It was Tara's birthday, after all, and they'd gotten rid of her skanky brother and father, so really, they all deserved to party down. Even Giles had shown up, and he'd only blushed a little when Tara had been really, really happy to see him. Except for keeping an eternal eye on Dawn, to make sure she didn't accidentally pick up a vampire or a senior, this was definitely a good night to be Buffy.
Willow, who had been sitting next to Buffy at their table and dreamily watching Tara bring back drinks, suddenly sat up straight and gasped. "Cordelia!"
Buffy looked curiously at her. "Cordelia? Huh? Is that a new curse word, or are you starting to have visions like her? Because I'm not seeing the writhing in pain thing happening."
"Oh, that's nice." Oh, there was Cordelia. "Always good to feel welcomed and mocked when I come home to visit."
Buffy swung around to smile tightly up at her old nemesis, then remembered that she sort of liked Cordelia these days, and actually stood up to hug her. "Sorry, didn't see you. Hi! And I was really mocking Willow more than you."
"Because that's way better," Willow said sarcastically, taking her turn at hugging Cordelia. "Where's Lindsey? Didn't you bring him?"
"I brought her," Lindsey said, coming up behind Cordelia with drinks in each hand. He handed one blue cup off to his girlfriend and took a long gulp from the other, before looking around the Bronze. He didn't look really happy about being there. "This is seriously where you hang out?"
Okay, yeah, he was probably the oldest person in the room except for Giles, but still... "Not a lot of choices in Sunnydale," Buffy shrugged. "There's this or the demon bar."
"C-cordelia! Lindsey! You came!" Tara dumped the full drinks she was carrying on the table, and impulsively hugged Cordelia. She caught herself fast and tried to back away, but Cordy, surprisingly, hugged back.
"Like we'd miss your birthday." Cordelia's hundred-watt smile didn't quite hide the shadows under her eyes, and Buffy decided she needed to ask her about that later. Bad things in L.A. sometimes translated to bad things in Sunnydale -- that was her story and she was sticking to it.
"What, I don't get a hug?" Lindsey complained half-seriously; Tara grinned and blushed, and hugged him quickly.
"Oh, now you decide you like boys," Willow teased her.
"And one who's totally taken, too," Cordelia added, grabbing Lindsey's arm and mock-frowning. "Tara, you ho."
"Everywhere we go, she's all over the guys," Buffy chimed in for the fun of it. "It's so embarrassing."
Tara was nearly incoherent by that point, bright red and hiding behind her hair, but her pleased smile shone out.
"All right, leave the woman alone," Lindsey intervened, finishing his drink in one gulp and putting his cup down, then holding his empty hand out to Tara with an easy smile that looked just a little tight around the edges. "Come on, birthday girl, show me where the presents go, or Cordelia will make me carry them around all night."
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Yeah, because keeping two little bitty boxes in your pocket is such hard work."
"They screw up the line of my jacket," Lindsey shot back. "You should understand that, fashionista."
"Whatever." Cordelia wrinkled her nose at him as a giggling Tara showed him the way to the overflowing presents table.
Buffy watched them go with raised eyebrows. "Wow. Is it just me, or is he, you know, relaxed and charming and stuff?"
Cordelia laughed. "You've only met him when he's Mr. Cranky-Lawyer-Pants. Trust me, last time we were in Sunnydale? So not a good week for Lindsey. He's actually capable of the fun sometimes."
She said the last bit with a feline grin that Buffy didn't want to follow up on, and kind of did. Girl talk -- girl talk about men, anyway -- was a little hard to come by these days. (Anya's constant TMI babbling didn't count. At all.)
Xander and Anya reappeared from wherever they'd been (there was rearranged clothing and heavy breathing involved, Buffy was sure) a few minutes later; Dawn was torn away from her fascinated observation of Lindsey long enough to let out a squeal of "Prezzies!" and drag Tara to the gift table. For a while, the evening devolved into an orgy of wrapping paper and oohs and ahhhs.
