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Sea Change

by Yahtzee

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

by Yahtzee

Part I

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 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 --

"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 --

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 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. 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 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 II

Some of Lindsey's law professors were younger -- more casual dressers, women as well as men, black as well as white. They tried to be funny and friendly, and it showed up in their hypotheticals: the contentious parties would have names from Star Trek or Cheers, or the criminal cases would be the fallout from popular action movies. ("For which criminal acts does the Terminator have specific as opposed to general intent? Discuss.")

Lindsey was never greatly entertained by these efforts, well-meaning though they might have been. He greatly preferred the older professors --white, male, clad in three-piece suits even on swelteringly hot days. They represented a certain formality he valued in his professors, if almost nowhere else.

These professors did not try to make their hypotheticals amusing. They made them difficult, to separate the weak from the strong, and Lindsey, ever-strong, appreciated this.

They also did not attempt to show imagination. Parties were named A, B, C and so forth. And the property they clashed over -- the estate they possessed and inherited and trespassed upon and contracted for -- was invariably called by the same name. Blackacre.

Perversely, that name stirred Lindsey's imagination far more than the whimsical hypotheticals ever had or could. Blackacre. It sounded old, Gothic, expensive -- the sort of place that would be surrounded by a cast-iron gate thick with scrollwork, and brambles that twisted into thorns. Like something out of the romantic books his older sisters used to read and leave, dog-eared, on the back porch. Lindsey (done with his exam early, holding onto his bluebook lest the others discover his ability) imagined the path that would lead to Blackacre -- old stones, broken decades back, so that dust and grass showed between the cracks, winding through ancient, shadowy trees to the fortresslike Blackacre. Blackacre -- a name meant to be dry, dull, and impersonal -- was more vivid to Lindsey than any of the funny, familiar hypotheticals ever were. It captured a desire in him he had hardly known was there -- a desire to explore darkness and mystery, a desire to break down barriers.

He did not fully recognize this desire in himself until far later in life, after it had already led him into the belly of Wolfram & Hart. And only now does he realize what he had always wanted to find within Blackacre, who he had always wanted to discover locked up in its attics. At the heart of Blackacre -- wrapped within history and danger and trespass --that's where Angel was waiting.

Or so it seems to him now, as he lies on Angel's bunk, watching Angel sleep.

Lindsey has heard many bad poets and songwriters wax rhapsodic about watching a lover sleep; Angel is not really his lover yet, but that's not why this scene has relatively few pleasures for Lindsey.

For one, Angel does not breathe slowly in sleep, flutter his eyelids, mumble nonsensical words or do any of the other simple things that lovers find endearing. Angel just lies there like the dead body he is. Also, Angel is lying across Lindsey's arm, the one original he has left, and the solid muscles that were so inviting to look upon and so arousing to touch are now just part of the bulk that has crushed out all feeling from elbow to fingers.

But Lindsey doesn't push Angel away, or try to move. It's still too amazing, too new, that he could be lying here in bed with Angel at all. And besides, if he hopes to get Angel to accept him willingly as his lover, Lindsey will have to be kinder than his usual inclination for a few days, or weeks. Months?

Yes, Lindsey thinks with a faint smile, even months. He is at sea, and he is pursuing his dreams, and after all, he has nothing better to do.

He looks at Angel again, and his eyes narrow as he looks again at the gold chain around Angel's neck, the ring. that is lying on his collarbone. The shape is familiar -- two hands on either side of a crowned heart. A claddagh ring. Lindsey knows it's Irish, thinks there's some symbolism that goes with it; there's something romantic, something that gets reprinted on greeting cards -- but something more, too. Something religious.

Lindsey reaches out with his free hand to touch the ring; perhaps sensing the motion, Angel stirs, then opens his eyes. He registers some surprise when he sees he's not alone, but Lindsey can tell Angel remembers what happened. He's just surprised Lindsey stayed.

"Do vampires get hangovers?" Lindsey asks quietly.

"It's possible," Angel says, without letting on to his own condition. He pushes himself up on his elbows, freeing Lindsey's arm; Lindsey pulls it back, trying not to let his profound relief show.

Slowly clenching and releasing his numbed hand, Lindsey says, "You slept for about ten hours. If that was all sleep -- guess you could've been passed out for part of it. With you, there's not a whole lot of telling."

"It was sleep," Angel says. "Lindsey -- last night --"

Lindsey braces himself; what's Angel gonna say? The worst possibility, in which an outraged Angel attacks him for taking advantage, is already ruled out. Would've done it first thing, if he was going to do it at all. But the game Lindsey's going to play depends almost entirely on what Angel does next: how angry he is, how distant, how lonely.

Because, as much as Lindsey's trying not to think about just how Angel ended up this way, he still hasn't been able to miss the fact that Angel's lonely.

Angel doesn't say anything. His last words just hang there, in the uncomfortable silence of his bunk. He's not going to tell Lindsey to get out, or apologize, or do anything else. Already, the heaviness and distance is back in Angel's eyes; left to his own devices, he'll just get up and tell the captain to fill the pool again. He doesn't care about what happened here between him and Lindsey, just wants to get back to blotting it out of his mind. Whatever "it" is.

"You're not swimming today," Lindsey says. Angel half-turns to look at him; Lindsey props up so that they're face to face. "You're creeping out everyone else on the boat, you know that? You want to fill the hours, you're gonna have to do it some other way."

"I don't think that's your decision to make," Angel says.

"I think maybe it is," Lindsey says. He leans forward -- they're within kissing distance -- and Angel leans back. Good, Lindsey thinks. Finally getting some reaction here. "Listen, I don't know how you ended up like this, and I shouldn't care. But I do. You want to know why?" Without waiting for an answer, Lindsey plows on: "It's because I know at least some part of it is my fault. I give you a lot of shit because of what you did to me -- and don't expect me to stop anytime soon, by the way -- but it goes both ways. And I know it. I know what I did to you."

Angel shakes his head. "This isn't your fault," he says quietly. "This has --nothing -- to do with you."

So. Not Darla, then. Not the firm at all. Lindsey mentally files this away for future reference. "Maybe," Lindsey says. "The fact is, I owe you. And I'm about tired of owing anyone for anything. I'm tired of just living with what I've done. I want -- I want to make up for some of it, Angel. You understand that, right?"

Angel looks at him, his expression unreadable, and then he nods.

Lindsey tries to hold back his sigh of relief. Playing the redemption card this early in was a calculated risk, but apparently it's going to pay off.

They don't swim.

