"If I ever get the notion
To jump off into the ocean
Ain't nobody's business if I do...

If I stay out all night
Spending my money I tell you that's all right
Because it ain't nobody's business if I do..."

Lindsey McDonald looked around his corner office, inspected the view from the 43rd floor, and saw that it was good.

Not as good as it would have been if Lilah Morgan wasn't sitting across from his desk, waiting for him to screw up so she could have the corner office and the view, but it was still a huge improvement over what he'd left behind. And it was only going to get better.

No matter what some smart-mouthed pain-in-the-ass thought, even if she happened to be explosively hot in a clinch.

"So, I'll take the lead on the grand jury testimony?" Lilah said, sharply enough that he was pretty sure it wasn't the first time she had spoken. "While you begin preparing the arguments for the Tyler case?"

He blinked and tried to pretend he'd been actually paying attention, instead of rerunning that last five minutes outside of Cordelia Chase's door. Again.

"Yeah, you go ahead and handle the grand jury," he answered slowly, giving serious consideration to whether she could handle it. And making sure she heard that consideration. "In fact, go ahead and set up the last of the depositions for Tyler. I've got a few things to do that are more important... Unless that would be too much for you?"

She smiled with calm composure; he almost couldn't see how hard she was gritting her teeth. "Oh, don't worry, Lindsey. I can handle anything."

He smiled back, letting himself show almost as much condescension as he wanted to. "I'm sure you can. I have a lot of faith in you, Lilah."

Her smile widened and thinned, and Lindsey had another sudden flashback to a few nights before and an identical expression on the face of another brunette. The door to his office opened before the Battle of the Hypocrites could progress any further; Lindsey looked up to snarl at his secretary, who wasn't supposed to be letting anyone in, then swallowed it and forced his smile back when he saw who the visitor was.

"Holland." He stood, holding his hand across the desk to his mentor. "I thought you were still in New York, dealing with that little matter for the Giovanellis." A little matter of their undead godfather getting busted -- again -- for tax evasion. Some things just never changed.

Holland returned the handshake, and added a paternal smile that creased his well-worn face and made him look like someone's grandfather. "It's all taken care of; Don Giovanelli will shortly be, ah, resting in peace once more. Hello, Lilah."

His smile to Lilah was no less warm and fatherly, but his eyes were clearly dismissive. Lilah took the hint and rose gracefully to leave.

"We'll pick this up later, Lindsey?" she asked as she gathered her paperwork.

"Sure," Lindsey answered absently. "Just get started on those depositions." He saw her eyes narrow and knew he'd just pissed her off with the casual order, but he was much more interested in finding out what had brought Holland back from New York three days early. Too interested to notice that the door wasn't quite closed when she left.

He gestured Holland to take over Lilah's seat, and waited for the older man to settle in before leaning a hip on the corner of his desk. No way was he going to sit down behind the desk, not when Holland might take it as a power play. Lindsey was acutely aware of whose good graces had let him keep this corner office after he'd 'lost' the Scroll of Anatole to Angel.

Holland watched him for a moment before speaking, and Lindsey worked not to squirm under his probing, vaguely disappointed gaze.

"I've been hearing good things about your work, Lindsey," Holland finally said, leaning back in his chair as if the office was still his. "The senior partners have been very pleased with your initiative, particularly on the Nodraan matter."

"I'm glad to hear that." Lindsey fought the urge to shuffle his feet, since only one was touching the ground anyway. "I've... certainly tried to do my best for the firm."

"And you've been succeeding," Holland assured him, steepling his hands together and touching his fingers to his chin. "Which is why I was... rather disturbed when certain rumors reached my ears."

Lindsey stiffened. "Rumors? About my work?"

"Not precisely." Holland did another one of those long pauses, designed to work the nerves of whoever was on the witness stand; it was equally effective on junior partners. The seconds dragged on and his stomach sank lower.

"You know, Lindsey--" and Lindsey tried not to jump when Holland suddenly spoke again, "--Wolfram & Hart has the very highest standards in our people, particularly our junior partners. We choose only the best and brightest, and we give them a chance to reach the top of their profession. In return, however, we expect from them dedication, loyalty -- and discretion."

