Title: Hidden: His Dark Reflection.
Rating: PG at the mo – probably R/NC-17 in later parts!
Timeline/Spoilers: Post Season 5 NFA. Spoilers for Angel season 5 and Buffy thru' to Season 7.
Creation Date: September 2005
Distribution: Just Ask
Disclaimer: Joss owns everything J
Summary: Post NFA Lorne has moved cities and is struggling to find a place in the world under a new identity, but the atmosphere of fear among the human population makes being a demon harder than ever. Working in a rundown bar in town he meets Sasha, a newly empowered and vehemently anti-underworld slayer with a mission to end all the demon life she can. Lorne senses her true path lies elsewhere and together they face the demons both real and within as they return to LA for an apocalyptic showdown.
A clatter from outside. Cats fighting on dustbins in the alley below. Or maybe something bigger. Lorne lay still in bed, nightmares still ringing in his mind, and watched as shadows danced in reflection on his ceiling. The room was dark, it was better that way, less chance of being disturbed. The light from the street formed silver slats on the flaking paintwork and everything seemed grey, colourless, the colour of the rain which never seemed to stop.
Maybe it stopped in the daytime when he slept but he doubted it. Times had changed and the sunlight had been driven away. Even at noon it struggled to cast its light on the world. Things of darkness ruled there now. Ever since…
Lorne turned suddenly onto his side and tried to block out the memories. His back to the window he buried his head under covers and squeezed his eyes shut. There was colour here, bloodshed and vibrant fear, even a year on. Why didn't those colours fade away into the grey of the present? He groaned into the pillow. The noise of struggle continued muffled by his blanket but loud enough to remind him it was time to get up. As much as he wanted to lie there forever and let the world outside drift away, base physical need drove him on. Hunger, thirst, loneliness. He was too much of a coward to curl up and die.
As he crawled from the bed he watched the silver slats turn blue and red with the arrival of the police outside the apartment. 'Police' was a misnomer but he didn't have a word for what they were now. He was surprised to see them in this section of town so late, but he knew they were stepping up the attack. If they found him here he'd have to move on he was sure of it. It had happened before. The apocalyptic forces which were spreading from California brought with them fear, panic and bad news for those assimilated demons such as himself. Gone were the days where a harmless anagogic could run a peace loving demon bar in downtown LA.
He listened to the scuffle as he got dressed, his dark reflection moving in the mirror as he fastened buttons and cuffs, adjusted his collar. A shot rang out below. His red eyes flicked up to the window, catching the flashing lights of the car which had pulled to a stop outside. For a second his face was etched in crimsons and blues, the hollows of his cheeks dark as the curve
of his lips; the tips of his horns sharply outlined by the shadows falling on his forehead. Did he have reason to worry? Would they burst in unannounced and raid the building? He stood on tiptoe and peered through the blinds which shaded him. Two cops were holding down a demon in the alley, another on a walkie talkie stood by the car gazing in the direction of the high street, perhaps warning her colleagues of the one that got away. There was no sign of a Seeker, one trained to detect nearby magic, he would get away with it tonight.
Lorne let out his breath and picked up his keys from the dresser. As he passed the mirror he mumbled a well worn incantation and caught the shimmer of change in his eye as his reflection passed the glass. Every time he saw that change he felt sick.
'If you just want to stand back sir, we've got a situation,' the female cop by the car warned him as he left the building.
He casually pulled his coat around him to guard against the cold Chicago air and raised his eyes to meet hers unaffected and unashamed. 'What's happened?'
'Underworld problem, we're taking care of it, you should be careful at this time of night sir, a lot of trouble to be found on the streets these days.' She squinted at him and his stomach leapt.
'I work odd hours, can't really avoid it,' he replied filling in the empty space with words. 'I'm on my way now, but I…I'll be careful.' She nodded curtly and after a second she seemed to let go her suspicion.
'I won't keep you sir,' she concluded her radio crackling with voices and the whereabouts of the escaped demon.
'Goodnight,' he said quietly. His heart racing Lorne stepped through the chaos that resulted from the tussle and out along the street, aware all the time that the cop's eyes were fixed on him. On his movement, on his shape, on his features. On the tall lean body of a dark haired young man, making his way on a bitter winter night.
The blade flashed in the streetlight as she resheathed it, taking care to wipe the burgundy blood from its edge as she did so. The buzz of adrenaline was still in her veins, how could they consider this wrong? The body at her feet wasn't a person, wasn't even close. Its skin was already turning midnight blue with death and its strange magenta eyes were glazed black. No, at least she was doing her part, it's what they should all be doing, the gift that they had was too special to waste sitting around reading old volumes in a smart Italian apartment.
As far as she was concerned the original chosen one, the famous Buffy Summers, had lost her way. Too much time was spent speculating and planning, asking demons nicely if they'd heard any news, flicking through parchments and consulting witches and covens. The apocalypse was now people and it wasn't getting any nicer. Half the states were already populated by darkness and demons were growing stronger by the day. OK she was new to the scene, the power had come to her only in the last few months but she embraced it completely. What a chance to do something right in the new crumbling world. She had heard so many stories from her west coast friends about the new climate of fear, she'd felt so
helpless and so damn scared and now she had a chance to help. Couldn't Buffy understand that? Hadn't she herself made rash decisions for the sake of her friends before now?
But Buffy wouldn't move. There was a new way of doing things and she was in charge. The new slayers had to accept that. The old watchers council had lived by the 'kill everything non-human' rule and it had ended up being destroyed. Buffy did things differently. She weighed up options and prepared. She negotiated. This was a huge situation and they had to do things right because they couldn't afford a mistake.
Someone had been in the job too long. Fresh blood and passion was what was needed. When was the last time Buffy hit the streets and fought the war?
Sasha stepped over the corpse unceremoniously. There was no point in hiding it here, Chicago was too far gone in the throws of the apocalypse. It was becoming common to see underworld beings dead or alive, and besides she wanted to send a warning to those still living. There was a slayer in town. A real slayer who knew her job. And her job was a very simple one. Kill demons. Kill them all.
The club was almost empty. No-one ventured out these days, but he was rather grateful for the limited clientele. It drew less attention to his workplace, less chance of getting caught. He knew the regulars and they knew him, or at least the version of him he chose to present. He took off his coat and slipped behind the bar to hang it out of harms way. His wardrobe was considerably duller and smaller than ever before he had to be careful with what he had.
'You're late,' his boss commented brushing past him with a tray of empties.
'Bit of trouble outside the apartment,' Lorne explained. Roody eyed him curiously setting the things in the sink for him to wash up.
'Big hairy ones. Well not actually hairy as far as I could see but definitely beings of the non-human variety.' Lorne turned on the water and watched as it filled glasses and washed over his hands. His soft human hands. He could sense Roody behind him, arms folded over his large belly, leant against the wall, watching.
'You're going to have to be careful kid,' he said at last, 'One day they're going to get a Seeker down your block and sniff you out.'
'I'm careful,' Lorne said quietly, rinsing and stacking. 'It's some hefty mojo I've got working for me here, none of your cheap risky stuff, my girls owe me a few favours, they wouldn't give me some half baked spelled and put my little green ass in danger.' He thought of the Furies and felt a sharp pang for his old life in LA.
'You're one of the lucky ones….' A pause. Lorne could sense the anguish coming from Roody but couldn't place its source. 'Dego's gone.'
Lorne looked round at his boss who nodes sharply to confirm his suspicion. 'Think they must have picked him up. I told him that potion was junk, that the Seeker would see through it.'
Lorne looked back into the sink, at the swirling foaming water, and thought of the chipper little demon who used to collected the glasses. He heard Roody sigh.
'Do you need me to move on?' Lorne asked. 'They might come checking the other staff if they got Dego.' He didn't want to go. This place was OK, he couldn't think of many places in the current atmosphere where a boss would hire his kind and leave himself open to risk, prison or worse. Lorne would understand of that risk was too high now. He'd go. But only if he had to.
'You kidding?' Roody replied. 'You mix the best damn cocktail in the joint.' Lorne caught his wide genuine smile and noticed that it was edged with sympathy and friendship. 'No you hang here. Like you say, you've got the mojo working for you better than anyone. I'd never have guessed if… well doesn't matter how I guessed heh? You stay.'
'Thanks,' Lorne's voice was soft. He passed the back of his hand across his face in an effort to hide how very fragile he felt right then. Roody averted his eyes and busied himself with bottles and cans.
'Get your ass out in front of the bar Lorne,' he said, 'Don't be hiding that pretty face when you went to such lengths to get it, its one of my club's big attractions.'
'Hey cutie, get me a beer,' Sasha plonked herself down at the bar and swung her eyes round the room. So far it looked clear. Couple of old guys supping in one corner, couple of young guys hitting on a girl at a table nearby. Quiet. Good. Folks were safer indoors tucked up in their beds, leave the night time for the demons and the slayers to do their work.
The bartender flipped the top off her beer and placed it in front of her waiting for her to stop looking about before he asked for the cash. Jeez things were lax here, he didn't even id her.