It's the only activity available on the ship they don't try, those first few days; that's the first of many habits Lindsey's hoping to break Angel of. Instead, Lindsey checks out tapes and CDs from the officers; Angel is in no mood for comedies, but he'll watch the heavy dramas and the action flicks --that is, except one night, when Michelle Yeoh's kicking ass and taking names hits Angel wrong, and he turns off the TV without even asking Lindsey. They're better off with the CDs. There's a large classical selection, which Angel likes, and they can lie there together for hours, not talking, just letting the music flow through the room.

And they do lie together -- when Lindsey left the cabin that first time to grab a quick lunch, he went back to his own room, left behind only a handful of things to claim it as his territory, and basically moved his backpack and himself into Angel's room. Angel was still too numb to protest, although Lindsey did see Angel raise an eyebrow when Lindsey tossed his underwear into a drawer. He hasn't remarked on the fact that Lindsey's moved in, either to protest or to approve. But they lay on the bed together watching movies that entire first day, and when the last one clicked at the end and started rewinding, Lindsey didn't bother asking if it was all right for him to fall asleep in the bed next to Angel.

Angel hasn't fought it. Though there's been no repetition of the first night's events -- Lindsey can still feel Angel's cool kiss every time he lets himself think about it, which is as seldom as possible, which is still fairly often -- apparently they earned Lindsey at least some of the rights of a lover. He is allowed to sleep in Angel's bed, by Angel's side.

Lindsey is not used to this kind of slow-burn buildup to sex. He's kept both sexuality and romance strictly compartmentalized his entire adult life, separating them from the rest of his existence, not to mention from each other as far as possible. Most of his discipline and work has gone into the firm; therefore, Lindsey's sexual history consists mostly of brief affairs, begun and ended quickly, if never impulsively. He sees someone he wants, he weighs the risks and probabilities -- and then he then either goes for it immediately or sets it aside as unworkable. He broke this rule for Darla and paid the price; at this glacial pace, he's seriously bending the rule for Angel.. And if he thought the waiting was killing him for Darla, that was because he didn't have a goddamn clue what it would be like to lie next to Angel at night, to see him coming out of the shower in the morning, wet hair, moist skin, towel only loosely wrapped and low on the hips --

Lindsey still has enough discpline to cut these thoughts off early. Fairly early, anyway. So he's playing a different kind of game these days; he seems to be playing it well. All in all, he's in good position to make his move as soon as the time is right.

Whenever that might be.

But breaking through Angel's misery is going to take a long time, and Lindsey learns the hard way not to push it. The third night, he talks Angel into going on a walk on deck; the ocean is still surreally calm, almost without a wave, and the sky is brilliant with stars, the way it never can be in Los Angeles, with its smog and city lights. It reminds Lindsey a little of Oklahoma, though he tries not to think about that.

They walk along the deck, Angel in his enviable wool coat, Lindsey in his anorak, not talking, just taking in the stars and the silence. Lindsey sees Orange Parka checking them out, realizes that by lunchtime tomorrow the entire ship will believe that The Swimmer and Guitar Guy are an item. Fine by Lindsey; he doubts a bunch of guys who spend almost their entire lives alone together at sea are going to be real shocked, and as for rumor among the passengers -- well, appearances have a way of becoming less deceiving as time goes on.

Angel keeps looking at the horizon, where black water meets black sky, and not at Lindsey.

"Don't you have a mission to get back to?" Lindsey said.

Angel shrugs. "I'll go back."

"When exactly? Because I don't think you're checking yourself into a monastery just for the weekend."

"When I can face it."

That strikes Lindsey as a little odd. "When you can face what?" he says, thinking about walking into Wolfram & Hart every day. "When you can face the fact that the gods in their heavens chose you to be their very special errand boy? That the road you're on leads straight to the Pearly Gates? Yeah, that's gotta be a cross to bear."

No sooner is it out of his mouth than Lindsey wants to cringe. He's supposed to be supportive, or barring that, silent; also, it just occurred to him that the idea of bearing a cross probably carries some very literal and ugly resonance for vampires.

He glances over at Angel, and Angel's mouth is twisted in a grimace. Lindsey's waiting for Angel to lash out -- but Angel's not mad at him.

"When I can face that they chose me," Angel says. His hand moves up to his neck; Lindsey watches his fist clench around the claddagh ring on the chain. The movement seems instinctive, like a primitive clutching a talisman or a totem of something very dear. "When I can face that they let me have all the agony that comes with a soul but deny me the happiness that's supposed to make up for it. When I can face that they make me promises, that they make bargains with me, and they only keep their word if they feel like it. That they torture my best friend, make her see things so we can stop them, but they pick and choose what to make her see. What they'll let me prevent."

Angel's hand tightens even more around the ring, so hard the metal's got to be cutting into his flesh. He doesn't seem to notice it, just stares out at the water as his face contorts in rage. "When I can face the fact that they asked me to sacrifice the thing I wanted most in this world -- the thing she wanted most in this world -- that they asked me to do it to save her, and I did it, I did it to save her, and then they didn't save her -- they just let her --"

They? She? Lindsey can't quite put this together, but he's pretty damn sure it would be a bad time to interrupt.

"When I can deal with the fact that they don't care, and I can give it all up and it can all mean nothing anyway, and when I can finally just let it go --" Angel rips at the chain, breaking it, and throws the ring with all his might into the ocean. One glint of light against the waves, and it's gone forever.

Lindsey looks at Angel, surprised; Angel is staring after the ring with something that goes beyond horror, beyond regret. If Angel could dive into the ocean right now, spend the next fifty years diving back into the water over and over to find that ring and have any chance of doing so, Lindsey is sure he'd do it. Because he has the sense that Angel threw away something more than just a bit of jewelry, and that Angel knows it too.

But the ocean's too vast for that, and even Angel's life is too short. After a moment, Angel turns to go back inside. Lindsey follows him, and as they lie next to each other that night, Lindsey realizes that Angel is even further away, in his mind, than he was before.

So, after this, he doesn't push.

Lindsey begins pulling Angel into some of the rhythms of daily life aboard the ship -- getting him to go to meals, telling him about the various passengers. Some of this is practical -- Lindsey has to eat, and he still isn't certain that he won't come back to the cabin sometime to find his stuff in the hallway and the door locked. Some of it is pure desperation, since after all they must talk about something during all these hours. And some of it is a gamble on Lindsey's part, a guess that Angel will feel obligated to be polite to strangers, more than he does to Lindsey.

