Title: Treading Water
Summary: Xander accidentally releases a "genie", and in a state of melancholy, gives in and starts making wishes. But Spike's not going to let his claimed boy belong to anyone but him, even if he doesn't know it.
Warnings: LOTS of pre-series Xander/Jesse. Oh, and Xander/Bad!Dude for a little bit, but that hardly counts, right?
Disclaimer: I do not own these character, and I do not own Yankee Candle.
Dedication: To all the kind readers/reviewers who welcomed me into this fandom a couple weeks ago. Sorry this is so rough. It was written between classes and on coffee breaks, and is completely unbeta'd. But in any case, this one's for you.
And… that looks like it was barfed out of the seventies. Pass.
Wheeling his cart past the very… plaid sofa collecting dust in the corner of the Nu-Life Thrift Store, Xander Harris scanned the room for any sign of the giddy redhead who’d dragged him here and sighed. Of course. Wills was probably checking out used books with Tara. Turning back to the couch, he paused as he saw the big red tag hanging from its arm, and backed up a little. Thirty bucks? For a whole couch?!
Suddenly, the plaid was whole lot more appealing. Downright homey, actually.
Pushing the cart off to the side, he grabbed the price tag to make sure he was reading it correctly. Yup. Thirty bucks. Sweet… He thought, plopping down on the thing to test its comfort level. High-backed, kind of low to the floor, with a seat that dipped toward the inside. The plaid was brown and orange, and the cushions were stuffed with what felt like old pillow batting, so chances were this was the site of many a fondue party. But hey. Willow told him he needed to figure out what style he wanted for his new man-cave, and all he said was “Cheap”. This couch fit the bill perfectly.
He lounged back a little, confident with his success. Now he’d actually have somewhere to sit. And he wouldn’t care if he spilled pizza or beer on it, because it was ugly anyway. Man, I am a genius… He grinned, reaching over to check the price tag on the matching (and just as ugly) chair. Yup. Ten bucks. This set was so his. Happy as a clam, Xander pushed out of his new couch and went to grab the nearest sales person.
“Can I help you?” Dimpling up at him, the little blonde at the register looked too cute to be legal. He grinned back.
“I wanted to buy that set back there,” He thumbed over his shoulder toward the ‘Unfortunately Seventies’ section. “The plaid…?”
The smile disappeared from her face, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Really?”
“Oh yeah.” He grinned wider. “C’mon, a couch for thirty bucks?”
Rolling her eyes, she slid out from behind the counter and headed for the set. “Yeah, that Seventies stuff is the cheapest stuff in the store.”
“Really…” Running a hand through his dark, disheveled hair, he followed her and started to plan. Hey, he could go seventies. His apartment could use a theme. He could get a fondue pot.
When the cute-but-horrified sales girl had finally made certain Xander actually wanted to buy the set, she took the tags off and brought them back to the register, promising to ring them up when he was finished shopping. Now shopping with a purpose, he bypassed the rest of the seating and pushed his cart up to the dinette sets. Most of them were wood. Then, once again pushed into its own little corner, he found a little four-seat clear Lucite dining table with three space-agey plastic chairs. The fourth chair was nowhere to be found, but since Xander’s new apartment had only a small nook for dining, it was perfect.
He’d found a small Lucite end table, a coffee table that was kind of shaped like a satellite, and he was contemplating very scratched up fake-wood desk when Willow finally found him.
“This place is so cool!” She gushed, clutching an armful of books. “I found a first edition—”
“Does this desk look too beat up?”
“Um…” Frowning at the question, she turned to look and frowned even harder at the sight of the thing. “It’s not… Well. It’s kind of…”
“Obscenely ugly, right?”
“Kind of blinding, yes.”
“Yeah, but it’s only twenty bucks.” He pouted, poking the price tag with his free hand. He’d grabbed a few things along the way; candles, a waffle-iron, a mushroom-shaped ash-tray just in case a certain free-loading vamp happened to stop by with his cigarettes.
“Xander,” She sighed, rolling her eyes. “You don’t even have a computer.”
