Chapter 1: Angry Birds
Xander Harris was having a blast hanging with his two Best Buds with Boobs, Willow Rosenberg and Buffy Summers.
When he had first christened them such, they had berated him for an hour, but he had held firm: BFF was a weird abbreviation, and he wasn't about to wear a charm bracelet with half a heart. Besides, whose half would he wear? He could never choose between them. It was hard enough being a guy whose only friends were girls, and they did have boobs, thank you, and very nice ones and he just didn't see what the problem was.
Slowly, he had watched their anger dissipate until they were left staring at him with glazed eyes and open mouths. He took this as acquiescence and fully assimilated the new moniker into his everyday vernacular. Not in public, of course, even he wasn't that much of a cretin, but in private it slipped from his lips with regularity. Especially around Giles, who turned mottled and pale all at the same time, which led to Buffy n' Willow Snickers, which were just so cute that Xander couldn't get enough.
When pressed, Giles had stated quite vociferously that, as far as he was concerned, Buffy and Willow had no breasts, just as Xander had no penis, and he then had demanded they desist with such foolishness in his presence. That had just made Buffy and Willow laugh harder, but Xander had been annoyed that Giles took much comfort in reducing him to a eunuch. Angel was the only eunuch!
"Nothing can defeat the penis!" he suddenly trilled.
Buffy and Willow looked up from their magazine and stared. They were holed up in the Slayer's bedroom, inhaling ice cream in frightening amounts, reading trash, and playing horrible music which they should have outgrown long ago. Moments before, Xander had finished braiding Buffy's hair and she now looked like a princess in a Disney movie. In contrast, Willow, whose hair had been braided by Buffy, resembled an epileptic Pippi Longstocking.
Buffy blinked. "Uh, thanks for the update."
"Is that going to be your new war cry?" Willow asked him. "I much prefer your Xena imitation."
Buffy nodded. "It's a good one. The Xena cry, I mean. Not the penis."
"Penises are bad?"
"No, but Willows are," the Slayer responded, throwing the magazine at the witch's head.
"Are pillows next?" Xander asked. "There could be pillows. And nighties with ruffles and lace. And me with a camera." He nodded.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "God, that's all you ever think about!"
"I'm seventeen!" he protested. "Of course that's all I think about! Are you telling me that girls never think about boys and their...boy bits?"
The Slayer bit her lip. "Well, sure we do, but we fit it in between shopping, homework, and saving the world. It's called multitasking, Xan. Look into it."
Willow shook her head. "I blame Cordelia. Xander wasn't like this until she shoved her boobs in his face."
He stiffened, set his jaw, and turned his head.
"Sorry," she whispered. She really should have known better than to mention Cordelia. The breakup had been bad. Really bad. And she had played a major part. Or quite possibly the only part. She didn't like to think about it.
"You still miss her, huh?" Buffy softly asked.
He sighed and nodded, finally ducking his head because he refused to cry in front of them.
"I understand," she whispered.
He looked up, eyes blazing with anger and resentment. "No, you don't. Whatever you and Angel had, or still have, it's not the same. Cordy was my friend. That's what I miss."
Her eyes widened. "Oh."
"Sorry," he whispered, hanging his head in shame. "Sorry. Didn't mean to snap, Buff. I'm just not dealing with it very well. Or at all."
She took his hand. "You don't have to be sorry. You don't have to feel anything but what you feel."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Thanks." He looked around. "Uh, so where's Oz? And how come whenever you two decide to have Girls Night In, I'm the only participant with a Y chromosome?"
"Oz had a Dingoes gig," Willow replied.
"Besides," Buffy added, "you're one of the girls."
Xander's mouth dropped open, but Buffy and Willow had returned to Cosmo and the wealth of secrets it contained.
One of the girls? He was one of the girls? Could that really be true?
He frowned and considered it. Here he was, sitting with his two best friends, both girls. He was in Buffy's bedroom on a Friday night. He had just finished braiding her hair and had done a much better job than Buffy had with Willow's tresses. They had just talked about feelings and he had gotten all teary and then moody.
Before he had arrived at Buffy's house, he had stopped off at the drug store to get emergency tampons for Willow. It hadn't meant anything that he had known the brand she favored or that she was having a light flow, right? Right.
Oh, god! He was a girl!
What was next? Popping Midol? A rousing discussion of four-walled protection? That not-so-fresh feeling and how best to combat it?
He shook his head. No, he was being ridiculous. He was very much a guy. He had a penis, and he was quite happy with it, as had been Cordelia. He liked girls. He was attracted to girls. He was attracted to Buffy and Willow, and Cordelia still made his groin twitch even when she was calling him scum. In fact, especially when she was calling him scum.
He dreamed about girls, for Twinkies' sake! About his girls, and Mrs. Summers, and about Kendra and Jenny, and oh, god! He had sex dreams about dead women! He was basically a vampire!
He needed boyfriends.
No, he needed friends who were boys. Guys. Men. Manly men, with muscles and hairy chests, who drank beer and talked about boobs. Guys like Oz and Giles didn't count, because Oz was weird and Giles was old. Angel? Too dead, and too much of a psycho. And way too pretty.
"Xan?" asked a distracted Buffy. "You okay?"
That seemed to placate the Slayer, for which he was both grateful and annoyed.
Was Angel pretty? Maybe, for a murdering fiend. Sure, he was handsome in that gothic GQ kind of way. And he had elegant fingers and really big feet.
Wait! When had he checked out Angel's feet? Why had he checked out Angel's feet? And what did that mean?
He had to stop. Stop thinking about Angel and his big feet. He needed to think about girls. Naked Buffy. Naked Willow. Naked Cordy, with her tan skin and taut body and amazing boobs.
Giles had a nice ass.
It was time to stop thinking altogether. Clearly, he was having a moment of insanity. It was par for the course on the Hellmouth and would pass momentarily. He just had to ignore it.
He just had to not think about Brad Pitt's stomach or Matt Damon's lips or any part of Johnny Depp's anatomy. Because he had never thought of them before and never would again.
Focusing intently, he tuned back in to the girls' conversation.
"I think the amethyst eye shadow could work for you, Will."
The other girl scrunched her nose. "I'm just not sure."
"Are you nuts?" Xander barked. "Willow's a Spring, and her complexion is way too fair for a color as dark as amethyst. It would take away from the vibrancy of her eyes! Now, a pale lavender or perhaps a dusky lilac..."
He started to hyperventilate.
At first, the girls didn't notice anything wrong. Willow had been nodding her head at Xander's assessment, while Buffy's face was screwed up in silent debate. As he began slipping into shock, they finally wised up.
"Xander?" asked a fearful Willow.
"Are you okay?" added a wide-eyed Buffy.
He laughed hysterically. "Okay? Am I okay? Of course I'm not okay!"
Plucking the Cosmo out of her hand, Xander raced over to Buffy's desk and grabbed a pen. Frantically flipping the pages until he arrived at his destination, he chewed on the pen when he wasn't writing on the text.
The baffled Slayer and witch looked at each other, before sliding their eyes over to their friend.
As soon as he was finished, his worst fears confirmed, Xander released a choked howl, threw the pen across the room, put his head between his knees and sobbed.
They were at his side in a flash, cooing and clucking over him, petting his hair and rubbing his shoulders, telling him it was all going to be all right.
"All right? All right?" he whined. "It's never going to be all right!"
Willow continued to worry over him, while Buffy decided to take a page from the Queen C Playbook and kick his ass.
"Xander Harris! What is your trauma?"
"Trauma? My trauma?"
"What the hell are you?" she demanded. "A mynah bird?"
"No! I'm gay! You two made me gay!"
Willow's hands fell to her sides and she blinked. "Gay," she repeated slowly. "You're gay?"
"When did the two of you become parrots?" Buffy demanded.
"Enough bird references! This is serious!"
Buffy forced herself to breathe. "Okay, let's think about this. Xan, why do you think you're gay?"
He started ticking off his points with fingers. "One, all of my friends are girls. Two, I talk way too much about my feelings. Three, I did too good a job braiding your hair. Four, I can't make it work with any girl. What kind of a moron scores Cordelia Chase and throws it away?"
He rolled his eyes. "No offense, Will, but stand there and tell me Cordy's not a goddess."
