Movers and Shakers

BY : QueenBoadicea
Category: Angel the Series > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 165
Disclaimer: This belongs to the Angel the TV Series fandom. I make no money and/or profit for this. This belongs to the great and powerful Joss and the usual gang of idi… uh, geniuses.

Fred marches down the glistening halls of Wolfram & Hart, Angel, Wesley, Gunn, Lindsey and Spike trotting to keep up. Her usually cheery face is set in tight lines, her teeth nibbling at her bottom lip.

“Whoa. Slow down, Fred. Who is this woman and why’s she got you so het up?” Gunn asks.

“Her name’s Jacklyn Johnson and she’s been working for W&H for about 15 years as a custodian.”

“A janitor?” Angel’s eyebrows rise. “What’s so special about her?”

“She’s more than a janitor,” she states.

Lindsey glances at the dyed blonde vampire. Why is Spike in on this impromptu meeting? Angel prefers to leave him out of most conferences. His posturing as a rough-and-tumble bad boy with the clients makes him an ill fit for W&H’s polished front with humans.

Spike picks up on his look. “In case you’re forgetting, I’m a member of this team, redneck.”

“Oh my. The Cockney Billy-Idol-wannabe is calling me a redneck. My feelings are so hurt,” Lindsey responds with a smirk.

“For God’s sake, will you two just put a lid on it?” Fred snaps as she pivots on her heel. She glares at the both of them and resumes striding down the hall. “I need Spike here because what Ms. Johnson has to say concerns him.”

“You’ve already talked to her? Without us?” Wesley doesn’t bother to hide his dismay. “Why? If you’re worried about her, wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Don’t wet yourself, Giles 2,” Spike snarks. “She’s a janitor not a demon.”

“That you know of,” Angel throws out.

“Anyway, I confronted her about what I saw and she said she’d explain. But only if Angel was present.”

“Why does she want to talk to me?” Angel asks, eyeing her.

“Why does anyone want to talk to you?” Spike drawls.

“Because I’m the boss and have an actual purpose beyond bashing in skulls,” Angel replies smoothly.

“Actually, she said, ‘the vampire with a soul’,” Fred clarifies, barreling over them. “I just figured she meant you. But I thought that might mean Spike, too.  It’s just she mentioned you. Specifically.” “Fred, chill,” Gunn says. She hasn’t babbled like this in a long time. Just what was the deal with this janitor woman, anyway?

Fred runs a hand through her hair. “Sorry. I think she wants just Angel.”

“Why not me?” Spike is hurt. It isn’t in his voice so much as the sullen glare he shoots at the brunette vampire pacing silently behind him.

“When I asked about you, she seemed a little, I don’t know, annoyed maybe. She said only Angel mattered. You weren’t to be involved.”

“We’ll see about that,” the blonde vampire grunts, striding faster down the hallway.

When Fred reaches the conference room door, she pauses, staring around the corridor. “What is it, Fred? What’s wrong?”  Wesley asks.

“There was--she had a trolley with her. I left it out here. Where’d it go?”

“Maybe someone else moved it,” Angel notes. “We must have more than one janitor on the staff with a building this size.”

“I guess.” Dismissing the matter, Fred pulls out a ring of keys and fumbles with them before inserting the right one in the lock.

“You locked her in?” Gunn observes. “Just what the hell did she do?”

“Wait until you see the video,” Fred mutters. “Then see if you think it’s unnecessary.” On this ominous note, she swings open the door.

They pause briefly before entering the room. The conference room is an imposing structure, with an extended wooden desk running nearly the length and breadth of the space, making it seem more like a hall than an office. An image flashes before Lindsey’s eyes: himself, seated there with all the W&H heavy hitters, hiding his fear that some fault of his might be uncovered, that he might find himself getting shot--or worse--because he’d displeased the Senior Partners. It had been constant, a low hum of terror that had sung along his nerves ever since he’d learned just what went on behind closed doors in this place.

Lindsey swallows, forcing back the remembrance of that past fear. He can feel Angel’s gaze; his lover senses his unspoken emotion. Lindsey keeps his eyes forward, refusing to meet the vampire’s questioning look.

The custodian is on the far side of the room, facing the door, and sitting in one of the plush leather chairs surrounding the table. She’s dressed in a plain, light blue one-piece jumper with long sleeves, the kind that reminds Angel of institutional wear. A rolling trolley, presumably the missing one, is propped up in the corner adjacent to the door.

She has a dark complexion with wiry hair pinned back under a blue scarf that matches her uniform and chocolate brown eyes resting over a slightly pointed nose and full lips. She looks vaguely familiar although Lindsey can’t say that he recognizes her or knew her name before Fred mentioned it. Under the shapeless outfit, he detects a hint of muscle. Does she work out?

The woman is idly reading a small paperback book. She continues on for a beat before closing it and sticking it in a breast pocket. “Lady. Gentlemen,” she says. Her voice is low, almost musical, and the smile that spreads across her face is genial. “I was getting impatient. I do have other rooms to see to, you know.”

“Stow it, Ms. Johnson,” Fred says. The rudeness is startling; Fred is normally the most soft spoken of the group. This woman must have her seriously rattled. She halts as she notices the cleaning implements. “I left those outside.”

“I needed my tools. I thought this place could use a little spot cleaning.”

“But I locked you in the room. How’d you get out?”

“I’m the custodian. I have keys to all the rooms.”

“I took those keys when I locked you in here!” Fred holds them up to emphasize her point.

“So you did.” Ms. Johnson’s mouth twitches as if she’s resisting the urge to laugh.

