They faced each other across a mausoleum. A souled vampire, searching for a chance at redemption, still holding a demon's bloody scythe. A battered, swaying mortal, who'd just made the most crucial decision of his life, still carrying the scroll of life and death.

Lindsey McDonald held Angel off with a long cross set atop a longer pole, circling to stay out of reach. His tie was too tight, his face sweaty, his mind still reeling with the choice he'd just made. Angel advanced on him coolly, calmly, like the Death he'd just killed, all black clothing and blacker eyes.

"Lindsey. Give me the scroll."

He adjusted his grip on the cross, held the scroll more tightly. "That's not gonna happen. It belongs to us." Wolfram & Hart. Us. He'd just decided that, not two minutes ago, and he would stand by it now.

Stubborn, isn't he?

Oh, totally. But he saved the kids.

And he sacrificed how many others, including the Seer?

He hasn't sacrificed her yet!

We just have to wait a few more seconds.

No, we don't.

"Us." Angel's face was blank now. Like he hadn't expected anything else. "You put your faith in Wolfram & Hart."

"You said I had to make a choice."

"And you did."

"Yeah. I had a crisis, and I want to thank you for your help with that. I'm seeing more clearly now."

Free will. It's his choice, and you heard him. He's made it.

Oh? And how many other choices has he had?

Others have made better choices, and they've gotten less help.

So we're supposed to just turn away from him?

Angel shook his head, so slightly Lindsey almost couldn't see the movement. "You don't see anything. You don't know what faith is."

"I see that what happened here tonight was foretold." Lindsey held up the scroll, taunting, in control -- he knew what it said now. "That doesn't bode well for you. I see that you're either the one with the power, or you're powerless!"

"Uh-huh." Angel was unimpressed. And pissed. "You see what I'm going to do to you if you don't give me that scroll?"

This was power. Yes. Angel wanted something Lindsey McDonald had. He held life and death in his hands, and he could do whatever he wanted with it. Whatever he chose.

He's turning away from us. What should we do, chain him to our side? We can't keep someone who chooses to walk away.

But we can give him more choices to make. More time to make them.

He's had enough chances!

He saved the kids! He's earned one more. We should give him some time -- and just one more little chance.

"You need the Words of Anatole to cure your friend. She's your connection to the Powers That Be." An image of the girl, young and beautiful and all attitude, rose in front of Lindsey's eyes. He pushed it away instantly, ruthlessly. "And since it's foretold that we sever all your connections... Well..."

There was a fire burning next to him; that was where the heat was coming from. it had been lit for the ritual, representing one of the four elements. Superstition and magick... but practical right now. Useful.

Is this about the girl? They've barely...

No, it's not about the girl -- well, maybe a little. But it's mostly about the possibilities. I don't want to just throw all that potential away because we gave up on it too soon.

His eyes locked on Angel's, Lindsey lowered the scroll towards the burning brazier.

...And if he makes the wrong choice again?

The flames leapt eagerly towards the parchment, reaching to embrace it.

Then you're right, and there's nothing else we can do. He'll have to live with the consequences. Just... one last chance. Right here, right now.

Angel's hand tightened on the scythe, hefting it, judging the distance.

....Fine. One last chance. But the choice to take it has to be his.

Duh. Of course.

Lindsey saw Angel's hand tighten, and he blinked against a sudden vision of what was about to happen, as if he could see it playing out in front of him. See Angel pull his arm back, see the scythe go spinning through the air, though his wrist, and the burning pain as the scroll was lost and his hand burned--

He flinched back from the illusory pain, and saw Angel's hand tighten reflexively, start to lift the scythe, and the weird flash of images became certainty, deep in the suddenly cold pit of Lindsey's stomach. The so-called good guy was ready to cut off Lindsey's hand to get the stupid scroll, and this was way, way more than he had signed on to sacrifice for anyone.

His soul, fine -- but not his hand.

Lindsey's arm flicked forward, bringing the scroll out of the fire in the same motion that he threw it towards Angel. It rolled, tumbling, to stop at the vampire's feet.

Angel looked at it, then stared at Lindsey, unblinking, expressionless. The scythe was still clutched in his hand, still half-hefted. Lindsey stared back. "We don't need it anymore," he said snidely. "See if you can find a way to squirm out of fate. But I wouldn't count on it."

It cost him every ounce of courage he had left after this night, but he dropped the cross with a clatter to the floor and turned his back on Angel. Then he straightened his tie and strode towards the door after Lilah and Holland. He could feel Angel's eyes on his back, but he didn't stop, didn't turn. Didn't breathe.

There would be explanations to make, and he started rehearsing them. Holland didn't have to know when Lindsey had regained consciousness, after all, and it wasn't like Wolfram & Hart didn't owe him some major brownie points after tonight. Oh yeah, he'd walk away from this with a bonus and another secretary.

The crypt door swung open, and he stepped through into the dark, heavy night, shoving his hair out of his face and making a note to get it styled. As he lowered his arm, a sudden pain ripped through his wrist,tearing at flesh and bone like ice, then passing as quickly as it had come. He gasped, reflexively clutching his hand to his chest, but it was still there. Still whole. "Sir?" the driver called from the limo. "Yeah," Lindsey said roughly, forcing himself to let his hand drop. "I'm coming." He walked to the limousine and climbed inside, where he belonged.

It pulled swiftly away from the curb and he settled back without a word from any of the other occupants. This mess was over.

He was done.

Chapter 1: It Had to Be You

"You feel a certain sense of synergy between yourself and me
A kind of macabre and somber Wonder-twin kind of harmony..."

Cordelia Chase was bored out of her mind.

There was absolutely no reason to be this bored. She was at a great party and surrounded by the rich and famous. Contacts her that could guarantee her a career were walking by every three seconds, and not a few of them were casting looks in her direction.

And David Nabbit had a light hold on her hand, and a firm hold on her newly-acquired guilt button. She knew how lonely he was and how much he loved having a gorgeous woman sitting beside him at his party, laughing at his every word. He was sweet and rich, and playing arm candy made him so smug and happy, and it was only a few hours of her life, after all.

A few endless, interminable, deadly dull hours of listening to him talk about nothing.

"...So the meeting broke up after an hour, and then the Green Goblin took a trip to the moon and turned into a punk rock duck." David finished his sentence and looked at her, waiting for a response.

"Uh-huh. Of course," she agreed automatically. "I totally see that."

Punk rock ducks? What? Uh-oh. She winced, and turned a chagrined smile to David, who looked back at her with that wounded puppy-dog expression. "I'm so sorry, David, I just drifted off. It's been so weird lately, trying to find a new place for the office and Angel, and..."

He held up a hand to stop the flow of at-least-partly sincere apology. "It's all right, Cordelia. I understand. You've been hanging with me for almost two hours. Go have fun."

Oh, yay! He was going to be stoic and noble. He liked being stoic and noble; she could take off with no guilt attached and go find someone fun and/or profitable to talk to.

She couldn't look too gleeful, of course; that was Old Cordy. A reluctant smile, with overtones of regret and gratitude, would be just fine. "You're sweet, David. I'm just going to go hit the buffet for a few minutes, and then I'll be back. 'Kay?"

"You don't have to come back. Have fun." He looked wistfully at her, and she felt a genuine rush of affection for him. It wasn't actually his fault he was pathetic, and he knew exactly how pathetic he was, which had to suck.

On impulse, she leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek before standing and smoothing her dress. "You really are sweet. And I will be back."

He smiled happily, someone else drifted over to schmooze with the guy with the cash, and Cordelia headed for the food.

One thing she had to say for David, he sure knew how to feed people. Caviar, champagne, truffles, those little hot dogs so that stomachs wouldn't start rumbling... Oh yes, this was how she wanted to live. She grabbed a plate and started piling it on, making sure to snag a good share of the hot dogs. It wasn't until she debating over the dessert (which involved at least twelve layers of chocolate, and 12 million calories) that she realized who was making similar inroads on the other side of the table.

"Oh, great," she groaned out loud. "I thought I smelled something, and I was hoping it was a slime demon. Not just slime."

Lindsey McDonald looked up from the champagne glass he was balancing, blinked, and smiled in a way that he probably thought was charming. It might have been, if she didn't know the sleaze that lurked under the blue eyes and dimples.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't Angel's secretary. Or should I say, Angel's pet?" His smile widened into a smirk. "He lets you wander around at night all alone, little girl?"

Her eyes narrowed. Nobody patronized Queen C and got to gloat about it.

"I'm surprised to see you here, Born-Again Boy," she said, with a cool, deliberate smile, the one developed on Harmony and honed to razor sharpness on Xander. "I thought you were the one Wolfram & Hart didn't let out without a leash these days. Oh, that's what that thing trailing down your back is."

He started to check; she saw the tiny motion before he stopped himself with a satisfied smirk of her own. The score stood at 1-1, advantage Chase.

She followed up on it, casually putting her plate down to reach for the chocolate fest. "So, did you get invited tonight, or did you just ooze your way in under the doorman's feet?"

"Oh, let me." With exaggerated courtesy, Lindsey scooped a good-sized portion of the chocolate onto her plate. She made a mental note not to let a bite of it touch her lips. "And I was actually going to ask the same thing. Who did you sleep with to get into this party?"

She refused to flinch, damn him. But it was close; her fingers tightened around her champagne flute before she counted to ten and very deliberately loosened them. "Unlike some people, I don't have to sell myself, or anything else, to get where I want."

Her eyes met his, unflinching. His eyes darkened and flattened, but held.

"All I'm selling tonight is my services," he said calmly, and she was forced to admit he kept a good deadpan. "Mr. Nabbit's company has shown interest in retaining Wolfram & Hart for some of their... messier legal problems. I'm here to close the deal."

Oh, really? She lifted an eyebrow at him. "So, you've talked to... Mr. Nabbit?" she asked, carefully putting just the right edge of awed appreciation in her voice. "He's like, totally rich, right? What would he want with you?"

That did it, the hint of Valley Girl. She saw the second he pegged her as a brunette bimbo, and smothered a catty smile. And they said she couldn't act.

"Mr. Nabbit's business takes him into many areas Wolfram & Hart deal with," he informed her. The tone was condescension mingled with smug superiority; she ranked it about an 8. He and Harmony would get along great. "We can make his life easier, and safer. Wolfram & Hart..."

He caught himself on the edge of a sales pitch and stopped. "Well, I'm sure it's nothing you'd be interested in." Even if you were important enough to be worth my time, that tone implied.

"I'm so sure." Oh, this was going to be fun. All she had to do was... yes, there he was. She smiled at David and gestured behind her back, careful not to let Lindsey see. David looked startled, then pulled himself away from the guy he was talking too -- one of the security types, she thought -- and wandered over.

Lindsey stiffened as soon as he realized David was coming over, and dismissed Cordelia completely, straightening his tie and hair. Which was actually too long to be straightened and she wondered absently why his bosses let him get away with that little deviation from the Evil Lawyer dress code.

"Hi there," David said genially, holding out his hand to Lindsey. He didn't fumble the greeting or the handshake, and Cordelia gave herself a mental pat on the back. The drills in Remedial Social Skills 101 were paying off. "I'm David Nabbit. And you are?"

"Lindsey McDonald. I'm an attorney with Wolfram & Hart." Lindsay's greeting was smoother, mostly because of the suit and tie. Cordelia's next step was going to be assaulting David's wardrobe. "I've been speaking of some of your people about offering our services to your legal department."

"Oh, right." David's smile beamed as he finally connected face to name and reason for presence. "I remember, they told me about that. Do we have a meeting or something?"

"Ah..." Not even Lindsey could handle David's straight-forward obliviousness without fumbling. The fact that David still had Lindsey's hand and was pumping it when he remembered to didn't help. Cordelia hid her smirk. "Yes. Yes, we do. This week, in fact."

"Oh. Good." He finally dropped Lindsey's hand and grabbed a canape without looking, shoving it into his mouth. It was something gross and fish-like, of course, and he grabbed a napkin to get rid of it. Lindsey pretended not to notice; Cordelia made another mental note regarding table manners.

"So, Cordelia, you've met Lindsey here, right?" David managed cheerfully, after he'd disposed of his mess.

"Oh, yes. I certainly have," she answered sweetly, and Lindsey's eyes suddenly narrowed in suspicion. Too late, sucker. "So have Angel and Wesley. We've even had some, um, dealings with his firm."

"Really?" David looked perkier, still missing the undertones, but delighted that he was holding up his end of a conversation that didn't involve dungeons and demons. "What did you think about their services?"

"I have referrals available--" Lindsey tried to interject a last-ditch save, but Cordelia quite happily rode right over him.

"Well, let's see." She cocked her head, pretending to think, and her smile grew sweet enough to gag on. "There was when Lindsey here supplied an alibi for the guy who killed a friend of Angel's."

"Allegedly killed," Lindsey kicked in reflexively. David just blinked.

Cordelia ignored him. "This was the same vampire Angel had to rescue me from when the guy tried to have me for dinner, in the yucky, death-related sense of the phrase."

"And we stopped representing Mr. Winters when your boss decided to ignore a trial and found him guilty, then shoved him out a window," Lindsey pointed out. "From the 25th floor."

"It's not like Russell-baby ever hit the ground. Then there were a few murders, assaults, let's-end-the-world perps that the lovely firm of Wolfram & Hart got off," she continued blithely, tapping a perfectly manicured nail against her chin. "Oh, what else, let me think.... one of their lawyers buying me at auction and trying to yank my eyes out? Oh," she snapped her fingers, "and we can't forget the rogue Slayer they hired to murder Angel! The one who assaulted me and almost put Wesley in the hospital? Remember that, Lindsey?"

"You've got no proof Wolfram & Hart was involved with that psychopath," Lindsey shot back. "As I recall, she was an enemy of Angel's long before he crossed our path. He seems to make a habit of associating with mental cases."

She ignored that shot, and the pointed look that accompanied it, as beneath her notice. David was looking shocked and vaguely green; Lindsey looked, well, pissed. But he was hiding it well; Cordelia gave him points for that, too. She could spare them.

"Maybe, but it was someone working for your boys that did put me the hospital. You remember, last month? Right before they blew up the office and almost killed Wesley?" There was no sweetness in her smile now; it was sharp steel, and aimed to draw blood.

"That's all hearsay and speculation," Lindsey forced out through gritted teeth, maintaining a polite smile through what looked like sheer willpower. "We deny any responsibility--"

"We know you do," Cordelia nodded understandingly. "It's kind of your best thing, isn't it? Denying responsibility?"

Direct hit, yes! She hadn't lost her touch. Lindsey blinked, his jaw tightening, and David looked back and forth between them like he was at a particularly terrifying tennis match, before finally getting a clue.

"Well..." he said slowly, "if Cordelia thinks I shouldn't hire you -- you do think that, right?"

"Good guess," she answered his sideways look.

"--then I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel that meeting," David shrugged, actually looking sorry. He didn't know Lindsey like she knew Lindsey, or he'd be celebrating. "I hope you'll stay and enjoy the party, though. Cordelia, are you going to stay longer? Because there's someone I'd like to introduce you to -- a casting agent, I think he said."

"Cool." She offered David a dazzling smile and another kiss, this one right on the lips. He really was adorable sometimes. "I'll find you in a few minutes."

"All right." He smiled back, looking kind of dazed, and wandered off. She hoped he didn't walk into anything, or anyone.

"Thank you very much." Lindsey said sourly beside her. Ooo, he looked like an unhappy lawyer, which was always a happy sight. "Feeling better now that you've got all that out of your system? Because I'd hate to see you have to pass up a prime opportunity to sponge off of Mr. Nabbit by being too sick to eat."

She grinned widely and maliciously at his sneer, popping a shrimp into her mouth. "Oh, I'm fine, and David likes it when I sponge off of him. Makes him feel all generous and sensitive. Did you really think I'd let your bosses sink their nasty little hooks into him?"

"Looks like your nasty little hooks beat us to it."

She snorted the innuendo off this time, still riding the wave of triumph. "Yeah, right. Please. Do I look like someone who'd sleep with David just because he's rich?"

Lindsey crossed his arms and leaned back against the table; his eyes started at her spike-heeled shoes and worked their way up past the spaghetti straps on her tight red dress. By the time they hit her face again, that smug, knowing smirk was firmly back in place. "I don't think I actually need to answer that."

He was this close to getting a glass of champagne in the face. Only the knowledge that he'd probably sue David kept her fingers tight around the crystal and his linen shirt dry. "I told you," she said levelly," I don't need to sell anything of mine. How many pieces of silver did your pretty suit cost you?"

"Oh, biblical references now. Am I supposed to feel guilty? Ashamed? Not a chance, little girl." He drained his champagne, then grinned tightly and toasted her with the empty glass. "I like how life tastes right where I am."

Cordelia looked at him for a moment, then shrugged with one shoulder, carelessly. "Choke on it."

She picked up her plate and her glass, then paused, looked back over her shoulder. "Oh, and tell your bosses -- the next they want to try to steal my visions? They can't do it by stealing my eyes." She gave him her sweetest smile yet. "Do a little research, why don't you? After you get done explaining how your big mouth just lost them a major client."

She strolled away towards David, enjoying her parting shot. A few minutes later, she saw her opponent negotiating with the doorman for his jacket and tilted a smug smile his way.

He returned it with a stony gaze, settling his jacket in place with choppy motions, and snagging a last glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Then, to her surprise, he lifted it in another ironic toast before emptying it in one gulp, dropping it on a nearby table, and walking out the door.

She watched him go with a raised eyebrow and her eyes narrowed again. Then the casting agent asked her a question, and she smoothed her face out, turning towards him to be charming. Which was certainly a lot more important than Lindsey McDonald.


"How was the party?" Angel asked the next morning, as she wandered into kitchen in her robe and bare feet. He still hiding out away from the sun, with the curtains drawn and the newspaper open.

"Okay," she shrugged, trying to determine from the smell whether Dennis or Angel had made the coffee. It smelled drinkable, so it had probably been Dennis. Angel couldn't make coffee to save his life, probably because it all tasted the same to him. "I met a couple of people, one of whom might actually be able to get me the audition he promised. David was boring but sweet, the food was good, and I cut Lindsay McDonald off at the knees when he tried to worm his way onto David's payroll."

Angel sputtered and almost spit coffee across the room. "You what? Wolfram & Hart was there?"

She shook her head, taking a tentative sip. Yes, blessed caffeine from Dennis's hands. "Not as such, just our boy Lindsey. It's okay; I told David to tell him to take a hike, and he did. It was fun, you should've been."

"Yeah, I should have." He'd gone all grim, and she could practically see the over-protective instincts kicking into gear. Only a knock on the door kept him from starting one of his 'I'm never letting you out of my sight again for the rest of your life' kicks.

"I'll get it." She escaped into the living room gratefully, and opened the door, expecting Wesley. Instead, she was greeted by a huge bouquet of roses that almost obscured the delivery man carrying them.

"Cordelia Chase?" he asked. She admitted to it and signed where he told her, and even managed to scrape up a tip; okay, so Dennis remembered to float the dollar bill over.

Angel looked up from his paper again when she brought the flowers into the kitchen. "I didn't miss your birthday, did I?" he asked warily when he saw what she was carrying. "'Cause I could swear we didn't have to do that for another few weeks."

She wrinkled her nose at him. "No, you didn't forget anything. This time. They must be from David. He's such a doll, I almost feel bad about making him go shopping tomorrow. Almost."

Putting the flowers on the counter, she dug through the deep green foliage to find the card. And almost dropped it as soon as she opened it.

"What?" Angel asked, trying to look over her shoulder. She jumped, then whirled, holding him off with one hand.

"Hey, no sneaking!" she admonished. "We've talked about that. And they're just from a guy I met last night. No big deal. Don't we have some demon to fight or something?"

Casually, she flipped the card in the trash and ushered her boss out of her kitchen, making sure Angel didn't get close enough to read the inscription:

Round one to you, Ms. Chase. Next time, I get the last word.

L. McDonald

Chapter 2: What Part of No

"Sir, if you don't mind, I'd rather be alone
From the moment I walked in tonight
You've been coming on
If I've told you once, I've told you twice, I'm just here to unwind
I'm not interested in romance -- or what you have in mind."

360 Degrees was your typical L.A. bar -- crowded, noisy and impossible to hold a conversation in. The only things to do there were drink and be seen, so it pretty much suited Lindsey McDonald's purposes perfectly tonight.

He wove his way through the crowds, his coworkers from Wolfram & Hart flanking him on either side as he accepted the congratulations and handshakes that came his way as his due. A table cleared miraculously for them, and Lindsey savored the small power trip as he slid onto one of the chairs.

"Helluva job, McDonald." Roger Brown, one of the other junior partners, clapped him on the shoulder and stuck a drink in his hand. "Those closing arguments were an absolute masterpiece."

"The whole trial was a masterpiece," an associate whose name Lindsey hadn't bothered to get chimed in from the other side of the table. "Getting the knife thrown out as unlawful search and seizure was just brilliant. I can't believe how well you played that judge."

Lindsey shrugged, keeping his smile under control as he leaned back in his chair, taking a long sip of his single-malt scotch. "It was all there to play with, boys. All you have to do is know the right moves to make."

"Yeah, but..." And they were off into the third or fourth rehash of the trial since the verdict had come in an hour ago. Not guilty, Lindsey's client walked free, and Wolfram & Hart would slide a nice bonus into his paycheck. Enough to pay off the Porsche, maybe put a down payment on a boat. And all he'd had to do was convince a jury there was no such thing as a shapeshifter. Easy money.

The hard part, of course, had been keeping Nodraan from shifting during the trial, which Nodraan tended to do when he was nervous, or upset, or homicidal. Which tended to result in Nodraan getting arrested. But the W&H shamans had cast the appropriate spell after Lindsey put them on the job, and everything else was downhill, all the way.

Oh, yeah. He was definitely very good at his job, and it was definitely paying off.

"So how did you know how to hit the cop?" Roger was asking, leaning over the table with his beer tilting precariously. "I had no idea her reputation was so out there. Even the other cops were testifying against her."

Lindsey pulled himself back to the adulation at hand, and shrugged, finishing his drink and gesturing for another one. "It's called research. Turns out Detective Lochley is starting to be known as something of a crackpot in the department..."

Two hours and several scotches later, Lindsey was the only one left as his table, and the bar was beginning to quiet down. He'd done the rounds a few minutes ago, talking to the right people, clapping the shoulders of the ones who might be useful, offering smiles and no contact to the ones who weren't. Yet. Now, he sat alone, with his back to the wall, alternating between surveying the room and inspecting the ice cubes in what remained of his drink.

And the ice cubes were more interesting, he'd figured out a long time ago. The people who flocked to see and be seen were mostly just sheep, happily following the herd. Not that he was objecting; it paid, oh how it paid, to be the smartest person in the room.

Almost. Lilah Morgan was still over in one corner, playing with her drink and playing with the two men who were currently trying to impress her. Knowing his coworker as he did, he was damn sure she wasn't even slightly impressed. She met his eyes across the room and he returned a cool stare, which she held for a second before tilting her head and going smoothly back to what she was doing. Lindsey snorted and emptied his glass. He and Lilah understood each other.

No waitress was in sight, so he got up and wandered over to the bar to get himself a refill. His last one for the night, he decided; there was no way he was getting sloshed in this crowd. A man had to watch his back....

"Get off me, you creep!"

Some latent instinct had his head turning to find the source of the woman's... not shout, since it sounded like it came from between gritted teeth. But someone sure wasn't happy.

A few feet away, in a dark corner of the bar, a brunette was fighting off the gropes of her companion, a lawyer Lindsey recognized. Something Anderson, they were working a tax evasion case together. Looked like Anderson had underestimated either his booze or his date.

His date, definitely; Anderson's snickers and gropes were suddenly cut off with a 'whoof' of breath. Fist to the gut, Lindsey determined; his sisters had perfected that move in junior high. Anderson was lucky it hadn't hit lower.

"Now back off and get out of my space," his reluctant date informed him, tossing her dark hair, "or you'll lose a lot more than your dignity and what's left of your brain."

Anderson straightened slowly as the girl turned away from him in complete dismissal, and Lindsey stiffened. He knew that face and that attitude.

Anderson grabbed Cordelia Chase's arm again, spinning her back around, and Lindsey leaned against the bar to enjoy the show. The girl couldn't get in too much trouble in public, and he wouldn't mind seeing Angel's secretary get a little attitude adjustment.

"Listen, you little tease," Anderson growled. "You've been making promises all night, and damn it, you are not going to pull this little game on me now."

"Promises?" Cordelia lifted one elegant eyebrow, her face otherwise expressionless, although Anderson's grip on her bare arm had to hurt. "I don't make promises to self-important windbags like you, and I've got better things to do than watch you try to prove your lame-o macho superiority. Now let go of me, or I'll hurt you in ways you can't even dream about."

Anderson, drunk and dumb with it, didn't take her seriously. Lindsey saw where her fists were, and had read her file, and took her very seriously. Remaining a spectator still seemed easier, but damn it, Anderson knew all the tax stuff. And that deposition was tomorrow, and Anderson couldn't take it if he was in the hospital.

"There's only one thing I'm dreaming about--" Anderson started to say, yanking Cordelia off her stool and to her feet. Her fist came back at waist level, her keys slipped firmly in place between her fingers, and Lindsey got his arm around Anderson's shoulders.

"Carter," he said jovially, pulling the man's first name out of thin air. "Man, you're starting to get some attention over here."

Anderson tried to shake him off. "This is private, McDonald. Butt out."

Lindsey didn't shake. "Sorry, man, but as your friend and colleague, I've got to tell you -- I know this babe and," he scanned her up and down, noting the legs and the scowl and everything in-between, "she's not worth your time. Trust me, I know."

"Excuse me?" Cordelia's scowl deepened to royal offense. Anderson just swayed in place.

"You serious, man?" he asked Lindsey. "That's one hell of a bod, and the face to go with it."

Lindsey shrugged. "Yeah, but dumb as a stone, and the attitude? Plus, she's got a real affection for losers and psychopaths. Trust me, a guy like you can do a lot better. Come on, I'll get you another drink and we can see what else is out there."

He steered Anderson off, noting Cordelia's dumbfounded stare -- caught between anger, relief and insulted vanity, with vanity in the lead -- with satisfaction. Looked like he could find some entertainment even in the most boring places. She saw him smirking back at her and snapped her mouth shut, then pulled out a cell phone and started dialing.


It took less than half an hour to get one of the associates to pour Anderson into a cab with a hooker and send him home. Lindsey watched them disappear out the door and headed back towards the bar to find the drink he'd been looking for originally, and now wanted worse than ever. He'd expected Cordelia to be long gone -- not still sitting in her corner, her arms crossed on the bar and fingernails tapping against her glass.

Just to be annoying, he slid onto the barstool beside her. "Another of the same," he told the bartender who'd been serving him all night, and turned his most deliberately irritating smile on Cordelia.

She returned it with a glare and a toss of her hair. "If you're expecting me to thank you, you're gonna have a long wait. I didn't need your help."

He snorted. "Dream on; I wasn't helping you. I need that idiot coherent and non-bloody in the morning." She blinked, then looked weirdly pleased. "Why hasn't your boss shown up to save you from the big bad lawyer bar? Too busy out saving the world from Solomon Grundy?"

It was her turn to snort. "Angel is not Superman, trust me on this. But he is on his way to get me. Why don't you leave and make the air a little cleaner while I wait?"

"Sorry," he smiled back, stretching out and invading her personal space a little more -- and trying not to be thrown that she'd gotten the Crash Test Dummies reference. "I was here first."

She rolled her eyes and scooted further away. "Whatever."

The bartender delivered Lindsey's drink; feeling expansive, he ordered, "And another drink for the... lady."

The strategic pause got him another glare. "I'd rather be poisoned," she smiled, sweet and brittle. "Scotch, single malt, rocks, and I'm paying for it."

The bartender shrugged, indifferent, and slid the glasses over.

Lindsey studied Cordelia's drink as he took a slug of his own. It burned like fire down his throat, proof he was alive. "You've got good taste in alcohol. Surprise, surprise. I would have thought that was too much for you, little girl."

She gave him a sideways look that was rife with contempt and picked up her highball glass, cradling it without drinking. "Enough with the little girl crap, McDonald. You're not even as cute as you think you are."

"Oh, did I hit a nerve?" He leaned forward a little more. "Should I point out to the bartender that he hasn't checked your ID?"

Another look, this one considering. "No. That's too petty, even for a lowlife like you."

Cordelia lifted her drink, but still didn't sip. Instead, she rested her elbows on the bar and her chin on the edge of the glass, staring out into nothing and blatantly pretending the person next to her didn't exist.

Naturally, he leaned further into her space. She rolled her eyes and put her glass down, half turning to face him. "Okay, do you have a purpose for being here, or are you just following your obnoxious instincts tonight? 'Cause I gotta say, they're right on target."

Lindsey smiled innocently, enjoying himself. She was right, it was petty, but what the hell -- he was bored. "Maybe I just like the company."

"And maybe Spike will go vegan tomorrow," she muttered under her breath, picking the glass back up. And, once again, not doing anything but holding it.

"I guess you think I should thank you for giving the scroll to Angel that night, and not making him hurt you to get it," she said suddenly, out of the blue. "Of course, that's probably why you did give it to him, to save your suit and your skin from any more damage, and not because of any shred of humanity trying to climb out of the cesspit of ooze you call a soul. But, you did save Angel the trouble of walking all over you to take it, which got me out of my little vision quest that much sooner, so thank you."

She looked calmly at him when she finished, and he thought about her statement, looked it over, broke it down. "So," he asked finally, "was there actually any gratitude in there?"

She smiled brightly. "About ten percent. Take it, it's the best you're going to get."

His chuckle caught him by surprise, sneaking out before he could turn it into a snort. Her smile turned into a grin, her eyes laughing at him in shared amusement.

They realized what they were doing at almost the same moment, and wiped their smiles off instantly. Cordelia suddenly found her glass fascinating again, and Lindsey turned around to find the rest of the bar equally interesting.

After a few long moments of self-conscious silence, Lindsey cut his eyes back over to Cordelia. "Are you going to get around to drinking that sometime tonight?" he asked, more to have something to say than out of any real interest.

She looked startled at the question, then actually seemed to focus on her still-untouched glass. "Oh. Right." She took a sip, made a face and went back to cradling it in her hands. "I don't like this stuff that much."

"Than why did you order it? It's a shame to see good scotch go to waste."

She shrugged with one shoulder. "A friend of mine used to drink it. When I smell it, it reminds me of him."

He leaned against the bar, shaking his glass and hearing the ice cubes clink against each other. "So what happened to him?"

"He died."

Two simple words, and one hell of a lot of pain behind them. He wasn't interested, Lindsey reminded himself; he didn't want to know. And he really didn't care.

"So what's your deal, anyway? Why do you hang out with the Fanged Avenger? The whole 'saving the world' thing doesn't really seem like your kind of gig." And why was he asking when he didn't care?

She gave him another of those infinitely superior looks, the kind he'd gotten from women like her for most of his life. It made it a lot easier to remember to hate her. "And what would my kind of gig be, in your oh-so-wonderful judgment?"

Lindsey didn't bother to look at her, just kept staring over the bar. "Oh, I don't know. The Playboy Channel?"

He expected a fast comeback, or a rude noise at the very least. When it didn't come, he couldn't resist turning to see why not. Cordelia was studying him through narrowed eyes; after another long second, she simply shook her head and turned away.

"Oh, what the hell is that look supposed to mean?" he demanded, forgetting he didn't care.

"Nothing," she said calmly, reaching over the bar for a napkin and wiping up the water rings her glass had left. "But if lame sexual innuendoes are the best you can do for insults, then you're definitely not as much of a hot-shot as you think. Not that that that's a surprise, but I really expected better, you know?"

She took a sip of her scotch, and didn't wrinkle her nose this time. "As for why I hang out with Angel: a) he pays me, b) he's my best friend and c) he does good things and I like helping." She stopped, tilted her head to the side, and added, "Not necessarily in that order. What's your excuse for hanging out with Wolfram & Hart?"

"Because..." He caught himself, and glared at her. "You know why. You heard me tell your boss, before the mocking started. And I happen to like my work, all financial perks aside. I'm a damned good lawyer, whether you like it or not, Miss Holier-Than-Thou."

"No one said you weren't," she pointed out sweetly. "You're the one getting all defensive."

He started to shoot back an answer, then caught himself in time. It was his turn to study her through narrowed eyes, a muscle in his jaw working. "You're very good," he acknowledged finally. "Find the weak points and go right for them, make the other guy forget he doesn't give a damn. Manipulation 'R' Us. Ever consider law school? You'd be hell in a courtroom. I'll get you a job with Wolfram & Hart when you graduate."

Her eyebrows were all the way up by the time he finished, her face wearing that same weirdly pleased satisfaction he'd seen earlier, when he'd told her he knew she didn't need to be saved. Abruptly, he wondered how many people had made the mistake of underestimating Cordelia Chase, and told himself firmly to never do it again.

"Thanks, but I've got enough blood-suckers in my life," she answered his... proposal?... evenly. "I have less than no desire to be one."

"Oh, lawyer jokes now. And you accuse me of having no originality."

"Hey, sometimes you've got to go for the easy shots." She was grinning again, trying to hide it behind the fall of her hair, and he found himself grinning back with reluctant -- and unexpected -- respect.

"Have dinner with me."

Whoa. What had he just said?

"What did you just say?" Cordelia echoed his thought, her head whipping around in shock.

"Have dinner with me," he heard himself repeating. "Tomorrow night. Someplace fancy so you can mooch off of someone besides Nabbit for a night."

Her breath huffed out in indignation. "Yeah, right. Just because I made the mistake of going out with your loser friend Anderson, doesn't mean I'm that desperate." She somehow managed to flounce without moving from the chair when she turned away.

"What's the matter?" Lindsey baited her, following his stupid impulse through for reasons that he hoped would make sense later. "Scared of me? Or scared you can't play with the adults?"

"Get over yourself," she snapped. "I can play anywhere with anyone."

"Fine." He smiled calmly, confidently, knowing it would annoy her more than anything else he'd done that night. "I'll pick you up at your apartment at 8."

She opened her mouth, then stopped; her eyes narrowed dangerously. Yeah, that's right, little girl, Lindsey thought smugly. Someone else can play the manipulation game, too.

"Fine," she finally said, after a long, considering silence. "8 o'clock. I assume you already know where I live."

Lindsey's smirk widened, grew more satisfied. "We make it our business to know everything."

Cordelia's smile reappeared, and grew more smug. "We'll see about that."

She gathered up her purse and stood, weaving her way through the bar to the front door, where the geeky British guy who worked for her and Angel had just gotten there. He held the door for her, hovering in concern, and she brushed him off with a warm smile on the way out.

It was only after the door had closed behind the pair that Lindsey realized she'd gotten the last word again. He leaned back against the bar and started composing his strategy for tomorrow night.

From her small corner table, Lilah Morgan lifted her glass to her lips, ignored the people she was with, and took mental notes on the entire fascinating scene.

Chapter 3: Uninvited

"It must be strangely exciting
To watch the stoic squirm...

But you, you're not allowed
You're uninvited
An unfortunate slight..."

Cordelia looked at her perfectly made-up face in the mirror, touched up her lipstick, and fought back the urge to scream.

"Why did I do this?" she asked thin air -- or her roommate, whichever was closer -- as she leaned in to put on another layer of mascara. "I know what he was doing, he was playing head games with me, being the perfect little lawyer. Why did I let him maneuver me into this? Why didn't I tell him to go to hell?"

She gestured emphatically with the mascara wand as punctuation. "But no. I had to fall for it, I had to take a dare like some grade school kid! Now I'm going to be trapped in a restaurant with Lindsey 'I sold my soul for my stock portfolio' McDonald for hours, if this isn't some Wolfram & Hart scheme to make me a human sacrifice. I wonder how many of them graduated from UC Sunnydale's Reptile House!"

She slammed the mascara down, and started brushing her hair with long, furious strokes. "God, if Angel finds out about this, he is going to kill me. And I'll have to let him, 'cause I'm now officially too stupid to live!"

Her cell phone drifted across the room and danced tantalizingly in front of her eyes. For a long moment, she was tempted, but then she shoved the phone firmly out of her way. "No, Phantom Dennis, I am not calling Angel. That's your job, if I'm not home by midnight. I'm not backing out now. It's just one lousy date, with one stupid lawyer that I can run rings around in my sleep. And maybe he'll spill something juicy about W&H."

Her eyes lit up at the thought, and her hands stopped in the middle of smoothing her hair up and away from her face. "Oh, that's right, that's good! It's, um, industrial espionage. Spy games, like Mata Hari."

The cell phone dipped and rose sharply in a gesture that was unmistakably rude, and Cordelia glared at it. "Very cute, Dennis. I can be subtle and mysterious if I want to be." She finished putting her hair up and inspected the result. "But I think I'll settle for classy and bitchy tonight. It's not like they'll let Born-Again Boy do anything that's worth finding out about."

She stood back from the mirror and turned around once, checking out the final product. She'd wanted to wear her prom dress, the beautiful shining silver that Xander had bought her and Wesley had admired; wearing that was like wrapping herself in confidence. But she had to admit it would be a little much, so she'd settled for basic black, long and elegant. With her hair up and the small diamond studs that had been Angel's Christmas present glinting in her ears, she looked like a million bucks.

"And way out of your league, Mr. McDonald," she told the mirror with satisfaction as her door buzzer sounded. "Let the games begin."


Lindsey was ten minutes late. He'd planned it that way, had waited five minutes in the parking lot to make sure of it. So it naturally annoyed the hell of him when it took Cordelia another two minutes after he buzzed to appear at her front door. He straightened his tie again, adjusted his custom-tailored suit jacket, ran his hands through his hair, and leaned against the wall to look bored and indifferent when she finally got around to opening the door.

And Christ, this was a bad idea. He knew it as soon as he saw her, wearing a smooth, strappy dress that revealed nothing and implied every damn thing.

"Oh, sorry," she said with a patently false smile. "Just putting on the finishing touches. You understand."

"Absolutely." So it was going to be war, huh? He could handle that; it put him right at home. "And it was worth the wait," he complimented her with an expression at least as insincere as hers was. Maybe more.

Her smile widened, and she turned to tell someone in the apartment, "I'll be back by midnight, Dennis. Remember to tell Angel where I am if he comes by." She said the last directly at Lindsey; he smirked at the implied threat and offered her his arm. She raised an eyebrow, than laid her arm on his elbow and allowed him to escort her down the walkway to his waiting Porsche. He closed the door behind her with perfect, hard-won elegance, and straightened his tie again as he headed for the driver's side.

They were about even on points so far; that was going to change, and soon.


The restaurant was French, of course; the kind where the food was almost as good as the service was bad, and the maitre d' ignored you for half an hour -- if you had reservations and after you bribed him. Lindsey temporarily took the lead in their unspoken, and cutthroat, competition when he got them seated, and the sommelier at their table, in less than ten minutes.

Cordelia ordered the (expensive) wine while Lindsey was still working his way through the wine list, and won an approving nod from the sommelier. The score evened up again.

As they waited for the wine to arrive, Cordelia pretended to study her menu, and surreptitiously studied her... 'date'. It would be a lot easier to remember he was scum, she admitted, if he didn't look so damn good in that suit. Angel always looked vaguely wrong in a suit, like he should be wearing velvet and ruffles instead. Wesley looked like a priss, Xander... well, she'd never actually seen Xander in a suit, just the tux at prom. And Doyle? Not even.

Lindsey wore his suit like it had been made for him -- which it probably had -- and like he'd worn one all his life, which she knew for a fact he hadn't. It was irritating. It was annoying. It was... attractive?

The sommelier chose that moment to return, and Cordelia forfeited points by draining nearly half of her first glass of wine as soon as Lindsey approved it and it was poured. Lindsey got his order -- boeuf bourguignon -- out first, but Cordelia's accent on the homard a buerre was better. Lindsey didn't flinch when she ordered the lobster, which took some of the fun out of it.

Then the menus and the waiter were gone, and there was nothing left to distract them but each other.

Silence fell.

"So," Cordelia said finally, resorting to small talk to break the awkward pause. She had manners, she knew how to keep a conversation going. "How did you find this place? It's very classy."

He studied her, obviously trying to see if that had been a slam, then answered uber-politely, "Word on good places gets around. One of my co-workers was here a few weeks ago and recommended it."

Cordelia smiled brightly. "Great ambiance, and good service so far. Your, um, co-worker has good taste."

"We'll see after we taste the food." Lindsey steepled his hands on the tablecloth, looking all-knowing. "Ambiance is great, but if you can't eat the food, there's really no point, is there? Still, the chef is supposed to be a product of Le Cordon Bleu, so that's always a good sign."

Yes, he was patronizing her, Cordelia determined. More fool him. "Really, Cordon Bleu? I've always thought that was, well, a little overrated. When I was in Paris last year, we avoided all of those swanky, overpriced places, and went for the smaller, more elegant ones. The food was almost always better, and the service, well...." She gestured breezily, as if no more needed to be said.

His hands had dropped and he leaned back. "You were in Paris?" he asked a little too politely, his jaw a little too tight. "For how long?"

"Oh, only a week or two. On that trip." She smiled. "Everyone should go to Paris now and then, it's such a great place to just... stop and appreciate things. My family always tried to go every few years, just to, you know, catch our breath." And mostly spent said breath doing business and sleeping, but he didn't have to know that.

"You can find anything in Paris," she continued, rubbing it in. "Last time I was there, I even stumbled onto this perfect little Thai place, right off of the Rue de Passant. The best pad thai of my life, and the tom kha... perfect. You just can't eat like that anywhere else."

"No way," Lindsey contradicted her instantly. "The best Thai is right here in L.A. There's this place down on Ocean, makes fantastic chicken satay and pot stickers."

"Ooo, pot stickers." Two of her favorite words. "Do they make the chicken satay with peanut sauce?"

"Yeah, great stuff. And mini egg rolls."

"Mmmmm...." Yes, she was definitely getting hungry. Where were those breadsticks? "I make Wesley pick up Thai takeout sometimes, and Chinese, but he doesn't appreciate it. He goes all British guy and says it's too spicy. So much for all that curry they're supposed to eat over there."

"No such thing as too spicy." Lindsey shook his head, grinning, as he leaned forward. "All the peppers you've got, load them in."

"Exactly!" She gestured her agreement emphatically. "Wesley's just such a wuss about it."

Lindsey snorted. "Yeah, that's about what I'd....." he caught himself, just before he could say something rude, she guessed, and she suddenly realized they were smiling and leaning over the table towards each other. Worse than that -- they were agreeing about something.

She abruptly leaned back, Lindsey reached for his wine and gulped, and silence returned.


Cordelia had been to Paris. Repeatedly. In her teens. And he had yet to get further out of the country than Tijuana, much less overseas. And damn, but he wanted Paris, and everything that went with it. That rank injustice outweighed the fact that Cordelia had good taste in food, and he sat and stewed over it for a minute, staring into his wine glass.

Cordelia's arms were crossed on the table, her fingers tapping on her bare skin as she looked anywhere but in his direction. "So, how was your...." she started to ask, then abruptly stopped.

That was rude and lost her points; he straightened in his chair and prepared to rub it in. "I'm sorry, you were saying?"

She smiled tightly, still looking into the distance. "Nothing."

"No, please," he gestured expansively, "what were you going to say?"

She sighed and glared at him. "Small-talk reflex, okay? I was going to ask how your day at work was. But I don't actually want to know, and you don't want to tell me, so I'm just not going to ask."

"Fine by me." That was definitely his round. He smirked as he leaned back again, until he realized that it was, by the rules, his turn to come up with the conversational gambit. And he was totally unable to come up with anything better than, "So, do you go to 360 Degrees often? I hadn't seen you there before."

"My first time," she smiled brightly, "and my last, trust me. You seemed at home there; is it one of your lawyer hangouts?"

Her tone made the last part an insult, but he let it pass. "More or less. It's close to the firm, so we go there to celebrate cases, let off some steam, that kind of thing." Hey, she'd asked. "How did you wind up there?"

"Your friend Carter thought it was a good place to start the evening. I thought it was a better place to end it."

"I noticed." So had everyone else in the place. "It's an okay joint, if you need someplace to be. Some good people watching, lots of wanna-bes--" he couldn't resist the sideways glance at her; she huffed and looked away, "--coming out to try to look important. And they pour a good scotch."

"If you call any scotch good," she muttered, then forced her lips up. "I'm sure it's fine when the, ah, company is better." Her turn for a significant look; his turn to snort and fake an oblivious smile. "And it could have been worse, he could have tried to drag me to D'Oblique or something."

"D'Oblique? That meat market? Nothing's worse than that."

"Oh, tell me!" She was gesturing again, talking with her hands, which did interesting things to her neckline. It took a determined effort not to notice. "Bad music, desperate men, more desperate women, and can we talk about the lighting? Not to mention some of the ickier clientele."

She made a face, and he decided he didn't want to know. He had his own horror stories from D'Oblique. "The one time I went to that place, I had some fake blonde try to pick me up by telling me we'd been lovers in a past life. And she was ready and willing to pick up where we left off then."

"No way." Cordelia shook her head, then paused, tilting it to the side. "No, sadly, I actually believe that."

"Wait, it gets better," Lindsey told her, leaning back in his chair. "I told her I wasn't into past lives and she offered to, ah, jog my memory. Right there in the middle of the club."

"Oh, god." Cordelia started giggling, trying to hide it behind her hands. "How much clothing did she get off?"

"Jacket and tie. She was fast." He shook his head, chuckling at the memory. "She was going for my shirt before I recovered and pulled her off. She finally got the hint and stalked off, muttering something about bad karma and being a rat in my next life." Cordelia started to make the obvious comeback, but couldn't do it without losing control of the giggling. "I never did get my tie back."

She buried her face in her hands and her shoulders shook with laughter, which did equally interesting things to her neckline as the gesturing. He chuckled into his wine glass, remembering the look on the blonde's face.

"I think you got off pretty easy," Cordelia commented, regaining control of her breathing and reaching for her water glass. "She could have started, um, more directly than with your tie."

"Yeah, and walked off with something else," he shot back. "Believe me, I'm grateful for small blessings." He got his hand up in time to hold off her instant comeback. "I know, I asked for it, let the easy one go this time, okay?"

She pressed her lips together agreeably, but her eyes were dancing as she took another sip of water. He saw the exact second she remembered she didn't like him; her face tightened and all the brightness faded away. He would have minded more if it hadn't reminded him that he didn't like her, either.

Fortunately, the soup and bread arrived at that moment, and they buried their faces and the silence in food. Cordelia made quite the show out of transferring butter to her bread plate, and breaking the bread just so, but slipped and lost a drop of soup onto her napkin. Lindsey kept a straight face, ignored the bread and sipped his soup with perfect control.

"So," he asked, after a few minutes of dueling table manners, "I've got to know. Why did you agree to go anywhere with an idiot like Carter Anderson?"

"Well, I guess my taste in dates is just going downhill lately," she replied with a sweetly barbed smile at him. He lifted an eyebrow -- touche -- and she returned her attention to her soup. "Cute guy, well-paid lawyer, he seemed like he might be worth a shot. If I'd known he worked for Wolfram & Hart...."

"He doesn't." She looked up and he shrugged. "We're just working with his firm on a case. They do the math, we deal with the, ah, clients. It's a profitable arrangement."

She rolled her eyes. "I should have guessed. Carter wasn't nearly... what's the word I'm looking for--"

"Smooth enough? Intelligent enough?"

"--sleazy enough," Cordelia filled in her own blank with another of those irritating head tilts and eye bats, "to work for W&H." Lindsey just looked at her, and she smothered a smirk.

Then she sighed. "Carter seemed nice enough until he started pouring down the booze. But he didn't get really pissy until I told him I was going to call Angel for a ride home. It offended his macho, I guess; what a loser. I have got to stop dating fixer-uppers."

She was mostly talking to herself by the time she finished, and Lindsey chuckled. "What?" she asked with a lifted eyebrow. "My dating status entertains you?"

"No. Well, yes," he amended, just to keep the level of hostility up, "but I was actually laughing at something else." She gave him an 'oh really' look, and he took another sip of wine. "Right after I started with the firm, I wound up dating this actress. You know the type -- thin, blonde, employed, successful..."

"I get the idea," Cordelia grimaced and he hid his smirk in his wineglass.

"Anyway, I knew it wasn't going to work the first time I took her out. We went to a restaurant just like this, and it was such a waste of money. It took her three hours to order because she had to run down the exact calorie content of everything on the menu. From the appetizers to the main courses; even the dessert. I have no idea why she was bothering with the desserts, but hope springs eternal, I guess." He chuckled again, remembering. "She had this little calorie counter in her bag, and whipped it out before she took a bite of anything."

Cordelia's lips were curved with amusement. "Yeah, that's always kind of... really annoying."

"Worse than that." He leaned forward to emphasize the point. "She had to discuss every calorie she ate. How much it was, what she was going to have to do to work it off, how much she could weigh before 'the big audition tomorrow'..." He shook his head, still bemused by the memory. "And we're not going to talk about the state of her manicure."

"Because she talked about it enough for three people?" Cordelia guessed.

"Got it in one."

Cordelia snickered. "She sounds just like my friend Aura in high school. I swear, that girl had the calorie count for everything in the cafeteria and The Bronze memorized. And she'd recite it for you if you looked even a little bit interested. So we all made sure to look really bored every time we were eating."

And he knew from personal experience that Cordelia played bored really, really well. "Do women ever grow out of that, in college or anything? I mean, women, not actresses and models."

Her face went blank as she took a sudden interest in her soup, and he wondered if the latest actress crack had hit its target. But she only said, quietly, "I don't know. I haven't been to college."

"Oh." A little sore there? "Well, I did seven years of college, and I didn't notice anyone getting over it. Except for the Goth crowd, who didn't care, and the hippie chicks, who also didn't care. You probably haven't missed much by not doing the college thing."

She flinched under his overly-considerate tone. "I'm planning on going," she said defensively. "Angel's trying to talk me into taking some business classes, mostly so he won't have to do the bookkeeping. But I'm going to do the school thing. Eventually."

"Good for you," he encouraged heartily. "Always keep those goals in mind."

She didn't look up from the soup this time, and he took a satisfied gulp of wine.


Ooo, big-shot college boy, with his fancy law degree, Cordelia fumed silently. I got in everywhere I applied, you jerk, and I'd have left you in the dust if I'd still had money. And I'd have totally done better things with my degree than you're doing!

Her only comfort was that she knew none of the emotion was showing on her face. She sipped steadily at her soup, took another dainty bite of bread, and summoned up a Queen C smile. "I forgot to tell you when you picked me up, you're driving a nice car. What is that, a '72 Porsche?"

"'71," he corrected, "the 911. Original interior and top. Parts are a real pain to get, but--"

She held up a hand to stop him before he could devolve to his inner mechanic. "I'll settle for 'Nice car.'" He blinked, stopped in mid-spec, but settled back in his chair gracefully. "I've always had a weakness for Porsches. The older, the better."

"They really don't make them like they used to," Lindsey agreed. "I've got a '56 Ford I've been rebuilding, but the Porsche is my baby. What do you drive?"

She shrugged lightly. "Angel lets me take his convertible when I've got an audition, or have to run errands, but I don't keep a car of my own in the city," she said casually. "And isn't that weird, a vampire driving a convertible? You'd think something non-sunroof-y would be in order, but no, he has to be cool."

"Yeah, kinda weird," Lindsey agreed absently, studying her over the centerpiece again. He had lawyer eyes, the kind that pretended they could see something on the wall directly behind you, and she didn't enjoy being his target.

She shrugged lightly, as if that would deflect him. "I had a BMW in high school, but it just didn't seem worth it to haul it all the way down to L.A." Even if the repossessors had wanted to. "Besides, I always planned on getting something with a little more... style than a staid old Beemer."

The tactic didn't work; if anything, his gaze had gotten more intense. He leaned forward and steepled his hands again. "So, let me get this straight. You went to Paris for vacations, drove a BMW in high school, but didn't go to college and are working for a vampire in a second-rate detective agency. Want to tell me how that happened?"

Nothing in the world had ever pissed her off as much as the fact that she flinched at his summation. Visibly.

"Not particularly," she said with as much ice as the Queen C freezer could generate. "Do you always discuss your dates' finances at dinner? That might explain why you were at the bar alone. Or did they just not teach you about manners on the farm... or whatever it is they have where you come from."

She'd stolen both the patronizing tone and the little dismissing handwave from her mother at her bitchiest and most malicious, and they worked, as always. Lindsey sat bolt upright, his face going straight from sardonic amusement to pissed. "Listen, little girl, I earned everything I have now, coming from where I came from. Which is more than you can say, without your father's money to sponge off of."

"Please," she tossed her head. "I don't need my father's money. I can take care of myself."

"More like you can sit back and let your good buddy Angel take care of you," he sneered. "Like you really earn anything he pays."

That hit a little too close to some deeply-buried buttons. Her hand tightened on her wine glass, ready to break it or throw it, and the waiter's cheerful voice intervened.

"And we have the lobster for the lady," he said, smoothly maneuvering the plates while remaining studiously oblivious to the general aura of homicide. "And the boeuf bourguignon for you, sir. Would either of you care for fresh-ground pepper?"

"Please," they both snarled with rigid politeness, through gritted teeth and clenched jaws. The waiter did his thing with the grinder, made sure they had everything they needed, and bowed gracefully out of the line of fire.

In steaming silence, Cordelia occupied herself with her lobster tail, dipping her salad into the dressing and eating it without spilling a drop. Unfortunately, she was too mad to actually enjoy a bite of it.

Across from her, Lindsey fumbled his fork, dropping it to the tablecloth. "Damn it," he cursed, barely audibly, as he recovered. She smirked as she added points to her side, and didn't care if he saw it.

"And we're not second rate," she suddenly remembered to inform him, as she swallowed a chunk of lobster. "Angel Investigations has never had anything less than success for our clients."

He snorted without bothering to look up from his bowl. "You people don't even have a license. And I keep wondering why the cops haven't done anything about that, especially given how much the lovely Detective Lockley hates your boss."

"She's pointed it out," Cordelia admitted. "But you try getting a license for a 240-year-old. It's not like he could pass a background check."

Lindsey shrugged, still not looking up. "No problem. All you have to do is know the right people."

"Oh, I forgot who I was talking to," she said, making a face. "One of the kings of 'the law is for the little people'."

He finally looked up, his face blank except for the tightness around the edges, the hardness in his eyes. "Are we going to do that fight again?" he asked, very politely.

She thought about it. "No. I'm eating." And she applied herself to her lobster; god knew when she'd see a meal this good again.


Dessert was absolutely out of the question, but Lindsey could see the consideration in her eyes as she thought about the point value of gouging the price of cherries jubilee or something similar out of his wallet, and weighed it against having to be in his company for another half-hour. Getting the hell out of there won, and he was grateful for it. Ten more minutes, and he was going to strangle her. No jury in any dimension would convict him -- some of them would probably give him a medal for not doing it sooner -- but the trial would be a pain in the ass.

He signed the bill with a flourish, forced himself to hold Cordelia's chair for her as she stood, and escorted her out of the restaurant with a hand at her back. She accepted the courtesies in dead, stony silence, which continued out to the Porsche, out of the parking lot, and all the way down the freeway to her apartment.

He double-parked in front of her building and cut the engine abruptly, waiting for her to get out. She folded her arms and gave him a sideways look down her nose; the urge to strangle hit again and the hell with the game. He got out of the car, very carefully not slamming the door behind him, went around to her side, and opened her door. He couldn't resist rolling his eyes, and she sniffed as she unfolded herself from the low seat, disdaining his offered hand.

"Thank you for an... enlightening evening," he told her between his teeth.

"You're so welcome," she smiled, all teeth. "Let's never do it again, 'kay?"

"Fine by me," he agreed, closing the door. Hard. "I've seen high maintenance before but, little girl, you are sure as hell more trouble than you're worth."

"Oh, did the poor little evil lawyer get his feelings hurt?" she oozed over her shoulder, starting up the walk. "Maybe next time, you should try actually having charm instead of just faking it. Badly."

"And maybe next time--" he started. He had no idea how he was going to end the sentence, but it became moot as something lunged out of the shadows and grabbed Cordelia around the throat.


Oh, great! It was all Cordelia could think as the familiar strength -- and BO -- of a vampire assaulted her. The date from hell, and of course it ends with a vampire attack. Deja vu; any second now Lindsey will scream like a girl and run for the hills. No Doyle to rescue me this time, I'm dead...

She tried to brace herself to kick or fight, but the vamp had her off balance, and the spike heels weren't helping. She tried to slam one of said heels into the vampire's foot, but he yanked on her throat again, cutting off the air. She clawed at his arm as black spots started to dance in front of her eyes, and waited for the bite of the fangs. From far away, someone shouted, "Cordelia!" and there was a brief flash of hope, almost drowned in the darkness.

