Will our lives become too stressful if I'm never that successful?
Of all the days you could've chosen to break up with me, you had to pick
He turned me into his bug eating man-bitch!
I just wanted to be sure we'd have a happy ending!
Xander Harris tossed and turned, his subconscious going through a malicious backscroll of various ignominious and humiliating moments of his life since high school and his friendship with Buffy Summers.
He woke in a cold sweat, beside Anya, his girlfriend. She was asleep, blissfully counting in soft murmurs. "Four thousand, five hundred and sixty seven dollars for me..."
She's needy, she's greedy...
Xander closed his eyes and buried his face in his blankets. I should've known not to mess with magic...I should've known not to mess with magic...I should've known... Every time Xander had messed with magic, or had it mess with him, it ended badly. When he wanted Cordelia to feel his brokenhearted pain, the spell he'd asked Amy for had backfired and turned him into the Fatal Attraction poster boy. He pretended he didn't remember, but he did. Which, Xander supposed, was his penance for being so stupid.
But he wished still he was more than the weak link in the Scoobies. He was the mortal whose will was weak enough to get sapped by Dracula. He was the one whose dabbling in magic never worked out right. He was the one who only ever seemed to do anything cool when somebody else's magic had done it for him.
Willow had her magic.
Anya had the Magic Box, and her financial skill.
Tara had her magic.
Buffy had her amazing Slayerness.
Even Spike had a certain sort of neutered-vampire-cool.
What did Xander have? A string of failed jobs before finally landing the construction foreman gig. Even that held hidden terrors for him after his last failed foray into magic -- when one of his crew stood or moved just so, images of them doing Construction A-Go-Go would flash before his eyes. Reason enough, Xander reckoned, to never go dinking around with magical talismans again.
It's tempting but I think we'll waive that clause, just this once.
How humiliating is it to magickally set yourself up as a demon's bride?!
Between that and the lovely, embarrassing, friendship-straining Tabula Rasa incident that had followed, courtesy of Willow, Xander was feeling more useless than ever, and more introspective about it than ever.
All this and the holiday blues, too.
It was three weeks from Christmas and the time the dancing Construction Crew had taken off had cost them. He couldn't afford a tree, and if presents were doable in the budget after rent and bills, they would surely not be up to the standards Anya expected. She wouldn't care about the tree or the decorations, the egg nog or the stockings -- but the presents?
If there are no presents, there will be much whining, and a cessation of the sex, Xander reflected darkly. He was now too overwrought to even consider going back to sleep. He got out of bed and curled up under a blanket in front of the TV.
That did nothing to ease his discomfort. Infomercials, he suspected, were the work of some lesser demon. Xander was certain. But it wasn't anywhere near bad enough to be a Buffy-level threat, and he couldn't prove it. So the infomercials went on airing their mind-numbing pitches for useless, overpriced products.
Anya still slept, and Xander let her. Not like I can talk this over with her. Not like I can talk much of anything over with her. He dressed and went for a walk.
Sunnydale after dark was ordinarily a foolish proposition, but Xander knew the Slayer was out doing her usual patrol. Tara was with her. Since leaving Willow, Tara had dedicated herself to doing more productive things with her magic -- perhaps out of guilt or a sense of obligation in contrast to Willow's increasingly self-serving magic. It was safe enough for him to walk if he stuck to the brightly lit areas, and away from the dark, shadowy areas.
Sunnydale was brightly lit all over, the season being what it was. The greater population of the town didn't know they lived on the Hellmouth. They just knew there was a greater concentration of lethal and psychologically scarring weirdness occurring here than anywhere else. So when the holidays came around, the residents of Sunnydale celebrated it with a manic fervor that would have frightened even the most jaded Hollywood Christmas special producer. Speakers mounted atop the shops on Main Street played The Little Drummer Boy and other religious favourites.
Somebody's sensitive or clever, Xander considered. All this invocation of God and angels is probably keeping the supercreeps off the beaten path.
Xander stiffened. It was Buffy; he could see her reflection in the window of the toy store.
"What're you doing out this early?" the Slayer asked.
"Couldn't sleep," Xander confessed, and turned to walk away.
When things get roughy, he hides behind his Buffy
Now look, he's gettin' huffy, 'cause he knows that I know
"Everything okay?" Buffy asked, following.