Suddenly realizing that she’s still standing in the doorway, Fred strides into the room, the men close behind her. They fan out around the space, an unconscious attitude of defense. Ms. Johnson doesn’t move. But there’s a watchfulness to her, as if she’s noted their positions relative to hers.  

There’s something off about this woman. She’s entirely nondescript but there’s an air of calm strength and command that’s at odds with her situation. Lindsey shifts closer to Angel. He wants to be ready in case Ms. Johnson tries…anything.

Without another word, Fred pulls her laptop from her shoulder bag. She sets it down on the table near Ms. Johnson. Swiveling it around so the others can see the screen, she taps a few keys and steps back.

A grainy view of the underground parking lot pops up. A shadowy figure with glowing eyes is barely visible, almost hidden behind one of the pillars. In another moment, Ms. Johnson appears. Her appearance is very different from her current attire. She’s wearing a three-piece suit and high heels, albeit of the sturdy rather than stiletto kind; she could pass as a W&H attorney.

She marches over to the hidden figure. There is no sound in this video but the exchange appears to be a tense one.  The other person seems to grow agitated, its arms waving about. It leans closer, out of the shadows, and now everyone in the room gets a better look at it.

There are murmurs of shock, surprise, a low curse from Gunn. Whatever it is, it isn’t human. It has a lumpy shape with a vagueness about the face, if you can call that a face. A clawed hand comes up to point at the woman.

“Hang on a mo! I know that thing!”

“You do?” Angel looks from the image onscreen to Spike. “Friend of yours?”

“Hardly. That’s the demon sod that gave me back my soul!”

A barely audible sniff comes from the custodian. When Lindsey shoots a glance at Ms. Johnson, he spots a flicker of contempt in her eyes. She catches him looking and her expression flattens into its previous placidity. “I didn’t realize there was a camera there,” she murmurs. “Odd place to put it. There are guards and the place is underground. Do they imagine that an outsider is going to steal a Wolfram & Hart vehicle?”

The demon on screen has apparently concluded its comments and turns to leave. Then Ms. Johnson pulls out a sword and slices off his head in one neat move.

“Holy shit!” Gunn’s head swivels almost comically from the screen to the seated woman and back again.

“You…you’re a slayer, aren’t you?” Wesley breathes.

Is she? Lindsey isn’t so sure. Ms. Johnson seems too mature, radiating a steady confidence poles apart from Melissa’s defiant adolescent clumsiness or Faith’s barely leashed fury. Maybe this is what happened when a slayer managed to survive past the age of puberty.

And where the hell had she been hiding that sword?

Ms. Johnson neither confirms nor denies Wesley’s assumption. After the demon topples, her screen image pulls it out of sight of the camera. When she doesn’t return, Fred clicks off the video.

Angel taps the screen. “Care to explain?”

“Which part?”

“All of it.” Angel leans over the table. “From the beginning.”

“Ah. That’s going to take a while, Mr. Angel. Wouldn’t you prefer to be patrolling the streets with your trusty broadsword?”

“We got time.” Gunn pulls up a chair next to her. He stretches out and stares hard-eyed in her direction.

Spike struts to stand behind her chair, looming over her. She pays him no attention, only gazes thoughtfully at Angel. “This story actually dates back quite a few years.”

“As Charles says, we’ve got time,” Wesley intones.

“Actually, it’s Mr. Angel that has time--eternity, to be exact. The rest of us poor mortals have a very limited timespan on this plane.”

“Don’t forget me, you bint.”

She doesn’t react, neither to the brazen statement nor Spike’s presence. She merely settles back in the chair as she begins.

“I first came to Wolfram & Hart about 15 years ago. The pay was surprisingly good and the benefits after the prerequisite three months were substantial.”

Lindsey finds that hard to believe, even if it corroborates Fred’s earlier statement. Back in his days as a top attorney, W&H had a high turnover of what they would call “disposable” employees. “How did you stay…?”

“Alive, Mr. MacDonald?” 

“Something like that.”

“I believe that the chemicals I use in my cleaning duties mean that my body has acquired an unpleasant odor. Demons don’t want to eat flesh that smells like bleach and ammonia any more than you’d want to eat a hot dog that tastes like soap.”

“So you knew Wolfram & Hart had demons here,” Lindsey accuses.

“It would make sense if she’s a slayer. Did you come here to fight them?” Wesley adds eagerly. It’s been a long while since he was in close proximity to a slayer. His old training and once-held desire to prove himself as a Watcher mean he has more than a few questions for her.

Once again, she doesn’t respond to Wesley’s inquiry. Instead, she rolls her eyes at Lindsey. “Really, Mr. MacDonald. Why would I sign up as an employee in this place if I knew it pandered to bloodthirsty demons? Would you have agreed to work here if you’d known that when they first head-hunted you out of college?”

The reference to his previous days as an attorney under W&H’s roof isn’t lost on anybody…except Spike. “What’s she on about? This bloke worked for these legal wankers?” Spike demands.

“That’s not important,” Fred says hastily. “Did you or didn’t you know about the demons?”

“Ms. Burkle, I only learned about W&H’s involvement with otherworldly beasts much later when they called me in to scrub a viscous, greenish-black goo off the walls. Just as I entered the room, I saw maintenance men carting away something that looked suspiciously like a corpse, albeit one that appeared to have two heads. It was hard to tell since it was in a body bag,” she adds.

Angel trains his usual impassive gaze on her. “Why didn’t they kill you?”

Ms. Johnson’s return glance is equally bland. “I’m really good at cleaning.”

Lindsey isn’t buying it for a minute. “You didn’t mind that they were also killing humans?”