Lindsey suddenly saw where this was going. Great. The little pain in the ass was going to make trouble for him here, too. One more thing to blame her for -- as if he needed anything else. That damn kiss... "Sir, if this is about--"

"Which is why," Holland continued inexorably, "we have... concerns when we discover our newest junior partner has been seen not once, but twice, in the company of a young lady whose employer has caused this firm a great deal of trouble."

"Cordelia Chase." He was busted, fair and square, but Holland respected honesty. And Lindsey McDonald wasn't the Defense Lawyer from Hell, as one of his opponents had bitterly called him, for nothing. So he put on his most sincere smile and leaned back, crossing his arms. "News travels fast. I was hoping..." He let his voice trail off suggestively, looking down and shaking his head.

Holland lifted an eyebrow, but made no other response. After a calculated pause, Lindsey looked back up. "After our last... encounter with Angel, I thought it would be a good idea to get an ear inside his office -- or what he's using since his office was destroyed. I got to know Angel and his crew, and Cordelia looks good, but she's just not that bright. And she does like to talk."

The last part wasn't a lie, but the rest of it... He had managed to convince himself, eventually, that that date with Cordelia had been in the line of duty; in fact, he'd run almost the same line on himself that he'd just used on Holland. He just hoped that Holland had bought into her vacuous Prom Queen act.

Lindsey was only begin to figure her out, but Cordelia Chase was anything but dumb; she'd die before she gave him, or anyone else, anything they could use against her wonderful boss. Which was yet another reason Lindsey was never going to see her again. Period. No matter how often he relived how she'd felt plastered again him....

Holland cleared his throat and Lindsey looked up hastily, realizing with a sinking feeling that he'd once again drifted off from something that he should be paying very close attention to. The sinking feeling got worse when he realized Holland wasn't buying the story.

Or not entirely, at least. He was nodding as if in agreement, but there was something hard in the back of his eyes.

"I can't argue with your reasoning, Lindsey," he said genially, "But we are in a very delicate time here. The senior partners are keeping a very close watch for any appearance of impropriety. Of any... messy emotional entanglements. And after what happened to poor Lee, and your previous, ah, infractions, well.... You know courtrooms, Lindsey; appearances can be very tricky. And the wrong appearance can make or break a lawyer."

Holland's smile flattened, hardened. "No matter how promising he is."

Lindsey wasn't dumb; he could read between the lines with the best of them. And these lines were pretty damn far apart. Go against us once, it proves you've got guts. Go against us twice, it proves we need to feed your guts to someone more reliable. And dating someone they disapproved of evidently qualified.

He thought he managed to keep his irritation off of his face. "I see what you mean," was all he trusted himself to say.

Holland smiled broadly. "Good, good. It was a good thought, Lindsey, just a little... risky, for the moment. We're working on other lines to deal with Angel, you know that. You helped us achieve one of those lines, and I'm sure you'll be even more help when she's ready to proceed. Until then, you just worry about your cases, and leave everything else to us."

In other words, shut up, do what we tell you, and be a good boy. Nothing he hadn't heard before but.... Damn it, it burned. And for all Holland's assurance, the vague updates he was getting about Darla didn't really suggest they had any intention of letting him near her for a while, which just pissed him off. He'd Raised her, gotten promoted for it, but they were still going to give him grief about losing the stupid scroll?

Holland stood, still smiling, and held out his hand. Lindsey wondered facetiously if he was supposed to kiss it, but hid the thought behind a charming smile and gave Holland the hearty handshake the other man was expecting.

"I'm glad we understand each other," Holland said jovially. "I'll want to meet with you later to talk about the Nodraan case; I'd love to hear the reasoning behind your excellent display in court. How about dinner?"

"Sure," Lindsay answered, trying to sound as studiously casual as his boss. "Just call down when you're ready; I'll be here."

Holland's smile widened, and he clapped Lindsey on the shoulder. "Dedication, that's what I like to hear. Just make sure you don't spend all your time behind a desk. You're still young, you should get out and enjoy yourself sometimes."

Yeah, enjoy myself in the approved Wolfram & Hart ways.