Then the stranglehold around her neck was gone, and she stumbled forward, gasping for air. She caught her balance and spun around to see whether Angel or Wesley had rescued her, and got the third or fourth surprise of the night.

Lindsey McDonald was wrestling with the vampire, literally. He had her fanged assailant caught from the back, and was struggling to keep hold of it. As she watched in shock, the vampire broke loose and swung on Lindsey; he ducked under and around, and didn't run. Instead, he came right back in and got his arms around the vampire again; this time, he managed to set some kind of solid hold on its head and shoulders, immobilizing it.

"You going to jump in here any time soon, Miss Demon Killer?" he demanded over the vampire's swearing and growling. "Or am I supposed to wait for the ref to make the count?"

"Just a second!" Cordelia snapped back, instinctively searching the ground and doing some swearing of her own at whoever had decided that evening bags should be small. No purse, no stake, no holy water.... But there were trees, and she snatched up a small branch. Lindsey held on grimly, despite the vampire's renewed thrashing and howls, and with one swift, practiced move, Cordelia drove the stake home.

Poof. End of fight. The mortal pair regarded each other in the sudden silence, broken only by their panting breaths.

Lindsey moved first, shooting his cuffs then starting to brush vampire remains out of his suit, the brusque movements punctuating his words. "This. Is absolutely. Without a doubt. The worst date of my life."

Cordelia considered it as she did a little clothing maintenance of her own. "You and me both," she finally concluded, trying to get vampire ickies out of her cleavage. "Up to and including the one that ended with a rebar in my stomach."

"I'd take the rebar," Lindsey replied grimly, not even blinking. "Let's get to your door so I can get the hell out of here and start pretending none of this actually happened."

"I don't need an escort," she informed him testily, still fighting off adrenaline-induced tremors.

"Tough." He caught her elbow and started hauling her up the sidewalk. She shook herself loose and led the way with as much dignity as she could muster, trying to ignore Lindsey's presence and not succeeding.

At her door, she fished out her keys, got the door unlocked and open, and turned back around to face her opponent. "There. Safely delivered, so you can toddle off home. Happy now?"

His blue eyes were flat and still furious, either with her or the vampire, or possibly (probably) both. He thought for a second, then said, "No."

He moved fast, for a suit. Before she knew what was happening, his hands were on her waist, yanking her forward, and his mouth had come down hard on hers. The part of her brain that wasn't instantly outraged registered that his lips were firm and dry, and knew what they were doing.

The rest of her brain, fortunately, had a hand up ready to punch or slap, whichever seemed easier, when he suddenly broke off, shoving her back a step. He wiped his mouth with the back of one hand, then ran it through his hair. "Gonna slap me now?" he goaded.

Her eyes narrowed. Nobody treated Cordelia Chase like that -- not Xander Harris, not Wilson Christopher, and sure as hell not Lindsey McDonald. "No," she answered shortly. With any luck, I'm never going to see you again -- and I'm damn well going to make you regret it.

In one quick motion, she grabbed his tie, and pulled him down into a Queen C special.

She caught Lindsey by surprise, and his body stiffened. But he caught up fast, and the assault became a duel, both mouths struggling for supremacy here, like everywhere else. His hands bit into her waist, pulling her against him, and her free hand dug into the shoulder of his jacket. Eyes closed, fists tightened, lips hardened and fought.

And somewhere along the way, it changed. Neither of them knew whose mouth softened first, whose hand loosened and stroked instead of grabbing and demanding. Cordelia's lips parted, and Lindsey was right there to take advantage. The first tentative forays of their tongues quickly became another duel, fighting for the right to taste and explore. Lindsey's hand found its way to the silky skin of Cordelia's bare shoulder; hers buried itself in the thick hair that lay over his collar. The blind hatred of a few minutes earlier became another kind of blindness, the kind that urged 'closer, closer', regardless of any other considerations.

Something loud suddenly crashed inside Cordelia's apartment, shocking them both out of oblivion. Dazed blue eyes met equally dazed hazel, and it took a full five seconds for identities and proximities to register. Once it did, they both sprang apart, Cordelia's hand almost taking some of Lindsey's hair with it. He swore once at the pull, then again as his watch caught on her dress strap.

Finally disentangled, they retreated to opposite corners, eyeing each other warily. "That-- that was the stupidest thing either of us has ever done," Lindsey finally managed to force out.

"Absolutely, " Cordelia agreed instantly and fervently. No argument, not on this.

"And we're never," he had to stop to clear his throat, and she was in no condition to gloat, "ever going to do it again."

"Hell no." She couldn't quite get her eyes above his mouth, and he seemed to be having a similar problem.

"Never," he repeated, eyes roaming from her lips to her chest and back up. "No way in.... Hell." With a final curse, he turned on his heel and strode away. She took slight comfort in the fact that he staggered, just a little, as he left.

It took iron willpower to get through the door and close it before her knees totally gave way, leaving her sliding down the door to the floor. The remains of one of her vases was next to her, shattered into bits, and she gave a grateful glance to the air. "Thank you, Dennis."

The pieces shivered, then settled again, and she forced herself to stand up, get ready for bed, and forget everything about this evening.

Especially the part about the kiss.


In the parking lot below, Lindsey stared at the apartment window until the living room light blinked out. He swore again, low and vicious, and pounded his hand against the steering wheel a few times for good measure. Then he started the engine and left the curb, his tires squealing angrily as he sped away.

Call and Answer

"And if you call, I will answer
And if you fall, I'll pick you up
And if you court this disaster
I'll point you home..."


"... And we'll need to look up everything we can find on shapeshifters and Callan demons."

"They're not exactly known for working together, so that's probably a good place to start."

"Right. Wesley, can you call Giles? We still need to use his library until we can replace mine. Cordelia, check the net, see if you can find... Cordelia? Cordelia!"

Cordelia jumped and abruptly focused on her boss, standing in her kitchen and staring at her with his eyebrows raised. "What? Oh, Angel. Sorry, I was thinking about..."

He waited patiently for her to finish her sentence, but damned if she was going to admit where her mind had been. Even to herself.

"Cordelia, could you hit the net and find everything you can on shapeshifters and Callan demons?" Angel finally repeated, very slowly and patiently.

"Oh, sure, I can do that," she nodded, not without making a face at his 'not-very-bright five-year-old' tone. "Um, how do you spell Callan again? And since when do shapeshifters and demons work together -- aren't they, like, oil and watery?"

Wesley and Angel looked at each other and Cordelia figured that she'd missed something. But neither man said anything, and they finally both left, off to do their own research.

Cordelia dutifully logged onto, and started pulling up demon databases, searching for Callan demons and other relevant things. And within ten minutes, her mind had drifted back five days, to the incredibly horrible date and the even more horrible kiss.

Well, no, the kiss hadn't been horrible, she admitted to herself. That was mostly the problem. Who knew a slimebucket like Lindsey McDonald could kiss like that? She'd thought those first kisses with Xander had been the most mind-blowing of her life, but Lindsey made Xander look like a fumbling kid -- which, of course, he had been.

And Lindsey hadn't run when the vampire attacked. He'd stuck around. He'd saved her life. Oh, sure, he'd been a jerk about it afterwards, but it wasn't like she'd been overflowing with gratitude. Not that he deserved it or anything.

He was so damn frustrating! Lawyer demon scum of the galaxy -- literally -- but he kept doing things like saving kids, and saving Cordelia, and kissing like... like... kissing really well.

"And why am I still thinking about that?" she demanded of herself out loud. "It was a glitch, a one-time thing that is never gonna happen again. Ever. And it wouldn't be that good anyway. It was just... adrenaline. And hormones. And really, really stupid. Next thing you know, there's going to be broom closets involved, and we know how that ended. And he's actually got me sitting here talking to myself and this sucks!"

Her voice rose to a shriek on the last sentence and she bolted out of her chair, pacing around the kitchen. The refrigerator opened and a can of Diet Coke floated hesitantly towards her; she gave it a glare and it instantly retreated, whipping around the corner fast enough to make Cordelia feel more than a little guilty.

"I'm sorry, Dennis. I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at myself. No, I'm mad at that jerk Lindsey for getting all grabby and messing with my head! He just did it to try and win the game, and it was totally cheating. I'm so close to calling him and giving him such a piece of my mind..." Her voice trailed off, and she sank back into her chair, burying her face in her arms. "And why can't I stop thinking about this!"

And she couldn't. The guys were starting to give her funny looks, since today was not even the first time she'd blanked out in the middle of a conversation, mentally reenacting the date (and all of the responses to various insults she'd only thought of later) and dissecting that kiss -- style, quality and motivation.

"What am I going to do, Dennis?" Cordelia moaned quietly. "Lindsey McDonald is scum. He's slime. He's awful. I hate him. Right? Right. I think... God, much more of this and I'm going to turn into Angel, brooding as an art form...."

She moaned again, then felt a gentle touch on her elbow; unburying one eye, she saw her cell phone floating to the table beside her. "Oh, god, you're still on the 'tell Angel' kick, aren't you? God, Dennis, I can't, he'd never understand, I don't understand. And he'd be hurt and worried and... I can't. I just can't."

But oh, how she wanted to. She would have sold significant chunks of her soul to be able to walk into Angel's office, sit down in the chair across from his desk, and tell him the whole story. He'd nod understandingly, and yell at her for not telling him sooner, and then help her analyze it all and fix it all.

But the office wasn't there anymore, and there was no way Angel would be sympathetic with this mess, and she was just going to have to deal with this situation on her own.


"You know, Dennis," she said slowly, "you might be right. Maybe I should talk to somebody. Somebody who understands about complicated relationship stuff. And won't yell."

Her face set in sudden determination, she picked up the cell phone and started dialing.


Buffy Summers jumped when the phone rang, smearing red polish all over her toes. "Great, my feet look like they're bleeding," she grumbled.

"They still look cute to me," Riley grinned, looking up from the assault rifle he was reassembling on her desk.

She stuck her tongue out at him, then reached across the pillows to snag the phone on her nightstand. "Hello?"

"Buffy? Oh, good, you two are still in the dorms. Why are you still in the dorms? Did your mom kick you out again or something?"

Buffy closed her eyes and counted to five, then started removing smeared nail polish. No mistaking the identify of this caller. "Hello, Cordelia. No, Mom didn't kick me out. Willow and I are both taking summer courses, so we get to stay in the dorms."

"Oh, cool. I mean, cool about the dorms, not cool about the classes." Cordelia sounded even flakier than usual, and she seemed to realize it, since she stopped and took a couple of audible breaths.

"I was actually hoping to talk to Willow," she said finally, with great control. "Is she around?"

"Sorry, Cordy." Buffy squinted and contorted to get the polish on her little toe. "She's over at Giles' doing research again. Actually, I think she just wants Giles to get to know Tara better, but that's Will for you. Everyone must get along."

"Yeah, whatever. And what is up with this Tara thing? Anyway, can you tell her I called and I really need to talk to her?"

"Sure." Buffy frowned at the phone. "Are you okay? Is, um, Angel okay?"

"He's fine, Wesley's fine, I'm fine... Well, no, I'm not fine, I'm losing my mind, but that's a personal thing, not an end-of-the-world thing."

Personal problems? And Cordelia was calling Willow? Wow. It must be serious. "I'm not sure when she'll be home," Buffy said cautiously, then, even more carefully, "Can I help you?"

Cordelia sighed heavily. "I'm thinking that's a big no. I mean, it's personal and it's a relationship thing and... " Her voice trailed off speculatively. "And you're the absolute queen of bad choices in relationships. Okay, maybe you can help. You know that all men are scum, right?"

Buffy glared at the phone, realized she was about to spill nail polish all over it, and hastily righted the bottle. "And yet your social skills continue to suck," she said with forced cheer, but looked across the room. "Riley, honey? We're about to do some serious men bashing here, and I don't think you or your testosterone want to be around for it."

He blinked then shuddered, at least half-seriously. "No way; I know when to retreat. Meet you at Giles' for patrol?"

"Sure." She lifted her face for his kiss, then waited until the door closed behind him. "Okay, what's the deal, Cordy? Spill it; you've got until my toenail polish dries."

"Which coat are you on?"

"Second. Talk fast."

"You should finish with clear, you know. It's stronger and it keeps your nails from getting chipped for longer and...." She trailed off again. "And I'm avoiding, aren't I? I mean, I really want to talk about this, and I really don't want to, and I can't even tell Angel and I'm in so much trouble! At least, I think I may be and..."

"Take deep breaths," Buffy advised, trying not to sound as worried as she was becoming. Cordelia was in an out-there state even for her. "Then go to the beginning and lay it on me."

"Well, there's this lawyer--" Cordelia started.


Ten minutes later, she'd finished detailing Angel Investigations' dealings with Wolfram & Hart in general and Lindsey in particular, complete with graphic color commentary and scathing fashion reviews. Buffy made encouraging noises at the right times, but finally said, "Okay, I'm getting that this Lindsey guy is Bad News with a capital B. Sounds like Angel's dealing with him, though; what's the problem?"

Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut, noting in passing that Buffy was getting better at saying Angel's name without wincing, then dismissing it in favor of her problems. "I kind of.. went out on a date with him and we fought each other and then we fought a vampire and then he kissed me and it was... reallykindofawesome and I'm in so much trouble," she finished in one quick blurt.

Silence as Buffy processed this. "You dated this guy?" she finally demanded. "God, Cordelia, didn't you learn anything from the Frat Guy Incident? And you knew this one was slime already."

"I know, I know."

"And there were vampires involved? And he kissed you?" Buffy's voice rose steadily. "Cordelia!"

"I know! God! You think I don't know?" She leaned her face into her hands, muffling the phone. "He sort of maneuvered me into it and I was too stubborn back out and... things just happened!"

"Okay, okay," Buffy said soothingly. Well, sort of soothingly. Mostly impatiently, actually. "So, you went on a date with this guy. And it was a good date?"

"It was an awful date," Cordelia said with heartfelt emotion. "The worst ever, and I'm including my little incident with demon-pond-scum-who-shall-not-be-named. He was rude and condescending, and I was a bitch and he so deserved it, and we were ready to kill each other by the entree."

"Okaaay," Buffy said slowly. "So how did we get from attempted homicide -- and can I just say what a total surprise that is not -- to kissage?"

Cordelia shrugged helplessly. "I don't even have a clue, and I was there. I told you, this vampire attacked me, and Lindsey held onto it long enough for me to stake it and then we were fighting again and then he was kissing me. And then I got even by kissing him, and it just got out of control."

"Oh. That whole adrenaline, cute guy nearby thing." Buffy had the nerve to sound amused. "You know, this is starting to sound awfully familiar--"

"I've already drawn the whole Xander parallel, thank you," Cordelia cut her off irritably. "Only this guy is way worse than Xander, trust me."

"So, he kissed you and you liked it. That's disturbing, but not the end of the world -- just stay away from him."

"I know. You're right." Cordelia nodded, wishing she felt even slightly as sure as she sounded.

"Unless you don't want to stay away from him."

Okay, so maybe she hadn't sounded that sure. "Yeah. That would be the problem. I totally want to stay away from him, far away from him, but...."

"But?" Buffy was actually starting to sound sympathetic.

"But the harder I try not to think about him, the more I think about him!" Cordelia got up and stared pacing again. "I mean, he's a complete loser but he's got these eyes and he looks way good in a suit, and he's got really good manners, when he's not too mad at me to remember them, and he's really smart and funny when we're not hating each other, and he's almost as charming as he thinks he is and... god, Buffy, he didn't run."

"He didn't run?" Buffy sounded confused, then, "Oh. The vampire."

"It went after me," Cordelia explained. Ten steps across the kitchen, ten steps back to the arch. "Lindsey could have taken off, jumped into his car and just peeled out of there. It's not like that hasn't happened before. But he didn't. He got the vamp in some kind of wrestling hold and he saved me."

"Wow." Buffy considered. "Are you sure this guy isn't, like, split personality or something? He's found the Jekyll and Hyde potion yet again?"

Cordelia snorted. "It would explain a lot. No, he's human -- sometimes. He came to Angel for help once, when his slimy firm was going to kill these three kids." Ten steps across, ten steps back. "He risked his life to help Angel save them and I started thinking, okay, maybe there's something there besides sleaze after all. Maybe he still has the potential to be almost decent. And then he went back and worked for them again. He got a promotion. And I was like, so much for that. Back to business as usual."

Buffy sighed. "And then he went and saved your life and screwed up everything you thought you knew about him. Oh, yeah. Been there, done that."

"I figured." Cordelia sighed heavily and sat down. "So, what do I do? I can't stop analyzing it, trying to figure him out. He's everything I'm supposed to hate, and then he turns around and he's, like, Joe Hero. It makes no sense."

"And there's the whole kissing thing," Buffy added quietly.

"And there's the whole kissing thing," Cordelia agreed even more quietly. She slouched down in the chair, abandoning posture in favor of depression. "What did you do, when you found out about Angel and the vampire thing? I mean, Slayer, vampire -- bad sitch, right?"

"Oh, yeah," the other girl agreed grimly. "I, um...."

Her voice trailed off and Cordelia told her, with a rare burst of sympathy, "It's okay, I know it's hard. You don't have to talk about it."

"No, it's okay," Buffy said after a second. "It's okay, I just... it seems like so long ago. And yesterday." She sighed. "I... told myself I was going to stay away from him. And he was going to stay away from me, and we were both really determined. And you saw how well that worked out."

"Seriously." Cordelia made a face at the memory. "But you did try, and it's not like I'm in love with Born-Again Boy like you two were. It's just the attraction thing, hormones. I know that, but...."

"It's hard."

"Yeah." She slumped even farther in her seat, and Dennis floated the Coke can over again, popping the top. She smiled weakly at him and took a sip. "It's hard. Hard to stop thinking about, hard to deal with when I am thinking about it...."

"Sounds like you're not dealing," Buffy pointed out. "Maybe that's what you need to do?"

"Excuse much? Want to translate for the home audience?"

Buffy made a noise that sounded rude, but Cordelia wasn't in the mood to call her on it. "I'm saying that, it's like pink elephants. The more you try not to think about it, the more you do. Right?"

"I've never actually thought much about elephants, pink or any other kind," Cordelia replied loftily.

Another rude noise, this time more distinct, and followed by an exaggerated sigh. "Can you stop being bitchy for five seconds? What I mean is, things you're not supposed to do, things you can't have, are always much more attractive. So try having him."

Cordelia didn't bother to answer; some expressions could cross phone lines.

Buffy picked up on that one, anyway. "Not that kind of having. But maybe you should go out with him again."

"What?" Up and pacing again. "Okay, no wonder you and Angel crashed and burned -- you're crazy! I just finished telling you why I can't see him again! Why I don't want to see him again!"

"Yes, you can, and yes, you do, and that's the problem," Buffy replied calmly. And correctly, damn her. "So go out with him again. And don't go into it trying to hate him; make it a real date, a talking and communicating date. I'll bet every book in Giles' library that by the end of it, without adrenaline and forbidden contact and all that, you'll realize he's a complete creep, and you'll have totally forgotten why you ever wanted anything to do with him."

Cordelia considered, tapping a nail against her Coke can. "That's a really stupid idea," she concluded.


"And it didn't even work for you and Angel."

"Not so you'd notice."

"He's probably totally uninterested in ever seeing me again."


"It's a totally risky and completely unworkable plan."

"Uh-huh. Got a better one?"

"No. That's one of the stupidest things about it." She paused, then asked, almost whispering, "Buffy? What if I do the 'real date' thing and I do like him? And I do still want to see him again?"

Buffy didn't answer for a long second. "Then you've got a problem. But at least you'll know, you know? And if this guy's as bad as you say, then what are the odds that you will want to do the dating thing?"

"Can we say, nonexistent? I think." She paced for a few more seconds, then sighed and sat, resting her forehead against the comforting coolness of the soda can. "If I wind up being sacrificed or demonically impregnated, I'm going to tell Angel and Wes whose idea this was."

Buffy actually laughed, sort of. "Go ahead. By the time they finish killing your lawyer guy, they'll be too tired to do much to me."

"Don't bet on it." But Cordelia had to grin maliciously at the image. "And he's not my lawyer guy."

"Sorry." Buffy didn't sound it, particularly. "Look, my nails are dry and I need to meet Riley for patrol. Um... call me and tell me what happens, okay?"

Cordelia blinked. Was that interest? Concern, even? "Okay. Yeah, I will."

"And you need a safety net, so call me before you go out with this guy. Then I can tell Angel if anything happens. Okay?"

"Dennis did it the last time, but yeah, I'll tell you, too." Another long, uncomfortable pause. "Buffy? Thanks."

"Hey, this is Relationship Trauma Central. So totally used to it." Buffy sounded as least as uncomfortable as Cordelia felt. "I'll catch you later. Bye."

"Bye." Cordelia hung up the phone and stared thoughtfully at it for several minutes. Then she got up and started rummaging for the phone book. The firm had a full-page ad, of course. She stared it for a while, then picked up the phone and dialed.

"Wolfram & Hart," a professional-sounding receptionist answered. "How may I direct your call?"

Cordelia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Lindsey McDonald's office, please."

Chapter 5: Ain't Nobody's Business

"If I ever get the notion
To jump off into the ocean
Ain't nobody's business if I do...

If I stay out all night
Spending my money I tell you that's all right
Because it ain't nobody's business if I do..."


Lindsey McDonald looked around his corner office, inspected the view from the 43rd floor, and saw that it was good.

Not as good as it would have been if Lilah Morgan wasn't sitting across from his desk, waiting for him to screw up so she could have the corner office and the view, but it was still a huge improvement over what he'd left behind. And it was only going to get better.

No matter what some smart-mouthed pain-in-the-ass thought, even if she happened to be explosively hot in a clinch.

"So, I'll take the lead on the grand jury testimony?" Lilah said, sharply enough that he was pretty sure it wasn't the first time she had spoken. "While you begin preparing the arguments for the Tyler case?"

He blinked and tried to pretend he'd been actually paying attention, instead of rerunning that last five minutes outside of Cordelia Chase's door. Again.

"Yeah, you go ahead and handle the grand jury," he answered slowly, giving serious consideration to whether she could handle it. And making sure she heard that consideration. "In fact, go ahead and set up the last of the depositions for Tyler. I've got a few things to do that are more important... Unless that would be too much for you?"

She smiled with calm composure; he almost couldn't see how hard she was gritting her teeth. "Oh, don't worry, Lindsey. I can handle anything."

He smiled back, letting himself show almost as much condescension as he wanted to. "I'm sure you can. I have a lot of faith in you, Lilah."

Her smile widened and thinned, and Lindsey had another sudden flashback to a few nights before and an identical expression on the face of another brunette. The door to his office opened before the Battle of the Hypocrites could progress any further; Lindsey looked up to snarl at his secretary, who wasn't supposed to be letting anyone in, then swallowed it and forced his smile back when he saw who the visitor was.

"Holland." He stood, holding his hand across the desk to his mentor. "I thought you were still in New York, dealing with that little matter for the Giovanellis." A little matter of their undead godfather getting busted -- again -- for tax evasion. Some things just never changed.

Holland returned the handshake, and added a paternal smile that creased his well-worn face and made him look like someone's grandfather. "It's all taken care of; Don Giovanelli will shortly be, ah, resting in peace once more. Hello, Lilah."

His smile to Lilah was no less warm and fatherly, but his eyes were clearly dismissive. Lilah took the hint and rose gracefully to leave.

"We'll pick this up later, Lindsey?" she asked as she gathered her paperwork.

"Sure," Lindsey answered absently. "Just get started on those depositions." He saw her eyes narrow and knew he'd just pissed her off with the casual order, but he was much more interested in finding out what had brought Holland back from New York three days early. Too interested to notice that the door wasn't quite closed when she left.

He gestured Holland to take over Lilah's seat, and waited for the older man to settle in before leaning a hip on the corner of his desk. No way was he going to sit down behind the desk, not when Holland might take it as a power play. Lindsey was acutely aware of whose good graces had let him keep this corner office after he'd 'lost' the Scroll of Anatole to Angel.

Holland watched him for a moment before speaking, and Lindsey worked not to squirm under his probing, vaguely disappointed gaze.

"I've been hearing good things about your work, Lindsey," Holland finally said, leaning back in his chair as if the office was still his. "The senior partners have been very pleased with your initiative, particularly on the Nodraan matter."

"I'm glad to hear that." Lindsey fought the urge to shuffle his feet, since only one was touching the ground anyway. "I've... certainly tried to do my best for the firm."

"And you've been succeeding," Holland assured him, steepling his hands together and touching his fingers to his chin. "Which is why I was... rather disturbed when certain rumors reached my ears."

Lindsey stiffened. "Rumors? About my work?"

"Not precisely." Holland did another one of those long pauses, designed to work the nerves of whoever was on the witness stand; it was equally effective on junior partners. The seconds dragged on and his stomach sank lower.

"You know, Lindsey--" and Lindsey tried not to jump when Holland suddenly spoke again, "--Wolfram & Hart has the very highest standards in our people, particularly our junior partners. We choose only the best and brightest, and we give them a chance to reach the top of their profession. In return, however, we expect from them dedication, loyalty -- and discretion."

Lindsey suddenly saw where this was going. Great. The little pain in the ass was going to make trouble for him here, too. One more thing to blame her for -- as if he needed anything else. That damn kiss... "Sir, if this is about--"

"Which is why," Holland continued inexorably, "we have... concerns when we discover our newest junior partner has been seen not once, but twice, in the company of a young lady whose employer has caused this firm a great deal of trouble."

"Cordelia Chase." He was busted, fair and square, but Holland respected honesty. And Lindsey McDonald wasn't the Defense Lawyer from Hell, as one of his opponents had bitterly called him, for nothing. So he put on his most sincere smile and leaned back, crossing his arms. "News travels fast. I was hoping..." He let his voice trail off suggestively, looking down and shaking his head.

Holland lifted an eyebrow, but made no other response. After a calculated pause, Lindsey looked back up. "After our last... encounter with Angel, I thought it would be a good idea to get an ear inside his office -- or what he's using since his office was destroyed. I got to know Angel and his crew, and Cordelia looks good, but she's just not that bright. And she does like to talk."

The last part wasn't a lie, but the rest of it... He had managed to convince himself, eventually, that that date with Cordelia had been in the line of duty; in fact, he'd run almost the same line on himself that he'd just used on Holland. He just hoped that Holland had bought into her vacuous Prom Queen act.

Lindsey was only begin to figure her out, but Cordelia Chase was anything but dumb; she'd die before she gave him, or anyone else, anything they could use against her wonderful boss. Which was yet another reason Lindsey was never going to see her again. Period. No matter how often he relived how she'd felt plastered again him....

Holland cleared his throat and Lindsey looked up hastily, realizing with a sinking feeling that he'd once again drifted off from something that he should be paying very close attention to. The sinking feeling got worse when he realized Holland wasn't buying the story.

Or not entirely, at least. He was nodding as if in agreement, but there was something hard in the back of his eyes.

"I can't argue with your reasoning, Lindsey," he said genially, "But we are in a very delicate time here. The senior partners are keeping a very close watch for any appearance of impropriety. Of any... messy emotional entanglements. And after what happened to poor Lee, and your previous, ah, infractions, well.... You know courtrooms, Lindsey; appearances can be very tricky. And the wrong appearance can make or break a lawyer."

Holland's smile flattened, hardened. "No matter how promising he is."

Lindsey wasn't dumb; he could read between the lines with the best of them. And these lines were pretty damn far apart. Go against us once, it proves you've got guts. Go against us twice, it proves we need to feed your guts to someone more reliable. And dating someone they disapproved of evidently qualified.

He thought he managed to keep his irritation off of his face. "I see what you mean," was all he trusted himself to say.

Holland smiled broadly. "Good, good. It was a good thought, Lindsey, just a little... risky, for the moment. We're working on other lines to deal with Angel, you know that. You helped us achieve one of those lines, and I'm sure you'll be even more help when she's ready to proceed. Until then, you just worry about your cases, and leave everything else to us."

In other words, shut up, do what we tell you, and be a good boy. Nothing he hadn't heard before but.... Damn it, it burned. And for all Holland's assurance, the vague updates he was getting about Darla didn't really suggest they had any intention of letting him near her for a while, which just pissed him off. He'd Raised her, gotten promoted for it, but they were still going to give him grief about losing the stupid scroll?

Holland stood, still smiling, and held out his hand. Lindsey wondered facetiously if he was supposed to kiss it, but hid the thought behind a charming smile and gave Holland the hearty handshake the other man was expecting.

"I'm glad we understand each other," Holland said jovially. "I'll want to meet with you later to talk about the Nodraan case; I'd love to hear the reasoning behind your excellent display in court. How about dinner?"

"Sure," Lindsay answered, trying to sound as studiously casual as his boss. "Just call down when you're ready; I'll be here."

Holland's smile widened, and he clapped Lindsey on the shoulder. "Dedication, that's what I like to hear. Just make sure you don't spend all your time behind a desk. You're still young, you should get out and enjoy yourself sometimes."

Yeah, enjoy myself in the approved Wolfram & Hart ways.

Lindsey blinked and shook the snide thought away. Where the hell was all of this coming from? It wasn't like Holland was wrong; hanging out with Cordelia Chase was a bad idea. And he had given them the right to tell him so. Nothing had changed since the day he'd been hired; this was just the deal. He knew what he'd sold for this corner office, for the Porsche and the view -- Wolfram & Hart owned him body and soul.

But it hadn't sunk in until now just now how much else they thought they'd bought.

As he escorted Holland to the door, it opened and Lilah stepped through. She looked cool and immaculate, with no sign of her earlier irritation showing. "I'm sorry, Holland, Lindsey. I hope I'm not interrupting."

"No, Lilah, not at all," Holland said expansively, his mood much better. Now that he'd brought his subordinate back to leash, Lindsey thought bitterly, and instantly cut the emotion off. He'd known the deal when he signed on, and he didn't regret it.

"--left a file in here earlier," Lilah was explaining calmly. "Lindsey, did you find one of the Tyler files on your desk?"

"I haven't seen it, take a look." He waved her in the general direction of his desk, not bothering to watch her cross the room. His attention was reserved for Holland, as the older man made a few more appreciative 'atta boy' noises and finally strode off for the elevator and his corner office.

He watched Holland's back until it disappeared into the elevators, then turned to head back into his office. "Mr. McDonald," his secretary's voice stopped him. "I have a personal call for you, sir; a young lady?"

"I'll take it here," he said impatiently, and snagged the receiver from her, leaning one hip against her desk. "McDonald."

There was a long second of silence, followed by a cool, steadfastly unimpressed voice. "Lindsey? This is--"

"Cordelia." He didn't know which of them was more surprised that he'd recognized her voice so quickly. He did know that it bothered the hell out of him that he had.

"Right," she said finally, then audibly pulled the attitude back on. "Look, don't go thinking you're irresistible or anything, but I owe you one for helping me with Fang Boy a couple nights ago, and I'm going to pay it off."

"That's not necessary," he told her brusquely. He was still trying to figure out why he'd gone to her rescue that night, anyway, risking his own neck. It wasn't as if he even liked Cordelia Chase. But he hated vampires -- and repeated exposure to Angel wasn't changing that at all -- and pulling the thing off of Cordelia had been sheer reflex. A reflex he would have happily ignored given five more seconds to think it over. "You don't owe me anything."

"I can't believe you actually said that -- isn't it a firing offense where you work? Anyway, I do owe you, and there's no way I'm going to owe anything to anyone from Wolfram & Hart any longer than I have to. So meet me, um, in Santa Monica. Tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to be there looking for places for the new office and I'll buy you dinner. Then we'll be even, got it?"

"No way in hell," he started to sneer, then caught a movement at the door of his office. Lilah leaned against the doorjamb, watching him with a frown, shaking her head in friendly warning -- with a cat-like gleam in her eyes that said she was enjoying every second. Yeah. He knew whose 'rumors' had gotten to Holland's ears.

He didn't know why he did it. Maybe it was Lilah's smug expression pushing his old buttons, or the way Wolfram & Hart had, through Holland, just tried to take over what little of Lindsey's life he could still call his own. It sure as hell wasn't the memory of a smile that could light a room, or a kiss that kept replaying itself in his dreams.

But the next words that came out of his mouth weren't the flat, mocking refusal he'd planned. They were, instead, "Where and when?"

Another long pause, as if she'd expected a fight. But she recovered fast; he respected that. "Outside the mall, at the end of the Promenade. At five pm. Can you escape from your keepers that early, or do they have you chained to a desk somewhere?"

"I'll be there," he answered calmly, not rising to the bait. "5 o'clock."

"Good. 'Bye." With that, she hung up, leaving him looking at a dead phone with a strange mix of emotions tearing through his stomach.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Lilah breathed as she wandered past him, the missing file in hand and her face full of warm, friendly concern.

He smirked in her direction as he strode back into his corner office. His office, not hers. "I always know what I'm doing."

And as he settled himself into his chair, and gazed out at the view from the 43rd floor, he hoped he was right. But he had the feeling what he was about to do would outstrip that damn kiss as the stupidest thing ever....

Chapter 6: We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This

"We really shouldn't be doing this, and we both know why
Just being close enough to think like this, enough to make you need a lie
This kind of talk would lead us to somewhere
We're getting way too close to going there
The farther off the better to resist
We really shouldn't be doing this."


It was a great office space. Really. A front office with enough room for Cordelia and Wesley to have their own desks and the clients to have a couch (which would mostly be used by Cordelia and Wesley instead of their desks), a back office so Angel could look important, plus an apartment for him right above it. They'd have to cover the windows really well, and Angel would have to check that night to see if there was tunnel and sewer access, because no way was Cordelia going to try to explain that to the realtor. But it could work.

Cordelia really wished Wesley was well enough to be doing this office hunting crap with her, but he was only a few weeks out of the hospital after nearly being blown up, and he was still not so good at doing things. Like standing up for extended periods of time. So he got to camp out in his rat-trap of an apartment reading the real estate ads, while Angel slept the day away at Cordelia's place, and Cordelia got to tramp all over L.A. in expensive and uncomfortable shoes.

She leaned back against the low wall outside the mall with a sigh, feeling the warmth of the bricks seep through her thin top. On the other hand, she admitted, it would have been a lot harder to sneak away for things like, oh say, a date with Angel's current most-hated person if Wesley had been along. She was still trying to decide if that would have been a good thing or a bad thing. Which was pretty much what she was trying to decide about the whole dating idea itself.

The sun was shining brightly and she fiddled with her sunglasses, determinedly not looking around. She'd been ten minutes early this time, on purpose; Angel had finally managed to convince her that Making an Entrance was fine for social occasions, but going into battle called for getting there early and Making an Ambush. She wasn't sure what category this was going to fall into, but better safe than toast.

If Lindsey would just hurry up and get here so she could get this over with, and settle into hating him in peace....


Lindsey parked his Porsche on the fifth level of the Santa Monica Place garage, made sure the alarm was turned on, and took his time strolling down the stairs. His tie was already loose, since the office had been a little... confining today, but the heat had him shrugging off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves before he made it to the ground level.

It wasn't that they didn't usually blast the A/C at Wolfram & Hart; it was usually colder than the gr... really cold in there. The very junior associates joked that the senior partners kept it cold because you could preserve bodies better that way. Those associates usually didn't get much more senior.

But Lindsey had been given a new case today -- another vampire trying to fill Russell Winter's shoes, with a pretty fair financial base, but no actual intelligence. He wasn't going to survive long, but W&H would take his money and keep him out jail until someone -- probably Angel -- dusted him. Lindsey didn't actually mind defending vampires, or any other demon. But the pictures of the victims were sticking with him for some reason today....

He shook them out of his head with a determined effort, and focused on the evening ahead of him. First on the agenda, decide whether to encourage Cordelia's belief that she owed him one -- which could come in handy -- or be enough of a jerk to make her not care about any debts, which would effectively remove her and her complications from his life. He was leaning towards plan A, more out of determination to make all of this crap worth something.

Then he spotted Cordelia outside the mall, leaning against one of the low, decorative walls, and immediately decided in favor of plan B. And wished he'd kept his coat and tie on.

She was wearing some kind of long flowing skirt, with high-heeled sandals that did great things for her legs. Her top was flimsy, with thin straps that looked really precarious, and showed off her shoulders. He remembered how those shoulders felt, the texture of her thick, loose hair over his hands... He swallowed hard and stopped a few feet away, trying to get it together before she saw him.

Then she turned and faced him, and getting it together stopped being an option.


*Oh, damn.* Cordelia didn't usually swear, but this was definitely worthy of a curse or two. Lindsey McDonald was standing three feet away, looking all rumpled and sexy with his sleeves rolled up, the sun gleaming off a heavy silver bracelet on his wrist she hadn't seen before, and one of those expensive jackets hooked over his shoulder. The wind messed up his hair even more than he probably meant to do, and his blue eyes met hers steadily. But there wasn't any hostility in them now, not like there had been the other night. Just wariness and a kind of... vulnerability. Like someone had just hit him over the head and he wasn't sure yet what he was going to do about it.

She thought she might be looking at him pretty much the same way. She didn't like it.

They just stood there staring at each other for a second, then Cordelia realized what they were doing and deliberately broke eye contact, standing up straight. Her carefully rehearsed opening lines were gone with the wind, so she took off her sunglasses, shoved her hair back from her face, and went with her strength: honesty.

"Okay, so here's the deal," she told him without any other lead-in, meeting his eyes again and settling her hands on her hips. "Two rules for tonight -- one, we don't talk about work. At all. None. Yours or mine."

The muscles in his jaw worked for a second, then he nodded. "Fine."

"Good." She echoed his nod with more firmness that she felt. "Second rule: no more Insult-O-Rama and no more trying to score off each other. We behave like normal, mature adults going out to dinner."

One side of his mouth twitched upwards in what might almost have been a smile. "I can handle the mature adult part. Normal?"

She hadn't expected humor, particularly the non-goading kind. Her lips curved in unconscious response. "I know it's a stretch, but I can do it if you can."

A challenge; he met it with a slight widening of his smile and a sideways tilt of his head, one eyebrow lifting in a gesture that was usually annoying but right now was almost, God help her, cute. "You're on. Do I get to make any rules?"

She shrugged as casually as possible when every nerve was jumping, from the ones screaming 'Danger, Will Robinson' to the ones registering 'Serious hottie in vicinity.' "Got any you want to make?"

He thought about it, without ever moving his steady gaze from her face, then shook his head. "Not yet. But I withhold the right to exercise my option later in the evening."

She rolled her eyes and snorted, "Lawyers," then took a breath and surreptitiously rubbed her damp palms against her skirt. "So. Are you hungry?"

He shrugged with the shoulder that didn't have a jacket over it, and put on a pair of mirrored shades. She wasn't sure if she was more or less comfortable with him when she couldn't see his eyes. "Not really."

"Oh." So much for getting to the food part of the evening quickly. "Um, we could..."

She expected him to smirk at her discomfort as she fumbled for the alternate ideas she'd had 30 seconds earlier. But to her surprise, he casually suggested, "We could walk along Ocean for a while. Go down to the Pier, work up an appetite."

Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, but his face was inscrutable. If he was planning something, she couldn't tell. "Okay," she agreed slowly, reaching for her sunglasses and settling them back into place. "That sounds good."

"Then let's go." He gestured for her to lead the way and followed close behind; she tried not to jump when his hand settled onto her lower back in polite escort. He'd done that before, on their way out of the restaurant following the date from hell, but she'd been too busy seething to really register how warm his palm was, the strength in his hands. She'd expected something... different from a pencil pusher.

She shook her head firmly and told herself to pretend he was Wesley, then headed down the block towards Ocean Boulevard.


They walked in silence for the first few blocks, down the sidewalk that separated the city from the beach below. The ocean stretched out to the west like a banner; Lindsey found himself staring out at it rather than at the young woman by his side.

"I like the ocean, too," she commented, breaking the silence. His gaze swung back to her and she tilted her head in the direction he'd been staring. "I thought about moving to New York when I left home, but I decided even if I had to leave everything else, I wasn't going to give up the beach."

He thought about that. "Yeah. I know what you mean. The first thing I did when I moved out here was drop my stuff in the dorms, then drive west until I hit the sand. The first time I saw the water, I knew I'd finally made it far enough."

Cordelia studied him, her head still tilted slightly to the side. "Far enough from what?"

"From everything I was trying to get away from." He hadn't meant to say that, hadn't meant to show quite that much; he wiped his expression clean before she could see anything else and braced himself.

But her only comment was a quiet echo of his earlier words. "I know what you mean."

They'd stopped at some point, leaning against the rough fence that guarded the edge. He glared at her from behind the shades. "Yeah, guess leaving behind all that money really hurt."

He expected a sharp comeback, wanted one, and saw her eyes narrow with it behind her dark lenses. But she caught herself and leaned against the fence instead, giving him a speculative and surprisingly adult look that made him grateful for his own shades. "That was against the rules. And believe me, losing the money was the last of the things I was running from."

She made a face and looked back over the water. "Not that I wouldn't like to have it back, of course."

He turned a chuckle into a half-snort, and leaned against the fence next to her. "So what's the penalty for breaking a rule?" Damned if he was going to apologize.

"Penalty? Um, let's see... Got it." She straightened abruptly, her grin back, and more than a little malicious. "Dating 20 Questions, and you have to go first."

He lifted his eyebrows at her over the shades. "Excuse me?"

"It's a formalization of small talk," she explained as she started to wander down the sidewalk again, completely unaffected by his superior look. He gave it up and trailed behind, admiring the view. And the ocean looked nice, too. "We each take a turn answering a question the other one asks."

"And the catch is?"

She gave him a Look over her shoulder. "Does everything have to have a catch for you?" His only answer was a shrug, and she heaved a put-upon sigh. "The catch is, you have to answer your own question, and you have to tell the truth."

Catch identified, Lindsey thought it over. He was a master of cross-examination; he could handle anything Cordelia Chase decided to throw out. "Fine. Fire away."

She thought for a minute. "Okay, starting easy. Favorite color."

"Blue." At her smug grin, he glared at her through his sunglasses again. "Oh, what's that look supposed to mean?"

Cordelia trailed one hand with studied casualness over the railing. He hoped she picked up a splinter. "Just that men are predictable. They did this study once, and almost every guy that they asked picked blue, right off."

"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. "You have to answer it, too. Favorite color."

"Yellow," she answered promptly. "Not that icky orangy yellow, or greeny yellow. Pure yellow, like sunshine."

"And that's not a chick thing?" he asked, not as snidely as he'd intended.

She grinned. "No. Most women choose red. I think. I don't actually remember the article too well."

"I'll have my secretary look it up."

"Just to prove me wrong?" She tsk'd him. "So competitive. And you mentioned work."

He rolled his eyes to the sky, then rolled his head, trying to loosen up his neck muscles. It had been a damned stressful day at the office, and things weren't getting any less tense. "Fine. Next question."

"Favorite book. No, wait, I know." She spun in front of him, evil dancing cheerfully on her face. "The Firm, right?"

"Now who's being unoriginal?" he retaliated. "The Hobbit."

She tilted her head to the side again. The motion made her hair trail over her bare shoulders, and made her eyes look even bigger. "Wouldn't have guessed you go for elves."

"Not many elves in The Hobbit; they're all in the trilogy, which I hate. But I liked Gandalf, and I always wanted that ring Bilbo found. Your turn," he hurried on. "Favorite book."

"Emma," she answered as quickly as she had the last one.

"You're only asking me questions you don't have to think about," he accused. "And Jane Austen? Not what I would have pegged you for."

"I'm surprised you know who she is," Cordelia retorted. "And of course I'm only asking the easy ones. Do I look dumb? Answer that and I'll have to hurt you."

He shut his mouth, amused in spite of himself, and settled for prodding, "So why Emma?"

She fiddled with her sunglasses, then with her hair. Not such an easy question after all, it looked like. "Two Christmases ago, Giles gave all of us books. Not exactly a big shock, knowing Giles, but I think he picked them out pretty carefully."


"Giles was... He's...." She wrinkled her nose as she thought. "He was our only adult friend in high school -- well, after Ms Calendar, um, died -- and he kind of tried to take care of us -- us being the Scooby Gang. That Christmas, I'd broken up with Xander, and wasn't really hanging with the gang anymore, so I wasn't expecting a present. But he got me a book, anyway; a really nice one, with the leather binding and stuff, just like he got the others."

Cordelia must have seen Lindsey's eyebrow go up at the flood of unfamiliar names; she shrugged, obviously uncomfortable, and rushed on. "So, I read it to make him happy and it was good. I could relate to Emma, she was cool."

Her face suddenly lit with that mischievous grin again, the one that made her look like a kid. "But for his birthday, I got him a copy of Clueless and I made him watch it with me. I never saw a stuffy British guy laugh so hard."

Lindsey chuckled, getting an image of a crusty old guy in tweed and glasses watching Alicia Silverstone be a Valley Girl. "Talk about culture shock."

"Oh yeah." Cordelia's smile grew. "We used to have this stupid little competition to see who could confuse Giles the most with slang. Xander and Buffy usually won, but I held my own."

"Can't imagine you doing anything else." He said it without thinking, but it stopped her in her tracks, that pleased, slightly shocked expression he'd caught a few times before flitting across her eyes again.

"Thanks," she said softly, looking up at him over her sunglasses.

His turn to fiddle with his shades; how the hell did she manage to make him say things like that? And why the hell did they keep making her so happy? "I call them like I see them."

"I don't know how you can see anything through those shades, Mr. Cool," she shot back lightly. "And stop lurking behind me, I get enough of that from Angel. Walk up here where I can see you."

He obeyed, but only so he could point out, "You just broke the work rule. My question."

She blinked, mentally replaying the conversation, then made a face. "That shouldn't count; Angel's my friend. But whatever. Go."

He had to stop to think of a question, dismissing the ones like 'Who the hell is Xander?' and 'Are you actually wearing anything under that shirt?' as things he just didn't really want to know. Although he was pretty damn curious about the second one.


Cordelia studied Lindsey from behind her sunglasses as they walked. When he forgot to use his 'power stride', he ambled along with a loose grace that was sort of really attractive. His shoulders had loosened up, too, and his face was slowly starting to relax out of its 'Lindsey the Lawyer' mask. She knew that routine; Angel had more than his share of masks. And god knew Cordelia Chase owned one or two.

"Okay, question," he finally said, and Cordelia braced herself. "If you were in college right now, what would you be majoring in?"

She flinched in spite of herself and gave him a baleful glare; he held his hands up in innocence. "Not an insult, I swear -- I really want to know. Acting? Business?" He paused. "Law?"

"That smug little smile is going to freeze there one of these days," she informed him icily, then sighed and thought seriously about her answer. "You know, I actually don't know what I would be studying. Ang--" She caught herself just in time, and, wrinkling her nose at Lindsey's smirk, amended it to, "--my friend, keeps leaving open brochures around the office and my apartment, for business courses and stuff at UCLA and community colleges, but I don't know."

She spread her hands in front of her. "I liked school, I test well -- I didn't think about it much beyond that. I figured I'd have time in college to figure out what I wanted. Then, surprise! No college. Not yet," she finished firmly, more to herself than to Lindsey. "What about you?"

His eyebrows went up. "I already did that -- four years in college, three in law school, remember? I'm done."

"I know that," she informed him. "I mean, what would you have studied if you hadn't gone for the Public Demon Defender thing?"

That stopped him mid-smirk, she saw with pleasure. "I don't.... I never wanted to be anything else," he said slowly. There'd been music, yeah, but it hadn't been a sure thing. He'd needed a sure thing.

She turned her head to look at him, intrigued. "What, you just woke up one morning when you were ten and said, 'I'm going to move to L.A. and be a blood-sucking lawyer when I grow up?'"

"That was an insult," he pointed out, unoffended, "and yeah, actually. Except I was fourteen."


He looked sideways at her, but she really was interested. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he said finally, running a hand through his hair. "Call it too much 'L.A. Law' during my formative years. I was good at arguing, people always need lawyers, and it seemed like a good way to make lots of money and be able to wear suits."

Cordelia thought about it, then had to admit, "Okay, there are worse reasons for choosing a career."

He snorted. "Yeah, I thought you'd relate to the clothes part. Anyway, I studied my ass off in school for four years, the wrestling scholarship came through, I headed for UCLA and I never looked back."

"Yeah, I can relate to that part, too," she sighed to herself. Then, to him, "Wrestling? So that's how you held onto Fang Breath that night. I thought you just got lucky."

"Thanks a lot," he muttered sourly. "I was All-State my senior year."

"Impressive." And it was, damn it. "Didja get a shiny trophy?"

"Lots of them. You get any for cheerleading?"

"Lots of them."

They smiled at each other with lots of teeth; Cordelia looked away first.


"How did you know I was a cheerleader?" Cordelia asked after another few minutes of silence. Lindsey gave her a 'duh' look over his glasses and she pouted. "I am not that predictable."

"No, you're not," he had to admit, which didn't sting quite as much as he'd thought it would. "You just remind me of some of the cheerleaders from high school."

"All-State, cheerleaders -- god, that sounds so normal," she sighed, choosing to ignore his delivery on the last part, which had not been a compliment. "I bet you went on road trips, and TP'd your principal's house, and put stink bombs in the girls' locker room."

"The stink bombs weren't me," he defended automatically.

She grinned at him. "But I'm right about the rest, aren't I?"

"Yeah, I guess." He put his jacket over his arm so he could shove both hands in his pockets. "As normal as it can be when two-thirds of the class has to work after school, so all of the team workouts are scheduled for mornings before class. And I'm talking 'supporting the family' jobs, not 'I have to pay for gas' jobs."

She considered that. "I'm sorry, it still sounds good to me."

He snorted. "Yeah, right. Before you came to L.A., did you ever have a job?"

"Well... kind of." A funny little smile played around her lips. "I never got paid, but I worked an awful lot of night shifts. And there was the dress shop for a little while... but I think I would have traded for a nice, normal job at Starbucks or the movie theater."

"Normal isn't all it's cracked up to be, trust me. Normal sucked."

"Ha. You can't possibly appreciate normal." She returned his questioning look with a challenging one. "Okay -- at your high school graduation, you had a boring commencement speaker and tossed beach balls around to distract yourselves, right?"

"Well, yeah." He shook his head, remembering. "Some guy who graduated about a hundred years before, telling us how easy we had it these days. Like hell. Most of us fell asleep and didn't wake up until we had to go get our diplomas."

She nodded, pursing her lips and crossing her arms. "At my high school graduation, our commencement speaker did the Ascension thing, turned into a giant snaky demon, and tried to eat the senior class."

Lindsey blinked; no way he'd heard that right. "Excuse me?"

She smiled brightly. "Uh-huh. He did eat our principal -- no loss, Snyder was a useless little troll -- but we ganged up on him and we took down the vampires he brought in as backup. We finally lured Demon Boy into the library and blew it up, which did the job of killing him pretty well. The fire department was really pissed off, though."

"I bet," he said automatically. It was taking way too long for him to process her matter-of-fact recital. "You're making that up."

She gave him a look over her glasses and down her nose. "I'm from Sunnydale, babe; our All-State team, the swim team, got turned into monsters from the Black Lagoon to make them perform better. I don't have to make anything up."

Lindsey stared at Cordelia for a long time, trying to assimilate the new information with his image of the Cheerleader Queen turned secretary. He knew she wasn't dumb, but he'd always figured that, visions aside, her major contribution to Angel's little game was filing (her nails) and researching (new hairstyles). This was....

Come to think of it, he did remember hearing something about a demonic incident last year, up in... yeah, Sunnydale. And apparently Cordelia Chase had been in the middle of it, had helped fight off an Ascending demon.

"So..." he said carefully. "This thing with Angel -- this isn't new to you. You've been doing this...."

"Since junior year," she confirmed matter-of-factly. "Earlier than that if you count when Marcy Ross turned invisible and tried to kill me. And earlier than that if you count when the Master tried to rise and his little blonde flunkie decided I'd make a good entree. But I don't count that."

"Of course you don't."

"And you mentioned work."

"Bite me."

"No thanks. Still not hungry." She flashed him one of those cheerful, sunlight smiles and he suddenly did a bit of mental math.

"Oh, Christ," he groaned. "You graduated last year? That makes you, what? Nineteen?"

Cordelia's smile got wider. "For another 6 weeks. Got a problem with that?"

"Oh, Christ," he repeated. There were other things he was going to have to think about, other questions he needed to ask, other assumptions that had just gone out the window. But it was a lot easier right now to concentrate on the fact that he'd spent the last five days lusting after a teenager.

A teenager who was finding his reaction very amusing. "Oh, please, don't tell me Wolfram & Hart doesn't have a nice long file on all three of us. You had to have known when my birthday is. Or did you not do your research again?"

"I always do my research," he retorted, stung. "I just didn't do the math. God, you're just a kid."

She looked offended at that. Then her eyes narrowed, and she took a step closer to him, looking up at him through her eyelashes. "Do you always kiss kids like that? Old guy?"

She was entirely too close for comfort now; her face was only a few inches away, and her mouth.... He realized he wasn't breathing only when his lungs started protesting. "No," he said, faintly surprised that he was still capable of coherent speech. "I take it back. You're sure as hell not a kid."

She flushed suddenly, as if she'd just realized what she was doing, and started to take a step back. He grabbed her wrist, holding her where she was. She swallowed, hard, but didn't take her gaze away from his eyes. "Lindsey?"

"Yeah?" He couldn't have managed more than one word if his life depended on it.

His only comfort was that she wasn't doing much better. "What...." She had to stop to moisten her lips, and his eyes followed every move. "What are you doing here?"

The wind was picking up; it got into her hair and blew it around her face, around those deep, dark eyes. He caught himself brushing the strands away with his free hand, and pulled it back, shaking his head slowly. "Damned if I know."

"Oh." Her breathing was faster, her eyes wide, like a deer that had just figured out it was being hunted. "Well, at least it's not just me. I think... um, I think we'd better, um, go find something to eat."

"Good idea," he agreed. Neither of them moved. There were only a few inches between them, and he leaned forward, closing the gap....

She turned her head suddenly, and he blinked, the abrupt movement breaking whatever spell had been cast on him. "Okay, I'm hungry now," she announced as she took a step back, her smile bright and shaky, her eyes begging him to go along with it.

He took a step forward instead, his hand tightening on her wrist. He didn't want to let anything go; he wanted to pull her down into the sand under the pier and find out just what she tasted like when neither of them was pissed off.

She put her chin up as he invaded her space again, staring him down coolly, but he caught the flash of... something in her eyes. Something that could have been disappointment, or could have even been fear. Some long-forgotten sense of -- manners? chivalry? respect? -- resurrected itself; exerting massive self-control, he half-laughed, half-groaned, and reluctantly stepped back. "Fine. Dinner. Back to the Promenade?"

His reward was seeing her smile get steadier, and the gratitude that flashed quickly across her face before she recovered some of her attitude. "Oh, I guess we could find something edible there. There's no Thai, though."

"Damn. Guess we'll just have to suffer."

She tugged lightly and he realized he still had her wrist in one hand, his thumb stroking lightly over her skin. He let his grip loosen, but instead of releasing her, he slid his hand down to take hers. She pressed her lips together uncertainly, then her fingers tightened on his.

"This is a really bad idea," she pointed out quietly.

"What, eating? Nah, eating is good."

She tilted her head and glared. "Stop with the clueless routine. You know what I mean."

Yeah, he knew -- and she had no idea just how bad it was. "It was your idea, remember?"

She made a face at her feet. "This wasn't how I planned for it to go," she muttered under her breath, not looking him in the eyes, and he had to laugh again at the sheer stupidity of the situation. Everything he'd worked for: his corner office, his condo, his Porsche. And he was putting it all at risk because of a 19-year-old do-gooder with big hazel eyes and a body to kill for.

"Not what I planned for either, little girl," he told her, tugging her behind him as he started down the street in the direction they'd come from. "So let's just have dinner and take it from there."

She dragged her feet. "Don't call me little girl. And I get to pick the restaurant."

He rolled his eyes and tugged harder. "No way. We both agree or we go hungry."

She sighed, and flounced up to walk next to him, apparently deciding that being dragged was beneath her dignity. "Fine. But no French."



They passed more and more people on the way back, the traffic on Ocean picking up as the after-work crowd descended. The Promenade itself was already beginning to fill, even though it couldn't be later than... Cordelia checked her watch. No way. She and Lindsey had only been walking for about half an hour. Not much time, when she felt as if so much had happened.

"What do you think?" Lindsey asked, and she followed his gesture.

"Pizza takes forever to make, and it's already looking packed," she objected, pointing at the Chinese place two doors down. "How about there?"

"I've eaten there; lousy Moo Goo Gai Pan. How about the other Italian place?"

