Learning to walk in high heels was a good preparation for being a lawyer - especially with Wolfram and Hart. It accustomed one to teetering precariously on the very brink of falling, and to maintaining the appearance of relaxation and confidence with each foot arched in elegant discomfort over a lethally slender spike. Lilah Morgan was wearing heels before she bought her first bra, and by this point in her career with Wolfram and Hart she had no more qualms about giving a presentation to a clan of Kankanath demons than she had about running down flights of stairs while balanced on her tiptoes in potentially ankle-breaking footwear. Lilah was always a consummate professional.
The summons to Linwood's office was no great surprise. There was a limit to how many failures the senior partners would tolerate, and Lilah knew that she was treading on dangerously thin ice right now. Fortunately the death of Congressman Blim's nephew had been publicly put down to drug related violence; ironically Billy was proving to be far more useful to his uncle in death than he had ever been in life. Lilah had covered her tracks fairly thoroughly, but she didn't doubt for a moment that Linwood was fully aware of what she'd done. Had she been in court defending a client in the same situation, Lilah knew that she could have gotten the woman acquitted without breaking a sweat - but the senior partners were another matter, and mitigating circumstances didn't interest them in the slightest. It was always the results that counted, and the full repercussions of Billy's murder remained to be seen. A lesser woman might have been tempted to flee the building when she received Linwood's peremptory summons, but Lilah, unlike Lee Mercer or Lindsey McDonald, had balls; and that was why she was still here and they were both ancient history. She arrived exactly on time, her fading bruises hidden by layers of powder and her smile painted firmly into place with vivid and very expensive lipstick that could withstand kung po chicken, Bordeaux, passionate kisses and at least three varieties of demon slime. Lilah paused only briefly to square her Gucci-clad shoulders before knocking on the door.
Linwood's office held the same faint aroma of antiseptic that permeated most of the building, reminding both clients and employees of the professionalism with which unsightly messes - be they bloodstains or tax evasion - were invariably wiped away by Wolfram and Hart. Trying to gauge the man's intentions from his demeanour was futile, but it was also automatic. She knew that she should probably be scared, but ever since Lindsey's departure Lilah had been living on borrowed time and this lent her a sense of perspective. She knew that they had never really taken her seriously, purely because of her sex, despite the fact that she very clearly outclassed Lindsey McDonald. The realisation had only strengthened her resolve. Lilah was a company man through and through, and she was a damned good one; and it was galling to realise that the old bastards hadn't woken up to the 21st century yet. Even Hell, it appeared, had glass ceilings. Lilah planned on smashing through the glass with a sledgehammer if necessary.
Linwood made a show of poring over his papers just long enough to remind her of their relative positions in the company hierarchy, and then impatiently waved her forwards. Lilah's smile remained firmly pinned on as she slid into the seat. There were a number of files open on the desk and Lilah strained to catch a glimpse of their contents as circumspectly as she could.
"What do you know about Smallville, Lilah?" This was absolutely not the opening gambit she'd been anticipating. Lilah swiftly adjusted her ideas and scoured her memory.
"Wasn't there a prophecy that got misinterpreted? Something to do with Lionel Luthor?" She was rewarded by Linwood's reluctant approval.
"Good girl. Yes, the prophecy was ambiguous and our original interpretation seems to have fallen short of perfect accuracy. Shooting star, gift from the heavens, catalyst for change, ultimate power - why the hell these damn prophets can't ever come right out and tell you what they're talking about without all the bad verse is beyond me. Regardless - we screwed up. Lionel Luthor was expecting an invulnerable avatar to materialise and bless all his business ventures, and instead he got nothing but a hairless heir." Linwood grimaced. "Still, there's no doubt that Luthor plays a key role of some sort - although they're now suggesting it could be the son rather than the father. Smallville is one of the more interesting corners of Kansas. Although that isn't saying much."
"So why is this relevant now? The meteor thing was, what, ten years ago?"
"Twelve. And it's relevant because we are living in interesting times. Vampire vigilantes stalking the streets of LA. Employees resigning from Wolfram and Hart and living to tell the tale. Apocalypse after apocalypse like waves crashing against a crumbling sea wall - it wasn't always like this, Lilah. The end of days has begun." Lilah had no proof, but she was ready to stake serious money on the fact that Senior Management had a training course that specialised in pompous rhetoric. She retained her shit-eating smile with some difficulty. "There is still every indication that a great power will arise out of all the cowshit and creamed corn in this little hick town, and we may have found it. What do you know about Slayers?"
"They're teenage girls with supernatural strength and agility and short shelf lives, and they work for The Opposition. One at a time." And they're a pain in the ass, she added mentally, thinking about the debacle with Faith.
"So if I were to tell you that a normal human teenager - not a demon, not a halfbreed - had recently been seen performing feats of supernatural strength and agility then you'd think...?"
