Title: Gamble away my fright til the morning lights shine, for houseofjamber
Rating: T for language
Characters/Pairing: Eddie/Joy, mentions of former Peddie and former Fabina.
Spoilers: No spoilers unless you haven't watched any of Season 2 and don't know Eddie exists or that Joy returned.
Author's Note: This piece was written on request especially for houseofjamber (aka schleepybear). In the end, it was quite the challenge, but I had a lot of fun, and fell in love with Joy's complexities all over again. It's probably still very OOC, but I hope you'll forgive me. I haven't watched anything HOA aside from fanvids w/o dialog for quite a while, so it was tricky to figure out the dynamics of these characters again. It's also a bit AU/futurefic, since I'm awful at writing the Sibuna/Mysteries/Magic into the stories. There will be no mention of new characters for season three, either, because I don't want to make guesses and end up misrepresenting their personalities. I just hope this isn't too subtle for your tastes, lady! Wow, this is a long a/n!
Please enjoy! Happy Holidays!
Title Credit: lyric from Cherbourg, by Beirut
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, plot, etc. are the property of the creators of House of Anubis. Any original characters, settings and plots are the property of PuffleHuff. PuffleHuff is in no way associated with House of Anubis, and no copyright infringement is intended. This work is an amateur fan effort and no profit is being made.
It was really her own fault for trying to find a "perfect" gift when the recipient was so much less than perfect, and it wouldn't matter how many little things she gathered or how much money she spent. No Christmas present was going to win over Fabian's heart when nothing else Joy had done in the past year had swayed him back to her. So now Joy sat at the dining room table of Anubis House with an assortment of gadgets and knickknacks and limited gift wrapping experience. Perhaps it was true that Fabian had never really been "her's," but Joy wasn't about to give up hope. Not yet. Not when she could practically taste Christmas miracles.
Joy's level of frustration mounted, though, with each strip of clear tape that clung to her hair, and each failed ribbon curl. A third razor thin paper cut across her thumb brought a fat tear to her eye, and no matter how she tried she couldn't keep it from escaping the crease of her lid and rolling down her cheek. This wasn't her style, not really, but she was running out of ideas, and the tears seemed to be coming more and more freely as the holidays and end of term approached.
Joy's fists came slamming down onto the tabletop, crushing a clump of shrink wrap she'd recently pulled from a box of candy canes with the intention of tying them into the ribbons on her gifts. The force of her frustration sent a spindle of ribbon rolling over onto the floor, unwinding as it went, bouncing through the kitchen door. Tears still straining at the corners of her eyes, Joy dropped to the floor and chased the trail of ribbon to the doorway, where her skull unexpectedly collided with a blond head.
"Ow ow ow!" Joy exclaimed, unable to keep the rest of her tears from streaming down her face now.
"Shit!" Came the exclamation from the other head, and Joy was vaguely surprised to hear Eddie's voice through the haze of her throbbing forehead. After a few dazed moments the ringing in her head subsided enough to coherently form sentences once again.
"I didn't think anyone was in," she commented, looking up to see Eddie with a large hand clasped to his forehead.
"Well I didn't think anyone was around, either. Until that phantom roll of ribbon rolled by, anyway."
"Bloody American," Joy muttered under her breath as she carefully nursed the growing lump on her head and struggled to her feet.
"Whatever," Eddie mumbled in response, rolling up the unwound ribbon and handing it across the space to Joy before disappearing again into the kitchen.
Well, at least he was good enough to retrieve the ribbon for her. Joy returned to the wrapping of gifts, but without an extra arm the task seemed impossible. She muddled through as best she could until it came to tying on the ribbons. No matter how carefully she placed the candy canes over the space where a bow needed to be, they never seemed to stay still. There wasn't enough weight in the striped confections to hold the knots down.
"Eddie," Joy's voice cracked as she called across the table and through the open kitchen door. "Could you come help me, please?" She struggled to keep the seemingly ever-present tears out of her voice.