Cordelia and Lindsey joined right in on the laughing and teasing, like Cordy had never left and Lindsey had always been there. They exchanged sharp jibes with each other, but mostly didn't aim them at anyone else -- Cordelia even managed to be nice to Xander -- and Buffy noticed that Lindsey's hand or arm always seemed to be hovering somewhere around Cordelia's back or shoulders, and she leaned against him like she just fit there.
Buffy grinned, looking forward to when Riley finally got there, and handed a present to Tara to make her stop smooching with Willow for a minute. It was about time there were some happily-ever-afters around here.
When all the presents had been opened and Dawn's broom tucked away in a corner where it couldn't trip anyone, and Tara had given grateful hugs and kisses to everyone who deserved them (she'd even managed to hug Lindsey again without exploding from the red), everyone went back to partying. Xander dragged Anya onto the dance floor, Tara and Willow went off somewhere to talk and snuggle, and Giles pulled Cordelia to a quieter table towards the wall.
She went with him, raising her eyebrows. "Giles, this is so sudden. Better not let my boyfriend see us."
The Giles of old would have blushed and stammered like Tara. The Giles of the now just gave her a mildly reproachful, kind of amused look and held a chair for her. "While it's delightful to see you here, Cordelia, I admit to being worried by the emails I've been receiving from you and Wesley. And the lack of them, lately."
"Yeah." Cordelia made a face. "Sorry about that; no one's really been in a 'communicating' mood." She made the little air quotes in an attempt at sarcasm that fell totally flat. Giles looked at her gently, and she propped her elbow on the table, resting her chin tiredly on her hand and abandoning all attempts at perky and cool.
"We knew it was going to be bad," she said quietly, barely able to hear herself over the music. "But I thought, once we got Darla out of Wolfram & Hart, maybe things would calm down, and Angel would stop being all broody and pissy. And he did, for a while."
Giles nodded understandingly, taking a sip from his glass. "I wouldn't imagine that lasted, no. Was it... terribly difficult for you, sharing space with Darla?"
"Not like you'd think." Cordelia shrugged. "She was really kind of dead before I was ever a Scooby; I remember her from that first night in the Bronze when the Master's minions tried to kill everyone, but other than that..." She waved one hand and made a 'pfft' noise. "Actually, for a 400-year-old embodiment of all things evil, Darla was surprisingly zen. Well, until...."
"Yes." Cordelia saw Giles starting to reach for his glasses to polish them, but he caught himself and didn't. "How is Angel coping?"
"He's totally not." She took a sip of her drink because it was there, not because she really wanted it. "It's bad enough Wolfram & Hart came busting into the hotel, but they brought that bitch queen Drusilla, and god, they were going to turn Darla again, Giles! And we couldn't do anything about it; there were so many of them against six of us. I think Angel blames himself for that most of all, but they literally almost killed him bringing him down."
"But they didn't succeed."
"Only because Darla decided they weren't going to." Cordelia fiddled with the melting ice cubes in her drink. "I guess it seemed like how she would die was the only choice she had left. So she made it."
She shrugged uncomfortably, gesturing vaguely with one hand. "Angel took it way hard; he's been just skulking around not talking to anyone, and glaring at Lindsey like it's all his fault. Which it kind of totally is," she admitted reluctantly. "The raising from the dead part, anyway."
She made a face as she glanced over towards Lindsey, who was in deep conversation with Willow and Tara about something or other. It was the most involved he'd been with anyone except, well, her, in a couple of weeks. "It's the first time I've ever actually seen Lindsey really sorry about something he did -- that didn't involve me getting hurt, anyway. He's kind of throwing himself into the whole remorse thing. Good thing I have so much practice dealing with guilt trips from Artists Formerly Known as Evil."
