Disclaimer: For the last time, these guys are not mine, so don't sue me.
Feedback: This is the last gasp, people, so what did you think? Was this worth spending nineteen chapters over or what? Please remember, it was my first ever fic, so be gentle when you criticise me, OK?
I'm sorry for you guys that wanted Lindsey to stay as part of AI, but this was supposed to fit in between regular episodes in the series, so he couldn't hang a round for long. It was fun whilst it lasted, though, right? Anyway, read on and enjoy, for the very last time…* sniff *
Lindsey hovered around his room, rubbing his arm absently. God, he was getting old. A little bit of being thrown around with reckless abandon and he had more bruises than you could shake a box of band-aids at. He'd be sixty before you could say Saga Holidays. OK, so maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless, this experience had presented a few home truths that he hadn't considered seriously enough before.
First of all, he realised that he just wasn't cut out for this demon fighting 'good guy' stuff. Second of all, he considered life to be way too short, and that time wouldn't wait around forever for him to get his act together. Lastly, he had discovered just how lonely he had been these last few…well…years.
Actually, he knew all of that already. That and the fact that you couldn't trust Wolfram and Hart as far as you could throw them. They were too crafty for their own good, and if he valued his life at all, he would do best to stay out of their way for the rest of his natural existence, and then some. They thought he was dead, and that was just fine by him, as long as it stayed that way.
It all boiled down to one thing in the end. He couldn't stay here. He wanted a family, a life of his own, unhindered and certainly not hounded. He'd done the career thing and learnt first hand that, be it an evil law firm or not, the kind of high profile he was used to didn't leave much in the personal time area. Was a quiet life with that special person too much to ask in his case? He didn't think so. Sure, he didn't deserve a lot of things, but doesn't everyone deserve a second chance to make things right?
He looked at his poor excuse for a collection of belongings, lined up on the bed in front of him. A couple of old shirts that one of the others had dug up for him, a tatty old jacket that had seen better days, and the semi-valuable watch he had somehow managed to keep hold of through it all. Pathetic. Apart from the clothes on his back, he had nothing else of any value whatsoever. And he wasn't about to ask Angel for money. Maybe he could stretch to a bag, though…
Anyway, it wasn't as if he had nothing to his name. His previous job had paid well, and being a lawyer, he had known a thing or two about investment. He'd made previsions for just such a situation. He wasn't stupid…or naïve.
Angel wasn't going to like this. Lindsey could already imagine some of the things he might say to try to dissuade him from his idea, not that they'd work. He had made up his mind.
Lindsey smiled to himself at the thought. Angel probably thought he had a new pet project to work on now. A self-improving ex-evil-lawyer to help tempt back from the dark side and set on his path. As sickeningly sweet as that sounded, Lindsey wasn't sure if he was ready enough to stomach Angel's good intentions just yet. Besides, this was something he needed to do one his own. He didn't fancy being fashioned into one more of Angel's 'grown-as-a-person' sidekicks, and he wasn't some broken spirited rouge Slayer that needed all the help he could get. He would cope.
Now all he had to do was break the good news. Easy.
The pendulum of the wall clock swung through the minutes, stretching them on until Lindsey was sure that the suspense would kill him. He'd told Angel that he needed to see him, so what was taking him so long? Did he know what this was about and was making him sweat out of some cruel sense of justice, or what?
Finally, the door opened without so much as a knock, making Lindsey start. Angel stood on the threshold expectantly, and Lindsey returned an uncomfortable stare. What? He wrinkled his brow for a second, unsure of what he was supposed to say. Angel gave him a 'duh' look and tapped something in front of him that Lindsey couldn't see.
"Oh, right", Lindsey blurted out, suddenly realising. "Come in, Angel."
"Thanks", he said, entering. "You know, this is your room now, so…"
"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about", Lindsey broke in, hoping the vampire wouldn't get too attached to the idea of keeping him around. He knew that Angel could keep him here if he really wanted to, especially if he had some twisted notion that it was his duty to help heal Lindsey's soul or something. And with Angel, that was probably a highly likely idea.
Angel stared blankly at him, making no move to sit or even look casual in any way. Lindsey felt uneasy and, not for the first time, decided that Angel was the weirdest person he'd ever met. Either he didn't know how to react in this kind of situation and was scared of frightening Lindsey off, or he was blowing hot and cold faster than a crummy motel shower. Jeez, pick a mood already.
Lindsey swallowed down his reservations and got straight to the point, tired of beating about the bush with pleasantries and politeness.
"Angel, I'm leaving."
There, that wasn't so hard.
Angel didn't respond, maybe waiting for him to go on, or thinking up some cocky comeback and a way to pound his ungrateful ass. Lindsey hoped it was the former.