"They're playing accordion music."

"Good point."

A street performer decided to start his routine right in front of them; Lindsey stumbled and swore, then pulled Cordelia away from the suddenly flying bowling pins. She was laughing too hard at him to object.

"That wasn't funny," he informed her, straightening his tie with the arm that was still carrying his jacket.

She grinned up at him. "Sure it was. Don't you want to stay and watch?"

"No," he muttered sourly and continued pulling her along, but there was a hint of a smile on his face.

They continued arguing their way down the Promenade, hunger taking a backseat to the fun of criticizing each other's suggestion. But the edge of meanness was gone; there was no heat to the insults, no wary searching for hidden meaning and attacks. There was just the tingling awareness that came from hands that were still joined, and footsteps that unconsciously synched together.

The three-block pedway, with its cobblestones and stores, seemed filled with couples tonight: Yuppies relaxing after a day at the office; teenagers in wild clothes and wilder hairstyles trying desperately to impress each other; Beverly Hills types being amused and snobby about the rampant commercialism around them. Street performers lurked on every corner and in the middle of the street, juggling, drawing, dancing and, in one memorable case, breathing fire.

Cordelia spotted it while they were dodging Dragon Breath Man, and felt a grin spread across her face. "That's it. That's where we're going."

Lindsey looked confused until he followed her gaze. His eyebrows went back up and he looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "You're kidding me."

Her smile widened, and she caught herself almost bouncing. Then said a mental 'what the heck' and bounced anyway, but just once. "No, it's perfect! Come on."

It was her turn to drag him, protesting most of the way. Then, as they got within hearing range of Johnny Rockets, he suddenly matched steps with her again. "You're getting your own fries," he informed her when she looked at him. "I don't share."

"Just keep your fingers out of mine," she retorted as they went through the door into Cheesyville. She slid into one of the red vinyl booths, looking around the cheerfully fake 50's diner with satisfaction as the jukebox a few feet away started playing Bobby Darin. "God, this is the life. I want something really huge and greasy that I'll hate myself for eating tomorrow. And a cherry coke. And a shake. What?"

Lindsey had slid into the other side of the booth and was leaning forward on his elbows, studying her over the Formica table with a crooked grin. "Are you telling me that, instead of taking you to a snobby, wallet-busting gourmet place, I could have taken you to a tourist trap diner and you'd have been just as happy?"

She sniffed disdainfully. "Not even. I'm high maintenance, pal, and don't you forget it." She dropped the queen pose a second later as she read the pages of the mini jukebox at their table. "Oh, I love this song. Got a quarter?"

He laughed, shaking his head, but dug into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. "You can have two picks, but I get the third."

"Whatever." She plugged it in and a minute later, Aretha Franklin started informing the world that she wanted respect. Cordelia chair-danced along to the song, knowing that Lindsey was laughing at her, but not caring. It wasn't a mean laugh, anyway. It was an Angel kind of laugh, the one that meant she was being immature and juvenile, and he liked her anyway.

The mental comparison caught her by surprise, and she sobered. To her further surprise, Lindsey caught the change in mood. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly, leaning forward so she could hear him over the jukebox.

For a second, she actually thought of telling him that she'd compared him to Angel; telling him about how her stomach clenched at the thought of explaining this whole night, these weird feelings, to her best friend. Lindsey had been so cool tonight -- maybe he'd understand things like Angel did sometimes....

Sanity prevailed, and she smiled brightly and meaninglessly. "Nothing. Just hunger pains."

He gave her that lawyer look again, the one that meant she wasn't fooling anyone, but he leaned back, letting it go. Then their waiter showed up, and food took over the conversation.


"He drew a happy face with the ketchup. I love it when they do that. And the thing with twirling the straw canister -- that was so fun." Cordelia caught herself and gave Lindsey a sideways look. "Or, it would have been if I wasn't so laid-back and totally blase about things like ketchup and straws."

"Nice try," Lindsey smirked at her as they wandered back down the Promenade towards the mall. "But the Coolness Police are still going to have to suspend your Angeleno license. Excessive enthusiasm."

She fluttered her eyelashes at him, which just made him smirk more. Looked like she needed to work on the 'feminine and helpless' expression. "But I know a lawyer now, who could get me out of it, right?"

He pretended to think about it, then shook his head, drinking the last of the coffee he'd carried out of the diner and tossing the empty cup towards a trash can. He made the shot, of course. "Sorry, even I couldn't win that case."

Cordelia slapped his arm and pouted, and Lindsey laughed his soft, raspy laugh, catching her hand again. She let him, strolling along beside him as if she didn't have a care in the world -- and trying hard to pretend it was true.

It was almost 9:30 and even the Promenade was starting to shut down, the crowd thinning out and the stores closing. She caught sight of herself and Lindsey in one of the darkened store windows and blinked. They looked good together, two attractive people with dark hair, but what startled her was that they looked good together. Their steps matched so neither of them had to speed up or slow down, and their hands were joined casually, dangling easily between them. Like they were a normal couple on a normal date.

It was disorienting, almost surreal, like the moment in the diner when she'd looked at Lindsey, in the middle of another slanderous and highly improbable story about his college days. He'd been using a French fry to illustrate some point, and he'd been smiling, one piece of hair dangling in his eyes. The urge to reach over and brush it back into place had been almost as scary as the realization that she was having fun. That she liked listening to Lindsey talk, seeing his eyes light up with amusement and watching his face shift subtly with every lightning mood swing. Liked the way he leaned forward when she was talking, actually listening to her instead of just looking at her face or her chest and ignoring everything she said.

She liked Lindsey McDonald. And she was in a lot of trouble.

"What's up?" His hand tightened in hers and she looked up at him, hoping her thoughts weren't showing on her face.

"Nothing," she lied, trying to smile. "I'm, um... I'm just a little chilly." Not too much of a lie; the wind from the ocean was not exactly comfortable.

"Oh." Then he did the absolute last thing she'd ever expected. He took the jacket he'd been carrying around all night, and wrapped it around her shoulders. His hands grazed her neck as he settled the collar into place, and when she shivered this time, it wasn't from the cold.

"Better?" he asked, smoothing her hair back from her face with one hand, and letting it linger on her shoulder.

"Uh-huh." Oh god, no. This was much worse. This was Lindsey close enough to smell a spicy hint of his aftershave, to see the shadows the streetlights cast on his face. Close enough to touch....


"Mmm-hhmm?" It was all she could actually manage with his thumb tracing over her cheek.

"Remember how we said earlier that this was a really bad idea?" She could see him swallow, see the confusion in his eyes -- and the desire.

"Ohhh, yeah," she breathed, feeling the invisible string that had been connecting them all night slowly, insistently pulling her closer. "We were right. It's a really bad idea."

"Your boss... My boss..." His eyes seemed fixed on her mouth, like they had been the night he'd kissed her-- No. Bad place to go. Don't go there, Cordy....

"It's a bad scene," she heard herself say. He wasn't getting any farther away. "Lots of that, um, conflict of interest stuff."

"Yeah." He licked his lips and took a deep breath. "I've got tickets to the theater on Saturday. Good seats. Do you want to go?"

She felt her eyes widen. "With you?"

He blew out his breath, and shoved his hair back from his face. "Yeah, with me. It was a pain in the ass to get those tickets; I'm not giving them away."

"God." She hadn't thought this far, hadn't thought at all. Dating Lindsey -- concept. A real date, not to play one-up, not to get it out of her system. Relationship territory, and everything that came with it.


She pressed her lips together and looked up at him. Get the ground rules laid out up front, her father had always said. He'd been talking business, but still. "You'll have to pick me up. And Angel will be there." No games, no more sneaking around. Oh God, she was going to have to tell Angel.

Lindsey's jaw tightened, and he looked past her for a long, long second, something grim passing behind his eyes. Then, finally, he nodded, and met her gaze again. "I'll be there at six. We'll get dinner first."

She grinned suddenly, recklessly. Oh yeah, this was stupid. But the best things she'd ever had in her life -- the Scooby Gang, Angel, Doyle -- they'd all started out stupid. And mostly ended badly, but what the hell. "At six. And the seats had better be good."

He gave her a Look, then lowered his head, laughing softly. "They're good," he assured her when he looked back up.

"Cool." Their eyes met in shared amusement, and held in something else. The string tightened again, and Cordelia's eyelids drifted down, her hand coming to rest on Lindsey's shoulder as his tightened on the collar of the jacket Cordelia wore. She was the one who closed the gap.

It was a different kiss this time, terrifyingly so. There was no anger, no adrenaline, no need to prove who was on top. His lips were feather light as they brushed hers once, then again and again. She made an impatient noise and felt his mouth curve against hers.

Their eyes met once more, and he studied her face very seriously for a moment; she returned the favor, wondering what he saw in her eyes. His were half-closed so she could barely see the gleam of blue beneath them. Could barely see the confusion and the suspicion, the uneasy awareness of what they were getting into. For a second, she thought he was going to pull away, and knew that she should let him. That she should turn around and run.

Then he grinned, that sexy, confident half-smile that was so annoying at any other time, and his arm slipped around her waist as one of her hands slid into his hair.

They got serious with the next kiss.

There was hunger in it, and not a little fear. Lindsey tasted of the chocolate shake they'd had with dinner, and the coffee he'd just finished. His arm was strong around her waist, his other hand gentle against her cheek. His lips met hers her leisurely, caressing and exploring like they had all the time in the world; no forcing, no diving, no racing. And her lingering suspicions about his motives faded away as she trailed kisses along his jaw and felt his heart begin to race under her hand.

Her arm crept around his neck, pulling herself in closer. She fit against him like that yin and yang symbol in one of Wesley's books, curves and hollows finding a corresponding niche in him. His palm spread against her back to pull her closer as his mouth traced over her cheek and brushed across her eyelids, his warm hand against her face gently guiding her where he wanted her to be.

This was a bad idea. They'd look at this in the morning and every day that it lasted, and know it was a bad idea. But there was no turning back now. Angel would just have to deal, and Wolfram & Hart could go to hell.

When Lindsey wrapped her in his arms, his cheek resting against her forehead and his breath coming hard and fast, Cordelia buried her face in his neck and held on.

Chapter 7: Papa Don't Preach

"The one you warned me all about
The one you said I could do without
We're in an awful mess, and I don't mean maybe -- please
Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Papa don't preach, I've been losing sleep
But I made up my mind..."


As he opened the lock on Cordelia's door, Angel gave thanks to whoever watched over vampires with souls that the basement of her apartment complex was linked directly to the sewers; it had made coming and going a lot easier over the last several weeks.

"Cordelia?" he called as he closed the door behind him, taking off his long, protective duster and hanging it up carefully. No sense in giving Cordelia anything else to complain about. There was no answer except for the sound of the hairdryer in the bathroom; he gave up trying to make himself heard, and headed for the refrigerator and dinner.

Dennis was already levitating a cup of blood into the microwave; Angel gave the air a half-smile. "Thanks, Dennis." He sprawled in one of the kitchen chairs, only then noticing the mess the apartment was in. There were dresses everywhere, mostly of the fancy-and-sexy variety, and wet towels draped over the couch, which Cordelia had yelled at Wesley for doing just the other day.

"Okay," Angel mused out loud. "Cordelia's got one of her dates. Any idea who this one is, Dennis?"

A pot rose and fell noisily on Cordelia's sink; whoever it was, Dennis didn't approve. Well, that was a bad sign.

Before he could continue the frustrating process of interrogating a ghost, Cordelia emerged from the bathroom and rounded the corner into the kitchen, hand still putting the finishing touches on her upswept hair. "Angel, you're here! Already. Earlier than I expected. Darn." Her voice trailed off and she bit her lip, then forced a wide smile. "I mean, hi!"

Angel looked at her quizzically. "You asked me to make sure I was here at 5:30, Cordelia. You said you wanted to talk to me about something."

"Right. Yes. I did." Delivered with all the fake brightness Cordelia was capable of, and totally unconvincing. "And here you are. Without Wesley. Where's Wesley?"

Angel shrugged. "Hitting the bookstores, probably. We need to start replacing the library."

"Oh, right. Don't let him skip dinner," she warned automatically. "I'm not going to be here to shove food down his 'I'm a Watcher, watch me research' throat."

"I'll remember," Angel assured her, trying to hide his smile. The new caring and maternal Cordelia Chase had taken some getting used to, but he liked it. So did Wesley, when she wasn't driving him crazy trying to make him recover through force of will alone. "So. What's the problem, Cordelia?"

"Problem? Who said there was a problem?"

Uh-oh. That was definitely the Cordy-caught-in-headlights expression. Angel's smile faded and he leaned forward in the chair. "Cordelia? What's wrong?"

Her false smile faded completely, and she bit her lip again, one hand playing with her hair. If she wasn't careful, she was going to destroy the careful style that looked like it had taken a lot of time to achieve. Actually, the whole outfit -- from the black silk top and the slim skirt, to the careful and perfect makeup -- looked as if she'd taken even more time over it than usual.

"Big date?" he asked casually, every muscle tensing. Cordelia's taste in men....

She started to answer, stopped, took a breath, and started again. "Yes. Big date. Kind of important."

"Casting director?" Who would have to be warned off any ideas about the casting couch. "Actor?" Who wasn't going to be running any scenes that involved hands or tongues. "Doctor?" Who could damn well practice his bedside manner on his patients.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, undoubtedly seeing the calculations running through his mind. But she didn't fire back any of her usual 'intimidate my dates and you can do your own filing for a month' defenses; if anything, she looked more worried.

"No," she said hesitantly. "He's, um.... a lawyer."

"Oh." Great. Her last date with a lawyer had ended with Angel having to send Wesley to pick her up from the bar where the guy had gotten drunk. He kept those thoughts off his face, and said noncommittally, "A lawyer, that's nice. Stable work. Anyone I know?"

She flinched. She actually flinched, and Angel's bad feeling grew steadily worse. "Um, yeah," she answered, biting her lip again. "You've, um, met him a couple times, in fact."

"Oh." No, he was definitely not going to like this. "I... don't suppose he's a public defender?"

"No." Quietly.

"One of David's tax guys?"

"No." Even more quietly.

"District attorney's office?"

She just shook her head, her lips forming the denial soundlessly.

He was running out of ideas. And he knew of at least one lawyer who, except for the pesky 'complete lack of morals' thing, perfectly matched Cordelia's top five requirements for a guy. "Cordelia... Tell me you're not...."

"I have a date with Lindsey McDonald." She said it quickly, as if she was afraid she wouldn't be able to say it otherwise. "He's coming to pick me up, and we're going to dinner, and then he's got really good theater seats."

It took real, conscious effort to bite back his first response. And the second. By the third, he gave up. "Lindsey McDonald? Wolfram & Hart's Lindsey McDonald? The Lindsey McDonald who defended Russell Winters? The Lindsey McDonald who chose to work for the people who blew up our office and tried to kill you and Wesley? Several times?"

His voice had dropped to a deadly whisper by the end of the recitation; Cordelia flinched away, then rallied, rising up to every inch of height afforded by her high-heeled sandals. "Lindsey didn't have anything to do with the bomb," she informed Angel. "And he gave you the scroll that saved me!"

"After I threatened him with ax," Angel pointed out, still and menacing. "That's supposed to excuse him?"

"No, it's... I...." She threw up her hands and stalked away into the living room. "I knew you were going to freak out, I knew it! As soon as I said yes to that first date, I knew you were going to lose it!"

"First. Date." Not a question. A demand for immediate explanation and it had better be good.

Cordelia winced again, then dropped onto the couch, hiding her face in her hands. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she moaned. "I know I should have told you, but it just sort of happened and... I thought I could handle it. I wanted to handle it."

"Handle it?" Anger at Cordelia was replaced for a moment by fear -- then seething fury at McDonald. He knelt in front of her, grabbing her hands and forcing them away from her face. "Handle what, Cordelia? Is he making you do anything? Is he--?"

"No!" she denied instantly, her eyes wide and appalled. "No, he's not... It's not like that, Angel, he wouldn't do that. Well, maybe he would, but he's not!"

He would almost have preferred a different answer, would have preferred it if someone had been forcing her to lie to him -- instead of her doing so by choice. Lying to him of her own free will.

"So why tell me now?" Buffy had always hated that tone, called it his 'cold bastard' routine; he hadn't used it on her often, and had never used it on Cordelia. Until now. "Obviously you don't care what I think about any of this, or you wouldn't have been lying to me about it."

Her head shot up, eyes wide and appalled. "I did not lie!" she insisted. "I just-- I didn't tell you things that weren't strictly any of your business."

After everything they'd been through in the last year, that she didn't feel like she needed to tell him something this important...

"You dating a Wolfram & Hart lawyer isn't my business. Fine." Hurt combined with fury to make his voice colder, more cutting; he heard it and couldn't stop himself as he slowly stalked through the arch separating the kitchen from the living room. "I guess I can see that. It's not like all of your other dates in L.A. haven't been spectacular successes. Or like this particular law firm hasn't tried to kill and/or sacrifice you a few times. No. There's no reason I'd need to know where you were to oh, maybe save you or something."

She was huddled into the corner of the couch now, retreating from him. "I told Dennis to tell you if I didn't come home on time."

"Oh really." He crossed his arms and cocked his head, looking down at her. "And how would a ghost have told me you were out partying with the Lawyer from Hell? Morse code? Sorry, don't know it."

Apparently his sarcasm levels had hit overload; her hands clenched into fists and she shot to her feet. "Listen, you," she hissed, poking him in the chest with a long, perfectly manicured fingernail. "I'm not stupid! I left him a note to give you, and I told Buffy to call you and Wesley if I didn't check in. I covered my ass six ways from Sunday, and if you're hurt because you didn't get to play white knight again, then that's just too bad!"

He loomed over her, ignoring the renewed jabbing. "Maybe it's just because I've had to do it so much. I'm kind of in the habit of having to bail you out these days."

"Bite me," she snarled back. "I can take of myself, remember? Cosmic Messenger or not, there are choices I still get to make about my own life, and this happens to be one of them. And, I might add, one that doesn't concern you!"

"Wrong," he cut her off. "When it involves one of Wolfram & Hart's minions using you to get to me, then it damn well does concern me."

She blinked and stepped back. "Oh, because no one could possibly want to date Cordelia Chase for any reason except to get to you? Is that what you think? Is that what you really believe about me?" She turned away, walking towards the window. "You think I'm too stupid to have thought of that? I'm too naive to know that there's a really good chance Lindsey is just using me to get close to you, that he's the world's greatest actor?

"Well, I do know it." She turned back to him, her chin high and her eyes dry. "I knew it the first time we went out, and that damn well was why we went out the first time. Because Lindsey wanted to use me, and I thought I could use him, and we wound up using each other."

"I can see the scars it must have left," Angel observed with bland, cold irony. "He was the one who sent those flowers, wasn't he? With the card you very carefully didn't let me see?"

Cordelia laughed, humorlessly. "Yes, that was him. But you know what? I was the one who was stupid. Yup, I'm saying it so you don't have to. I called him, and I asked him out again and you know what else? We had a great time. Lindsey is funny and he's smart, and when he's not pissing me off just for the hell of it, he's a gentleman.

"And maybe he is using me, like every other guy I've ever met." Her look at him was pointed, and Angel felt the injustice of it clear down to the part of his heart she'd cracked open when she'd called him her family. If it showed, she didn't notice. "But if he is using me, it's because I decided to let him, and I'll deal with the consequences. And if you have a problem with that, or if Wesley has a problem with it, then the hell with both of you."

If he'd thought about it even half a second, he wouldn't have said it. But she was in his face again, defiant and refusing to even consider that she could be wrong, that he could care, and the words came out before he could stop them. Came out perfectly calm, perfectly level, and all the worse for that.

"Do you think Doyle would have a problem with it?"

She stiffened, and the eyes that had been hard and furious suddenly widened in pain, as if he'd slapped her. Actually, he thought with sudden sick panic, it might have been kinder if he had. "Cordelia--"

She shook her head once, cutting him off; his hand, reaching for her, hung uselessly in midair. She wrapped her arms around her waist, hugging herself as if to ward off more blows.

"I don't really know what Doyle would say," she said carefully, and he knew the casting directors were all insane because there was only the tiniest shake in her voice. "I don't know what Doyle would say because Doyle, he's dead. He found his redemption and he took it, and he's not here to approve or disapprove of anything I do. And you don't get to, either."

Cordelia turned away again, staring sightlessly at the wall; he made another motion to apologize, to comfort, but her shoulders stiffened as if she could see him. "Not everyone gets lucky like you, Angel," she said quietly, conversationally. "They don't get their souls back all in one shot -- 'Hey, found this on the sidewalk, is it yours?' Some people have to work for it, fight for it every step of the way. And they can't do it alone."

Angel started to speak, stopped, and tried again. "You think that's what McDon... What Lindsey wants? Redemption?"

She shrugged, a tiny movement of one shoulder. "I don't know. I don't think he knows; for a lawyer, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer about some things. But he wants something that he can't get at Wolfram & Hart, or he wouldn't have come looking for you to save those kids. And he wouldn't have come looking for me."

"To save him?" No sarcasm, just curiosity. And worry.

She almost laughed -- or maybe it was a sob. "I'm not that stupid. Lindsey's gonna have to save himself. But if he ever wants to...." Her voice trailed off; when she turned around and met his gaze, her hazel eyes were calm again, but there was a shimmer of tears over them. "But if he ever really wants to, I'm not going to make him do it alone, Angel. There's nothing worse than being alone."

He nodded slowly. "No. There's nothing worse."

Her lips twisted. "I should have told you, you're right about that. But not because you had any right to know, or because I work for you. I should have told you because I'm scared. I don't know what I'm doing, and I really hate lying to you, and I really, really need you."

"I'm here, Cordelia," he said, finding it hard to force the words past the lump in his throat. "If you need me, I'm here."

When he held out his hand this time, she walked right past it and into his arms, burying her face against his chest. He cradled her close, resting his cheek on the soft thickness of her hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry."

It took long moments of muffled sobs and incoherent assurances before Angel could make his arms loosen, make himself let Cordelia step back. She didn't go far.

"So," she said, sniffing and trying to smile, "was that, like, our first fight?"

Angel almost managed a smile in return. "Yeah, I guess so. You're, ah, going to have to have it again with Wesley, you know."

Her smile wavered. "I know."

His eyes were serious as they rested on her. "I can't stop you from doing this, Cordelia, and you know I'm always here if you need me. But this is a really, really bad idea, and I'm going to be telling you that sometimes."

She shrugged. "I figured. And I'm going to be telling you to butt out pretty much all the time."

"That's fair." He caught her hand again, studied it, aware of just how close he'd almost come to losing his best friend -- first to Wolfram & Hart's demon, then to his own. "I'll leave you alone, Cordelia, if you promise me one thing."

A wary sideways look up at him. "What?"

He took her other hand, held it tightly. "Promise you'll tell me when you get scared, if anything happens that frightens you. If you get suspicious of Lindsey or anything around him, promise me you won't try to handle it yourself. You'll tell me and Wesley, you'll trust us to help."

She thought about it for a long second. "Okay," she finally agreed. "I promise." Then she grinned. "I was planning on doing that anyway, but if I get something out of the deal, that's cool."

He sighed, then laughed, and impulsively kissed her on the forehead. She waved him off, her face happy and unshadowed for the first time in weeks.

Then the doorbell rang, and they both sobered. "That's him?" Angel asked, guessing the answer.

Cordelia nodded. "Yeah. I told him he had to pick me up this time."

"Does he, ah... know I'm here?"

Another nod. "Yup; that was the deal. I told him I wouldn't lie to you anymore. I also told him you wouldn't try to kill him if he'd play nice, so play nice."

With that warning, she made quick repairs to her makeup using the mirror by the door, then settled her shoulders and opened it. "Hi, Lindsey."

"Cordelia." McDonald was, like almost every other time Angel had ever seen him, dressed in a perfectly tailored dark suit, his shoes spit-shined and his tie neatly knotted. He handed Cordelia a bunch of spring flowers -- not roses again, Angel noted; the guy was smooth -- then lifted his chin arrogantly and met Angel's hard stare. "Angel."

"Lindsey." He'd promised Cordelia not to kill the bastard. That didn't mean he had to be polite.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Think you two can co-exist long enough for me to put these in water?"

"Don't bet on it," McDonald muttered. She glared at him; he huffed out a breath and gestured with one hand -- 'it's cool, go'. She gave each of them one more glare for good measure, then took the few steps into the kitchen.

The two men stood in heavy silence, waiting for her to come back. Neither one wanted to be the first to speak, to concede any kind of ground to the other. Angel's hands tightened with the effort of not going for the guy's throat. McDonald's jaw worked with the effort not to say whatever it was he wanted to say. Cordelia hummed cheerfully and off-key in the kitchen.

Angel finally broke the silence. "If you hurt her, there's not going to be a hole deep enough for you to hide in. I will hunt you down, and you will beg me to let you die."

Angelus lurked around the edges of Angel's soul, waiting for a chance to come out, and it must have showed. But McDonald had guts, if nothing else. His chin came up a little higher, and he met Angel's eyes fearlessly. Almost. "Cordelia can take care of herself."

"Yeah, she can," Angel agreed. "But she doesn't have to."

McDonald's jaw worked again, then he nodded, once.

Cordelia reemerged, a smile pasted firmly in place, and picked up a jacket that matched her skirt. "All finished with the death threats? Good. Lindsey, let's go."

"Right." McDonald helped Cordelia with her jacket, held the door for her, and escorted her out with a hand at her waist. Angel -- very maturely, he thought -- didn't rip that hand off at the wrist.

"We'll be home by midnight," Cordelia half-turned in the doorway to tell him, her eyes meeting his meaningfully.

The message wasn't lost on either man, but Angel was the only one who smiled. Okay, smirked. "I'll be waiting up."

Lindsey rolled his eyes and closed the door, muttering something nasty about "blood-sucking chaperones" under his breath, and Cordelia laughed. Angel watched them go, then sighed and sat down on the couch, rubbing his forehead with one hand.

Wesley was really not going to like this. And... wait a minute. Buffy knew? She'd told Buffy, but not them?


Chapter 8: Walking on a Wire

"And how does it feel with the whole world watching
Do you feel like you're gonna fall
Was it safer with your back up against a wall
And why did you try when you knew you were losing
Just one mistake, and you'll lose it all..."


Monday morning meetings were tense at the best of times. Oh, everyone pretended they weren't -- they joked around, exchanged exaggerated accounts of their weekends, and razzed each other about their lives or lack thereof -- but a thin, dark strand of stress always ran beneath the forced cheerfulness. Just another happy week getting started at Wolfram & Hart.

Lindsey slouched in his chair near one end of the table, playing with his pen and ignoring everyone else in the room. It wasn't that he'd had a bad weekend -- he and Cordelia had had an interrupted dinner date on Friday, then spent a much more satisfying Sunday evening curled up companionably in his apartment, watching (and arguing about) a movie -- but he had the distinct impression no one wanted to hear about that. The fact that the chair next to him was conspicuously empty, as it had been for the last three weeks, was a real big hint.

News traveled fast, and no one wanted to be near Lindsey right now, as if the higher-ups' current displeasure was contagious, and could rub off. Only Lilah deigned to sit opposite him, but her eyes were gleaming with way too much amusement at his expense for him to consider it a gesture of support. Besides, her chair and Lindsey's would be closest to Holland, making them the best seats in the house, or at least, the ones with the most status attached.

Everyone shut up abruptly when Holland came into the room, then the noise level rose again as the lawyers began spurting out their usual round of greetings and compliments. Lindsey stood to contribute his sucking-up to the general pool, then sat with everyone else when Holland gestured them down.

"Good morning, everyone," Holland said genially, beaming impartially at the room as he sat at the head of the table next to Lindsey. "I trust everyone had a good weekend?" Everyone except Lindsey and Lilah rushed to assure him of their complete content with the few hours they hadn't spent at the office. "Good, good, then we're all rested and ready to get back to work. Lindsey, the status on the Tyler case?"

"Ready to go to trial on Wednesday, as long as the DA doesn't try any more stall tactics," Lindsey answered without bothering to check his notes. He knew this case backwards and forwards; he'd had enough time to work on it Friday night while Cordelia had been out slaying some demon with her 'boss' and the other stooge.

"Good," Holland nodded. "And the, ah, inconvenient witness?"

"Will be a former resident of Los Angeles by tonight." Lindsey met Holland's eyes levelly. "With no witness, the DA won't be able to prove the records aren't the originals, and the judge will have no choice but to dismiss the case for lack of evidence."

Holland's smile grew, and somehow managed to look sincere. "Excellent. And how about our lovely friend Mrs. Tydings?" he asked Lilah. "Any more rumblings from her late husband's family?"

Lilah shook her head confidently. "Nothing we have to worry about. There are too many alternate explanations for the state of the body; the coroner is hardly going to state 'succubus' as the cause of death. He'll defend his initial diagnosis of sudden and catastrophic stroke to, well, the death."

"Very good." Holland's smile at Lilah was more genuine and she preened under his approval. Lindsey rolled his eyes; like she'd had to do anything more than remind the coroner how much he liked being considered competent and sane by his superiors. "And Lionel, how is our friend Mr. Nodraan coping? Any further problems with the police?"

"He's fine, sir; it's been quiet except for one incident..."

The reports continued down the table in order of client importance; Lindsey doodled on his pad, uninterested in any case that wasn't his own. And one of those cases in particular was bothering him.

He sketched her name, Darla, on his paper, studied it for a moment. He hadn't heard anything about the newly-risen vampire/human in over two weeks now, ever since Holland had found out that Lindsey was, against orders, still seeing Cordelia Chase. Oh, he hadn't said anything, but the chill had been in the air, and memos regarding Darla's progress had stopped appearing on Lindsey's desk.

His feelings about that were more and more mixed. On the one hand, he felt a proprietary interest in the woman, since she was alive because of him, after all. Almost like he'd given birth to her, in a weird, mystical crap kind of way. What little information he'd gleaned from memos and from Holland's off-hand remarks suggested that she was returning to a functional level, and he had some questions he'd love to ask her. Everything they'd wanted to know about Angel and his weaknesses was right there, in one tidy package.

But Lindsey also kept seeing the expression on Cordelia's face if she ever found out about Darla, and Lindsey's part in bringing her back. Betrayed would be the least of it; she loved Angel more than anything except maybe that geek Wesley, and knowing that Lindsey had been directly responsible for bringing back someone who could seriously fuck up Angel's life -- who was intended to do precisely that.... There was going to be hell to pay.

He shrugged once, impatiently, trying to loosen his shoulders. It wasn't like she had anything to say about it, or like he did either. It was company business, he was just doing his job. And if she had a problem with that, well, he'd just have to make damn sure she never found out. Proprietary information.

"-- and we're still trying to locate Coranates' new altar, after his disappearance Friday night," one of the newbie lawyers at the end of the table said. Lindsey was totally uninterested in learning the woman's name, but the mention of Friday night caught his attention.

"He's disappeared?" Holland asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Yes, sir," the newbie responded nervously, fiddling with her pencil until it slipped out of her sweaty fingers. "When our people arrived, there were signs of a struggle, and most of the acolytes were seriously injured or dead. There was no trace of Coranates himself; we believe he either escaped or--"

"Or he was destroyed," Holland filled in for her.

She gulped. "Yes, sir."

"That would be... inconvenient," Holland mused, leaning back in his chair. "Coranates was a very prosperous client for this firm; we had big plans for him."

"Y-yes, sir," the newbie agreed. The people on either side of her discreetly inched their chairs away.

Holland thought for a moment more, than waved a hand. "Not your fault, Abigail," he said breezily. "We're responsible for protecting Mr. Coranates in court, not in his home. Still, were any of his disciples able to tell us who was responsible for the damage?"

Lindsey kept his face perfectly blank, seeing this one coming. Shit. I did not want to know about this.

"Yes, sir. They described... Well, we think it was..." She stopped and swallowed hard; Holland leaned forward with a smile that was probably meant to be reassuring. "We believe it was Angel, sir."

A long silence, as all eyes turned to Lindsey. He didn't straighten from his slouch, barely acknowledged the stares until the growing silence got a little too heavy. Then, he simply looked up and shrugged: 'What is everyone looking at me for?'

It wasn't like he'd known what was going to happen that night, after all. He'd barely heard anything Cordelia had said to Angel when his call had interrupted their dinner, since he'd needed to head for the men's room at the same time he'd realized who was on the phone. And she hadn't volunteered the reason she'd bailed on him to meet up with the rest of her gang. There was actually no way he could have guessed.

Not really.

Holland's face was blank, showing no signs of irritation; Lilah's expression was almost as controlled, but with a smirk lurking underneath the surface. The silence continued until Holland broke it. "Please continue looking for Mr. Coranates, and keep me apprised. Let's get to work, everyone."

The meeting ended, the lawyers slowly gathering up their notes and dispersing from the conference room. All of them skirted around Lindsey's chair; he let them go, waiting for the chance to speak to Holland.

It looked like Holland had the same idea; he remained seated, his hands templed in front of him, and gazed at Lindsey with the expression of a father woefully disappointed, but still hopeful that his child would eventually do the right thing.

Lindsey spoke before the lecture could begin. "Holland, I wanted to ask the status of the Darla project. For some reason, I haven't been getting any information." He kept the last part as nonaccusatory as possible, but some of it must have leaked out.

Holland simply shook his head. "Lindsey, I understand you have a personal interest in this case--"

"Yes, I do," Lindsey confirmed levelly, leaning forward.

"--But you have to understand," Holland continued as if he hadn't spoken. "It's that personal interest that has some of the senior partners... concerned."

Lindsey shut his eyes, then opened them again, forcing his face to calm control. "Holland, you know I don't have any problems with this project, and everyoen has acknowledged I was responsible for successfully completing the first stage. I think that proves my dedication to seeing it through."

"And I agree," Holland replied easily. "I gave the senior partners every assurance of your loyalty, but...." He spread his hands wide in a helpless gesture. "I'm afraid they don't share my faith. Your, ah, relationship, with someone very close to Angel is raising some serious questions, as I warned you it would."

He got up, leaning a companionable hip on the table next to Lindsey. "You know, Lindsey," he said in warm, fatherly tones, "juggling work and relationships can be a very tricky business. Deciding which to devote time to, what should take precedence -- well, any of us can make... unwise decisions from time to time. There's no shame in admitting that, or in changing your mind about your priorities."

Lindsey met those warm, sincere eyes, and a sudden wave of guilt for defying Holland's advice and wishes washed over him. Holland had supported him for all of his time at the firm, had put him up for the Darla case even after the incident with the children. It felt like a betrayal to repay that support by doing something Holland disapproved of so much. And there was his career to think about....

"My relationship with Cordelia has nothing to do with my work for this firm," he repeated, a little more forcefully, as if he could convince them both, "and will have no affect on my ability to deliver the final product."

Regret shone from Holland's eyes. "I'm sure you believe that, Lindsey. I truly am. However..." He shook his head again, sadly. "This project is too important to risk any sort of conflict of interest. Unless you are willing to remove any possibility of that conflict from the arena...."

His voice trailed off suggestively, and Lindsey stiffened. Not this routine again. There was no way they were taking this case -- potentially the most important of his career, and one he'd damn well earned -- away from him because of his personal life. But there was also no way he was letting them dictate that life. Holland was his boss, not his father, and it was his life. And damned if he wasn't going to prove he could handle both.

"I've told you," he said, trying not to grit his teeth. "My relationship with Cordelia Chase has nothing to do with this firm."

Holland studied him for another long moment, then seemed to make some kind of decision. "No. No, I don't suppose it does."

Lindsey felt a moment of relief -- he'd done it! -- as Holland rummaged in the stack of papers, reorganizing them as he got ready to leave. "Then the information about Darla will be on my desk soon?"

Holland looked up from his papers, smiled kindly. "I'm afraid not. Here, take this." He tossed something shiny at Lindsey, who caught it instinctively. There was a bright flash of light....

...and Lindsey stared at the pen in his hand, trying to remember what he'd just been talking to Holland about. Right. The Tyler case. "We'll be meeting with the judge this afternoon to have the case dismissed," he told Holland confidently. "There shouldn't be any problems."

"Excellent." Holland nodded. "I know you'll do us proud, Lindsey."

"Thank you, sir." Lindsey shook the offered hand, then gathered his notes and left the conference room. He didn't notice Lilah slip back in behind him, or see Holland's nod of confirmation at her. If he'd seen the gleam of triumph in her eyes, he would have been annoyed -- and worried.

As it was, there was a stack of message slips on his desk when he got there, and he settled down to another day of work, reminding himself to call Cordelia about the charity symphony performance that Friday. She'd get a kick out of hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and he'd deserve an expensive night out after dealing with Tyler the megalomaniacal.

And if there was something niggling at the edge of his mind, the sense that there was something important he'd forgotten about, he ignored it in favor of work.

Chapter 9: This Side of the Morning

"Nobody's helpless, although I've
Never felt this helpless before
And trying to persuade myself not to think about her
Is like trying to tell the clouds not to pour...

So here I sit, rolling back to bed
Knowing love's a hazard that I'd never guessed
But from this side of the morning
I couldn't care less...."


As strange as the law offices of Wolfram & Hart could be during the day, they were somehow worse at night. Janitorial staff rarely stayed for long, despite the high salaries and incredible benefits. After a few weeks of roaming the halls, hearing their footsteps echo oddly back at them, most of them started cracking up, claiming to feel ghosts all around them and seeing demons in every shadow. Personnel didn't bother to deny those claims -- and occasionally couldn't -- but paid off the staff and hired replacements.

The associates just got used to it. Working 90-hour weeks left them too tired to be aware of anything at two in the morning except the law books in front of them, the coffee pots on endless drip in the break rooms, and the invisible hand of the senior partners looming over them. Compared to that, no one cared about ghosts, real or imaginary.

Lindsey had stopped paying attention to the building's weird sounds within a few weeks of being hired. During most of the nights he spent hunched over his desk, the only things he cared about were the endless rounds of paperwork and the music playing softly from his radio. He blocked out the whispers of the current janitors, the periodic patrols of the security guard, and the quiet "good nights," called out as tired associates and junior partners shuffled past his door, drooping paralegals trailing behind them.

It was the Tyler case keeping him here late this time, although this would be the last night. The judge would deliver the verdict tomorrow, after almost three weeks in court, and -- given the sudden and severe lack of evidence -- there was only one possible decision she could make. All charges dropped, nice to represent you, go back to playing with your cult, talk to Billing about your first-born child on the way out.

He grinned to himself, then winced when his eyes fell on Cordelia's face, giving him attitude from the new frame on the corner of his desk. She'd have a lot of things to say about that particular joke -- and it was a joke; he was almost sure of that -- and none of those things involved finding it funny. But what the hell, he could say a few things about her current working conditions.

Speaking of which.... He checked his watch and grunted at the time. Straight up midnight, which meant Cordy and the Stooges might be back from their night of crime busting, or demon busting, dust busting, whatever. He stretched one arm out to snag the phone and dialed, then spun his chair around to stare out his window at the night skyline.

She picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"

"Hey. You're still up."

"Of course." He could almost see the face Cordelia was making. "Nobody gets to do anything like sleep around here, what with all of the fun and excitement of demon slaying. Hold still!"

He lifted his eyebrows at his reflection in the window. "Excuse me?"

"Not you. Angel. And I am not retaping this again, so stop moving." Cordelia's muttering under her breath almost drowned out the distinct sound of a vampire bitching. Safely out of sight, Lindsey slouched further down in his chair and enjoyed himself.

"Sorry," Cordelia said after a minute. "People bleeding on my couch, undead or otherwise, take priority. What's up? And why are you still awake?"

"Working," he answered shortly, and left it at that. She didn't actually want details any more than he really wanted to know what had happened to Angel. Well, he did want to know, but mostly so that he could go find the whatever-it-was and buy it a drink. "I was just finishing up at the office, thought I'd make sure we were still on for Saturday. Sun, sand, bikinis...."

Lindsey let his voice trail off suggestively and she snorted. "What makes you think bikinis are going to be involved?"

"It's a beach. Someone will be wearing one."

She made a rude noise; he smiled and his reflection gave him a satisfied look back. Walked right into that, babe.

"Fine, then you can look at them," she informed him huffily.

"It's more fun to look at you."

Cordelia didn't quite manage to hide her laugh, but she tried. "No bikinis, babe. Trust me on this."

He grinned smugly at himself, turning his chair back around and kicking his feet up on his desk. "Like I trust anyone?"

"Right. I forgot." Another voice came through from Cordelia's end and she sighed. "God, chill, Wesley! We'll be up all night researching anyway; a five-minute phone call isn't going to make that much of a difference."

Wussley thought different; Cordelia listened to him for a second, then apparently decided to ignore him. Which Lindsey would have decided a lot earlier, personally. "Anyway, I'll be awake bright and early. Actually, I'll probably still be awake bright and early, but the point is me and awakeness."

"Good. I'll be there at eight." He frowned at the screensaver that was tracing geometric patterns over his monitor, and picked up a pen, playing with it idly. "You know, your hours suck worse than mine. Does Pryce have a home, or is he moving in there along with your boss?"

"I'm pretty sure he's moving in; I know his books are." She sighed again. "I really gotta go, Lindsey; demon rampages and the end of the world, or at least of Los Angeles."

"Can't have that," he muttered sourly.

"Excuse me?"

"I said, don't stay up too late," he lied more loudly, flipping the pen over in his hands and resisting the urge to do things like ask if she'd gotten hurt, or tell her to be careful. "I don't want you falling asleep on me Saturday."

"Only if you get too boring," she shot back. "8 am. If you're late, I'm going to bed and you can do lawyer things all day."

"Yeah, right." He hung up the phone and lazily spun his chair back around, staring out over the lights of the city, still turning his pen over and over in his hand. Finally, he shook his head and turned back to the Tyler case.


The doorbell rang promptly at eight, startling Cordelia into spilling her cran-apple juice instead of pouring it into the glass. "Damn it! Of all the times for him to actually be on time..." She went to open the door, and started to give Lindsey a kiss -- then backed off and folded her arms. "I am so not being seen with you in public in that."

Lindsey looked down at his once-dark-blue T-shirt, worn over equally faded jeans. "This is my favorite shirt."

"Yeah, I bet. 'Good lawyers know the law; great lawyers know the judge'?" she read off, giving him an eyebrow arched to her hairline. "Get over yourself."

"Deal," he advised just as curtly. She bit back all of the retorts she wanted to make regarding his choice of work and lifestyle, and settled for huffing her breath out hard and turning to stomp away. But he caught her arm in mid-flounce and pulled her against him; she fought for all of five seconds before giving in and returning the steamy good-morning kiss.

It wasn't until Cordelia remembered things like neighbors, ghost roommates and the vampire asleep in her bedroom that she managed to untangle her arms from around Lindsey's neck and take a step back from the warm weight of his body.

"Any more problems with my wardrobe?" he smiled at her. Oh, God. He was doing that thing with his voice again, where it got all low and sexy. Like she was going to fall for that.

Actually, she was. Damn it.

"Lots. But they'll wait."

Another long few minutes later, she actually managed to retreat from the circle of his arms, combing her newly-tangled hair back from her face. He released her reluctantly, his hand tracing a lingering trail across her waist as she retreated. He followed her into the apartment, closing the door behind them. "You ready to go?"

"Just let me clean this up and get my bag," she tossed over her shoulder, grabbing for a sponge only to find that the spilled juice had already been mopped up. "Thanks, Phantom Dennis," she whispered at the air; Lindsey still didn't know about her ghost roommate and she wasn't quite sure how he'd take it. Better to just leave it alone for now.

When she came back into the living room, she found Lindsey standing next to the mantle, holding one of the framed photographs she kept there and looking at it with a strange expression.

"Is this Homecoming or something?" he asked as she came up behind him.

"Senior Prom, such as it was," she corrected, smiling wryly at the memory. "God, that was a weird night. Wesley and I were still doing that thing where we were dancing around each other, and Xander was with his new girlfriend the ex-demon, and Buffy had been out killing demon dogs or something, and this was right after she and Angel broke up, again, and...." Her voice trailed off as Lindsey lifted his eyebrows at her, and she shrugged. "It was a night."

"You went to the weirdest high school. And you dated Pryce?"

"Jealous?" she asked sweetly.

His eyes narrowed, and he put the picture back a little too abruptly. "Of Wussley? Hell, no."

"Sure, you're not." His scowl deepened and she laughed. "No, I didn't date Wesley. We thought about it, and he was kind of my escort at the prom, ergo picture, but there was never any, you know...." Her hands worked in the air for a second. "No spark."

"I didn't think so," he said, suddenly all self-assurance again. "He's not your type."

"Oh?" She gave him an arch look. "Then I wouldn't know how good a kisser he is, right?"

"Like I really want to know." Cordelia smiled innocently as he studied her sideways, scowling cutely again. "Are we going or not?" he finally demanded irritably.

"Keep your voice down," she answered over her shoulder as she checked through her beach bag. Sunglasses, bottled water... sunblock? Darn it, nowhere in sight. "Angel just got to sleep an hour ago, and he gets cranky if you wake him up. Well, if anyone wakes him up, but especially if you wake him up. Besides, I don't feel like watching you two do the macho thing."

"Yeah, right." The disgusted look was back as he studied the whiteboard with their current cases, propped in one corner of her living room where'd they'd left it early that morning. Cordelia casually wandered over to drape it with a sheet; Lindsey noticed, but didn't say anything out loud. She was grateful for small favors. "How long is he going to be camping out here, anyway?"

She located the sunscreen, finally, and began to search for her keys, buried somewhere under the piles of books on the couch. "Angel's only here until we find another office."

"What happened to the one you were looking at last month?" He was back to casually studying the pictures on her mantle.

Cordelia shrugged equally casually, pawing through leather-bound volumes and two dog-eared paperbacks. "It fell through. For some reason, no one wants to lease anything to a dead guy, a guy who isn't a U.S. citizen, and a 19-year-old unemployed actress. Go figure."

"Yeah, landlords are tough like that." He didn't offer to pull strings, use his connections. She didn't ask. "What are you looking for?"

"Keys." She pulled them out of a pile and dangled them in triumph. "We can go now."


"Hey!" She smacked him lightly across the shoulder.

"Sorry. Want to get some coffee on the way?"

She studied him through narrowed eyes. "You're buying?"


"Okay, then." She flashed him a brilliant smile. "Buy me Starbucks and I'll follow you anywhere."

"I'll remember that. "

The door closed behind them and something gave an inaudible sigh that rustled papers throughout the room. Then ghostly hands began cleaning up the mess of books and papers that living and undead had left behind.


"What, you're Nature Girl today?"

Cordelia turned around in the middle of the water, shading her eyes as she looked back at Lindsey, who was still on the beach. He'd given in and stripped down to swim trunks, but he just couldn't get as worked up about climbing big, wet rocks and searching out tide pools as Cordelia seemed to be.

She let out a gusty sigh and waded back; the sun gleamed warmly off her shoulders, bare above her dark red one-piece, and Lindsey ignored her irritation in favor of enjoying the view.

"Look," she said irritably, "you said and I quote, 'Where do you want to go, Cordelia? Anywhere is fine.' Well, this is where I wanted to go. So are you going to stay on the beach sulking all day, or are you actually going to come into the water?"

She stopped about ten feet away and crossed her arms, glaring at him. He put his hands on his hips to stare back through his sunglasses; when she started to look seriously pissed, he laughed and waded into the water.

"Relax, I've got no problem with tide pools," he told her, catching her around the waist and pulling her against him despite her wiggling attempts at escape. "I was just figuring on a volleyball and boogieboard kind of day. But if you want to stare at more weird things with tentacles instead, whatever."

She made a face, but stopped trying to get away. "God, thank you for that parallel. Like I don't get enough tentacles at work."

"No problem." He grinned and released her with one arm so he could push up his sunglasses. Without missing a beat, she hooked an ankle around his leg and yanked. He went into the water with a startled curse and a loud splash.

When he surfaced, sputtering and sans Raybans, she was already twenty feet away, heading for the huge rocks that jutted twenty feet up from the ocean's surface. "Have a nice swim?" she called back over her shoulder.

He fished around in the water until he located his sunglasses, tucked them into the collar of his now-soaked T-shirt, and slicked the water out of his hair. "Not yet." With another splash, he lunged forward through the waves; Cordelia let out a shriek and started swimming for her life, her progress impeded by her breathless laughter.


"Why do I spend half my life patching men up?" Cordelia complained aloud as she finished cleaning the bloody scrape on Lindsey's knee with his wet, formerly-favorite t-shirt and the last of her bottle of water. "Even on my day off, here we are with the bleeding."

"You're the one who tripped me," Lindsey pointed out, wincing when she got a little rough with picking out the sand. "Want to be more careful there?"

"Wimp." But she went a little easier. "And I didn't trip you, not that time. You slipped on that seaweed which, by the way, wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been so busy leering at me."

"You wear that swimsuit and I'm not supposed to look?" he muttered, wincing again as she hit a sore spot. "Yeah, that'll happen."

She smiled at the backhanded compliment, feeling enough goodwill to lean over and brush a kiss across the now-clean scrape. "There, all better. Do you want a really big band-aid to show off to the other kids?"

Lindsey gave her a baleful look and pulled her up beside him, then under him, before she had time to argue. She forgot how fast he could move sometimes, and didn't particularly care right now. His lean, sturdy body was heavy over hers, his clear blue eyes smiling and warm. Well, actually, warm wasn't the word. Hot came a lot closer.

"Want to kiss anything else better?" he challenged softly.

She answered by smiling and wrapping her arms around his neck. "What've you got?"

They were getting pretty good at this kissing thing, Cordelia thought hazily as his mouth settled onto hers. He teased his way across her lips with little nips of the lower one, until she got impatient and captured his between her teeth. He laughed softly and she pinched him in retaliation, making him jump.

"Watch it," he warned. She rolled her eyes and pulled him back down into her arms, spreading her hands across the warm skin of his back, bare above his trunks, and capturing his mouth with hers.

He settled in willingly, one hand stroking her wet hair away from her face, tangling in the heavy weight as the other skimmed down her side, over the thin material of her swimsuit. She shivered and clutched his shoulders, and his lips hardened on her in response. She opened hers willingly and met his tongue with her own when it skimmed inside.

He groaned in response and his arms came around her, slipping under her back to pull her tightly up against his body. She buried her hands in the wet silk of his hair, pulling him still closer before freeing one hand to run down his back again. The sunlight shone against her closed eyes, dots of color dancing in front of them. Or did those fireworks and sparklers come from Lindsey? She gave up wondering and lost herself in his embrace....

Until his hand slid down her side again, then came back up. He let it drift over her chest once, then again, and her eyes flew open when she felt it settle over her breast.

"Oh, god...." She moaned, her eyes slipping shut again at the sensation. Lindsey rasped something incoherent against her mouth that was probably meant to be soothing, and shifted to press hard, suckling kisses against her neck. The change in angle left his hand free to move, and she arched up into him as the sensation exploded along her nerves, wrapping her ankles around his calves to bring him closer. It had been so long, such a long time since she'd done this, since she'd felt this. Not since Xander, not since....


The name leapt out of nowhere, replacing the drowning pleasure of Lindsey's embrace with darkness, freezing her where she lay.

"No!" She shoved against his shoulders in sudden panic and his head came up, his eyes staring at her in dazed confusion.

"Cordelia?" he asked, barely able to get the words out. "What...?"

"I'm sorry, Lindsey. I can't..." She tried desperately to keep her voice even, tried desperately to be normal, but his cell phone rang shrilly before she could form the words. He didn't move for a long second, his eyes boring into her; she didn't if she was angry or grateful when he swore under his breath, and rolled away to grope in the beach bag.

"Yeah, McDonald," he snapped into the phone, his voice suddenly hard and impatient, as far from the lover he had been a minute ago as it could be. Cordelia sat up slowly, rubbing shaky hands up and down her suddenly cold and empty arms. "Yeah. No, I don't know where the files went. I sent them down right after we closed the case. No, I don't know where Tyler went; ask Billing. He's not my problem anymore, not until he gets caught again."

He stopped to listen, casting one heated, impatient look over his shoulder at Cordelia, then got up and started striding along the sand. "Look, if it's that damn important, send someone down to Files & Records..."

His voice faded as he went out of earshot, and Cordelia ran her hands through her hair, letting her forehead fall onto her bent knees. "What the hell am I doing?" she asked the sand between her feet, the rough, itchy feel of it along the skin of her back remind her of precisely what she had been doing. "Oh, god, what am I doing here?"

No answers appeared; it looked like The Powers That Be were taking the day off. She stayed there, the sun warm and soothing on her head and shoulders, until a shadow fell over her. She looked up as Lindsey crouched beside her, his eyes unreadable, and the cell phone dangling carelessly from one hand.

"You all right?" he asked, his voice expressionless.

She tried to smile, and didn't quite pull it off. "I'm fine."

He stared back with obvious disbelief and she looked away, focusing on the cell phone for lack of anything better. "Problem at work?" she asked brightly, and kicked herself when his eyes flattened.

"No problem. Just idiots."

"Oh." Well, it wasn't like she wanted to know. Not really.


"I think I've had about enough sun," she cut him off before he could say whatever he'd been about to say, smiling brilliantly and desperately. "What do you think about finding someplace dark and air conditioned and preferably expensive to eat lunch?"

He didn't want to let it go; she could see the tell-tale muscle twitching in his jaw, the half-angry frustration in his eyes. But he nodded once, shortly, and stood, helping her up. "We're not dressed for expensive," he pointed out calmly.

She shrugged. "So, air conditioned and cheap. It's not like I'm picky or anything."

"No, not you," he muttered as he bent to pick up the beach bag. She pretended not to hear him, pulling her shirt around her shoulders like armor.


After a few awkward silences and some forced bickering ("What is it with you and tourist traps?" "Well, I could also use a trip to the Beverly Center for some shoes...." "No way in hell. I'll take the tourist trap."), they eventually wound up wandering down the Universal Citywalk. The usual fight over where to eat (the only thing they could agree on was avoiding the country music-themed joint) ended when they settled on the vegetarian place at one end, and got a table on the sidewalk patio.

While they waited for their food, Cordelia kept up a stream of chatter on every innocent topic she could think of, everything from the difficulties of finding the right black pump, to the greatness of Denzel Washington, to the many reasons carrying stakes was hard on the wardrobe. Anything that didn't in any way even remotely touch on work or sex.

Lindsey was going along with the routine, but he wasn't happy about it, any more than he'd been happy the last couple of times their makeout sessions had gotten serious and she'd called a halt, and those hadn't been nearly as hot and heavy as their embrace on the beach. Lindsey McDonald was not a guy who was into waiting for what he wanted, and he'd made it pretty darn clear that he wanted her. Which was flattering, but....

"--So, anyway, Xander shows up at the Prom with Anya, of all people, who besides being seriously socially challenged also tried to, you know, destroy the world as we know it, which was not my fault and I don't care what Giles says, 'cause we've only got her word for it about that whole 'wish' thing." Cordelia had to stop to take a breath. "What was I saying?"

Lindsey, sprawled in his chair, sipped his iced tea without moving a single unnecessary muscle. "No clue; you lost me back at the prom."

"Oh." At least he was looking kind of amused again; she could deal with that, even if it was at her expense. "Anyway, my point was... Actually, I don't think I had a point."

"And this is different from usual how?" He moved his legs just in time to avoid her kick and she settled for making a face at him.

"I can be pointy," she proclaimed, studying the remains of her cucumber/sprout/zucchini sandwich to decide if there was really a last bite there, and if there was a graceful way of scraping it together. "I can be way pointy. And you did ask about the prom."

"I asked about the prom this morning," Lindsey pointed out, swiping the last of her potato chips. Her kick connected this time. "Ow."

"Serves you right. I don't share." She resettled herself in her chair with a flounce. "And for that, you owe me ice cream."

"All right, explain this one." He leaned forward, suddenly in full lawyer mode. "Why is it every time we have a conversation, I somehow end up owing you something?"

She made her eyes go very wide, which probably wouldn't do much to conceal the smirk, but oh well. "Gosh, I don't know, Lindsey. You'd think a lawyer would be better about that kind of thing."

"Yeah, you'd think." He looked at the bill the waitress had just delivered and tossed down some bills. "You want ice cream, you're buying."

"Well, that's gentlemanly," she pouted. He ignored her and she ramped it up, adding the wounded eyes that inevitably brought Angel and Wesley to their knees.

Lindsey just stood up and put on his sunglasses, looking down at her through them. "You coming? Or are you gonna sit there and practice looking pitiful all day?"

She made a face and got up. "Fine, whatever. But you're paying for your own ice cream, buddy."

The Haagen-Daaz place was a few doors down; by the time she'd had the first few licks of chocolate fudge brownie (single scoop; a girl had to watch her figure), she was feeling benevolent enough to grab Lindsey's free hand as they strolled down the sidewalk.

