Cordelia's head hurt, her ribs hurt, her arm really hurt, Angel and Wesley had spent all night and most of the morning looking worried and guilty at her, and Lindsey hadn't called.
Given everything else, it shouldn't be bothering her this much that her... boyfriend? Had he really used that word last night? It was so high school, so corny. So... sweet. Still, the fact that he hadn't called shouldn't be nearly as important as the fact that she'd been out of the hospital for a grand total of five hours, and awake for less than thirty minutes. She should be worrying about herself, about how to get Angel unfreaked and make sure Wesley wasn't trying to do too much.
Instead, she was laying on her couch, staring out the window at the early-afternoon sun and trying not to imagine the various icky ways someone could get hurt overnight in Los Angeles.
Pans clattered and clashed in the kitchen, and Cordelia turned her head. "Quiet, Dennis!" she hissed. "If you wake Angel up, he's going to start fussing again, and I'm going to take it out on you!"
The noise level in the kitchen dropped abruptly, and she nodded. "Good. Oh, and can you turn on the radio. Quietly?"
She sometimes thought she could see Dennis if she really tried, tilted her head and squinted and looked just right. This wasn't one of those days; squinting hurt her swollen eye and tilting her head made it pound. But it was comforting to hear the radio click on to her favorite soft rock station, to feel something tug her blanket up over her chest in passing, and to hear the making of brunch start back up again, quietly. She closed her eyes and tried to doze until the food was ready.
Instead, she saw Lindsey's face as he'd run into the hospital room the other night. He'd looked so scared, then so relieved, and his arms had been so strong and gentle when he'd wrapped them around her....
And he hadn't called. She sighed and opened her eyes. Whatever Wolfram & Hart had pulled him back to the Main Office of Hell to work on, it had been more important than calling his girlfriend in the hospital.
She caught herself sulking and sighed again; she'd promised herself no more with the pout. She was supposedly an adult these days, and should act like one, not like a teenager hanging by the phone waiting for her boyfriend to call.
Even if the word boyfriend did sound pretty great, and even if she did have a very bad feeling creeping up her spine.
Why hadn't Lindsey called?
"Cordelia?" Angel came out of the bedroom yawning and stretching, then paused in the hall just out of the light. Cordelia sat up carefully and flicked the curtains closed.
"Okay, it's safe, but you're supposed to be asleep," she scolded him. "Sun's up and all that."
Angel just shrugged. "If you're okay, I thought I'd head over to the library with Wesley, see if I can find out some more about Nodraan. I get the feeling Kate will take any help she can get this time around."
"Whatever, as long as that thing goes to jail for real this time." She settled herself back down in her blankets and Angel came over to help, adjusting her pillows behind her.
"Do you want me to help you into the bedroom?" he asked solicitously.
"Like I said the three times we had this conversation before, I'd rather be out here. Window, TV, remote control, ghost -- I'm pretty much set. Go." She waved him off with her uninjured hand. "Have fun doing the research thing. Eat first, though."
Angel gave one of his faint half-laughs. "I will." He hesitated, then bent over to kiss her forehead in a rare display of affection before he headed for the door.
"Hey! Eating first?"
He stopped mid-step and backtracked into the kitchen. Cordelia nodded, satisfied.
A breakfast tray came floating out in Angel's wake; Dennis juggled it and the morning paper, which Wes had left beside the door on his way out, as he went across the room. "Finally! I mean, thanks, Dennis, it looks great." Cordelia flashed a smile at the space above the tray as it settled on her lap, the paper arranging itself next to her plate. "I am so hungry."
Mmmm. A bowl of healthy cereal, a big glass of orange juice, toast with strawberry jam.... "Dennis, are you trying to fatten me up or something?" In answer, one of the pieces of toast floated up and started dancing in front of her face. "Yeah, right. Well, stop it. I'm not going to be able to work out for awhile, and this girl needs to watch her figure. You never know when that big audition is going to arrive."
She immediately contradicted herself by taking a big bite of toast; dieting could wait, she was hungry. She chewed carefully -- the motions hurt her face -- as she struggled to open the paper with her battered right arm. National news, local news... She paged through quickly, trying to get to the Calendar section, and swore under her breath when the pages refused to cooperate. She didn't actually know what the curse meant, since it was in ancient Etruscan or something like that, but she'd heard Wesley use it while he was researching and she was pretty sure it was not of the good.