"I'd think that maybe something nasty got into the prison where they're keeping Faith, or that Angel's ex finally met her match, and a new Slayer has been chosen." He surely wasn't considering trying to recruit a Slayer? Although it wasn't so far from their existing policy on recruiting potential assassins, to be fair, and if they could get their hands on a raw one before the Council of Watchers reached her then perhaps they could have more success than they'd had with Faith. Lilah was dubious, but she could understand the appeal. It would be one hell of a coup if they pulled it off. "Are we going to contact her?"
Lilah blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"Him. It's a boy." Linwood plucked a glossy photograph from the file and handed it to her, his mouth curling into a small smile that was difficult to read. Lilah looked down at the picture in bemusement.
"But Slayers are always girls," she said before she could stop herself.
"And there is only ever one Slayer at a time. Except, it appears, when there's more than one." He paused long enough to make her feel like a complete idiot. "We don't think he's a Slayer, though. We don't know what he is. His family background - well, you'll understand when you read the file. If we're right, the implications are startling."
Lilah took the proffered file and looked at it cautiously. "Why are you telling me this?"
Linwood's expression was not reassuring. "Lilah, you need to score some points. I'm giving you a chance to make up for - certain recent events. You have had some successes in the past with situations like this - although the business with Bethany was very disappointing. This is your chance to redeem yourself, Lilah. You're booked on a flight to Metropolis in the morning. Don't come back empty handed."
If Lilah never saw another white picket fence again, it would be too damned soon. Smallville, Kansas, was just the kind of no-Starbucks town she'd been so relieved to escape all those years earlier. It spoke volumes that the most interesting thing about the place was that it had been hit by a big rock a dozen years ago; and that before then its greatest claim to fame had been the volume of sweet and golden canned mush produced there. 'Creamed Corn Capital of The World.' Lilah shuddered and added another spoonful of sugar to her coffee. All the wide open spaces and empty blue skies made her antsy, and the smallness of these people's lives revolted her. Lindsey, the sap, had always had a soft spot for this kind of sentimental garbage; but as far as Lilah was concerned, the sooner she could shake the dust of this place from her shoes, and get the faint stink of cowshit out of her hair and suit, the better it would be. She might just burn the suit, to be on the safe side.
Lilah leafed idly through the pages of The Smallville Ledger and took another sip of The Beanery's substandard espresso with distaste. She flicked past poorly typeset ads for baked goods, farm equipment and church socials and grimaced. How, she asked herself, did they live like this? She re-read the lead article for the seventh or eighth time and then glanced across the coffee bar at the teenaged Good Samaritan himself, who was presently hunched over a cooling cappuccino with his brow furrowed in adolescent angst. He looked far younger in the flesh than in the black and white photograph that was plastered all over the front page. She wondered just how great these powers were. He certainly didn't look like some sort of otherworldly champion capable of saving a distressed damsel, let alone slaying a vampire; but then neither had Faith. Not that this kid was anything like Faith, from all that Lilah could gather. He seemed just about as far removed from being promiscuous, homicidal and self-destructive trailer trash as an American teenager could get without actually being Amish. Father an upstanding pillar of the community, mother a loyal little homemaker, no siblings, no trouble with the police, no scandals - it was all quite nauseatingly nice. Still, it was always the quiet ones. Just because his school friends had always thought he was harmless and geeky, that certainly didn't preclude him from possessing potentially devastating powers. Bethany had seemed harmless and geeky, and if Angel hadn't interfered she would have been a wonderfully powerful weapon.
Lilah had already spoken to the girl who wrote the article in The Ledger: one Chloe Sullivan, to whose rescue the boy had come so dramatically, and who turned out to be one of his school friends. Lilah had quickly gathered that Chloe had a slight crush on her self-appointed saviour. The girl talked far too much, which would have irritated Lilah in other circumstances but suited her purposes perfectly just now. Lilah came away from a twenty minute conversation armed with the knowledge that her quarry was "kind of a dork" but still "a great guy", that he had a hopeless crush on some football player's girlfriend, and that his dad was "kind of a pain". She also learned that Chloe blamed the meteor rocks for this most recent display of weirdness, and indeed for every other instance of weirdness to have occurred in Smallville over the past decade or so. In fact, to hear Chloe expound upon the subject one could be forgiven for suspecting that the meteor fragments had wiped out the crew of the Marie Celeste, assassinated JFK and been responsible for the popularity of Britney Spears.
Lilah finished her coffee and eyed the kid narrowly. He looked, in her professional opinion, pretty damned miserable for a teenaged boy who was surely basking in the adulation of scores of pretty girls like Chloe Sullivan right now. Sometimes, Lilah reflected, subtlety was over-rated. She swung her knees out of the booth, stood tall and headed over to the counter. Five minutes later, armed with a plate of cookies, she made her way over to the window table where the not-quite-a-Slayer was sitting alone. It would have been easier if he were a couple of years older, but Lilah could still play sympathetic aunt-figure with just a hint of Mrs Robinson. And she had cookies.
"You look like you could use something chocolatey," she said with a dazzling smile. "Mind if I join you?"
