Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c)2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. ANGEL (c)2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The ANGEL trademark is used without express permission from Fox. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.
The Gaelic words forming the first part of Willow’s spell are taken from the lyrics of Runrig’s ‘O Cho Meallt’ and were written by Calum MacDonald.
Author’s note: I’ve taken a slight liberty with the timeline. Christmas/New Year fell between the broadcast dates of “Destiny” and “Harm’s Way”, and probably was meant to take place between those episodes, but I can see no hard evidence to prove that and so I’ve written this story on the basis of “Harm’s Way” taking place slightly before Christmas 2003.Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?
“Hey,” Harmony greeted Fred nervously. “I kinda gave you the brush-off in the lab, I guess, huh? I’m really sorry, it was just I’d woken up with this dead guy in my bed, and I was all scared and that, and if you still want to hang out some time and drink some wine I’d really like that, although, the Dixie Chicks aren’t really my thing. But hey, I could give it a try. And, well, I’m totally sorry that I hit you and stuffed you in the closet. Uh, maybe you won’t want to hang with me any more.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Fred said. She wasn’t being entirely truthful, but she felt sorry for Harmony, and didn’t want to hurt the young vampire’s feelings. “It wasn’t your fault that things went wrong. And you did pretty good fixing the whole framed for murder thing.”
“I’m sorry I hit you, Fred,” Harmony repeated. Her lip trembled slightly. “Only, I was just so scared, I didn’t know what else I could do. I totally would never bite you.”
“I guess not. You’re okay, Harmony.”
“Great!” A huge beaming smile suddenly lit up Harmony’s face. “Wanna go see a movie after work?”
“Um,” Fred hesitated, wondering how best to turn Harmony down, and then she rethought. A movie was pretty safe. There shouldn’t be any scope for Harmony to become boring, or get distracted by some guy and leave Fred stranded, or, worse, drag Fred into a double date with some loser. “Uh, okay. What’s showing?”
“I thought maybe ‘Return of the King’,” Harmony suggested.
Fred was impressed. That was a much better choice than she would have expected. There was a snag, however. “’Fraid not. I never got to see ‘The Two Towers’.”
“You didn’t? I would have thought you’d have seen it for sure.”
“There were things going on,” Fred said vaguely. Somehow she couldn’t quite remember what had come up to stop her from seeing the second part of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Some case or other, no doubt.
“Oh, well, I’ll have to –” Harmony began, and then chopped herself off short. “Uh, yeah, what else is on? ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’? No, maybe not. Hey, I know! ‘School of Rock’ is still showing in a few places.”
“Yeah, okay,” Fred agreed. “I hear that’s pretty good.” Funny and devoid of violence; Fred could live with that. Not the sort of movie that she would have expected a vampire to choose; Harmony was definitely a very exceptional specimen of the breed. Maybe it might even turn out to be a fun evening.- - - - -
“So,” Harmony said, passing Fred a drink, “You going back to Texas for Christmas?”
“Thanks.” Fred took the drink and smiled at Harmony. The movie had indeed been fun, Harmony hadn’t spoiled it by talking, and she’d enjoyed the evening so far enough to have accepted Harmony’s invitation to go for a drink afterwards. “No, I just can’t fit it in this year. My folks are gonna come over to LA sometime in the spring. How about you?” Fred sipped her drink and suddenly gulped, almost choking herself, as she remembered that Harmony was a vampire and realized all the pitfalls implicit in her innocent question.
“I’m not gonna be seeing my folks these Holidays either,” Harmony replied. “They left Sunnydale before everything got real bad there, but they still lost out on the house sale, and they’re not fixed up with a proper home yet. The place they’re staying now, well, there isn’t any room for me, not with my, you know, special requirements. And my place is just this little apartment, no room to have them come stay, so this year it’s cards and presents through the mail and that’s all.”
“You keep in touch with your parents?” Fred asked. Her eyebrows rose in surprise and she fought them back down.
“Well, yeah,” Harmony replied, frowning at the surprise apparent in Fred’s tone. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Um, no reason, I guess,” Fred began, and then decided that her evasion was stupidly transparent and that honesty would be a much better policy. “I mean, vampires usually eat their folks, don’t they?”
“Eat their folks?” Harmony repeated blankly. “Why would I have done that? Eat my Mom and Dad and Sis? That’s just wrong.”
“Uh, sorry. It’s just, well, Angel did it, and I’ve got an idea something like that happened with Spike, and Charles’ sister, and, well, I kinda thought that it was what always happened.” Fred remembered Harmony’s insistence that she had been ‘clean for eight months’ after showing positive on the test for human blood; that pre-dated Angel’s take-over of Wolfram and Hart and his ‘no killing humans’ regime, and implied that Harmony had been making some kind of effort to reform of her own accord. “Um. Were they, you know, okay about you being a vampire?”
“It was kinda hard for a while,” Harmony admitted. “They had a problem with me eating people and, hey, seeing as how they’re people too I can’t argue with that. It’s much better now that I can say that I’m clean, and in a good job, and these days they’re pretty proud of me. Hey, maybe you could meet them some time?”
“Some time, okay,” Fred agreed, inwardly hoping that the ‘some time’ would be a long way off.
“So, we’re both gonna be kind of alone this Christmas,” Harmony mused. “Well, there are the people at the office, but no family-type people.”
“I guess,” Fred admitted. She thought she could tell where Harmony was going with this, and she really didn’t want to end up spending Christmas with the vampire, but she couldn’t see how she could avoid it.
“Wolfram and Hart doesn’t go in much for Christmas and Hanukkah and things,” Harmony went on. “I guess ‘goodwill to all men’ isn’t really in the company mission statement. Maybe we should have a Christmas party of our own, huh? I mean us, and Wesley, and Charles, and Lorne, and, uh, Angel, if he does Christmas. And, what about Nina the Werewolf, ‘cause, can I say, there’s some serious crushing on the boss-man going on there? And maybe Knox, ‘cause he’s kinda cute, not like most of the guys who were here before Angel took over, ‘cept that I don’t know if he does Christmas. He might be too evil. Maybe the party should be New Year?”
“Uh, yeah, maybe,” Fred agreed. Suddenly they were committed to a party, and Fred wasn’t sure how it had happened, but it really wasn’t a bad idea. “You haven’t included Spike.”
Harmony bit her lip. “Uh, well, of course I’d like Spike to be there, only there is that thing with him always trying to get a rise out of Angel, and there was that thing with me trying to bite him and some of the things I said to him, and…” Her voice trailed off and she bit her lip again. “I really love him, but he’s always made me so unhappy.”
At a nearby table a pretty dark-haired woman broke off from her conversation and pricked up her ears. “Excuse me a moment,” she told her companion, who was in the middle of a rant about how badly her boyfriend had treated her. “I’ll be back in a second, okay?” She stood up and headed for the bar, making sure that her course took her near to Fred and Harmony.
“I wish I could get over him, and find someone else to love, someone who’d treat me right, and I wish that Spike could meet up with the Slayer again and work things out one way or the other, you get me? ‘Cause I’d kinda like Spike to be happy too. I just think I deserve at least a little payback first. Maybe the Slayer could punch him in the nose, yeah, I wish I could be around when that happens.” Harmony smiled briefly, and then slumped again and gazed glumly into her drink.
Drakaina Poine, oldest of D’Hoffryn’s Vengeance Demons, who had been granting the wishes of wronged women in Ancient Greece fifteen hundred years before anyone had heard of Anyanka, pouted. When she’d heard the mention of Spike – William the Bloody – she’d hoped that there’d be a vengeance wish in the offing, and that it would offer the chance for something truly spectacular. Alas, the result fell far short of her expectations. No exploding viscera, no hideous mutilations, and not even any painful boils; just a punch on the nose.
