Also Comes in Strange
Stand Alones    Ficlets    Drabbles   Series    Essays    By Pairing

Title: I've Seen You Sing
Author: Tania
Rating: R
Summary: A Lorne centric retelling of the Angel saga from season two through the finale. Lorne always had his reasons, no one ever bothered to ask what they were. (This is a WIP)

It felt like any other night in Caritas. The vibe was low key, and except for a few Mohtnak demons determined to butcher the Pointer Sisters, the music hadn't even been unbearable, no break away stars, but at least bearable.

Lorne took a sip of his drink, marveling at the greenness of the liquid. "Hey Raul," he shouted to the bar, "This your idea of a joke?"

"Sorry boss."

Seconds later Raul slipped a sea breeze into Lorne's hand and took the other glass back to the bar, sighing as he poured the vile looking liquid down the sink.

Turning his attention back to the stage Lorne couldn't help but smile when he saw who was taking the settling onto the stool. Lindsey McDonald, an up and comer at Wolfram and Hart. They all tended to come in at one point or another, trying to get a vision of when their expiration date at the firm would be, and they all had one. Lorne resisted the urge to visibly cringe at the thought, being an empath had a lot of advantages, seeing the gruesome deaths of his clients was not among them. At least Lindsey was usually a treat. He tended to bring his guitar and croon a soft melody of his own design, rarely bothering with the karaoke monitor. It was a nice change really, after all there were only so many times a person could hear We are the Champions before you were ready to chop your own head off and throw your body into the canyons of Trelinsk.

There'd never been anything exceptional in Lindsey's future and Lorne found himself feeling almost sorry for him. He was an ambitious enough guy, as far as lawyers went, and Lorne could see why he tried so hard the first time he heard Lindsey sing. The up from nothing vibe surrounding Lindsey's aura gave him a sense of the familiar. Lorne could identify with someone going a few thousand miles, or a full dimension, to escape their family. He admired it even. Where others from the firm came in wanting to know where they're money or power would come from, Lindsey just wanted to know that his life was going to be better than it had been in the past.

Taking a seat at one of the raised tables in front of the stage he waited for Lindsey to give a quick tune-up to his guitar, methodically tightening a few strings, adjusting himself on the stool until he was comfortable. No one would dare call Lindsey shy, but Lorne supposed that being one of the very few humans in the club that night had to be daunting, even to someone as cocksure as Lindsey.

Finally as ready as he was going to get Lindsey strummed a few chords, a little country twang filling the air. The crowd immediately mellowed, giving him their full attention, as they usually did when a natural performer came to sing. Clearing his throat just once, Lindsey started to sing, low and soft, a heartfelt ballad that could have been about any girl in the room, or man, Lorne thought, a smile curling over his crimson lips.

Raising his drink, Lorne took a small sip, humming along a few notes as the liquid met his tongue, but then the vibrations from the stage nearly knocked him back. Lindsey's aura glowed dark verdigris, spreading out, sending what were usually soft vibrations into Lorne's body with a gale force blast. His nostrils suddenly filled with the smell of gunpowder and there was an indistinguishable scent mixed there, possibly blood, but not human, or at least not strictly human.

Seeing the horrific deaths of Wolfram and Hart employees was something that he was getting used to after three years of running Caritas, but this was different. This time Lorne was in the room, he was witnessing it first hand. He didn't know what, or who, had come into Lindsey's life since his last serenade, but whatever it was, his destiny had changed completely, but suddenly Lorne had the feeling his path had changed too.

He was no longer strictly the Host. He was now part of the crowd.

*****

It had been months since Lindsey had sung that fateful tune, showing Lorne a path that every fiber in his body wanted to deny. There simply weren't enough bottles of vodka and cranberry juice in the world to wash the memory of Lindsey's aura swallowing him that night. Dark clouds of midnight colored evil had covered his eyes and filled Lorne's head with nightmares nearly every night since. Thankfully that was the last time Lindsey McDonald had set foot in his club. It had been hard enough to stammer out a summary of Lindsey's path when he had walked off the stage that night. Lorne wasn't sure he could handle a reading of that intensity anytime soon.

"Let's just say that Wolfram and Hart ain't the yellow brick road, sugarcakes. Do yourself a favor, catch the one eighteen back to Oklahoma while you can."

