"And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days..."

Nothing had ever been so beautiful as the bright sunlight streaming through the windows as the Porsche drove out of the garage.

She knew he was trying to play it cool, but all the way down the elevator and through the weirdly empty lobby (even the receptionist had disappeared) to the garage, Lindsey had clutched Cordelia's hand so hard it almost hurt. She'd clutched back, not willing to believe this was going to work until they were all the way out. All-the-way safe was probably too much to ask -- she might have been Ms Confidence with Holland Manners, but she knew better than to believe Wolfram & Hart would just give up. There was going to be more trouble from this, it was just a matter of time.

And there was the problem with the CD she hadn't let Angel see....

The plan had been for Gunn and Wes to pick up Angel at the same shaded tunnel entrance where they'd dropped him, and take the Angelmobile back to Cordelia's place, while she rode with Lindsey in the Porsche. Considering that their plan had gone amazingly well so far, Cordelia didn't feel bad about making a few changes now.

She'd sent Gunn on his way with a hug of thanks, and a promise that they would absolutely call him anytime they needed to make life bad for some evil lawyers. He'd looked really happy about that. Angel hadn't; he'd had given her a long 'I hope you know what you're doing' look, and Wesley had sighed, but they'd quietly agreed to wait a while before showing up on Cordelia's doorstep.

She and Lindsey had some talking to do, damn it.

She'd decided not to yell at Lindsey while they were driving; he was even more bruised than he'd been that morning (and somehow, she was going to make Holland Manners pay for that), and he looked kind of shattered around the edges -- and he hadn't even seen what was left of his condo yet. Driving the Porsche seemed to make him feel better, like he had some control, so she leaned back and let the wind whip through her hair until they got home.

Thankfully, there were no evil demons lurking around her apartment when they got there; there was even a parking place on the street right in front. Lindsey walked silently with her all the way to her front door, which was starting to get kind of unnerving. Lindsey always had something to say.

She had to drop his hand to fish her keys out of her purse and open the front door. "Dennis!" she called as she went in. "I'm home. And mostly intact!" She dropped her purse and keys, and had about one second to relax before Lindsey yelled, "What the hell?"

She spun around, frantically trying to think of a nearby weapons, prepared for demons or lawyers, but only saw Lindsey standing in the doorway, smacking the heel of his hand in increasing frustration against an invisible barrier.

"Oh, crap. Phantom Dennis!" she yelled. "Let him in!"

If anything, the barrier got thicker, distorting the air between her and Lindsey. Lindsey's face had darkened, and he was actively punching the barrier now, the rage on his face starting to scare her. "Dennis! Okay, I know there were problems when you saw him before, but that's over. It's over! Let him in!"

Dennis' only response was to send an empty cola can flying around the room, bouncing noisily off the walls in a clear indication of his feelings on the whole thing. Cordelia crossed her arms, and made her voice really threatening. "Let him in, Dennis, or I'm calling a priest. You're the best roommate ever and all, but I am not letting you lock my boyfriend out, and Father McLaggen does exorcisms!"

The soda can froze in midair, then abruptly dropped. At the same time, the barrier vanished, and Lindsey staggered forward through the door. Cordelia ran to steady him, but he pulled away. "What the hell was that?" he demanded. "That same... thing that was here last time? A freaking ghost?"

Cordelia took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Yes. My apartment came furnished, complete with its very own Phantom Dennis. He's actually very sweet, but he's also very protective, and the last time he saw you, it was kind of ugly. He was trying to protect me," she stressed. "He didn't know things have changed, because I haven't had the chance to tell him. It's only been... god, not even three days."

That realization was enough to almost make her weak at the knees. She sank down on the couch, the last few days spinning through her head. The vision, the drive to Sunnydale, Angel and Giles being kidnapped, Lindsey suddenly appearing, the fight in the garage, making love with Lindsey, the demon fight just this morning and a showdown against the evil lawyers.... "Oh my god. How can so much change in not even three days?"

"Tell me about it," Lindsey muttered, studying his bruises in the mirror over the fireplace.

"Oh, you need ice. Dennis? Would you get ice?" There was no answering clatter of refrigerator door and ice cubes, and Cordelia grimaced. "Oh goody, now he's a sulky ghost. Because that's all I need. I think Wes left some of those gel packs from after the office blew up; I'll be right back."

