360 Degrees was your typical L.A. bar -- crowded, noisy and impossible to hold a conversation in. The only things to do there were drink and be seen, so it pretty much suited Lindsey McDonald's purposes perfectly tonight.
He wove his way through the crowds, his coworkers from Wolfram & Hart flanking him on either side as he accepted the congratulations and handshakes that came his way as his due. A table cleared miraculously for them, and Lindsey savored the small power trip as he slid onto one of the chairs.
"Helluva job, McDonald." Roger Brown, one of the other junior partners, clapped him on the shoulder and stuck a drink in his hand. "Those closing arguments were an absolute masterpiece."
"The whole trial was a masterpiece," an associate whose name Lindsey hadn't bothered to get chimed in from the other side of the table. "Getting the knife thrown out as unlawful search and seizure was just brilliant. I can't believe how well you played that judge."
Lindsey shrugged, keeping his smile under control as he leaned back in his chair, taking a long sip of his single-malt scotch. "It was all there to play with, boys. All you have to do is know the right moves to make."
"Yeah, but..." And they were off into the third or fourth rehash of the trial since the verdict had come in an hour ago. Not guilty, Lindsey's client walked free, and Wolfram & Hart would slide a nice bonus into his paycheck. Enough to pay off the Porsche, maybe put a down payment on a boat. And all he'd had to do was convince a jury there was no such thing as a shapeshifter. Easy money.
The hard part, of course, had been keeping Nodraan from shifting during the trial, which Nodraan tended to do when he was nervous, or upset, or homicidal. Which tended to result in Nodraan getting arrested. But the W&H shamans had cast the appropriate spell after Lindsey put them on the job, and everything else was downhill, all the way.
Oh, yeah. He was definitely very good at his job, and it was definitely paying off.
"So how did you know how to hit the cop?" Roger was asking, leaning over the table with his beer tilting precariously. "I had no idea her reputation was so out there. Even the other cops were testifying against her."
Lindsey pulled himself back to the adulation at hand, and shrugged, finishing his drink and gesturing for another one. "It's called research. Turns out Detective Lochley is starting to be known as something of a crackpot in the department..."
Two hours and several scotches later, Lindsey was the only one left as his table, and the bar was beginning to quiet down. He'd done the rounds a few minutes ago, talking to the right people, clapping the shoulders of the ones who might be useful, offering smiles and no contact to the ones who weren't. Yet. Now, he sat alone, with his back to the wall, alternating between surveying the room and inspecting the ice cubes in what remained of his drink.
And the ice cubes were more interesting, he'd figured out a long time ago. The people who flocked to see and be seen were mostly just sheep, happily following the herd. Not that he was objecting; it paid, oh how it paid, to be the smartest person in the room.
Almost. Lilah Morgan was still over in one corner, playing with her drink and playing with the two men who were currently trying to impress her. Knowing his coworker as he did, he was damn sure she wasn't even slightly impressed. She met his eyes across the room and he returned a cool stare, which she held for a second before tilting her head and going smoothly back to what she was doing. Lindsey snorted and emptied his glass. He and Lilah understood each other.
No waitress was in sight, so he got up and wandered over to the bar to get himself a refill. His last one for the night, he decided; there was no way he was getting sloshed in this crowd. A man had to watch his back....
"Get off me, you creep!"
Some latent instinct had his head turning to find the source of the woman's... not shout, since it sounded like it came from between gritted teeth. But someone sure wasn't happy.
A few feet away, in a dark corner of the bar, a brunette was fighting off the gropes of her companion, a lawyer Lindsey recognized. Something Anderson, they were working a tax evasion case together. Looked like Anderson had underestimated either his booze or his date.
His date, definitely; Anderson's snickers and gropes were suddenly cut off with a 'whoof' of breath. Fist to the gut, Lindsey determined; his sisters had perfected that move in junior high. Anderson was lucky it hadn't hit lower.