"Decided to forgive me?" he asked in between bites of his chocolate cone.

She grinned at him cheerfully. "Nope. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to exact revenge. Don't worry, you'll know it when I find it."

"I'm shaking." But he put his arm around her and pulled her against his side, his mood apparently as restored by the sugar rush as hers was. She went willingly, resting her head against his shoulder until the window display of a neon art store caught his eye.

"I don't think it'd go with the decor in your apartment," she pointed out as he stopped to stare.

"Yeah, but it's cool." The purple-and-blue zig-zags in back had his complete attention; he looked like a 12-year-old in a toy store. "Come on, I want to see it up close."

"Oh, no way!" she protested, as he started to drag her into the store. "Lindsey, you are not serious!"

"Come on, I just want to take a look."

"No way! I'm serious, Lindsey, this is for your own good." She resisted, and the impromptu wrestling match that followed put their ice cream cones in serious danger, to say nothing of the bystanders.

"All right, all right!" Cordelia finally shrieked, held firmly a foot off the ground against Lindsey's chest, his arms caging her from behind. "Go look already! But when your interior decorator kills you, remember that I tried to stop you!"

"Noted for the record," he agreed, dropping her and running a hand through his mussed-up hair. "You realize that now I pretty much have to buy it, right?"

"Whatever." She rolled her eyes in disgust and waved him away. "I'm also not helping you carry it home."

He flashed her a broad grin and wandered into the store. She sank onto a concrete bench and tried to locate her knees; they'd gone out on her at that smile. God, she loved his smile.

Even in the awful moments when she hated everything else about him.

She sighed, the fit of giggles from wrestling with Lindsey wearing off, and beach-induced depression sneaking back in to take its place. She could just see Lindsey inside the store, staring at the hideous neon sculpture like he was hypnotized. And god, if he bought it, she was going to have to look at it every time she went to his apartment for the rest of--

The rest of what? The rest of their lives? Yeah, as if she was even going to think about that in relation to Lindsey yet. No way. And even if she was dumb enough to do that, her odds of making it to 21 were only slightly better than Buffy's these days.

The rest of their relationship? She didn't even know what their relationship was. There was the kissing and the laughing, yeah, but they couldn't be in the room with each other's friends without kicking off Armageddon; they couldn't ask a simple question like 'How was your day at work?' She couldn't even say his name to Wesley and Angel. Was the kissing and the laughing worth the tension, the strained smiles, the constant hovering of the demon called Wolfram & Hart, the 10-mile list of Things We Can't Talk About?

God, was it worth it?

"He's a handsome one."

She jumped, jolted out of her thoughts, and turned to the small, white-haired woman sitting on the bench beside her, a pile of shopping bags nestled at her feet. "Excuse me?"

"I said, he's a handsome one," the woman repeated, her face crinkling with wrinkles when she smiled. "Knows it, too. I bet he's a real handful."

"Ohhh, yeah." Cordelia nodded in heartfelt agreement, forcing a return smile. "Way much more trouble than he's worth." Was he?

"Oh, I doubt that," the woman assured her, patting her knee. "Or you wouldn't be with him, now would you?"

Cordelia's smile dimmed. "Actually... I probably would be. I mean, I am. Trouble and all." Which was pretty scary, actually. Lindsey defined trouble, as far as she was concerned -- and as far as Angel and Wesley were concerned. Yet here she was with him. How smart was that? How dumb was that? What was she doing here?

The old woman patted her knee again, her deep black eyes concerned. "Oh, don't you pay any attention to me. The good ones are always trouble, honey, or they wouldn't be any fun."

"No, I guess they wouldn't." Although, Cordelia reflected unhappily, some trouble, life would be so much easier without. Most trouble, in fact.

"That's the trade-off." The old woman answered quietly; Cordelia hadn't heard herself say the last part out loud, but the old woman was looking at her, so she must have. "No peace without troubles, no joy without sorrow."

"That's not very fair," Cordelia pointed out, in the voice of someone who was still clinging to a last shred of hope for justice in the universe.

"No." The old woman smiled. "But it's life. Still, you can dwell on your troubles and hope that joy will come with them, or pick your joys and take the troubles as the price."

"I guess." Cordelia stared down at the ground for a long second, then turned her head. "You know, you sound an awful lot like....."

Her voice trailed off as she blinked surprised eyes at the empty seat beside her.

"Hey. Who're you talking to?"

She blinked again and looked up to find Lindsey standing over her, smirking. For once, she was too confused to be irritated. "This old woman. She was.... Well, apparently she was a lot more spry than she looked. And rude. And--"

She stared at the empty bench for another moment, then fixed a smile on her face and firmly dismissed the entire weird conversation from her mind. "So, where's the monstrosity?"

He shrugged and put his sunglasses on, offering her a hand up and not letting go when she was standing. "I decided it didn't fit the image I'm going for."

"Yuppie scum lawyer?" she offered perkily.

He shrugged. "Something like that. You ready to bail on this place yet?"

"Sure. If we can stop at that fountain on the way back."

"Again? What is with you and water?"

They turned together, matching steps back down the sidewalk towards the parking garage. Cordelia only caught herself looking back over her shoulder at the empty bench once.

Okay, maybe twice.


Shopping with Cordelia, Lindsey reflected as he juggled three shopping bags and his keys, was an adventure. No, an Adventure, capital A, even when it was just the grocery store. It was kind of fun, but the real problem -- besides the impulse buying thing -- was the whining afterwards.

"Come on, door opening sometime today? These things are heavy!"

He glared at her over his shoulder. "You could, I don't know, take a couple of mine and give me a free hand."

"Hello, bags of my own here," she shot back, in her incredibly irritating 'duh!' voice.

"Then shut up and let me get the damn door open."

"Fine." She flounced over to lean against the wall. "God, cranky much?"

He did not sneer back, but it took major willpower. Damned if he was going to let Cordelia drag him down to her level of being juvenile. The lock finally gave and he swung the door open--

--And let it slip almost shut behind him. Cordelia said something nasty under her breath when her face nearly met the wood and he smirked. Okay, maybe juvenile had some points in its favor.

He dumped his bags on his kitchen counter as Cordelia came huffing up with hers, her hair slipping from its loose ponytail and her eyes shooting daggers.

"Very funny," she snarled, dumping her load. "Very mature."

"Sorry?" Lindsey offered with no sincerity whatsoever. She curled her lip in disdain and turned her back to snag a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator. He shuddered out of habit; she ignored him the same way, but handed him a beer.

"Whose good idea was it to cook dinner here anyway?" he grumbled as he opened the bottle and took a drink, then started to go through the bags looking for the perishables.

"Mine," Cordelia informed him loftily. "It's a couple thing, what couples do. They cook together instead of eating out all the time."

"I don't eat out all the time." Lindsey extracted the peppers and began hunting for the carrots. "You think I could have survived this long without learning how to cook?"

"Well, you're one up on me," she admitted, shrugging when he lifted a pointed eyebrow in her direction. "Hey, I didn't say who ate out all the time. If Angel couldn't cook, Wes and I would just have to move into House of Hunan. And Angel only does breakfast."

She plucked the carrots out of a bag on the bottom and handed them to him. "So instruct me, O Great Chef, in the art of the stir-fry."

Lindsey accepted the carrots, trying not to react to her whiplash mood swing; she'd reverted from pouting to cheerful enthusiasm in the time it took to demolish a can of diet soda. Not that that was unusual, but it was always weird.

Which was probably most of the reason she did it, he figured to himself as he set her to work with a knife and the carrots -- to keep the poor, unsuspecting males in her life off-balance as much as possible. Well, damned if he was going to let it throw him.

"Keep those as close to the same size as you can, would you?" He reached his arms around her to demonstrate. At least, that was the theory. The fact that the position required a lot of full-body contact wasn't exactly a bad thing. "Like this, or they'll cook wrong."

"Sorry, master, I didn't know there was an etiquette to chopping," she grumbled, wrinkling her forehead as she concentrated, then looking up at him under her eyelashes. "Mostly with knives, I'm just trying to do damage."

He refused to give her the satisfaction of the flinch she was looking for, but he did take a careful step back out of range. "Yeah, well, damage the vegetables, nothing else."

He found a knife for himself and started work on the chicken; they chopped companionably (aside from the inevitable bickering when he corrected her lousy style and she got pissed about it) for several minutes. Things got livelier when the cooking started, the two of them bumping into each other more often than was strictly necessary as they fought for room.

"Watch the elbows, little girl, and give me the soy sauce."

"Watch the hands, old guy, and you've still got it from the last time I gave it to you. And stop eating the carrots, I want some too."

"I gave it back to you. Is the chicken brown yet?"

"Define brown, 'cause this is kind of beige."

"Good, dump it in."

"Got it. Can I stir?"

"Yeah." Lindsey wound up with his arms around her from the back again, instructing her in the fine art of stirring. She was cute enough caught between laughter and concentration that he almost didn't notice the way her body moved against his, almost managed not to think about that afternoon on the beach. Almost.

He pushed her hair aside with his chin and nuzzled her neck, hearing her breath catch with smug satisfaction. "Knock it off," she ordered, the command weakened by the way she leaned back into him. "This stuff will burn and I'm hungry."

"So am I." He closed his teeth on her earlobe to make it clear just what he was hungry for, and she moaned. Yeah, this would work, he thought, stroking his hands from her waist up higher. The hell with dinner....

She turned so quickly in his arms she almost knocked the wok over. "Okay, looks done to me!" she declared with one of those wide, toothpasty, incredibly fake smiles. "Plates?"

He got her around the waist, pulling her back against him hard as she tried to break free. "Cordelia...."

"Lindsey." She'd braced her arms against his chest and her eyes pleaded with him, like they had on the beach when she'd slipped away from him. But damned if he knew what the hell she wanted from him. "Can we just eat?"

He breathed out hard, but finally let his arms drop, and bit back the surge of anger when she moved out of range. "Fine. Plates are over the sink. And we forgot the rice."

The silence stretched between them as they ate, and extended through cleaning up. Cordelia kept sneaking sideways looks at him, her eyes wary and sad, and it made him feel guilty as hell. Like he was the tease in room? Yeah, right. He slammed the plates into the dishwasher harder than he needed to and took grim satisfaction in seeing her jump.

Almost a month she'd been doing this to him. She'd start out ready and willing, flirting and smiling and giving as good as she got -- whenever they were in public. But the second they were alone, the second he started asking her live up to those kisses and sideways looks, she backed off so fast she damn near left skid marks.

It wasn't like he needed this. There was a list of women a mile long in his Rolodex who'd be thrilled to get wined and dined and laid by a good-looking lawyer with money to burn. They didn't have friends who called if they were a minute late getting home; they didn't treat him like a plague carrier every time he mentioned his job. They didn't freeze up every time he touched them.

He could say screw it and call one of them, and let the do-gooder kid go back to her friends and her pretty damn pathetic excuse for a life. He could pick up a tall, cool blonde who would look good on his arm at an office party and wouldn't piss off the senior partners by existing. He could do one hell of a lot better than this crap.

"Lindsey?" She was looking at him from the other side of the counter, biting her lip and looking as close to timid as Cordelia ever got. Which, of course, made him feel guilty as hell again. Before he'd met Cordelia, he'd almost managed to forget that emotion -- one more damn thing about this 'relationship'.

She held up a DVD, waving it back and forth. "Um, you want to watch this? You know, see L.A. melted and burned to the ground, take vicarious enjoyment from the total destruction of the world around us?"

He put his hands on his hips and stared at her, trying to hang onto the anger. He loved Volcano, and she hated it for the same reason ("I spend most of my time trying to stop this fire and brimstone crap. Why would I want to watch it on TV?"); watching it voluntarily was a serious peace offering by her standards.

She waved the DVD case again, tilting her head to the side, and he had a sudden mental flash of her that afternoon, jumping across the sidewalk fountain on the Citywalk and getting soaked to the skin along with the ten or so kids in there with her. Dancing and playing like she'd never heard of demons or hellmouths or the end of the world, and looking up at him with her eyes full of laughter when he joined her in the water, like he was some kind of knight in shining armor or something. Shit.

"Fine. Set it up."

She flashed him a real smile, the one that did something weird to the inside of his chest, and nearly bounced on her way back to the entertainment center. He rubbed the back of his neck and glared balefully up at the ceiling, then snagged another Coke for her and another beer for himself. "You gonna make me watch some chick flick after you finish pretending you're not drooling over Tommy Lee Jones?" he called from the refrigerator.

She grinned at him over her shoulder. "I brought While You Were Sleeping. Just in case."

Yeah. So much for peace offerings. He snagged one more beer and let the door swing shut.


By the time Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock cruised down the El tracks in a tux and a wedding gown, Cordelia was already asleep, stretched out with her back against Lindsey's chest and her hands curled around his arms. Their legs were twined together along the length of the couch, and he could feel her warm, smooth skin almost everywhere he touched.

He managed to turn off the sound on the TV without disturbing her, resting his head against her dark hair and breathing in the scent of shampoo and seawater and some indefinable smell that was just Cordelia.

This, he could get used to. Oh yeah.

The answering machine had clicked on and off three times in the last few hours; all three times Cordelia had tensed and he'd ignored it. If the office needed him that bad, they could damn well wait until tomorrow.

Cordelia stirred and he tightened his arms around her. "Go back to sleep," he whispered against her hair.

But she moved again, turning slightly in his arms and opening her eyes to stare up at him groggily. "Wha' time 'sit?"

"Not too late." He couldn't help smiling at her as she blinked in the dim light from the silent TV, her face barely visible in the heavy, flickering shadows it cast across them. He smoothed a lock of hair away from her face and she nuzzled her cheek against his hand, then raised herself up on her elbow enough to kiss him, slowly and lazily.

He let his hand slip from her cheek around the back of her neck, sliding under her hair to cradle her head. She shifted to give him easier access and he slid his shoulders free until she was halfway under him, warm and soft. His other hand slipped under her shirt to the skin of her stomach and she moaned, too sleepy to resist. His hand slid higher, taking full advantage, and he touched the first curves of her breasts as he shifted again to press his mouth to the bare skin under her hiked-up T-shirt. They hadn't showered after the beach and he could still taste the salt on her skin and she wasn't backing away this time....

Her eyes opened again in foggy confusion when he shifted away from her, levering up on his elbow to look down at her. "Lindsey?"

"Just tell me why." She blinked, confused, and he moved his hand the bare inch it needed to go to find her breast. She stiffened on cue and he tightened his jaw, but didn't move his hand. "Why don't you trust me?"

"I trust you," She didn't move away, but she wasn't telling the truth either. He could see it in her eyes, in the shadows that dimmed them whenever his cell phone rang. For a second, with her body warm under him and his chest aching with something nameless and uncomfortable, that hurt. A lot.

She might have seen it, because she laid a hand on his cheek, running it into his hair. "It's not you. I swear."

He didn't believe her. Didn't trust her. "Then what is it?"

Her teeth were set in her bottom lip again, almost hard enough to draw blood, and he resisted the impulse to kiss her until she stopped. "The first rule...." she started, then had to stop and try again. "The first rule of being a Slayerette, the first thing we really learned, the one thing we could always count on, is that sex is bad."

He couldn't help it; his eyebrows went up and he pressed his hips more heavily into hers. "This is bad?"

She closed her eyes and let her head roll back. Yeah, it felt that good. "No, not that part. That part-- That part's fine." She licked her lips and got her eyes open again, meeting his. "It's the after. When everything changes."

He looked down at her, not getting it. "What changes? It's not...."

"People change," she cut him off, and he saw the tears shimmering for the first time. "Whoever you thought they were, they're not, after. When the badness starts."

When the badness.... Crap. Angel and his moment of happiness? She'd been in Sunnydale for that, been a sixteen-year-old high school kid with a ringside seat for Angelus' months on the town. That was a pretty good Exhibit A in favor of celibacy, yeah. But it wasn't like she'd slept with him. What else could....

He stiffened suddenly against her, his hand tightening on her ribs. "Son of a bitch. Who was it?"


The rage was real and deep, burning with a fury he'd forgotten he could feel. He let go of her ribs, slid his hand up into her hair to make her meet his eyes. "Who hurt you?"

She shook her head against his hand. "No, Lindsey, it wasn't.... It was my idea and I wanted him and--" Her eyes spilled over and he realized his hand was tangled in her hair hard enough to be hurting her. He let go, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and cradling her close. Her tears soaked hotly through his shirt as he fumbled for the comforting words he'd forgotten how to say a long time ago.

"It wasn't the during," she whispered against his chest, her voice raw. "It was the after. When I looked at him and he was... he was something else. Something horrible. And he almost made me into something horrible. I don't-- Oh god, Lindsey, I don't ever want to look at you and hate you!"

His arms tightened around her and he buried his face in her hair as she shuddered against him. He didn't understand, but it didn't matter; it just mattered that she was hurting.

He didn't want to think about what that meant.

"It's okay," he soothed her quietly, rubbing her back. "It's okay. That won't happen, Cordelia. I won't let it."

He made the promise, knowing he couldn't keep it, knowing she knew that. But she quieted anyway, her hands slowly losing their death grip on his shirt, her breathing finally slowing into relaxed, trusting sleep.

He held her there, cradled against him, for a long time, smoothing her hair with one hand and staring out at nothing. The clock flickered past midnight by the time he joined her in dreams.

Chapter 10: Something's Gotta Give

"When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet as sure as you live
Something's gotta give
Something's gotta give
Something's gotta give"


Cordelia was singing again.

"Kiss me
Beneath the milky twilight
Lead me
Out on the moonlight floor..."

Wesley and Angel exchanged long-suffering looks across the living room as their friend/office manager/temporary landlord moved around the kitchen fixing dinner. It wasn't that they minded so much that Cordelia was happy and choosing to express that happiness vocally -- it was that she couldn't seem to express it on-key.

"Lift up your open hand
And strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moons are sparkling
So kiss me..."

The reason for the happiness didn't exactly thrill them, either.

"What is she singing?" Angel finally asked quietly.

Wesley forced himself to listen for a moment, then shook his head in apparent bafflement. "I have no idea. Even if she wasn't butchering the tune, I don't recognize the lyrics, which is hardly surprising."

A CD floated across the room and danced in front of Angel's eyes; he grabbed it to steady it, and groaned. "Dennis says it's Lilith Fair. Volume 3."

Wesley's expression spoke volumes. "Oh god, there's more than one. I suppose we should be grateful she's not actually playing the CD." His face darkened. "And that she's in here singing it rather than out with...."

"Wesley." Angel's warning tone cut off whatever the other man had been about to say. Wesley's jaw tightened, but he went silent as Cordelia came out of the kitchen, bearing a tray of food in one hand and a mug of blood in the other.

"So, you guys don't actually have anything for us to do tonight -- no cases or anything, right? So you're just going to sit around eating me out of house and home?" She settled the tray on the coffee table and nailed Wesley with a glare. "And we're out of mayo so I put on more mustard and you are going to eat all of it."

"Yes, Mother," Wesley said under his breath. Cordelia didn't hear him, but Angel did; he stifled a chuckle as he leaned forward for his own dinner.

"No, Cordelia, no cases," he said. "But we--"

Unfortunately, that was when Cordelia spotted the CD in Angel's hand. "Oh, tunes! Great idea! We can hang out and do the bonding thing! I could attempt to teach you two to dance. Again."

She snagged the CD out of Angel's hand and headed for the stereo, as the two men exchanged frantic looks. "Ah, Cordelia," Wesley said carefully, "perhaps our attention would be better used researching, rather than on your, ah... music."

"Yeah," Angel jumped in hastily, "we really need to, you know, concentrate." He winced at the lameness and gave Wesley an apologetic look.

Cordelia turned to fix both of them with another glare, one hand resting on her hip. "Concentrate on what? No case, remember? Real translation: you and your testosterone don't want to listen to any chick music."

Her voice was stern, but a smile lurked around her eyes and lips, so Angel hung his head and admitted, "That's pretty close."

"Uh-huh." She rolled her eyes, but held the CD up on the flat of her hand; it floated back into the rack by the TV. "Okay, then -- what other stunning plans do you two party animals have for this client-less -- and, thus, income-less -- Wednesday evening?"

The guys exchanged another set of glances. "Movie?" Angel finally suggested hesitantly.

"Like we ever have time to watch one after the three-hour fight at Blockbusters," Cordelia pointed out, not inaccurately. "But, cool. What'd you have in--"

Her body went suddenly stiff, her head thrown back and her eyes shut. She was utterly still for a moment, before she gave a gasp that was half-scream and grabbed her head with both hands, bending forward under the weight of the vision.

Angel and Wesley almost knocked over their respective dinners getting past the coffee table to Cordelia's side. Angel made it to her just as her knees gave way, supporting her as he lowered her to the floor and cradling her head against his chest. Wesley knelt on her other side, smoothing her hair back from her face and saying soothing things that she probably couldn't hear, but that made Wesley feel less helpless. Dennis' silent presence hovered around them; Angel could almost see the ghost wringing his immaterial hands.

It seemed like forever, but was probably only a minute or so before Cordelia's body went lax. Her breath came back in on another deep gasp. "Oh, I hate these," she moaned quietly, still clutching her head.

Angel continued to hold her against him with one arm, and held his other hand out. A glass of water and painkillers were delivered there instantly. "Thanks, Dennis."

With Wesley's help, Angel steadied Cordelia long enough to take the pills; after a few minutes, she shook them both off and managed to sit upright. "I'm okay," she said carefully through the post-vision migraine. Angel had always hated seeing Doyle suffer through them, but it was so much worse watching Cordelia.

"What did you see?" Wesley asked carefully, still holding Cordelia's hand.

"Um, I'm not sure. He was... big. Nasty-looking. There may have been more than one thing, except-- Except I think there was only one thing. There was only one thing, but he looked totally different. And then the same again. I think. It was way weird."

Wesley nodded as if any of that meant something, tapping thoughtfully on his chin. "What did he look like? When he, ah, looked the same?"

"Um..." She focused, and Angel could see what it cost her in the lines on her forehead and around her mouth. "Big. Dark colored -- purple, maybe, or black. Horns, of course, short ones on his forehead. Regular person-clothes, the same ones he was wearing when he was different. Except when he was different, he looked like a regular person. Besides the blood and guts and killing someone part, I mean."

Wesley nodded again, patting Cordelia's shoulder and standing up to find a book. "A shapeshifter, I suspect -- and the description is very familiar...." He trailed off into the pages of his book, and Angel helped Cordelia to her feet, then to the couch. He'd learned from painful experience that she didn't appreciate being carried.

"Did you see where it was?" he asked as he settled her against the cushions.

She shook her head. "Not really. Concrete, walls, no windows -- welcome to L.A."

"Okay. Relax for a while and we'll start looking." He left her in Dennis's hands -- so to speak -- and went over to help Wesley.


The phone rang an hour later, when they'd narrowed the demon down to a Tarlik shapeshifter (Wesley looked very smug) and were trying to narrow down the place. Wesley got to the phone first.

"Ang... Ah, Chase residence." There was a long pause, and Wesley's face darkened. "Yes, she's here, but she's not.... No, I don't think.... One moment." Wes turned around and extended the phone with great reluctance. "Cordelia. It's Lindsey. If you're not up to talking, I can tell him..."

"Gimme." Cordelia's face brightened in that completely disturbing way it did whenever Lindsey McDonald was mentioned, and she snagged the phone from Wesley. "Lindsey? What's up?" She listened and smiled at the phone, then glared up at Wesley, who was hovering over the couch like a dark cloud of doom.

"Private call," she hissed, covering the receiver with one hand. "Go away."

Wesley showed no signs of moving, until Angel grabbed his arm and physically pulled him into the kitchen. "You know the deal," he reminded Wesley when they were safely out of earshot.

"You made the deal," Wesley shot back, absently rubbing his arm and still glowering towards the living room. "I didn't. And I'm still not happy about any of this."

"Never would have guessed," Angel said under his breath. He leaned into the archway enough to see Cordelia curled on the couch, talking into the phone with great animation. The remains of her headache seemed to have disappeared. "Look, Wes, I know how you feel, believe me. But it's Cordelia's choice who she sees. You know that."

Wesley shook his head, as adamant on the subject as he had been when Cordelia had confessed weeks ago. He'd decided to take it as some sort of personal offense, and hadn't let up since. "This is not about choice. This is about allowing Cordelia to associate with someone utterly amoral, someone who has proven to be an ally of the darkest powers, someone too dangerous--"

"Excuse me -- allow?" Angel cut him off with raised eyebrows. "Since when do we allow Cordelia to do anything? She'll do what she wants to and you know it. You've never tried to give orders to Cordy, but trust me -- telling her she can't do something is that fastest way to make her do it. After she walks out the door and slams it in your face."

He shook his head. "At least this way, there's a chance she'll come to us for help when she gets in over her head."

Cordelia laughed into the phone, her young face glowing, and it was Wesley's turn to raise his eyebrows. "You're assuming she'll be able to see when she's got in over her head," he pointed out. "In her current state of infatuation, just how likely do you believe that is?"

Angel opened his mouth to reply, then closed it and shrugged, helplessly. "I don't know. But we can't do anything at all if she shuts us out. Which she will if you don't give the attitude a rest."

Wesley's jaw clenched again. Then he sighed, accepting that undeniable fact as he had the last twelve times he and Angel had had his argument. "Agreed. But that doesn't mean I'm at all happy about it."

Angel rubbed his eyes. "You're not the only one."

They shared a look of frustrated understanding as Cordelia's voice rang out from the living room. "Okay, the nasty lawyer is off the phone. You guys can come back now."

The men came back in. "Are you certain you're quite through?" Wesley asked with awful politeness, and Angel resisted the urge to dope-smack him. It seemed like his fate to constantly be around people he wanted to dope-smack, but couldn't.

Cordelia smiled sweetly, refusing to rise to the bait. "All set."

"Good." Wesley nodded once, then turned back to the whiteboard where they had been listing demon characteristics. "So. Scaly, horny, bloodsucking--"

"You forgot claw-y and shapeshifter, and we don't know it was bloodsucking," Cordelia pointed out.

"I was actually referring to your boyfriend," Wesley shot back with a pointed smile.

Cordelia's eyes narrowed and Angel lunged into the conversational breach before she could return fire. "Is claw-y actually a word?"

"It's what I said and you know what it means. So, word."

Wesley broke his glare at Cordelia long enough to roll his eyes at Angel. But it was directed at Cordelia's vocabulary rather than her love life, so she let it pass, leaning back on the couch and blatantly stifling a yawn. "So, can we figure out where this vision was or can I just go to bed for once?"

"No sleep for the warriors of light, I'm afraid," Wesley said, with a smile that was almost sympathetic beneath the snarkiness; he hadn't been getting much sleep lately either. None of them had. "A Tarlik demon is extremely dangerous; if what you saw in your vision is its first victim, I shall be very surprised. The sooner we track it down, the better."

"Oh, track it down. You mean, like we did last week?" Cordelia inquired, with a raised eyebrow and a significant look in Angel's direction.

"Hey, that wasn't my fault," he objected, rubbing automatically at his chest. The wound was long-since healed, but he could still feel that claw going in. "It caught me by surprise. I wasn't expecting us to track the thing so fast; we're not usually that good at the finding part."

"True, unfortunately," Wesley agreed.

"Amen," Cordelia contributed. When she suddenly sat bolt upright on the couch, then moaned and grabbed her head, both Angel and Wesley started towards her instinctively. She brushed them off. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I just remembered something. And forgot not to move so fast. There was a name, or a place or something... Nodrin, Nodrain, something like that."

"It's another starting point," Wesley said. "Cordelia, are you up to the computer, trying to track down variations of that name?"

"Sure." He'd been polite and concerned, so Cordelia was equally polite. Angel breathed a silent sigh of relief...

Until Wesley spoiled it by adding snidely, "Unless you and your boyfriend had other plans."

"Listen, Wesley--" Cordelia snarled, fists clenched; Angel grabbed her arm as he stepped between them.

"Cordelia, shapeshifter. Innocent people dying. Computer. Please."

She treated Wesley to another few seconds of the Chase Death Stare, then let Angel pull her to her feet, and shove her gently in the direction of the kitchen. "Fine. Research. Whatever. As long as I don't have to do it around you two!"

She flounced out of the room and threw herself down into one of the chairs around the dining room table that currently served as Angel Investigation's desk. Angel threw a deadly glare at Wesley, who held up his hands and had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Apologize later," Angel growled as he reached past Wesley for the Dictionarius Maleficus to start looking up Tarlik demons named Nodron. "When I'm not around for it. I did not sign up to be a referee."

"Indeed," Wesley mumbled, burying his nose in the Librus Arlus.

Fortunately for their collective sanity, it was only about half-an-hour before a triumphant shout came from the kitchen. "Got it!" Cordelia called. The other two were next to her in seconds, reading over her shoulder. "Okay, I found a Nodraan in the back issue of the LA Times; about two months ago, Ashiva Nodraan was arrested in connection with a triple homicide in Glendale. Really bloody, looks like. Anyway, he actually got arrested, but he was acquitted at trial."

Wesley polished his glasses, carefully not looking at Cordelia. "I'm going to take wild guess at who represented him."

She suddenly couldn't look anyone in the eyes. "Yeah. Well. Anyway, Kate was one of the primary investigators, and Li... um, the defense attorney apparently demolished her on the stand. Bet she'd tell us the 'last knowns' she's got for Mr. Nodraan the Shapeshifter."

"You're sure it's him?" Angel asked, choosing to ignore her slip. Not that they wouldn't discuss it later...

Cordelia clicked something on the web browser and a picture popped up. "Vision Central makes another match."

"All right, you call Kate; she doesn't hate you as much as she hates me. Wesley, get geared up while I call Gunn; I want to get this guy before he has time for any more trials." The other two nodded and started moving. "And let's try and do this without anyone getting hurt this time, all right?"

Cordelia gave him a sunny smile, her earlier pique forgotten. "It's one demon against Angel Investigations. Our only problem will be collecting a paycheck from the Powers That Be -- for good-guy Powers, they sure are good about ignoring their bills." She patted his arm soothingly. "No problem."

"Yeah. Call Kate." He strode after Wesley to the living room, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. "I hate it when she says things like that...."

Chapter 11: Pressure

"But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you'll have to deal with


Lindsey didn't know how many traffic laws he broke on the way to the hospital. He vaguely remembered bailing out of the office, the looks on Lilah and Holland's faces when he'd blown past them without a word or an excuse, the way the elevator had taken forever and his feet had skidded on the fire stairs somewhere around the twentieth floor.

But mostly Lindsey remembered the barely-concealed tension in Angel's voice on the other end of the phone: "There was a fight. Cordelia was hurt. She's going to be all right, but she's asking for you." He didn't know how much it had cost the vampire to call him; he honestly didn't care.

His mind tortured him gleefully as he parked the Porsche illegally and raced towards the flickering Emergency sign. Cordelia's body, torn and bleeding, laying limp and unseeing on a some anonymous concrete floor, while he stood over her and tried not to care about...

No. Not Cordelia. Different time, different place. Cordelia was fine, Angel had said so, and the bastard had no reason to lie. About this.

The glass door slid aside, depriving him of the chance to slam his hand against it and feel the door swing back under his power. It smelled like a hospital, antiseptic and fear and just a hint of blood, like a coroner's office and a torn body laying on a slab, young and once beautiful and he needed to make sure no one paid, no one cared...

No. Cordelia. He had to get to Cordelia.

The nurse at the reception desk looked up briefly when he leaned against the counter, then again, more sharply. He saw her hand twitch towards a security button, and wondered vaguely what he looked like. His voice was steady when he spoke. "Cordelia Chase. She was brought in about an hour and a half ago. I need to know where she is."

The nurse was middle-aged, with dark brown skin and dark brown eyes, and she looked at him with a blend of compassion and detachment. "Your relationship?"

"I'm her..." Friend? Enemy? Lover? He'd never had to define it before, had tried not to. "...her boyfriend. Cordelia is my girlfriend. I need to know where she is."

The nurse studied him again, then did something to her computer. "Fourth floor; she's in room 415. Take the elevator on your left."

He was already walking, tossing a "Thank you" over his shoulder in some weirdly polite reflex. The elevator was slow, so slow -- what was it with elevators today? He waited this time, not sure where the stairs were and not willing to take the time to look. The elevator opened with a small chime, and then he was waiting again as it rose, still so slowly.

He left the elevator before the doors had finished opening, looked for the signs and followed them. 403, 405, 407 and he could hear voices, familiar ones. 409, 411, 413 and that was Cordelia's tired laugh. 415, and he skidded to a halt in the doorway.

The room was full -- Angel by the bed, leaning against the wall; Wesley across the room at the window; a young black man he vaguely recognized sitting casually at the foot of the bed. They stopped talking when he came in, but he ignored them all and went straight for Cordelia.

"Jesus." He muttered it against her hair as he pulled her into him, and didn't know if it was a curse or a prayer. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his chest and he rocked her carefully, holding her as tightly as he could and still be careful of the bulk of the bandages he could feel under his hands.

After he didn't know how long, he loosened his hold, putting his hands on her shoulders and moving her carefully back. "Christ," he said roughly, and it was definitely a curse this time.

"It looks worse that it is, trust me," she assured him, trying to make her hair fall forward to hide the lump on her forehead and the black eye, the scrapes running from the top of her cheekbone down beneath her hospital gown. Her left arm was bruised heavily enough to show on either side of the bandage that swathed her forearm.

"If it looks worse than it is, you still need a new body, little girl," he told her, conscious of his hands shaking as he smoothed her hair carefully away from her face.

"Thanks a lot, old guy. Way to make me feel better." She winced when she tried to move, in a way that suggested problems with her ribs.

He cradled her face between his hands and very carefully kissed first her forehead, then her eye. Then he pushed her head against his chest and glared at her friends. "What the hell happened? What did you screw up?"

"Hey, now!" the black kid started, half-rising.

"How dare you--" Wesley straightened, his fists clenching.

Angel waved them both down. "He's right," he admitted quietly, reluctantly. "We screwed up. It was a Tarlik demon; we thought we had him surrounded, but he had a bolthole. It came out right on top of Cordelia."

"It was not your fault," Cordelia said fiercely, turning her face enough to try to match Lindsey's glare, which would have worked better if she'd been able to see out of that eye. "I'm the Seer, remember? Last I looked, your job description didn't include, 'Sees all, knows all.'"

"Like that's new," Lindsey muttered, and Cordelia hit his shoulder. Her wince as the movement hurt her ribs was much more effective than the fairly weak slap at quieting him.

"You -- enough with the macho attack; it doesn't go with your suit. And you," she told Angel, "enough with the guilt patrol. If you really want to make me feel better, you can both get along with each other for five minutes."

Angel looked away and Lindsey nodded grudgingly. "Thank you." Cordelia shook her head in disgust, and settled herself carefully back on the bed. Lindsey helped her lie back, then took her hand, settling on the bed next to her. She smiled up at him, the glory of it dimmed by the bruising, but not extinguished.

The kid on the foot of the bed laughed, the sound almost friendly. "Not bad, Cordy. Nice to see you've already got this dude whipped, along with the other two."

"Bite me, Gunn," Cordelia shot back without bothering to look at him. "Lindsey, that's Gunn. He can be ignored except that he's kind of useful in a fight. So far. Gunn, this is Lindsey. He's...."

She floundered for a moment, and Lindsey leaned forward to kiss her. "Her boyfriend," he filled in, twisting around enough to look at Gunn with territorial warning. "I'm her boyfriend."

"The lawyer dude." Gunn nodded once. He had eyes like Cordelia's, years too old to fit with the rest of his face, and penetrating. This kid had seen it all before, and it hadn't impressed him then, either. "Been hearing about you."

"I bet."

"Hey, it wasn't all bad." Lindsey lifted his eyebrows at him -- 'oh really?' -- and Gunn shrugged. "Yeah. Cordelia said a couple of things a few minutes ago that were almost compliments."

Cordelia glared daggers at Gunn, and Lindsey half-laughed in spite of himself, keeping her from sitting up. He didn't care if she hurt the kid, but it didn't look like her ribs were going to take much more abuse. "Glad to hear it."

Gunn grinned, although it still didn't quite reach his eyes, and got off the bed, turning out to be a lot taller than Lindsey would have guessed. "Well, since Cordy here seems to be in good hands--"

"Lots of them," Cordelia grumbled, laying back down and crossing her arms. It obviously hurt, but she kept them there anyway.

"--I'm gonna head back to my crib. Angel, you need more demons killed, you make sure about the back doors before you call me, hear what I'm sayin'?"

"Yeah." Angel shook the kid's hand, and Wesley did the same. "Thanks for the help, Gunn."

"No problem. Catch you later, Cordy. Later." The last was offered to Lindsey as an afterthought, as Gunn strode out of the room.

There was an awkward silence after he left. "So, what happened?" Lindsey finally asked Cordelia, in spite of himself. "And stop moving around," he added, as she tried to shrug nonchalantly and obviously regretted it.

"It was like Angel said. Li-ittle glitch in the battle plan."


"I still think he had help," Wesley commented, as if picking up the thread of an argument. He was talking to Angel, but his eyes stayed on Lindsey, daring him to comment. "That warehouse was quite secure, yet he still escaped. If Kate hadn't arrived with backup when she did--"

"--But she did get there, with the cavalry, which is why we called her in," Cordelia finished for him.

"Why you called her in," Angel corrected. "I only asked you to get the information."

"And aren't you glad I have initiative?" Cordelia grinned smugly. "Ever think you'd be glad to see the LAPD?"

"No," Angel, Lindsey and Wesley said, more or less in chorus. They blinked and looked at each other, then all three looked away quickly.

"Well, at least our demon friend Mr. Nodraan will be behind bars for quite some time," Wesley finally said, staring fixedly at a wall behind Lindsey's head. Lindsay didn't notice, since he'd stopped breathing at the name Nodraan.

"As long as the cops don't let him walk out again. Right, Lindsey?" Cordelia looked at him steadily, and Lindsey swallowed, hard.

"Yeah," he managed to reply, in something resembling a normal voice. "Let's hear it for L.A.'s finest."

"Yeah," Cordelia echoed softly, and her hand crept down to take his again. He leaned over to kiss her, mostly so he wouldn't have to meet her too-knowing eyes.

Lindsey's cell phone chose that moment to ring; it would have been funny watching three people and a vampire all go for their (in some cases nonexistent) pockets except that he knew -- with a sick certainty -- who the call was for. And what it was about.

He squeezed Cordelia's hand again, hoping he looked calmer than he felt, and fished his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "Yeah, McDonald."

"Mr. McDonald," his secretary said, calmly and unemotionally. "Mr. Manners would like you to return to the office as soon as possible. Apparently a client of yours has been arrested and Mr. Manners would like you to handle the situation."

His knuckles were white around the phone. "I'm... in the middle of something. An emergency. I can't--"

"Mr. Manners was extremely insistent. And he didn't seem happy with your exit earlier tonight." Her voice carried a very clear warning, one she normally wouldn't have bothered with. "May I tell him when you'll be arriving?"

"Tell him..." Tell him I'm on vacation. Tell him I died. Tell him to go to hell; he knows the way. "Tell him I'll be there in 20 minutes."

"Yes, sir." She hung up and he held the phone a minute longer, then carefully disconnected it.

"I, ah... I have to get back to the office." He still couldn't look Cordelia in the eye as he leaned over to kiss her. She hugged him, ignoring the pain of her ribs, and he buried his face in her hair again for a long moment. Even through blood and antiseptic, he could smell her shampoo. "I'll... I'll talk to you later."

It was the only thing he could promise, and he felt the motion when she nodded. "Sure. Duty calls and all that." She pulled away from him, combing her hair into place with her right hand, a fake smile settling on her lips. He hated that smile. "They're letting me go tomorrow -- want to bring me lunch and pamper me ridiculously?"

"Yeah. Absolutely. If I can." He smoothed her hair one last time, then stood. "Angel. Wesley."

"Lindsey." Angel's voice was expressionless; Wesley didn't reply at all.

Cordelia caught his hand as he started to leave. "Lindsey..."

He tried to smile, gave her hand a quick squeeze. "I'll call."

She pressed her lips together and nodded, as if she didn't trust herself to say anything, but let his hand drop. With one last look at his girlfriend, Lindsey walked out the door.


Lindsey's secretary was waiting for him when he got to his office. "Don't you go home?" he asked, without caring about the answer.

"Occasionally," she responded calmly. "Mr. Manners would like to see you in his office. Immediately."

"Yeah. I got that." He took a deep breath, blew it out, and straightened his tie. "Go home."

He didn't bother looking back to see if she obeyed, since he still didn't care. He just headed for the elevators. Holland's door was half-open when he got there; he knocked on the wood of the doorframe as he entered.

"Yes, sir. I understand. We'll get that taken care of for you." Holland looked up from his phone call and gestured Lindsey in. "Yes, sir, I think we can handle that. Yes, he is a bright young man; I'm sure he'll take care of everything. Of course." He nodded and made a few more agreeable noises into the phone, and finally hung up.

"So, Lindsey." Holland gestured at the visitor's chair, then clasped his hands on the table in front of him, giving Lindsey an avuncular smile. "We've got a special request for your work. One of your former clients, whom you did such a wonderful job representing a few months ago, has found himself in a bit of trouble again. It seems--"

"Nodraan," Lindsey said flatly.

"Well." Holland's smile grew broader. "I should have known you'd be on top of things already. It seems like a fairly straightforward case, much like the last time; I'm sure you'll be able to deal with it with your customary efficiency. He's being held--"


"Excuse me?" Warm smiles and backpats aside, very few associates got away with interrupting Holland Manners once. Almost no one was stupid enough to do it twice.

Lindsey was too pissed off at the moment to care about that. "I said, no. I'm not defending Nodraan again."

Holland blinked twice, rearranged his hands. His expression never changed. "Would you care to explain your reasons?"

"Sure." Lindsey leaned forward in his chair. "Number one, Nodraan was stupid enough to do exactly the same thing he did last time, and he was stupid enough to do it in front of the cops. Again. I've got better things to do than to retry the same case over and over again for a client who's too dumb to know when to quit."

"I see." Holland leaned back in his chair slightly. "And number two?"

"And number two, the woman he tried to eat this time was my girlfriend!"

It came out as a shout, but Holland didn't move; this time, he didn't even blink. "Ah," he said gently, as if everything had suddenly become clear. "I had forgotten your unfortunate... association with Angel and his group. I hope Miss Chase wasn't seriously injured."

"She'll be fine, not for Nodraan's lack of trying, and I'm not associated with Angel," Lindsey shot back. "I've got nothing to do with that sanctimonious bloodsucker, and he's got nothing to do with me."

Holland raised his eyebrows. "I believe Miss Chase would feel differently about the matter, but it makes no difference." He waved off Lindsey's denial. "Personal issues have no place in this office; we have a duty to our client, regardless of our feelings, and we will carry our duties out, or we will deal with the consequences." He looked at Lindsey calmly. "You understand that."

It was a warning, cloaked as advice: 'shut up, settle down, do your job, and we might be able to forget about this.' A year ago -- hell, a month ago -- Lindsey would have obeyed the implied order, would have shut up and done what he was told.

Now, he tightened his jaw and took part of the advice. "With all due respect, Holland, I believe my personal involvement in this case might interfere with my duties, regardless of my professionalism. It would be in our client's--" he forced the words out through gritted teeth, keeping his voice calm, "--best interests if he was represented by another member of the firm."

"I don't think you have enough faith in yourself, Lindsey," Holland answered mildly, raising one hand to cut Lindsey off again. "However admirable it is that you place the welfare of your client ahead of your own opportunities at this firm--" Translation: the senior partners will not be impressed by this "--I still believe that you are the best choice for this case."

He leaned forward over his desk, hands clasped again. "You go home and sleep on this, and I'm sure you'll see that I'm right."

Lindsey shook his head. "No, sir."

Holland smiled again, steel behind the teeth. "If that's true, then we'll find another associate to take over for you. Lilah, for example; I'm sure she'd be delighted at the opportunity." Lindsey flinched in spite of himself. Holland's expression grew warmer, more concerned. "Yes. Lilah might be just the woman for the job after all.

"In the meantime," he continued, standing up and extending a folder towards Lindsey, "Mr. Nodraan is being held at the Los Angeles Police detention center downtown. He'll be arraigned in an hour, and we expect him to be released on bail shortly thereafter. See to it."

Lindsey stood, but didn't move to leave. They stood like that for what seemed like a long time -- Holland's eyes warm as steel, Lindsey's body tense and torn, the folder hanging between them. Finally, Lindsey reached out, and took the folder. "I'll get him out," he said flatly. "Keeping him out is someone else's problem."

"We'll discuss this in the morning, when you've had more time to think." Holland patted him on the shoulder as he walked Lindsey to the door. "Now, go do your magic in night court. I'm sure Mr. Nodraan will be very happy with your performance."

Lindsey wanted to shove the folder down Holland's throat; he forced himself to give a short, terse nod before he walked out the door.

He stopped by his office for his briefcase, ignoring the glowing messages light; the criminal court building was a half-hour drive, even in midnight traffic. But his hand hovered over the phone for a long moment, before he pulled it back. There wasn't time to call Cordelia, to hear her voice and remind himself that she was all right. He had an arraignment to get to.

The glass in his office door shattered as he slammed it behind him.

Chapter 12: Falling in Love

He hadn't called.

Cordelia's head hurt, her ribs hurt, her arm really hurt, Angel and Wesley had spent all night and most of the morning looking worried and guilty at her, and Lindsey hadn't called.

Given everything else, it shouldn't be bothering her this much that her... boyfriend? Had he really used that word last night? It was so high school, so corny. So... sweet. Still, the fact that he hadn't called shouldn't be nearly as important as the fact that she'd been out of the hospital for a grand total of five hours, and awake for less than thirty minutes. She should be worrying about herself, about how to get Angel unfreaked and make sure Wesley wasn't trying to do too much.

Instead, she was laying on her couch, staring out the window at the early-afternoon sun and trying not to imagine the various icky ways someone could get hurt overnight in Los Angeles.

Pans clattered and clashed in the kitchen, and Cordelia turned her head. "Quiet, Dennis!" she hissed. "If you wake Angel up, he's going to start fussing again, and I'm going to take it out on you!"

The noise level in the kitchen dropped abruptly, and she nodded. "Good. Oh, and can you turn on the radio. Quietly?"

She sometimes thought she could see Dennis if she really tried, tilted her head and squinted and looked just right. This wasn't one of those days; squinting hurt her swollen eye and tilting her head made it pound. But it was comforting to hear the radio click on to her favorite soft rock station, to feel something tug her blanket up over her chest in passing, and to hear the making of brunch start back up again, quietly. She closed her eyes and tried to doze until the food was ready.

Instead, she saw Lindsey's face as he'd run into the hospital room the other night. He'd looked so scared, then so relieved, and his arms had been so strong and gentle when he'd wrapped them around her....

And he hadn't called. She sighed and opened her eyes. Whatever Wolfram & Hart had pulled him back to the Main Office of Hell to work on, it had been more important than calling his girlfriend in the hospital.

She caught herself sulking and sighed again; she'd promised herself no more with the pout. She was supposedly an adult these days, and should act like one, not like a teenager hanging by the phone waiting for her boyfriend to call.

Even if the word boyfriend did sound pretty great, and even if she did have a very bad feeling creeping up her spine.

Why hadn't Lindsey called?

"Cordelia?" Angel came out of the bedroom yawning and stretching, then paused in the hall just out of the light. Cordelia sat up carefully and flicked the curtains closed.

"Okay, it's safe, but you're supposed to be asleep," she scolded him. "Sun's up and all that."

Angel just shrugged. "If you're okay, I thought I'd head over to the library with Wesley, see if I can find out some more about Nodraan. I get the feeling Kate will take any help she can get this time around."

"Whatever, as long as that thing goes to jail for real this time." She settled herself back down in her blankets and Angel came over to help, adjusting her pillows behind her.

"Do you want me to help you into the bedroom?" he asked solicitously.

"Like I said the three times we had this conversation before, I'd rather be out here. Window, TV, remote control, ghost -- I'm pretty much set. Go." She waved him off with her uninjured hand. "Have fun doing the research thing. Eat first, though."

Angel gave one of his faint half-laughs. "I will." He hesitated, then bent over to kiss her forehead in a rare display of affection before he headed for the door.

"Hey! Eating first?"

He stopped mid-step and backtracked into the kitchen. Cordelia nodded, satisfied.

A breakfast tray came floating out in Angel's wake; Dennis juggled it and the morning paper, which Wes had left beside the door on his way out, as he went across the room. "Finally! I mean, thanks, Dennis, it looks great." Cordelia flashed a smile at the space above the tray as it settled on her lap, the paper arranging itself next to her plate. "I am so hungry."

Mmmm. A bowl of healthy cereal, a big glass of orange juice, toast with strawberry jam.... "Dennis, are you trying to fatten me up or something?" In answer, one of the pieces of toast floated up and started dancing in front of her face. "Yeah, right. Well, stop it. I'm not going to be able to work out for awhile, and this girl needs to watch her figure. You never know when that big audition is going to arrive."

She immediately contradicted herself by taking a big bite of toast; dieting could wait, she was hungry. She chewed carefully -- the motions hurt her face -- as she struggled to open the paper with her battered right arm. National news, local news... She paged through quickly, trying to get to the Calendar section, and swore under her breath when the pages refused to cooperate. She didn't actually know what the curse meant, since it was in ancient Etruscan or something like that, but she'd heard Wesley use it while he was researching and she was pretty sure it was not of the good.

The curse faded from her mouth and the toast dropped from her hand as she took in the small, fuzzy picture, buried on page 32. Nodraan caught her eye first -- it was hard to forget the face of someone who'd pinned her against a wall, before his skin turned to scales and his claws dug into her arm and his in-dire-need-of-a-dentist breath panted hot against her cheek.

But not as hard as realizing that the person next to him, the person grimly fending off the photographer and obviously escorting the aforementioned demon attacker, was her boyfriend.

"Oh my god."

She didn't know she'd said it out loud until Angel stuck his head around the entryway to the kitchen. "Cordelia? Did you say something?"

She should have answered, should have smiled and shook him off, but all she could do was stare at the paper she could no longer feel in her fingers, her entire body numb.

"Cordelia? What's wrong?"

If Angel sees this, he'll kill Lindsey.

Somehow, she summoned up a smile, dropped the newspaper so the picture was hidden in its folds. "Nothing's wrong," she informed the worried vampire hovering over her. "I just did the math on how many calories are on this toast. Dennis, haven't we talked about using the sugar-free jelly?"

Angel stared at her with narrowed eyes. She tried to look shallow and innocent, and not like she desperately wanted him to go away before she started crying. "You're sure nothing's wrong?" he asked suspiciously. "Do you need more of the pain pills?"

"God, no." Her grimace was entirely genuine. She could handle the physical pain -- it was nothing compared to post-vision migraines -- and no amount of Tylenol 3 was going to do anything for the way her heart was trying to rip itself apart. "They make me all sleepy and weird and everything. Did you eat? Or drink or whatever -- did you do it?"

"Yeah, I did." He didn't look fooled by the conversational right-turn, but he wasn't going to push. Thank god. "I'm going to head for the library. You'll call us if you need anything?"

Let's see, she could use a massage, a better health plan and, oh yeah, a boyfriend who didn't work for the forces of evil. "Of course. Go on, leave, I want all of these male-type people out of my apartment for a while." The tray rattled once and she rolled her eyes. "Except you, Dennis."

Angel left her reluctantly, putting on his long coat and stopping one more time at the door. "You're sure you--"

"Out!" It was almost a scream and she saw the worry flicker back onto his face. But he left, closing the door behind him as he headed for the sewers, and she fell back onto the pillows. She fumbled for the paper, trying to find the picture again; some desperate part of her mind was telling her that she'd been wrong, she'd made a mistake, if she just looked again--

Lindsey. Next to Nodraan. A short story about charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault, and Wolfram & Hart giving the reporters a "no comment". Lindsey giving them a "no comment".

The smell of her breakfast was making her nauseous; she ignored it, staring sightlessly out the window, the paper crumpled in her hand as the traffic flowed back and forth on the street below her and the radio played softly, unheeded.


It took Lindsey ten minutes to leave his car and walk up to Cordelia's door, three tries before he could actually make himself knock. When his knuckles finally made contact with the door, the sound was hesitant, uncertain. He jerked his chin up and straightened his tie, then knocked again, loudly.

He expected to hear an impatient shout of "Come in!"; instead, the door opened slowly. Cordelia, bruised and battered, wearing a large black t-shirt that left her long legs bare and almost had to be Angel's, leaned against the doorframe and looked at him out of shadowed hazel eyes.

"Lindsey," she greeted him quietly. "You didn't call."

"I know." He shoved his hand through his hair. "I was, ah, at the office. New case. The partners...."

"I figured." She was still quiet, subdued even. This was weird. But she was injured, and probably shouldn't be standing around.

He fidgeted for a moment, then asked, a little impatiently, "Can I come in or what?"

She thought about her answer for what seemed like much too long, then finally stepped aside, gesturing carelessly. "Come on in."

He came, stepping inside the door and closing it behind him. Normally, Cordelia would wrap her arms around him, holding her face up for a kiss, and he'd gotten used to that. Looked forward to it. But when he turned back from the door, she was already walking carefully back across the room to the little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. She sat on the edge of the couch and looked up at him, her face perfectly controlled under the bruises. Perfectly blank.

"So...." Lindsey ran his hand through his hair, shifting uncomfortably. He'd only been in Cordelia's apartment a few times, since her buddies were always running around. "How are you feeling?"

"I've been better." She gestured slightly with her bandaged arm. Guilt snapped tight in his chest and he willed it to stay out of his eyes. "But I'll live."

"Good. That's... good." God, he sounded like an idiot. "I just wanted to stop by, see if you needed--"

"Did you read the paper this morning?" The interruption was studiously casual. "There's a really good picture on page 32 that I think you'd be interested in. First section."

Crap. Shit. Damn. "Cordelia, I can explain."

"I figured. " Her face was still blank and he would have sold his soul -- if he had any of it left that was his -- if she would start yelling at him. "Go ahead, explain."

And he started to, started to lay everything out so she'd understand. Then he stopped, ran both his hands through his hair this time, and started again. "I'm not defending him, not in court. They just sent me down for the arraignment; everything else is someone else's problem. I'm not his lawyer any more."

"Oh. Okay." She nodded carefully. "So you just got him out of jail, you're not going to be the one who keeps him there. Well, that's okay, then; anyone he kills between now and the trial won't be your fault or anything. I don't know what I was so upset about."

Even just out of the hospital, she could use sarcasm like a scalpel, cutting so clean he didn't feel the cut until he started to bleed. "It's not like that, Cordelia -- it was orders from the senior partners. I didn't have a choice."

"There are always choices, Lindsey; just because you were ordered to make the wrong one doesn't automatically absolve you of making it."

"Excuse me, I thought lessons in being sanctimonious were your boss's job!"

Cordelia's eyes narrowed; a neat trick since one of them was still almost swollen shut. "Don't even try to make this about me, Lindsey. You set loose a shapeshifter demon who likes to walk around L.A. and kill people, including me! Who's he going to kill this time, huh? And will you get him out again after he does? Third time's the charm, after all."

"Third time? What are you--"

She tried to sneer at his automatic, defensive lie, but her effort was half-hearted at best. "Please, Lindsey. I did my homework, I know who got Nodraan off the hook last time." Her lips pressed together against anger or tears. "You've never insulted my intelligence before and trust me, this is not a good time to start."

He stared back at her, then nodded once, shortly. "Fine. Yeah. I got him out last time. I didn't know he was going to attack you, or I would have left him in jail to rot."

"Would you?"


"Even if the senior partners ordered you?"


"Like you did last night?"

"Yes! No!" He turned away, paced across the living room and back. "You don't understand."

"What's to understand?" There was the shout he'd wanted, finally, as she jolted to her feet. "He's evil, Lindsey! He's a murderer, and you got him out. You let him walk away to go kill someone else! And it's supposed to be okay because your senior partners, who are, by the way, the living embodiment of all things of the evil, ordered you to? You are so right, I don't understand that!"

"It's my job, Cordelia." He was the controlled one now, his hands fisted at his sides, his jaw so tight speaking was an effort. "You knew that when we started this, you knew what I do. Did you expect that to change? Did you expect me to suddenly 'see the light' and walk away from everything I've been working my ass off to get for the last ten years, just because you don't approve?"

She straightened as if he'd slapped her. "Maybe I did," she said finally, tossing the words out like a challenge. "Maybe I did hope that the guy I... was really starting to care about would stop being evil. It was a seriously long shot, but I did. Guess that makes me pretty stupid, huh?"

"I'm not evil. It's just a job, Cordelia, that's all. Just. A job."

