It was a great office space. Really. A front office with enough room for Cordelia and Wesley to have their own desks and the clients to have a couch (which would mostly be used by Cordelia and Wesley instead of their desks), a back office so Angel could look important, plus an apartment for him right above it. They'd have to cover the windows really well, and Angel would have to check that night to see if there was tunnel and sewer access, because no way was Cordelia going to try to explain that to the realtor. But it could work.
Cordelia really wished Wesley was well enough to be doing this office hunting crap with her, but he was only a few weeks out of the hospital after nearly being blown up, and he was still not so good at doing things. Like standing up for extended periods of time. So he got to camp out in his rat-trap of an apartment reading the real estate ads, while Angel slept the day away at Cordelia's place, and Cordelia got to tramp all over L.A. in expensive and uncomfortable shoes.
She leaned back against the low wall outside the mall with a sigh, feeling the warmth of the bricks seep through her thin top. On the other hand, she admitted, it would have been a lot harder to sneak away for things like, oh say, a date with Angel's current most-hated person if Wesley had been along. She was still trying to decide if that would have been a good thing or a bad thing. Which was pretty much what she was trying to decide about the whole dating idea itself.
The sun was shining brightly and she fiddled with her sunglasses, determinedly not looking around. She'd been ten minutes early this time, on purpose; Angel had finally managed to convince her that Making an Entrance was fine for social occasions, but going into battle called for getting there early and Making an Ambush. She wasn't sure what category this was going to fall into, but better safe than toast.
If Lindsey would just hurry up and get here so she could get this over with, and settle into hating him in peace....
Lindsey parked his Porsche on the fifth level of the Santa Monica Place garage, made sure the alarm was turned on, and took his time strolling down the stairs. His tie was already loose, since the office had been a little... confining today, but the heat had him shrugging off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves before he made it to the ground level.
It wasn't that they didn't usually blast the A/C at Wolfram & Hart; it was usually colder than the gr... really cold in there. The very junior associates joked that the senior partners kept it cold because you could preserve bodies better that way. Those associates usually didn't get much more senior.
But Lindsey had been given a new case today -- another vampire trying to fill Russell Winter's shoes, with a pretty fair financial base, but no actual intelligence. He wasn't going to survive long, but W&H would take his money and keep him out jail until someone -- probably Angel -- dusted him. Lindsey didn't actually mind defending vampires, or any other demon. But the pictures of the victims were sticking with him for some reason today....
He shook them out of his head with a determined effort, and focused on the evening ahead of him. First on the agenda, decide whether to encourage Cordelia's belief that she owed him one -- which could come in handy -- or be enough of a jerk to make her not care about any debts, which would effectively remove her and her complications from his life. He was leaning towards plan A, more out of determination to make all of this crap worth something.
Then he spotted Cordelia outside the mall, leaning against one of the low, decorative walls, and immediately decided in favor of plan B. And wished he'd kept his coat and tie on.
She was wearing some kind of long flowing skirt, with high-heeled sandals that did great things for her legs. Her top was flimsy, with thin straps that looked really precarious, and showed off her shoulders. He remembered how those shoulders felt, the texture of her thick, loose hair over his hands... He swallowed hard and stopped a few feet away, trying to get it together before she saw him.
Then she turned and faced him, and getting it together stopped being an option.
*Oh, damn.* Cordelia didn't usually swear, but this was definitely worthy of a curse or two. Lindsey McDonald was standing three feet away, looking all rumpled and sexy with his sleeves rolled up, the sun gleaming off a heavy silver bracelet on his wrist she hadn't seen before, and one of those expensive jackets hooked over his shoulder. The wind messed up his hair even more than he probably meant to do, and his blue eyes met hers steadily. But there wasn't any hostility in them now, not like there had been the other night. Just wariness and a kind of... vulnerability. Like someone had just hit him over the head and he wasn't sure yet what he was going to do about it.
She thought she might be looking at him pretty much the same way. She didn't like it.
They just stood there staring at each other for a second, then Cordelia realized what they were doing and deliberately broke eye contact, standing up straight. Her carefully rehearsed opening lines were gone with the wind, so she took off her sunglasses, shoved her hair back from her face, and went with her strength: honesty.
"Okay, so here's the deal," she told him without any other lead-in, meeting his eyes again and settling her hands on her hips. "Two rules for tonight -- one, we don't talk about work. At all. None. Yours or mine."
