Title: A Very Xander Christmas
Author: gleefulmusings (formerly xanzpet)
Betas: mysterious_daze and flamen_minore
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Seven AU. It's best to ignore timelines here.
Warning(s): Language; the sexualization of Santa Claus for comedic value; gay reindeer.
Word Count: ~ 8600
Distribution: Please ask first. Please do not screencap this story, save it to hard drives, exchange with others, or translate into other languages without written consent.
Feedback: Con-crit is always welcome; flames are ridiculed and put on display.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.
Summary: Xander's letter to Santa yields some surprising results.
Author's Note: The holiday season is upon us. I hope yours are merry and bright!
Feeling more ridiculous than usual, and once again perfectly outfitted for such an occasion, Xander Harris furtively crossed Main Street in pursuit of his elusive prey, his eyes narrowed and searching. The last thing he needed was to run in to either Buffy Summers or Willow Rosenberg, who would either offer pity or poke him with sticks.
This mission was Top Secret and completely absurd, and he refused to outfit them with yet another reason to mock him endlessly. It was one thing for them to believe him a doofus; it was entirely something else to provide them unequivocal proof.
He smiled with satisfaction, his target just across the street and up one block, its bright blue varnish calling to him like a siren's song. Surprisingly, the voice of that song sounded suspiciously like Angela Lansbury.
Jessica Fletcher was cool, okay?
A small smirk played on his lips as he used mysterious ninja moves, as he preferred to think of his haphazard jog, and darted across the thoroughfare, legs pumping and lungs screaming. He didn't understand how anyone could willingly indulge in such torture and call it fitness.
He dodged the early-rising denizens of the Hellmouth, ignoring their gruff demeanor. He truly believed the world would be a much happier place if everyone had pancakes for breakfast. But only with real maple syrup. Why clog your arteries with fake goo?
He held similar sentiments for breast implants. He didn't think it fair that women could fill their breasts with a foreign substance, but Sosa got suspended for corking his bat. Where was the justice? And talk about false advertising! Besides, he thought all breasts were beautiful just the way they were.
He screeched to a halt.
He breathed heavily for a moment, shuffling his feet, grateful for baggy pants, before he remembered his mission.
He leapt forward and pounced upon the mailbox.
He congratulated himself and, just as he was about to pat his own back, he saw Giles.
Curses! What the heck was Giles doing up so early? No doubt some British efficiency maneuver designed to catch hapless young Scoobies off guard.
Xander nodded; he knew Giles.
Then he vaguely recalled Buffy saying something about Giles running errands the next morning, but it was difficult to know for sure because there had been Potentials milling about in camisoles at the time, which he also thought very unfair. And why did Willow get her own Potential sniffing around her, anyway? Where was his Potential?
Actually, he had been asking himself that question for a number of years. Others had as well, but they didn't count because they were anti-Xander, which meant they were anti-American and probably demonic.
Sighing, he quickly ducked and cowered behind the mailbox when Giles turned his head in his direction. Close call. He peeked over the hood and watched Giles sneak into Starbucks.
Aha! He had always suspected Giles to be a frappuccino junkie!
Of course, he supposed Giles could be ordering tea, but that kind of begged the question as to why he was there. Xander knew for a fact that Giles had lots of tea at home, enough to reestablish all tea plantations should the First triumph and unleash hell on earth. And hell for Giles would very much be a tealess world.
Right, he was babbling again. To himself. Inside his own head.
No wonder the others always worried about him.
He shook his head and promised to spank himself later – but not in a sexy way! – before pulling down the door to the mailbox and tossing inside his letter.
Flushed with accomplishment, he decided that there just might be some sexy in store for him after all. He nodded and sauntered away, feeling very smug and slightly hopeful.
Despite living in Southern California, there was a crispness in the air, a promise of new starts and the reaffirmations of long-held friendships. And presents, of course. Many, many presents.
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
A million miles and several dimensional gates away, an excitable, craggy elf named Alistair raced inside Santa Manor in search of his master. He bypassed the tray of armless gingerbread men – Mrs. Claus really needed to visit Williams-Sonoma – and hot-buttered rums and made a beeline to Santa's private office, despite the old curmudgeon's insistence that he be left alone for a while to ponder the meaning of Christmas.
Which was really just an excuse to troll the internet for porn. Even Santa had needs, and everyone knew Mrs. Claus was carrying on a torrid affair with the Tooth Fairy, that shameless harlot.
He didn't pause to knock, in favor of throwing open the double mahogany doors and bursting into the office, which smelled of musk and candy canes.
Santa Claus grimaced and threw a wad of tissues into the waste bin.
"By Rudolph's nose, Alistair!" he thundered. "I told you I was not to be disturbed!" He peered down over his glasses at the elf. "And who is overseeing the reindeer, eh? You know how they are."
Alistair grimaced. "Comet nosed me out of the stable. He wanted to be alone with Vixen."
Santa sighed and shook his head. Infernal gay reindeer. It was so hard to find good help these days. Though they made a fetching pair, Comet and Vixen's shenanigans were unseemly, and gave ideas to their brethren.
"Very well, then. What is it?"
"You've received a letter!" Alistair said proudly, bowing grandly and presenting said missive.
"Elf, look around you! I am Santa Claus and this is the North Pole! I receive thousands of letter daily! Get out of my sight!"
