Tuesday, December 16, 2003



"That is one creepy little doll." Spike perched on the arm of Wesley's chair, staring intently at the Santa doll, still cheerily ho-ho-ho-ing away. "Are its eyes actually moving, or is that just one of them optical illusion tricks?"

"I'm not sure. Sometimes I think they're actually watching—oh, yes, come in," Wesley called when someone knocked on the door.

A thread of cooler air slipped inside before their visitor. "This is cozy," Eve greeted them, noting how closely the two men sat together. "I thought I'd see what Angel's two ‘best detectives' were up to."

Spike, in the process of giving Eve the bird, paused and silently mouthed ‘best detectives'. A maniacal grin appeared before he managed to smooth it away. "Oh, that's just clever," he said with a patronizing drawl. "Me'n Head Boy here have never heard that one before."

"Are you here for a purpose, Eve?" Lab tests hadn't revealed anything noteworthy about the doll, other than a lingering aura of magic surrounding it, so Wesley was trying more conventional means of divining answers. A spell book lay open in his lap. "Or are you here just to administer your daily dose of insulting innuendo?"

Lips twitching with that condescending little half-smile, Eve said, "According to the mystics, Harold never left the building. Too bad. I kind of liked your kidnapping theory."

"Yes, thank you," Wesley said, surreptitiously elbowing Spike to prevent the vampire from reacting with his usual indignation. "Any other messages? No? Please close the door on your way out, then."

Spike scowled. "What the bloody hell was that for? We don't even have a kidnapping theory, that was just something Gunn tossed off."

Wesley ignored his ranting for a few moments, sitting up straighter and flipping through the spell-book. "Are you done being defensive now?"

"Yeah, I think she's gone. You're thinking what I'm thinking?" He waved a finger in front of the Santa doll, plastic eyes definitely following each sweep.

"I'm thinking we have a trickster," Wesley said grimly. "One who's willing to remove anyone who knows too much. Well, then." Checking the book one more time, he said, "We'll start with the same spell we used on the reindeer. If you could please hand me the aniseed? It's just to your left."

Retrieving the small container, Spike glanced from the doll to Wesley and then the door. Spells always made him feel itchy. "Don't need me, do ya?" he asked. "Probably just be in your way, wouldn't I?"

Shaking out a small amount of the spice, Wes nodded absently. "Of course."

* * *


Dosh. Dough. Bucks. A lovely bundle of green bills so fresh off the printing press they still stuck together—and no, they weren't fake, he'd checked before signing the receipt with a mocking William T. Bloody. When it came to Wolfram & Hart, it was better to err on the side of caution.

As he walked through the mall, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat, fingers of one hand curled protectively around the wad of dollar bills, Spike was very much aware of the fact that this was the first real wealth he could call his own in over four years.

He'd called the old poofter stingy, but in truth, it was a decent enough sum. Enough to go on a nice bender, buy some clothes, and even shop for this stupid secret Santa thing Lorne had saddled him with —that, after paying off some of his debts.

"Hey, isn't that, you know, dirty money, you've got there?" Clem had asked a few nights ago, when Spike counted enough bills on the table to cover for last year's loan and then some. "Don't take this the wrong way, Spike, I'm sure your new… uh, the people you work for… uh, with, are really great… once you get to know them, but these guys make their money the evil way, dealing in body parts, curses, and mayhem."

Spike had scoffed at that. "I'm not on evil's payroll, if that's what you're thinking. Comes out of Angel's pocket. He owes me, not just for going up in flames in his stead, but… well, he just does, okay?"

But Clem was right, even laundered through Angel, who's reasons for signing up with this Grisham meets King deal Spike still didn't get, the money was at least grimy, no matter how crisp the bills were to the touch. Maybe that's why it was burning a hole in his pocket?

How else to explain the little blue jewelry box with the silver unicorn pendant inside, that was currently located in the other pocket? And he wasn't even Harmony's sodding secret Santa. He had also somehow ended up with expensive Swiss chocolate for himself and for Fred as well—amazing how much that skinny chit could eat; two bottles of Single Malt—one for him, one for Wes; a blue silk tie patterned with little black jaguars that could pass as panthers for Gunn. And he'd bought a couple of CDs for Lorne as part of a long-term strategy to sway the other demon away from his Vegas tunes. The only one he hadn't bought anything for was, of course…

"Can I assist you, sir?" the shop assistant repeated and Spike realized his feet had carried him into Nordstrom, which wasn't quite the same as Harrods, but would have to do. He squinted at her: blonde, pretty, extra points for calling him 'sir' without discernible irony.

"Yeah, luv, maybe you can. Look here, I need something for my grand-uh… —father."

"How old is your grandfather?"

"Positively ancient," Spike grinned.

"An electric blanket maybe? The new models have remote control and sensors to monitor body temperature and adjust automatically for personalized warmth and the ultimate in comfort," the shop assistant told him. "Very popular with the elderly."

Spike checked the price tag. Two hundred bucks? He winced.

"I was thinking along the line of twenty quid," Spike said.

The shop assistant's smile never wavered. "How about our selection of woolen socks then?"

Wednesday, December 17, 2003