"Too late to turn back now," Lindsey had said, flashing a smile as he slid his guitar under his arm and took the last drink of his Tn'T before walking away, humming a reprise of the same tune.

The final assault had sent Lorne reeling against the bar. Setting his drink down and nodding to Raul, Lorne carefully made his way to the back of the club, avoiding the four-horned Kathril demon that tried to get his attention during the keyboard solo of Light my Fire. Slipping behind the stage's curtains and into the small room he called home Lorne lay flat on his bed pulling a pillow to his chest.

"I'm not the one," Lorne whispered to himself, "I'm the host, my path is here. I'm not the one."  

*****

The eggshells Lorne was walking on were nearly ground to dust by the time Wesley Wyndam-Pryce walked into Caritas for the first time. There wasn't much about him that normally would have drawn Lorne's attention. He wore a cheap suit, spoke with a non-descript English accent, wore glasses he possibly didn't need, all in all just an average looking man. At least that was Lorne's first impression, but as he watched Wesley occasionally pulling a small notebook from his inner jacket pocket and making notes of the demons in attendance over the course of the evening, Lorne began to worry.

"There's no violence in my club," Lorne said, speaking just loud enough to be heard over the duet coming from the speakers.

"No, of course not." Wesley rose from his seat, putting a hand out to the Host. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

Lorne nodded and shook the offered hand, still unsure what to make of him.

"I work for, an...a detective agency. We specialize in some of the more unusual crimes Los Angeles has to offer. A colleague suggested your club as a valuable resource. I was simply making a note of some of your regulars. I admit there are more than a few species here I don't recognize. Most fascinating."

"We do get a nice mix," Lorne agreed. "Weekends are busier, more teleporters when they've got a couple days to let the wooziness wear off."

Wesley stared at the host, an uncomfortable look flashing over his face.

"So what can I do for you Mr. Wyndam-- what was it?"

"Wesley's fine." Wesley relaxed a little and sat back down, inviting the Host to sit with him. "I work with a vampire I'd be interested in having you meet."

"Vampire, huh." Lorne kept an eye on the stage as he spoke to the newcomer. "We don't get a lot of vampires in here. Pity really, you'd be amazed what a gallon of blood runs in this town. I used to think it was hard enough getting the imported yak..." He stopped, returning his attention to Wesley. "I get the feeling you didn't come here to find out what my overhead costs are."

"No, I suppose not." Wesley said. "The vampire I work for, he has a soul. Maybe you've heard of him?" Wesley asked, seeing a slight look of recognition on Lorne's face.

"I've heard rumors." Lorne pushed the humming feeling from his mind, trying his hardest to look nonchalant as he took a drink and watched the couple onstage winding down their song. "Excuse me a moment."

Lorne joined the demons on stage, briefly turning their duet into a trio before urging the crowd to applaud. "Well, Mary, hail to you," he said, all smiles, "someone's glad the boss noticed the extra pile of dung in his lunchbox, and good on you. Have a drink on me, you deserve it."

Taking a moment to set up the next act before returning to Wesley's table, Lorne was still tingling as he reluctantly sat back down. "So, what'll it take to get you to take the stage?"

"More stout than I imagine you carry on any given Tuesday," Wesley said with a small laugh. "It's not my path that concerns me," he added, suddenly all business. "My employer seems to have been targeted by a law firm as a person of interest. We've been getting a lot of unwanted attention and I believe we may be in need of your services in the near future."

"Well you be sure to bring him in for a few bars, my door is always open. I'm sure we'll get him fixed up in no time." Lorne stood up, making a few circles of the crowd in an attempt to calm his nerves. Wesley had seemed a nice enough guy, but there was something about him that was familiar in an unpleasant way. The mentioning of what could only be Wolfram and Hart wasn't helping to ease his fears either.

Caritas was suddenly feeling less like a sanctuary with each passing moment.

*****

The vampire's singing was enough to melt the wax from the Host's ears. Lorne wished to god that it was the singing causing him pain and not the visions that encompassed his mind in a hold rivaling anything an Olympic caliber wrestler could offer. This vampire, Angel, souled or otherwise had a future that too many people had a hand in. Lorne had never read anyone who's destiny seemed so completely out of their own hands. And as each note passed into the air the visions of Angel's future became more entangled with his own, and that of several of his clients.