"I - yes. I mean, no, of course I don't mind. Um." Lilah enjoyed watching men getting tongue-tied in her presence
"Good." She took the seat opposite him and tucked into one of the cookies. "Help yourself," she added, congratulating herself on the charming informality of the scene. She'd missed her calling. Lilah should have been an actress. "I hope you don't mind - you just looked so miserable, and you reminded me of my kid brother. Shouldn't you be in school?"
He looked guilty, then rebellious. "I'm skipping class."
"I see. Busy keeping the streets safe? You're quite the local hero." She tapped her copy of The Ledger and watched his frown deepen.
"I'm not a hero," he said sharply. "I'm a freak. And now everybody knows it, and scientists in Metropolis want to run tests on me, and I'll probably be on the cover of The National Enquirer next. And I've just had this huge fight with my dad." He stared at her, brimming with self-involved teenage despair. "Everything sucks." He was really very young indeed. Lindsey McDonald could have told the kid that Lilah's smile meant a world of trouble, but Lindsey McDonald wasn't there. She pushed the plate forward.
"Have a cookie."
Lilah hated waiting. It had all looked so promising; the kid took her advice and within a couple of hours he found himself up to his tender young neck in trouble. So far so good. The mess he'd made of his nice house after the second blazing argument with his father had been spectacular, and Lilah had been very smug in the knowledge that the boy was burning his bridges with all his nearest and dearest in Smallville. Literally.
Getting him out of police custody and into a Wolfram and Hart safehouse in Metropolis had been a reasonably simple logistical exercise for a woman of her talents. She was a little worried by the doctor's comments, though. Not that he was a figure to inspire any great faith - with his earrings, beads, long hair and redundant sunglasses, the guy looked more like an extra from an amateur production of "Hair" than one of the most expensive private physicians on the planet - but he was on the payroll of Wolfram and Hart, so he clearly knew his stuff. And, worryingly, all the tests they'd run on the unconscious kid seemed to indicate he was perfectly normal. Which couldn't be true, could it? She'd seen the flaming wreckage, she'd read the witness reports. She'd spoken to his weeping mother, for God's sake - or at least she'd started to, but the husband had slammed the door in Lilah's face before she'd got more than a few tantalising hints of what had happened.
Still, there was no way this was a normal kid. She stared at his sleeping face, trying to will him into waking. When they'd brought him in his cheeks had been grimy and tear-streaked and he'd looked about five years old. He was clean as a whistle now, but he still looked very young - and very useless. Lilah drummed her fingers on the bedside table and scowled.
"Can't we hurry this up?" she asked eventually.
The doctor shrugged. "Sure. You want I should wake him?"
"Well of course I do, you idiot," she snapped. The suspense was killing her. And if she'd screwed this up, that wasn't all that was going to be killing her. Lilah had a bad feeling about this. She watched the dishevelled hippie wielding a hypodermic and piercing the kid's skin, and was relieved when she finally saw his eyelids flicker. When he looked blearily out onto the world the first thing he saw was Lilah's brilliant smile and the bunch of tulips she'd brought along. He looked baffled.
"Remember me?" He just stared, and she wondered whether the little bastard had amnesia. Although actually, that could be a very good thing. "Lilah? From the coffee shop the other day, remember?"
"Oh. Right." His eyes were dull and hopeless - she could see him remembering all the Bad Things and it cheered her up immensely. Vulnerability was such a wonderful quality.
"How are you feeling?" She infused her voice with as much sympathy as she could manage. "You've had quite an interesting few days, haven't you? You and your dad really don't see eye to eye. He thinks you're a freak, doesn't he?" She watched the words cut him, and wondered whether he might cry. She had some tissues with her just in case. Lilah Morgan: ministering angel. "I don't think you're a freak. You're special. And we've got an idea why that might be." That got his attention, but he was still radiating despair in waves. "You know your cousin Buffy? On your father's side? Well, she's special too. But not as special as you are, Eric. There's never been anyone like you."
She watched something like hope blossoming in Eric Summers' eyes.
Lilah had a spring in her step as she stalked into Linwood's office wearing a brand new pair of spike-heeled shoes. Linwood met her smug gaze with surprise.
"You've got nerve, I'll give you that," he said. "I've read the reports, Lilah. The Summers boy was a fraud."
She nodded cheerfully. "We tested him. Reflexes, strength, agility - all those of a normal fifteen year old boy. His skin definitely wasn't vampire-proof. Don't ask me how he managed to do all those things - I don't think even he knew. I'm betting it had something to do with the meteor rocks."
"I have to say, you seem remarkably sanguine about this. I told you not to come back empty handed, Lilah." Lilah glanced through the half-open door and gave a small nod. Linwood watched in bemusement as Eric Summers walked into the room. All things considered, he looked remarkably healthy.
"What is the meaning of this?" Linwood asked dangerously.
Lilah beamed at him. "Watch."
Years of working for Wolfram and Hart had made him very difficult to surprise, but nevertheless the sight of Eric Summers melting into the much slighter shape of a teenage girl was enough to make him raise one eyebrow.
"Linwood, allow me to introduce Tina Grier. I thought you might be able to find a use for her talents."
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