“Spike does seem to take you pretty much for granted,” Fred agreed. “Maybe you’re right that it won’t work out between you, which is a shame, but I’m not really the right person to give you advice, ‘cause things haven’t gone that smooth for me either. Charles and me had a thing, but he was over-protective, kinda smothering me, and, you know, I’ve kinda got a feeling that Wesley would be the same way. And Knox, well, he’s cute, but I don’t know if I can trust him. I wish I could find someone who’d love me enough to just let me be myself.”
“Same here,” Harmony agreed. “I know I’m not clever like you, and maybe that’s why Spikey never takes me seriously, but with the right guy that wouldn’t matter, would it?” She finished her drink. “Maybe we’d better get on home. It’s been great, Fred. We’ll have to get together tomorrow and make plans for the party, ‘kay?”
Drakaina Poine rolled her eyes. These pathetic wishes were hardly worthy of the name. Still, there was a modicum of violence, and something more might result from the Slayer punching the Slayer of Slayers in the nose, and the girls had used the ‘W’ word. She couldn’t really ignore the wishes. They were worth at least a few points towards her quota, and at least the magic expenditure would be almost nil. “Wishes granted.”- - - - -
“I want to invite Buffy,” Harmony announced, “and her super-friends.”
“The Slayer?” Fred’s eyebrows climbed towards a new altitude record. “I thought you hated her.”
“I do,” Harmony nodded. “I was totally her arch-nemesis. I kidnapped her sister, and there’s the whole Spike thing, and hey, I wasn’t even friends with her at school.” She sucked in her lower lip and chewed on it. “It’s just, well, there were plenty of times she could have dusted me and she didn’t, and I don’t hate her all that much and I kinda like Willow, and, well, Spikey doesn’t look like he’s ever gonna get around to going to her, so I thought we could bring her here. You think she’d come?”
“There’s no harm in asking, I guess,” Fred said. A trace of a frown showed on her forehead. “It could be kinda, well, interesting, putting Buffy and Angel and Spike all together. Oh, what the hell, let’s go for it.”- - - - -
“Oh, Fred, there’s a problem come up with the party catering,” Harmony moaned.
“Don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it out,” Fred soothed her. “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” Harmony explained, “I was kinda wanting us vampires to have something more, like, seasonal
than otter blood. I asked the supplier if he had anything kinda Arctic. Arctic Fox, Wolverine, Polar Bear, hey, even Reindeer.”
Fred fought to control her natural impulse to screw up her mouth and instead merely raised an eyebrow.
“Well, all he’s sent are these stupid suicidal Arctic rodents!” Harmony complained.
Fred smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Harmony. You know what they say? ‘If life gives you lemmings, make lemmingade’.”- - - - -
Fred stared at herself in the mirror. She ran her hands over the leather pants that clung to her hips and licked her lips nervously. “Uh, are you sure this is right for me? I’ve never thought of myself as a leather kind of girl.”
“Are you kidding? You are so drop dead gorgeous it’s not true,” Harmony assured her. “That outfit just screams ‘strong independent woman’.”
“You’re sure it doesn’t scream ‘great big ho’?”
Harmony shook her head. “No way, Fred. Definitely ‘strong independent woman’. It will sort the sheep out from the goats, or whatever. If Wesley and Knox aren’t all over you in that it will prove that they can’t deal with the real you. Also, that they have defective eyesight, ‘cause, you look just so totally tasty. Uh, I don’t mean that in a vampire way, you know?”
Fred laughed. “I know, Harmony. Thanks. And thanks for helping me shop, ‘cause I would never have picked this for myself, but you’re right, I do look kinda good, don’t I?”
“You sure do, yeah. Do I look okay? It just sucks not being able to see myself in the mirror.”
“You look just fine, Harmony. More than fine. I never did see Buffy but the once, and that was just in passing, but I don’t recall her looking half as good as you. Maybe Spike’s the one with defective eyesight, or maybe he’ll realize tonight that he’s chasing the wrong blonde.”
Harmony frowned. “Funny, I hadn’t even thought about Spike. I think maybe I’m kinda getting over him at last. Sure, I want to look better than the Slayer, but just for me, not for Spike.” She tossed her head. “I hope the guys are gonna take some notice of me. Which they probably won’t, ‘cause they’re all gonna be too busy noticing you.”
“I don’t know about that, you’ve got a couple of assets that I haven’t,” Fred pointed out. “I think you’ll get plenty of attention.” She scrutinized herself in the mirror again. “And, yeah, me too. I just hope that it’s the right kind of attention.”
“It will be, no question,” Harmony said. “You’re sure that I look okay?”
“Way more than just okay, Harmony.”
“Faboo! We are so gonna rock tonight, right?”
“You bet. ‘Tonight’s assignment’,” Fred began a quote from ‘School of Rock’. Harmony grinned and joined in with her to complete the line in chorus. ‘“Kick some ass!’”- - - - -
“Headquarters of Evil Incorporated. So not the place for a Happy New Year,” Xander remarked. His lips were set in a tight straight line, and his brows were furrowed so deeply that a crease was appearing in his eyepatch. “Remind me again why we agreed to come to this party.”
“You know, I’m really not sure,” Giles replied. He too was frowning in suspicion. “I suppose it was just a conditioned reflex that made me say ‘yes’. Politeness does get to be something of a habit.”
“Politeness to Harmony’s a waste of time,” Xander grumbled. “She’s evil, shallow, annoying and – ay, caramba!” Xander’s jaw dropped as they entered the party room and he saw the girl in question.
“Hey, guys, you came! This is totally cool. I’m so glad,” Harmony gushed. “Uh, the girls did come too, didn’t they? Where are Buffy, and Willow, and Dawnie?” She was wearing a dark red dress that was low cut enough to draw the eye but not too low. She seemed more mature than she had ever done in Sunnydale, and Xander had to admit that she looked very attractive, even elegant.
“They will be with us in a moment,” Giles said. “Ah, how are you, Harmony?”
“Still undead, but hey, totally off the human blood,” the vampire girl smiled. “Angel and the guys will be along in a minute too. I haven’t told them that you’re coming ‘cause I wanted it to be a surprise. Plus, well, I wasn’t that sure that you’d come.”
“Yes, well, ah, I’m glad to hear that you’re not eating people, Harmony.”
“You’re looking totally great, Xander,” Harmony said, looking the tuxedo-clad young man up and down. “I was sorry to hear about your eye, but, hey, that patch makes you look all piratical and swashbuckling and things. Uh, yeah, and sorry to hear about Anya.”
“Uh, thanks,” Xander grunted.
“Hi, guys,” Fred greeted them, emerging from a rest room. “Mister Giles, Xander Harris, right? Sorry I wasn’t here to meet you, just a last minute touch up to my face, you know, but I guess Harmony’s making you welcome.”
“Ah, quite, Miss – Burkle, isn’t it? I was expecting Angel to be greeting us.”
“I kinda asked him to come a little later, I wanted the guests from out of town to be here first,” Fred explained. “See, this party is ours, mine and Harmony’s, and I didn’t want Angel to do the whole big host thing.”
“Or Lorne,” Harmony giggled, raising an answering giggle from Fred but only puzzling Giles and Xander.
The rest of the visiting group arrived at that point. Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Faith, Robin Wood, and Andrew.
