Chapter 7 – Adversarial Conversations
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, or any of the Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize, I don’t own it. This work may not be sold or used for profit in any way shape or form for that very reason. Please don’t sue me because I don’t have anything worth taking…
Author’s Note: Special thanks to my new beta reader misagoddess for her help in getting this ready to post. As always though, any and all errors belong solely to me.
-== Chapter Seven – Adversarial Conversations ==-
Lindsey eyed the ominous skies outside his company car as he drove back to the Kent Farm. Since the local weather service had been calling for a clear, sunny day, he could only assume that Xander was less than pleased with the impending meeting. Not that it particularly mattered to the lawyer. The Senior Partners had decided that the firm’s best chance to either corrupt or destroy the young champion was to strike now, before he came into his full powers. Of course, either outcome would be a significant feather in someone’s cap, almost guaranteeing them a bright future with Wolfram and Hart. Lindsey merely meant to make sure that someone was him.
In a show of his supreme arrogance Lindsey’s boss, the head of special projects in Metropolis, had concocted an inordinately simple plan to sign Xander as client of the firm. He sincerely believed that the teenager didn’t stand a chance. Once Xander signed a contract with Wolfram and Hart, he’d be out of the champion business in no time. A little careful manipulation, a few bad situations, and the occasional nudge would have the new Thunder God on the side of evil long before the prophecies about him started coming to pass. Or at least, that was the project head’s opinion.
For his part, Lindsey knew that the situation could easily go either way. If the Kents folded on this as easily as they had on the meeting, than this entire negotiation was going to be mostly a formality. If Xander caught either of the two major loopholes in the company’s plan, than they’d invoke the contingency plan and eliminate the threat in a more permanent fashion. It seemed pretty clear to the lawyer that the contingency plan could almost be classed as overkill and that the young God stood almost no chance of survival if it came to that.
It was almost a shame really. Lindsey had a feeling that Xander could have been quite a worthy opponent in time. It might have been fun to match wits with a God, but instead he was acting as little more than a glorified messenger. A part of him sincerely hoped that the boy managed to slip the noose they were putting around his neck and thoroughly humiliate Lindsey’s new boss in the process. With that incompetent wind-bag out of the way, there’d be no one to stop him from taking over the Harris project and raking in all the benefits when Xander fell from grace. Of course, on the off chance that the plan did work, Lindsey would still get a fair share of the credit. After all, he was the one who managed to manipulate the Kents into setting up the meeting to begin with.
Lindsey had no doubt that Xander would fall, sooner or later. The Aesir simply had too many emotional attachments to be an effective champion. Killing a few more of his loved ones would be highly effective in pushing him down a darker path. What did a few more dead bodies really matter when the prize was the human soul of a God? Every champion had a breaking point, and given enough time, Lindsey was positive he could find and exploit Xander’s
He smiled darkly as he turned onto the unpaved roadway that served as the main driveway for the Kent home. The quaint, hand-made wooden sign that proclaimed ‘Kent Farm’ swung slightly in the afternoon breeze and an idle memory of the years he’d spent with his own father, working as a hand on other people’s ranches, crossed Lindsey’s mind. He shoved the memory aside, reminding himself once more why it was he worked for Wolfram and Hart, vowing he’d never go back to being a nobody again.
To his mild surprise, Xander himself was leaning against the frame of the barn door as he parked his car. The dark scowl on the teens face was well worth the potential problems of getting a little wet if the storm broke. The first lesson Lindsey had learned at Wolfram and Hart was that emotions, any emotions, were a liability that could be exploited. To his mind, Xander was wearing his weakness on his face with that scowl.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Harris,” Lindsey greeted with a warm smile that couldn’t have been more genuine. It was hard not to smile when you knew you were holding all the cards.
“Lindsey,” the Aesir acknowledged scornfully. “I thought I’d seen the last of you when I got on that bus in Sunnydale. Imagine my surprise when my uncle mentioned your name. You’re like an evil penny, constantly turning up where you really aren’t wanted.”
“It’s good to see you too, Xander,” the attorney replied. “The firm thought it might be easier on you to continue to deal with me rather than someone else. So they transferred me to the Metropolis office.”
“Why?” the teen questioned, raising an eyebrow.
“You were officially the most important client on my list, all other concerns were secondary,” the man answered.
“I’m not your client,” Xander spat angrily, a loud thunder clap punctuating his words. “I was never your client, unless you’re mistaking me for Mayor Wilkins…in which case, you need to get those eyes checked.”
“Actually, that’s where you’re mistaken. You see, I was working for you, Mr. Harris, representing your interests and taking care of your business.” Lindsey’s voice was smug as he punctured Xander’s first, incorrect assumption. “Mayor Wilkins was merely paying for the services, on your behalf.”