Giles patted her hand sympathetically, like Lorne did sometimes. And wow, weird comparison much? "And you're getting more by the day," he sighed. "Which is unfortunate."
"Amen." Cordelia shoved her cup away. "Anyway, Wes wanted to come tonight, but we don't want to leave Angel alone too much or he might do something stupid -- something else stupid," she amended. "God, that Trial thing..."
"Yes, Wesley mentioned the Trial. I'd been wanting to ask for the details, but obviously not just at this moment."
"Yeah. So not a good time." She sighed. "God, if we can just keep him from trying to tear Wolfram & Hart apart with his bare hands -- which he really wants to do; I can still see him planning it a lot of the time, which is way disturbing in a totally Angelus way -- I'll totally count it as a win. Not that they don't deserve it, big time, but he'd probably get killed trying. Which Angel probably wouldn't care about; sometimes, I think he hates us just as much, for making him survive."
And oh, she hadn't meant to say that last part, or even think it. God. She sniffled back unexpected tears, and hoped Giles wouldn't notice. Giles noticed, of course, and looked sympathetic again. But he just nodded slowly, and she was totally grateful for that. "You know, of course, if you need assistance with anything--"
"If we ever actually have advance notice, I, for one, have absolutely no problem with screaming loud enough to be heard in Sunnydale without a phone." She sat up straight and made herself flash him a wide, bright, almost un-fake smile. He returned it with a quieter, but much more sincere version. Impulsively, she leaned over the table to kiss his cheek, which he accepted with a wider smile, then she got to her feet, wiping any trace of tears away from under her eyes. "Okay, enough with the depressing stuff," she said with determination. "I get plenty of that in L.A. This is a party; I'm going to go rescue my boyfriend from Willow and Tara, and dance."
"An excellent idea." Giles toasted her with his cup as she turned away. Dawn promptly grabbed his arm to tell him something really, really important, and Cordelia found herslf grinning as she left him to deal with it.
She caught the end of Lindsey's conversation with the witches when she got close enough, Lindsey saying something very intent about, "--really think your brother won't get a bad case of stupid and try something again? I went to high school with guys like him, he will."
Tara shrugged unhappily, and Willow squeezed her hand. "I just w-want him to go away," Tara said.
"Which is what restraining orders are for." Lindsey gestured with his cup to emphasize his point. He'd taken his jacket off, his tie was loose, his white shirt was open at the throat, and Cordelia wanted to jump him so bad. "Seriously, you people have a lawyer now; kicking ass is no longer your only way of dealing with losers like this."
"They're just afraid of paying your retainer," Cordelia teased, putting her arms around Lindsey from behind; he leaned his head back against her shoulder and slanted her a look, and she grinned past him at the witches. "He's really cute when he's all going off on truth and justice and the legal way, but he's right, too."
Tara bit her lip, thinking. "You'll help me do it?" she asked hesitantly.
Lindsey leaned forward again, his expression screaming 'forced patience'. "I'll do it for you. Lawyer. It's my job. All you have to do is sign the papers."
"I think you should, sweetie," Willow pushed her gently, and Tara finally nodded.
"Good. The paperwork's in the car, you'll sign it before we head back." Lindsey nodded as if it was all settled and, having successfully steamrolled Tara, he stood up and grabbed Cordelia around the waist. "Want to dance, babe?"
"Sure, babe," she returned. He curled his lip and she smirked. All those months of putting up with 'babe', and she hadn't figured out until a few weeks ago he hated it as much as she did. Revenge was so very sweet.
One of the many ways in which Lindsey was an improvement over all previous boyfriends was that he could actually dance. Hips moving smoothly, shoulders engaged, no weird faces or spastic hand flailing. Cordelia matched him beat for beat, aware of the envious looks they were accumulating and glorying in them.
After a few songs, the music changed to something slow and bluesy, and he drew her in close against him. She went willingly, wrapping her arms around his neck and nestling her head on his shoulder. They swayed together easily.