The greetings were stilted. The only genuine warmth was between Willow and Fred. The other visitors were wary and guarded in word and expression.
“What’s the evil-o-meter reading?” Buffy asked Willow quietly, as Fred talked to Faith and Harmony tried to get Dawn to stop glowering.
“It’s kinda funny,” Willow told her. “Fred’s not evil, and hey, it’s not like I expected anything else, but Harmony? She isn’t showing up as evil much at all. Only a touch more than Andrew, say, or the average guy in the street.”
“Are you sure you’re doing it right?” Buffy asked. “I mean, vampire, evil, pretty much a given.”
“Hey, I know what I’m doing,” Willow said, frowning. “I’m getting general low-level evil from the whole building, a couple of the staff were showing as pretty damn evil, but Harmony? Nope. Kinda light gray at worst. Face it, Buff, she’s changed.”
“Demons don’t change,” Buffy insisted.
“Oh? So what about Spike?”
“That was different. He got a Soul,” Buffy stated, the capital letter evident in her reverent tone.
“Got being the operative word, Buff. He wouldn’t have gotten one if he hadn’t changed in the first place,” Willow pointed out, and then regretted her words as she saw Buffy’s shoulders slump. “Uh, I’m just saying, uh, I kinda miss him too.”
“I know.” Buffy sighed. “I hope Angel shows up soon.”
Willow frowned again. She could only see one reason for Buffy’s comment following directly from the mention of Spike. Willow had nothing against Angel, assuming that his employment by Wolfram and Hart did not after all mean that he had gone evil, but if there was one thing that she didn’t want to see it was any resumption of the relationship between Buffy and Angel. There were too many possible pitfalls along that path, some of them leading to dead fishes and attempts to destroy the world, and she’d even prefer to see Buffy with the enigmatic and amoral Immortal who was currently wooing her in Italy than back with Angel. “Yeah, well, I’m gonna go talk with Fred some more. I’ll keep monitoring the evil-o-meter, ‘kay?”- - - - -
“Okay, Harmony, we’re –” Angel began in a voice of weary resignation, as he walked into the room, and then he caught sight of the other guests. “Buffy?”
“Surprise, huh?” Buffy said.
“Buffy! I didn’t know. How – what are you doing here? You’ve come for Harmony’s party?”
“Yeah, kinda weird, isn’t it?” Buffy smiled. “Hey. Good to see you, Angel.”
“Why didn’t you let me know?”
“Well, it was pretty much a spur of the moment thing,” Buffy began, and then she heard another voice approaching and went rigid.
“Yeah, right, keep your hair on, Charlie-boy,” the voice was saying. “Was only saying you should’ve brought –” The speaker entered the room, his eyes fell on Buffy, and his voice cut off abruptly.
Angel’s brows descended and his lips turned down as he realized that as far as Buffy was concerned his presence had suddenly stopped registering.
Andrew’s eyes opened wide and he grabbed for his camcorder. “Spike!” he gasped.
“Spike?” Buffy’s lip trembled. “It’s really you? Not some trick by the First?”
“’S me all right, Slayer,” Spike confirmed. He advanced to within a few feet of Buffy. “How’ve you been?”
Buffy’s arm blurred. Spike sat down abruptly on the floor and clutched his nose. “Hey! What the hell did you do that for?” he asked indistinctly.
“Yes!” Harmony beamed and punched the air.
“Spike! You jerk. I’ve mourned you for months. Why aren’t you dead?” Buffy folded her arms and glared at Spike.
“Am dead,” Spike muttered.
“You know what I mean. Well?”
“This is not how I would have pictured the reunion between Buffy, the Slayer of the Vampyres, and her true love Spike, the Champion, the Vampyre with a Soul,” Andrew lamented. His disappointment didn’t stop him from operating the camcorder.
“Yeah? Funny, it’s exactly how I pictured it,” Harmony grinned. “Hey, aren’t you Tucker’s kid brother?”- - - - -
“That’s rather an, ah, unusual look for you,” Wesley said. There was a crease visible between his eyebrows.
“You don’t like it,” Fred deduced.
“It is rather, well, unconventional.”
“You don’t like it,” Fred repeated. “Well, that’s just fine with me. Spike thinks I look ‘smashing’.”
“Spike’s a vampire, and hardly a connoisseur of ladies’ fashions,” Wesley said. He turned to look at the vampire in question. “I’m surprised that he managed to find the time to compliment you on your appearance. He appears to be rather tied up with Buffy.”
“He made the time, Wes. As did Willow, and Faith, and Lorne.”
“And Knox?” Wesley asked, his eyebrows lowering further.
“And Knox,” Fred confirmed. “Guess I’ll head on back and talk to him some more, seeing as how you seem to want me to wear gingham.” She turned away and flounced off; quite an achievement in the leather suit, but she managed it somehow.
Wesley sighed and poured himself a large Scotch. It looked as if it was going to be a long night.- - - - -
“Uh, Giles, you know my evil-o-meter spell?”
Giles lowered his drink and smiled at Willow. His smile faltered as he saw the worried expression on her face. “I take it that you’ve detected some? Angel?”
“No, no need to worry,” Willow assured him. “He’s maybe not all shiny pure, it could be this place is getting to him a bit, but he’s still showing up as a good guy. Spike, Wesley, Charles Gunn, Lorne, all as good as they ever were. It’s Fred’s assistant Knox. He’s radiating evil like a kinda Three Mile Island of badness. And there’s something else that’s kinda giving me the wiggins.”
Giles stared speculatively at Knox, who was plying Fred with compliments. “Go on.”
“There’s something wrong with the whole Angel Investigations team,” Willow said. “It’s sorta like they’re not remembering things right. They can’t tell me just how come Cordy’s in a coma, they’re pretty hazy about what happened when I put Angel’s soul back in that last time, and they don’t know what I’m talking about when I ask about Connor.”
“Connor? Who is Connor?” Giles asked.
Willow’s eyebrows climbed. “Huh? I told you all about Angel’s son. Okay, there were lots of other things going on, it was about the time Caleb turned up, but how could you forget that? I mean, big honking surprise or what?” She sucked in her lips. “Oh. It’s gotten to you too, I guess.”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about, Willow,” Giles said. “How could Angel have a son? He’s a vampire.”
“That’s what you said last time I told you. Huh. Well, somebody’s hiding something, and I’m thinking that it’s not of the good. Knox has got a shield up, I’m guessing that Angel and his guys can’t tell that he’s all evil, and he’s playing much too nice with Fred. I want to take down the shield, and nix whatever’s messing with the memories too. Can I do it?”
“You may,” Giles assented. “As to whether or not you can, I can’t tell you that.”
“Oh, I can do it,” Willow assured him. “It’s a pretty powerful spell, but I’m not exactly playing in the little leagues. And hey, New Year, stroke of midnight, just the right time for it. Ring out the old, ring in the new, no problem.”- - - - -
“Hey.” Dawn’s voice was flat and gave away nothing of her mood.
“Niblet.” Spike tilted his head to one side. “You still mad at me?”
“Sure I’m mad, you big jerk.” Dawn’s eyes were very wide. “You didn’t call. We all thought that you were dead and you didn’t even call us.”
“Wasn’t sure you’d care,” Spike said defensively.
“Of course I care, you dumb jerk,” Dawn snapped. “You promised to take care of me, remember? How are you supposed to do that when I’m in Rome and you’re in LA?”
Spike frowned. “Thought you were in France.”
“We were, for a while. Jerk. Harmony managed to keep track of us and you couldn’t even manage to do that.” Dawn half turned away and then suddenly spun around and threw her arms around Spike. “I missed you, Spike. I really missed you.”