'It's ok,' he said at last and she turned her head sharply towards him. 'Its usually pretty quiet, we don't get trouble.'
'Oh I'm not worried about trouble,' Sasha shot back at him. 'Bring on trouble, it's what I'm here for.'
The bartender looked confused. Narrowed his big brown eyes at her. 'You should be careful talking that way sweetie, you're not from round here are you?'
Sasha bristled. 'Huh?'
'You accent, its east coast, New York?'
'What of it, you're not exactly from round here yourself.' Her tone was harsh and for a second Lorne thought she had seen through him. But that was paranoia. He allowed himself a small laugh and let a tentative smile lay around his lips.
'No.. I… er.. I'm from LA. I came here to…'
'Get away from them? Yeah I heard about LA. Real mess. Damned demons running roughshod over the town. I've got friends there… had friends there…' she corrected herself.
Lorne picked up on the defensive and painful vibes of loss.
'I'm sorry,' he said before he had realised it. 'For what happened to your friends.'
Sasha's bright eyes locked with his. He held his breath. Damn he kept doing that with clients. Keep feeling things and being all sympathetic. He was so going to give himself away one night. But no, she was smiling a little, a sad smile, and she dropped her eyes again to her beer. He was just the friendly bar tender. It was his job to be supportive right? He started to mix himself a cocktail. He needed a drink to take the edge off this skittishness he was feeling.
'I lost friends too, in LA,' he said shaking and pouring on autopilot as he spoke, 'when it first happened. They were right in the thick of it. I don't know what happened to them all.' Images of Wesley and Gunn passed through his memory. Images of the gun he held and Lindsay's face as he pulled the trigger. He blinked, returning to the bar and found her watching him. Sasha raised her bottle in a toast.
'To old friends, wherever they may be,' she offered and he clinked his glass to hers.
'You got a name?' he asked.
'Sasha.' She took a swig.
'So why come here, Sasha?' he asked, 'You'd be safer in New York, things are getting messy here.'
'That's why I came. I've got a mission.'
Lorne froze where he was wiping the bar. Mission. It was a word heavy with meaning. Angel had always talked about the mission.
'Oh yeah?' he asked lightly. 'Pretty thing like you… what kind of mission would bring you to a town in the state this one's in.'
'I'm not just a pretty face,' she said dryly. 'There's things I'm willing to do here that other people aren't. I'm not scared of it.'
Lorne ran his eyes over her subtly. She was young, maybe eighteen at most, but with a haunted look that suggested she had seen trouble before now. Perhaps recently. Her clothes were dark but that meant little. Most people wore dark colours now, it attracted less attention. His gaze stopped at her hands. The knuckles were grazed and as she turned her head to look around the room again he saw scratches on her neck. Oh yeah it was falling into place now. The attitude, the vibe in her aura, the way she carried herself.
'So I'm thinking,' she was saying, 'doesn't look like its going to get jiggy here tonight? Where's the hot spots?'
'Come on, you're not here to look out for me you're here to serve me beer and give me directions. Where does a girl go to see some action?'
'Depends on the action honey,' he tried.
'I ain't fooling. Like I say I've got a job to do here. It's not a job I chose, it chose me, but I'm gonna see it through. Now you're from LA, you've seen what goes bump in the night. Tell me where I can find it and kick its ass.'
The rules of the world really had changed but he'd always be the informant, the one who knew where the creatures of darkness gathered, even if it wasn't in his own bar anymore but in a cheap empty version in a dying city. Lorne finished his drink and sighed. Should he tell her? Wouldn't she just get herself killed? If he didn't tell her he'd just be delaying the inevitable. Like the girl said she had a mission. She'd complete it somehow.
'So?' she said hunkering down to look up at him.
There was a crash from the doorway and the few clients still populating the bar fell silent. Lorne counted six maybe seven cops, including he was certain those who'd seen him leave his apartment earlier that night. They blocked the door and cast their eyes around the club, their weapons were close at hand. Roody emerged from the backroom into the stunned bar.
'Can I help you officers?' he asked casually.
'We understand that until recently you employed an underworld creature in these premises.' The tall cop at the front of the group explained.
Roody's face did a convincing impression of confusion and disbelief.
'He worked for me yes… but creature?'
'His papers were all in order,' the cop explained, 'And it seems he was under the influence of powerful magics. You weren't to know.'
Lorne shifted behind the bar. They were being too understanding. Too nice. Something was going to go wrong. And was it him or did the short female cop from outside his building keep staring at him? If he moved now he'd look suspicious. He fidgeted and tried to look calm. Sasha finished her beer and looked approvingly onto the scene. Even if there were no demons here these guys could tell her where to find them. They'd be glad of the help.
'Well I'm stunned to say the least,' Roody was saying, 'And I certainly hope you rid me of that demon scum, seeing as he was playing me so,' Lorne could feel the resentment in Roody's aura but couldn't fault his lies. The cop nodded in agreement and began to pace the building.
'I'm sure you wouldn't want to be taken for a ride by one of those critters again sir?' he said conversationally,' So I brought me a few helpers to check out the rest of your club.'
Lorne's heart leapt. He bit his lip hard and tried to think. Suddenly he noticed Sasha's eyes on him.
The cop motioned towards his gang who parted to reveal a small man in deep brown robes. His face was covered for the moment but Lorne knew that when his hood was removed his eyes would burn straight towards the bartender, and to the magic shrouding him. A Seeker. He felt his pale human skin break out in a sweat.
'You got something to worry about, sweetie' Sasha mocked. He saw her slide from the barstool and slip her hand towards a hidden weapon.
Roody had moved so that he stood between the cops and the bar. His back was tense beneath his tee. Lorne had seconds to make his decision. He saw the Seeker raise his hands to lift the hood from his face, caught a glimpse of the ice white eyes and heard his boss scream at him to run. He bolted through the back of the bar to the emergency exit, throwing himself on the lever to unbolt the door and out into the alleyway beyond.
But he knew he wasn't alone. As the sounds of the scuffle became less he could hear the footsteps coming after him. Slayer. She had to be a slayer and she knew. He careered around one corner his blood pounding through his veins and saw with dismay that the alleyway came to a dead halt, a pile of broken crates and garbage, a high wall blocking his way. He whirled trying to find a means of escape and came face to face with his assailant. Sasha pointed the knife at his throat.
'Demon,' she said.
'There's been a mistake,' he stuttered, 'it's not what you think.'
'Well you're not what I thought you were that's true. Which is a shame 'cos you know, you look kinda hot, Mr Tall Dark and Handsome. I knew it was too good to be true.' She was circling him now, well aware that he couldn't get away, she was too fast. 'Why don't you drop that glamour and let me see your real face.'
'That's make it so much easier for you wouldn't it. Killing me as a demon.'
'I can kill you either way, I'll see you're demon side when you die, they always revert back to form. No I'm just curious is all.'
'Please don't do this.'
Sasha raised her eyebrows at him.
'I don't think you understand. You're a demon and I'm…
'A slayer. I know,' he said quickly.
'Good!' she was surprised but hid it well, 'You know your mythology, did they tell you about me when you were a little demon, scary stories to make you go to bed and sleep like a good boy?'
Lorne said nothing. Bedtime stories weren't really part of his Pylean childhood.
'No matter. You know who I am and that makes things simpler.'
'The slayers I knew didn't kill for the sake of killing,' Lorne said.
'Slayers you knew! You trying to win me over by name dropping now?'
'I'm just saying… they understood how this dimension works, that good and evil isn't always pure, that there are exceptions and levels and grey areas…'
'And purple ones and green ones and slimy ones and all sorts… which are you?' she was growing impatient. 'Drop the mask, let's finish this. Evil is evil. Demon is evil.'
'This isn't the mission,' Lorne said.
'Its my mission.'
So that was it was it. He was going to die in an alleyway at the hands of a rogue slayer with a personal vendetta. All that time he'd gone against his better judgement, put himself at risk to help Angel, the powers that be, used for his psychic abilities, used for his connections, sacrificing who he had been to kill Lindsey. All that. For nothing. Well he guessed he'd escaped long enough. And he wasn't sorry now, the last year had been tough, empty, achingly lonely. And what good had he left in him to offer? Maybe it was time to join his friends.
He mumbled the reverse incantation and watched as his hands turned from pink to green. He closed his eyes and knew when they reopened they'd be red. He felt the horns return on his forehead. If he had to bow out the show he'd bow out as himself.. as…
'Lorne,' she said.
He looked up and spotted her surprise. Her blue eyes were wide and her guard dropped for a second. 'Your name is Lorne,' she repeated.
'Have we met?' he fumbled.
Sasha's mouth was opened. 'I've read about you, seen photographs. That stuff about knowing other slayers…'
'Well mainly Faith, but you know …. a couple…'
She was gazing at him, fascinated by his features. 'She mentioned you. Well they all did. You worked with Angel right? In LA?'
'You looked after Faith?'