A gel pack was in the freezer, but she had to study Lindsey for a second before she could figure out what part of him needed it the most. He finally took it from her, and put it on his bloody lip. She'd also snagged the bottle of aspirin from beside the stove, and doled a dose out to both of them. Then she took Lindsey's arm and tugged him towards the couch, glaring when he resisted.

"So," she started firmly once they were settled -- and realized she had no idea where to go from there. "I have no idea where to start with this. I had this really good rant all written out in my head, only you're sitting here all bruised and stuff, and I don't really want to yell at you."

"Good," Lindsey muttered from behind the ice pack.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "That doesn't mean you're not in trouble, mister. You almost got killed. You ran off by yourself, instead of letting people help you -- letting me help you -- and they almost killed you. Or did something totally worse -- that guy Holland looked like he knows lots of 'worse than death' things."

She looked hard at Lindsey to tell him she expected a response. He just slouched lower on the couch. "So what the hell were you thinking? Actually, you know what, I'll settle for knowing what you're thinking now, because aside from the bruises and the brooding, I don't have even a tiny idea, and it sucks. You promised you weren't going to go all Hellmouthy on me."

And if her voice trembled just a little on the last part, well, she'd had a really bad morning, hadn't she? And her so-called boyfriend just kept sitting there, acting like he was mad at her when she was totally the one who deserved to be upset. Well, the hell with that!

"What is your problem?" she demanded, jumping back to her feet and turning on him. "You're out! You're free! Wolfram & Hart has to at least pretend to leave you the hell alone, and it didn't even cost you your soul! And hello, smoking hot girlfriend who saved your ass standing right here, waiting to be thanked."

She planted her hands on her hips and glared at him; he finally looked up and met her eyes, still with that same blank expression, and let the gel pack drop. "How bad is my place?" he asked.

Of all the things she expected -- apologies, accusations, protestations of eternal love -- wanting to know how trashed his living room was came in somewhere around, oh, below the bottom. "Excuse me?" she asked dangerously.

"How bad did the Krakanth destroy my place?" he repeated, as if she hadn't heard him the first time.

She huffed out a disbelieving breath, throwing her hands up towards the ceiling. "You are... I don't even know what you are!" she told him loudly. "Those demons this morning almost trashed me, then I risked my friends to come rescue you from someplace you shouldn't even have been alone, and all you want to do is start thinking about redecorating?"

His jaw got all tight again, and at least he was showing some emotion. "Yeah, Cordelia, it's totally out of line, but I want to know what I'm going to have to go home to."

Cordelia was still stuck back on being outraged and couldn't come up an response to that that wouldn't involve screaming. When she didn't answer him, Lindsey threw the gel pack across the room with sudden violence.

"You want to talk about things changing?" he yelled, which turned out to not be better than silence after all. "I'm suddenly unemployed, Wolfram & Hart is going to try to have me disbarred, and I actually deserve it, my girlfriend almost got killed when my home got trashed by a patrol of Krakanth demons, and I bet their bodies are still in my living room, and I have no idea what the hell I'm supposed to do with myself for the next hour, much less the rest of my life!"

He had to stop to breathe, a harsh sound that almost hurt to listen to. "So give me a break and tell me if I have a home to go back to!"

"And it's someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that's faith and trust and peace while we're alive..."

He half-expected her to slap him, and almost didn't care; it wasn't like he'd even feel it on his already battered face. Her eyes were narrowed as if they were about to throw flames and melt his face, and her hands were so tight on her hips he could see the outline of her biceps through her yellow shirt.

"Are you done whining now?" she asked coldly, and he would have preferred to have been slapped. He cursed and turned away, pacing to the other side of the room. He wanted to punch something, but the walls would hurt too much.

"I'll take that as a yes," she interpreted. "Okay, Mr. Self-Centered Bastard, it sucks that you're unemployed, but since a future employer is really, really unlikely to require you to sign a blood contract and promise your soul, I'm thinking this is actually a big step up. And also, I'm pretty sure the California Bar would fall over and die laughing if Wolfram & Hart had the nerve to try to get someone else disbarred for... malpractice or bad behavior or whatever, so I'd actually like to watch them try."

