"You try to find yourself
in the abstractions of religion
and the cruelty of everyone else
And you wake up to realize
your standard of living
somehow got stuck on 'survive'..."

"...Rogers, you'll take the depositions from both witnesses, and make sure they know what those depositions are supposed to say. Martinez, start prepping for voir dire -- I want to know everything there is to know about every prospective juror before they come anywhere near a courtroom. Get moving."

Lindsey leaned back in his chair as his minions scuttled out of the room. His minions. They weren't exactly high quality minions -- he was too high in Holland's shit list to get the really competent ones -- but they were still minions. They reported to him, they obeyed his orders, and their lives hung on his whim.

It should have been more fun.

He tapped his pencil on his blotter, then leaned back a little farther, propping his feet up on the desk. He had work to do: three trials in the next two weeks, the O'Brien case was kicking into gear, and the Desdemord case had rolled back around. Again. If he called his secretary, she'd have at least four other things that needed to be done right now.

His hand hovered over the intercom, then dropped back away. Then he almost fell backwards as the intercom opened with a beep. "Mr. McDonald?"

"What?" He struggled back to vertical and back to dignity, raking his hands through his hair. "I mean, yeah? What do you need?"

"You have a call, Mr. McDonald."

"Great." He checked his watch -- 7:30, well after business hours -- and shook his head. "Someone to get out of jail, or someone to put in?"

"I'm... not certain, sir."

His secretary's voice sounded unusually careful; he frowned at the intercom. "Well, who is it?"

"It's Ms Chase, sir."

There was nothing -- literally nothing -- he had ever hated in his life as much as he hated the way his heart stumbled at the sound of her name, before leaping into his throat at the thought that she was on the phone. That the blinking red light beside line one was her. Five weeks. Five goddamn weeks....

He stomped his heart back into place, and then a little further down for good measure, before clearing his throat. "Did she say what she wanted?"

"No, sir, but she sounds... upset."

"So what else is new?" He thought about it for a long, hard moment. "I'll take the call."

"Yes, sir." The intercom went silent and he stared at the blinking red light for 30 seconds, then a minute. Then two. Let her wait.

Finally, even he couldn't stand it anymore; he leaned forward and lifted the receiver. "McDonald."

"Could you be more annoying if you tried?" her familiar voice snapped, not bothering with 'hello, how are you'. "Making someone wait just because you can is totally rude."

"Well, I'm a busy man, Cordelia," he said lazily, spinning his chair around to stare out the window. "Can't always drop everything and come running."

"Like you ever did," she snorted. There was a voice from the background, sharp and female, and Cordelia replied, slightly muffled, "Back off, I'm getting to it!" before she came back to the phone. "Okay, look, I don't have time to play any of the usual games. I need your help."

He'd give her credit; it sounded like her teeth were only a little gritted. "My help? I thought you were one of the all-powerful good guys? Calling an evil lawyer for help...." He grinned widely at his reflection in the window, enjoying himself. "Now, how's that gonna look on the List of Good Deeds?"

"Bite me, McDonald." Ah, there she was, the Cordelia he knew and-- He cut the thought off as she hissed in a deep breath, then let it back out slowly. "Look, Lindsey, I'm serious, I don't have time for this crap. One of your clients is in the middle of some major badness and people are going to get hurt."

He lifted his eyebrows, regretting that the impact was nullified by the phone. But hey, he knew what he was doing. And so did she. "And why should I care? Until my client gets arrested or sued, it's not really my problem."

"Well, it is my problem! Lindsey, he took Angel and--"

"Angel?" He leaned forward, almost let a laugh slip out. Then he thought twice and did laugh. "If my client does get arrested, I may waive my retainer."

"Very funny. Listen to me, you smug bastard." Cordelia's voice was suddenly level and deadly cold. "Your pal Tyler is gearing up for a ritual, summoning something very big and very nasty. He took Angel, and he took Giles, and somehow, I don't think either of them are going to be getting out of it alive. So if you ever, ever gave a damn about me -- if anything you ever said about caring wasn't a lie -- you will help me get them back."

Giles. Rupert Giles. Watcher of the current Slayer. Resided in Sunnydale. Had given Cordelia a book of Jane Austen for Christmas once, a gift that still made her smile two years later. His death would make her cry... and Lindsey didn't give a good goddamn.