Her eyebrows rise up. “Were they killing humans? I never saw that. But then you’d know more about that than I would, Mr. MacDonald.”

Spike smirks. “Not always batting for the good guys, were you, Lins? Guess that’s why you teamed up with my grandsire.”

“You ran with Angelus, Spike.”

“I was soulless back then. What’s your excuse?”

“Can we stick to the subject?” Fred huffs, exasperated. “We want to know about that demon, the one you killed.”

“Yeah. Seeing as he was in Africa the last time I saw him, I wonder how he wound up here,” Spike says, leaning over her chair.

Again Ms. Johnson ignores him. “Mr. Angel, I may be a custodian. But I have a drive to acquire wealth, as much as I can, as discreetly as I can, like anybody else. Being a janitor is the perfect cover. You’re essentially invisible, below people’s radar. They talk in front of you, dropping useful tidbits about investments, stocks, that sort of thing. Nobody questions you if they see you in a hallway, waiting by a doorway to clean out the space, standing in the bathrooms to swab out toilets. You can go everywhere in the building and no one takes any notice of you.

“As time passed, I learned about the more…esoteric aspects of the company, about prophecies and projects touching on everything from magical hair re-growth to interdimensional wormholes. It was fascinating! I just had to know more.”

She rubs her hands together, warming to her story. “I put out careful feelers. I gathered friends, allies. I have my own people working with me and they let me know whom I could trust here…and people I should avoid.” No one misses the narrow stare in Lindsey’s direction.

“That still don’t explain what you were doing with the craggy-skinned cave dweller,” Spike drawls. “Get to that before I die again of boredom.”

“If you’re bored, Spike, you can always leave,” Lindsey remarks. “She doesn’t want you here anyway.”

“I don’t see what you’re bringing to the table,” Spike snaps back. “Being a boytoy for the big poofter?”

Ms. Johnson’s stare once more rests on Angel; the altercation between Lindsey and Spike might not have taken place for all the attention she gives it. “As time went by, I learned about prophecies concerning a vampire with a soul. For some reason, this vampire was a creature of enormous importance to the people of Wolfram & Hart. There were ancient predictions about how he would be standing with the slayer in the end days. That particular duo is pivotal to ensuring this world not fall into the abyss of demonic domination.”

Spike puffs out his chest. “Yeah. Got that memo. Me and the slayer standing cheek to cheek--”

The flicker he’d noted earlier is back. Lindsey’s certain he’s not imagining it now and something clicks. “She’s not talking about you, Spike.”

Her face beams with approval, confirming his guess. “You are correct, Mr. MacDonald. Not with that false soul the other vampire’s currently sporting.”

“False--? What the fuck you talkin’ about?” Spike demands.

“And now we come to the subject at hand,” Ms. Johnson states. “I refer, of course, to that quasi-spiritual appendage the other vampire was given by the demon in the cave. It’s a fake. A plastic soul, so to speak.”

This really grabs Lindsey’s attention. “A plastic soul? Oh, I want to hear this.”

“What’s this bollocks! I’d think I’d know if I got myself a fake soul!” Spike strides around the table over to Angel, poking the taller vampire in the chest. “My soul’s as real as this prat’s and you’re not telling me any different!”

“According to our files about the other vampire, he was a toff, still living with his mother and fancying himself a poet. He got his heart broken by a girl at a party and retreated in tears. Then--”

“The hell I did!” Spike roars to the room over Lindsey’s laughter. “That’s a soddin’ lie!”

Ms. Johnson barrels on over Spike’s protests. “If that soul, his real one, had returned to him, it would have been that of a posh Englishman, sweet, soft spoken, good natured, polite, well mannered, genteel and bewildered by the modern world in which he suddenly found himself. He would have been appalled at the memories of sleeping with Drusilla and horrified by all the crimes he’d committed as a vampire.” She nods at Angel. “Look at Mr. Angel, if you doubt my words. There is a profound difference between the man he is when his soul is in residence and when the Scourge of Europe is running rampant in his body.”

Spike slams his hands down on the table. “Listen, you…”

For the first time, Ms. Johnson looks directly into his eyes. Her gaze is flat, inscrutable, and Spike falls oddly silent from it.

“Wait, I think I’m getting ahead of myself…or behind.” She frowns, her eyes going out of focus for a moment. Released from her gaze, Spike shakes his head as if coming out of a fog. “Ah, I recall. Before Mr. Angel came, the differing factions in W&H were always jockeying for power, destroying the competition and trying to push forward their own agendas. Those factions still exist--there’s just not as much butchery these days.”

“So you did know about the killing,” Wesley interjects.

“I believe I mentioned that already,” she retorts with some irritation. “Two-headed corpse in a body bag, remember?”

“I was talking about humans being killed,” Wesley corrects when he realizes his mistake.

“Were you?” she murmurs. “At least there’s not as much killing now, thank goodness.”

Angel interrupts, frowning. “There’s no killing now.”

“Oh, so I didn’t have to launder and clean Vesh’krek guts out of your office rug three months ago?” Both eyebrows lift in mock surprise.

“Well, that was something completely different,” Angel mumbles. “He attacked me.”

She sniffs, decidedly unimpressed. “As you say. I still had to clean up the mess.”

Ms. Johnson shifts in her seat, resumes her tale. “The people with whom I allied myself found out about the impending doomsday scenario in Sunnydale. So we had to move to stop Lilah Morgan.”

“Lilah?” There’s a name Lindsey hasn’t heard for a while. “What’s she got to do with this?”

“She knows about the various prophecies surrounding Mr. Angel and decided to send him to Sunnydale with the Pendant of Plutus.”

The brunette vampire is startled. “Wait. That’s what that necklace was?”