“I was a client of the most evil law firm on the planet,” Xander repeated disgustedly. “Giles was right. I should have told you to go back to whatever Hell you crawled out of and handled things on my own.”
“That would have been difficult, Mr. Harris, seeing as you’re a minor and have very limited legal rights,” he replied. “Besides, despite what you may have heard, Wolfram and Hart doesn’t just represent evil. We also have a number of clients who are perfectly legitimate, very human, businessmen who are not necessarily evil.”
‘At least not as far as the general public is concerned anyway,’ Lindsey amended mentally, with a smirk.
“Just being one of our clients, doesn’t make you evil, Xander,” he continued honestly. “We do everything in our power to ensure that our clients get the best possible representation, taking care of whatever they may need along the way.”
“Including murder, blackmail, intimidation, and whatever else it might take to get the job done?” the Aesir asked, taking a threatening step forward.
Lindsey stood his ground without flinching, “Our clients can afford the best money can buy, they get exactly what they pay for.”
The house’s door swung open at that moment and Jonathan Kent walked out, heading across their front yard to join them by the barn. His sudden appearance caused Xander to tense up ever so slightly, a reaction that Lindsey took special note of. “They don’t know about you, do they?” the attorney asked quietly as the farmer approached.
“What, did you miss the front page announcement in the Smallville Ledger, telling the whole town the truth about me and Sunnydale?” Xander asked sarcastically. “Of course they don’t know! What am I, an idiot?”
‘That remains to be seen,’ Lindsey thought with another smirk as Jonathan stopped next to Xander.
“Mr. McDonald,” he greeted with obvious reluctance. “Why don’t we take this inside the house before that storm decides to break?”
“Yeah, after you, Mr. McDonald,” the teen gestured toward the house with one hand. “I know there aren’t any ambulances to chase across the yard, but I’m sure you can make do,” he muttered just low enough that he hoped his uncle wouldn’t catch the insult.
“Thank you, Mr. Harris,” the attorney replied, ignoring the barb despite the slight, irrational twinge of annoyance it stirred.
“So, Lindsey,” Xander said conversationally, a sly smirk settling on his face. “I didn’t even know that Wolfram and Hart had an office in Metropolis. I was a bit surprised when my uncle told me you guys were looking for me.”
“Well, it’s a somewhat smaller than most of our branches, less of our usual clientele in the area,” the lawyer replied, somewhat unsure of where the boy was going with this line of conversation. “Metropolis is a bit off the beaten path for most folks after all.”
“Oh, so they transferred you to a backwater, dead-end branch after Sunnydale? Gee, I really didn’t think you did anything that poorly…” the teen’s smirk widened as he saw the momentary tightening in the lawyer’s shoulders.
‘Ha!’ he thought gleefully. ‘Found an exposed nerve, time to get on it.’
“Actually, they just thought that you might prefer to continue dealing with a familiar face, rather than someone new,” Lindsey replied, but his smile clearly wasn’t quite as smug as it had been a few moments before.
“They told you they were transferring you all the way out here, for what amounts to a pro bono client?” the Aesir asked. “And you bought that? You know I’ve got this bridge I could sell ya…”
Jonathan Kent couldn’t entirely contain the grin that his nephew’s needling of the pompous attorney was inspiring. Instead, he cleared his throat and stepped around the two of them to open the door for their unwanted guest. “My wife, Martha, will show you in, if you’ll excuse us for a moment, I need a quick word with Xander before we get started…”
“Not a problem, Mr. Kent,” Lindsey said with a nod. “Take all the time you need.”
Xander shot a mocking grin at the lawyer before turning to look at his Uncle. Once the door was firmly closed, Jonathan gave him a stern look.
“Xander, I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to provoke Mr. McDonald, especially after this morning,” the farmer began, his voice tight.
“He was bluffing, Uncle Jonathan,” Xander said confidently. “Don’t ask me how I know, but I do. I think I have a pretty good idea what it is that Wolfram and Hart wants, I just don’t know why yet. Taking me and Clark away from you or creating problems for you would defeat their whole purpose in being here.”
Jonathan was taken aback by his nephew’s declaration and the sudden, very serious look on his face. “What is it that they want?”
“They want me as a client,” he answered. “They want me bad enough to send one of their better people out here to try and manipulate me into agreeing to it too.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” his uncle replied with a puzzled frown. “Are you sure?”
“Based on the conversation I had with Lindsey before you came out,” the teen explained, “it’s the only reason that makes sense.”
‘I just wish I could come clean with you about why they want me and the fact they see me as a threat,’ he thought quietly.
“How can you be sure they’re bluffing about their threats though?” Jonathan asked.
“Because if I get taken away from you guys, I go back to my Uncle Rory’s in L.A.,” he said simply. “And for some reason, they don’t want me too close to Sunnydale.”
