"Can sweethearts so suddenly strangers
Recapture in a moment the fire
Well, it's still the same me
Still the same you
The same two children deep down it's true...."

Cordelia would never, ever, not in a million years, confess that the shock of being in Lindsey's arms again had temporarily shut down her brain. Not for anything would she admit that the feel, the taste, the heat of him was enough to make her forget, even for just a few minutes, everything that had happened between them and everything that was currently happening outside the door. No way in hell would she ever say any of that.

Out loud.

But the truth, even if it never passed her lips, was that instead of fighting him off, she'd wrapped her arms around Lindsey's neck and lost herself in having him back. Forgotten Angel, forgotten Giles, forgotten evil law firms and Slayers and the Mission and just let herself be blindly in love again, feeling Lindsey's hand buried in her hair, the warmth of his shoulders under her fingers, his body hard against hers....

"Um, did I miss something? What's going on?"

Riley. That was Riley, somewhere behind Lindsey, sounding very confused. And it was Xander who answered, "Massive deja vu, but it could be just me."

"It's not just you." That was Willow and Buffy in unison, and was she actually making out with Lindsey in the middle of Giles's condo while the entire Scooby Gang did color commentary? Oh, this was such of the bad. But stopping would be even more of the bad....

"As touching as this little reunion is, if the Couple of the Year could stop trying to extract each other's tonsils in the middle of the room, some of us would like to try saving some lives or, maybe, the world? Sometime tonight?"

Killing bitchy, queen-of-the-universe Slayers, though? Entirely of the good. Cordelia broke away from Lindsey with the intention of glaring at Buffy, but was caught by Lindsey's eyes. She'd forgotten how blue they were, how intense, how they could burn all the way through her to her heart... At the moment, they looked as dazed and confused as she felt, and she took what satisfaction she could find in that.

"Soooo..." Xander drew out the word, "does the liplock mean we've decided to trust Lawyer Guy, or are we still undecided? Because if it's the second, we're going to have to have that little talk about dating enemies on the Hellmouth again."

"Coming from the guy who's dating the vengeance demon -- excuse me, former vengeance demon -- you'll forgive me if that's one lecture I'm so planning to skip." Cordelia's jibe didn't achieve nearly the level of venom she would have liked, but focusing on Xander would have meant moving away from Lindsey. The last time she'd moved away, it had taken weeks for him to find his way back to her.

If he actually had.

The hot rush of blood in her head cooled at the thought, and she stepped back. Just a little, just enough to let herself start thinking again, but Lindsey's hand tightened on her neck, trying to keep her close. She tried not to let the gesture touch her and didn't quite manage it.

She smiled shakily at him, then swallowed hard. "Okay. Let's try this from the top." Her voice was much firmer than she expected, and she blessed her acting lessons. "Without the grabbing and kissing."

"Whatever," Lindsey grumbled under his breath, finally dropping his hands. He shoved both hands into his pockets and wandered a few steps backwards, staring intently at the opposite wall.

"Good." She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to pull him back. "Willow? What's on the CDs? Anything that looks actually useful?"

"Oh, big time. You know, I'm spending a lot of time lately decrypting discs from these lawyer guys. Can't I teach Wesley to do this or something?" Willow didn't look up from her computer screen, which made her the only person in the room whose eyes weren't going back and forth between Lindsey and Cordelia. Even Anya looked merely interested instead of actively hostile; Buffy, damn her, looked entertained. "Anyway, names, dates, locations -- it's all here. I think we're going to get him. Tara, sweetie? Can you cast the binding-locator spell one more time? Updated information a plus."

"Consider it d-done." Tara knelt by her map again, chanting under her breath.

"Great." Cordelia took another deep breath. "Thank you for the help, Lindsey."

"Yeah," he muttered, jaw tense and still not looking at her.

"I'd feel a good bit better about this sudden change of heart if I trusted the source," Wesley said tightly. His arms crossed, he glared at Lindsey as if he could shove the lawyer out of the apartment -- and away from Cordelia -- by sheer force of will. "How do we know any of that information is accurate, rather than some new trick played by your superiors at Wolfram & Hart?"