“The pendant of who-what now?” Gunn asks.

“Plutus, the ancient Roman god of acquisition, wealth and ostentation,” Fred chirps, ever the bookworm.

“Excellent, Ms. Burkle. You know what ley lines are, don’t you?” Ms. Johnson asks, abruptly shifting the line of conversation.

“Ley lines? They’re lines of force that run within the earth,” Fred iterates.

Spike has apparently recovered his bravado. “Bloody hell! What’s she banging on about now? I’m tired of this shite. Get to the point about the demon, you chatty bint!”

“And ley lines matter because…?” Wesley prompts.

“Where such lines cross, they form a potent nexus of power,” Ms. Johnson replies, crossing her forefingers in demonstration. “There are three underneath this location of Wolfram & Hart. That’s why spells performed here get a really strong boost.”

“There were a few of those under the Hellmouth in Sunnydale,” Angel adds, his dark eyes fixing thoughtfully on hers. “They attracted demons and magic wielders of all sorts. But about that necklace…”

“Bear with me, Mr. Angel. I’m getting to that,” Ms. Johnson remonstrates. “As you can imagine, Wolfram & Hart is eager to possess land that contains such strong energy. But, contrary to what your previous misadventures with this establishment may have led you to believe, Wolfram & Hart is primarily a law firm. When they find a spot on the earth over such a nexus, they try to acquire the land through traditional channels. If they run into the owner, they offer a substantial amount of money to buy it. That usually does the trick. People can be very amenable when enough cash is thrown their way.”

Ms. Johnson steeples her fingers. “When it doesn’t work because the owner proves stubborn…”

“They kill ‘im. Yeah, we get it. What the fuck does any of it have to do with that berk who gave me my soul back?”

“Injected the fake soul,” she corrects sweetly. “As I’ve said, Wolfram & Hart is a law firm, first and foremost. Legal action is their initial recourse. Violence is a last resort not the first option. If the owner doesn’t want to sell because of sentiment--land been in the family for generations, they want to leave it to their heirs, start a pig farm, what have you--then Wolfram & Hart dig into the property titles. Sometimes it turns out the people on the land have no real authorized claim to it. Then W&H bring their considerable amount of legal force to bear. After the dust has settled, the owners get kicked off the property. W&H swoops in and buys it, usually for much less than whatever price they initially offered.”

Wesley’s gaze turns stony. “And when that doesn’t work? That’s when the violence comes into play, I assume.”

Ms. Johnson bows her head in acknowledgement. “According to file records, the pendant is then sent via anonymous package to the owner’s address. Since it appeals to the greedy, those who like to cling to material things, someone in the household is magically compelled to put on the necklace. When they do, a spell is activated near the house. It caves in, taking everyone who lives there with it. And land is acquired.”

Her gaze gets that far-off look again. “It really is a clever system, especially when utilized in California. If tremors happen here, people just put it down to typical earthquakes, don’t they?”

“You sound like you admire them,” Fred accuses, appalled. “How can you just sit there and defend…murderers like that?!”

The brown eyes harden. “You all decided to work for W&H so you’ve made your peace with its history. Don’t condemn me for actions that occurred before I ever set foot here.”

“Here now, I hadn’t heard any of that tosh!” Spike protests. “I was told the necklace could only be worn by a champion!”

Her tone rife with amusement, Ms. Johnson queries, “And who told you that?”

“Well, Peaches here--”

The fuzzy eyebrows lift again. “Peaches?”

“This tosser,” Spike elaborates, jerking his thumb at Angel.

“Oh, yes. One of your flimsy potshots at Mr. Angel. You were always envious of him, especially knowing that he got to Drusilla and his slayer first,” she muses.

“Get bent, you--”

“Mr. Angel,” she interrupts. “Who told you that the pendant was to be worn only by champions?”

“Lilah Morgan,” Angel states slowly.

“Exactly. Ms. Morgan was working for the Senior Partners, allying herself to their agenda. That unholy work didn’t stop with her death.” She shakes her head. “The pendant doesn’t require a champion. It needs only three things--a soul, a spell to activate it and a power source, in this case the aforementioned Hellmouth.”

An awful awareness is dawning in Angel’s eyes. “So when she told me it was to be worn by a champion--”

“She lied to you,” Ms. Johnson finishes bluntly. “It was a Bellerophonic trap, pure and simple, and you or your slayer nearly walked into it. If your slayer had worn that pendant, her soul would have been shunted here to W&H. You would have come on board in order to stay by her side and keep her from being harmed by the forces that worked here. Once here, you supposedly would have been ripe for corruption. If you had worn it, you would have been destroyed after the amulet was activated. Then the Senior Partners could have brought back your body…without your soul,” she emphasizes.

“Angelus? They wanted to bring Angelus into the picture?” Fred squeaks.

“Man, that’s just straight up crazy,” Gunn says. “Angelus is serious bad news. Why they want to tangle with him?”

“Prophecy, what else? The Senior Partners have had their eyes on Angel’s worse half for ages now. They’ve tried valiantly over the years to get the Scourge of Europe to reappear. This plan was just their latest attempt. Either way, they would get their claws into Mr. Angel. It was a win-win scenario, as Ms. Morgan had planned it. It would have been quite the coup if she’d pulled it off.”

Wesley can’t believe what he’s hearing. “They were still clinging to that ridiculous plan? Hadn’t they learned just how untrustworthy, how vicious Angelus is?! Darla and Drusilla ate a roomful of their attorneys! If Angelus had been with them, he would have gotten in there with them and none of them would have survived!”

Lindsey frowns, remembering that horrific incident. “How come I never heard about any of this?” he demands.