Jonathan could tell that Xander was holding something back, that there was something more to the boy’s explanation than what he was saying. He stared at his nephew for a long moment, wanting desperately to demand a real explanation. But as much as he hated the feeling that he was being kept in the dark about something, he knew that if he wanted Xander to come clean, he had to be the first to extend some trust. “And the insults?” he asked instead.
“Angry people aren’t as focused as calm people,” the teen replied with a smirk. “I provoke him enough, and maybe he’ll slip and give us some answers he doesn’t want us to know.”
Taking a deep breath, Jonathan nodded slowly. Xander was playing a very dangerous game here, but something told Jonathan that the boy was right. There was something more to this meeting than just talking to his nephew, and this might be the only way they could find out what was really going on. “Alright Xander, just be careful here. If you’re wrong about this…” he let the thought trail off unspoken.
“I won’t let them take Clark away from you, Uncle Jonathan,” Xander said softly. “I’ll give up whatever it takes to keep that from happening, no matter what.”
“It’s not just Clark I’m worried about,” the farmer said with a sad smile, grabbing the teen’s shoulder reassuringly. “You’re part of this family too, Xander. I don’t want anything happening to you either.”
A soft, genuine smile lit the young God’s face and a warm feeling filled his heart. His uncle wasn’t the sort to say a thing like that without really meaning it, and that meant more than he’d ever know to the teen. “Thanks, Uncle Jonathan,” he said.
With another nod, Jonathan Kent opened the door again, and the two men went in to face the serpent they’d let into their home.
* * * * *
“Mrs. Kent,” Lindsey said in a friendly tone as he entered the Kent Home. He offered the woman his hand in greeting as he introduced himself, “I’m Lindsey McDonald.”
“Martha Kent,” she replied with a friendly smile of her own, despite her natural distaste for the man that had threatened to take her family away. She showed him to their living-room. Once there, the man took a seat in the arm chair, leaving the couch open for the Kents. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked politely.
“Sure,” he replied with a smile, recognizing her discomfort at being alone in the room with him and allowing her a way out. “Just some water, though.”
As she left the room, Lindsey turned his mind back to the business at hand. He’d seen Xander deploy his sarcastic wit before, but had been caught off guard by the way the boy had been able to affect him. He’d spent most of his life inuring himself to taunts and ridicule, and yet the Aesir’s childish barbs had torn right through his defenses, rattling him. Something wasn’t quite right here.
Before he could analyze the situation too closely, however, Mrs. Kent returned with Jonathan and Xander on her heels. As he’d expected, the only person they’d left out of the meeting was the adopted son, Clark. The fact that Xander hadn’t told them the whole truth about himself or about Sunnydale gave Lindsey one more bit of leverage he could use to manipulate the boy.
Lindsey noticed a strange glance between Xander and his uncle before the older man began and was instantly left wondering what had transpired outside.
“Well, Mr. McDonald, we’re here, so why don’t you tell us what it is that you want from our nephew?” Jonathan asked in calm, even tone.
“The mugging that Xander interrupted in Metropolis last week,” the attorney began, “wasn’t what it appeared to be. The men were professional deprogrammers who were in the process of extracting the young woman from a dangerous cult and bringing her back to her family. Xander’s well-meaning interference cost them that opportunity and has seriously complicated their efforts.”
“As I understand it, the young woman was in her early 20’s,” Xander replied. “If she wants to be part of a cult somewhere, that’s her business. I’m sorry, but she screamed, clearly believing her life was in danger and I did what any self-respecting person with a conscience would do.”
The looks of concern on everyone’s faces told Lindsey that the set-up was proceeding perfectly. Of course, the reality of the situation was somewhat different from the story he was telling, but the sanitized version served to make Xander the bad-guy and kept the Kents from hearing any nasty and unwanted details about what really happened.
“The girl’s family doesn’t see it that way. They’re talking about filing suit against you for you actions,” he continued, poising himself for the coup de grace. “If they win, they could take everything you have Mr. Kent, including your farm. However, since Xander was still a client of our firm at the time, having not yet arrived here in Smallville, we’re willing to represent him, pro bono of course. Xander will have the very best legal representation available. He just needs to sign a general retainer contract with Wolfram and Hart.”
Lindsey smiled smugly, at this point he fully expected the Kents to agree that it was for the best and that, as they say, would be that. The contract would establish the Aesir as a client of Wolfram and Hart until his twenty-first birthday, putting them in a perfect position to influence him over the next few years as his powers finished developing.
“Why?” Martha Kent asked with a confused look. “There are Good Samaritan laws on the books that would make getting a suit like that thrown out fairly simple. What does a firm like Wolfram and Hart stand to gain from getting a general retainer with a minor?”
“Aunt Martha’s dad was one of the best lawyers in Metropolis,” Xander offered with a smug grin of his own, “before he retired and moved out to the coast a while back.”