"There's nobody at Wolfram & Hart who's superior to me," Lindsey shot back in his best 'smug bastard' voice. "And I guess you're just going to have to trust me -- unless, of course, you've got any other options? 90 minutes 'til midnight. Tick-tock."

"Assuming Tyler plans to instigate his spell at midnight," Wesley pointed out. "We have no proof that he does, unless you know something you're not telling us." 'Which wouldn't surprise me in the least' went unspoken, but didn't really need to be.

Lindsey's smirk just grew. "You know, it's a good thing I don't actually care what you think, Wussley, or my feelings would be hurt. I gave you what you wanted," he told Cordelia. "I drove all the way up here to hand it over. Now you people can do whatever you want with it. I've done my bit."

He crossed his arms over his chest, making his position very clear. Cordelia glared at him, torn between kissing him and slapping him, and slapping was currently in the lead.

Buffy's eyes rolled. "Good to know your taste in men has reverted to pre-Xander levels, Cordy."

"Yeah, they went right back up after that unfortunate interlude," Cordelia shot back.

"Wait a second, how did I get dragged into this?" Xander asked, bewildered.

Buffy heaved one of her gusty, 'poor Slayer stuck with pathetic minions' sighs, and turned back to Willow. "Wills, you're going to print out a list of locations around Sunnydale? And cross-check them with the big binding-mojo sites Tara's finding?"

"That's the plan." "We get a match, we know where we're going," Riley approved. "Nice."

"Unless it's a trap, baited by McDonald here," Wesley pointed out, obstinate as ever. With really good reasons, Cordelia had to admit, but it was still getting annoying.

Lindsey didn't say anything, apparently sticking to his 'I'm done' declaration -- what was it with her and pigheaded men? Could Buffy actually have a point about her taste? She shook her head sharply to get rid of that crazy idea.

"Look, Wesley. I get the whole 'totally paranoid about everything Wolfram & Hart' thing. I'm right there with you, in fact." Wesley cocked his eyebrows and looked speakingly at Lindsey. She sighed. "Okay, so, almost everything about Wolfram & Hart. But think about it -- is Lindsey really dumb enough to drive up here to deliver false, trap-setting information, in person? Knowing that, if we found out he'd screwed us, he'd have to take on not just a pissed-off Slayer, but me?"

She directed the last part at Lindsey, using her most threatening 'don't screw with me or you'll only wish you were dead' voice.

Lindsey looked really, really unthreatened. "Oh, you're gonna assault me now? I'm shaking in my boots, little girl."

"I think you know you should be."

"Yeah, I'm really afraid."

"Oh, please!" Anya's voice broke into the tension, making Cordelia jump a little and fall back from her nose-to-nose confrontation with Lindsey. The ex-demon had her hands on her hips and a disgusted expression on her face.

"Could we finish with the thinly-veiled sexual badinage?" Anya demanded. "As the possibly-evil lawyer pointed out, we are running out of time, and personally, I don't want any demons bigger than I was to enter this plane of existence, particularly not if it means something nasty will happen to Giles in the process. Or Angel, I suppose, but I don't know him really, so I don't care as much."

"A woman after my own heart." Lindsey grinned nastily, and Cordelia finally gave into temptation and slapped his shoulder, hard.

Something slapped back, not on her arm but in her head, and the room dissolved into a whirl of lights and faces and screams and pain. Always pain. Buffy's rage shivered through her mind like the thinnest and sharpest of blades. Xander's grief cut in after it, followed closely by Willow's terror-filled cries, bouncing around and off the inside of her head and leaving bone-deep bruises in their wake. She saw the demon, saw it rise, saw the Slayer and the Champion stand against it, over the bodies of their friends. She saw herself, sprawled lifelessly beside Anya's body and William Tyler's, and she watched helplessly as the demon reached out to swat Buffy and Angel carelessly aside, lifting his clawed arms and stepping forward into the world....

Strong arms supported her as the images flashed away, leaving only the pain behind. She'd gotten used to that, to the support of the guys she loved like she loved breathing, like she used to love her Manolo Blahnik pumps and her Prada handbag. But it was usually Wesley or Angel holding her, talking to her, trying to anchor her back in the here and now. This time, it was Lindsey.