"Right as rain," Xander lied, "Just too much cafe latte before bed, and typical Christmas shopping worries."
"A-Anything I can help with?" Tara asked tentatively. Xander had almost forgotten she was there. She was still quiet but there was a sort of strength about her now.
"Not really," Xander replied with a wan smile. "Thanks for asking though. I know you two have Slayery stuff to do. I'll head home in a few. Sun'll be up before long. I'll be fine, promise. No need to babysit." He couldn't quite keep the bitter note out of his voice.
Tara's eyes widened as she watched Xander walk off. But she didn't follow. It wasn't her way to pry.
* * * * *
"Well, looky 'ere, if it isn't the whipped boy."
"Spike. Extraordinary timing, as usual. To put it in words you'll understand? Sod off," Xander said flatly as the vampire approached him.
"Aw, is Xander feelin' a wee bit knackered? Wot's the matter, then, hmm? No visions of sugar plum fairies dance in yer head?"
Xander blinked. "You know what time of year it is?"
"I may be dead and fettered, but I'm not blind, Harris. O' course I know it's bloody Christmas!" Spike rolled his eyes and shook his head. "So wot's the problem?"
"Like you care."
"Figure I don't, but 'earin' you suffer'll be the highlight of me night."
"Which night is almost up, I might add, so away with you to your little hideyhole before you get dusted," Xander drawled without looking at Spike.
Spike glanced up at the lightening sky. "Reckon I got a good two hours before I gotta be safely inside. Now spill."
"Yeah, right. I don't think so; last thing I need is the neutered vampire laughing at me."
Spike had the good grace to look abashed. Since the Tabula Rasa incident he'd been making more of an attempt to be decent to the Scoobies. As usual, and as he supposed he deserved, the Scoobies, save Dawn and Tara, weren't buying it.
"I won't laugh."
"Damn right you won't, 'cause I'm not telling you." Xander got to his feet and hopped off the wall he'd been sitting on. "If you won't bugger off, then I"m leaving."
"Er...Happy Christmas," Spike called tentatively after him.
"Yeah," Xander muttered darkly. "Right."
* * * * *
About here is where I find a bridge over a river and wish that I'd never been born, Xander considered. But...this being the Hellmouth, likely it'd be a demon trying to earn his horns who answered me -- he'd show me that life without me would make no difference at all. Or worse yet, everyone would be better off without me -- even Anya.
He waited. Neither creature seemed forthcoming. Xander took that for the best sign he could hope for, and turned for home.
He was sullen and quiet the entire day. Not even Anya's jibes could stir him out of his depression. He spent the day in Giles' apartment poring through the books. He was definitely not remotely tempted to try anything that looked promising this time. Nearly ending up as Sweet's man bitch had shaken him of the dabbling habit altogether.
Giles left him to his own devices, content to let Xander take over the research as he'd be returning to England before long, much to Buffy's chagrin and dismay.
Willow had not emerged from her room since Tara had moved out, and only Anya was bold enough to talk to her beyond bringing her food.
Buffy had other concerns, like keeping Dawn out of trouble, as Dawn apparently attracted trouble like a white sweater attracted dirt.
Night fell again, and Xander's unease manifested again as insomnia. Again, he tried to lull himself back with computer and TV, but his mind would not be quieted. Another walk, then. Another potentially suicidal walk.
His first encounter of the night was with Spike. Joy, Xander thought miserably. The vampire tossed a half-hearted taunt his way, and he didn't even dignify it with a response.
This, of course, piqued Spike's interest, and he fell into step beside Xander, trying other taunts. "What, not lookin' to move Anya in with Willow and get your boyish fantasy ya yas out?"
"Oh, I get it -- fight with the gel, then, huh?"
Xander just kept walking.
"What, they finally kick you out the Scoobies once they realized you're a colossal screwup an' of no use except as a distraction?"
That hit a nerve. Xander flinched but still said nothing. What'm I going to do? Tease him about being moon-eyed over Buffy? He is, but at least he can get her back when trouble comes.
Spike was about to fire off another barb when a thin voice screamed for help. Animosity between them could wait. Buffy was at the other end of town at the cemetary. They both launched into motion toward the sound of the voice, saving breath for running.