Alistair refused to be cowed. "But this one is from Xander Harris!"
This gave Santa pause. "Xander Harris?" he repeated. "Alexander Lavelle Harris, of Sunnydale, California?"
"That's the one!"
"Well," Santa said gruffly, "that makes a difference." He nodded. "Very well."
He extended his hand for the letter, which Alistair surrendered readily. He frowned and looked down at the envelope, turning it over and over again in his hands. Really, the number of stamps was excessive, and the childlike scrawl was that of a serial killer.
Still, it wasn't every day that one received such a letter. He had not heard from young Master Harris in over fifteen years, ever since the then five-year-old had written him requesting new parents. Though it was a wish he longed to grant, given that said parents had been on his Naughty List since they were in utero, it was one he was ultimately unable to grant, despite knowing that he would be dashing forever the hopes of an innocent young boy, one who would grow up to be very special indeed. The death of a child's sanguinity had violated him on a deeply personal level, and he had made sure to keep track of the boy.
Poor young Xander had borne more than any one person should suffer, though not much more than what his friends had been forced to endure. But what could possibly have compelled Xander Harris to seek him out at this juncture? Was the young man desirous of something which only Santa could provide? Did this suggest a newfound hope, a rebirth of belief? Had that small boy, doomed to life on the Hellmouth and all it failed to promise, retained some sense of whimsy, of wonder?
Or perhaps this letter was nothing more than the manifestation of a long-abandoned dream which Xander believed to be fruitless?
Intrigued, Santa reached for his letter opener, a cunning recast the Easter Bunny's ear, and slit open the envelope, reading it contents with fervor.
Hey, how are you? I hope all is well at the North Pole and that Al Gore is totally wrong and there aren't polar bears surfing on ice floats. Which isn't out of the realm of possibility, because I saw An Inconvenient Truth, and it was more terrifying than the reality of Paris Hilton.
Santa snorted and silently agreed.
Anywhore, I've decided to join in on the mass delusion regarding your existence, even though I'm pretty sure you're nothing more than a conspiracy dreamed up by Hallmark, the Christian Right, and the shadow government which controls the world's economy, also known as Disney.
Santa frowned. Such cutting sarcasm indicated the boy was fixated in the anal stage of development.
He snickered. Anal.
But, in the spirit of the season, I'm removing my tin foil hat and am willing to suspend – somewhat and only temporarily – my disbelief. My former fiancée, Anyanka – she just goes by Anya now; uh, again – told us years ago that you were real, and she knows more about magical creatures and wonky things than Dumbledore, so I'm assuming she was on the level. Of course, she could very well have been trying to exasperate Willow, because she really likes doing that, and, I admit, it's fun for me and Buffy to watch. Or maybe you and Anya had a fling that went wrong. At any rate, she said you like to disembowel children. I sincerely hope that's not true.
And if it is, stop it! That's just gross! And perverted! And please feel free to disregard this letter if this is the case.
But if not…
See, I really want you to be real, I need you to be real, because I have to believe that there's some force of Good out there in the universe, despite all evidence to the contrary. And as a typical American, Good for me translates to 'Bringer of Gifts'. Not that I'm all that materialistic – you should see my clothes – but, well, not to sound greedy, but I think I'm owed. I've tried really hard to be good this year, and every year, and while I know I'm not perfect, I'm not a horrible person.
Okay, so I'm rationalizing. You probably want me to get to the point. In fact, I know you do, because in my mind, you sound like Giles, and he's always telling me to get to the point. Which brings me to my point:
First, I just want to say that if you're real, and you're Good, thanks for reading my letter. I really appreciate it. And kudos to you for hanging in there this long!
You already know I'm writing to ask you for a favor. I mean, who writes Santa just for kicks? Although now that I think about it, more people should do that, because you've probably made a lot of them happy. If you're real. But we already agreed to assume for the sake of this letter that you are, right?
And if Buffy and/or Willow is/are reading this, shame on you! Intercepting mail is a federal offense! And just plain mean! And I'm telling Giles!
Where was I?
Right! The point!
(See, I told you I had one. Um, I did tell you, right? Apparently I babble in letters just like I do in conversation. And in my own thoughts. And everywhere else.)
Well, it's like this...
Santa blinked rapidly, his eyes wet and his nose red. The letter fell from his hands and slipped to the floor, from which it was eagerly snatched up by Alistair, who regarded Santa with wide eyes.
"Go ahead," Santa gently sighed.
The elf's eyes quickly scanned the paper. When he was finished, he gently laid it atop the desk. "What an extraordinarily unselfish child."
Santa was quiet for a moment. "Yes. Compared to almost any human standard, he very much is."
"But is it even possible?"
Santa pondered the question. "Perhaps," he cautiously replied several seconds later, "but it would require some fancy maneuvering and the cashing in of many favors, as well as promising more in return."
He chewed on his lip and wished he hadn't quit smoking. He was immortal, after all, so what was the point? Nagging elves.
"But it might be worth it," Alistair suggested. "After all, Alexander and his friends do save the world an awful lot."
"Does that mean you'll do it?"
"It means I'm going to try."
Buffy and Dawn woke early Christmas morning, not out of excitement, but habit.