She lay limply against his shoulder, too tired to struggle away, trying to get her bearings. She wasn't standing anymore, but sitting on something soft -- the couch? Yes, the couch, which meant someone must have carried her. Somewhere close by, she could hear Buffy, Xander and Willow having a group freak-out; from above her ear, Lindsey sharply ordered them to shut up. Miraculously, they did. Someone else knelt beside her, and she pried her eyes open to find Wesley offering four aspirin. Tara hovered behind him with a glass of water, and Cordelia took both with a weakly grateful smile.

"So, that's a vision." Buffy stood behind Tara now, her arms crossed and her face tight. "Way not of the fun, huh?"

"You have no idea," Cordelia groaned. "Of course, the head injury? Totally not helping."

"What did you see, Cordelia?" Presented with evidence of coherence, Wesley started the usual drill. She tried to answer, but Lindsey cut her off before she could get her brain together.

"Give her a second," he snarled, running his hand over her hair and tucking her in closer to his chest. God, she'd missed that. However much she loved Angel and Wes, their hugs just weren't the same. "Your damn Powers just got done playing racquetball with her head, you can wait one goddamn minute to find out what they were screaming about."

Tara -- and Buffy, surprisingly enough -- nodded in fervent agreement, before the blonde witch moved away. Cordelia rethought her strict policy of not asking anyone what she looked like in the middle of a vision because, obviously, it was even more hideous than she'd thought and she should probably be trying to work on that. Fall on her face more gracefully, or scream in a better key, or something.

"It's okay," she reassured Lindsey, struggling closer to upright, and patting him on the chest with a big smile to prove it. He looked more worried instead, which added weight to the 'visions made her look totally skanky' theory. "I'm fine."

"Yeah, right. Lie down until the aspirin kicks in."

"Look, Lawyer Boy, I know whether or not I'm fine, and we don't have time for this. So back off with the protective routine, okay?" Between worry and pain, it came out harsher than she'd intended; he dropped his arms and backed off literally, which totally wasn't what she'd meant.

"Fine," he bit out, getting back to his feet. "Be a martyr, that was always your best thing. I'm out of here."

"God, Lindsey, could you get over yourself for--"

"Guys?" Tara's voice broke hesitantly into the incipient fight, and Cordelia's throbbing headache was loudly grateful for it. "I've got three matches. And, um, there's one another that I'm not sure about...."

Fight forgotten. Wesley held Cordelia up as she joined the group huddled around Tara's map on the floor; from the corner of her eye, Cordelia saw Lindsey pause in his stomp towards the door. He looked pissed for a second, then turned and drifted back over behind everyone else like that was what he'd meant to do all along.

Glowy blue lights hovered over four points on the map, all in and around Sunnydale. Cordelia frowned at one of them, along with pretty much everyone else in the room. "So, is there a reason your spell thingie decided to light up Giles' condo?" Buffy asked.

Tara spread her hands. "It j-just appeared, this last time I cast the spell. It wasn't there b-before...." Her eyes cut apprehensively over to Lindsey.

"Before I got here." Lindsey finished for her, his voice flat.

Cordelia blinked up at him. "Excuse me? Since when did you become Mojo Guy? Aside from creepy mausoleums at midnight, and I thought that was a one-time thing."

"I'm not binding," Lindsey said tightly, as if he was fighting against every word. "I'm bound."

Wesley looked suddenly enlightened, and very smug. "Ah. Yes. Signed in blood?" Lindsey shrugged one shoulder in acknowledgment. "And the contract terms are?"

"'Til death do us part. And eternity after that, if they feel like it."

"Ah." Wesley nodded like he was confirming something, then turned back to the map as if the conversation had never happened. "Willow, which of these--"

Cordelia had less willpower, or she just cared more. "What are you talking about?" she demanded, running right over Wesley's question. "Blood? Contract terms? Is this some skanky Wolfram & Hart thing?"

"Oh, it's not limited to evil law firms," Anya said brightly. "Blood contracts are often used to seal deals to keep one of the parties from backing out when they come back to their senses. It's very--"

"Talk about it later," Lindsey told Cordelia flatly, cutting Anya's chatter off. The ex-demon pouted momentarily. "Unless you're not as hot on saving your pals as you've been claiming at the top of your drama queen lungs?"