"Your job hurts people, Lindsey. Wolfram & Hart hurts people, and you stay there and you hurt people for them. That's not a job, that's-- that's just wrong."

She wrapped her arms around herself as she turned away, wincing when the bandages on her left arm touched her stomach. He remembered her injuries abruptly, remembered that she was in no shape to be fighting, and couldn't stop his next words. "Okay. Fine. I'll walk away from Wolfram & Hart."

She slowly turned to face him, her unbruised eye wide, both of them filled with suspicion, and something like hope. "You will?"

"Yeah." He nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "When you walk away from Angel."

The hope faded, and she closed her eyes. "Very funny, Lindsey. Ha-ha. Let's hear it for the inappropriate humor thing."

"I'm not joking." Her eyes shot back open, and he shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets when he couldn't get them to unclench. "You hate that I work for Wolfram & Hart, the people I defend. I hate watching you go out and try to get yourself killed every night. I give up something you hate, you give up something I hate, we live happily ever after."

She shook her head slowly, her lips parting. "I don't try to get myself killed every night. That's not what it's about."

"What is it about? Helping the hopeless?" He crossed the room to her, touched her face gently below the bruises. "Do you know how I felt when Angel paged me, what it was like going into that hospital room last night and seeing you, knowing how close you came to dying? What it's going to be like every night from now on, waiting for Angel to screw up again? And for what?"

He turned away abruptly, stalking back across the room. "For some of those 'hopeless' who come to you for help? You risk your life for them, and they give you nothing back! Is it for Angel, the big, bad vampire who can't even pay you, much less protect you? You get nothing out of this deal, except those damn visions and a lot of scars!"

"It's not for nothing," she said carefully, her face pale. She had one hand out, as if to steady herself on thin air, and looked like she needed it. "The Powers That Be--"

"Oh, yes, the Powers That Be!" He laughed derisively. "The same Powers that let your friend Doyle die? Yeah, they're so much better to be working for than the senior partners. At least you know when Wolfram & Hart is going to stab you in the back, and they don't make pretty noises about kindness and compassion while they're doing it."

He strode back to her, taking her shoulders in his hands, leaning in close as if he could make her understand through sheer intensity. "I'm going to wind up going to your funeral, Cordelia, and that's.... God, that's the last thing I want."

Her voice was raspy, barely above a whisper. "What do you want? You, not the lawyer, not the Wolfram & Hart stooge. What do you want, Lindsey?"

It had been so long since anyone had asked that, so long since he'd thought about it. He'd had everything he wanted -- and then there'd been Cordelia, and everything he'd wanted had changed. And he was losing her, she was slipping through his hands even as he tightened them on her. "I want... you. With me. Alive. Safe."

"Whatever it takes?" she asked softly.

He shrugged. "Yeah. Of course."

"Of course." She closed her eyes tightly, and if she was any other woman, there would have been tears in them. But she was Cordelia, and when she opened them again, they were dry. "Maybe you're right, Lindsey. Maybe this will kill me. It's come close a few times already, and it scared me, oh yeah. Big time. But I can't just walk away."

Cordelia tugged herself carefully away from his grip, and he let her go with a growing sense of resignation. She'd chosen and it wasn't him. Hell, he'd never even been in the running.


"So that's it," Lindsey said, his face nearly dead, stripped of all emotion. "You won't be with me unless I give up everything I am, but you won't give up anything for me."

She started to shake her head, then changed it to a slow nod in mid-motion. "Yeah. I guess so. And it sounds really unfair that way, but that's the way it is." He started to speak, but she stopped him with a gentle hand on his lips. "You should listen to me, Lindsey, because it took me a way long time to figure this out. Walking away from evil doesn't make you good, but it's a start. And walking away from good doesn't make you evil -- but it's a start."

She lifted her hand from his lips, gestured helplessly with it. "I'm not that girl anymore, the one who could look away and pretend none of this was happening. That if I just close my eyes, all the dark and evil things will go away, and the world will be shiny and happy. It doesn't work that way, and I can't pretend it does, not anymore." She let her hand drop, one shoulder lifting in a tiny, helpless shrug. "If you don't understand that... then you don't understand me. And I guess you never did."

"Looks like that works both ways," he said bitterly. "Cordelia--"

She was surprised at how rough his voice was, like he actually cared. She'd started to think he did, but it was easier to believe he didn't. Not that anything would make this easy, but.... She gave him one of her biggest, fakest smiles, her arms wrapped around herself again. Her shredded left arm hurt and she tried to focus on that, because it hurt less than her heart. "No, Lindsey. This thing -- us -- it was never going to work. We knew it and we tried anyway and it didn't work. So just... just go."

"Dammit, Cordelia--" He started towards her, lifting one hand, and she had no idea what he was going to say or do. But before he could get even a step closer, an invisible wall seemed to form in front of him, knocking him back. He tried again, was knocked back further, almost tripping over his own feet. "What the hell?"

"Dennis." She said it to thin air, which wasn't so thin anymore, and she thought the pressure against Lindsey's body got lighter. He caught his balance, but still couldn't come any closer to her. "Go away, Lindsey, or he'll have to hurt you."

"He who? What the hell is this? Cordelia!" He was getting mad and she was almost grateful for it, because it was easier to kick him out when he was glaring at her, his eyes hard and his face set with anger. If he'd been looking at her tenderly with those blue eyes, or smiling at her the way she loved him to smile, it would have been so much harder.

She made her voice hard. "Just go, Lindsey." Queen C lives, the bitch is back. "You've got clients waiting for you, right?"

He stood there for a long second, his hands clenching and unclenching, Dennis holding him away from whatever he wanted to do. Finally, he breathed out hard, straightening his tie with a jerk and ran his hand through his hair. She'd never had the heart to tell him the gesture just messed it up more. "Fine. If that's the way you want it."

He stalked towards the door, and she bit her lip against the urge to call him back, to tell him she didn't care who he worked for, as long as he stayed.

But she knew better.

He stopped in the doorway anyway, not looking back at her. "I didn't-- This wasn't how this was supposed to happen."

"Like anything ever is?" She almost laughed, then shook her head once, sadly. "Goodbye, Lindsey."

He looked like he wanted to say something else, but settled for one short nod. He never had been any good at saying goodbye.

Then the door was closed behind him, and she sank down onto the couch, her legs flatly refusing to hold her up any longer. Dennis hovered anxiously near her, fiddling with the edges of the blanket, and she waved him away. "I'm okay, Dennis," she smiled weakly. "Thanks."

The blanket floated up and settled around her shoulders; she lay down carefully, pulling it more tightly around her. The radio was still playing softly and she buried her face in the pillow, trying not to think about anything except the music.

"She wanted to be a cowboy,
She was shooting 'em down,
She was tramping around.
He walked in crooked with the clear blue eyes.
"There's a nice pool at my motel - you want to go for a swim?"
That night he moved in..."

Her eyes felt all burny, swollen even though she hadn't cried and wasn't going to. She was just going to lay there and listen to the radio, and try to pretend she had never cared about Lindsey McDonald.

"At night she'd wait for the sound of his feet on the doormat,
The sound of his hand on the doorknob,
The sound of her heart beating in her head.
He'd go out playing nickel slots, cause he knew he'd lose..."

Maybe eventually she'd convince herself.


Lindsey walked out to the Porsche, parked illegally by a hydrant, and squinted against the sunlight. He put on his sunglasses as he slid behind the wheel and turned the key. The radio came on to some station that Cordelia liked, and he reached over to change it to anything else.

"She didn't know, so she couldn't choose.
One night while sleeping along in her bed,
The phone rang, she woke up, and sat up and said,
'What time is it? What time is it?'
'Well, it's 5:30 here and it's 2:30 there,
And I won't be home tonight,' he said."

His hand hovered over the buttons for a long time before he finally dropped it, and put his foot down hard on the gas. The Porsche's tires screeched against the curb as he pulled away.

"Now she sits in a booth in a diner,
Waiting for someone to take her order,
Waiting for someone to come and sit down.
She rubs the smudge off the photograph, puts it back into her purse.
The gray sky was romantic 'cause he was holding her hand,
He was her man...."

He parked in his reserved spot, and walked through the lobby without looking at anyone or anything. He shoved his way into the elevator past two junior associates, and punched the buttons for Holland's floor.

"Mr. Manners is with a client, Mr. McDonald," Holland's secretary tried to stop him. He blew past her without a word, or even an acknowledgement, shoving open the door to Holland's office. The client, a rabbity-looking guy about five and a half feet tall, currently under indictment for the ritual killings of five people, bounced to his feet in shock.

Holland just raised an eyebrow. "Doreen," he said to the secretary standing behind Lindsey and trying to apologize, "please get Mr. Wordehoff some coffee, and perhaps a Danish? I'm sorry, Mr. Wordehoff, just give me a few moments to deal with this."

He ushered Doreen and the client out of the office with a smooth, fatherly smile, then returned to his desk, settling down in his chair and looking up at Lindsey. "Please, sit down, Lindsey. I assume you have a matter of great importance to discuss?"

Lindsey didn't sit; he wasn't staying long. "You got what you wanted, Holland. I'm not seeing Cordelia Chase any more. It's over."

Holland's face creased in an even wider smile. "That's very good news, Lindsey. I knew you'd come to your senses, and I'm very pleased that you have. I think you'll find--"

Lindsey cut him off. "I'm also not representing Nodraan."

Holland's mile faded slightly. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Find another sucker to deal with him; it won't be me." He emphasized the statement with a short, sharp chopping motion, and Holland nodded consideringly.

"Very well," he said finally. "We'll find someone else to represent Mr. Nodraan. I'm certain we can find another case more suited to your talents and, ah, sensibilities."

"Fine." Lindsey stalked out, and tried not to care about the smugness lingering around Holland's eyes.

No one spoke to him on the elevator. His secretary started to stand when he came in, a pile of messages in her hand, then sat again without saying a word when he walked past her. There were files on his desk, including Nodraan's; he shoved it roughly to the side and it bumped into the picture frame on the corner. Both of them fell to the floor in a flutter of notes and paperwork.

Cordelia's face smiled up at him from the frame and he stared at it for a long time. Then he reached down, picked it up and shoved it into his lowest desk drawer, all the way at the back. He slammed the drawer shut with a satisfying bang and grabbed another case file, leaving Nodraan's where it lay.

He was done with this crap -- it was over, all of it.

And the hell with Cordelia Chase.


"The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love... "

Chapter 13: Inconsolable

"I never knew what enough was
Until I had more than my share
I let the darkness in
It was then I lost the dare
It was then I lost the day..."


Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan -- he shuddered, took a bracing gulp of his drink, and firmly corrected his subconscious -- Lorne leaned back as well as anyone can lean back on a barstool, and surveyed his domain with a satisfied smile.

Demons and humans were drinking and mingling from wall to wall, orders for everything from lemonade and beer to blood and Romulan ale had been flowing (the short pixie wearing the purple Captain Picard T-shirt that clashed with her orange skin had retreated happily to her seat after the bartender had concocted something appropriately blue and bubbly; Lorne made a mental note to give Mike a raise), and a gang of Haltin demons out for a bachelorette party were currently on stage, trying to sing backup to the bride's rendition of "Leader of the Pack".

Yes, indeed, Caritas was hopping and all was right with Lorne's little corner of the world.

But not so right with other people's. He frowned when he saw the human come in the front door, and gestured at Mike. "T&T for our new arrival," he asked quietly (well, quietly compared to the "Vroom, vrooms" coming from the stage). "And why don't we set up the floor mic?"

Mike's face seemed caught between anticipation and dread, but she nodded and moved away to start building the drink. She slid it down the bar to Lorne, who caught it in passing without missing a step. He took a quick bow at the patter of applause for the move, then headed across the room to intercept an admittedly evil and (far more importantly) seriously depressed lawyer. The brood vibes almost knocked Lorne out of his Guccis from twenty feet away.

"Hey there, cowboy!" he greeted the newcomer cheerfully. "Didn't think you were going to ride into town tonight."

"Hey." Lindsey looked like even that much basic civility was a stretch,; he shifted his guitar case on his back and looked past Lorne instead of at him. "That mine?"

Lorne frowned at him, but handed the drink over. "Well, that wasn't much of a greeting for a man bearing free booze. And hey, don't let that part get around, 'cause I'm not buying drinks for the house, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah." Lindsey tossed back half his drink in one swallow, then nodded brusquely. "Thanks."

"Now, that's more like it." Lorne's wide smile reasserted itself. "If you plan to serenade us -- and I'm going to assume you are, with the guitar and all -- you've got about three people ahead of you, depending on how you count Harold and Harvey." He leaned in conspiratorially. "I understand they've been working on the harmonies for 'Me and My Shadow' for a month. Make sure you look appreciative, they're such a nice guy."

Lindsey made a sound that might optimistically be described as something resembling a laugh and finished his drink, gesturing towards the bar for another. "I'll see what I can do. No promises."

Lorne put his hand over his heart, looking mildly offended. "Amigo, when do I ever ask for promises? Pull up a chair, I need to go send these lovely ladies off."

He'd timed it perfectly as usual, and got onstage just as the last repetition of "The leader of the pack, now he's go-one" faded out. The audience offered an enthusiastic round of applause and Lorne kissed each and every hairy purple cheek (easily ducking the bride's aim at something a little less innocent). "Let's hear it for the lovely bride," he announced into the mic as they wandered giggling off-stage and towards the bar. "I'm sure she and her husband will be very happy for the 5 days until their mating. Now, let's make some noise for Harold and Harvey!"

The two-headed troll blushed a deep green, but rumbled up to the stage, adjusting their Harley-Davidson jacket over their hot-pink shirt as they took the mic from Lorne. He gave them an encouraging pat on their back and exited stage left.

Ryo, bringing the floor mic on stage, grabbed Lorne as he left. "Tell me Suicide Boy ain't playing tonight."

Lorne spread his hands wide. "What can I say, the man wants to share his pain. It's almost beautiful."

Ryo rolled all three of her eyes, including the one on her stomach, and went back to rigging the mic. Lorne patted her on the shoulder and made his way back out into the club, circulating and doing the good host thing, which hey, lucky for him, he was very good at doing.

But even as he leaned over shoulders, gestured for refills, and exchanged anecdotes with regulars, the perpetual cloud of bitterness floating across the room from Lindsey's table was almost enough to turn Lorne's smile upside down. He shook his head and waited for Lindsey's turn to come up -- maybe this time the guy would listen to him.

And maybe Harold and Harvey would suddenly discover the cure for tone-deafness and existential troll angst. Lorne sighed and went to get another Sea Breeze. He had the sinking feeling this was going to be a loooong night.


"Join me in welcoming an old favorite back to Caritas -- give it up for Lindsey McDonald!" The crowd cheered enthusiastically at Lorne's intro; Lorne gave Lindsey an encouraging gesture as he left the stage, which Lindsey more or less ignored as he settled himself and his guitar at the mics. The room quieted at the first chords, and Lorne (and most of his employees) leaned back to enjoy the performance. Lindsey might be a lawyer, and the very picture of depressed and bitter, but the man had golden pipes.

Lindsey finished tuning and leaned close into the mic as he started singing.

"Like a desert needs rain
Like a town needs a name
I need your love"

Well. This was certainly promising. Familiar song, even if Lorne couldn't place it off-hand, but it was certainly starting nicely enough.

"Like a drifter needs a room
I need your love
I need your love"

Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Lorne let Lindsey's emotions drift through him with the music. Uh-huh, there she was, the brunette with the face and the stunning smile -- say what you would about the man's taste in employers, he had some impressive taste in women.

"Like a rhythm unbroken
Like drums in the night
Like sweet soul music
Like sunlight
I need your love"

And what was apparently an equally impressive ability to get down and dirty in a breakup fight. Some serious hurt still coming off him, all of it centered around said brunette.

"Like coming home
And you don't know where you've been
Like black coffee
Like nicotine
I need your love
I need your love"

Actually, the brunette wasn't looking all sunshine-and-roses either. Lots of things unresolved there....

A group of noisy, half-drunk Relik demons staggering in the front door jolted Lorne out of the music. He sighed and shoved Lindsey to the back of his mind as he went over to meet, greet and set strict alcohol limits for the newcomers. Fortunately, Relik demons were almost always cheerful drunks, and this crew seemed bent on drinking one of their number out of a serious date with depression. Lot of that going around, these days.

"Like thunder needs rain
Like a preacher needs pain
Like tongues of flame
Like a sheet stained
I need your love
I need your love"

Unfortunately, by the time he got the Relik demons settled and quiet, drinks all around, the cloud of bitterness coming off Lindsey was almost enough to send the depressed one off into tears. And since Relik tears tended towards the severely acidic side of the bodily fluid scale, it was definitely time to Do Something.

"Like a needle needs a vein
Like someone to blame
Like a thought unchained
Like a runaway train
I need your love
I need your love..."

And what in the name of the Supremes was that, hovering around his favorite songbird's aura? Some serious destiny, it looked like -- the unavoidable, rock-your-world, make-a-choice-and-it-had-better-be-the-right-one-or-you're-karmically-up-the-creek kind of destiny. Some of it had to do with the brunette, but most of it seemed to be all on Lindsey. Lorne made a face and ordered a bracing Sea Breeze for himself, another T&T for Lindsey, and a round of daiquiris for the Reliks, who were all starting to look as sniffly as their buddy.

He hated it when he had to Do Something. Much taller, no accent, much flashier sense of style, the whole green skin thing... No, he didn't look like Dear Abby, thank you.

"Like faith needs a doubt
Like a freeway out
I need your love
Like powder needs a spark
Like lies need the dark
I need your love"

Lindsey finished to a round of enthusiastic applause from the non-empathic members of the crowd. He acknowledged it with a shrug and looked ready to start another, which normally wasn't allowed, but Lorne had long since made an exception in Lindsey's case. This time, though, Lorne got on stage before he could start. "Lindsey McDonald, everyone! Isn't he fabulous?"

Lindsey raised his eyebrows sardonically at Lorne, who beamed widely at him and pretended not to notice. "Next up is a young lady by the name of Breen; let's give her a warm Caritas welcome." The pixie bounced towards the mic, still clutching her 'Romulan ale'; Lorne placed a small mental bet with himself as he walked off-stage with Lindsey and nodded when she started 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'.

"Come on, sit with me for a while." Lorne clapped Lindsey on the shoulder and steered him towards the bar where their drinks were waiting.

"I didn't come here to get my ice cubes read," Lindsey shrugged him off, "and I don't want to hear anything about my future. I just came to sing."

"And we appreciate that, sweetie, really we do," Lorne smiled broadly. "Except for those of us who are being driven into suicidal depression by your choice of tunes, and by the way, remember those big, slimy, purple demons from a couple nights ago?"


"Well, when they're in the club, we like to keep things kinda up-beat -- when that particular breed gets depressed in the Japanese sword-in-the-stomach sense of the word, they regard it as a religious imperative to take everyone else in the room with them." Lindsey shrugged, vastly indifferent. Lorne sighed. "That means we don't play Harry Chapin, especially not 'Taxi', 'Positively 4th Street' is not on the request list, and if the Eagles are absolutely required to satisfy your musical muse, 'Tequila Sunrise' just isn't the best place to go. Comprende?"

"Yeah. Whatever." Lindsey knocked his drink back in one swallow. "Are we done with this little heart-to-heart?"

Lorne chuckled in genuine amusement. "Not even close, buckaroo. Pull up a chair."

"Forget it." Lindsey slammed his glass down, making a few heads turn, and concentrated on zipping his guitar back in its case. "There's other places in this town I can play, without the nosy maitre d's butting in."

"There certainly are," Lorne agreed cheerfully, ignoring the maitre d' crack since the guy was obviously hurting. "Which kind of makes a perceptive demon like me wonder why you keep showing up here?"

Lindsey didn't answer but he did stop moving. Lorne rolled his eyes to the ceiling (which needed to be repainted again; those vertical darts games were hell on the plaster). "Look, if we agree to take the macho 'I don't need to discuss my feelings' crap as stated, would you just sit down and listen for a minute?"

For a long second, Lorne honestly wasn't sure which way Lindsey was going to go. But 'need to be validated' finally won out over 'need to be bitter loner'; he pulled a barstool over and sat.

"Thank you." Lorne shot his yellow cuffs, smoothed his orange lapels, and took a sip of his red drink. Color coordination, you had to love it. "So I'm not even gonna ask how things are going, 'cause obviously, they're not going so hot."

"They're fine. Great. I got a new case this morning. Very high-profile."

"Well, congratulations, pilgrim." Lorne tried to sound enthusiastic, and tried equally hard to hide his grimace. Even a neutral kind of guy like him had to eye Wolfram & Hart a little, well, askance. "But business isn't actually the kind of business you need to talk about."

"I don't need to talk about anything."

Lorne rolled his eyes again. "Yeah, I can see you've got the denial reflex honed really well there, but saying it doesn't make it true, or this world would be full of a whole lot of really popular speech writers."

Lindsey didn't answer -- a lawyer? Lost for words? This was even worse than Lorne had thought -- but stared darkly at his drink. He didn't have to be singing for the waves of brood coming off him to be visible, a heavy cloud dimming the lights around him.

Gesturing at Mike for refills, Lorne shook his head and changed tactics. "Speaking of songwriters, I've been meaning to ask you -- what's with all the covers? Haven't heard an original out of you in weeks. Four weeks to be precise, not that anyone's counting or anything."

"Haven't felt like it," Lindsey muttered into his glass.

"Now that's a shame. You had some tunes going there that were just fabulous -- love and happiness... well, in a dark and angsty kind of way, but hey, everyone's got his style. So what happened to that? What's with the gloom and doom?"

Lindsey shook his glass as he lifted it to take another slug, the ice cubes tinkling against the sides. "Thought you were into seeing the future. That is definitely the past."

"The past is the future, or the future is the present, or something like that." Lorne waved one hand in the air dismissively. "Anyway, the point is that you can't split them apart and just take what you want. You have to make your choices based on all of them. Past, present, future -- they all weave together into that gorgeous tapestry we call life."

Lorne stopped, considering his words. "And you know, there are some award-winning lyrics in that."

Lindsey snorted. "Whatever. All I know is, she's definitely in the past and she's staying there. I've got a real future to think about, and she's not gonna be any part of it." He tossed back the last of his drink, and left a $10 bill on the bar before he stood. "It's not like she ever really mattered anyway."

He shouldered his guitar and walked out of the bar without another word.

"Come back soon," Lorne called after him. He shook his head sadly at Lindsey's retreating back, adding, mostly to himself, "You can try as hard as you want to convince yourself, sweetie, but not even you can avoid the fine print of Destiny. And there ain't gonna be any out-of-court settlements this time around."

The pixie finished her song and Lorne stared after Lindsey for one more moment before shrugging him off and heading for the stage. He had a club to run, and hey, it wasn't his future that was about to be monumentally screwed up.


"There is no mystery to be revealed
And so we tell the truth and then run
I love you because I love you
And I did think that you were the one
But now I see who you've become..."


Wesley worked very hard at being motionless, trying not to fidget, or breathe, or even let his heart beat too loudly. Angel had the advantage in this, since still for a vampire was really still, with no inconveniently loud bodily functions to interfere with hiding.

If they were quiet enough for long enough, it would pass them by. It never lasted long, all they had to do was be patient, wait it out, not make a sound...



Cordelia appeared in the archway to the kitchen, waving an empty coffee pot threateningly. The radio in the kitchen was blaring rock music rather loudly, yet her voice had no trouble at all piercing through the noise. "Is it too much to ask that you remember to turn the burner off? I mean, I let you guys come here and sit on your butts on my couch and drink all of my coffee every day, even Angel, who doesn't even need to drink coffee and it's not like he's not enough trouble when he's not caffeinated, and I bought this industrial-sized coffee maker just for you so is it too much to ask that I not have to scrub out this icky, crusty stuff from the bottom because you were too busy trying to get back to your musty, boring old books to flip one little switch!"

Her voice had risen to a shout by the time she finished her rather incredible sentence, and Wesley deemed it wisest not to point out that, more than likely, it would be Dennis who did the coffee pot scrubbing.

Instead, he answered carefully, "No, Cordelia, of course it's not too much to ask. You're quite right, I should have remembered to turn it off, and I will come clean the pot out as soon as I'm finished here."

The mostly sincere apology rolled right off of Cordelia's temper tantrum. "Oh, don't bother! You just go on saving the world, I'll just be back here scrubbing and being your secretary."

She stalked back into the kitchen in a fine huff. Wesley snuck a look sideways at Angel, who was seated on the floor sharpening a long broadsword.

Angel simply shrugged in response. "She'll get over it," he repeated for perhaps the 300th time, pitching his voice around the music.

"It's been over a month," Wesley pointed out. "Surely there's some sort of statue of limitations."

"On relationships ending? Don't count on it." His eyes darkened as he concentrated more fiercely on his task than it strictly seemed to require. Wesley wasn't sure if he was seeing Buffy's face in the metal or Lindsey McDonald's and, again, deemed it wisest not to ask.

"We could just kill him," Angel said a moment later, answering the unspoken question as if by telepathy. Well, it wasn't as if they hadn't had this conversation before.

Wesley closed his book on one finger and stared meaningfully at Angel before making his usual response. "I don't think the Powers That Be would be terribly happy with you killing a human, even to avenge Cordelia's honor."

"He's a lawyer. That doesn't count as human."

"I seem to recall making precisely the same argument a few months ago and being thoroughly stuffed down for it."

"Yeah, well...." Wesley took mild satisfaction in the fact that Angel had yet to produce a comeback for that, which almost off-set his terrible suspicion that Angel was entirely serious about killing McDonald -- he always got the most chillingly Angelus-like expression when he said things like that. Angel didn't merely think of Wolfram & Hart when he thought of McDonald anymore -- he thought of the man who was making Cordelia cry. Granted, she had yet to do so when either Wesley or Angel was around to see it, but the evidence was there in her sometimes swollen eyes, her sad smile, and her far-too-frequent bouts of irrational temper. This wasn't the first time Wesley had been forced to point out to Angel the reasons that simply killing the man would be Wrong, and he was quite certain it wouldn't be the last.

And, of course, Wesley's involuntary casting as The Voice of Reason wasn't aided by his own heartfelt desire to track McDonald down and demonstrate the Watcher Council's little-discussed but faithfully passed-on demon torture techniques.

"Wesley! Get in here! This thing isn't going to clean itself!"

Wesley sighed and hung his head. "There's really no point in reminding her that she said she'd do it, is there?"

Angel considered, then shook his head. "No. Especially since she only said she'd do it to make you feel guilty so you'd go do it." Wesley looked at him, eyebrows raised, and Angel shrugged. "I've spent a lot of the last four years around teenagers. I had to start deciphering the language at some point."

"True enough," Wesley conceded. "Although she isn't a teenager any more, thank goodness." And hadn't that been a precarious birthday celebration.

"Wesley! Now!"

He winced at the screech, and added, "Most of the time."

Angel gave Wesley a sympathetic pat on the shoulder as he stood up to sheathe the sword, very carefully going nowhere near the kitchen in the process. He'd been the target of Cordelia's temper yesterday, something to do with a bloody mug left in the sink -- they really did have to find new office space soon -- and understandably had no desire to offer himself up as a target again.

What was less understandable was his mutter of "E tan e epi tas," which he probably hadn't meant to be audible over the music. Wesley gave him a dirty look, then set his shoulders and marched for the kitchen.

The determined march turned into a dead run a few feet from the archway, when the sound of shattering glass momentarily drowned out Aretha Franklin. Wesley rounded the corner so quickly he almost wiped out on the kitchen tile. He managed to catch himself on the counter before he tripped over Cordelia, who was kneeling next to the sink over the remains of the coffee pot under contention.

"Chill," she said shortly, without looking up at him. "It wasn't a vision. Go back to your stupid books."

She was not in fact clutching her head and there was no blood in evidence, so Wesley firmly ordered his heart to stop racing quite so quickly.

"Cordelia, are you--?" He barely hear himself over the radio at this range, much less effectively speak to Cordelia. He reached past her to turn down the volume, and in the sudden silence he heard a sniffle, hastily cut off.

Oh, bloody hell. Cordelia was sniffling. That meant Cordelia was trying not to cry. Right here in the kitchen, at his feet, Cordelia was trying not to cry. Wesley stared helplessly down at her, then back at the entryway, where Angel was hovering anxiously. The centuries-old vampire and one-time Scourge of Europe stared at Cordelia's shaking shoulders, his eyes wide in something like panic, which Wesley could certainly relate to, and shrugged equally helplessly. No assistance forthcoming from that quarter.

But he was a Watcher, he was a rogue demon hunter, he was a member of Angel Investigations, and this was part of the job. Wesley took a deep breath, crouched down on the floor next to Cordelia, and put a tentative hand on her shoulder. "Cordelia? Are you all right?"

She shook him off, which he'd expected, and continued trying to pick up the shards of glass scattered over the floor. "I've got it, Wesley," she snapped through what was obviously a stifled sob. "I'm fine, it's under control, go away."

Wesley hesitated, then sighed and stood. Angel gave him a 'what are you doing, get back there' gesture, which Wesley ignored. Instead, he picked up a towel and dampened it in the sink before kneeling beside Cordelia again. "You get the large parts, I'll get the smaller," he told her.

"I said, I'm fine. I can do this myself." She tried to shove Wesley away again, only to yelp as her hand caught a sharp piece of glass. "Dammit!"

"Yes, I can see that," Wesley observed dryly, taking her hand in his. "Let me look."

He dabbed at the blood with the towel, revealing a shallow, messy cut across the heel of her hand. "Not too bad, but you should bandage it before you get blood all over. Let me get the rest of this."

He was expecting another round of 'I'm fine', and was surprised she only gave him a small nod, and another sniffle. Looking up at her face, he saw tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks. "Oh, Cordelia."

The first serious sobs began to shake her; Wesley smoothed her hair awkwardly, then sighed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, rearranging his legs so they were both sitting on the floor against the counter, well away from the glass. He continued patting her hair with his free hand and tried to think of something wise and calming to say. He came up blank and settled for making noises that he fervently hoped were reassuring. Angel knelt carefully next to them with the first aid kit and began cleaning Cordelia's hand, pausing occasionally to add his own awkward pats to the situation.

The crying jag was intense but, thankfully, short-lived, as if Cordelia simply couldn't sustain the emotion for very long. "I'm sorry," she managed to say finally, her voice muffled by Wesley's shirt.

"It's just a coffeepot," he assured her breezily, quite certain that wasn't what she'd meant. "Easy to replace. Nothing to worry about at all."

"No. I mean for yelling at you." She looked up at him, and he would have preferred the yelling to this terribly young and vulnerable face. Killing Lindsey McDonald became a more attractive prospect with every passing moment. "I didn't mean to yell at you, Wes. Although you did forget to turn off the burner again."

Ah, that was their Cordelia, sneaking out around the sincere remorse. "Yes I did, and I'm truly sorry."

She sniffled and rested her cheek against his shoulder again. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she sighed, wincing as Angel gently arranged a gauze pad over her hand. She managed a brief, watery smile of thanks. "Either I'm crying or I'm MegaBitch, and you guys have been so great."

Wesley opened his mouth to agree, but closed it on a pointed glance from Angel. "Yes, well," he stammered instead. "It's been a hard summer for everyone."

Angel nodded in agreement, holding her hand carefully. "Visions, explosions, break-ups, houseguests.... You've earned a few, um, temperamental moments."

"Is that what you call it? Temperamental?" The bloody towel floated to the sink and started running water. "Cold water, Dennis, or it'll set," Cordelia reminded him.

"If he didn't know that by now, you'd have no linens left," Wesley pointed out.

"Don't remind me," she groaned. The tears had, thankfully, retreated, but sadness still lurked around her eyes.

"It will get better, Cordelia," Wesley heard himself say. She looked at him in surprise, and he forced himself to continue. "I know you're in pain, and I know this is not a pleasant time for you, but it will get better. You'll meet someone else, and be happy, and it will all work out."

"What he said," Angel agreed, checking the remarkably neat bandage and studiously avoiding Cordelia's eyes. "Trust me, this is something I know about."

Cordelia looked at them both very seriously, then reached up just enough to kiss Wesley's cheek, before stretching out to brush her lips across Angel's. Angel fidgeted and Wesley was quite sure he himself was blushing.

"Thanks, guys," she said, with a hint of her former smile. "Thanks for putting up with me. And thanks for not saying I told you so--"

"--We would never--" Wesley started.

"--No matter how many times I know you wanted to." Wesley joined Angel in not quite meeting her eyes this time and it was worth it when she laughed.

"You're all done here," Angel announced, breaking the intensely uncomfortable moment. "Why don't you go sit in the living room while Dennis and I finish cleaning this up."

Cordelia opened her mouth to argue, then apparently thought better of it when both men looked at her. "Okay, okay. Geez."

They helped her to her feet, and Wesley kept an arm around her waist as they started moving towards the living room. From behind them came the tinkle of glass hitting the trash can and an admiring, "Nice shot, Dennis," from Angel.

"You should sit down, Cordelia," Wesley told her as they cleared the archway. She gave a pointed look towards her couch -- there was a reason Angel had been sitting on the floor -- and Wesley hung his head. "After I clear off a place for you, of course. Do you feel up to a little research?"

"Okay. Sure." He stacked and lifted a heavy pile of books and she sat, tucking her feet under her and folding her hands carefully in her lap. "More slimy things?" she asked.

Wesley turned around a few times, and couldn't actually find anywhere to place the stack he was holding. "I think I've got it narrowed down to magical things, actually."

"Cool. Are they doing anything in particular, or is this like a pre-emptive research party?"

"More pre-emptive than anything." Let's see, if he rearranged the scrolls on the coffee table, he could fit the smaller books beside them, leaving room for the larger stack on the other side.... "There's a prophecy, you see, about a circle of power and some sort of binding, and we're--"

"It was the song."

He stopped and blinked down at her. "Excuse me?"

"The song. 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T'. I put that on the jukebox in the restaurant on our first date. Mine and Lindsey's. And it surprised me, so I dropped the coffee pot." She gestured awkwardly with the bandaged hand. "That's why I was, you know, doing the crying thing. And, mostly, the bitchy thing."

"Yes. Well." Wesley settled the large stack of books carefully into place, then adjusted his glasses with great precision. "He's not worth it, you know."

It just slipped out, despite all of the time he'd spent learning to bite back diatribes on Cordelia's taste in men, and he cringed in anticipation of more yelling or, far worse, more tears.

Instead, Cordelia simply looked wistful. "He wasn't... I know you and Angel are getting some pretty elaborate revenge fantasies happening and okay, maybe I've indulged in one or two myself but--" She bit her lip, staring down at her lap. "It wasn't all Lindsey's fault, you know. It was me, too. I tried to make him be something he wasn't ready to be, which I said I wasn't going to do, and I did."


"But it'd be easier if it was all his fault, you know," she said, as if she hadn't heard him. "I don't want to feel this way anymore. I did this after the whole Xander mess, and even after the whole Wilson awfulness, where there are things you can't look at or listen to, or even think because it reminds you-- And now even one of my favorite songs is screwed up!"

She started to clench her fist, winced as the motion pulled at the cut, and put it carefully back in her lap. "I just wish it would all just go away," she said sadly. "I wish he would just go away. And I'm so not supposed to make wishes like that, because I totally did learn my lesson, but...."

Wesley sighed and finally looked at her. "He will go away, Cordelia," he said, with as much assurance as he could muster, sitting next to her and patting her hand. "He has gone away. He won't come near you again, and in time, I'm sure you'll forget what you ever saw in him."

She sniffed once, then nodded emphatically, setting her chin and her mouth in determined lines. "Absolutely. He's total history. Gone, poof, yes sirree, Lindsey McDonald is no longer part of this girl's life. Period."

"Indeed." Neither of them believed a word of it, of course, but it was the thought that counted. "So. Would you care to join me in ordering from House of Hunan while we read our musty, boring old books?"

Cordelia shrugged, one-shouldered, taking the small copy of the Librus de Matellus he handed her. "I guess."

"We could get garlic chicken," he suggested innocently, retrieving his own copy of the Senex Darius and settling beside her. "With extra garlic."

"And Angel will have to sit across the room and he'll glare at us all night."

"That would be the general idea." He allowed himself the tiniest of smirks -- With your shield or on it, indeed -- and caught a quick glimpse of her smile in return.

"You're evil, Wes."

"Thank you."

"I'm not sure that was a compliment."

"Do let me know when you decide."

"I will."

They grinned at each other in perfect accord as Wesley reached for the cordless phone, asking over his shoulder, "Do you want pot-stickers?"


A few hours later, they'd settled in for the evening -- potstickers, eggrolls and garlic chicken at hand, Angel indeed glaring at them from beside the TV -- when the phone rang. Wesley reached for it at the same time that Cordelia dropped the book she was pretending to study, and made a dive across Wesley for it, knocking over a carton of rice in the process. Dennis caught the rice on the way down and floated it carefully back to the table.

Wesley fought her off with one arm, the other trying to keep his grip on the phone. "I've got it, Cordelia."

"Wes, it's my phone!" Cordelia objected.

"And I was closer," Wesley shot back. Cordelia subsided reluctantly. "Chase residence."

"Wesley? Good, you are still hanging about at Cordelia's."

"Giles." Wesley's brow furrowed at the entirely unexpected voice. "It's good to hear from you." In an awkward, 'oh god, is the world ending again and why does it have to involve them?' sort of way. It wasn't as if Angel Investigations never communicated with the Sunnydale crowd, but such conversations were generally short, to the point, and conducted via email, to avoid those awkward pauses.

"Giles?" Cordelia had perked up at the name and made another try at the phone. "Gimme!"

Wesley put his hand over the receiver and glared at Cordelia. "You can speak with him after I'm done, Cordelia! Honestly!" She slouched back against the couch and pouted, any goodwill he'd obtained by comforting her earlier clearly gone. He tried not to roll his eyes and returned to the phone.

"Sorry about that," he said to Giles. "A bit of a scuffle over phone rights, I'm afraid. What can we do for you?"

"It's good to know that some things will never change," Giles observed dryly. "I was calling to, well, update you on a recent discovery. We've come across something here that might be of interest to you three, particularly to Angel. A prophecy that's, ah, a bit disturbing."

Wesley blinked. "Ah. I gather you'd like to speak to Angel then?"


Wesley held the phone out to Angel, shooting a look at Cordelia that dared her to intercept it. Angel's eyebrows went up, but he took the phone, pacing away as he said, "Giles?"

"What does SuperWatcher want?" Cordelia asked immediately, her displeasure temporarily set aside in favor of curiosity.

Wesley shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to eavesdrop on Angel's end of the conversation. "Something about a prophecy. He didn't go into details, just that it involves Angel."

Cordelia frowned. "Oh, that's so not a good. Even aside from the whole Sunnydale thing, there's just never anything good about prophecies. Except maybe the Shanshu one," she amended, with a sideways look at the whiteboard and its crossed-out lines.

"I tend to agree," Wesley sighed thoughtfully, looking down at the Senex. "Especially if the prophecy Giles has discovered has anything to do with the 'circle of power' we've been researching. It's the sort of coincidence-that-isn't that I've come to expect."

"It does, and it is." They both jumped as Angel appeared next to them, putting the phone down on the coffee table. Cordelia slapped his waist, the highest she could reach, with her bandaged hand, then winced.

"Enough with the sneaky," she ordered, cradling her hand in the other, "or we're all gonna die of heart attacks before any big prophecy gets to come true. And you didn't let me talk to Giles."

"Sorry," Angel apologized absently, his eyes slightly narrowed and focused on Wesley's book. "You know how we were trying to figure out where that binding ritual Darius talks about could take place?"

"Yes," Wesley answered slowly. "Oh, don't tell me...."

"Something bad happening in Sunnydale," Cordelia said with disgust. "Now there's something new."

"Yeah, what are the odds?" Angel shrugged, his face caught somewhere between worry and resignation. "Giles found a book with the original prophecy, not the summary in the Senex. He thinks it's Sunnydale, and he thinks it involves me." He paused, swallowed hard. "And Buffy."

That silenced them for a long moment. "Great," Cordelia finally said. "Returning to Sunnydale, home of all things we ran away to L.A. to get away from."

"I didn't run away," Angel said defensively. Wesley and Cordelia just looked at him until he held his hands up in surrender. "Okay, maybe I ran away a little. But it wasn't as bad as you make it sound."

"Whatever." Cordelia flipped her hand at him dismissively.

"And no one's said we're going back."

"Right," Cordelia nodded. "'Cause we hate Sunnydale and bad things always happen there, so we should stay in L.A."

"Absolutely," Wesley agreed immediately. "Going back would be a terrible idea. To say nothing of the potential for Angel's presence to simply make matters worse by fulfilling the prophecy."

They stared at each other for a long, long time.

Then Cordelia got up, and started gathering Chinese food cartons. "So, we'll have to take the Angelmobile, 'cause the motorcycle's not going to hold three people, much less the heinous amount of bookage that Wes is going to want to drag along."

"Right." Wesley also rose, to start collecting the volumes that had proven helpful so far. "Let me put these together, and then I'll go pack. Pick me up at my apartment in an hour?"

"I'll get the weapons together," Angel said as he reached for the sword he'd sharpened earlier. "We'd better call Giles and let them know we're on our way."

"And here I thought my high school reunion wasn't going to be for another nine years," Cordelia sighed as she carried the leftovers into the kitchen. "Lucky me."

Chapter 14: Drops of Jupiter

"Now that she's back from that soul vacation
Tracing her way through the constellation,
She checks out Mozart while she does tae-bo
Reminds me that there's room to grow..."


It was a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to Sunnydale; theoretically, they should have gotten there by about 2:30 in the morning. But Angel's driving was way more sedate than usual -- he took the relatively clear freeways like a little old lady. Wesley hadn't been much help either, since he'd taken forever to gather up his books and dither over which notes to take, in Cordelia's apartment and in his. Cordelia refused to take responsibility for anything other than the four bathroom breaks, all of which had absolutely been necessary.

They really had to lay off the coffee.

So there they were, parked outside Giles' condo with about twenty minutes to go until sunrise, staring silently at the courtyard. Nobody made a move to get out of the car, nobody said anything. Cordelia was fairly sure Angel hadn't even blinked in ten minutes.

"This is pathetic." Wesley and Angel both jolted as Cordelia's voice cut through the early-morning silence.

"Excuse me?" Wesley blinked nervously.

"Us. We're pathetic. Sitting out here because we're all too afraid to go up and knock on the door and say, 'Hi, Giles, we're back.' Behold the patheticness that is us."

"I don't see you getting out," Angel said testily.

Cordelia shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I'm going to. In just a second." She kept up the determined expression for a little longer, then sighed and let her forehead fall against the top of the door. "Or I might just hide in here with you guys because I'm part of the us that's pathetic."

Wesley reached forward from the back seat and patted her on the shoulder; it would have been more soothing if she couldn't see that 'I'm resigned to my impending doom' expression on his face in the windshield. "We really should get inside," he offered uncertainly. "The sun will be up shortly and we are in a convertible."

"Yeah," Angel agreed, his voice studiously blank, and Cordelia nodded against the door.

No one moved.

It wasn't that they were really scared, Cordelia told herself. Angel Investigations faced down demons, vampires and lawyers -- she flinched away from that thought -- on a daily basis. Hack, slash, kill, go home and wait for the next one. They laughed in the face of danger, or at least made lots of witty comments before they attacked or ran away, so it wasn't like they were cowards or anything.


So if they could face the denizens of the underworld, then taking on the Scooby Gang, who probably weren't going to try to kill them, should be a snap.


She moaned softly and bounced her head gently against the door frame.

"Okay, that's it." Angel lifted himself out of the car without bothering to open the door, and came around to Cordelia's side to open hers. She looked up at him miserably as he offered her his hand to help her out.

"We can do this," he assured her, looking over her shoulder at Wesley as she got out. "We just have to stick together."

"Yes," Wesley nodded, taking a deep breath before climbing out of the backseat. "We'll watch each other's backs, as always."

"The first person who says 'All for one' gets kicked," Cordelia muttered. Her lips curved up in spite of herself as the guys chuckled; she straightened her shoulders and set her chin in her best Queen C attitude. "Okay, let's do this."

By unanimous, if unspoken, consent, they left the books and duffel bags for someone else (read: Riley and Xander) to carry in, and walked down the steps and across the courtyard to Giles' door. As her shoes tapped against the flagstones, Cordelia fought back a flood of memories: a few of them happy ("Fair's fair. I read your book, Giles, now you have to watch my movie."), lots of them frantic ("Could we get moving if we're going to go kill things! I have cheerleading practice in an hour!"), most of them too painful to look at directly ("Oh my god. Ms Calendar...").

Angel's hand touched her elbow lightly and she looked up to see the same kind of emotions flickering through his eyes. "When we're done here, we should go to the Bronze," she told him quietly. "Really relive the old days."

He chuckled again and almost sounded like he meant it. "Yeah. We will."

Cordelia leaned her head against his shoulder and offered her other hand to Wesley. He took it for a moment, holding it like a lifeline, then let it drop as they came up to Giles' door. They braced themselves and Cordelia knocked.

Giles opened the door, holding his glasses and a book in one hand, and for a second it really was like old times. He blinked at them, then smiled wearily. "At last. We were expecting you hours ago."

Cordelia made a face and decided not to try to explain. "Traffic," she offered like a good little Californian, and Giles nodded.

"Well, come in," he said, carefully not looking at Angel at he stood aside to make room.

They filed past him into the living room, which was lit only by a few lamps and the pale early morning light. Cordelia had expected to find the place swarming with Slayerettes, but it was empty, stacks of books and empty popcorn bags the only sign that a herd of teenagers had been there recently.

She gave Giles a quizzical look, where he stood leaning against the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room, and he shrugged lightly. "I thought it best to keep your, ah, welcoming committee to a minimum."

Cordelia looked at Giles, then at the empty room. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist. "You rock, Giles," she told him. "Thank you."

"Yes, well..." He returned her hug sincerely, if awkwardly; she had to fight an unexpected, and slightly weird, urge to snuggle in against his sweatshirt. It wasn't tweed, but it still felt strangely like home. "I'm just grateful you chose to come. All of you," Giles added, forcing himself to look at Angel and Wesley as Cordelia forced herself to let go of him.

Angel looked away, but Wesley cleared his throat and took a step forward. "Yes, well..." he echoed. "Anything we can do to help." He and Giles shook hands and it was a beautiful moment, in a reserved-English-guys kind of way.

"So," Giles said after a moment, "it's quite late -- or early, rather -- and I'm sure all of you must be tired. Cordelia, you're welcome to use my room if you'd like a nap; I'm afraid Wesley and, ah, Angel will have to fight it out for the couch."

"Oh, I managed to catch a bit of sleep in the car," Wesley lied. "I'd really like to take a look at the prophecy you discovered. Did you check--"

"Yes, Giles, I'd love to take a nap," Cordelia inserted firmly, before Geek Boy could really get rolling. "Angel, don't forget to bring the cooler in from the car before the blood gets icky, because I'm not cleaning it up. Wesley, don't think I'm not going to make you get some sleep when I wake up. Giles, please make sure both of them eat, they tend to skip the food thing if you don't watch them every second."

Angel rolled his eyes, Wesley stuttered, and Giles blinked a few times before putting his glasses back on and crossing his arms. "I believe Xander was going to stop for doughnuts on his way over," he said mildly, a very amused gleam in his eyes. "Will that be acceptable?"

Cordelia nodded. "It'll do. Wake me up when everyone gets here, guys."


They didn't, of course. Cordelia made several mental death threats towards her co-workers as she rolled over and looked at Giles' clock radio, which clearly showed that she'd been asleep for almost five hours. She'd wanted to be there for the first confrontations -- Buffy and Angel meetings were always ugly, and she didn't trust the Scoobies not to be mean to Wesley.

Giles' bathroom was actually in pretty good shape for a guy, she discovered. It was clean anyway, even if he was in dire need of new towels, but every guy she'd ever known was in dire need of new towels. She giggled for a moment at the mousse hidden in the medicine cabinet (duh, of course she looked), then settled herself to the serious business of making herself look perfect. There was a certain amount of security in knowing Angel and Wesley were downstairs, but still, no way she was taking on the old crowd without perfect makeup and hair. She had a reputation to maintain, after all.

And when she couldn't think of any more little grooming tasks, she sucked in a deep breath and forced herself to head down the stairs towards the voices.

"Good morning, Cordelia," Angel greeted her first, since he was sitting closest to the stairs. He was wearing his 'I'm just going to stay here and brood all casual-like' expression; that his chair also happened as far away from Buffy that he could manage to be without leaving the room was probably his major motivation for taking it. Since Buffy was sitting next to a big, cute-in-a-Ken-doll-kind-of-way guy who had to be Riley, Cordelia really couldn't blame Angel for making that call.

Cordelia hugged him on her way past -- just to offer support, not for the satisfaction of seeing Buffy's eyes narrow. Well, mostly.

"Morning, Angel. Hi, everyone." She waved breezily at the rest of the room, who echoed the greeting with varying levels of enthusiasm, and headed towards the open doughnut box as if she didn't have another care in the world. She carefully chose the last remaining chocolate glazed, then leaned back against the counter, took a bite, and surveyed the room. "Any luck on the research front?"

"Um, a little," Willow offered, from where she was sitting on the couch, snuggled up with a kind of attractive blonde girl, who had better be Tara or Willow had some serious explaining to do. Actually, Willow had some serious explaining to do, period. "We, um, found some supporting evidence for the prophecy--"

"Good to know." Cordelia cut her off without blinking, and strolled over to the couch. "You must be Tara," she said, extending her hand to the other girl. "I'm Cordelia. Don't believe anything they told you, unless it was about my amazing fashion sense."

Tara blushed and stammered. "I'm... p-pleased to meet you," she managed finally. Her handshake wasn't exactly strong, but it wasn't wussy, either, and she had kind of a nice smile. Pretty much what Cordelia would have expected from Willow's girlfriend, if she'd ever expected Willow to have a girlfriend.

Xander was sprawled out in the battered armchair he'd always claimed when research parties wound up at Giles', Anya curled up on his lap. He looked uncomfortable, like he wanted to stand up and be polite, or maybe even attempt a hug; Anya looked determined, like there was no way in hell she was moving. Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Hello, Xander."

"Hi, Cordy," he returned carefully. "Um, you remember Anya."

"Oh, yeah." She smiled tightly at her own personal vengeance demon, who smiled back with equal insincerity. Giles intervened before blood could be spilled.

"And this, of course, is Riley Finn," he said, gesturing towards the Ken doll, who'd had gotten to his feet when she came in, and who shook her hand over the back of the couch.

"Pleased to meet you," he offered with a polite smile, and one wary eye on Angel.

"Oh, the pleasure's mine," Cordelia assured him with great insincerity. She leaned against the back of the couch behind Wesley, seated on the other end from the Gay Pride members, and looked over his shoulder at the book he was reading. "Earth to Wes -- are we awake down there?"

He gave her a pained look, brushing away the crumbs she'd dropped on the pages. "Yes, Cordelia, we are."

She grinned and took another bite, scattering more crumbs. "Find anything?"

He finally closed the book on one finger and gave her his best 'pained yet terribly resigned' look. "Are you going to help, or merely be irritating?"

She pretended to think about it. "Well, you know, I do irritating really, really well, and I don't want to get out of practice--"

"Not much chance of that," Angel muttered behind her. She glared over her shoulder and he tried to look innocent. He failed, but it was a good try.

"--but I suppose I could contribute some help on the research front." She settled on the couch between Wesley and Tara, which forced her to sit much closer to Wesley than she normally would have. It was worth it for both the comfort factor and the glances the Scooby Gang exchanged.

Wesley gave her an extremely knowing sideways look, but he didn't try to make her move, just passed over a book. She took it, asking, "So, what are we looking for?"

"We already did the briefing," Anya informed her cheerfully. "You weren't awake."

"Because someone didn't wake me up," Cordelia returned, with another glare at Angel. "So, give me the highlights, please. Giles," she added fast when Wesley started to answer. He looked hurt, but deferred to the other former Watcher, and she patted his arm. She loved Wes and all, but Giles would get to the point. Eventually.

Giles didn't stutter like he would have even a year ago; he just pushed his glasses up and leaned against the wall beside the bookcase. "Well, I've been under a certain amount of, ah, pressure to attempt to discover prophecies affecting the Slayer and the Hellmouth a bit further in advance of the events they predict--"

"Yeah, to give us 24 hours notice instead of 24 seconds," Xander heckled from the other side of the room.

"We need a little Daytimer," Willow agreed cheerfully. "Apocalypse next Thursday. Bring stakes and doughnuts."

"--and we may actually have had a bit of success in doing so," Giles talked firmly over his peanut gallery. "It was located in a... Well, actually, the cover is blank and the title page, if there ever was one, is long missing, but I've found other useful information in the volume before, so I have no reason to doubt its veracity."

"I meant to ask, do you have any idea where the book came from? Who it was written by? What--" Cordelia glared at Wesley, and he cleared his throat. "That is, he found a glancing reference to a prophecy -- in verse, no less."

"Prophecies in poetry," Cordelia grimaced. "Always so much fun."

"Yes, well... Substandard prophets do tend to try to disguise their lack of knowledge with pretty rhymes, while above-standard seers aren't above using them to be purposefully obfuscatory, thus raising the question of why they bothered to write them down in the first place--" Buffy cleared her throat meaningfully and Giles stopped short; Cordelia caught herself throwing Buffy a commiserating glance and stopped. "Ah. Yes. Be that as it may, the rough translation for what I found is, ah..."

He scrounged for and located a battered notebook, reading aloud, "In sun's valley shall vice bind/Knowledge, strength and soul-trapped night/Life and death twist intertwined/'Til dark shall cover all the light."

"Very good, you kept the rhyme scheme," Wesley commented absently, twisting around to look at Angel. "'Soul-trapped night'.... You still believe that refers to Angel? Rather tenuous, I would say."

"Um, yeah," Cordelia agreed. "For this we drove all night?"

"It wouldn't have been all night," Angel pointed out, "if someone hadn't stopped five times to--"

"It was four times." Cordelia corrected him haughtily, ruining the effect by wrinkling her nose. He smiled slightly, shaking his head.

"If I may?" Giles interrupted the byplay with awful dignity. His glasses gave a faint 'clink' as he laid them on the bookcase. "Yes, it is a bit vague. However, the time referents in the section place the prophecy sometime very soon -- conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, and a few other..." Cordelia's eyes began to glaze over and he stopped himself again. "At any rate, given that fact, and that 'sun's valley' almost certainly translates to Sunnydale--"

"It's a reasonable assumption that it's speaking of Angel. Yes. Strength referring to Buffy?" Wesley suggested. Angel's expression was suddenly intense, his muscles tight. He jumped to his feet and started prowling the edges of the room, forgetting to keep his distance from Riley and Buffy, Cordelia noticed. Riley noticed too, judging from how tense he'd suddenly gotten.

"That would be my assumption," Giles agreed. "However, assumption--"

"--Is the mother of mistakes, yes," Wesley completed -- some old Watcher mantra probably -- as he reopened the book he'd set aside. "Wait a moment, I'd just found... Yes. In his Librus, Matellus refers to a binding, creating a circle of... Here it is, 'a circle of magic and blood' to call upon... Well, it's not precisely clear what is being called, but certainly something quite powerful. And, again, the other referents seem to point to something quite soon -- we were actually researching this very thing when you called last night."

Giles wandered over to read over Wesley's shoulder; Cordelia tried to do the same, but sat back again when she saw the Latin. Why did prophecies always have to be in totally dead languages? Wasn't anyone thinking about the future when they wrote the things?

"Yes, I see what you mean," Giles said finally.

"The language is quite clear." Wesley reached over and took the book Cordelia was still holding, over her half-hearted protests. "I've another here that also made a rather vague reference..."

His voice trailed off as he flipped through the pages. Giles said, "Yes and there may be more. We could check--"

Cordelia watched them with resignation, then leaned over to whisper to Tara, "Can't you just feel the brain waves zinging back and forth between these two? I bet the TV explodes."

Surprisingly, Tara giggled. "I th-think the computer might go first. It's closer."

"Or maybe the phone," Willow agreed, and the three women grinned at each other.

Wesley ignored them all. "Perhaps our arrival in Sunnydale was not the best of ideas," he was saying to Giles.

"If the prophecy truly does involve Angel, I'm sure it would have found a way to bring him there regardless," Giles pointed out. "It will probably be easier to combine forces from the beginning."

"Cool." Buffy bounced to her feet, her patience with the Watcherspeak obviously gone. Cordelia was right there with her, but tried to look mature and interested anyway. "So where do we start? And do I get to pummel anyone?"

"Somehow, I don't think it'll be that simple," Angel observed wryly.

