Monday, December 1, 2003


"Oh my god, it's so pretty! Can we keep it? Pretty please?" Harmony squeed, bouncing up and down and clapping her hands, oblivious to the incessant phone ringing that emanated from her deserted desk. Her enthusiasm was completely unbecoming for both a creature of the night and the assistant of the CEO of an evil multi-dimensional corporation.

"What the hell is that?" Angel asked, arms folded, craning his neck and squinting at the huge and dazzling object that had completely taken over the hallway outside his office.

The phone rang.

"Well, it's a Christmas-tree, boss," Harmony informed him in her best duh-voice, her pitying glance clearly saying 'don't you know anything?'

"I know what it is," Angel said with false patience. "What I want to know is, what's it doing in my lobby?"

The phone rang.

"Your lobby?" Spike said, drawn to the hot spot of bossy ire like a stray cat to a fish-monger's trashcan. He sauntered up to the older vampire, stopped right by Angel's side, arms folded in front of his chest—imitating Angel's posture—and studied the enormous pine tree before him. "Last thing I heard, your supreme sourness was just runnin' the place. Didn't know you owned it, too."

The phone rang.

Angel studiously ignored the blond annoyance, though the tangible aura of his displeasure went up a notch. "Harm. The phone?"

"Oops. My bad. Sorry, boss." She scurried back to her desk to answer the phone and hopefully to mix him his morning blood.

Angel scanned the room full of the Monday morning crowd of briefcase-carrying lawyers, secretaries, scientists, and security guards who had stopped on their way to their offices and labs and were now lingering in the lobby, gaping at the huge tree in various stages of incredulity and unease.

The pine tree was enormous, more than twenty feet high. Its evergreen branches laden with red and white striped candy canes, red ribbons, glitter balls, and tinsel in silver and gold. Ornaments added a carefully orchestrated wave of color, warm gingerbread-men and the cold, clean line of snowflakes keeping the eye from being overwhelmed. Hundreds of burning candles, real ones from the smell of it, flickered slightly whenever the elevator doors opened to admit more W&H employees. Fake snow covered the floor around the tree and something sparkling amongst the whiteness hinted at the presents a tree like this invariably represented. A strong scent of resin, beeswax, oranges, gingerbread, with a hint of moist, dark earth filled the lobby.

Beside Angel, Spike was greedily breathing in the mixture of scents. His obvious zest didn't exactly improve Angel's mood. "Lorne!" Angel yelled.

"Let me guess, you think it looks a bit bare without entrails and such," Spike commented, sarcasm tinged with just a hint of pettiness. Gesturing towards the crowd of suits he added, loud enough for everyone to hear: "You could eviscerate a few of your law-thumpers here, string 'em up, like you used to. Would make the rest of 'em feel right comfy and nostalgic, I bet. Plus they'd work their evil little asses off, so as not to be next on the chopping block. "

There was a hush and all eyes turned to Spike. Several people turned a whiter shade of pale.

Angel shot him a withering glance. "He's kidding," he barked into the nervous silence.

Spike smiled evilly.

"Angelcakes," a cheerful voice could be heard, and then the green-skinned demon barged through the crowd, two stressed looking personal aides trundling in his wake frantically balancing cell phones, writing pads, and a dozen mail order catalogues.

"Isn't it ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous?" Lorne exclaimed, beaming with pride. His blindingly red and white suit had obviously been picked to match the candy canes on the tree, and the lapel of his jacket boasted a twig of mistletoe. "Best pine to be had, flown in especially from Canada, no expense spared, and we didn't even chop it down. See that Italian terracotta pot? Roots still intact. Once Christmas is over this fantabulous puppy will walk free."

"Not literally, I hope," Angel said with a frown. He was about to say more but was interrupted by Fred's arrival.

"Oh Lorne, it's absolutely beautiful!" she exclaimed, taking her time to admire it.

"You do realize this is the first time we've ever had a Christmas tree in this building, right?" Knox told her quietly, but loud enough for the two vampires and the Pylean to make out his words.

"Really?" Fred asked him, "but I mean, how can people not celebrate Christmas? It's like the best time of the year, right? What with the cookies, and all the nice smells, and the eggnog. Who'd want to miss out on all that?"

"The whole birth of the savior thing? The firm wasn't really big with the 'saving' theme," Knox explained, grinning ruefully. "But you know, it does kinda spell 'Under new management,' so yeah, I guess it's cool. I'm sure it will be lots of, you know, fun, once we all get used to it."

"You'll see, by the time it's Christmas Eve you'll all be full of anticipation, just like the rest of us, Knoxy, and hanging your stocking from that umpah-umpah machine."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Anyway, I'll be in the lab." With a cheerful wave and a nod towards Angel and the other members of the new management, the scientist headed for the elevator.

Meanwhile, Lorne seemed to take Angel's prolonged silence as complete approval, and he continued babbling about all the things he had planned, including several parties that the bossman was expected to attend.

Wesley approached cautiously when he noticed the congestion in the lobby, looking from tree, to Angel, and finally to Lorne. "It is rather festive," he commented slowly, feeling out each word before speaking it. "You did say you wanted something, um… upbeat, Angel, didn't you?"

Angel's frown deepened.

"Lorne, can I talk to you for a moment?" he said, gesturing towards his office. "Now?"

"Well, I guess Cameron, Drew, and Lucy can wait. Let me just postpone my breakfast appointment and then I'm all yours, oh bossy one." Lorne dismissed his two aides with a string of rapid instructions, before following Angel to his office.

Spike was the first to shrug and swagger after them, thumbs hooked into the waistband of his pants. Fred and Wesley exchanged a glance and silently tagged along as one.

"I don't remember asking you, Spike," Angel said, a sour look on his face.

"Wanna sue me for takin' an interest?"

Angel sighed. But he waited until Wesley had closed the door, before addressing Lorne: "So, what's with the tree, Lorne?"

"It's my little drop of white paint, muffin."

Definitely not the response any of them had expected. "Your what?"

"Well you know what they say, sweetcakes, there's black and there's white, but add just one drop of white to the black and it will be forever gray. The tree, the parties, the sweet anticipation of presents galore are my drop of white, and I'm going to make it as big a splash as possible."

Lorne rubbed his hands, oozing determination and a busier than thou vibe. Nobody present had the heart to burst his bubble.

"See," he beamed, again deciding silence was approval, "I knew you'd see my point. And now, my precious, you'll have to excuse me, because the lovely Ms. Barrymore and I are supposed to discuss cameos for Viggo and Elijah in part three, and if I'm very, very lucky I might even get her signature on this itty bitty contract here, which could turn this hot local band I came across, Dingoes something or other, into another Evanescence caliber success. Remember Daredevil? Think bigger. Toodles!"

And with that he swept out of the office.

The others stared at the spot the Pylean had just vacated, and at each other. The almost oppressive silence lengthened.

Finally Angel said what everybody was thinking: "If there's one thing we have enough of, it's shades of gray."

Spike sighed. "Word, mate. Word."

Tuesday, December 2, 2003