"Sorry, Ms Chase, but I'm afraid attorney/client privilege applies with Slayers as well as in court. But you be sure to keep us in mind next time you need legal representation."

There was a long silence, one that stretched out almost far enough for guilt to begin twitching at the back of his brain. But he'd disowned guilt a long time ago -- all right, five weeks ago -- and he sent it packing with a strong kick and a restraining order.

That took enough concentration that, when she finally spoke, it was almost a surprise. "Fine, Mr. McDonald. After tonight, I'm betting there'll be a few wills to be executed, one of them probably mine, so I'm sure someone will show up at your office before you know it. Good-bye, Lindsey."

"Cordelia--" She'd already hung up, which was probably good, because he had no idea what he'd been about to say. He stared at the receiver, realized his hands were white-knuckled with the force of his grip, and threw it across the desk. It went over the side, taking the rest of the phone with it; everything fell to the floor with a loud clatter. He pushed his chair back from his desk with one angry kick and slouched down, glowering at the remains of his phone.

Of his life.

"Mr. McDonald? I heard a--"

He didn't even look up at his secretary. "It's fine. Get out."

From the corner of his eye, he saw her nod and close the door softly behind herself. A few minutes later, he heard her footsteps as she walked towards the elevators and home, but he didn't look towards the door. He just kept staring straight ahead for a long time, not looking at anything in particular. Especially not at himself.

And definitely not at the so-called co-worker leaning against the door he hadn't heard open again. "My, my, my," Lilah purred. "Someone's in quite the mood."

He ignored her, hoping a lack of reaction would make her go away. She strolled further into the room instead; it hadn't really been much of a hope. She poked at the remains of his phone with the pointed toe of her Italian pumps, and smiled before settling herself on the edge of his desk.

"Get some bad news?" she asked with sugary-sweet concern. "Anything I can do to help?"

He looked at her, his face as hard and blank as stone. "Leave."

Her head pulled back, her eyes blinking as innocently as if she was actually offended. "God, you are in a mood. I haven't seen you this cranky since your little girlfriend broke up with you."

He might have growled under his breath; he wasn't sure. Her smile might have gotten a little wider; he wasn't sure of that, either. "Everyone really respects how you sacrificed your personal life," Lilah continued, and he wondered if she'd have the nerve to reach over and pat his hand. He could swear he actually saw her hand twitch, but she must have decided it would be too over the top. "I'm sure the senior partners are just ecstatic about your dedication."

"Did you want something?" He would concede the game, fine, whatever. Anything to get her out of his office.

She stood gracefully, smiling all the while. "Just checking up on my co-worker, making sure everything's all right. Wouldn't want anything to happen to our Golden Boy." She couldn't hide the bitterness that slipped through, but covered it pretty smoothly as she started towards the door.

"I wouldn't worry," she tossed back over her shoulder. "I'm sure everything will look better tomorrow. Much clearer."

She was gone before he could lose the battle with himself and demand just what the hell she'd meant with that pointed little comment. And how did you know it was pointed, Mr. McDonald? Well, Your Honor, that's because Lilah doesn't have any other kind where I'm concerned. She knew something. Something about Cordelia. Something about tonight.


He told himself it was just curiosity as he deactivated his screen saver. He convinced himself he was refreshing his memory for a probable new assignment as he brought up the client database. He almost believed that he was just covering his bases as he typed in 'Tyler, William'.

And he stared in blank shock as the screen blinked "Access Restricted: Not Authorized to View This File" at him.

"What the hell is this?" He stared at the screen in shock. Tyler was his case, his client, from day one. No fucking way he should be locked out. He tried again, typing harder like that would blow past whatever computer glitch was currently making his life hell. Then again. Then again.

"Son of a bitch!"

Without conscious thought, he was on his feet and striding out of his office. His hand slammed against the elevator call button hard enough to break it, if it hadn't been designed for various non-humans even stronger than he was. Rage burned pure and hot in the back of his brain as he wove through the halls of the basement to Files and Records.

"What the hell is up with the Tyler file?" he snapped at the young brunette girl sitting behind the desk, before the door had even closed behind him.