He started to say something about naivete, but she rolled right over him. "As for your condo, your living room and kitchen are toast. But your bedroom is safe, and so is the girlfriend who was hiding in your bedroom -- alone, because you bailed to go get yourself killed without waking her up." He flinched at that perfectly aimed shot. "And right now," she finished, "I'm kind of curious if you think my life balances out your couch getting torn apart. And if it was worth losing your evil job to keep, oh, your life and your soul!"

"Yes, all right!" he exploded, turning on her. "Yes, I'd rather have you than my couch! Yes, it was worth walking out, Christ! Yes, I know I was really goddamn stupid this morning; but I thought I had it under control, and I didn't want to risk taking you into Wolfram & Hart with me. I wanted to finish it myself, and I wanted to protect you, and instead I almost got you killed twice! And when you find out some of the other shit I've done, some of what's gonna go down because of stupid decisions I've made, you're going to walk away, and all I'm going to have left is a wrecked living room and an old pickup truck."

Through his whole rant, Cordelia hadn't reacted -- she just watched him, waiting for him to finish. "Wow," she finally commented dispassionately. "You're about one dog away from a bad country song there. And I thought it was a classic truck." He cursed between his teeth and started to swing away again, but she caught his arm and pulled him back with surprising strength.

"Listen, dumbass," she told him, straight in his face, "You think I don't know how many incredibly stupid and careless things you've done working for the law firm from hell? I'm not going to enjoy running into them for the next few years, boy howdy, but I bet I'm not surprised by most of them."

She cut his attempt at a comeback off with a superior look. "Babe, you defended the guy who assaulted me. I forgive you, and I'm mostly over it -- although Angel and Wes would like to have a few words with you -- but don't ever talk to me like I don't know who you are and what you've done."

She let his arm go and stepped back, putting her hands back on her hips. "Because I do know, and I'm still here. So get over your snit and get down to some apologizing, so we can get on with the making up before the rest of the gang gets here."

He didn't want to get over his... It wasn't a snit, he was pissed. But he was furious at himself, and taking it out on Cordelia abruptly struck him as one of his stupidest moves ever.

"Shit," he sighed, his anger draining away, leaving exhaustion in its wake. He walked the few steps towards the kitchen and stopped in the doorway, using it to brace himself.

"It was a bad move," he admitted in a low voice, letting his chin fall to his chest because holding it up took too much effort. "It was stupid and arrogant, and I almost got us both killed."

"Yeah. You did." Cordelia didn't say anything else; she just waited.

He took a deep breath; the words came really, really hard to a man who'd built a life around never apologizing for one damn thing. But he finally forced them out.

"I'm sorry."

He couldn't turn to face her, but he heard her breathing, and finally heard her footsteps as she walked over to him. "So, that was totally hard to say, huh?"

"You have no idea."

She laughed a little. "Oh, I kind of do." Her arms slid around his waist, she laid her cheek against his back, and he finally felt like he might actually have survived.

"Fine, I forgive you this time," she told him, "but don't ever do it again. We're a team, dumbass. All of us, but you and me especially. Got it?"

"Yeah." He half-turned, just enough to see her face, only a few inches away -- bruised and upset, but still so beautiful, it could make his heart stop. She smiled shakily at him, and tightened her arms.

"I get that you had your life all planned out. I did too, and I promise, this--" she freed one hand long enough to wave it in a gesture that encompassed her haunted apartment, the visions, and the entire staff of Angel Investigations, "--this was not that plan. And neither were you, babe," she added pointedly.

"Like you were part of mine," he grimaced.

"You wouldn't change it," she grinned at him brightly, but he saw the trace of worry in her eyes, and he couldn't fight that. He turned the rest of the way around in her arms, and combed one hand into her thick, beautiful hair before he kissed her carefully.

"I wouldn't change any of it," he said, and was surprised to discover it was true. "Except maybe my living room. I really liked that couch."

She laughed and slapped at his shoulder, and he had to kiss her again, and it felt like coming home.

"I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days..."

She got Lindsey cleaned up, and settled Dennis down with promises of a Big Brother marathon in the near future, and finally found herself with nothing to do but snuggle on the couch with her boyfriend -- way of the good -- and think about that CD from Lindsey's hoard, the one she hadn't dared let Angel see -- way of the bad.

Normally, she'd have no problem waving the CD in Lindsey's face and demanding answers, but.... It wasn't like she was testing him, not really, but this was going to come up, again and again, and she really needed to know if... well, if they could trust Lindsey when it came to stuff like this.