This much of the gamble pays off; Louis and Marjorie talk Angel's ear off at virtually every meal. They're almost too friendly, in what Lindsey suspects is an attempt to make the gay couple feel accepted. Angel fits in as best he can, even eats a little of the cook's atrocious macaroni and cheese, which has to be even more tasteless to him than it is to Lindsey. Angel doesn't open up about himself -- Lindsey has never before realized just how good a defense strategy Angel's social cluelessness actually is -- but he asks Louis and Marjorie a lot of questions, and they're happy to answer. And Lindsey feels ridiculously triumphant to be in the officers' mess of a ship somewhere in the South Pacific, looking at photos of grandchildren with a vampire. Angel's curiosity is reawakening; the rest will come soon.

But Lindsey had not fully calculated what the return of Angel's curiosity would mean, and he scarcely considers the issue at all until the beginning of their second week in the same cabin, the day of the storm.

The waves begin swelling in the middle of the afternoon, rocking Angel's cabin, sending the few things they didn't have stowed away tumbling around the cabin. Despite Angel's insistence that this is nothing, particularly compared to a certain hurricane in the West Indies in the 1820s, Lindsey is unconvinced and goes abovedecks to ask the officers if they are in danger. He thinks it will help him to see the waves, gauge their size and menace; when Lindsey finally gets abovedecks and glimpses a wall of water twenty feet higher than the ship, he wishes he hadn't seen it.

To Lindsey's amazement and annoyance, the sailors agree with Angel. This is nothing. Lindsey is left to take his fear and his motion sickness back down below.

Angel gives him a look when he stumbles through the door, bracing himself for a moment against the wall. "What did they say?"

"Shut up," Lindsey says, which tells Angel pretty much the whole story. Angel smiles a little, which would either encourage Lindsey or piss him off if he could concentrate on anything besides not throwing up.

Lindsey gets to the bed and clings to it desperately throughout the evening as the ship pitches and rolls. At times he imagines that he is already overboard, clinging to a life raft in the middle of the treacherous ocean. Seasickness apparently holds no sway over vampires; Angel is able to read, watch a video, even walk about the cabin with no visible discomfort and only the slightest signs that he has to struggle for balance.

They don't make conversation until very late, when a sudden drop sends Lindsey's backpack crashing out of the closet. A crinkled sheet of notebook paper falls out.

Angel sees it before Lindsey does; Lindsey notices Angel's reaction first, and only then turns back to see the letter lying on the floor, Angel's broad hand picking it up. Lindsey feels all the muscles in his body clench as Angel offhandedly tosses the backpack in the closet again and unfolds the paper. Angel does not ask for permission to read it. He just does.

Lindsey's father never let his lack of writing skills stop him from sending letters while Lindsey was in school. One a month, maybe two, depending on how good Lindsey had been at dodging his phone calls. So Lindsey's had lovers find notes from his father before. A couple of girls and most of the guys had laughed at the bad spelling and grammar, until Lindsey smoothly changed the subject, hiding his clenched fists. One guy -- Jason, from Kansas, so long ago -- had looked up at him earnestly and told Lindsey that this letter made Jason respect him all the more, now that he had seen where Lindsey came from and how far he'd traveled, and knew just how brave Lindsey really was.

Lindsey could still remember feeling the bone in Jason's jaw snap beneath his fist, the bewildered expression on Jason's face as he stumbled out of the dorm room, clutching his Polo shirt in one hand.

Angel, however, reads the note over slowly, then says, "Your father loves you very much."

Funny, how he hasn't thought of that -- as simply as that -- for so long. And how much he doesn't like thinking about it. "Guess so," Lindsey says. "No accountin' for tastes."

"Will you do what he wants?" Angel says. "Will you go see him?"

Lindsey looks up at Angel, who is standing steady in the center of the room, despite the fact that it feels as though they're being tossed about wildly. Angel's calm goes deeper than his body, too. Now that he's got Lindsey tense, Angel's more relaxed. Some things don't change. "Eventually," Lindsey says. "I'm in no rush. I don't jump on his command anymore."

He figures this comment will either shut Angel up or earn him a lecture; to his surprise, Angel laughs. "What's the joke?" Lindsey asks.

"You are," Angel says without a trace of sarcasm. "You think you're free of your father. Nobody's ever free from his father, Lindsey."

"Not even you," Lindsey says. He knows the bald facts about Angel's parents -- the descriptions of their bodies as recorded by the parish priest, transcribed from church records in a Wolfram & Hart report old enough to have been typed on yellowing paper he pulled from a file. But those are words, only words, and Lindsey's suddenly very curious about what it would really mean -- to kill your father, to live two and a half centuries past that murder, to still have it affect you. He doesn't think, for a moment, that Angel could be talking about anything but the murder.

But then Angel says, "I told myself I'd never have to hear his voice again. And I don't think one day has gone by that I haven't heard it."

"What was he like? Your father?"

"My father -- " Angel is quiet, considering this. He's clearly struggling for the words; Lindsey realizes that nobody's asked Angel this before. He realizes also that he didn't ask for any tactical purpose -- just because he wanted to know. Bad planning. Can't let that happen again -- "My father believed in order. Rules. Cause and effect. Justice and punishment." Then Angel's face softens slightly, and he continues, "He was a good horseman. Loved to ride. He had a tremendous singing voice, even though he never sang anywhere but in church. He wanted to think of himself as a rich man, even though he wasn't one. His favorite meal was roast beef, and he laughed at all my mother's superstitions, and he wouldn't bother learning the names of the barn cats. Just called them all 'cat,' regardless. My first memory of him is of him riding up on his horse -- I don't know where he'd been -- but my mother lifted me up to the window, and I saw him riding up, and I waved, and he smiled and waved back at me. And I felt very grown-up and proud, that my father waved to me from the street."

Angel is quiet for a long while after this speech, which is as much as Lindsey's ever heard Angel say at one time. Lindsey lets him stay quiet, then goes back to the first words. Those are often the most critical. "He believed in order. In rules. And you weren't big on that, were you?"

"My father thought that obedience was the same as love," Angel says. "I thought disobedience was the same as freedom. I was young." He pauses, then adds, "And now I see -- he was too."

Angel hands the letter to Lindsey, and to Lindsey's surprise, his hand is shaking as he takes it from Angel's. If Angel notices, he doesn't let on. But later that night, when the storm has calmed somewhat and Angel has joined Lindsey in the bed, Lindsey lets his hand rest against Angel's back. Angel doesn't pull away.

The waiting is worse, after that.

Lindsey's a patient man, relatively speaking. Being a lawyer demands that of you, even in a firm with methods as unconventional as Wolfram & Hart's. But this, dammit -- this is starting to drive him crazy.

He's losing sleep now; there's no way to fully relax with Angel lying next to him, shirt off, sometimes just in his underwear, not touching Lindsey's body -- but not avoiding him either. If Lindsey puts an arm across one of Angel's shoulders, or lets his leg brush against Angel's -- Angel lets him. It's not exactly the wild erotic response Lindsey might wish for, but it's a step forward, a sign that his game is working.