She shrugged diffidently. "Yeah, Cordy's okay."
Buffy snorted. "Please. The girl gives me wood. It doesn't get much hotter."
Xander nodded. "And five," he added, shuddering, "I think Angel's hot."
The Slayer's eyebrows shot off her head before a slow smirk settled across her face.
"But Angel is hot," said a confused Willow.
He shook his head frantically. "That's not the point! I shouldn't be thinking about Deadboy's hotness! Or his big feet, or wondering how soft his hair is. It's not normal!" He threw up his hands. "And Giles! Giles has a nice ass!"
"He sure does," murmured the now-dreamy witch.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Ew."
"Big help, Buff."
The blonde also threw up her hands. "Big deal! Xander, I just admitted that I think Cordelia is yummy. So you think Angel's hot. Newsflash, who doesn't? It doesn't mean you're gay! You're being a dork!"
Xander began bouncing his leg, slapping away Willow's comforting hands. "It's not just that, Buff. I'm giving Willow makeup tips." He glared at her. "The right ones. And I'm buying her tampons and knowing exactly what to get. When the two of you are on, I crave chocolate and want to hurt people. I cycle with you, and not in the way of Lance Armstrong!"
She plopped herself in his lap. "Doesn't mean anything, other than that you're a really good friend."
"See! You're sitting in my lap, something I've been dreaming about for three years, and nothing! Nothing! Little Xander's not even registering your unquestionable lusciousness. Something is wrong!"
She blinked. "Lusciousness? You think I'm luscious?" she cooed.
"Oh, yeah, big surprise," he sighed. "The clueless thing? Not working anymore, Buff. You know I used to feel about you, and you knew from day one."
She flushed and couldn't meet his gaze.
He blinked. "Used to feel. When did I stop feeling warm for your form?"
Buffy wondered that too, as well as why it bothered her so much.
"None of this means anything," Willow staunchly declared.
He looked at her. "Will, I just got a perfect score on the How to Seduce that Hard-to-Get Man Quiz."
"You got a perfect score?" Buffy roared. "Why didn't I?"
"So not the time," Willow hissed. "Xander, you think you're gay? All right, then, answer me this: do you want to have sex with guys?"
His mouth fell open.
"You're drawing flies," she drawled. "Answer the question! Do you want to the dirty-dirty with another guy? Anyone in mind? Giles? Angel? Ooh, what about Spike? Of course, he left town. Oh, wait, you don't like vampires. Guys at school? Tell me!"
He released a manly shriek, shoved Buffy off his lap and onto the floor, stood, and fled the house.
"Wait!" the Slayer called after him. "At least let me walk you home! Xander, it's dangerous!"
She scrambled to her feet, grabbed Willow's hand, and they thundered down the stairs.
"Buffy?" Joyce called from the kitchen. "What's going on? Is Xander okay?"
"He's gay!" her daughter screeched.
The woman appeared next to them. "Gay? Xander's gay? Are you sure?"
"He's not even sure," Willow seethed, glaring at Buffy. "And you didn't help anything!"
Buffy looked at the floor. "I was surprised." Her face darkened. "And you were worse!"
"Yeah," the other girl said sarcastically, "surprised that he didn't try to cop a feel when you sat in his lap. And, hey, I was doing that intervention thing! The one that we did with you! That didn't work so well." She blinked. "Oh."
Joyce's eyes widened. Clearly, she needed to monitor her daughter's sleepovers a little more carefully. But did that even matter if Xander was gay? Poor, sweet Xander. She would get him some helpful pamphlets.
"What should we do?" Buffy asked her friend.
Willow sighed. "I don't know. Probably nothing, at least for right now. I don't think he wants to talk about this with anyone. We'll wait until he's ready."
Xander was hotfooting it over to Cordelia's house. He needed a heavy dose of reality, replete with shrill shrieks and kidney punches, and no one did that better than her.
He stormed the streets of Sunnydale, completely oblivious to whatever dangers might be lurking around him. For once, he simply had no fucks to give. He rambled all the way across town, mumbling to himself and gesticulating wildly.
"Well," Angel muttered, "there's something you see every day."
The boy remained clueless that he was being followed. Typical.
Angel had been outside Buffy's house, just checking up on her. Right. He wasn't stalking, wasn't lurking, wasn't looming. He was just worried about her. Especially because she was locked safely inside her home with her mother and two best friends. Yes.
He just couldn't stop worrying. It didn't matter that she could take care of herself, or that they had decided to cool things for a while. If something happened and he hadn't been there to protect her, he never would have forgiven himself.
And despite what Xander insisted, that did not make him Edward Cullen! He didn't sparkle.
So when Xander had fled the Slayer's home late at night in the greatest state of agitations heretofore seen amongst mortals, Angel decided the best course of action was to follow him and make sure he was safe. Though he had never pretended to understand why she cared so for him, he couldn't let something bad happen to the boy. Buffy would be devastated.
Besides, he still owed Xander for protecting Buffy from Angelus. As far as the vampire was concerned, he was going to be in the red to Xander for years. And Xander was a good boy. Sometimes.
So, Angel followed him, surprised when he realized that Xander was heading toward Cordelia's neighborhood. Perhaps the three friends had yet another argument about the cheerleader?
Angel shook his head. He thought it funny how insanely jealous both Buffy and Willow were when it came to the other girl. They had become practically apoplectic when Xander and Cordelia had begun dating, and both were just a little too smug when the couple had broken up. Even Willow, despite Cordelia's injury and emotional devastation, had been secretly pleased; Angel could smell it on her. Buffy had been relieved, and Angel was once again painfully reminded that Xander appeared to be her safety guy.
He thought the girls could have saved everyone a lot of time by just peeing on Xander and marking him as theirs.
The vampire decided that it was more important to overcome his antipathy for the boy and try to help him. God knows no one else ever did. He wondered if he had been so pathetic when he was Xander's age. Then he realized he indeed had been and felt a twinge of sympathy.
The boy jumped three feet into the air. "Bell! Damn it, Deadboy, I distinctly remember that we discussed a bell!"
Angel suppressed a smirk. Scaring Xander was one of his few guilty pleasures, and he could only do it by sneaking up on him. The boy wasn't cowed otherwise, and that really pissed him off.
"Are you okay?" At the hysterical laugh, the vampire noted the tinge of mania and widened his eyes. "Xander, what's wrong?"
The boy refused to meet his gaze, however. Angel sensed Xander's heartbeat and respiration increasing, and saw the drops of sweat breaking out across his brow.
"Why are you looking at my feet?"
"Guh!" Xander screamed, before turning and running away.
Angel stared after him. "Weird."
Xander pounded on her door while intermittently ringing the bell.
"At least someone has a bell," he savagely muttered.
The door suddenly opened wide, and Cordelia's father was peering down at him.
"Uh, h-hi, Mr. Chase." He cleared his throat. "Is Cordy home?"
The man sighed. This wasn't the first time one of his daughter's former beaus had shown up late at night, asking to see her. The difference was he actually liked this boy. Xander Harris was different from the Neanderthals whom Cordelia often brought home.
The first time Cordelia had dragged him over for dinner, Xander had walked into the house and been appropriately awed by his surroundings. More impressive, however, was that it was apparent to anyone within a hundred-mile radius that he cared greatly for Cordelia; he had looked across the dining table repeatedly, his eyes lighted as if he had won the lottery.
Xander had been charming, effusive, and displayed an intelligence and cunning which, while not reflected in his class standing, was laudatory. The boy was also good-looking and well-mannered, although extremely nervous. Cordelia had set that to rights by immediately launching into a blistering tirade which had made her father proud and her mother mortified.
Xander, however, had slipped easily into the banter, his biting wit rising to the fore as he refused to be cowed and instead pointed barbs at the girl with a ruthless lethality. Never had Cordelia been so well-matched, and her parents could see by the sparkle in her eyes that she not only liked this boy, but respected him. That certainly had been new. Granted, the Chase patriarch hadn't been pleased that Xander had no money, but other things were more important.
His daughter had never revealed why she and Xander had broken up, but her parents had been almost as disappointed as she had been, for they had never before seen her so happy.
"Xander," he said more gently, "I don't think this is a good idea."
"Please," the boy begged. "I need her."
