"Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the nightman
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave...'"

The light on his mobile phone blinked again, flashing its endless alert that someone was trying very hard to get hold of Lindsey McDonald. It was barely seven in the morning, he figured from the light coming in through the windows, but he'd already seen at least six calls. And he'd been asleep before that, so who knew how many more were waiting.

He didn't need to actually answer the phone. It wasn't like he didn't know exactly what the messages would say.

Cordelia murmured something, and he he shifted his gaze down to where she lay curled in his arms, the smooth curves of her shoulders outlined against the sheets, her hair spread over the pillow and over him. He tightened his arms, pulling her in closer -- just enough to feel her warmth against his skin, not enough to wake her. Her eye was still a rainbow of blue and purple, the lump on her head still tender. He shouldn't have taken her to Caritas, much less kept her up half the night, wrapped in each other.

But he'd come so damn close to losing her, gone from no future at all to something that almost seemed possible -- at least while Cordelia was next to him, when he could lose himself in her and pretend love really did conquer all.

Which was crap, but damned if he didn't want to believe it. How the hell had he gotten here?

And how the hell was he going to survive it?

The light on his phone flashed again, and Lindsey stared at it until it stopped. Then he drew in a last deep breath of air, warm with Cordelia's heat and scent, and let it out slowly before beginning to disentangle himself from her arms.

She resisted, her face crinkling into a stubborn expression even in her sleep as she tried to hold on to him. But between the head injury and the exhaustion of the previous few days, she didn't wake up. Lindsey breathed again in relief, and leaned over to brush a kiss across her mouth, before he headed for the shower.

She slept through that, too; slept through Lindsey shaving and and carefully styling his hair. His eyes in the mirror were still red, but a rim of blue was beginning to show around his pupil. He met them steadily, and set his jaw. "Okay," he told the guy in the mirror. "Time to go."

Lindsey got dressed quietly, but carefully, every crease perfect, the knot in his tie exactly even. Then he went back to his closet, and almost silently chanted the incantations that revealed the storage area in the depths behind his carefully hung suits.

The key he left on the nightstand, where Cordelia would see it when she woke up. Just a little insurance, he told himself. Just in case.

Maybe he'd walk away from this alive, maybe he wouldn't. But Cordelia would be protected. He knelt beside the bed and shifted a piece of hair away from her eyes, watching her sleep, putting off the inevitable as long as he could. The sheet had moved, slipping down her back, and he traced his fingers a breath above her sun and moon tattoo..

"See you soon, babe," he whispered, brushing his lips over her shoulder. She shifted and sighed, but didn't wake, and he forced himself to stand up.

He locked the door behind himself when he left.

As he waited for the elevator, he took out his mobile phone, dialing a much hated number from memory. It went to voice mail, because of course Angel had left his phone off again. Damn vampire.

"It's Lindsey. Cordelia's at my place. She's going to need a lift home. Tell her her stuff's in the closet."

He turned off the phone, stowed its antennae, and got in the elevator without looking back at his door.

The drive to the office didn't take any thought, which gave Lindsey time to run through his plan again and again. It wasn't much of a plan -- just blackmail, mostly. Just betting that Wolfram & Hart would be more interested in not having the legal records of half their high-end client base sent to the LA Times and the FBI, than in dealing with a wayward employee.

Ex-employee. Shit. This was such a bad idea. He should have just grabbed Cordelia, shoved her in the car, and run. He knew the places Wolfram & Hart couldn't go, he knew how to stay away from them. They'd survive.

But surviving would be all they'd do, and they'd never stop running. Assuming Cordelia would even go in the first place, which she wouldn't -- the woman escaped from the Hellmouth, and immediately started fighting evil in LA. No self-preservation, none, no matter how much she tried to play off the vain and selfish routine. And then there were the PTB, and whatever plans they had for their Seer. No way to run from that; he knew that too goddamn well.

Those were all the unselfish reasons for walking back into the lions' den, all the good and noble reasons. But they were only half the story; Lindsey was through with fooling himself. He was pissed off, furious, ready to take Holland Manners apart with his bare hands. He'd be betrayed, tampered with, had his life screwed with one too many times. If he got nothing else, he was going to look Holland in the eye, and spit in his face.

He thought Cordelia might understand. He was pretty sure she wouldn't. But that was why he'd left her asleep.