What they found was a thin, effeminate creature of indeterminate gender, backed against a wall, shivering as a handful of the Hellmouth's local demons advanced on it.
"I'll handle the little guy, if you can hold off the baddies long enough for me to get him to safety," Xander said simply.
Spike snorted derisively in response. "They're not human. I can kick as much ass as I fancy."
Xander darted into the bushes, then, while Spike boldly stepped up.
"Oh, look, it's the pansy-ass dead boy," drawled a small hairy demon. "Come to nibble off our dregs?"
Spike's answer was a steel-toed boot to the face of the tiny little demon and a manic grin.
Xander reached out of the hedges and grabbed the thin redclad arm. "This way. I'll get you to safety."
"No! No, can't leave the sleigh! We're sunk if that stuff is tossed away!"
Xander blinked. The person, on closer inspection, had pointed ears, big liquid green eyes, and spoke in rhyme. Xander was no longer entirely certain if it was a bona fide rescue or not.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"I mean the stuff in there's top notch! This is a job I just can't botch!" The green-eyed androgyne lifted red-mittened hands and clutched at Xander's collar. "Components for an important spell, to make this place a bit less like hell!"
That Xander grasped well enough. Somebody trying to cast a benevolent spell to ease the effect of the Hellmouth? Okay... He wasn't sure it'd work but it was a good enough idea he figured he'd let the squealing creature try. "Okay, so we get your sleigh." He peered back out. Spike was holding his own well enough against the nasties. The sled was at worst the size of a small sports car. They could push it. "WE CAN'T LEAVE THE SLEIGH!" Xander shouted to Spike.
"Fine, then move the bloody sleigh too. I haven't got all bloody night!" It wasn't quite late enough that the sun rising was an issue, but the odds would keep Spike going all night as demons recovered their wits and jumped back into the fray. Spike's reputation was sullied enough that it was becoming a feather in the cap to have a crack at the turncoat vampire.
"What's the big deal about the sleigh? What's so important about it anyway?" I am NOT rhyming too, please God.
"For children to sleep safe from fear, and survive the Hellmouth another year. This is a job I can only do myself. I'm the number one trusted proxy Christmas elf."
"Belief of children is the force of Santa's Christmas power source! We need the children, need their belief, or the whole damn legend comes to grief." The nimble figure led the way back to the sled and waved its hands gracefully. The sled lifted six inches off the ground on a sparkling film of snow -- that should not have existed given Sunnydale's temperatures never dropped below 40 degrees.
This is all very, very surreal, Xander decided, and gave the sled a push. The snow, rather than staying where it was, remained under the runners of the sleigh in question. "So you're saying you work for Santa Claus, and this sleigh holds the components of some major spell to make sure kids continue to believe in him? Am I following?"
"More or less, you have the right. But it must be cast on Christmas Eve night. Santa's magics never fail, but he won't set foot in Sunnydale. The Hellmouth's dangers are too great; so a proxy elf comes to make that date."
The sleigh began to pick up speed. Xander called for Spike, and laughed once he'd parsed the alleged Elf's remark. Santa Claus can deal with war-torn Bosnia and third world bungholes, but he won't set foot in Sunnydale.
Spike was only too happy to bail on the fight; the odds were not to his liking. He got a running start, then jumped and landed on the tail of the sleigh beside a number of red velvet bags. "What's all this, then?" When Xander explained, Spike about fell backward out of the sleigh laughing. "You're kidding me."
The elf shook its head. "No, I'm serious as cancer, my undead friend. Christmas would be ruined if I'd met my end. There were too many demons to shake alone. Your assistance saved my bones."
Spike did a doubletake at the rhyming, then shrugged. "All right. So where're we off to now? Buggered if I am going all the way up to the North Pole to see you home safe. Sorry, mate, that's too much to ask."
"To the North Pole I'll beat feet, but not before my job's complete. For every child in Sunnydale I must take account. The luck and the invisibility, from demons -- paramount."
Spike and Xander exchanged a look between them, frowning as they worked out the rhyme into plain English.
"So you need to lay part of this spell on every kid in town?" Spike offered.
"That's the deal, on every head. And must be done whilst they're in bed. By daytime I can ne'er be seen. On bad PR Santa's not too keen."
"So you're behind schedule," Xander presumed.
