"Nobody's helpless, although I've
Never felt this helpless before
And trying to persuade myself not to think about her
Is like trying to tell the clouds not to pour...
So here I sit, rolling back to bed
Knowing love's a hazard that I'd never guessed
But from this side of the morning
I couldn't care less...."
As strange as the law offices of Wolfram & Hart could be during the day, they were somehow worse at night. Janitorial staff rarely stayed for long, despite the high salaries and incredible benefits. After a few weeks of roaming the halls, hearing their footsteps echo oddly back at them, most of them started cracking up, claiming to feel ghosts all around them and seeing demons in every shadow. Personnel didn't bother to deny those claims -- and occasionally couldn't -- but paid off the staff and hired replacements.
The associates just got used to it. Working 90-hour weeks left them too tired to be aware of anything at two in the morning except the law books in front of them, the coffee pots on endless drip in the break rooms, and the invisible hand of the senior partners looming over them. Compared to that, no one cared about ghosts, real or imaginary.
Lindsey had stopped paying attention to the building's weird sounds within a few weeks of being hired. During most of the nights he spent hunched over his desk, the only things he cared about were the endless rounds of paperwork and the music playing softly from his radio. He blocked out the whispers of the current janitors, the periodic patrols of the security guard, and the quiet "good nights," called out as tired associates and junior partners shuffled past his door, drooping paralegals trailing behind them.
It was the Tyler case keeping him here late this time, although this would be the last night. The judge would deliver the verdict tomorrow, after almost three weeks in court, and -- given the sudden and severe lack of evidence -- there was only one possible decision she could make. All charges dropped, nice to represent you, go back to playing with your cult, talk to Billing about your first-born child on the way out.
He grinned to himself, then winced when his eyes fell on Cordelia's face, giving him attitude from the new frame on the corner of his desk. She'd have a lot of things to say about that particular joke -- and it was a joke; he was almost sure of that -- and none of those things involved finding it funny. But what the hell, he could say a few things about her current working conditions.
Speaking of which.... He checked his watch and grunted at the time. Straight up midnight, which meant Cordy and the Stooges might be back from their night of crime busting, or demon busting, dust busting, whatever. He stretched one arm out to snag the phone and dialed, then spun his chair around to stare out his window at the night skyline.
She picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Hey. You're still up."
"Of course." He could almost see the face Cordelia was making. "Nobody gets to do anything like sleep around here, what with all of the fun and excitement of demon slaying. Hold still!"
He lifted his eyebrows at his reflection in the window. "Excuse me?"
"Not you. Angel. And I am not retaping this again, so stop moving." Cordelia's muttering under her breath almost drowned out the distinct sound of a vampire bitching. Safely out of sight, Lindsey slouched further down in his chair and enjoyed himself.
"Sorry," Cordelia said after a minute. "People bleeding on my couch, undead or otherwise, take priority. What's up? And why are you still awake?"
"Working," he answered shortly, and left it at that. She didn't actually want details any more than he really wanted to know what had happened to Angel. Well, he did want to know, but mostly so that he could go find the whatever-it-was and buy it a drink. "I was just finishing up at the office, thought I'd make sure we were still on for Saturday. Sun, sand, bikinis...."
Lindsey let his voice trail off suggestively and she snorted. "What makes you think bikinis are going to be involved?"
"It's a beach. Someone will be wearing one."
She made a rude noise; he smiled and his reflection gave him a satisfied look back. Walked right into that, babe.
"Fine, then you can look at them," she informed him huffily.
"It's more fun to look at you."
Cordelia didn't quite manage to hide her laugh, but she tried. "No bikinis, babe. Trust me on this."
He grinned smugly at himself, turning his chair back around and kicking his feet up on his desk. "Like I trust anyone?"
"Right. I forgot." Another voice came through from Cordelia's end and she sighed. "God, chill, Wesley! We'll be up all night researching anyway; a five-minute phone call isn't going to make that much of a difference."
Wussley thought different; Cordelia listened to him for a second, then apparently decided to ignore him. Which Lindsey would have decided a lot earlier, personally. "Anyway, I'll be awake bright and early. Actually, I'll probably still be awake bright and early, but the point is me and awakeness."
"Good. I'll be there at eight." He frowned at the screensaver that was tracing geometric patterns over his monitor, and picked up a pen, playing with it idly. "You know, your hours suck worse than mine. Does Pryce have a home, or is he moving in there along with your boss?"
"I'm pretty sure he's moving in; I know his books are." She sighed again. "I really gotta go, Lindsey; demon rampages and the end of the world, or at least of Los Angeles."
"Can't have that," he muttered sourly.
"I said, don't stay up too late," he lied more loudly, flipping the pen over in his hands and resisting the urge to do things like ask if she'd gotten hurt, or tell her to be careful. "I don't want you falling asleep on me Saturday."