"Now back off and get out of my space," his reluctant date informed him, tossing her dark hair, "or you'll lose a lot more than your dignity and what's left of your brain."
Anderson straightened slowly as the girl turned away from him in complete dismissal, and Lindsey stiffened. He knew that face and that attitude.
Anderson grabbed Cordelia Chase's arm again, spinning her back around, and Lindsey leaned against the bar to enjoy the show. The girl couldn't get in too much trouble in public, and he wouldn't mind seeing Angel's secretary get a little attitude adjustment.
"Listen, you little tease," Anderson growled. "You've been making promises all night, and damn it, you are not going to pull this little game on me now."
"Promises?" Cordelia lifted one elegant eyebrow, her face otherwise expressionless, although Anderson's grip on her bare arm had to hurt. "I don't make promises to self-important windbags like you, and I've got better things to do than watch you try to prove your lame-o macho superiority. Now let go of me, or I'll hurt you in ways you can't even dream about."
Anderson, drunk and dumb with it, didn't take her seriously. Lindsey saw where her fists were, and had read her file, and took her very seriously. Remaining a spectator still seemed easier, but damn it, Anderson knew all the tax stuff. And that deposition was tomorrow, and Anderson couldn't take it if he was in the hospital.
"There's only one thing I'm dreaming about--" Anderson started to say, yanking Cordelia off her stool and to her feet. Her fist came back at waist level, her keys slipped firmly in place between her fingers, and Lindsey got his arm around Anderson's shoulders.
"Carter," he said jovially, pulling the man's first name out of thin air. "Man, you're starting to get some attention over here."
Anderson tried to shake him off. "This is private, McDonald. Butt out."
Lindsey didn't shake. "Sorry, man, but as your friend and colleague, I've got to tell you -- I know this babe and," he scanned her up and down, noting the legs and the scowl and everything in-between, "she's not worth your time. Trust me, I know."
"Excuse me?" Cordelia's scowl deepened to royal offense. Anderson just swayed in place.
"You serious, man?" he asked Lindsey. "That's one hell of a bod, and the face to go with it."
Lindsey shrugged. "Yeah, but dumb as a stone, and the attitude? Plus, she's got a real affection for losers and psychopaths. Trust me, a guy like you can do a lot better. Come on, I'll get you another drink and we can see what else is out there."
He steered Anderson off, noting Cordelia's dumbfounded stare -- caught between anger, relief and insulted vanity, with vanity in the lead -- with satisfaction. Looked like he could find some entertainment even in the most boring places. She saw him smirking back at her and snapped her mouth shut, then pulled out a cell phone and started dialing.
It took less than half an hour to get one of the associates to pour Anderson into a cab with a hooker and send him home. Lindsey watched them disappear out the door and headed back towards the bar to find the drink he'd been looking for originally, and now wanted worse than ever. He'd expected Cordelia to be long gone -- not still sitting in her corner, her arms crossed on the bar and fingernails tapping against her glass.
Just to be annoying, he slid onto the barstool beside her. "Another of the same," he told the bartender who'd been serving him all night, and turned his most deliberately irritating smile on Cordelia.
She returned it with a glare and a toss of her hair. "If you're expecting me to thank you, you're gonna have a long wait. I didn't need your help."
He snorted. "Dream on; I wasn't helping you. I need that idiot coherent and non-bloody in the morning." She blinked, then looked weirdly pleased. "Why hasn't your boss shown up to save you from the big bad lawyer bar? Too busy out saving the world from Solomon Grundy?"
It was her turn to snort. "Angel is not Superman, trust me on this. But he is on his way to get me. Why don't you leave and make the air a little cleaner while I wait?"
"Sorry," he smiled back, stretching out and invading her personal space a little more -- and trying not to be thrown that she'd gotten the Crash Test Dummies reference. "I was here first."
She rolled her eyes and scooted further away. "Whatever."
