"... And we'll need to look up everything we can find on shapeshifters and Callan demons."
"They're not exactly known for working together, so that's probably a good place to start."
"Right. Wesley, can you call Giles? We still need to use his library until we can replace mine. Cordelia, check the net, see if you can find... Cordelia? Cordelia!"
Cordelia jumped and abruptly focused on her boss, standing in her kitchen and staring at her with his eyebrows raised. "What? Oh, Angel. Sorry, I was thinking about..."
He waited patiently for her to finish her sentence, but damned if she was going to admit where her mind had been. Even to herself.
"Cordelia, could you hit the net and find everything you can on shapeshifters and Callan demons?" Angel finally repeated, very slowly and patiently.
"Oh, sure, I can do that," she nodded, not without making a face at his 'not-very-bright five-year-old' tone. "Um, how do you spell Callan again? And since when do shapeshifters and demons work together -- aren't they, like, oil and watery?"
Wesley and Angel looked at each other and Cordelia figured that she'd missed something. But neither man said anything, and they finally both left, off to do their own research.
Cordelia dutifully logged onto lanet.com, and started pulling up demon databases, searching for Callan demons and other relevant things. And within ten minutes, her mind had drifted back five days, to the incredibly horrible date and the even more horrible kiss.
Well, no, the kiss hadn't been horrible, she admitted to herself. That was mostly the problem. Who knew a slimebucket like Lindsey McDonald could kiss like that? She'd thought those first kisses with Xander had been the most mind-blowing of her life, but Lindsey made Xander look like a fumbling kid -- which, of course, he had been.
And Lindsey hadn't run when the vampire attacked. He'd stuck around. He'd saved her life. Oh, sure, he'd been a jerk about it afterwards, but it wasn't like she'd been overflowing with gratitude. Not that he deserved it or anything.
He was so damn frustrating! Lawyer demon scum of the galaxy -- literally -- but he kept doing things like saving kids, and saving Cordelia, and kissing like... like... kissing really well.
"And why am I still thinking about that?" she demanded of herself out loud. "It was a glitch, a one-time thing that is never gonna happen again. Ever. And it wouldn't be that good anyway. It was just... adrenaline. And hormones. And really, really stupid. Next thing you know, there's going to be broom closets involved, and we know how that ended. And he's actually got me sitting here talking to myself and this sucks!"
Her voice rose to a shriek on the last sentence and she bolted out of her chair, pacing around the kitchen. The refrigerator opened and a can of Diet Coke floated hesitantly towards her; she gave it a glare and it instantly retreated, whipping around the corner fast enough to make Cordelia feel more than a little guilty.
"I'm sorry, Dennis. I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at myself. No, I'm mad at that jerk Lindsey for getting all grabby and messing with my head! He just did it to try and win the game, and it was totally cheating. I'm so close to calling him and giving him such a piece of my mind..." Her voice trailed off, and she sank back into her chair, burying her face in her arms. "And why can't I stop thinking about this!"
And she couldn't. The guys were starting to give her funny looks, since today was not even the first time she'd blanked out in the middle of a conversation, mentally reenacting the date (and all of the responses to various insults she'd only thought of later) and dissecting that kiss -- style, quality and motivation.
"What am I going to do, Dennis?" Cordelia moaned quietly. "Lindsey McDonald is scum. He's slime. He's awful. I hate him. Right? Right. I think... God, much more of this and I'm going to turn into Angel, brooding as an art form...."
She moaned again, then felt a gentle touch on her elbow; unburying one eye, she saw her cell phone floating to the table beside her. "Oh, god, you're still on the 'tell Angel' kick, aren't you? God, Dennis, I can't, he'd never understand, I don't understand. And he'd be hurt and worried and... I can't. I just can't."
But oh, how she wanted to. She would have sold significant chunks of her soul to be able to walk into Angel's office, sit down in the chair across from his desk, and tell him the whole story. He'd nod understandingly, and yell at her for not telling him sooner, and then help her analyze it all and fix it all.
But the office wasn't there anymore, and there was no way Angel would be sympathetic with this mess, and she was just going to have to deal with this situation on her own.
