Cordelia Chase was bored out of her mind.
There was absolutely no reason to be this bored. She was at a great party and surrounded by the rich and famous. Contacts her that could guarantee her a career were walking by every three seconds, and not a few of them were casting looks in her direction.
And David Nabbit had a light hold on her hand, and a firm hold on her newly-acquired guilt button. She knew how lonely he was and how much he loved having a gorgeous woman sitting beside him at his party, laughing at his every word. He was sweet and rich, and playing arm candy made him so smug and happy, and it was only a few hours of her life, after all.
A few endless, interminable, deadly dull hours of listening to him talk about nothing.
"...So the meeting broke up after an hour, and then the Green Goblin took a trip to the moon and turned into a punk rock duck." David finished his sentence and looked at her, waiting for a response.
"Uh-huh. Of course," she agreed automatically. "I totally see that."
Punk rock ducks? What? Uh-oh. She winced, and turned a chagrined smile to David, who looked back at her with that wounded puppy-dog expression. "I'm so sorry, David, I just drifted off. It's been so weird lately, trying to find a new place for the office and Angel, and..."
He held up a hand to stop the flow of at-least-partly sincere apology. "It's all right, Cordelia. I understand. You've been hanging with me for almost two hours. Go have fun."
Oh, yay! He was going to be stoic and noble. He liked being stoic and noble; she could take off with no guilt attached and go find someone fun and/or profitable to talk to.
She couldn't look too gleeful, of course; that was Old Cordy. A reluctant smile, with overtones of regret and gratitude, would be just fine. "You're sweet, David. I'm just going to go hit the buffet for a few minutes, and then I'll be back. 'Kay?"
"You don't have to come back. Have fun." He looked wistfully at her, and she felt a genuine rush of affection for him. It wasn't actually his fault he was pathetic, and he knew exactly how pathetic he was, which had to suck.
On impulse, she leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek before standing and smoothing her dress. "You really are sweet. And I will be back."
He smiled happily, someone else drifted over to schmooze with the guy with the cash, and Cordelia headed for the food.
One thing she had to say for David, he sure knew how to feed people. Caviar, champagne, truffles, those little hot dogs so that stomachs wouldn't start rumbling... Oh yes, this was how she wanted to live. She grabbed a plate and started piling it on, making sure to snag a good share of the hot dogs. It wasn't until she debating over the dessert (which involved at least twelve layers of chocolate, and 12 million calories) that she realized who was making similar inroads on the other side of the table.
"Oh, great," she groaned out loud. "I thought I smelled something, and I was hoping it was a slime demon. Not just slime."
Lindsey McDonald looked up from the champagne glass he was balancing, blinked, and smiled in a way that he probably thought was charming. It might have been, if she didn't know the sleaze that lurked under the blue eyes and dimples.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Angel's secretary. Or should I say, Angel's pet?" His smile widened into a smirk. "He lets you wander around at night all alone, little girl?"
Her eyes narrowed. Nobody patronized Queen C and got to gloat about it.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Born-Again Boy," she said, with a cool, deliberate smile, the one developed on Harmony and honed to razor sharpness on Xander. "I thought you were the one Wolfram & Hart didn't let out without a leash these days. Oh, that's what that thing trailing down your back is."
He started to check; she saw the tiny motion before he stopped himself with a satisfied smirk of her own. The score stood at 1-1, advantage Chase.
She followed up on it, casually putting her plate down to reach for the chocolate fest. "So, did you get invited tonight, or did you just ooze your way in under the doorman's feet?"
"Oh, let me." With exaggerated courtesy, Lindsey scooped a good-sized portion of the chocolate onto her plate. She made a mental note not to let a bite of it touch her lips. "And I was actually going to ask the same thing. Who did you sleep with to get into this party?"
She refused to flinch, damn him. But it was close; her fingers tightened around her champagne flute before she counted to ten and very deliberately loosened them. "Unlike some people, I don't have to sell myself, or anything else, to get where I want."
Her eyes met his, unflinching. His eyes darkened and flattened, but held.
"All I'm selling tonight is my services," he said calmly, and she was forced to admit he kept a good deadpan. "Mr. Nabbit's company has shown interest in retaining Wolfram & Hart for some of their... messier legal problems. I'm here to close the deal."
Oh, really? She lifted an eyebrow at him. "So, you've talked to... Mr. Nabbit?" she asked, carefully putting just the right edge of awed appreciation in her voice. "He's like, totally rich, right? What would he want with you?"
That did it, the hint of Valley Girl. She saw the second he pegged her as a brunette bimbo, and smothered a catty smile. And they said she couldn't act.
"Mr. Nabbit's business takes him into many areas Wolfram & Hart deal with," he informed her. The tone was condescension mingled with smug superiority; she ranked it about an 8. He and Harmony would get along great. "We can make his life easier, and safer. Wolfram & Hart..."
He caught himself on the edge of a sales pitch and stopped. "Well, I'm sure it's nothing you'd be interested in." Even if you were important enough to be worth my time, that tone implied.