She looked up at him, her pleasantly plain face placid and utterly undisturbed. Her eyes went white for a moment as information, records, knowledge whizzed past behind them, then she blinked and answered calmly, "Records on Tyler, William, all present and accounted for. All security measures in place. Is this the correct file?"

"Right file, wrong security! That's my client, I want access to those files!"

White motion again, followed by a head tilt that was supposed to look human, but was too sharp and deliberate to be convincing. "Access to Tyler, William has been restricted from McDonald, Lindsey, until midnight tonight. Would you like another file?"

"No, I don't want another file," Lindsey snapped. "I want that file! Restricted by who? That's my client!"

"That information is also restricted."

"Son of a--!" He raised his fist to punch something, either the desk or the not-girl behind it, but her hand flashed to the button just out of sight, and he held himself back with an effort. The last thing he needed was to deal with Security tonight.

It took every ounce of control and skill he'd acquired in six years with Wolfram & Hart, but he made his fist unclench, forced his face to go calm and pleasant. He wanted to curse, to yell, to hurt someone bad.... He smiled instead. "Look, I'm sorry. There's been a mistake, obviously, but it's not your fault."

She judged him unblinkingly, then nodded and let her hand drop. "I don't set security protocols. I'm Files and Records."

"Right." He leaned one hip on the desk and smiled charmingly. "Look, I know you're doing your job, but there could be something serious happening with this particular client, something I need to deal with. If I have to wait for this security glitch to get ironed out, it could be too late."

"I understand," she nodded, but the flash of triumph died young. "The files will be waiting for your access at precisely midnight."

So much for charm. "Goddamnit, I need--"

Her fingers slipped back towards the panic button, and he rocketed to his feet. The file cabinets sneered at him, offering all the information he -- wanted? needed? -- locked behind a magical shield and all the red tape Wolfram & Hart could generate. Files & Records was waiting, patiently, hand still hovering, and he snarled one more curse under his breath as he slammed back out through the door.

The figure behind the desk waited for the angry footsteps to recede before picking up her extension. "Ms. Morgan? You asked to be informed when Mr. McDonald demanded access to the Tyler files...?"


He made it all the way back to his office without breaking anything or anyone, although the temptation was strong. The two young paralegals in the elevator had seemed to sense his violent mood, clinging to the corners and sliding out at the first opportunity. He threw himself into his chair and stared at his computer, still flashing the Access Restricted notice. The clock read 7:58 -- four hours until midnight. Four hours until whatever Tyler was doing was done.

Four hours until he got his own damn files back. Everything he'd given this firm, everything he'd sacrificed (time, energy, family, friendship, Cordelia, blood), and they locked him out of his own files. Didn't trust him with his own goddamn client. Told Lilah, the piranha, the bitch, who hadn't read the scroll, hadn't completed the Rising (and what had they brought back? Wasn't important), hadn't walked away from someone she--

Everything, everything he'd done for the job, and they locked him away from the job. Took his clients, took his access, took his rights.

Well, fuck them.

The rage was leashed now -- still burning, but controlled. Everything was about control, and he'd been a blind fool not to realize that. He'd given all his control into Wolfram & Hart's hands, and it was time to take a little of it back. He put on his jacket with deliberate motions, straightened his tie with three practiced jerks, and ran his hands through his hair. The window was a mirror stretching across the walls, and he watched himself throw his car keys in the air, and catch them again, the jingle barely breaking the silence in the office and the roaring in his ears.

"Fuck 'em all."

It was well past rush hour, not yet the weekend, and he made the drive back to his condo in less than twenty minutes. He tossed his jacket carelessly on the couch, tugged his tie over his head without bothering to undo it, and opened his closet door. "Jim Morrison," he said calmly, and the shallow closet suddenly became a walk-in, the back hidden by a sturdy door. He opened it with a mundane key and another incantation, and knelt to paw through the stacks of CD-ROMs stored there. Cooper, Illini, McKey, Moressh, Nodraan -- his hand paused for a moment, then moved on -- Rashad, Tyler. He retrieved the set of CDs and tapped them thoughtfully against his left hand, staring at the neat, block print. He'd labeled them himself with a black Sharpie, bought charms and hidden them against the future.