"Like it ever is," Cordelia sighed. "But I seriously don't think you can pummel anything until we, like, figure out what you need to pummel. And I don't think we can track down the guy who wrote the lousy poetry and pummel him."

"Not that the idea isn't an appealing one." Giles smiled slightly at Cordelia before looking over at Buffy. "Give us a bit more time before you go out to, ah, pummel anything."

"Fine." Buffy gave a really great tortured sigh, but she'd always been good at those. "I've got class anyway, and tell me again whose great idea summer school was?"

"I think it was your professor's," Riley told her. "The one whose class you flunked?"

"Which one?" Buffy asked, making a face. But she snuggled back into Riley's arms when he put them around her, and Cordelia watched them with a pang. Lindsey used to hold her like that, when she was complaining about a bad audition. Then he'd start kissing her neck and...

She got up abruptly and started for the kitchen, with no real goal in mind except to get away from the cute couple. She almost bumped into Angel, heading in the same direction. "Tough, huh?" she asked sympathetically as they went into the kitchen, patting his shoulder because he looked like he needed it.

He shrugged, his face neutral but his eyes hurting, and put water on to boil. "I can handle it."

"I know you can." She still made a mental note to tell Buffy to knock it off with the PDAs for a while. You'd think the girl would have developed some sensitivity by now. Oh wait, she reminded herself, it's Buffy you're talking about. No chance. "Want some help with the tea?"

Angel almost managed not to wince. "No, that's okay. You know, Wesley still hasn't gotten any sleep," he said, sacrificing their co-worker without a second's hesitation. "You should probably go talk to him about it."

She gave him a look just so he knew she knew what he was up to, but wandered back out into the living room. Most of the Scoobies were getting ready to leave. "So, we'll meet back here in a few hours?" Xander was saying, picking up a backpack with the hand Anya wasn't glommed onto.

"I'm there," Buffy agreed. "And if Team Research hasn't got anything, at least we'll have time for some good gossip." She grinned at Cordelia and it almost looked genuine.

Cordelia blinked, then smiled back, and it felt just about as real. "Oh, yeah; I still haven't gotten any details on this whole 'Hi, I'm gay now' thing Willow's got going."

Tara and Willow both blushed and Xander laughed, getting a poke in the ribs from Anya. Buffy snorted very unattractively and retaliated, "Actually, I was thinking that someone's got some dirt to dish about a certain possibly-evil lawyer she's been dating?"

Cordelia's smile faded; she fought the urge to cross her arms protectively and managed to just shrug. "Ancient history, believe me. Which is totally of the good."

"Oh." Maybe Buffy had developed some sensitivity; amazingly, she looked like she knew she'd said something wrong. More amazingly, she offered, "Um, want me to blow off my class and we'll go track down some chocolate or something? A little girl talk?"

Willow and Tara both looked willing, and even Xander looked sympathetic; so much for the old untouchable facade. What was worse was that the whole idea sounded not unappealing. L.A. really was turning her into a wuss. "Tcha," Cordelia waved them off. "Like I said, so last week. I'm gonna stay here and make someone--" She narrowed her eyes at Wesley, "--get some sleep before he falls on his face. I'll catch you guys later."

"Okay." Buffy looked relieved and took off with Riley; Xander hung back for a second, but Anya had a death grip on his arm and dragged him with her. Willow looked at Cordelia with big eyes and almost said something; a glare silenced her and she settled back onto the couch with Tara and their books. Good. Looked like L.A. hadn't killed all the old instincts.

With nothing better to do, Cordelia sank back down next to Wesley, deciding it would be too cute or vulnerable or something to lean against him in front of Willow and Tara. "So, sleeping?" she said instead, pointedly. "Since I got so much sleep and all...."

"Take it up with Angel," Wesley replied without looking away from his book. "I wanted to wake you."

"Excuse me?" Angel, coming out of the kitchen with teacups in hand, straightened in righteous indignation. "'We should let Cordelia sleep; she'll be much less irritable with a few hours rest.' Does that sound familiar to anyone but me?"

His imitation of Wesley was dead-on; Cordelia gave Wesley a hard stare and he started fiddling with his glasses. Tara and Willow's eyes followed the exchange with fascination. "Yes, well..."

"Sleep, Wesley," Cordelia ordered, pointing at the stairs. "The mean ol' prophecy will still be here when you wake up, and you might even be able to focus on the page well enough to read it."

He gave her what probably would have been a pout on anyone less British, but put the book down and headed up to bed with only a minimal amount of resistance. Angel took his place on the couch and picked up the book Wesley had put down, handing Cordelia the tea that had been intended for the other man.

"Got anything fun and demony for me to read that's in, like, English?" Cordelia asked as she sipped, her smile of triumph only a little smug.

"Not really," Angel said after a quick survey. "You could try the computer, though."

"Yeah, I could do that," Cordelia sighed, getting up. "Looking for all hits in the World of the Weird?"

"Please," Giles responded from the depths of his own thick volume.

"My laptop's on the desk," Willow volunteered. "You turn it on at the side and plug in--"

"I've got it, Willow," Cordelia assured her, starting up the computer and making sure the modem cable was plugged in. "Honest, I hardly ever hit the deliver key any more."

Willow blinked, then winced when the memory floated to the surface. "Um, right. That's good. That you've learned. To use... The Sunnydale Chronicle archives are free," she concluded meekly into her book.

"Cool. Got it." Cordelia settled down to work, focusing intently on the screen and willing research to block out anything remotely related to Sunnydale or L.A., and everyone in both cities.

Wow, it was fun to be home again.


"So, how weird is it that Cordelia was in the same room with the rest of the gang for almost half an hour, and didn't insult anyone even once? And that whole thing with her and Wesley joking instead of vibing -- what was up with that?"

"You've got me; considering that I don't know Cordelia, I'm taking your word for it being weird."

Buffy gave Riley an exasperated look, which made him grin, then looked narrowly at a shadow in a nearby alley. Yep, blowing newspaper; the only creepy thing around here was a litterbug. She fell back into step with her boyfriend. "Okay, fair enough. But trust me, it's way of the weird."

"Kind of weird that any of them came back," Riley offered, his hand tightening on hers. "It hasn't sounded to me like they left under very good conditions."

"Not so you'd notice." Buffy made a face. "And not all of that was their fault. Well, Wesley was mostly his own fault, but he seems to be growing out of the total dorkness that was him. And Cordelia was, as previously mentioned, actually being nice, and Angel... Well, he's Angel. He carries around his whole big thing of baggage."

"Very fair of you."

"Thank you." She took a couple quick steps to keep up with Riley's longer legs, frowning at him. "Stop speeding up every time I say Angel's name. I'm wandering around holding your hand, not his, so be nice."

"Right." His face didn't lighten up at all; Buffy wrinkled her nose and made a mental note to keep him and Angel as far apart as possible. Cordelia looked like she'd be up for helping with that. Which was more weirdness in and of itself, but she'd deal with that later.

"So, see anything that looks vampire-related?" she asked perkily.

"Not yet," Riley ansered, scanning the streets around them. "I'm not sure what you expect to find in broad daylight, though."

"Three people have died in this neighborhood in two nights; that's little excessive even for Sunnydale. Gotta be a new nest around here somewhere." She ducked into another alley to check a back door, found it locked tight. "Slayage tip: the best time to go looking for vampire nests is when you can run away, but they can't."

"If those people were killed by vampires."

"God, are you still on that?" Buffy lifted her eyes to the sky, then checked a sewer grate to make sure it was rusted closed.

"I'm just saying that the coronor's photos didn't look exactly right," Riley said for about the fiftieth time, checking another back door. They must have looked pretty stupid, Buffy thought, but no one was paying attention, it being Sunnydale and all. "I don't like how this feels."

"Do upcoming apocalypses always make you paranoid?"

"Not funny," he told her seriously and moved ahead, pretending to wander aimlessly around a small office building. Buffy followed him, debating whether it would be easier to joke him out of his bad mood, or just kiss it out of him. The second sounded more effective, plus had the 'more fun' thing going for it.

Before she could put either plan into action, she noticed something in the air. A weird smell, like incense and burning things, not all of them nice. "Riley?"

She gestured towards the building and he nodded, falling back to her side and covering her without a word. Buffy smiled to herself; she wouldn't trade the Scoobies for anything, but it was sometimes nice to have backup that didn't feel compelled to talk every little thing out.

She tested the front door, found it locked, and moved to the back door. Also locked. She traded places with Riley and let him kneel in front of the lock to go to work. Normally, she'd have kicked the door open, but that wasn't such a good idea in late afternoon off a semi-busy street; fortunately, it was also wasn't necessary. Fun, but not necessary.

Riley stood, putting away his lockpicks and opening the door, which proclaimed the office to be Tyler Consulting, Inc. "After you," he said with a cute little bow.

"My very own Riley-shaped skeleton key." She patted his cheek as she went past. "And they said you were just another pretty face."

"Who said that?" he demanded jokingly as he came in, moving carefully and covering her back again. "If it was Xander, I'm flattered, but make sure he knows he's not my type."

"I promise, it wasn't Xander." A carefully timed beat. "I'm thinking it might have been Giles."

"Wha--!" Riley started to yelp, and she slapped her hand over his mouth, stifling completely inappropriate giggles. She let go only when his startled expression changed to a threat of punishment in her future. Then they both got serious, scoping around the big room that didn't look like any office Space Buffy had ever seen.

It was currently very empty, but she'd bet money it wasn't going to be that way for long. The huge stone firepit built into the middle of the floor, full of ashes and little crunchy things that didn't look like ashes and that she wasn't going to think too hard about, was her first big clue. The lingering scent of incense -- and a lot of it, enough to be smelled from the street -- was another. The only real question was, how did whoever was using the place for magic games managed to hide the smoke. Or kept the wooden shelves that lined the room, and the piles of various icky looking magic things on them, from going up in flames.

"Whoever lives here, they're not home," Buffy finally concluded, standing over the fire pit with her arms crossed and scowling into it as if she could make it cough up some answers.

"Think they've got anything to do with our upcoming apocalypse?" Riley asked, poking into the boxes of various arcane stuff that lined the shelves.

Buffy shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But some of the stuff in the fire looks like it was alive -- well, before the fire, obviously -- so whatever they're doing, it's probably not of the good."

Riley walked over to stare into the pit for himself, nudging the remains of something suspiciously ratlike with the toe of his boot, then poking the side of the pit. "Did you see these?"

"Yeah." Buffy knelt to take a closer look at the blurred chalk figures surrounding the edges. "Magic stuff, definitely."

"I hate magic," Riley said definitely, taking out a teeny tiny little digital camera that was one of the last of his Initiative toys and starting to snap pictures.

Buffy patted him on the shoulder. "I know, honey. If it's any comfort, magic hates you, too." Which should have been funny, but almost wasn't; every time Willow and Tara tried a healing spell on Riley, it rebounded in some weird way. His hair had been blue for a week after the last time, when he'd politely asked them not do any more spells around him. Some kind of anti-magic left over from the Initiative, they'd decided; Giles was doing research.

"You know what really worries me?" Riley asked after a moment, standing and staring back down at the pit as he put the camera back in his pocket.

"The fact that they're going to do a second Survivor series?"

"No-- Well, yes, that does worry me, but..."

Buffy smiled at him. He was a sweetie, but he could be such a big doofus. "I get the idea, Riley. What worries you about this?"

Riley nudged the rat corpse with his boot again. "Most people build fires in the middle of fireplaces. Whoever's using this one, build the fire around the edges."

"Like they were going to use the center for something else." Buffy got that sick Slayerey feeling in the pit of her stomach; she needed to beat something up or get some chocolate, stat. "Come on, let's go tell the others what we found."


They heard the voices from Giles' condo before they even made it into the courtyard; Buffy shared a look with Riley, kissed him quickly, then settled her shoulders and went through the door, ready to break up anything from a scuffle over the stereo remote to a Cordelia/Anya catfight.

It was none of the above -- to Buffy's surprise, the condo was packed with Scoobies and the L.A. contingent, minus Cordelia, and no one was at anyone else's throats. It was... a little eerie, actually.

At first, she thought Wesley hadn't moved since they'd left hours ago, but he was wearing a different shirt, so he must have. He actually looked kind of cute, Buffy realized with a little shock; loosening up had a good effect on him. He and Giles were debating something in one of their books, with Angel contributing to the debate from behind Wesley's shoulder. Which another bit of weirdness; last time she'd seen both of them in the same room, Wesley had made it a point to stay as far away from Angel as possible. Now it was like he didn't even notice. And Angel was actually almost smiling, like he had been when he'd been hassling Cordelia earlier. She fought back the little lurch her heart gave at that smile, and went into the living room with as cheerful an expression as she could force onto her face.

"So, anybody find anything as fun as we did?" she asked the room in general.

Xander looked up from the computer, which he was huddled around with Anya, Willow and Tara, and grinned. "Hey, it's research -- every little thing we do is fun!"

"You don't have to suck up," Anya informed him. "Giles isn't listening to us."

"Yes, but some skills need to be practiced at all times. Never know when you'll suddenly be in need of a good sucking-up." Xander stopped and blinked. "And, um, can we just all pretend I didn't say that?"

"I have no problem with that," Buffy told him. "Seriously, what's the Book Squad arguing about?"

"Prophecies," Anya answered helpfully. Buffy looked at her and she clarified, "The prophecy about the demon." Which wasn't much more helpful, but at least had a new keyword.

"Demon?" she asked, directing her voice over to the gaggle of Watchers and Watcher wanna-bes. They ignored her, apparently too intent on translating some weird Latin-sounding word to talk to the Slayer. "Guys!" she finally yelled, and was rewarded by three sets of startled eyes. "Demon?"

"Yes," Giles answered after a moment. "It seems we have a second prophecy slated for the same time period as the one we found originally -- this one concerns the demon Aztorath, who will 'break his binding and come forth to swallow Hell.'"

Buffy frowned at him. "Well, that's useful. You know, I'm still in favor of the 'pummel all cryptic prophets' option."

"This prophecy sounds like quite the party," Riley said, one hand playing with his sidearm. "Why do prophecies always involve Hell?" Buffy leaned against his arm to try and relax him a little; he put his arm around her, but stayed tense. She caught sight of Angel's face as she looked over at Wesley; the remnants of his smile had faded as he looked at them, which made her heart do that squeezing thing again. Angel tried to fake his smile again, which didn't really help, and looked away.

"Well, it should be interesting, at the very least," Wesley said, oblivious to the drama being played out behind his head. "Aztorath is known as a binding demon himself, which makes a prophecy in which he breaks a binding quite fascinating."

"Binding demon?" Buffy asked.

"That's a demon who concerns himself with the binding forces of the universe," Anya contributed. "You know, using the energy that holds everything together, usually perverting it meet his or her own ends. How powerful they are usually depends on how smart they are -- binding in and of itself can be kind of limited, unless you can find good ways to twist it. Which there are; I've seen binding demons become quite powerful by finding someone less smart than they are and manipulating them. It always looked sort of fun, actually. And profitable."

They all looked at her, more than a little freaked, and she shrank a little into Xander's side. "What?"

"Nothing," Giles assured her, cleaning his glasses and not looking her way. "Just... that's useful information, Anya. Thank you."

Anya's face cleared and she smiled sunnily. "You're welcome. Happy to help."

The front door opened before anyone could say anything else, and Cordelia's irritated voice called, "Hello, woman with food. Someone want to help?" Riley did, of course, holding the door open and taking some of the fast food bags Cordy was carrying. She flashed him one of her megawatt Prom Queen smiles. "Thanks. Kitchen, please?"

"No problem."

He started off with Cordelia on his heels, poking through her bags. "Subway, Happy Wok, and Starbucks," she announced, "and I hope everyone appreciates that these shoes were not made for this much walking. Wes, I got you a tunafish with everything, since you didn't tell me what you wanted. Buffy, Riley, you're on your own unless you just want something to drink."

"Um, a drink is fine," Buffy said, at the same time that Wesley objected, "I didn't tell you what I wanted because I didn't want anything."

Cordelia stopped to glare at Wesley, one hand on her hip. "Eating is not an optional thing, Rogue Demon Hunter Boy. Doughnuts for breakfast and god knows how much tea does not count as nutrition."

"I do not need to be lectured on nutrition--"

"Oh yes, you do, until you learn more about it than how it's spelled."

"Nag, nag, nag," Wesley muttered, too softly for Cordelia to hear; she narrowed her eyes at him anyway and flounced the rest of the way into the kitchen. Angel looked like he was trying really hard not to laugh.

Buffy stared after Cordelia, along with most of the Scoobies, then turned to Angel. "Okay, I've been good so far, but I gotta know -- who did the exorcism? You or Wesley?"

"Exorcism?" Angel asked blankly; Buffy gave a meaningful nod towards the kitchen and he got it. "Oh. No, no exorcism."

"Are you sure?" Xander put in. "'Cause that's sure not the Cordelia Chase we used to know and love."

"More likely," Wesley said levelly, his eyes unexpectedly hard behind his glasses, "you never knew Cordelia Chase. And I sincerely doubt you ever--"

"What did you find on patrol, Buffy?" Angel asked quickly, before Wesley could finish that thought.

Buffy let it drop, but her curiosity was beginning to kill her. "Well, we weren't sure, but now I'm thinking it looks like a good place to, oh, I don't know, summon a demon?" She filled them in on the office/altar/fire hazard as Riley plugged his camera into the laptop; everyone clustered around to check it out.

Wesley, of course, glommed onto the symbols around the firepit right off. "Runes of joining," he thought out loud, tracing one set of blurred outlines. "Another of summoning, alternating with protective runes -- a ritual of entrapment."

"It's not the demon who's the real threat here, I think; it's whomever is summoning him to this plane." Giles tapped his glasses against his hand thoughtfully. "Someone is playing a very dangerous game."

"So what else is new in Sunnydale?" Willow sighed. "There ought to be a varsity team for sorcerors and mad scientists."

"You'd wind up being captain," Xander pointed out. Willow whapped him on the shoulder.

Cordelia reappeared from the kitchen before he could retaliate, an overloaded tray in her hands. She set it down on the coffee table, announcing, "Giles, I picked up more tea since we're drinking it all, but trust me, you'd rather have Starbucks than any coffee any of us make." She picked up a steaming mug and carried it over to Angel. "Here, dinner. And don't give me any of your stupid routine about not drinking in public. Everyone here knows about the blood thing, and they can deal."

Angel took the mug even as he tried to object; Cordelia stared him down and he finally took an embarrassed gulp, although whether he was embarrassed about drinking or about Cordy making him do it was anyone's guess. Whichever, Cordelia nodded in satisfaction and moved away. Something that felt nauseatingly like jealousy caught in Buffy's stomach as she remembered how adamant Angel had always been about eating in front of anyone -- even her.

Everyone else was busy doing the food thing, too; Xander, Anya and both witches had already lunged for the Chinese. Buffy forced her yuckier emotions aside and elbowed them out of the way to snag the kung pao chicken.

Cordelia grabbed something in a Subway wrapper for herself and sat down next to Wesley. "So, who's going to fill me in, since you guys keep having meetings when I'm not around."

"Where's my sandwich?" Wesley interrupted before Giles could start.

Cordelia gave him a 'duh' look. "I left it in the kitchen for Riley."

"You gave my sandwich to Riley?"

"You said you didn't want it."

"Only because you were forcing it--" Wesley stopped and took a deep breath. "Cordelia, may I have the sandwich you were kind enough to bring for me?"

She sighed heavily, put down her sandwich and got back up. "Fine, I'll go get it, since your legs are broken and you're completely helpless...."

"I am not completely helpless," Wesley objected, getting up and following her as if to prove it. "I simply want to know why you persist in--"

The volume on the bitchfest got a little lower as they went into the kitchen, and Giles gave Angel an almost respectful look. "You work with the two of them?" he asked quietly. "On a daily basis?"


"And I thought my life was difficult."

"They're not usually this bad." Angel winced as something broke and Cordelia called out a 'Sorry!'. "Well, not always. I'll try and keep them under control, they're just... you know." He gestured vaguely with one hand. "Sunnydale."

"Ah." Giles nodded with that 'total comprehension' expression of his and Angel shrugged, taking another self-conscious drink. Buffy wanted to tell him to relax, nothing could be worse than Spike and his Wheetabix, but looked sideways at Riley and didn't.

It was all just too weird. Cordelia being nice (right after apparently getting her heart broken again), Wesley fighting with her and actually being funny, Angel being amused by both of them.... Next thing you knew, Hell was going to freeze over instead of breaking loose.

Which would actually be fine, now that she thought about it.

Wesley and Cordelia reappeared from the kitchen still fighting, Angel got up to referee, and Xander and Riley started arm-wrestling over the garlic chicken (probably so they could breathe it towards Angel all night). Buffy sighed up at the ceiling, wished plaintively for a nice, normal life, then dove into the fray in search of fried rice.

She was the Slayer, after all; if she was going to deal with the Ghosts of Slayage Past and kick some demon butt all in one day, she needed to be well-fed.

Chapter 15: My Favorite Mistake

"I woke up and called this morning
The tone of your voice was a warning
That you don't care for me anymore...

"Did you know when you go it's the perfect ending
To the bad day I'd gotten used to spending..."


Cordy closed a book heavily and rolled over onto her stomach. "God, could this be more boring?" she groaned into Giles' carpet.

Buffy made a face at the book she'd been aimlessly flipping through for half an hour. "Possible, but not probable. I thought you were used to doing the research thing in L.A."

"Hello! Computer. Web pages. Databases. Mostly in English. Those I can handle." She shifted her head to stare at the book in disgust. "This? This is boring."

Buffy grinned at her, surprised by how natural it felt. She'd rarely spent any time having an actual real conversation with Cordelia -- with the exception of one really, really memorable phone call that summer -- but it was actually kind of entertaining. For very limited periods of time.

Besides, how often did you get to see Cordelia Chase sprawled out on the floor of anyone's apartment, much less Giles'? She paused, gave a mental 'Ewww' at the place her brain went, and moved on quickly.

"I'm forced to agree, research is a serious dragfest," she said out loud. "Like we'd know it if we found any useful spells or stuff."

"Well, some of us would," Cordelia said with raised eyebrows, then spoiled the display of Attitude by making a face. "But the rest of us get to go out and beat things up as soon as Riley gets back, so I'm thinking they've got the better end of the deal."

Buffy shrugged. "You could come along; it's not like this going to be a big thing. Get in before they start the ritual and Big Ugly Demon comes, beat up stupid people calling Big Ugly Demon, get back out. Apocalypse averted, and we're in bed before midnight. For once."

"Famous last words," Cordelia snorted. "Literally. And yeah, I can totally see Angel and Wesley letting me come along when there's a whole huge gang available. Right. Cue massive over-protective macho routine. I'm surprised Angel's letting Wes go." She sighed and sat up, poking at her book with one perfectly manicured fingertip. The bandage on her hand looked new, and Buffy considered asking her how she'd hurt herself, but didn't. "It's not like I really want to be in on the fighty stuff -- clothing is always ruined -- but I really hate waiting."

"Not something I've got a lot of experience with," Buffy admitted, "and I'm kind of glad about that."

"Thanks for the sympathy." Anya chose that moment to make a fairly loud comment about her and Xander's sex life to Angel, Wesley and Giles. God knew how she'd managed to go there when she was supposed to be telling them about binding demons, but both girls winced. "Plus, being trapped in a room with Anya for hours," Cordelia added. "Oh, the fun."

Buffy snickered, trying not to let the others hear. "Actually, I was expecting lots more of the fighty stuff right here in our little gang. But everyone's getting along scarily well."

"I noticed. You think we're maybe discovering that thing called maturity?"

"I think you guys replaced Wesley with a pod person." Buffy didn't mention the exorcism theory; she was reckless, not stupid.

"Excuse me?" Or it was possible she was stupid too, Buffy thought as Cordelia's eyes flashed. Wow, people actually did that?

But the other girl calmed down surprisingly fast. "Well, no, you're not wrong," she said consideringly. "When he first came to L.A., Angel and I thought the same thing."

Buffy tried to ignore Cordelia's casual juxtaposition of her name and Angel's. "Major change?"

"Leather. Motorcycle. Rogue demon hunter." Cordelia rolled her eyes, with a variation of the 'smile of Xander affection and tolerance' that Buffy and Willow used. "He was such a spaz. It was totally adorable, when it wasn't totally irritating."

"Buffy?" Giles called from across the room. "When is Riley supposed to arrive?"

"In about--" She twisted to check the clock. "--ten more minutes. He said it might take a while to get the fun immobilizing-not-killing type toys for the L.A. crew."

"Right then."

Giles went back to talking to the others, and Buffy flopped onto her back. Give Cordelia some credit, she was right about the boring part. "Hey, Will? Got anything new on whoever owns that office?"

"William Tyler Management Consulting, Inc.," Willow told her without looking up from the computer. Cordy's face did that thing where she looked like she was trying to remember something, but it didn't look like she came up with anything. "Offices in L.A., New York, San Francisco, Denver and Sunnydale; I'm still trying to do a full background check, but I'm having a really hard time tracking down any real information -- it all seems to be buried under shell corporations and figureheads. There's a couple of references to some legal trouble for William L. Tyler, who owns the firm -- some kind of law suit in Los Angeles about three months ago. But the case was summarily dismissed, so there aren't really any details in any of the national papers, and the L.A. Times archive is down."

"I don't care who sued him, except kind of hoping they won and wiped him out," Buffy told her, remembering the crunchy little 'used to be alive' things in the firepit. "I just want to know if he's human or not."

Willow lifted one hand from the keyboard long enough to wave it reassuringly. "I've got it, Buffy."

Cordelia had an expression on her face like she'd get it faster, but for once, she actually didn't say it. Yay for the maturity thing. She went back to paging through her book instead. Buffy drummed her hands against the floor restlessly and ran through her mental list of Ways to Make Humans Stop Casting Spells Without Killing Them. It was shorter than it probably should be, and she made a note to point that out to Giles.

"So, you and Wes aren't a thing?" she asked idly, rolling back to her stomach and opening her book.

Cordelia choked on her Diet Coke. "God, no. Been there, done that, retained the trauma. No plans to revisit."

"Yay, I win the bet; you had Willow and Xander going. You didn't fool Tara, though."

"Willow's taste is improving," Cordelia allowed. "I mean, not that I didn't love Oz and everything, but -- hello, werewolf. And let's not even discuss Xander."

"Let's not." Buffy crossed her eyes at the tiny text in her book, closed it, and rolled onto her back again. "Speaking of trauma."

"Like you were the one traumatized by that."

"Hey, I had to deal with all of your trauma. Well, Will and Xander more than you, but still. And are we forgetting about the black silk spellbound seduction scene?"

"Oh god, we're trying. Bad mental place. Although the image of you as a rat? Not so much of the bad."

Buffy scowled at Cordelia, who didn't look up, but also didn't bother trying to hide her smirk. Buffy's eyes narrowed. "So, since we're on the topic, what did happen with you and the lawyer? I never got to hear anything after the second date."

The smirk faded fast, and Buffy got almost as much satisfaction as guilt out of it. "He's... It just didn't work out. I needed him to be something he wasn't ready to be, and he couldn't deal with what I am."

"Which is?"

"You know." Cordelia waved one hand at the room around them. "Vision Girl. She Who Researches. Girl Friday to the Brood Patrol and all of the assorted ickiness that comes with. I wound up in the hospital about five weeks ago, and Lindsey power-freaked. So I thought that proved he loved me, or at least cared, but then he... did something really awful right after and--" She blew her breath out hard, shaking her head impatiently. "It was just a bad idea to begin with and it died a painful and ugly death, not unlike relationships in Sunnydale, so you should be able to relate."

She said the last with a pointed, not-even-slightly friendly smile, and added, "Oh, and speaking of painful and ugly deaths, try and control the snuggling with your life-size GI Joe doll while Angel's around, okay? It wasn't fun cleaning up after you the last time, and I don't want to have to do it again."

"Listen, Cordy," Buffy snarled as she snapped upright. "Your love life may need serious intervention, but mine is--"

"Ladies." Both girls looked up to see Giles standing over them, polishing his glasses and looking disapproving. "As entertaining as your disagreements always are, perhaps you could put them on hold until after we've, oh, averted the upcoming apocalypse?"

Buffy crossed her arms and tried to work up a good pout. Cordelia actually flushed and looked guilty. "I'm going to go see if Wes needs help," she announced, getting to her feet and stalking away.

Giles continued to glare sternly down at Buffy. Buffy abandoned the pout for her best falsely-accused innocent expression. "She started it."

Giles shook his head and put his glasses back on. "Be that as it may, they are our guests, and here to help. Let's try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum." He hesitated for a second than added, more quietly, "And I'd been meaning to have a word with you about Riley myself. Cordelia may have exhibited her habitual lack of tact -- I suppose we should be grateful there will always be some constants in the universe -- but she may have a point."

Buffy wrinkled her nose, but had to admit he wasn't wrong. "Yeah. I know. I'll try to be careful, but... Riley's got issues, you know?"

"He can join the club," Giles returned, not unsympathetically. "There are enough issues currently standing in this room to keep a university of psychologists busy for quite some time."

Buffy followed his eyes over to where the L.A. contingent was now huddled together on the staircase -- Cordelia sitting a step below Wesley with her arm propped on his knees, both of them leaning towards Angel. "It's just weird," she observed for about the thousandth time that day. "Talk about the three people least likely to bond -- and there they are. Running a business together, fighting evil together, having lives together... I don't know how to deal with that."

Giles shrugged. "I shouldn't think you'll have to, for the most part. It doesn't really have a great deal to do with us."

Buffy stared at the trio on the stairs for another second, then got up as Riley came in the front door bearing toys. "Yeah. I guess."


On the very long mental list Wesley maintained of "Places I Hope to Never Find Myself Again", Sunnydale -- home of past lives, past enemies, and past mistakes -- occupied several prominent slots. So he was not unappreciative of the irony inherent in skulking down Main Street, in the middle of the Scooby Gang, with his vampiric friend/employer right beside him.

Said vampiric friend/employer being, of course, the person he'd wanted the least to do with last time he'd been here. Someday, when he had nothing left to lose, Wesley fully intended to find a spell that would enable him to track down whichever of the Powers That Be had the twisted sense of humor, and strangle him/her/it.

But those weren't precisely the correct thoughts for a man heading into battle to entertain, so he refocused his attention on his surroundings just as Angel asked quietly, "Any idea why I've got such a bad feeling about this?"

Wesley shrugged. "Afraid not. Given the mystical and mundane firepower at our disposal, this should, in fact, be relatively straightforward."

"Which always worries me when there's a prophecy involved," Angel muttered.

"I was trying not to think that way." Angel grimaced apologetically and Wesley went on, "I honestly don't know if returning to Sunnydale was such a good idea."

Angel shook his head. "We all know by now that a prophecy is a prophecy. It's got a good chance of happening whether we help it or not. And when it involves Buffy... I needed to be here."

"Yes, but I do worry about bringing old emotions and entanglements--"

"I can handle it," Angel cut him off irritably. "Buffy and I worked all that out, it won't be a problem, so everyone can just stop acting like being back in Sunnydale again will make me fall apart or something."

"Good for you," Wesley responded icily, "but I was actually thinking of Cordelia." Angel blinked, then had the grace to look mildly embarrassed. "Given her current emotional state, returning to the scene of what were at best difficult, and at worst highly traumatic, times for her might not have been the best idea."

Angel shifted guiltily. "It wasn't like she was going to stay behind if we tried to come without her."

"No," Wesley sighed. "She wasn't. No matter how difficult it has been for her." Both of them took a moment to glare balefully at Xander's back, since the Lawyer Who Shall Not Be Named Except to be Cursed wasn't available. The younger man glanced over his shoulder, intercepted the looks, and wisely sped up to put Riley and Buffy between them.

"She can handle it," Angel finally said, sounding something less than convincing. "She's been handling it. And it's, you know, distracting her from the whole lawyer thing."

"Of course," Wesley agreed with an equal lack of conviction. "This trip could, in fact, be very good for her."

"Yeah." Angel tried to look like he believed that; Wesley hoped he was having considerably more success at maintaining his own expression.

Buffy stopped at a street corner and motioned them into an alley. They followed her, huddling together with a minimum of fuss, although Angel bit back a snarl as Xander stepped on his foot and Wesley got the butt of someone's taser in his ribs. Buffy didn't appear to notice.

"Okay, the office is just around the corner," she said quietly. "Angel and Wesley, you go around to the back. Me and Xander will go in the front, Riley, you've got that side door we saw."

They all nodded except Xander, who half-raised his hand. "And we do what when we get inside?"

Buffy shrugged. "Hide and wait for morons. Attack morons when they show up. Commence pummeling."

"That's what I thought. Good plan. Very detailed."

"Bite me, Xand," Buffy told him without heat and surveyed her troops, such as they were. "Okay, guys, here we go."

Riley did a creditable job of melting into the shadows; Buffy and Xander were less stealthy, but quite competent at moving through the near-darkness. Wesley gave Angel an 'after you' gesture; Angel rolled his eyes, but led the way towards the back.

The door was locked, of course; Wesley contemplated attempting to pick it, thought about the ensuing humiliation if he couldn't, and stood aside to let Angel simply break the lock open. Angel opened the door and repeated Wesley's 'after you' gesture back at him.

The office was dark and still, the last vestiges of twilight seeping through the windows and disappearing into the shadows. The huge space was deserted, the firepit in the middle cold and empty, the bulky forms of statues and unnamed equipment still -- there was absolutely nothing threatening there at all. But the entire office seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for... something.

"I don't like this," Wesley breathed.

"Neither do I," Angel murmured back. "Where are the others?"

"I don't--" Something shifted and broke in the shadows near the front, and Xander's voice hissed out an apology. Wesley rolled his eyes. "Two in front."

"And two here." Wesley jumped, Angel didn't, and Riley smiled at Buffy as she and Xander joined the group. "Anything?" he asked.

"Nothing," Buffy shrugged, still keeping her voice down. "Looks like we beat the crowd. Let's find us some good ambush spots and--"

The lights suddenly flashed on, blinding all of them for a moment. When Wesley was able to see again, it took him a moment to speak, but he finally pointed out to Buffy, "It looks as if all of the good ambush spots have been taken."

Then there no more time for talking, only for fighting the twenty or more human forms that emerged from the walls and lunged for them.


Cordelia swore under her breath and slammed a half-full glass of Diet Coke down on Giles' desk. "The Times archive is still down -- how can a major newspaper survive like this? Will, have you got anything yet?"

What Willow had was an expression suggesting the next person to ask her that was going to be turned into a frog. "Not yet. There's a lot of binding spells in Sunnydale, you know. Love spells, prosperity spells... And the energy holding the Hellmouth interferes, too." She shrugged, dangling the pointer over the map of Sunnydale again as Tara tossed down another handful of St. John's wort and sage. "On the plus side, since we can't find anything big and it's past dark, I'm guessing Buffy and the others have gotten the pummeling out their system, and all of this is pretty pointless."

Cordelia made a face at her own reflection in the computer screen. "That would mean that a plan involving us worked. Sorry, I'll believe it when I see it."

"I'd like to tell you you've become overly cynical," Giles sighed from his stack of books on the couch, "but since you're essentially correct...."

"I'm always correct," Cordelia told him absently, making another run at the Times archive and getting another 404 error. "I wish everyone would get used to that."

"They never get used to other people being right," Anya said from the couch. "I think it makes them feel threatened."

"Yes, Anya, that's precisely it." Giles lifted his eyes to the ceiling. Cordelia, who figured Anya was right, didn't say anything.

Everyone jumped a little at the knock on the door; Cordelia, the closest, got up to answer it. "Don't invite anyone in," Giles reminded her.

She rolled her eyes at the back of his head. "Duh, I'm from Sunnydale. We're not buying newspaper, magazines or siding," she said as she opened the door.

"Good," the tall blond man standing there said. "I'm not selling anything."

Her reflexes were usually a little better. But she'd been curled up with books or sitting in front of a computer all day, so even though she saw the blow coming, she couldn't duck in time. His fist spun her halfway around, pain and light exploding in her head as she fell to the ground. Like a vision, only worse, because this was bad and there was nothing she could do to help.

She felt more people race into the room, felt their feet hit her in deliberate and accidental kicks, heard Giles yelling, Anya's shriek of fury, and Willow and Tara's screams. Willow chanted and there was a flash of light, then someone hit the wall next to Cordelia, slumping to the floor in a heap. Yay, team, she thought dizzily, and tried to use the couch to get to her feet. Tara screamed again, sounding more angry than afraid, and someone else crunched into a bookcase.

Someone stumbled into her, and Cordelia abandoned her perilous hold on the couch to grab the laptop and nail him in the head with it. Something crunched and she was just lucid enough to hope it hadn't been the computer case. Then Giles started shouting as the man she'd just hit shoved her away; she saw the corner of the desk coming up at her, and heard Giles cursing before the pain hit and everything went bright, then black.


Buffy slammed the door to the condo open, already shouting "Giles!" as she came through. Riley was right behind her, half-carrying the staggering Wesley; Xander slumped to the ground next to the door as soon as he cleared it. "Giles, we need some help here!"

But it wasn't Giles who came racing forward, it was Tara and Cordelia. They took Wesley's weight and guided him to the couch, the lone island of comfort in the... wreckage? Anya shoved past all of them to fall to her knees beside Xander, cooing over his bruised forehead.

"Where's Giles?" Buffy demanded. "What happened? Is everyone okay?"

"He's gone. They took him. No." Cordelia started checking Wesley over with brisk efficiency, ignoring his attempts to brush her off. A bloody gash on her forehead was starting to swell; she'd have a black eye by morning. She looked up at Riley and demanded, "Any of that blood yours? No? Good. Ice packs and the first aid kit are in the kitchen. Anyone else gushing?"

"Gone?" Buffy interrupted Cordelia's paramedic routine. "What do you mean, gone? They took him? Who?"

Cordelia's mouth was a tight line as she shoved Wesley's pant leg up to get at his bruised and bloody shin. "Stop squirming; it'll hurt more if you keep moving. The people -- and I use the word loosely -- that you were supposed to be taking down took him. At least, I'm assuming from the cloaks and other pretentious wanna-be crap they were wearing that it was the same crowd."

"Shit!" Hearing her own curse, Buffy looked automatically and guiltily around for Giles, before remembering that he wasn't there to disapprove. They had him. Oh God. This could not be happening....

"Where's Angel?" Cordelia asked, without looking up from the cleaning job she was doing on Wesley's leg. "He didn't stay behind to do something heroic and stupid, did he? 'Cause if he did, I'm so going to kick his butt all the way back to L.A. It's not like we don't totally have a situation here, and it's not like Wes couldn't have used the help--"

"Cordelia," Wesley tried to insert gently, through pain-gritted teeth, and the whirlpool of rage and fear and pain and terror inside Buffy suddenly snapped.

"Just shut up, Cordy. They took him and we're gonna have to get him back, so just do us all a really big favor and be quiet for once in your life!"

She stopped screaming the second she realized she was and spun away; Riley wrapped his arms around her, and for just one weak moment, she let herself lean against him.

"Took him?" Cordelia asked finally, her voice smaller than Buffy had ever heard it in the sudden silence. "They... How could they take Angel?"

"We don't know," Xander answered, equally quietly. "We were fighting them and starting to win, and then they bugged out. There was this big flash of light, and when we could see again, it was just us in the room. No Angel."

"No... No dust?"

"No, Cordelia," Wesley said firmly, like someone who was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. He was better at it than Buffy would have thought he could be. "No dust. He's still alive, and probably being held wherever they're holding Giles."

Giles. Angel. Buffy straightened abruptly, pulling away from Riley, Slayer brain finally kicking into gear. Everything else receded behind the reality of getting Giles back. And Angel. "Okay, Wesley's right -- and how much did I never think I was going to say that?" Wesley winced and she gave him an apologetic look. No good getting the troops mad in a crisis. "This Tyler guy has Giles and Angel, and it seems like this whole thing was set-up. The office was totally an ambush, and they timed the attack here way too well for that to have been an accident. They knew exactly what they were doing -- and what we were doing."

"Unfortunately, that sounds right," Riley agreed. "So they must have come here specifically for Giles -- but they couldn't have known Angel would be with us at the office, could they?"

"Possibly, if they were watching the condo." Wesley winced as Cordelia finished bandaging his leg and stood up, her movements sharp and unnaturally graceless. "Thank you, Cordelia. But there's really no way of knowing if they planned to take him, or simply took advantage of circumstances. I'm hesitant to make any assumptions either way."

"But what would they want with an ex-Watcher and a vampire?" Xander asked, still on the floor. "Wouldn't, like, a Slayer be higher up on the mystical mojo feeding chain?"

"I was on the opposite side of the room from Angel," Buffy said tightly. "Maybe they took what they could get? Or maybe they were after Angel all the time, I don't know!"

"Again, it's difficult to make assumptions," Wesley inserted calmly, his jaw set and his eyes very hard. "The only thing I think we can safely assume is that the ritual, whatever it may be, is indeed set for tonight. I can't imagine anyone believing they could hold Giles and Angel prisoner for any length of time, particularly not with the Slayer searching for them."

"They're right about that," Buffy agreed with a teeth-baring smile.

"So where else can we look?" Willow asked from the computer, where she was presumably still trying to track William Tyler to ground. "Where else can they cast this thing? I mean, it'd be nice if they went back to their office and all, but, probably not."

"If it is, in fact, a binding ritual, it would need to be someplace that is, itself, bound to Mr. Tyler, if he is our villain, or to his compatriots," Wesley thought out loud, and Buffy was suddenly mind-numbingly grateful there was someone else here to do the thinking. He wasn't Giles -- oh god, Giles -- but Wesley knew his stuff. "Someplace he owns, someplace he identifies with.... Someplace where he feels at home, and is accepted."

"Great. So we should go find his grade school or something?" Buffy muttered.

"Nah, he probably got picked on by the other kids," Xander said.

Anya offered, "A place he owns is the most likely idea. If he was planning on kidnapping anyone, much less a vampire, he would have needed a place to install, you know, chains or bars, or things like that. Plus having a focus point for the teleportation spells, unless he's a much more powerful magician than he seems to be, since he seems to be summoning demons for power. While it's not impossible to find chains and bars in some locations, such as Xander's apartment, those aren't the types of places where you can hold a demonic ritual without someone noticing."

There was a sort of group blink-and-stare, before they all decided to pretend they hadn't heard the too-much-information part of that sentence.

"Anya is quite correct," Wesley said, fishing his glasses out of his pocket, where they had, somehow, survived unbroken, and putting them on. "Willow, we need to find any property that William Tyler owns in and around Sunnydale."

"I've been searching." Willow didn't look up from the reconnected (and thankfully not broken) computer, where she was typing like the fate of the world rested on her. Her left arm didn't seem to be working right and her face was bruised like Tara's, set in a mask of concentration. "Either he doesn't own anything, which I seriously doubt, or it's all so buried in fake names and shell corporations that I can't find it without a serious search."

Cordelia leaned over Willow's shoulder like she could speed up the searching by force of will; Wesley sighed and looked at Tara. "The teleportation spells... Anya's quite right, to pull off two major spells in such a short time, they must have been preset, bound to foci set to bring them back to a specific place, which rather confirms Mr. Tyler as involved, at the very least. Do you think you could locate such spells?"

"M-maybe," Tara nodded. "I can try."

"Please do so." Tara nodded and moved into a corner to start doing witchy things, and Wesley turned to Buffy and Riley. "You found the office more or less by accident, yes?"

"Kind of," Buffy shrugged. "A lot of people showed up dead there in the last week; we figured there was a nest."

"You figured," Riley corrected noncommittally. "I still think the bodies were weird."

"Weird in what way?" Wesley started to asked, but Cordelia cut him off.

"Willow," she said abruptly. "You said there was information on a lawsuit in one of those newspaper articles. Who represented William Tyler?"

Wesley's head whipped around to look at the girls; he and Cordelia exchanged grim looks. "You don't think--?"

"Who else?" she shrugged. "Besides, I remember something.... Willow, just check."

"Cordelia, I can't waste time on random stuff, I need to find--"

"Just check!"

Everyone jumped a little at the unexpected shout; Willow's eyes narrowed, but she typed something into the computer and waited. "Okay, here it is. William Tyler was represented by some L.A. firm. Wolfram--"

"--and Hart," Wesley and Cordelia completed with her. "Now there's a surprise," Wesley added with disgust.

"Not really," Cordelia said grimly. "In fact, I think I even know who had the case."

Wesley froze. "Cordelia, you're not..."

"Do you have a better idea?" Classic staredown, and Wesley held out for longer than Buffy would have given him credit for.

"What makes you think he'll even be interested in helping?" Wesley finally asked, very quietly.

"I don't," Cordelia responded just as quietly. "But if there's even a little bit of a chance, I have to try it."

Wesley shook his head, but finally sat back down on the couch. Cordelia tightened her lips, then fished her cell phone out of her purse, and hit a speed dial number. She waited, then said, "Lindsey McDonald, please."

Chapter 16: Deep Water

"You try to find yourself
in the abstractions of religion
and the cruelty of everyone else
And you wake up to realize
your standard of living
somehow got stuck on 'survive'..."


"...Rogers, you'll take the depositions from both witnesses, and make sure they know what those depositions are supposed to say. Martinez, start prepping for voir dire -- I want to know everything there is to know about every prospective juror before they come anywhere near a courtroom. Get moving."

Lindsey leaned back in his chair as his minions scuttled out of the room. His minions. They weren't exactly high quality minions -- he was too high in Holland's shit list to get the really competent ones -- but they were still minions. They reported to him, they obeyed his orders, and their lives hung on his whim.

It should have been more fun.

He tapped his pencil on his blotter, then leaned back a little farther, propping his feet up on the desk. He had work to do: three trials in the next two weeks, the O'Brien case was kicking into gear, and the Desdemord case had rolled back around. Again. If he called his secretary, she'd have at least four other things that needed to be done right now.

His hand hovered over the intercom, then dropped back away. Then he almost fell backwards as the intercom opened with a beep. "Mr. McDonald?"

"What?" He struggled back to vertical and back to dignity, raking his hands through his hair. "I mean, yeah? What do you need?"

"You have a call, Mr. McDonald."

"Great." He checked his watch -- 7:30, well after business hours -- and shook his head. "Someone to get out of jail, or someone to put in?"

"I'm... not certain, sir."

His secretary's voice sounded unusually careful; he frowned at the intercom. "Well, who is it?"

"It's Ms Chase, sir."

There was nothing -- literally nothing -- he had ever hated in his life as much as he hated the way his heart stumbled at the sound of her name, before leaping into his throat at the thought that she was on the phone. That the blinking red light beside line one was her. Five weeks. Five goddamn weeks....

He stomped his heart back into place, and then a little further down for good measure, before clearing his throat. "Did she say what she wanted?"

"No, sir, but she sounds... upset."

"So what else is new?" He thought about it for a long, hard moment. "I'll take the call."

"Yes, sir." The intercom went silent and he stared at the blinking red light for 30 seconds, then a minute. Then two. Let her wait.

Finally, even he couldn't stand it anymore; he leaned forward and lifted the receiver. "McDonald."

"Could you be more annoying if you tried?" her familiar voice snapped, not bothering with 'hello, how are you'. "Making someone wait just because you can is totally rude."

"Well, I'm a busy man, Cordelia," he said lazily, spinning his chair around to stare out the window. "Can't always drop everything and come running."

"Like you ever did," she snorted. There was a voice from the background, sharp and female, and Cordelia replied, slightly muffled, "Back off, I'm getting to it!" before she came back to the phone. "Okay, look, I don't have time to play any of the usual games. I need your help."

He'd give her credit; it sounded like her teeth were only a little gritted. "My help? I thought you were one of the all-powerful good guys? Calling an evil lawyer for help...." He grinned widely at his reflection in the window, enjoying himself. "Now, how's that gonna look on the List of Good Deeds?"

"Bite me, McDonald." Ah, there she was, the Cordelia he knew and-- He cut the thought off as she hissed in a deep breath, then let it back out slowly. "Look, Lindsey, I'm serious, I don't have time for this crap. One of your clients is in the middle of some major badness and people are going to get hurt."

He lifted his eyebrows, regretting that the impact was nullified by the phone. But hey, he knew what he was doing. And so did she. "And why should I care? Until my client gets arrested or sued, it's not really my problem."

"Well, it is my problem! Lindsey, he took Angel and--"

"Angel?" He leaned forward, almost let a laugh slip out. Then he thought twice and did laugh. "If my client does get arrested, I may waive my retainer."

"Very funny. Listen to me, you smug bastard." Cordelia's voice was suddenly level and deadly cold. "Your pal Tyler is gearing up for a ritual, summoning something very big and very nasty. He took Angel, and he took Giles, and somehow, I don't think either of them are going to be getting out of it alive. So if you ever, ever gave a damn about me -- if anything you ever said about caring wasn't a lie -- you will help me get them back."

Giles. Rupert Giles. Watcher of the current Slayer. Resided in Sunnydale. Had given Cordelia a book of Jane Austen for Christmas once, a gift that still made her smile two years later. His death would make her cry... and Lindsey didn't give a good goddamn.

"Sorry, Ms Chase, but I'm afraid attorney/client privilege applies with Slayers as well as in court. But you be sure to keep us in mind next time you need legal representation."

There was a long silence, one that stretched out almost far enough for guilt to begin twitching at the back of his brain. But he'd disowned guilt a long time ago -- all right, five weeks ago -- and he sent it packing with a strong kick and a restraining order.

That took enough concentration that, when she finally spoke, it was almost a surprise. "Fine, Mr. McDonald. After tonight, I'm betting there'll be a few wills to be executed, one of them probably mine, so I'm sure someone will show up at your office before you know it. Good-bye, Lindsey."

"Cordelia--" She'd already hung up, which was probably good, because he had no idea what he'd been about to say. He stared at the receiver, realized his hands were white-knuckled with the force of his grip, and threw it across the desk. It went over the side, taking the rest of the phone with it; everything fell to the floor with a loud clatter. He pushed his chair back from his desk with one angry kick and slouched down, glowering at the remains of his phone.

Of his life.

"Mr. McDonald? I heard a--"

He didn't even look up at his secretary. "It's fine. Get out."

From the corner of his eye, he saw her nod and close the door softly behind herself. A few minutes later, he heard her footsteps as she walked towards the elevators and home, but he didn't look towards the door. He just kept staring straight ahead for a long time, not looking at anything in particular. Especially not at himself.

And definitely not at the so-called co-worker leaning against the door he hadn't heard open again. "My, my, my," Lilah purred. "Someone's in quite the mood."

He ignored her, hoping a lack of reaction would make her go away. She strolled further into the room instead; it hadn't really been much of a hope. She poked at the remains of his phone with the pointed toe of her Italian pumps, and smiled before settling herself on the edge of his desk.

"Get some bad news?" she asked with sugary-sweet concern. "Anything I can do to help?"

He looked at her, his face as hard and blank as stone. "Leave."

Her head pulled back, her eyes blinking as innocently as if she was actually offended. "God, you are in a mood. I haven't seen you this cranky since your little girlfriend broke up with you."

He might have growled under his breath; he wasn't sure. Her smile might have gotten a little wider; he wasn't sure of that, either. "Everyone really respects how you sacrificed your personal life," Lilah continued, and he wondered if she'd have the nerve to reach over and pat his hand. He could swear he actually saw her hand twitch, but she must have decided it would be too over the top. "I'm sure the senior partners are just ecstatic about your dedication."

"Did you want something?" He would concede the game, fine, whatever. Anything to get her out of his office.

She stood gracefully, smiling all the while. "Just checking up on my co-worker, making sure everything's all right. Wouldn't want anything to happen to our Golden Boy." She couldn't hide the bitterness that slipped through, but covered it pretty smoothly as she started towards the door.

"I wouldn't worry," she tossed back over her shoulder. "I'm sure everything will look better tomorrow. Much clearer."

She was gone before he could lose the battle with himself and demand just what the hell she'd meant with that pointed little comment. And how did you know it was pointed, Mr. McDonald? Well, Your Honor, that's because Lilah doesn't have any other kind where I'm concerned. She knew something. Something about Cordelia. Something about tonight.


He told himself it was just curiosity as he deactivated his screen saver. He convinced himself he was refreshing his memory for a probable new assignment as he brought up the client database. He almost believed that he was just covering his bases as he typed in 'Tyler, William'.

And he stared in blank shock as the screen blinked "Access Restricted: Not Authorized to View This File" at him.

"What the hell is this?" He stared at the screen in shock. Tyler was his case, his client, from day one. No fucking way he should be locked out. He tried again, typing harder like that would blow past whatever computer glitch was currently making his life hell. Then again. Then again.

"Son of a bitch!"

Without conscious thought, he was on his feet and striding out of his office. His hand slammed against the elevator call button hard enough to break it, if it hadn't been designed for various non-humans even stronger than he was. Rage burned pure and hot in the back of his brain as he wove through the halls of the basement to Files and Records.

"What the hell is up with the Tyler file?" he snapped at the young brunette girl sitting behind the desk, before the door had even closed behind him.

She looked up at him, her pleasantly plain face placid and utterly undisturbed. Her eyes went white for a moment as information, records, knowledge whizzed past behind them, then she blinked and answered calmly, "Records on Tyler, William, all present and accounted for. All security measures in place. Is this the correct file?"

"Right file, wrong security! That's my client, I want access to those files!"

White motion again, followed by a head tilt that was supposed to look human, but was too sharp and deliberate to be convincing. "Access to Tyler, William has been restricted from McDonald, Lindsey, until midnight tonight. Would you like another file?"

"No, I don't want another file," Lindsey snapped. "I want that file! Restricted by who? That's my client!"

"That information is also restricted."

"Son of a--!" He raised his fist to punch something, either the desk or the not-girl behind it, but her hand flashed to the button just out of sight, and he held himself back with an effort. The last thing he needed was to deal with Security tonight.

It took every ounce of control and skill he'd acquired in six years with Wolfram & Hart, but he made his fist unclench, forced his face to go calm and pleasant. He wanted to curse, to yell, to hurt someone bad.... He smiled instead. "Look, I'm sorry. There's been a mistake, obviously, but it's not your fault."

She judged him unblinkingly, then nodded and let her hand drop. "I don't set security protocols. I'm Files and Records."

"Right." He leaned one hip on the desk and smiled charmingly. "Look, I know you're doing your job, but there could be something serious happening with this particular client, something I need to deal with. If I have to wait for this security glitch to get ironed out, it could be too late."

"I understand," she nodded, but the flash of triumph died young. "The files will be waiting for your access at precisely midnight."

So much for charm. "Goddamnit, I need--"

Her fingers slipped back towards the panic button, and he rocketed to his feet. The file cabinets sneered at him, offering all the information he -- wanted? needed? -- locked behind a magical shield and all the red tape Wolfram & Hart could generate. Files & Records was waiting, patiently, hand still hovering, and he snarled one more curse under his breath as he slammed back out through the door.

The figure behind the desk waited for the angry footsteps to recede before picking up her extension. "Ms. Morgan? You asked to be informed when Mr. McDonald demanded access to the Tyler files...?"


He made it all the way back to his office without breaking anything or anyone, although the temptation was strong. The two young paralegals in the elevator had seemed to sense his violent mood, clinging to the corners and sliding out at the first opportunity. He threw himself into his chair and stared at his computer, still flashing the Access Restricted notice. The clock read 7:58 -- four hours until midnight. Four hours until whatever Tyler was doing was done.

Four hours until he got his own damn files back. Everything he'd given this firm, everything he'd sacrificed (time, energy, family, friendship, Cordelia, blood), and they locked him out of his own files. Didn't trust him with his own goddamn client. Told Lilah, the piranha, the bitch, who hadn't read the scroll, hadn't completed the Rising (and what had they brought back? Wasn't important), hadn't walked away from someone she--

Everything, everything he'd done for the job, and they locked him away from the job. Took his clients, took his access, took his rights.

Well, fuck them.

The rage was leashed now -- still burning, but controlled. Everything was about control, and he'd been a blind fool not to realize that. He'd given all his control into Wolfram & Hart's hands, and it was time to take a little of it back. He put on his jacket with deliberate motions, straightened his tie with three practiced jerks, and ran his hands through his hair. The window was a mirror stretching across the walls, and he watched himself throw his car keys in the air, and catch them again, the jingle barely breaking the silence in the office and the roaring in his ears.

"Fuck 'em all."

