"And how does it feel with the whole world watching
Do you feel like you're gonna fall
Was it safer with your back up against a wall
And why did you try when you knew you were losing
Just one mistake, and you'll lose it all..."

Monday morning meetings were tense at the best of times. Oh, everyone pretended they weren't -- they joked around, exchanged exaggerated accounts of their weekends, and razzed each other about their lives or lack thereof -- but a thin, dark strand of stress always ran beneath the forced cheerfulness. Just another happy week getting started at Wolfram & Hart.

Lindsey slouched in his chair near one end of the table, playing with his pen and ignoring everyone else in the room. It wasn't that he'd had a bad weekend -- he and Cordelia had had an interrupted dinner date on Friday, then spent a much more satisfying Sunday evening curled up companionably in his apartment, watching (and arguing about) a movie -- but he had the distinct impression no one wanted to hear about that. The fact that the chair next to him was conspicuously empty, as it had been for the last three weeks, was a real big hint.

News traveled fast, and no one wanted to be near Lindsey right now, as if the higher-ups' current displeasure was contagious, and could rub off. Only Lilah deigned to sit opposite him, but her eyes were gleaming with way too much amusement at his expense for him to consider it a gesture of support. Besides, her chair and Lindsey's would be closest to Holland, making them the best seats in the house, or at least, the ones with the most status attached.

Everyone shut up abruptly when Holland came into the room, then the noise level rose again as the lawyers began spurting out their usual round of greetings and compliments. Lindsey stood to contribute his sucking-up to the general pool, then sat with everyone else when Holland gestured them down.

"Good morning, everyone," Holland said genially, beaming impartially at the room as he sat at the head of the table next to Lindsey. "I trust everyone had a good weekend?" Everyone except Lindsey and Lilah rushed to assure him of their complete content with the few hours they hadn't spent at the office. "Good, good, then we're all rested and ready to get back to work. Lindsey, the status on the Tyler case?"

"Ready to go to trial on Wednesday, as long as the DA doesn't try any more stall tactics," Lindsey answered without bothering to check his notes. He knew this case backwards and forwards; he'd had enough time to work on it Friday night while Cordelia had been out slaying some demon with her 'boss' and the other stooge.

"Good," Holland nodded. "And the, ah, inconvenient witness?"

"Will be a former resident of Los Angeles by tonight." Lindsey met Holland's eyes levelly. "With no witness, the DA won't be able to prove the records aren't the originals, and the judge will have no choice but to dismiss the case for lack of evidence."

Holland's smile grew, and somehow managed to look sincere. "Excellent. And how about our lovely friend Mrs. Tydings?" he asked Lilah. "Any more rumblings from her late husband's family?"

Lilah shook her head confidently. "Nothing we have to worry about. There are too many alternate explanations for the state of the body; the coroner is hardly going to state 'succubus' as the cause of death. He'll defend his initial diagnosis of sudden and catastrophic stroke to, well, the death."

"Very good." Holland's smile at Lilah was more genuine and she preened under his approval. Lindsey rolled his eyes; like she'd had to do anything more than remind the coroner how much he liked being considered competent and sane by his superiors. "And Lionel, how is our friend Mr. Nodraan coping? Any further problems with the police?"

"He's fine, sir; it's been quiet except for one incident..."

The reports continued down the table in order of client importance; Lindsey doodled on his pad, uninterested in any case that wasn't his own. And one of those cases in particular was bothering him.

He sketched her name, Darla, on his paper, studied it for a moment. He hadn't heard anything about the newly-risen vampire/human in over two weeks now, ever since Holland had found out that Lindsey was, against orders, still seeing Cordelia Chase. Oh, he hadn't said anything, but the chill had been in the air, and memos regarding Darla's progress had stopped appearing on Lindsey's desk.

His feelings about that were more and more mixed. On the one hand, he felt a proprietary interest in the woman, since she was alive because of him, after all. Almost like he'd given birth to her, in a weird, mystical crap kind of way. What little information he'd gleaned from memos and from Holland's off-hand remarks suggested that she was returning to a functional level, and he had some questions he'd love to ask her. Everything they'd wanted to know about Angel and his weaknesses was right there, in one tidy package.

But Lindsey also kept seeing the expression on Cordelia's face if she ever found out about Darla, and Lindsey's part in bringing her back. Betrayed would be the least of it; she loved Angel more than anything except maybe that geek Wesley, and knowing that Lindsey had been directly responsible for bringing back someone who could seriously fuck up Angel's life -- who was intended to do precisely that.... There was going to be hell to pay.

He shrugged once, impatiently, trying to loosen his shoulders. It wasn't like she had anything to say about it, or like he did either. It was company business, he was just doing his job. And if she had a problem with that, well, he'd just have to make damn sure she never found out. Proprietary information.

"-- and we're still trying to locate Coranates' new altar, after his disappearance Friday night," one of the newbie lawyers at the end of the table said. Lindsey was totally uninterested in learning the woman's name, but the mention of Friday night caught his attention.

"He's disappeared?" Holland asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Yes, sir," the newbie responded nervously, fiddling with her pencil until it slipped out of her sweaty fingers. "When our people arrived, there were signs of a struggle, and most of the acolytes were seriously injured or dead. There was no trace of Coranates himself; we believe he either escaped or--"

"Or he was destroyed," Holland filled in for her.

She gulped. "Yes, sir."

"That would be... inconvenient," Holland mused, leaning back in his chair. "Coranates was a very prosperous client for this firm; we had big plans for him."

"Y-yes, sir," the newbie agreed. The people on either side of her discreetly inched their chairs away.