"What's up?" Eddie asked, his voice falsely cheerful and thick with sarcasm as his blond head poked around the door jamb.
"Put your finger here," Joy instructed. Too impatient to wait, she grabbed Eddie's hand as he approached the table, and forced his fingers into a point. Methodically, Joy moved Eddie's finger from package to package as she tied the final bows onto all the gifts she'd finally managed to cover in assorted bright papers.
"Thanks," she said, and relinquished his hand with a snap. She could feel his eyes on the side of her face, and it just made her angrier and set her more on edge as she felt a heat rising in her cheeks. She really didn't need his judgment right now.
"What?" Joy demanded, voice creaking again as she turned her eyes on him. They flashed with anger and sadness.
"It's nothing," Eddie insisted, his gaze turning away.
"No. I want to know what you're thinking."
"It's just that you seem awfully unhappy for someone with so many gifts laid out in front of her."
"Yeah, well..." Joy's gaze, too, slipped away from Eddie's face and toward her shuffling feet on the floor.
"See, I'm right, Joy. It's none of my business." Eddie turned on his heel and returned to the epic and disgusting sandwich he'd undoubtedly left on the kitchen counter.
Joy let out a massive sigh of something near-to-but-not-quite relief and set about gathering the scraps of gift wrap and ribbon that littered the table top. She carefully replaced the newly adorned presents into her shopping bag and slipped it over her arm before carrying the scraps in to the kitchen waste bin.
"Thanks again, Eddie," Joy managed as she passed by, but stopped short in surprise as she felt a strong hand grasp her arm.
"Look, Joy, if you need to talk about..." Eddie trailed off and Joy just stared with blank sorrow at his concerned green eyes. His hand dropped and Joy kept going, out into the hall and all the way up to her dorm room before she finally seemed to be able to breathe again.
Of all the things Joy had known Eddie to be, concerned for the well-being of others was not often one of them. She brushed it off as nosiness, inhaling a string of steadying breaths before stashing her assortment of presents for Fabian and the girls of Anubis House at the back of her wardrobe.
The dorm room Joy shared with Mara and Patricia was a mess of sweaters, leggings, and winter boots, not to mention shopping bags and bits of gift wrap and ribbon. Everything Mara wrapped looked as though it had been done by a professional in one of those fancy shopping centers in the city, and it just made Joy feel more and more disappointed in her own wrapping whenever she glanced across to the neat pile of packages on the desk. Patricia's wrapping ability was equally as atrocious as Joy's, but that didn't matter when she had her father's credit card number, pilfered by her twin sister, Piper. Patricia had ordered all her gifts for her housemates from internet stores that would do the wrapping for you if you paid a little extra.
No matter where she looked, Joy felt depressed about the oncoming holiday season. The only thing worse than feel uncertain of her gifts for Fabian – and everyone else for that matter – was the swiftly approaching Holiday Formal and Masquerade, which some idiot had somehow convinced Mr. Sweet, their headmaster, would be an excellent send off for the end of fall term. Joy hadn't fully realized quite how dumb her idea had been until Patricia waltzed into the dorm with a garment bag over her arm and smug look on her face, though.
"What's that, Trixie?" Joy asked her friend affectionately, a smile carefully applied to her face.
"I found this killer dress for the masquerade at a little boutique in town! It's going to be awesome," Patricia gushed, unzipping the new garment bag to reveal a swath of shimmering dark green fabric. "Have you found anything yet? Don't want to end up duped into duplicate dress by Jerome again!"
Joy groaned at the uncomfortable memory. Wearing the same dress as Fabian's former flame, Nina, had had its advantages, but in the end it had not worked out as Joy would have liked. Joy threw herself back against her pillows and huffed again.
"I don't suppose you'll ditch Eddie and be my date to the dance?" Joy asked dejectedly from somewhere near the headboard.