As Angel mercifully concluded his song and walked off the stage after giving the audience a short apology, Lorne frantically tried to remember why Angel had wanted to be read after his earlier insistence that he did not sing for anyone. He was sure there were prophecies and Prios involved, but the vision had caught Lorne off guard with it's intensity and he had nearly forgotten to pay attention to the parts that weren't filled with death and destruction.

Finally an address seemed to pop into his brain from out of nowhere. Lorne did his best to babble his way through a pep-talk, or at least as close to a pep-talk as he was likely to get. It was clear that Angel was an important figure to a lot of people and it wasn't hard to see why. Any vampire who could attract the loyalty of a former watcher and a knockout who grew up in hellmouth central had to have that *thing* that everyone always spoke of but could never define. Of course, Lorne thought, it was possible that they were just attracted to him because he had the body of Adonis. Extremely possible, he mused.

Lorne sighed as he watched Angel and his dynamic duo of sidekicks run out the exit. Off to fight the tribunal, save the day, rescue the girl, probably several other heroic cliché-type things that made his brain ache. Lorne let them leave, once again keeping the gut wrenching pain of his reading to himself. Maybe he'd get lucky and they wouldn't come back. A nice thought, but when Merle the snitch walked through the metal detector and glared at him, like it was his fault that Angel had found him in Caritas, Lorne just took a sip of his drink and grabbed the microphone.

There were few things a little Tina Turner couldn't fix, and Lorne was determined to work his way through the entire catalog, including the Ike years, if that's what it took to get his fillings to stop vibrating.

******

He wasn't a killer. He'd never even taken part in the Mogfan hunt or joined in the Dance of Slaughter. It wasn't his thing. So why was he suddenly picturing his own version of fifty ways to die? Lorne's dreams consisted of beautiful melodies strummed by his favorite lawyer, which wasn't saying much since *yech* lawyers, but the songs were good. It was the part that came after Lindsey stepped from the stage that made him wake up in a sweat wishing he'd taken the blonde howler demon up on its offer to teach him how to scream in three octaves. It was the sight of Lindsey drowning in a mouthful of his own blood, stab wounds covering his chest, rope burns on his wrists and ankles, burn marks covering his face and chest, so much blood no matter what way he died that night. The carnage of the dream was what jolted him out of bed each night, the resulting migraine the same with each ending.

Never in his life had Lorne been so haunted by his dreams. Even as a child, as horrible as that had been, nothing could compare to knowing he was part of something sinister crawling up from the depths of the Los Angeles tunnel system, bent on destroying one of the few beautiful things that had ever walked into his club. He was close to being out of tears, but not close enough. Every morning still had to start with the application of eyeliner to cover the evidence.

All the effort was necessary, the host couldn't look tired, that would bring the club's entire vibe down, and things were hard enough trying to break in a new bartender. He'd exchanged Raul for Rico and a few days later Rico for Ramone, and boy had it been worth it. A sea breeze to die for, which matched the ass to beg for completely. Opening Caritas each night should have been a pleasure now more than ever, but each night he found himself watching the door, waiting for Angel to walk back in.

And then it happened, and Lorne knew without a shadow of a doubt that his life had changed forever. He was bound to Angel and no matter how far off his path the vampire was willing to go, Lorne would be at his side.

He *knew* it, but much like the vampire in question, knowing the path didn't mean Lorne was going to follow it willingly.

*****

He spelled it out the only way he knew how. "This is not your path." What he really wanted to say was this is so far off your path you'll be doing cookies on the Jersey turnpike till a mullet takes the White House. There really weren't the words to convey how much Angel needed to not be hunting down his sire. That way led to nothing but bad, and the further Angel went the more Lorne felt himself being pulled in two directions.

Lorne knew deep down that he had been brought to Los Angeles for a reason, it wasn't all just telling lonely housewives what drapes would make their hubby's happy. He was capable of touching people's lives in a way that even true blue heroes couldn't understand. It wasn't just about seeing the future, he wasn't giving out lottery numbers, at least not to most people. He could feel the sense of right and wrong that permeated his client's auras in ways that not even the best of his seer friends could really grasp. He had the power to guide them to greatness.

