Xander sat on the back step of an ambulance, covered in soot and fiddling with the straps on the oxygen mask the paramedic had insisted on fitting him with.
Once again, the luck of the Zeppo had struck. Clearly, the position of demon magnet was not tied into the energy of the Hellmouth, as he had so fervently hoped.
The date had started out well enough. He’d seen Ellie frequently over a couple of weeks, bumping into her in the store he liked to get his groceries from. He’d finally summoned the courage to ask her on a date and had been pleasantly surprised when she said yes. He should have known right then that something wasn’t right-- pretty lady like that saying yes to him. But no, foolishly he’d entertained the notion of actually having a normal life.
Sighing, he found his breath catching and a horrible tightness in his chest as he started to cough. OK, so maybe the paramedic did have a point. Smoke inhalation sucked.
They’d found their taste in movies to be similar, and so this hellish night had been born. Who knew making out in the back row could be such a health hazard?
Turns out, Ellie was a half-breed Cinnamal, a humanoid demon with an affinity for fire. As her father had explained it, Cinnamals developed later than humans, so despite her 20-odd-year-old appearance he’d been making out with the equivalent of a hormonal teen. As a result he’d quite literally made her hot, causing a small blaze to start in the projection room immediately behind the wall where their seats had been.
Xander smirked. Buck would be proud of him, if only he could tell the ladies’ man of his achievement. Ruefully, Xander shook his head.
He’d realised there was something not quite human about her once the fire broke out, and after hearing her fearful explanation and apologies, figured Ellie was mostly harmless. Reassured that she wasn’t trying to snack on him, he had smuggled her out through a fire exit at the back of the building, bumping into Daddy dear who had been searching for his rebellious child. Xander had re-entered the building, making sure that everyone made it out, since he felt responsible for the events of the evening.
So now here he was - tired, dirty, an uncomfortable burning in his lungs and dateless. Absently he looked around, finally noticing the media vans at the edge of the parking lot. He groaned as he suddenly realised that his father and the guys could have seen this on TV. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he glanced at his watch. Well, it wasn’t midnight yet, so maybe he could cut this off at the pass. All he had to do was not cough for the next five minutes and maybe, just maybe, he could make it home to his nice, comfortable bed and not have to deal with any of this until tomorrow.
Powering up the cell, he froze as he heard his name being called out.
Could a demon magnet not just catch one little, tiny, goddamn break
“Xander!” JD rushed up to the slumped form, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited impatiently for the man to acknowledge him. Xander pulled off the oxygen mask.
“Hey, JD.” Xander winced at how croaky his voice was. It made him sound so much worse than he actually felt, which wasn’t going to help him in his bid for freedom. He winced as he saw Nathan’s determined advance, and cautiously exhaled in relief as the medic diverted, after a cursory glance to assess his condition, to interrogate the paramedic.
Xander had been so focussed on Nathan, he’d missed the approach of the others and so was startled to be on the receiving end of a bear hug from Josiah.
“Need to breathe, Papa Bear.” Xander slapped Josiah playfully on the arm as he was gently lowered to the floor. He failed to dodge Buck as he reached out to ruffle Xander’s hair. “I’m not a damn puppy,” he mock-growled, regretting it as it triggered a cough.
Xander looked at Vin and returned the relieved grin his friend gave him. Meeting Chris’s gaze, which was full of remembered pain, made Xander feel guilty about not thinking to call them earlier. “Sorry,” he waved his cell at them, “it’s been a bit hectic here.”
“You’re an idiot for going back in there,” Chris bit out harshly, but quickly relented, a brief smile quirking his lips. “Hear ya saved some lives, too. Well done.”
Xander dropped his head shyly. “Don’t know about that, exactly. I’m sure they would have made it out fine on their own.” Xander looked across the parking lot in the direction from which the men had approached. “Ezra?” he asked worriedly.
“He just needs a minute, Xan.” Vin moved over to lean against the door next to Xander.
“OK.” Xander smiled up at the men surrounding him. “Thanks for coming to find me.”
“’Course we came. My heart just about stopped when we saw the report on TV at the Saloon.” JD had moved to Xander’s side, wanting to reassure himself that his friend was alright.
“Inez was there?” Xander asked. At JD’s nod, he flipped open his cell, dialling the bar.
“Hey, pretty lady….. Yep, the Xan-man is fine and dandy.” Surprise flickered on Xander’s face as he heard a cheer from the background. “That for me?... Say thanks, will you?... Always, senorita…. See you soon.”
“Xander.” Xander’s head shot around to look at the man who had so softly called his name.
“Ezra, hi.” Xander smiled at the man. Seeing Ezra’s discomfort at the situation, Xander decided that right now he still counted as the injured party and could get away with pretty much anything. He stood slowly, then stepped forward and threw his arms around the normally reserved man.
Ezra froze momentarily, then reached out to return the embrace. He pulled back slowly to give Xander a thorough visual exam before speaking. “Are you well?”
“Not too bad. Throat and chest are a bit sore, but it’s nothing a good night’s sleep-- in my own bed-- won’t fix.” Xander gave Ezra a hopeful smile. When it came to visits to medical ‘professionals’, Xander had quickly figured out that phase one should always be getting Ezra and Vin on his side.
“So, Pard, where’s yer lovely lady? She weren’t hurt, I hope,” Buck questioned his newest protégé.
“Ellie’s fine. Her Dad came and picked her up. Think I pretty much blew it, though.” Xander figured that he’d cut off further enquiries as quickly as possible in regard to Ellie, and so plastered a hangdog expression on his face.
“What the hell did ya do to the poor gal that cancels out the points gained with you being hailed as a bona fide hero?” Buck was stumped as to how the boy could have screwed up the opportunity to cash in on something like that.