The muscles in his jaw worked for a second, then he nodded. "Fine."
"Good." She echoed his nod with more firmness that she felt. "Second rule: no more Insult-O-Rama and no more trying to score off each other. We behave like normal, mature adults going out to dinner."
One side of his mouth twitched upwards in what might almost have been a smile. "I can handle the mature adult part. Normal?"
She hadn't expected humor, particularly the non-goading kind. Her lips curved in unconscious response. "I know it's a stretch, but I can do it if you can."
A challenge; he met it with a slight widening of his smile and a sideways tilt of his head, one eyebrow lifting in a gesture that was usually annoying but right now was almost, God help her, cute. "You're on. Do I get to make any rules?"
She shrugged as casually as possible when every nerve was jumping, from the ones screaming 'Danger, Will Robinson' to the ones registering 'Serious hottie in vicinity.' "Got any you want to make?"
He thought about it, without ever moving his steady gaze from her face, then shook his head. "Not yet. But I withhold the right to exercise my option later in the evening."
She rolled her eyes and snorted, "Lawyers," then took a breath and surreptitiously rubbed her damp palms against her skirt. "So. Are you hungry?"
He shrugged with the shoulder that didn't have a jacket over it, and put on a pair of mirrored shades. She wasn't sure if she was more or less comfortable with him when she couldn't see his eyes. "Not really."
"Oh." So much for getting to the food part of the evening quickly. "Um, we could..."
She expected him to smirk at her discomfort as she fumbled for the alternate ideas she'd had 30 seconds earlier. But to her surprise, he casually suggested, "We could walk along Ocean for a while. Go down to the Pier, work up an appetite."
Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, but his face was inscrutable. If he was planning something, she couldn't tell. "Okay," she agreed slowly, reaching for her sunglasses and settling them back into place. "That sounds good."
"Then let's go." He gestured for her to lead the way and followed close behind; she tried not to jump when his hand settled onto her lower back in polite escort. He'd done that before, on their way out of the restaurant following the date from hell, but she'd been too busy seething to really register how warm his palm was, the strength in his hands. She'd expected something... different from a pencil pusher.
She shook her head firmly and told herself to pretend he was Wesley, then headed down the block towards Ocean Boulevard.
They walked in silence for the first few blocks, down the sidewalk that separated the city from the beach below. The ocean stretched out to the west like a banner; Lindsey found himself staring out at it rather than at the young woman by his side.
"I like the ocean, too," she commented, breaking the silence. His gaze swung back to her and she tilted her head in the direction he'd been staring. "I thought about moving to New York when I left home, but I decided even if I had to leave everything else, I wasn't going to give up the beach."
He thought about that. "Yeah. I know what you mean. The first thing I did when I moved out here was drop my stuff in the dorms, then drive west until I hit the sand. The first time I saw the water, I knew I'd finally made it far enough."
Cordelia studied him, her head still tilted slightly to the side. "Far enough from what?"
"From everything I was trying to get away from." He hadn't meant to say that, hadn't meant to show quite that much; he wiped his expression clean before she could see anything else and braced himself.
But her only comment was a quiet echo of his earlier words. "I know what you mean."
They'd stopped at some point, leaning against the rough fence that guarded the edge. He glared at her from behind the shades. "Yeah, guess leaving behind all that money really hurt."
He expected a sharp comeback, wanted one, and saw her eyes narrow with it behind her dark lenses. But she caught herself and leaned against the fence instead, giving him a speculative and surprisingly adult look that made him grateful for his own shades. "That was against the rules. And believe me, losing the money was the last of the things I was running from."
She made a face and looked back over the water. "Not that I wouldn't like to have it back, of course."
He turned a chuckle into a half-snort, and leaned against the fence next to her. "So what's the penalty for breaking a rule?" Damned if he was going to apologize.
"Penalty? Um, let's see... Got it." She straightened abruptly, her grin back, and more than a little malicious. "Dating 20 Questions, and you have to go first."
He lifted his eyebrows at her over the shades. "Excuse me?"
"It's a formalization of small talk," she explained as she started to wander down the sidewalk again, completely unaffected by his superior look. He gave it up and trailed behind, admiring the view. And the ocean looked nice, too. "We each take a turn answering a question the other one asks."
"And the catch is?"