“Missed you too, Niblet.” Spike returned Dawn’s hug. “You don’t know how much.”
“So, you and Buffy, are you good now?”
“Think so. Yeah, we’re good. Once she was done with the nose-punching thing.”
“And you’re gonna come back to Rome with us?”
“Haven’t said so in so many words, but I think so.”
“Cool!” Dawn squealed, hugging him even tighter, and then she realized that people were watching her and she made an effort to reclaim her dignity. “That’ll give me lots of time to find new ways of calling you a jerk.”- - - - -
Buffy shook her head slowly. “I just don’t get this. You invited us here to get me back together with Spike?”
“Yep. Now, was that cool of me, or what?” Harmony’s smile almost dazzled Buffy.
“Uh, yeah, that was pretty cool.” Buffy shook her head again. “Uh, thanks. I – oh, Harmony!” She grabbed the vampire in a big hug. “Thanks, Harm.”
“No big,” Harmony smiled. “You paid me back when you landed that one on Blondie Bear’s nose.”- - - - -
“There has to be something Scottish at a New Year’s party,” Giles remarked to Lorne.
“Our little Harmonica has thought of that. There’s Scotch whisky, of course, and she’s even excelled herself and organized some haggis.” Lorne shuddered. “Not that I’m going to eat any of it, of course.”
“Oh?” Giles raised his eyebrows. His knowledge of the dietary preferences of Lorne’s species was limited, but he’d noticed the green demon consuming other party delicacies without qualms, and he hadn’t expected him to be put off by haggis. Although, on second thoughts, it would be American
haggis, and that wasn’t a thought to inspire confidence. “Actually, I meant musically.”
Lorne shuddered again. “Bagpipes? Please, no.”
“There is more to Scottish music than bagpipes,” Giles pointed out. “Of course I would never admit it at any other time of the year, but it isn’t necessarily inferior to English music. I’ve brought along a few CDs. I’ve heard Angel’s tastes in music on prior occasions and I thought that I’d better have some back-up.”
“Well, Freddikins and Harmony have done pretty well on that score too, but it never hurts to have extra options. May I?” Lorne extended a hand, and Giles passed him the CDs. “Texas. I approve. I had no idea that they were Scotch.”
“Scottish. Scotch is the whisky,” Giles corrected him by reflex.
“My bad. Scottish. Big Country? I’m not familiar with them. The Proclaimers. Ah, yes. Very, well, Scottish. Simple Minds, yes, I know them. Runrig? Another that I haven’t heard of.” He glanced at the track listing. “Loch Lomond? The old songs are the best, right? Bonnie, bonnie, banks and all that. Perhaps a little, may I say, corny?”
“Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan,” Giles grinned, “stick this on at five minutes to midnight and prepare to acknowledge that ‘corny’ is exactly the wrong word.”- - - - -
“Hey, Boss, you aren’t enjoying yourself!” Harmony folded her arms and stared Angel in the face. “Lighten up. This is a party. You can brood some other time, okay? Like the next time when you have a conference with the Archduke Sebassis. He likes that sort of thing, ‘cause he’s all big with the doom and gloom, you know?”
Angel was watching the dance floor, his eyebrows lowered in an ominously gloomy manner, and his lip protruded in a pout that could probably best be described as ‘petulant’. “Why did you have to invite Buffy while Spike is here?” he complained. “I don’t know what she sees in him. I mean, he’s Spike
. He’s going to eat my cookies. It’s not fair. And I have to just stand here and watch them.”
“No, Boss, you don’t,” Harmony pointed out. “Go do something else. Hey, why don’t you ask Nina to dance? She’s ten times better looking than the Slayer. See if you can make Buffy jealous. Not that you will, ‘cause she’s definitely right over you and totally into Spike, but it’s got to be better than lurking like a big broody thing. Uh, that’s not broody like a hen, right? A big lurky thing.”
“What?” Angel redirected his glare towards her. “You think that I should ask Nina to dance? You think she would?”
“Well, duh, who’s going for the title of Mister Oblivious? She sure would. She’s interested, Boss, trust me on this. Plus, she hasn’t seen you dance before so she doesn’t know what she’d be letting herself in for.”
“She’s interested? What makes you think that, Harmony?”
“Oh, us girls can sense these things. Plus, I look after her when she comes to get locked in the cage every month, and there may have been some girl talk.”
Angel’s eyes swung towards Nina, who was listening to Andrew relating some distorted tale of romance and heroism, and whose glazed expression indicated that she would probably be grateful for a rescue. “She is very pretty,” Angel conceded. “I might just do that.”
“Yay, Boss, go you!” Harmony surveyed the guests. “I wonder if Xander would dance with me?”- - - - -
“Spike is so cool,” Andrew sighed. “Back from the dead. Like Gandalf. ‘Gandalf! Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over our eyes? Gandalf!’ Totally a superhero.”
“Hey, watch it with the spoilers,” Fred complained. “I missed out on ‘The Two Towers’ when it was at the movies, and Harmony bought me the DVD for Christmas, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. Then I can go see ‘Return of the King’.”
“But you’ve read the books, right?”
“Well, yeah, only not for years.”
“It was the book I was quoting, not the movie. It is just so true, isn’t it? Spike being Gandalf?”
“With the leather coat instead of the robes, yeah, but I wouldn’t say he’s returned in our time of need, exactly. Well, he was pretty handy against Magnus Hainsley the necromancer, I guess, Angel might have gotten in big trouble without Spike there.”
“I told you so,” Andrew grinned. “So cool. We were a team, you know? Him and me, we were like that.” He gestured with clasped hands. “Two heroes on a motorbike, on a daring and perilous secret mission, braving untold peril to search out the secret that would bring down the First.”
“Uh, yeah, right.” Fred began to look around for an avenue of escape.
“Two kindred spirits, our dark pasts behind us, questing for redemption,” Andrew reminisced. “My humble self and the renowned Vampyre with a Soul.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m just gonna go have a word with Willow, ‘kay?” Fred stood up and scurried away.
Andrew sighed again. “She was so cool. Kinda like one of the X-Men in that leather suit. Shame she had to go before I could finish relating the saga of Andrew and the Vampyre,” he lamented. “Yet there are still those who have not had the chance to hear of the epic quest.” He focused his gaze on Knox. “Ah, perchance that stranger may care to hear the tale. I detect an air about him that calls to me. A scientist, if I am not mistaken, who would be enthralled by my memories of robots, and freeze rays, and the summoning of demons mighty and ferocious.”- - - - -
‘Love is … a big scary animal
,’ Belinda Carlisle sang.
“I wonder what sort of animal?” Harmony wondered.
Xander’s brow furrowed. “Can I say, huh?”
“Well, if love is a big scary animal, it’s got to be a particular animal.” Harmony’s brow developed a furrow of its own. “Maybe a polar bear? Or a hippopotamus. They’re pretty scary, right? With all those great big teeth, and they lurk under the water, and then they come up and overturn the canoes. Only, the hippopotamus of love doesn’t seem right.”
“Barry White?” Xander suggested.
“Duh! He’s the Walrus
of Luurve, silly. I guess that’s a big scary animal.” Harmony’s frown vanished in a split second. “Hey, when you were in Africa, did you see any hippopopotamuses?”
“Yeah, I saw hippos,” Xander confirmed.
“Cheater! Dodging out of the difficult word like that.” Harmony flashed him a beaming smile. “Did they overturn your canoe?”
