"Too much done to undo
No one I can run to
I need one more chance
To live my life again..."

If Holland didn't stop pacing genially around his office, chit-chatting like he was at a damn cocktail party, Lindsey was going to rip the man's throat out with his bare hands.

He'd have to get past the two security guys Holland had called into the office -- one of them was standing over Lindsey's chair as if he could read his mind, hands holding him in his chair with a bruising grip on his shoulders -- but maybe he'd get killed trying, and that might count as a win. Considering Wolfram & Hart's usual methods for dealing with useless employees... yeah, that would definitely be a win.

And if Cordelia was dead, it would probably be all the win he'd ever get again.

There was a constant movement of employees in the waiting area outside Holland's office, as the more courageous and more suicidal of his former coworkers decided to check out Lindsey's fall from grace. Gloating, maybe, or reassuring themselves that it wasn't happening to them -- yet.

Lilah saw Lindsey glaring at the open doorway, and leaned in close to his ear. "If you can't be a good example," she purred, a smug laugh running under her voice, "you'll just have to be a horrible warning, won't you?"

Lindsey turned his head slowly, and just looked at her. When the feline grin faded a little and she leaned back, he told her flatly, "And how long do you think you'll last before you become a warning, Lilah? I give you two years. If you get lucky."

And he wasn't even making that up for effect. He'd long ago calculated Lilah's odds of survival, and they weren't good. She was good at pretending she had the brains and the ruthlessness, but weakness ran through her like cracks in a crumbling foundation. He'd always known which of them would win.

And so did she. Her lips went tight and she crossed her arms. "Is your little girlfriend worth this, Lindsey? Worth dying for, or whatever the Senior Partners do to make you wish you were dead?"

Lindsey smiled, aware it probably looked more like a death's-head grin. Lilah flinched back from it. "I make my choices, Lilah -- not Cordelia, and not Wolfram & Hart. They never got that. Neither did you."

Holland had ignored the entire exchange, speaking to a minion who kept shaking her head, as if delivering bad news. Holland finally sighed, and dismissed her with a wave of his hand. "Well, he said regretfully, turning back to Lindsey, "the Krakanth demons appear to be taking their time reporting in -- honestly, they're so unreliable for everything that isn't crush, kill, destroy. But I really haven't got the whole morning to waste on this, so let's get things wrapped up."

He sighed, shaking his head mournfully, his bloodhound eyes sad. "Lindsey, Lindsey... I had plans for you, son, big plans. I thought you, of all people, could see the bigger picture, and I truly am disappointed in you."

Lindsey thought about that, tilting his head to the side. "You know, Holland," he finally said, meeting the other man's eyes, "that's probably the nicest thing you've ever told me."

Holland's mouth twisted, then he snorted, and started softly laughing. "I would expect nothing less from you, Lindsey. I really will remember you fondly." He stood and brushed his hands together, once, twice, as if brushing away the entire business. "Take him down to Human Resources," he told the two security minions. "Tell them to find the way Mr. McDonald can best continue serving the firm. And be sure a memo gets circulated afterwards."

"Yes, sir." The guy behind Lindsey dug his hands deeper into Lindsey's shoulders, dragging him awkwardly to his feet. Lindsey got his feet under himself and came around the back of the chair -- then abruptly threw himself backwards against the minion.

Unprepared, he stumbled, and Lindsey twisted free of one of his hands. He jammed his elbow backwards into the other man's gut, trying to get clear enough for a head shot, and almost made it. But then the other minion got there, seizing his arm and twisting it into a hammerlock. The pain froze Lindsey for a crucial second, and then it was all over.

Holland tsk'd as he watched the minions finish securing Lindsey, and begin dragging him towards the door. "You've already made this harder than it has to be, Lindsey. There's nothing you can do now."

Lindsey answered that with another lunge that didn't do any good -- but he had the satisfaction of seeing Holland flinch.

His former boss shook his head again, but whatever other stupid, fatuous things he might have had to say were abruptly cut off by the persistent alarm that suddenly started hooting through the office. Holland's head whipped around towards Lilah. "That's the vampire alarm," he realized. "Call the shaman and find out where the intruder is. Now!"

Lilah nodded and started moving, but an associate Lindsey vaguely recognized came running through the door before she could go more than a few feet. "Mr. Manners, you need to see the security feed. The lobby -- there's a problem!"

Holland's face went hard and he spun towards his desk, twisting his monitor around and bringing the security feed up. The feed was video and sound -- nothing but the best for Wolfram & Hart -- and Lindsey could hear several voices yelling frantically. He could barely make out the shapes of minions running around and shouting into radios -- and one overly ambitious minion being thrown into a wall by a dark figure in a black trenchcoat.