She gave him a Look over her shoulder. "Does everything have to have a catch for you?" His only answer was a shrug, and she heaved a put-upon sigh. "The catch is, you have to answer your own question, and you have to tell the truth."
Catch identified, Lindsey thought it over. He was a master of cross-examination; he could handle anything Cordelia Chase decided to throw out. "Fine. Fire away."
She thought for a minute. "Okay, starting easy. Favorite color."
"Blue." At her smug grin, he glared at her through his sunglasses again. "Oh, what's that look supposed to mean?"
Cordelia trailed one hand with studied casualness over the railing. He hoped she picked up a splinter. "Just that men are predictable. They did this study once, and almost every guy that they asked picked blue, right off."
"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. "You have to answer it, too. Favorite color."
"Yellow," she answered promptly. "Not that icky orangy yellow, or greeny yellow. Pure yellow, like sunshine."
"And that's not a chick thing?" he asked, not as snidely as he'd intended.
She grinned. "No. Most women choose red. I think. I don't actually remember the article too well."
"I'll have my secretary look it up."
"Just to prove me wrong?" She tsk'd him. "So competitive. And you mentioned work."
He rolled his eyes to the sky, then rolled his head, trying to loosen up his neck muscles. It had been a damned stressful day at the office, and things weren't getting any less tense. "Fine. Next question."
"Favorite book. No, wait, I know." She spun in front of him, evil dancing cheerfully on her face. "The Firm, right?"
"Now who's being unoriginal?" he retaliated. "The Hobbit."
She tilted her head to the side again. The motion made her hair trail over her bare shoulders, and made her eyes look even bigger. "Wouldn't have guessed you go for elves."
"Not many elves in The Hobbit; they're all in the trilogy, which I hate. But I liked Gandalf, and I always wanted that ring Bilbo found. Your turn," he hurried on. "Favorite book."
"Emma," she answered as quickly as she had the last one.
"You're only asking me questions you don't have to think about," he accused. "And Jane Austen? Not what I would have pegged you for."
"I'm surprised you know who she is," Cordelia retorted. "And of course I'm only asking the easy ones. Do I look dumb? Answer that and I'll have to hurt you."
He shut his mouth, amused in spite of himself, and settled for prodding, "So why Emma?"
She fiddled with her sunglasses, then with her hair. Not such an easy question after all, it looked like. "Two Christmases ago, Giles gave all of us books. Not exactly a big shock, knowing Giles, but I think he picked them out pretty carefully."
"Giles was... He's...." She wrinkled her nose as she thought. "He was our only adult friend in high school -- well, after Ms Calendar, um, died -- and he kind of tried to take care of us -- us being the Scooby Gang. That Christmas, I'd broken up with Xander, and wasn't really hanging with the gang anymore, so I wasn't expecting a present. But he got me a book, anyway; a really nice one, with the leather binding and stuff, just like he got the others."
Cordelia must have seen Lindsey's eyebrow go up at the flood of unfamiliar names; she shrugged, obviously uncomfortable, and rushed on. "So, I read it to make him happy and it was good. I could relate to Emma, she was cool."
Her face suddenly lit with that mischievous grin again, the one that made her look like a kid. "But for his birthday, I got him a copy of Clueless and I made him watch it with me. I never saw a stuffy British guy laugh so hard."
Lindsey chuckled, getting an image of a crusty old guy in tweed and glasses watching Alicia Silverstone be a Valley Girl. "Talk about culture shock."
"Oh yeah." Cordelia's smile grew. "We used to have this stupid little competition to see who could confuse Giles the most with slang. Xander and Buffy usually won, but I held my own."
"Can't imagine you doing anything else." He said it without thinking, but it stopped her in her tracks, that pleased, slightly shocked expression he'd caught a few times before flitting across her eyes again.
"Thanks," she said softly, looking up at him over her sunglasses.
His turn to fiddle with his shades; how the hell did she manage to make him say things like that? And why the hell did they keep making her so happy? "I call them like I see them."
"I don't know how you can see anything through those shades, Mr. Cool," she shot back lightly. "And stop lurking behind me, I get enough of that from Angel. Walk up here where I can see you."
He obeyed, but only so he could point out, "You just broke the work rule. My question."
She blinked, mentally replaying the conversation, then made a face. "That shouldn't count; Angel's my friend. But whatever. Go."