"Look", he continued, not waiting to find out for certain, "I know what you're going to say. But you have to understand; I don't do the group hug thing. I'm better on my own. That's the way it always has been and the way it's going to stay. You can rant and shout at me all you want but nothing will change that. And surely you of all people realise that I can't just hang around here and hope that Wolfram and Hart don't notice me; it doesn't work like that. It'll be better for all of you if I just go and do my own thing. I've got money…and I know a place I can go…and it's not like I had trouble starting out before, I mean, I got a job and…"
Lindsey bit off his ramble and waited for the disagreeing lecture.
Lindsey blinked. "Huh? You do?"
"Sure. You want to do this yourself, and that's…good. It's something I could never do, but I've come to realise over time that people work in different ways. I know what it's like to try and deal on your own, and I couldn't do it. The guys here, they help with that. But I guess, if it's not your thing, you need to go on in any way you can to make it right."
Angel stopped and got a faraway look in his eyes. He thought of Faith and her struggle to come to terms with herself, realising that he couldn't have done anything better for her. She had needed to work it out for herself. Sure, Lindsey's case was maybe not as extreme as that, but who was he to judge? He didn't know what the man had done in his time with the firm, or what he might have to live with for the rest of his life. Exteriors were not much to go on, if Angel himself was anything to go on.
Lindsey eyed him doubtfully, obviously feeling uncomfortable with the rare glimpse into Angel's own feelings on the subject. He was trying to look unmoved, but Angel could sense that there was more to it than that.
"Um, yeah, OK. Whatever." He shrugged his shoulders and gathered up some stuff from the bed. Angel was a little surprised at his eagerness to leave.
"What? You're going now? Like, right now?"
Lindsey smiled. "There's no time like the present."
He brushed past his host into the corridor behind, stuffing the bundle of clothing under his arm. Maybe he'd forget about the bag, then.
Delayed reactions hindering him for a second, Angel turned to follow, stopping again when he saw that Lindsey was already half way down the hall, making his escape pretty fast. Maybe he just wasn't one for long goodbyes.
"Aren't you even going to see the others before you go?" he shouted after him, bewildered.
"Nah", Lindsey called over his shoulder, "I don't think they'll really miss me anyway. Tell Wes I appreciate what he did."
Angel gave it up and decided to just let the man go. He was about to retreat back into the room when Lindsey stopped at the corner and turned, looking back briefly.
"Oh and Angel…thanks."
And then he was gone.
* * *
The little red candle remained upright on the set of drawers, stubbornly refusing to move. Cordelia had insisted that he tried, for the sake of self-control, even though he knew it wouldn't work. She expected some spectacular display when she came back, but she would be disappointed.
Wesley stared at the annoying object even harder, determined that if he willed it hard enough, it would do something. He'd seen people do this sort of thing loads of times. It couldn't be that hard, could it?
"Come on, come on", he whispered, the mantra like words floating through his mind.
The candle just sat there, like any good inanimate object should do.
This was frustrating. Was intense concentration supposed to be this stressful? It had all been so easy to do earlier, that was the annoying thing. OK, so it was really draining, but he hadn't needed to think about it at all, it just came. Maybe that was what he was doing wrong; thinking about it too much.
Ahh, reverse psychology. If he pretended to ignore the thing, something might happen. He gave it a try, forcing himself to relax and look everywhere else in the room but at the candle. He could still see it, though, in the corner of his eye. Watching him, mocking him, doing everything but obeying his will. Damn candle.
He pummelled a fist down beside him into the mattress in frustration, ready to give up once and for all. And the candle shivered and fell over, rolling to a stop against the bookstand.
Wesley smiled. He got up, replaced it back on its base again and returned to the bed, his enthusiasm returning. This time, he looked at it and tried to clear his mind of thoughts, concentrating instead on its red colour and its position on the wooden surface.
He would very much like for it to move over slightly, if it would be so kind. He wasn't going to force it, but simply ease it and persuade it to disobey the laws of physics and gravity. Simple, really.
It took a little time, but Wesley was patient, and eventually, he felt something change in the air around him. It was hardly even perceptible, as slight as it was, but it was something. Almost forgetting what he was trying to do in the first place, he noticed in delight that the little red candle had begun to shake, and then sway back and forth on its base, as though someone was prodding it from the side.
Trying not to concentrate too hard, he nudged it some more, until it almost tipped over again. Any moment now, he'd be able to lift it off of the drawers completely, maybe even move it around the room. If he could just keep…
The door to the room opened suddenly and he jumped back into awareness, his concentration snapped. The candle dived off of the surface and plummeted to the floor, throwing itself towards the doorway. It hit the ground with a dull 'thunk', the red wax breaking on impact.