"Only if you get too boring," she shot back. "8 am. If you're late, I'm going to bed and you can do lawyer things all day."
"Yeah, right." He hung up the phone and lazily spun his chair back around, staring out over the lights of the city, still turning his pen over and over in his hand. Finally, he shook his head and turned back to the Tyler case.
The doorbell rang promptly at eight, startling Cordelia into spilling her cran-apple juice instead of pouring it into the glass. "Damn it! Of all the times for him to actually be on time..." She went to open the door, and started to give Lindsey a kiss -- then backed off and folded her arms. "I am so not being seen with you in public in that."
Lindsey looked down at his once-dark-blue T-shirt, worn over equally faded jeans. "This is my favorite shirt."
"Yeah, I bet. 'Good lawyers know the law; great lawyers know the judge'?" she read off, giving him an eyebrow arched to her hairline. "Get over yourself."
"Deal," he advised just as curtly. She bit back all of the retorts she wanted to make regarding his choice of work and lifestyle, and settled for huffing her breath out hard and turning to stomp away. But he caught her arm in mid-flounce and pulled her against him; she fought for all of five seconds before giving in and returning the steamy good-morning kiss.
It wasn't until Cordelia remembered things like neighbors, ghost roommates and the vampire asleep in her bedroom that she managed to untangle her arms from around Lindsey's neck and take a step back from the warm weight of his body.
"Any more problems with my wardrobe?" he smiled at her. Oh, God. He was doing that thing with his voice again, where it got all low and sexy. Like she was going to fall for that.
Actually, she was. Damn it.
"Lots. But they'll wait."
Another long few minutes later, she actually managed to retreat from the circle of his arms, combing her newly-tangled hair back from her face. He released her reluctantly, his hand tracing a lingering trail across her waist as she retreated. He followed her into the apartment, closing the door behind them. "You ready to go?"
"Just let me clean this up and get my bag," she tossed over her shoulder, grabbing for a sponge only to find that the spilled juice had already been mopped up. "Thanks, Phantom Dennis," she whispered at the air; Lindsey still didn't know about her ghost roommate and she wasn't quite sure how he'd take it. Better to just leave it alone for now.
When she came back into the living room, she found Lindsey standing next to the mantle, holding one of the framed photographs she kept there and looking at it with a strange expression.
"Is this Homecoming or something?" he asked as she came up behind him.
"Senior Prom, such as it was," she corrected, smiling wryly at the memory. "God, that was a weird night. Wesley and I were still doing that thing where we were dancing around each other, and Xander was with his new girlfriend the ex-demon, and Buffy had been out killing demon dogs or something, and this was right after she and Angel broke up, again, and...." Her voice trailed off as Lindsey lifted his eyebrows at her, and she shrugged. "It was a night."
"You went to the weirdest high school. And you dated Pryce?"
"Jealous?" she asked sweetly.
His eyes narrowed, and he put the picture back a little too abruptly. "Of Wussley? Hell, no."
"Sure, you're not." His scowl deepened and she laughed. "No, I didn't date Wesley. We thought about it, and he was kind of my escort at the prom, ergo picture, but there was never any, you know...." Her hands worked in the air for a second. "No spark."
"I didn't think so," he said, suddenly all self-assurance again. "He's not your type."
"Oh?" She gave him an arch look. "Then I wouldn't know how good a kisser he is, right?"
"Like I really want to know." Cordelia smiled innocently as he studied her sideways, scowling cutely again. "Are we going or not?" he finally demanded irritably.
"Keep your voice down," she answered over her shoulder as she checked through her beach bag. Sunglasses, bottled water... sunblock? Darn it, nowhere in sight. "Angel just got to sleep an hour ago, and he gets cranky if you wake him up. Well, if anyone wakes him up, but especially if you wake him up. Besides, I don't feel like watching you two do the macho thing."
"Yeah, right." The disgusted look was back as he studied the whiteboard with their current cases, propped in one corner of her living room where'd they'd left it early that morning. Cordelia casually wandered over to drape it with a sheet; Lindsey noticed, but didn't say anything out loud. She was grateful for small favors. "How long is he going to be camping out here, anyway?"
She located the sunscreen, finally, and began to search for her keys, buried somewhere under the piles of books on the couch. "Angel's only here until we find another office."
"What happened to the one you were looking at last month?" He was back to casually studying the pictures on her mantle.
Cordelia shrugged equally casually, pawing through leather-bound volumes and two dog-eared paperbacks. "It fell through. For some reason, no one wants to lease anything to a dead guy, a guy who isn't a U.S. citizen, and a 19-year-old unemployed actress. Go figure."
"Yeah, landlords are tough like that." He didn't offer to pull strings, use his connections. She didn't ask. "What are you looking for?"
"Keys." She pulled them out of a pile and dangled them in triumph. "We can go now."