“’Fraid not. I didn’t go in a canoe, Harmony. Mainly I was in a Land Rover.”
“Did you get rhinocer – rhinos charging you?”
“I was looking for Slayers, Harmony, not taking in the Game Reserves. Nope, no rhinos.”
“Oh. Well, did you have one of those hats? With the leopard-skin band, and the loops for bullets, and things?”
“Uh, yeah, I did. The leopard-skin was fake, though. Leopards are kinda endangered. They don’t let people make hatbands out of them any more.”
“Bet you still looked pretty cool in it. You’re all tanned and lean and Indiana Jones-y.”
“Thanks, Harmony. You’re looking pretty good yourself. More than just pretty good.” Xander fiddled with his collar. “Uh, what’s with you being all nice to me, anyway? No ‘stupid Xander Harris’ comments?”
“Well, it’s not like I’m Genius Girl myself,” Harmony shrugged. “That’s Fred. In your crowd, it’s Willow. We’re both pretty dumb compared to them, right? So, no point in teasing each other about it, I guess. And, now I don’t eat humans, maybe we can be friends?”
“I guess so,” Xander agreed.
“So, dance with me?”
“Uh, okay.” Xander fidgeted with his collar again. “What about the thing with you and Spike?”
“Oh, please! Blondie Bear and me are just so over. Let him have the Slayer. I don’t care any more.”
Xander opened his mouth to protest against the idea of any having of the Slayer by Spike, hesitated, and then shut it again with the words unsaid. Spike had been willing to give his life to save the world, Buffy had missed him during the time that she’d thought that he was dead, and none of the arguments against their relationship really seemed to matter much any more. And, judging by what he could see over at the far side of the room, any protests that he did make would be ignored anyway. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” he muttered under his breath, temporarily forgetting that Harmony had acute vampire hearing, and then spoke in his normal voice. “Okay, Harmony, let’s dance.”- - - - -
“You know, that time when I was putting Angelus’ soul back, I told you I was seeing someone? Well, I’m not seeing her any longer.”
Fred gulped. Her first impulse was to blurt out ‘I’m not gay’, but Willow might not be hitting on her at all, she might just be keeping Fred up to date about her life because that’s what friends did, and it would be really embarrassing to have taken it the wrong way. “That’s, uh, sad.”
“It was for the best,” Willow continued. “She just never saw me for what I really am. She had this kinda idea of me, and things about me that didn’t fit the idea, well, she sorta tried to squash me up until I did fit.”
“I know what you mean,” Fred sympathized. “That’s sorta the way things went wrong between me and Charles.” That should get over the point about her non-gayness. “I can tell Wesley’s interested, but I’m worried that the same thing might happen all over again.” She paused to sip at her drink. “Harmony said that how he reacted to this leather outfit might give me a clue, she said that if he didn’t like me in it then it meant that he can’t deal with me being a strong independent woman, and, well, he sure ain’t all that keen. Maybe it’s just that he thinks it hides my legs too much. Harmony’s not exactly the fount of all wisdom when it comes to men, I guess.”
“You look just great in it, Fred. Totally kick-ass, independent woman, hey, Harmony is pretty much spot on there.” Willow’s gaze lingered approvingly on Fred’s leather-clad figure.
A tinge of color showed in Fred’s cheeks. “At least Knox seems to like it.”
Willow chewed on her lower lip. “Knox. Yeah. Uh, Fred, I’ve got this spell to detect evil. It was Andrew’s idea, which is way strange, ‘cause it’s a good idea and Andrew? Usually so not big with ideas that really work. He got the idea from Dungeons and Dragons, you know?”
“I get you, ‘Know Alignment’ and all that, yeah,” Fred remarked, puzzled as to where Willow was going with this. Was she going to warn Fred about associating with an unsouled vampire, or was this going to be about the jobs with Wolfram and Hart?
“He is just such an enormous geek,” Willow smiled. “Well, anyway, this one idea worked out real well. I can read people on a kinda scale of evil. It’s like, say the average Joe shows up as zero, Martin Luther King would have been maybe minus ten, Angelus maybe plus nine, and Hitler plus ten.”
“That’s got to be useful,” Fred commented. “Uh, where does Harmony rate?”
“Plus one on the scale of evil,” Willow revealed, “which is pretty much not evil. Hey, she was probably plus one when she was alive. Maybe plus two. She’s all right, Fred.”
Fred beamed. “I’m glad to hear it, ‘cause we’re getting to be friends, even good friends.”
Willow bit her lip again. “You guys are all showing up nice and clear on the evil detector. When we heard about Angel taking the job here we were kinda worried, I got to admit, but hey, Angel’s showing up a healthy minus three. There’s just one thing has me a little worried. That guy Knox.”
“Well, he was working for Wolfram and Hart before we came, so I kinda guessed he wasn’t exactly going to be Nelson Mandela,” Fred said. “I guess he’s more evil than Harmony, huh?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Willow agreed. “Fred – he’s showing up as nine and a half.”- - - - -
“Angel, can you spare me a moment?”
Angel turned away from Nina reluctantly. He was having a good time for once. She was, as Harmony had pointed out, extremely pretty; she was also intelligent, pleasant, well able to hold her own in conversation, and charming. It seemed as if Harmony’s claim that Nina was interested in him was equally correct. “Okay, Fred, I guess I can spare a moment. If that’s okay with you, Nina?”
Nina nodded assent and Angel focused his attention on Fred. “What is it? Is Spike causing trouble?”
“What? No, nothing like that.” Fred glanced nervously across the room, in completely the opposite direction to where Spike and Buffy were completely wrapped up in each other. “It’s – well, Willow’s got this spell that tells her if people are evil. Scores them out of ten, sort of.”
Angel groaned. “Don’t tell me. Harmony’s way off the scale and I’m going to have to get a new Personal Assistant.”
“Huh? No way! Harmony rates a one. Pretty much not evil at all. You get a line of ten people waiting for a bus, chances are two or three of them will be at least as evil as she is, that is, not very evil.”
Angel relaxed. “That’s good.”
“So, you’d be upset about having to get rid of her?”
“Harmony’s all right,” Angel conceded grudgingly. “She gets things wrong now and then, but, overall, she does a good job. Wesley made a good choice.”
“That’s great! Can I tell her you said that?”
“Well, I don’t want her to get too enthusiastic, because she can get carried away a bit too much, but, well, okay.” Angel shifted in his seat. “I’m guessing that this isn’t about Harmony. It’s Spike, isn’t it? He’s evil again. I knew it!”
“Nope, Spike’s not evil. It’s Knox.”
“Evil? Well, this is Wolfram and Hart. I’m not expecting to find that we’ve got Ghandi working for us. As long as the staff stick to the rules I guess that we can live with them being a little evil.”
“A little evil, yeah, but that’s not what Willow says. She rated Knox nine and a half.” Fred swallowed. “Angel – she only rated Angelus a nine.”
Angel sat bolt upright. He regarded Willow as a friend, but he was well aware of her complete and utter loathing of his unsouled incarnation. “More evil than Angelus?”
“Yep. Way out in front of Stalin, giving Pol Pot a run for his money.” Fred swallowed again. “He looks so innocent, cute even, but no way am I gonna work in the same lab with him after what Willow says.”
“She’s sure about this?” Angel frowned and glanced across the room to where Wesley was talking to Faith. “She really means it? Any chance that she might have been swayed by talking to people who might be a little, well, prejudiced?”
Fred followed his gaze. “Wesley’s always been okay about Knox. Um, Willow’s kind of, well, interested in me herself, so, maybe she’s not totally impartial on this, but she wouldn’t lie about something important. Knox is a bad guy, Angel. Too bad even for here. He’s got to go.”