If anything, this year's holiday promised to be their most dismal yet, but they still retained hope that perhaps something might happen which would mark it as not tragic. They laid in their respective beds for several moments, pondering Christmases past and errantly thinking of their father and his total disinterest in the lives of his children. Finally, they decided to dwell on happier memories.
They exited their bedrooms simultaneously, each determined to make it to the bathroom first. They eyed each other in the hall before breaking into a sprint. Predictably, Buffy reached the destination before Dawn, and gloated by sticking her tongue out at her sister, who rolled her eyes.
"It's a Chosen One thing."
"Don't use all the hot water."
"I pay the bills."
Dawn couldn't conceive an answer which wouldn't ring with petulance, not that she was above whining, but Buffy had already closed the door. She turned toward the stairs, frowning, puzzled by the delicious aromas wafting up in her direction.
"What's that smell?"
The bathroom door flew open. "You don't think the Potentials set fire to the stove again, do you?"
Dawn's eyes widened.
The moment was broken by a punctuated shriek.
"Was that Faith?" asked a bewildered Dawn.
"B! Pip! Get your asses down here! Now!"
Buffy raced down the stairs, Dawn hot on her heels. They entered the living room and noticed the slumbering Potentials sprawled all across the floor and over every available stick of furniture. How had they slept through Faith's unholy bellow?
"Kitchen!" Faith screeched.
As one, Buffy and Dawn ran for said room, colliding with Faith and sending them all crashing down on the linoleum.
"Shit," Faith groused. "Walk much?"
Dawn snickered while Buffy grunted, trying to disentangle them from each other. She rose to her feet, pulling Dawn with her, and then debated only momentarily before extending a hand to Faith who, shockingly, accepted it.
"What happened?" Buffy asked.
Faith, wide-eyed and vaguely terrified, pointed at something behind them.
Buffy and Dawn turned around. Dawn burst into tears as Buffy gasped, her knees threatening to give out.
Joyce beamed. "Merry Christmas, my darlings."
Dawn threw herself at Buffy, who almost toppled once again under Dawn's height and weight. Buffy herself looked quizzically at Faith, who put her hands up in surrender.
"Beats the hell out of me."
Buffy again turned toward her mother, tears now rolling down her face.
"It's me," Joyce said softly. "I'm here and I'm real. At least for today."
She held her arms open wide and her daughters dove into them. She smoothed their hair and wiped their tears, kissing each of their cheeks.
Buffy choked out a sob. "But how?"
"Well," Joyce said, her smile mysterious, "we can thank Xander for that."
Angel was startled from his fitful sleep by the dazzling twinkle of lights whose colors didn't exist in nature.
He sat up in he his head, the silk sheet covering him sliding down his naked torso and pooling around his waist. He blinked and blearily rubbed the crust from his eyes, and wondered who had snuck a Christmas tree into his bedroom. He was betting on a sadistic Connor or an obscenely cheerful Fred. He peered toward the source, his eyes adjusting to the glare.
"Well it's about time! Do you know how long I've been hovering here, waiting for you to emerge from your supernatural stupor?"
"What's going on?"
"You certainly get right to the point," she drawled. "Who says you can't teach an old vampire new tricks? Oh, that's right. Me."
"Seriously, what the hell is going on?" Angel was lost, but nevertheless understood something incredibly weird was happening here. What the hell was Cordy wearing, and had she gotten her hair cut again? He really liked it longer. Her face softened, and its graveness heightened his fear. "Cordelia?" he asked hesitantly.
"That's not me, Angel. That thing sleeping in the next room. It may walk like me, but it sure as hell doesn't talk like me, which kind of begs the question as to why you haven't figured out it's not me!"
"What are you, a parrot? No, it's not me!" She sighed, her eyes turning down. "Angel, I'm still in the Higher Realms. I'm trapped here. I've been trying so hard to get back to you." She swallowed heavily, tears seeping from her eyes. "Nothing works."
Stunned, horrified, but nevertheless cognizant of this very real truth, he dropped his feet to the floor and stood.
"Do you always sleep naked?" she demanded.
"I'll take that as a yes." She leered. "Nice."
He smiled lasciviously and then shook his head to clear it. "If you're here and you're you, then who's the other you?"
Her face again became serious. "An imposter. Angel, this chick is bad news. Seriously." She bit her lip. "I can't tell you anymore. Prophecies have a tendency to be self-fulfilling where we're concerned."
He stepped forward and held his hand up to her cheek, mourning when he realized he couldn't touch her. His eyes blurred when she nevertheless tilted her head toward his caress.
"I miss you, too."
"I know. Me too."
He cleared his throat. "How do I – how do we– get you back?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Have Wesley look into it. Call Willow. But you have to do it soon, Angel. Like, immediately."
"Um, because I said so? Because I'm bored as hell? Hello! Because that thing passing itself off as me – badlyI might add – is on a timetable. And we're in the business of averting apocalypses, right?" She nodded. "Right!"
She smiled and nodded. "One more thing," she added, her voice cold, "whatever you have to do, keep Connor away from her."
His eyes hooded. "Let me guess, you can't tell me."
"Even if I could, I would never be able to find the words." She shuddered and looked away. "It's obscene, Angel. It's revolting."
"I have to go."
"I have to," she repeated. "This is a one-shot deal, and my time is running out. You have no idea what it took to get me here." She raised a brow. "By the way, we owe Xander beyond the telling of it."