The bartender delivered Lindsey's drink; feeling expansive, he ordered, "And another drink for the... lady."
The strategic pause got him another glare. "I'd rather be poisoned," she smiled, sweet and brittle. "Scotch, single malt, rocks, and I'm paying for it."
The bartender shrugged, indifferent, and slid the glasses over.
Lindsey studied Cordelia's drink as he took a slug of his own. It burned like fire down his throat, proof he was alive. "You've got good taste in alcohol. Surprise, surprise. I would have thought that was too much for you, little girl."
She gave him a sideways look that was rife with contempt and picked up her highball glass, cradling it without drinking. "Enough with the little girl crap, McDonald. You're not even as cute as you think you are."
"Oh, did I hit a nerve?" He leaned forward a little more. "Should I point out to the bartender that he hasn't checked your ID?"
Another look, this one considering. "No. That's too petty, even for a lowlife like you."
Cordelia lifted her drink, but still didn't sip. Instead, she rested her elbows on the bar and her chin on the edge of the glass, staring out into nothing and blatantly pretending the person next to her didn't exist.
Naturally, he leaned further into her space. She rolled her eyes and put her glass down, half turning to face him. "Okay, do you have a purpose for being here, or are you just following your obnoxious instincts tonight? 'Cause I gotta say, they're right on target."
Lindsey smiled innocently, enjoying himself. She was right, it was petty, but what the hell -- he was bored. "Maybe I just like the company."
"And maybe Spike will go vegan tomorrow," she muttered under her breath, picking the glass back up. And, once again, not doing anything but holding it.
"I guess you think I should thank you for giving the scroll to Angel that night, and not making him hurt you to get it," she said suddenly, out of the blue. "Of course, that's probably why you did give it to him, to save your suit and your skin from any more damage, and not because of any shred of humanity trying to climb out of the cesspit of ooze you call a soul. But, you did save Angel the trouble of walking all over you to take it, which got me out of my little vision quest that much sooner, so thank you."
She looked calmly at him when she finished, and he thought about her statement, looked it over, broke it down. "So," he asked finally, "was there actually any gratitude in there?"
She smiled brightly. "About ten percent. Take it, it's the best you're going to get."
His chuckle caught him by surprise, sneaking out before he could turn it into a snort. Her smile turned into a grin, her eyes laughing at him in shared amusement.
They realized what they were doing at almost the same moment, and wiped their smiles off instantly. Cordelia suddenly found her glass fascinating again, and Lindsey turned around to find the rest of the bar equally interesting.
After a few long moments of self-conscious silence, Lindsey cut his eyes back over to Cordelia. "Are you going to get around to drinking that sometime tonight?" he asked, more to have something to say than out of any real interest.
She looked startled at the question, then actually seemed to focus on her still-untouched glass. "Oh. Right." She took a sip, made a face and went back to cradling it in her hands. "I don't like this stuff that much."
"Than why did you order it? It's a shame to see good scotch go to waste."
She shrugged with one shoulder. "A friend of mine used to drink it. When I smell it, it reminds me of him."
He leaned against the bar, shaking his glass and hearing the ice cubes clink against each other. "So what happened to him?"
Two simple words, and one hell of a lot of pain behind them. He wasn't interested, Lindsey reminded himself; he didn't want to know. And he really didn't care.
"So what's your deal, anyway? Why do you hang out with the Fanged Avenger? The whole 'saving the world' thing doesn't really seem like your kind of gig." And why was he asking when he didn't care?
She gave him another of those infinitely superior looks, the kind he'd gotten from women like her for most of his life. It made it a lot easier to remember to hate her. "And what would my kind of gig be, in your oh-so-wonderful judgment?"
Lindsey didn't bother to look at her, just kept staring over the bar. "Oh, I don't know. The Playboy Channel?"