Angel’s lips tightened. “I can’t fire him just for being evil if he doesn’t do anything evil. Can I? Maybe I can. I’ll have to check that out with Gunn. Maybe we can transfer him somewhere else. Or, we’ll watch him like a hawk, and if he does do something wrong, well, we can get rid of him then.” He could read dissatisfaction in Fred’s expression and gestured at her with his fingers spread out. “Uh, Fred, can we not do this now? It’s New Year’s Eve. This is a party, I’m enjoying myself, so can we take this up again tomorrow? And no, I don’t mean in an hour’s time. Tomorrow daytime, or even the day after tomorrow. Just leave it and go and have a good time.”
Fred glanced from Angel to Nina and back again. “Oops. Yeah. Sorry. I’ll just, uh, go back and talk to Willow some more. Tomorrow, yeah.”
Angel turned back to Nina. “Sorry about that. Shall we dance?”- - - - -
“Yo, Will, hear you’re gonna be doing a spell? What’s up?” Faith bit into a mini haggis and followed it up with a cube of cheese.
“Someone’s been messing with memories,” Willow explained. “Angel’s guys seem to have forgotten some pretty important things. I’m kinda asking myself, how come? We wondered what made them link up with Wolfram and Hart, and I’m guessing it’s connected. It feels like a pretty black mojo and so I’m planning on punching a hole through it. Buffy and Giles are all on board with my idea.”
“Forgotten some things, huh? Like what, Will?”
“Well, just how come Cordy’s in a coma, the reason for them letting Angelus loose, Connor, that sorta thing.”
“Connor?” Faith asked uncomprehendingly. “Who?”
“Got you too, huh?”
“Got me too? You think there’s something that’s been wiped outta my brain?” Faith’s forehead wrinkled. “Hey, if nobody else remembers this guy, maybe you’re the one imagining things?”
Willow bridled. “You’ll see. If it is just me, well, when I do the spell nothing will happen. But it’s not. There’s badness and trickery and I’m gonna blow it wide open. On the stroke of midnight. Hey, Fred’s coming back. Keep hush about the spell, ‘kay?”- - - - -
The thundering roar of Runrig’s ‘Loch Lomond’ died away and Giles raised a questioning eyebrow at Lorne. “Well?”
“Wow. Corny that was not. I’ll give you that one, Bookmaster.” Lorne poured himself out a glass of Scotch. “I guess a Sea Breeze isn’t right for this occasion. It’s just a couple of minutes to midnight. Time to see in the New Year.”- - - - -
“Ach chuala sinn mu dheireadh thall,” Willow chanted. “Na briagan 's na faclan falamh. O cho meallt is a tha an saoghal.” At this time of year Scots Gaelic held an extra power and so she had selected a spell written in that tongue.
“Let such deception be shattered,” she continued in the same language. “Let the scales fall from their eyes and their minds be freed from the chains of lies. Let falsehoods be banished and truth revealed. Let memories be restored and the veil of mist blown away.”
The chimes rang out, the crackle of fireworks could be heard on the streets outside, and Lorne tooted a horn. “Happy New Year!” a dozen voices shouted, and glasses were raised.
“Gabh chun an dorais!” Willow commanded. White streaks appeared in her hair in the form of a diagonal cross.
Cyrus Vail’s spell was strong, and well crafted, but it was a static spell. Passive, with no way of reacting to an assault; and even had Vail been there in person he could not have opposed the force that Willow had thrown against it, backed by the very power of Time itself.
A cold wind seemed to blow through the room, bringing with it a scent of peat smoke and salted herrings. Wesley gasped and clutched at his throat. Fred’s eyes opened into huge circles. Gunn stepped backwards, raised his hand, and felt the top of his head. Lorne’s jaw dropped, and his mouth gaped wide as the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ began, but no sound came out.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Willow asked the universe in general. She shook her head and grinned. “Not while I’m around.” Her hair returned to its normal color, the wind died away, and she strode forward to deal with the fallout.- - - - -
“For auld lang syne, my dear,” Knox sang, “for auld lang syne.”
Lorne’s head rotated and his eyes fixed on Knox. His eyes, already wide, opened still wider and seemed almost about to burst from their sockets.
Knox didn’t notice. “We’ll dum dum dum,” he hummed, having reached a section of the song to which he didn’t know the words. Only Giles’ and Spike’s voices were still ringing out clearly. “Dum dum dee dum, for auld lang syne.” He suddenly found himself staring straight into the face of a suddenly haggard Lorne at a distance of only inches. “Hey, what’s up?”
“What are you going to do to Fred?” Lorne demanded. “What have you got planned?”
A few yards away Wesley was addressing Angel. “You tried to smother me in my bed!”
Lorne glared at Knox. “No more lies. No prevarication. I’ve read you, Knox. You hid it from me somehow but I’ve got your number now. You’re going to kill her.”
Knox let out a nervous chuckle. “That’s a terrible way to put it. It’s a transformation. An honor. I would never kill Fred. She would be the sacred vessel. She’s the only one who’s worthy.”
The singing was dying away as those not involved in the two arguments began to notice that something unusual was going on. The confrontation between Lorne and Knox was attracting less attention than the one between Angel and Wesley, which was now escalating to involve Fred and Gunn, and only a couple of people overheard Knox’s words.
“An honor? She’ll die, Knox.”
“Not die; transform, into something greater, something magnificent.” Knox lowered his eyes to avoid Lorne’s accusing stare. “Well, okay, she’d get kinda used up in the process, but you know what they say, can’t make an omelet without breaking –” He broke off his speech unexpectedly and swung a fist at Lorne’s jaw, intending to catch the Empath unawares, but the blow never reached its target.
Harmony pounced from behind Knox, caught his wrist, squeezed almost hard enough to crack bone, and twisted. Knox was forced to his knees and gasped with pain. “Don’t you hit Lorney-tunes!” she growled. “Now what’s this about you killing Fred? She’s my friend!”- - - - -
“What have you done?” Angel loomed over Willow, his face stern and forbidding, his arms folded.
Willow wasn’t intimidated in the least. “Maybe saved Fred’s life, it looks like. Are you saying that’s a bad thing?”
Angel deflated. “Of course not. But there are things you don’t know. Complications. I had to save Connor. If he remembers … it could get bad. Is the spell completely broken?”
“Just the people in this room. For now. Maybe I should get rid of it altogether. Messing with people’s memories – take it from me, Angel, it’s not of the good.” She took note of Angel’s horrified expression. “Explain it to me. What happened with Connor? What’s so bad that you had to bury all traces of it? You want me to leave it be? Well, convince me.”- - - - -
“Happy New Year,” Spike said to Robin Wood.
“Happy New Year, Spike,” Wood replied. His eyes were cold and his tone was carefully neutral.
Spike took off his coat. “Here. Take it. Your mum’s coat.” He held the garment out towards Wood. “You’ve got a right to it.”
Wood made no move to take it. “You won it in fair fight, Spike. I shouldn’t have tried to kill you. I was doing what the First wanted. I should have known that doing what the enemy wants is a dumb idea. Keep the coat.”
“What would I do with it? I can remember my mother just as well with you wearing it. You made the offer. That’s what counts.”
“Ta.” Spike donned the coat once more. “Doubt if we’re ever going to be friends, right, but I can manage not being an enemy if you can. Your bird’s a piece of all right, I get on okay with her, be a bit of a bugger if us two couldn’t stand being in the same place as each other. You okay with that?”
