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Alone in a Crowded Room

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Lust-filled. That’s how everyone describes you and Xander Harris. Cordelia’s lust-filled mistake. It’s something that gets under your skin. 

You’ve always understood attractive. That’s a formula more or less. You can look at a person; assess the clothes the face, the hair and you can come up with an answer. Yes or no. Attractive or not. It works on everyone in the same detached sort of way. You notice Buffy when she first comes to town, dismiss Willow in middle school, and recognize Angel’s status as a hottie. You even understand that you’ve got it, the looks, the smile, and the body. 

Attractive, you get. Attraction, not so much.

As for you and Xander, lust-filled? Please.

What you had with Xander is passion and that’s mostly just because you hated him. (Hate him, and that’s another thing you have to get used to. You hate Xander Harris again.) There was a time when even you mistook one for the other, were so convince that you finally felt it, that you let yourself be suckered. 

Your first boyfriend, Luke, checks you out in the hall long before you notice him. It happens for months before Harmony finally grabs you by the elbows and hisses, If you even smile at the guy once, he’ll ask you out. So you try it and he asks you out.

The first date ends with a kiss under the bleachers after a football game and it’s… fine. The tongue thing has an interesting texture to it, the hand on the boob, less so, but whatever. There’s a few minutes of inept fumbling and then Luke pulls back and says, “What’s a matter baby, aren’t you into this?”

You tell him the truth. 

“No. I’m not,” you reply, wearing your blinding Cordelia Chase smile. “I think I’m going to go home. See you Monday, all right?”

It’s not like anyone can fault you for honesty. (They do, but they shouldn’t.)
By Monday, stories of Cordelia the Ice Queen have settled into the lore of Sunnydale High. Which suits you fine. You get to say what you want and being a bitch is kind of fun. The tongue thing you can really take or leave. 

Your friends obsess about it, but you’re not your friends.

I can be surrounded by people and be completely alone, you tell Buffy once and something crosses her face. For just a second, you think that maybe she gets it, sees the Cordelia Chase you wrap in gauze and hide from the rest of the world. You’ll never admit it, but you need people. People to talk to, people to gossip with, people who will care if you’re eaten by vampires. But in high school, a lot of people don’t understand that kind of need. There are just guys and girls obsessing over how to get guys.

You really thought the Scooby gang might have been an answer. A purpose. Because they’re geeks and losers, but the care about each other outside just liking a pretty face. And that’s what you’ve been craving. Friendship-love instead of love-love.

Xander Harris and his lips, not so much. At first, the excitement and the secrecy keep you interested, but that whole closet grope fest gets kind of tedious. You were hoping that would be different, because you like the rest of it. Holding hands, talking and the way he smiles when he thinks you’re not looking. 

You’d confided your suspicions to the maid back before Luke and she’d looked at you all infinite wisdom and broken English and proclaimed, Late bloomer.

Should have known better than to think Xander Harris would turn you into flowers. Flowers are boring anyway, you’re probably something different altogether. You’d say cactus if they weren’t so bloated looking.

Your mother just dismisses you the one time you try to talk about it. Tells you that sex has nothing to do with attraction. You don’t like what that says about her marriage. 

Little pieces slip out. Faith tells you all that slaying makes her hungry and horny. It takes you a second to even put it together and the words slip out of your mouth easy and true, “Not the horny thing, yuck.”

And then you’re talking again. You don’t realize what you said until almost an hour later. Don’t realize that you’ve acknowledged it out loud and no one even noticed.

You feel sick and then you feel like you’re at the top of the world. 

The thing with Xander cools down to your relief and despite the fact that he spends 98% of his life both hungry and horny, he doesn’t push which is even better. And it’s nice to not have to play the game because you’re taken. Nicer still to have someone to talk to. Someone who might notice if you’re gone. Love doesn’t have to be about sex. If you learned one thing from Buffy and Angel it was that. 

And you might kind of love Xander Harris. Present tense despite the gaping hole in your side, because you’re pretty sure it wouldn’t hurt this much if it was past. There’s not much else to do so you have to wonder about Willow, have to think about Willow and Xander in a bed doing natural things that don’t come naturally to you.

Across Sunnydale, you’re pretty sure Oz is having the same meltdown for different reasons. It’s not a comfort. 

You don’t think you’re going to forgive either of them. Which makes it worse because you’ve spent the better part of two years carving your place in the Scoobies and losing your space with the Cordettes. You’re going to be back where you started. Alone in a crowded room.

But you’re bigger than that, you always have been.

Wesley is… sweet. Rich, British, like a younger Giles with the same musty old book smell. You flirt with him because it makes Xander crazy. It takes you about a week to realize this probably isn’t fair to Wesley, but by then you’re having too much fun watching Xander squirm.

The Wesley experiment ends with a kiss even more horrific than Willow’s sweaters, but that’s as much your fault as his. At that point, you still haven’t had a real conversation with Xander, don’t know if you even want one.

You get it a few hours before graduation, with Xander walking toward you apologies written all over his stupid face. You cut him off before he can start. “I was never going to sleep with you.”

For a second he looks gob-smacked and you think you’re going to have to slap him. You’ve actually been waiting for an excuse. “I know, Cordy.”

You eye him suspiciously. “Even when I liked you, I probably wasn’t going to sleep with you.”

He has the gall to laugh at that, but when he puts a hand on your shoulder you don’t shake him off. “Cordelia, I’ve watched you, hating you mostly, since I was four years old. Watched dozens of guys fall in love with you and watch you just go along being Cordy. Of course you weren’t going to sleep with me.” There’s a pause and God forbid, it actually might be one of those moments until Xander ruins it, adding, “I’m not sure if you’d be willing to sleep with Buffy, but honestly I’d be okay with that.”

You hit him. But in the shoulder. It’s very nearly friendly. “I don’t want to sleep with Buffy.”

“That’s all right, too. I mean, big with the disappointment, but you can’t have everything.”

You lapse into what is very nearly a comfortable silence for a few moments before you have to ask, “Might be your last few hours on Earth. Why are you here talking to someone that still kind of hates you?” 

Xander smirks and says, “Because Buffy and Giles are doing their thing and Willow’s off with Oz. I’m pretty sure she’s decided she doesn’t want to die a virgin.”

You snort. “Lame.”

“I don’t hate you, Cordy.”

You don’t hate him either, but that’s not something you’re ever going to admit. 

You think that maybe if you die during the mayor’s ascension, Xander will miss you. 

And that’s good.