“I’d rather not talk about it.” Xander shook his head, looking to Ezra to save him from Buck’s inquisition.
“Does it have anything to do with her father, hot stuff
?” Vin teased, laughing as the one-eyed man flushed.
Xander looked at his feet, hoping to convey just enough embarrassment to let these men draw whatever conclusion they wanted from his reaction, and -- with a bit of luck-- grant him a reprieve. He bit back a grin: ‘hot stuff’ - if only they knew!
“Leave the poor man alone,” Josiah rumbled, stifling his amusement at the situation.
“So, Xand, when you said you needed Ezra to be your ‘kidnap’ buddy…?” JD asked.
“Ah, did I not make the job description clear? It’s more of an all-round, dire straits/mortal peril-type thing,” Xander explained with a grin.
“Are your dates usually this exciting?” Chris asked mockingly.
“This? Nah; mild peril, tops. Usually it’s much, much worse.” Xander didn’t have to fake the shudder that ran through him. “I think it’s time once again to declare myself celibate.”
JD spun and slapped his hands over Buck’s ears.
“We don’t mention the ‘c’ word around Buck. It gets him mighty upset,” JD mock whispered, dancing back out of Buck’s reach as the big man lunged for him. Xander couldn’t help the loud snort of laughter that broke out at their antics, which unfortunately degenerated into another coughing fit.
“That’s it. You are going to the hospital to get properly checked out.” Nathan waved the paramedic over, who reapplied the oxygen mask.
“Damn it, JD! This is all your fault,” Xander complained, pulling the mask away. Nathan forcefully repositioned it, admonishing him to leave it in place.
Xander glared sullenly for a moment before switching his attention to Ezra. “Dad, don’t let them take me… Please?” Xander injected what he hoped was just the right amount of pleading into his voice.
Chris watched in amusement as Ezra’s stern expression of concern started to waver. He glanced around and noticed the calculating look in Tanner’s eye.
“Quit it with the emotional blackmail, Xander. You’re going to the hospital, and that’s final.” Chris decided to step in and nip further arguments in the bud. “Ezra, you going with him?”
Ezra murmured his agreement, ushering Xander into the rear of the vehicle.
“We’ll be right behind ya, Lance,” Vin called out, laughing at the betrayed look Xander shot Chris.
The men of team seven, minus Ezra, were waiting to find out if they were going to keep Xander in the hospital overnight.
Chris looked around his so-called team and voiced what had been bugging him since the little scene in the parking lot.
“You know, it’s unfair that you all stand back and leave me and Nate to play the bad guys all the time,” Chris ground out. He didn’t voice it but sometimes it would be nice not to be the ‘mean uncle’ in these situations.
“But Chris, ya do it so well,” Buck replied with a grin, which quickly fell as he realised the other men had wisely kept quiet and he was the sole recipient of the Larabee glare.
“You just remember that come tomorrow, Bucklin, when you’re stuck in the file room,” Chris said with a glint in his eye.
“What? Aw, come on now, that ain’t fair.” Buck looked around once more, seeking support. He was distracted by Ezra’s approach and took advantage of the opportunity to divert attention away from himself. With any luck, Chris would forget about his threat come the morning.
“They have agreed to release him into my care. I have a list of things to watch out for, and instructions to bring him back here if any of his current symptoms worsen, but he should be fine,” Ezra explained.
“Glad to hear it, Ezra. Do you want to take tomorrow as a personal day?” Chris offered
“I’d appreciate it, if that’s acceptable, Mr. Larabee. Gentlemen, thank you for your support. Perhaps you’d care to join us for a meal tomorrow night?” Ezra rarely invited them over -- generally they just turned up, on the rare occasions when they had all gathered at his condo -- so they were all more than happy to accept.
Xander wandered out from the exam area in scrub pants and a t-shirt, his own clothes being too dirty to put back on.
“All done. Let’s blow this popsicle stand!” Xander called out gleefully, glad to have avoided an overnight stay.
As they paused to say goodnight at the entrance, Chris called out to Buck, who was getting a lift back with JD, Josiah and Nathan: “8am in the file room, Big Dog. Don’t be late.”
Frowning, Buck turned to Ezra. “This is all your fault, Ez.”
“My fault? Just how exactly did you reach that conclusion, Mr. Wilmington?” Ezra drawled.
“Well, seeing as he’s your boy and knowing your track record as well as I do, clearly it’s your genes that made him such a trouble magnet,” Buck answered smugly, turning to leave the other men to deal with the now-glowering carpenter.
“Xander, I can hardly be held at fault for the chance selection of nature,” Ezra proffered, at the disgruntled glare he was receiving from his offspring.
“I wouldn’t count on it. Do you have any idea the years of hell I’ve been through thanks to your genetic predisposition to attract trouble?” Xander threw a wink at Chris and Vin as he stalked off to where he could see Chris’s van parked.
“Xander, wait. I…” Ezra hurried after his son, who had begun bemoaning the ‘Standish Curse’.
Chris smiled at Vin, as they wandered along behind the pair.
“Wouldn’t let them see that smile, Cowboy. We’ve got a 40-minute ride with them still.” Vin chuckled as Chris’ face fell.
“I reckon it’s ‘cause you’re the evil one, ‘Uncle Chris’.”
A/N Will ya look at that - I managed to get them through unharmed, well almost!
Oh and yes, there is a kidnap themed tale in the works, just eking out the plotlines.....
Thanks for the reviews. Sorry for the lack of individual replies, no excuses - I'm just slack. Don't think they're not appreciated though. I'm a bad, bad scribbler for not making more effort :0)
Thanks to RevDororthyL for the beta and once again picking her way through the cultural misunderstandings!