Wednesday, December 17, 2003

 

 

The apartment was clean and bright, white walls and big picture windows. Cookies were baking in the oven, warm chocolate and the sharper edge of cinnamon blanketing the small apartment the way a cozy blanket did. She could’ve had a bigger place, now that Wolfram and Hart was paying her tab, but Fred liked her tiny, three-room home. It was a brighter, airier version of her cave, back on Pylea. She’d been here for several hours already, Wesley’s casual reminder about paid vacation days prompting her to take the afternoon off.

“Okay,” she muttered to herself. “I’ve got Uncle Ted and Aunt Charleen, so that means. . . I’m done! Well, except for Mom and Dad.” Christmas cards were scattered around her postage-stamp kitchen table, red envelopes contrasting with sparkling gold and silver script. The messages were mostly cheesy, since Fred harbored a secret love of sappy, silly Christmas cards, but she penned in her own greetings to lessen the overwhelming schmaltz.

“Dear Mom and Dad,” she said as she wrote the words. “Hi! How are you both? I’m sending you a box of gingerbread cookies I made myself. Yes, really, all by myself, and they’re good, too! Work is hectic and crazy, but we’re making time to spread some holiday cheer, so I thought I’d send a little to you guys as well. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas—I know mine is, so far. . . ”

* * *

“Okay, boss,” Harmony said, voice worn down to a clipped, worn parody of her puppy-like eagerness over the past two hours. A pile of envelopes, pre-addressed and stamped, were placed on his desk, her smile a valiant effort in chivvying her boss along. “This is the last stack. Promise.”

“That’s what you said three stacks ago,” Angel accused. Glancing up in time to see Harmony’s smile waver, he forced one of his own. “It’s okay, Harm, really. It’s—” he checked the clock on his desk, “—seven p.m. Go home.”

“But if we want to get all these mailed out in time for the holidays. . .”

“Harmony.” Who could have possibly guessed the socialite bimbo from high school, and the vampire so bad she was too pathetic to stake, would become a sincere, efficient secretary? Well, Wes had, since he chose her, but Angel still marveled at the transformation. “I can finish all of these myself, I even have that nifty sealer you gave me, so I don’t have to lick the envelopes. Go home. Please.”

“Okay-dokie,” she replied, cheeriness restored. “You have my home number, right? If you have any problems? Not that you would, of course, since you are the CEO, but, well, just in case?”

“Harmony. Go. Home.”

“Night!” Hastily scampering out of the office, she doused the single light at her desk, grabbed her purse, and was gone in another blink.

“What, she thought I was going to keep her here all night?” Angel demanded to his empty office. The office said nothing back to him, so he bent his head to his task. Thousands of cards. Each requiring a brief, personalized greeting from the new CEO of Wolfram and Hart, and a clear, legible signature. Harmony had been adamant about that, and no, they couldn’t use a machine. “I should be grateful they don’t want it in blood,” he’d told her. And then had been very grateful when she told him that she’d weeded those requests out.

It wasn’t actually that bad, despite his cramping hand. The ‘personalized greetings’ were a problem, but Harmony had thoughtfully included a brief note detailing pertinent facts about each person or organization he was sending to. She even had a few possibilities already chosen, every once in a while, so he could just copy those down. A few of the lines sounded like Lorne had ‘suggested’ them. Add in his stylized ‘A’, and then all Angel had to do was seal the envelope with the little tube of water topped with a sponge that Harmony had given him.

It was time consuming, but Angel really had nothing but time at the moment. Wes and Spike were making slight headway with their unknown Loki, although the added twist of being unable to turn the unfortunate. . . Angel paused, trying to remember the name—Harold! To turn the unfortunate Harold back into a human meant someone was trying to clean up their mess. Wesley had a few more spells he wanted to try, and Harold didn’t seem to be in any kind of pain. Spike was behaving, Wesley had reported, and was occasionally even helpful.

Mostly, signing company cards meant he didn’t have to think about signing the cards meant for the friends he considered his family. He was halfway through those, the remaining two waiting in his drawer to be taken out as soon as he’d finished this last stack. Harmony’s warnings about how long the mail took to reach its recipients, even with the short cuts Wolfram and Hart could command, meant he really couldn’t procrastinate anymore, if he wanted them to arrive on time.

Picking out the card for his first recipient had been easy. Anything vaguely humorous would go over well, and he’d chosen something making fun of Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. All he had to do was write one of the personalized greetings he’d written all afternoon, and sign it. He just had no idea what the say to Buffy.

He’d scribbled out a few messages the night before, and he tried a few more now. ‘Love you’ was the easiest, but also the most loaded. ‘I miss you’ was out too, since Angel was too busy to miss anything but free time to sit and brood. Eventually he wrote something patently fake and awkward, signed it ‘sincerely, Angel’, and made a note to send along a cookbook specializing in cookies with the card, his way of addressing the lingering metaphor between them without actually talking about it.

He would always love Buffy, Angel knew, but they both knew their lives were too complicated for them to ever really get back together. At least, that was what he told himself every time he thought about Buffy, and how there really wasn’t any reason she couldn’t come visit him. . . But, one of the things he loved was her strength, and her ability to make up her own mind. That helped him address and seal the card, dropping it onto the ‘to be mailed’ pile.

The last card was covered in silvery snowflakes so intricate they looked like stars. The inside read ‘May your holidays be bright’. It was a simple, nondescript card, but the paper was textured, and of much better quality than Hallmark’s usual cardboard. The writing was calligraphy, a faint tinge of ink-smell still hanging around it, proof that it really was hand-written and worth the amount Angel had paid.

Connor’s card.

He couldn’t sign it, or even leave a return address on the envelope. He couldn’t attach any of the presents he wanted to send. He probably shouldn’t even send it at all. But Angel, despite being a brooding, violent, repentant vampire, was also a father. Who loved his son.

Angel stared at the card, the front-cover trembling lightly. Slowly, carefully, he tore it up into tiny pieces. Then he gathered his stack of signed-and-sealed letters to take to Harmony’s out-box.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

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