"You know, Dennis," she said slowly, "you might be right. Maybe I should talk to somebody. Somebody who understands about complicated relationship stuff. And won't yell."
Her face set in sudden determination, she picked up the cell phone and started dialing.
Buffy Summers jumped when the phone rang, smearing red polish all over her toes. "Great, my feet look like they're bleeding," she grumbled.
"They still look cute to me," Riley grinned, looking up from the assault rifle he was reassembling on her desk.
She stuck her tongue out at him, then reached across the pillows to snag the phone on her nightstand. "Hello?"
"Buffy? Oh, good, you two are still in the dorms. Why are you still in the dorms? Did your mom kick you out again or something?"
Buffy closed her eyes and counted to five, then started removing smeared nail polish. No mistaking the identify of this caller. "Hello, Cordelia. No, Mom didn't kick me out. Willow and I are both taking summer courses, so we get to stay in the dorms."
"Oh, cool. I mean, cool about the dorms, not cool about the classes." Cordelia sounded even flakier than usual, and she seemed to realize it, since she stopped and took a couple of audible breaths.
"I was actually hoping to talk to Willow," she said finally, with great control. "Is she around?"
"Sorry, Cordy." Buffy squinted and contorted to get the polish on her little toe. "She's over at Giles' doing research again. Actually, I think she just wants Giles to get to know Tara better, but that's Will for you. Everyone must get along."
"Yeah, whatever. And what is up with this Tara thing? Anyway, can you tell her I called and I really need to talk to her?"
"Sure." Buffy frowned at the phone. "Are you okay? Is, um, Angel okay?"
"He's fine, Wesley's fine, I'm fine... Well, no, I'm not fine, I'm losing my mind, but that's a personal thing, not an end-of-the-world thing."
Personal problems? And Cordelia was calling Willow? Wow. It must be serious. "I'm not sure when she'll be home," Buffy said cautiously, then, even more carefully, "Can I help you?"
Cordelia sighed heavily. "I'm thinking that's a big no. I mean, it's personal and it's a relationship thing and... " Her voice trailed off speculatively. "And you're the absolute queen of bad choices in relationships. Okay, maybe you can help. You know that all men are scum, right?"
Buffy glared at the phone, realized she was about to spill nail polish all over it, and hastily righted the bottle. "And yet your social skills continue to suck," she said with forced cheer, but looked across the room. "Riley, honey? We're about to do some serious men bashing here, and I don't think you or your testosterone want to be around for it."
He blinked then shuddered, at least half-seriously. "No way; I know when to retreat. Meet you at Giles' for patrol?"
"Sure." She lifted her face for his kiss, then waited until the door closed behind him. "Okay, what's the deal, Cordy? Spill it; you've got until my toenail polish dries."
"Which coat are you on?"
"Second. Talk fast."
"You should finish with clear, you know. It's stronger and it keeps your nails from getting chipped for longer and...." She trailed off again. "And I'm avoiding, aren't I? I mean, I really want to talk about this, and I really don't want to, and I can't even tell Angel and I'm in so much trouble! At least, I think I may be and..."
"Take deep breaths," Buffy advised, trying not to sound as worried as she was becoming. Cordelia was in an out-there state even for her. "Then go to the beginning and lay it on me."
"Well, there's this lawyer--" Cordelia started.
Ten minutes later, she'd finished detailing Angel Investigations' dealings with Wolfram & Hart in general and Lindsey in particular, complete with graphic color commentary and scathing fashion reviews. Buffy made encouraging noises at the right times, but finally said, "Okay, I'm getting that this Lindsey guy is Bad News with a capital B. Sounds like Angel's dealing with him, though; what's the problem?"
Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut, noting in passing that Buffy was getting better at saying Angel's name without wincing, then dismissing it in favor of her problems. "I kind of.. went out on a date with him and we fought each other and then we fought a vampire and then he kissed me and it was... reallykindofawesome and I'm in so much trouble," she finished in one quick blurt.