"Hey!" She smacked him lightly across the shoulder.
"Sorry. Want to get some coffee on the way?"
She studied him through narrowed eyes. "You're buying?"
"Okay, then." She flashed him a brilliant smile. "Buy me Starbucks and I'll follow you anywhere."
"I'll remember that. "
The door closed behind them and something gave an inaudible sigh that rustled papers throughout the room. Then ghostly hands began cleaning up the mess of books and papers that living and undead had left behind.
"What, you're Nature Girl today?"
Cordelia turned around in the middle of the water, shading her eyes as she looked back at Lindsey, who was still on the beach. He'd given in and stripped down to swim trunks, but he just couldn't get as worked up about climbing big, wet rocks and searching out tide pools as Cordelia seemed to be.
She let out a gusty sigh and waded back; the sun gleamed warmly off her shoulders, bare above her dark red one-piece, and Lindsey ignored her irritation in favor of enjoying the view.
"Look," she said irritably, "you said and I quote, 'Where do you want to go, Cordelia? Anywhere is fine.' Well, this is where I wanted to go. So are you going to stay on the beach sulking all day, or are you actually going to come into the water?"
She stopped about ten feet away and crossed her arms, glaring at him. He put his hands on his hips to stare back through his sunglasses; when she started to look seriously pissed, he laughed and waded into the water.
"Relax, I've got no problem with tide pools," he told her, catching her around the waist and pulling her against him despite her wiggling attempts at escape. "I was just figuring on a volleyball and boogieboard kind of day. But if you want to stare at more weird things with tentacles instead, whatever."
She made a face, but stopped trying to get away. "God, thank you for that parallel. Like I don't get enough tentacles at work."
"No problem." He grinned and released her with one arm so he could push up his sunglasses. Without missing a beat, she hooked an ankle around his leg and yanked. He went into the water with a startled curse and a loud splash.
When he surfaced, sputtering and sans Raybans, she was already twenty feet away, heading for the huge rocks that jutted twenty feet up from the ocean's surface. "Have a nice swim?" she called back over her shoulder.
He fished around in the water until he located his sunglasses, tucked them into the collar of his now-soaked T-shirt, and slicked the water out of his hair. "Not yet." With another splash, he lunged forward through the waves; Cordelia let out a shriek and started swimming for her life, her progress impeded by her breathless laughter.
"Why do I spend half my life patching men up?" Cordelia complained aloud as she finished cleaning the bloody scrape on Lindsey's knee with his wet, formerly-favorite t-shirt and the last of her bottle of water. "Even on my day off, here we are with the bleeding."
"You're the one who tripped me," Lindsey pointed out, wincing when she got a little rough with picking out the sand. "Want to be more careful there?"
"Wimp." But she went a little easier. "And I didn't trip you, not that time. You slipped on that seaweed which, by the way, wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been so busy leering at me."
"You wear that swimsuit and I'm not supposed to look?" he muttered, wincing again as she hit a sore spot. "Yeah, that'll happen."
She smiled at the backhanded compliment, feeling enough goodwill to lean over and brush a kiss across the now-clean scrape. "There, all better. Do you want a really big band-aid to show off to the other kids?"
Lindsey gave her a baleful look and pulled her up beside him, then under him, before she had time to argue. She forgot how fast he could move sometimes, and didn't particularly care right now. His lean, sturdy body was heavy over hers, his clear blue eyes smiling and warm. Well, actually, warm wasn't the word. Hot came a lot closer.
"Want to kiss anything else better?" he challenged softly.
She answered by smiling and wrapping her arms around his neck. "What've you got?"
They were getting pretty good at this kissing thing, Cordelia thought hazily as his mouth settled onto hers. He teased his way across her lips with little nips of the lower one, until she got impatient and captured his between her teeth. He laughed softly and she pinched him in retaliation, making him jump.
"Watch it," he warned. She rolled her eyes and pulled him back down into her arms, spreading her hands across the warm skin of his back, bare above his trunks, and capturing his mouth with hers.
He settled in willingly, one hand stroking her wet hair away from her face, tangling in the heavy weight as the other skimmed down her side, over the thin material of her swimsuit. She shivered and clutched his shoulders, and his lips hardened on her in response. She opened hers willingly and met his tongue with her own when it skimmed inside.
He groaned in response and his arms came around her, slipping under her back to pull her tightly up against his body. She buried her hands in the wet silk of his hair, pulling him still closer before freeing one hand to run down his back again. The sunlight shone against her closed eyes, dots of color dancing in front of them. Or did those fireworks and sparklers come from Lindsey? She gave up wondering and lost herself in his embrace....
Until his hand slid down her side again, then came back up. He let it drift over her chest once, then again, and her eyes flew open when she felt it settle over her breast.