Not because he'd thought he'd need a back-up. Because he'd known he would.

He nodded once, sharply, and snatched two more disks from the top of the piles, before closing the door behind him and striding back out to his car.


Angel was pissed. He didn't know where he was, he had no idea how he'd gotten there, and he was clueless as to what the hell was going on.

But he was very, very sure about the part where he was pissed.

"Giles? Come on, wake up, Giles." It hadn't worked the last twelve times he'd hissed it, but there was no harm in trying -- it wasn't like he had anything else to do. And the twelfth time was the charm, because Giles finally woke up. Well, he blinked and his eyes almost opened, which was as close to waking up as they were going to get.

"What the bloody hell--?" he managed, through his teeth and what must have been a bad concussion, even by Giles's standards. The veins on his forehead stood out as he struggled to move.

"Don't," Angel warned him, keeping a close eye on the guards a few feet away. None of the three seemed concerned that their other prisoner was awake; that would piss him off even more if he didn't have to concede that they were probably right. He and Giles weren't a threat at the moment, sprawled on their backs on the concrete floor like puppets with cut strings. "We're under some kind of binding spell, which isn't much of a surprise, I guess. No voluntary movement below the neck, and you'll hurt yourself trying."

"Bloody hell," Giles gritted, and spent a few minutes proving Angel right. Then he stilled again, closed his eyes, and began chanting under his breath. Light began to glow dimly around his body, then abruptly died away. Giles relaxed, gasping. "Bugger it. Where are Willow and Tara when you need them?"

"Hopefully back at your condo, planning the breakout."

"I think that's a safe enough assumption." 'If no one killed them after taking us' went unsaid. "How did they get you?"

"I don't know. One second, I'm watching Buffy's back and Xander's getting thrown across the room, next second there's a big flash of light, and I'm here." He gestured with his eyes around the cavernous room. "Wherever the hell here is. I tried to keep fighting, but they slapped the binding on me too fast."

Giles nodded as well as he was able to. "They were expecting you. All of you. It was an ambush."

"Yeah. They must have hit the condo to get you. Is everyone-- Did you see...?" He still couldn't bring himself to ask, even though he had to know.

"Cordelia was unconscious, but not seriously injured, I believe," Giles said with calm detachment, as his eyes burned with bloody murder. "The other three girls were still on their feet the last time I saw them."

Cordelia and Wesley, his family. Buffy, his love. It had all been a plan, which meant these bastards had been ready, which meant they wanted something. "I swear to god, if they hurt anyone, I'm going to rip their spines out and shove them down their throats."

"Ouch." Footsteps echoes hollowly off the wall as someone walked towards them; Angel couldn't quite twist his head enough to get a look until the man knelt over them. "Sounds like that soul isn't in there all that securely, is it? That's good, that'll come in handy."

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Giles beat him to the demand.

The man smiled, smoothing his hand over his dark blond hair. "William Tyler. Pleased to meet you."

"Wish we could say the same," Angel snarled. He was willing to bet the quick movement of Tyler's right hand had been to instinctively offer it for a handshake. He had the look of a salesman, and a successful one -- a face that was handsome without being threateningly so, hair that was cut at a barber shop, not a styling salon, and thin-rimmed glasses sitting over sincere brown eyes that nearly screamed "You Can Trust Me".

"Sorry about the bindings," Tyler was saying, like he actually meant it. "But you did some damage to my people at the office and I really couldn't risk it here. Too much riding on tonight -- I know you understand about these things." He smiled again, like he really thought they'd sympathize, and Angel and Giles exchanged disbelieving looks before focusing their glares on him.

He blinked and rose, absently smoothing the creases out of his neatly-pressed chinos. "Well, maybe you don't quite understand, but that's all right. You're here and everything's going to go just fine. I would have liked to have gotten the Slayer -- bonds between Watcher and Slayer and all that -- but the vampire with a soul should do just as well. I understand you two--" he gestured between the two men at his feet "--have a bond of your own, kind of; blood and torture and all that. So, it's all good."

