sparrow2000: (sparrow)
[personal profile] sparrow2000
Title: The Long Game
Characters: Lindsey McDonald, Willow
Type: Gen
Warnings: Character study
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al, own everything. I own nothing.
Summary: Lindsey knows Willow’s coming to LA to tell Angel that Buffy’s dead. It’s embarrassing easy to bump into her once she’s done delivering her news.
Comments and feedback are cuddled and called George
Beta extraordinaire, as always: [livejournal.com profile] thismaz.

A few weeks back I wrote Laying the Blacktop in which Willow runs into Lindsey in LA after she’s told Angel that Buffy is dead. That story was from Willow’s point of view. After curious comments from some readers as to what was going on in Lindsey’s head, I decided to write Lindsey’s point of view of the same conversation. It was a lot more difficult than I expected!*g* Huge thanks to [livejournal.com profile] thismaz for her always insightful beta comments. I would say it makes sense to read Laying the Blacktop before this one to get the flow of what's going on in my fevered brain! :)


The Long Game

If there’s one thing Lindsey understands, it’s insurance. God knows his daddy didn’t have any and Lindsey’s spent every day since he shook the farm dirt from his shoes making sure he’s got something in his back pocket for the day it might be needed. It’s just smart. And if there’s one thing Lindsey’s not shy about saying, is that he’s smart. Just because he’s left the day job behind, doesn’t mean to say he left his brains on his desk when he quit.

He smooths down the sleeve of his suit jacket and watches her leave the Hyperion. She’s wearing some kind of hippy outfit. It sets his teeth on edge. It’s funny how it’s always kids who’ve never had to worry about money that dress like Goodwill is their favourite store. It doesn’t matter that lately he’s been more at home in jeans and flannel; right now he’s in Hugo Boss because it’s all about making the right impression. That first moment is all you need to catch your audience - it doesn’t matter if it’s a jury, a judge, or a grieving girl.

He watches her pause at the stoplight, eyeing the traffic flow and he counts to five before calling to her. “Miss Rosenberg.”

She turns, obviously startled.

“It is Miss Rosenberg, isn’t it?” he says. “Willow Rosenberg”

She nods slowly, but her eyes are sharp, taking in his suit. He knew going for the business look was the right thing to do.

“That’s me,” she says. “Do I know you?”

He takes a step forward. Close enough that she can really catalogue the expensive threads, but not so close that she feels crowded. His mouth is already working on auto pilot, making the introductions, working the smooth edges of his well-practised courtroom accent. He can see her start to relax, just a little, and judges his moment for the first strike.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry,” he says. “For your loss. I know how hard it is to lose people you’re close to, so I wanted to offer my condolences.”

She stiffens and does the predictable attempt at denial and obfuscation, but he knows from long experience that that’s exactly the time to press the play.

“Miss Summers,” he interrupts. “I’m sorry for your loss of Miss Summers.”

She’s got another protest ready and her chin is up. He gives her props for trying to look confident, but the hand curled in a fold of her ridiculous skirt gives the game away. This time when he steps forward, it’s almost to within touching distance. “It’s all right, Miss Rosenberg. I know the death of a Slayer is a big deal. If I were you, I wouldn’t want it broadcast either. That’s why I wanted to approach you discreetly.” Because the middle of the street in downtown LA is so damn discreet, but that’s just part of the game.

“Um, right.” Her hand creeps up, fluttering at the side of her neck. “Good job,” she says. “Discreet is good. Discreet is really good, if you can call a street in central LA discreet? But I’ve not been many places outside of my home town, so maybe this is the LA version of discreet, and I really should be asking you how you know, I mean, how you know, what you think you know?”

Smart girl. It’s almost like she’s picking up his thoughts. For a second he worries that her abilities go way beyond what he’s already scoped out. But he’s pretty sure his intelligence is good and he knows that it’s difficult to get inside the head of someone you’ve never met before. He settles in to reassure her. “You came to see Angel, didn’t you? To tell him about Miss Summers. It’s okay, I know Angel. I know about Sunnydale.” He can see her start to waver, her hand dropping back to her side, but her fingers are still curled into her palm, still wary, and it’s time for another beat, just make her feel a little more secure. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m going at this all wrong. Can I buy you a coffee? There’s a coffee shop right there, across the street. Maybe we can talk without doing this awkward on the street thing where you probably think I’m some kind of stalker.”