"Far behind," the elf confessed. "I take my leave just before midnight on Christmas Eve."
"Is it within your rules for us to help?" Xander asked.
"Us?" Spike demanded.
"I think it's worth it to take the chance, in this unusual circumstance." The elf smiled broadly. "If your help sets me back to rights, I'll make
it worth your wasted night."
Spike nodded; getting something out of the deal was definitely a major thing for him. Bad enough he had a terrible reputation for being a pansy, Slayer-whipped vampire, but if he was seen in the company of a Christmas Elf too? Still, getting on Santa Claus' good side is a definite plus. "I'm in."
"Me too. Just tell me what I have to do."
The elf looked so grateful that it was about to burst into tears. "Thank you kindly, Xander and Will. Your kindness wards off winter's chill."
"It's Spike," the vampire protested sullenly.
What followed were four sonnets, explaining how the Christmas magic dust was to be dispersed, in what quantity. They had to make certain that no parent caught them -- that would throw the balance completely off as no adult, no matter how much they played it up for the sake of the children, would buy into the Santa Claus thing -- even if it was true. Certain things just needed to remain relegated to pleasant legends.
They had from about 7 pm, when the youngest littles went to bed until quarter past 4, when the youngest littles woke; they had a week, as Christmas eve was that many days away. The elf, who introduced himself as Christian Snow, thanked them and set to repairing his sleigh. "It's supposed to fly, up in the sky. But it broke down you see. On the ground, much slower, land bound, that's why you're helping me. A widget here, a gizmo there, then repairs will be all done. I'll be out of your hair and back to up there, and you'll be left to your fun."
"One thing," Spike said, swinging his long legs over the side of the sleigh. "Just to be sure you're on the up and up, Christian. Y'understand we'd be all the worse off if I was caught snoozin' by some clever bloke demon who put one over on me."
"We," Xander corrected.
Spike scoffed dismissively, cocked back his left fist, and punched Christian in the nose. Christian yelped, squeaked, and dove beneath the sleigh, all shivery.
Spike drew back his fist, covered his face with both hands, fell over backward and wailed in pain.
Xander took his turn to make a dismissive noise, then pulled the elf out. "It's okay. That's his evil detector. We just had to make sure you are who you say you are." He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket and dabbed at Christian's wettened cheeks. "It wasn't naughty, honest. Don't hold it against him. We were just making sure. Can't take anything for granted in Sunnydale."
Christian nodded, drying his eyes. "I understand, and he's undead. Guess it was the best method in his head."
Xander chuckled and gave the elf the address of an inexpensive motel outside Sunnydale's city limits so he could safely finish the repairs on his sled.
The rest of the week was punctuated by the vampire and the human doing as they had promised. For Spike it was fairly simple. A Santa hat, a coffee can, and he could charm his way into an invitation to any mortal home as a collector for the Salvation Army. Once inside, quick work it was to find the sleeping children and sprinkle the spell dust on them. To his chagrin, though, he realized he'd actually have to take the donations to the Salvation Army or forfeit the reward for his efforts.
Xander's efforts were a bit less easily come by. But he managed well enough after wasting two days going through blueprints and records at his construction company, to find the houses with air ducts he could sneak into. The weather being seasonably cool meant heating ducts were out as the powder wouldn't go anywhere coming out of the floor. He started with the families he'd known while he had had his abortive jobs at the Laundromat and the ice cream truck. Then he relied on the subconscious commando training from several Halloweens ago to get him past the difficult houses - the ones with the security, the guard dogs, or the neurotic parents who stayed up all night [though he couldn't really fault them their concern]. To his surprise, he was actually fairly good at hanging from the ceiling with suction cups, awkward though it was. The remaining houses were the tough ones; the most painful as well. The house where Harmony's kid brother lived had a floor littered with Legos. The house of the guy
who'd bullied Willow until running afoul of Evil Undead Willow had a kid brother who had Transformers at the foot of his bed. But despite these obstacles, along with pointy Pokemon toys, jacks, and video cartridges, Xander worried that the cracking of plastic under his weight would give him away but apparently the magic Christmas powder [and boy did he feel silly calling it that] induced a deeper sleep.
By Christmas Eve, the vampire and the mundane returned to the little motel where Christian had set up. The elf was himself done as well and thanked them both heartily. He produced two gifts from his jacket, each no bigger than a doubleshot glass. "On Christmas morning " he began, but was interrupted by Spike with a loud "AHEM."