"Oh, god...." She moaned, her eyes slipping shut again at the sensation. Lindsey rasped something incoherent against her mouth that was probably meant to be soothing, and shifted to press hard, suckling kisses against her neck. The change in angle left his hand free to move, and she arched up into him as the sensation exploded along her nerves, wrapping her ankles around his calves to bring him closer. It had been so long, such a long time since she'd done this, since she'd felt this. Not since Xander, not since....
The name leapt out of nowhere, replacing the drowning pleasure of Lindsey's embrace with darkness, freezing her where she lay.
"No!" She shoved against his shoulders in sudden panic and his head came up, his eyes staring at her in dazed confusion.
"Cordelia?" he asked, barely able to get the words out. "What...?"
"I'm sorry, Lindsey. I can't..." She tried desperately to keep her voice even, tried desperately to be normal, but his cell phone rang shrilly before she could form the words. He didn't move for a long second, his eyes boring into her; she didn't if she was angry or grateful when he swore under his breath, and rolled away to grope in the beach bag.
"Yeah, McDonald," he snapped into the phone, his voice suddenly hard and impatient, as far from the lover he had been a minute ago as it could be. Cordelia sat up slowly, rubbing shaky hands up and down her suddenly cold and empty arms. "Yeah. No, I don't know where the files went. I sent them down right after we closed the case. No, I don't know where Tyler went; ask Billing. He's not my problem anymore, not until he gets caught again."
He stopped to listen, casting one heated, impatient look over his shoulder at Cordelia, then got up and started striding along the sand. "Look, if it's that damn important, send someone down to Files & Records..."
His voice faded as he went out of earshot, and Cordelia ran her hands through her hair, letting her forehead fall onto her bent knees. "What the hell am I doing?" she asked the sand between her feet, the rough, itchy feel of it along the skin of her back remind her of precisely what she had been doing. "Oh, god, what am I doing here?"
No answers appeared; it looked like The Powers That Be were taking the day off. She stayed there, the sun warm and soothing on her head and shoulders, until a shadow fell over her. She looked up as Lindsey crouched beside her, his eyes unreadable, and the cell phone dangling carelessly from one hand.
"You all right?" he asked, his voice expressionless.
She tried to smile, and didn't quite pull it off. "I'm fine."
He stared back with obvious disbelief and she looked away, focusing on the cell phone for lack of anything better. "Problem at work?" she asked brightly, and kicked herself when his eyes flattened.
"No problem. Just idiots."
"Oh." Well, it wasn't like she wanted to know. Not really.
"I think I've had about enough sun," she cut him off before he could say whatever he'd been about to say, smiling brilliantly and desperately. "What do you think about finding someplace dark and air conditioned and preferably expensive to eat lunch?"
He didn't want to let it go; she could see the tell-tale muscle twitching in his jaw, the half-angry frustration in his eyes. But he nodded once, shortly, and stood, helping her up. "We're not dressed for expensive," he pointed out calmly.
She shrugged. "So, air conditioned and cheap. It's not like I'm picky or anything."
"No, not you," he muttered as he bent to pick up the beach bag. She pretended not to hear him, pulling her shirt around her shoulders like armor.
After a few awkward silences and some forced bickering ("What is it with you and tourist traps?" "Well, I could also use a trip to the Beverly Center for some shoes...." "No way in hell. I'll take the tourist trap."), they eventually wound up wandering down the Universal Citywalk. The usual fight over where to eat (the only thing they could agree on was avoiding the country music-themed joint) ended when they settled on the vegetarian place at one end, and got a table on the sidewalk patio.
While they waited for their food, Cordelia kept up a stream of chatter on every innocent topic she could think of, everything from the difficulties of finding the right black pump, to the greatness of Denzel Washington, to the many reasons carrying stakes was hard on the wardrobe. Anything that didn't in any way even remotely touch on work or sex.
Lindsey was going along with the routine, but he wasn't happy about it, any more than he'd been happy the last couple of times their makeout sessions had gotten serious and she'd called a halt, and those hadn't been nearly as hot and heavy as their embrace on the beach. Lindsey McDonald was not a guy who was into waiting for what he wanted, and he'd made it pretty darn clear that he wanted her. Which was flattering, but....
"--So, anyway, Xander shows up at the Prom with Anya, of all people, who besides being seriously socially challenged also tried to, you know, destroy the world as we know it, which was not my fault and I don't care what Giles says, 'cause we've only got her word for it about that whole 'wish' thing." Cordelia had to stop to take a breath. "What was I saying?"
Lindsey, sprawled in his chair, sipped his iced tea without moving a single unnecessary muscle. "No clue; you lost me back at the prom."
"Oh." At least he was looking kind of amused again; she could deal with that, even if it was at her expense. "Anyway, my point was... Actually, I don't think I had a point."
"And this is different from usual how?" He moved his legs just in time to avoid her kick and she settled for making a face at him.
