Lorne was not happy. And not unhappy in the 'somebody drank my perfectly chilled Perrier and replaced it with warm tap water' sense, but deeply, soul-searchingly unhappy. The kind even a flotilla of Sea Breezes, followed by front row seats to Donny-as-Joseph, would be unable to cure.
To sum up: of all the days Lorne had wished he'd never set eyes on the six-plus broody feet of Champion with a side dish of martyr complex that was Angel, today was the most wishing-est of them all, folks.
Lindsey had finally dispatched the last of the Sahrvin, and now stood washing his hands at the small, conveniently-placed sink. Part One of their role in Angel's big take-down-the-Black-Thorn plan had taken much longer than Lorne had expected – long enough he felt sure the alley rendezvous had come and gone like Vanilla Ice. Not that he'd been planning on attending, but he had thought a head start out of the city would be a good thing. Now that it was time for Part Two…
Impending wrath of the Senior Partners aside, Part Two sucked. With a capital S, as the kids say.
Lorne fingered the gun in his pocket, the coldness of the metal making his skin crawl, and gave himself pep talk number two hundred and eighteen. Fact: He'd heard Lindsey sing. Chances for redemption were slim at best. Fact: There was going to be a hell of a power vacuum, and history had proven Lindsey couldn't resist power any more than Robert Downey Jr. could resist heroin. Fact: Lindsey had as good as said he was in this to take over Wolfram and Hart after the dust settled. If Lorne went cold feet now, somebody would end up having to do his part later.
Fact: Lindsey was smiling at him. Talking about teamwork. Redemption. "You don't think a man can change?"
Fact: It was time to do the deed. Now. Right now. Clint Eastwood had nothing on him.
Somewhere in the building, a door crashed open. Reinforcements? Avenging Senior Partners? Either way, it was now or never. Lorne gripped the handle, and then promptly let go when another crash sounded, just down the hallway.
Whatever it was, it sounded angry. Hulk Smash angry. And it was fast – that, or there was more than one of the whatever it was. Maybe it would be good to keep the bona fide swordsman around a little longer.
"Think your sword arm's up for more action?"
Lindsey, already moving to grab his weapon, grinned. "What I tell you? It's good to be part of the team."
Lorne grimaced, but didn't say anything. If he lived through whatever came next, he'd wrestle his conscience then. He hurried to the far side of the room as Lindsey took front and center, more than happy to play the damsel to Lindsey's knight in dented and tarnished armor.
"Any idea –" he began, and then and then stopped with a bemused frown when a small, frail, elderly man hobbled through the door Lindsey had destroyed earlier. "Okay, I wasn't expecting that. Were you expecting that?"
The sudden tension in Lindsey's posture suggested he had been expecting that, or at least knew who the old man with the white wisps of hair and monk-like robes was.
Not someone's kindly old grandpa who'd accidentally wandered in, then. Lorne hummed a little "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", hoping grandpa would join in. The downside to his talents? He was as clueless as the next schlub without a snatch of song to read.
Grandpa proved to be one of the few old-timers immune to the charms of the Andrews Sisters. Rather, he folded his arms and managed to glare down at Lindsey from his diminutive height. "You have broken the code, Shri Lindsey. Did you think your betrayal would not go unnoticed?"
"Considering it's been almost a year, yeah, I guess I kinda hoped it had." Lindsey folded his own arms as well, sword dangling casually. "What took you so long?"
"Mocking. Always it is mocking with you, Shri Lindsey." The old man shook his head. "It was the Order of Shamaya who made you. Who hid you. A move we have come to regret most infinitely, as you were hidden from our eyes as well. But…" He gestured to Lindsey's tattoo-free arms. "Now you are not."
"Knew I should've touched up my ink. So, what? Now we fight?"
"Now you bring us the vessel, so we may destroy it."
Despite the old man's thin, reedy voice, Lorne shivered. There was power there; he didn't need to hear grandpa sing to feel it.
"Forgive me, Shri Shamaya." Lindsey dipped his head in a mockery of deference. "But I'm afraid that's not going to happen."
"You have abused the sacred knowledge given you. The vessel has defiled the pure word of the infinite. It must be destroyed."
Lindsey shrugged. "I don't even know where it is."
Shri Shamaya stood taller, seeming to grow at least a foot, and directed a sharp gesture at Lindsey's head. Lindsey jerked.
"Oh boy, here we go," Lorne muttered. He edged towards the doorway. "Well, looks like you two have some things to discuss. I'll just be going…"
The old man flung his other arm Lorne's way. Lorne froze, and not voluntarily, he might add.