And over it all, he heard a loud, clear, determined voice, reading off what sounded like... like Lindsey's client files.

Holy crap, Lindsey thought through the sudden rushing sound in his head. Cordelia. She's alive. And she brought the freakin' cavalry.


Cordelia breezed through the front doors of Wolfram & Hart with her chin high and a confident smile firmly in place, completely ignoring her wrinkled clothes and the small bloodstains, and expecting everyone else to do the same. It's just like being back in high school, she thought in the back of her mind that wasn't occupied with freaking out and pretending that she wasn't freaking out. Act like you belong and no one will question it.

She was even trailing an entourage behind her -- okay, an entourage consisting of a skinny English guy and a gangbanger, but Wes could do the stuffy British thing and stare anyone down when he felt like it it, and Gunn was almost as good as Angel at looking menacing.

The security guards bought it; she sailed past them without getting a second look, and made a mental note that W&H had lousy door guards; you never knew when that would come in handy. Unfortunately, the receptionist was made of sterner stuff.

"Miss!" She called when Cordelia tried to head straight for the elevators. Two security guards, paying more attention than their front door counterparts, blocked the access to the elevator. Cordelia gave them an offended look which didn't budge them even a little, then gave a put-upon sigh and turned slowly back towards the receptionist, making it quite clear how much she resented this wasting of her time.

The receptionist didn't look totally impressed, but she did look more polite. "I'm sorry, Miss, I need to sign you in. May I ask who you're here to see?"

Cordelia made a show of considering that, like she was deciding whether or not to bother. Finally, she sighed again. "I'm here to see Lindsey McDonald's supervisor," she said condescendingly.

"His name?" the receptionist prompted.

Cordelia smiles with lots of teeth. "You don't have that information at your fingertips? Wow, how did you get this job?" Wesley threw her a sideways look and Cordelia shrugged one shoulder a little bit.

Come to think of it, Wes had never really seen her in full-on Queen C mode, back in the day; it was actually kind of fun flexing the old bitch muscles. Gunn looked for a second like he wanted a bowl of popcorn, before he went back to exchanging bad-ass stares with security guards.

The receptionist gritted her teeth, but kept the polite smile pasted on; Cordelia was a little impressed. "I presume you know the name of the person with whom you have an appointment."

Ooo, good grammar, even. She should introduce this woman to Giles. "If he knew I was coming, believe me, I'd have an appointment. Call up to him, tell him Cordelia Chase is here, and tell him he really, really wants to see me."

The receptionist studied her through narrowed eyes, then shook her head. "I'm sorry, miss, I'm not about to disturb a partner because someone who doesn't know his name wants to see him. You'll have to contact your party and make an appointment."

Well, she hadn't really expected it to be that easy. Bureaucracies, even demonic ones, never were. Or was demonic bureaucracy an oxymoron? Cordelia sighed again and shook her head, smiling with fake sympathy at the other woman. "Well, I tried to do it the easy way," she said cheerfully. "Guess we'll have to do it the hard way."

"Yes, something new and different," Wes muttered under his breath, but opened the briefcase he was carrying. Cordelia flashed him another winning smile, settled herself on one of the leather couches in the middle of the room, and started sorting through the folders (supplied by Kinko's at a totally high mark-up) looking for just the right one.

"Miss, I'm sorry, without an appointment, you can't just sit here." The receptionist hadn't come out from behind her desk, but her hand was hovering over the phone like she was three seconds from calling in reinforcements. The guards from the elevator started to walk purposefully towards Cordelia, and Gunn and Wesley met them a few feet away, both looking kind of really threatening.

"We're going to have to ask you to leave," the older security guard said calmly, his hand hovering over something on his hip that didn't look like a gun, but was probably a weapon anyway.

Wes raised an eyebrow, and Gunn snorted. "And we're supposed to be so scared that we just turn around and run away? I don't think so, man."

The guard took a step closer. "This doesn't need to be a problem," he said, his voice harder. Gunn and Wes didn't move, even when two more security guards came off the elevator.

Cordelia had been mostly ignoring the whole thing, trusting Gunn and Wes to watch her back. She finally found the folder she wanted -- labeled "Moressh" -- as even as the receptionist finally left her desk and came hustling over in 3-inch heels, still insisting they had to leave. Ignoring her, Cordelia started to read out loud in her best "project to the back seats" voice. Which not a single person had ever been able to criticize.