'I did. That was always my job. Not big with the fighting. I made cocktails and tended the occasional wound.' He laughed uneasily.
'You knowledge of Orpheus saved her.'
'She's still grateful.'
Lorne shifted uncomfortably. He wasn't sure how to take this. She'd gone from wanting to kill him to practically asking for an autograph and now she…
Sasha raised the knife once more.
Oh now she appeared to want to kill him again.
'You worked with Angel,' she repeated, 'He is no longer part of the mission the slayers work towards.'
'I thought you had your own separate mission!' Lorne said desperately.
'I do. I eradicate evil. Buffy and the others tolerate Angel and what he did, they don't work with him, they let him be. But at the end of the day he played a great part in the apocalypse and we can't be entirely certain that he did so entirely in the name of good. He lost his way. And as you were part of his team, you lost yours too. I'm sorry Lorne, I have to do this.'
'Angel's alive?' despite the very prominent threat of Sasha's knife Lorne could only care about one thing she'd said.
'You didn't know?'
'I …. I left before the final battle. I'd had enough. I asked him not to contact me if he made it. Regretted it ever since… but he's OK?'
'He lives, if it can be called living being a vampire.'
Lorne smiled. Sweet relief. Angelcakes made it. But… 'What about the others?'
Sasha opened her mouth to rebuke him, he was wasting time, playing on feelings and pretending he cared. But as she looked hard at him and at the need in his eyes she relented. 'The vampire William the Bloody lives too, and the demon creature Illyria, but the others…'
'Wesley? Gunn?' Lorne said softly. 'Oh God.' And he sat down hard on the alley floor, his back pressed against the cold wall. Sasha stood amazed. Swinging between incredulous disbelief and guilt that she hadn't broken it to him more gently. He certainly didn't look very harmful, this green skinned thing at her feet. He looked crushed, as though the life had gone
out of him long before she arrived with her weapons. And the stories she'd heard about him. He was part of the Powers that Be wasn't he? A force for good and a reader of destinies. She hadn't believe the tales, or chosen not to. It had to stay simple, black and white, so that she could seek out the bad in revenge for the people she'd lost. But what about the people other folks had lost. People like Gunn. People like Wesley, an old school watcher of the kind she admired. He'd worked with Angel longer than most, she couldn't really believe that made him a bad person. Not now when his friend was here weeping quietly for his memory. A demon, weeping. For the first time in months she felt confused about what was right. Her plans had been so clear cut and now here in this dark alley she felt uncertain and very, very young.
A shout from the end of the alley and she was spurred into action, the cops had gotten past Roody and were hot on Lorne's trail. She could see them approaching, fewer than before, four or five maybe and the seeker at their midst. She glanced at Lorne, he must have heard them, why wasn't he moving. In the cold light of the winter night she saw nothing but the glimmer of tears on his cheek and the dejected slump of one floored by grief. She knew that feeling, she felt it grip her now. Sasha looked again at the cops, they moved slowly knowing that Lorne was trapped. They were confident and assured that they would finish this. As though in a dream Lorne raised his head to see them, his face impassive in resigned defeat. And it angered her.
'Dammit Lorne, you just going to sit there?'
He looked at her blankly.
'Well the hell I'm not.' She spat at him, 'You've got some talking to do and I want to hear it, if you're going down it's me who's going to take you, not them.'
She launched herself at the cops in flurry of blows and rage. In the struggle the Seeker, sensing imminent defeat at the hands of a real live slayer, chanted and vanished in a bright light at the centre of the police. Sasha's violence was all consuming, she'd been hankering for a fight all night, and even though she wasn't entirely sure she was on the right side, the release it gave her was overpowering. She could sense a change in herself, this demon beside her was having an effect, she just had to find out what that effect was, sort herself out and kick his ass herself. Her anger with herself at her uncertainty was raining down in blows on the cops. With two down and unconscious the others fled, calling for back up on their radios. Panting she turned back to her companion.
Lorne remained motionless and lost in thought, his arms dangling limply over his knees. He was dimly aware of the slayer crouching beside him.
'Move' she said and half dragged him along the alley, leading him through the winding darkness in the opposite direction to the cops. 'Move now… this isn't the time…'
'They're gone…' his voice was empty.
'Yeah I kicked their…' she stopped realising he didn't mean the cops. He looked so lost. Damn him for making her feel. 'Yes they are… but you're not… yet…' she said warningly. Lorne stumbled, trying to shake himself out of his reverie. But he couldn't escape the faces of Wesley and Gunn. Maybe if he hadn't left… maybe if he hadn't been so selfish… he could have helped. They staggered along in the dark. Sasha keenly aware of each noise and
movement, very thing which could leap out and attack them. She trotted ahead and checked out the lay of the land. 'Come on!'
Lorne slowed to a halt. Why wasn't he running? He stood hesitating, misplaced in the world as though his mind couldn't take in what she had told him. Sasha cursed but beneath her fight she was wrestling with herself. Maybe it was a trick peculiar to empathic demons, or maybe it was the honest expression of the emotions that crossed his face, but he tapped something inside her. Something that recognised that numb feeling of directionless loss. It struck her then how alone he must be. For good or bad Angel and his team had been his family in this dimension. She'd read the reports and heard the tales. Thrown through a portal into LA Lorne had built himself a life and worked for what he believed was a good purpose. Now it was gone. Without realising it she had dealt him a harder blow than her fists could ever have.
Lorne swayed in the alley. For a second longer she struggled before gritting her teeth and approaching him. Something was pushing her to get him out of there and she needed his focus.
'Read me,' she said suddenly.
'What?' he raised his ruby eyes to look at her.
'I need to know what my mission really is. And you can tell me that. If you're all the things they taught me in Italy, if you read destinies and create a link to the PTB, you can read me and put me on the right track.'
'I thought you were already sure if your track, missy. And it seemed to me like a pretty straightforward bloody one.' Grief made him less careful.
'I didn't just lose friends in LA. I lost my mom. She and dad divorced and she moved out there a few years ago. I went a little crazy. At first I just felt helpless and then I got my powers and I just…'
'Hit out at anything green purple or blue. I understand that honey, really I do, but the world isn't that simple…'
'I'm getting that,' Sasha said. 'So read me. 'Cos I'm sure I'm here for a reason and I can't figure out what it is.'
'I don't do readings anymore sugarpie,' Lorne said and leant back against the wall. He slithered to a sitting position. His eyes travelled over the stars in the sky above him. It was bitterly cold. He felt it seep through his clothes and flesh like misery. 'I did that for a long time because I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought I could help people. But in the long run look what happened. The apocalypse came and no amount of reading could stop it. I just saw it coming.'
'That wasn't your fault,'
Lorne raised his eyebrows. 'That's an interesting sentiment coming from you. I thought green guilty in your eyes.'
'Like I say I'm not sure anymore. I'm not sure of anything. I need to know where I fit. Please?'
Lorne sighed and turned where he sat to face her. He shouldn't. It was part of a world he had left behind. He was trying everything in his power not to be demon, to look harmless human and ordinary and yet something told him that this time it would be ok. He wanted to do what he did just this once.
Sasha looked confused.
'That's how I read, singing opens up your soul for me to look inside.'
'I don't know what to sing.'
'Anything really… the themetune from your favourite TV show, a jingle from an advert, or you know something that means more to you. It doesn't matter what it is.'
Sasha look embarrassed but after a moment's struggle came out with the first few bars of a childhood favourite.
'Somewhere over the rainbow,
way up high….'
At first Lorne was touched by the childlike quality to her voice and let his eyes smile as he watched her… but rapidly as the song progressed her aura darkened and visions began flitting before him. Dear God… Dear God…Lorne reeled back and fell hard against the ground. He clutched at his head and groaned. He was dimly aware of her voice coming to a stuttering halt.
'Ah…' he scrabbled to right himself, the pictures still fresh in his mind.
'What is it? Is it bad? Am I bad?'
He reached out for her and held her arm. 'No honey, you're not bad, never say you're bad. But I see now… I know why you're here… why I'm here…. and where you need to be…'
He wasn't making sense he could tell, the pain was blindingly sharp behind his eyes. But something was driving him. Was this why he had escaped LA? Did the PTB have a plan for him after all? All these months rotting in Chicago, aimless, was it time to make a difference again? For Wesley and Gunn. He owed them that. If he let them down before he owed it to the world they loved. The feeling was one between fulfilment and terror.
'Where do I need to be? What am I supposed to do?'
Lorne looked deep into her then and she felt her heart jump.
'I know what the mission is,' he said, 'and it's bigger than you could ever imagine.'
'Why can't you tell me?'
Lorne was hurrying along the alleyway in the direction of his home. It might just be possible to grab a few essentials before the cops descended on it.
'It doesn't work like that cupcake, I read and I guide, I can't tell you all the details because it might change your Fate, but you have to trust me on this. What we have to do it, it's so important. Honey there might be a plethora of chosen ones out there in the world these days but you're more chosen than most. Now come on we need to get moving.'