She hated that she wasn't totally sure, and oh my god, had Buffy felt like this all that time with Angel? It sucked. Maybe she deserved to be a little bit of a control freaky, Buffy-shaped dictator.

"Angel and Wes should be here soon," Cordelia said experimentally, and felt Lindsey tense against her side, right on cue.

"Yeah," he said after a second, and she waited. And hoped really, really hard. He didn't say anything and her heart sunk a little, but then he blew his breath out hard, followed by a quiet, "Crap."

"It won't be that bad," she said, deliberately casually. "I don't think Angel wants to kill you at the moment, although he is a little annoyed about the Krakatoa demon thing."

"Krakanth," he corrected absently, like she'd known he would. He stood up, wincing against the pull of sore muscles -- and she could sympathize with that in big ways; her back and arms felt like they'd been worked over with a baseball bat, and her headache was throbbing behind the wall of painkillers, ready to send in jackhammers through the first crack.

Lindsey walked a few steps away, then turn back around, his 'go to hell' expression firmly in place. She braced herself against the lack of fun this was going to be.

"Look," he said, sounding determined to get it all out before he lost his nerve (or came up with a good enough lie). "Angel might want to kill me after all. No, he's definitely going to try to kill me."

"Why?" Cordelia asked neutrally, and Lindsey looked at her suspiciously. Oops, maybe she started out with protesting that Angel would totally not want to kill him. Well, whatever.

He took a deep breath. "The night of the Raising, when I used the Scroll of Aberjian..."

His voice trailed off. "Yeah, I kind of remember that night," Cordelia prompted him wryly. "Well, I remember the visions and screaming pain, anyway." She saw him flinch, and okay, probably not the best thing to remind him of if she wanted him to keep talking. Which she did, even though she didn't.

"Yeah, that night," he said, his voice gravelly with some emotion she couldn't figure out. He didn't do guilt, but there was maybe some of that, and anger. Maybe even regret. "It was called the Raising because that's what we did. I did. I Raised something, someone that wasn't supposed to come back. Someone Angel..."

He was trying, but he couldn't quite get it out, and Cordelia felt abruptly guilty for making him work so hard at this. He'd told her, or at least tried. Test passed, time to let him off the hook. "Darla. You brought Darla back."

He blinked. "You knew."

She nodded slowly. "Her files were on one of the CDs in your stash. I didn't have the chance to look at them, but you were still pretty junior when she was dusted. I couldn't figure out why you'd have files on her, unless.... Wes never did figure out what you guys had been trying to raise that night."

"There was--? Hell. There was a CD. That memory block thing was really freaking thorough." He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, dropping his head so he didn't have to look at her. He kept talking, though, giving in to some newfound streak of honesty or something. Well, she was in favor of that."I was trying to figure out how to tell you. Then I kept trying to figure how not to tell you, how I could play dumb when whatever they're planning got put in motion."

"That would have been a bad plan," Cordelia assured him. "Totally glad you didn't go with that one. That would have sucked."

He half-laughed, half-snorted. "No shit."

"So," she said on a sigh, rubbing her arms against imaginary cold. Her memory of Darla consisted only of those moments of terror in the Bronze, when a blonde, school-girl vampire had dragged her on stage to be sacrificed. But it was the kind of thing that really stayed with you. "Darla is alive again, and Wolfram & Hart has her."

Lindsey nodded silently, but finally met her eyes, which was nice. She didn't think she could deal with repentant Lindsey for any length of time.

"Bad does not begin to describe this," she concluded. Angel was going to lose it; she could see that coming in nice, vivid technicolor that had nothing to do with her visions. "Yay, we get to break into Wolfram & Hart again."

"Not you." Lindsey was suddenly looming over her, his arms braced on the couch arm and back, moving so fast that Cordelia jumped. "You can't go anywhere near them."

She shoved past him to her feet, not in the mood to be intimidated. "Hello, they can't do anything to me, we have a deal. And don't try to tell me you're not going to draft it all out in a contract and make them sign it in blood, because you totally are. And even without that, they're not going to risk those files getting out. Major headlines in the Times are bad for evil-guy business."

"It doesn't matter that they'll have signed a contract," Lindsey yelled. "They'll call it breaking the deal, they'll say you going after them makes you fair game! They'll kill you and they'll make it as bad as possible, to make me and Angel pay."