"Client name: Moressh. Ooo, we have a really bad man here. Trafficking in drugs through a dimensional portal -- wow, the DEA has got to hate that. Especially since Wolfram & Hart bribed this investigator to change her testimony. Wow, you bribed the judge, too? Yup, bank records and everything from May 24, two days before the verdict was handed down. Well, if you're going to be evil, I guess you may as well be thorough."

She kept going, adding insightful commentary to specific dates and amounts whenever possible. The receptionist started yelling, then made the mistake of actually grabbing Cordelia's arm. Cordelia pushed her away, the stiletto heels caught on the expensive carpet under the couches, and she fell backwards. Cordelia tossed her hair and kept going, noticing with satisfaction the disturbed stares of the people walking through the lobby -- hopefully, some of them were clients, and would shortly be calling their lawyers to find out why the heck someone was sitting in the lobby reading out confidential information.

She finished Moressh's folder and reached for another, but a hard hard caught her upper arm, yanking her half out of her seat before she could start reading. The older security guard loomed over her, his grip leaving bruises, she just knew it. "That's enough of that, miss," he said almost politely. Except for the excruciating pain he was inflicting.

She stomped on his foot and he barely flinched, but Gunn jumped on his back and pulled him away with a curse; Cordelia fell back onto the couch, but another guard was already there to grab her again. This time, she had enough warning to aim for a better target; she missed his groin, caught his thigh and the guy staggered. But he didn't let go, and she was pulled halfway off the couch again, yelling all the way, hearing Gunn and Wesley shouting behind her.

An insistent alarm suddenly rose above the noise of the fight. "It's about time!" Cordelia yelled up at the vampire alarms, taking advantage of her opponents' distraction to kick and squirm loose, and recover her folders. She started reading again, yelling the confidential facts and figures out at the top of her lungs, as Angel appeared from a maintenance door, and started methodically disposing of security guards. Mostly by htrowing them into walls.

"Now that's my kind of backup!" Gunn shouted, and dove enthusiastically back into the fight. Wes was busy using his briefcase to fend off some guard's stick-baton-thingy, but it seemed to be working. Cordelia set her jaw and kept reading, pitching her voice to carry above the din, flinching only when the unconscious body of a guard went sliding by on the tile floor a few feet away. She was concentrating so hard that she didn't notice the receptionist next to her yelling, "Miss Chase!" at first.

It was the sudden silence as the guards backed off that finally caught her attention. The receptionist took a deep breath, and met Cordelia's eyes steadily. "Miss Chase. Mr. Manners will see you now."

Cordelia did not collapse from relief, but it was pretty close. "It's about time," she said calmly, collecting her dignity around her as she collected her folders. Wesley, bruised and rumpled, but mostly intact, appeared next to her with the briefcase. They loaded in the folders, then Cordelia strode to the elevators, flanked by her guys. She smiled and waved at the security guards as the elevator doors closed.


Lilah went to meet Holland's... guests at the elevator, taking deep breaths and visibly settling herself as she went. The visible part was why she was never going to survive Wolfram & Hart, Lindsey figured, but keeping Lilah alive had never been his priority. Getting Cordelia -- and his own ass -- out of here in one piece was all he could handle right now.

God, he hoped they actually had a plan this time.

Lilah came back to the doorway and gestured Angel Investigations inside. Cordelia led the way without bothering to look at the other woman; Angel stalked behind her looking menacing. Wesley and a younger kid -- Gunn, right, from the hospital -- brought up the rear. Both were on the bloody side, but Gunn looked like he'd been having fun.

Holland went forward to meet them, trying for genial and fatherly, but too furious to pull it off effectively. The little tick in his eye was back. "Miss Chase," he said calmly. "So nice to finally meet you."

Cordelia smiled sweetly and took his offered hand. "You mean, after you tried to kill me this morning, and a couple other times?" Holland blinked, and she dropped his hand like it was covered in something slimy. "The pleasure is really all yours."

She walked straight past him to Lindsey; the guards must have looked at Holland for directions, because he shook his head and they let Lindsey go, backing off. Lindsey ran a hand through his hair and shook his shoulders to resettle his jacket, trying to look like he'd been in control of the situation all along.

Cordelia stopped in front of him and crossed her arms, glaring. "You are in so much trouble, buster," she said under her breath. "What the hell were you thinking?"

"This from the woman who chases after demons on a regular basis," he shot back equally quietly, which was a really lame comeback considering he knew exactly how badly he'd screwed this up. "You can bitch me out later." Damned if he was going to enact a big reunion in front of Holland, no matter how badly he wanted to grab her and be completely sure she was okay.

Fortunately, she seemed the feel the same way; she leaned over to press her smooth cheek to his and said into his ear, "Oh, don't worry, I plan to. Now hush, and let me save your ass."

