Friday, December 5, 2003

 

 

They had become a familiar sight at Wolfram & Hart: the two bickering vampires. Nobody ever dared mention it when the boss or his associates were within earshot—and everybody knew about enhanced vampire hearing—but there was a pool going on: when Mr. Angel would finally cave and give Mr. Bloody the car, credit cards, and office he so emphatically demanded.

"You're enjoyin' this, aren't you? Ponce." Spike spat out, trying to keep up as Angel briskly strode through the lobby, heading for his secretary's desk. "Stridin' through the corridors, barking orders. You, mate, are watching too much West Wing."

"Go away, Spike."

"Wish I could. As long as you hold the purse strings there's not much I can do, is there? And you know it. Legal difficulties, my ass. You're saying your evil little pen-pushers can't whip up a few fake IDs in a heartbeat? Tell me another one. The only reason I still haven't got a dollar to my name is you."

Angel stopped so abruptly, Spike almost bumped into him. He pulled a checkbook out of his breast pocket and stood, pen poised. "How much?"

"How much can I get? Never mind. Double it anyway."

Angel glowered, but he put the checkbook on the reception counter, and the silver pen flew over the paper as he jotted down his signature.

On the other side of the desk Harmony was beaming. Silently voicing a 'yay!' she gave Spike an enthusiastic thumbs-up, but her face instantly smoothed into business-like impassiveness when Angel straightened.

With obvious reluctance Angel tore out the check and held it out to Spike who snatched it out of his hands, looked at the sum, muttered an obscenity and stuffed it in his duster pocket.

"And where will you go, Spike? Europe? Buffy?"

For a moment Spike looked tempted. But then he shook his head. "Who says I'm going anywhere? Could go to New York, open my own agency, maybe. Spike Investigations. Got a nice ring to it." He caught Angel's glower and smirked.

"Spike, I'm not in the mood for—"

Angel stopped in mid-sentence when the feral scent of a predator caught his attention. Beside him, Spike inhaled audibly.

"Ewww, what's that smell?" Harmony exclaimed.

The three vampires turned as one towards the source of the scent. Lorne was striding towards them, chattering amiably. He was spearheading a small crowd of young men who's torn jeans, gaudily printed T-shirts, and imaginative hairstyles were extremely out of place—even in a place where the staff were used to sights like a vampire CEO, ugly demon clients, and a horned, green-skinned entertainment division department head—who was currently dressed in a glittery disco suit that gave him a 70s Saturday Night Fever look—only in burgundy red.

"Oh, aren't you guys just lucky? Look who's here," Lorne exclaimed and gestured towards the two somberly dressed vampires. "Our most esteemed—although slightly stingy—boss…"

"Angel," the smallest one of the new arrivals said, and greeted both vampires with a polite but aloof nod. "Spike."

Spike frowned, snapped his fingers….. Wolf-boy, Willow's ex. Whatsisname?

"Oz," Angel said without inflection. "How you been?"

"Good. You?"

"Not bad." Angel couldn't resist a sweeping gesture that summed up the whole of W&H. "Kind of moved up in the world."

A snort came from Spike, but thankfully, no comment.

Meanwhile, Harmony had been silently bouncing up and down, but now she couldn't contain herself any longer.

"Devon!" she squealed. "Hey! Remember me? It's me, Harmony. Harmony Kendall? Cordy and I used to come to all your gigs!"

"Yeah, cool, uh… hi … uh… Harmony," was the lukewarm reply.

"Oooh, you guys know each other?" Lorne asked. "Dannykins, why didn't you tell me you know our Angelcakes here."

"It's been a few years," Angel answered in his stead.

Oz nodded.

"Isn't that just fabulous," Lorne boomed, either oblivious to the tension or blissfully ignoring it. "You must have so much catching up to do, don't let me keep you from reminiscing to your little hearts' content. I can feel the warm fuzzies already."

He transferred his attention to Devon and the other Dingoes. "Come on, you puppies, we don't need Danny right now, do we? I'm sure we can chit chat about royalties, guitar playing lessons, and contracts without him, at least for now."

"You okay with that, dude?" Devon asked.

Oz nodded slowly.

Nobody spoke, while the red glitter ball and the remaining Dingoes waltzed out of earshot.

"Hey, you think your mate there, Devon, be willing to share some of that weed I smell on him?" Spike finally broke the silence.

"Could be," Oz shrugged, then transferred his attention to Angel. "So," he said to him. "Are you evil?"

"Who, me?" Angel squeaked. "No! Why do people always ask me that? Just because I'm running an evil law firm doesn't mean I've gone soulless—think of it more like a fifth column thing. A Trojan horse."