The curse faded from her mouth and the toast dropped from her hand as she took in the small, fuzzy picture, buried on page 32. Nodraan caught her eye first -- it was hard to forget the face of someone who'd pinned her against a wall, before his skin turned to scales and his claws dug into her arm and his in-dire-need-of-a-dentist breath panted hot against her cheek.
But not as hard as realizing that the person next to him, the person grimly fending off the photographer and obviously escorting the aforementioned demon attacker, was her boyfriend.
"Oh my god."
She didn't know she'd said it out loud until Angel stuck his head around the entryway to the kitchen. "Cordelia? Did you say something?"
She should have answered, should have smiled and shook him off, but all she could do was stare at the paper she could no longer feel in her fingers, her entire body numb.
"Cordelia? What's wrong?"
If Angel sees this, he'll kill Lindsey.
Somehow, she summoned up a smile, dropped the newspaper so the picture was hidden in its folds. "Nothing's wrong," she informed the worried vampire hovering over her. "I just did the math on how many calories are on this toast. Dennis, haven't we talked about using the sugar-free jelly?"
Angel stared at her with narrowed eyes. She tried to look shallow and innocent, and not like she desperately wanted him to go away before she started crying. "You're sure nothing's wrong?" he asked suspiciously. "Do you need more of the pain pills?"
"God, no." Her grimace was entirely genuine. She could handle the physical pain -- it was nothing compared to post-vision migraines -- and no amount of Tylenol 3 was going to do anything for the way her heart was trying to rip itself apart. "They make me all sleepy and weird and everything. Did you eat? Or drink or whatever -- did you do it?"
"Yeah, I did." He didn't look fooled by the conversational right-turn, but he wasn't going to push. Thank god. "I'm going to head for the library. You'll call us if you need anything?"
Let's see, she could use a massage, a better health plan and, oh yeah, a boyfriend who didn't work for the forces of evil. "Of course. Go on, leave, I want all of these male-type people out of my apartment for a while." The tray rattled once and she rolled her eyes. "Except you, Dennis."
Angel left her reluctantly, putting on his long coat and stopping one more time at the door. "You're sure you--"
"Out!" It was almost a scream and she saw the worry flicker back onto his face. But he left, closing the door behind him as he headed for the sewers, and she fell back onto the pillows. She fumbled for the paper, trying to find the picture again; some desperate part of her mind was telling her that she'd been wrong, she'd made a mistake, if she just looked again--
Lindsey. Next to Nodraan. A short story about charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault, and Wolfram & Hart giving the reporters a "no comment". Lindsey giving them a "no comment".
The smell of her breakfast was making her nauseous; she ignored it, staring sightlessly out the window, the paper crumpled in her hand as the traffic flowed back and forth on the street below her and the radio played softly, unheeded.
It took Lindsey ten minutes to leave his car and walk up to Cordelia's door, three tries before he could actually make himself knock. When his knuckles finally made contact with the door, the sound was hesitant, uncertain. He jerked his chin up and straightened his tie, then knocked again, loudly.
He expected to hear an impatient shout of "Come in!"; instead, the door opened slowly. Cordelia, bruised and battered, wearing a large black t-shirt that left her long legs bare and almost had to be Angel's, leaned against the doorframe and looked at him out of shadowed hazel eyes.
"Lindsey," she greeted him quietly. "You didn't call."
"I know." He shoved his hand through his hair. "I was, ah, at the office. New case. The partners...."
"I figured." She was still quiet, subdued even. This was weird. But she was injured, and probably shouldn't be standing around.
He fidgeted for a moment, then asked, a little impatiently, "Can I come in or what?"
She thought about her answer for what seemed like much too long, then finally stepped aside, gesturing carelessly. "Come on in."
He came, stepping inside the door and closing it behind him. Normally, Cordelia would wrap her arms around him, holding her face up for a kiss, and he'd gotten used to that. Looked forward to it. But when he turned back from the door, she was already walking carefully back across the room to the little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. She sat on the edge of the couch and looked up at him, her face perfectly controlled under the bruises. Perfectly blank.
"So...." Lindsey ran his hand through his hair, shifting uncomfortably. He'd only been in Cordelia's apartment a few times, since her buddies were always running around. "How are you feeling?"
"I've been better." She gestured slightly with her bandaged arm. Guilt snapped tight in his chest and he willed it to stay out of his eyes. "But I'll live."
"Good. That's... good." God, he sounded like an idiot. "I just wanted to stop by, see if you needed--"
"Did you read the paper this morning?" The interruption was studiously casual. "There's a really good picture on page 32 that I think you'd be interested in. First section."
Crap. Shit. Damn. "Cordelia, I can explain."