"Can't wait," he muttered, as she turned back around to face Holland, a majestic smile pasted on her face. Angel and his buddies stood back and let Cordelia lead, which was smarter than Lindsey usually gave them credit for.

"So, here's how this is going to work," Cordelia told Holland, her voice calm, cheerful and leaving no room for argument. "Your demonic stooges didn't manage to kill me or steal back all of the records Lindsey so carefully copied, which sucks for you. So we're going to take Lindsey and walk out of here. In exchange, we will not distribute those files to various news outlets and, you know, the LAPD. And the FBI."

"That's an interesting proposal." Holland said after a moment, crossing his arms and leaning back against his desk, trying to pretend he was in control. "But what surety do we have that you won't release those records as soon as you're out of the building?"

Cordelia huffed. "Do we look stupid? If we release the records, you've got no reason not to try to kill Lindsey."

"You're assuming we want Lindsey dead," Holland pointed out. Lindsey couldn't keep himself from snorting; surprisingly, he heard the same noise from Gunn. Wesley and Angel both gave Holland incredulous looks.

Cordelia rolled her eyes in disgust. "Oh, please. You would so be doing your best to kill Lindsey the second you think it's safe to, 'cause otherwise, the rest of your associates--" She eyeballed Lilah, who tried not to react. "--might start getting ideas and thinking for themselves, and nasty stuff like that. But the killing Lindsey thing? That's not going to happen."

Holland shrugged, his hands spreading wide. "I understand your feelings on the matter are quite strong, Miss Chase, but I'm afraid you've overestimated the strength of your position. I really can't allow the five of you to go waltzing out of here with Wolfram & Hart confidential files, much less with a disloyal associate."

He made a sharp gesture, and several demons stepped forward out of an invisibility spell of some kind to surround the room, stopping threateningly only a few feet away. Two shamans stood meditatively behind them, cabalistic symbols on their faces and robes indicating high-level magic. Lindsey half spun to face them; out of the corner of his eye, he saw Wesley and Gunn do the same. Cordelia and Angel kept their attention on Holland, as Cordelia rolled her eyes again. Lindsey didn't think anyone who didn't know her pretty well could see the tension in her neck and shoulders. He moved a few steps backwards to put himself between her and the new arrivals.

"God, you really do think we're stupid," she said. "Obviously, we didn't bring the original discs in here with us. As if."

Holland shrugged again. "Oh, I shouldn't think retrieving them too difficult; you haven't had time to get them out of town. Your ghostly friend guarding them at your home, perhaps? Exorcisms are fast and easy. A safe-deposit box? Easily located. Your friend Mr. Gunn's charming gang of vigilantes, or perhaps Anne Steele's shelter?" He smiled. "No, I think Wolfram & Hart's resources will be more than adequate."

He studied Cordelia as he listed each possibility, but she just kept smirking at him until he cracked. His smile disappeared and leaned forward abruptly, his tone going cold and threatening. Lindsey and Angel both took steps closer, but Cordelia never flinched. "I will tear apart every contact, every friend you have in this city, everyone you have ever met, until I find those discs," he snarled, every trace of affability gone. "Turn them over to me now, and you're the only ones who die."

"You're going to want to step back," Angel said quietly, looming over Holland. Danger seemed radiate out from him, practically dimming the lights. Lindsey echoed his threatening pose on Cordelia's other side, hoping the sheer level of pissed-off he could feel hardening his face would have a similar effect.

Holland didn't move an inch, ignoring everyone except Angel. "You don't come into my office and threaten me, vampire. You have no idea what you're dealing with here."

"The thing is that we totally do." If anything, Cordelia's smile got brighter as she interposed herself between the three men, patting Angel absently on the shoulder as she passed. "You know the problem with you lawyer guys?" she continued to Holland. "You've gotten too used to being able to buy or steal or threaten to get anything you want. It must really suck when you run into something you can't just take. But this? Is totally one of them."

She crossed her arms and her eyes narrowed, her smile sharpening. "See, we're not just talking about one copy of the discs any more. By now, there are at least three. We uploaded them to a technowitch, who decrypted them and sent a copy to David Nabbit -- you know, the software guy who owns most of California and owes us a really, really big favor?"

Hot damn; Lindsey had forgotten about Nabbit. Holland actually paled slightly at the reminder; Cordelia smirked again and Lindsey found himself starting to kind of enjoy this whole crapshoot -- the Fang Gang might actually have a decent plan this time. Damn, he might actually get out of this alive.

"Yup, that David Nabbit," Cordelia confirmed cheerfully. "The one who turned you down flat, and has more money than god and a security system to match, including lots and lots of secure back-up servers -- and we're talking secure against electronic and demonic threats. So, good luck getting those files from him."