It was well past rush hour, not yet the weekend, and he made the drive back to his condo in less than twenty minutes. He tossed his jacket carelessly on the couch, tugged his tie over his head without bothering to undo it, and opened his closet door. "Jim Morrison," he said calmly, and the shallow closet suddenly became a walk-in, the back hidden by a sturdy door. He opened it with a mundane key and another incantation, and knelt to paw through the stacks of CD-ROMs stored there. Cooper, Illini, McKey, Moressh, Nodraan -- his hand paused for a moment, then moved on -- Rashad, Tyler. He retrieved the set of CDs and tapped them thoughtfully against his left hand, staring at the neat, block print. He'd labeled them himself with a black Sharpie, bought charms and hidden them against the future.

Not because he'd thought he'd need a back-up. Because he'd known he would.

He nodded once, sharply, and snatched two more disks from the top of the piles, before closing the door behind him and striding back out to his car.


Angel was pissed. He didn't know where he was, he had no idea how he'd gotten there, and he was clueless as to what the hell was going on.

But he was very, very sure about the part where he was pissed.

"Giles? Come on, wake up, Giles." It hadn't worked the last twelve times he'd hissed it, but there was no harm in trying -- it wasn't like he had anything else to do. And the twelfth time was the charm, because Giles finally woke up. Well, he blinked and his eyes almost opened, which was as close to waking up as they were going to get.

"What the bloody hell--?" he managed, through his teeth and what must have been a bad concussion, even by Giles's standards. The veins on his forehead stood out as he struggled to move.

"Don't," Angel warned him, keeping a close eye on the guards a few feet away. None of the three seemed concerned that their other prisoner was awake; that would piss him off even more if he didn't have to concede that they were probably right. He and Giles weren't a threat at the moment, sprawled on their backs on the concrete floor like puppets with cut strings. "We're under some kind of binding spell, which isn't much of a surprise, I guess. No voluntary movement below the neck, and you'll hurt yourself trying."

"Bloody hell," Giles gritted, and spent a few minutes proving Angel right. Then he stilled again, closed his eyes, and began chanting under his breath. Light began to glow dimly around his body, then abruptly died away. Giles relaxed, gasping. "Bugger it. Where are Willow and Tara when you need them?"

"Hopefully back at your condo, planning the breakout."

"I think that's a safe enough assumption." 'If no one killed them after taking us' went unsaid. "How did they get you?"

"I don't know. One second, I'm watching Buffy's back and Xander's getting thrown across the room, next second there's a big flash of light, and I'm here." He gestured with his eyes around the cavernous room. "Wherever the hell here is. I tried to keep fighting, but they slapped the binding on me too fast."

Giles nodded as well as he was able to. "They were expecting you. All of you. It was an ambush."

"Yeah. They must have hit the condo to get you. Is everyone-- Did you see...?" He still couldn't bring himself to ask, even though he had to know.

"Cordelia was unconscious, but not seriously injured, I believe," Giles said with calm detachment, as his eyes burned with bloody murder. "The other three girls were still on their feet the last time I saw them."

Cordelia and Wesley, his family. Buffy, his love. It had all been a plan, which meant these bastards had been ready, which meant they wanted something. "I swear to god, if they hurt anyone, I'm going to rip their spines out and shove them down their throats."

"Ouch." Footsteps echoes hollowly off the wall as someone walked towards them; Angel couldn't quite twist his head enough to get a look until the man knelt over them. "Sounds like that soul isn't in there all that securely, is it? That's good, that'll come in handy."

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Giles beat him to the demand.

The man smiled, smoothing his hand over his dark blond hair. "William Tyler. Pleased to meet you."

"Wish we could say the same," Angel snarled. He was willing to bet the quick movement of Tyler's right hand had been to instinctively offer it for a handshake. He had the look of a salesman, and a successful one -- a face that was handsome without being threateningly so, hair that was cut at a barber shop, not a styling salon, and thin-rimmed glasses sitting over sincere brown eyes that nearly screamed "You Can Trust Me".

"Sorry about the bindings," Tyler was saying, like he actually meant it. "But you did some damage to my people at the office and I really couldn't risk it here. Too much riding on tonight -- I know you understand about these things." He smiled again, like he really thought they'd sympathize, and Angel and Giles exchanged disbelieving looks before focusing their glares on him.

He blinked and rose, absently smoothing the creases out of his neatly-pressed chinos. "Well, maybe you don't quite understand, but that's all right. You're here and everything's going to go just fine. I would have liked to have gotten the Slayer -- bonds between Watcher and Slayer and all that -- but the vampire with a soul should do just as well. I understand you two--" he gestured between the two men at his feet "--have a bond of your own, kind of; blood and torture and all that. So, it's all good."

He checked his watch. "Only a few more hours until showtime -- can I get you two anything while we wait?" Another joint stare, this one along the lines of 'are you completely insane?', and he blinked again before grinning. "Oh, come on. I'm not a bad guy, I don't want you two to be any more uncomfortable than you have to be. Hell, if I could come up with another option, I wouldn't even sacrifice you to a demon." He shrugged easily. "You're all I've got, unfortunately, but I'll do everything I can to make it as painless as possible, I promise."

He watched them expectantly, then shrugged again when they only stared back. "Okay, well, yell if you change your minds; the guards will be around." He wandered back out the front door of the warehouse -- or at least, that was where Angel was guessing they were -- leaving them with four robed guards, two at either door.

"They'd better find us before this spell starts," Angel said finally. "Being sacrificed by the Yuppie from Hell is not what I want my entire prophesied life to have been leading up to."

"I would have preferred being eaten by the giant snake," Giles replied through his teeth. "At least that would have had some style to it. Dying at the hands of this bloody prat? I can just hear the Council's laughter now."

In total agreement for the first time in their long and checkered relationship, the two men bent their attention to escaping the spells binding them, trying to smother with outrage the sound of the clock ticking down their heads....


"Anything, Willow?" Buffy paced restlessly from front door to stairs and back, absently twirling Mr. Pointy between her fingers. She had been twirling a short sword until Tara had gently but firmly reminded her about the serious lack of space in Giles' condo, and how inflicting casualties on her own people was counterproductive. Only she hadn't said it that way, since she was Tara, not Giles.

But Buffy had to do something -- it was too dark outside, Giles and Angel had been taken too long ago, and Willow still hadn't found anything useful on the annoying and presumably-psychotic Tyler. Oh, she'd traced a few of the 'shell corporations' all the way back to his name, but none of them were based in Sunnydale, or owned property there. In desperation, Buffy had even sent Riley out to recon the office building where they'd been ambushed, but he'd reported over his cell phone only a few minutes ago that it was still abandoned, with no helpful paperwork left lying around.

"Willow? Anything?"

"No, and asking me every ten minutes isn't going to make anything magically appear," Willow snapped. Buffy stopped pacing, Xander and Anya's heads popped up over the back of the couch, Tara looked up from her pendulum and map, and Wesley actually closed his book. Willow lifted her head from her laptop at the sudden silence, and flushed slightly. "Sorry. But, not helping."

"I know, Will. I'm sorry." Buffy patted her best friend on the shoulder and resumed pacing, as everyone else went back to the business of being helpful. Sort of. Tara had narrowed down the sites of major binding magic to 12, which still wasn't spectacularly helpful; Buffy was going to start sending teams out anyway if nobody came up with anything better. Everyone else was looking for information on binding demons in general and whatshisname, Aztorath, specifically. Lots of neato-keeno information on messy victims available, it turned out, but nothing much on avoiding being one of the messy victims. Or, and much more of the pointy, saving someone else from it.

"I hate research," Buffy grumbled.

"Join the club," Cordelia said from the armchair, "and I mean that literally. If I have to get this many papercuts and dust all over my clothes, so do you."

Buffy raised her eyebrow, gesturing with Mr. Pointy toward her chest. "Me Slayer. Not Watcher. Slayer. Cranky Slayer looking for target, so don't push it, Cordy."

"Whatever." Cordelia buried her nose back in her book; any attempts she'd made since her arrival to act human had disappeared after the nasty call to the Evil Lawyer. Too bad that hadn't panned out, but like anyone was surprised? Lawyers were never good, even without the aforementioned evilness. Or was Evil Lawyer just, what was the word.... redundant?

The sudden pounding on the front door distracted her from her deep philosophical thoughts; instinctively, she grabbed her abandoned short sword with the hand not holding Mr. Pointy. Xander met her at the door as everyone else took cover (except Willow, who Buffy wasn't sure had even noticed; Buffy stood between her and the door just in case) and, on the count of three, Xander threw the door open as Buffy coiled to spring.

No cloaks. No knives, no demony scales, no fire-breathing anything. Just a not-very-tall, totally cute dark-haired guy in slacks and a dress shirt, carrying a gym bag in one hand. He looked really, really mad.

"Where's Cordelia?" he demanded, before Buffy could get her 'Who the hell are you?' out. She regrouped and opened her mouth to give the demand thing one more try. Except that Cordelia beat her to it the second time.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded, stalking across the room in full Queen Bitch of the Universe mode. "Looking for a retainer? Or did your big evil bosses send you? Well, you can take yourself back to L.A., you son of a bitch, or the Slayer will kick you there. She'll probably enjoy it -- I know I will!"

Buffy blinked at being brought into this, before taking another long look at the guy who pretty much had to be Lindsey McDonald. 'Cute,' was pretty much the only place to go. Nice blue eyes, thick hair, cheekbones, good shoulders, the possibility of a good smile when he wasn't glaring with utter hatred at his ex-girlfriend. Who was maybe not so ex, 'cause what was he doing here at 10:30 at night?

"Nobody sends me anywhere," McDonald sneered back at Cordelia, "and the Slayer can go ahead and take her best shot, but since you were the one who begged me to come, you might try being grateful."

"First of all, there was no begging involved except in your pathetic little dreams, and second -- grateful?" Nobody did a disdainful sniff like Cordelia; Buffy had tried. "The only thing you ever do is complicate my life and right now? Not really something I'm all that grateful for."

"Nor are the rest of us," Wesley said as he stood behind Cordelia. He looked pissed and kind of dangerous, which was surprising, considering it was Wesley. "I'm sure your car is still outside, and you know the way back to Los Angeles. I'd advise you take it. Now."

"Excuse me, did anyone invite you into this conversation, Wussley?"

Xander tried to repress his snicker at the familiar nickname, but failed; Wesley and Cordelia turned in unison to glare at him, and he held his hands up in apology. "Sorry, sorry, it slipped out. Can we get a verdict on whether we're happy to see this guy or not, please?"

"No," Cordelia nearly shouted, as Wesley stated, "Absolutely not."

"Fine," McDonald said, although Buffy wasn't sure how he could talk with his jaw all clenched like that. "You can sit around here and deal with Aztorath all by yourself. Not that you'll be able to find him without these," he dug a handful of CD cases from his gym bag, "but I guess watching you try will be good for a couple of laughs."

"Oh, like we care if you--"

"What are those?" Buffy ran over Cordelia's dismissal, her eyes narrowed.

"These?" McDonald smiled thinly. "Wolfram & Hart's records on one William Tyler, current through three weeks ago. Including known aliases, known accomplices and known places of operations. But since no one here is interested...."

Buffy snatched them out of his hand before he could finish being a pain in the ass. Willow's attention had been snagged sometime during the confrontation, and she already had the CD drive on the laptop open. Buffy leaned over her shoulder anxiously until the first screens came up, body tensed, waiting for a direction to fly in.

Unfortunately, the disc contained not so much directions as... gibberish. "Um, Will? Isn't this supposed to be, you know, readable? So that information can jump from it into our brains?"

"It's encrypted." Willow and Buffy turned to look at McDonald, who crossed his arms and looked back, face blank. No wonder Cordelia broke up with him.

"Decrypting things?" Buffy asked as politely as possible. Which wasn't very, but deadlines were looming. And maybe a better word choice was called for there. "Please? Or is Cordelia right and this is some kind of nasty lawyer trick? Because I gotta tell you -- so not in the mood."

McDonald hesitated, and Cordelia huffed her breath out, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. "God, Lindsey, this is just like you, driving all the way up from Los Angeles just to make people's lives miserable. Well, I sure hope you're getting overtime. Or wait -- is this part of the job description? 'When the Senior Partners tug your leash, you shall drive all the way up the coast to the Hellmouth, just to screw around with your ex-girlfriend who is already having a Really. Bad. Day!'"

Her voice rose to a screech by the end, her hands fisted at her sides and her face right up in McDonald's. Everyone winced, except McDonald, who just kept looking at her with that weird, tight, expressionless thing happening. "Got that out of your system, little girl?"

"Oh, I'm just getting started, evil scum-sucking bastard."

"Good." In a move so fast and smooth Buffy was almost jealous, he dropped his gym bag, grabbed Cordelia's upper arms, and slammed his mouth down over hers.

She had to hand it to him, Buffy thought absently as she retrieved the gym bag from the floor and fished out two more compact discs for Willow to pounce on. For an evil lawyer, he sure looked like he knew how to kiss.

Chapter 17: When Seconds Count

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


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

Out loud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If he actually had.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's the plan."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I think you know you should be."

"Yeah, I'm really afraid."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Cordelia?" Wesley asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," Lindsey answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's your plan?"

Except Lindsey, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lindsey--" Wesley started forward threateningly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 18: Running on Ice

"As fast as I can climb
A new disaster every time I turn around
As soon as I get one fire put out
There's another building burning down..."


It was kind of like watching ants scuttling around in an ant farm, Angel thought as he yanked against the chains yet again. All that mindless activity, little people scurrying here and there, and everything ultimately centering around the queen.

Or, in this case, the smarmy bastard who would die as soon as Angel got out of these damn manacles, and to hell with the whole 'no killing humans' Champion thing.

"On the bright side," Giles said dryly beside him, "we're no longer under the binding spell." Angel gave him a sideways glare, and Giles shrugged as well as he could with both of his hands short-chained over his head to the concrete wall. "Admittedly, as bright sides go, it's rather dim."

"Rather," Angel echoed darkly, jerking again at his chains. They rattled but remained stubbornly intact. Since they seemed to be set into the foot-thick concrete wall of an under-construction parking structure -- he could actually see a few cars through the tattered plastic sheets that shielded one side of the ritual area -- his lack of success wasn't really too surprising.

"Hey, you might want to watch that." Tyler came wandering over, looking faintly ridiculous in his long dark robes, a banker who had dressed for Halloween without help or a clue. His hair was perfectly combed and his wire-rim glasses were still firmly in place. "You really won't be comfortable with your wrists torn up."

Angel stared at him. "You're about to sacrifice us to a demon, and you care about our wrists."

Tyler blinked. "Just because this is a sacrifice doesn't mean it has to be all bloody. And it's actually not so much a sacrifice, if you think about it. More like a...." He had to stop to think, then finally shrugged. "Yeah, okay, I guess we're still going to have to go with sacrifice. But it'll be over really fast and trust me, all of us really appreciate what you're going to do for us. Don't we, guys?" he called over his shoulder.

Several of the 25 or so black robes milling around paused in refreshing the runes on the floor and laying out the circular bonfire a few feet in front of them, and lifted hands and weapons in acknowledgment; a few even called back distracted agreements. Tyler turned back with an easy, utterly clueless grin. "They're nice guys, once you get to know them. It's really too bad you're not going to get the chance."

He flashed the cheerful grin again before ambling back away to supervise. Angel watched him go, then began methodically banging the back of his head against the wall. "This. Is. Not. Happening," he muttered in time to the impacts.

"Oh, that it weren't," Giles sighed. "However, the strangely well-oiled chains on my wrists and ankles suggest otherwise, and I'm quite certain there's something more useful you can be doing with your head."

"Name one and I'll consider it," Angel growled. Giles opened his mouth, was apparently unable to actually supply an answer, and closed it again with another sigh. Before Angel could make an undeserved comment about all-knowing Watchers that, even if it was accurate, would probably make things worse, the buzz of activity suddenly coalesced around the ritual bonfire.

Tyler took up position right in front of them, only a few feet away; if his feet weren't chained, Angel could have gotten his ankles around the man's neck, snapped it with one simple, violent twist... but he was a Champion, and he didn't do things like that to humans. Often.

Even when they were incredibly annoying and proudly unwrapping a huge, shallow bowl of dull, heavy gold, with inscriptions around the side that looked vaguely Aramaic and unquestionably old. "That can't be good," Angel muttered.

"Definitely a talisman," Giles confirmed, as Tyler held the bowl over his head proudly. "Quite probably, that's the focus he uses to hold and summon Aztorath."

After another few seconds of showing off, Tyler placed the huge bowl in the center of the ceremonial circle with great flair, then backed out to join eight of his flunkies, spaced evenly around the outside edge. The fluorescent lights overhead glinted off the ritual knives, swords and axes they held ready in front of them.

"Time for the party to start!" Tyler announced, to cheers from the minions.

"And me without my dancing shoes." Angel pulled at his chains again, the sound lost in the sudden flare of light as the bonfire ignited at a synchronized gesture from the nine men encircling it. The heat washed over them and he flinched back automatically. "I hate fire."

"I can't bring myself to be wildly enthusiastic about it at the moment, either." The flames flickered off Giles' glasses, obscuring his eyes, but the rest of his face was set in grim lines. "If the others are about somewhere, entertaining thoughts of a daring rescue, I hope they begin as quickly as possible."

Tyler gestured for silence, and the only sound was that of the crackling flames. Then Tyler began to chant.

Definitely Aramaic, or maybe Arabic -- something glottal and flowing, anyway. Giles translated under his breath: "I call the power of the universe, the power that binds, the power that severs, wraps around us, makes us whole, then returns us to that from which we came. Power, come!"

"You called?"

Angel had been really, really hoping for a familiar voice to suddenly interject a wiseass comment. He'd been prepared to welcome any intervention, up to and including Riley Finn.

But this? This wasn't an intervention. This was a really sick joke by the Powers That Be, who had gotten bored with all the usual ways of torturing their pet vampire.

That was the only possible explanation for Lindsey McDonald's appearance on the other side of the bonfire -- someone up there really did hate him. But Angel only had a second to enjoy finally being proven right before he recognized the small blonde form staggering along at Lindsey's side, McDonald's hand clamped over her upper arm to drag her with him.

His snarl coincided almost exactly with Giles', as they both lunged against their chains in a futile attempt to get their hands around McDonald's throat and free Buffy. Preferably both of those things at the same time.

"Lindsey!" Tyler broke off in mid-chant, as several of his minions swung belatedly around, weapons leveled; in moments, the flames had died down to embers at his feet. He shook back his hood and strode away from the circle, hand extended in welcome. "We weren't expecting you and, I have to tell you, your timing could be a little better."

"Sorry," McDonald shrugged, shaking Tyler's hand with his free one. "Traffic, you know how it is."

"Don't I ever." Tyler grimaced in Southern Californian sympathy. "Although hopefully, after tonight, it's not something I'm going to have to worry about anymore."

"Well, the firm sends their best wishes in that regard," McDonald said with a smarmy smile. "In fact, Wolfram & Hart is so dedicated to your success that we've arranged for a contribution of our own." He tugged Buffy forward; she went sluggishly. "The Slayer."

"The Slayer. The Slayer?"

Tyler's jaw actually dropped. Angel might have enjoyed how stupid it made the man look if he hadn't been bending every bit of his strength into pulling his manacles out of the wall.

"Goddamnit, McDonald, if you hurt her, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth and I will rip out your throat and drain every last ounce of your blood once I get there!"

Tyler looked from Buffy to Angel, and back to McDonald. "Wow, I guess it really is the Slayer. I thought she looked familiar, but this light really isn't, you know...." He made a vague waving gesture with one hand, then refocused. "God, this is so cool, Lindsey. I mean, I was right in the middle of the ritual and everything, but it'll work so much better with the Slayer. I can't thank you enough, man."

"Just remember that next time you get a bill from the office," Lindsey smiled.

"Have I ever forgotten?" Tyler returned, all goodwill and bonhomie. Angel had detailed plans for tearing both their faces off, if the chains would just give... a... little....

"I take it that is Cordelia's lawyer boyfriend?" Giles asked calmly, panting slightly from the effort of straining against his own bonds.

"Ex-boyfriend." Was the left chain moving a little?

"I can see why. Her taste in men -- really."

"Don't even go there," Angel warned. Blood had started trickling down his wrists, but the manacles stubbornly refused to budge. "Why isn't Buffy fighting the bastard?"

"She would appear to be drugged -- or possibly entranced." Giles' voice was still low and level, his face set like stone, and Angel felt sorry for McDonald if Giles got free. Wait -- no, he didn't.

The bastards had moved closer during their little lawyer-client consultation, and Angel could see Buffy's eyes now. They were unfocused, glazed over with drugs or magic as Giles had said; she swayed a little where she stood, as if McDonald's hard grip on her arm was the only thing keeping her upright. How had McDonald snatched her, how had he gotten close enough to take her by surprise, from the middle of the Scoobies, from her wall-sized lover?

"...ritual is really a basic substitution spell, but I jacked it up," Tyler was saying, as he pulled keys out of his pocket and fumbled with the locks on Giles' ankles. "Aztorath has been a really fabulous supply chain, if you know what I mean, but frankly, we're running into a serious case of diminishing returns. It takes so much to control him every time we summon him that we're just not making enough profit."

"That can ruin your whole day," McDonald didn't even try to hide his boredom, but Tyler didn't seem to notice. Buffy rocked slightly, falling against McDonald's shoulder and he impatiently shoved her vertical again. Angel growled deep in his throat, and McDonald looked at him just long enough to smirk.

"So we're going in a new direction," Tyler continued as he unlocked the manacle around Giles' right ankle. Giles' leg twitched with the urge to kick, but he restrained himself. Waiting. "The deal with Aztorath isn't working out as well as I'd hoped, but I don't expect him to be happy that we really need to part ways. He's bound to me and vice versa, and it'll take some serious mojo to undo that merger. I was a little worried, I admit, but you've been good enough to supply that power, so thanks for that. Break my bonds to Aztorath, bind his power to me in the process... bada-bing, bada-boom." He freed Giles' other leg-- --And Giles instantly pulled himself up against his chains, his legs kicking out towards Tyler in the "go for the throat" move Angel had fantasized about a few minutes ago.

But Giles didn't have a vampire's speed or strength, and he only managed to catch the side of Tyler's head as the little bastard ducked and fell back. "Ow! God, I'm letting you loose, you're not going to die today!" he complained, rubbing at his head as he sprawled on the ground. "Try a little gratitude, would you?"

"As you intend to replace me with my Slayer, I'm not really feeling the love." Giles tried to kick out again and almost made contact, but his body froze in mid-motion a few inches from Tyler's kneecaps. Several of the minions finally came to their boss's assistance, one of them lowering her hand as she finished casting the binding spell.

"Thanks, Gina, nice work. Bonus in this month's paycheck." Tyler levered himself to his feet and glared at Giles, straightening his wire rims as another minion finished unlocking Giles, then maneuvered his stiff body past Angel to the floor several feet to Angel's left, Giles' legs still frozen at an angle. "Clock's ticking, people; let's move like we've got a purpose. Lindsey, if you'll bring the Slayer over here...?"

Angel snarled, "You do it, Lindsey, and you will not die slow enough."

McDonald's smirk grew. "You know, Angel, that'd be a lot more impressive if I didn't expect you to have a sudden attack of dust in the next--" He ostentatiously checked the wafer-thin Rolex on the wrist not involved in holding Buffy up. "--about six minutes. Since I do...." He shrugged widely with the one shoulder, then turned his back and gave Buffy to the minions, who began shackling her in Giles' place. Even drugged or enspelled, Buffy's hands were tightly fisted, and Angel wanted to hold her almost as badly as he wanted to make someone bleed.

Unable to get to the people he wanted, Angel began fighting his chains again, but stopped abruptly when Gina the Minion knelt next to Giles, a short, sharp blade pressed to his throat. "We need quiet to work in," she informed Angel, her brown eyes and startlingly pretty face cold. "His breathing is making a lot of noise."

Angel froze.

Tyler clapped Gina on the shoulder, shoving the knife in a little with the motion. Blood welled from Giles' throat as she steadied herself and gave Tyler a 'you idiot' look over her shoulder, which he didn't seem to notice. As usual. "We're talking big bonus, Gina -- way to make with the crowd control."

He rubbed his hands together briskly, looking the area over. "Okay, we're almost set here. Lindsey, please wander yourself over to the other side of the circle?"

His voice went up like it was a question, but his tone made it unmistakably an order. McDonald's eyebrows went up. "I was thinking I'd get a better view from over here." Again, not a question -- a flat refusal.

Tyler smiled, and suddenly two more minions were flashing knives, herding McDonald in the direction their boss had indicated.

"What the hell is this?" McDonald demanded, stepping backwards slowly and trying to keep his eyes on both knives. He managed to throw a glare of death towards Tyler at the same time, all without tripping over his feet. It would have been impressive, if McDonald hadn't been such an unimpressive son of a bitch.

"No offense, Lindsey," Tyler apologized, spreading his hands wide, "just routine precautions. You know how it is -- just because Wolfram & Hart is on my payroll, doesn't mean they're on my side. Trust me, once I'm done here, you'll be well compensated."

McDonald's face worked with anger and disdain and something else Angel couldn't quite read. "Damn right I will," he said finally, settling his shoulders and striding to the other side of the circle as if it had been his idea all along.

Wow, Tyler wasn't as stupid as he looked. Who knew? Angel exchanged helpless looks with Giles, still sprawled with a knife at his throat, as Tyler resumed his place in front of them. "Okay, places everyone! Let's get this show on the road; we're going to have to talk fast as it is."

Everyone shuffled back into place, two of them tripping over their robes in the process. Tyler waited with his arms crossed and one foot tapping, then took a deep breath and began his chant again. The flames leapt high, the eight minions in the circle with Tyler began to echo his words, and the golden bowl in the center began to glow.

"Damn it." Angel worked at his chains again, trying to get close enough to Buffy to shake her. "Buffy! Buffy, wake up! Come on, Buffy, snap out of it, we need some more muscle here!" Maybe the chains for Giles hadn't been set as well, maybe a Slayer's strength could do something against them. Through the flames, he caught a glimpse of McDonald's face, looking oddly strained in the shifting light. Good. Hopefully he was thinking about everything Angel was going to do to him when--

Tyler's voice rose to a shout, and the pale glow of the golden bowl exploded into bright light, a visual assault that burned through even eyes squeezed tightly closed, the burst of heat like baking in a desert at high noon, like being trapped in a room with the sun. He shouted, expecting to burn, expecting to be dust before he could draw another breath.

Then it was over. Angel opened his eyes cautiously, and found himself in one piece, the fiery light reduced to a concentrated, pulsing cloud that swirled around the center of the circle. Light coalesced around the figure that hovered over the center of the circle, shifting and dimming away again to form the impression of arms, legs, flowing robes of rich red that became skin of the same color. Slanted eyes that flickered like the fire looked out over sharp cheekbones, and more flames seemed to form a sharp, wispy beard on its pointed chin. Long, pointed ears lay flush against its bald head, and Angel swallowed hard.

"That's not a demon," he commented very calmly to no one in particular. "That's a djinn."

And that was bad news. Demons were, on the whole, big and powerful, but stupid. Djinn, by all accounts, had the big and powerful part down, but didn't go so much for the stupid. More like clever, diabolical, evil.... And one as ancient as Aztorath was reputed to be? About to be betrayed by his 'master'? Cancel bad news -- make this apocalyptic. Again.

"You have summoned me? Master?" Aztorath's voice grated like a car over gravel, his tone making it quite clear that he was not pleased to be here. Angel was right there with him on that; he made another try at loosening his chains or waking Buffy or both.

Neither worked. What a surprise.

"I have, Aztorath," Tyler was saying complacently. "I bring you a gift."

The djinn arched one flaming, pointed eyebrow in equally pointed disbelief. "A gift?"

Tyler smiled broadly. "Of course. Did you think I'd let all these months of loyal service go unrewarded? Look what I brought you." He gestured with one hand behind him and Angel snarled reflexively before the djinn's stare hit him. The power and fury in those golden eyes made the demon he carried inside him start looking around for escape routes.

"A vampire," Aztorath intoned. "Interesting. One who is... bound?"

"Cursed with a soul," Tyler said smugly. "And it gets better. He's in love with a Slayer."

The djinn's eyes flicked to Buffy, hanging still in her chains. "So he is. This is indeed a powerful gift, Master."

"Who's your daddy?" Tyler bounced slightly on his heels, grinning proudly and completely oblivious to the malice in the djinn's eyes. McDonald skulked the far edge of the circle, probably trying to stay out of sight. "All this power, to bind and unbind, yours for the taking."

Aztorath appeared to be thinking it over? "And in return...?" he finally rumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. His robes fell away to reveal a pattern of golden tattoos, running around his wrists and up the sides of his arms like... like manacles and chains. Threads of light dropped down from the tattoos to the golden bowl -- the not-so-proverbial lamp, Angel was willing to bet, and wished Giles was still close enough to confirm it.

Tyler shrugged, elaborately casual. "We can talk about payment later. Right now, buddy, you can just enjoy your reward."

Aztorath waited another long moment, then inclined his head. "My gratitude is endless, Master. Please begin the ritual."

"You got it." Tyler probably thought he was hiding his smirk as he raised his arms and starting chanting again. Angel had enough time to close his eyes and wish fervently for the Scooby gang to stop doing whatever the hell they were doing and come riding to the rescue -- and a brief moment to imagine Lindsey McDonald hung upside down, bleeding out from a thousand cuts -- before a gleaming beam of power shot from Aztorath.

It forked into two parts, and Angel screamed involuntarily as one branch burned into him. Buffy's scream echoed his as she was shocked into sudden awareness by the second, and suddenly there was a third flash arcing between them, joining them. They'd formed a triangle, pointing back at the djinn, and Angel's soul howled in agony as the djinn ripped at the curse bonds. Slowly, slowly, he felt them begin breaking free.

Buffy screamed again, her hands convulsing, and McDonald shouted something from the other side of the circle.

Tyler laughed, loud and triumphant, and suddenly stepped directly into the center of the triangle. Aztorath bellowed as the power flow changed, everything from Buffy and Angel now channeling into Tyler. A new force line from master to djinn flared up, a fiery, devouring black that surrounded the djinn, then suddenly threw itself backwards into Tyler. His chant grew louder, the other members of his circle echoing him in practiced, focused unison.

The pull on Angel's soul doubled, then tripled, and his head jolted back in agony, trying to draw back what was his, but without the power to even take hold of it. Buffy screamed again, and McDonald shouted, and the pain just wouldn't stop and the demon was so close now....

And Buffy's shout this time was triumphant. Something flashed deep, vibrant green in her fist, so bright it almost blinded Angel again. She bounced to her feet as the manacles gave way, dropping her to the floor, and it was Tyler's turn to scream as the stream of power from the Slayer was severed, the energy backlashing into half of his protective circle, toppling the minions to the ground. Aztorath bellowed again, this time in triumph, and Angel had just enough time to brace himself before all Hell broke loose.


"Now! Now, goddammit!" For way, way too long, Lindsey was afraid the witches hadn't heard him over the chanting and the screaming and everything. But Jesus, it wasn't like it took a master strategist to realize that their time was up, there weren't going to be any more shots, and if Rupert Giles died, they'd be damn lucky if he was the only one.

But Cordelia would be pissed and miserable if Giles bought it, and the chick guarding the Watcher was completely distracted by the light show in front of her, and if Lindsey timed it just right....

Aztorath bellowed again and Angel screamed, and Lindsey frankly enjoyed it as he moved carefully to the side. Nobody bother to look at me, just your friendly neighborhood lawyer taking a stroll around a major act of black magic, and this was such a bad idea. Seriously. Of all the ideas he'd ever had in his life, this was the absolute worst. Worse than leaving Oklahoma, worse than signing the contract with Wolfram & Hart, worse than that first date with Cordelia. And he was doing it anyway.

How the hell had he gotten here? And if he closed his eyes and wished really hard, could he take it all back?

He eased just a few feet further, ready to do something himself (no matter how stupid and/or suicidal, and what the hell was he doing here?), and Buffy's head suddenly snapped up straight. The talisman in her fist finally exploded in a flash of green light as the witches worked their will, and the manacles snapped loose. Buffy landed cat-like on her feet and raced for the circle, as the blue lightning that had violently ricocheted from the Slayer hit the minions on one side of the circle. They screamed as their robes burst into flames, and rolled into the paths of the minions who had raced forward to intervene. The resulting pile-up would probably be funny when Lindsey had time to think about it.

One of the minions made it back to his feet and tried to rush Buffy. She leveled him with an effortless backhand on her way to Giles, as two more oncoming minions went down under taser blasts. Xander, Wesley and Riley jumped over their bodies as they raced into the fray, and the chick kneeling over Giles cursed and raised her knife. Good reflexes, but she went for a killing blow instead of just slitting his throat, and the moment of extra time cost her. Lindsey tackled her at a full run, bouncing her head off of the concrete. She lay limp and still, and suddenly Giles was moving again.

"Not particularly chivalrous," the older man panted as he rolled stiffly to his knees.

"The hell with chivalry, it worked."

"Giles!" Buffy skidded to the floor next to her Watcher. "You okay?"

"I'm fine, Buffy. Go, help them." Buffy followed his gesture and saw their three allies locked in combat with six minions. Riley and Wesley were doing okay, but Xander took a punch to the head that sent him reeling. With a screech of fury, Anya charged in wielding a baseball bat like she meant it. Cordelia came right behind her with taser in hand, zapping a minion without breaking stride, and Lindsey was going to kill her, she was supposed to be staying out of it!

"Damn it! Help Angel!" Buffy bounced back to her feet and raced headlong into the fight. Someone howled from the center of the room, the sound echoing endlessly in his ears, and lightning flashed again. Angel slumped in his chains as the power flow from his body cut off, and Tyler screamed as the backlash hit him. The flames died nearly to embers but the circle still burned, and Aztorath raised his manacled fists to the ceiling, bellowing in rage.

"The spell's interrupted." Willow threw herself to the ground next to Giles and Lindsey, breathing hard; Tara collapsed beside her. "All the power is still built up, but it's got nowhere to go!"

"Can you use it?" Lindsey demanded. "Do the mojo, get us out of this?"

Both witches shook their heads. "There's too much of it, and it's too focused on the demon-thingie and the ritual," Willow panted. "Only the people involved can touch it; we'd probably get fried if we even tried. The interference alone is unreal -- we almost couldn't set off the talisman to get Buffy loose and that was an easy spell."

"Lovely!" Giles bit out, clambering to his feet. "Free Angel if you can, and try to stay out of the line of fire."

"Giles, no, you're hurt--"

"Take this!" Willow overrode Tara's protests and shoved her taser at Giles. He nodded thanks, then threw himself into the middle of a knot of three minions and Riley. The witches exchanged one quick look, then popped to their feet to race to Angel's chained form, ignoring the flames from the circle and Aztorath's flailing arms as Tyler tried frantically to bring the djinn under control. So far, it looked like a stalemate, but the second either of them won, everyone else was going to be toast. They had to break this up before then.

"What did I do to deserve this?" Lindsey snarled and tripped a minion as he tried to flee the scene, proving that at least one person in the room had brains. The minion's axe clattered to the floor; Lindsey slammed the minion's head against the concrete, then retrieved the axe and braced himself in front of the two witches.

Across the room, Cordelia, Anya and Xander circled back-to-back, holding off four minions. Riley and Buffy worked their way through a crowd of six more as Giles and Wesley picked at the edges with tasers, fists and feet. The minions showed no "good guy" qualms about not killing; they had edged weapons and were using them. Giles ducked the swing of a sword, but missed the follow-up kick to the head and dropped; Buffy screamed in outrage and went after his attacker, as Wesley positioned himself grimly over the fallen Watcher.

"It's not working!" Willow cried behind Lindsey. "Damn it, none of my magicks are working!"

"We can't leave him here, they'll kill him," Tara said, close to tears. "Just try again, we can do this. I know we can."

Lindsey half-turned to look at them -- the frantic witches and the souled vampire hanging limply from the wall -- and fought with himself hard. Good news: Angel dead. Bad news: Cordelia miserable, and angry. Decisions, decisions....

But he'd already made this decision, and there was no going back, was there?

He was fucking stuck with this. Might as well go for broke.

"Get out of the way," he told the witches through his teeth as he raised the axe over his head. Angel heard his voice, lifted his head just enough to meet Lindsey's eyes, and Lindsey froze for a moment as something like deja vu flashed before him. A vampire, a human, an axe, a choice.... He could almost hear voices echoing in back of his head, and tried for a second to make them out. Then he shook them off fiercely and brought the axe down with all of his strength.

Sharpened steel met wrought iron; iron resisted for three blows, but steel won. Lindsey staggered back as Angel's wrist dropped free; the vampire seemed to gather himself then, in one mighty heave, ripped the other manacle from the wall. He kicked out with his new leverage and concrete flew as his feet came free.

"Very impressive," Lindsey said sarcastically, unable to help himself. He had just a second to regret it as Angel strode towards him, fully fanged and completely pissed, arm raised to do serious damage. "Goddamnit, Angel, I just saved you--!"

Angel knocked Lindsey to the floor with one hard blow to the shoulder, and the minion with a very long, pointy sword who'd been coming up behind him suddenly found himself dangling a foot in the air with a steely hand around his throat. Angel throttled him for a long second, then threw him into a wall with no more ceremony.

"...Thank you. I think," Lindsey managed to say.

"We're even," Angel returned tightly, only sparing Lindsey a quick glower before diving into the thick of the fight.

The witches knelt beside Lindsey to help him to his feet; he was shaken enough to let them. "I don't think Angel likes you much," Willow observed.

"Feeling's mutual." He shook his head to clear it, then bent over carefully to retrieve his axe and check out the progress of the battle.

Now this, this was his kind of fight scene. Angel's freedom shifted the odds overwhelmingly to the good guys, so there wasn't really much call for a lawyer with an axe except to stay safely out of it, and maybe guard the witches from the minions who weren't attacking. No sweat -- and more importantly, no blood.

Except that Cordelia was still in the middle of it, on the far side of the room from the serious fighters, and the minions were sensing weakness, closing in. It wouldn't take long for the big guns to finish them off, but until then....

"Crap!" Lindsey shouldered his axe and started forward. But he only got a few feet before a beam of red magic blasted across his path, the shockwave slamming him backwards into the hard concrete floor again. His head swam, skin and shirt singed from the focused power, but it would have done worse to the Slayer if she hadn't dodged at the last second. Two minions went up in flames, screaming as they beat at their robes.

"Again!" Tyler commanded at the top of his lungs -- damn it, they'd ignored him too long! Aztorath howled within the newly-fired circle and fought against his chains, but finally obeyed. Angel ducked the shot this time, rolling back to his feet and running towards the djinn with his sword raised. What the idiot intended to do was anyone's guess, but he zig-zagged enough to avoid the next strike, which took down three more minions, whose flying bodies in turn took down Xander, Anya -- and Cordelia.

Lindsey could have sworn he heard the hollow thunk of Cordelia's head against concrete, saw it bounce a little, saw her fall limp and still. His throat hurt and he realized he was screaming a furious, useless denial. Without weighing his next move, without calculating risks and benefits, without thinking at all, he threw himself forward and tackled Tyler to the ground.

"Son of a bitch!" Tyler fought back, but his magic was all tied up, and physically, he was nothing against rage and training. Lindsey got him into a hammerlock, neck and arm, and pounded his face into the ground.

"You work for me, goddamnit!" Tyler yelled, glasses and nose broken, blood covering half of his face. "I have a contract!"

Lindsey yanked him to his feet, their eyes only inches apart. "Wolfram & Hart remove themselves as attorneys of record," he snarled and shoved his former client away hard.

Tyler stumbled forward through the flames and into the circle -- right into Aztorath's clutching, clawing hands.

Time stopped in a blaze of light and agony. Lindsey fell to his knees, the djinn's howl of triumph ripping through his ears as something else ripped through his head, leaving bloody ruin in its path. Something shattered and he felt the pieces of it cut into his cheek, his shoulder, his side. But they were nothing next to the burning, tearing, bleeding of his mind, and his soul.

This was what Angel must have felt, that time, he realized dimly, as the last bits of his soul began to break away from his hold, ripped from him by the contract he had just broken, the blood-oath he had shattered. Far away, in Los Angeles or Hell, the Senior Partners called for payment, and his soul was the price, bound in the whirlwind of power that tore away at him--

--And Lindsey fell forward, gasping for breath, clutching at his head with desperate hands. Blood dripped from his nose and his face, puddling on the concrete like a crimson Rorschach test, and he wondered vaguely what the patterns said about him. Soul? No soul? Alive? Dead? Did dead men bleed, because they could sure as hell hurt?

"Lindsey!" It was the blonde witch, Tara, kneeling next to him and calling him frantically, holding him up with deceptively small, strong hands.

"'M I... alive?" he muttered carefully.

"Y-yes," she started to answer, before her hands contracted on his arms so hard it sent new pain ripping through his body.

"Jesus!" he cursed, his eyes shooting open. He started to yell at the witch, but something large and red filled his vision, and a little pain didn't seem so important any more.

Looming over them, Aztorath smiled, thin and toothy. "Boo."


"This cannot possibly be of the good." Buffy's voice sounded normal to her own ears, but everyone else who was conscious flinched just a little.

"Good is not the word I would have chosen, no," Wesley replied, much more calmly than she would have expected. He was doing the clenched jaw thing while he kept protecting Giles, no girlie scream in sight.

"Nice to know we all agree." Riley was bent half-over, his hands braced against his knees and blood showing across his stomach where someone had almost gotten close enough. Buffy wanted to go to him, but she needed to stay where she was, between the demon whosiwhatsit, and her friends.

Except that three of her friends -- she'd decided at some point that Lindsey was now officially included in that list, and Angel could just live with it -- were on the other side of the room, and there was no way to get to them except through Big Red.

"And what's with the primary colors?" she complained to no one in particular, as she strode forward with her best 'me Slayer, you dead' attitude in place. "Why are the big ones always primary colors? Hey, genie guy! Back off from my friends!"

Not her best effort, but since she had to walk right past William Tyler's scorched body -- sprawled half in and half out of the flames where the demon had dropped it, his eyes staring sightlessly up at her -- she was fairly satisfied just that her voice didn't crack. The knowledge that Angel and Riley both had her back was way reassuring.

The demon turned slowly towards them. "Slayer," he acknowledged, with a half-bow that was kind of respectful, and kind of creepy. Looking over her shoulder at Angel, he bowed again. "Champion."

The bow didn't get less creepy with repetition, but at least he wasn't leaning so close to Tara and Lindsey anymore. Willow slowly shifted in front of the pair on the floor, one hand reaching back to grab Tara's, her lips moving in a silent chant. With only a quick glance, Tara joined her. Buffy tightened her lips, and started to buy them time.

"Yayness, we all know each other. Saves time on the introductions, so we can move right to the fighting." She bent and scooped up Lindsey's abandoned axe in one smooth move, twirling it in casual threat. "I told you to get away from my friends."

The demon crossed his arms, and lifted one pointed, flamey eyebrow. "I was offered gifts, Slayer. Do you wish to give yourself back over to me in their place?"

"No, but I'd be happy to take their place in the kicking of your butt, Demon Boy."

"Djinn," Angel corrected quietly from behind her left shoulder.

"Demon, djinn, whatever." She tightened her stance, raising the axe into fighting position. "Why don't you try fighting a Slayer when she's not chained up?"

"An interesting notion." Aztorath raised his hand, and his palm began to glow with power again. "I look forward to seeing the results."

"Bad idea." Buffy blinked as Lindsey's voice broke into the pre-fight snarking; his voice was all gravelly, but he'd gotten himself to his knees, leaning heavily on Tara's shoulder. Blood streaked his face, most of it from his nose and mouth, but a little -- eew -- from his eyes.

The de-- djinn, looked kind of annoyed at being interrupted. "Actually, I believe it would be an... interesting competition. If ultimately futile."

"For who?" Lindsey pulled himself a little straighter. "I know you're pissed off -- hey, I would be too. But deal with a little reality, Aztorath. A Slayer, a Champion, two Watchers, a pair of witches--" he jerked his chin sideways at Willow and Tara, and their chanting suddenly became audible, their eyes narrowed and focused on the djinn. "--And all of their friends. Now, maybe you can take out most of them, but it'll cost you. And that still leaves you with some very angry and very powerful people after your ethereal ass."

Aztorath was paying real close attention now and Lindsey kept going, in what even a non-lawyer recognized as full courtroom groove. "How much are you willing to bet that one of them can't figure out what Tyler did, can't find a way to bind you? Tyler just wanted to use you -- what do you think someone who's actively pissed at you will do? Hell, I work for Wolfram & Hart; they know a little something about binding. And so do I."

Willow and Tara were starting to have a glowy thing of their own going on. Xander was shaking his head, almost back on his feet, and Wesley had moved up to stand next to Angel. He held a sword like he knew what to do with it, and managed to look almost as dangerous as the other two guys. Buffy tightened her grip on her axe and started mentally listing all the parts of the Aztorath's body that it might damage in order of attack, looking hard at each one.

Aztorath didn't look particularly intimidated, but he did look annoyed and seriously thoughtful. "So I am to have nothing for the abuse I have suffered?"

"Tyler's really dead," Lindsey pointed out. "Take what you can get."

"Oh, I intend to." Aztorath's flaming eyes flickered around the room. Then he lifted a clawed finger, pointing at several of the robed figures lying still or moaning on the floor. "I will have them -- the ones who served Tyler." His face gave an ugly twist. "My master. Give them to me, and I will depart."

"Sure," Lindsey shrugged.

"No!" every other conscious, non-chanting Scooby said in near-unison (although Angel and Wesley came in a little later, and a lot more reluctantly, than the others).

"No humans get turned into demon or djinn chow," Buffy warned. "It's against the rules. No matter how much they suck."

A couple of the minions who were with it enough to understand what was going on looked at her gratefully. She glared at them in disgust and they mostly went back to pretending to be out cold.

"You would battle me for the lives of those who would have aided in your death?" Buffy didn't bother to answer Aztorath; she just shifted the axe a little higher. The Scoobies all leaned forward a little more, ready to cut loose at her word, and Aztorath smiled a thin little smile. "Those who have spoken to me of Slayers did not exaggerate."

The djinn turned gracefully back to Lindsey. "I have been held too long in this world. My wrongful master is dead, and I am free." His very white teeth flashed suddenly in a pointy -- and pointed -- grin. "Give my regards to your masters. I leave you to the consequences of your folly."

He put his hands together, palm-to-palm, in front of his chest, and bowed deeply to the room at large. Then the flames leaped upwards to wrap around him, lengthening and thinning to a long line that gradually collapsed in on itself and vanished.

And just like that, it was over. The djinn was gone, Tyler's body and the shards of the bowl with it, as if none of them had ever existed. Lindsey dropped like his strings had been cut; Tara and Willow collapsed next to him. Light flashed intensely but harmlessly around them as they abruptly stopped whatever it was they'd been doing, making spots dance in front of Buffy's eyes.

Buffy raced over to the witches, Riley close behind her, leaving Xander with Anya, and Wesley and Angel fighting it out over Cordy. Wesley, amazingly, came out on top -- sharper elbows, maybe?

"Willow? Tara? Are you guys okay?"

Willow opened her eyes and rolled over onto her back. "We're good. Wait -- we won, right?"

Buffy looked around. "Looks like."

"Okay, then, we're good."

Tara's eyes stayed closed, but she smiled her own confirmation, still clutching Willow's hand.

"Okay. You guys take it easy." Buffy shifted her attention, putting a hand on Lindsey's shoulder. "Lindsey? You alive in there?"

"...Yeah," he answered after a long moment. "I think so." He rolled his head to the side enough to look up at her through a mask of blood. "I hope you're ready for the bill you're gonna get for this."

Buffy laughed wryly. "College kids and unemployed Watcher. Good luck with that getting-paid thing."

"You haven't met our collection agents." He shook his head carefully, like he was testing to see if it would fall off. It didn't. "Christ. Now I know why Cordelia bailed out of this town."

She could practically see the light go on over his head. "Cordelia!" He jolted to his feet, but didn't make it more than a step before he swayed and almost fell over again.

Riley got to him before Buffy could, steadying him. "Easy, Lindsey, she's starting to come around. Angel and Wesley are taking care of her."

"Oh, like that's comforting," Lindsey snarled. He shook Riley off and wove his way unsteadily towards the knot of people on the other side of the room. Buffy gave Riley a quick look; he waved her forward, kneeling next to Waillow and Tara, and she shadowed Lindsey. He ignored the cluster around Anya and Giles, all of his attention reserved for the woman Angel and Wesley were carefully supporting. He shoved them out of the way without even looking, apparently intent on just getting his arms around Cordelia.

"God, babe, you all right?" he asked anxiously, cradling her against his chest.

"I feel like a margarita, post blender," she half-moaned, her eyes still closed. But her left arm came gingerly around Lindsey's waist. "We won, right?"

"More or less. Can you open your eyes, babe?"

"If I wanted to, which I so don't. And don't call me babe."

Lindsey laughed, his voice all raw, and buried his face in her hair. "Yeah, you're gonna live."

Ooo, rough tough Slayer types weren't supposed to get all teary-eyed after big climactic battles. Buffy sniffled and left them to the sentimental stuff while she went to check on Giles. He was sitting up, gingerly feeling his head, and tried to smile when he saw her. "I take it we won?"

"Considering we're the only ones standing, I'm kind of wondering why everyone has to ask." She examined the lump on the back of his head with the expertise of long practice. "You're going to the hospital again. Do they give frequent concussion discounts?"

"They would lose far too much money in my case." Giles tried to focus on the room around him. "Everyone else?"

"Xander and Anya took a hit, but he's fine and--" she looked quickly over, "--and it looks like she's conscious. And talking, oh goodie. Everyone else is fine. Cordelia went down, but she's got Lindsey taking care of her."

Giles followed her eyes to the couple embracing a few feet away. "Ah. Very good." He blinked suddenly. "Lindsey McDonald? He works for Tyler, he brought you here! What is he--?"

"Oh yay, we get short-term memory loss this time. You are so going to the hospital. Relax, Giles," she shoved him back when he started to get up, his expression suspiciously Ripper-like. "It was a plan. An actual real Scooby plan that even worked. Well, kind of," she amended, after another look at the wreckage around them. "I'll tell you all about it later. Right now, hospital. Just let me check on the others."

He nodded and waved her off, his eyes closing again; she worried her bottom lip for a second, then went back to the lovebirds. "I hate to break this up," she told Lindsey, who was still cradling Cordelia and rocking back and forth (and wow, did both Angel and Wesley look really grim). "But we should start moving people to the hospital. Don't worry about coming up with explanations, they know us there."

"Boy howdy," Cordelia agreed, without moving her head from Lindsey's shoulder. "Do they still keep all of our paperwork on file?"

"Why throw out what you know you're gonna need?" Buffy made a face and looked over at Xander. "Ready to go?"

He nodded, carefully supporting Anya even though he was the one limping. "All set."

"We have an agreement," Anya nodded emphatically, if groggily, her hair matted with blood on one side. Buffy couldn't tell if it was hers or not, but thought it probably was. Head injuries all around, huh? "I hold him up, he holds me up. It's what couples do."

"Good plan." Buffy smothered her grin. "You stick with that."

Riley appeared with his arms around Willow and Tara; Buffy made mental notes for later teasing, then stood back to let Lindsey stand up, which he did without letting go of Cordy. Wesley and Angel started to protest and even Buffy thought this looked like a Bad Idea -- Lindsey's face was still covered with blood, and he grunted as he hefted Cordelia's weight -- but with some serious effort, he managed to make it all the way up.

"My hero," Cordelia snickered against his shirt, wincing in the process.

"Shut up or I'll drop you," Lindsey shot back and began staggering towards the exit. Wesley mumbled something that sounded demonic and kind of dirty, and followed close behind. The others began limping along in their wake.

Buffy shook her head and looked up at Angel, who was watching the parade with a disgusted and deeply unhappy expression. She leaned her head on his shoulder for just a second. "Nothing like owing everything to someone you hate, is there?"

"No." The tight monosyllable didn't exactly encourage conversation.

But if she'd paid any attention to that, their relationship would have been about two hours long. "He did save the day, though. It was his plan that got us in here. And he talked the djinn-thingie out of killing us. Well, with some serious intimidation backup from the rest of us."

"Trust me, I know that."

Buffy stared steadily at him, until he gave in and met her sympathetic gaze. "And I think he might actually really love Cordelia," she pointed out gently.

Angel's jaw tightened again, but he finally let his chin sink to his chest on a long, resigned sigh. "Yeah. I got that, too. But Buffy... it's such a bad idea. I don't-- I just don't want her to get hurt again."

Buffy smiled ruefully. "She's a Scooby. She's gonna get hurt, that's just the way it works." Her smile widened into a grin. "At least this way, maybe she'll get some great sex out of the deal."

Angel choked and sputtered and Buffy tried not to laugh. Too much. "Come on, help me with Giles. Last time, he tripped on the way to the car and almost squashed me, which, as Slayer deaths go? Is not how I want to wind up listed in the Watcher Council's library."

As she got Angel and Giles pointed in more-or-less the same direction and moving, stepping over a few semi-conscious or still-faking-it minions in the process, Buffy really tried to concentrate on how cute Lindsey and Cordelia had looked together, and the nice gooey feeling of an all-too-rare happy ending.

But even as she guided Giles into the Angelmobile, and watched Lindsey settling Cordelia tenderly into the front seat of his Porsche, Aztorath's last words kept echoing through her head: "I leave you to the consequences of your folly."

When demons got off exit lines like that, it was just never of the good.

Chapter 19: Up From Under

"Now tell me how far I've been
And how deep was I in
Tell me how I conceived
The vanity to believe
That I would not be outnumbered
By the thumbs I have been under...."


Waking up wasn't fun, but at least Cordelia wasn't waking up to the sterile, antiseptic smell of a hospital bed. She'd been very vocal about that the previous night, resisting all attempts to make her lay still and be a good little patient. She had quite enough not-so-fond memories of Sunnydale General, thank you very much, and no desire at all to add more.

Still, waking up in Giles' bed was only slightly less wig-inspiring, she had to admit, even if it was the second morning in a row that she'd done it. At least she wasn't waking up next to Giles; she didn't have all of the warm and fuzzy father-figure-even-if-we'd-rather-die-than-admit-it feelings towards him that the rest of the Scoobies did, but still. Mildly of the ew.

Waking up in that bed nestled against Lindsey, on the other hand? Worlds of wonderful, especially with his hand lazily running up and down her back over her silk sleep shirt. She sighed and buried herself more deeply into his side.

He pressed a kiss to the side of her head, carefully avoiding the lump. "You awake?" he asked groggily.

She snuggled closer. "Not if I don't have to be." Her head still hurt with the hard throb of concussion, rather than the sharp pounding of a post-vision migraine, and how much did it suck that she knew all the possible gradations of headache?

"How's your head?" he asked, reading her mind. Or, probably, her black eye was just blacker and uglier than previously suspected. She couldn't get herself all that worked up over it either way.

"Nothing 12 aspirin won't fix." She honestly hadn't meant it as a request, but he immediately rolled away from her with a small groan of his own, taking his warm body and that wonderful hand with him.

"No! No moving!" She grabbed him and pulled him back to her side. "I don't care about the headache, I want my pillow."

He laughed with that sexy little rasp that was raspier than usual and propped himself over her with one elbow, running his hand over her stomach this time. "Maybe you don't need aspirin, little girl, but I sure as hell do."

"You do?" She forced her eyes open all the way, and realized that his shoulder and back were covered with bruises. Most of them had turned dark purple already, and she winced just looking at them. "Oh my god, you do! You didn't tell me you got hurt last night! Did anyone check you at the hospital? Do any of your ribs hurt like someone's sticking a knife into them?"

Lindsey flinched as she checked his ribs; she kissed the top of the huge bruise covering most of his shoulder blade in apology, once she was sure his ribs weren't broken. "No, they don't, and I didn't need the hospital. Not like some people who should have damn well been under observation last night."

She started to say something entirely justified as she looked up into his eyes, but gasped and jackknifed upwards instead, suddenly totally awake. And, ow, in desperate need of that aspirin. But not important with Lindsey-- "Oh god! Your eyes!"

He grimaced. "Damn, I was hoping it would be gone by now. This crap never happens to the guys in the action movies."

"They have better makeup artists," Cordelia said automatically, unable to tear her gaze away from him. His eyes were unrecognizable, the whites so bloodshot they were solid red, his pupils dilated almost entirely into two spots of black floating in a sea of scarlet. She stroked one finger carefully down the side of his face, careful not to touch too hard. "God, what happened? What did that demon do to you?"

He caught her hand and kissed her fingers. "Djinn. And... I don't know for sure. But it'll go away."

She wasn't fooled by the false confidence, and her heart broke at the idea of never seeing his beautiful blue eyes again. But she sniffed back the worry and tried to smile. "As long as you can still see okay -- you can still see okay, right?"

He smiled slowly. "The most beautiful woman in the world, right here in my bed? Oh yeah, I can see her perfectly."

