Title: No Quality in Things Themselves
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: Sophie was there for the art. Anya was there for the money. But for both of them, giving up the life didn't mean giving up the instincts. 1300 words.
Spoilers: Post-finale for both Leverage and B:tVS
Notes: Origianlly posted elsewhere 12/7/2013. For dizzyky, for Day 2 in Wishlist 2013, for the prompt: "Sophie is at an auction to appreciate the art. Anya is there to appreciate the money." Fluffy, and slightly AU for the Buffyverse, because reasons. Title from a quote about beauty attributed to David Hume. A few sentences of dialogue were adapted from B:tVS 5.19, "Tough Love".
It was a novel experience for her, attending an auction with no particular aim in mind. No elaborate scheme in motion; no wardrobe change of identities and accents; none of the usual trappings that came with a con, the Robin Hood sort or otherwise. The woman most famously known as Sophie Deveraux, who had lately exchanged that glamorous name for the rather more prosaic but viscerally satisfying Sophie Ford, was simply there to admire the art... and perhaps acquire a piece or two for decorative purposes.
Legally, for a change.
She'd be lying if she said she didn't sometimes miss the rush of taking beautiful and priceless things away from those who would never appreciate them properly. But she wouldn't exchange what she had now for all the illicitly acquired valuables in the world. There would always be more diamonds; more paintings; more dresses; more exquisite vintages to enjoy. But there would never be another Nathan Ford.
Of course, giving up the life didn't mean giving up the instincts. By the time the first half dozen lots had gone by, Sophie knew which of her fellow attendees were there to buy expensive gifts for spouses or lovers; which were personal shoppers looking for status-conscious displays to impress their clients' guests; which were fellow art connoisseurs, caressing each new item with a critical or passionate gaze; and which were plying her own former trade- in one form or another. Only a bit of harmless observation; she could no more turn it off than she could stop breathing, and it wasn't as though Nate had shaken off all his old habits, either. But on this particular occasion, there was one woman Sophie couldn't categorize at all... and the longer she watched, the more Sophie's attention was drawn to her.
The stranger was perhaps a decade Sophie's junior, seated one chair over in the row in front of her. Her dark blonde hair was loose around her shoulders, styled in artful waves that drew attention to the open collar of her sand-colored silk shirt, and her brown pencil skirt was of the same quality. Sophie couldn't see her shoes, but the gold chain visible around her throat and the watch on her wrist were of expensive make. She squirmed slightly in her seat every time the bidding grew particularly fierce, but never raised her own numbered paddle.
She clearly had some sort of interest in the auction, but not one that matched any pattern Sophie recognized. She muttered under her breath when an item sold for more than its value, and smiled fiercely when a particularly nice lot went for less than its worth, but seldom bid herself even on the items that pleased her. She darted annoyed frowns at one dilettante who raised his paddle for virtually everything that passed under the gavel, but never placed a winning bid. And she eyed one of the personal shoppers- the one with access to the largest line of credit, to judge by the cut of her dress and the frequency with which the auctioneer turned in her direction- with a fierce, assessing look every time a bid went her way.
It was almost as though... well, as though she were at a sporting event, cheering or cursing the players as the game advanced. Sophie smiled at the thought, remembering the last time she'd seen Eliot with a beer in front of the large screen TVs in the offices back in Portland, and couldn't help but wonder what sort of rulebook the pretty young woman was using to keep score.
Perhaps it was none of her business. But very little of worth in Sophie's life had ever been her business at the start; and she did miss the rush, just a bit. She waited until the next time the woman grew excited, then leaned forward, just enough to register in her peripheral vision.
"That one's going to go for three times what it's worth," she commented, pitching her voice in a low, conspiratorial manner. "I wager it'll be back up for sale within the year, after the scandal winds down and the artist drops back out of the news."
The blonde threw her a startled, appraising look, then made an amused, scoffing noise. "Four times. His piece that went earlier was prettier, but one of the status-conscious jerks in the back will pay more for this one so they can hover creepily over single women's shoulders and make pretentious remarks about how much character it has. Not that, uh, that's ever happened to anyone I know, or anything."
Sophie was surprised into a laugh. She might've known; she'd chosen the location of her own seat with very specific intentions in mind. Her new acquaintance must have done the same. "You know, I believe you're right."
The other woman smiled, brightening. "I am? Of course I am."
"It's nice to meet someone else with an eye for the audience as much as the art. I'm Sophie Ford."
"Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins," her new acquaintance declared forthrightly, thrusting a hand in her direction. "Almost Harris, but not quite. Are you buying for Mr. Ford, or is he indulging you?"
Sophie blinked at that odd, forthright juxtaposition of revelation and assumption, feeling even more nostalgic for her time in Portland. "What gave it away?" she asked. "I never wear the ring to these auctions."
"I wouldn't, either. They drive the bid up more if they think you have a rich husband," Anya nodded. "It's the underwire, actually; I recognize the lift. No woman buys that kind of lingerie for herself and then hides it with a neckline that high unless they've already set the hook, but it's still early enough in the honeymoon period that they expect to be unwrapped to show it off."
"Oooh, you're good." Sophie smiled, charmed despite the bluntness.
"Two things I know; money, and scorned women- or not scorned, as the case may be," Anya replied, lightly.
"Are you here with an insurance company, then?"
"Oh, no. Not that kind of money; though it's a good racket, if you can get into it. Unfortunately, most of the products in the store I used to run were either designed to be used right away, or the kind of thing that might get carried around in a crypt in the dark of night. No point insuring paper against mildew, you know? If they will keep their texts in a musty library, then the ink will start to smudge." She shook her head matter-of-factly.
Had this woman and Parker been separated at birth? She certainly had enough names to spare one for Sophie's friend. "What kind of money, then?" Sophie dragged the conversation back on track.
"This kind. Auctions in general. Capitalism at its finest." Anya kept her voice low, though she tipped her head ostentatiously toward the auctioneer, who continued to go about his business. "A free market dependent on the profitable exchange of goods for currency? It's a system of symbiotic beauty, and from what I've seen, auctions offer much more immediate gratification than standing behind a register while people peruse the shelves, undressing the merchandise with their eyeballs. Speaking of which. Do you know if the auctioneers actually get to touch the money?"
Sophie clasped Anya's hand and silently apologized to Nate. This would be a bit more than harmless observation... but how was she supposed to resist that appeal? He certainly wouldn't have; he'd have latched onto that mention of 'almost Harris' like a dog with a bone.
Forget letting the children stand on their own; Sophie was going to call Parker tomorrow, and arrange an introduction for her new friend. In the meantime, however:
"At this particular auction? I'm not sure. But I bet I know how we could find out..."