The moment she glances at the Starbucks he knows he’s got her. He’d rather go to somewhere a little more discreet, because that’s the word of the moment, but it’s all about making your target feel comfortable, so Starbucks will do just fine. He bets she’ll order something ridiculous.

“Okay,” she says. “I could do coffee. Just the one, because I’ve got to get back on the road before it gets dark, but one coffee I could do.”

“I should clarify that I’m really not a stalker,” he says. “Just in case you were worried.” It’s a nice touch, mentioning the word to put her on edge just a bit and then reassuring her. It’s all about balance. Keeping his and making sure she thinks she has hers. Time to steady her a fraction, so she won’t realise he’s the one that pushed her in the first place. “But you want to phone anyone and let them know you’re stopping for coffee with the non-stalker before you head back?”

“No, no, that’s okay. I’m good.” Her fingers straighten, smoothing down the fabric of her skirt and she smiles tentatively. The stoplight finally changes and they head across the street to place their orders. It’s quiet - just a few students and late lunch office workers in badly fitting, off the rail suits. It’s all achingly normal and if there’s one thing he’s come to hate in recent years it’s normal. Normal gets your house repossessed, your car towed and folks with money and power kicking you until you stop twitching, then kicking you again, just because they can.

There’s the clatter of crockery as the coffee order appears and he switches his attention back to the here and now and she’s staring at him with something like concern. It’s not an emotion he’s used to, but it’s definitely something he can work with.

He’s right about the ridiculous drink. Why anyone would want to put vanilla syrup and caramel into coffee he has no idea. He picks up his own espresso and guides her over to a corner table. It’s quiet, but public at the same time. He wants her to feel safe enough to sit with him, and confident enough to talk about things she probably wouldn’t normally acknowledge to someone she doesn’t know, and maybe not even to some of the folks she does. “Thanks for agreeing to this,” he says.

She stares at the table top, chewing on her lip and he wonders if she has any real understanding of power she has at her fingertips. When she looks up, he can almost see her gather her courage. “You didn’t really say how you knew,” she says.” About Buffy, I mean.”

He considers a couple of different answers before deciding that a subtle mix of being cryptic and truthful will fit the bill. “Let’s just say that in certain circles, certain things get known,” he says.

“Not really a comfort.”

“No, I guess not.” He takes a sip of his own coffee and tamps down a cough. He’d rather have an espresso from his favourite Italian deli, but he’s avoiding most of the places he usually goes. The chance of being seen near the Hyperion is a risk he’s willing to take because he knows he only had the one chance to make this meeting. And Angel’s crew are pretty nocturnal by nature so he figures the odds are in his favour. She’s talking again, and he focuses.

“... there are people, who have been watching us. And, can I just say, if that’s true, why haven’t they been helping, because helping would have been good, and - “

“I’m sorry,” he interrupts. “I don’t have an answer to that.”

“Then why are we having this conversation? I don’t know you Mr McDonald. You say you know Angel, but LA is a big city and I’m sure he knows lots of people.”

Score one for the little girl from Sunnydale. She’s definitely a smart little thing, but her main problem is that she needs other people to tell her that. Not something Lindsey’s ever had a problem with. He shrugs. He’s got self deprecating down to a fine art - it should really be on a college curriculum. “We’re not exactly buddies,” he says. “We’ve had our ups and downs. And the whole dark avenger thing bugs me, which probably says as much about me as it does about him.” He leans forward like he’s telling her a secret and she smiles. It’s obvious she likes secrets.

“Oh yeah, I know what you mean.” She bites her lip. “I haven’t spoken to him since he left Sunnydale, until today. Well apart from that time at Thanksgiving, with the Chumash, and I still think I’m right about the oppression of Indigenous cultures, but that’s probably not why you wanted to talk.” Her hands flutter back towards her neck and she pushes her hair back behind one ear. She’s wearing small beaded earrings that look like they came from a craft fair and he can almost hear Lilah's derisive comments in his head. “And we were kind of busy that day with the arrows and the bear and stuff,” she says, and he figures he’s lost the thread because he’s not sure where the bear comes in, so he looks attentive. “So it’s not like he would have had much chance to talk about you, even if you were friends. Anyway, I don’t understand why you want to talk to me. I mean, it’s nice that you want to say you’re sorry about Buffy. But I’m not sure why.”