Sasha's alarm turned to panic and anger. She snatched Lorne's arm and spun him to pin him against the alley wall. He slammed against it with a painful 'oof' of breath.
'Tell me!' she growled 'tell me what it is. Why should I trust you? You're not even human! I've known you five minutes and I let you into my head. It's a spell, it has to be a spell!'
Lorne relaxed under her grip in a vain attempt to show he was no threat and he wasn't going to try any dodgy demon moves on her.
'You're scared, I get that, hell I spend most of my days being scared, it's what I'm good at. But something else I'm good at, apart from belting out a Barbara Streisand number, is reading. I'm not saying I've never got it wrong, but what I saw in you comes straight from the PTB. You have to get to LA hunny, you've got work to do, and only you can make a difference. I know you're disillusioned with Buffy and the others, I saw that in you, and maybe you have a right to be. Maybe you do need to take the fight to the apocalypse and not wait for it to come and get you. But you still need guidance. And that's my job. So you're stuck with me, better or worse, whether you decide to stick that pointy sharp thing in my guts or not. And I really hope you don't… just for the record.'
Sasha stepped back from him. 'LA. I need to go there?'
'That's where the big bad is. That's where we're headed.'
She shook her head violently and for a second he thought he saw tears.
'No, no I can't,'
'I thought that's what you were doing anyway? Heading for the trouble?'
'I was... I mean I am… but…'
'But now it's an official decree from the PTB it's gotten all scary? Newsflash dumpling, I'm not exactly relaxed about this myself. But you don't ignore the PTB sweet cheeks.'
It was beginning to snow. Large thick flakes which floated through the air between them, settling all around, fresh and untouched. Sasha was still looking at him wildly.
'I don't understand any of this. I came here to fight. I knew my purpose…' she trailed off blinking snowflakes from her long lashes.
'We need to move,' Lorne said from the shadow, 'I've some magics at my apartment that could help us, we need to get there before the cops do. I'm with you in this. God knows why, but I know its right and I have to do it. What else would I do anyway, spend the rest of my days posing as a human? Living a lie, mixing up a bad Manhattan on a Saturday night for some lonely cop who's been brave or stupid enough to leave his house in the middle of an apocalypse? We can make a difference, you and me…. I've just got to… change… before we hit the streets…' His voice trailed and he began to mumble a language she didn't understand. She squinted through the heavy snow to focus on his face and try to decipher what he said. Her mind was racing and yet she clung to his warm voice to guide her.
'I trust you,' she said suddenly, 'I don't know why but I… trust you.'
A shimmer. 'Good,' he stepped forward from the wall and removed his jacket, slinging it lightly round her shoulders, 'Now come on before you freeze, Slayer or not its getting nippy out here and I'm suddenly filled with the desire to keep you safe for the good of the world… pneumonia at this stage would totally wreck the whole destiny thing,' but she didn't move. He saw her eyes flicker over his and felt a mixture of pleasure and unhappiness at her response. She was entranced and he saw it. Before he knew it her fingers were following the contours of his face, his human face, in abject fascination.
'Who are you?' she whispered.
'I'm Lorne,' he smiled, deep brown eyes sparkling, 'and we're about to save the world.'
It was like driving straight into solid night. As though her eyes were playing tricks on her. Sasha kept blinking to try and clear the grey but it seemed the grey was real. Spreading out before her on the road to California. She looked in the rearview of the van. Was he awake yet? He lay so still sometimes she couldn't tell and yet at others he would toss and turn, whispering in his dreams. She watched as he turned now, a faint sigh reaching her from over the sound of wheels on tarmac. She struggled with herself and at the feelings that small sound evoked.
So many days now she had had the opportunity to kill him. The Sasha of mere weeks ago would have been furious with her she was certain. A demon, a green horned demon sleeping in the back of her stolen van, driving her through the night to her 'destiny' while she slumbered vulnerable under the blankets they had taken from his home. None of it made sense. Her experience screamed at her to stop this nonsense. Kill him now. He was unnatural, as demon as they came, embroiled in magics and myth. Look at the spells he cast; his daily transformation into the young man who took the wheel each evening to let her rest. She sighed angrily. She reviled herself but that's where her confusion lay.
They would break each night at sundown and when they did he would cast his spell in preparation to relieve her. If he stopped for gas or supplies he would not be questioned. The pair would prepare a meal or stop for a drink at a roadside inn and as each grew more accustomed to the other they would swap stories and banter, a little light in the drudgery of the journey. To every outsider they were a young couple on a road trip grabbing some food before heading off into the night. She hated herself, but she loved those moments. And just sometimes she let herself slide and believe them. He was funny and he was kind and in his human guise he was beautiful. She'd been alone so long she had forgotten what it was like to feel that tingle of attraction. Now for a few minutes each evening she belonged to someone in the eyes of the world. And she didn't need to fight.
She'd wake in the morning to see him still at the wheel and she'd lie motionless an extra moment. Sometimes he would sing. A beautiful voice she conceded, too lovely to be human, too filled with depth and feeling, to be so close to it and to let it wash over her softly felt like nothing she had experienced before. It was intimate. When he wasn't aware of her he would let the melodies come, mostly sad. It touched her more than she liked to admit to herself. He was a creature of camp sarcasm and upbeat jest, he was rich in humour and energy, as garish as his skin tone, and yet unobserved he was so different. With the first rays of the sun blinding his mirrors he wouldn't see her listening behind him. He was alone with his music and his thoughts, and his unhappiness burned beneath the mask. She hadn't thought demons capable of feeling.
Eventually he would sense her and bring the song to a finish, pumping up the tempo a little or disguising the tremor in his voice. And they would stop, make breakfast, talk again. And as they talked he would murmur the words which caused his change. The warm brown eyes and open smile of the young man she was growing so fond of would fall away, replaced with demon red. It never failed to shock her but what shocked her more was the way she felt when she knew he had seen her reaction. He would laugh it off but it stung him and every morning he would move into the dark recesses of the van and sleep away the day in the knowledge that she had been repelled.
She tried to stop the thoughts. They had so much to do. It was bad enough that she was letting a demon help her, never mind that she seemed to be forming some sort of friendship with him. Even if it was just the half which could fool her into thinking he was human. No she had work to do, get the job done, remember the mission. Her feelings for Lorne, whatever they were, could wait. They could wait so long she might never have to face them.
Somewhere close there was an epicentre to the apocalypse. A rent in the sky through which disaster poured. Or perhaps a group of powerful wiccans casting black magic. Lorne would say nothing, explaining that he had no detail of the opposition only a sense of doom and a strong sense of the role she had to play in preventing it. They had found little to guide them, following only instinct and the road west. The few people the met were headed east, stories of destruction and loss on their lips but nothing concrete. She had expected more. More demons, more vampires. Things to fight and to torture for information. But even the vampires seemed to be heading towards the populated areas, the darkness behind them losing its appeal as the people left.
'Are we nearly there yet?'
'Sorry sweetiepie I should have warned you there was a big green demon sneakin' up behind you.'
Ruffling his gold tinted hair with one hand Lorne lowered himself into the passenger seat of the van and began rummaging for snacks in their supplies.
'Too damn right,' Sasha said, 'There's nothing I hate more than sneaking demons.'
Lorne looked at her and smiled a wry smile, 'Well I'm grateful for your tolerance of this one, another restful few hours passed without waking up to find a stake in my guts… Oreo?' he offered, big red eyes wide.
She laughed. Damn he made her laugh. He handed her the cookie.
'So we're…?' he queried.
'Coming up to Vegas.'
An excited gasp and she turned to find him open mouthed with glee cookie pinched between thumb and forefinger.
'This is exciting because?' she asked, ''Cos if you ask me things are just getting worse out there Lorne, look at the sky… we've not seen anyone for ages, this is nasty…'
'But it's Vegas!' Lorne had his face pressed to the window beside him, 'I can't see a damn thing! Where are the lights? Where's the neon!' he spun towards her. 'Last time I was here I was talk of the town. Talk. Of. The. Town. I tell ya! I had this show and these dancers and this fabulous dressing room with a Jacuzzi… oh kitten I can't tell you it was the bomb!' he gesticulated with the Oreo, 'Apart from you know… the stealing people's destiny's thing and the being beaten into a pulp periodically when I refused…' a shadow dropped over his face, 'and the girl they killed,' he added softly. Sasha drove on for a moment waiting out his silence. After a beat he continued. 'But the show honey, before it got all nasty, oh it was wonderful. I was someone! I had bill boards and lights and costumes and I sang…. Oh I just belted out those numbers… Lady Marmalade…' he sucked the cookie crumbs from his fingers and suddenly opened his mouth 'Voulez –vous couchez avec moi , c'est soir?' he sang with such a force Sasha thought she felt the van shake. 'Oh the whole audience singing along…' he remembered and then he stopped again.
Sasha allowed a half smile. 'You had a show?'
He nodded, 'Uh-huh.'