“Mr. MacDonald, the pendant was used only on very rare occasions. As you can imagine, ley line convergences are rather singular and in most cases property resting on them can be acquired through the usual mundane methods. It’s possible during your tenure as an attorney that there was never an occasion to use the pendant. Besides, you don’t think Lilah Morgan would have made you privy to her plans, do you?”

Ms. Johnson pulls out a water bottle from another pocket and sucks water from the spout. She smacks her lips and smiles at them cordially, her good humor restored. “All this soliloquizing is so dehydrating. How do actors in Shakespearean plays manage it?”

“Is there a point to all this?” Spike snaps. “You still haven’t explained about the sodding demon!”

Ms. Johnson takes more water before speaking again. Clearly, she is not to be rushed or harried into her tale. Lindsey can’t help but admire her, at least a little, for her composure. He’s been goaded by Spike far too often; he envies this woman’s coolness and ability to ignore the blonde nuisance.

“When the faction I work with got wind of Lilah Morgan’s little ploy, we knew we had to put countermeasures into play before Mr. Angel traveled to Sunnydale and endangered himself and his slayer and we didn’t have a lot of time.  So that demon was contacted and paid to whip up some phony trials—trivial ordeals incorporating pain, exertion, fighting, the usual sort of…thing.” Her hand flutters in a vague way, indicating the insignificance of the supposed tests.  

“Sources revealed that the other vampire was looking for a soul and this dovetailed with our plans. He would fight for what he believed to be a soul and the demon would slap him with the fake one whipped up by the girls and boys in R&D…”

“You’ve mentioned that before,” Fred interrupts. “How in the world do you make a fake soul?”

“I thought that might be of interest to you, Ms. Burkle, but I’m afraid I don’t know the mechanics,” Ms. Johnson states, a hint of apology in her tone. “It was created by the people in Research & Development--not exactly my field. I was told it has something to do with mixing various spiritual essences. Frankly, I’ve never understood it.”

“Fred, I thought you were in charge of the Science wing,” Gunn says, looking at his former girlfriend. “You know about this?”

“No. I didn’t,” she says tightly, her eyes digging into Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson muses, “I don’t know that this is science, as such. I think it’s more like metaphysics.” She turns to Wesley. “Remember that boy, the one born without a soul, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?”

“Ryan Anderson?” The Englishman’s eyes widen. “Good Lord. You know about him?”

 “A child who tries to burn down his home and kill his family does tend to attract attention,” she says in a dry tone.  “Besides, we took note of Mr. Angel’s failures and his successes. Prophecy, remember?” Ms. Johnson points at the brunette vampire. “People born soulless happen a lot oftener than you realize. Thus, one of W&H’s projects is the manufacture and sale of souls. It’s actually one of their legitimate programs. It could turn out to be a very lucrative sideline.”

“Wolfram & Hart plans to sell souls?” Angel’s eyes narrow as he snaps, “I’m sorry, I must have missed the memo. Aren’t I the boss? I’m the one who should decide what kind of business this law firm is involved in!”

She holds up her hands in a placating gesture. “Of course you’re the CEO, Mr. Angel,” she murmurs. “But you wouldn’t begrudge people like Ryan’s parents the chance to set matters right with their little boy, would you? You don’t honestly think therapy is going to help a child who’s lacking a soul?”

“No, of course not. But what if--?” Angel stops, his eyes darting to Spike and back to the janitor. Lindsey understands his unspoken concern. If Spike could get a false soul, any other vampire could get one. What would that mean for Angel?

Her eyes widen as she picks up on Angel’s alarm. “Don’t worry, Mr. Angel. As I’ve stated, the souls W&H concoct are counterfeit. Acquisition of them won’t put any other member of the undead in the running for that precious Shanshu. Where some things are concerned, only the real article counts. Accept no substitutions!” she finishes gaily, winking at Lindsey.

Wesley starts. “You know about the…?” She gives him a look. “Oh. Never mind.”

Spike grinds his teeth, the noise audible even on the far side of the room. “If my soul is so much rubbish, why did Pavane try to harvest me? He only did that with souls. Explain that, you bint.”

“Pavane was a demon. You think a monstrous being of the netherworld has any real capacity to recognize the difference between a true soul and a false one? You certainly didn’t notice the deficiency in yours,” she adds.

Spike flips her the bird. Once more, Ms. Johnson remains spectacularly indifferent. “With Lilah Morgan scheming to destroy Mr. Angel and/or his slayer, we had to move rather quickly from the installation to the testing phase. The one the other vampire got was a prototype. That’s why he acts so much like the pathetic bad boy he made himself out to be instead of the poetry-dabbling mama’s boy he was.”

Spike snarls. “You shut up about that, you hear?!”

Lindsey is more than pleased to hear about Spike’s disgraceful past. But he’s still curious about the demon. “So you paid him. And he gave Spike his fake soul. What happened after that?”

“The other vampire--”

“Spike.”

“Hmm?”

“My name is Spike. Not ‘the other vampire’,” Spike corrects, jabbing his finger at her over the table.

“Well, there have been so many names throughout the decades,” she replies, her smile poisonous and serene at once. “William the Bloody, Doc, Hostile 17. ‘The other vampire’ is as good a designation as any other.”

Spike’s face tightens. Curious. He looks…nervous. Lindsey wonders what that is about. Hostile 17? What kind of name is that? Perhaps Ms. Johnson would be willing to tell him…

Having shut up Spike temporarily, the custodian pauses. “Where was I, Mr. Angel?”

“Poetry-dabbling mama’s boy gets his fake soul,” Angel prompts with a rare smile.