Wesley sighed and relaxed when he saw Cordelia walk through, her eyes suspiciously regarding the jumpy little object now lying broken at her feet. She glimpsed Wesley looking at her and immediately thrust her palm out towards him, her chin raised in defiance.
"Talk to the hand", she ordered authoritatively, bending to pick up the candle by its wick, presenting it limp and bendy to its owner.
Wesley looked confused, but he took the candle from her anyway, waiting for her to explain.
"You know what I'm going to say", she informed him, rolling her eyes when he still didn't get it. "I'm going to say, 'I know what you're going to say, and don't', then you say, 'what?' and I say 'the sorry thing', and you say, 'oh'."
Wesley still didn't get it, but he didn't argue with her and nodded, hoping to placate her.
"Actually, I was going to ask how the others were", he said, throwing the now useless accumulation of chunks of wax stuck to some string away.
Cordelia slumped down beside him on the bed, giving a long-suffering sigh and turning her gaze to the heavens, or at least, to the nasty swirly plaster patterns that some genius of a decorator had thought looked original and kooky.
"Where do I start?" she groaned, recalling everything that the last few hours had thrown at them. "Gunn can be such a moany baby when he's hurt. He wouldn't even let me near him with the antiseptic, the big wimp."
Wesley inwardly cringed in sympathy, but kept his attentive 'I'm listening' face on when Cordelia looked at him for support.
"I mean, what's a little stinging when you've already battled the big nasties, huh?"
"Oh, absolutely", Wesley agreed, hiding the smile tugging at his face.
"And as for Angel, who would have thought he'd turn into such a girl when it came to demon goo? He's been complaining to me the whole time about how he got blood all over him and it stained his favourite shirt. You'd think there would only be so many so-called 'favourite' black shirts a guy can have when they all look the same anyway. And you can't even see the purple. All he needs to do is wash the thing."
She fell quiet and here eyes wandered around the room, not really seeing anything in particular. Wesley got the feeling that she wasn't worrying about Angel's taste in clothing anymore, and decided to push her to speak again.
"So, everyone else's alright, I take it. That's great. But what about you?"
She turned to look at him, shrugging off her reverie like it hadn't happened, probably fearing that Wesley had noticed.
"I'm fine. No big scrapes here. I think you guys got the worst of it." She gave him a smile that wasn't all that convincing and then looked at her feet.
"That's not what I meant", Wesley clarified, turning serious for a moment.
Cordelia studied the furniture in front of her in great detail before answering, not wanting to sound weak and soppy. That just wasn't the image she wanted to project. She was strong and she could handle anything. She didn't need a shoulder to cry on.
"I don't know", she admitted, "I guess I'm just…scared, now that everything's over. I know it sounds dumb, but before, when stuff was happening, I didn't get the chance to think about things, you know?"
"Like Harris?" Wesley filled in for her. She nodded.
"I don't want to let it get to me, and I don't believe in dwelling on things like Angel does. I don't want to feel sad. Is that wrong?"
Wesley smiled at her, understanding what she meant.
"Its like, if I'm sad, it takes away everything he did, like it wasn't good enough. I know deep down that it was for the best, him dying, because no one should have to suffer like that. He didn't want to hurt people, and now he's not going to. He couldn't cope with it, Wesley, it would have destroyed him."
"You don't have to try and convince me, you know."
"I know, I know. I just wanted to explain it to somebody. So if you see me moping around doing an Angel impersonation you have to stop me, right? Promise you will, 'cause I want to be proud and happy for him, not sad that's he's gone. Promise."
"OK, I promise." She smiled at him then, relieved to have gotten it off of her chest. The need to share over, she jumped straight to the next subject like it was the most natural thing in the world.
"So, how'd it go?" she asked, her mood brightening somewhat. Taken aback a little by the swing, Wesley hesitated, repeating the question in his head. 'It'?
"The candle!" she prompted, poking him in the arm with impatience.
"Oh! Um, it went…great, just great." Liar.
For some reason she seemed immensely pleased to hear that, genuinely excited on his behalf.
"See", she said, playfully hitting him on the arm, "I knew you could do it. Just keep practising, and before you know it, you'll be professional. You've just got to keep at it, that's all."
She rose from her place and turned to leave, looking back at him at the door.
"I'm off to bed now, so you'll have some space to practice. And remember, you know what they say…"
"Yes I know", he answered as she closed the door behind her, patting the hardback copy of the book 'Reversal Spells' that lay hidden under the covers.
"Mind over matter."
Did you like it? I hope so. I enjoyed writing it, anyway, and my family will be pleased to finally be allowed to use the computer again in the near future. I want to say a final big thank you to all my reviewers, you know who you are, and if you don't, I submitted a review of my own not so long ago that has you all mentioned there. And now, my friends, the curtain falls, and I bow. If the feedback is nice enough, I will return soon, but for now, ta ta! :)