So why was it that when someone truly needed to trust in his reading and steer clear of danger, he was so hellbent on ignoring the signs so clearly in front of him? Lorne's mind boggled.

The days were getting longer. The sun may have shone brighter now that summer had arrived, but each moment he was awake was one more that he spent looking behind him, waiting for the moment his vision had shown him. Lorne felt the vibrations spin around him whenever the Angel crew walked into his club. It was much like rubbing a balloon against your head for a few minutes and then trying to let go of it. It didn't happen easily, and when it did finally release the pop was so harsh that it snapped back and left a welt on your hand. He could feel the big cosmic whap coming, and this time flinching would do him no good.

"Yay, you found her. That'll end well." Lorne muttered to himself as Darla took the stage. There was something about the woman that made Lorne's skin crawl. Even though she was human there was a residual evil lurking inside her, he could feel it in her voice. The softness of her chosen tune did nothing to dull the sharp throngs of blood red that poured from her lips as she started to sing. There was the death and the mayhem again, but something else sent Lorne's head to spinning. Every time Lorne thought he was reading Angel in her future images of Lindsey would peek through. He wasn't a main player maybe, but he had cameos in almost every scene.

"You're not drinking?" Angel asked, breaking Lorne's concentration for just a moment.

"You noticed that, good for you. You think I could just replace Ramone like that?" The sting of the bartender's abandoning him over a twenty-dollar payoff still burned. Of course, since Angel was the one that ended up knocked out on the floor because of that betrayal, Lorne bit his tongue.

"No, it's just you usually have a drink, I mean if it'll help you read her better I could make one..."

"I'm fine, now will you quit playing the happy hostess and let me listen?"

"Right, sorry, I'm just a bit on edge."

"Yeah, hadn't noticed. Would you like to make this a duet?"

"No," Angel stated emphatically.

"Then shush."

Closing his eyes and letting Darla's voice fill his mind, Lorne could see a plastic hand working it's way down her body, trailing over the tender skin of her arms, just soft enough to make Darla flutter her eyes. To most she would have appeared downright orgasmic, but behind those eyes were the truth. Even as he touched her she cursed her mortal body and the dullness of sensation that reached her mind. She longed for the heightened senses of the vampire, and it was clear she would kill anyone who put her goal further from her reach.

Lucky Angel's already dead, Lorne thought with a morbid sense of foreboding. He'd try to save her. That much was clear, but it was just as clear that he would fail, at least in the present sense of the word. "There might be a way, a trial if you will"

"Can I save her," Angel had asked.

"Try and see."

There would be no happy endings as long as Angel fought for her, so the Host did what he did best, he offered up a detour instead of a path and left his client with the smallest bit of hope he could truthfully suggest and sent them on their way.

Hopefully Angel would forgive him for sending him on two hopeless quests in a row.

*****

There was the briefest moment of `that wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen' that slipped through Lorne's mind as the blast of foul aura knocked him back. Blackness enveloping not only the singer's future, but that of everyone on earth, scary enough on its own , but accompanied by the butchering of Irving Berlin was enough to give him a cosmic cold-cocking. Lorne had never read someone whose aura had the power to wipe the entire planet out. He was awed by the power the boy must possess, but also horrified that he was the only one who knew what was coming.

Taking a few moments to slip into the back and clean the not so small traces of spittle from his mouth and neck, the Host took in sharp breaths through his nose, desperately trying to stop the spinning sensation in his mind. He'd wanted the world to stop so he could get off more than once, but this was a bit more permanent than he had in mind.

World ending. The thought raced through his brain over and over. He had to do something, but what? Grabbing his little black address book from the end table he began frantically turning pages.

"Brandock the Benevolent? No, dead. Elgin the Emancipator? No, that coastline ended up being a little too rocky for surfing. Harry the Helpful? Vacationing in Rio. Olaf the Optimist? No, dammit." Lorne stared at the book as though it contained liquid nitrogen. With a deep sigh, he backpedaled through the pages, staring at the gold emblazoned `A'. "Well, Mr. Broodypants it is. Lucky me."