"I figured. " Her face was still blank and he would have sold his soul -- if he had any of it left that was his -- if she would start yelling at him. "Go ahead, explain."
And he started to, started to lay everything out so she'd understand. Then he stopped, ran both his hands through his hair this time, and started again. "I'm not defending him, not in court. They just sent me down for the arraignment; everything else is someone else's problem. I'm not his lawyer any more."
"Oh. Okay." She nodded carefully. "So you just got him out of jail, you're not going to be the one who keeps him there. Well, that's okay, then; anyone he kills between now and the trial won't be your fault or anything. I don't know what I was so upset about."
Even just out of the hospital, she could use sarcasm like a scalpel, cutting so clean he didn't feel the cut until he started to bleed. "It's not like that, Cordelia -- it was orders from the senior partners. I didn't have a choice."
"There are always choices, Lindsey; just because you were ordered to make the wrong one doesn't automatically absolve you of making it."
"Excuse me, I thought lessons in being sanctimonious were your boss's job!"
Cordelia's eyes narrowed; a neat trick since one of them was still almost swollen shut. "Don't even try to make this about me, Lindsey. You set loose a shapeshifter demon who likes to walk around L.A. and kill people, including me! Who's he going to kill this time, huh? And will you get him out again after he does? Third time's the charm, after all."
"Third time? What are you--"
She tried to sneer at his automatic, defensive lie, but her effort was half-hearted at best. "Please, Lindsey. I did my homework, I know who got Nodraan off the hook last time." Her lips pressed together against anger or tears. "You've never insulted my intelligence before and trust me, this is not a good time to start."
He stared back at her, then nodded once, shortly. "Fine. Yeah. I got him out last time. I didn't know he was going to attack you, or I would have left him in jail to rot."
"Even if the senior partners ordered you?"
"Like you did last night?"
"Yes! No!" He turned away, paced across the living room and back. "You don't understand."
"What's to understand?" There was the shout he'd wanted, finally, as she jolted to her feet. "He's evil, Lindsey! He's a murderer, and you got him out. You let him walk away to go kill someone else! And it's supposed to be okay because your senior partners, who are, by the way, the living embodiment of all things of the evil, ordered you to? You are so right, I don't understand that!"
"It's my job, Cordelia." He was the controlled one now, his hands fisted at his sides, his jaw so tight speaking was an effort. "You knew that when we started this, you knew what I do. Did you expect that to change? Did you expect me to suddenly 'see the light' and walk away from everything I've been working my ass off to get for the last ten years, just because you don't approve?"
She straightened as if he'd slapped her. "Maybe I did," she said finally, tossing the words out like a challenge. "Maybe I did hope that the guy I... was really starting to care about would stop being evil. It was a seriously long shot, but I did. Guess that makes me pretty stupid, huh?"
"I'm not evil. It's just a job, Cordelia, that's all. Just. A job."
"Your job hurts people, Lindsey. Wolfram & Hart hurts people, and you stay there and you hurt people for them. That's not a job, that's-- that's just wrong."
She wrapped her arms around herself as she turned away, wincing when the bandages on her left arm touched her stomach. He remembered her injuries abruptly, remembered that she was in no shape to be fighting, and couldn't stop his next words. "Okay. Fine. I'll walk away from Wolfram & Hart."
She slowly turned to face him, her unbruised eye wide, both of them filled with suspicion, and something like hope. "You will?"
"Yeah." He nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "When you walk away from Angel."
The hope faded, and she closed her eyes. "Very funny, Lindsey. Ha-ha. Let's hear it for the inappropriate humor thing."
"I'm not joking." Her eyes shot back open, and he shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets when he couldn't get them to unclench. "You hate that I work for Wolfram & Hart, the people I defend. I hate watching you go out and try to get yourself killed every night. I give up something you hate, you give up something I hate, we live happily ever after."
She shook her head slowly, her lips parting. "I don't try to get myself killed every night. That's not what it's about."
"What is it about? Helping the hopeless?" He crossed the room to her, touched her face gently below the bruises. "Do you know how I felt when Angel paged me, what it was like going into that hospital room last night and seeing you, knowing how close you came to dying? What it's going to be like every night from now on, waiting for Angel to screw up again? And for what?"
He turned away abruptly, stalking back across the room. "For some of those 'hopeless' who come to you for help? You risk your life for them, and they give you nothing back! Is it for Angel, the big, bad vampire who can't even pay you, much less protect you? You get nothing out of this deal, except those damn visions and a lot of scars!"