He had to stop to think of a question, dismissing the ones like 'Who the hell is Xander?' and 'Are you actually wearing anything under that shirt?' as things he just didn't really want to know. Although he was pretty damn curious about the second one.
Cordelia studied Lindsey from behind her sunglasses as they walked. When he forgot to use his 'power stride', he ambled along with a loose grace that was sort of really attractive. His shoulders had loosened up, too, and his face was slowly starting to relax out of its 'Lindsey the Lawyer' mask. She knew that routine; Angel had more than his share of masks. And god knew Cordelia Chase owned one or two.
"Okay, question," he finally said, and Cordelia braced herself. "If you were in college right now, what would you be majoring in?"
She flinched in spite of herself and gave him a baleful glare; he held his hands up in innocence. "Not an insult, I swear -- I really want to know. Acting? Business?" He paused. "Law?"
"That smug little smile is going to freeze there one of these days," she informed him icily, then sighed and thought seriously about her answer. "You know, I actually don't know what I would be studying. Ang--" She caught herself just in time, and, wrinkling her nose at Lindsey's smirk, amended it to, "--my friend, keeps leaving open brochures around the office and my apartment, for business courses and stuff at UCLA and community colleges, but I don't know."
She spread her hands in front of her. "I liked school, I test well -- I didn't think about it much beyond that. I figured I'd have time in college to figure out what I wanted. Then, surprise! No college. Not yet," she finished firmly, more to herself than to Lindsey. "What about you?"
His eyebrows went up. "I already did that -- four years in college, three in law school, remember? I'm done."
"I know that," she informed him. "I mean, what would you have studied if you hadn't gone for the Public Demon Defender thing?"
That stopped him mid-smirk, she saw with pleasure. "I don't.... I never wanted to be anything else," he said slowly. There'd been music, yeah, but it hadn't been a sure thing. He'd needed a sure thing.
She turned her head to look at him, intrigued. "What, you just woke up one morning when you were ten and said, 'I'm going to move to L.A. and be a blood-sucking lawyer when I grow up?'"
"That was an insult," he pointed out, unoffended, "and yeah, actually. Except I was fourteen."
He looked sideways at her, but she really was interested. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he said finally, running a hand through his hair. "Call it too much 'L.A. Law' during my formative years. I was good at arguing, people always need lawyers, and it seemed like a good way to make lots of money and be able to wear suits."
Cordelia thought about it, then had to admit, "Okay, there are worse reasons for choosing a career."
He snorted. "Yeah, I thought you'd relate to the clothes part. Anyway, I studied my ass off in school for four years, the wrestling scholarship came through, I headed for UCLA and I never looked back."
"Yeah, I can relate to that part, too," she sighed to herself. Then, to him, "Wrestling? So that's how you held onto Fang Breath that night. I thought you just got lucky."
"Thanks a lot," he muttered sourly. "I was All-State my senior year."
"Impressive." And it was, damn it. "Didja get a shiny trophy?"
"Lots of them. You get any for cheerleading?"
"Lots of them."
They smiled at each other with lots of teeth; Cordelia looked away first.
"How did you know I was a cheerleader?" Cordelia asked after another few minutes of silence. Lindsey gave her a 'duh' look over his glasses and she pouted. "I am not that predictable."
"No, you're not," he had to admit, which didn't sting quite as much as he'd thought it would. "You just remind me of some of the cheerleaders from high school."
"All-State, cheerleaders -- god, that sounds so normal," she sighed, choosing to ignore his delivery on the last part, which had not been a compliment. "I bet you went on road trips, and TP'd your principal's house, and put stink bombs in the girls' locker room."
"The stink bombs weren't me," he defended automatically.
She grinned at him. "But I'm right about the rest, aren't I?"
"Yeah, I guess." He put his jacket over his arm so he could shove both hands in his pockets. "As normal as it can be when two-thirds of the class has to work after school, so all of the team workouts are scheduled for mornings before class. And I'm talking 'supporting the family' jobs, not 'I have to pay for gas' jobs."
She considered that. "I'm sorry, it still sounds good to me."
He snorted. "Yeah, right. Before you came to L.A., did you ever have a job?"
"Well... kind of." A funny little smile played around her lips. "I never got paid, but I worked an awful lot of night shifts. And there was the dress shop for a little while... but I think I would have traded for a nice, normal job at Starbucks or the movie theater."