"This is way better than high school," she said quietly.
"It'd take a lot to be worse, wouldn't it?" he pointed out, and she snickered.
"No vampire invasions yet," she agreed. Which reminded her of Darla, and of Angel; she kissed Lindsey to block it all out for a little while longer. And because she liked kissing him....
"Hey, get a room," she heard Xander joke as he and Anya danced by, followed by the sound of a gentle smack.
"Stop it, Xander. They are an attractive, clearly devoted couple, and they should be encouraged. They will have intelligent, athletic babies."
Lindsey choked a little against her mouth, and Cordelia laughed incredulously, breaking away from Lindsey just enough to look over at the other couple. Xander grinned and shrugged helplessly, and Anya beamed at them with real sincerity that was probably only partly happiness at seeing her boyfriend's ex happy with another guy.
Cordelia shook her head, and went back to dancing. "So much better than high school."
The song ended and another began; after a few minutes, Lindsey pressed her around in a small circle.
"Check it out," he said, and she followed his look.
"Oh my god. Someone call the cuteness police." But she was smiling softly as she said it, watching Willow and Tara.
"Think someone should tell them they're floating?" Lindsey asked, his tone saying that it sure as hell wasn't going to be him.
"Nahhhh," Cordelia said after a moment of thought, turning back to look deep into her boyfriend's eyes. "I know just how they feel."
He smiled, slow and sexy, and for a while, Cordelia forgot about everything else.
The sun was just breaking over the skyline when Lindsey pulled the Porsche up outside the Hyperion. As usual, he took a second to shake his head over what an ugly pile of bricks it was before he nudged Cordelia, who'd been passed out in the front seat for most of the drive back.
She yawned and stretched, and he appreciated that view a lot more. "We're home?" she asked groggily.
"At the hotel," Lindsey corrected her, not about to give the place the dignity of being 'home'. Angel's home, sure, his choice. But not theirs.
"Oh. Good." But she didn't move to get out of the car, just stared out the window, biting her lip.
"We could go home," Lindsey pointed out. "Get some sleep, I'll bring you back later."
"No, let's just go in for a second." Cordelia's face had that 'reluctant but determined' look. "I just want to check on things. You know." Translation: make sure Angel hadn't done anything suicidal in the last 10 hours. Nice when your biggest competition was a depressed vampire.
"Then let's go." Lindsey got out and walked around to open her door, handing her out. She smiled her appreciation, and kept hold of his hand during the walk up the front entrance -- until she stopped halfway, her attention caught, as usual, by the spot on the pavement by the building where a faint, dark stain still remained.
"We need to get that cleaned," she said absently after a moment. "Maybe put up a marker or something, instead."
Lindsey's jaw tightened. "Yeah. Maybe."
Here died Darla, he mentally wrote that marker. Dove out a window to avoid immortality, all because of some stupid fucking lawyers.
And he was never, ever going to forget holding Angel back, listening to Cordelia scream as he struggled with Wes to keep the vampire from diving into the daylight towards Darla's crumpled body, the sunshine gleaming off her blood-soaked hair.
Lindsey had brought her back to that. His fault; no one else to blame this time.
"Shit." He hadn't meant to curse out loud; Cordelia gave him a worried look and tightened her grip on his hand.
"Sorry," she said quietly. "Come on, let's go in. It's too bright out."
"...Yeah." He turned away, and didn't look back.
The lights were on in the lobby when they came through the door; Wesley poked his head out of Angel's office -- Wesley's by default for the last few weeks -- to greet them.
"Back early, aren't you?" he asked, one finger holding his place in a big leather tome.
"No, really?" Lindsey answered, with a sardonic look at Cordelia.
She made a face back at him. "If I could trust you guys to answer the phone or check messages, I would have gone home," she lied breezily through her teeth.