"Let him go. He's not part of this," Lindsey said.
Well, that was unexpected. Warmed Lorne right down to the bottom of his heart, too. And now he almost felt guilty about his aborted role in Part Two of the plan – well, almost felt even guiltier.
The old man twisted his wrist, and Lorne's escalating guilt turned to unconsciousness.
Lorne woke to find himself as immobile as if he'd been trussed for the Sunday dinner on a Pylean farm table. There were no ropes that he could feel, which meant grandpa must have hit him with a wallop of something mystical. Magic was good – magic wore off. Eventually. Maybe. Lorne opened his eyes and cautiously peered around.
Chunks of dead demon, overturned hookah. Well, at least he knew where he was. Even better: not dead yet. Head still attached to body. Things were definitely looking up. Judy Garland knew the value of silver linings, and, by golly, so did Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan.
Not far away, Lindsey stood rigid, eyes locked on Shri Shamaya's. The old man had his hand pressed to Lindsey's chest. Based on the death glare Lindsey had going on, Lorne guessed he was helpless to move away.
"I'm telling you, I have no idea where the vessel is," Lindsey said through gritted teeth. "This is pointless."
Shri Shamaya closed his eyes, a look of utmost concentration upon his face. "The vessel will come, with your knowing or not. I have summoned it. It is only a matter of –" He broke off, eyes wide. His face turned waxy, and he dropped his outstretched arm and took a tottering step backwards. "Portal?" he gasped, head thrown back. "So much power. Too much. What is it?"
Lindsey, eyes narrowed, took a tentative step away from the wizened old man. Realizing he could move again, he grinned. "Guess we fight now, huh?"
Hopeful he'd been freed too, Lorne struggled against his invisible bonds, but they held tight. Just dip him in carbonite and call him Han Solo. On the other side of the room, Lindsey was advancing on Shri Shamaya. Lorne cringed, thinking it would be a massively one-sided fight, only to let out a grunt of surprise when the old man went crazed spinning-Yoda on Lindsey's jean-clad tushie.
Well, there was a sight you didn't see every day – unless you hung out in a George Lucas studio. Lorne might have schmoozed with the evilest of the Hollywood evil over the past year, but at least he hadn't sunk that low, thank the muses. Maybe if he'd stuck with Wolfram and Hart any longer…
Despite Shri Shamaya's surprising strength and prowess, it was clear that whatever had snapped his hold on Lindsey had also sapped most of his powers. The fight went on long enough for Lorne to get bored (not that he'd ever had a fascination with violence in the first place – the only time he wanted to see that much liquid red was in a pitcher of Sea Breezes, thank you very much), but it was very definitively, if slowly, turning in Lindsey's favor.
"If I fail, others will follow," the old man gasped when Lindsey scored a brutal blow to his head. He fell to his knees. "Your sacrilege must be obliterated."
"How about I promise to take care of it real soon?" Lindsey said, and kicked Shri Shamaya in the jaw hard enough that Lorne could hear his neck snap from clear across the room.
Lorne rolled over with a yelp, suddenly free. He climbed to his feet, shaking out the kinks. "I take it His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been forcefully reincarnated." He turned away from the corpse, even smaller in death than it had been in life, with a wince of distaste. "Please tell me he deserved it."
"Depends on your definition of deserve."
"Evil hiding behind a mask of purity?"
Lindsey barked out a laugh. "Sorry to disappoint. Neutral, at best. But, uh, presuming you prefer to count yourself among the still-living, this was the only option. Kind of a him or us type scenario."
"Oh. Well in that case…" Lorne righted a chair and sat on it. The calculating, remorseless look on Lindsey's face when he'd killed the old man had Lorne rethinking Part Two of Angel's master plan all over again, but right now his legs were too shaky to do anything about it. "What's this vessel he wanted? Is it really such a big deal?"
"According to the Order of Shamaya."
"What about according to the rest of us?"
Lindsey righted a seat for himself. "Depends on who you ask." He slumped into the chair.
"And the vessel? What is it?"
"Just a little something I really wanted to keep from the Senior Partners." Lindsey fell silent, head back eyes closed.
Lorne copied his pose. Now that it was quiet, he could hear the distinct rumble of fighting. Something screeched, a drawn out reverberation that set his teeth on edge. "Sounds like the Senior Partners are a little ticked."
To Lorne, it sounded like the battle was getting closer. The something screeched again. Definitely closer. He stood. "Well, that's my cue."
He withdrew the revolver and aimed it at Lindsey's chest. Eyes still closed, Lindsey didn't react. Lorne's hand began to shake, and he half-lowered the gun. "Just… just one more job before I go."