"Who's the horse?"

Angel frowned. Beside him, Spike was shaking in silent laughter. Not exactly rolling with the punches lately, Angel shot him an exasperated glance.

"And you, Spike? Still chipped?" Oz asked.

Spike sobered. "No. But I got myself a soul now."

Angel rolled his eyes heavenwards and crossed his arms in front of his chest, looking every inch like a man forced to listen to a long-winded, boring story for about the zillionth time.

Behind him, Harmony's expression was almost identical.

"And how's that working out for you?" Oz asked.

"Fine," Spike said, perking up at Oz genuine looking interest. "I mean, it took some getting' used to, but—" Seeing Angel's beset upon expression Spike stopped himself. "How 'bout we go for a drink later?"

"That'd be cool." Oz said amiably.

"So," Angel cut in. "About this werewolf thing…"

Oz twitched his eyebrow a fraction. "Pretty much terminal, if that's what you're asking."

"Funny. Look, we ran into a werewolf girl a few weeks back, she's having a bad time of it. . . maybe you'd like to, I don't know, help her out, show her the ropes?" Asking for favors from outsiders was not something that came easily to Angel and it showed. He was dithering somewhere between smarmy, demanding, and awkward. "Her name's Nina," Angel added, somewhat clumsily, and jotted down her name and address on the back of one of his business cards.

"Yeah, okay." Oz pocketed the card and shrugged, unfazed.

His good deed done, Angel shifted uncomfortably. He and Oz had never really had any meaningful dialogue before, and Spike was being at his most infuriating and not yammering on and on, the one time Angel would've liked him to. "So. . . Lorne's trying to sign the Dingoes?"

A ghost of a smile appeared on Oz's face. "Looks like. Nice tree," he added, nodding at the giant structure. "But don't you think the reindeer are a bit over the top?"

"The what?" Spike and Angel chorused.

Oz pointed at an antlered, doe-eyed head that peeked out from behind the tree and tentatively licked one of the candy canes. "The reindeer?"

***

Three chaotic hours later, everybody filed into Angel's office for a much needed pow wow.

Spike grimaced when Eve sauntered inside. "Oi, why's she got to be here? And same with wolf-man," he waved a hand at Oz, slouched against the wall, "no offense. Thought this was for the upper echelon only."

"Which doesn't explain what you're doing here, Spike, so sit down and shut up." Grinning, Spike did as ordered, setting off alarm bells in Angel's head. Spike never did what he was told. "We've got reindeer."

"The one in the lab broke at least a dozen cultures of Knox's latest experiment," Fred reported, nibbling on a gingerbread cookie. She sat perched on the armrest of one of Angel's club chairs. Spike nudged her, holding his hand out for a cookie. "We're lucky he wasn't working on a new Ebola virus. He'll be really upset when he finds out he has to start from scratch. Cookie anyone?" She passed them around

Angel ignored the interruption. "Would someone please explain why we have reindeer?"

The crack team that used to be called Angel Investigations, helpers of the helpless and highly intelligent good guys, shifted nervously and eyed each other, none of them wanting to be the first to speak. It had taken the better part of three hours to herd the nine reindeer into one of the bigger conference rooms, and Angel had no faith that the locked door would hold them for much longer.

"Okay," he said into the continuing silence. "Someone want to tell me what to do with nine reindeer?"

"How about we give Dancer, Prancer and the rest to the zoo?" Gunn suggested, and bit into a cookie.

"Ah, yes, the zoo, that's wonderful!" Wesley jumped on the suggestion, a faint crease in the corner of his eyes showing his annoyance that he hadn't thought of it first. "A donation from Wolfram and Hart to help spread the holiday spirit. Lorne, I assume you can spin it appropriately?"

"Oh you can leave that to me," Lorne replied cheerfully. "I have a contact at the zoo. Don't ask, these days everybody and his dog thinks he's destined for show business. I'll tell them to send their transporters. How about tomorrow? Then there'd be time for our staff to bring their kids. Won't the little ones be happy to sit on Santa's reindeer? With a bit of make-up we could even give one of them a red nose—"

Angel didn't bother pressing his intercom key. "Harm!"

The door opened at once and his secretary rushed in, steno block in hand.

"Call the zoo," Angel barked. "Work with Lorne and his contact, but I want this official, and quick. And Harm? Make sure the deer haven't done any damage to that conference room? I really like the chandelier in there."

"Nancy-boy," Spike muttered, in muted counterpoint to Harmony's cheerful, "Right-y-oh, boss."

Oz edged over to the table, ignoring the chattering. "So," he asked Angel casually. "Is this a typical day at the office?"

Saturday, December 6, 2003

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