But his ability to play the game is draining away. Lindsey is losing his perspective, losing his cool.

He lies awake at night watching Angel, feeling his cock go hard just at the sight of Angel's naked chest. He wants to touch himself so badly on those nights, when he's so hot for Angel it hurts. And he can't help but wonder what Angel would do if he awoke to find Lindsey in the act, pumping into his own fist; in these nighttime musings, Lindsey's mind is so febrile, so overheated, that he can imagine Angel not being dismayed or amused, but instead being turned on, replacing Lindsey's hand with his mouth --

Thus far, Lindsey hasn't tried this fantasy out. He's only jacking off in the shower, though he's doing this often enough that Angel must have caught on by now -- unless he actually is as obtuse as he sometimes acts, a possibility Lindsey hasn't ruled out.

This much of it -- the sexual tension, the pain of waiting -- that's to be expected. It might be more intense than anything Lindsey's experienced before, but so has everything else so far in his relationship with Angel. No, as much as it's killing him, he can handle what's happening with his body.

What's happening on the inside, though, is a hell of a lot scarier.

When he sees that Angel's hurting -- and this is still clear, still hanging on Angel like a shroud -- Lindsey feels an answering pang in his own chest, actual physical pain. Sometimes, when they're lying together in bed, Lindsey's thoughts don't turn instantly to sex; when he wants to reach out and touch Angel, he's thinking only of stroking his hair, or even just holding him. Just holding him close, putting his arms around him, making some of that pain fall away from him --

Lindsey's known this feeling precious few times in his life. His memories of it are only fleeting, because every time he's recognized it, he's run like hell. And when he recognizes it there in the dark, he can feel it closing in on him -- like elevator walls around a claustrophobic, making his pulse race and his sweat go cold. As much as he wants Angel, as close as he can tell he is getting to a place where he might achieve his goal, when Lindsey recognizes this feeling, he wants to run like hell again.

But he's on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Where's he going to run to?

Worst of all, he has begun to talk. And not just to fill the hours, not just to draw Angel out. Lindsey is beginning to talk because he wants Angel to hear. To understand. Something in him has begun to wish that Angel would understand, and this can only be because something in him has begun to think that if Angel understood, everything would be different.

Lindsey is close to Angel's body, but he is as far as ever from Angel's soul, and his fresh knowledge of the distance hurts worse than his yearning body on those long nights.

And yet he stays in Angel's cabin, in Angel's bed. And he continues to talk.

"So this guy's standing there in the gym, and he's gotta see how run-down the school is, you know? Those bleachers were more graffiti than wood, at that point. Birds nesting at the top of the gym -- they'd swoop down, during ball games, sometimes."

"Must've been exciting." Angel has that almost-smile on his face, an expression that's fairly new to Lindsey. It's already just about his favorite. He is lying on his side, listening to Lindsey with what appears to be real interest.

"Yeah, if missing a free throw due to a bird shitting on you is exciting." Lindsey's got all their pillows under his head, is lying on his back, the better to hand both hands free to gesture. He likes to talk with his hands, now that he can again. It's rainy tonight -- though thankfully not stormy --and the pattering of the drops on their window is comforting. "But this guy -- he's so slick. His suit costs as much as my dad would make in about three months. And he's not acting like he's some big deal. The guys from the bank, they thought they were some kinda kings. Lording it over you while they're standing there in short-sleeved dress shirts and polyester pants. Not this guy. He had money, but he seemed like he was on the level." Lindsey laughs. "And he was there to tell us how you could overcome poverty or problems or anything else by going to law school. And maybe, someday, if we were lucky, we could find ourselves a law firm as fine as his."

"Wolfram & Hart," Angel says. It's not a question. "And you wanted that suit for yourself."

Once, that comment would have been a taunt from Angel. Now he's just trying to understand, and Lindsey wants him to be clear. "Not the suit. Not just the suit, anyway. It was the way he felt wearing it, you know? Like he was past ever having to worry about that kind of thing, ever again. He was so much better than us he didn't even have to think about being better. At least, that was how it looked to me then."

"He gave you a card," Angel postulates. "Asked you to call them if you needed work."

"Like they leave that much up to chance," Lindsey scoffs. "They go get 'em early at the firm. No, that guy asked the principal about any 'deserving students.' Kids who had brains but no money. So by the end of the day, me and about three other kids get to talk with him in the principal's office."

"What happened to the other kids?"

"Don't know," Lindsey says. "Nothing with the firm, anyway. They didn't fit the profile. But I did. That lawyer wrote me recommendation letters for college scholarships and law school. Got me to rush his fraternity. Checked up on me the whole way."

"Where is he now?"

"Dead," Lindsey says. He doesn't bother explaining -- by firm standards, it's not an especially horrifying story -- and Angel doesn't ask further. "Anyway, I knew from the beginning there was more to it. I mean, I didn't know about vampires or demons or anything -- but I knew there was something they wanted. You just don't get that kind of helping hand in the world, not without there being a price."

"Not often," Angel says quietly.

"But I didn't care. I never in my life felt as good as I did walking home that day. The road out to my house was tarred, and it was hot enough for it to melt, and so I had to walk in the dirt and smell that hot tar, and remember thinking, the day's gonna come when I never have to do this again. I didn't think anything else mattered."

They are silent together for a while, listening to the rain against the glass. The natural next question for Angel to ask is whether anything else matters to Lindsey now. Lindsey would like to be able to tell him yes -- he's pretty sure the answer is yes -- but there's still that doubt. Still the memory of how good it felt, to look down on Los Angeles from his office, to sit back in his leather chair, to know that he had power.

But even as they lie there, Lindsey realizes that Angel already understands this much -- given his own history, he could not help but understand it. Lindsey is warmed by that, touched in a way that revives the needy-scary feeling that's been welling up inside him these past few days.

He recognizes the emotion, feels the fear, and in his panic and dismay makes a mistake no lawyer should ever make, breaks the most basic of all courtroom rules. He asks a question for no purpose -- a question to which he does not know the answer.

"Why are you here?" Lindsey says. "Why are you going to Sri Lanka?"

There it is, bald and demanding, the question they've been avoiding ever since their first moments together on the ship. Angel sits up abruptly, and Lindsey winces. Angel's about to get out of bed, maybe leave the room, and when he comes back he's going to want Lindsey out of there --

Except that Angel's still just sitting there, thinking. Lindsey realizes, with a start, that Angel's thinking about how to answer. He pushes himself up on his elbows -- not getting too close to Angel, but in a position to meet his eyes, when he's ready.

