Sunday, December 21, 2003



Shopping the Sunday before Christmas probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. The crowds of frantic shoppers—primarily men searching for their sweethearts—and squalling, whining kids being tugged along by frazzled mothers, made for a hellish experience. A little boy about thirty feet away screamed at the top of his lungs, demanding another piece of chocolate. The sound meshed unpleasantly with the too-loud Christmas carols playing in the background, adding to the touch of hangover from last night's party. He felt weird in the shops, too, since he could now afford a hell of a lot more than he used to. All of it could've been forgivable, though, if Gunn could just find the last few gifts he needed.

"Excuse me," he muttered, trying to keep from running over a little girl and bumping into someone to his right. "Sorry."

"No—Gunn?" Angel backed up to let the little girl run to her parents, looking confused. "What are you doing here?"

"Shopping for gifts," he answered, nodding at the bag Angel was clutching in his hands. "Same as you."

"Oh! Um." Angel moved the bag behind him, inadvertently smacking into someone else. Untangling with profuse apologies, Angel moved closer to Gunn. "Yeah, I'm shopping." His eyes looked hunted. "What of it?"

Laughing, Gunn pointed to a relatively empty cul-de-sac created by a quirk in the architecture. Angel took the suggestion gratefully, beating Gunn there by fifteen seconds. "Surprised to see you out here," Gunn said cheerfully. Nothing like laughing at Angel to brighten your day. "Lots of crowds, lots of kids. . . not exactly your style. You do know you can order online, right?"

"What? Oh, Harmony tried to show me, but I don't like buying things without seeing them." Angel glared at the bustling crowd, "Hey, aren't people supposed to be finished shopping by now?"

Shaking his head at Angel's occasional naiveté, Gunn tried to see in the bags. "You shopping for your Secret Santa or for all of us? Something for me in there?"

"No!" The bag was whisked away. Angel was losing the haunted look in favor of the far more familiar long suffering expression of a man used to his friends laughing at him. "No peeking. Not until whenever Lorne says we exchange gifts, anyway."

"So there is something for me! Whaddya get me?" Deciding to ham it up, since Angel was looking so dour, Gunn made a quick grab. He would've tussled more, when he saw a fine young lady exiting Victoria's Secrets and glance his way. "Come on, you can tell me early."

Angel just gave him that oddly paternal smile that he could pull up from out of the blue. "I'm not telling you early, Gunn. You have to wait until Wednesday, like everyone else."

"Aw, man! Where's the fun in that!" Still smiling, but losing the overeager child attitude, Gunn nodded towards the still teeming crowds. "If you've got your Secret Santa's present already picked out, wanna double team it? Protect each other's backs?"

"They aren't enemies, Gunn," Angel said with some exasperation. "They're just people. Just normal, ordinary people trying to live their lives. . ."

Gunn knew Angel well enough to know what he was actually saying, but chose not to talk about it. Otherwise Angel would start brooding, and the point was to make Angel stop brooding and have a merry Christmas. "They may be ordinary people," Gunn said instead, "but some of those women have a mean upper cut if you get in their way. You wanna protect my back while I head into Tower Records? I figure there's something in there I can buy for Lorne."

"Really?" Angel asked, following Gunn back into the throng. "I hadn't thought to go there. . ."

Monday, December 22, 2003