Cordelia glared at him through narrowed eyes. "This conversation is so not over." After another long moment, to make sure he got the message, she forced herself to rejoin the others staring at the map.

"Getting anything?" Buffy asked impatiently after a few minutes.

Cordelia sat back with a sigh. "That would be a big nope. The PTB Information Hotline is closed for the day."

"What did you see in your... vision, exactly?" Xander prompted.

She closed her eyes and dutifully tried to pull the images back through the mass of pain that was her brain. "Oh, the usual -- death and destruction, big demon rising, bodies pretty much everywhere.... We were losing, by the way. Big time."

"Not loving this vision thing so far," Buffy muttered.

Wesley didn't appear to hear her. "The location, Cordelia. Do you know where they were?"

She shook her head, and immediately regretted it when the room started spinning again. She started to lean on Wes, but Lindsey's arms came around her, pulling her back against his chest. She stiffened -- no way was she done with that conversation -- but let him get away with it because she did need the support. Besides, he smelled really good.

"No address," she answered Wesley's question, "just a lot of concrete. And cars. Lots and lots of cars. Which was kind of weird," she added, her forehead furrowing. "Evil rituals? Not usually held in parking lots."

"Oh! Oh!" Willow perked up suddenly, slamming her finger down on one of the glowy spots, a mile or so from the center of town. "How about a parking structure? The one on Elmhurst and Canyon, that they built for the mall?"

"The one that's been under construction for like, two years," Xander said, leaning over her shoulder for a closer look. "Ever since we blew up the mall."

"Only half of it is under construction," Riley corrected him. "The other half is open for business. And cars. It's easy to get into, but there's a lot of hiding places. Perfect for covert activities."

"Cordelia?" Wesley asked.

"I'd say we've got a winner." God knew the architecture had been ugly enough to be a parking structure.

"Okay, that's our target." Buffy stood, her hands working like they were already wrapped around a weapon. "Let's go get Giles and Angel back."

"And kick some demon butt in the process," Xander agreed, starting to paw through the weapons stash in Giles' closet.

"Shouldn't we maybe come up with a plan first?" Riley suggested, although he didn't refuse the taser Buffy tossed to him.

"Plan?" Cordelia asked facetiously. "This is the Scooby Gang; perhaps you've met them? They don't do plans."

"Actually, I do have a plan," Buffy contradicted her, hefting an ax. "Go in. Beat up humans stupidly summoning big ugly demon. Get Giles and Angel. Leave. Possibly burning things down on the way out. All in favor?"

"Aye," Xander, Anya and Willow seconded instantly, hands shooting into the air. Riley's hand went up after a resigned moment. Tara looked unhappy, but also resigned.

"Do we sound like this when we're about to be totally reckless and stupid?" Cordelia asked Wesley.

"Yes," Lindsey answered.

Cordelia shoved away from him, swaying for a moment before she caught her balance. "Like you'd know. And who asked you, Mr. I'm So Out of Here?"

"God, enough with the bickering already!" Buffy glared at both of them. "You sound like you're in kindergarten. Okay, fine, we need a plan. What brilliant ideas does anyone have for this?"

"First, we need to try to remember the floor plan of the parking structure." Riley took over immediately. "How many levels, how many entrances, are there any hidden areas big enough for a ritual...?" He trailed off as everyone looked at him. "You get the idea."

"Wow. Guess he's not just a pretty face," Cordelia observed with a slow smile of appreciation. Riley blushed, Buffy moved possessively closer to him, and Lindsey looked pissed. Ooo, three for three. Nice to know she hadn't lost her touch.

Fifteen frantic minutes was all Buffy was willing to allow them, and even then she never stopped pacing towards the door and back. Riley drew a rough floor plan over the back of the map with a pen swiped from Giles' desk; after a brief debate between Xander and Riley about how many SUVs would fit on one level (as a way of measuring square footage, it had problems), everything was more or less sorted out. Emphasis on the "less".