*****

"Thanks for the lift," Lorne said, slipping a twenty into the cab driver's hand, "when I win the Oscar I'll be sure to remember your helpful make-up tips, really." He slammed the door and straightened his tie, muttering to himself. "Too much lipstick my ass."

Lorne stood outside the Hyperion, enjoying the soft scents of the garden for a few minutes while he prepared himself for the unenviable task of waking a sleeping vampire. There was always the time honored tradition of tickling, or maybe a splash of water on the face, unholy water of course, cause burning flesh, not the best motivator when seeking world saving help. He pondered the many ways to avoid decapitation while he quietly snuck through the lobby doors. The echoing tap of his shoes, however, gave him a much better idea.

Deciding to take advantage of the fabulous acoustics in the lobby, Lorne took in a deep breath and let out a few bars of Unforgettable before deciding the room was better suited to something more epic.

Angel interrupted him right as the rockets started glaring red.

*****

Convincing Angel to help hadn't been as difficult as he'd expected. Convincing him that Pylean lounge singers didn't come first aide trained was a much more difficult thing. Lorne hadn't thought a few whacks from a Lubber demon's axe would be enough to slow Angel down, but when he looked back on the week the vampire had had, Darla, Drusilla, Boon, it had to take a toll on a guy. So Lorne had reluctantly whipped out the first aid kit from behind the bar. It was more for lemon cutting incidents than gaping wounds, but the peroxide still had a satisfying bubbling effect and Lorne could barely stifle a laugh when the sting of the iodine made Angel gasp like a little girl.

Once he was sufficiently bandaged and dressed Angel sat at one of the tables and took the offered glass of pig's blood that Lorne handed him.

"So what comes next?" Lorne asked, taking a seat across from Angel.

"I find Darla." Angel stated simply.

Searching for the right words to convey the very wrongness of that plan, Lorne ran over the scenes in his mind. The way it played out never changed, but there were bits that he felt were always open to change. The real problem with being prescient was that you saw the end game, could sense what was inevitable, where the players would end up for the final scene. All that was clear. What was a hazy shade of what-the-hell was how they got there. Lorne had no idea how he ended up surrounded by jade colored death and dead bodies, but he did know that Angel was a key part of his journey.

"Angelcakes, listen to me while I speak very slowly and in terms you can understand," Lorne ignored the vampire's frown and tried very hard to not stare at the pink-tinted teeth that ground together behind Angel's false smile. "Darla is not your mission. That ship has sailed, in fact it's half way to Acapulco by now. There is no turning it around, and the sooner you realize that the happier you, and everyone affected by your pissy `tude, will be."

 "Now," Lorne said, standing up and removing his jacket, "it's been a long night, and you need to get home."

"Why's that?" Angel asked, taking the last drink from his glass and setting the empty cup on the bar behind him.

"Because you have a busy week ahead of you, and the people who actually need your help are going to be knocking on your door."

"Like who?"

"Answer it and find out."

*****

"You knew what was going to happen," Angel accused, stepping forward enough that Lorne couldn't help but lean an elbow on the bar to keep himself from tipping over.

"I thought you didn't care," Lorne said, trying to put on his best `this is my club back-off' voice.

"Of course I care, when one of my friends gets shot I care."

"Okay, let's rewind for just a moment shall we?" Lorne set his drink down and took a step forward, forcing Angel to be the one backing up. "You didn't sing for me, I didn't read you. In fact you have never actually asked me to read *you*. You want all the answers? Well I don't have them. If you want to protect them take them back, don't come in here blaming me when they get hurt."

"You didn't tell me Wes would end up in the hospital," Angel said in a lower voice.

"Did you bother asking?" Lorne asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Are you telling me you only tell me what I ask for?" Angel pondered the implications for a moment. "What else aren't you telling me?"

"Plenty, and let me tell you why." Lorne half-leaned on one of the high-backed chairs near the bar, taking his drink in his hand once again. "It's quite a bit easier to change your future when you aren't thinking about every minute detail. You don't really need to know that you're a quart low on oil on your way to stop a Durstler beast from crashing a picnic, you just need to get there and stop it. Let me deal with the distractions, you go back to brooding."