Silence as Buffy processed this. "You dated this guy?" she finally demanded. "God, Cordelia, didn't you learn anything from the Frat Guy Incident? And you knew this one was slime already."
"I know, I know."
"And there were vampires involved? And he kissed you?" Buffy's voice rose steadily. "Cordelia!"
"I know! God! You think I don't know?" She leaned her face into her hands, muffling the phone. "He sort of maneuvered me into it and I was too stubborn back out and... things just happened!"
"Okay, okay," Buffy said soothingly. Well, sort of soothingly. Mostly impatiently, actually. "So, you went on a date with this guy. And it was a good date?"
"It was an awful date," Cordelia said with heartfelt emotion. "The worst ever, and I'm including my little incident with demon-pond-scum-who-shall-not-be-named. He was rude and condescending, and I was a bitch and he so deserved it, and we were ready to kill each other by the entree."
"Okaaay," Buffy said slowly. "So how did we get from attempted homicide -- and can I just say what a total surprise that is not -- to kissage?"
Cordelia shrugged helplessly. "I don't even have a clue, and I was there. I told you, this vampire attacked me, and Lindsey held onto it long enough for me to stake it and then we were fighting again and then he was kissing me. And then I got even by kissing him, and it just got out of control."
"Oh. That whole adrenaline, cute guy nearby thing." Buffy had the nerve to sound amused. "You know, this is starting to sound awfully familiar--"
"I've already drawn the whole Xander parallel, thank you," Cordelia cut her off irritably. "Only this guy is way worse than Xander, trust me."
"So, he kissed you and you liked it. That's disturbing, but not the end of the world -- just stay away from him."
"I know. You're right." Cordelia nodded, wishing she felt even slightly as sure as she sounded.
"Unless you don't want to stay away from him."
Okay, so maybe she hadn't sounded that sure. "Yeah. That would be the problem. I totally want to stay away from him, far away from him, but...."
"But?" Buffy was actually starting to sound sympathetic.
"But the harder I try not to think about him, the more I think about him!" Cordelia got up and stared pacing again. "I mean, he's a complete loser but he's got these eyes and he looks way good in a suit, and he's got really good manners, when he's not too mad at me to remember them, and he's really smart and funny when we're not hating each other, and he's almost as charming as he thinks he is and... god, Buffy, he didn't run."
"He didn't run?" Buffy sounded confused, then, "Oh. The vampire."
"It went after me," Cordelia explained. Ten steps across the kitchen, ten steps back to the arch. "Lindsey could have taken off, jumped into his car and just peeled out of there. It's not like that hasn't happened before. But he didn't. He got the vamp in some kind of wrestling hold and he saved me."
"Wow." Buffy considered. "Are you sure this guy isn't, like, split personality or something? He's found the Jekyll and Hyde potion yet again?"
Cordelia snorted. "It would explain a lot. No, he's human -- sometimes. He came to Angel for help once, when his slimy firm was going to kill these three kids." Ten steps across, ten steps back. "He risked his life to help Angel save them and I started thinking, okay, maybe there's something there besides sleaze after all. Maybe he still has the potential to be almost decent. And then he went back and worked for them again. He got a promotion. And I was like, so much for that. Back to business as usual."
Buffy sighed. "And then he went and saved your life and screwed up everything you thought you knew about him. Oh, yeah. Been there, done that."
"I figured." Cordelia sighed heavily and sat down. "So, what do I do? I can't stop analyzing it, trying to figure him out. He's everything I'm supposed to hate, and then he turns around and he's, like, Joe Hero. It makes no sense."
"And there's the whole kissing thing," Buffy added quietly.
"And there's the whole kissing thing," Cordelia agreed even more quietly. She slouched down in the chair, abandoning posture in favor of depression. "What did you do, when you found out about Angel and the vampire thing? I mean, Slayer, vampire -- bad sitch, right?"
"Oh, yeah," the other girl agreed grimly. "I, um...."
Her voice trailed off and Cordelia told her, with a rare burst of sympathy, "It's okay, I know it's hard. You don't have to talk about it."
