So, a toast: "May this year be better than the last."
I'm not quite tanned, rested, and ready, but here it is (or the first part at any rate).
Water Hold Me Down
Summary: Who of us is happy until we get what we want? What price are we willing to pay for it? And once the toll is paid and we have what we want, will it really make us happy? Xander is about to find out.
Rating: R, violence, language, sexual situations
Characters: Xander (main). Supporting: Xander (again!), Anya, Giles, Faith, Buffy, Willow, Dawn, Andrew, assorted Slayers, and OCs.
Pairing(s): X/Anya, X/F, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect.
A.N.: This story takes place December 2003 and December 2015 (sort of). It falls in the same universe as Whisper and Living History. You do not need to read either story to understand this one, especially since all three are designed to stand on their own. The AU element is that the gang all went to and stayed headquartered in Cleveland post-Chosen.
Before I begin, some things I owe nwhepcat (i.e., stole from her):
- Xander’s Birthday. She pegged December 8 as his big day. The fact that’s also my birthday is a mere coincidence. So, call it a mutual birthday fic. The weeks between nwhepcat's and my birthday…it’s like Advent in a way. </p>
- Jenny Grimaldi and Kallie make cameos in this fic. I didn’t create them. nwhepcat did. I’m just borrowing them as a little bit of a tribute.</p>
- All characters that are not nwhepcat's belong to ME/Fox, except for Haley. She’s all mine.</p>
- No profit. No harm. Please don’t sue.</p>
And early on, they saw the warning signs and symptoms all day long. Wonder how far from here we’ll fall before we hit the ground running on empty. Stories we’ve been told and all those nights we spent together never felt this fucking cold...
--Warbrain, Alkaline Trio
Xander was in full-on hate mode.
He hated Cleveland. Seven months in and he was ready to burn the entire goddamn city to the ground. He didn’t care that technically speaking arson was a crime. He was pretty sure he’d get the Congressional Medal of Honor for doing the country a favor.
He hated his vicious head cold. And no, he wasn’t entirely sure whether he believed Willow when she assured him that it was just a nasty buggy thing. It came on too quick, his voice sounded like it was trapped between his ears, every orifice in his head was blocked, and his sneezes were so catastrophic that the entire Mother House shook when he let one fly.
This was not what he’d call a normal cold. A normal cold was a few sniffles. This cold was apocalyptic in nature and scope. He had no doubt in his mind that some evil little demon wished it on him.
He blew his nose and was rewarded with—“Ewwwwwwwww!”—something that looked he blew his brains out of his nose and into the Kleenex.
To add on to his hate list: he hated winter. He especially hated snow. Yes, yes, he had fooled himself into thinking he sort of liked snow. But truth to be told, he was sold a bill of goods on that one. The one and only time he saw snow pre-Cleveland was cute, fluffy, friendly snow. It was Christmas card snow. No. Not Christmas card snow. A Very Charlie Brown Christmas snow. Plus, said snow was polite enough to leave the next day and let everyone get on with A Very California Christmas.
Cleveland snow was an entirely different animal. It attacked you and then stuck around like the last loser to leave a party. It completely ignored the hosts’ not-so-subtle hints that maybe it should go home and in the future start hanging around with Canada, or Siberia, or maybe even Antarctica. Instead, it installed itself on the couch, put its feet up on the coffee table, and kept threatening everyone with, “So you think this is bad? Wait’ll you hit February.”
Now maybe Cleveland snow wouldn’t be so bad if the town fathers decided that plowing the snow was an excellent idea, but nooooooooo. The city seemed to live by the simple credo, “God put it there, let God take it away.”
Had Cleveland actually done its civic duty and plowed something he wouldn’t have been tossed in a snowdrift by an irate vampire. Nor would he have been forced to pelt it with snowballs until Faith staked it. He wouldn’t have been soaked to the bone. He wouldn’t have been trying to stop his teeth from chattering for another two hours while they finished up patrol with Vi and Rona. And he wouldn’t have gotten this very lovely cold as a parting gift.
Let’s see. What else did he hate?
Here was a biggie: He hated the fact that everyone had found out he was now sensitive to the presence of major-league active magic. Giles claimed was a mystical signature now burned into him because he was born on the Sunnydale Hellmouth and was present when it went kablooie.
He hated the fact that Willow and Giles had taken it on themselves to try to train him to be even more sensitive to magic, which he sure as hell didn’t want. He hated the fact that they manipulated him into agreeing to their scheme by saying that it might save someone’s life someday if he could just fine-tune it so he could pick up on magical signatures and spells that weren’t actively working.
He hated the fact that no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to actually improve. He really hated it when Willow accused him of being stubborn because he didn’t want to improve his suddenly discovered Spidey-senses, even though he left every training session exhausted and shaking.
He hated that his left eye socket had a fake eyeball in it and that he was blind on his left.
He hated that he got a call from his Las Vegas-living parents on Thanksgiving hitting him up for a loan—and he uses that term loosely because he knows he’ll never see the money again—because they found a new addiction to one-armed bandits that came only second to their addiction to booze.