'Yup. Tro-pi-ca-na,' he emphasised.
'They didn't have an issue with the whole green thing? Or were you magicking yourself sexy even back then?'
Lorne looked stung, the smile dying and she regretted what she'd said. It was an increasingly sensitive issue between them. 'They didn't care Sasha,' he answered, 'they wanted my energy and my voice, they wanted me. Some people I guess thought it was a costume, others probably knew it wasn't, but it didn't matter. It was Vegas, it was glitz and show and scandalously wild nights for all. They accepted me. I fitted.' He looked back at the window and bit his lip. 'I was me and I was good; I was someone.'
Sasha watched his reflection a strange sensation of sadness at her heart. 'You still are,' she said quietly, but when he looked round she kept her eyes on the road. She knew damn well he'd pick up on her vibes but she didn't let on. After a few minutes he suggested they swap seats. They pulled up and got out, clinging to the vehicle in the blustery darkness as they changed sides. When he climbed back into the van she noticed he was still green. He hadn't cast his spell tonight.
'You not going to… you know?'
'Change?' he asked. He frowned. 'Well I don't see many people round here who'd be causing us trouble do you?'
'Even so we could get stopped…'
Lorne looked at her sharply and his voice followed his expression. 'Listen honey the only folks going to stop us round here are going to be of the green and scaly type themselves. It might be you who has to hide. You might actually be grateful to have one of us on your side. And I am on your side cupcake, don't you forget it. Maybe you should get used to that. Me… green guy… on your side… not the half baked glamour I cast to get us by… me.'
'I'm sorry,' she sad stiffly and looked away into the gloom outside. 'I am grateful, I just… when you're human…'
'I know but that's the thing… I'm never human… maybe its time I stopped casting that illusion pumpkin… because that isn't who I am, it's just who you'd like me to be.'
Sasha winced as the words hit true. Jesus he must sense it every time he cast the spell. She bit back confused tears. This whole situation was so hard. They didn't teach you this stuff at slayer school.
'I'm going to get some rest,' she said quietly.
'You do that, we're not far out now,' his voice was inscrutable. Sasha stepped into the rear of the van and lay down fully dressed on the bed. She felt sick and anxious and she sensed she wouldn't sleep. Instead she lay on her side and hoped he wouldn't see her in the rearview. But he didn't have to see, he could feel, she was certain he could feel.
'I'm sorry,' he said from his place at the wheel. 'I know you've been born into the slayer thing with the big hate for the demon kind. I get that. Back in Pylea it's the human beings who are demonised. They keep them for slaves and spit on them in the streets. I've seen both sides of the coin and I understand how confusing this whole thing must be. I don't hate you for it, I'm not even angry about it and I didn't mean to snap…' She listened to the warmth of
his voice through the darkness. 'I'm just hurting,' he went on, 'I used to have people who loved me, really loved me and now they're gone. The apocalypse took them and it left a climate of fear… I can't seem to find anyone now who can see past the green. I hate looking in the mirror and seeing my human face, the lie I'm forced to cast in order to fit in. I hate it. So I'm touchy. Hell I've always been a bit of a diva,' he chuckled and she relaxed a little, 'But I'm with you kiddo,' he went on sensing the change in her aura behind him. 'Right now I'd move heaven and earth to get you through this, because you've got this destiny and because you need me whether or not you like it. But also because it's the right thing to do and because I'm your friend. I don't want that to be a problem for you…'
Sasha choked back a sob.
'It's not…' she managed.
'You sure about that?' he glanced in the rearview and saw her lying foetal behind him. Sasha stayed still a moment longer, breathing in the scent of him on the blankets. The demon scent which was strangely sweet and comforting. She had no idea how they'd gotten this far, but he'd never wavered and God knew she'd given him reason to waver. That sense of trust she'd felt the first night, it was real.
'I'm sure,' she said.
'Get some rest,' he smiled. And as she closed her eyes she heard his voice low and sweet.
the night has come,
And the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we see,
No I won't be afraid, Oh I won't be afraid,
Just as long, as you stand, stand by me….'
They were about seventy miles outside of LA when it started. It had been dark for hours and Sasha had lost track of all time. The sky above was swirling purple and black as the dark forces became more concentrated around them, everything seemed desolate, destroyed, but far from empty. Something was out there, something vast.
Lorne was groaning in his sleep and she could hear it even above the rising winds. He sounded worse than usual and she slowed the van. It was becoming more and more difficult to see what remained of the road. Blackened shapes were flying across the beams of their headlamps, the light barely made an impact as though the air around them was thick with viscous darkness.
'Jesus,' she muttered and pulled the van to the side of where she assumed the road was. She cut the engine ad listened to whatever was out there battering across the metal. Whatever it was, it was only mildly interested in them, a sleepy kitten with a curious toy, batting it softly but with little real incentive to pounce. It would changed she was certain when they grew nearer. Nearer to whatever it was Lorne told her she was hunting. Did he even know? Behind
her Lorne's sleep was growing violent. He spun in the blankets, tangled and troubled. Sasha moved to wake him but stood hesitating above him.
In the dim light of the van she watched as his features contorted with distress. He thrashed suddenly and one arm smacked hard against the edge of their make shift bed. She flinched, watched him thrash again and spotted the blood between his lips. He had bitten his cheek or tongue and now a streak of fresh red made its way from the corner of his mouth. She had never been so aware before now of what he was, now that his alien features were knotted in anxiety. She tried to imagine what she would do if it was the young man lying there in such disquiet, reach out? Wake him? Hold him in her arms? But her thoughts were cut short.
Lorne's eyes flew open and he sat up in the bed as though seized by his collar and dragged upright. He gasped hard, a high pitched noise as though he might choke. His face blanched pale beneath is green skin and he shook hard.
'Where are we?' he asked without looking at Sasha.
'I guess were coming up to LA, sixty, seventy miles maybe, its so dark,' she went on unable to restrain the words she'd be longing to share for the last fifty miles, 'its just black, Lorne, thick and black, there's something out there…'
'I know I can feel it…'
'Yes is hammering the van…'
'No I can feel it….' he repeated, 'it's not a thing or a demon, its not even a hell mouth or a mystical force… what's been unleashed here isn't evil in the sense of the eternal battle between good and bad… its more basic than that…it's…' she watched as he flinched and bit hard on his lip. 'It's pain,' he said as if he had just made the decision. He nodded to himself. 'Its thousands upon thousands of years of pain pouring from the heart of this apocalypse.'
Lorne pulled back the blankets and in a daze staggered through to the front of the van. He appeared almost drunk, clinging onto the seats and supporting himself as he looked through the windscreen and the whirling darkness beyond.
'Everything I touch….' He whispered, 'It hurts…'
Sasha came up beside him.
'You'll feel it too soon sweetie,' he continued, 'as we get closer, I'm just getting a major whammy 'cos of my empathic gig, but soon you'll feel it too. You mustn't let it stop you.'
'What are we doing?' she asked, suddenly frustrated with Lorne's dreamy talk. It was though he was on something, he couldn't quite function and he couldn't quite get the urgency of the situation. 'Give me something to fight Lorne, a direction we're to head in, we can't just drive into the centre of this thing and hope we come up with a plan.'
Lorne slumped against the side of the van and looked at her. She noticed how his brows furrowed with every movement he made.
'We have a direction. Why do you think the PTB got us together honey? I'm an empath and we're tracking the source of pain. Make any sense yet? I'll know when we're near, I'll find it for you, whatever it is, however it's embodied, and then you can destroy it. But I'm your guide sweetie, so what do you say you get back behind the wheel and I'll read the map.'
'If you're in this much pain now what are you going to be like when we find it?' Sasha couldn't keep the worry from her voice.
'Worse,' Lorne said simply and settled into the passenger seat. Sasha started the engine and took a second to glance across at her companion. The shadows outside cast darkness in his red eyes and the blood by his mouth looked black. She averted her eyes and pressed down on the accelerator.
Closer and closer and Lorne seemed to be suffering more. Each bump on the road or harsh wind seemed to jar him and at one point she looked across to see him, eyes squeezed tight shut and arms tight around his body as though to keep himself from breaking. With each movement he whimpered. She barely had time to register the body which flew against the windshield.
'Shit!!' she slammed on the breaks. Lorne cried out as he was pitched forward to the dash. 'Be quiet!' she snapped and Sasha listened. She peered out into the darkness, one hand reaching for a weapon concealed inside her jacket. Lorne was straightening himself in his seat, more blood now from his forehead. He touched it gingerly.
Sasha reached for the doorhandle.
'Wait! What are you doing!' Lorne cried, 'You can't go out there we don't know what….' But she was gone. Slipped into the dark. 'Damn!' He scrabbled to look through the glass but nothing presented itself to him in the inky pitch. He strained to hear her movement. He could go out there…
A shudder and the door at the back of the van was wrenched open. Lorne wheeled round and braced himself in his seat for attack. But it was her, and dragging the body with her.
'Holy crap!' Lorne exclaimed, 'Who in hell would be this close to it all?'