It’s kind of irritating that she’s still stuck on how he knows about the Slayer, but getting pissy with her isn’t going to do the job. “She saved the world,” he says. “That’s reason enough to say thank you and I’m sorry she’s passed, isn’t it?” Faking sincerity is another thing they should teach in college, but he’s learned the hard way over the last few years. Holland Manners was a good teacher.

“Well, sure. That’s a huge reason. And she’d be really happy that someone said thank you. And I’m happy on her behalf, in a sad kind of way, that you’re saying thank you. It’s just that you didn’t know her and you coming up to me on the street unexpectedly feels kind of personal and…” She’s tails off like she wants to be a little bit rude, but is kind of horrified at the thought.

He takes another sip of his espresso. It’s not so bad on the second hit, or maybe his taste buds have thrown in the towel. He studies the table top, reflecting back some body language to get her relaxed again. A little bit of truth always goes down well when your audience isn’t expecting it. “I don’t have an agenda, Miss Rosenberg. Well, to be honest, that’s not true. Everyone has an agenda of some kind. I just wanted to connect. Let you know there are people outside who know the score.”

“Oh, okay...” she says. “Then I guess I really should say thank you. So, you know, thank you.”

“No problem,” he replies. “I also wanted to say, when Miss Summers,” He pauses and picks up his cup again. It makes a good prop and he runs his thumb along the outside before laying it back down. He counts to three in his head. “Oh heck, I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just come out and say it. When she jumped, she stopped a dimensional rift, but I have no idea where she came to rest.”

“What? But she’s in heaven, isn’t she? I mean, that’s where she deserved to be.”

“Yes, that’s what she deserved. But I don’t know if that’s what happened.” He feels like he’s back on his daddy’s farm, sowing seeds. Unlike his daddy, he’s making sure the ground is fertile.

“But if she’s not there, where else could she be?”

“I don’t know. But-”

“But what?”

Her tone is halfway between angry and panicked and she’s breathing hard. This time he’s back to counting to five, then pushes his chair away from the table and stands up. “I’m sorry, this was a mistake. I should let you get on the road before it gets dark.”

She’s on her feet before he can take a step. He can feel the power crackling in the air around her, even if she can’t. “Oh no, mister. You don’t get to take me for coffee with your good suit and your smooth talk and your condolences and say that Buffy might not be in heaven, and then tell me you’ve made a mistake. You don’t get to do that.”

He considers taking a step towards the door just to see what she’ll do, but there are some gambles that just aren’t worth the risk. He settles on being neutral. “Miss Rosenberg.”

“Don’t you Miss Rosenberg me.” She’s all righteous indignation. “Buffy’s in trouble - if she’s not at rest, can we help? Can we do something? Oh goddess, what if she’s in hell? She could be in some hell dimension. Is that what you’re trying to say, without actually saying it? Can we get her out? Can we save her?” He’s watching her face flush and her hand grab tight into the bottom of her shirt as each tumbling thought crashes into the next. It’s like he’s written the script and she’s just reading off her cues. He tamps down on the urge to speak and waits her out. “Can we bring her back?” she whispers finally. Touchdown.

He scrubs his hand through his hair, knowing damn fine it will settle back into its style, as if he hadn’t touched it. It’s a nice gesture. It always worked well with female jurors. Makes it look like he’s got more on his mind than his appearance, at the same time as they’re wondering what hair product he’s using. “Miss Rosenberg, you know bringing someone back is really hard. There’s so much that can go wrong. There’s so much responsibility.” He can see from her face that’s just the right word.

“And I’m all about the responsibility. I’ve got top marks in responsibility, but you’re talking about Buffy and she’s gone. She saved the world and if she’s hurt and I can do something about it, I have to try.”

Nodding, he slides back into his seat, so that she can look down on him. See little girl, nothing to get scared of here “Okay, I get it,” he says. “Please, will you sit back down?”

She stands for a moment, her eyes flicking towards the door, but he’s said please and he knows that’s another of those 'just right' words. She sits and pushes her cup to the side. Looks like she’s lost the taste for something sweet so he figures it’s time to add a little bitter into the mix.

He moves his own cup to the edge of the table. It gets rid of the barriers between them. “It’s not easy," he says. He taps the index finger on the table top and he wonders what she’d make of his evil hand. He gets the feeling she’d be two parts horrified and one part curious and that’s just the way he wants her. Time to bait the hook.... “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t possible.”

“How?” Hook...