Christian had the good grace to look apologetic, then began his rhyme again. "On Christmas night once the sun has set, you may open your gifts, and see what you get. What you get is a wish, so think long and think hard - for the wish that you make will be your reward."
Spike rolled his eyes silently, but nodded.
Xander examined the tiny red and green package for a few minutes, then shook hands with Christian and walked out.
* * * * *
Spike, of course, spent Christmas Day prowling around his crypt. He was too wound up to sleep. So many things to wish for. So many things he could wish for. So many things...
I hope she fries I'm free if that bitch dies
Xander spent a lovely holiday at Buffy's house. Buffy had learned to actually produce some decent cooking after that freakish Thanksgiving the year before the Shumash had given him syphilis. In the back of his mind he turned over and over what he wanted his wish to be.
He turned me into his bug-eating man-bitch! Why am I always the guy who gets the funny syphilis?
"You seem terribly pensive this Christmas," Anya prodded. More likely she was hoping that he'd produce another gift; she'd hinted her tiny chip of an engagement ring could easily be improved upon as a wonderful Christmas gift.
Wish to be rich? Wish to be lucky? Wish to be not a weirdness magnet for all the pathetic comical magickal fallout from the Buffyventures?
"You're all distracty tonight," Buffy observed.
Xander simply smiled wryly. "Stuff on my mind. You know, the after-Christmas red and green. The red of my blood as I open my veins to pay off the green I ran up in credit card bills." He joked slightly, but that was a real worry. "I'll probably feel better after I clear my head." He excused himself politely and left the house for a walk.
Christmas, like Halloween, was one of the holidays the nasties of the Hellmouth took off. All that peace, goodwill toward men, wassailing and caroling didn't sit well with the demonic constitution.
Xander settled in his basement apartment and drank the last of the inexpensive supermarket gallon jug eggnog. He mulled over his options.
Spike had not settled on a wish. There were too many things that could really make his day make him invincible. I could wish to be impervious to sunlight an' stakes! I could wish this bloody chip gone! I could wish for the Slayer's love... He closed his eyes. Right. Loving me 'cos the bloody magic of Christmas made her? Yeah, sure. Pull the other one, it's got bells on. I could wish to NOT love her anymore. Right. No magic would take that away from me. He closed his eyes and squeezed the tiny package in his fist, mind whirling with possibilities.
This isn't real, but I just wanna feel
Xander considered: Buffy's got the strength, the speed, the healing factor. Willow and Tara have the witchy magic thing. Spike's got the strength and the vampy-connections. Anya has the knowledge of the demon world you can't get out of books. Giles has the knowledge of the demon world you _can _ get out of books. What could I wish for that would make me no longer a liability?
I could wish the Hellmouth closed, or somewhere else, but that'd only mean the evil would find some other way into the world, or that Buffy'd have to leave. He finally decided on a wish - if he could find the courage to make it.
The clock in the Sunnydale bell tower struck 11.
In separate locations, Spike and Xander, looked up in panic. They had an hour left to open their wish boxes - then it would all be wasted.
"I wish," Xander whispered fervently toward the sky. "I wish that I had the skill, the power, and the self-possession to be useful to the Slayer and the Scoobies!"
In his hand, the small package unwrapped itself, and a golden glow suffused his hand, then climbed his body.
With one minute to go until midnight, Spike decided. "I wish ." The tiny package in his hand fell open and a glow like sunlight flared brightly, blinding him.
As the last seconds faded from Christmas, a deep, jovial basso voice roared laughter. "Wishes granted! Merry Christmas!"
* * * * *
Xander woke the morning of Boxing Day feeling no different. Anya was beside him, and he smiled, snuggling down beside her. Then he realized that in itself was different; the cold knot of doubt in his belly was gone. This was the woman he loved and would marry, and he'd be just fine with her as long as she'd have him.
Spike heard the Slayer's footfall over his head at sunset, and climbed the ladder to greet her.
"I know, I know," Buffy drawled, "'The sun goes down and she appears.'"
Spike shrugged wordlessly, flashed her a grin, and held out his closed hand. It wasn't quite a fist; more like he had something in it he meant to give her.