"I can be pointy," she proclaimed, studying the remains of her cucumber/sprout/zucchini sandwich to decide if there was really a last bite there, and if there was a graceful way of scraping it together. "I can be way pointy. And you did ask about the prom."
"I asked about the prom this morning," Lindsey pointed out, swiping the last of her potato chips. Her kick connected this time. "Ow."
"Serves you right. I don't share." She resettled herself in her chair with a flounce. "And for that, you owe me ice cream."
"All right, explain this one." He leaned forward, suddenly in full lawyer mode. "Why is it every time we have a conversation, I somehow end up owing you something?"
She made her eyes go very wide, which probably wouldn't do much to conceal the smirk, but oh well. "Gosh, I don't know, Lindsey. You'd think a lawyer would be better about that kind of thing."
"Yeah, you'd think." He looked at the bill the waitress had just delivered and tossed down some bills. "You want ice cream, you're buying."
"Well, that's gentlemanly," she pouted. He ignored her and she ramped it up, adding the wounded eyes that inevitably brought Angel and Wesley to their knees.
Lindsey just stood up and put on his sunglasses, looking down at her through them. "You coming? Or are you gonna sit there and practice looking pitiful all day?"
She made a face and got up. "Fine, whatever. But you're paying for your own ice cream, buddy."
The Haagen-Daaz place was a few doors down; by the time she'd had the first few licks of chocolate fudge brownie (single scoop; a girl had to watch her figure), she was feeling benevolent enough to grab Lindsey's free hand as they strolled down the sidewalk.
"Decided to forgive me?" he asked in between bites of his chocolate cone.
She grinned at him cheerfully. "Nope. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to exact revenge. Don't worry, you'll know it when I find it."
"I'm shaking." But he put his arm around her and pulled her against his side, his mood apparently as restored by the sugar rush as hers was. She went willingly, resting her head against his shoulder until the window display of a neon art store caught his eye.
"I don't think it'd go with the decor in your apartment," she pointed out as he stopped to stare.
"Yeah, but it's cool." The purple-and-blue zig-zags in back had his complete attention; he looked like a 12-year-old in a toy store. "Come on, I want to see it up close."
"Oh, no way!" she protested, as he started to drag her into the store. "Lindsey, you are not serious!"
"Come on, I just want to take a look."
"No way! I'm serious, Lindsey, this is for your own good." She resisted, and the impromptu wrestling match that followed put their ice cream cones in serious danger, to say nothing of the bystanders.
"All right, all right!" Cordelia finally shrieked, held firmly a foot off the ground against Lindsey's chest, his arms caging her from behind. "Go look already! But when your interior decorator kills you, remember that I tried to stop you!"
"Noted for the record," he agreed, dropping her and running a hand through his mussed-up hair. "You realize that now I pretty much have to buy it, right?"
"Whatever." She rolled her eyes in disgust and waved him away. "I'm also not helping you carry it home."
He flashed her a broad grin and wandered into the store. She sank onto a concrete bench and tried to locate her knees; they'd gone out on her at that smile. God, she loved his smile.
Even in the awful moments when she hated everything else about him.
She sighed, the fit of giggles from wrestling with Lindsey wearing off, and beach-induced depression sneaking back in to take its place. She could just see Lindsey inside the store, staring at the hideous neon sculpture like he was hypnotized. And god, if he bought it, she was going to have to look at it every time she went to his apartment for the rest of--
The rest of what? The rest of their lives? Yeah, as if she was even going to think about that in relation to Lindsey yet. No way. And even if she was dumb enough to do that, her odds of making it to 21 were only slightly better than Buffy's these days.
The rest of their relationship? She didn't even know what their relationship was. There was the kissing and the laughing, yeah, but they couldn't be in the room with each other's friends without kicking off Armageddon; they couldn't ask a simple question like 'How was your day at work?' She couldn't even say his name to Wesley and Angel. Was the kissing and the laughing worth the tension, the strained smiles, the constant hovering of the demon called Wolfram & Hart, the 10-mile list of Things We Can't Talk About?
God, was it worth it?
"He's a handsome one."
She jumped, jolted out of her thoughts, and turned to the small, white-haired woman sitting on the bench beside her, a pile of shopping bags nestled at her feet. "Excuse me?"
"I said, he's a handsome one," the woman repeated, her face crinkling with wrinkles when she smiled. "Knows it, too. I bet he's a real handful."
"Ohhh, yeah." Cordelia nodded in heartfelt agreement, forcing a return smile. "Way much more trouble than he's worth." Was he?
"Oh, I doubt that," the woman assured her, patting her knee. "Or you wouldn't be with him, now would you?"
Cordelia's smile dimmed. "Actually... I probably would be. I mean, I am. Trouble and all." Which was pretty scary, actually. Lindsey defined trouble, as far as she was concerned -- and as far as Angel and Wesley were concerned. Yet here she was with him. How smart was that? How dumb was that? What was she doing here?