He checked his watch. "Only a few more hours until showtime -- can I get you two anything while we wait?" Another joint stare, this one along the lines of 'are you completely insane?', and he blinked again before grinning. "Oh, come on. I'm not a bad guy, I don't want you two to be any more uncomfortable than you have to be. Hell, if I could come up with another option, I wouldn't even sacrifice you to a demon." He shrugged easily. "You're all I've got, unfortunately, but I'll do everything I can to make it as painless as possible, I promise."

He watched them expectantly, then shrugged again when they only stared back. "Okay, well, yell if you change your minds; the guards will be around." He wandered back out the front door of the warehouse -- or at least, that was where Angel was guessing they were -- leaving them with four robed guards, two at either door.

"They'd better find us before this spell starts," Angel said finally. "Being sacrificed by the Yuppie from Hell is not what I want my entire prophesied life to have been leading up to."

"I would have preferred being eaten by the giant snake," Giles replied through his teeth. "At least that would have had some style to it. Dying at the hands of this bloody prat? I can just hear the Council's laughter now."

In total agreement for the first time in their long and checkered relationship, the two men bent their attention to escaping the spells binding them, trying to smother with outrage the sound of the clock ticking down their heads....


"Anything, Willow?" Buffy paced restlessly from front door to stairs and back, absently twirling Mr. Pointy between her fingers. She had been twirling a short sword until Tara had gently but firmly reminded her about the serious lack of space in Giles' condo, and how inflicting casualties on her own people was counterproductive. Only she hadn't said it that way, since she was Tara, not Giles.

But Buffy had to do something -- it was too dark outside, Giles and Angel had been taken too long ago, and Willow still hadn't found anything useful on the annoying and presumably-psychotic Tyler. Oh, she'd traced a few of the 'shell corporations' all the way back to his name, but none of them were based in Sunnydale, or owned property there. In desperation, Buffy had even sent Riley out to recon the office building where they'd been ambushed, but he'd reported over his cell phone only a few minutes ago that it was still abandoned, with no helpful paperwork left lying around.

"Willow? Anything?"

"No, and asking me every ten minutes isn't going to make anything magically appear," Willow snapped. Buffy stopped pacing, Xander and Anya's heads popped up over the back of the couch, Tara looked up from her pendulum and map, and Wesley actually closed his book. Willow lifted her head from her laptop at the sudden silence, and flushed slightly. "Sorry. But, not helping."

"I know, Will. I'm sorry." Buffy patted her best friend on the shoulder and resumed pacing, as everyone else went back to the business of being helpful. Sort of. Tara had narrowed down the sites of major binding magic to 12, which still wasn't spectacularly helpful; Buffy was going to start sending teams out anyway if nobody came up with anything better. Everyone else was looking for information on binding demons in general and whatshisname, Aztorath, specifically. Lots of neato-keeno information on messy victims available, it turned out, but nothing much on avoiding being one of the messy victims. Or, and much more of the pointy, saving someone else from it.

"I hate research," Buffy grumbled.

"Join the club," Cordelia said from the armchair, "and I mean that literally. If I have to get this many papercuts and dust all over my clothes, so do you."

Buffy raised her eyebrow, gesturing with Mr. Pointy toward her chest. "Me Slayer. Not Watcher. Slayer. Cranky Slayer looking for target, so don't push it, Cordy."

"Whatever." Cordelia buried her nose back in her book; any attempts she'd made since her arrival to act human had disappeared after the nasty call to the Evil Lawyer. Too bad that hadn't panned out, but like anyone was surprised? Lawyers were never good, even without the aforementioned evilness. Or was Evil Lawyer just, what was the word.... redundant?

The sudden pounding on the front door distracted her from her deep philosophical thoughts; instinctively, she grabbed her abandoned short sword with the hand not holding Mr. Pointy. Xander met her at the door as everyone else took cover (except Willow, who Buffy wasn't sure had even noticed; Buffy stood between her and the door just in case) and, on the count of three, Xander threw the door open as Buffy coiled to spring.

No cloaks. No knives, no demony scales, no fire-breathing anything. Just a not-very-tall, totally cute dark-haired guy in slacks and a dress shirt, carrying a gym bag in one hand. He looked really, really mad.

