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Fine Print and High Fashion
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

The magazine selection in Hell, quite frankly, sucked.

Fred shuffled the stack on the table again, but the titles didn't change. US Weekly. Field & Stream. She'd give a kidney for a Scientific American, but at this point she'd take National Geographic, or TIME...not that she needed her kidneys anymore anyway...

"The choices get better with each visit." She hadn't noticed anyone else in the room, but now there was a man on the far couch, smiling at her. "First time I came in, there was nothing but Allure and Good Housekeeping. The next time I got Sports Illustrated." He turned his wrist so she could see the cover of his current reading material. "This time? GQ."

He looked like he should be reading that. Crisp white shirt, suspenders, a snappy suit coat folded over his lap. Handsome guy. And he'd been here before. "What is this place? Why am I here?"

"Winifred Burkle, right? From the LA office?" He closed the magazine and placed it on the table. "Frankly, Miss Burkle, you're here because you didn't read the fine print."

"I'm dead." The words fell flatly in the sterile air. "Why am I in a waiting room?"

He shrugged, adjusting the magazine with his fingertips until it was perfectly parallel to the table's edge. "Well, Miss Burkle, if you'd read your contract..."

"All right, I get it, I was a bad girl." She pressed her hands against her temples, glaring at him.

He smiled faintly. "Yes, your file mentions that. You're cross-referenced to 'madonna/whore complex,' did you know?"

Turned out that being dead didn't mean you couldn't blush. "How the hell- who are you, anyway?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. How rude of me." He leaned forward and offered his hand. She looked at it like it was a snake; he smirked as he let it drop again. "My name's Marcus. Marcus Hamilton. And as for how I know..." He winced slightly, rubbing his forehead. "Well, I'm still getting used to that. Having a direct link into everything Wolfram & Hart has on record is a bitch, I'm not going to lie to you."

"You're one of them?" She felt her lip curl in disgust and didn't bother to hide it. He chuckled.

"Working on it. Today's session three for me." He settled himself back on the couch, folding his hands behind his head. "You do realize that you're three visits away from being one as well, Miss Burkle?"

"What?"

He shook his head, propping one foot up against the edge of the table. Argyle socks. She should've known. "You know, when signing a contract with a law firm, Miss Burkle, it behooves you to read the-"

"Will you shut up about the damn fine print?" She swallowed and tried to convince her fists to unclench. "What are they going to do to me?"

He raised one eyebrow, blinking slowly. "Really, your file speaks highly of your intelligence. I'm surprised that you haven't figured it out."

"I guess being dead's made me stupid."

"Don't be so hard on yourself." He reached out and patted her knee lightly. She pushed her chair back and folded her arms across her chest. "Congratulations, Miss Burkle, you're starting the process of being reconstructed into a firm liaison."

"A liaison? Like Eve?" Good Lord, the pattern in his suspenders matched his tie. Why the hell was she noticing that now? This type of random disobedience from her brain was exactly how she wound up in this mess in the first place.

"I would hope that you'll be considerably better at the job than Eve." He rolled his eyes. "Incompetent little harpy."

She had a sudden thought. "Are you dead too?" Dead shouldn't wear argyle...then again, she'd seen some of the things Angel produced from his closet...

"Oh yes." He nodded slowly, a flicker of regret in his eyes. "Not cooked from inside by an ancient god-king, though. Just a FedEx truck and a left-turn lane."

"Since you're such a fan of fine print, I assume you're not here because of a contract." The harder she tried to be snippy, the more amused he seemed. She decided she strongly disliked this man, his ability to carry Armani nonwithstanding.

"You've heard the term 'child of the Senior Partners'?" She nodded. "Well, all that means is that my mother signed me over in her contract, well before I was born. The firm has hundreds of kids, all over the country." He shrugged. "We lead normal lives until age 18, and then those of us who show potential..." He spread his arms and grinned. "Well, we get to make a choice between mediocrity and the dotted line."

"Oh, so there was a contract involved." She rolled her eyes and put her feet up on the table. "I take it you read the fine print?"

"All that was in there was the perfect life." He smiled, and again she caught that faint flicker of sadness. He clasped his hands over one knee. "Football scholarship to Northwestern, sorority girls, a business degree with honors. Six-figure income. I think I had a wife and kids, but it's getting kind of fuzzy." He rubbed at his forehead again.