He expected a fast comeback, or a rude noise at the very least. When it didn't come, he couldn't resist turning to see why not. Cordelia was studying him through narrowed eyes; after another long second, she simply shook her head and turned away.
"Oh, what the hell is that look supposed to mean?" he demanded, forgetting he didn't care.
"Nothing," she said calmly, reaching over the bar for a napkin and wiping up the water rings her glass had left. "But if lame sexual innuendoes are the best you can do for insults, then you're definitely not as much of a hot-shot as you think. Not that that that's a surprise, but I really expected better, you know?"
She took a sip of her scotch, and didn't wrinkle her nose this time. "As for why I hang out with Angel: a) he pays me, b) he's my best friend and c) he does good things and I like helping." She stopped, tilted her head to the side, and added, "Not necessarily in that order. What's your excuse for hanging out with Wolfram & Hart?"
"Because..." He caught himself, and glared at her. "You know why. You heard me tell your boss, before the mocking started. And I happen to like my work, all financial perks aside. I'm a damned good lawyer, whether you like it or not, Miss Holier-Than-Thou."
"No one said you weren't," she pointed out sweetly. "You're the one getting all defensive."
He started to shoot back an answer, then caught himself in time. It was his turn to study her through narrowed eyes, a muscle in his jaw working. "You're very good," he acknowledged finally. "Find the weak points and go right for them, make the other guy forget he doesn't give a damn. Manipulation 'R' Us. Ever consider law school? You'd be hell in a courtroom. I'll get you a job with Wolfram & Hart when you graduate."
Her eyebrows were all the way up by the time he finished, her face wearing that same weirdly pleased satisfaction he'd seen earlier, when he'd told her he knew she didn't need to be saved. Abruptly, he wondered how many people had made the mistake of underestimating Cordelia Chase, and told himself firmly to never do it again.
"Thanks, but I've got enough blood-suckers in my life," she answered his... proposal?... evenly. "I have less than no desire to be one."
"Oh, lawyer jokes now. And you accuse me of having no originality."
"Hey, sometimes you've got to go for the easy shots." She was grinning again, trying to hide it behind the fall of her hair, and he found himself grinning back with reluctant -- and unexpected -- respect.
"Have dinner with me."
Whoa. What had he just said?
"What did you just say?" Cordelia echoed his thought, her head whipping around in shock.
"Have dinner with me," he heard himself repeating. "Tomorrow night. Someplace fancy so you can mooch off of someone besides Nabbit for a night."
Her breath huffed out in indignation. "Yeah, right. Just because I made the mistake of going out with your loser friend Anderson, doesn't mean I'm that desperate." She somehow managed to flounce without moving from the chair when she turned away.
"What's the matter?" Lindsey baited her, following his stupid impulse through for reasons that he hoped would make sense later. "Scared of me? Or scared you can't play with the adults?"
"Get over yourself," she snapped. "I can play anywhere with anyone."
"Fine." He smiled calmly, confidently, knowing it would annoy her more than anything else he'd done that night. "I'll pick you up at your apartment at 8."
She opened her mouth, then stopped; her eyes narrowed dangerously. Yeah, that's right, little girl, Lindsey thought smugly. Someone else can play the manipulation game, too.
"Fine," she finally said, after a long, considering silence. "8 o'clock. I assume you already know where I live."
Lindsey's smirk widened, grew more satisfied. "We make it our business to know everything."
Cordelia's smile reappeared, and grew more smug. "We'll see about that."
She gathered up her purse and stood, weaving her way through the bar to the front door, where the geeky British guy who worked for her and Angel had just gotten there. He held the door for her, hovering in concern, and she brushed him off with a warm smile on the way out.
It was only after the door had closed behind the pair that Lindsey realized she'd gotten the last word again. He leaned back against the bar and started composing his strategy for tomorrow night.
From her small corner table, Lilah Morgan lifted her glass to her lips, ignored the people she was with, and took mental notes on the entire fascinating scene.