"I'm so sure." Oh, this was going to be fun. All she had to do was... yes, there he was. She smiled at David and gestured behind her back, careful not to let Lindsey see. David looked startled, then pulled himself away from the guy he was talking too -- one of the security types, she thought -- and wandered over.
Lindsey stiffened as soon as he realized David was coming over, and dismissed Cordelia completely, straightening his tie and hair. Which was actually too long to be straightened and she wondered absently why his bosses let him get away with that little deviation from the Evil Lawyer dress code.
"Hi there," David said genially, holding out his hand to Lindsey. He didn't fumble the greeting or the handshake, and Cordelia gave herself a mental pat on the back. The drills in Remedial Social Skills 101 were paying off. "I'm David Nabbit. And you are?"
"Lindsey McDonald. I'm an attorney with Wolfram & Hart." Lindsay's greeting was smoother, mostly because of the suit and tie. Cordelia's next step was going to be assaulting David's wardrobe. "I've been speaking of some of your people about offering our services to your legal department."
"Oh, right." David's smile beamed as he finally connected face to name and reason for presence. "I remember, they told me about that. Do we have a meeting or something?"
"Ah..." Not even Lindsey could handle David's straight-forward obliviousness without fumbling. The fact that David still had Lindsey's hand and was pumping it when he remembered to didn't help. Cordelia hid her smirk. "Yes. Yes, we do. This week, in fact."
"Oh. Good." He finally dropped Lindsey's hand and grabbed a canape without looking, shoving it into his mouth. It was something gross and fish-like, of course, and he grabbed a napkin to get rid of it. Lindsey pretended not to notice; Cordelia made another mental note regarding table manners.
"So, Cordelia, you've met Lindsey here, right?" David managed cheerfully, after he'd disposed of his mess.
"Oh, yes. I certainly have," she answered sweetly, and Lindsey's eyes suddenly narrowed in suspicion. Too late, sucker. "So have Angel and Wesley. We've even had some, um, dealings with his firm."
"Really?" David looked perkier, still missing the undertones, but delighted that he was holding up his end of a conversation that didn't involve dungeons and demons. "What did you think about their services?"
"I have referrals available--" Lindsey tried to interject a last-ditch save, but Cordelia quite happily rode right over him.
"Well, let's see." She cocked her head, pretending to think, and her smile grew sweet enough to gag on. "There was when Lindsey here supplied an alibi for the guy who killed a friend of Angel's."
"Allegedly killed," Lindsey kicked in reflexively. David just blinked.
Cordelia ignored him. "This was the same vampire Angel had to rescue me from when the guy tried to have me for dinner, in the yucky, death-related sense of the phrase."
"And we stopped representing Mr. Winters when your boss decided to ignore a trial and found him guilty, then shoved him out a window," Lindsey pointed out. "From the 25th floor."
"It's not like Russell-baby ever hit the ground. Then there were a few murders, assaults, let's-end-the-world perps that the lovely firm of Wolfram & Hart got off," she continued blithely, tapping a perfectly manicured nail against her chin. "Oh, what else, let me think.... one of their lawyers buying me at auction and trying to yank my eyes out? Oh," she snapped her fingers, "and we can't forget the rogue Slayer they hired to murder Angel! The one who assaulted me and almost put Wesley in the hospital? Remember that, Lindsey?"
"You've got no proof Wolfram & Hart was involved with that psychopath," Lindsey shot back. "As I recall, she was an enemy of Angel's long before he crossed our path. He seems to make a habit of associating with mental cases."
She ignored that shot, and the pointed look that accompanied it, as beneath her notice. David was looking shocked and vaguely green; Lindsey looked, well, pissed. But he was hiding it well; Cordelia gave him points for that, too. She could spare them.
"Maybe, but it was someone working for your boys that did put me the hospital. You remember, last month? Right before they blew up the office and almost killed Wesley?" There was no sweetness in her smile now; it was sharp steel, and aimed to draw blood.
"That's all hearsay and speculation," Lindsey forced out through gritted teeth, maintaining a polite smile through what looked like sheer willpower. "We deny any responsibility--"
"We know you do," Cordelia nodded understandingly. "It's kind of your best thing, isn't it? Denying responsibility?"
Direct hit, yes! She hadn't lost her touch. Lindsey blinked, his jaw tightening, and David looked back and forth between them like he was at a particularly terrifying tennis match, before finally getting a clue.
"Well..." he said slowly, "if Cordelia thinks I shouldn't hire you -- you do think that, right?"
"Good guess," she answered his sideways look.
"--then I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel that meeting," David shrugged, actually looking sorry. He didn't know Lindsey like she knew Lindsey, or he'd be celebrating. "I hope you'll stay and enjoy the party, though. Cordelia, are you going to stay longer? Because there's someone I'd like to introduce you to -- a casting agent, I think he said."