Wood glanced over to where Faith and Buffy were talking animatedly. “I guess I have to be. Yes, I can live with that.”- - - - -
“You meant well,” Wesley conceded. He sighed. “As did I when I took Connor. I’m sorry. Inadequate, I suppose, but I can offer nothing more.”
“I know. I’m sorry too, Wes.” Angel raised a hand to his face and fiddled with an earlobe. “I guess you’ll be leaving now?”
“Do you want me to?”
“No. I want us to be friends again, Wes, the way it’s been since the spell. If you can forgive me, that is.”
“If you can forgive me, I can most certainly forgive you.” Wesley suddenly smiled and extended his hand. “Perhaps it has indeed been for the best. Happy New Year, Angel.”
“Happy New Year, Wes.” Angel smiled broadly at his friend as they shook hands.
“There is one thing,” Wesley said, his smile fading. “I now remember that one of my main reasons for accepting the offer from Wolfram and Hart was Lilah. I had hoped to find some way of helping her, freeing her from her eternal contract, and allowing her either to find release in death or to return to life. Failing that, I had thought that she would be the liaison with the Senior Partners, and I would have endeavored to make her servitude as bearable as possible.”
“I’d have preferred her to Eve,” Angel admitted. “Lilah had class. I might have fought her, hated her even, but I always respected her. I’ll do what I can.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Although I have no idea whatsoever what that might be.”- - - - -
Fred sat alone at the side of the room, toying with an empty glass, watching Harmony slow dancing with Xander to Texas’ ‘Say What You Want’.
Willow walked up and sat down beside her. “Hey.”
“Hi.” Fred barely lifted her head.
“Are you mad at me?”
“Huh?” Fred turned to face Willow. “Why should I be mad at you? You’ve probably saved me from being sacrificed to an old-time demon king.”
“You’ve been pretty avoidy since midnight,” Willow pointed out. “I heard you getting mad at Angel. I thought maybe you might be upset about getting the memories back.”
“I’m upset at Angel for wiping them out of my brain, not at you for bringing them back. Hey, I saved the world and Angel made me forget it. I get why he did it, I’m not gonna walk out on him over it, but it hurts.” She laid the glass on its side on the floor and spun it around. “I get now why I had this feeling that Wesley wasn’t taking me seriously as a person. He wasn’t remembering the whole me. And now that he has remembered I don’t think that he likes the me that I really am.”
“Then Wesley’s a poop-head,” Willow said. “The you that you are has got one whole lot of things to like.”
“I bet you say that to all the genii,” Fred said, managing to summon up a half smile.
“Just the pretty ones,” Willow said. “Well, and the ones who can grant wishes. Although wishes can be of the bad, with Giles going blind and Xander being a demon magnet and Buffy getting engaged to Spike and…” She scanned the room and pursed her lips. “Oops! Two out of three. I hope Giles’ eyes are okay.”
“The way he’s hitting the Glenlivet I guess he might be getting blind drunk,” Fred suggested. “Are you talking about something that really happened? It must be quite a story. I’d like to hear it.”
“Sure thing,” Willow said, “but maybe not right now. Wanna dance?”
“Uh, Willow, I’m not gay.”
“You can dance with me without being gay, Fred. I just think it’s a shame that the prettiest girl in the room isn’t up and dancing.”
“Oh.” Fred blushed. “Well, okay.”
“Anyway,” Willow pointed out, once they were swaying together on the dance floor, “I wasn’t gay until I met Tara.”- - - - -
Harmony’s arms were around Xander’s neck and their bodies were swaying close together. “Wanna kiss?” Harmony invited.
“As long as there’s no biting,” Xander said. “Absolutely no drinking of my blood, right?”
“No biting, no drinking your blood, check,” Harmony agreed. “I’ll just stick to the lemmingade.”- - - - -
“So,” Dawn said, her eyes twinkling with mischief, “Angel has a son. Brought up in a hell dimension and he’s about my age.”
“That’s right,” Buffy confirmed. “Quite something to keep all hidden, huh? I might have had serious issues with him over that, only, I’ve got Spike now, so Angel keeping things from me, maybe not such a biggy.”
“It seems to me,” Dawn continued, “that he’d be someone who wouldn’t wig out about the whole Slayer and Key and Vampire thing. Like, maybe my dating problems might be solved.”
“No bloody way, Bit!” Spike exclaimed.
Buffy screwed up her mouth. “Can I say, eww? You, and Angel’s son, that would be just wrong.”
“Why?” Dawn asked. “You’re with Spike now. What would be the problem?”
“Dunno,” Spike admitted. “Just doesn’t bloody feel right.”
“The idea gives me the wiggins,” Buffy said. “It’s just wrong.”
Dawn laughed. “Chill out. I’m just pulling your legs. The spell didn’t break for him, did it? He doesn’t know anything about vampires and Slayers.”
Buffy relaxed. “Thank heavens. I thought you were serious for a minute.”
“You little minx,” Spike smiled. “Had me going there for a while.”
“Yeah, I got you there,” Dawn grinned. ‘Although,’ she thought, ‘maybe it’s not so bad an idea at that. I bet he’ll find out eventually, now that this part of the spell’s busted. I wonder what he looks like?’ She tried to visualize Connor, and came up with an image of a younger Angel, with a brooding forehead and lips set in a sulk, wearing a ‘Godsmack’ T-shirt and faded jeans. She winced and shook her head. “Yeah, that would be totally gross. I was only kidding you.”- - - - -
The kiss ended and Harmony and Xander drew apart. Harmony’s eyes were wide. “Hey, is that a baseball bat in your pants or did you enjoy the kiss?”
“It was good,” Xander confirmed. “Baseball bat, huh?”
“Seems like.” Harmony snuggled against him. “You know, after I left Sunnydale, I visited Cordy, and we did some talking. She told me that you were the best kisser she’d ever met and, boy, she sure was right.”
“She did?” Xander grinned. “And she was right? You’re pretty damn good yourself, Harmony.”
Harmony raised her head towards his, her lips parted, and Xander enthusiastically accepted the implied invitation. He slid a hand down her back to cup a buttock and he pulled even closer.
“Wow,” Harmony gasped at the conclusion of the kiss. “You’re really something, Xander. Hey, want to, you know, come back to my place?”
Xander pulled back slightly and thought about it. She was a vampire, after all, and he hated vampires. She was Harmony, too, and he’d bickered and fought with Harmony since they were both eleven years old.
“I mean, it’s not as if we don’t know each other,” Harmony said. She sounded slightly nervous. “It’s been years, right since we started High School. I wouldn’t be so easy for just any guy. And you’ll be going back to Africa or wherever soon, right? I’d kinda like to keep seeing you, you know, but I don’t want to wait, ‘cause hey, it’s been ages and ages since I’ve had any action. Well, there was the thing with Spike, but there was demon possession and badness and it never really got going. I, well, you’ve got me really hot, and, well, Xander, will you?”
Xander stared into her eyes and felt touched by the vulnerability that she was displaying. Harmony had changed. These days Xander was prepared to admit that Spike had challenged the validity of the ‘vampires can’t change’ mantra even before he’d got his soul, as the very fact that he’d actively sought out the soul proved that his changed attitude had been genuine and not just a trick to get into Buffy’s pants, and Harmony’s change seemed to be just as genuine. Willow had confirmed that Harmony wasn’t any more evil than the average cab driver. And, well, she was pretty damn hot.
“If you think you can handle my baseball bat, well, sure thing, Harmony. I’ll just grab some snack food for breakfast, ‘kay?”
