but there really wasn't a damned thing Lindsey McDonald could do about it. His thoughts were all of her - her warmth, her smell, the softness of her sunlit hair slipping through his fingers, the painfully vivid sense-memory of her lips under his own.

Lindsey McDonald wasn't used to rejection. First Angel, now Darla - it was quite a family trait.


She had a syphilitic heart condition.

Of course he didn't believe it at first - what was one more lie to add to the crazy Celtic-knot-work of lies Wolfram and Hart had woven already? But still he had a sinking feeling even before he checked and double checked and triple checked. Why lie?

Smoke and mirrors. . . but it seemed like the bastards really had brought her back with this built-in time bomb ticking away, for whatever twisted reason. No growing old gracefully (or disgracefully) for Darla. No Thanksgiving dinners surrounded by kids and grand kids and cats and dogs. No future. She was just a thing for the company to use, same as him - and it was all about Angel. Lindsey was out of the loop, but he knew that this was all part of the Senior Partners' plan for Angel and they didn't give a damn who they hurt in the process.

("Did-did you know anything about this?" And the look on her face had just *killed* him; he'd wanted to say 'No, no honey - I didn't know about this. I wouldn't have played this trick on you, baby, not in a million years. I'm so sorry.' But he'd said nothing.)

It wasn't fair. She'd only just begun to live.

Alone in his apartment (always alone - it had been such a long time since Lindsey had had anyone to come home to that he could scarcely remember what that kind of everyday intimacy felt like any longer) Lindsey had read all the files. Then he re-read them. Then he opened the bottle and lit up the first cigarette he'd had in months. (He obviously hadn't *really* quit, though, or he'd have thrown that pack away.)

Darla was dying and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it. Time to think laterally.

One of the things Lindsey liked about smoking was the look of it. Watching the smoke curl up like some swirling Art Nouveau pattern was so damned pretty...and sure, they killed you, but the odds of Lindsey McDonald living long enough for cancer to be an issue seemed pretty tiny by this point, so what the fuck.

God, he had *missed* cigarettes.

He should certainly be worrying about his own future right now, but instead he found himself waxing metaphysical. What, Lindsey asked himself, was a soul? Less substantial than smoke - you couldn't see it, you couldn't taste it, you couldn't touch it; an invisible wisp of *something* clinging to one's flesh. Lindsey knew it wasn't The Self, not exactly, because he knew vampires retained the speech pattern, the knowledge and, to a greater or lesser degree, the personalities and proclivities of the humans they had been.

He hefted the bourbon, enjoying the solid weight of the glass in his hand and taking in the familiar amber glow of the liquid. His mama would have been horrified to know how much each of the glasses had cost - they looked so simple. He knocked back another mouthful and savoured it. Slow-burning. Clean. Uncomplicated.

Lindsey's music system, like the glasses, was deceptively understated. It had cost him a month's wages. Signifiers of wealth and class, these little details - signifiers of success. Things that quietly said 'one of us' or 'one of them'. Lindsey knew all about these little details now - the right clothes, the right restaurants, the right haircuts. He knew how to read all the little signs that bespoke old money, new money, no money, old money fallen on hard times. In this he was no longer his father's son, no longer recognisable at all. Batteries of gleaming silverware held no power to disconcert Lindsey McDonald now; he knew how to eat escargot or artichokes with perfect equanimity.

In matters of philosophy, however, Lindsey felt less certain of his ability to gauge value.

So what *was* a soul? Vampires, as far as Lindsey McDonald was concerned, were basically humans with sharper teeth and less need for restraint. When it came to calculated evil they didn't come close to what humans were capable of committing. Holland Manners had a soul. Tony Papazian had a soul. Vanessa Brewer had a soul. As far as Lindsey could see, possessing a soul was no guarantee of humanity. Conversely there were demons, Lindsey knew for a fact, who were considerably more compassionate than Lilah Morgan. Or Lindsey McDonald, for that matter.

Lindsey didn't believe in God, but he believed in the Devil. Still, if the price of earthly prosperity was a mortgaged soul, Lindsey McDonald was prepared to run the risk and accept the consequences. Or at least he had believed that he was before the blind assassin. Before the kids. Things had become a little less clear cut around about then.

Lindsey did not sleep well at night, and lately his dreams had taken a new - but no less disturbing -twist. He found himself frequently waking from troubled images of Angel and his Sire; waking hot and trembling from too-vivid dreams of sex and death. All very banal, very predictable. Very disturbing.

The bourbon was going down too fast, but Lindsey couldn't find it in him to care. He weighed up Darla's options as dispassionately as he could. One: she could have two or three months of weakly human existence, complete with sunlight, cherry pie and a reasonably clean-ish conscience, culminating in a pointless and cripplingly painful death. Two: she could have an eternity of superhuman existence (barring unforeseen stakes, sunshine or decapitation) thriving on an iron-rich liquid diet, ageless, powerful and unencumbered by any guilt-inducing soul. No more reflections taunting her, no more shards of mirror. Free.

This, as far as Lindsey McDonald could see, was no choice at all. He took another drag on his cigarette and listened to the music that poured irresistibly from the costly speakers. "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", a song that had invariably provoked a smile back in the early days at Wolfram and Hart. The tune still had the power to lift his spirits and set his feet tapping, but experience had made him doubt his ability to beat the devil at his own game.

On good days Lindsey felt ready to handle whatever they threw at him - felt ready to take the consequences of his actions, whatever they might be. On bad days he was troubled by hope - the fly in the ointment, the last sprite to leave Pandora's box. Hope made him miserable, it shone a merciless spotlight on his life and showed him everything in stark relief -crisp black and white instead of shades of grey. On bad days Lindsey could believe in redemption. On bad days it took a lot of bourbon before Lindsey McDonald stumbled to his bed and thrashed wearily through another round of sticky vampire dreams.

If Darla were a vampire, she would be free from Wolfram and Hart. She would have eternity stretching before her, free from sickness, free from weakness, free from the various whips and scorns of time inherent in this whole mortal coil. Free from Angel. If she remained human, she would die in agony, losing dignity and sanity along the way - Lindsey had done plenty of research and he knew that full blown syphilis was *not* a pretty sight.

Syphilitic heart condition - but Lindsey felt like it was his own heart that was breaking.

A real man would not vacillate over morality and metaphysics; a real man would take whatever steps were needed to keep her safe. Darla respected passion and determination - well, Lindsey could give her those, and to hell with the consequences.

If Angel would not save her, Lindsey would do it himself - one way or another. He stubbed out the cigarette butt, an expression of absolute determination in his blue eyes as the last wisps of smoke dissipated into thin air. Lindsey McDonald would not let her down.


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