"He hasn't asked me," came Patricia's quick reply, and the surprise of the statement brought Joy back to an upright position.
"You do know we broke up, right?" Patricia chided, an amused look very nearly masking the hint of pain in her face.
"Yeah... But that happens all the time. He'll ask you," Joy sounded more certain in her words than she felt, but it was the unwritten law of the "Peddie" relationship that the pair fought and broke up every few weeks only to get together again.
"Whatever. At this point, I honestly don't care," Patricia insisted, and Joy almost believed her. "If no one asks us, we'll go together. Deal?" Having hung up her new purchase, Patricia sank down onto the mattress beside her friend and held out her pinky finger. Joy hooked it and nodded.
As luck would have it, Patricia did get asked to the dance, but apparently not by Eddie. When Joy had run into the sarcastic American on the stairs soon after her conversation with Patricia, she'd confronted Eddie on the subject but received a cryptic reply.
"Of course I asked! And Yacker said 'no'," Eddie had insisted. "I guess she's still steamed about me spilling gravy on her skirt a while ago..." He'd shrugged with a typical Eddie half-smirk and moved on. But curiouser still, later that evening he'd asked Joy if she had plans for the masquerade. He didn't ask if she'd like to go with him as friends, but again left the subject with an unsettled feeling.
So, even though she'd let Amber convince her into town to buy a new dress and a pretty mask, Joy found herself awkwardly perched at the edge of the festivities on her own. Continually scanning the crowd for Fabian's familiar suit coat and the flash of Patricia's green dress as she nibbled the end of a bread stick.
"Um, Fabian?" Joy silently cursed the squeak in her voice as she tugged the jacket sleeve of her best friend and not-so-secret crush. Fabian turned with a surprised look and a smudge of dark red lipstick on his face.
"Joy!" he exclaimed, eyes wide with his mask high on his forehead.
"Did you maybe want to dance?" Joy asked, swallowing hard at the sight of someone else's makeup smeared on his cheek. She felt all her anxious anticipation plummeting from her tight throat straight to the empty basin of her stomach. She could feel the smile she'd carefully plastered to her mouth falling.
"I, uh..." Fabian glanced back to the unrecognizable strawberry blonde in the butterfly mask. "I promised this dance to..." he winced instead of smiled in that way he had, and allowed himself to be lead away by the hand.
The unhappy feeling in Joy's stomach flared up, the heat of embarrassment coloring her cheeks. Instead of fighting off the feeling of oncoming tears, though, she found herself struggling not to stamp her dainty feet in frustration. Her arms crossed protectively over her chest and her shoulders sank as she slunk back into the shadows that ringed the dance floor, but Joy would not cry over Fabian now. Not here, with so many people watching.
Then she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder, and felt a firm arm wrap around her waist, and Joy was being pulled back toward the lights. A tall blond figure in a simple rectangular mask was holding her close – though carefully not too close – around the middle and swaying her with no regard for the beat of the song. The suit and mask of the new arrival were unfamiliar, but there was something too easily recognizable in the mouth of the boy before her.
"Eddie?" Joy hesitated, afraid to exhale with the blond American's face suddenly so close and the knot of apprehension burning in her stomach.
"Yeah, Joy?" Eddie's lip quirked up in his trademark smirk.
"Um... What are you doing?" The words came tumbling out of her mouth as she shifted anxiously beneath his hands.
"What does it look like I'm doing?"
Joy sighed in exasperation, possible garlic-breath be damned. Her warm brown eyes rolled behind her filigree mask. "It appears you are dancing with me."
"See, now? I knew you were smarter than you looked." Eddie's smirk widened into a self-satisfied grin, and Joy smacked him across the shoulder for it.
"Ouch! That hurts me, Joy," Eddie's smirk was insufferable. But his hands were also warm against the small of her back, and the inane twinkle of his green eyes beneath the slits of his deep red mask somehow put Joy's mind at ease. As irritating as he may be, Eddie's behavior felt familiar and comfortable.