"Yeah, and they also gave you that FedEx truck." She closed her eyes. "By the way, Northwestern isn't exactly a football school."

He laughed. "Texas girl, figures you'd know your football."

"Oh, that's in the file too, is it?" She opened her eyes to glare at him, caught him looking at her legs, and slammed her feet back to the floor. "What else is in that goddamn thing?"

"A personal note from Lilah Morgan herself, recommending you for reconstruction. You should be flattered." He shook his head. "Her file, now that's some reading..."

"Lilah?" She slammed her fist against the table and winced. Being dead apparently didn't mean you couldn't bruise. "Lilah is behind this? I'm going to get reconstructed right into a hunchback and some open sores."

"No, no. Sex appeal is very important. Essential tool for manipulation." He paused, studying her face. "Oh dear. That's not a happy look. I take it you think of sex as a beautiful, sacred thing?" She glared; he laughed. "Yeah, they'll cut that right out of you."

She looked at his smirking face above that starched white cotton. "What did they cut out of you?"

He looked right back into her eyes, impassive. "Isn't the whole point that I can't remember?"

She turned to look at the door at the far end of the room, the one that led to...whatever. Reconstruction. "Will it hurt?"

"The first time?" He traced the GQ logo with his fingertip. "All they'll do is put in your mental link to the files and records. That's not so terrible- kind of like a bad hangover." He rotated the magazine ninety degrees and lined it up to the table edge again. "The second visit, they do the body modifications. They fixed the knee I tore up against Michigan State and made me an inch taller. That was cool. My guess is they'll give you about two cup sizes." He turned the magazine again. "But they also change all your blood. That's pretty bad. I'm not going to lie to you, that hurts like hell."

She swallowed, wondering when her throat had gone so raw and dry. "What about the third time?"

He smiled blandly, knocking the magazine to the floor. "Well, I haven't been in yet, have I?"

"Right." She stared down at the table top. It was painfully shiny. She could see herself. "I can't believe this."

"Believe it, Miss Burkle. If you'd read the- well." He stopped, smiling faintly, and adjusted his tie. "Look at it this way. Soon you'll be better, stronger, faster...they have the technology..."

"Don't you mean the mojo?" Something was moving behind the far door. She wondered which of them it was coming for.

"Now you're getting into the spirit." He followed her gaze to the door. "I think that's for me." He stood and carefully folded his jacket over his arm. "It's been lovely chatting with you, Miss Burkle. I'd offer to say hello for you when I get up to LA, but I'm pretty sure it's against policy." He smiled and adjusted his tie again, a tic she decided was most annoying. "In fact, I know it's against policy. I know all kinds of fascinating things."

"Can't wait for that," she whispered, staring at the door.

"Well, if it's any comfort, and I doubt that it is..." He reached for the tie again, caught himself, fiddled with his cuffs instead. "I can't say you won't feel a thing, but you also won't care."
****
"Melissa Mendez?"

"I'm sorry, I don't have time to talk...we're swamped since the LA office went down..." She trailed off as a sheet of paper landed on her desk. "What's this?"

"Just sign at the bottom, please." Melissa looked up at the woman standing by her desk. Tall and gorgeous, with shiny chestnut hair and cold, cold eyes. She was dressed to kill, too- pale gray linen suit, purple Hermes scarf, six-inch stiletto Blahniks. Melissa swallowed.

"No..."

"Yes," Winifred Burkle purred, cocking her head to the side. "You're out, Miss Mendez, and I'm in. Sign."

"I can't believe this," Melissa whispered, fumbling for a pen. "They're replacing me now? After that disaster in LA? This is hardly the time for..."

"It's exactly the time," Fred interrupted, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "And not that it concerns you, but this won't be anything like LA." She smiled and straightened her scarf. Melissa's blood ran cold. "I'm better than Marcus Hamilton ever could have been in his wildest dreams." The pen moved across the paper and Fred shivered as power poured through her veins. "The Partners needed muscle to clear the game board, but getting business running smoothly again...that takes some brains." She plucked a small mirror from her purse and checked her lipstick. It was already perfect. "Poor boy didn't know it, but he was just the opening act. I'm the big show."

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