"Normal isn't all it's cracked up to be, trust me. Normal sucked."
"Ha. You can't possibly appreciate normal." She returned his questioning look with a challenging one. "Okay -- at your high school graduation, you had a boring commencement speaker and tossed beach balls around to distract yourselves, right?"
"Well, yeah." He shook his head, remembering. "Some guy who graduated about a hundred years before, telling us how easy we had it these days. Like hell. Most of us fell asleep and didn't wake up until we had to go get our diplomas."
She nodded, pursing her lips and crossing her arms. "At my high school graduation, our commencement speaker did the Ascension thing, turned into a giant snaky demon, and tried to eat the senior class."
Lindsey blinked; no way he'd heard that right. "Excuse me?"
She smiled brightly. "Uh-huh. He did eat our principal -- no loss, Snyder was a useless little troll -- but we ganged up on him and we took down the vampires he brought in as backup. We finally lured Demon Boy into the library and blew it up, which did the job of killing him pretty well. The fire department was really pissed off, though."
"I bet," he said automatically. It was taking way too long for him to process her matter-of-fact recital. "You're making that up."
She gave him a look over her glasses and down her nose. "I'm from Sunnydale, babe; our All-State team, the swim team, got turned into monsters from the Black Lagoon to make them perform better. I don't have to make anything up."
Lindsey stared at Cordelia for a long time, trying to assimilate the new information with his image of the Cheerleader Queen turned secretary. He knew she wasn't dumb, but he'd always figured that, visions aside, her major contribution to Angel's little game was filing (her nails) and researching (new hairstyles). This was....
Come to think of it, he did remember hearing something about a demonic incident last year, up in... yeah, Sunnydale. And apparently Cordelia Chase had been in the middle of it, had helped fight off an Ascending demon.
"So..." he said carefully. "This thing with Angel -- this isn't new to you. You've been doing this...."
"Since junior year," she confirmed matter-of-factly. "Earlier than that if you count when Marcy Ross turned invisible and tried to kill me. And earlier than that if you count when the Master tried to rise and his little blonde flunkie decided I'd make a good entree. But I don't count that."
"Of course you don't."
"And you mentioned work."
"No thanks. Still not hungry." She flashed him one of those cheerful, sunlight smiles and he suddenly did a bit of mental math.
"Oh, Christ," he groaned. "You graduated last year? That makes you, what? Nineteen?"
Cordelia's smile got wider. "For another 6 weeks. Got a problem with that?"
"Oh, Christ," he repeated. There were other things he was going to have to think about, other questions he needed to ask, other assumptions that had just gone out the window. But it was a lot easier right now to concentrate on the fact that he'd spent the last five days lusting after a teenager.
A teenager who was finding his reaction very amusing. "Oh, please, don't tell me Wolfram & Hart doesn't have a nice long file on all three of us. You had to have known when my birthday is. Or did you not do your research again?"
"I always do my research," he retorted, stung. "I just didn't do the math. God, you're just a kid."
She looked offended at that. Then her eyes narrowed, and she took a step closer to him, looking up at him through her eyelashes. "Do you always kiss kids like that? Old guy?"
She was entirely too close for comfort now; her face was only a few inches away, and her mouth.... He realized he wasn't breathing only when his lungs started protesting. "No," he said, faintly surprised that he was still capable of coherent speech. "I take it back. You're sure as hell not a kid."
She flushed suddenly, as if she'd just realized what she was doing, and started to take a step back. He grabbed her wrist, holding her where she was. She swallowed, hard, but didn't take her gaze away from his eyes. "Lindsey?"
"Yeah?" He couldn't have managed more than one word if his life depended on it.
His only comfort was that she wasn't doing much better. "What...." She had to stop to moisten her lips, and his eyes followed every move. "What are you doing here?"
The wind was picking up; it got into her hair and blew it around her face, around those deep, dark eyes. He caught himself brushing the strands away with his free hand, and pulled it back, shaking his head slowly. "Damned if I know."
"Oh." Her breathing was faster, her eyes wide, like a deer that had just figured out it was being hunted. "Well, at least it's not just me. I think... um, I think we'd better, um, go find something to eat."
"Good idea," he agreed. Neither of them moved. There were only a few inches between them, and he leaned forward, closing the gap....