"He got me here. He got me to you."
Angel was dumbfounded but inordinately grateful. He'd get to Willow, and when he did, he was going to give Xander the biggest hug the boy had ever received. And then he would laugh as Xander howled, wriggled free, screamed profanities, and ran off to the nearest shower. He then noticed that Cordelia was fading. "Wait!"
"I love you, Angel. Never forget that. And I need you to promise me one thing."
"If you can't bring me back, kill the body."
"Yes. You have to, Angel. If you don't, you can't even imagine what will happen. And trust me, you really don't want to."
"I'm getting you back," he vowed.
She beamed. "I never doubted you."
Faith dawdled in the kitchen for as long as her sense of propriety would allow before finally deciding to leave Joyce and her girls in peace. She had sat at the breakfast table, stunned, as Joyce explained what she knew of what had brought about her brief return, shocked as all hell at what Xander had managed to accomplish, even if he didn't yet know it.
She wasn't sure why she was so surprised. As much as she had once enjoyed torturing him, the guy was pretty remarkable for a regular Joe Blow. She knew all the stuff he had done: how he had resurrected Buffy not once, but twice; how he'd stopped Willow's attack of super emo and saved the world; how he'd saved Buffy again from bleeding out after that piece of shit had shot her.
There was other stuff too, stuff a lot of people didn't know about, like how Xander had stopped zombies from blowing up the school and trying to open the Hellmouth; he had told Cordelia, who in turn had told Angel, who had told her, probably in an attempt to get her to realize that she had really treated Xander like shit when he was the first who had tried to help her.
Not that she needed Angel to tell her about Xander; she knew she had wronged him, and for no reason other than wanting to be a huge bitch. She'd picked his cherry and then tossed him out like rotten fruit, even after he'd saved her life. Hell, the only reason she was here now was him. She didn't know if her being a Slayer was a good thing, but she had saved the world a few times and she was pretty damned sure that she'd be dead by now if she had never left Boston.
She'd tried to make amends with B and Angel, and had succeeded with the latter; the former was still an iffy thing. She and Red were never going to be bosom buddies – heh – but they managed to work well enough together.
But she owed X. Big time. And for some reason, he was the hardest to ask for forgiveness, which was why she never tried. She kidded him on occasion, agreed with him when it mattered, but otherwise avoided him at all costs. Not that she was scared he wouldn't forgive her, but because she knew he would.
She restlessly roamed the first floor of the house, but the stench of overly ripe Potential finally overwhelmed her, so she sought refuge outside. Seriously, someone needed to ask – beg – Xander to add another bathroom to the floor plan.
She pulled the front door closed behind her, and that's when she noticed the envelope taped to it. The handwriting left no doubt as to who had penned it. She stared at it for a while before shaking her head and tugging it free.
Sighing, she tore it open, refusing to acknowledge her trembling hands. She read it quickly before returning to the beginning and savoring every word. Simple and to the point. So unlike him.
I get why you've been avoiding me, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense given that we're fighting for our lives. Knowing me, I'll probably get benched pretty quickly, so I want to say this while I have the chance. Well, not say as much as write. Believe me, the awkwardness goes both ways.
I forgive you. I don't know if you care, but I want you to know that I forgive you. The way I see it, there were a lot of mistakes made all the way around the last time you were here, and it's time we all took responsibility. I shouldn't have slept with you. Not because I didn't want to, but because I think you thought I was taking advantage of you, and maybe I was. If I had been thinking more clearly, it wouldn't have happened, but I was a horny teenage virgin.
You pretty much got the shaft in terms of parents, Watchers, friends, and life in general. I can identify with a few of those. Obviously not the Slayer stuff, but you know what I mean. So, the bottom line is that I forgive you because I know you were messed up and you've worked your ass off to get it together. And Buffy and Willow know that, too. It's hard for them to show it, but they know.
And this isn't just lip service, okay? And I'm not just being nice or a martyr or anything else. I forgive you because that's how I'd want to be treated.
Like I said, I don't know if you care, but just in case you do and my forgiveness means anything to you, you've got it. And we never need to speak of it again. In fact, I'd prefer it. Five by five?
"Goddamn it, X," she muttered through her tears, "if we fucking live through this shit, I'm so getting your ass a pony."
Rupert Giles was rummaging through his cupboard, looking for the tin of Christmas blend which he kept for such occasions. There wasn't much to celebrate this year, but he was alive and had yet to lose any more of his family, and he considered this a triumph. His fingers grasped the small silver box, located immediately behind his emergency scotch. Throwing caution to the wind, he withdrew both and turned on the kettle.
As he waited for the water to boil, he shuffled into the living room of his apartment, a sense of melancholic loneliness settling over him. It was ridiculous, of course; he should be reveling in his privacy, and Buffy's house was sure to be a zoo when he later arrived, but at the moment he wanted nothing more than to gather his family around him and celebrate a holiday in which he sadly no longer believed. Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya, Dawn, Cordelia, even Faith and the Potentials, they were his: his responsibility, his legacy, his children.
He wandered over to the table by the sofa and stared at the small artificial Christmas tree blinking back at him. He bent over and lit the votive next to it, saying a small prayer for Jenny, Kendra, Joyce, Tara, and all those whom he had loved and lost. It was so small, so innocuous, yet the simple act afforded him a sense of peace which had been in rare supply as of late.