“Oh, I’ll handle your baseball bat,” Harmony smiled. She kissed him again. “Okay, you stock up on haggis, and I’ll grab myself some lemmingade.”
Spike came over to the couple as they were raiding the buffet table. He fidgeted with an unlit cigarette and looked at Xander. “Hope you’re going to treat the girl better than I did, Harris,” he said.
“Hey, that wouldn’t be hard,” Harmony sniped.
“I know, pet. Sorry. Never did right by you. Deserved to be treated better, you did. Well, Harris?”
“Damn right I’ll treat her better than you did,” Xander told him. “And you’d better take good care of Buffy. If you hurt her I’ll dust you.”
“Fair enough. Can’t really make the same threat, but, don’t hurt Harm, okay?”
“I won’t.” Xander stuck out his hand. “Buffy really missed you, you know? And, you know what, I never thought I’d say this, but I missed you too. Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, Harris. Xander.” Spike took Xander’s hand and they shook.
“Happy New Year, Spike,” Harmony wished him. She grabbed him and kissed his cheek.
“Ta, Harm. Happy New Year.” Spike’s serious expression was replaced by a broad grin. “And ta for organizing the party, love. Been bloody fantastic.” His grin turned into a teasing smirk. “’Cept for the lemmingade.”- - - - -
Willow and Fred broke off from their discussion of the relative merits of Windows XP and Media Center, Linux, and the Panther incarnation of Mac OS X, and watched Xander leaving with Harmony.
“Harmony’s kinda smitten, I think,” Fred commented. “I hope Xander isn’t just, well, taking advantage.”
“Xander’s one of the good guys,” Willow assured her. “He wouldn’t do that. If he’s going to, you know, do things with her, it means he cares.”
“I’m glad. I wouldn’t want Harmony to get hurt. Spike treated her pretty bad, you know? I like Spike, he’s my friend and he gave up the chance to be turned solid to save me even when it might have meant him going to Hell, but, when it comes to Harmony, he’s been pretty much of a jerk.”
“I think he’s realized that,” Willow said. “Xander’s not that kind of guy, Fred, honest.” She scanned the room. “I think the party’s kinda coming to an end. One last dance?”
“Okay, why not?” Fred joined Willow on the dance floor. The music was slow, and no-one was paying them much attention, and it seemed natural to put her arms around the other girl and sway slowly together. She’d enjoyed Willow’s company and conversation immensely, she was just a little tipsy, and she knew that Willow was very attracted to her. Why not have a little fun? “You can kiss me if you like,” she invited.
Willow smiled and touched her lips briefly to Fred’s.
Fred arched her eyebrows. “I was expecting a bit more than that,” she said, half in jest and half in complaint.
Willow’s lips twitched into a mischievous grin. “Okay.” She put her hands on Fred’s head and pulled the other girl into a full and passionate kiss. Her tongue sought out Fred’s and caressed it. Fred’s eyes grew enormous as a wave of heat swept through her.
When they parted Fred was panting and almost speechless. “Wow. Uh, I’m, you’re, uh…”
“Sorry, Fred, I shouldn’t have done that,” Willow apologized.
“No, uh, don’t say sorry, I, you, I mean, do it again!”- - - - -
“You could come back, you know,” Giles said. “There will always be a place for you in the Council. You have more than proved yourself.”
Wesley shook his head. “Thank you, but no. My place is at Angel’s side.”
“Even here? Yes, I accept that. You are a true and loyal friend, Wesley, and I hope that Angel realizes how lucky he is to have you with him.”
“I think that he does,” Wesley said. “I owe him a great deal.”
“Undoubtedly the debt is mutual. Do keep in touch, Wesley. Don’t hesitate to call if ever you need assistance. You seem to be losing Spike, but I’m sure that the occasional services of a Slayer or two would be an adequate replacement.”
“Ah, yes, Spike. Does it bother you? His resumption of his relationship with Buffy, that is?”
“Oh, it bothers me,” Giles replied, pouring out two glasses of whisky. “Spike is abrasive, annoying, sarcastic, brash, and really not what I would have wanted in the nearest thing to a son-in-law that I’m likely to get. And, of course, he’s a vampire. On the other hand his heart is in the right place, even if it doesn’t beat, and I do believe that he really does love her. More importantly, I have come to accept that Buffy really loves him. I want her to be happy and, strange as it may seem, I think that he can bring her that happiness.” He passed a glass to Wesley and raised the other high. “Happy New Year!”
Wesley responded in kind. “Happy New Year!”- - - - -
Harmony and Fred didn’t get another chance to talk to each other in private until the next Monday, January the fifth. “Swell party, wasn’t it?” Fred began.
“It sure was,” Harmony agreed. “I – you know about me and Xander?”
“I saw you leave together,” Fred told her. “Was it good?”
Harmony lowered her eyes and gave Fred the distinct impression that she would be blushing if vampire physiology had allowed such reactions. “It was good. It was more than good. We did it like four times, and, well, wow.” She raised her eyes and smiled broadly. “And, hey, he’s e-mailed me from Nairobi – that’s in Africa, right? – and he signed it ‘Love, Xander’ and he says he misses me!”
“That’s great, Harmony,” Fred smiled.
“I guess things didn’t go so well with you and Wesley, huh? And Knox. That creep. I hope he rots in Hell.”
“He probably is doing that thing right now,” Fred said.
“Good! So, not so lucky with the men at the party, Fred, I guess. Still, plenty more fish in the sea, huh?”
“Not with the men,” Fred hinted.
Harmony gave a little squeal. “Not with the men? You mean, with Willow?”
“With Willow,” Fred confirmed. “I guess I’m maybe not all the way straight after all.”
“Well, whatever floats your boat,” Harmony said. “Was it good? I mean, without those important bits?”
“It turns out they’re not so important after all,” Fred said. “It was good. It was really, really, good. Willow’s going to move back to California and we’re gonna be, well, dating.”
“Oh, I’m totally happy for you,” Harmony smiled. “It’s so cool that you’ve got someone just as clever as you, right? And hey, Xander’s pretty much as dumb as me, only he’s doing real well. Not that I’m not doing well myself, ‘cause I am, and hey, Angel even said that I’m doing a good job! Isn’t he just the best boss? Xander and me are pretty much of a match, yeah, and you and Willow are pretty much of a match too.”
“We are,” Fred agreed. “She gets me the way nobody else ever has. She really sees me as I am.”
“Hey, didn’t we wish for something like that round about the time that we were planning the party? I was wishing that I’d get over Spike and find someone else who’d love me back, and you said you wished you could find someone who’d love you for yourself.” Harmony’s brow wrinkled. “Hey, I think I even wished that I could see the Slayer punch Spike on the nose!”
Fred’s eyebrows raised. “Hey, yeah, you did. That’s strange. You haven’t been polishing any lamps lately, have you?”
“Uh, not that I recall. There’s cleaning staff to do that sort of thing. What about you? Any, like, weird old gizmos turned up in the lab lately with, like, genies trapped inside?”
Fred shook her head. “Nope. If we did get wishes granted I don’t know how. I don’t see it, really. It must just be coincidence.”
“Maybe,” Harmony said. “A pretty big coincidence, don’t you think? Hey, if I’d known I was getting wishes granted, I’d have wished for,” she paused and frowned in thought, “I’d have wished for – exactly the same thing! Only, maybe with a trip to Paris thrown in. Maybe Xander might take me to Paris some time, anyway.”
“Maybe,” Fred smiled. “And, you know what, I wouldn’t have wished for anything else either.”