Holland thought for a moment more, than waved a hand. "Not your fault, Abigail," he said breezily. "We're responsible for protecting Mr. Coranates in court, not in his home. Still, were any of his disciples able to tell us who was responsible for the damage?"

Lindsey kept his face perfectly blank, seeing this one coming. Shit. I did not want to know about this.

"Yes, sir. They described... Well, we think it was..." She stopped and swallowed hard; Holland leaned forward with a smile that was probably meant to be reassuring. "We believe it was Angel, sir."

A long silence, as all eyes turned to Lindsey. He didn't straighten from his slouch, barely acknowledged the stares until the growing silence got a little too heavy. Then, he simply looked up and shrugged: 'What is everyone looking at me for?'

It wasn't like he'd known what was going to happen that night, after all. He'd barely heard anything Cordelia had said to Angel when his call had interrupted their dinner, since he'd needed to head for the men's room at the same time he'd realized who was on the phone. And she hadn't volunteered the reason she'd bailed on him to meet up with the rest of her gang. There was actually no way he could have guessed.

Not really.

Holland's face was blank, showing no signs of irritation; Lilah's expression was almost as controlled, but with a smirk lurking underneath the surface. The silence continued until Holland broke it. "Please continue looking for Mr. Coranates, and keep me apprised. Let's get to work, everyone."

The meeting ended, the lawyers slowly gathering up their notes and dispersing from the conference room. All of them skirted around Lindsey's chair; he let them go, waiting for the chance to speak to Holland.

It looked like Holland had the same idea; he remained seated, his hands templed in front of him, and gazed at Lindsey with the expression of a father woefully disappointed, but still hopeful that his child would eventually do the right thing.

Lindsey spoke before the lecture could begin. "Holland, I wanted to ask the status of the Darla project. For some reason, I haven't been getting any information." He kept the last part as nonaccusatory as possible, but some of it must have leaked out.

Holland simply shook his head. "Lindsey, I understand you have a personal interest in this case--"

"Yes, I do," Lindsey confirmed levelly, leaning forward.

"--But you have to understand," Holland continued as if he hadn't spoken. "It's that personal interest that has some of the senior partners... concerned."

Lindsey shut his eyes, then opened them again, forcing his face to calm control. "Holland, you know I don't have any problems with this project, and everyoen has acknowledged I was responsible for successfully completing the first stage. I think that proves my dedication to seeing it through."

"And I agree," Holland replied easily. "I gave the senior partners every assurance of your loyalty, but...." He spread his hands wide in a helpless gesture. "I'm afraid they don't share my faith. Your, ah, relationship, with someone very close to Angel is raising some serious questions, as I warned you it would."

He got up, leaning a companionable hip on the table next to Lindsey. "You know, Lindsey," he said in warm, fatherly tones, "juggling work and relationships can be a very tricky business. Deciding which to devote time to, what should take precedence -- well, any of us can make... unwise decisions from time to time. There's no shame in admitting that, or in changing your mind about your priorities."

Lindsey met those warm, sincere eyes, and a sudden wave of guilt for defying Holland's advice and wishes washed over him. Holland had supported him for all of his time at the firm, had put him up for the Darla case even after the incident with the children. It felt like a betrayal to repay that support by doing something Holland disapproved of so much. And there was his career to think about....

"My relationship with Cordelia has nothing to do with my work for this firm," he repeated, a little more forcefully, as if he could convince them both, "and will have no affect on my ability to deliver the final product."

Regret shone from Holland's eyes. "I'm sure you believe that, Lindsey. I truly am. However..." He shook his head again, sadly. "This project is too important to risk any sort of conflict of interest. Unless you are willing to remove any possibility of that conflict from the arena...."

His voice trailed off suggestively, and Lindsey stiffened. Not this routine again. There was no way they were taking this case -- potentially the most important of his career, and one he'd damn well earned -- away from him because of his personal life. But there was also no way he was letting them dictate that life. Holland was his boss, not his father, and it was his life. And damned if he wasn't going to prove he could handle both.

"I've told you," he said, trying not to grit his teeth. "My relationship with Cordelia Chase has nothing to do with this firm."

Holland studied him for another long moment, then seemed to make some kind of decision. "No. No, I don't suppose it does."

Lindsey felt a moment of relief -- he'd done it! -- as Holland rummaged in the stack of papers, reorganizing them as he got ready to leave. "Then the information about Darla will be on my desk soon?"

Holland looked up from his papers, smiled kindly. "I'm afraid not. Here, take this." He tossed something shiny at Lindsey, who caught it instinctively. There was a bright flash of light....

...and Lindsey stared at the pen in his hand, trying to remember what he'd just been talking to Holland about. Right. The Tyler case. "We'll be meeting with the judge this afternoon to have the case dismissed," he told Holland confidently. "There shouldn't be any problems."

"Excellent." Holland nodded. "I know you'll do us proud, Lindsey."

"Thank you, sir." Lindsey shook the offered hand, then gathered his notes and left the conference room. He didn't notice Lilah slip back in behind him, or see Holland's nod of confirmation at her. If he'd seen the gleam of triumph in her eyes, he would have been annoyed -- and worried.

As it was, there was a stack of message slips on his desk when he got there, and he settled down to another day of work, reminding himself to call Cordelia about the charity symphony performance that Friday. She'd get a kick out of hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and he'd deserve an expensive night out after dealing with Tyler the megalomaniacal.

And if there was something niggling at the edge of his mind, the sense that there was something important he'd forgotten about, he ignored it in favor of work.

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated Sesptember 9, 2009.


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