'Vampire,' she puffed dumping the body.
'What and you didn't stake him? Why isn't that guy dust? Why is he lying on our floor in one wholesome undead piece?' Lorne's disbelief numbed his discomfort.
'Simple,' Sasha said grabbing something to bind the vamp with. 'He's this close to the centre he must know something, maybe work for someone, and besides I couldn't pass up the opportunity of giving him a good beating when he just landed on the bonnet.'
Lorne hovered by the cabin, 'You are one scary lady, sugarpie.'
The vampire groaned. Lorne had never seen one quite so ugly. Its features were twisted beyond the game mask they wore. Angel had never looked that bad even on his worst days.
Sasha hit the creature hard across the face. Lorne winced. The vampire spat blood at their feet.
'Talk,' Sasha said. 'Where's the source? Who's doing this?'
The vamp growled and she lashed out again.
Nothing. It glared at her with narrowed yellow eyes.
'Knock him out,' Lorne encouraged from the sidelines.
'He won't talk then!'
Lorne stepped toward them, towering over the vamp kneeling on the floor of the van. The thing leered at him and he stared right back with bright inhuman eyes.
'He doesn't have to,' Lorne said, 'Now hit him.'
Lorne removed his hands from the creature's temples, it had been a long shot but he figured the Powers That Be had wanted him to win this one. Perhaps the weird energy from the epicentre had leant him some extra psychic powers, but he hadn't expected to be that successful not with something as soulless and purely evil as this. He sat back on his haunches and regarded the vamp.
'Well,' Sasha said, 'see anything?'
He remained silent. His eyes glazed and inside a turmoil churning. He couldn't let on. If he let on now they would never succeed. Stay light Lorne. Too much rests on this. So he babbled.
'Rather too much for my liking, remind me to stay out of vamp minds in future, its messy in there, all that conflict and blood shed, all those icky memories… the tastes…' he wiped his mouth, his blood smearing the back of his hand.
'The epicentre, what did you learn?' Sasha pressed.
'It's near here, very near, I can get us there but we'll have to go on foot, the place is near destroyed it's too dangerous for the van. We'll be ok, there aren't many like him. I got the impression from the state of his mind that you have to be pretty nuts to hang around.' He got up and moved cautiously round the van, his muscles sore and stiff.
'And what do we do when we get there? What do I have to fight?'
Lorne looked at her curiously, sadness washing over him.
'I'll tell you later,' he said softly, 'let's just get there first.'
'Oh no you're not fobbing me off with that I need to know. I'm not going all that way to fight some unknown monster.'
'It's not unknown, and there's no problem defeating it. You'll barely lift a finger. Trust me, I read your destiny. Ah…' he shushed her with one finger of his own 'Trust your guide on this one, it's for the best.'
'Listen Lorne…' the vamp groaned at their feet and interrupted her protest.
'Do me a favour and stake that guy…' he said changing the subject. Sasha bent low with one fast swoop and plunged the stake into the demon's chest. It dusted and sprinkled itself over their bed. Lorne wrinkled his nose and wiped vamp ash off his sleeve in an old and long unused gesture of grooming.
'You ready?' he asked.
'Hey who's the slayer here?' he voice cracked.
'And you're not?' she asked.
'I'm always frightened, I wasn't born with super powers,' he winked playfully, all the time his heart thudding with the truth he had seen.
'I might not be frightened if I knew what we were facing Lorne,' she tried.
Lorne looked at her steadily. 'Honey if I told you that…' his eyes smiled kindly at her, and with a step he held her by the arms. So close. She was so close she could see every line of his face and feel the steady warmth of his breath on her cheek as he spoke. 'You can face anything this little apocalypse throws at you and come out the other side kicking and screaming. A little birdie called the PTB whispered in my ear. You're bigger and better than the evil out there. Chosen,' he hesitated and after a beat reached to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear, he's eyes roaming gently over her face. 'Now stop fretting pumpkin and let's get the show on the road.'
Sasha held his gaze for a moment longer before pushing aside the feelings which threatened to brim over. Time to be tough. She could deal and she'd whoop his ass for messing her around later. She shrugged feigning indifference, and bent to gather a few essentials from the drivers' area. Lorne pretended to do the same, moving around the back of the van looking occupied. He paused for a moment and looked at the dust which littered the sleeping quarters. Inside he was shaking. And for good reason he felt. Not just cowardly old Krevlornswrath now….
As Sasha called to him to get moving he saw again the vision he had taken from the vamp and he shut his eyes.
The epicentre looming large at the core of the destroyed Wolfram and Hart building. A huge mirror sucking away the sun, splitting everything around it into black and white, darkness and
light. Channelling away the goodness into another dimension, concentrating the bad and forcing it towards earth. The stream of pain which poured from it would never end. The glass flickered darkly and would drain the life from the world until nothing was left. Lorne saw that, he saw that it had to be destroyed and the evil shut off at the source. He also saw a face in the mirror.
But this was where his certainty faltered. He had been so sure when she had sung for him in the alley that she had been chosen for this and he was proud to guide her to it safe in the knowledge that it was meant. He had seen her walk away from the challenge with her aura shining, alive and safe. He had seen her future beyond this day and it was happy and bright. And now he saw the epicentre's fate and the destinies didn't match. He saw the shards fly through the air and the vortex behind the glass contract and vanish, taking with it the person who had ended its reign.
Anything reflected in that mirror would die with it on its destruction.
His hands shook as he pieced together the patchwork of readings. The vampire's mind had warned him of the ruin of the mirror and the death of a hero. Well Sasha would live, he had seen it, and he would make sure of it, she was just a kid and he'd protect her but that meant… that meant that….
The destiny he had read had been his own.
Sasha jumped from the driver seat and stood waiting impatiently in the swirling darkness outside the van.
'Come on!' she called against the wind. Lorne hesitated, his back to her as he pooled his strength to join her.
'I'm going to die,' he whispered.
LA. He barely recognised it. Truth be told he was having a hard enough job keeping his eyes open against the wind. The air was heavy, pressing against him, driving him away, thickly defending the epicentre and providing passage for the pain which gushed towards them.
Sasha fared a little better, slayer strength cutting through the oppressive air. Every once and a while the swirling clouds would part a little and let some semblance of light through to the desecrated streets, but little semblance of normality remained and the city was littered with the charred remains of vehicles, shop fronts and life. The ones who didn't get way. The first victims. Somewhere in this graveyard, her mother lay.
Lorne laid a hand on her shoulder. A gesture of comfort and a necessity to keep them together in the dark. She could feel him leaning heavily on her and even through the gale she could hear his breathing, hard with the effort of movement and the onslaught of pain which came from their target.
'Are we close?' she called.
She felt him nod more than saw him. One hand pointed over her shoulder at the ruined remains of Wolfram and Hart. The tall building loomed darker than black above them, the air around it whirling with creatures, demon or mutant. Lightning wended its way across the sky, lightning and a tear between dimensions through which evil swam. 'There!' he shouted. Sasha wrapped an arm around his waist and half carried him to the structure.
There was a moment's respite as they emerged inside. It was still dark but at least the howl of wind had been muffled by the bricks. Lorne stumbled forward and collapsed in the wreck of his old lobby.
'Never thought I'd be back here,' he panted.
Sasha lifted a battleaxe from her back and circled on the spot, casting her eyes up and over the walls.
'What's the catch?' she breathed.
Lorne looked first at her and the around the building. It was certainly quiet. Destruction had been almost total, so had the darkness moved on, was it too much even for the hell creatures to be so close to its centre?
'We should keep going while we still can,' Lorne suggested, 'There's no telling when something's going to leapt out at us.' He tried to stand, grasping at the burned out frame of an old couch, upended beside him.
'How does it feel…?' Sasha asked watching him, 'The pain?'
'Well it hurts,' he joked and limped towards her. 'I feel like I've done a few dozen rounds with a drokken, heh…' he tried a short laugh and winced, 'But it kinda doesn't matter sweetie, 'cos que sera sera.' He chuckled at her confusion. 'I'm meant to be here, I'll take what I've got coming.'
Sasha moved to support him and felt the tremors from his flesh touch her. She held him tighter. 'I'm the chosen one here bucko, you're just the guide, everything will be fine.'
'You're even sounding like me now,' Lorne teased.
'Get guiding,' she retorted.
Lorne took a breath and closed his eyes, focussing again on the channel of pain he'd been trying to block since they left the van. Jesus it was intense, if he opened his mind too much he…
'Ah!' his knees buckled and Sasha struggled to hold him firm. Lorne tipped and she drew him upright again. 'I…' he stuttered, 'I let a little too much in that time….'
'Its OK, I've got you…. Where is…' she looked at him and in that second light spilled for a moment from the shattered glass ceiling above. I fell on his face. 'Oh God,' she said.
The blood was running from deep slashes across his cheeks, trickling towards his collar and seeping into the light material. His eyes were shut in concentration.
'Lorne what's happening to you?'
