Disclaimer: All owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Timeline: Post-Origin, pre-Time Bomb, season 5.
Thanks to: HonorH, for beta-reading.
Author's Note: Dedicated to Bimo, who asked for a story featuring Wesley and Lorne.
Last One Before Closing
„And of all the less-than-classy hidey-holes in the world,"Lorne said tiredly, watching the familiar figure approach, "he has to come into mine."
Actually, it didn't surprise him that much to see Wesley show up in the same bar where he himself was trying to drown his misery. Nothing surprised him very much these days. That was part of the problem.
Wesley spotted him, hesitated for a moment, then came to join Lorne. Judging by the smell that preceded him, he didn't really need this second-rate imitation of the late, lamented Caritas to get drunk. He must have done a fine job of it on his own. And yet the movements were still precise, and the eyes focused. The eyes. Lorne flinched. He remembered the time when they had first come to his establishment – Angel, of whom he had then feared nothing but the vampire's abysmal rendition of Mandy; Cordelia, so beautiful and alive then and so dead and gone now; Gunn, so taken with his new friends then and stuck in a hell dimension now, a subject Lorne was all too familiar with. And Wesley, grey-blue eyes full of hero worship and purpose.
They were dead now, more than any vampire's ever had been.
"Where's Her Blueness?" asked Lorne. "I'm surprised she's letting you out of her sight."
"Illyria is busy with Spike," Wesley replied tersely. Then he asked: "Did you... have you..."
Lorne raised his glass to him. "Yes, I got my memories back, too. What happened? Did our Fearless Leader change his mind?"
After he had ordered some whiskey and soda from the bartender, Wesley said, "I broke the spell."
"I want you to do something for me," Wesley said, and Lorne's carefully-maintained and alcohol-drenched self-control snapped.
"It should be glaringly obvious even to your drunken self, Handsome, that anything I can do is utterly and completely useless."
The memories were all back now. He had read Cordelia, and even before the succubitch Wesley had been sleeping with at the time had removed the knowledge from his brain, he hadn't been able to tell her or Angel anything useful. Anything that might have saved her from having her body and mind raped and used by an ancient power who thought that was its divine right. Anything that could have saved her from dying. Just like Fred.
You make me happy when skies are grey, Fred's voice sang in his mind, and he could feel it again, the horror awaiting her as anything she was got consumed from within. Little Fred, who had survived the home sweet home he had been unable to stand and who sometimes even was able to joke with him in the language that had cursed them both. Fred and Cordelia, Cordelia and Fred, both dead now, and he had heard their souls cry out before it happened and had done nothing about it.
Angelcakes had had the right idea. Where was a mindwipe when one needed one?
"I want to sing for you," Wesley said, and Lorne stared at him.
"By all that still makes sense in this world, possibly excepting Barbra Streisand," he answered slowly, "why?"
"You're an empathy demon," Wesley said in his soft, precise voice, "so it might not even work anymore. I... I am not sure there is much left in me that feels these days. But there is something I need to know."
"Well, I can tell you what I don't need to know. The future. Any kind of future involving one of my friends. Whatever spectacularly unpleasant thing life is going to do to you next - I don't want to know about it. Cowardly of me, I admit, but then I never auditioned for the role of hero in our little gang, did I?"
Wesley grabbed his wrist. So far, it was only a strong grip, but the hint of violence was there. Again Lorne recalled the shy, gentle man trailing after Angel, and sighed. He steeled himself for a round of threats and maybe even a broken finger or two. Instead, Wesley stunned him by simply saying:
"But why?" Lorne whispered. "You don't want anything from the future anymore. I don't need to hear you sing to know that."
"That is why," Wesley replied, and Lorne understood. What Wesley truly wanted to know was how long it would take him to die.
Lorne wanted to protest. He wanted to rattle of his usual bag of clichés about the silver lining on every horizon, the unexpected song in even the direst country bar. He even was ready to recite chapter and verse of Angel's speech about the harshness of the world and its need for heroes. But he looked into Wesley's eyes, and the words stuck in his throat. So he simply nodded.
Wesley removed his hand, and a faint smile curved his lips, the first one Lorne saw on him since hearing Fred's fate catch up with her. He remained seated; not taking his eyes off Lorne, he started, so low that one had to be an empathy demon to pick it up: "We are the champions..."
Lorne heard him in the present, and he heard him in the past, singing with Cordelia and Gunn, drunken, lost, but so innocent still and a myriad of possibilities flickering around him, around all of them. Possibilities in all colours and sizes. They came from the past, and then they shrank and became the white and angry scar on his neck, one by one, till there was nothing left but empty white, and a faint trace of blue.
"You show that Freddie Mercury, Wesleykins," Lorne said when Wesley had ended, his own voice sounding raw and ugly in his ears. "You show him."
"Well?" Wesley asked after a while, and Lorne noticed his friend hadn't really drunk anything from the glass the bartender had brought him.
"Not long now," Lorne said softly, and then, praying to every patron any performer had ever had in any dimension, added, "And you will save the world when it happens."
For the first time, he saw something like astonishment flicker in Wesley's eyes, together with another element that Lorne desperately wanted to be hope.
"That would be a change, wouldn't it?" Wesley said at last, and finally took a sip of his whiskey. "My previous efforts at saving people were less than successful, you know," he continued, his tone wavering between cynicism and wonder, and Lorne wasn't sure whether he was talking about Connor, or Lilah, or Fred, or all of them. "So you'll have to forgive me for being sceptical."
"When you die," Lorne said very seriously, and dropped the effort at anything but the truth, "you will be happy, and at peace." He leaned forward. "And you will not be alone."
For the rest of his life, he was never sure whether Wesley believed him. The former Watcher rose, and his lips moved as if he wanted to say something. But he had inadvertently pushed his barstool against the lady who had just been sitting down, and when she cried out in annoyance, he turned around.
"I... I'm sorry," Wesley said instead, and the awkward way in which he picked up the woman's handbag made him seem younger for a moment. She smiled, instantly mollified.
"Never mind," she said. "How about a drink?"
"Not today," he replied, nodded to Lorne, and left.
"What's up with him?" the woman asked Lorne.
"Nothing," Lorne said. "Not anymore."
He kept looking at the entrance, long after Wesley was gone.