“Hey, a guy can dream, right?” Dropping the new items into his cart and searching for more. He grabbed a couple funky blue tea lights off the shelf behind the desk, and a long white votive from the shelf across from it. “So, what’cha find?”
“Books. And movies. We’re having a movie night later.” Smiling wide, she hugged her stack to her chest and peered over her shoulder, obviously looking for her girlfriend. “You?”
Blinking a little, he reached over and took the top video from her arms. “OhMyGod. FernGully? Are you serious?” Shocked with the memory, he examined the front cover, the dark-haired fairy Crysta and the human-turned-fae Zak, and Batty, the slightly eccentric bat. God, they watched this practically every weekend when they were little. Him, Wills, Jesse, all hanging in somebody’s living room (usually Willow’s, never Xander’s), passing popcorn back and forth, with him mimicking Zak’s lines every once in a while and Jesse knowing the Batty Rap so well that he could mute the movie and do it himself. Though the one time he tried, he screwed up, and he and Willow tossed popcorn at him until he sat back down... “I literally have not seen this in…”
“Like years? I know, right?” She laughed, taking it back and flipping it over to the synopsis even though they both knew it by heart. “We used to watch this every weekend.”
“Yeah, me, you and-”
She cut him off instantly, smile fleeing to a sort of nonchalant shrug. “So, how’d you do?”
Startled by the topic change, he shook the memories away. “I bought a couch.”
“Yay!” She jumped up and down a little, looking just as happy as he was. That was Willow for you. “Success!”
“And a chair. And a whole dining set.” Tossing another candle, a deep purple votive, from one hand to the other, he leaned an elbow on the nearest shelf and tossed it over his shoulder. It landed on top of the waffle iron. “This place is awesome.”
Of course, by the time he got back to the register, Willow had encountered the dinette set and the satellite coffee table. She was no longer smiling.
She and Tara watched in mutual horror as Xander loaded the couch into the back of his truck.
“Okay, this is actually kinda cool.” Xander folded his hands together, speaking to no one in particular, or the Apartment Gods maybe. Lord knows, if they exist, they exist in Sunnydale.
The couch was still the ugliest thing he’d ever seen, and the table still looked like Sputnik had artfully crash-landed on his floor, but he kind of dug it in a weird way, mostly because he’d paid very little for it. And the couch wasn’t really that ugly. Kind of like one of those pound dogs that grew too big, so nobody wants it anymore.
Now, there’s a depressing thought.
Resting a hand on the high-backed couch, he crouched down to retrieve the bag he’d dropped beneath the coffee table. All the candles and knick-knacks and stuff. This place already smelled like a man-cave, and while he might not mind, the girls were not too fond of excessive Xan-Odor. Thus, cheap thrift store candles. Perfect solution.
He dropped a couple apple-scented votives on the satellite table, a Yankee Candle tumbler labeled “Mistletoe and Fig” in his bathroom sink, and an old plum-colored pillar in his closet-sized bedroom. He held onto that one for a minute, trying to gauge the smell. It seemed to be… kind of like cinnamon and “teak”, if teak had a scent, which according to every perfumery that makes half-assed colognes, it does (though according to Xander, the frequent layer of teak flooring, it does not). He set it on his nightstand, the little Lucite thing he’d found that morning, and went looking for his lighter.
God, he smiled as he surveyed the place, looking around at all that was apparently his. No more Basement. No more dad, beating my ass if the rent’s an hour late. He paused, then grinned even wider. No more dad beating my ass, period! Seven hundred bucks a month, freedom baby! If only Anya had stuck around to see this…
His smile faded. He really shouldn’t be taking this as hard as he was. After the wedding that wasn’t, she’d realized how much she missed the ability to avenge things. She wanted her job back, and who was he to stand in the way of her happiness, after he screwed up? Just some guy who loved her once. Probably always would.
But he didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, not all that much. She did. So when D’Hoffryn showed up and offered her the old job back, she took it. With his blessing. So really, he shouldn’t be this depressed. But apparently he was.