Lindsey felt like he’d just been sucker punched. That little fact somehow had gotten overlooked in their background data on the Kents and Lindsey was suddenly very glad he wasn’t the one who’d done the prep work on this case. After overlooking something as important as this, some paralegal at the firm was likely to find their contract, and quite possibly their life, being terminated. Suddenly, Lindsey realized that the situation here wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as he thought. “Uh, well,” he said scrambling for a way to recover from the hole that had just been unexpectedly blown in his plan.
“Plus,” Xander put in, “there’s the whole fact that Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Martha didn’t become my legal guardians until after the incident. I don’t think they could be held responsible for what I did while I was technically still a temporary ward of the state of California…”
“And since Xander himself is a minor,” Jonathan continued, grabbing Xander’s train of thought, “wouldn’t they have to file suit against the state of California over this?”
“The point is, though, Mr. McDonald,” the Aesir said, his voice going hard. “That I frankly don’t want to do business with Wolfram and Hart. I’m not interested in retaining your firm and I won’t sign any contract with you or them.”
Lindsey’s smile faded, his face slipping into a carefully neutral expression. “Very well, if you aren’t interested in doing business with you, I can’t force you, Mr. Harris. However, you should be aware that all it would take is a single phone call to Kansas Child Protective Services, suggesting that they look into the charity that handled Clark’s adoption to get both you and Clark taken away…”
“And if that happens, I’ll end up back in Los Angeles with my Uncle Rory,” Xander shot back angrily. “Imagine all the problems that little scenario could create for you and your firm, Mr. McDonald. Two hours from Sunnydale and one of the largest branches of Wolfram and Hart in the world, right there in the city…”
It was the moment of truth for both parties and Xander found himself holding his breath in anticipation of the outcome. If he was wrong, then he’d just backed himself into a corner that only had one way out: making a deal with Wolfram and Hart. Lindsey locked gazes with the teen, completely ignoring his guardians.
“Seems that we underestimated you, Mr. Harris,” the attorney conceded some few moments later. “Don’t think that this little victory comes without any consequences, however. I think you’ll regret the side you’ve chosen.” With that, the man stood up, picked up his briefcase and strolled out of the Kent home.
When they heard the door slam, Martha Kent looked at her nephew, “What was that all about Xander?”
“I wish I really knew, Aunt Martha,” he answered with a sigh. “But whatever it was, I doubt it’s really over.”
* * * * *
Lindsey couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen anyone underestimate an opponent quite this badly. Admittedly, it had been a fairly simple plan, but those were often the most effective kind. In fact, the plan had only had two possible weaknesses, and between the Aesir and Martha Kent, both had been exploited. The only good thing he could think of at this point was the fact that it hadn’t actually been his plan, so at least the failure could be palmed off on someone else.
Unfortunately for Xander Harris, however, his decision to not become a client of Wolfram and Hart had very little impact in the firm’s overall plan. In fact, all it did was move the timetable up a bit. With a confident grin, the lawyer scooped up his cell-phone and hit a number on his speed-dial.
When someone answered on the other end, he issued a very simple order, “Execute the first contingency scenario.”
Xander and the Kents would never know what hit them.
* * * * *
Xander was sitting on the fence surrounding the lower range of the Kent Farm, staring across the open field and bouncing a fist-sized rock on the palm of his hand when Clark found him. Clark had hoped to have a chance to introduce Pete to his cousin when they got back from riding their motor-bikes, but the other boy had taken off after the lawyer left. Apparently, his cousin had declared that he needed some air and had gone for a walk, promising only to stay on the farm.
Clark drew up short, watching his cousin for a moment. Ever since Xander had arrived on the farm, things had been strained between them, like neither of them really knew how to talk to the other. He knew that his cousin had been through a lot in the years since his last visit, especially in the last few weeks, and he wanted to be there for Xander. It just seemed like too many things were getting in the way, mainly Clark’s secret and his cousin’s unwillingness to really talk about what happened in Sunnydale. Right now, however, it looked an awful lot like the weight of the world seemed to be getting the best of Xander.
‘Maybe he’s finally ready to open up a little,’ Clark thought as he approached the boy quietly, trying not to disturb him.
Just as Xander drew his arm back to pitch the rock across the field, Clark spoke up and announced his presence. “You doing okay, Xan?” he asked softly.
Startled by the sudden realization that he wasn't alone, the young Aesir jerked abruptly just as he threw, whipping the rock through the air hard and fast. The boys’ eyes met for a split second before they both stared after the rocket-speed projectile. The stone struck a lone tree more than a hundred yards away with an almost explosive crack. A moment later, the tree toppled over from the impact.
Xander winced as the tree fell before looking back at Clark. “Oops?” he offered with a tentative grin.