Lorne waved the vampire off and made his way to the stage, tinkering with the selection monitor for a few seconds he cued up a fast-tempo Donna Summers song and handed the microphone to the nearest Kailiff demon before moving back into the crowd. Watching from the corner of his eye as Angel left, The Host couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief. There were days when he simply couldn't be far enough away from Angel and the black cloud that followed him throughout the city.

*****

"Busy tonight boss," Ricky handed the Host a chilled glass and hurriedly ran back behind the bar, grabbing five dollar bills from the first dozen customers that shouted out their orders.

Lorne tried to focus in on the trio on stage, all night duets and trios, sometimes half a chorus line, they were all lined up trying to get on as fast as possible. Sipping at his drink, wishing it was enough to dull the ache slowly forming in his brain as image after image of corrupt business dealings, executions, ritual sacrifices and backstabbing, both literal and figural, ran through his mind.  Scanning the club Lorne thought it could have passed for a Men's Warehouse commercial, you never saw so many five piece suits in one room, and the grays and blues were seriously bringing his mood down.

Walking through the crowd, he kept one ear on the stage while the other caught bits and pieces of conversations, "I'm gonna miss that kid, but what do you do?" "I got lucky, my uncle owns a goat farm up in Medesto, all the goats you can slaughter." "I wouldn't want to be in Special Projects come Friday night." "If that vampire shows up, I'll stake him myself."

The noise was deafening and it wasn't just the third rendition of We Are Family coming through the PA system that night. They were all nervous, asking Lorne to tell them they'd survive the seventy-five year review. Most of them would, but he was reluctant to give any of them hope, they'd all be dead in a year or two, that was certain. Fire-filled ugly deaths for most, including the three at the mic. A black cloud of ooze surrounded them like something straight out of a B-Movie, and the smell was nearly vomit inducing. The worst part about these impromptu Wolfram and Hart conventions was the smell of blood and viscera that tended to move with them.

Lorne hardly bothered to roll his eyes when the reason for their demise walked through the door. Angel was instantly on him, questions questions, always wanting something Lorne couldn't give him. The Host wanted to help, but the overwhelming sense that no matter what he told the vampire he would still chase after Darla, go where he really shouldn't be meddling, and end up back in Caritas the next night blaming Lorne for his failures kept him from being as forthcoming as he would have been with just about any other customer. In the end Lorne gave him snippets of what he'd read that night, partly because he did want to help, and partly because Lorne was almost looking forward to the visit tomorrow, a rare occurrence to be sure, but Angel's aura was about to have some very hot flashbacks to read.

*****

"Well now, you're a lot less bruised than I was expecting," Lorne said, stepping to the side as Angel pressed through the door. "I mean what with hitting the bottom of your rock and all."

"I don't think I like how you know what I'm going to do before I do." Angel said, grumpily accepting the glass of blood Lorne had poured for him.

"Then quit coming around my club," Lorne said, adding a *please* in his mind.

"And miss out on our chats," Angel said, a smile almost forming on his lips.

"Yeah, I know they're the highlights of my week. So tell me Romeo, did you give her cab fare?"

"No."

"Care to embellish?"

"No."

"Fine, you come in here the very picture of morning after and I get no details." A mock pout covered his lips, "I see how you are."

"I think this was it, the sign." Angel swirled his cup, coating the sides in crimson. "I had to let her go, Kate's gone too. I don't know how to make it better."

"That's because you think it will get better. Redemption doesn't really have good days, Angel. You get up in the morning, save some, don't save some, the point is you keep trying. Your problem is that right now you are still thinking you can go it alone, and until you realize that you can't without ending up in a sachet, you're screwed."

"You're not helping."

"Of course I'm helping," Lorne said with a smile as he refilled the glass and poured something decidedly not-red for himself. "I'm always helping. The thing is, are you listening?"

"I'm listening," Angel mumbled.

"I don't work for you, you clearly don't pay me for my services, although you will be covering my living expenses someday." Realizing Angel was staring at him with an even more clueless look than usual, Lorne added, "You'll get that later."

"So what about now?"

"Now, you decide if you're going to keep pulling this Bela Lugosi crap, or go back to living, you know what I mean," Lorne said with a wave of his hand. "Now go away, I'm tired."

"What if they won't come back?"