He looks around, like he’s checking for eavesdroppers - like some secrets are too big to be shared. “There’s a spell,” he says and she leans forward slightly.” A powerful spell that has its own dangers, but if it’s done carefully, it’s possible to use it to bring someone back.” Line...

“Careful and responsible, that’s me.” She pauses. “And how do you know all this, anyway? How do you know about spells and stuff?”

“I used to work for an organization that sometimes dealt with the supernatural.” She doesn’t need to know it was a law firm. It’s amazing how people are suspicious around lawyers. He knows he’ll have to tell eventually, but he’ll leave that for further down the road. Much further. “It’s how I first got to know Angel. I don’t work for them anymore, but I still move in circles where some people know about Slayers and the Hellmouth and Angel being a vampire with a soul. Knowing about spells isn’t much of a stretch.”

“I guess not. So there’s a spell. Is it a hard one? I’ve been practicing magic for four years.”

“I know you have. In fact, you’re beginning to get a bit of a reputation. It’s impressive how far you’ve come in such a short time. I’m sure your teachers are real proud of you.” He’s kind of proud of himself with that line because he can see all the need for attention and the frustration bubbling under her skin. It’s easy to recognise symptoms you used to see in the mirror every day.

“People know about me?” And sinker…

She’s like a little bird that just itching to fly the nest. He reckons it’s time to help her fledge. “Certain circles, yeah? It’s not a big community, so things like the rise of a potentially powerful witch get noticed.”

“Wow. I mean, wow. That’s kind of cool. It least I think it is. I know I’ve been getting more confident, though Giles and Tara keep reminding me I’ve got to be careful. And I am careful. I’m super careful.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“Darn right, I am. So this spell. Do you think I could do it? If it helped Buffy.”

“If you had the right stuff, probably.” He shrugs like talking about raising the dead is something he does every day. In his old position he kind of did. “You’d need an Urn of Osiris to act as a talisman.”

She nods. “I’ll ask Giles about it. He’ll know.”

“I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but I wouldn’t ask Mr Giles.” He leans forward, his voice low and slow like he’s talking to a fragile witness in the courtroom. “It’s just, I know he’s grieving for his Slayer, just like you’re mourning your friend. Imagine if you get him hoping and it doesn’t work.”

“It would kill him.” Her voice is as low as his and he can almost see the wheels turning in her head. “But where would I get one of these urns? Is there only one, or do they come in sets? It’s not like they’re going to be selling them on E-Bay.”

He wants to laugh, but doesn’t. He’s considered doing the E-bay routine through a mutual acquaintance, but in the end, this is one transaction he wants to keep close to his chest. “You’d be surprised what you can get on E-Bay,” he says with a smile.. “ But there’s only the one urn and I know where to get it. It’ll take me a few days, but I could phone you and-”

“No,” she interrupts. “I don’t want anyone to know yet.” It’s all he can do not to cheer. “I’ll tell the others once I’m sure I can do it. But like with Giles, I don’t want to put them through anything until I know it’s possible. There’s no point getting anyone’s hopes up.”

“That’s a good idea.” But then the ideas he plants always are, even if he says so himself. “Your friends are lucky to have you looking out for them like that. Can you find an excuse to come back to the city in a few days? Say, Saturday? I should know by then. We could meet back here, since you’re familiar with it. Kind of neutral ground.”

“I can do that.” She bites her lip. “I’ll have to come up with an excuse, but I’ll think of something. And I’ll meet you here at midday, if that works for you? It’ll give me time to get here and get back in daylight.” She smiles at him, almost mischievous. It’s a good look. “And it’ll mean there’s no chance of you running into Angel at that time of day.”

He glances down at his hand. It’s like there’s an invisible thread making her dance. It’s nice to be the puppet master for a change instead of the puppet. “I like the way you think.” Of course he does.

“I’d better be going,” she says. He lets her stand first, as if she’s the one who decided the conversation was over. “I don’t want anyone to worry.”

“Like I say, your friends are lucky to have someone like you thinking about them, Miss Rosenberg.” Even when you’ve got the jury in the bag, a little reinforcement never hurts. “ I’m really glad I managed to catch you. I’m sure if anyone can help Miss Summers, you can, and I’m really happy if I can help.”

“Willow,” she says. “Miss Rosenberg seem really formal.”

“Willow it is, then. And I’m Lindsey.” He doesn’t care that much for Latin, but quid pro quo has always been one of his favourite tags.