"Cool." She offered David a dazzling smile and another kiss, this one right on the lips. He really was adorable sometimes. "I'll find you in a few minutes."
"All right." He smiled back, looking kind of dazed, and wandered off. She hoped he didn't walk into anything, or anyone.
"Thank you very much." Lindsey said sourly beside her. Ooo, he looked like an unhappy lawyer, which was always a happy sight. "Feeling better now that you've got all that out of your system? Because I'd hate to see you have to pass up a prime opportunity to sponge off of Mr. Nabbit by being too sick to eat."
She grinned widely and maliciously at his sneer, popping a shrimp into her mouth. "Oh, I'm fine, and David likes it when I sponge off of him. Makes him feel all generous and sensitive. Did you really think I'd let your bosses sink their nasty little hooks into him?"
"Looks like your nasty little hooks beat us to it."
She snorted the innuendo off this time, still riding the wave of triumph. "Yeah, right. Please. Do I look like someone who'd sleep with David just because he's rich?"
Lindsey crossed his arms and leaned back against the table; his eyes started at her spike-heeled shoes and worked their way up past the spaghetti straps on her tight red dress. By the time they hit her face again, that smug, knowing smirk was firmly back in place. "I don't think I actually need to answer that."
He was this close to getting a glass of champagne in the face. Only the knowledge that he'd probably sue David kept her fingers tight around the crystal and his linen shirt dry. "I told you," she said levelly," I don't need to sell anything of mine. How many pieces of silver did your pretty suit cost you?"
"Oh, biblical references now. Am I supposed to feel guilty? Ashamed? Not a chance, little girl." He drained his champagne, then grinned tightly and toasted her with the empty glass. "I like how life tastes right where I am."
Cordelia looked at him for a moment, then shrugged with one shoulder, carelessly. "Choke on it."
She picked up her plate and her glass, then paused, looked back over her shoulder. "Oh, and tell your bosses -- the next they want to try to steal my visions? They can't do it by stealing my eyes." She gave him her sweetest smile yet. "Do a little research, why don't you? After you get done explaining how your big mouth just lost them a major client."
She strolled away towards David, enjoying her parting shot. A few minutes later, she saw her opponent negotiating with the doorman for his jacket and tilted a smug smile his way.
He returned it with a stony gaze, settling his jacket in place with choppy motions, and snagging a last glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Then, to her surprise, he lifted it in another ironic toast before emptying it in one gulp, dropping it on a nearby table, and walking out the door.
She watched him go with a raised eyebrow and her eyes narrowed again. Then the casting agent asked her a question, and she smoothed her face out, turning towards him to be charming. Which was certainly a lot more important than Lindsey McDonald.
"How was the party?" Angel asked the next morning, as she wandered into kitchen in her robe and bare feet. He still hiding out away from the sun, with the curtains drawn and the newspaper open.
"Okay," she shrugged, trying to determine from the smell whether Dennis or Angel had made the coffee. It smelled drinkable, so it had probably been Dennis. Angel couldn't make coffee to save his life, probably because it all tasted the same to him. "I met a couple of people, one of whom might actually be able to get me the audition he promised. David was boring but sweet, the food was good, and I cut Lindsay McDonald off at the knees when he tried to worm his way onto David's payroll."
Angel sputtered and almost spit coffee across the room. "You what? Wolfram & Hart was there?"
She shook her head, taking a tentative sip. Yes, blessed caffeine from Dennis's hands. "Not as such, just our boy Lindsey. It's okay; I told David to tell him to take a hike, and he did. It was fun, you should've been."
"Yeah, I should have." He'd gone all grim, and she could practically see the over-protective instincts kicking into gear. Only a knock on the door kept him from starting one of his 'I'm never letting you out of my sight again for the rest of your life' kicks.
"I'll get it." She escaped into the living room gratefully, and opened the door, expecting Wesley. Instead, she was greeted by a huge bouquet of roses that almost obscured the delivery man carrying them.
"Cordelia Chase?" he asked. She admitted to it and signed where he told her, and even managed to scrape up a tip; okay, so Dennis remembered to float the dollar bill over.
Angel looked up from his paper again when she brought the flowers into the kitchen. "I didn't miss your birthday, did I?" he asked warily when he saw what she was carrying. "'Cause I could swear we didn't have to do that for another few weeks."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "No, you didn't forget anything. This time. They must be from David. He's such a doll, I almost feel bad about making him go shopping tomorrow. Almost."
Putting the flowers on the counter, she dug through the deep green foliage to find the card. And almost dropped it as soon as she opened it.
"What?" Angel asked, trying to look over her shoulder. She jumped, then whirled, holding him off with one hand.
"Hey, no sneaking!" she admonished. "We've talked about that. And they're just from a guy I met last night. No big deal. Don't we have some demon to fight or something?"
Casually, she flipped the card in the trash and ushered her boss out of her kitchen, making sure Angel didn't get close enough to read the inscription:
Round one to you, Ms. Chase. Next time, I get the last word.