She turned her head suddenly, and he blinked, the abrupt movement breaking whatever spell had been cast on him. "Okay, I'm hungry now," she announced as she took a step back, her smile bright and shaky, her eyes begging him to go along with it.
He took a step forward instead, his hand tightening on her wrist. He didn't want to let anything go; he wanted to pull her down into the sand under the pier and find out just what she tasted like when neither of them was pissed off.
She put her chin up as he invaded her space again, staring him down coolly, but he caught the flash of... something in her eyes. Something that could have been disappointment, or could have even been fear. Some long-forgotten sense of -- manners? chivalry? respect? -- resurrected itself; exerting massive self-control, he half-laughed, half-groaned, and reluctantly stepped back. "Fine. Dinner. Back to the Promenade?"
His reward was seeing her smile get steadier, and the gratitude that flashed quickly across her face before she recovered some of her attitude. "Oh, I guess we could find something edible there. There's no Thai, though."
"Damn. Guess we'll just have to suffer."
She tugged lightly and he realized he still had her wrist in one hand, his thumb stroking lightly over her skin. He let his grip loosen, but instead of releasing her, he slid his hand down to take hers. She pressed her lips together uncertainly, then her fingers tightened on his.
"This is a really bad idea," she pointed out quietly.
"What, eating? Nah, eating is good."
She tilted her head and glared. "Stop with the clueless routine. You know what I mean."
Yeah, he knew -- and she had no idea just how bad it was. "It was your idea, remember?"
She made a face at her feet. "This wasn't how I planned for it to go," she muttered under her breath, not looking him in the eyes, and he had to laugh again at the sheer stupidity of the situation. Everything he'd worked for: his corner office, his condo, his Porsche. And he was putting it all at risk because of a 19-year-old do-gooder with big hazel eyes and a body to kill for.
"Not what I planned for either, little girl," he told her, tugging her behind him as he started down the street in the direction they'd come from. "So let's just have dinner and take it from there."
She dragged her feet. "Don't call me little girl. And I get to pick the restaurant."
He rolled his eyes and tugged harder. "No way. We both agree or we go hungry."
She sighed, and flounced up to walk next to him, apparently deciding that being dragged was beneath her dignity. "Fine. But no French."
They passed more and more people on the way back, the traffic on Ocean picking up as the after-work crowd descended. The Promenade itself was already beginning to fill, even though it couldn't be later than... Cordelia checked her watch. No way. She and Lindsey had only been walking for about half an hour. Not much time, when she felt as if so much had happened.
"What do you think?" Lindsey asked, and she followed his gesture.
"Pizza takes forever to make, and it's already looking packed," she objected, pointing at the Chinese place two doors down. "How about there?"
"I've eaten there; lousy Moo Goo Gai Pan. How about the other Italian place?"
"They're playing accordion music."
A street performer decided to start his routine right in front of them; Lindsey stumbled and swore, then pulled Cordelia away from the suddenly flying bowling pins. She was laughing too hard at him to object.
"That wasn't funny," he informed her, straightening his tie with the arm that was still carrying his jacket.
She grinned up at him. "Sure it was. Don't you want to stay and watch?"
"No," he muttered sourly and continued pulling her along, but there was a hint of a smile on his face.
They continued arguing their way down the Promenade, hunger taking a backseat to the fun of criticizing each other's suggestion. But the edge of meanness was gone; there was no heat to the insults, no wary searching for hidden meaning and attacks. There was just the tingling awareness that came from hands that were still joined, and footsteps that unconsciously synched together.
The three-block pedway, with its cobblestones and stores, seemed filled with couples tonight: Yuppies relaxing after a day at the office; teenagers in wild clothes and wilder hairstyles trying desperately to impress each other; Beverly Hills types being amused and snobby about the rampant commercialism around them. Street performers lurked on every corner and in the middle of the street, juggling, drawing, dancing and, in one memorable case, breathing fire.
Cordelia spotted it while they were dodging Dragon Breath Man, and felt a grin spread across her face. "That's it. That's where we're going."
Lindsey looked confused until he followed her gaze. His eyebrows went back up and he looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "You're kidding me."
Her smile widened, and she caught herself almost bouncing. Then said a mental 'what the heck' and bounced anyway, but just once. "No, it's perfect! Come on."
It was her turn to drag him, protesting most of the way. Then, as they got within hearing range of Johnny Rockets, he suddenly matched steps with her again. "You're getting your own fries," he informed her when she looked at him. "I don't share."