"What's this?" The Slayer asked, holding out her hand reflexively. Something small, hard, and cool dropped into the palm of her hand.
"Ew," she declared on closer inspection - it was covered in gore and little bits of what looked like they might've been brain matter. "This's your chip, isn't it?"
Spike nodded wordlessly, arms folded at his chest. Figure it out. Prove you're not a dumb blonde.
Buffy regarded Spike dubiously for a minute straight, staring first from the chip in her hand to his face. Then it dawned on her visibly. "Your chip is gone, and you're not out hunting. You're not even picking a fight with me."
Spike nodded again.
"Meaning what? Temporary truce, or what?"
"Meaning nothing's different," Spike said solemnly. "I told you I love you and I meant it. The chip's out, and nothing's changed. I could go back to bein' the big bad. But I don't feel like it."
"You don't feel like it," Buffy echoed with derisive doubt clear in her voice.
"If Angel can do the goody-goody dead guy bit, why, then, can't I?"
"Angel has a soul," Buffy pointed out hurriedly.
"That's right. He does. I don't, but I still love you. Even without the chip makin' me act the poncy git."
Buffy sighed. "We've been through this."
"I know we have," Spike told her softly. "But now you know it's not the chip. It's me, all me. And that right there will make things different. I'm going out." He paused, flashed her a bright smile. "To the butcher's."
He left the stunned Slayer staring after him.
* * * * *
Just under a week later, it was New Year's Eve night. Giles had pinpointed a demon whose plan was to steal the energy from the revels of the partygoers all over Sunnydale. The Slayer's presence had kept the body count down. People were, as a result, feeling a lot less fearful of trying to do the normal thing. The plan was simple: steal their energy. The festivities would go on until literally everyone dropped dead.
Buffy was of course at a loss. There was no way she could save all the mortals. No one would stand for shutting down all the parties on the last day. Tara and Willow had done their demonseeker spell - every demon they'd pointed out, Buffy had taken care of. The pair still said every scrying spell they did showed the same outcome.
"Let me try," Xander said softly, after conferring with Giles and Anya. Between them, they'd decided that the revelers draining would be accomplished through the bar and the food. Everyone had to eat and drink, and New Year's was everyone's last hurrah at pigging out before having to tighten the belts and get on the Stairmasters in the new year.
"What do you have in mind?" Anya asked. "You're not walking into certain death. You know how I feel about that."
Xander smiled and shook his head. "No, I promise." He kissed Anya on the forehead and walked out. "Spike and I will be fine."
"You and SPIKE?" Giles choked on his tea, set the cup down hurriedly and set to cleaning his glasses.
"Sure. Now that he's being good on his own without the chip, he'll be the perfect one to watch my back. This way they think we're free agents and the Slayer's free to come in and save the day on her own." It was a sensible, logical plan. Tara, Willow and Buffy all blinked but couldn't really shout him down. He had a point.
Spike nodded his head in agreement and in gratitude that Xander had changed his tack toward him. Guess he figured that if I was willin' to help out the Big SC on Christmas, I can't be all bad. He smirked inwardly. I'm nothing like all bad these days, am I, now? "All right, then." He headed for the door with Xander keeping pace with his long stride.
"You wished to be good, didn't you?" Xander asked once they were beyond the door and into the street.
"Not precisely, no," Spike shrugged, "But close enough to suit the Slayer and the Scoobies, it looks like. And you? What'd you wish for? Bollocks?"
Xander grinned without blushing indignantly. "Something like that. Watch."
Spike arched a dark brow, and watched Xander.
Xander flashed a smile and vanished in a flicker of sparks between one second and the next.
Before Spike could move, there were four demons at his feet. Then six. Then ten.
"What the bloody hell...?"
Xander grinned. "I wished to be useful. No longer a liability. I ended up with super speed, and a stronger will. Not bad, eh?"
Spike's smile widened from one of sarcasm to one of genuine appreciation. "Not too shabby, Harris." He looked down at the pile of demons.
"They were working in every catering company in the city. I doubt they know the whole plan, but they each likely know part of it. I figure between the two of us, we can - persuade the truth out of them."
"I like how you think, Harris."
"Happy New Year, Spike."
The vampire and the human shook hands, then turned to the task of saving the new year before it could begin.