Angel's not looking at Lindsey; he's looking inward, thinking less now about how he will say whatever it is he wants to say than about the truth of it. Grief is shadowing his face again -- not muted, as it was when he boarded the ship, but raw and naked now.

Slowly, Angel says, his voice a whisper, "She's dead."

Lindsey stares at him. After a moment's hesitation, he says, "Cordelia? Cordelia's dead?"

"What? No. God, no." Angel's horror at the idea, his relief that it is not true, jerks him back to the here and now. "Cordelia's fine."

"Darla." He ought to have expected this. It ought to hurt more than it does.

"No -- not as far as I know -- no." Angel sighs. "Buffy. Buffy's dead."

Buffy. Lindsey never met her. He read about her in the files --Summers, Buffy Anne. The Slayer. Born 1981, Died 1997, revived. Now the creepy Files and Records woman in the firm basement is adding, Died 2001. Angel's lover. Angel's love. The one and only time Lindsey ever gave the girl any thought was during a spirited debate as to whether kidnapping her as a form of coercing Angel would be feasible. After some review of what she'd done to most of her enemies, they'd decided, probably not.

But she was the one who had given Angel perfect happiness, the one Angel had loved -- deeply enough that, two years after they'd parted company, he could still be torn apart by her death. "I'm sorry," Lindsey says, and it is actually true.

"She died saving the world," Angel says. "I knew -- I mean, I always knew, even before I met her -- that was how it was going to end. That if I wasn't staked in some fight, I'd have to lose her someday. But she was so strong, Lindsey. So damn good at it. It was stupid to think she could just keep on winning forever, but if you'd ever seen her -- you would've believed it too."

"You still loved her," Lindsey says.

Angel nods, but his expression is distant again. "I used to imagine dying for her. Before our big battles, I always pictured it -- the sword coming at her, or the spell, or the fire. Whatever it was, it was always something I could step in front of. Something that could happen to me instead of her --but in the end, it was something that only she could have done. Something in her blood. And I should've known that all along."

"That's what's eating you. That you couldn't die for her."

"No," Angel says. He pauses, then whispers, "It's that I didn't want to."

Those words tear something out of Angel; he grimaces and covers his face with one of his hands. "Oh, God," he says.

"Hey," Lindsey says. "Hey, it's okay." He takes Angel's other hand in his --no calculation, no desire, just pure instinct.

The touch seems to calm Angel slightly; his hand is shaking as he takes it down from his face, but he can speak again. "I mean, I would have died for her. I would have, if I could have," he says. "But there was a time when -- I couldn't imagine living without her, Lindsey. I didn't have to be with her --I just had to know that she was somewhere in the world. Living the life she deserved. I always knew I'd lose Buffy, and I always thought that when she died, I'd die too. Because there was nothing to live for, without her."

"It's okay." Lindsey's stroking Angel's hair now, touching another person for no reason but comfort, something he hasn't done since he was a teenager and Tom and Kristie were tiny enough to want to be cuddled after they'd skinned their knees.

"And when I heard that Buffy was dead -- it hurt so much, Lindsey, it hurt so damn much, but I didn't want to die. I didn't want to walk away from my mission. I didn't want to leave my friends. I wasn't sorry that I hadn't died with her."

Lindsey understands now, at last. "You lost what you thought was your whole world. And then you found out you still had something left to lose."

"And that's the hell of it."

"So you left anyway?"

"Just for a while. Not long. Not very long, anyway." Angel emphasizes this by shaking his head, and the protesting reveals to Lindsey that Angel had considered going away for good -- leaving human friends he now knows he has to lose, others he will have to hurt for as he's hurting now. But Lindsey believes what Angel's said. "What are you doing, then?"

"Giving myself time to feel the pain. And getting far enough away from my friends so that they don't have to deal with me losing it again."

Lindsey remembers opening his apartment door to see Darla, burned skin hanging off her in strips, tears in her eyes. He still thinks the tears in her eyes were real. All this silence, this journey across the world --it's all Angel's way of not letting that happen once more.

Slowly, Lindsey says, "Do you want to talk about Buffy?"

He's almost completely certain that Angel will say no. And Angel does stare at him at first, as though -- after two weeks of sleeping in the same bed and one night of abortive foreplay -- Lindsey's finally crossed the line.

But Angel relaxes, lies back in the bed. He holds out one hand, and Lindsey surrenders one of the pillows. Angel balls it behind his head and starts to talk. Lindsey lies next to him for hours, listening to stories about the Master, about the Mayor, about the Sisterhood of Jhe. He hears about a slow dance at the prom, and a Christmas when it snowed, and the real meaning of the ring that Angel threw overboard.

As Angel talks, Lindsey holds him, strokes his hair, lets his body express what will never be said in words. They are both letting go, holding nothing back, for the first and possibly the only time together.

Lindsey falls asleep with his head on Angel's shoulder, listening to a tale about a battle at an ice rink, and a girl who took off her glove to touch a vampire's face. The last thing he does before drifting off is touch his own fingertips to Angel's cheek.

He wakes up with Angel's arms around him, Angel's body curled against him. And Lindsey's eyes open very wide as he realizes that Angel is hard, his erection pressing against Lindsey's thigh.

"Angel?" he whispers.

"Yeah," Angel says. Lindsey moves back just far enough to see Angel's face. He is watching Lindsey very carefully -- there's a little of the old distance there, something almost predatory, which is exciting as hell. But Angel doesn't make his move; what he's guarded about doesn't seem to have much to do with the fact that their bodies are laced together beneath the sheets.

Lindsey rolls over on his side so that they're face to face; this means breaking some of the contact between their bodies, but he has a feeling that's only a temporary loss. His heart is thumping crazily, and he knows his breathing has sped up. Angel's got to have registered all this, but his dark eyes are unreadable. The rain is still pattering against their window, staccato and inconstant.

Angel says, "When did you stop playing me?"

So Angel knew all along. Lindsey breathes out, surprised that what he's feeling is relief. "I don't know," he confesses. "Wasn't any one day, any one thing. I was messing with your head, and then I wasn't." Angel nods, accepting this. Some of the scary distance in his eyes is gone as he relaxes. Lindsey asks, "How come you didn't throw me out on my ass?"

"It was good to be near someone. If I'd been alone this whole time --I don't know."

"Rethinking the monastery?" Lindsey cocks one eyebrow as he says this, rests his hand against Angel's chest.

"No," Angel says, though he covers Lindsey's hand with his own, one simple motion that gives Lindsey a hard-on and a head rush. "Just the journey. It wouldn't have been good, if you hadn't been here."