"Oh please," she muttered, eyes falling to the sliver of open floor between their feet as she gingerly wrapped her arms around the American's broad shoulders. She found it difficult to meet his look once she'd resigned herself to the awkward shuffle and dance, but if she really admitted it to herself, she was glad not to be standing alone at the edge of the dance floor, fuming and feeling miserable. So for that, she was grateful to Eddie.
Joy was indeed grateful, and surprised, to have Eddie's company on the dance floor, helping her to keep it together while Fabian danced the next several songs with the blonde girl in the butterfly mask. She was equally as grateful, however, when Eddie had managed to hold her eyes long enough to recognize how upset she really was and quietly excused himself. She felt more exposed than ever as people seemed to watch her make her way alone across the dance floor and up to the refreshment table, but she also had a feeling that people were impressed at her ability to enchant a tall "stranger" for so many dances.
At least, that's what Joy's overburdened heart and over-dramatic mind hoped. She hoped Fabian had noticed her as she had noticed him, and that he'd be curious to know who the boy in the understated red mask had been. Did boys even notice these things?
But when Mr. Sweet had called the evening to a close and sent everyone back toward their dormitories, the blonde trollop in the butterfly mask had clung to Fabian's arm and walked him all the way to the Anubis House door with the gaggle of Joy's other housemates. He made one or two uneasy glances in Joy's direction, but was unfortunately not as subtle as he was probably trying to be when he'd kissed the girl – who'd turned out to be a 10th year from Osiris House – goodnight. She was just glad that Eddie seemed to have returned to Anubis before the rest of them, so that Fabian could go on puzzling over who she'd been dancing with, if he was even wondering at all.
There was much chatter about changing out of uncomfortable shoes and exchanging gifts before everyone departed for home the following morning, and Joy's anxiety level had risen once again, but everything seemed to go over well enough, if not exactly how she had hoped. Her gifts were met with smiles and "thank yous" and a few rumpled side-hugs from the girls in their assortment of formal dresses and sweat pants. The only boy in the house she'd bought for was Fabian, so that had raised a blush to Joy's cheeks, but somehow nothing unkind was said to her in jest.
Fabian smiled too, and gave Joy a warm hug that made her whole body thrill for the briefest of moments. But too soon he was back in the overstuffed chair across the room, fingering a candy cane in his nervous hands. And Joy knew it was over.
Victor, the House Master of Anubis, was uncharacteristically absent, and failed to rush the students in his charge off to bed at 10:00 o'clock precisely. Regardless, after the presents had been exchanged and an easy conversation established amongst the rest of her housemates, at a quarter past, Joy feigned a yawn and excused herself for the evening. She was careful not to rush too quickly to the sanctuary of her abandoned dorm room, but upon closing the door behind her, sank immediately to the floor.
Joy felt her whole body tremble, not with cold, not with an oncoming of tears, but with a sort of sad acceptance. She had harbored unrequited feelings for Fabian for long enough, and tomorrow their friendship would be separated again for the holiday break. She made up her mind once and for all to be over him by the start of the spring term. She had all of break to get him out of her head.
She took a few steadying breaths and pulled herself to her feet. Never before had Joy been so happy to have gotten her packing done ahead of time. She quickly slipped out of her dress and into the soft pajamas she'd pop in at the top of her luggage in the morning. She carefully monitored her thoughts, steering them away from Fabian, until Mara returned to the room and Joy pretended to sleep.
As she listened to Mara tip-toe around and prepare for bed, Joy lost herself in the little details of sound. And by the time Patricia came in, much later, the rhythm of Mara's slumbering breath had lulled Joy to sleep as well.
Joy lay in bed as long as she could the following morning. She got up briefly to hug Patricia goodbye, but returned to the comforting warmth of her blankets instead of dressing and going down for breakfast. She knew Trudy, the Anubis House Matron, would have laid out an elaborate buffet brunch for her students to graze as they each prepared to set out for the holidays, but Joy had lost all apatite along with her desire to see any more of humanity.