'Pain made manifest,' he panted, 'If I could just….'
'How do we stop it hurting you?'
'I don't think we can. Something here knows you need me to find the centre and its hitting out at me.'
Sasha glared round the building; felt Lorne buck again in her arms. This time a large slash across his chest. He cried out harshly. 'Damn you!' she yelled at the darkness. Lorne was murmuring beside her, familiar words. There was a crash above them and thundered peeled violently in the skies. He trembled suddenly and a light filled her arms. When she looked again he was human.
Confused she let go of his body. He was wiping sweat from his forehead and grimacing, his clothes bloodstained but his face miraculously healed.
'Glamour,' he puffed, 'Gives me a little protection, confuses the hell out of the forces here, I'm less empathic in this form, giving off fewer vibes, whole different aura going for me. Now let's go.'
Sasha just stared at him. 'I thought you hated being that way?'
'I do,' he replied, 'But I've got to do what I can and the way I'm feeling right now I need every bit of help I can muster.' He swung round. 'Over here, I sensed it before I changed… it's in the white room, we'll have to climb the old elevator shaft or something…. Maybe find the elevator carriage and see if the mojo still works…' he looked back over his shoulder, his handsome human features sensitive and disarming and she realised with shock that she felt as though something had been taken from her. She missed him they way he had been, just fleetingly, but it was there. Lorne beckoned her with one arm, holding out his hand. 'Come on kitten, we haven't much time.'
At the centre of Wolfram and Hart lay a mirror, a portal to another dimension. For something so powerful it wasn't that large, no bigger perhaps than the full length Lorne used to keep in his office. He bit back a laugh, wouldn't that be ironic if his décor ended up being the root of all pain?
The White Room Mirror was doubled sided. An oval perched on a platform at the heart of a great hall. The walls shattered, the darkness streamed from one side and out from the top of the mystical building. At the reverse light was sucked from humanity and buried at its core. Every second more joy was drained from the world. The image drove him on.
'What are we heading to?'
'The White Room,' Lorne replied, 'I wasn't a frequenter myself, that was Gunn's area. But it's where the conduit hung out and it'll have some heavy duty magics surrounding it.' They reached the charred door to the elevator. Just as Lorne was wondering how in hell he was going to get it to work, it slid open revealing a brightly lit scarlet interior. 'And there's the magic,' he concluded grimly. 'A red carpet welcome no less.'
They stepped in and he frowned at the panel. Just the one button. No way round this particular destiny. The doors slid shut again with a deceptively soft woosh and the elevator began to play music.
'What the…?' Sasha gasped incredulously.
'Evil always did have a sense of humour,' Lorne said dryly. 'Now there some stuff I should explain, stuff about the white room and stuff about what I've seen in there.'
So at last she was going to find out what the deal was. Sasha drew herself up and focused. This was the thing she had been waiting for, the reason she had been chosen as a slayer.
'The white room isn't actually white… at least not for everyone. What's in there can change. The conduit changed according to who met it. Little girl, black cat, yourself if it really wanted to give you the wiggans. The surroundings can change too. It reads you and gives you what it feels is appropriate, the thing which challenges you most or the thing you fear. I get the impression right now it'll do its best to distract you from your purpose.'
'There's a mirror in there and that's where the pain is coming from. It's providing a channel from a hell dimension and at the same time it's sucking all the goodness out of ours.'
'So we need to destroy the mirror.'
'So I hit the thing with my axe.'
'Well if it were that simple we'd be laughing and home for tea. I don't think its going to be that simple.'
'You don't say.' Sasha looked grim. She reached around and withdrew her weapon of choice. A finely crafted battleaxe edged in red metal. Lorne raised his eyebrows. 'Borrowed it from a friend…' she said. He raised them further. 'OK stole it from Buffy.' He shook his head in mock chastisement but as the elevator slowed to a halt and she heard Lorne take a deep breath. She handed him a weapon of his own. A broadsword which he looked at doubtfully. 'So what's the plan?' she asked.
'We see what the white room wants with us first and then we formulate a plan.' But he knew what his plan was. To get there first. To destroy it before it could destroy her.
'Did I ever mention that you're not the best with the planning?' she asked him glancing quickly at his face. He looked at her rapidly and then looked away. 'Is there something you're
not….' She began but the doors opened and took her voice from her. The White Room lay beyond.
It was filled with demons.
'Holy…' she began and they charged.
Lorne froze. This wasn't the White room this was a hell dimension on earth. As Sasha threw herself into battle he remained frozen in the elevator. The elevator which now appeared to hang suspended from nothing. A desert expanded as far as the eye could see around it, a desert in darkness, the wind whipping up sand and debris, a thousand creatures waging war. There was blood, the smell and sight of it, and screaming. High unearthly screaming as the things which populated the stormy darkness fought for the sake of fighting and for no particular cause. Lorne gripped the door and swallowed. His eyes roaming around him, trying to spot Sasha. A flash of her axe in the red bright light which fell from the elevator told him that she was in the thick of it. But he couldn't move.
And then something came roaring out of the darkness, headed straight for him. Fear gripped his guts and instinct cut in. He dived to one side, the misformed demon hurtling past him and reaching out to the elevator. One hooked hand, if it could be described as a hand, clawing the air to try and grasp the door. Lorne understood.It was trying to escape. The evil in this wasteland was too much.
The shock of movement was enough to jolt Lorne into action. He tried desperately to see where it was he was supposed to be headed. He could hear the thud and gasp of Sasha's fight close by. Focus Lorne. He peered over the heads of the marauding demons but the dusty wind blocked his vision. He had no choice but to the let his empathic abilities do the work. He'd have to drop the glamour and feel the pain to find it. He just hoped he could survive it. Already here in the centre of the apocalypse, beneath his protective magic he could feel it burning.
A vampire charged towards him teeth bared. The sight of apparently human flesh in this tormented world was too tempting, it was ravenous for fresh blood. Without realising he was doing it Lorne swung the sword over his broad shoulders and let the blade slice through the air. There was a sick sound and the vampire, beheaded, dusted. The skirmish had attracted attention though and a dozen demons turned to see the young man by the elevator. He couldn't run there were too many.
'Lorne!' Sasha called to him, her voice high with fear.
He couldn't let her fight on alone he had to get to the mirror and now. Lorne began to mumble his incantation even as the demons closed in in a malicious circle. A shimmer, and the human Lorne vanished. Confused and dazzled by both magic and light the demons halted, looking around for the tall man they'd be prepared to tear limb from limb a moment before. But he was gone, nothing in his place.
Lorne ducked through their bodies, mercifully safely green. He'd never been more thankful for his skin tone or his horns.
The brief exhilaration of escape over, the full pain of the mirror hit him. A driving tearing force of agony which seared through his mind and coursed through ever sinew. He buckled and felt it rip at his insides. Dear God he'd never felt anything like it. He couldn't think, he couldn't breathe. He was dimly aware of Sasha's blade flashing over head, of the shape of her legs circling, kicking, landing firmly beside him and defending him. How she could spot him in this mass of demon flesh he didn't know, but she was there. He heard a triumphant cry from a beast and saw her stagger a few steps. They'd break her down. There were too many. And then this pain that he was feeling would be felt all over the world. The apocalypse would continue unabated and their chance would be lost. With sudden resolve Lorne lifted his head.
'Do your worst,' he muttered and opened his mind completely.
The vision hit him suddenly, as though he was hurtling through a tunnel he suddenly saw precisely where the mirror lay. In his minds eye the swirling winds parted and channelled a corridor straight to the heart of it all.
'I see you,' he whispered. Scrabbling to his feet he moved through the crowd, unseen. The creatures around him too blindly intent on the bloodshed they'd been enacting since the apocalypse began. Lorne's demon features merging with theirs until he moved unheralded through the mire.
The mirror shone above him, on the pedestal he had seen in the vampire's mind. Broadsword in hand he climbed towards it.
It was still, close to the mirror, the wind dying away and leaving the battle below spread like a minutely detailed painting at his feet. When he looked down he could see Sasha at the centre, the blade whirling and glittering in the dim light as she took out one after another of the endless stream of demons. She moved in slow motion, a perfect image of technique and power.
Lorne turned back to the mirror and lifted the sword to his shoulder. Around him the pain poured from the glass, swamping him, covering him with a heavy air and cloying immobility. He struggled against it, he had to do this. He forced his mind to remain open. If it was doing its worst to him it could do no more. He had to believe that he was bigger than this, that he'd been sent her for a purpose and he would not be defeated. With an almighty cry he slammed the blade into the centre of the glass.
Lorne blasted back through the air and landed yards from the mirror, its surface not so much as scratched. He yelled and fell awkwardly, punishing bruises to his back and arms. He needed a Slayer's strength to do this, but he couldn't let her. She'd be killed. The vision was too strong, whatever tried to destroy this mirror would die. He had to do this for her. He stumbled back to the mirror to try again. And that's when he heard the laughter.