"Just keep your fingers out of mine," she retorted as they went through the door into Cheesyville. She slid into one of the red vinyl booths, looking around the cheerfully fake 50's diner with satisfaction as the jukebox a few feet away started playing Bobby Darin. "God, this is the life. I want something really huge and greasy that I'll hate myself for eating tomorrow. And a cherry coke. And a shake. What?"
Lindsey had slid into the other side of the booth and was leaning forward on his elbows, studying her over the Formica table with a crooked grin. "Are you telling me that, instead of taking you to a snobby, wallet-busting gourmet place, I could have taken you to a tourist trap diner and you'd have been just as happy?"
She sniffed disdainfully. "Not even. I'm high maintenance, pal, and don't you forget it." She dropped the queen pose a second later as she read the pages of the mini jukebox at their table. "Oh, I love this song. Got a quarter?"
He laughed, shaking his head, but dug into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. "You can have two picks, but I get the third."
"Whatever." She plugged it in and a minute later, Aretha Franklin started informing the world that she wanted respect. Cordelia chair-danced along to the song, knowing that Lindsey was laughing at her, but not caring. It wasn't a mean laugh, anyway. It was an Angel kind of laugh, the one that meant she was being immature and juvenile, and he liked her anyway.
The mental comparison caught her by surprise, and she sobered. To her further surprise, Lindsey caught the change in mood. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly, leaning forward so she could hear him over the jukebox.
For a second, she actually thought of telling him that she'd compared him to Angel; telling him about how her stomach clenched at the thought of explaining this whole night, these weird feelings, to her best friend. Lindsey had been so cool tonight -- maybe he'd understand things like Angel did sometimes....
Sanity prevailed, and she smiled brightly and meaninglessly. "Nothing. Just hunger pains."
He gave her that lawyer look again, the one that meant she wasn't fooling anyone, but he leaned back, letting it go. Then their waiter showed up, and food took over the conversation.
"He drew a happy face with the ketchup. I love it when they do that. And the thing with twirling the straw canister -- that was so fun." Cordelia caught herself and gave Lindsey a sideways look. "Or, it would have been if I wasn't so laid-back and totally blase about things like ketchup and straws."
"Nice try," Lindsey smirked at her as they wandered back down the Promenade towards the mall. "But the Coolness Police are still going to have to suspend your Angeleno license. Excessive enthusiasm."
She fluttered her eyelashes at him, which just made him smirk more. Looked like she needed to work on the 'feminine and helpless' expression. "But I know a lawyer now, who could get me out of it, right?"
He pretended to think about it, then shook his head, drinking the last of the coffee he'd carried out of the diner and tossing the empty cup towards a trash can. He made the shot, of course. "Sorry, even I couldn't win that case."
Cordelia slapped his arm and pouted, and Lindsey laughed his soft, raspy laugh, catching her hand again. She let him, strolling along beside him as if she didn't have a care in the world -- and trying hard to pretend it was true.
It was almost 9:30 and even the Promenade was starting to shut down, the crowd thinning out and the stores closing. She caught sight of herself and Lindsey in one of the darkened store windows and blinked. They looked good together, two attractive people with dark hair, but what startled her was that they looked good together. Their steps matched so neither of them had to speed up or slow down, and their hands were joined casually, dangling easily between them. Like they were a normal couple on a normal date.
It was disorienting, almost surreal, like the moment in the diner when she'd looked at Lindsey, in the middle of another slanderous and highly improbable story about his college days. He'd been using a French fry to illustrate some point, and he'd been smiling, one piece of hair dangling in his eyes. The urge to reach over and brush it back into place had been almost as scary as the realization that she was having fun. That she liked listening to Lindsey talk, seeing his eyes light up with amusement and watching his face shift subtly with every lightning mood swing. Liked the way he leaned forward when she was talking, actually listening to her instead of just looking at her face or her chest and ignoring everything she said.
She liked Lindsey McDonald. And she was in a lot of trouble.
"What's up?" His hand tightened in hers and she looked up at him, hoping her thoughts weren't showing on her face.
"Nothing," she lied, trying to smile. "I'm, um... I'm just a little chilly." Not too much of a lie; the wind from the ocean was not exactly comfortable.