A month ago, when she'd booked her ticket, Joy had thought taking an afternoon train out would give her the chance to see everyone off and provide another opportunity to spend a little time alone with Fabian. But Fabian's uncle had come to collect him earlier in the morning, and Joy couldn't bare to see him anyway. She ignored the shout of her name up the staircase as Fabian, Amber, Alfie, and Jerome had departed, and didn't venture out of her nest of bed sheets again until the house was much quieter. She fastidiously remade her bed, dressed in her stylish yet warm and comfortable traveling clothes, and carried her well stuffed luggage down to the entryway.
Trudy greeted her warmly and passed by in a huff under the weight of her great ancient vacuum cleaner, eager to get a jump start on the deep cleaning she'd do while the students were out of the house for the holiday. Joy smiled weakly in return and imagined the possible horror of dust bunnies that would undoubtedly greet Trudy in Alfie and Jerome's dorm room as she silently made her way into the dining room.
Even though it was what she thought she wanted, the house was too quiet and still for Joy, save for the electric hum of Trudy's vacuum down the hall. She wasn't prepared to sit in silence and eat until her taxi arrived, so she gathered up the dishes her housemates had left strewn about and carried them into the kitchen. She washed and dried them, and put them all away, focused entirely on the details of her task until she felt calm enough to go have a bite herself.
Joy settled in the middle of the long, empty table and nibbled absently on the flaky crust of a turnover, her look a million miles away as her eyes bored a hole into the wall across from her. She barely noticed another figure entering the room, fixing a plate, and settling somewhere off beside her. She didn't really register the person at all until Eddie was pushing a small wrapped package across the tablecloth toward her.
Surprised, Joy roused from her depressed revery. "What's this?" she questioned blankly.
"Really, Joy. You are so unobservant. What does it look like?" Eddie's voice was thick with characteristic sarcasm, but his eyes were trained carefully away from Joy's expression and the little box on the tabletop.
Joy's hand went out instinctively, but stopped short of brushing the shiny wrapping paper with her fingertips.
"Looks like a Christmas present," Joy identified matter-of-factually.
"Yup," Eddie agreed around a mouthful of breakfast pastry.
"Like a jewelry box," Joy continued, curiosity getting the better of her as she gingerly lifted the package from the table. She was careful to hold it at arms length, though, so she couldn't read the message on the little tag imbedded in the ribbon. Eddie had used the same type of plaid ribbon Joy had sent flying across the dining room a mere week earlier.
"Why didn't you give it to her before she left?" Joy questioned as she replaced the gift on the table, assuming this would be Eddie's attempt to regain Patricia's heart.
"'Why didn't I...'?" Eddie's voice was low and confused, and a little surprised it seemed, and Joy could feel his eyes finally settling on the side of her face. He might be aggravating and essentially harmless, but Joy really didn't want to see the look of pity on Eddie's face anymore than she'd wanted to see the rest of her friends that morning. She could feel Eddie shrug, see it vaguely from the corner of her eye, and his hand snaked into her line of sight and retrieved the little box. She heard him sigh.
"I dunno," he admitted, and with the sound of his dejected voice Joy finally found the strength to look at Eddie's face.
He looked puzzled, and a little sad, but with the ever-present hint of a smirk at the corner of his lips. Honestly, Eddie looked about how Joy felt at that moment. Maybe the bust up with Patricia had been worse than either of them had been letting on. Maybe Eddie's recent abundance of friendliness and comfort was his way of seeking out the same for himself. These were the things that occurred to Joy as she watched the blond American shift restlessly under her gaze.
"Did she refuse it?" Joy asked carefully, indicating the little gift cradled under Eddie's hand with her chin. "She did, didn't she?"