Lindsey took two stalking steps to get in front of her again, almost in her face. "I don't have anything else left, Cordelia. I cannot lose you to them, not after all of this. I know--" He had to work to force the words out, "--I know I can't stop you from working with Angel, helping the hopeless, all that. I won't try anymore. But you have to stay away from Wolfram & Hart. No matter what."

"I can't promise that, Lindsey." Even if, looking at the desperation in his eyes, she wanted to promise him anything. Instead, she laid her hand against his mouth to cut off his angry answer. "And you know you're so totally going to fight with me every time I go out to do anything you think I shouldn't, and I'm going to fight back. It's what we do."

She sniffled back some completely silly tears, and gave him a watery smile. "But I love you, so I'll try not to be completely stupid, or do anything that would take me away from you. Okay? Deal?"

He didn't like it; he hated it. She could tell from his eyes, his beautiful eyes that were starting to be heavenly blue again, the red finally fading. He hated it, but he pulled her close, and buried his face in her hair. "Yeah," he said reluctantly against her ear. "Deal."

She closed her eyes and hung on to him, to the warmth and strength of his body against hers, and warm arms that now she knew she could trust. "We'll find a way to tell Angel," she promised. "Soon. Today or tomorrow soon. today would be better. Wesley will help, and I will not let Angel hurt you, no matter what."

He pulled back a little, just enough to look at her. "I don't... I don't want to get between you two," he said.

"That's a total lie," she told him fondly, "but it's really sweet you tried to pull it off." He shrugged, admitting she was right, and she slipped her hands up to catch his face and make him look at her. "This isn't going to be fun, but it is going to be okay. Angel loves me and hey, I'm his Seer. He'll go all broody for a while, and then he'll go and beat something up -- something that is not you -- and it'll work out."

Lindsey just looked at her. "It won't be that easy," he said finally. "I know he's your friend, but you don't know what he's capable of."

"Hello, front-row seats for Angelus '98, and his return appearance a couple months ago." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "But he's not Angelus, he's Angel; I know he's your archenemy-slash-bogeyman, but he's my best friend. And one of the things he's not capable of is hurting me, or someone I love." She flashed him her most confident smile. "Trust me."

Lindsey wasn't convinced, she could see it in his eyes. But he nodded slowly, and said, "Okay. I trust you."

And that was better than hearing him say 'I love you.' Way better. Sudden happiness flooded her to her fingertips; unable to contain it and not really wanting to, she threw her arms around his neck, kissing him with all of her love and relief. He staggered a little in surprise, but then his arms came around her tightly and he lifted her until only her toes touched the ground, and kissed her back, deep and slow and sweet, pulling her under until she was drowning in him.

And for the first time since this whole thing started, she believed -- really believed -- that this was going to happen. That they were going to make this work. Sure, it was going to be hard; she'd stopped believing in sunshine and roses a long time ago. And Lindsey was never, ever going to be easy.

But neither was she, really. So that was okay....

And then she stopped thinking, more interested in the way Lindsey's mouth was trailing towards her throat. She threaded her fingers through his silky hair, feeling him shudder when she brushed the nape of his neck, and lost herself in the best chance she'd ever had at forever.

Until someone knocked impatiently on the door, and Angel called her name like a vampire who'd been knocking for a while and was standing real close to the sun.

Lindsey lifted his head from hers, breathing hard. "Do they always have such lousy timing?" he asked, letting his hand slide down from her hips.

Cordelia grinned, pretty breathless herself. "When they're saving me from certain death, no. For everything else? Always."

More pounding and yelling, and she reluctantly pulled away to go answer the door. "Ready?" she asked over her shoulder.

He didn't answer; when she turned around, his arms were crossed defensively and he looked like he'd rather be facing a firing squad. She walked back to kiss him quickly, still happy, even knowing the way-ugly fight they were about to have with Angel. "Trust me," she reminded him, with a big, broad smile.

He looked at her for a long time, then put his arm around her shoulders, like he was ready to protect her from the guys or something. It was really kind of cute -- and really reassuring. "Yeah," he said. "Let's do this."

She nodded once, reaching up to her shoulder to catch his hand in hers, and they opened the door together.

"So take these words
And sing out loud
Because everyone is forgiven now
Because tonight's the night the world begins again..."

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated October 1, 2009.


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