The old woman patted her knee again, her deep black eyes concerned. "Oh, don't you pay any attention to me. The good ones are always trouble, honey, or they wouldn't be any fun."
"No, I guess they wouldn't." Although, Cordelia reflected unhappily, some trouble, life would be so much easier without. Most trouble, in fact.
"That's the trade-off." The old woman answered quietly; Cordelia hadn't heard herself say the last part out loud, but the old woman was looking at her, so she must have. "No peace without troubles, no joy without sorrow."
"That's not very fair," Cordelia pointed out, in the voice of someone who was still clinging to a last shred of hope for justice in the universe.
"No." The old woman smiled. "But it's life. Still, you can dwell on your troubles and hope that joy will come with them, or pick your joys and take the troubles as the price."
"I guess." Cordelia stared down at the ground for a long second, then turned her head. "You know, you sound an awful lot like....."
Her voice trailed off as she blinked surprised eyes at the empty seat beside her.
"Hey. Who're you talking to?"
She blinked again and looked up to find Lindsey standing over her, smirking. For once, she was too confused to be irritated. "This old woman. She was.... Well, apparently she was a lot more spry than she looked. And rude. And--"
She stared at the empty bench for another moment, then fixed a smile on her face and firmly dismissed the entire weird conversation from her mind. "So, where's the monstrosity?"
He shrugged and put his sunglasses on, offering her a hand up and not letting go when she was standing. "I decided it didn't fit the image I'm going for."
"Yuppie scum lawyer?" she offered perkily.
He shrugged. "Something like that. You ready to bail on this place yet?"
"Sure. If we can stop at that fountain on the way back."
"Again? What is with you and water?"
They turned together, matching steps back down the sidewalk towards the parking garage. Cordelia only caught herself looking back over her shoulder at the empty bench once.
Okay, maybe twice.
Shopping with Cordelia, Lindsey reflected as he juggled three shopping bags and his keys, was an adventure. No, an Adventure, capital A, even when it was just the grocery store. It was kind of fun, but the real problem -- besides the impulse buying thing -- was the whining afterwards.
"Come on, door opening sometime today? These things are heavy!"
He glared at her over his shoulder. "You could, I don't know, take a couple of mine and give me a free hand."
"Hello, bags of my own here," she shot back, in her incredibly irritating 'duh!' voice.
"Then shut up and let me get the damn door open."
"Fine." She flounced over to lean against the wall. "God, cranky much?"
He did not sneer back, but it took major willpower. Damned if he was going to let Cordelia drag him down to her level of being juvenile. The lock finally gave and he swung the door open--
--And let it slip almost shut behind him. Cordelia said something nasty under her breath when her face nearly met the wood and he smirked. Okay, maybe juvenile had some points in its favor.
He dumped his bags on his kitchen counter as Cordelia came huffing up with hers, her hair slipping from its loose ponytail and her eyes shooting daggers.
"Very funny," she snarled, dumping her load. "Very mature."
"Sorry?" Lindsey offered with no sincerity whatsoever. She curled her lip in disdain and turned her back to snag a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator. He shuddered out of habit; she ignored him the same way, but handed him a beer.
"Whose good idea was it to cook dinner here anyway?" he grumbled as he opened the bottle and took a drink, then started to go through the bags looking for the perishables.
"Mine," Cordelia informed him loftily. "It's a couple thing, what couples do. They cook together instead of eating out all the time."
"I don't eat out all the time." Lindsey extracted the peppers and began hunting for the carrots. "You think I could have survived this long without learning how to cook?"
"Well, you're one up on me," she admitted, shrugging when he lifted a pointed eyebrow in her direction. "Hey, I didn't say who ate out all the time. If Angel couldn't cook, Wes and I would just have to move into House of Hunan. And Angel only does breakfast."
She plucked the carrots out of a bag on the bottom and handed them to him. "So instruct me, O Great Chef, in the art of the stir-fry."
Lindsey accepted the carrots, trying not to react to her whiplash mood swing; she'd reverted from pouting to cheerful enthusiasm in the time it took to demolish a can of diet soda. Not that that was unusual, but it was always weird.
Which was probably most of the reason she did it, he figured to himself as he set her to work with a knife and the carrots -- to keep the poor, unsuspecting males in her life off-balance as much as possible. Well, damned if he was going to let it throw him.
"Keep those as close to the same size as you can, would you?" He reached his arms around her to demonstrate. At least, that was the theory. The fact that the position required a lot of full-body contact wasn't exactly a bad thing. "Like this, or they'll cook wrong."
"Sorry, master, I didn't know there was an etiquette to chopping," she grumbled, wrinkling her forehead as she concentrated, then looking up at him under her eyelashes. "Mostly with knives, I'm just trying to do damage."