He bowed his head. "We miss you, all of you, so very much," he whispered. "Please watch over us."
The kettle began whistling and, sighing, he trudged back toward the kitchen, only to be waylaid by the insistent trill of his telephone.
"And so it begins," he muttered.
He snatched up the receiver and belligerently extended seasonal greetings.
"Angel?" he asked, perplexed. "What's wrong?" He listened for several long moments, blinking exaggeratedly. "What!"
He stumbled back into the living room and headed for the couch. This called for an immediate lie down, followed by a cup of impossibly strong tea laced with something even stronger.
Dear God, that poor girl. His girl. His Cordelia.
He experienced for just a moment an overwhelming pride that the girl who he had once dismissed as vapid and superficial had so transformed herself that she had been elevated to the Higher Realms before remembering that it might very well had been against her will.
And something would pay for that travesty.
Though it didn't negate her accomplishments. Thank god Angel had called, but what the bloody hell had taken him so long?
"Tell me everything."
He pulled the throw pillow out from behind his back and settled more deeply into the couch before noting the crackle of something just behind him.
"Angel, one moment please."
He leaned forward and peered behind him, staring at a package wrapped in ridiculous paper. A present? But from whom, and how had it gotten there? He reached over his shoulder with his other hand and plucked it from its resting place. The décor was reminiscent of Xander. He ripped the small card from the box and opened it.
I share this with you in hope and gratitude for all you and yours have done to keep this world whole. Alexander believed this would be helpful, and it is my sincerest hope that this will prove true. May this put you on equal footing with your enemy – our enemy. Use it with wisdom and reverence, for once the knowledge is imparted, it will return to me.
Preposterous! Still, his curiosity was piqued.
He ripped the present open with a savage glee he had not experienced since his childhood. He lifted the top from the box and parted the tissue paper, peering down at a tome so old, the leather binding was flaking and somewhat molded. He gently turned the cover and tuned out Angel's harried recap. The book was Phoenician, he surmised. Impressive. Wherever had Xander unearthed such a treasure? How had he afforded it? Dear god, please let the boy not have stolen it; though at this point, he didn't much care. They needed all the aid they could purloin.
He flipped past the introductory page, which was blank, and to the second, reading the title. He swallowed heavily and exhaled through his nose. The First. He hurriedly flipped through the pages. Theories, spells, what looked like a brief biography, known associates, and so much more. A thorough and meticulous dossier. It was phenomenal.
"Angel, I will call you back in approximately two hours. I need to meet with Willow and gather materials. Please make sure Wesley is with you at that time. Good morning."
He hung up without giving Angel a chance to respond, and ignored the phone when it began to ring once more. The kettle could boil away for all he cared.
He walked toward the stairs in a daze. He had to get dressed. He had to get to Buffy and the others. He didn't understand it, but knew that Xander had given him the best Christmas gift he could ever receive: hope.
Anya awoke with a start.
Nothing in particular had startled her, but each morning she was awakened by the rejoinder that the coming day could be her last, an occupational hazard on the Hellmouth.
Sometimes she wondered why she had stayed; then she remembered Xander and demanded from her subconscious a more satisfactory answer to that question. In the end, she supposed it was apathy, for she really didn't have it in her to pull up stakes and start over alone someplace new. It certainly wasn't because she had climbed aboard the Slayer bandwagon and had dedicated her life to saving those of thankless humans. Because that would be pathetic.
Of course, once again she herself was human, a fact which should have rankled but instead brought some measure of peace. She had loved her time as a demon the first go around, but the second…well, some things were better left unspoken, even inside the privacy of one's own mind.
What had happened to her thirst for vengeance? Her desire to punish wrongdoers? Had she become so accustomed to the shades of gray that she could no longer see the forest for the trees? And why was she mixing her metaphors? And since when did she use metaphors? It was all very strange.
Sighing, she sat up in her bed and looked around the empty room. She was lonely. She supposed she could have hosted a few Potentials to break the quiet, but she didn't know any of those children, and she didn't like them precisely because they werechildren. Willow was out, in more ways than one, but she definitely didn't want Willow staying with her.
She could have invited Dawn, though. In fact, she and Dawn had grown closer since the aborted wedding. It was all fairly shocking, considering Dawn once had about as much use for her as a seal for a scuba tank. Still, it was nice to feel included.
She had always thought that if anything happened between her and Xander – and she had had such worries long before the engagement – it would be the sex she would miss. It was rather crushing to realize it was his presence for which she longed, his weird sense of humor and the way he'd make her pancakes into funny shapes.
She scowled. She didn't like all this emotion. It was weird and unwelcome. She knew it was part and parcel of being human, of course, but that didn't mean she had to indulge it. She had lived far too long to allow rationality to be obscured by sentimentality.
But she sure didn't want to die alone.
Stupid First. And what kind of name was that, anyway? She'd been hearing it for over a thousand years and still didn't understand what all the fuss was about. The First Evil. Big deal. It couldn't even touch you. All it could do was assume the form of dead loved ones and whine at you. Why was that scary?
She cocked her head. Well, she supposed it might have scared her, too, if the First could be bothered with her. Apparently, she didn't count for much even among their enemies. Nice.