“Correct. He was disoriented after that. Understandable, really. So he went to Sunnydale to lick his wounds and grovel at the feet of the slayer for whom he’d made such a pathetic effort.”

“Fuck that! I don’t grovel!”

She takes another pull from the water bottle. “With the ensouled cat’s-paw in place, we knew he would be the one to sacrifice himself. He put on the pendant, there was a minor cataclysm, Mr. Angel and his slayer survived. All was right with the world.”

“But how did you know Spike would return to Sunnydale after he got his soul?” the ex-Watcher asks.

“Fake soul,” Lindsey chimes in.

Ms. Johnson blinks at Wesley. “Why ever not? Where else would he go?”

“It would make far more sense for him to come to Los Angeles,” Wesley points out. “Who better to help him with his newfound soul than a vampire who’d dealt with his own for over a century?”

“Ah. I admit one or two of my allies had that same concern and it would have thrown a wrench in the works if he had come here instead of Sunnydale. We would have had to go with Plan B.”

In spite of Lindsey’s initial distrust of this woman, this tale she’s spinning is drawing him in. “Which was what exactly?”

“If the other vampire had come to Los Angeles, Lilah Morgan might still have manipulated Mr. Angel into getting that pendant. Then we would have found a way to get the other vampire to steal the pendant and take it to Sunnydale in the hopes of proving himself the true champion. It would have been dicey but we could have made it work.

“But the people running the figures said the chances were only about two percent that the other vampire would return here and for three very good reasons. One,” she says, counting on her fingers, “he was infatuated with the slayer. Two, he hates Mr. Angel. And three--” she chuckles, “--he’s an idiot.”

Spike springs at her then, rage causing his forehead to break into demonic ridges. Without so much as a glance in his direction, she squeezes the bottle. A stream of liquid jets out and hits Spike squarely in his face.

There’s a sharp sizzle. Spike claps his hands to his face and roars, “AaarrrrrrrggFUCK!” He reels back, staggering as his flesh starts to smoke.

“Holy water,” Ms. Johnson explains, examining her nails. “I’ve learned to carry bottles of the stuff while I work here. You never know when it’ll come in handy. He might want to wipe that off before he loses his eyes,” she adds.

The blonde vampire snarls in fury but Angel grabs him and hauls him back before he can try another assault. Shrugging off Angel’s hands, Spike staggers over to the bucket in the corner, gropes for a towel and begins furiously swiping away the water dripping from his face.

Gunn bangs his palm on the table, laughing at the comical scene just enacted. “That’s a wicked smart move. You must be one hell-a slayer.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gunn. From what I’ve heard about you, your skills as a street fighter were very formidable.”

Gunn’s expression turns wary. “How you know about that?”

Ms. Johnson arches her eyebrows again, as if the answer should be obvious. “This is a law firm, Mr. Gunn. Understandably, we have connections with the police. Your criminal record is rather extensive, although the reasons behind your more…colorful arrests remain secrets to the boys in uniform.”

“Then how do you know about them if the police didn’t have a clue about what Gunn was actually doing?” Fred demands.

She shrugs. “This is Wolfram & Hart. It’s what they do.”

Wesley peers at her. “But…why would Charles’s former activities be of any interest to the people who work here?”

“Are you implying that Mr. Gunn’s activities shouldn’t be of interest? As compared to whose? A failed Watcher?”

Wesley straightens up, stiffens. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Wesley wasn’t a failure!” Fred hotly denies and then adds in a tone of uncertainty, “Were you?” Wesley’s cheeks color but he doesn’t answer.

“As for Mr. Gunn, he is associated with Mr. Angel. Naturally, the people of Wolfram & Hart are interested in those who remain in contact with the vampire with a soul, especially anyone with whom he maintains a close personal relationship.” Her eyes move over Angel.

Lindsey resists a shiver of apprehension. He’s seen predatory gazes before now; Angel is a master of them. But this woman’s assessment is more unnerving, as if the brunette were a specimen under a microscope to be picked apart with tweezers.

“Why?” Angel asks.

“Why what? I don’t comprehend the question, Mr. Angel.”

“Why all this running around behind my back? Why not come to me and tell me what Lilah Morgan was planning?” Angel demands.

“He’s got a point. This is an awful lot of hoops to jump through when you could have just talked to the boss,” Gunn states.

She sighs. Lines crease her forehead, making her seem a great deal older than she initially appeared. “Mr. Angel, you were never meant to be part of Wolfram & Hart, not even as head of the company. We were trying to prevent your ever coming here because we believed this place would corrupt you. The fact that you were going to be working here, that you were listening to Lilah Morgan, of all people, made us deeply alarmed. We didn’t know if you would heed our warnings or whether you would tell her of our plans. So, yes, we took the convoluted route. We didn’t quite trust you.”

Angel’s expression becomes rigid, almost impassive. That’s guilt and uncertainty flaring behind the dark eyes; Lindsey can tell. He himself had had those same concerns about Angel when he snuck back into L.A. as a pretend seer for Spike. So he can’t exactly comfort his lover about Ms. Johnson’s doubts.

She perks up again.  “Besides, the people in Research and Development needed to see how the plasti-soul--we really need to get a better name for it--”, she mutters in an aside, “operated once bonded to its user. This was a way of saving you and your slayer and putting the soul to a proper field test. All in all, things turned out rather well.”

“And the fact that I burned up when Sunnyhell bit the big one?” Spike glares. “You lost the soul when that happened, dint ya?” He flings the towel at her.

She deftly snags it out of the air with one hand and rolls it into a tight tube. “It was a trial product. Losing it wasn’t that big of a deal, especially when weighed against saving the world. Losing you--bonus?” she says brightly.