He pulled through the parking garage entrance and discovered that his reserved spot was still there. For now. He parked the Porsche, straightened his tie with a quick jerk, then got out and strode towards the elevator as if he owned the building, not giving himself any more time to think about what he was doing. He was Lindsey McDonald. King of the World.

Bring it on.


Good news spread fast; as Lindsey left the elevator and strolled towards Holland's office, he saw the stares and sudden outbreaks of whispering and, worse, saw the suits that scuttled past him without making eye contact, as if his situation would rub off on them.

He ignored all of them, focusing on keeping his expression blank. Holland had to know the blood contract had been broken; the Senior Partners couldn't have missed that, and would have been screaming since last night. But how much Holland knew about the circumstances would determine how this meeting went. And how it ended.

"Sounds like you had an interesting day off." Lilah sidled up to him with a smirk on her lips. "Oooo," she added as she caught a look at his face. "Didn't they tell you 'catching the red eye' is just an expression? That looks nasty."

Lindsey didn't bother to break stride, or even look at her. "Go back to your office, Lilah. You don't want to be in on this meeting."

"Too late." Her smirk widened. "Holland already asked me in. Maybe he needs a witness."

"Or a bodyguard," Lindsey said through his teeth. "Whatever. It's your funeral."

She blinked a little, but recovered, and stayed right beside him all the way to Holland's office. Holland's secretary was on the phone when they reached her; she looked up at him, said, "No, sir, he's here," into the receiver, then hung up and stood. "He's been waiting for you, Mr. MacDonald." It was a clear warning -- Holland wasn't happy.

Well, that was fine with Lindsey. He wasn't real happy either.

"Then let's not keep him waiting any longer." He refused to straighten his tie, or his hair, or make any other motion that might betray him. It was like going into court, but he was the defendant this time. Unless he managed to switch to the prosecution.

Holland stood up from his desk as soon as Lindsey came through the door. "Lindsey, thank god," he said with every sign of genuine concern. "You have no idea how worried we've been."

Lindsey stopped mid-stride, completely thrown. He'd been anticipating a totally different lead-in, something along the lines of death threats and eternal damnation. Holland came around his desk, extending his hand to pat Lindsey's shoulder, then clasp it in a paternally firm grip. From the corner of his eye, Lindsey caught Lilah's expression -- she looked as stunned as he was trying not to look.

Totally off his prepared defiant script, Lindsey let Holland guide him to the chair in front of his desk. He gestured Lilah to the chairs by the window; she settled herself carefully, visibly regathering her composure. Holland leaned back against his desk, staying right in front of Lindsey. "Now, tell us what happened to you, Lindsey. All kinds of alarms went off two nights ago; for all we knew, you were dead. Then you don't answer your phone for an entire day, one of your clients turns up dead in Sunnydale, and no one knows where you've gotten to. You can imagine how concerned we were, Lindsey."

And looking at Holland's mild face, wrinkling around the eyes with what looked like actual emotion, Lindsey almost believed him. Almost. He relaxed into his chair and tried to look like he'd been through a fight, which wasn't hard. The hard part was looking like he thought he was safe now.

And maybe Holland didn't actually know what had happened to Tyler. Knowledge was power, and spin was everything.

"I went up to Sunnydale to check on my client, William Tyler," he started, in his best detached, professional tone. "I was worried when I couldn't access his files; I wanted to make sure he wasn't getting in over his head, so I offered my assistance. I was surprised to find Angel there, ready to be sacrificed--" It took an effort to keep his voice flat. "--but honestly, I was really looking forward to the show."

Holland chuckled with warm understanding. "It's good when we enjoy our work, Lindsey."

"Yeah." Lindsey didn't trust himself to expand on that. "Unfortunately, I was right to be worried. Tyler's dealings with the demon Aztorath went completely out of control when the Slayer managed to free Angel. The protective circle was broken in the ensuing battle, and Aztorath was released from the binding. He killed Tyler. There wasn't anything I could do to save him." He tried to sound broken up about that, and might have pulled it off. Or Holland was just really working at projecting the sympathy now.

"Sometimes, clients get themselves into situations even we can't save them from," Holland said, shaking his head and sighing. "I'm sure you did your best for him.... Your eyes look terrible, Lindsey, how did that happen?"