"It's not for nothing," she said carefully, her face pale. She had one hand out, as if to steady herself on thin air, and looked like she needed it. "The Powers That Be--"
"Oh, yes, the Powers That Be!" He laughed derisively. "The same Powers that let your friend Doyle die? Yeah, they're so much better to be working for than the senior partners. At least you know when Wolfram & Hart is going to stab you in the back, and they don't make pretty noises about kindness and compassion while they're doing it."
He strode back to her, taking her shoulders in his hands, leaning in close as if he could make her understand through sheer intensity. "I'm going to wind up going to your funeral, Cordelia, and that's.... God, that's the last thing I want."
Her voice was raspy, barely above a whisper. "What do you want? You, not the lawyer, not the Wolfram & Hart stooge. What do you want, Lindsey?"
It had been so long since anyone had asked that, so long since he'd thought about it. He'd had everything he wanted -- and then there'd been Cordelia, and everything he'd wanted had changed. And he was losing her, she was slipping through his hands even as he tightened them on her. "I want... you. With me. Alive. Safe."
"Whatever it takes?" she asked softly.
He shrugged. "Yeah. Of course."
"Of course." She closed her eyes tightly, and if she was any other woman, there would have been tears in them. But she was Cordelia, and when she opened them again, they were dry. "Maybe you're right, Lindsey. Maybe this will kill me. It's come close a few times already, and it scared me, oh yeah. Big time. But I can't just walk away."
Cordelia tugged herself carefully away from his grip, and he let her go with a growing sense of resignation. She'd chosen and it wasn't him. Hell, he'd never even been in the running.
"So that's it," Lindsey said, his face nearly dead, stripped of all emotion. "You won't be with me unless I give up everything I am, but you won't give up anything for me."
She started to shake her head, then changed it to a slow nod in mid-motion. "Yeah. I guess so. And it sounds really unfair that way, but that's the way it is." He started to speak, but she stopped him with a gentle hand on his lips. "You should listen to me, Lindsey, because it took me a way long time to figure this out. Walking away from evil doesn't make you good, but it's a start. And walking away from good doesn't make you evil -- but it's a start."
She lifted her hand from his lips, gestured helplessly with it. "I'm not that girl anymore, the one who could look away and pretend none of this was happening. That if I just close my eyes, all the dark and evil things will go away, and the world will be shiny and happy. It doesn't work that way, and I can't pretend it does, not anymore." She let her hand drop, one shoulder lifting in a tiny, helpless shrug. "If you don't understand that... then you don't understand me. And I guess you never did."
"Looks like that works both ways," he said bitterly. "Cordelia--"
She was surprised at how rough his voice was, like he actually cared. She'd started to think he did, but it was easier to believe he didn't. Not that anything would make this easy, but.... She gave him one of her biggest, fakest smiles, her arms wrapped around herself again. Her shredded left arm hurt and she tried to focus on that, because it hurt less than her heart. "No, Lindsey. This thing -- us -- it was never going to work. We knew it and we tried anyway and it didn't work. So just... just go."
"Dammit, Cordelia--" He started towards her, lifting one hand, and she had no idea what he was going to say or do. But before he could get even a step closer, an invisible wall seemed to form in front of him, knocking him back. He tried again, was knocked back further, almost tripping over his own feet. "What the hell?"
"Dennis." She said it to thin air, which wasn't so thin anymore, and she thought the pressure against Lindsey's body got lighter. He caught his balance, but still couldn't come any closer to her. "Go away, Lindsey, or he'll have to hurt you."
"He who? What the hell is this? Cordelia!" He was getting mad and she was almost grateful for it, because it was easier to kick him out when he was glaring at her, his eyes hard and his face set with anger. If he'd been looking at her tenderly with those blue eyes, or smiling at her the way she loved him to smile, it would have been so much harder.
She made her voice hard. "Just go, Lindsey." Queen C lives, the bitch is back. "You've got clients waiting for you, right?"
He stood there for a long second, his hands clenching and unclenching, Dennis holding him away from whatever he wanted to do. Finally, he breathed out hard, straightening his tie with a jerk and ran his hand through his hair. She'd never had the heart to tell him the gesture just messed it up more. "Fine. If that's the way you want it."
He stalked towards the door, and she bit her lip against the urge to call him back, to tell him she didn't care who he worked for, as long as he stayed.
But she knew better.
He stopped in the doorway anyway, not looking back at her. "I didn't-- This wasn't how this was supposed to happen."
"Like anything ever is?" She almost laughed, then shook her head once, sadly. "Goodbye, Lindsey."