The man's eyes softened and he appeared to waffle.
"Daddy?" a voice called, echoing throughout the foyer. "Who is it?"
Mr. Chase breathed a sigh of relief and stepped aside to allow his daughter to view their guest. He would leave it in her hands.
"What do you want?" she demanded of the boy.
"I need to talk."
"To me?" she screeched. She shook her head. "We've said everything we need to say."
Her father slowly began to edge out of the room.
"Please," Xander whispered. "I don't need Queen C. I don't need Cordelia, my ex-girlfriend. I need my friend Cordy."
Her eyes widened. She stood there and considered him. "Well," she allowed, "you do look a mess. Even more than usual, I mean."
He sighed, and that was what clinched it for her. No matter how upset he was, the day Xander Harris just stood there and took her abuse without his eyes even blazing was the day the world was doomed.
She stomped across the floor, grabbed his hand, and pulled him inside. "Let's go." She began leading him up the stairs.
"Cordelia," her father halfheartedly protested.
"Not now, Daddy!" she barked. "Xander needs me!"
He smirked as he watched his daughter drag the now-reluctant Xander toward her bedroom.
Chapter 2: Dalai Cordy
Cordelia unceremoniously pushed Xander into her room and onto her bed. "Okay, lame-o, spill it. Why the hell do you look like hell?"
So he told her everything. He began with his run to the pharmacy and her eyes darkened as he explained about needing to procure tampons for Willow, the Red Menace. She rolled her eyes at the hair-braiding and the listening of boy bands. She yawned loudly at the sharing of feelings and heartfelt moments of friendship.
Once Xander sensed she was properly subdued, he explained to her the nature of his latest revelation.
She sat there, staring at him, her eyes narrowed and flinty. She looked him up and down, blew a lock of hair out of her face, and uncrossed her legs. She stood, and he tensed for the onslaught he was sure was coming.
"What the hell do you mean you're gay?" she bellowed.
He cringed. "Keep it down! I don't think they heard you in Argentina!"
"You can't be gay!" she shrieked. "Hello, ex-girlfriend here, remember? I was there when you introduced me to Lil Xander who, okay, not so little, and he was very happy to meet me! You're mistaken! You're insane! You can't be gay. You have no fashion sense, you're not trendy, and you don't smell like oranges!"
"Oranges?" he repeated.
She waved her arm dismissively as she resumed her seat. She studied him critically and he withered under her gaze. "Are you hot for guys?"
He fidgeted. "I never really thought about it until tonight, and now I can't stop!"
She raised a brow. "Never, huh? Because I seem to recall you thinking Angel was a very attractive man and that he was buff. Isn't that true?" He blushed and her eyes widened. "Oh my god! Are you hot for Angel? Your other best friend's, well, whatever he is? You and Willow might as well be the same person!"
"I'm not hot for Angel!" he screamed. He cleared his throat. "But, yeah, I think he's good-looking."
"Well, at least your taste isn't in question," she sneered. "Except, of course, for Buffy."
She didn't deign to offer Willow as a possibility.
He rolled his eyes. "Now's not the time for your jealousy, Cor."
"Jealousy? Are you even crazier than I thought? Why the hell would I be jealous of Buffy? For her freakish strength? Her fake blonde hair? Her passion for necrophilia? Get serious!"
He sighed and averted his gaze. "I'm scared."
She stilled, knowing what that admission, to her of all people, cost him. "Well, that's just stupid," she said, patting his knee. "There's nothing to be scared about, Xanny. You don't even know for sure if you are a pickle jockey." Her eyes widened. "Not that there's anything wrong with that!"
He choked. "What? A what?"
She gave him a Look. "Xander, what is it exactly that you think gay guys do together? You can't really be that uninformed. I'm taking about butt sex here."
"Butt sex. Anal intercourse. Fucking!"
It wasn't so much the words that did him in, but the fact that she said them. He clapped his hands over his ears.
"La la la la la!"
She rolled her eyes, leaned over towards him, and forced his arms to his sides.
"Xander, can you even imagine making out with a guy?" He flushed again and her eyes narrowed. "Xander."
He blinked rapidly and met her gaze, and she almost flinched at the pain residing there.
"Jesse?" she whispered.
He swallowed heavily and nodded after several seconds. "We were kids, though. We wanted to be ready in case any hot girls, um, basically that was you, decided to kiss us, so we practiced on each other."
She shrugged. "Girls do it, too."
"They do?" Then the drooling commenced.
"See?" she purred, ensnaring him in a knowing gaze. "You can't be all gay, Xander. Otherwise the idea of two girls making out wouldn't cause your mouth to flood."
He thought about that. "I guess that's true." He nodded, and was then taken over by fond memories. "And I still have flashbacks of your amazing boobage. It's like, the most incredible acid trip of all time." His eyes widened. "Not that I've done acid." He shook his head and ogled her bust. "Who needs acid when your boobs are around?"
"But maybe I should be gay," he frowned. "Maybe I'd have better luck with guys."
"You'd have better luck with anyone if you could just be faithful!"
"You're like a dog with a bone!"
"Did you just call me a dog?" she howled. "And you sure weren't complaining when it was your bone I was slobbering on!"
A blissful smile appeared across his face. It disappeared when she slapped him.
And then they were kissing.
She ignored him and stuck her tongue in his mouth before proceeding to grope him. Boy, did he feel good in her hands. He released a noise that was a combination squeal and moan, and she smiled inwardly in triumph.
Oh, wow. Why had she denied herself this? So he had kissed Willow. Big woo. She imagined that novelty would have worn off fairly soon, because no way was that little witch in her league. She wasn't ready to get back together with him, but she sure liked the fringe benefits. Xander was so...why was he pulling away? He didn't have permission to pull away!
"Stop," he whispered.
"Excuse me." It wasn't question or a statement. It was something altogether different, something quite terrifying.
"This isn't helping, Cordy."
"It's helping me just fine! Now shut up, pucker up, and get back over here!"
He sighed. "Look, kissing you is better than anything. It's better than ice cream and chocolate and comic books and dusting vamps, but this is our pattern: we get mad, we fight to make up, and then the fights just get worse." He ducked his head to hide the tears in his eyes. "And I hurt you. Really badly." He shook his head. "I still can't believe I let myself hurt you that way, and you're not over it anymore than I am."
She gave him a measured look. "You're right. You're gay. No straight guy talks like that."
"Thanks," he muttered bitterly.
She punched his arm. "Grow up. I was just teasing. Xander, you responded when I kissed you, okay? I mean, hello, your ooh-hoo was in my hands and I was more than prepared to give myself TMJ."
She cupped his cheek. "Thinking guys are hot doesn't make you any more gay than making out with me makes you straight."
He blinked owlishly. "Wait, this was a test?"
She nodded. "And, as usual, you scored right in the middle. Congratulations, Xander. You're bisexual."
He groaned. "Why can't I ever just make a decision?"
Cordelia decided she needed to take charge of this situation. She was a natural leader, and Xander simply couldn't be trusted to run his own life. He should have recognized this years ago and saved a lot of people a lot of grief.
"We need to get you a man," she declared.
"A what?" he shrieked.
"A man, a guy, a boy, a dude, another penis," she stated with finality. "You'll experiment with this person and their penis and discover if you like it. If you do, then you can figure out if you should date a boy or a girl."
"That's not going to solve anything!" he exploded. "It will just make me more confused!"
She shook her head. "Not at all. Maybe you'll like being with a guy more than you like being with a girl. Or vice versa. You're spending too much time hemming and hawing over the situation, and no action is being taken." She glared at him. "Gee, Buffy much?"
He put his head in his hands. "Why did I come here?"
"Because you know I'm right. I'm the Slayer of Dating, remember? You're spending the night."
"Are you deficient? Never mind. Of course you are. Here, doofus! Hang on."
She walked over to her bedroom door and pressed the intercom button.
"Daddy?" she cooed.
"Yes, dear?" her father's tinny voice replied.
"Xander's going to spend the night. It's too late for him to go home. Can you have Josephina prepare one of the guest rooms?"
"Of course. One that's in the wing opposite yours. On another floor."
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Daddy."
She depressed the button and turned back to her very best used-to-be. "Should you call your parents?"