He hated that Giles absolutely refused to raise the thermostat above 70 degrees, forcing him to wear three layers of clothing at all times on account of the drafts from the windows. Yes, he told Giles they should replace the old wood-framed windows before the snow flew, but saying “I told you so” wasn’t worth the grief.
He hated that he was sharing a room with Andrew instead of snug in his own apartment.
He hated that Anya wasn’t here. He especially hated that.
But most of all, he hated the date. December 6. Two days away from that day. The day. Doomsday. His twenty-third birthday.
Someone kill me now. Please.
Buffy’s voice floated through the bathroom door. “Are you getting out of there sometime tonight, Xan? Oh, and gezhunteit.”
“Go ’way. Xander id dead. Hid cold killed ’im. Told euw he wad sick.”
“Xaaaaaan-der. You are so not dead. I can hear you sniffing. But you will be if you don’t get out right now.”
Xander threw open the bathroom door and gave Buffy a rheumy-eyed glare.
His attempt at intimidation was for naught. Buffy took one look at him and burst out laughing.
“Glad euw find dis funndy.”
“You look like Rudolph.”
“Why don’t you just blow off patrol tonight?” Buffy suggested.
“You need the rest. And some chicken soup. And don’t listen to Faith when she calls you a wuss.”
“Fait didn’t say dat. Did she?”
“See, the thing about Faith is that she’s a lunatic,” Buffy continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Anyone who thinks up a plan to infuse snowballs with holy water and keep them in a freezer so they’ll keep until patrol cannot possibly be entirely sane.”
“I dink it’s ah gud idea.”
Buffy reached up and placed a hand on his forehead. “I knew it! You’re feverish.” Buffy grabbed him by his arm and forcefully marched him to his room. “Into bed you go. Get some sleep. I’ll even make sure that Andrew stays far, far away until long after you start snoring.”
“Id dond sznore.”
“Whatever. Just close your eyes and you’ll be out in no time. Oh! Wait right here!” Buffy scurried off, leaving Xander shivering in his sweats as he stood in the doorway to his room. She was soon back, brandishing a bottle of Nyquil.
“Make sure you take this,” she ordered as she thrust it at him.
Xander made a face as he took the bottle. No way in hell. The stuff was vile. Apocalyptic cold or not, he’d rather suffer.
Buffy flashed him a broad grin and chirped, “Night-night!”
Ooooh, he had a new thing to add to his rapidly growing hate list. Buffy going all cheerful on him.
Unable to take it anymore, he blessed Buffy with a sneeze and a noncommittal grunt before very firmly shutting the door in her face.
Buffy bounced down the stairs, skipped through the living room, and bounded into the kitchen.
“He’s tucked in, nice and toasty,” she announced to her fellow conspirators.
“Buffy, are you sure this is a good idea?” Willow asked. “Xander and birthdays are not two mix-y things.”
“Well, this birthday is going to be different.” Buffy began rubbing her hands with glee. “This year he’s with us and he doesn’t have to deal with his icky parents, icky demons, and even ickier disasters.”
“Unh, B? You also forgot who’s not with us,” Faith pointed out.
“Look, we need to go into cheer-up mode and what could be better than a party?” Buffy asked.
“Topped by rabid worshipping of Santa,” Willow grumbled.
“I think it’s a neat idea,” Vi piped up. “A tree-trimming party with birthday cake. Plus, there’s a Secret Santa.” When Willow shot her a glare, Vi quickly added, “I mean a Secret Santa-Yule-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-Solstice-Pic
“Much better,” Willow sniffed.
“Buffy, perhaps we should have a quiet affair,” Giles said. “Xander is rather under the weather and I sincerely doubt he’s going to much improve before his birthday. Plus, these are the first holidays after…well…Sunnydale and it will be nerve-wracking enough dealing with the ghosts of Christmases and birthdays past, as it were.”
“Which is why we need this party, Giles,” Buffy insisted. “We need to celebrate something and Xander’s birthday is perfect! Plus, we can combine all sorts of holiday goodness and really go all out.”
“I’ll bake the cake!” Andrew volunteered. “I’m thinking something like a giant Twinkie in the shape of R2-D2.”
“Ick,” Dawn voted. “Can’t we at least go with chocolate cake for the R2-D2?”
“Is it your cake? No. I say giant Twinkie.” For good measure, Andrew stuck out his tongue at Dawn.
“I’ll bake cookies,” Kennedy said. When everyone in the room looked at her, she glared back. “What? I can open a Tollhouse package and slice the dough onto a cookie sheet.”
Willow sat up and pinned Buffy with a knowing look. “I see what you’re trying to do.”
“What I’m trying to do is plan a party,” Buffy said.
“Nunh-unh. You’re trying to head off a disaster for your own birthday.” Willow crossed her arms to underscore her point.
“You realize that makes stupid sense, right?” Rona asked.
“No, it’s totally logical. Evil overlord, even,” Willow insisted. “You think that if you can pull this surprise birthday party off without a hitch, maybe it’ll bring good luck to your birthday and we won’t be trapped in house with a rampaging demon…”
“I said I was sorry,” Dawn protested.
“…or getting into a fight with your family…” Willow continued.
