Saturday, December 20, 2003



"Isn't he gorgeous? I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers…."

"To die for. But don't let Harmony hear you. She seems to think she's got him collared and housebroken."

If there was one thing this party had too much of, it was dull, brainless chatter. Ethan transferred his attention to the black-clad object of their desire, who was animatedly talking to the band's bass player.

Tuning into the conversation was easier than turning the dial of a radio. All it took was a bit of concentration and a tiny pinch of magic—not enough to trigger the internal spell alarms, of course—and voilá! Audio:

"… spent five hours watchin' my hand move," the vampire was saying, holding one hand in the air as if inspecting his nails. Something in the tone of his voice suggested that this was not just a fond memory but an oft-told anecdote. "Of course the acid made Dru's ramblings even more cryptic than usual, and unlike me she never cared much for music…"

Despite feeling just a twinge of envy for having been on the wrong side of the planet in 1969, Ethan smiled, and took a sip from his bourbon. Not a bad brand this, by all means, even though he preferred single malt scotch himself. He was standing half way up the stairs, leaning against the railings. It was the perfect place to listen and watch, to skim the crowd like a dragonfly hopping from one conversation to the next.

Most of the chats he listened into as people passed him on their way up or down from buffet to bar to dance floor, dealt with routine day-to-day backstabbing, who had a crush on whom, or the deplorable cuts on the year-end bonus checks. Who'd have thought that evil lawyers and their retinue could be so dull?

Spike's Woodstock story was at least amusing, and Ethan stayed tuned in for a while, automatically greeting people who passed him on the stairs, until a name caught his attention.

"Did you hear about Harold? They had him back in human form for like five seconds and then? Zap! The spell kicked in again and he was back to no-stop ho ho ho," a gleeful voice recounted. Ethan recognized the woman it belonged to: Dana, typing pool, second floor—pretty, with big knockers, and more than a passing interest in Ethan, but sprouting the charm of a vulture.

"If they ever get him back for good, we'll never hear the end of it," a second voice answered—one of the secretaries from the third floor. "Such a bore."

So the ex-watcher had already managed to temporarily dispel the transmogrification spell? Impressive.

Ethan scanned the crowd. Mr. Wyndam-Pryce obviously had marching orders to mingle, for instead of working magic in his office, he was hovering in Miss Burkle's vicinity, who in turn was flirting with Dr. Knox, one of the white coats who in Ethan's mind had looked good in fur and antlers. So easy to stir up trouble there, all Ethan would have to do was subtly strip away some manners, lower some inhibitions…. Nothing like a good free-for-all to liven up a half-dead party.

Tempting. But he shook his head. Not spectacular enough. Better go with plan A. Ethan smiled and began to slowly gather his power, sipping it out of the air and siphoning it off the people in the room, then funneling it into the gaudy tree that dominated the lobby, creating a kind of doorway, that worked almost like a lit runway. In the distance, on another plane, something dark and twisted stirred, slowly drawing near. Naturally, it would trigger a full-scale security alert the minute it entered this plane to merge with the tree but by that time it would be to late to—

"I wouldn't do that," Eve sing-songed with a smile that was as radiant as it was fake. She nodded politely at a group of secretaries who were heading upstairs towards the gallery.

Ethan started, irritated by the fact that he hadn't noticed Eve's approach.

"If that tree so much as sways," Eve warned him, once the secretaries were out of earshot, "our deal is off. Terminated."

"I distinctly remember the esteemed head of our entertainment division saying this puppy should walk free," he remarked, peeved that Eve had guessed his intentions correctly.

"And I distinctly remember telling you to keep your nose clean." Eve retorted.

"Oh, very well." Ethan acquiesced easily. Fighting with someone to whom 'terminated' didn't always mean a pink slip wasn't a good move for someone intent on surviving. He could always use the trick later, too, since she hadn't said he couldn't do it—just not now. "Such a grinch, my dear. But very well, I'll be good. Now if you'll excuse me, this party may be seriously lacking in mayhem, but there's plenty of candy, and I'm feeling a bit peckish."

