Title: Conferring With the Flowers

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG/K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: Lorne might be able to survive a temporary beheading with no permanent harm done, but he was pretty sure removing half a brain was problematic for the long-term health of any sentient species. 1200 words.

Spoilers: Post-series for Angel, no comics; pre-series for Tin Man

Notes: Challenge fic. All other Oz allusions (book and movie both) are intentional. =)

Lorne would be the first to admit that he might have overreacted, just a little, to Angel's request the day they took down the Circle of the Black Thorn. Not in insisting that it was the last request he'd ever accept from his former friend and boss; Lorne's business had always been helping his clientele find their destinies, not playing judge, jury and executioner based on the darker possibilities he sensed. Angel and company had defied destiny far too often for him to feel comfortable drawing that line for anyone else, even a conflicted, self-centered knot of amorality like Lindsey McDonald.

But a promise was a promise; and Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan paid his debts. He'd done as asked- and then he'd taken his adorable green buttocks out of town and went in search of a consoling drink. Surely that had been a reasonable response.

No, the overreaction had been in what happened afterward. While stewing in disillusionment and a little extradimensional intoxicant mixed into his Sea Breeze, he'd somehow come to the conclusion that his mother had been right to be ashamed of him after all, and had decided to catch a portal home to tell her so in person.

Lorne had started to sober up a little when the Vegas warlock he'd hired had conjured up a funnel cloud instead of the more familiar swirly tear in reality, but by then it had been too late to stop it. And really, it hadn't so much mattered to him in that moment where he was headed; the only thing that had mattered had been that it wasn't going to be anywhere his recent past could find him. And he'd more than succeeded on that score.

Unfortunately, the land at the other end of the rainbow was more like Pylea than Los Angeles, in more than just the dual suns burning overhead. Its natives called it the Oh Zee... but that was about the only similarity the Outer Zone bore to the magical land of Baum's fairy tales. For all that the Sorceress who ruled the place and her long-coated soldiers were as human as the majority of the subjects they commanded, or so he was told, they treated those subjects like the 'cow-scum' of his homeworld when they could catch them, and he didn't expect a noticeable Other Sider would be treated any better.

He might be able to survive a temporary beheading with no permanent harm done, but he was pretty sure removing half a brain was problematic for the long-term health of any sentient species, humans and Pyleans included. Magical land or not, he was surprised the victims could even remember to speak; if it happened to him, would he even remember how to sing?

Lorne shuddered at the thought and tugged gently at the arm of the young man he'd literally tripped over not long after his arrival. He'd rather burn in Tarkna. "This way, crumb cake."

He'd found Ambrose lying on his back in a field of gently waving grass, staring into the sky with a vacant, wistful expression. He could hum a few notes if prompted, which was how Lorne knew his name; but he had little in the way of long-term memory, and couldn't hold onto a thought for more than a minute at a time. He seemed able to converse normally in short bursts, but couldn't retain that clarity long enough to do much of anything. And he drifted to a halt whenever Lorne forgot and let go of him.

Ambrose tilted his head as he stumbled into motion again, wild curly locks standing out from his scalp everywhere except the slightly inflamed strip over the top, marked with an inset band of toothed metal. "It's a very nice way," he mused, catching himself against Lorne again as his left foot snagged in a hole in the brick-laid road. "Of course, it was pleasant the way we came, too. Do you suppose people go both ways?"

"I'm sure they do," Lorne replied, patting the brocade-clad arm. Whoever his new friend had been before the Sorceress' butchers remade him, he'd been somebody; but now he was nobody of any importance, not even to himself. Rather like Lorne, cut adrift from both clan and purpose; he hadn't heard a thing from the Powers That Be or any of their messengers since his arrival.

Maybe they weren't tolerated, either; that was certainly a possibility. If the OZ had ever been as open-minded about eccentricities as the Baum books suggested, there was little evidence left. That was the biggest problem Lorne had faced since the travel storm spit him out: the human-normative culture enforced by the Sorceress' minions. Barring a lost member of the old Royal Family turning up to take pity on him, it seemed unlikely that he would stumble into another tornado, find a pair of silver slippers, or unearth a Magic Belt to wish himself home. He would have to make a new home for himself yet again- and the best place to do that, according to rumor, was the one place that even the Sorceress had left alone. The Realm of the Unwanted.

He'd heard things about women with six arms, furry men that could read hearts, and leftovers of all sorts from the old regime- talking animals, mechanical men, and china folk that could have stepped out of Baum's tales- taking refuge there. If there was any place a neutral demon could make his own way in the OZ, that would be the one.

And perhaps someone there could take charge of Ambrose until he'd recovered enough not to die from neglect? If that was even possible. Lorne had hopes about that; Ambrose still had rhythm, so he at least still had instincts to build on.

As if to prove him wrong, the young man stumbled again, then turned bewildered brown eyes on Lorne. "I'm sorry, do I know you? My name's... my name's... my name's... I'm glitching, aren't I?"

Lorne managed a reassuring smile as he kept walking. "That's all right, sugar bun," he said. He'd told Ambrose his own name six times since they'd met, but he always forgot it immediately. "We've just met. Call me Lorne."

"Krevlorneswath?" the young man suddenly recalled, shaking his head to rattle the few marbles he had left, then gave an uncertain laugh. "Sorry. Sometimes my synapses don't fire right."

"Don't worry about it. None of us are who we used to be, these days."

And unlike a certain pair of souled vampires, the world was not going to bend over backward to put these Humpty Dumpties back together. They'd have to do the best they could on their own.

"Like a giant masquerade ball," Ambrose replied, slowing again to brush his hand through a patch of tall, nodding flowers bordering the road, each bearing a bland, sleeping face framed by chartreuse and vermillion petals. "But I don't like masks. I think. Oh, hey, are these your relatives?"

"I don't think so, muffin," Lorne replied with a sigh. Though they might as well be.

Somehow, he had a feeling he'd be sinking roots in the OZ for a long time to come.