“Okay, I was being a little bit of drama queen,” Dawn allowed. “But I said I was sorry!”
“…or losing your powers temporarily for some twisted Council test,” Willow said.
“I said I was…” Dawn stopped. She turned to look at Giles. “Hey! Why am I saying sorry? You were the one that ruined that birthday.”
Giles sighed. “I did apologize.”
“You’re insane,” Buffy stated.
“I dunno, B. From what I hear of your birthday track record, I wouldn’t be exactly shocked if you were trying to grab some good karma for your big day,” Faith said.
“Whose side are you on?” Buffy asked.
“No one’s, but if Willow here doesn’t think it’s such a hot idea, maybe it’s not such a hot idea,” Faith said. “Maybe we should do a dinner-and-a-movie deal. Keep it simple and on the down low.”
“See? I think that’s a good idea,” Willow nodded.
“C’mon, people. We need this party. No. Wait. Xander needs this party.” Buffy looked around the group. “I mean, when was the last time Xander got a party?”
“His sixth,” Willow immediately answered. “And that one was a disaster. I mean…eeeesh…there was a clown.”
“A clown,” Faith deadpanned. “What’s so bad about…”
Willow allowed herself a shudder. “Xander hates clowns.”
“Right. So no one even think of buying Xander a painting of a clown on black velvet or you’ll have to deal with me,” Buffy warned.
Xander sniffed as he put the Nyquil on the dresser and turned to get into bed.
It was going to be one of those too-long nights where the ghosts were going to be keeping him awake, even though he was exhausted from his battle with the demonic cold.
He reached for the drawer of his bedside table. His dirty little secret: comfort in the shape of a hidden, tiny velvet box. There was a certain amount of torture in keeping it, true, but right now it was the only proof he had outside his head that Anya was real.
A smart man would’ve pawned it the second it looked like the wedding wasn’t going to happen, but Xander would be the first to state that he was not a smart man. The only things he carried out of Sunnydale was his wallet—which had been denuded of all things Anya after he discovered her in the Magic Box with Spike—the clothes on his back, a sword, and his secret velvet box.
The drawer was open and he was ready to rummage under the top layer of junk, all carefully arranged to hide his only treasure, when the thing he saw waiting for him on the tabletop finally registered and he stopped.
That was his first mistake.
He slowly closed the drawer and gave the thing a hard look.
Right there was his second mistake.
It was a clumsily wrapped box with a note attached.
Life is just full of choices. In a parallel universe, one Xander decided he was too sick to bother, went straight away to bed, and fell asleep surprisingly quickly without needing his reminder that Anya was once real. In another parallel universe, another Xander was annoyed enough that he marched downstairs loudly demanding in his cold-infected voice the name of the person who snuck into his room to remind him of a birthday he’d rather forget. In yet another universe, there was no box at all, hence an utter lack of choice on this score.
But in this universe—which is really the only one that counts for our purposes—Xander picked up the box.
And that was his third and fatal mistake.
He turned it this way and that before tearing the attached note away. As he held the box in one hand, he clumsily unfolded the paper. It read, “Happy Birthday!” followed by a string of smiley faces rendered in a nearly unreadable scrawl. If he had to guess, someone used his or her left hand to write the note so he wouldn’t be able to guess who dropped off the present.
He put the note down with sniff and looked at the box. I bet it’s Willow. I’m sure it is. She always gives me my present early.
Satisfied that he had pegged the culprit, he tore off the paper, which left him with…
A small, white cardboard box.
Frowning in a “hunh” sort of way, Xander opened it and saw a smooth, clear crystal ball nestled inside. He up-ended the box, allowing the ball to roll into the palm of his hand.
Now I’m really confused. Why would Willow give me a crystal ball? he wondered.
The minute he thought it, a familiar prickle ran up his spine. “Shid! Madgik!” he shouted. He tried to toss the ball away, except that it remained stuck to the palm of his hand. It began to glow and give off heat as he desperately tried to shake it off.
Somewhere in the madness he was aware of a tug that was getting increasingly stronger. He let out a yell as the tug became a pull and the pull became a long, drawn-out river of pain. The light around him grew so bright that he was blinded as he was violently yanked backwards.
On Xander’s yell, Buffy looked up and asked, “What was that?”
Faith and Willow were already out of their chairs and running at full tilt for the staircase, followed very quickly by a gang of Slayers. Buffy recovered and chased after them.
It was confusion as the group barreled up the stairs and burst into Xander’s bedroom just in time to see the remainder of the blinding light dim back down into normal.
“Xander’s gone!” Willow shouted.
“What do you mean gone?” Buffy demanded.
“As in not here. Disappeared. Gone,” Faith helpfully explained.
“I heard Willow the first time!” Buffy yelled.
“Where’d he go?” Vi asked.
“You’re asking us?” Rona asked.
“Hey! Look what I found!” Kennedy reached down to pick up the crystal ball, which had landed on Xander’s bed. She was stopped when Willow grabbed her arm and yanked it away from the target.
“Don’t touch,” the witch hissed. “Magic!”
Download (Good for seven days): Warbrain by Alkaline Trio