She sighed. She supposed she should get up and go about the day, pretending to comprehend why it was so special. Such days used to have meaning, filled with family and celebration and drink. Now it was all crass commercialization. Not that she wasn't hoping for a present or ten. Again she wondered how Xander could have such horrible taste in clothes, but had an unerring sense for the perfect gift to give another.
He was so weird.
Once he was her weird. Her weird with a very large penis.
Memories were a bitch.
She tumbled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen, ready to pour herself a cup of ambition.
She really liked Dolly Parton. Aside from the boobs and the amazing wigs, the woman really knew how to turn a phrase. Very no-nonsense and straight to the point. These were traits she admired, especially within herself, and felt they should be honored by all and sundry.
There was something vaguely sad about instant coffee, she decided as she prepared her cup. She missed when Xander would get up early and provide her with the second best part of waking up. The first being orgasms, of course. She missed the way the aroma drifted about the apartment. The apartment she should have kept. Why was she the one to move out? She didn't call off the wedding. It had been her home, too. If Xander had been a decent male, he would have offered to find other accommodations.
Of course, there were no decent males. Well, maybe Giles.
She drank down her French roast – which tasted nothing like French anything, thank you – in two big gulps and placed the cup in the sink. She then wandered out into her living room with plans to watch television. She liked the Todayshow. Matt Lauer was a very handsome man, and she admired his glibness. She went to grab the remote and spied instead a beautifully wrapped package. Her first present! Excitement shot through her veins, so much so that she didn't give much thought as to how the gift appeared in her domicile.
What was it? Who was it from? Could she exchange it for something better?
She gleefully tore open the wrapping, ignoring the card. She squealed when a large black velvet box revealed itself. It promised jewelry! She hoped it wasn't diamonds, though, because now she knew the commercials lied: diamonds weren't forever.
She lifted the lid of the box and gasped, her eyes widening with terror and fascination.
No. She couldn't deal with this now, or quite possibly ever.
She snapped shut the box and threw it into the arm chair opposite her.
Who had done this to her? Who would be so cruel? Who would have the power? She narrowed her eyes.
Willow! Of course!
After all, D'Hoffryn had once offered her old job to Willow. It would be just like that witch to rub her nose in it on Christmas.
It was then she remembered the card.
Now furious, she ripped it free from the paper and tore open the envelope. She would determine with certainty the identity of the gift-giver, most likely Willow, and then make them sorry. She unfolded the card and instantly became nauseous.
You are undoubtedly wondering as to how your necklace has once again found its way into your hands. It is not destiny, my dear, but opportunity, one which your ex-fiancé felt was owed to you. Alexander believes that you should not be denied your rights as a vengeance demon, should you want them, for they are not something which should be stripped from you at the expense of a friend.
So the decision is yours. You can put on your necklace and assume once more your powers, though you know the high price they entail. Can you go back to your old ways knowing what you now do? Can you unceremoniously punish humans after spending three years living and loving as one? I like to think I know the answer, but I am not so presumptuous.
Of course, a young woman as enterprising as yourself should have no trouble coming up with other uses for such a totem. I am anxious to learn your choice. I doubt I will be disappointed.
P.S. What is this nonsense about me disemboweling children? Honestly, Anyanka, did we end things on such a sour note? My involvement in such activity is about as likely as you fleeing to the desert and opening a bunny ranch.
"Bunnies," she seethed, as she catapulted herself forward and retrieved the box. She opened it and retrieved the necklace, admiring the brilliance of the stone as it glittered in the morning light.
She sensed him before she saw him.
"What do you want?"
"Your decision," D'Hoffryn said shortly. "You must know I am in no way responsible for this."
"Not so fast. I have some questions."
"Of course you do," he sighed. "Very well."
"What happens if I put this on?" she asked, still not looking at him, still entranced by the play of light of the stone.
"You already know," he barked. "You will become a vengeance demon once more, with all of the power and privilege associated with such an honorific."
"And I'll have to kill."
Finally, she turned to him, her lips curved into a smile. "And if I give it to someone else?"
His eyes widened. "You cannot."
"Oh, I think I can," she sang. "Nicholas gave this to me. He didn't direct me as to what I can do with it."
"The Pestilent Gods select their agents, not you."
"But they didn't select me, did they? Not this time."
He said nothing.
She threw her head back and laughed. "This is wonderful! At last, I have you at my mercy." Her eyes turned cold. "How does it feel? How does it feel to know I can throw your entire world into chaos with a simple gift-without-purchase?"
"I thought you had lost your thirst for vengeance."
"No. Only the matter in which it is delivered. You see, that's the thing the others never understood about me. Revenge is petty, spiteful. But vengeance is just. And I owe you vengeance for Halfrek."
"How big of you to admit it, however too late. Because now I understand that we mean nothing to you. I served you well for over a thousand years, and you killed my best friend to make a point. I deserved more than that, and so did she. So give me one reason I shouldn't put this necklace around someone who could destroy all you have built? And it would be easy, D'Hoffryn. All I need to do is give this to Xander."
"Of course I would."
He ground his teeth. "We could make…other arrangements."
Her smile grew very large, her teeth bared. "I thought as much."
He sighed, too weary to keep up the charade. "I have no desire to play games. What do you want, Anyanka?"