Wesley rolled his eyes briefly to the ceiling, then looked at Lindsey, who shrugged. Like he could do anything when Cordelia was in full-on protective worried mode. Wesley shook his head and came the rest of the way out of the office to lean over the reception desk as Cordelia moved behind it. "And how is everyone in Sunnydale? Did Tara's party go well? Did she like the gift I sent?"
"She was surprised, but she really liked the charm. I bet you get a thank-you note -- Tara seems like a person who writes thank-you notes." Cordelia turned on her computer and started fussing with the coffee maker and answering machine. "Let's see -- Dawn was completely hyper; nice kid, but wow, I'm glad I never had to deal with her. Tara and Willow continue to be revoltingly cute together, and Riley turned up late, but Buffy didn't seem to care, so I guess those two are doing okay. Oh, and I practically had to drag Giles away from Lindsey after they started talking music; we really need to get him a girlfriend."
She continued to chatter, catching Wesley up on all of the Sunnydale news; since he'd been there, Lindsey tuned her out and stretched out on one of the lobby couches, checking messages on his mobile phone. One client call and Lorne wanting to book Lindsey for a set at Caritas -- nothing that couldn't wait until a less godawful hour of the morning.
"Anything from the skank?" Cordelia interrupted her gossipfest to ask him over the desk.
"Don't call my clients skanks," Lindsey told her without looking up, "and her hitting on me doesn't make her a skank. It just means she has good taste."
"As if," Cordelia snorted. Wesley made a choked sound that could have been a smothered laugh; Lindsey ignored him, too. "Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, Xander and Anya. Seriously, what is with that?"
"You think he's making a mistake?" Wesley asked. He probably didn't care any more than Lindsey did, but Cordelia was in high gear, which was pretty entertaining.
"No, I think she is," Cordelia set some coffee mugs down hard to emphasize her point. "Smart woman, straightforward, ambitious -- okay, she has less tact than I do and sure, ex-vengeance demon, but who hasn't got a few skeletons in the old walk-in closet? What does she see in Xander?"
"I never figured out what you saw in him."
Cordelia gave a little shriek, and Lindsey jumped, halfway off the couch before he realized she was screaming because Angel had just done his sneaking-up routine. Jesus. The guy lurked around not talking forever, then reappeared by scaring the crap out of everyone. Typical freakin' vampire.
"Angel!" Cordelia had a hand to her chest to indicate a heart attack, and she was probably only partly faking it; Wes had stood back and was watching him carefully. Lindsey recovered his mobile phone from the cushions, and kept his attention glued to the display -- while he watched the desk out of the corner of his eye.
"God, you scared me," Cordelia kept going, stalking around her desk to stand in front of Angel. "A little warning, please!"
Angel shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down, as if saying less than 10 words had finished him for the day, and he was regretting even those. Cordelia raced on, filling in his silence like she'd been doing for weeks. "Wow, you're up bright and early -- except that you're totally still up, aren't you? Even vampires have to sleep, you know. Have you eaten? I'll get you some blood, nice and warmed up, or there's coffee."
She kept talking as she moved from minifridge to microwave and back, bearing a steaming cup of blood that still grossed Lindsey out. Angel took it, but didn't drink.
"You should go home," he cut Cordelia off, mid-sentence.
Cordelia blinked, and stepped back like she'd been slapped. "Oh." She groped for words and couldn't actually find any.
"I mean--" Angel ran a hand through his hair uncomfortably. "It's early. You can't have slept. So you should go home."
"I..." Cordelia took a deep breath, trying to hide her hurt at Angel trying to get rid of her. She was still a lousy actress. "No, we didn't really, but I was just--"
"She didn't sleep at all." Lindsey refused to look up from his phone, but he'd also tolerated enough of this crap from Angel. "Party ended at 3 am, she woke me up at 5 to drive back; she was worried about leaving you alone too long. You and Gunn don't count," he turned his head to tell Wesley.