“But what about the city? Sunnyhell fell into a crater!” Spike points out, his face twisting in an ugly sneer. “You and your lot were responsible for that!”

Ms. Johnson’s eyes widen in that mock innocence Lindsey is coming to recognize precedes an attack. “So, you admit that you had no real agency in the business. You were merely a pawn for larger forces.”

“Hell no!” Spike protests.

“Oh yes. If my lot, as you put it, were responsible for Sunnydale’s destruction, that means you had no hand in it. You were merely a tool with which we ensured the saving of the world. Along with the pendant, you were just a means to an end and, like the loss of Sunnydale itself, a necessary sacrifice. Not a champion, after all.”

“Fuck you and the rest of your poncy mates,” Spike snarls, low and vicious. “I’m not letting the likes of them tell me who I am.” Ms. Johnson doesn’t respond, save to take another sip of water.

Lindsey smirks; anything that puts a dent in Spike’s pride is a plus, as far as he’s concerned. “So what happens to the plasti-soul now?” he inquires, grinning.

“It’s technically property of Wolfram & Hart--”

“Sod that! I fought for that soul--”

Wesley drily murmurs, “Fake soul.”

“--with bugs running up your nose. Yes, we know.” Her eyelids lower again but not before Lindsey catches the gleam of amusement.

Gunn lets out a snort of laughter. “Bugs up your nose? You never tole us that!”

“Didn’t he? I suppose that part is a tad humiliating. Well, it doesn’t matter. The soul belongs to the law firm since it wasn’t paid for like the finished products will be. However, since it was a makeshift prototype, he can keep it. Clearly, there is some tweaking to be done before the final product can be released to the public.”

“I don’t believe it. It’s a real soul and what you’ve said is so much shite!” Spike’s still vamped out and the holy water has left smoking, burnt patches on his face. It would be almost clownish if he wasn’t bearing his fangs at her.

“Mr. Angel, I know this must be painful news for the other vampire and I’m sorry,” she adds, not sounding sorry at all. “But I did tell Ms. Burkle not to have him at this conference.”

“We’re not taking your word for any of this, you know,” Fred responds, glaring at the other woman.

Ms. Johnson murmurs, “You can talk to the people in R&D if you don’t believe me, Ms. Burkle.”

“Oh, I will. In fact, we’re going to have a chat about a lot of things. I want to know what else they’re hiding from us.”

Lindsey points out something they’ve apparently forgotten. “But why did you kill the demon in the parking lot?”

“Oh. Him.” Now her lips purse in irritation. “Well, he’d been compensated for his part in the business. But he must have gotten wind of the same prophecies we’d heard. He thought that he’d done a lot more than create a sacrificial goat with a tacked-on phony soul. He showed up, demanding more money, the greedy little fool. That’s when I decided I could dispense with his services.”

“And I’m thinking we can dispense with your services here at Wolfram & Hart.” Angel’s tone is level but the temperature in the room seems to drop a few degrees.

Evidently, Ms. Johnson isn’t any more cowed by Angel than she is by Spike. “For what reason, Mr. Angel?”

“I’m the boss and I don’t like your methods, Ms. Johnson.”

“Oh, don’t be so petty!” she cries. “From ages ago, long before you met Darla in that alley, mystical forces have been moving to continue your existence, to mold you into a warrior to stand by your slayer and aid her in her time of need. I’m just one in a long line of beings who’ve been dedicated to keeping you safe and with a whole skin! When you would have perished in sunlight in Sunnydale, California, invisible hands caused it to snow, shielding you from the sun’s deadly rays! Did you not think that was strange?”

Spike’s eyes narrow. “It snowed? In bloody California? When did this happen?”

“Are you saying you had something to do with that?” Angel demands.

“No, of course not,” she responds impatiently. “I don’t have the ability to affect weather patterns.”

“Then who?”

She shrugs helplessly. “Mr. Angel, there are other forces at work here and I’m not privy to their plans. I can’t even say who is involved beyond my tiny enclave.”

“How can I be sure? How do I know you’re not responsible?”

“I’m flattered you think me capable of wielding such arcane energies. But I don’t run in those circles.” She leans forward, my gaze firmly on Angel’s. “Mr. Angel, you were brought back from hell to continue your good works here on earth. While I’m glad you’re here among the living, I’m simply not powerful enough to have managed such a feat. From all the stories, you have to do terrible things to gain that level of magical prowess and I’m not interested in shedding my humanity.” She gives a brief shudder and takes another sip of water.

“Hang on a sec. I was brought back,” Spike says. “Found myself here at Legal Central after I died in Sunnyhell. Maybe I was brought back for a purpose, too.” He smirks at the group, certain he’s regained his footing as a chosen warrior.

Ms. Johnson shakes her head; her expression is almost pitying. “The pendant always brings the attendant psyche of the person that wore it back to the place of origin or the person who sent it. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a way of punishing the owners who refuse to sell. It’s really nothing more than a cursed object, you see. What else can you expect of an item that collapses buildings and kills everyone inside them?”

Spike is immediately crestfallen but not for long. “But I was made flesh again…”

“Who knows why? This is Wolfram & Hart, though. The Senior Partners may have had a hand in it. I know my faction didn’t.” Ms. Johnson’s brows cinch. The implication is clear: Spike’s presence is likely due to evil forces.

The dyed blonde catches on to that and mumbles, “Sod you,” before lighting a cigarette.

“You know about my being in hell,” Angel responds, ignoring Spike’s violation of W&H’s no-smoking policy. “That’s a real problem. You know a little too much about me and you’ve clearly been moving people around like chess pieces. You can understand if that makes me less than trusting about you.”

