I’m hitting the home stretch. I know tomorrow is owned by speakr2customrs, so I’m trying to cede the field before he wakes up, since it’s tomorrow where he is already.
An hour later, Harry was asking Buffy plaintively if she was sure she couldn’t stop work long enough to go to the Talent Show. “You don’t have to stay for the whole thing. Just come for my act.” He held up his rubber chicken as an inducement.
“I’m sorry, Harry, I’m just in so much trouble with Melandra, I’m going to work through lunch. But I wish you the best of luck and I’m sure you’ll win.”
She watched Harry leave and settled back at her desk, looking over her shoulder from time to time to where Spike stood a few paces away, leaning against a filing cabinet. One by one, most of the other workers in the nearby cubicles left, going in the direction of the cafeteria. Soon, only Rita and Buffy were left.
After about five minutes, Rita got up and walked away. Buffy rose to follow her as casually as possible. Spike trailed them both.
Rita walked into the cafeteria and Buffy was ready to follow when she heard Harry’s voice asking if anyone knew how to tell if an elephant had been in their fridge. She waited outside and wondered if elephants could be tracked using strips of scotch tape and marker.
A moment later, Harry was thanking his audience to a tepid rain of applause.
Buffy was listening so intently, she was taken by surprise when Rita came out of the cafeteria, and barely managed to duck around a corner in time to avoid being seen. Spike, who was still a few dozen steps behind both women, made no effort to hide, but watched Rita appreciatively as she made hip-swaying progress through the cubicles, her tall elegant figure set off by stylish pants and a low-cut blouse.
Rita returned Spike’s appreciative glance with one of her own as she passed him. Buffy noticed that she was carrying a can of diet soda in one hand and a small lunchbox in the other.
Slayer and vampire took up the pursuit, their stealthiness impaired by the need to hide behind a wall of cubicles while Rita stopped to read a notice posted on someone’s door, and even more by a low-voiced argument about inappropriate leering while on the job and jealous bitches who needed to be relaxed and the methods that should be used for relaxing them. In fact, they began paying rather more attention to the quarreling than their tailing, and weren’t recalled to a sense of duty until Rita screamed.
Buffy and Spike covered the two dozen paces between them and their quarry before the shriek was half out of Rita’s throat. Buffy was in time to strike away the arm of her attacker, while Spike yanked Rita out of harm’s way and shoved her against the outside wall of a cubicle, knocking it over and disheveling Rita’s elegance.
“Where did it go?” yelled Buffy, turning around in confusion.
“It—it jumped.” Rita pointed. “It came at me from over the cubicle wall and then it just jumped back, and look out—”
A tall form dove for Spike and Rita in a lanky flash of blue, but Spike knocked it aside, barely avoiding a slash on his arm from a knife. He put a hand on Rita’s shoulder, pulling her over towards a more solid wall and forcing her into a crouching position so that she made a more difficult target. Buffy dove for the creature, but it jumped over her, trying to attack her from behind. She spun around too quickly, so it leaped back, striking out towards Rita and then, foiled again at that, back towards Buffy.
Buffy ducked, but this time she rose to her full height as soon as the blade whizzed past, grabbing the demon by one leg as it tried to soar overhead. She swung it around 360 degrees before letting loose and slamming it into the nearest wall, doing considerable damage to both drywall and demon. It slid down and tried to barrel forward, but ran into Spike’s fist.
The demon looked down at its chest and choked, dropping the knife. A trickle of blood emerged from its mouth and over its blue golf shirt with the Ashiana logo. It looked up and stared at Buffy and Spike. “This shirt was a Customer Service Award,” said Harry. “And the blood probably won’t come out.”
Rita rose to her feet and staggered against the wall, leaning there for support. She looked at the knife lying on the carpet. “Harry tried to kill me? Harry?”
“He feeds on approval,” said Buffy, “and he thought you were going to get a trophy he wanted.”
“I just wanted to win the Productivity Award,” Harry whispered. He was sliding slowly down the wall to the floor.
“I know.” Buffy lowered her fists and dropped to her knees beside him.
“I—I didn’t even want it,” Rita said. “I didn’t even know I was up for it. I was just trying to get that project finished on time for Stan. That’s why I was working through lunch.”
Harry didn’t seem to hear her. “It was so hard to keep up with her, with all the other Awards I was working on. I was able to distract most people from their work, but Rita never paid attention to anything but Stan and her job.” He coughed, and more blood gushed from his mouth. “I don’t think I got first place at the Talent Show either. Second prize is only a six-pack of Coke, you know. I prefer Pepsi.”
Buffy found herself supporting him gently, trying to make him comfortable. Spike dropped to one knee next to her. Rita stood with her back against the wall, breathing hard, her eyes wide.
Down the hall, the sound of laughing voices changed to yells and running steps as workers leaving the cafeteria rounded the corner and saw the tableau huddled in front of Melandra Harbottle’s door.
“I liked you, Buffy.” Harry’s voice was so low she could barely make out the words. “I would never have tried to hurt you if you hadn’t come after me. I could tell you’d never win anything.”
People were gathering now, asking stupid questions and making stupider remarks, elbowing one another out of the way to see the horror and shriek at it. Spike looked up at the crowd and spotted a blond man holding an accordion in one hand and a trophy in the other. He stood up and snatched the trophy away, snarling in response to the man’s “Hey!” The owner of the trophy quailed and didn’t object as Spike handed it to Harry.
“Look, mate. They brought this out for you. You won the bloody Talentless, uh, Talent Contest again after all.”
“I did?” Harry’s eyes lit with pleasure as he reached out for the trophy. Buffy supported his hand so he could hold it. She hoped his vision was too blurry to notice that the golden sheen was already rubbing off the cheap plastic surface. “I won.” He smiled gently. “It makes it all worthwhile.” His eyes closed.
Just then, the paramedics arrived, followed by the police and while one group was engaged in a futile attempt to resuscitate Harry, the other was demanding explanations.
Before Buffy or Spike could say anything, Rita stepped forward. “We couldn’t see what happened!” she announced. “We just ran around the cubicles after all the screaming and there he was. Dying.”
“We?” The cop looked around.
Rita gestured at Buffy and Spike. “The three of us were talking by my desk and we heard Harry scream. She added firmly, “That’s all we know.”
Chapter Nine, the epilogue
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/28535.html