He shook his head. "They're probably asleep. I don't want to wake them up, and I don't know how they would feel about me spending the night at your house."
She put her hands on her hips. "Oh, fine. But they don't have any trouble when you sleep over at Buffy's or Willow's? Good to know!"
"It's not like that! They know that nothing would ever happen between me and Buffy or me and Willow."
She raised a brow and he blushed.
"They don't know about that, and I don't want them to. They really like you and were very upset when we broke up. And as much as they love Willow, they'd blame her, and it wasn't all her fault."
Her eyes clouded and she sighed. "Whatever. You were both selfish assholes." Then she brightened. "Now, let's get back to making you the best gay you can be!"
Her infectious attitude was obscene and Xander tried to crawl inside of himself.
"A list," she added, nodding. "We should make a list of all the attributes you want in a man."
"You're being far too accepting of this."
She shrugged. "Not really. Before we began dating, I had always thought you were just a little bit gay."
"What? You never told me that!"
She raised a brow. "Look, Xander, I don't ridicule people's sexuality, okay? Because that's lame and beneath me. And after we got together, when would I have worked in that tidbit? When I was going down on you?" She raised a brow. "Gee, Xan, ever check out another guy's package? Choke, choke."
He rubbed his temples. "Like your mouth isn't big enough to accommodate." He felt somewhat better when a blush crept up her neck. "Why did you think I was gay?"
She stared at him. "Seriously? Your best friend was the mousy nerdy girl. You never played sports; you weren't even interested in them. You listened to weird music. Your only guy friend was Jesse, and he was just as strange as you."
She realized how it sounded and she held up her hands in surrender. "No offense to Jesse," she added hastily.
She sighed. "Look, Xan, you've always just had this thing about you, okay? You know girls. You know how we think, why we act the way we do, what we really mean when we say things. Buffy was wrong; you're not one of the girls. You're just the best friend we all want and usually never find."
"I hate when you do that," he whispered.
"Switch from Queen C to Cordy with no warning. It's like you have multiple personalities, but without any tells. It's disconcerting."
"You've been using the thesaurus again."
"At least I finally figured out a thesaurus wasn't a dinosaur."
"How did I ever find you witty?"
"Okay!" Cordelia brightly began. "Let's make that list."
He groaned and fell across her bed. "I don't know what to say," he mumbled into her pillow.
"Well, start with what you find attractive in a man," she prompted.
"This is really hard for me, okay?"
She frowned. "Then tell me what you like in a woman."
He peeked up at her. He could do that. "Well," he said slowly, "I like girls who are smart, funny, kind of mean, and well built."
She smiled, pleased by the description. "You just made your own point."
"Everything you said could apply to either a boy or a girl."
He looked shocked. "Wow."
"So, let's dig a little deeper, okay?"
He nodded, though it was hesitant.
"What kind of smart do you like?"
His brow furrowed before he understood the question. "Oh. You mean like you-smart or Willow-smart?"
He looked around nervously. "You have to promise never to repeat this to anyone."
She grinned, nodded more emphatically, and leaned forward.
"Well," he began, fidgeting, "it's like this. Take you and Willow. If the two of you were dropped into the middle of the Amazon, you'd find your way home, but..."
"Poor little Willow would crawl into a hollow log and die?" she finished.
He flung himself back into the pillows, but she could see him nod.
"I'm really proud of how smart she is," he added defensively.
She had to strain to hear his muffled words.
"She's great with the books and the tutoring and the arcane knowledge. But sometimes she gets too wrapped up in it and can't see the forest for the trees. Books can teach you about life, but they can't live it for you."
"So what you really mean is that you want someone who has common sense," she said.
"Okay, this is good! Now, what kind of funny? Witty funny? Stupid funny? Potty humor funny? Lame funny?"
He frowned and looked at her with suspicion. "All of those are synonyms for Xander-funny."
She nodded. "They sure are. Bottom line, you want someone with a good sense of humor who can laugh at everything."
"Oh, please continue, Dr. Cordy," he drawled.
"Hm, Dr. Cordy," she slowly repeated. "I like that." Her face lit up. "I could be a therapist! I could get paid for telling people what to do, and if they don't listen, I could just medicate them!"
He shivered, but she didn't notice because her thoughts were happily occupied by fantasies of the Doctor Cordy Show, merchandising rights, and world domination. She could be Oprah without the binge eating!
"Angel could certainly benefit from some Prozac," she added. "Buffy, too, for that matter. And Willow has needed Ritalin for years. Giles? Definitely some uppers."
He snickered, but felt guilty about it.
"Get over it," she advised. "If you can't make fun of your friends, you're doing something wrong."
"Angel's not my friend."
"Oh. Right. Well, if you can't make fun of your inappropriate homosexual crush, you're doing something wrong."
He dove under her bed.
"You're being ridiculous!"
"You're being mean!"
"What are you, eight? Xander, I'm trying to turn you into a Fabulous Gay. A little appreciation for my efforts would be nice."
"I can't do this anymore. I shouldn't have come here."
"Why not?" she demanded.
"Why did I ever expect you to be understanding?"
She shrugged and began filing her nails. "Beats me. You know me better than that, which is why you came here in the first place. If you wanted understanding and woo-woo, you should have stayed with Buffy and Willow. They like nothing better than to fuss over their wittle Xander." She eyed him. "So grow up, grow a pair, and get it together!"
He sighed. "You're right. You're always right."
She nodded. "That is the natural order of our universe. Well, when we're not in Bizarro World."
"Okay, what's next?" He quietly admitted defeat and rolled out from under the bed. There were no defenses he could muster to counter the reality of a determined and perturbed Cordelia Chase.
She nodded as if his capitulation was expected which, he now understood, it had been.
"Okay, you said 'kind of mean'. What does that mean?"
He looked at her and snorted.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. So you want someone snarky."
He nodded. "I'd like to lie and say that I want nothing more than a nice boy or girl who's filled with sweetness and light, but that's a joke. I'm as much of a bitch as you are, and I should just own that. And you're always honest. I might not always like it, but I respect it." He took her hand in his. "I miss it."
Her eyes misted slightly before she grinned. "Good answer," she purred, "but what I really think you mean is that you want someone who won't allow themselves to be stepped on or kowtow to anyone, including you."
He was surprised at her insight and felt stupid for underestimating her.
"Also," she continued, "you like someone who's aggressive with you. Face it, Xander. You're submissive."
His eyes gleamed. "I think I've proven that's not the case."
He smirked at her blush.
"Yeah, yeah," she said airily, "you're the man...when you're hidden in a utility closet! You like it when someone takes charge and tells you what to do. You like being ordered around."
"Well," he allowed, "that's true. At least as far as you're concerned."
"And what about Buffy?" she prompted, surprised when he colored darkly.
"I don't like that at all."
She considered him. He was pissed. Okay, she so did not want to open that particular can of worms right now, but it might be amusing to bring it up later, say at the next Scooby meeting.
His eyes narrowed. "What are you plotting?"
"Nothing!" she tinkled.
He sighed. "Whatever. I like when you boss me around, Cordy, but I don't know if I'd like another guy to do it."
She rolled her eyes. "Men! Such fragile egos!"
He groaned and buried his head in her pillows once more.
"Which brings us to well-built," she added after a moment. "Now, I know that I'm the perfect example of what that means for girls, and Buffy and Willow could do with some serious protein, but how do you like your men?"
"I can't do this!"
"Oh, please. Do you like guys built like you? Like Angel? Like Oz?"
Once she presented the options, Xander couldn't help but contemplate the question.
"You're thinking about it," she smiled.
He blushed, felt the heat in his face, and cursed himself, Cordelia, the entire world, and demons in general, just because they should be cursed on a regular basis.
"Oz is built nicely," he admitted. "He's slender but muscular. Still, he's a little too short for me. I like being with girls because I like their curves and the way they fit under my arm and, uh, other stuff. But if I'm gonna be with a guy, I want to be with, well..."
"A big hunk of man?"
He bit his lip and nodded. "But Angel's a little too big. He's so hulking. I don't want to be intimidated either."
"That makes sense." She nodded and patted his knee, discreetly moving her hand up his thigh. "You're doing great! So, you want a guy who's built like you, swimmer's or gymnast build. In shape, but not a muscle-head."