He left Eve standing there and headed downstairs towards the buffet table where he'd spotted a delicious young intern. Maybe Ethan could first lure him under the mistletoe and then drag him off to one of the empty offices? Even Eve couldn't begrudge an old mystic the chance to get laid.

The party was actually in full, merry swing, the Dingoes had done tasteful and sometimes extremely artful renditions of various Christmas carols and were scheduled to go back on stage for another set later. People were laughing cheerfully and while it wasn't quite the bash Halloween had been, it was doing pretty good for an office that had traditionally ignored this particular holiday.

"Merry Christmas, you ding-a-lings," Lorne caroled, two-stepping his way over to Spike and Oz, standing by the buffet. "Try the eggnog. Guaranteed to make you see mistletoe!"

Spike immediately dropped the ladle, glancing furtively around him. Spotting Harmony in animated discussion with a cornered Angel, he relaxed. "S'got alcohol in it, right?" he asked. "Not any of that fake stuff."

"That is pure, genuine moonshine, my sarcastic little lush. Drink up me hearties, yo ho!"

That was a little more effusive than usual. "Partaking early?" Wesley guessed. He'd hovered in the vicinity, eavesdropping on Spike's tale of how he and Dru had met Jimi Hendrix—presumably an outrageous lie but still an entertaining story—but now he sidled closer.

Lorne graced him with a superior look. "A Host," he said clearly, "never partakes until the last bell has rung, the last cab door has been slammed, and the clean up crew is doing your dirty work. I am simply high on life and a successful party." Waving cheerily, Lorne danced his way over to another part of the room, single-handedly spreading cheer and far too many mixed metaphors throughout the room.

"Well, he seems happy," Wesley popped a California roll into his mouth.

"Blech. You eat that?"

"What, sushi? Well, I admit I'm not a huge fan of avocado, but I rather like this current trend."

Spike made a face, staring at the second piece Wesley picked up. "Raw fish. Nothin' civilized about eating raw fish."

"Certainly healthier than some of the other options." Wes nodded vaguely at the wide array of choices available—everything from a dozen chocolate dishes to a small table covered in black and reddish substances that were being consumed with gusto by the handful of vampires that Wolfram & Hart employed beside Harmony.

Spike ignored the thinly veiled hint and the platters of blood pudding.

"Gotta go with the vampire, there." Oz smiled. "Fresh, yeah, but not fulfilling to your average predator."

"Oh? And why's that?" Wesley asked, amused that the were-bass-player and the second souled vampire seemed to be in agreement.

"Too cold," they chorused. "Plus, there's the whole slime factor," Oz added.

"Yeah, and some of the stuff they put in with it!" Spike pointed at a maki that contained smoked salmon and creamed cheese. "I've lived in New York, mate. You don't put lox on seaweed."

"Try the tuna ones," Wesley suggested. "They taste almost like beef."

Spike made a face, sticking to his cup of eggnog and wandering away. Let those two battle out the merits of raw fish, which didn't taste at all like beef, because it was, well, fish. Half-heartedly skirting Harmony, who was looking for him, Spike ducked around the table to bump into—"Hey, Edgar."

"Ah, Mr. Bloody," Edgar responded cheerfully. A pretty young intern, blond and not too steady on his feet, was hanging off the mailman's arm and blushing furiously. The boy looked like a male version of Harmony, dim, but still an attractive piece. Spike grinned, not the least disturbed about Edgar's choice. "Havin' a good Christmas, are we?"

"A bit orthodox so far," Edgar replied, "but I'm working on that."

"That's the spirit," Spike gave the old bloke a heart-felt thumbs-up and watched him lead his tipsy young conquest away. Heck, it was the spirit of the evening. Why break with the good ole' English tradition of getting some on Christmas?

Harmony was standing by the bar, absently swishing to the canned-music beat. Smoothing his coat and brushing back his hair, Spike lowered his voice to a sexy drawl. "Hello, Harm."

Sunday, December 21, 2003