"Riley, you're sure about the employees' entrance in back?" Buffy asked for the third time.

"I'm sure; we made patrols through the structure about once a month when the Initiative was still operating. Vampires liked to hang out there, and ambush people leaving the mall."

"Okay. Then Willow and Tara and Anya will go in through that door. Quietly," she stressed, looking at each of the three in turn. "You're our aces in the hole -- we need you to be able to break up whatever big magic they've got going when we get there. Anya, you'll know what to look for, right?"

Anya shrugged. "One demonic summoning ritual is pretty much like another. I'll be able to tell you where they are in the process, at least."

"Great," Willow chirped sarcastically. "So we'll know if we're too late."

"Willow." The witch subsided under Buffy's stern look. "Okay, Wesley and Xander will stay with the Magic Patrol; if things go wrong, I want you guys protecting them, and watching our backs."

"Of course," Wesley said and Xander added, "You got it, Buff."

"Cordy, you're with me and Riley, at least until we get to the second level. If anything you saw in your vision comes back to you, you need to tell us right away. Then, as soon as the fight starts, you get back with the others and see if you can do any damage from the rear."

"Whatever." No one ever let her be in on the fighty parts. Not that she particularly wanted to be, but it wasn't like she was totally incompetent.

"Riley and I will start a distraction from above and in front of them; hopefully, that'll confuse them enough to give the rest of you a clear shot. First priority is to rescue Giles and Angel. We need to get them clear so this doesn't turn into a hostage situation."

"And if the demon has already risen?" Wesley asked, his voice nearly expressionless. "And has begun attacking?"

Buffy's lips tightened. "Then Angel and Giles are still our first priority. If there's still a chance to save them, we will; I'm not going to let them die to save a bunch of Hellmouth wanna-bes with more magic than brains. If not, then that demon isn't going to be the only one making with the bloodshed. Any questions?" Her cold eyes challenged any of them to disagree; no one did.

"That's your plan?"

Except Lindsey, of course.

"Two people make a suicide attack on an armed and dangerous demonic cult, while two witches try to undo the ritual they've been working on for three months? That's it?"

Buffy gave him her best 'I'm the Slayer, don't mess with me' glare -- hands on her hips, feet apart, head high. "It's a small, simple plan, but I like to call it my own. And I don't have time for a debate."

"How about time for some facts?" Lindsey shot back. "One: Tyler hasn't had a lot of time to put this together, but last time, he had built up a cult of almost 75 followers. If he has fewer than 25 people this time, I'll be very surprised. That's 25 against 2." Lindsey started pacing around like he was in a courtroom, ticking things off on his fingers. It was a good look for him, except for the part where Buffy was going to damage him. "Two: a lot of those people are going to be at least as good with the spell-slinging as your witches here. They'll have maybe one shot before the bad guys are crawling all over them. Three: This isn't some nest of brainless vampires. This is a smart guy who knows you're gunning for him, and he's on his own territory -- he will have guards posted, and he will have wards all over the place. Can you find and take out all of them, without the alarm going off? Because if you miss even one, you can kiss your ambush good-bye. And did I mention the hostages that will probably be sitting right in the middle of ground zero?"

He stopped a few feet from Buffy, a smug lawyer certain he'd just won his case. And he actually had the nerve to smirk. "Did I miss anything?""

"Are you finished?" Buffy asked, her lips tight and her face white with fury or fear. Everyone else looked pretty much the same except for Riley, who was obviously giving serious consideration to just shooting Lindsey and removing the problem. "Because two people I love are about to die, and I don't have time to listen to you enjoy the sound of your own voice. Either give me a better idea, or get out of my way before I remove you."

"She's right, Lindsey," Cordelia cut him off before he could say something that would make things worse, getting between him and Riley's weapons. "You're not helping. We know all of this, and it doesn't matter. Angel and Giles are going to die in a little less than an hour. We have to go."

"Great." Lindsey nodded, all smugness abruptly absorbed back into pissed. The muscle in his jaw twitched in the familiar 'I'm losing this argument and I hate that' way. "And you're going to race over and die along with them. So, what? I'm just supposed to let you charge out of here on yet another suicide mission? Maybe stay home and knit while you get yourself killed?"