He said nothing, staring at the floor.
She scooted over to him and wrapped her arms around him.
"Hey," she said softly. "You can talk to me about this stuff, Xan. I'm not going to judge you. I'm not going to make fun of you. There's nothing amusing about your confusion or your fear. You can trust me with this."
He buried his head in her neck. "I know. Even before we began dating and we did nothing but fight, I trusted you. You can be mean, but you're not malicious. You have pretty high standards, for yourself and everyone else. I just wish, I wish I could have lived up to them. I wish I was the person you thought I could be, the one who deserved you."
She swallowed heavily, refusing to admit that regardless of Willow, he was that person. She just wasn't ready yet to forgive him completely.
"I know you tried," she whispered, "but that doesn't make what you and Willow did hurt any less. Seeing you like that, with her, hurt a lot more than any re-bar."
He sobbed. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I did that to you. I'm so sorry you got hurt. I'm sorry I hurt you, for every way I hurt you."
"I know." She held him for a few more moments, before pulling back and cupping his face in her hands. She kissed his forehead. "I think that's enough for tonight. Come on, I'll show you where you'll be staying. You need to get a good night's sleep so that you're all ready for tomorrow."
He blinked in confusion. "What's tomorrow?"
He sobbed harder.
Chapter 3: Consort
Cordelia bounced into Xander's assigned guest room bright and early. "Rise and shine, dweeb! Today we're going to gay you up!"
"G'way," he mumbled, burrowing more deeply under the covers only to shriek when she ripped them off him.
"Rise. And. Shine."
Knowing it was a lost cause, he sighed and rolled over to the side of the bed. "I'll rise," he said, standing, "but I refuse to shine."
He then noticed he was in nothing but his boxers and blushed.
"Please. You've got nothing I haven't seen multiple times. Get dressed!"
He groaned. "I thought you were kidding about the shopping."
Her eyes became tornadoes. "I don't joke about shopping. Xander, your clothes are awful. You've got a terrific body. Hell, after that Speedo, the whole school knows it, and it's time to remind them. No more hiding your thunder."
"Cordy, I wear the clothes I do because I can't afford anything nicer, and I certainly can't afford the stores where you shop."
"Absolutely not," he barked. "I'm not your pet project, Cordelia. I'm not a charity case, and I'm not a Ken doll."
"Oh, shut up. Xander, you need clothes that fit. You deserve to have nice things. What the hell's the point of having money if you can't spend it on the people you love?"
He bit his lip and the Puppy Eyes unwillingly emerged.
"I do love you, you know," she whispered. "Despite everything, or maybe because of it." She frowned. "I'm not sure." She shrugged. "Maybe it doesn't matter. But when you came here last night, you asked to talk to your friend Cordy. Let me be Cordy today, okay? I, I miss her. Queen C isn't so much fun anymore."
He couldn't look at her, because if he did, he might cry again, and that would be too embarrassing.
"I'm only real when I'm with you."
He swallowed heavily. "Okay, we'll go to the mall. But I want to stop at my house first. I have some money saved up. I'll buy as much as I can, and you can buy the rest. Within reason."
She nodded. That was fine. Even better was that, though she had been truthful, she had just successfully and effortlessly manipulated him; he had realized she was doing so and had caved anyway. What a good boyfriend! Ex-boyfriend.
"I should probably call my parents."
She nodded. "Go ahead. I'll be downstairs. Join us for breakfast."
He reached across the night stand and dialed his number. It was answered on the third ring.
"Xander? Sweetie, where are you?" asked Jessica Harris.
"I spent the night at Cordy's."
He let loose a peal of Crazy Man Laughter. "Relax, Mom. Mr. and Mrs. Chase were home, and her dad said it was okay. I slept in one of the guest rooms, in a separate wing."
"But I thought you were staying at Joyce's house?"
He sighed. "I kind of had a fight with Buffy and Willow."
"Oh. So you went to Cordelia's? Are you two getting back together?" She tried very hard to keep the hope from her voice.
"I don't think so, Mom. I just needed a friend, and whatever else she is, Cordy's a good friend."
"Well, Cordelia is a lovely girl," she said, her voice wistful.
"I know," he whispered.
"So, do you need your father to come and pick you up?"
"No, Cordy will drive me over. I need to pick up some stuff, and then she's dragging me to the mall. She says I need new clothes."
"You're not going to let her buy you clothes, are you?" his mother asked sharply.
"No," he lied. "I have some money saved up. Cordy's playing Fashion Police today."
She giggled. "Okay, sweetie. We'll look forward to seeing you."
"Love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, baby."
Xander quickly dressed and emerged into the hallway, still marveling over the size and beauty of Chase Manor. He had taken to calling it that, and Cordelia had simply shrugged, so he kept it up.
He wandered sheepishly into the dining room, where Robert Chase was eating a piece of toast while perusing the Wall Street Journal. The man looked up when he sensed Xander's approach.
"Good morning, Alexander. Did you sleep well?"
Xander nodded shyly. "Yes, sir, thank you."
The man nodded in return before asking, "You did sleep in the guest room, yes?"
The boy colored. "Yes, sir. I would never disrespect you, your wife, or your daughter." Not again, he added silently.
Mr. Chase smiled and waved his arm toward the chair next to his. "Please join me."
Xander sat down but appeared at loose ends.
"Alexander," the man chuckled, "help yourself to whatever strikes your fancy."
The boy seemed hesitant, not wanting to abuse the generosity by pigging out. He placed his napkin in his lap and delicately helped himself to some fruit and a slice of toast. He nibbled carefully, making sure to keep his elbows off the table and that any crumbs fell on the plate where they belonged.
Xander and Mr. Chase immediately rose to their feet when Cordelia and her mother strolled in.
"Alexander!" the woman greeted. "Robert told me we had company. It's lovely to see you again, dear." She offered the boy her cool, porcelain cheek.
He pecked it quickly and blushed. "You look hot today, Mrs. Chase."
She giggled and batted his arm before urging him to resume his seat.
He spared a look at Cordelia, who rolled her eyes but smiled anyway. Never had one of her boyfriends so effortlessly charmed her parents. Of course, Xander usually got along well with parents, especially mothers. She knew Joyce Summers simply adored him, as did Sheila Rosenberg.
"So," Mr. Chase began, "what's on the agenda for you two today?"
Xander groaned. "She's making me go to the mall."
Mrs. Chase snickered, while Mr. Chase shot Xander a look of such pity, the boy felt marginally better.
"I'm sorry, son," Robert offered, "but it's better just to give in. Don't fight a Chase woman about shopping."
"I thought if I lied very still, she might just sniff me and leave me alone." The boy then registered his words and quickly flushed.
Mr. Chase roared with laughter. "Don't ever change, Alexander. You've been very good for my daughter."
"I'm very lucky she's my friend," he said. "You're very lucky to have her for a daughter."
The man calmly removed his glasses and peered at the boy. "Yes, I know, but I appreciate it when others notice this and bring it to my attention."
He looked to his daughter and was unsurprised to see her furiously blinking. He suppressed a sigh. He wished there was something he could do to get them back together.
His wife understood and agreed, but felt it best to push the conversation along. "So, dear," she addressed her daughter while pouring herself a glass of orange juice, "what do you plan to do first?"
"You mean after I burn everything in Xander's closet?"
Cordelia peeled into Xander's driveway and waited for him to get out and open her door. She wasn't going to abandon his training just because they were no longer dating.
He walked over, opened her door, and extended his hand. She got out of the car like it was a limo and walked up with him to the house.
The front door was thrown open and they were both greeted by Jessica Harris.
"Cordelia, dear! How lovely to see you again!"
The cheerleader beamed her toothpaste smile and nodded. "You, too, Mrs. Harris. How have you been?"
"Well, thank you. Please come inside."
"Gee, can I come in too?" Xander drawled.
"I'm still debating."
Cordelia snickered and walked into the house, Xander following her.
"Dear, both Buffy and Willow have called several times this morning," his mother advised.
He groaned. "You didn't tell them where I was, did you?"
"Why, of course I did," she said with an evil smile. "Oh my, it wasn't a secret, was it?"