Probably because he was alone.
Spike’s face, his stupid evil grin, popped into his mind unbidden. Hell, he thought he’d be happy to be rid of the free-loading vampire when he’d finally found himself a place to stay. Instead he… well. The ash tray he’d bought earlier that day laughed at him from its place on the counter among the other knickknacks. Because while he didn’t expect Spike to come over, he hoped. He hoped the bleach-brained menace would show up on his doorstep and ask for an invite. Maybe bring beer. Maybe bring condoms.
Not that you really needed condoms to boink the evil undead—at least, Xander didn’t think so. But it was the thought that counted here, and when it came to Spike, Xander had been having some pretty nasty thoughts lately.
Better safe than sorry.
Not that he’d ever be either.
God, could he have picked a more unattainable crush? Well, Buffy. But that didn’t count, because apparently the whole Slayer package came with some kind of super-hotness that made her pretty much everyone’s fantasy. He could’ve fallen for Hairgelus too, but pretty-boys weren’t his speed. No, Spike was rough. And crazy. And… And so incredibly out of his league that he made him feel all high-school again when he gave that patented Big Bad smirk. Fuck, the guy was a Master Vampire, with a century and a half of exploits under his belt, and here he was. Drooling, as usual, over someone who wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire.
Knock it off… He told himself, whacking the utensil drawer closed and moving to the next one. Ah, there it was. He’d forgotten he’d even had it until he was packing, the little purple Bic lighter. His Uncle Rori had given it to him when he was fourteen, claiming in his semi-drunk state that there was nothing more useful than fire. He remembered that night, he and Jesse playing with that lighter, flicking the flame on and off, then sneaking his mother’s cigarettes because they’d always wanted to try…
“Fuck…” He whispered out loud, squeezing back the tears in his eyes. What was this? Night of the Depressing Xan-Man? Jesse’s face came back, clear and present as the morning sun, and he shoved it back so hard that it was a physical pain. God, it’d been so long since he’d allowed himself to think of him… There were times when he’d remember something, so clear and so real, that he wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else for days. He’d had a picture of him once; the last bit of sentimentality he had left. He brought it to the Magic Box one night to show Willow, and she smiled at it, then refused to look at it again. He showed it to Giles, and he gave it a place of honor right by the register. But when Buffy came in and saw it, she slammed it face down and said “I don’t wanna see that here.” After that no one dared to set it right again, and Xander, out of some self-pitying sense of honor, refused to take it home. So it just laid there for a few days, and then it disappeared. And so did any reference to Jesse.
But fuck, it still fucking hurt like yesterday, and it was like everyone just wanted him erased…
No. Stop it. Think about something else, right now. Candles. Right. He’d forgotten for a second there. Rebelling against his own thoughts, he reached over and stabbed the power button to his little hand-held radio, letting music cut the silence.
The lighter took a couple tries to work, but by the time the flame finally surfaced Xander was much calmer, enjoying the music, every other thought pushed from his mind. He lit the candles in the living room and wandered to the bathroom, lighting the candle in there and immediately blowing it out. It smelled like pine and rotted fruit or something. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, picking it up and wandering into the bedroom.
Yeah, no… Smiling to himself, he reached the last candle and flicked the lighter on. It’s not Christmas. Or Nightmare Before Christmas. In fact, if any place in Sunnydale is completely devoid of Tim Burton-ness, it’s this apartment. No Demony Things Allowed…
The flame touched the wick of the candle, and immediately went out.
Really? He frowned, slightly annoyed, because that would be his luck. Not that it was a big deal or anything. Lighters die, who cares? But when he flicked it on again, the flame was fine, just as bright and strong as it had been before. Okay… He picked up the candle, gently raising its wick to the flame.
It went out again.
What the…? He set the thing down, lighter beside it. Is this a trick candle or…?
“You have summoned me?”
Oh, shit. Those words are never good.
The voice was low and rough and throaty, the kind of voice that made every word sound like a growl. Xander stood stock still, squeezing his eyes shut. Not turning around. Not turning around. If I don’t look at it, it will go away.