"My name is Anya," she roared. "And what I want is very simple: a trade."
He narrowed his eyes. "Trade? For what?"
"You get the necklace," she said, "and I get a wish. One wish, completely free of any and all consequences. There will be no conditions, no reprisals, no secrets, and no surprises. Take it or leave it."
He frowned, considering her offer.
"Anything I do will be to help save this world, and will most likely cause a lot of chaos, which I know you love almost as much as vengeance," she said. "Oh, come on!," she shouted when he didn't immediately reply. "The First is no friend of yours, D'Hoffryn. If it triumphs, this world goes, taking a significant portion of the Lower Realms with it. Can you really afford to antagonize me?"
He grunted. "Your terms are acceptable."
Giles burst through Buffy's front door, not even bothering to knock.
"Willow!" he bellowed. "Willow! Emergency!"
She stuck her head out from the dining room, eyes huge with worry. "What's happened, Giles?"
"It's dreadful! An abomination! We have to help at once!"
"Uh, okay? Help with what?"
"We need to call Angel. He and Wesley are waiting for…" He paused, the blood rushing from his face and pooling in his feet, turning them to lead. The tremors started in his hands and worked their way up his arms and toward his head, his teeth chattering.
"Joyce?" he breathed.
The woman appeared from behind Willow and smiled. "It's so good to see you, Rupert."
"Willow!" he howled. "Get away from her. From it!" He dashed forward and grabbed Willow's arms, yanking her towards him and placing her behind him.
"She's not the First, Giles," Willow whispered.
"Of course it is, you silly child!"
"Then I couldn't do this," Buffy said, walking in from the kitchen and wrapping her arms around her mother.
He didn't know he was crying until Willow plucked the handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to his palm. He stared down at it dumbly, his mouth moving but unable to form words.
"It was X," Faith quietly said from the living room. "He made it happen."
"Joyce?" he repeated.
She crossed the room and enveloped him in a warm hug. "It's me. I'm only here for today, though, so let's not waste time."
"Right," Buffy said, her voice shaky, her hand resting on Dawn's shoulder. "What's the emergency?"
He looked around. "The Potentials?"
"Banished to the backyard. Spike is still in the basement, being strange. The emergency?"
"The what?" Giles asked. "Oh! Yes! Of course! It's Cordelia."
"What's going on with the Queen?" Faith demanded, crossing into the foyer.
"I received a call from Angel this morning," Giles blurted. "Cordelia isn't Cordelia. She's been possessed by something incredibly powerful, something perverse. Something which wants to use her love for Angel to destroy him."
"I knew it!" Faith barked. "I knewsomething wasn't right! No one had any answers when I was playing Puppy Shelter with Fang. Coma my ass!"
"Coma!" Buffy and Willow thundered.
"Rupert?" Joyce prompted, pulling free of him.
"Oh. Right! Well, somehow, and I'm not exactly sure how, Cordelia, the real Cordelia, was able to manifest her astral form to Angel and warn him. She told him…"
"Told him what?" Dawn pressed.
"She told him that if he couldn't bring her back from the Higher Realms, he must kill her body," he whispered.
"Well, fuck that!" Faith screeched.
"Higher Realms?" Buffy asked.
"Giles!" Willow thundered. "Higher Realms?"
"Cordelia has Ascended, but that's not important right now."
"Cordelia is now a Higher Being, and it bears no further discussion." He began pacing. "Faith, you said Xander is responsible for Joyce's presence with us today, yes?"
"Apparently, he is also responsible for Cordelia being able to speak with Angel, as well as for this." He withdrew from his satchel the book and held it out to Willow, who took it with no questions and began thumbing through it.
"I don't read Sumerian, Giles."
"But I do," Dawn piped up, grabbing the book from her hands. She chewed her lips as she waded through the pages, waiting for Giles to interrupt at any moment and steal her thunder. When he didn't, she was both shocked and pleased. Finally, she looked up at him. "Is this for real?"
"What is it?" asked an impatient Buffy.
"It's basically The First for Dummies," Dawn replied. "Everything we ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Or couldn't ask because everyone who knew was dead."
Buffy's eyes widened. "Seriously?"
"And Xander found this book?"
"Ah, not as such, no," Giles answered. "But he did make it possible for it to find its way into my hands."
"Well," Giles began, removing his glasses and polishing them with the linen handkerchief. "You see, the book was a gift. And we only have a limited window of opportunity to avail ourselves of its contents, which is why I need Dawn and Willow to help me translate and record the information it contains."
"A gift from who?" Buffy asked.
"Whom," both her mother and Watcher corrected.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. From whom?"
Giles said nothing.
How could he explain this to a roomful of people when he himself still didn't quite believe it? The whole notion was patently absurd, ludicrous even.
"Oh, all right! It was a gift from Santa, if you must know."
An hour later, Xander quietly slipped through Buffy's front door, determined to place his gifts for his friends under the tree before they could pounce on him. They weren't much, but they were something, and presents were pretty scarce since most of Sunnydale had shut down. The jingle bell on his Santa hat conspired against him, however, and announced his presence before he was ready. Evil jingle bell.
"Xander!" Buffy screeched, before barreling across the living room and tackling him to the floor.
"Hiya, Buff. Nothing says 'Merry Christmas' like broken ribs. Thanks."