Cordelia guffawed and covered her mouth with her hand. Oh, how she wished she could have seen the looks on Buffy and Willow's faces when they were told Xander had spent the night at her house! She suddenly wished there was something appropriate on which she could sharpen her claws. She decided that a manicure was in order, once she had made Xander over.
"You really should call them, hon," Jessica admonished her son. "They sounded very worried."
He sighed. "Yeah, okay. Cordy, I'll just run up and get my stuff."
The girl nodded.
"Can I get you anything to drink, dear?" he heard his mother ask.
"Some water would be wonderful," a grateful Cordelia replied.
Xander raced around his room, gathering his money from his secret hiding places. Not that he really needed to hide anything, but sometimes he liked to pretend that even he didn't know where his cash was hidden, as if it somehow made it easier not to waste it on stupidities.
He sighed before picking up his phone and dialing Buffy's number.
"Hi Mrs. Summers."
"Xander! Are you okay?" The worry in her voice was obvious.
He tried to choke down his irritation. It figured that Willow and Buffy had spilled the beans. After all, if it wasn't about them, it didn't matter.
"I'm fine," he ground out.
"Xander," she said gently, "I'm not going to insult you by telling you how to think or feel about...anything, okay? Just know that if you ever need to talk, I'm always here to listen. With cookies."
"Thank you," he whispered.
She cleared her throat. "Now, do you wish to speak with the girls?"
"Right," she continued. "I'll just tell them that you called and that you're fine."
"You're the best."
She laughed. "Tell me something I don't know. And have your mother call me later. Maybe we can go for coffee."
"I will. Thanks again, Mrs. Summers."
"Just be happy, honey. You deserve it."
Xander bounded down the stairs to find Cordelia regaling his parents with tales of the vapid populace of the high school.
"Ready?" she asked him.
He nodded before greeting his father.
"Mom? Mrs. Summers asked me to ask you to call her later. She thought you guys could go get coffee or something."
His mother replied with a nod. "I certainly will. Joyce is fabulous company."
"Yeah," Cordelia agreed. "It must skip a generation."
Mr. Harris' lips twitched. He wasn't overly fond of Buffy.
"Cor," Xander sighed.
"Whatever. She's your friend. Fine. Doesn't mean I have to like her."
He nodded impatiently. "Can we go now?"
She grinned. "All excited about that shopping, huh?"
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, bask in my joy."
"Xander called and you didn't give me the phone?" Buffy trilled.
"He didn't ask to speak with you," Joyce replied. "He asked me to tell you that he called and that he's fine."
"I can't believe he spent the night at that...that..."
"Watch yourself, Willow," Joyce said softly. "Whatever you might think of Cordelia, just remember your opinion isn't shared by everyone."
The redhead stared at the woman before a slow blush crept across her cheeks. "Sorry."
"I don't understand why you like her!" Buffy exploded.
Joyce studied her daughter. "Why shouldn't I? Cordelia can be a polite, well-mannered young girl. She's also smart, doesn't suffer fools gladly, is honest and forthright, and goes after what she wants. These are strengths, Buffy, not liabilities. Once you have a few years behind you, you'll come to value those traits. Cordelia is very refreshing, especially after all of those years in Los Angeles."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Did Xander say where he was?"
Joyce shook her head. "I gather he and Cordelia have plans."
The Slayer hissed.
Her mother rolled her eyes in reply. "Get over it, dear. He's not your boyfriend."
Monday finally rolled around, and Buffy and Willow were nearly hysterical. There had been no word from Xander, save his Saturday morning call to Joyce, and whenever they called his house, they had been told that Xander was not at home. His father had been brusque when he had fielded the first dozen or so phone calls, before his wife took over and let it 'slip' that her son was spending the weekend with Cordelia and her parents.
Neither Buffy nor Willow had the guts to call the cheerleader's house, and they fretted about what the barracuda might have been telling Xander about himself, about them, and about his theoretical gayness. Cordelia was as sensitive as sandpaper.
This lack of Scooby communication had resulted in several panicked but veiled phone calls to Rupert Giles, until the man had finally told them that with whom Xander chose to spend his time was the boy's own business and the Slayer and witch would do well to stay out of it. He forced himself not to giggle into the receiver, secretly pleased that the boy was taking a stand and not placating his friends. Xander was a strong, capable young man, but that strength could only be realized if he learned to believe in himself.
Buffy had complained all weekend to Angel about the missing Xander and the vampire kept his counsel with regard to his strange encounter with the boy on Friday night. He was stunned when she surreptitiously revealed that Xander was experiencing a crisis of sexual identity, and floored when she intimated that Xander was attracted to him. He refrained from imparting to her the knowledge that his demon was more than interested in Xander.
Willow stupidly babbled to Oz of her worry over Xander, and the werewolf found himself growing more and more annoyed with his girlfriend's obsession with her best friend. He had been incredibly hurt that Willow had cheated with Xander, but he had forgiven her and taken her back. He still held a grudge against Xander, which he now realized was slightly ridiculous, given how the other boy had all but prostrated himself before him. Now, Oz was left to wonder what exactly Willow still felt for Xander, how deeply those feelings ran, and why she was so threatened by Cordelia. Willow had claimed she wanted only him, but now Oz questioned that, especially since it was apparent that Xander himself was no longer interested in Willow.
Buffy and Willow arrived at school an hour early on Monday morning so that there would be no chance of missing Xander's return. Oz, also curious, had come early as well. Even Giles took to haunting the library before regular hours.
The Slayer, witch, and werewolf were milling about outside of the school, where Harmony, as well as Cordelia's other minions, also had gathered to welcome back their Queen. Buffy and Willow wanted to interrogate Harmony, but were reticent to reveal that Cordelia had spent the weekend with Xander. If Harmony used the information to make another bid for Cordy's throne, there would be hell to pay, and not even Buffy wanted to go up against Cordelia in a war of high school hierarchy, knowing she'd lose.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Xander nervously asked.
Cordelia, barely pausing at a stop sign, blew a raspberry. "Please. I don't know why you're so worried. Buffy may be the queen of Demon World, but I control the humans of the Hellmouth. No one's going to say anything."
"What about Harmony?"
She laughed harshly. "Oh, god, I hope she flaps her lips at me. I've been itching for an excuse to beat the hell out of her."
"Why do you put up with her?"
A shrug. "She's useful."
He looked skeptical. "Harmony has uses for someone other than the football team?"
She glared at him. "That? Not cool. Whatever else she may be, you shouldn't say things like that. Even if they are true."
"Sorry. Just scared."
She sighed. "Stop being a nerd! Xander, this is my school, and people do what I say. Why the hell do you think you, Buffy, and Willow haven't been harassed since sophomore year?"
"You're so tragically stupid," she said affectionately. "You three are untouchable. People may question or stare or sneer, but no one's going to do anything which threatens any of you. Not even her."
Xander was confused as to whether she was referencing Buffy or Willow, but he didn't care. "Thank you," he whispered.
Uncomfortable, Cordelia shrugged. "So, do we need to go over this one more time?"
He fidgeted. "I guess."
She nodded. "You've got the clothes, I taught you the walk, and I give you credibility. It's very simple, Xander. You walk into that school like you own it. Anyone who says anything to you will be handled by me. Anyone who looks at you funny, you just give them my patented glare. Whatever you decide to tell Buffy and Willow is up to you, but if you go for the truth, just make sure you warn them to stay out of my way."
"Now," she continued, "since we don't have all of our classes together, you're going to need to be strong, because people might try to challenge your authority when I'm not around. The most important thing is to look them in the eye and show no fear, just like you did with Angelus that night in the hospital. No one at school can do anything to you. You fight demons every night. You can certainly handle thick-headed jocks." She eyed him. "Just don't mess up the clothes."
He nodded. "Priorities."
"Exactly. You can do this, Xander."
Cordelia roared into her parking space and the bystanders immediately straightened their shoulders.
Several people were stunned to see Xander Harris emerge from the passenger side. Whispers broke out, abetted by Harmony, while Buffy and Willow narrowed their eyes; they had known Cordy and Xander had spent the weekend together, but hadn't counted on the two arriving at school in each other's company.