"What makes you think you should ask them to?" Lorne asked, wondering why the powers would turn his like to flehegna muck for someone so dense.

***

"I need your help," Angel said, as he pushed his way inside the club.

"Didn't we *just* have this conversation like two days ago?" Lorne asked, sure at this point that Angel was going to make him insane before he ever had a chance to destroy his life.

"What? No, I don't need that kind of help, I need you," Angel looked at his shoes, "I need shopping help."

"Oh sweet hallelujah, call the church lady," Lorne said, leaning back as he raised his hands over his head, "I thought you'd never ask! Now first things first, say this with me, I've been dead since the Qing Dynasty, I can stop mourning and wear some color." Lorne patted Angel on the chest as he pulled a coat off the rack near the bar and waved at Ricky, "You can hold down the fort tonight, right?"

"Sure boss," Ricky said, returning his attention to the tray of glasses he was carrying.

Turning back to Angel, Lorne was nearly skipping as he grabbed the vampire's arm, "This is gonna be great!"

"I don't think…I mean, I didn't mean to sound like…we're not shopping for me," Angel finally blurted out, planting his feet.

"Huh," Lorne said, sure the clanking behind the bar had made him misunderstand.

"I need you to help me shop for Cordelia."

"But…why?" Lorne asked, suddenly deflated.

"Well, I kind of gave some of her clothes away after I, um, after they left."

"So you're planning on buying back her friendship?"

"You don't have to make it sound so…well yeah," Angel frowned, "You think it's a bad idea."

"No, I didn't say that, I'm just wishing you and I could have a falling out, I mean, I could use some new clothes," Lorne pulled the door closed behind him as he followed Angel up the stairs into the warm Los Angeles night, "A car, cappuccino maker, you feel like house hunting, I could go for that…"

***

The mall was nearly empty, which Lorne was blissfully thankful for, no handy excuses like Halloween in the middle of April. He usually relied on the old Hollywood standby: Monster movie, ran out of diet coke and Excedrin, have to rush. Most people bought it, or just didn't want to question the crazy guy with horns.

"Um, where are you going," Lorne asked, knowing full well that Angel was heading for a department store known for its tools and old lady track suits.

"Into," Angel pointed at the ridiculously large red sign.

"Oh I don't think so, you said you wanted her to forgive you, yes?"

"Well, yeah."

"Then come with me my little cumquat. We're going shopping."

"Where?" Angel asked, looking around at the small shops that lined the promenade, "None of these are clothes shops."

"Angel, They're *all* clothes shops." Lorne gave him his best perturbed look and shoved him through the love bead-covered entrance of the nearest boutique and kept shoving until they were past the neatly folded shirts, smacking Angel's hand as he reached out for a grey sweatshirt with a zipper front. "No, not that one," Lorne snapped, a sudden chill racing over his fingers as they connected with the fabric.

"I just thought it would be nice for her to work out in," Angel said, shaking off Lorne's grip.

"And you think she's fat why? Has someone not been drinking his carrot juice?"

"I don't think she's fat," Angel protested.

"Then let's buy something that won't make her glare at you every time she eats something sugary, shall we?" Lorne pulled a brightly colored dress from the rack and held it in front of Angel.

"Yeah, um, maybe with a nice skirt," Angel looked around for something suitable.

"Okay, listen Myrtle, this is a dress, a very nice, two hundred dollar dress. She will love it."

Once Angel was done making choking sounds, Lorne grabbed several more dresses from the rack and threw them into Angel's arms.

"What if we tried…"

"If the words `clearance' or `sale' come out of your mouth I'm going to march my lamé covered ass straight over to your little hotel in the sky and tell Cordelia why you had the doors replaced in your room today."

"You wouldn't," Angel said as yet more shirts and coats were piled into his arms.

"Wouldn't I? Taken any nice drives up North lately?" Lorne gave a pointed look, and continued pulling clothes from the racks.

"Fine, you shop, I'll pay, and we can just not discuss my personal life anymore," Angel took the growing pile of clothes and tossed them onto the counter.

The girl behind the register grinned to the point Lorne thought her dimples might actually swallow the world.

"Why is she looking at me like that?" Angel asked, turning to Lorne.

"Because she gets paid on commission, and you've been a very naughty boy."



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To Be Continued