He refused to give her the satisfaction of the flinch she was looking for, but he did take a careful step back out of range. "Yeah, well, damage the vegetables, nothing else."
He found a knife for himself and started work on the chicken; they chopped companionably (aside from the inevitable bickering when he corrected her lousy style and she got pissed about it) for several minutes. Things got livelier when the cooking started, the two of them bumping into each other more often than was strictly necessary as they fought for room.
"Watch the elbows, little girl, and give me the soy sauce."
"Watch the hands, old guy, and you've still got it from the last time I gave it to you. And stop eating the carrots, I want some too."
"I gave it back to you. Is the chicken brown yet?"
"Define brown, 'cause this is kind of beige."
"Good, dump it in."
"Got it. Can I stir?"
"Yeah." Lindsey wound up with his arms around her from the back again, instructing her in the fine art of stirring. She was cute enough caught between laughter and concentration that he almost didn't notice the way her body moved against his, almost managed not to think about that afternoon on the beach. Almost.
He pushed her hair aside with his chin and nuzzled her neck, hearing her breath catch with smug satisfaction. "Knock it off," she ordered, the command weakened by the way she leaned back into him. "This stuff will burn and I'm hungry."
"So am I." He closed his teeth on her earlobe to make it clear just what he was hungry for, and she moaned. Yeah, this would work, he thought, stroking his hands from her waist up higher. The hell with dinner....
She turned so quickly in his arms she almost knocked the wok over. "Okay, looks done to me!" she declared with one of those wide, toothpasty, incredibly fake smiles. "Plates?"
He got her around the waist, pulling her back against him hard as she tried to break free. "Cordelia...."
"Lindsey." She'd braced her arms against his chest and her eyes pleaded with him, like they had on the beach when she'd slipped away from him. But damned if he knew what the hell she wanted from him. "Can we just eat?"
He breathed out hard, but finally let his arms drop, and bit back the surge of anger when she moved out of range. "Fine. Plates are over the sink. And we forgot the rice."
The silence stretched between them as they ate, and extended through cleaning up. Cordelia kept sneaking sideways looks at him, her eyes wary and sad, and it made him feel guilty as hell. Like he was the tease in room? Yeah, right. He slammed the plates into the dishwasher harder than he needed to and took grim satisfaction in seeing her jump.
Almost a month she'd been doing this to him. She'd start out ready and willing, flirting and smiling and giving as good as she got -- whenever they were in public. But the second they were alone, the second he started asking her live up to those kisses and sideways looks, she backed off so fast she damn near left skid marks.
It wasn't like he needed this. There was a list of women a mile long in his Rolodex who'd be thrilled to get wined and dined and laid by a good-looking lawyer with money to burn. They didn't have friends who called if they were a minute late getting home; they didn't treat him like a plague carrier every time he mentioned his job. They didn't freeze up every time he touched them.
He could say screw it and call one of them, and let the do-gooder kid go back to her friends and her pretty damn pathetic excuse for a life. He could pick up a tall, cool blonde who would look good on his arm at an office party and wouldn't piss off the senior partners by existing. He could do one hell of a lot better than this crap.
"Lindsey?" She was looking at him from the other side of the counter, biting her lip and looking as close to timid as Cordelia ever got. Which, of course, made him feel guilty as hell again. Before he'd met Cordelia, he'd almost managed to forget that emotion -- one more damn thing about this 'relationship'.
She held up a DVD, waving it back and forth. "Um, you want to watch this? You know, see L.A. melted and burned to the ground, take vicarious enjoyment from the total destruction of the world around us?"
He put his hands on his hips and stared at her, trying to hang onto the anger. He loved Volcano, and she hated it for the same reason ("I spend most of my time trying to stop this fire and brimstone crap. Why would I want to watch it on TV?"); watching it voluntarily was a serious peace offering by her standards.
She waved the DVD case again, tilting her head to the side, and he had a sudden mental flash of her that afternoon, jumping across the sidewalk fountain on the Citywalk and getting soaked to the skin along with the ten or so kids in there with her. Dancing and playing like she'd never heard of demons or hellmouths or the end of the world, and looking up at him with her eyes full of laughter when he joined her in the water, like he was some kind of knight in shining armor or something. Shit.
"Fine. Set it up."
She flashed him a real smile, the one that did something weird to the inside of his chest, and nearly bounced on her way back to the entertainment center. He rubbed the back of his neck and glared balefully up at the ceiling, then snagged another Coke for her and another beer for himself. "You gonna make me watch some chick flick after you finish pretending you're not drooling over Tommy Lee Jones?" he called from the refrigerator.
She grinned at him over her shoulder. "I brought While You Were Sleeping. Just in case."
Yeah. So much for peace offerings. He snagged one more beer and let the door swing shut.