Xander crossed in front of the car, opened Cordelia's door, and held out a hand. She grasped it, regally got to her feet, and the collective all gasped at the power and beauty the couple radiated. Cordelia was dressed in an ivory Donna Karan pantsuit with matching slingbacks on her feet, showing off her magnificent tan. Her hair was swept up into a topknot, and some new golden highlights helped to soften the severity of the style. Large gold hoops glittered at her lobes.
Xander was attracting no less attention, though his outfit was much more sedate. He was poured into a pair of dark-washed jeans, which had obviously been tailored to better contour his body. He had on a simple white Oxford shirt, tucked in, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, nicely contrasting with his dusky skin. A black leather messenger back was strung across his chest, matching the belt which cinched his waist. He wore dark leather demi-boots with a slight heel and a square toe, making him a bit taller and elongating the look of his lean legs. His black hair had been styled so that it was no longer floppy, but gelled to perfection so that his wispy curls were now thick waves that trapped the sunlight, reflecting new, yet subtle, violet highlights.
"Wow," Oz said. "Looking good."
Buffy, slack-jawed, nodded.
Willow squeaked. "That's Xander!"
The Slayer rolled her eyes. "Oh, you're getting so good at that, Will! Now, who's that standing next to him?"
The witch glared.
"He looks...not completely horrible," Harmony complained to the other Cordettes, who nodded with glazed eyes.
"High praise, indeed," Oz noted.
Cordelia spared a glance at her Number One and could tell Harmony was searching her tiny mind for a way to work this to her advantage. She frowned in exasperation. Harmony needed to be reminded of her place. She wondered if it was time for threats and intimidation. She certainly hoped it was.
Xander fidgeted at her side.
"Stop," she ordered, though her lips didn't move. "Are you ready?"
He inclined his head ever so slightly.
"Okay, let's do this." She drew in a breath. "Chin up. Nose up. Let's go."
Chapter 4: The Royal Court
Cordelia Chase and Xander Harris stormed the sidewalk to the school as if it were a runway. The crowd parted, and Xander and Cordelia smiled and cooed at the appropriate people, leaving blushing boys and girls in their wake. When they at last reached the door, Xander nodded kindly at Buffy, Willow, and Oz, who stared back at him. Cordelia snapped her fingers and Harmony and the Cordettes immediately fell in line.
"He's been assimilated," whispered a horrified Willow.
"Resistance is futile," Oz said, a small grin on his face.
The Slayer, witch, and werewolf followed the Cordettes as if they were all part of a royal court and were surprised when some of Xander and Cordy's shiny rubbed off on them, as people who had never before given them the time of day stopped in their tracks to say hello. They were amazed at how quickly, in a mere matter of moments, Xander had been accepted as Cordelia's Consort. When they had been dating, everyone had given Cordelia massive amounts of grief for her choice, but one simple makeover and a confident attitude had brought the masses to their knees.
Buffy in particular was wondering if that was exactly where Xander and Cordelia wanted them, and she looked at the Queen in silent wonder.
Xander and Cordelia separated in front of the library, an absolutely gob-smocked Giles taking in the new Xander from head-to-toe. The Queen and her Consort kissed briefly on the lips, inspiring a fresh wave of whispers which shot throughout the school like a shockwave.
"See you in third period," she whispered.
He nodded and tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear. She raised a brow.
He shrugged. "Looks better that way."
She smiled. "See how easy it is?"
Xander strolled down the wing toward his locker, Buffy and Willow nipping at his heels like terriers.
Oz was content to follow more slowly, though he was equally...enthralled. Truly, he could think of no better word.
All three tried to avert their eyes from ogling Xander's ass, which the jeans hugged like a second skin. When had Xander's butt become so juicy, and why had he been hiding it?
As the boy set about dialing his combination, Buffy and Willow began peppering him with questions, exclamations, and concerns. He let them ramble for several moments until they were panting and gasping for air.
He calmly turned around and looked at them. "I'm sorry if I worried you," he smiled, "and I know should have called, but I really am okay. Cordy and I were busy all weekend but, as you can see, I'm just fine, so stop worrying!"
"But what's going on?" Willow demanded.
He shrugged a shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Why did you come to school with Cordy? Why did you spend the weekend at her house? Why are you dressed like that?"
Xander looked himself up and down.
Buffy grinned. "You look awesome, Xan."
He blushed profusely. "Thanks," he said softly.
Willow shut up because she realized that, for all her genuine concern and worry, she wasn't being supportive, and that, whatever he was doing, it was important to him.
"Really great!" she added brightly.
He colored even more, but smiled when he caught sight of the other boy. "Oz! Hey!"
Oz blinked. Yeah, he and Xander were friends, sort of, or at least had been, but he was unused to such a warm greeting. He nodded. "Hey."
"How are you?"
Oz considered the question for a long moment. "Cool."
Xander shuffled his feet. "Um, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something?"
Oz shrugged. "Sure. Now?"
Xander nodded and looked to the girls. "See you guys later, okay?"
Willow meant to protest, but Buffy pinched her arm. They both nodded.
Xander strutted up to Oz and put his arm around the smaller boy, drawing him in close.
Oz frowned for a moment until Xander began stroking his shoulder. He then frowned more deeply because it felt nice, and he enjoyed how well he fit under Xander's arm.
And how good Xander smelled. Like oranges.
And, really, he hadn't intended on snuggling Xander, but it felt too good to stop. Everyone should have a Xander to snuggle, Oz promptly decided. Maybe Willow had been on to something after all.
They began talking animatedly, though in hushed tones, and not even Buffy could overhear what they were saying.
"Um," Willow began, "is Xander trying to steal my boyfriend?"
Buffy cocked her head, looked at her guys walking away, and thought about it. "Man, that would suck for you!"
Cordelia arrived early to homeroom, claimed her desk, and withdrew a pad and pen from her Versace tote. More lists were required, for a Queen's work was simply never done.
She looked down on the sheet of paper labeled Operation: Fabulous!
"Clothes? Check. Walk? Check. Attitude? Almost. Self-confidence? That one needs work," she muttered before deciding to move on to Other Things.
Other Things included compiling a short list of possible boyfriends for Xander. She needed to consider many factors, including those qualities Xander wanted in a man, as well those she herself insisted were required.
Intelligence, humor, snark, and a hot body were all well and good, but not if the potential suitor had a face that belonged on a bottle of iodine. She wasn't being just superficial; yes, it was more important to be able to hold a conversation with someone, but that didn't mean that the person you were talking to had to be ugly.
If vampires could be hot, so could Xander's boyfriend. She wasn't going to allow him to settle for mediocre. He deserved better and, as his ex-girlfriend, so did she. What would people say if the first person Xander dated after her was a complete troll?
"I don't have time for that!"
She turned and glared at Harmony. "Did I say you could speak?"
Harmony's eyes grew wide, but she decided to ignore the warning. "What's going on with you and Xander? He looked..."
"He looked what?" Cordelia demanded.
"Hot," the blond meekly replied.
The Queen smiled with satisfaction. She decided it spoke highly of her own character that she had always seen Xander's hotness, but a moron like Harmony needed shiny wrapping to understand the value of something.
Superior nature once again confirmed, though it had never truly been in doubt, Cordelia decided to toy with the girl.
"Xander and I spent the weekend together," she revealed in an exaggerated whisper.
"You did?" Harmony and the other Cordettes shrieked.
The Queen nodded. "Mother and Daddy wanted to take me to tour some of the colleges on the coast and they invited Xander to go with us."
"Xander's going to college?" Aura asked.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Of course he is."
Well, he would be if she had anything to say about it, and she had a lot to say about it!
"Anyway, you'll never believe what happened at this Tri Delt party at Stanford!"
The girls surrounded her like goslings, eyes glazed and primed for gossip, and she prepared to launch into her fantastical tale which was sure to circulate throughout the entire school before the end of homeroom.
"This totally hot business major, he was a junior by the way, put the moves on me, and pulled me onto the dance floor."
"Really?" they screeched.
She nodded. "Anyway, he was being all sexy, but I got bored, so I waved Xander over. It's so necessary to have a spare waiting in the wings."
They all nodded sagely.
"So! Xander comes up and cuts in, and this guy – I think his name was Jeff or something – starts dancing with Xander!"
"Xander danced with a guy?" Harmony frowned.