“Oh, but you have no difficulty trusting Lilah Morgan?” she retorts, a thin smile creasing her face. “As for moving people like chess pieces, as you call it, we can manipulate people, it’s true. But we don’t force their hand. If you question the other vampire, I’m sure you’ll hear him say how he willingly took that pendant and donned it himself. Unlike previous victims of the pendant, there was no compulsion in his case beyond his own sad hubris.”

Spike sends a stream of smoke into her face. The pointed insult doesn’t cause her to so much as twitch. Ms. Johnson sweeps the room with a placid stare. “I’ve committed nothing against W&H policy or any illegal act, which is more than can be said for some of you.”

“And getting Spike killed?” Fred snaps. “How do you justify that?”

Ms. Johnson sighs as if impatient with their obtuseness. “He’s a demon, Ms. Burkle. The law accords him no rights, the world has no official record of his existence. He’s not human. He’s not even alive and therefore I need have neither consideration of nor care about him. We needed a sacrificial goat in Mr. Angel’s place and who better than he? What would you have preferred, that one of you, Mr. Angel or his slayer had worn that pendant?”

A chilly glare is aimed at Angel. “The other vampire was expedient for our purposes. He was expendable. He wasn’t working for Wolfram & Hart, so you can’t accuse me of plotting against an employee. All of this was set in motion long before any of you came here to the company, even before you came to be at the helm.”

There is a grim light in her eyes now, threatening and forbidding. “He’s also a Slayer killer,” her voice low, “which makes him a particularly pernicious kind of vampire--”

“That was before I got my soul!” Spike protests.

“Fake soul,” Angel reminds him.

“--so some might say his destruction to aid a slayer was nothing but karmic justice,” she finishes.

 “If you stay here, you might find yourself getting killed some day,” Spike says. His vamp face hasn’t vanished and the yellow eyes gleam with malicious intent. “That soul you gave me doesn’t stop me from killing humans.”

“Killing me would certainly put you out of the running for that Shanshu, wouldn’t it?” she states primly.

“If my soul ain’t real, I’ve got nothing to lose, do I?” he snarls.

She tilts her head, considering. “That’s a point. However, there are some cultures that believe no one is born with a soul, that we achieve one through thought, suffering and prayer.”

Spike wavers, hope suddenly lighting up the blue eyes. “Yeah?”

Ms. Johnson lets out a hooting laugh. “No! I got that from The Simpsons.” Chuckling at the return of his scowl, she continues. “I’m not worried. Mr. Angel won’t let you kill me. He truly is the nobler vampire, head and shoulders above you, literally and figuratively,” she murmurs, shooting him a sly stare. “Allowing a murder of his own employees or indeed any innocent human would make him culpable and put him in danger of losing that Shanshu.”

She rises smoothly to her feet. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other rooms that need cleaning.”

“I can still fire you,” Angel threatens. “We have at-will clauses here that allow us to fire employees without giving a reason.”

“True, but I was hired long before such policies came into play. Even if you could make it stick, I am aware of sensitive information, information concerning you and your slayer, that you might very well wish to know. Once I’m fired, I’d have no reason to tell you about any of it.”

She pauses a moment to let that sink in. “As I’ve stated, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m like you, Mr. Angel. I helped save the world! Unless you truly are so spiteful as to blame me for actions that helped preserve your existence and that of your slayer, you’ll let me continue my good work here.”

The brunette vampire frowns. She has a point. But he can’t simply let her walk out without making her understand who’s in charge. “Ms. Johnson, I’m the head of Wolfram & Hart.”

“As I’ve stated, nothing to boast about and a sincere cause for concern,” she cautions.

Angel plows on. “From now on, you come to me first before putting any more of your plans in motion.”

“Oh, so you want me to work directly with you in future? How delightful!” She grins, exposing teeth of a startling whiteness. “That would mean I get a promotion. I expect to be suitably compensated.”

“Wha--wait, I didn’t mean…!”

She waves a hand at Angel’s protest, like a queen bestowing a boon, and steps around him to retrieve her cleaning equipment. “We can discuss the relevant details another time. Goodbye until then.”

Angel blinks, obviously wondering when he lost control of this situation…or if he ever had it. Lindsey has seen his share of cunning legal minds come through W&H doors. Ms. Johnson could teach them all a thing or two.

“Perhaps it’s not so bad having you here, Mr. Angel. It does allow us to keep a closer watch on you.” She crosses to her bucket and prepares to leave. “Ms. Burkle, Mr. Gunn, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, Mr. MacDonald--it was a pleasure meeting you at last,” Ms. Johnson states. “I hope to have more productive discussions with you in future.”

“Not if I can help it,” Spike retorts. It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that she didn’t include him in her farewells.

“Ms. Johnson!” Fred calls out.

She turns slightly. “Yes, Ms. Burkle?”

“You forgot your keys.” Fred reaches into her bag, pauses, frowns in puzzlement, then digs harder.

“Did you mean these?” Ms. Johnson pulls the ring from one of her voluminous pockets. Fred stares at it, speechless.

Ms. Johnson gives another of her serene smiles and tucks away the keys. Then she snaps her fingers. “I’ve got it, Ms. Burkle. Synth-Soul!”

“W-what?” Fred stammers.

“Synth-Soul. Instead of plasti-soul? It does have a solid ring to it, doesn’t it? You might want to have a word with Marketing.”

The custodian grabs the handle of the bucket and pushes it from the room, the wheels squeaking slightly. The others stand motionless while it rattles down the hall. Soon the sound is lost to the distance.

 

Finis



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