Lindsey sat up at that. Noticing the gun, his expression turned incredulous. And wounded. "You don't think I've changed?"
"It's not about what I think," Lorne said heavily. "This was Angel's plan."
"Angel?" Lindsey burst from his chair. "Angel has you kill me? A flunky? I don't think so! That's not how it's supposed to go down."
"I take it that means you're not betting on getting yourself redeemed either." Lorne raised his arm and squeezed the trigger.
A blurred shape crashed into Lindsey, knocking him to the ground, then sprang up and kicked the revolver from Lorne's hand before he could react. A second kick had him on the ground, a furious Slayer poised to take his head off.
Lorne raised his hands in defense, not that it would do much good if the Warrior Princess decided to rearrange his body parts.
"Well, well. Saved by the Slayer ringing your bell." Lindsey laughed, and Buffy drew her arm back, ready to deliver the killing blow. He grabbed her wrist. "Hold up, Buffy. Let him go."
"Let him go?" She didn't move a muscle. "He was just about to kill you!"
"In all fairness, I probably deserve it."
She turned her glare on Lindsey. "So I've heard. And don't think we won't be having a conversation about the excessive amounts of bullshit you fed me." Little Miss Lemon Drop cocked her head, studying the man holding her wrist. "Is it true? You don't consider yourself redeemable?"
Lindsey seemed to take her question very seriously. "Isn't there always a chance?"
"That's not what you taught me. Giles."
He gave her a wry grin. "You got me there."
Buffy straightened. Lorne took the opportunity to roll away, under a table, only to be dragged out again.
"I'm very attached to all my body parts, I'll have you know," he said, trying to crawl away in a dignified manner and making zero progress thanks to the Slayer's grip on his ankle.
"Really, Buffy, let him go. He's actually one of the good guys."
"He's a demon who works for vampires in an evil law firm. He's one of the good guys now?"
Lorne gave up on his attempt to escape. "Believe me, sugar, nobody regrets my late choice of employment more than I do. But hey, it's been an awkward year all-around. I mean, I'm still in shock over the Janet Jackson Superbowl debacle, how about you? Wolfram and Hart had nothing to do with that, I might add."
"World's not so black and white as I might have led you to believe, Buffy. Sorry about that."
Lindsey's grin didn't look particularly sorry to Lorne.
Based on Buffy's scowl, she didn't find him convincing either. "I should've just let him shoot you."
"You still can."
She sighed. "You saved my life. I'm having a hard time forgetting that little fact, despite your otherwise less-than-moral morals. Hence me choosing to believe you're really a good guy, deep down. Way, way deep down."
"And me?" Lorne said. "I'm a good guy deep down, and on the surface. And everywhere in between. Just ask anybody. Say, any chance I could maybe stand up now?" He was really tired of crouching on the floor like a dog.
Buffy let him go. He jumped to his feet and put an overturned table between them.
"How'd you find me anyhow?" Lindsey said.
"Oh, you know. You find me when I'm on the brink of death, I find you when you're in mortal peril. It seems to be a thing that we do."
"I'm not going to complain."
"Good. And are you going to make this right?" she said, indicating the wall through which they could hear the clamor of battle just outside.
Lindsey scooped up his sword. "What are you talking about? I'm already up fifteen-nothing." He glanced at the wizened corpse of Shri Shamaya. "Make that sixteen-nothing."
Buffy drew herself up, fists on her hips. "Excuse me. It's not my fault I decided to come save your sorry ass first."
"All right then. Still. Got some catching up to do, don't you?" He gestured to the doorway. "Shall we?"
The two of them headed for the door. Lorne stared after them. "So, that's it? We all ride off into our sunsets, no harm, no foul?"
Lindsey turned back to him. "Give Angel my regards." He hooked his arm through Buffy's. She narrowed her eyes at him, but didn't otherwise protest, and Lindsey gave Lorne a cocky grin. "Should I say – our regards." As they left, he turned to Buffy. "First, I've got to check up on somebody…"
"Well, that didn't go as planned," Lorne said to the empty doorway. He sighed, deeply unhappy.
Maybe he could just send Angel a postcard.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Lindsey's alive. Your little ray of Slayer sunshine absconded with him. Cracked one of my horns doing it, too. Doesn't look as though she's cured yet, by the way. Have a fantastic life!
Sure. That could work. In a different universe.
Pocketing the gun he'd dropped, Lorne settled in to wait the apocalypse out. He could deliver the bad news in the morning. Presuming there was anybody left to deliver it to.