She studied the stymied rage on Holland's face for one satisfied moment, then deliberately turned her back on him. She took Lindsey's chin carefully in one hand, and started studying his bruises until he twitched away. He didn't mind her touching him -- he wanted to her to do a lot more of that -- but his face hurt, damn it.

All the time, Cordelia kept talking back over her shoulder to Holland. "If he doesn't hear from us pretty soon, David is going to release them to the public in a really big press conference. Then they will go to the LAPD, the DA, the FBI, the DEA, and any other set of letters his lawyers can think of. That's also when our technowitch will be giving a copy to the Slayer."

Cordelia paused to look thoughtful for dramatic effect; she really was a terrible actress, way too heavy-handed. "It's really hard to tell what Buffy would do with all those interesting CDs. She might use them as coasters, or as weapons, like little throwing stars. Or she might just send them to the Watcher's Council -- bet the old British guys would love to have that kind of an inside look at Wolfram & Hart."

"Absolutely," Wesley agreed from behind them. At some point, he'd followed Cordelia's lead and turned his back on the demons threatening them; now, he crossed his arms and looked dangerously at Holland. "The opportunity to interfere with your clients' plans, the detailed look at your infrastructure, knowing exactly whom to target.... Yes, I think the Council would very much enjoy that."

Cordelia nodded and turned around to smile sweetly at Holland; he had somehow reined himself back in to the mild old man poker face, but the same little tick was going in the corner of his left eye. Cordelia was really making a bad enemy, here, and Lindsey was uncomfortably unsure whether she knew it. He knew damn well she didn't care. "Or maybe Buffy would just come down here and level your offices to the ground -- well, what's left of it when Angel gets done, because we would not go quietly. You know, Slayers are just so unpredictable."

"Blackmail," Holland mused out loud. "Hardly an appropriate approach for the 'good guys'." The last words came out as a pretty lame sneer.

"Think of it less as blackmail than mutually assured destruction," Lindsey said, abruptly sick of standing around being rescued. "You can kill me. They can make you wish you were dead."

"What he said," Cordelia agreed.

"So that's the deal." Lindsey said, finally back on familiar ground. "Angel Investigations sits on those files; they don't see the light of day, or the Watcher's Council, or the LAPD. In return, Wolfram & Hart leaves me -- and Cordelia -- the hell alone."

Cordelia blinked. "Hey! How did I get in there? Not that I have a problem with the whole 'not getting killed' concept, but--"

"Absolutely," Wesley said over her, and Lindsey saw Gunn nodding -- the first time all three of them had ever agreed on anything. God, he hoped it was the last.

Manners ignored them all again, looking thoughtfully at Angel. "You agree to this deal? You won't try to trade for yourself?"

Angel shook his head slowly. "No, you wouldn't go for that. You've got plans for me." He smiled, the humorless one that meant he was two seconds away from ripping out someone's throat, soul or no soul. Lindsey had seen that smile directed at himself often enough. "And you already know that if you ever touch Cordelia again, those files will be the least of your problems. This is just making it formal."

Holland considered carefully, but he'd been backed into one hell of a corner, and he knew it. "I... believe we can agree to those terms." The words came out like they hurt, and they probably did -- or would. Holland was going to suffer for this when the Senior Partners found out, and for a second, Lindsey actually felt sympathy for his former mentor.

Then Holland turned that flat, cold stare on Lindsey, and the faint sympathy drained away. "You know you won't get away from us forever," Holland told him, his lip curling in disgust. "Eventually, we will have your soul."

Lindsey shrugged, taking Cordelia's hand and starting out of the office. "Then I'll see you in Hell," he threw back over his shoulder. "You'll get there first."

They walked past demons and shamans, ignoring them; Lindsey smiled tightly at Lilah where she hovered in the doorway. "Good luck," he told her, and she stepped back, as if to avoid contamination. He smirked, and led the small parade away from Holland's office.

He made one stop at his own office -- and found the few things he wouldn't have wanted to leave behind packed in a small box on his secretary's desk. Her letter of resignation, neatly typed, was lying on top. He grinned, took his stuff, and left the letter. Then he walked away from his cushy office with its amazing view, more than ready to get the hell out of this place.

As he got into the elevator, Angel Investigations surrounding him and Cordelia on all sides, Lindsey could still see Lilah hovering at the edge of Holland's office, watching him escape. He held her eyes until the doors closed between them, then put Lilah out of his mind. She wasn't his problem any more.

He was out. Lindsey tightened his hand around Cordelia's and held on.

He was free.

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated September 30, 2009.


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