"I can make it better than this," Lindsey suggests.

Angel disentangles his hand from Lindsey's, brings it up to Lindsey's cheek, a mirror of the touch Lindsey gave him before falling asleep. The touch is gentle, desiring, everything Lindsey's ever wanted from Angel and would never have dared to ask for. And it all seems like a miracle, like a daydream's triumph over reality, until Angel whispers, "Is this what you want?"

It's not what he says. It's how he says it. Angel is looking at Lindsey with physical need, with gratitude, even with liking -- but whatever this is that's been born within Lindsey the past few days, this deeper feeling that's got him scared and exhilarated all at once -- that's not there. Angel wants Lindsey, and he knows Lindsey wants him, and he is willing to indulge their mutual need. That's all it is, for him; he thinks that's all it is for Lindsey, too.

Lindsey hugs Angel, only to give himself a moment to hide his face. Angel returns the embrace, running one of his hands through Lindsey's hair; there's real tenderness in his touch, and that makes it all the worse. So close, Lindsey thinks. So close and so far.

Of course it was stupid to expect more from Angel -- especially here and now. Angel may be getting over Buffy's death a hell of a lot faster than he'd thought possible, but the grief's still too new. And for everything he and Angel have talked about, there are a thousand things they haven't; there's still too much blame, too many unacknowledged sins between them. Lindsey let himself forget that, for a while.

As Angel's hands slide down Lindsey's back -- pulling them closer together, asking permission -- Lindsey knows he's got two options. One, he can just go ahead with this. Take what Angel's offering, understand that it's the closest he's ever likely to get. Two, he can tell the truth. He can admit what he's feeling to Angel, admit it to himself, and play this game out for real, for the only stakes that will ever matter.

"Lindsey?" Angel's voice is soft against his ear.

"Yes," Lindsey says. "Yes. I want this. I want you."

Lindsey's always been a pragmatist.

Angel's hands, big and square, are on either side of Lindsey's face, bringing their mouths close. The kiss is inevitable, has been for a while now, but they take it slow, so slow, savoring that last moment of anticipation. Lindsey opens his mouth slightly as their lips finally touch, warm against cool.

They kiss again, then again, getting deeper and wetter with each kiss. Lindsey feels Angel's tongue push slowly into his mouth, opens his lips wider to take him in. He can still remember their first kisses on that night that seems so long ago now -- at the time, he thought them arousing. Now they seem cold and pale, and the strongest memory Lindsey has of them is of the taste of that terrible scotch. Those kisses can't compare at all to this --to Angel kissing him with real hunger, real desire, because in this moment he wants Lindsey as badly as Lindsey wants him.

Lindsey begins moving against Angel languidly, letting Angel feel just how hard Lindsey is for him. Angel responds by pulling Lindsey even closer, making sure that their cocks rub against each other every time Lindsey moves. Just this sensation -- cloaked as it is by the cotton of their shorts -- is enough to make Lindsey want to take things a lot faster.

He pushes Angel away and gets on his knees just long enough to pull his t-shirt off; it's still over his head when he feels Angel's lips on his breastbone, just above his heart. Lindsey gasps, throws the shirt away, lowers his hands to Angel's shoulders. He lets his left hand -- the original -- trace the outline of Angel's tattoo as Angel kisses his way down his chest, brushing his tongue against a nipple, into his navel, down toward the waistband of his boxers.

As Angel hooks his fingers onto the legs of the boxer shorts, preparing to pull them away, Lindsey braces himself against Angel's body. He rubs his fingers against the tattoo, fixating on it as a way of keeping himself from coming right here and now, like a teenage boy, so excited at being seen, at just the idea of sex, that his body's already losing control. "This tattoo," he rasps, as Angel peels his underwear down, as he feels his cock spring free. "What is this?"

"A gryphon," Angel says against the curve of Lindsey's pelvic bone.

"So -- what's that mean? Why did you -- why'd you get this?"

"Does it matter?" Angel is tracing his fingertips up Lindsey's inner thighs.

"Nope. But it -- it beats thinking about baseball scores." Angel laughs quietly; he doesn't answer Lindsey's question.

Lindsey expects Angel to start going down on him any second now, which is why it's a surprise to be pushed back down on the bed. Then again, he thinks it's good that Angel's got the will to slow this down. If it were up to Lindsey alone, this would be over way the hell too quickly.

Angel starts kissing Lindsey's body -- everywhere, all over, lavishing as much time and attention on unusual places (beneath his arms, his knees) as he does on the erogenous zones (the earlobes, the nipples). It's the simplest foreplay of all, all the more arousing and maddening for being so gentle and slow. As Angel works his way south, Lindsey thrusts up with his hips, begging without words for Angel's lips on his cock. Angel chuckles -- a low, rumbling sound, not unlike the deep humming of the ship's engine -- but he doesn't do what Lindsey wants. Instead, he cups one of his big hands around Lindsey's balls, fondling them with a firm, practiced touch, and Lindsey screws his eyes shut so Angel won't see them roll back.

Lindsey moves one hand to the back of Angel's neck, trying to guide him again; Angel's still having none of it. Instead, he keeps creating slow trails of sensation all along Lindsey's body with his fingertips and tongue -- flips Lindsey over on his stomach to give the same treatment to his back and his ass. Lindsey splays his legs out beneath Angel, feels Angel's thighs between his, knows that he will have to wait for this too. But it's okay. Let Angel set the pace. Let Angel do what he wants. He's gonna trust Angel tonight, the way he hasn't trusted anyone or anything in years.

Angel turns Lindsey over again and they kiss, slow, devouring kisses now. Angel's body is still cool, of course, and when Lindsey touches him, there's no pulse to race in response. But Angel's breathing has become faster -- it may only be a force of habit, but it mirrors his growing need for Lindsey the same way it would in a living man. Lindsey savors the sound of Angel gasping as Lindsey reaches in his boxers, takes Angel's cock in his hand, ever so gently rolls the foreskin back, rubs his thumb across the tip. Angel copies the move, clasping Lindsey in his hand again; for a few minutes they lie together just like this, mouths against each other, cocks in each other's hands, thrusting and caressing in the same deliberate tempo, perfect mirror images of one another.

Lindsey's so lost in the moment that he's almost startled when Angel pulls away. But it's just for a moment -- just long enough for him to tug off his own boxers and push Lindsey back down onto the bed.

And Lindsey gasps as Angel takes his cock into his mouth.

His mouth is cold -- Lindsey had anticipated that -- but he hadn't realized how damn good it would feel. The contrast of his own flushed, heated skin and Angel's pool-water-cool mouth is amazing; it sets every nerve ending on fire, makes Lindsey push himself in even farther, trying to find the depths of that coolness.