Eddie's green eyes met Joy's sad brown ones, and she was startled to see the tell-tale glimmer of unshed tears there. She couldn't remember ever seeing the boy cry before. Not that he would now, but Joy recognized the same look she'd been seeing in the mirror for going on a month.
"Yeah," Eddie whispered, choking on emotion in his throat. "I guess she did."
Joy gave him her best attempt at a warm and reassuring smile. "She'll come around," she said, and hesitantly patted his hand upon the table.
An uncomfortable silence fell between them as they observed one another's sadness, until finally Joy rose from the table with her plate and wandered into the kitchen. When she returned, Eddie had disappeared from the table, so shrugging in his absence, Joy headed back to the entryway to retrieve her suitcase. Maybe she could catch and earlier taxi at the school gates and trade in her ticket for an earlier one at the train station.
Eddie reemerged in the front hall as Joy rounded the doorway, and she watched his curious movements as he stiffened at her appearance. He had reapplied his trademark smirk to his face, and his eyes now shown with a false joviality instead of tears.
"Are you headed out?" he asked cheerfully, indicating her luggage with his big open hand.
"I guess so," Joy nodded, making her way to her bags. "Going to see if I can catch an earlier train, I think."
"Let me help," Eddie insisted, stepping between her and the suitcases and hoisting them with mock strenuousness under his arms.
Joy's smile truly brightened at the uncharacteristically kind gesture and Eddie returned it. "Thank you," she murmured.
Eddie stood at the boot of the taxi, lifting Joy's cases into the car while she stood anxiously at the curb. The cabbie tipped his cap to the blond American and slid into his driver's seat, leaving the two students to say their goodbyes in "private."
"Thanks, Eddie," Joy offered, twisting the end of her scarf nervously in her fingers.
"No problem." There was a twinkle of that same sadness in his eye, but also the familiar glow of mischief Joy was so used to. She stepped forward for a hug at the same moment Eddie's hand extended for a handshake and they both broke into awkward laughter. The gestures reversed, with Eddie's arms opening and Joy's hand extending, and they laughed again.
"We're absurd!" Joy exclaimed, throwing her arms around Eddie's middle and burying her laughter in his sweater. The embrace was warm and friendly, comfortable and appreciated, and Joy sighed and inhaled the scent of Eddie's detergent. Then the boy was holding her at arms length and looking curiously into her eyes, that stupid grin spread over his face.
"You'll be alright?" he asked with too much cheer.
Joy nodded and bit back a dumb smile or a cheeky retort.
"Well..." Eddie seemed to hesitate, his green eyes looking to the frozen ground. "Merry Christmas, then."
It was like Joy's brain had momentarily shut off and she'd missed an important exchanging of words in that brief period. Objectively, she must have seen Eddie's approach, but she couldn't remember how he'd got from "Merry Christmas" to his lips on her cheek. Her entire mind went blank and Eddie dropped her arms and let go.
"Ha-Happy Christmas," she stuttered and sat straight down through the open door, onto the back seat of the cab. Eddie stepped forward again and slammed the car door shut, smiling his inane smile and waving as the driver turned the ignition and the cab began to move away. And just as suddenly as Joy's brain had shut off it seemed to reboot itself again and the whole business of lips against her cheek was forgotten.
"Where to?" the cabbie asked, his tone politely curious and conversational.
"Train station," Joy spoke through the barrier, and remembered to triple-check the ticket in her purse. She pulled the bag open and found a little square package at the top of her things.
It was the rough size and shape of a jewelry box, the sort with a ring or earrings in it. It was clumsily wrapped in shiny red paper with a green and red plaid ribbon tied around it. There was a tag stuck in amongst the loops of the bow, and Joy's fingers went to it.
In tiny, painstakingly neat letters Joy read:
Merry Christmas, Joy. I hope you get everything you want this year.
It's been a long time since I've seen you smile, and as long as you're happy,
I'm happy. Please be happy.
And, Happy New Year, too. -Eddie