“Lindsey,” she echoes. It’s kind of cute to see her blush. He knows she's a good little lesbian, but he toys with the idea of making her reconsider just for the hell of it. “I’ll see you on Saturday,” she says, and he shoves the thought aside. Sex would only complicate the process and he wants her eager, but not needy. Needy just becomes annoying after a while.

“I’ll be here at 12.00,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll have the Urn, but even if I don’t, we can talk through how the spell will work, and the other stuff that needs doing in preparation. Okay?” She doesn’t need to know what the other stuff is yet. By the time she gets to that she’ll be so happy to get her Slayer back, she’ll be ready to kill her own grandma if she thought it was for the greater good.

He holds out his hand and she shakes it. He keeps the pressure light and it’s a shake between equals. She walks towards the door and he lifts his hand to return her little wave. When she disappears around the corner he sits back down and considers his next move. He’s out of Wolfram & Hart and leaving Angel behind, but he knows it’s just for now. Angel’s still a self-righteous bastard and bringing the love of his life back from the dead will screw with his head in a way that will be entertaining for years. And if he does ever decide to go back to lawyering, having a powerful little witch owing him favours will make the transition just that little bit smoother.

Insurance, that’s what it’s all about. And maybe a little bit of vindictiveness just because he can.

Lindsey’s playing the long game. This time he’s going to stack the deck in his favour right from the start.

Date: 2016-04-16 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] texanfan.livejournal.com
Ooo. As one of the curious I'm so glad you did this follow up. Insurance, huh? All that playing Willow like a violin for a little insurance and Angel payback. So amazing that he caused such tragedy and devastation for a bit of insurance. Exploiting all of Willow's biggest weaknesses. And right now I'm even madder at her for that weakness. She was lead astray so easily, and it's so completely believable. You really bring out the flawed humanity in these two characters.

Date: 2016-04-16 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
Yep, isn't it disturbing how relatively banal motivations often cause the most damage. He's liking this arena where he's in control for a change, and thinking forward to S5 Lindsey with the tattoos, I could see his S2 counterpart trying to plan for the future where he's got back pocket ammunition.

I'm really happy I could touch that flawed humanity in these two, that was definitely the aim :)

Date: 2016-04-17 04:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] velvetwhip.livejournal.com
I think this is FABULOUS!!! Oh Sparrow, you are the most extraordinary composer, never a false note, never a chord that fails to ring true and beautiful. Your portrait of a Machiavellian but ultimately petty Lindsey and a vulnerable Willow wearing her Achilles heel like a mourning band around her heart... you are incredible!


Gabrielle

Date: 2016-04-17 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
Machiavellian, petty Lindsey is such fun to write - Willow really doesn't stand a chance.

Thank you hon, I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it so much.

s x

Date: 2016-04-17 05:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] velvetwhip.livejournal.com
You are like no one else, Sparrow. You are the standard to which I aspire.


Gabrielle

Date: 2016-04-17 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
I think you stand up damn well on your own *g* But thank you.

Date: 2016-04-17 08:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thismaz.livejournal.com
This companion piece is lovely. Seeing inside Lindsey's head, to counter the previous view of Willow's, is illuminating. Just because we know Lindsey, the play was obvious in the last one, but seeing why, now, was very enjoyable.

Date: 2016-04-17 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
Thank you love, I'm happy with the way this one turned out, even though it took some work to get it there! *g*

Date: 2016-04-17 10:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baudown.livejournal.com
It's wonderful to get the other side of this encounter, and I think you've captured Lindsey perfectly -- calculating and focused and gleeful at his ability to successful manipulate another person.

Date: 2016-04-17 05:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
"calculating and focused and gleeful" What a wonderful description of him. Thank you love, I'm so happy you enjoyed this.

s xx

Date: 2016-04-17 11:46 am (UTC)
double_dutchess: (Willow)
From: [personal profile] double_dutchess
I really enjoyed reading Lindsey's point of view. He's a smug little ****** but it's difficult not to like him anyway!

Date: 2016-04-17 05:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
It really is hard not to like him, isn't it. I've not written him much, but when I do, I always enjoy it - a bit like writing Ethan. *g*

Date: 2016-04-23 02:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] postholedigger.livejournal.com
Whoa. What a prick! How does it feel to know you write them so beautifully? ;)

Date: 2016-04-23 05:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sparrow2000.livejournal.com
Yep, he's a prick, but you can't help loving him anyway. He's really fun to write in this mode *g*

Hugs you hard
s x

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