Cordelia shrugged, and picked up one of the tasers Riley had shown her how to use that afternoon. "You've done it before."

Lindsey's eyes hardened. "Low blow. That was before I knew you, Cordelia, you know--"

Buffy cut him off this time. "All I know is that we. Have. To. Go."

She stalked purposefully towards the door. The others followed her in ones and twos, eyes averted from Lindsey. Cordelia started to brush past him towards the door, but Lindsey abruptly snapped, catching her arm and pulling her back.

"No, damn it!" He grabbed her other shoulder and yanked her in close to his face. "I did not come up here to watch you go get yourself killed. You are not doing this."

"And you do not get to give me orders!" Cordelia fought against his grip, and his hands tightened to the point of pain. "Damn it, Lindsey--"

"Let her go. Now." Xander's voice sounded very adult all of a sudden, standing shoulder to shoulder with Willow and Wes, challenging Lindsey to resist.

Lindsey ignored them, his fists tightening and loosening on her arms; she bet she'd have bruises later. "I am not letting you go get killed," he repeated through gritted teeth. His eyes were wild, like he wasn't actually seeing her, too absorbed in whatever nightmare was playing out in his head. Fear and love and guilt fought in the blue depths she'd spent nights gazing into; it was the only thing that kept her from kicking him where it counted to free herself. She stopped fighting instead.

"Lindsey--" Wesley started forward threateningly.

"I can handle this," Cordelia snapped at him, never letting her eyes leave Lindsey's. "Go catch up with Buffy. Now!" she added when the other three hesitated. They went reluctantly, Wesley still glaring back over his shoulder.

"And you!" She said sharply to her boyfriend -- ex-boyfriend? person of undetermined relationship? -- when they were gone. "You're hurting me, let go!" She wrenched at his hands again, and stumbled backwards when he immediately released her. "Thank you! God! What is up with you? Did you get an overdose of testosterone with your evil coffee this morning?"

"I'm sorry, all right?" It didn't sound much like an apology, coming out on a near shout like that. He stalked a few steps away, then turned back, shoving one hand through his hair and glaring at her. But his eyes were suddenly sane again, if still afraid. "I admit it, I'm losing it here. I've been losing it since I met you! But it's the same damn story, isn't it? First you kiss me, then you walk out on me to try to get killed. Are you seeing a pattern here?"

"The only pattern I see is the one where I'm going out to fight evil, and you're sitting on your ass waiting to see who'll survive to pay your retainer!" Okay, so that might have been a little harsh. Cordelia drew herself up straight and glared back anyway.

"Pardon me for not being actively suicidal!" Lindsey shot back. "How are you gonna do your buddy Angel any good if all of you get killed trying to rescue him? Huh? Or maybe you'll just wind up back in the hospital again, and I can come visit again, and hope that next time isn't the time I have to collect your body from the damn morgue because you were on some... damn-fool idealistic crusade!"

Something clenched in her heart at the passion in his voice, and she bit down on it hard. She didn't have time for this, not now, no matter how much she loved him. And she was just starting to realize how much that was. "Quoting Star Wars never won anyone an argument."

Lindsey's eyes flared with something ugly and she took a prudent step backwards. She was almost totally sure he'd never hit her, but some days, it didn't pay to push things. "Look, Lindsey! I really don't have time for this. I have to help my friends, and I'm really, really sorry you don't get that. But it's not open for debate." He tried to break in, and she held her hand up. "What would you do if it were me?"

He started to answer, stopped, then tried again, his fists opening and clenching at his sides. No words came out. She smiled sadly and picked her taser back up from where she'd dropped it. She wanted to kiss him, to explain, to try one last time to make him understand, but there just wasn't any time.

52 minutes to midnight and counting. She swallowed hard and walked past him. "Just... just wait here until we get back, okay? We can talk or fight or whatever you want to do after all this is over. Just don't disappear on me again."

She left him there, standing helplessly in the middle of the room. The door had almost closed behind her when he suddenly burst out, "Wait!"

She stopped, but didn't turn around. His words sounded as if they were being dragged out of him. "I've got a better plan."

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated September 22, 2009.


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