In lieu of a verbal response, she rolled them over so that she sat atop him, before bending down and kissing the hell out of him.
"Gluh?" he asked, when she finally pulled away.
"Merry Christmas," she smiled.
"Hi? Um, is this actually happening, or did I dream the last five years and we're still in high school? Did I ask you to the dance yet? And did I do my algebra homework?"
Giddy, she climbed off him and bounced to her feet before pulling him up and strangling him with a hug. "Thank you so much," she whispered into his chest.
"Oh, it's not much, Buff, but I know of your secret love for the Spice Girls, and the record store had this import album with B-sides…"
"My turn!" Dawn howled, shooting forward and dragging him to the ground once more.
"Again with the broken ribs," he sighed.
Twenty minutes later, a very confused and almost catatonic Xander silently accepted a steaming cup of cocoa from Joyce, Buffy and Dawn crowding him on either side of the couch. Faith was shooting him shy looks which he chose to ignore, because he thought they understood each other and any Hallmark moment involving he and Faith would probably result in spontaneous combustion. Giles was nattering on about some old book and Willow was all but bouncing off the walls, congratulating him on his brilliance. It was nice, but since he had no clue as to what she was talking about, he said nothing.
"So we found the spell," Giles said excitedly, "and Willow, Faith, and myself are driving up to Los Angeles at first light to help Angel. Don't worry, Xander, we're going to save Cordelia, and it's all thanks to you."
What? Cordelia was in trouble? Thanks to him? What?
"A perfect day," Buffy said. "It's a perfect day, and you made it happen."
"That is the pertinent question," Giles agreed, "but all we know for sure is that Joyce is with us for the day, Cordelia will be saved, and we have more information about the First than we ever dreamt existed. I don't know how you did it, Xander…"
"Neither do I."
"But thank you. Thank you so very much."
The hell? "But I, I didn't…"
"Your letter. He got it."
They turned as one to face Anya, who was standing in the entryway of the living room removing her coat. She hung it up on the coat rack with aplomb, before racing into the room and throwing herself at Joyce. She clung to the woman for a good long minute, before pulling away, tears coursing down her face.
"He got your letter."
"He did?" What?
"Who got what letter?" Buffy asked.
"Santa," Anya sniffed. "Xander wrote Santa Claus a letter, and Santa read it."
"Santa is real?" asked a wide-eyed Dawn.
"You said he disemboweled children," Willow groused.
"I might have exaggerated."
"X wrote a letter to freaking Santa?" demanded an incredulous Faith.
Anya nodded again. "And it doesn't happen this way. I mean, sure, Nicholas gets all kinds of letters and then children get toys, but nothing like this. I can't even imagine what he did to pull all of this off, but he must have been impressed."
"What did you say in your letter, Xander?" Joyce asked.
"I, uh," he fumbled, the blush creeping up his neck and spreading across his cheeks, "I told him that we'd all had a really bad year. Well, lots of really bad years. And I told him all about how we saved the world and that we didn't do it for recognition or anything, but that it would nice to know that it counted for something, you know? Just that someone or something was paying attention."
Dawn took his hand and nodded, urging him on.
"And I, um, I told him about everything you all had lost, the people we had lost, and how we pretty much knew that this thing with the First was Game Over, but I just thought we should have one nice day. I mean, is that really so much to ask for? Don't we deserve that? Haven't we earned that much?"
Buffy put her head on his shoulder. "I hope so," she whispered.
He nodded. "So, I, uh, I asked him to make one dream come true for each of you."
Buffy, Dawn, Willow and, surprisingly, Faith and Giles burst into tears.
Xander grimaced. "Maybe it was a bad idea."
Buffy slapped him. "Don't say that!"
"Okay, first of all: ow. Second, okay." He smiled. "I'm glad I finally got something right."
"You get everything right," Dawn insisted.
He swallowed heavily and looked up at Anya. "I really wish that were true," he quietly said.
That was all it took for Anya's tears to begin anew.
"I guess it didn't work for you, Will," he continued. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head. "But it did. To see all of this, to see Joyce again, to see everyone so happy. Xander, thatwas my dream."
"No it wasn't," Anya said.
"That wasn't your dream. I know."
"Oh, really," Willow barked. "And how is that?"
"Because Xander's gift to me made your dream possible!" she chirped before skipping over to the front door. "See, I got my necklace back, but I didn't really want it anymore." She paused and looked down at the floor. "The price was too high." She cleared her throat and nodded. "So I negotiated a trade with D'Hoffryn."
"Um, was that a good idea?" Dawn asked, wincing.
"In return for the necklace, I got one wish." She held up a hand. "Don't bother. I more than any of you know about wishes and how to use them."
The others looked at each other.
"She's right," Xander said, nodding. "So what did you wish for?"
She beamed and disappeared into the foyer. They all heard the front door open and then slam, before Anya reappeared, triumphant.
"What's going on?" Buffy asked.
"This should be good," Dawn mused.
"This is gonna be awesome," Faith grinned. "I bet it's a pony."
"A what?" everyone asked.
"Goddamn it," she muttered.
Anya turned toward the foyer, confident all eyes would follow her. "Okay!"
Tara peeked around the corner, her eyes first finding Xander, and then Willow. "Merry Christmas!"