And there it was -- the edge to Holland's voice under the concern, the part he'd been leading up to with all this fake bonhomie. Lindsey almost smiled, hid it under fake exhaustion, and settled himself a little more deeply in his chair, back on familiar ground. "Aztorath is a binding demon. When the spell got out of hand, I must have gotten caught in the backlash. I tell you, Holland, that was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. Like I was being torn apart inside. I still don't know what happened, or how I survived, much less walked away with just these red eyes." The last part came out with utter sincerity; he shook his head in entirely unfeigned amazement.

Holland nodded with narrowed eyes, thinking too furiously to remember to keep projecting the fatherly image. "Our sorcerers thought it might be something along those lines; I'm so sorry you had to go through that, Lindsey. I'm going to send you down to HR, and we're going to see to it that the damage is undone.

"No, no," he held his hand up when Lindsey straightened, cutting off any potential protest. "We always have time to take care of our own, Lindsey. Once you're feeling better, we'll reconvene and you can brief me on the Aztorath ceremony. His power is a great loss to the firm, although Tyler was obviously the wrong man to be controlling it. But we'll address that once we know exactly what went wrong."

Holland stood up straight and gestured towards Lilah, who was managing to keep her face almost entirely blank, but a small smirk still played around her lips. She never did have a decent court face, Lindsey observed dispassionately. "Lilah, please help Lindsey down to HR; tell them to proceed as we discussed."

"Of course, Holland," Lilah said, starting to walk over to Lindsey.

Lindsey held up a hand to stop her. Instead of getting up, he stretched his legs out, crossing his ankles. He wasn't going anywhere, and he made sure his body language screamed it.

"Lindsey?" Holland asked, the mild geniality cracking a little to show the steel underneath. "HR has a very tight schedule."

"I'm sure they do," Lindsey said easily, "but renewing a blood contract has got to be a big drain on their resources. And you know, I'm not really looking to sell my soul back to Wolfram & Hart." He templed his hands together, and looked up over them at Holland. "Kind of found some uses for it."

Holland managed to keep his face blank, but not by much. Fury radiated from underneath it. "Lindsey, I think we've been very understanding about this whole Tyler contretemps." A royal We there, invoking the wrath of the Senior Partners. As if Lindsey cared any more. "But certain deals were made when you came here to Wolfram & Hart. We've upheld our end; I'd hate to think you were turning your back on your obligations."

Lindsey didn't blink at the threat in the last words, just looked thoughtful, then shook his head slowly. "No... no, I don't think I am. You see, Holland, when you lock away files on my own client, I take that as you not living up to your end. And when you cast binding spells to steal my memories -- I'm looking at that as a definite contractual breach."

He slammed his feet hard against the floor and jolted upright, abruptly done with these stupid games. He was done with all of this crap. "You fucked me over," he gritted, inches from Holland's face. "I was loyal! I completed the Raising, I brought Darla back for you -- hell, I defending the son of a bitch who attacked my girlfriend! And I get paid back by having my memories locked away, my clients blocked, my right to continue with the Darla project stolen. And now you stand there and want to talk to me about loyalty?"

Lindsey took one step closer to Holland, so close in the older man's face he couldn't see anything else. "You can go to hell -- you know the way."

Holland had gone white with rage; even Lilah had taken a few steps back, out of range. Her smirk was gone, and she looked warily between the two men, probably trying to figure out how to make it to the door. Lindsey didn't care; his attention was on his former boss.

"I'm very disappointed in this attitude, Lindsey," Holland finally said. "There are things that need to be done for the good of the firm; we all make sacrifices. You always knew that."

"I do now," Lindsey agreed, turning away sharply. "And I've made my last sacrifice. I quit."

Holland's eye twitched. "That's not an option for you, I'm afraid."

Lindsey just smiled, the same way he smiled at a DA he was about to annihilate. "Watch me. My blood contract is broken; you've got nothing to hold me anymore."

"Unfortunately, your soul is lost to us," Holland acknowledged. "It's a shame; we could have done great things with that kind of power. But I think you'll find we have other ways of punishing recalcitrant former employees." He stepped back, abruptly genial and amused again. "Did you really think you could spit in our faces and then just walk away, Lindsey? That's much more naivete than I expect from you. Your girlfriend is obviously a bad influence; I did warn you."

"Yeah, you did me some real favors, Holland." Lindsey's smile wasn't shaken. "And now I'm going to do you one. I'm going to tell you what will happen to this firm if I don't walk out those doors."

"Oh, really." Holland gave him an indulgent, patronizing look. "I'm all ears."