"Where's Cordelia?" he demanded, before Buffy could get her 'Who the hell are you?' out. She regrouped and opened her mouth to give the demand thing one more try. Except that Cordelia beat her to it the second time.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded, stalking across the room in full Queen Bitch of the Universe mode. "Looking for a retainer? Or did your big evil bosses send you? Well, you can take yourself back to L.A., you son of a bitch, or the Slayer will kick you there. She'll probably enjoy it -- I know I will!"

Buffy blinked at being brought into this, before taking another long look at the guy who pretty much had to be Lindsey McDonald. 'Cute,' was pretty much the only place to go. Nice blue eyes, thick hair, cheekbones, good shoulders, the possibility of a good smile when he wasn't glaring with utter hatred at his ex-girlfriend. Who was maybe not so ex, 'cause what was he doing here at 10:30 at night?

"Nobody sends me anywhere," McDonald sneered back at Cordelia, "and the Slayer can go ahead and take her best shot, but since you were the one who begged me to come, you might try being grateful."

"First of all, there was no begging involved except in your pathetic little dreams, and second -- grateful?" Nobody did a disdainful sniff like Cordelia; Buffy had tried. "The only thing you ever do is complicate my life and right now? Not really something I'm all that grateful for."

"Nor are the rest of us," Wesley said as he stood behind Cordelia. He looked pissed and kind of dangerous, which was surprising, considering it was Wesley. "I'm sure your car is still outside, and you know the way back to Los Angeles. I'd advise you take it. Now."

"Excuse me, did anyone invite you into this conversation, Wussley?"

Xander tried to repress his snicker at the familiar nickname, but failed; Wesley and Cordelia turned in unison to glare at him, and he held his hands up in apology. "Sorry, sorry, it slipped out. Can we get a verdict on whether we're happy to see this guy or not, please?"

"No," Cordelia nearly shouted, as Wesley stated, "Absolutely not."

"Fine," McDonald said, although Buffy wasn't sure how he could talk with his jaw all clenched like that. "You can sit around here and deal with Aztorath all by yourself. Not that you'll be able to find him without these," he dug a handful of CD cases from his gym bag, "but I guess watching you try will be good for a couple of laughs."

"Oh, like we care if you--"

"What are those?" Buffy ran over Cordelia's dismissal, her eyes narrowed.

"These?" McDonald smiled thinly. "Wolfram & Hart's records on one William Tyler, current through three weeks ago. Including known aliases, known accomplices and known places of operations. But since no one here is interested...."

Buffy snatched them out of his hand before he could finish being a pain in the ass. Willow's attention had been snagged sometime during the confrontation, and she already had the CD drive on the laptop open. Buffy leaned over her shoulder anxiously until the first screens came up, body tensed, waiting for a direction to fly in.

Unfortunately, the disc contained not so much directions as... gibberish. "Um, Will? Isn't this supposed to be, you know, readable? So that information can jump from it into our brains?"

"It's encrypted." Willow and Buffy turned to look at McDonald, who crossed his arms and looked back, face blank. No wonder Cordelia broke up with him.

"Decrypting things?" Buffy asked as politely as possible. Which wasn't very, but deadlines were looming. And maybe a better word choice was called for there. "Please? Or is Cordelia right and this is some kind of nasty lawyer trick? Because I gotta tell you -- so not in the mood."

McDonald hesitated, and Cordelia huffed her breath out, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. "God, Lindsey, this is just like you, driving all the way up from Los Angeles just to make people's lives miserable. Well, I sure hope you're getting overtime. Or wait -- is this part of the job description? 'When the Senior Partners tug your leash, you shall drive all the way up the coast to the Hellmouth, just to screw around with your ex-girlfriend who is already having a Really. Bad. Day!'"

Her voice rose to a screech by the end, her hands fisted at her sides and her face right up in McDonald's. Everyone winced, except McDonald, who just kept looking at her with that weird, tight, expressionless thing happening. "Got that out of your system, little girl?"

"Oh, I'm just getting started, evil scum-sucking bastard."

"Good." In a move so fast and smooth Buffy was almost jealous, he dropped his gym bag, grabbed Cordelia's upper arms, and slammed his mouth down over hers.

She had to hand it to him, Buffy thought absently as she retrieved the gym bag from the floor and fished out two more compact discs for Willow to pounce on. For an evil lawyer, he sure looked like he knew how to kiss.

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated Sesptember 21, 2009.


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