Oh God, please don’t let it eat me.
“Master?” It said again, rougher, slower. For a second, Xander’s heart stopped. Swallowing hard, he turned to face what was sure to be his demise and found himself staring at a… a thing. A tall, naked, blue-skinned thing with muscles that put his own to shame and wild black hair that almost hid a pair of electric yellow eyes. Demony eyes.
Okay… Breathing out slowly, Xander took a step back, hand scrambling for his lighter. “I-ah- I’m sorry, man, but I think you’ve got the wrong apartment. This is Forty-Eight B, okay? Not to be confused to Forty-Eight C, across the hall. Though if you’re here to see Mrs. Beiderman, good luck and Godspeed.”
The thing smiled. A huge, slightly maniacal smile with deadly fangs that made Xander want to crawl under his bed and hide. “You have summoned me, Master.” It growled, slowly moving toward him, one hand reaching out, offering… God knows what. “I am here for you.”
“Don’t- Don’t-” Xander yelped, brandishing his lighter, eyes wide with fright. “Don’t come any closer!”
It looked even more amused now. In fact, by the time it reached him its smile had grown into an impish grin. Almost tenderly, it slid the lighter from Xander’s fingers, ignoring the flame which went out the minute it was touched. “Do not fear me, Master.”
Xander’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.”
The thing touched his face, one long blue finger stroking down his cheek, his jaw, his pulse. Slow, gentle, soothing. Affectionate.
Oh God, No.
“Wait, hold on-” Shoving the thing back a step, he slid past it, practically bolting to the other side of the room. “I- I don’t want… I don’t want that, okay? None of that. No touchy.”
Pausing for a second, the thing cocked its head to the side and examined him as if he were an interesting butterfly he’d just pinned to his wall. “Of course, Master.”
He clutched the wall, eyes scanning the room for any of the weapons he’d packed. Of course, they were still in boxes. Fuck… Stalling time. “What are you, and what do you want?”
Grinning ruthlessly, the thing bowed low in a move that resembled respect. “I am Blithe, the Careless One, and you have lit my candle and released me. I want to grant you your three wishes so that I may return home.”
“So…” Turning away from the creature’s… manly parts out of sheer embarrassment, Xander swallowed again and tried to process all of this. “Three… Three wishes. Like a genie?”
Looking up at his words. Blithe nodded once, still grinning devilishly. “Something like that.”
“Um…” He looked away again, thinking of Anya. “See, here’s the thing. ‘Wish’ is kind of a bad word around here. We don’t say it. It usually leads to… Um, not so awesome things happening. So you might want to pack up your candle and find a new-”
“Shall we call them something else, then?” The ‘genie’ whispered, approaching him just as carefully as before. Its eyes flashed lightning down his body, and he found himself trembling, falling back against the wall without any will to escape. “Wants? Desires?”
Xander breathed in fast, the scent of forest washing over him like some kind of dream as he closed his eyes and prayed for escape. “Sure. Sure, okay. Those are good.”
Bearing down on him, the thing touched his shoulder, trailing its fingers down from the collar to his chest, carefully sliding its skin up against his body. “Then let me grant you three desires.”
“I… O-Okay…” Pressing back against the wall, he tried to duck away, but only found himself closer as its arms wound around his body, clutching him against its chest. “Hey, now. What’d I say about the touching thing?”
Totally amused, Blithe let go, taking a calculated step back. “I apologize, Master.”
Now the proud owner of about an inch of breathing room, Xander attempted to make himself comfortable against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and squaring his shoulders. “So, um. Genie, huh?”
Leaning just a little closer, the thing only smiled, its body brushing ever-so-slowly against Xander’s, just barely touching.
“Yeah…” More nervous than ever, he let his arms fall and tried not to breathe in that scent. It was making his brain go fuzzy. Fuck… He needed out. He needed air. Pushing past the thing, he moved quickly to his bedroom doorway and gripped the top hinge. Buffy. Get Buffy. “Hey, you should come meet my friends. They’d, ah, they’d really like you. Let’s go. Now.”