"Always good to know where one stands," Wesley murmured, watching Angel and Cordelia with narrowed eyes. As usual, Angel hadn't bothered to look at Lindsey, or acknowledge his existence.
"That's not--" Cordelia started to defend herself, then gave it up, grabbing her purse from behind the desk. "Fine. Whatever. I can take a hint. We will be back later," she informed Angel, in case he had any idea that he had won. He just looked at her impassively, and she spun towards the door.
"And you'll make breakfast when we get here."
Angel swung his head slowly to look at Lindsey; his eyes were suddenly hard, still gleaming with that same helpless rage they'd held since the day Darla died. Lindsey stood up equally slowly from the couch, setting his jaw and glaring back, daring Angel to say no. To say anything that would hurt Cordelia again.
"He doesn't have to make breakfast," Cordelia started in a chipper, panicked voice, looking back and forth between them.
Wesley cut her off with a quiet, but firm, "Scrambled eggs would go down a treat."
Lindsey lifted his chin a notch at the other man, without breaking his staring contest with Angel, and saw Wes nod back slightly. They were allies in this, anyway.
Cordelia stopped protesting and crossed her arms tightly instead, waiting. Angel glanced over at the motion, then looked again. His face softened a little, like he was seeing her for the first time in weeks. She was still trying to look pissed, but her lips were tightened against tears.
That's right, Lindsey thought, hate me all you want, you bastard. But stop taking it out on her.
Angel tried to go back to giving Lindsey a murderous look, but his heart wasn't in it anymore. He finally sighed and turned away towards Cordelia. "Yeah," he agreed, and didn't even sound like it hurt too much. "I'll make breakfast."
Cordelia studied him over her still-crossed arms. "Promise?"
He finally met her eyes and, amazingly, even cracked a little bit of a smile. "Yeah. I promise."
Cordelia's smile broke out like the sun, and she bounced across the room to hug Angel. "Angel breakfast, yay! Best ever!" She spun and hugged Wes, apparently just because he was there, then ran back to grab Lindsey's hand. "Come on, babe -- the sooner we sleep, the sooner we get eggs!"
"The Vampire Chef, there's some motivation," Lindsey grumbled under his breath, but allowed himself to be pulled. He ignored Angel now that he'd won, but lifted a hand in Wesley's direction before Cordelia yanked him through the front door. Wes half-saluted in return, more relaxed than he'd looked in a while, like things were finally getting back to normal.
Whatever that meant.
When they left, Lindsey didn't look at the pavement, just focused on Cordelia's smile, and the way the sun shone off her hair.
She bounced around the car all the way back to her apartment -- his was still being renovated -- and it took almost an hour for her to calm down enough to actually make it into bed. But she finally curled against Lindsey under the sheets.
It's going to be okay, now," she said around a yawn, smiling drowsily. "Everything's going to be fine."
"Yeah. It'll be fine." For now, anyway; all they had to think about was 'for now.' Lindsey put his arm around her waist and kissed her shoulder, burying his face in her hair. She snuggled deeper into his body, and sighed as her eyes closed.
The curtains drifted shut a little later, dimming the light in the room. "Thanks, Dennis," Lindsey said quietly, careful not to wake Cordelia if she'd dozed off.
No acknowledgment from the ghost, but he was used to that. He was getting used to a lot of things; the best of them was sleeping next to him, a small, happy smile still curving her lips.
None of this was what he'd planned on: the clients, the Scoobies, the vampire, the Seer. But it was what he had now, and he didn't really regret it. If he'd believed in Cordelia's Powers That Be, he might have cursed them -- or he might have thanked them.
But Lindsey didn't bother doing either. Instead, he watched Cordelia, tracing the lines of his lover's face until he drifted off to sleep. The sun filtered softly through the curtains, casting a warm and golden glow around them.
"after the battle and we're still around
everything once up in the air has settled down
sweep the ashes, let the silence find us
a moment of peace is worth every war behind us
You and me of the ten thousand wars...."