"Giles's bed," Cordelia felt compelled to point out before sinking into Lindsey's kiss. She'd forgotten what he tasted like -- morning breath, sure, and the lingering coppery after-taste of blood from his split lip. But also darkness and spice and Lindsey, and somehow he tasted even better after weeks of deprivation.

"I never thought I'd get to do this again," she whispered.

"Me neither." He kissed her again, carefully but lingeringly, his hand spread across her stomach and his thumb brushing back and forth against the bottom of her rib cage. "God, I missed you, little girl."

Cordelia giggled against his mouth. "Better watch that 'little girl' stuff when you're trying to seduce me."

He chuckled, then stopped talking, and the world disappeared into touch and taste and heat, until one of them moved wrong and Cordelia's head responded with a sharp stab of pain.

Lindsey moved back at her low moan, stroking her hair carefully away from her forehead. "Damn it, I knew I should have made you stay at the hospital. Two hits to the head and a vision -- how the hell are your brains not completely scrambled?"

"Who says they're not?" Cordelia managed an arch smile. Lindsey didn't rise to the bait and she let it drop, smoothing the worry lines off of his forehead with her fingers. "I hate hospitals, especially in Sunnydale, and I'll be okay once I have some aspirin. And if the aspirin doesn't work, I bet Xander, Anya and Giles bring some really good pills home from the hospital that they'll share." She reached up just enough to gently kiss his eyelids, one, then the other. "It'll be fine, Lindsey. It's all going to be fine now."

"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah, it's going to be fine."

She caught his hesitation and bit her lip, letting her fingers trail over his cheek into his hair. "Unless it's not. Lindsey--"

"Speaking of the walking wounded, I bet they're gonna be back any second. We should go find some clothes, maybe some coffee." He tried to move away, avoiding her eyes, and her vague worry coalesced into serious fear.

"Lindsey." She caught both his shoulders to keep him close, but she couldn't make him meet her eyes. "Lindsey, what happened last night? What you did, when you came to help.... Wolfram & Hart is going to be really upset. On a possibly demonic level."

He breathed a humorless laugh, his eyes closed as he rested his forehead against hers. "Yeah, I figure I'm about as fired as it gets."

"Wish I could say I'm sorry, but--" She shrugged. "I'm really just grateful. And scared for you."

"Don't be. Whatever Wolfram & Hart wants to do to me, I can handle it." Before she could call him on that spectacular load of bull, he rolled away and sat up on the edge of the bed. He moved like everything hurt, which it probably did. "You need some aspirin. Where do I look?"

Cordelia bit her lip, but let it go for now. Just for now. "Check Giles' nightstand, I bet there's an economy-sized bottle in there."

Lindsey looked at her. "Do I want to know how you know that?"

She wrinkled her nose at him. "And again, ew. Giles keeps aspirin stashed everywhere. If he doesn't need it because he has a concussion, he needs it because of whatever the Scooby Gang's been doing that's scary or annoying." She managed to get a little derision into the words 'Scooby gang,' but not as much as she would have in her prime. She was definitely losing her touch.

Lindsey found the aspirin and they both dry-swallowed their non-recommended doses. "The couple that medicates together...." Cordelia stopped halfway. "You know, I'm not even going to finish that thought."

"Thank you." Lindsey stroked her hair out of her face, then groaned again as he stood up and reached for his pants. Cordelia winced in sympathy, reaffirming her determination to stay in bed as long as humanly possible.

"What did Wesley say about what happened to your eyes?" she asked casually. Well, tried to ask casually -- she suspected the stressed-out-ness came through.

Lindsey shrugged tightly. "I didn't ask. It's probably just because of all the bleeding I was doing. Sounds like other people are here -- I'm going to see if they brought coffee."

He wasn't moving so well or so fast that she couldn't have pinned him down to a better answer if she'd felt like it. But coffee sounded good, and she usually needed all of her wits about her to make Lindsey do anything he didn't want to, and judging from the music and the sudden loud crash from downstairs, the Scooby Gang had definitely descended. She should go downstairs, check on Angel and Wesley, and see if the hospital crowd had been released yet.

"Wait a second, Lindsey," she stopped him halfway to the door. "Give me a hand."

He looked at her suspiciously (and she winced again at his poor eyes), but came back to lever her into a sitting position. She pulled the sheet back and tugged her comfortable (and unfortunately way not attractive) sleep shirt down as far as she could, but was aware of Lindsey's eyes lingering on her legs. Maybe if they hadn't been so tired and beaten up last night, she might have thought about relaxing the old rules about sex on the Hellmouth... But there had been snuggling, and whispering, and apologies and promises, so she could wait.

A little while longer, anyway.

"I don't suppose I could talk you into bringing me breakfast in bed?" she tried, with a winsome look up through her lashes.

Fat chance. Lindsey snorted and pulled her to her feet, ignoring her yelp as her sore muscles protested and throwing her pants at her. "You wish. Come on, there's a shower calling my name."

The look probably would have worked better if she didn't have a black eye. But... Hmmm. Showers had possibilities, too.... Cordelia hummed under her breath as she slowly limped after her boyfriend to the stairs.



These people were insane.

Lindsey leaned back against a wall and sipped at his coffee as the floor show raged in front of him. The morning after almost getting wiped out preventing the incursion of the binding demon from hell (literally), and all these people could do was argue about who stole the last jelly donut, and who should have to go out to buy more. And this crew of sugar-hyped teenagers was the legendary Scooby Gang that had defended the Hellmouth for four years.

Hell really needed to hire some better minions.

Cordelia sat on the couch next to her partners, alternately fussing over Wussley's bruises, and throwing random comments into the raging debate whenever she thought she could make things worse. Giles kept giving her pained looks, which she would meet with a sweetly malicious grin. Angel and Wesley both looked like they were enjoying themselves; Lindsey was, too, but no way he would ever get caught agreeing with those two.

Lindsey finished his coffee and caught Tara's eyes as she hovered on one side of the fight, trying to support her girlfriend without participating in any way, or actually being visible at all. Her eyes widened as he tilted his head towards the door in a silent request; she bit her lip in confusion, then seemed to decide outside was a better place to be, anyway.

They both worked their way though the small, crowded room. Lindsey dropped a kiss on Cordelia's hair as he passed the couch, smirking when her two buddies glared. She started to get up, but he waved her back down. "Just gotta talk to a witch for a second," he told her quietly. "I'll be back."

"Talk to a witch about what?" she demanded, but he pretended he was already too far away to hear her. Luckily, Anya chose that moment to make a very strident point, and he got away with it. Cordelia settled back on the couch in a huff as he opened the front door for Tara and followed her through.

Tara's shoulders sagged in relief as the door to the townhouse closed behind them, leaving them in sudden silence. "They always get along this well?" Lindsey asked, jerking his head back towards the living room.

"N-no," Tara said with an unexpectedly mischievous smile. "S-sometimes they fight."

Caught off guard, Lindsey chuckled in spite of himself. He'd have to watch it; there was more to this one than he'd thought.

"D-did you get a d-donut?" she asked, like a good little concerned hostess.

"I snagged two while Buffy was threatening Xander with the empty box."

That won him another glimpse of her quick smile. "Good." The moment of camaraderie passed quickly, leaving the witch biting her lip shyly and looked up at him from behind her hair again.

"I need a favor," he finally said, his courtroom eloquence completely bailing out on him. "I need a... a spell, I guess."

"Oh." Her eyes went very wide. "I can g-get Willow, she can--"

"No." He shook his head. "No, not Willow. I'm sure she's great but... I don't trust anyone in my head, but if I have to, I'd rather it was you."

"Oh," she said again, then tilted her head. "B-because you think I'll do it better, or because you think I'm less, um, intimidating?"

"Both," Lindsey admitted.

Tara looked worried instead of offended. "Willow's much stronger than I am. She could, um, probably do it better."

"You don't even know what I need," Lindsey pointed out.

Tara shrugged one shoulder slowly. "Not exactly, b-but I bet it has something to do with the b-binding spell. The one that isn't there anymore."

Lindsey's head snapped back sharply. "It's not? How the hell do you know that?"

She flinched back a little, but glanced towards the town house and held her ground. "B-because we felt it break, last night. It went... somewhere. Maybe to Aztorath, there was an awful lot of power flowing everywhere. But it's not in you anymore. I don't think."

"I need to know for sure," Lindsey told her. He didn't realize he'd move towards her until she took a step back; he stopped and forced himself to unclench his fists.

"I need to know if they still have some kind of hold on me," he said more carefully. "I need to know... if I still have a soul."

All fear suddenly left her face, and her eyes went soft with compassion. "Y-you do have a soul," she said quickly, reaching out to lay her hand on his arm. He was too surprised to move away. "I c-can see that, that's easy. When you look at Cordelia, it shines out around you. No one without a soul could look like that. Well, no one human," she corrected herself.

Lindsey looked at her suspiciously. "Shining around me? You're talking auras?"

She smiled and gave a small, breathy laugh. "Well, that too." She patted his arm. "You have your soul, Lindsey. Whatever blood contract you signed, I think it's broken. And they didn't get your soul."

"I need to know for sure," he said again, almost pleading.

Tara took a quick look at the townhouse, obviously thinking hard, then seemed to make a decision. She patted his arm again. "Wait here. I need some things, but I'll be right back."

She slipped into the townhouse so quickly and quietly, Lindsey would bet the gang inside didn't even notice. The fight had apparently ended, but the noise level hadn't dropped; he thought he caught a snatch of what might have been play-by-play of the previous night's fight from Xander before Tara came back out, closing the door behind her. She was carrying a small copper bowl, a handful of some kind of herb, and a candle.

"Sit down here," she invited Lindsey, settling herself on the edge of the stone fountain in the center of the courtyard and arranging the bowl and the candle in front of her. Lindsey didn't move, eying the spell components warily. Tara smiled. "It's j-just sage, for cleansing and for clarity. It won't hurt you, I p-promise."

"Yeah." Lindsey wasn't in a trusting kind of mood, but it wasn't like he had much choice, was it? "Fine, whatever."

He sat down opposite her, crossing his legs the way she had. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, her lips moving in a silent incantation. A flame appeared slowly on the candle, creeping up the wick until it burned brightly. She smiled happily, whispered something that sounded like "Thank you," and used the candle to light the sage in the bowl.

Scented smoke started rising between them, and Tara reached across it to offer both of her hands to Lindsey. She smiled sweetly in encouragement when he hesitated; he jerked his head once, settled his shoulders uncomfortably, and forced himself to take her hands.

She breathed deeply and calmly, her face serene, her eyes moving behind the closed lids as if she could see right through them and into him. Which she probably could. He hated this. He had to force himself to sit still, to not jump away, to wait.

Finally, she opened her eyes again, and let his hands go. "Well?" he asked, tension knotting his muscles when she hesitated before she answered. The nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach got nastier. "Is it that bad?"

"N-no," she said quickly. "Not bad. But... odd. Your soul is just fine, it's there and it's safe." And he almost went limp from relief, which made no sense. He'd been happy enough to sign it away, hadn't he?

She continued, "The major binding spell -- your blood contract -- it's gone, too. You broke it last night, didn't you?"

Lindsey laughed grimly. "Oh, yeah. Shattered it all to hell."

Tara nodded. "I saw it -- the binding started to kind of flare around you. But there was a binding demon there and I think maybe all the power looked the same to him. So Aztorath... he kind of ate it, I guess. It was probably a pretty good meal for him." She wrinkled her nose cutely, then bit her lip, looked at him from behind her hair. "But--"

"But?" Lindsey prompted her, worry creeping back in.

Tara snarted tugging on a lock of her hair, winding it around her finger nervously. "But there's something else. Something deeper. I don't think it was part of the blood contract, but it's kind of, um, like it. Sort of. Like someone... blocked part of your mind. Part of your memories."

"What the hell are you talking about?" He jolted to his feet. "Someone's been messing with my head? Stealing my memories?"

She held her hands out, trying to soothe him. "They didn't t-take them -- it's hard to take memories entirely. But you can... lock them away. Like p-putting them in a safe, only someone else has the combination."

He paced a few angry steps, then spun back around. "Was it Wolfram & Hart? Did they screw around with me?" She flinched a little at the sharpness in his voice and he should have apologized, but he was too furious. Like it wasn't enough that they'd locked him away from his own case!

If they'd taken his memories, messed with his head, then he was going to bring them down.

"I don't know who did it," Tara said. "But if we b-broke the block, p-probably you'd be able to guess."

He turned back to her, forcing the rage back so he wouldn't scare her off. "Can you do that?"

Tara nodded hesitantly. Her stutter got worse when she was upset, he figured, and tried again to dial himself back. "I c-can try," she said. "If you w-want me, too."

"Oh, yeah," he said through his teeth. "Oh, hell yeah."

She nodded and took a deep breath, then gestured him back to the edge of the fountain. They resumed their positions -- cross-legged, hands joined over the smudge pot.

"Close your eyes," Tara murmured. "Breathe in the smoke, and let yourself drift. No one can hurt you here. There's only peace and safety."

He almost snorted, stopped himself barely in time. Tara's lips curved in a tiny smile, like she'd heard it anyway. "Think of Cordelia, if she makes you happy. Think of peace."

Okay, he could probably do that. The hard part had always been not thinking about her, since the first time they'd met. Don't think about the bastards at W&H, think about Cordelia. Think about the gorgeous kid with the attitude problem from hell and the smart mouth that made him want to kiss her or kill her. Cordelia, grinning as she got him with a quick zinger. Fuming when she didn't have a comeback for one of his. Walking gracefully beside him on the beach, warm in his arms on his couch, smiling her beautiful smile when he made her happy....

Dimly, he was aware of the smell of the smoke and Tara still holding his hands, but it all seemed really far away. There was something strange in his head, like fingers brushing along his hair, but deeper. He thought he should have been bothered, but the fingers were gentle, and Cordelia was only a few feet away, and when he went back into the townhouse she'd smile at him again....

Something snapped, and the memories were suddenly there. The Raising, the ritual, his own voice shouting the words of the scroll aloud, the blonde woman with the matted hair cowering naked in the cage, more like a frightened animal than a human, or one of the most powerful vampires who'd ever lived...

"Darla." His eyes snapped open. "Son of a bitch. Holland sat right there and he lied to me, and he put a fucking spell on me. Son of a bitch."

Tara stared at him, wide-eyed, still holding his hands. He let them drop, pushing himself back to his feet and away from the witch. "Lindsey? Are you all right?"

"No. Goddamn it." He even remembered being in Holland's office months ago, remembered the conversation about conflicts of interest. My relationship with Cordelia Chase has nothing to do with this firm. He'd said it and he'd meant it, and Holland had betrayed him, ignored his word and tossed a pen and taken away Lindsey's chance to prove himself. Taken away his choice.

"God damn it."


His head snapped up and around to the door of the townhouse. Cordelia stood in the doorway, looking at them with a combination of worry and annoyance. "What are you two doing out here? Not that I'm jealous because, hello, gay witch and also, you're with me. But you look like you'd like to kill someone, and I'm hoping it's not Tara, because that would be awkward."

"It's nothing," Lindsey managed to tell her, his jaw almost too tight to move. "Tara was... checking the damage from last night."

"On a psychic l-level," Tara added hastily, backing him up. He was starting to like Tara, or would anyway, once the red haze faded from in front of his eyes. He clenched his fists and opened them, once, then again.

Cordelia caught the motion and her eyes narrowed. "Uh-huh. You're both totally lying."

"N-no, we're not," Tara tried, but couldn't hold Cordelia's eyes. "Not t-totally."

"Let it go, Cordelia." He'd have to tell her eventually, and Jesus, was there going to be a lot of trouble. How could he tell her about Darla, about what Wolfram & Hart had planned for Angel. How could he not tell her? How could she not hate him?

How the hell had he ever gotten in this deep, and how the hell was he going to get out?

Chapter 20: In the Darkness

"You know, I have a concussion," Cordelia complained as Lindsey helped her out of the low-slung sports car.

"Yeah, I remember." Lindsey closed the car door behind her, and went back to get something out of the trunk. Cordelia stayed next to the Porsche, glancing around the street to get her bearings. They were out on the edges of downtown, in one of the slightly nicer areas. The sky was just shading into twilight, but the street lights weren't on yet, so the neighborhood was still as safe as it ever got.

She kept talking, mostly for the sake of saying something. Lindsey had been awfully quiet for the last part of the drive home from Sunnydale, and she was seriously starting to get scared. "Also, we've been driving for three hours, and while I'm grateful we were doing that in the Porsche instead of the back seat of the Angelmobile or your icky old truck--"

"Classic. It's a classic truck." Lindsey pulled a -- a guitar case? Seriously? --- out of the trunk, and slammed it closed.

"Whatever, it's practically as old as Angel. The point is, I would really rather be going home to do things like shower and sleep instead of going bar hopping."

"We're not going bar hopping, and I promise we won't be here for long. Come on."

Cordelia sighed her 'humoring the crazy person' sigh, but took his offered hand and walked next to him. It felt good. Natural. "And what's with the guitar? I didn't even know you played guitar." Which was maybe a huge thing not to know.

Lindsey shrugged uncomfortably. "Yeah. I play here sometimes. You'll like it, once you get used to it."

"The place or your playing?" Cordelia grinned teasingly at him as they went past the guy sitting next to the door, who waved Lindsey through with a grin. Lindsey actually smiled back, the first time she'd seen him do that since they'd woken up this morning, and leaned over to kiss her, releasing her hand so her could cup her face gently. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, so happy to be close to him again that she almost couldn't contain it.

They were both breathing a little faster when the kiss ended. "You sure you don't want to go home?" she asked, her voice husky with invitation.

Lindsey kissed her again, then reluctantly pulled away, starting down the stairs and tugging her behind him. "We'll go home. I just have to do this one thing."

Cordelia sighed again, but followed him. "Fine. What's so special about this place any-- Oh."

She stopped cold when they reached the bottom of the narrow staircase, and she got her first sight of the bar. Which was way more like a club.

It was Art Deco done by Lewis Carroll. The decorating was nice -- all sleek silver lines with pops of color, like the pink lights glowing in the wall behind the bar. The bar was a long, sinuous stretch along one wall, a stage that was large but not overpowering on the other wall, surrounded by shimmering velvet curtains. It was actually really kind of fabulous.

Except for the blue-green slime demon on stage singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". And the demons politely watching from the little round tables all over the club. Humans, too, but... demons. Sitting. In a karaoke bar. Where Lindsey had just brought her.

She didn't realize she was starting to retreat up the stairs until Lindsey grabbed her hand and pulled her back around.

"Relax," he said quietly, under the sound of the demon trying to hit the high notes and not really succeeding. "Caritas is neutral territory. Strictly violence-free. No one can hurt anyone else here. So don't try to start any fights."

Cordelia stared wide-eyed at a large orange... something, with about a billion eyes, sitting at a table with a short black guy in hot pink hot pants. "Right. 'Cause usually, I'm all about the fight starting. What the heck is this place, and why are we here?"

"This is Caritas, sweetie. And you are here because my compadre here has decided to treat us to his golden tones tonight, am I right?"

Cordelia looked at the tall green demon who had just come swanning up to them; she blinked hard, then looked again. Nope, he was still tall and green, with red eyes and short little red horns, and wearing a silver lame leisure suit with a purple ascot. And holding a fruity drink with umbrellas in one hand.

The whole look was totally over the top, but really kind of worked for him, she had to admit.

"Hey, Lorne." Lindsey dropped Cordelia's hand so he could shake the demon's. "Yeah, I was planning to sing."

"You almost don't need to, honey," the demon -- Lorne -- told him, looking him up and down in a way that would have been kind of creepy if it hadn't seemed so weirdly professional. "If I ever saw anyone in the middle of a crisis of destiny, it's you. And this--" he turned to Cordelia, suddenly smiling broadly. "This must be the lovely lady who's been making your life so interesting. It's such a honor to have a Seer come visit my little slice of Heaven."

He grabbed Cordelia's hand, but kissed it instead of shaking it. She was too startled to protest, even when he hung onto it. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you two crazy kids back together. It's that whole wonderful Romeo and Juliet thing, but let's see what we can do about a happy ending, shall we?"

"That's the plan," Lindsey said, rescuing Cordelia's hand and holding it in his own. "Can you put me on the list?"

"Buckaroo, I'm putting you at the top of the list," Lorne told him with a wide gesture of the fruity drink in the generally direction of the stage. "I don't think there's any time to waste. And also," he added conspiratorially, "Mog the Mud Demon is coming up soon and I love the guy, don't get me wrong, but if I can put that off for a little while, it's not going to break my heart. Or anyone else's. Just head right backstage to tune up, and I'll look after your lady for a few minutes."

"Oh, wait, I don't--" Cordelia clutched Lindsey's hand as he tried to drop hers. He smiled crookedly and kissed her again.

"Relax. I wouldn't leave you if it wasn't safe. Lorne's a good guy."

"For a demon?" she hissed back.

"Trust me, I work with humans way more demonic than our host here."

"Ain't that the truth," Lorne interjected, snagging Cordelia's hand again and putting it through his elbow in a courtly gesture. "You run along and get those golden vocal cords warmed up. We'll be just fine." He started off towards the bar, trailing Cordelia unwillingly behind him. Lindsey just smiled at her panicked glance backwards and disappeared behind the heavy drape of the stage curtains.

"Now, don't you worry about offending me, I know humans can be a bit, oh, freaked out by my little world here," Lorne said as he settled them at a small round table near the stage, pulling out a chair for Cordelia with a flourish. "And you, you do the dirty work of fighting the nasty ones, which is bound to make you a tiny bit... well, let's call it twitchy, in here. Completely understandable." And there he went with the patting her hand again, which was just weird.

"It shouldn't take our favorite legal eagle much time to warm up. Why don't we get you a drink while I introduce my next fabulous performer."

"No, wait--" But he was already up and striding on stage, applauding loudly for the slime demon guy.

"And lets hear it for Osktikitoth," he said into the mic, sounding like the MC for a cheesy Vegas lounge act. "Next up, we've got the lovely ladies of the Fourth Street Choppers, and then there's a special treat in store, so everyone be sure to hang around! Ladies!"

Three human women in biker gear stomped on stage, still carrying their beers, and started singing along to a Dixie Chicks song that Cordelia was embarrassed that she recognized. Lorne made his way back to Cordelia's table, snagging two drinks from a passing tray. He set one in front of Cordelia, and took a long sip from the other.

"Ah, nectar. Go on," he urged her, when she just looked at the highball glass he'd given her.

Cordelia wrinkled her nose. Whatever it was, it was dark pink and probably demonic. Or just really, really strong. "Thank you, but I'll pass."

Lorne gave her a very knowing look, leaning one elbow on the table. "You don't have a lot of trust in Lindsey, do you? If you think he'd leave you with someone who would hurt you."

"I trust him," she said firmly. "Now. But he's... kind of got a history of not making the greatest choices in people he... hangs out with."

"And works with," Lorne nodded, his mouth twisting in a sour expression. "Don't I know it, sweetie. That firm of his is nothing but bad news. I've tried to tell him, but he's got to make his own choices. Everybody does."

He said the last part with a pointed glance at her, and the pointyness didn't have anything to do with his horns. Cordelia narrowed her eyes at him in return. "You sure like to talk a lot about everyone else's lives. Don't you have one of your own?"

Most people would have been offended and gone stomping away, which was kind of the idea. But Lorne was true to his word; he just smiled and swept an arm around as if to show off his club. "This is my life, pumpkin. People come to me about their destinies, and I advise them on what path to choose. It's my gift. You know about gifts."

Cordelia snorted. "Yeah, they come with nasty headaches and visions of blood and slime. Wait a minute," she straightened in her chair. "How do you even know that? About me being a Seer? Did Lindsey--"

Lorne shook his head, waving his free hand before going back to patting hers. "No, no, Lindsey's tight-lipped even for a lawyer. Some things I don't need to be told; they just shine out around you. At least, to someone with the right kind of eyes."

"Red ones?" Cordelia shot back, pulling her hand out of reach.

Lorne laughed, a surprisingly rich and comforting sound. "I keep thinking maybe I should get colored contacts, choose a nice purple, maybe. But they might clash with my horns."

"Not if it was the right shade--" Cordelia started without thinking, then stopped and shook her head. "Oh, I'm so not going there."

Lorne laughed again, but then his face grew serious. "You know, I don't normally stick my two cents worth in without asking, but Lindsey's a friend of mine, and he's all tied up in you. So I'm going to be telling you a few things, and I hope you'll keep your gorgeous ears open and listen."

Cordelia sighed, and leaned her chin on her hand, giving into the weirdness. "Oh, why not. My boss is a vampire, why shouldn't my boyfriend's therapist be a demon?"

"Life is strange and wonderful sometimes," Lorne agreed with a broad and toothy smile. "I'd usually recommend just going with it for a while, but unfortunately, I don't think you're going to have time for that. Give me just a sec, princess, time to intro your boyfriend."

"What do mean, we won't have--" But Lorne was already bouncing back on stage. "--And don't call me princess," Cordelia finished, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms in disgust.

The biker chicks left the stage to hand-kissing and some whispering in their ears from Lorne. It looked like they enjoyed it, which was just a wrong and bad image to have to carry around. Lorne grabbed the microphone, still applauding the bikers. "Weren't they just fabulous? I gotta tell you, I feel sorry for Earl with these ladies after his hide. Now, next up, we've got an exceptional performer who hasn't been with us for a while, so let's give a big, big welcome to our own Lindsey McDonald!"

And they did. Wow. Some people actually stood up and applauded when Lindsey walked on stage carrying his guitar. A short red demon carried a stool out, then set up a pair of floor mics; they went through a series of sound checks or something that looked really professional. Clearly, Lindsey had done this before. A lot.

"How did I not know this about him?" Cordelia asked herself.

"Just a wild guess, but probably because he didn't tell you." Lorne slid back into his chair opposite her. "There's trust, and then there's trust, and you two needed to be working on the trust. You still do, but I don't want to miss any of this, so we'll have that conversation in just a little bit."

"Or not," Cordelia snarked quietly. No way she was going to have any conversations about relationship and trust with a demon, no matter how charming he was or how snazzy he dressed.

Lindsey was settled on the stool now; the stage lights washed over his face, making his cheekbones look even higher, and glinted off his heavy silver bracelet. He looked cool and composed and... really, really hot. And that was before he started to play, his fingers strumming lightly over the strings. Oh my god, and then he was singing.

"I guess I oughta tell you what's been going on
Well I've been chasing dreams for everyone but me.
When your heart is filled with misery
It's hard to find the energy
To remember just how much she means to me."
"I've never heard this song," Cordelia said softly, almost to herself. Her chest was tight, and she couldn't take her eyes away from the man on stage. He was looking down at his guitar, a piece of hair falling across his forehead, and he was totally absorbed in the incredible music he was creating.

"It's an original," Lorne said, radiating satisfaction. "Nice job, caballero, glad to see you're back in the saddle."

"Well I keep everything inside so long till it burns
Everybody stokes the fire and the walls get a little higher.
I light the candle at both ends
And I hit the gas, the wheels start to spin
But she's always there to catch me when I fall."
Lindsey looked up from his guitar for the first time, his fingers pausing on the strings for a moment that seemed endless as he met Cordelia's eyes. Her breath caught in her throat, and she looked back helplessly, knowing everything she was feeling -- the shock, the awe, the love -- was written all over her face, and not caring. For once, she could let him see everything.

He smiled, the slow, sexy smile that made her weak at the knees, and let the beat pick up, his eyes still locked with hers like there was no one else in the room.

"'Cause I've been hell on wheels for days now
There ain't a shade of red I can't paint
When the lights go down, she always helps me see.
In the darkness a day will come
Another light for you to lean upon
But until then maybe your heart
Can rest in mine."
Oh, and that was it. The tears spilled over and she was crying in a public place, in front of everyone and Lindsey, and she didn't care. Lorne whipped out his pocket square and handed it to her without even looking, patting her other hand again. This time, she let him.

God, Lindsey had been hiding this all the time. All of this talent, his sexy, growling voice, the quickness of his fingers on the guitar, the absolutely confidence and joy she didn't need to be some kind of demon to see radiating out from him. He hadn't trusted with this before, but he did now. He wasn't holding anything back, and she blinked back her tears so that she wouldn't miss a second.


Damn, it had been a long time. The spotlight was hot on Lindsey's face, his guitar was warm underneath his hands, and he could feel the crowd getting into the music with him, letting him carry them along. And this time Cordelia was there, out in the crowd, watching him with the most amazing expression he'd ever seen, like he was the only man in the room. Maybe in the world.

It was like being drunk, but better. This wasn't going to go away in the morning.

He hoped.

"I just can't get the hang of hanging on
Every time I try to grab it, the will is gone.
When she looks into my eyes
She sees a man she used to recognize
And not the stranger trying to go it all alone."
If he'd been thinking, maybe he wouldn't have chosen this song, written after he'd watched her sleeping in his arms on his couch, what seemed like a long, long time ago. But he'd started playing without planning what was going to come out, and what the hell. It was time to start making choices anyway, and he'd already made this one.
"Maybe someday I'll see exactly what she sees in me.
Maybe someday I'll be exactly who she wants me to be.
Maybe someday I'll have the strength to run into the man that I once was
But right now I think I'll walk into a crawl."
Cordelia was crying as he went into the last chorus, tears running down her cheeks and leaving diamond trails. But she was smiling too, beautiful and radiant and so damn young and hopeful. He couldn't screw this up.

Somehow, he had to not screw this up. If he could just figure out a way....

"In the darkness a day will come
Another light for you to lean upon
But until then maybe your heart
Can rest in mine."
He held Cordelia's eyes as he strummed the last chord, and let the note trail away. There was a long second of silence, a long moment of wordless connection between them.

Then Caritas erupted in applause that broke the moment. Cordelia swiped at her cheeks with what looked like one of Lorne's handkerchiefs and joined enthusiastically in the applause, her smile beaming like the stage lights in his eyes. Lorne was applauding too, and gestured towards the mic in an indication that an encore would be fine with him. Lindsey was tempted, but shook his head.

"Thanks," he said into the mic. "I'll be back another time." There was a chorus of disappointment from the audience, but he just waved, picking up his guitar and making his way off-stage to Lorne and Cordelia's table.

He had to move his guitar hastily out of the way when Cordelia lunged against him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. He returned the embrace with one arm around her waist, closing his eyes and nuzzling into her neck, breathing in the warm scent of her. If this was the only second in his life everything in the world would be right, then he was damn well going to enjoy it.

Cordelia pulled back a little, and he reluctantly opened his eyes to look at her. She was still a little teary. "Okay, I can't believe you never told me about this. You are really, really amazing. Seriously."

He grinned a little, feeling weirdly shy. "Yeah?"

"Oh yeah," she said with a firm nod and kissed him, before whispering in his ear. "And that was a really beautiful song. Thank you."

"You're welcome," he whispered back, rubbing his jaw along her soft hair.

A throat cleared behind them. "I hate to break into a lovely moment...." Lorne said, letting his voice trail off meaningfully, and Lindsey suddenly remembered where they were. Cordelia remembered too, and stepped away, but Lindsey kept his arm around her waist so she couldn't go far.

Lorne was smiling at them like a proud papa, beaming with delight. "You know, I can't tell you the last time I got such fantastic vibes off of a couple. It's like a big, double-scoop of destiny sundae, with whipped cream on top. Ah, I love my job." He sobered a little. "Well, most of the time."

Lindsey nodded, following Lorne's gesture to sit next to Cordelia at the small table. The waitress delivered a long-neck, and he took a drink before asking, "So. What'd you see?"

Lorne looked at him very seriously. "Nothing you don't already know, I'm betting."

"I'm still not getting this whole 'seeing' thing," Cordelia interrupted.

"Lorne can read auras when people are singing," Lindsey told her, not looking away from Lorne. "He can also read your future."

"I can read your possible future, what it looks like at the moment," Lorne corrected. "Everything is about choices, kids."

"You keep saying that," Cordelia grumbled. "Can we unvague things here? Nobody likes a unspecific prophecy."

"Oh, the specific ones are much worse, sweetie. Trust me on this." Lorne sipped at his drink, then looked back at Lindsey. "Okay, cabellero, you already know nothing's going to be easy. I'm sorry to say you're going to come out on the losing end one way or the other."

Lindsey's jaw tightened. "Yeah. I got that."

"The question you need to ask is, what can you live with losing? That's your choice here, and it's not a fun one. I wish I could say it was." Lorne's face twisted into a grimace before he sighed. "But if you choose right -- and I think you already have -- and if you make it all the way through, I think you'll like what you've got left."

"Lot of 'ifs' there," Lindsey observed, playing with his beer bottle with the hand that Cordelia wasn't holding.

Lorne shrugged. "You want guarantees, go buy a refrigerator. All Fate offers is a chance. You already know what path you should take; now you just have to keep walking it. I wish I could tell you what's at the other end."

"Yeah." Lindsey finished his beer.

Cordelia had been looking back and forth between them, her expression increasingly dark. "Okay, can we get subtitles for those of us who don't speak cryptic? Something bad is going to happen, isn't it? Lindsey?"

He thought about lying, but knew she wouldn't believe him, and Lorne would probably rat on him if he tried. "I don't know, babe," he settled for saying. "But you know walking away from Wolfram & Hart isn't going to be easy."

"Don't call me babe," she snapped automatically. Then she stopped, as if she'd just heard him, and said more carefully, "I didn't know you'd decided to do that. To walk away."

Lindsey studied the empty bottle, the way the overhead lights reflected off the glass. "The blood contract's broken, and damned if I'm signing another one, not after all this crap." He stopped, then admitted the last part quietly. "And you can't be with someone evil."

"You're not evil," she told him equally quietly, but with absolute conviction.

He shrugged. "I work for evil people, defending evil beings. Pretty sure that's going to count against me. Pretty sure it already does."

"Don't be too sure of that," Lorne contributed from the other side of the table, where Lindsey had almost forgotten him. But he just smiled when Lindsey looked at him. "As for you, beautiful," he continued to Cordelia, "all I can really tell you is to have a little faith. Stick with what you believe in, and don't give up on Lindsey here."

"As if I would," Cordelia snarked back, her hand tightening around Lindsey's. He lifted it and kissed her knuckles softly, and her face relaxed into a soft, glowing smile.

Lorne sighed happily. "And on that note, I think we all need another round of drinks." He started to gesture toward the waitress, then stopped and looked archly at them. "Unless you two have other plans?"

Lindsey almost laughed, not taking his eyes from Cordelia's. "Yeah. Yeah, we have other plans."

"Good," Lorne said smugly. "Go on, you crazy kids. Go make some destiny."


Lindsey's condo was dark and quiet; he still held his breath before opening the door, just in case Wolfram & Hart had already decided on a response. But nothing exploded, and no messengers leaped out of the darkness with claws or weapons. He blew his breath out and turned on the lights, letting Cordelia come in after him.

She looked at him pointedly as she came past. "You know, we could have gone to my place if you're that worried. Angel and Wesley should be back by now."

He laughed, leaning his guitar against the wall as he closed the door. "Oh yeah, because what I really want to do tonight is hang out with Angst Boy and Wussley."

"Hey!" She smacked his shoulder halfheartedly. "They'd help protect you."

"Yeah? For how long?" She started to answer, but he cut her off. "They can't protect me forever, Cordelia. Sooner or later, I'm gonna have to deal with Wolfram & Hart. Nothing you or anyone else can do about that."

"We'll see," she said with a determined set to her chin. "But you're not going to do anything until we've talked to Angel and Wesley and have a plan. Maybe even Buffy -- they owe us now, and Wolfram & Hart just got a big lesson in not messing with the Slayer."

"We'll see," Lindsey echoed her grimly, and caught her around the waist to pull her against him. The sudden move short-circuited whatever she'd been about to say. "I don't really want to think about any of that crap right now."

She bit her lip and looked up at him sadly, sliding her hands up his chest and around his neck to play with the hair at his nape. "We have to eventually. "

"Yeah. But not now." He kissed her, long and slow and deep, reminding himself of the taste of her. By the time he finished, she was clinging to him to stay standing. He leaned against the wall behind him, a little unsteady himself.

"We came so close to losing this," Cordelia whispered against his throat.

"I know." He kissed her again, a little desperately, running his hands up and down her back as if he could get her closer, which he really couldn't. "I will never let you walk away from me again."

"You better not give me a reason, buster." Her short laugh was almost a sob. "Lindsey--"

"No. Not tonight. Just leave it until tomorrow, sweetheart." He trailed his lips along her neck to distract her, and shivered when one of her hands stroked through his hair.

"You never called me that before. Sweetheart."

"Never felt right before. Never felt...." He pulled away, just enough to see her face. He had to be looking at her, had to do this right. "I love you, Cordelia. I know I've screwed up, a lot, I'm getting that now, but--"

She laughed again, and laid her palm against his cheek, gently stroking. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. "Oh god, Lindsey. I love you, too. Even when I totally hated you, I was totally in love with you." She kissed him quickly, sweetly. "And I never said it like that before, not even Xander. Just so you know."

"Okay." He nodded against her hand, turned his head enough to kiss her palm. "Okay."

"You know what else?" she asked as she moved deliberately closer to him, until every one of her curves was pressed against him, until they fit together like puzzle pieces, snapping into place. He could see the nerves when she looked up at him, but he could also see that she meant what she was doing. "I trust you, too."

"Yeah?" His hands slipped down her back to her hips, pulling her just a little closer. Her breath caught as she closed her eyes.

"Yeah," she sighed.

"And what about tomorrow?" he asked, even thought every inch of his body screamed not to, but knowing he'd never be able to live with himself if he didn't make sure. If she woke up in the morning and hated him.

Cordelia's lips curved in a smug, almost feline smile. "The hell with tomorrow. Be with me tonight." Then she kissed him, lush and deep, making her intentions completely clear.

"Deal." His ribs still hurt, but Lindsey was beyond caring; he lifted Cordelia until her legs wrapped around his waist, and her arms twined around his neck, fitting herself snugly against his body as he carried her into his bedroom.

Chapter 21: Hotel California

"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....

Chapter 22: If You Want Me To

"It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that's not my own
But you never said it would be easy
You only said I'd never go alone..."


Cordelia found herself puttering around Angel Investigations with no clear idea of what she was doing. There was always paperwork (if they had a case, which wasn't that often), or dusting (not that she enjoyed it, because seriously, there wasn't something more important she could be doing?), or tearing through every entertainment newspaper and newsgroup in search of the perfect auditions.

But she was just sort of drifting through the office this morning, checking the whiteboard to see if they needed coffee, rearranging a few files on her desk, checking for messages (none), and finally wandering into Angel's office. She settled down in his chair, idly letting it swing back and forth.

"You always did need a throne, princess," Doyle commented from the doorway.

Cordelia grinned at him. "It does suit me, doesn't it? Guess I'm just looking for the right place in life."

"You are, at that." Doyle came further into the office, hitching one hip onto Angel's desk. He was wearing the deep blue shirt that always made his eyes so gorgeous, and that godawful brown leather jacket she hated, and he was looking at her with so much affection that that it made her heart hurt.

She smiled at him again, and leaned her elbows on the desk. "Have you ever had deja vu? Only not exactly deja vu, because I'm pretty sure we never had this conversation, but like deja vu? Or is it just that we've spent so much time here that it's always going to seem like we've never left?" She frowned, reviewing her words. "And that made no sense. At all."

Doyle chuckled quietly. "Sure it did. Well, to me, anyway, but that's probably not saying much."

Cordelia laid her hand over his, where it was braced on the desk. "It's saying a lot." She took a deep breath, one that brought with it a trace of whiskey and aftershave. "So, this isn't real, right? Because the office is, you know... gone. And you... You died. You left us."

He shifted his weight and turned his hand over, his fingers intertwining with hers. "I did, yeah. Didn't mean to leave, but... things happen." He shrugged one shoulder. "And I'm sorry 'bout the visions and the splittin' migraines. But choosin' between kissing Angel and kissing you? Gotta say, I died a happy man."

He grinned with that familiar little eyebrow pop, and she laughed in spite of herself, swatting his shoulder. He tried to duck, but not very hard, laughing as she made contact. "God, even dead, you're still annoying," she pretended to pout.

"I try my humble best." He chuckled at her for a more few seconds, then sobered. "I really am sorry, Cordy. Didn't mean to do it until it was done, then it was too late to take it back." He shrugged again. "Too late for pretty much everything. Story of my life."

Cordelia patted his hand, but that didn't seem like enough, so she stood up and hugged him, feeling his arms wrap around her in return. She couldn't quite remember if she'd ever hugged him when they were both alive, and that made her sad.

"It's okay, Doyle. It really is. I'm helping people now, just like you and Angel, and that's okay. Really." She stood back enough to fix a mock glare on him. "But if you could go tell the Powers That Be to either dial down the headaches, or give me better pain killers, that'd be way of the good."

He smiled a little, but shook his head, his arms tightening around her. She let him pull her closer. "Sorry, princess, this is the only freebie you get."

She frowned. "What? This is a vision? Without the brain-melty special effects? No way."

"Afraid so. And I'm runnin' out of time." He slid off the desk, but didn't let go of her. "Listen, Cordy. Your boyfriend, Lindsey -- he's a pivot point, more than either of you will ever know. The future is all out of whack right now, and the decisions he makes -- that both of you make -- could change pretty much everything."

Cordelia blinked, absorbing that. "But no pressure," she said finally.

Doyle grinned crookedly. "Nothing's ever easy. Anyway, no one can see which way this'll be ending, but there's one really important thing you have to do, princess. You've got to wake up."

And yet another unexpected twist. "Wake up? That's it? The fate of the universe rests on me not getting enough sleep?"

"Well, not only that," Doyle acknowledged, "but it's an important first step. If you don't, nothing else matters. Wake up, Cordelia."

She bit her lip, studying her friend. Almost-boyfriend. Partner. "If I do, I'm not going to see you again, am I?"

Doyle hesitated, then shrugged one shoulder again. "Never can tell, princess. Told you, the future's in flux."

"You're totally lying. You always sucked at lying." He looked away guiltily, and Cordelia tried to smile, but the tremulous effort collapsed quickly. "I miss you, Doyle. I know it may not seem like it -- boyfriend and stuff -- but I miss you. So much."

He nodded. "I know that, Cordelia. But it doesn't change anything. Not what was -- not what's going to be." He grinned again suddenly, and leaned forward to kiss her, quickly and sweetly. "No matter what happens with the lawyer, you loved me first. I'm not gonna forget that any time soon. Or ever, really."

She sniffled once, fighting back tears, then reached deep, and pulled out one of her million-dollar smiles, the one that had always staggered him just a little. "Good, because if you ever do forget it, I'm coming after you, buster. I've got an in with the Powers That Be."

"I'm shakin' in me boots," Doyle assured her, laying on the brogue just a little heavier, before he kissed her again. The last time. "Go find your future, Cordy, and try to make it a happy one. And tell Angel to stop with the bloody brooding!"

"Yeah, like that's ever worked."

"Well, it's worth another try." Doyle looked at her like he was memorizing her face; she gazed into his eyes for as long as she could. "Out of time, princess. Wake up."

His face dissolved into a familiar rush of images, pouring through her brain like water. She tried to grab them, even as she braced for pain that didn't come, and she woke up gasping, shoving tangles of hair out of her face. She was in Lindsey's condo, in Lindsey's bed, and she turned to reach for him -- but he wasn't there.

The sheets were rumpled and cool, like he'd been gone a while, and her stomach sank. Oh, god, maybe the curse of sex on the Hellmouth did extend to L.A. Maybe it was just going to follow her around wherever she went and she'd never, ever be able to have sex again, which would suck, because last night had been....

She took a deep breath, thinking about last night, about how tender and loving and, god, hot Lindsey had been. She'd fallen asleep wrapped so close to him she was practically part of his body, and damn it, she refused to believe he'd gotten up from that and turned evil. -Er. Again.

"Coffee," she told herself firmly, her voice echoing a little in the empty room. "He went for coffee and a newspaper, because he hasn't read the LA Times for two whole days, and he's going into withdrawal. And he was trying to be nice and not make me wake up."

Wake up.... The words echoed inside her head this time, and she sat up straight as the vision came flooding back to her. Doyle. Wolfram & Hart. Lindsey. The closet. Demons. Demons in the closet? Doyle. Lindsey.... She scrambled out of bed, and into her clothes, trying to dial her cell phone as she hopped on one leg to get the other into her jeans.

Angel's phone rang three times before he answered. "Cordelia? Is everything all right? I got this weird message from--"

"No, everything is not all right!" Cordelia snapped, overbalancing against the bed, but finally getting her jeans over her hips. "My stupid boyfriend has gone and done something really stupid and I'm going to kill him if we both survive, and someone needs to come get me right now before--"

The front door suddenly splintered and slammed open, and Cordelia barely smothered her shriek as something thundered into the condo. Her voice almost lost in the tumult as she screamed quietly into the phone, "Angel! Help! I'm at Lindsey's, help!"

She hung up the phone before Angel could answer, because who knew how good the hearing on whatever these things was, and looked frantically around her for weapons, for exits, for someplace to hide before she died...


Wesley burst out of the elevator and searched for unit numbers, trying to find Lindsey's. Which, of course, turned out to be the one with the splintered doorjamb and the door hanging loose on its hinges. He started to plunge immediately through the door, but caught himself at the sound of three impatient demonic voices drifting out -- the dialect sounded familiar, but could have been one of a half-dozen demonic species, all of them highly dangerous. This was obviously a time for strategy; he couldn't help Cordelia by getting himself killed immediately.

But he couldn't help Cordelia at all from outside. Angel was on his way, but even a vampire could only move so quickly through the tunnels. Wesley had to buy him time. He'd actually given a quick thought to calling the police, but they were even more unlikely than Angel to arrive in time -- and far less likely to be helpful.

He leaned his sword against the wall, within easy reach, and cocked the crossbow in his other hand. Leveling it at the door, he moved carefully to the opening and through into the entry way. Nothing there but some bags, torn apart; he recognized the remains of Cordelia's overnight bag. A guitar stood behind the door, miraculously untouched. No signs of any demons.

Wesley eased down the short hallway, trying not to make any noise, although it was highly unlikely he'd be heard over the crashes and smashes of wanton destruction. Lindsey's couch had already been reduced to shreds, his television a broken heap of former high-tech. Wesley flinched as a lamp came flying across the room from his right, shattering against the far wall, and almost nailing the gray Krakanth demon that had appeared from the kitchen.

The demon bellowed a curse at its patrol, waving the shattered remains of a blender, and its cohorts screamed back. The Krakanth, as quick to battle each other as the enemy, dove across the living room; the screaming and thuds that followed left little doubt of the ensuing fight.

He was unlikely to get a better chance. And perhaps he could draw one or more of them out of the condo long enough to offer Cordelia an escape. Assuming she was alive...

Wesley shook his head against the unwelcome and unhelpful thought. He took a deep breath and leveled the crossbow, then stepped out into the living room. It took only a moment to aim and pull the trigger, and the Krakanth on top of the pile of battling demon screamed, a bass vibrato that shook the windows. It reared back, clutching at the crossbow that had just entered its heart (right below its left hip if Wesley was remembering his anatomy correctly, and oh, he hoped he hadn't just shot the wrong sort of demon in the ass).

A moment later, it tumbled to the side to sprawl with a crash on the ruined carpet, limp and dead. Wesley didn't wait; he dumped the crossbow and raced back through the front door, seizing his sword and spinning around. He was just in time to meet the charge of the Krakanths.

Only the fact that they could not get through the doorframe together prevented him from being immediately overwhelmed. Only one could attack him -- but that one outweighed him by several hundred pounds, and had skin as thick and tough as an elephant's hide. Wesley hacked away at the demon's neck, barely ducking the ponderous blows. But inevitably perhaps, one boulder-like fist caught his shoulder and slammed him sideways into the wall.

He somehow kept his grip on his sword and tried to stagger back upright, just in time to see both demons descending on him with blood in their tiny black eyes. The musles of the one in the lead flexed as it reached out for his arms, ready to tear him apart--

Before it was distracted by the enraged scream from the condo behind it, and a sword blade ripped through its cohort's side.

Cordelia ripped the blade back out as the injured Krakanth turned on her with a howl. "Sorry, did that hurt?" she said through her teeth. "Here, let me see if I can help with that!"

Her technique was horrible, Wesley noticed absently, taking advantage of the first demon's distraction to take a hack with his own sword at its neck. She swung the sword more like a baseball bat, but at least she kept the edge flat. It carved a chunk out of her opponent's hip, and then the first demon was swinging back with its fist flattened, and Wesley was too distracted to spend any more time critiquing her performance.

They could not win, he knew after only a few moments. Although, to be honest, he'd known that going in. No damage done to the Krakanths seem to accomplish anything more than enraging them, but one solid grab or hit would take either of the humans down. He ducked one such swing, and spared a glance in Cordelia's direction; she was twisting agilely out of the way, and hacked at her opponent's knee. The sword skittered off the thick hide, and Cordelia staggered, just in time to avoid a heavy hand that swiped just above her hair.

"Got a plan?" she panted, taking another swipe at the thing's hamstring, and scoring a shallow slice.

"Sorry, fresh out." Wesley dove to the side as a gray fist came crashing down, then opened and snatched at his ankles. He pulled them out of the way, scrambling crab-like along the floor until he fetched up against something solid.

"I've got an idea," Angel said above him. "Cordelia, get down."

Wesley rolled to the side and out of Angel's way as the vampire lunged at the Krakanth demon. His broadsword carved into the demon's shoulder and the Krakanth howled, smashing a fist into Angel's side. Angel rolled with the blow, landing on his feet and attacking again, snarling in full game face. This time, his sword found the demon's neck, and viscous green blood spurted over Angel's coat and the wall as his blade cut halfway through.

"Angel, look out!" Angel spun at Cordelia's warning as the demon's body dropped, but couldn't avoid being grabbed by the last Krakanth's huge fists. The demon lifted him off the floor and shook him, bellowing in rage, before tightening his hands and pulling. Angel shouting as the demon begin to rip him apart.

Wesley dove forward without thinking, swinging desperately at the demon's side. Cordelia came at it from behind, screaming furiously and hacking away at the hamstring again. More green blood doused the carpet and the Krakanth's bellow turned into something like a scream, shaking the walls. Angel planted his boots in the Krakanth's gut and kicked hard, staggering the huge demon and turning it away from Wesley.

"Now, Cordelia!" Wesley shouted, and she was there, thrusting her blade two-handed into the demon's body just below Wesley's, straight into its heart.

The demon shrieked one last time, then finally fell with a heavy thud that shook the floor like a minor earthquake.

Wesley staggered until he sat, back pressed to the wall and holding him up. Angel dropped to the ground beside the demon's body, catching his non-existent breath before he pushed himself halfway to his knees. "Everyone all right?" he asked, more than a little painfully.

"I'll live," Wesley answered, once he was reasonably sure that was the truth. "Cordelia?"

I'm good," she said between deep, panting breaths, leaning against the wall with her sword dangling from one hand. "Thanks to you guys. How did you get here so fast?"

"Wesley was already on his way when you called," Angel said, finally making it back to his feet. He offered Wesley a hand up and Wesley waved him off, perfectly content to sit until his muscles stopped screaming. Angel went over to Cordelia instead and studied her face, still bruised from the fight in Sunnydale. "Are you all right? McDonald left a weird message this morning, saying that you needed a ride. Nothing about Krakanth demons, though. What the hell were they after? Why the hell did he leave you alone?"

"Because he's an idiot," Cordelia said through her teeth. "Because he decided to run off and deal with Wolfram & Hart on his own, and when i get him back, he is so going to pay. Damn it, this is so not good."

Angel shook his head. "If... Lindsey--" He had to force himself to say the other man's name politely, Wesley noticed. "--isn't here, why are there Krakanth demons? Has he pissed off someone else?"

"I have no idea," Cordelia said absently, "but god, who knows? It is Lindsey."

"Now, why do you get to say things like that and I don't?" Angel asked, more than a little sulkily.

"Duh. My boyfriend. Although that's gonna be questionable if he doesn't walk back through that door pretty soon...." Her voice trailed off. "Oh, crap. The vision. God, he really is in trouble."

She spun on Angel. "We have to go get him out! Now!"

Angel and Wesley exchanged looks. "Cordelia..." Wesley said carefully. "It's not as simple as just marching inside Wolfram & Hart and tearing down walls until we find him--"

"Sounds like fun to me," Angel muttered, "except for the finding McDonald part."

Wesley gave him a quelling look before refocusing on Cordelia. "Why did he go back to Wolfram & Hart in the first place? He had to know leaving would be... well, exceptionally difficult."

"You mean getting out alive," Cordelia said, crossing her arms and glaring.

"Yes," Wesley admitted. "Lindsey is quite big on plans -- surely he had one?"

Cordelia snorted. "I bet he had three, but that doesn't mean they worked! Or there probably wouldn't have been elephant demons tearing his condo apart."

"Krakanth," Wesley and Angel corrected her.

"Whatever! So not the point. The point is, we have to get him out! The vision said, Doyle said--"

"Wait. Doyle?" Angel demanded. "You had a vision about Doyle?"

"More like hosted by." Her face softened briefly and she laid a hand on Angel's shoulder. "I promise I'll tell you all about it. Soon. But right now..."

She closed her eyes, concentrating. "He said Lindsey is a, a pivot point. That decisions he makes are going to change things. Decisions like, oh, running off to Wolfram & Hart, like that's going to change anything in a good way. Um, then there was the actual mix-tape vision -- big gray demons, Lindsey in an office, some old dude looking pissed, a key... the closet."

Her eyes popped open. "The closet!" She spun without another word and disappeared back into the condo. Wesley and Angel exchanged glances, then Wesley followed Cordelia as Angel began hefting the bulk of the Krakanths and dragging them to the doorway. Those were going to be a problem to dispose of.

Cordelia went straight through the wreckage to the bedroom; Wesley tried not to look at the tumbled sheets and watched Cordelia instead as she flung open the door to the closet. "When the demons came in, I hid in the closet. Lame, but I didn't have much time and hey! There was a sword in there. But there's also a fake wall, with a door; it was locked, but I saw a key...."

"This one?" Wesley asked, picking up a small silver key from the nightstand.

"Yes!" Cordelia pounced, then ducked into the closet. Wesley watched over her shoulder as she opened the small, locked door built into the back wall, then flung it open. "Jackpot!" she crowed, displaying stacks of CDs. "Check out the names -- those are client names. These are Wolfram & Hart files, like the ones he had on Tyler! That's how he got them!"

"Backups," Wesley mused, flipping through another stack. "Yes, I think Wolfram & Hart would want these back rather badly. And Lindsey would have thought they'd provide enough leverage to get him out alive."

"When he called, he said your stuff was in the closet," Angel contributed from the outside hall, dumping the second demon corpse at the doorway with a dull thump. "You know, we could hide these better if someone would invite me in."

"Oh, right. Come in, Angel," she called, adding in a quiet snarl, "Lindsey can just deal. Right, so he left the key, he wanted me to find the discs. Except the evil lawyers from hell decided just to take them instead. Lindsey really isn't much good at stealthy." Cordelia's triumphant face fell. "So, they'll keep him alive until they're sure they've got the discs back. Right?"

Wesley patted her shoulder. "Yes, of course," he said, almost sure he was telling the truth. "They wouldn't risk losing these."

"Well, they're going to lose them." Cordelia's chin went up in the way that boded no good for her enemies. "The de-encrypt thingies were in Lindsey's bag in the front hall."

"Torn apart," Angel said from the doorway. "I found lots of broken CDs."

"Damn it." Cordelia threw up her hands in frustration. "Okay, we'll have to call Willow, queen of backing everything up. Again. I bet she's going to be all grumpy about doing yet more decrypting. We so need our own computer geek."

"I'm sure Willow will understand it's for a good cause," Wesley said as he reached for his mobile, looking for the correct number in his call list. "What do you intend to do with the files when we have them?"

Cordelia paced a few steps away, then back. "First, we need my laptop. Then, we need a Kinko's. Angel, call Gunn and tell him to meet us."

Angel lifted his eyebrows, but fished his phone out of a deep pocket to obey. "Where is he meeting us?"

"Wolfram & Hart." She crossed her arms and glared at the corpses of the demons. "Some evil old guy is about to make room in his schedule."

Chapter 23: Wait for the Sunrise

"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 throwing 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.

Chapter 24: Better Days

"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..."


The Bronze was rocking, there were no vampires in sight, and for once, the world wasn't in imminent danger of ending. There was no way this was going to last for long, so Buffy threw herself into enjoying it.

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...."


Comments welcomed at or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated March 20, 2010.


[ Forgiven ] [ Angel Annex Fanfic ]

[ Seanachais ] [ Neon Hummingbird ]