Monday, December 22, 2003



"Hey, Harmony."

"Good morning, Mr. . ." Harmony blinked. And then blinked again. "Wow," she said faintly.

Her visitor shifted nervously, ducking his head. "Yeah, I—"

"You learned how to dress! Oh, my god, Xander Harris! You're actually kinda… well not hot, but definitely okay!" She was around the desk giving him a thorough once over while Xander shifted on his feet. "Oh, my god! Look at you! I never would've thought a charcoal pinstripe is your color, but I really like it. Brings out your eyes. Well, eye, but still. Very chic. So, who is she?"

"Uh, she?" Xander glanced around in nervous confusion. "There's a she?"

"Of course, silly," Harmony dimpled. "Whoever dressed you. The Xander Harris I knew couldn't tell Wal-Mart from Armani." She tilted her head and reconsidered. "Or, you could tell but didn't care—and to tell the truth, I'm not sure what's worse, the not knowing or the not caring."

"Ah, Harmony, with the not gaining of tact. Good to see you, too. And I dressed my own self, and even picked out the clothes I'm wearing with only the help of a very male salesmen who happens to like seeing the inside of my wallet, and so makes sure he does a good job. Is Angel in?"

"He'll be out in a second, he's having a meeting with the upper-level staff." Harmony reseated herself, and started typing away, trying to look efficient and important. The Monday three days before Christmas wasn't a busy day, even for the secretary of the CEO, but Xander didn't need to know that, right? "So, is there a she? Or even a he? That's it! That's why you're dressing so well: You're gay!"

"What?" Xander paled, backing up physically. "No! Harmony, I'm not gay. Just because I've finally got the snappy-dressing thing down does not in any way mean that I've suddenly become gay!"

"Who's gay?" Angel asked, picking the worst possible moment to interrupt.

"Xander is. Actually, that explains a lot," Harmony said.

"I'm not gay," Xander repeated with a little more force.

"Yeah, whatever." Harmony waved his objection away, firmly entrenched in her new-found conviction, and changed the subject: "Do you need more blood, boss? Xander, can I get you a cup of coffee?"

"We're fine, Harm." Angel ushered Xander into his office and offered him a seat. "I'm assuming this isn't a courtesy call."

"I've got two Slayers up on assault charges," Xander said without preamble, "and the 'I didn't know my own strength, your Honor'-defense? Doesn't look like a winner, not with two girls who look like they can't even lift their pompoms without help. And letting the slayer strength thing out of the bag? Probably not such a swell idea."

"Probably not," Angel agreed. "But why—"

"Why Wolfram & Hart? The Council has reformed, but their red tape brigade are buried up to their necks in tax and insurance stuff. Buffy and Giles thought you might have a few lawyers to spare." Xander relaxed having said his piece, then blinked. "Did I say 'spare?' I don't mean 'spare' spare. We just want to borrow the guys, pick their brains, metaphorically speaking, of course."

Angel considered this for a moment. He pressed a button on his intercom thingy. "Harmony? Find Gunn and have him join us."

* * *

"Come on, Harm." Spike tried the sweltering gaze that usually made Harmony melt and acquiesce, not because he thought it would work but because it was too much fun to stop. "I'd like to think of it as a memento."

Harmony was trying to glare, but embarrassment made it difficult. Besides, his request was kind of flattering—in a typically male, insensitive kind of way. Still…. "Spike, I'm not signing a photocopy of my butt. I don't even know how you made me do that!"

"Er, I didn't. You did that cause Edgar dared you to. Said it was some holiday tradition or whatnot, and you hopped right on." Pushing the piece of paper forward, he wheedled, "C'mon, pet. It's a cute butt?"

Harmony went through a variety of visible emotions, from flustered to pleased, and finally settled on annoyance. "You're just making fun of me."

"No, I'm not," Spike began, distracted by the sight of Gunn leaving Angel's office.

"Give me ten minutes," Gunn was saying. "I think we can take care of this before it ever goes to court."

"Great," a startlingly familiar voice answered. "Buffy will be pleased. Actually, that goes for all of us."

"Bollocks," Spike muttered.

"Okay, fine," Harmony acquiesced after a few more moments of being grateful vampires couldn't blush. "I'll sign your photocopy."

But, though the piece of paper was sitting on her desk, Spike nowhere in sight.

* * *

An hour or so later, Xander folded a few sheets of paper and stuck them in his briefcase. "Thanks. This'll help a lot."

"More than happy to," Gunn answered, standing to shake Xander's hand.

"So if something else were to happen. . ."

"I think Wolfram and Hart can provide legal counsel to the Slayers," Angel said carefully. "It would have to just be counsel, not actually representation, but I think we can manage that without offending anyone."

Gunn laughed. "This from the guy who killed the last few representatives sent to meet him! Call me direct, Xander, next time something comes up. If I can't figure anything out over the phone, I have a few guys I trust who can fly out and take a better look at the situation."

"And bye bye red-tape. Thanks. Fighting evil is one thing, but this lawyer stuff? Scary." Xander shook Gunn's hand firmly, not even flinching when Angel offered his. "Buffy says she sent you a letter, so I don't have to say anything. Giles and Willow both say hi, Faith rolls her eyes, and Dawn sticks out her tongue at you. I think that covers just about everybody?"

"It does." Angel hadn't done a lot of speaking, just watched the way Xander acted and reacted to Gunn's various proposals. "Thanks. It was good to see you, Xander."