Angel can take him deep, too. He begins sucking, slowly, gently, taking his time. As Lindsey writhes beneath him, Angel wraps his tongue around Lindsey's cock, then moves his head ever so slightly, letting the motion do the work for him.

Lindsey's head is thrown back, and he starts thrusting -- thrusting deep, the way he would if he were fucking Angel, not just his mouth. Most people can't take this, but Angel seems to like it. He groans, a deep, satisfied sound, and the vibration ripples through Lindsey's cock.

"Oh, Jesus," Lindsey says through clenched teeth. "I'm gonna --"

Angel hears him, starts sucking harder, creates a whirlpool of sensation and pleasure right there, right at the head, and Lindsey feels his muscles tense and his mind blank and now, oh God, oh damn, right now --

Lindsey shouts out as he comes, feels his own wet heat in Angel's mouth. He keeps thrusting as he rides it out, feels wave after wave of it. Angel keeps sucking, swallowing Lindsey down, drinking from his body.

Finally, Lindsey goes limp; he feels himself sinking back further into the mattress, and in his post-orgasmic haze it feels to him as though he might disappear into it, just be folded up in fabric and foam and never come out. Angel lightly kisses Lindsey's softening cock one last time, then pulls himself up next to Lindsey on the bed. Lindsey realizes he must have a stupid smile on his face, because Angel is laughing quietly as he kisses his forehead. "Good?"

"Like you don't know that," Lindsey drawls. "False modesty is so unbecoming."

"Mmm." Angel kisses his throat, right where he'd bite. Lindsey slides one lazy arm around Angel's back; the chill of Angel's body is even more noticeable now that Lindsey's fever-hot, covered in a sheen of sweat. But the contrast works.

As he pulls Angel close again, he feels Angel's cock, so hard it feels like steel pressed into his stomach. Lindsey kisses Angel, slow and wet, then murmurs into his mouth, "When are you gonna fuck me?"

"Soon," Angel promises, his voice rougher than it was just a moment ago.

"Now," Lindsey insists, taking Angel into his hand and gripping him with force. Angel gasps as Lindsey whispers, "Do it now."

Angel pushes Lindsey onto his stomach, rolls on top of him; his hands are strong against Lindsey's back, pressing him down. Angel slides one knee between Lindsey's thighs, and Lindsey's glad to help, spreading his legs out as far as he can. He'd rather be on his hands and knees -- he could take Angel harder then -- but he'll do this however Angel wants to do it, he'll do whatever Angel wants, just so long as Angel takes him and does it soon.

Hoarsely, Angel says, "What can we -- where --"

"Top drawer," Lindsey gasps. Thank God for planning ahead; Angel finds the vaseline, right where Lindsey planted it, in about two seconds, and it's only another second before Lindsey feels Angel's fingers sliding into him, cool and slick.

Angel works him with skill and speed. Lindsey tries to relax into the movement, to relish the sensation of Angel's fingers moving inside him, stroking that one place inside that's making him erect again, stiff against the sheets. He feels himself opening up, getting ready for Angel.

Angel's being careful with him, but Lindsey's tired of careful, and he pushes back against Angel's hand, taking those fingers in deeper. "Now," he repeats. "Do it, just do it."

"Do what?" Angel's moving to take him even as he asks; Lindsey can feel the head of Angel's cock brushing against his ass. "Let me hear you say it."

"Goddammit, Angel, fuck me --"

And then Angel pushes inside him. Lindsey cries out as Angel's cock splits him apart; he's big, he's so damn big, and he's already so deep inside Lindsey, and he feels like he's being torn apart. But the pleasure's so much better than the pain -- the feeling of Angel, thick and long and hard, moving into him.

Angel's hands are clenched around Lindsey's arms, and his fingers are digging into the skin as he begins to thrust. He's taking his time with Lindsey, taking it slow, building a rhythm that matches Lindsey's own breathing. Lindsey tries to get used to the sensation; it's been a long time since he let a man take him like this. He'd forgotten how good it feels, having someone inside you. The way the movement starts to make you go hot and dizzy, the way that place far inside you starts to blaze, the way you find yourself cursing into the pillow, saying words that don't make a damn bit of sense, except that they're dirty, and they're secret, and so they must have something to do with the fact that you're getting fucked.

But this is better than any memory, because this is Angel inside him. Lindsey pushes back against Angel, gets him in even deeper, makes him pick up the pace. Angel responds, starts going faster, thrusting harder. Lindsey groans -- he's so open for Angel now, and he's getting pounded down against the mattress, and his cock is hard again, rubbing against the sheets, and goddammit he's going to come again if Angel will just keep going keep going keep going --

The world goes black and Lindsey's heart skips and his body goes tight as he comes again, yelling it out, not giving a damn if it echoes over the whole ship. Angel thrusts into him again, again, once more, and then his body tenses, locks up, one long band of muscle and sinew as Angel's orgasm takes him..

Then Angel collapses atop Lindsey's back. He is heavy, so solid Lindsey thinks he can't breathe, but he can't imagine asking Angel to move. Their bodies are still locked together, and Angel's face is against the back of his neck, and he's twining his fingers with Lindsey's as they lie there together. The only sounds are the rain and Lindsey's ragged breaths.

Lindsey doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. He's just lived his fantasy, just made love to Angel. But now that he's gotten what he wanted, he wants so much more. He's destined to spend his whole life as that poor kid in cutoffs, pressing his nose to the window, never able to go inside and buy.

But as Angel lifts Lindsey's right hand to his lips -- as he kisses the faint white line where the new hand was attached, where the old one was severed, the only apology he's ever gonna get -- Lindsey thinks that he might not have everything he wants, but what he has is still pretty damn good.

The next day, the ship makes its first stop -- Kyoto, Japan. Lindsey is eager both to do some of the exploring he's dreamed about and to avoid acting clingy, so he bids a sleepy Angel farewell very early in the morning before going out to spend a day ashore.

Surprisingly, though, he doesn't get as much of a thrill from the experience as he would've thought. Sure, everyone's Asian, but there's plenty of areas of L.A. where that's true. Signs are in Japanese, but there's little need for him to employ the Japanese-English phrasebook he'd brought along. Everyone speaks English, at least enough to help Lindsey out. He has a feeling he could stay here for weeks without breaking the dictionary's binding.