Lindsey blinked and shook the snide thought away. Where the hell was all of this coming from? It wasn't like Holland was wrong; hanging out with Cordelia Chase was a bad idea. And he had given them the right to tell him so. Nothing had changed since the day he'd been hired; this was just the deal. He knew what he'd sold for this corner office, for the Porsche and the view -- Wolfram & Hart owned him body and soul.

But it hadn't sunk in until now just now how much else they thought they'd bought.

As he escorted Holland to the door, it opened and Lilah stepped through. She looked cool and immaculate, with no sign of her earlier irritation showing. "I'm sorry, Holland, Lindsey. I hope I'm not interrupting."

"No, Lilah, not at all," Holland said expansively, his mood much better. Now that he'd brought his subordinate back to leash, Lindsey thought bitterly, and instantly cut the emotion off. He'd known the deal when he signed on, and he didn't regret it.

"--left a file in here earlier," Lilah was explaining calmly. "Lindsey, did you find one of the Tyler files on your desk?"

"I haven't seen it, take a look." He waved her in the general direction of his desk, not bothering to watch her cross the room. His attention was reserved for Holland, as the older man made a few more appreciative 'atta boy' noises and finally strode off for the elevator and his corner office.

He watched Holland's back until it disappeared into the elevators, then turned to head back into his office. "Mr. McDonald," his secretary's voice stopped him. "I have a personal call for you, sir; a young lady?"

"I'll take it here," he said impatiently, and snagged the receiver from her, leaning one hip against her desk. "McDonald."

There was a long second of silence, followed by a cool, steadfastly unimpressed voice. "Lindsey? This is--"

"Cordelia." He didn't know which of them was more surprised that he'd recognized her voice so quickly. He did know that it bothered the hell out of him that he had.

"Right," she said finally, then audibly pulled the attitude back on. "Look, don't go thinking you're irresistible or anything, but I owe you one for helping me with Fang Boy a couple nights ago, and I'm going to pay it off."

"That's not necessary," he told her brusquely. He was still trying to figure out why he'd gone to her rescue that night, anyway, risking his own neck. It wasn't as if he even liked Cordelia Chase. But he hated vampires -- and repeated exposure to Angel wasn't changing that at all -- and pulling the thing off of Cordelia had been sheer reflex. A reflex he would have happily ignored given five more seconds to think it over. "You don't owe me anything."

"I can't believe you actually said that -- isn't it a firing offense where you work? Anyway, I do owe you, and there's no way I'm going to owe anything to anyone from Wolfram & Hart any longer than I have to. So meet me, um, in Santa Monica. Tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to be there looking for places for the new office and I'll buy you dinner. Then we'll be even, got it?"

"No way in hell," he started to sneer, then caught a movement at the door of his office. Lilah leaned against the doorjamb, watching him with a frown, shaking her head in friendly warning -- with a cat-like gleam in her eyes that said she was enjoying every second. Yeah. He knew whose 'rumors' had gotten to Holland's ears.

He didn't know why he did it. Maybe it was Lilah's smug expression pushing his old buttons, or the way Wolfram & Hart had, through Holland, just tried to take over what little of Lindsey's life he could still call his own. It sure as hell wasn't the memory of a smile that could light a room, or a kiss that kept replaying itself in his dreams.

But the next words that came out of his mouth weren't the flat, mocking refusal he'd planned. They were, instead, "Where and when?"

Another long pause, as if she'd expected a fight. But she recovered fast; he respected that. "Outside the mall, at the end of the Promenade. At five pm. Can you escape from your keepers that early, or do they have you chained to a desk somewhere?"

"I'll be there," he answered calmly, not rising to the bait. "5 o'clock."

"Good. 'Bye." With that, she hung up, leaving him looking at a dead phone with a strange mix of emotions tearing through his stomach.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Lilah breathed as she wandered past him, the missing file in hand and her face full of warm, friendly concern.

He smirked in her direction as he strode back into his corner office. His office, not hers. "I always know what I'm doing."

And as he settled himself into his chair, and gazed out at the view from the 43rd floor, he hoped he was right. But he had the feeling what he was about to do would outstrip that damn kiss as the stupidest thing ever....

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated September 4, 2009.


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