Friday, December 19, 2003



More signatures. Angel stifled a sigh. Beside him, Gunn was leafing through stacks of paper and opening folders, preparing documents for Angel to sign. Oh yeah, they were doing good.

“Another foster home?” Angel asked, unable to muster great enthusiasm.

“A stipend and a few donations. Plus, you’re agreeing to act as mediator in a territorial dispute.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Since the two demon tribes in question customarily use human blood to consecrate newly conquered ground, getting the affected parties to shake hands—or in this case to slap flippers—should really reduce the missing persons count all around Santa Monica Bay. So yeah, I’m thinking go team.”

“Flippers?” Angel shuddered inwardly, having seen enough underwater sea life last year to last him way into the next century.

The door banged open, startling the occupants of the room. “Well, if it isn’t our friendly boss-man and our lawyer extraordinaire!” Lorne was practically vibrating with suppressed emotion. “Just the two people I wanted to see!”

Angel and Gunn exchanged a glance. Lorne had been rather inconspicuous the last few days, and they’d been so busy congratulating themselves on keeping him from knowing about the desecrated tree that they hadn't really paid attention to what he was doing. “Uh. . . can we help you?” Angel asked awkwardly.

“I have an itsy, teeny, speck of a favor for you to consider, sweet-tarts,” Lorne said. The constant patina of cheerfulness was cracking, but the effort put into maintaining it masked the actual emotion underneath. “The big holiday shindig tomorrow. . .” Blank stares. “You do remember the office party I’m planning? What I’ve been spending all my time doing, the past few weeks?”

“Sure,” Angel hastened to say.

“We remember,” Gunn said soothingly, trying unsuccessfully to encourage Lorne to take a seat. “And we’re all going, we promise. You just make sure you’ve gotten enough sleep! And lets not talk about staking out territories again, ’kay?”

“I’ll sleep,” Lorne promised, “after you two promise me that you’re going to make sure nothing interferes with my party. Nothing!”

“Lorne, no one’s going to interfere with your party,” Angel began.

“Sugar plum, you may be the swankiest CEO in our fair city, but good at hiding things you aren’t.” Lorne patted Angel’s shoulder and finally sat, losing a bit of his manic energy now that he’d gotten his request out. “I heard it through the grapevine by Friday afternoon, though your little under-the-ivy trick was appreciated.”

Angel shifted uncomfortably. “If you knew, why didn’t you say something?”

Lorne actually smiled for the first time. “And stop you from turning into a big grumpy Mamma-bear? Wouldn’t miss this for all the Oolong in China, dumpling. Even got our two favorite green and pleasant men playing Holmes and—well not Watson, but Riggs maybe, if Mel Gibson were British, that is. But the deer and the entrails were just minor annoyances, whereas this? This is a party.”

He beamed, then added: “And this time there won’t be any clients to get in the way of everybody’s divertimento.”

Everyone in the room remembered what Lorne considered a party, and the lengths he’d go through to ensure its success. “So you want to know. . .”

“What you’re doing about security.”

“Ah. Gunn?”

* * *

Hands-free headsets made filing your nails while talking on the phone so easy. “Wolfram and Hart,” Harmony said to the most recent caller. “How can I help you?”

“Is Angel there?”

“I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Angel is in a meeting right now. Can I take a message for you, or perhaps redirect your call?”

“No, a message is fine. Can you let him know that Xander Harris is going to be—”

That's why the voice was so familiar! “Oh. My. God. Xander?” she squealed. “Is that really you?”

“Uh. . . yeah,” he said carefully. “And you are. . .?”

“Harmony! Oh, my god, this is so cool! How are you!”

“Harmony? Who never talked to us in High school and graduated into the ranks of the fanged and furious?”

Hey! If she could put aside his years as a loser to be friendly to him, shouldn’t he be a little nicer in return? “Well, duh, how many Harmonys do you know?”

“Didn't you. . . get staked?” He sounded more confused than accusatory, so Harm was willing to overlook his bluntness.

“Oh, no, silly.”

“So you're what, working for Evil Inc now?” Xander hazarded. “Manning the switchboard of doom?”

“I'm Angel’s personal assistant,” she corrected him proudly. “Without me this place would so shut down. I mean, the fearsome Angelus? Such a baby in the work place. I have to do all his copying, and if he doesn’t get his blood on time? Grouchy is putting it mildly.”

“That's. . . kinda freaky. Wait, Angel has paperwork?”

The wave of laughter was so familiar they could have both been back in high school. Not that they had talked in high school, unless exchanging insults counted. “He's the CEO, of course he has paperwork.”

“CEO, huh? I bet he likes his fancy initials. Okay, listen Harmony, I need to talk to the Broodmeister. Something legal I need his help with. Buffy said he might be able to pull a few strings, put me in touch with the right people, that kind of thing. When can I see him?”

"Oh, sure. He's pretty booked up," she warned, scrolling through Angel's schedule. "Not that he keeps to the schedule that much."

"Guess a schedule would get in the way of his mysterious appearing and disappearing, huh."

"How about I just pencil you in?” she said, privately agreeing. “Say around ten o'clock on Monday? Otherwise you’d have to come in after his meeting with the groxlar beasts. Angel kinda killed one of them by accident, then another to prove a point, and he’s going to be really touchy after that meeting, so you definitely want to see him before."

“Okay, Monday at ten it is.”

* * *

“Mr. Bloody? Hello?” A head peered into the office Spike had usurped while Wesley was upstairs looking for spell ingredients. A muted ho-ho-ho could be heard, muffled by several sofa cushions. The sound was rather grating, Spike thought, but Wesley’s chair was comfy and the man kept a box of English toffees in his top drawer, right next to a loaded gun.

“Didn’t I tell you to call me Spike?”

“My apologies, it’s just… you wanted to be informed if a certain event occurred.”

Event. . .? “Oh right.” Suddenly remembering what a visit from the mailman would mean, Spike hopped onto his feet. “Well then? Don't be shy, mate.”

He snatched the offered envelope from the other man’s hand and turned it in his hands. France. According to the postmark Buffy was in sodding France. The only good thing ever to come out of France was booze. Okay, some of the food as well. Oh well, maybe Buffy’d put on a pound or two.

He held the envelope up against the light, but the stationary was too thick. At least the handwriting looked steady and strong. For a moment Spike was tempted to pry it open. Very tempted. See what she said about Angel, see if she mentioned the dearly departed at all. Not that she would, really, since she thought he was a pile of dust. . . wouldn't she? He could be so careful, too: steam the seal open and no one would be the wiser. . . . Except he'd made the decision to keep his presence from her life, and that meant in all ways. She deserved a chance to be happy.

Unwilling to let go of this most tenuous connection, Spike reluctantly handed the letter back. “Thanks, Edgar. ‘Preciate it. Here.” He dug out a few dollar bills and handed them over, before leaning back in Wesley’s chair

Ho-ho-ho the muffled Santa doll seemed to mock him.

Saturday, December 20, 2003