"No, it's okay," Buffy said after a second. "It's okay, I just... it seems like so long ago. And yesterday." She sighed. "I... told myself I was going to stay away from him. And he was going to stay away from me, and we were both really determined. And you saw how well that worked out."
"Seriously." Cordelia made a face at the memory. "But you did try, and it's not like I'm in love with Born-Again Boy like you two were. It's just the attraction thing, hormones. I know that, but...."
"Yeah." She slumped even farther in her seat, and Dennis floated the Coke can over again, popping the top. She smiled weakly at him and took a sip. "It's hard. Hard to stop thinking about, hard to deal with when I am thinking about it...."
"Sounds like you're not dealing," Buffy pointed out. "Maybe that's what you need to do?"
"Excuse much? Want to translate for the home audience?"
Buffy made a noise that sounded rude, but Cordelia wasn't in the mood to call her on it. "I'm saying that, it's like pink elephants. The more you try not to think about it, the more you do. Right?"
"I've never actually thought much about elephants, pink or any other kind," Cordelia replied loftily.
Another rude noise, this time more distinct, and followed by an exaggerated sigh. "Can you stop being bitchy for five seconds? What I mean is, things you're not supposed to do, things you can't have, are always much more attractive. So try having him."
Cordelia didn't bother to answer; some expressions could cross phone lines.
Buffy picked up on that one, anyway. "Not that kind of having. But maybe you should go out with him again."
"What?" Up and pacing again. "Okay, no wonder you and Angel crashed and burned -- you're crazy! I just finished telling you why I can't see him again! Why I don't want to see him again!"
"Yes, you can, and yes, you do, and that's the problem," Buffy replied calmly. And correctly, damn her. "So go out with him again. And don't go into it trying to hate him; make it a real date, a talking and communicating date. I'll bet every book in Giles' library that by the end of it, without adrenaline and forbidden contact and all that, you'll realize he's a complete creep, and you'll have totally forgotten why you ever wanted anything to do with him."
Cordelia considered, tapping a nail against her Coke can. "That's a really stupid idea," she concluded.
"And it didn't even work for you and Angel."
"Not so you'd notice."
"He's probably totally uninterested in ever seeing me again."
"It's a totally risky and completely unworkable plan."
"Uh-huh. Got a better one?"
"No. That's one of the stupidest things about it." She paused, then asked, almost whispering, "Buffy? What if I do the 'real date' thing and I do like him? And I do still want to see him again?"
Buffy didn't answer for a long second. "Then you've got a problem. But at least you'll know, you know? And if this guy's as bad as you say, then what are the odds that you will want to do the dating thing?"
"Can we say, nonexistent? I think." She paced for a few more seconds, then sighed and sat, resting her forehead against the comforting coolness of the soda can. "If I wind up being sacrificed or demonically impregnated, I'm going to tell Angel and Wes whose idea this was."
Buffy actually laughed, sort of. "Go ahead. By the time they finish killing your lawyer guy, they'll be too tired to do much to me."
"Don't bet on it." But Cordelia had to grin maliciously at the image. "And he's not my lawyer guy."
"Sorry." Buffy didn't sound it, particularly. "Look, my nails are dry and I need to meet Riley for patrol. Um... call me and tell me what happens, okay?"
Cordelia blinked. Was that interest? Concern, even? "Okay. Yeah, I will."
"And you need a safety net, so call me before you go out with this guy. Then I can tell Angel if anything happens. Okay?"
"Dennis did it the last time, but yeah, I'll tell you, too." Another long, uncomfortable pause. "Buffy? Thanks."
"Hey, this is Relationship Trauma Central. So totally used to it." Buffy sounded as least as uncomfortable as Cordelia felt. "I'll catch you later. Bye."
"Bye." Cordelia hung up the phone and stared thoughtfully at it for several minutes. Then she got up and started rummaging for the phone book. The firm had a full-page ad, of course. She stared it for a while, then picked up the phone and dialed.
"Wolfram & Hart," a professional-sounding receptionist answered. "How may I direct your call?"
Cordelia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Lindsey McDonald's office, please."