"Oh." Then he did the absolute last thing she'd ever expected. He took the jacket he'd been carrying around all night, and wrapped it around her shoulders. His hands grazed her neck as he settled the collar into place, and when she shivered this time, it wasn't from the cold.
"Better?" he asked, smoothing her hair back from her face with one hand, and letting it linger on her shoulder.
"Uh-huh." Oh god, no. This was much worse. This was Lindsey close enough to smell a spicy hint of his aftershave, to see the shadows the streetlights cast on his face. Close enough to touch....
"Mmm-hhmm?" It was all she could actually manage with his thumb tracing over her cheek.
"Remember how we said earlier that this was a really bad idea?" She could see him swallow, see the confusion in his eyes -- and the desire.
"Ohhh, yeah," she breathed, feeling the invisible string that had been connecting them all night slowly, insistently pulling her closer. "We were right. It's a really bad idea."
"Your boss... My boss..." His eyes seemed fixed on her mouth, like they had been the night he'd kissed her-- No. Bad place to go. Don't go there, Cordy....
"It's a bad scene," she heard herself say. He wasn't getting any farther away. "Lots of that, um, conflict of interest stuff."
"Yeah." He licked his lips and took a deep breath. "I've got tickets to the theater on Saturday. Good seats. Do you want to go?"
She felt her eyes widen. "With you?"
He blew out his breath, and shoved his hair back from his face. "Yeah, with me. It was a pain in the ass to get those tickets; I'm not giving them away."
"God." She hadn't thought this far, hadn't thought at all. Dating Lindsey -- concept. A real date, not to play one-up, not to get it out of her system. Relationship territory, and everything that came with it.
She pressed her lips together and looked up at him. Get the ground rules laid out up front, her father had always said. He'd been talking business, but still. "You'll have to pick me up. And Angel will be there." No games, no more sneaking around. Oh God, she was going to have to tell Angel.
Lindsey's jaw tightened, and he looked past her for a long, long second, something grim passing behind his eyes. Then, finally, he nodded, and met her gaze again. "I'll be there at six. We'll get dinner first."
She grinned suddenly, recklessly. Oh yeah, this was stupid. But the best things she'd ever had in her life -- the Scooby Gang, Angel, Doyle -- they'd all started out stupid. And mostly ended badly, but what the hell. "At six. And the seats had better be good."
He gave her a Look, then lowered his head, laughing softly. "They're good," he assured her when he looked back up.
"Cool." Their eyes met in shared amusement, and held in something else. The string tightened again, and Cordelia's eyelids drifted down, her hand coming to rest on Lindsey's shoulder as his tightened on the collar of the jacket Cordelia wore. She was the one who closed the gap.
It was a different kiss this time, terrifyingly so. There was no anger, no adrenaline, no need to prove who was on top. His lips were feather light as they brushed hers once, then again and again. She made an impatient noise and felt his mouth curve against hers.
Their eyes met once more, and he studied her face very seriously for a moment; she returned the favor, wondering what he saw in her eyes. His were half-closed so she could barely see the gleam of blue beneath them. Could barely see the confusion and the suspicion, the uneasy awareness of what they were getting into. For a second, she thought he was going to pull away, and knew that she should let him. That she should turn around and run.
Then he grinned, that sexy, confident half-smile that was so annoying at any other time, and his arm slipped around her waist as one of her hands slid into his hair.
They got serious with the next kiss.
There was hunger in it, and not a little fear. Lindsey tasted of the chocolate shake they'd had with dinner, and the coffee he'd just finished. His arm was strong around her waist, his other hand gentle against her cheek. His lips met hers her leisurely, caressing and exploring like they had all the time in the world; no forcing, no diving, no racing. And her lingering suspicions about his motives faded away as she trailed kisses along his jaw and felt his heart begin to race under her hand.
Her arm crept around his neck, pulling herself in closer. She fit against him like that yin and yang symbol in one of Wesley's books, curves and hollows finding a corresponding niche in him. His palm spread against her back to pull her closer as his mouth traced over her cheek and brushed across her eyelids, his warm hand against her face gently guiding her where he wanted her to be.
This was a bad idea. They'd look at this in the morning and every day that it lasted, and know it was a bad idea. But there was no turning back now. Angel would just have to deal, and Wolfram & Hart could go to hell.
When Lindsey wrapped her in his arms, his cheek resting against her forehead and his breath coming hard and fast, Cordelia buried her face in his neck and held on.