"Good. You'll want to pay attention." Lindsey sauntered past Lilah to the windows, deliberately casual. He could feel Holland's glare boring into his back. "See, I'm not naive at all. In fact, I'm very good at my job, and the reason I'm good, is because I plan for contingencies."

He stared out the window for a second, just long enough to make his point, then shoved his hands in his pockets and turned back towards Holland. "I made backups. Every client file that crossed my desk, I made copies and I tucked them away someplace nice and safe. Every single one of them."

Lilah gaped at him. "You're lying. No one can copy the client files; they're encrypted and enchanted, with multiple levels of security. Files & Records is unbreakable."

Lindsey smirked at her. "See, this is why I was on the way up, Lilah. Because I have contacts. I know people who know people who eat encryption and enchantments for lunch." He stopped to consider that. "Literally, actually."

"You're lying," Lilah maintained. "He's lying, Holland."

Lindsey shook his head at her. "How do you think I knew where Tyler was holding his little ritual? Holland here locked me out of the firm's files, but not mine."

Baiting Lilah was fun, but beside the point. He focused on Holland again, wandering back across the room. "I don't walk out of here, those copies start getting delivered to a lot of interesting places. Like, every client they concern. You think they'll have a problem with copies of their deepest, darkest secrets being delivered by courier to their doorsteps? Or, even better, to the LAPD and the DA's office? That's a hell of a lot of damage control, even for Wolfram & Hart. A hell of a lot of angry clients who could tear this place apart if they wanted."

Lindsey was back in front of Holland again, back in his former mentor's face. "And what would the Senior Partners think, seeing as how it'll all happen on your watch?" He smiled again. "How bad do you want me to go down, Holland? Bad enough to destroy yourself and a chunk of this firm in the process?"

He waited for Holland's answer, keeping his eyes on the other man's face, not bothering to hide his confidence. He'd waited a long time for this, longer than even he'd ever known. Since he'd met Cordelia, since the Raising, maybe even since the day he'd started work. Damn, it felt good.

When Holland finally answered, his voice was very even and very quiet; Lindsey had to strain to hear him. "You think you're very clever, don't you?" the other man asked, almost conversationally. "Yes, I can see that you do. Enjoy that feeling for a moment because, unfortunately, you're not nearly as clever as you think you are."

Lindsey's eyes narrowed, a little of his smug triumph draining away. Holland smiled. "Do you think you're the first associate to copy our files? Do you think we didn't know every time one of those files left this building?" He shook his head slowly, his smile turning sad. "Lindsey, Lindsey.... The firm appreciates initiative, we appreciate an associate who can think ahead. But blackmail? I'm afraid that's not something we can tolerate."

Lindsey was shaken, but tried not to show it. "So you knew I've got the files. You don't know where they are, and you won't find them before they go out."

Holland's smile this time was wide and cheerful. He actually clapped Lindsey on the shoulder. "Oh, I think the retrieval squad I sent to your home after you'd left this morning should do the job. Krakanth demons are very thorough, you know, if a bit... destructive. Still, the etheric locater markers on the files are easy enough to track." His grip tightened, digging in, as he said piously, "I hope your girlfriend was able to make it out before they got there. It could be... very ugly for her if she didn't."

Cordelia. Lindsey's heart stopped. He groped automatically for his cell phone, then stopped when he remembered it was still lying in the car downstairs -- so Cordelia couldn't call and yell at him when she woke up. He'd left her sleeping, alone, and her Seer gifts wouldn't do a damn thing against a Krakanth patrol.

"You son of a bitch." His voice was flat, almost dead -- right before he lunged for Holland's throat.

The older man fell back under the assault; Lindsey had a moment to really enjoy feeling his hands choking the life out of Holland, before security burst through the door and pulled him off, driving him to his knees with heavy blows.

He glared up at Holland, shaking blood off of his forehead and watching it spatter on the carpet with bitter satisfaction. Cordelia. Holland smiled down at him, straightening his tie as if nothing had ever happened. At least his face was flushed, and there would be bruises around his neck. Not that Lindsey would live to see them.

"I guess that means Miss Chase was still there," Holland said calmly. "Such a shame, the firm had plans for her, as well. Still, the death of his Seer should badly cripple Angel. Yes," he nodded to himself, making his way back to his desk without another glance at Lindsey, bleeding in front of him. "I think this is all going to work out just fine."

Lindsey barely heard him over the screaming in his own head. He'd gotten her killed, gotten both of them killed. Cordelia....

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated September 28, 2009.


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