He looked like he wanted to say something else, but settled for one short nod. He never had been any good at saying goodbye.
Then the door was closed behind him, and she sank down onto the couch, her legs flatly refusing to hold her up any longer. Dennis hovered anxiously near her, fiddling with the edges of the blanket, and she waved him away. "I'm okay, Dennis," she smiled weakly. "Thanks."
The blanket floated up and settled around her shoulders; she lay down carefully, pulling it more tightly around her. The radio was still playing softly and she buried her face in the pillow, trying not to think about anything except the music.
"She wanted to be a cowboy,
She was shooting 'em down,
She was tramping around.
He walked in crooked with the clear blue eyes.
"There's a nice pool at my motel - you want to go for a swim?"
That night he moved in..."
Her eyes felt all burny, swollen even though she hadn't cried and wasn't going to. She was just going to lay there and listen to the radio, and try to pretend she had never cared about Lindsey McDonald.
"At night she'd wait for the sound of his feet on the doormat,
The sound of his hand on the doorknob,
The sound of her heart beating in her head.
He'd go out playing nickel slots, cause he knew he'd lose..."
Maybe eventually she'd convince herself.
Lindsey walked out to the Porsche, parked illegally by a hydrant, and squinted against the sunlight. He put on his sunglasses as he slid behind the wheel and turned the key. The radio came on to some station that Cordelia liked, and he reached over to change it to anything else.
"She didn't know, so she couldn't choose.
One night while sleeping along in her bed,
The phone rang, she woke up, and sat up and said,
'What time is it? What time is it?'
'Well, it's 5:30 here and it's 2:30 there,
And I won't be home tonight,' he said."
His hand hovered over the buttons for a long time before he finally dropped it, and put his foot down hard on the gas. The Porsche's tires screeched against the curb as he pulled away.
"Now she sits in a booth in a diner,
Waiting for someone to take her order,
Waiting for someone to come and sit down.
She rubs the smudge off the photograph, puts it back into her purse.
The gray sky was romantic 'cause he was holding her hand,
He was her man...."
He parked in his reserved spot, and walked through the lobby without looking at anyone or anything. He shoved his way into the elevator past two junior associates, and punched the buttons for Holland's floor.
"Mr. Manners is with a client, Mr. McDonald," Holland's secretary tried to stop him. He blew past her without a word, or even an acknowledgement, shoving open the door to Holland's office. The client, a rabbity-looking guy about five and a half feet tall, currently under indictment for the ritual killings of five people, bounced to his feet in shock.
Holland just raised an eyebrow. "Doreen," he said to the secretary standing behind Lindsey and trying to apologize, "please get Mr. Wordehoff some coffee, and perhaps a Danish? I'm sorry, Mr. Wordehoff, just give me a few moments to deal with this."
He ushered Doreen and the client out of the office with a smooth, fatherly smile, then returned to his desk, settling down in his chair and looking up at Lindsey. "Please, sit down, Lindsey. I assume you have a matter of great importance to discuss?"
Lindsey didn't sit; he wasn't staying long. "You got what you wanted, Holland. I'm not seeing Cordelia Chase any more. It's over."
Holland's face creased in an even wider smile. "That's very good news, Lindsey. I knew you'd come to your senses, and I'm very pleased that you have. I think you'll find--"
Lindsey cut him off. "I'm also not representing Nodraan."
Holland's mile faded slightly. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. Find another sucker to deal with him; it won't be me." He emphasized the statement with a short, sharp chopping motion, and Holland nodded consideringly.
"Very well," he said finally. "We'll find someone else to represent Mr. Nodraan. I'm certain we can find another case more suited to your talents and, ah, sensibilities."
"Fine." Lindsey stalked out, and tried not to care about the smugness lingering around Holland's eyes.
No one spoke to him on the elevator. His secretary started to stand when he came in, a pile of messages in her hand, then sat again without saying a word when he walked past her. There were files on his desk, including Nodraan's; he shoved it roughly to the side and it bumped into the picture frame on the corner. Both of them fell to the floor in a flutter of notes and paperwork.
Cordelia's face smiled up at him from the frame and he stared at it for a long time. Then he reached down, picked it up and shoved it into his lowest desk drawer, all the way at the back. He slammed the drawer shut with a satisfying bang and grabbed another case file, leaving Nodraan's where it lay.
He was done with this crap -- it was over, all of it.
And the hell with Cordelia Chase.
"The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love... "
Title and lyrics are "Falling in Love", by Lisa Loeb.