Xander grinned, for a moment looking like the sixteen-year-old brat Angel had first met. "I've been bribed to be nice to you, you know."

"Oh, of course." That reassured Angel the way nothing prior had, and he made up his mind. "How long are you in town? Would you like the grand tour?"

"Some other time maybe?" Xander answered, faintly surprised. "How about I give you a call next time I'm in LA?"

"Sure. Call the main number, Harmony can patch you through." Harmony, handing over a stack of mail to Edgar, made an 'ok' symbol as soon as one hand was free. "It was good to see you again, Xander. Really."

Though Xander was nodding absently to Angel’s awkward show of friendliness, his attention was clearly on something else.  Eyes never leaving a spot just beyond Harmony’s shoulder, he said, "Yeah, you too. Hey, uh, Angel? Isn't a chaos mage a little overqualified to be a mailman?"

Three pairs of eyes immediately focused on one very surprised Edgar, who immediately dropped everything and ran.

* * *

The ensuing pursuit would have made any action movie director proud: French Connection, only on foot. Okay, there weren't any explosions or real collisions, but other than that, the chaos mage gave everybody a run for his money. With a spryness that belied his age, he dodged people, ducked underneath obstacles, pulled chairs, trash baskets, and other office equipment into his pursuers' paths, leaped over desks, and almost flew up the stairs taking several steps at once. Several times a muttered word of power created a bright flash and then a billowing, sickly green smokescreen appeared from nowhere. Once Ethan even pulled the neat trick of going through a wall. All the chase needed was an andante soundtrack instead of Lorne's rather syrupy Christmas tunes.

It was a desperate, against all odds effort, because the chaos mage was of course hopelessly outnumbered. Wolfram & Hart's regular security team soon joined the merry chase, employing walkie-talkies and cameras. Occasionally one of the other employees made a half-hearted attempt to grab the running warlock, probably hoping to gain favor with the new management.

Ironically, more often than not, clerks, lawyers and even Eve didn't impede the fugitive but stumbled into the way of the pursuers instead. At one time, Angel and Eve ended up on the floor in an embarrassing tangle of arms and legs.

The chase ended as suddenly as it had started with the opening of the elevator doors. Spike stepped outside and moments later the chaos mage barreled into him, knocking them both off their feet.

"Grab him, don't let him escape!" someone yelled, and prompted by the familiar voice Spike obeyed, efficiently capturing the struggling and cursing mail-mage in a tight headlock.

Spike looked up with a grin that was half confused and half triumphant and right into the gobsmacked expression of his former comrade-in-arms, Xander.


* * *

Xander kept shooting Spike looks as Angel explained what had been going on the last few weeks. "Yup, sounds like Ethan's brand of wacky fun. Giles was so hoping you were still stuck in some Initiative lab."

"Ethan?" Angel asked, right on top of Wesley's, "Initiative lab?"

"This is Ethan Rayne. Old friend of Giles', and when I say old, I mean back in his hell-raising days, and nobody fill in any blanks for me, okay? Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Anyway, he comes in and periodically raises hell for the sake of raising hell. He turned Giles into a Fyarl demon a few years back, and Buffy's ex-army boy-toy arrested him. Haven't heard from him since."

"Not for lack of trying," Ethan muttered.

Xander didn't even bother glaring. "He's annoying, and his idea of 'funny' is the painfully dangerous kind, but he's not really a big thinker."

"I understand," Wesley answered. "I think Mr. Rayne and I should go have a chat somewhere quiet. Angel? Would you care to join us?"

While Angel and Wes talked about 'arrangements' for their prisoner, Xander finally turned enough to look Spike directly in the face. "So. Alive. Angel told you where. . ."

"Yeah. Paris, now."

"Yeah." Spike had hunched himself into the corner, looking almost forlorn as he was studied. "Wanna tell me how this happened?"

"Not without a beer or three."

"I've got time. And you're buying."

* * *

Spike brought two beers over to a secluded booth, taking a few swallows. "So, you're gay now? Can't say I'm surprised."

"Yeah, well, same to you. Except with the no longer being dead. You're quite the roly-poly. Actually it wouldn't surprise me if you were gay, either. Bleached hair? Painted nails? Way more bells than me suddenly knowing the inside of a fitting room."

"Very witty. You wait the last few hours to say all that?" The beer was gone before he realized it, and he signaled the waitress for a refill. "You can't tell her."

The bar wasn't crowded, but the noise meant they had to lean in a little to hear each other. "Tell me why."

Spike shrugged. "Already said good bye, didn't we? Sides, she's happy over there playing mother-hen to a bunch of Slayer-chicks. Leaves her time to a be a sister to Dawn, maybe find a bloke that won't die on her." He made a face. "Or be dead, even."

"Stranger things have been known to happen. Wanna tell me how you played the Jesus-card?"

That was a slightly longer story, even with the heavy editing Spike did. "So, we've got no idea who's sending these mysterious packages, or why. Just that they control my bloody life. Oh, and I get to annoy Angel, always a good time."

Xander raised his mug. "I'll drink to that."

While they waited for round number two—three, for Spike—he asked, "So, what about you? Heard you're in Cleveland with Andrew, now?" He glanced significantly at the left eye.

"We manage the Hellmouth there, yeah. Well, 'manage' meaning we try and keep the Slayers from doing things like get thrown in prison. It's different than Sunnydale. And I'm doing okay. Thanks."

A puddle of beer made a decent pad to doodle in. "Are you going to tell her?"

Xander just shrugged. "Your call."

Tuesday, December 23, 2003