Blithe let out what sounded like a chuckle, turning to watch him flee. “Of course, Master.”
“Yeah. Cool. Um…” He paused, looking toward his closet and wondering if anything would fit the thing. “Listen, you can’t really go out like that, so…”
“Would you like me to take a more pleasing shape, Master?”
“I was thinking jeans and a t-shirt, but yeah, that’ll work.” Turning toward his closet, he started flipping through the loud button-downs, looking for one that Blithe might be able to squeeze into. “You care if it’s pineapple-print?”
That voice. Stopping dead in his tracks, he let his head swerve in the direction of the thing, which now looked nothing like it had before.
Oh God… His eyes widened. His jaw hit the floor. He had to lean on the closet door to hold himself up.
The thing looked exactly like Jesse. Down to the fucked up Keds he always wore, the faded jeans Xander had scrawled his name all over with permanent marker. The bitten-off nails, the dark, messy hair… The eyes. The eyes were perfect. Totally, completely exact, a carbon copy. Xander’s heart shattered.
“God, no. No, no, no.” He heard himself demand, voice rising and cracking with the force of it. “Change back. Change back right now.”
Looking confused, the Jesse Thing stepped closer, peering down at himself with a frown. It even had Jesse’s voice, which was the scariest part of all. “But this form is what you most desire. I built it from your mind’s vision, Master.”
“It- It’s not the form, it’s the person.” He closed his eyes, disgusted with himself. “Just change back. Please.”
He opened his eyes again, and Blithe was Blithe, standing there, looking completely nonchalant about his little make-over. He turned away, back to his closet, looking for… well. His senses, maybe. His morals. Because the second that Jesse form went away, he wanted it back.
“I, um…” He muttered, pulling a long green shirt with funky Hawaiian flowers all over it from the depths of his closet. “Here. Try this on, see if it fits.”
Suddenly, Blithe was behind him. Against his back, hands winding around his arms as he reached for the shirt. Xander sucked in a breath, feeling heart-broken, numb to all but his warmth and touch. God… He can’t… He won’t… He couldn’t let this thing get to him. He had to get it to Buffy…
“There’s no shame in it.” The thing whispered, almost purred, leaning up against his back. “If you want someone, you want someone. I can be that someone. I can be anything.”
No… His conscience whined, already cracked in half from seeing that body, so real, right in front of him. But he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t. He’d gone so long, trying to forget, but he just couldn’t anymore. Not when it was right in front of him, being offered like some kind of reward for all he’d had to endure. Which, really, sounded exactly right.
“Can you… I mean, can I…?”
“You want it back?”
He swallowed, suddenly unwilling to deny himself this. Just this. “Yes.”
“Look at me.”
He turned, and Jesse was back, his pale fingers with their bitten-off nails touching his face, drawing him in for a kiss that he wasn’t going to fight. God- His mind whispered, before all thoughts but this left him and he was tasting the beer they’d stolen for his fourteenth birthday and the Twizzlers they’d been chewing the first night they’d slept together. The memories were so raw, so real, they almost pained him, and he shoved himself away from them, into this. Up against the closet door, hands pushing into his pants, and it occurred to him that they’d never done it standing up before. Never got the chance to try.
The thing pulled away for a second, and reality began to trickle back as its lips mouthed at his jawline. It whispered, “What’s my name?” and for a minute Xander wanted to cry, because he didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to poke holes in this fantasy.
“Blithe.” He hissed it through gritted teeth, trying not to hate it, trying to just feel. But the thing wasn’t having it, pushing its fingers into his shorts, dry and scorching and dragging down his thighs.
“No,” The thing whispered again, lips moving back to their original place, mouthing over his lower lip, nipping at it. “What’s my name?”
“Jesse.” He hissed louder, saying it, saying exactly what he wanted to say. And the thing grinned, relishing it as he dragged Xander’s pants to the floor and used those hot, hot hands to spread his thighs. Wide.