Lorne looked past the pain into the glass. His attractive human self looked back, hands clasped, a wide smile on his face.
'Well hey!' it greeted him, 'Look who's trying to be the hero!'
Lorne winced at the sight of his human self. It rocked back and forth on its feet and chuckled, the smile never leaving its face.
'Having a little trouble there big guy?' it pointed at the sword. 'Not quite got enough muscle power, well that never was your gig was it? Strength? So why don't you go get your girlfriend and see if she can't do a better job because frankly…' human Lorne traced a fingertip over the glass where the sword had struck, '… this is pathetic.' It raised its eyebrows, 'not even a scratch!'
On the other side of the glass the demon Lorne grit his teeth against the onslaught of pain still falling from the mirror. He was dimly aware of the battle below them and of Sasha fighting for life amongst a horde of demons. He didn't have time for this, this game with himself. He raised the sword again determined to keep trying.
Human Lorne wagged his finger at him. 'Ah ah uh! Not going to happen… remember what your cousins used to call you in Pylea…' Lorne's red eyes flashed with anger and he drove the sword with al his might against the glass. It shimmered once and then resumed its channelling of pain. 'Why that's right!' his reflection mocked, 'You were the puny one weren't you!'
The pain kept coming and now that his glamour was gone, mocking him from the mirror, it was rapidly becoming manifest on his flesh. He felt blood trickle down his face, he was running out of time faster than he had realised. His wounds burned and he was weakening. Lorne cried out in frustration and went to raise the sword again.
'Why don't I make this simpler?' human Lorne said kindly. There was a flash and a bolt of magic jetted from the surface of the mirror grasping the sword and splintering it in Lorne's hand. He felt the pieces slice into his arms as they flew through the air and fell soundless into the battle below. Another wave of pain hit him, his legs buckling as he struggled to stay upright.
'You can't do anything,' human Lorne explained as if to a child. 'It's out of your hands. This isn't your place Lorne… a demon… saving the world from pain,' it giggled, 'no that's her place, Sasha… pretty name for a hero… so why don't you let her make her mark...'
Lorne bent over know, leaning on his knees for support, his breath ragged, raised his head to glare at the reflection.
'You don't want her to die do you?' it asked sugar sweet. 'Aw… that's just adorable… but sadly unavoidable,' its tone became harsh. 'She'll come for you, heroes do that, she'll see you suffering here and she'll come to you and try and save the day.'
'She won't…' Lorne said.
'Because you're a demon? Oh yes, she never was able to see past that was she? You don't belong here… in this dimension… you never did. You're being here pulls things out of line, there's an inbalance, you don't fit. But she liked me… human Lorne… all tall and dark and
handsome, soft pink flesh and big brown eyes… I fit… who do you think she'd chose Lorne? Because I'm not a gambling man but I'd say the odds were stacked pretty much in my…'
'Stop!' Lorne cried. Raucous laughter from the mirror at his distress. 'She won't come because I won't let her, if she comes here she'll die and I'm not going to let that happen. We finish this now…' he straightened up, rivulets of blood running slowly down his arms, the crimson soaking into his shirt, life draining from him with each second. Human Lorne looked at him with mild curiosity but he thought he saw just a flicker of fear. A flicker of fear meant there was something to be scared of. But what? He had to seize that chance, that small sign of weakness behind the mirror but he couldn't grasp it, he couldn't see, the world was turning grey and he was sure there was no way back to it. They dying Lorne's mind whirled with memories, of Pylean misery, of the companionship of LA, of Vegas Lights… Vegas Lights. Lights… glass… lights… breaking…
'No,' it said as it realised with him. 'No!' He had a moment to lock eyes with his reflection and see the panic there and then he hit the note.
High. Long. Pure. Top C. Everything else stopped. Every eye in the dimension turned to the figure before the mirror. The note drew him up to his full height, his pain momentarily melting with its clarity. From the battle below Sasha looked up too late, saw him there alone and opened her mouth to scream. As the sound poured from her lips she saw the mirror shatter under the spell of his music. A million shards bursting from it frame and surrounding Lorne, raining down on his body with angry force. She heard the rush of a closing vortex and the channel of pain which poured onto the earth was severed with the cutting edge of glass. The darkness was reversed and pulled away again into hell. And then she heard the note end.
Suddenly. Abruptly. Ended. Untapered, just finished, cut off mid stream and lost.
A beat. Silence.
Sasha felt a whimper in her throat, a struggling fledgling of panic. As she looked around the hell dimension she had been fighting in for what felt like hours melted, replaced with a room of dazzling white. The purple tormented sky parted to reveal a clear blue ceiling above her. And everywhere was empty. The room, the sky, the mirror, a few jagged remains of glass remaining caught at its edge. The whimper built within her as she looked then at the floor by the frame. A body.
Her breath choked for a second and the suddenl stillness of the white room laid heavy on her, smothering her, making her feel weak and alone.
'Lorne?' she whispered no more than a croak. 'Lorne…?' questioning, uncertain, afraid, her heart hammering.
'LORNE!' the scream finally erupted from her and she ran towards him. The white room seemed to stretch forever and her legs felt heavy with fear. 'Lorne no!' she skidded the last few feet on her knees collapsing over him, shaking his shoulders and calling out his name. 'Lorne, why? Why didn't you let me do this? Lorne, please wake up, please!' She scooped him into her arms, touched his face, his soft pale skin and ran her hand over his dark hair. He looked unmarked, no blood, no injury, just a young man at peace. A young man. A young human man.
Sasha sat back suddenly thoughtful and wary, his body lifeless and heavy across her lap. She looked again at his features, perfect and undamaged and as she sat she felt the weight lift from her, a sense that he was fading. A glamour. Only a glamour. A dying reflection of magic from the shattered glass. A leftover image from the sacrifice Lorne had made, his other true self lost to the vortex which took with it the pain which threatened to end the world. The man in her arms faded and vanished but she barely registered his loss. Another loss, greater and unseen tore at her now.
'Lorne…? Where did you go?' she asked the empty room, and its echo answered her coldly.
The vortex spat him cruelly into the hell dimension from which he had saved humanity. He flew from the portal and crashed hard against a rocky outcrop. Around him the demons who had fought Sasha were pouring from the vent in the purple sky above, replaced once more into their rightful realm. And he with them. Demon. He belonged here. He looked back briefly and caught a glimpse of the white room beyond before the image closed and vanished. He had done it. It was over.
He was dying. He could feel it. The brief exhilaration of his success was replaced now with the pain. A different pain to that he had felt in the battle. Not mystical but physical, the results of his wounds and of the mental onslaught he had undergone to get to the mirror. And before that, the pain grief which he had held off for so long. He mourned for them. As the hell dimension swarmed around him he was alone at last in his loss, the blood still seeping from the gashes the glass had rained down on him, his eyes fighting to stay open against the horrors of this new world. He pulled himself into a bundle and hid against the rock praying that nothing would find him and make this ending more painful.
He was finished. He had played his part for the powers that be and his instincts told him that Sasha was alive, that she had survived, and that his vision of her future would ring true. Now it could end, the world held nothing for him now and he could not get back. The chaos and darkness, the violent winds which battered the rocks around him and tore roughly over his skin, these things would end soon too and he would be at peace. He felt fear, but he knew there was no point to fear when what lay ahead was inevitable. So instead he clung to her image from his vision as she walked away in the sunlight through the ruins of LA.
Lorne's eyes fluttered closed and his breathing became shallow as all around him hell raged in its eternal war.
The sun was brilliant over the wreckage. As Sasha picked her way through it she did not even pause to watch the last of the hell creatures scuttle to the dark safety of the sewers. There would be time enough to clean up LA, but time was something he felt sure Lorne did not have. It was time to swallow her pride and ask for help. She acknowledged she was out of her league, she acknowledged that Buffy and the reformed watchers council held information that could help her, but most of all she acknowledged at last what they had told her from the outset. That good and evil was not black and white and that not all that was branded 'bad' should be condemned. There were grey areas in this world that defied explanation.
But Lorne wasn't a grey area. He was pure. And she cursed herself for ever doubting him, for ever condemning him for his demon heritage, and for ever being so blind to the strength of his heart. He had saved her and countless thousands with her, he was every bit the hero the others in Italy had talked of and she owed it to him to try and find him. They would help her, she'd make them help her. Dead or alive she would bring him back to her where he belonged. She refused to just let go, she trusted that she would see him again. Just as she had trusted him in the alley that night. In her minds eye his face, his laughter and his soft clear voice gave her hope, as he had always given her hope. She felt him with her even now.
Sasha climbed back into their van, breathing in the lingering scent of him and remembering their last moments together there, the touch of him as he had held her before the battle, the warm depths behind his eyes. She felt tears burn and bit them back. It wouldn't be the last time. He'd hold her again and this time she'd hold him back and never let him go.
'I'll find you,' she told the sun and turned on the ignition, the tape springing to life where he had left it.
If the sky above, should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea,
I won't cry, I won't cry,
No, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me…