What's more, he realizes now that he didn't want a change of surroundings. He wanted to have something else to think about, some way of escaping the worn grooves in his mind that his thoughts have fallen into this past year. But it doesn't work. Lindsey can walk past a Shinto temple and still feel the weight of Darla's dead body across his lap as they drove away from her shabby little hotel room. He can eat sashimi and still hear Holland's voice, superior and knowing, echoing inside. He can watch the ships in the bay, great freighters and little boats with square sails, and still smell the hot tar on the road to his father's house.

So he is tired and discouraged when he comes back to the cabin at nightfall, and it therefore hits him all the harder to see that Angel is packing up his bag. "What are you doing?" he says.

"This is my stop, Lindsey," Angel says. "This is where I leave the ship. We talked about this that first night."

They did, didn't they? He'd let himself forget -- stupid. Worse than stupid. Like letting a statute of limitations pass. "Slipped my mind," he says, as casual as he can manage, which isn't much. "Guess I oughta get my stuff back to my own place."

"Probably be a good idea." Angel smiles at him, a crooked, awkward smile that doesn't help Lindsey much as he stuffs his belongings back into the still-new backpack. They work together in silence, but the tension's thick in the air. Lindsey gets done first -- he's not packing with care, just cramming it all in there -- and as he rises, Angel says, "Lindsey --"

"I'm not into the long goodbyes thing," Lindsey says. In truth, he'd like to end it better than this; he pauses, considers. "I'm going down to my own cabin, okay? Come down there when you're done."

This buys Lindsey a few moments to himself, a few moments to gather himself together. He knew it wasn't going to last. He's gladder than ever that he didn't tell the truth last night, that he took what he could get; turns out it was his last chance.

But he's mad at Angel all the same. Angel doesn't love him, wouldn't ever love him, and he used Lindsey for his own comfort, and he didn't ask if Lindsey wanted more.

Then again, Lindsey knew all this going in. He set out to use Angel a hell of a lot more surely than Angel's used him. He could have avoided all this if he'd just told the truth last night; he's not sure what else Angel would've done, but he's pretty sure he wouldn't have continued their lovemaking. Lindsey wanted to avoid the consequences of that honesty, so now he has to accept the consequences of the lie. That's something he's getting better at: accepting consequences.

Lindsey has time to calm down, time to unpack, even time to spend a few quality minutes looking in the Japanese-English phrasebook before there's a knock on the door. "Come in," he says. His voice is steady, and he's proud of that.

Angel enters hesitantly, but when Lindsey smiles at him, he relaxes. "We should've talked about this before," Angel says.

"It's okay," Lindsey says. "We had other stuff to talk about."

"I'm glad you were here," Angel says.

"So am I. That you were here, I mean."

"If you ever need anything -- if Wolfram & Hart give you trouble --"

"They won't." Lindsey gets up from the desk. "I wasn't kidding about not doing the long goodbyes thing."

He walks up to Angel and embraces him for what he knows will be the last time. Angel's arms are strong and solid around him as they hug one another, and Lindsey tries to imagine what it might have been like, if only they hadn't been the people they are. But he can't envision any other paths that would have led the two of them together, and so this is what he has to be grateful for.

Lindsey pats Angel on the back, a swift, brotherly pat, signaling the end of the hug. He wonders if Angel will stoop to kiss him goodbye; he doesn't. Angel just smiles, shoulders his bag, and goes out the door.

Fluttering on his shoulder is a yellow post-it note which reads, in the best Japanese script Lindsey could muster, "I disrespect the authority of the police." Not bad for ten minutes with a Japanese-English phrasebook, all things considered. And it helps Lindsey smile a little as Angel shuts the door behind him, walking out of his life forever.

Lindsey puts off unpacking that evening; he still doesn't want to feel settled in this cabin, though now it is for very different reasons. If only he'd dragged Angel down here just once -- if he could remember talking to Angel in this room, or making love to Angel in this bed -- well, it would feel more like home than just about any other place Lindsey's known in far too long.

He is alone at dinner, and when Louis and Marjorie ask where Angel is, Lindsey has to tell the truth; after all, they're eventually gonna catch on to the fact that one of the ship's 12 passengers is missing. Marjorie's face crinkles up in sympathy. "Oh, I hate to see him go," she says. "It did seem like the two of you had hit it off."

"He's got his road," Lindsey says. "I've got mine." He says it to cut the topic short, which it does, but as he thinks about it, it's as good a way of explaining matters as any.

Louis and Marjorie make harmless chit-chat as they all finish up, and Marjorie makes Lindsey promise to join them tomorrow for a walking tour. Lindsey agrees, mostly to stop them worrying about him. If he's bright and chipper tomorrow, they'll calm down, write off the Affair of Guitar Guy and The Swimmer as a shipboard fling and let it go.

But, down deep, he knows he agreed partly because of the reason she offered: He needs distraction from what's happened, a way of blocking out what's happened. Even wandering around tourist traps with retirees and helping them figure out their new digital cameras is better than the likely alternative --lying curled up on his bunk, wishing like hell that Angel was still there. Or, worse yet, imagining him running in from abovedecks, wrapped in a blanket to shield himself from the sun, come back to find Lindsey and tell him --

Lindsey shakes his head, pushes it out of his mind. As he gets back to his cabin, he goes straight to his backpack and starts settling in for real. It's something to do.

Shoes go in the cabinet, lest they go flying around and kicking Lindsey in the head during a storm. His books go in the bedstand drawer. He starts to put his underwear in the drawer that corresponds to the one he used in Angel's cabin, then thinks better of it and chooses another. His guitar stayed here all along -- he might've gone soft with Angel there, but he was never so goddamned sappy that he considered singing for the guy. However, Lindsey thinks he might be playing a few country tunes this evening.

Wasn't he trying to get away from painful memories? And now he's created all new ones --

He came on this trip to get away from it all. And instead he's brought it all rushing back. Your past doesn't catch up with you, Lindsey thinks. It is you. And you keep on creating more past every second you're alive.

Slowly, deliberately, he reaches into the backpack's front pocket and pulls out the crinkled sheet of paper. Lindsey sits down on his bed and rereads his father's letter; for the first time, he doesn't feel guilt or shame. He hears the words in his mind, in his own voice: Your father loves you very much.

No matter what Lindsey becomes in the future, he will remain the man who walked away from his family, who joined Wolfram & Hart with his eyes wide open, who killed a woman he wanted to hurt a man who didn't want him. Lindsey's known this all along -- but now, at last, he can face it. Because he will also always be the man who comforted his little brothers and sisters when they were hurt, who left Wolfram & Hart of his own free will. The man who made love to Angel last night.

It will be hot in Oklahoma. The tar will be melting, making the path to his house sticky and thick. Lindsey isn't looking forward to walking that road, but he knows he's ready to face everything he'll find at the end.


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