By the time Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock cruised down the El tracks in a tux and a wedding gown, Cordelia was already asleep, stretched out with her back against Lindsey's chest and her hands curled around his arms. Their legs were twined together along the length of the couch, and he could feel her warm, smooth skin almost everywhere he touched.
He managed to turn off the sound on the TV without disturbing her, resting his head against her dark hair and breathing in the scent of shampoo and seawater and some indefinable smell that was just Cordelia.
This, he could get used to. Oh yeah.
The answering machine had clicked on and off three times in the last few hours; all three times Cordelia had tensed and he'd ignored it. If the office needed him that bad, they could damn well wait until tomorrow.
Cordelia stirred and he tightened his arms around her. "Go back to sleep," he whispered against her hair.
But she moved again, turning slightly in his arms and opening her eyes to stare up at him groggily. "Wha' time 'sit?"
"Not too late." He couldn't help smiling at her as she blinked in the dim light from the silent TV, her face barely visible in the heavy, flickering shadows it cast across them. He smoothed a lock of hair away from her face and she nuzzled her cheek against his hand, then raised herself up on her elbow enough to kiss him, slowly and lazily.
He let his hand slip from her cheek around the back of her neck, sliding under her hair to cradle her head. She shifted to give him easier access and he slid his shoulders free until she was halfway under him, warm and soft. His other hand slipped under her shirt to the skin of her stomach and she moaned, too sleepy to resist. His hand slid higher, taking full advantage, and he touched the first curves of her breasts as he shifted again to press his mouth to the bare skin under her hiked-up T-shirt. They hadn't showered after the beach and he could still taste the salt on her skin and she wasn't backing away this time....
Her eyes opened again in foggy confusion when he shifted away from her, levering up on his elbow to look down at her. "Lindsey?"
"Just tell me why." She blinked, confused, and he moved his hand the bare inch it needed to go to find her breast. She stiffened on cue and he tightened his jaw, but didn't move his hand. "Why don't you trust me?"
"I trust you," She didn't move away, but she wasn't telling the truth either. He could see it in her eyes, in the shadows that dimmed them whenever his cell phone rang. For a second, with her body warm under him and his chest aching with something nameless and uncomfortable, that hurt. A lot.
She might have seen it, because she laid a hand on his cheek, running it into his hair. "It's not you. I swear."
He didn't believe her. Didn't trust her. "Then what is it?"
Her teeth were set in her bottom lip again, almost hard enough to draw blood, and he resisted the impulse to kiss her until she stopped. "The first rule...." she started, then had to stop and try again. "The first rule of being a Slayerette, the first thing we really learned, the one thing we could always count on, is that sex is bad."
He couldn't help it; his eyebrows went up and he pressed his hips more heavily into hers. "This is bad?"
She closed her eyes and let her head roll back. Yeah, it felt that good. "No, not that part. That part-- That part's fine." She licked her lips and got her eyes open again, meeting his. "It's the after. When everything changes."
He looked down at her, not getting it. "What changes? It's not...."
"People change," she cut him off, and he saw the tears shimmering for the first time. "Whoever you thought they were, they're not, after. When the badness starts."
When the badness.... Crap. Angel and his moment of happiness? She'd been in Sunnydale for that, been a sixteen-year-old high school kid with a ringside seat for Angelus' months on the town. That was a pretty good Exhibit A in favor of celibacy, yeah. But it wasn't like she'd slept with him. What else could....
He stiffened suddenly against her, his hand tightening on her ribs. "Son of a bitch. Who was it?"
The rage was real and deep, burning with a fury he'd forgotten he could feel. He let go of her ribs, slid his hand up into her hair to make her meet his eyes. "Who hurt you?"
She shook her head against his hand. "No, Lindsey, it wasn't.... It was my idea and I wanted him and--" Her eyes spilled over and he realized his hand was tangled in her hair hard enough to be hurting her. He let go, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and cradling her close. Her tears soaked hotly through his shirt as he fumbled for the comforting words he'd forgotten how to say a long time ago.
"It wasn't the during," she whispered against his chest, her voice raw. "It was the after. When I looked at him and he was... he was something else. Something horrible. And he almost made me into something horrible. I don't-- Oh god, Lindsey, I don't ever want to look at you and hate you!"
His arms tightened around her and he buried his face in her hair as she shuddered against him. He didn't understand, but it didn't matter; it just mattered that she was hurting.
He didn't want to think about what that meant.
"It's okay," he soothed her quietly, rubbing her back. "It's okay. That won't happen, Cordelia. I won't let it."
He made the promise, knowing he couldn't keep it, knowing she knew that. But she quieted anyway, her hands slowly losing their death grip on his shirt, her breathing finally slowing into relaxed, trusting sleep.
He held her there, cradled against him, for a long time, smoothing her hair with one hand and staring out at nothing. The clock flickered past midnight by the time he joined her in dreams.