Cordelia sighed. "No, the guy danced with both Xander and me."
"Oh my god!" Aura yelped. "You had a threesome?"
Cordelia batted her eyelashes. "Did I say that?"
"So, you three were dancing...and?" Harmony trilled.
"Pressed much? Xander put his arms around me, and Jeff put his arms around Xander," she added, saying nothing more, drawing out the suspense.
"Then what!" the blond exploded, standing up.
"Frustrated?" Cordelia cooed. "Fine. Xander and I started making out, and then Jeff pulled us apart and started kissing me, and then he pulled away and kissed Xander."
"Harris kissed another guy?" Aphrodesia repeated in a strangely strangled voice.
Cordelia smirked triumphantly and nodded.
"Um, how did they, um, how did it look?" asked a breathless Harmony, collapsing back into her chair.
"It was the hottest thing I've ever seen. Xander made that guy his bitch in under five seconds."
"Jeff was begging for it. Poor Xander was so embarrassed, he grabbed my hand and we left. Of course we were followed, because we were the best-looking people at the party." She paused to survey her surroundings. "And around here."
The others nodded.
"So Xander's into guys, too?" Aura whispered. "You and him got back together, and now you get to scam guys as a team and make out with the hot ones? You have a hot boyfriend and have a free pass to second base with other guys?"
Cordelia began filing her nails. "Third."
"What did this Jeff look like?" Harmony asked.
The Queen thought about Phantom Jeff, and decided to shoot for the moon. "He looked like Brad Pitt's hotter, sluttier younger brother. Blond, built, cute smile. Buns like muffin tins. The whole package."
"And he and Xander were making out?" Aphrodesia drooled.
"And they both made out with you?" Harmony demanded.
"It was a very good weekend," Cordelia primly offered.
She suppressed her grin. It was only a matter of moments before her sycophants spread the word about the Lips of Xander and all of the hot guys and girls helpless in their wake.
Operation Fabulous was indeed well underway.
As soon as Larry Blaisdell entered the room, Cordelia excused herself and hustled over to the football player.
She would be able to commandeer the entire female student body to her cause, as well as most of the guys, but a foolish few who believed themselves beyond the reach of her power might try to target Xander, which was entirely unacceptable. He needed someone to watch out for him when she couldn't, and Larry was that person.
His sexuality had never been a secret to her. It had been so obvious that his former misogynist attitude was nothing but a cover for a deeper internal conflict. She had confronted him over it during freshman year because, while he was never so stupid as to harass her, he had harassed her minions, which could not be allowed. So when the tearful boy had confessed all under her ruthless interrogation, she had put him under her protection. Thus had Larry become a devoted acolyte, and she was also happy to count him as a friend.
Unfortunately, this was before she and Xander had become close, and she had done nothing to interfere with Larry's relentless bullying of the boy. Last year, Larry had inadvertently come out to Xander, whose surprise had been mistaken for mutual interest, and then Larry had come out to everyone and named Xander as his inspiration.
Since then, the jock's crush on Xander was obvious to everyone but Xander. While Larry would never admit that he had been happy at the dissolution of Cordelia and Xander relationship as a couple, hope had dawned in his eyes and Cordelia knew she had to play this very carefully. She liked Larry a lot, just because he was Larry, and she didn't want to hurt him, but she also wasn't above using him to protect Xander.
"I need a favor," she whispered.
He beamed. "Anything for you Cordy, you know that."
She bit her lip and nodded and ushered him out into the hall, glaring at the teacher who was pointing to his watch.
"What's up?" Larry asked, leaning up against a row of lockers.
She twisted her hands. "I wanted you to hear this from me first, since I know you got here late."
His brow furrowed. "Is something wrong?"
"No, but I'm not sure you're going to happy about it, either." She looked into his eyes. "Xander and I got back together this weekend."
His own eyes widened as he realized that Cordelia was concerned about his feelings, which meant she knew about those feelings and she wasn't angry about them; she was worried for him. This was why he liked her, and it was a small part of why he liked Xander so much, because Xander understood who Cordy really was. They had all been forced into roles that had nothing to do with who they were as people.
"I'm happy for you," he said, and he meant it.
She smiled, stood on her toes, and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, but there's more. Um, I'm not sure how to say this other than just to say it."
"Xander has come to realize that he's also attracted to guys."
He closed his eyes and sank against the lockers. He had never thought this would happen, and now that it had, he rather wished it hadn't.
"I'm encouraging him to explore this."
"What?" he squeaked.
She nodded. "Buffy, Willow, Oz, and Harmony and the other girls already know about this, so you know it's just a matter of time."
He set his jaw and nodded.
She took to pacing. "There could be...repercussions. You can take care of yourself, Larry, and so can Xander, to a point, but he doesn't stand a chance if the jocks decide to wolfpack him."
"Understood," Larry replied, eyes hooded.
She nodded. "I'm glad, and thank you. Whatever classes he and I don't share, you have with him. I can take care of him but only so much." She put her hand on his arm. "Larry, I really need you here."
"You've got me, Cordy," he said. He knew how much Cordelia hated to admit that there were some things she couldn't control, and he would happily see to it that anyone who said a cross word to Xander was quickly shut down.
"To answer your unspoken question," she began, "I don't know." She sighed. "This is really new for him, Larry, and he's incredibly scared and confused. Also hurt. We're talking about something that a lot of people, including you, had accused him of being for years, and you tormented him about it."
He blushed and hung his head before clearing his throat. "Xan was there for me when I needed someone. I'll be there for him now, just as a friend."
She smiled sadly. "He'll like that, I think. He hangs with Oz, but that's more about Willow. Xan hasn't had a guy friend since..."
"Jesse," Larry quietly supplied.
Surprised, she nodded.
"Cordy, what happened to Jesse?"
She looked into his eyes, weighing exactly how much she should tell him. Then she decided to abandon pretense altogether. "Jesse was murdered."
He sighed. "Yeah, I figured. By the things we're not supposed to know about. The stuff you and Xan help Buffy fight."
Her eyes widened as she nodded again.
"I want to know," he pressed.
"How much do you want?"
"As much as you can tell me."
She glanced around, seeing no one else who could overhear.
"Here's the deal, Larry. We literally live on the mouth of Hell. Vampires, demons, witches? All real. Whatever forces that rule the universe chose Buffy to fight them. Jesse was kidnapped by a vampire and turned into one. He cornered me in the Bronze and tried to rape me. Xander killed his best friend of fifteen years to save me, a girl he loathed at the time."
That did it. Cordelia saw the hero worship blossom in the boy's eyes and knew he had just dedicated himself to ensuring the long, healthy life of Xander Harris. She suppressed her triumphant smirk. She sensed there were other questions, but this wasn't the time.
"After school, I'll tell you everything. You need to know how to protect yourself from these things. I should have told you before, but we figured the more people who knew, the worse it might become. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss."
"You guys are in a lot of danger," Larry realized.
"Yeah," she shrugged, nodding. "Xander and I are usually the ones most at risk because we don't have any powers, but we can't let that stop us. Buffy's the Slayer, Willow is a witch, and Oz is a werewolf. Xander and I get stuck playing bait far more than I'd like, but we understand that it's important work."
"I want in."
She remembered that strange dream with that girl Anya and a wish and how, in Bizarro World, Larry had been part of an altogether different Scooby gang. She knew he was capable, that he was fast and strong, and that he was far smarter than most people realized. Still, did she have the right to bring him into this, to expose him to that world? Of course, she also knew she didn't have the right to make that decision for him. And, according to Larry himself, he had already figured out what was going on, if not the specifics.
"That's between you and Buffy."
"Fine. I have Chemistry with her and Xan first period."
She nodded. "Thanks."
"Like I said, not a problem."
Harmony floated into Chemistry, high from the buzz of telling all and sundry of what Cordelia had revealed during homeroom. She couldn't wait to see Xander and examine him up close and personal.
She wasn't exactly sure what she was going to do. On the one hand, she was now fascinated by him, but on the other, he had once again stolen Cordelia's attention away from her, and that was annoying. But she wasn't so stupid as to start anything in a class Xander shared with Buffy.
Still, fantasies of Cordelia, Xander, and another hot guy were occupying all of her thoughts and she wanted to get a closer look at Cordy's erstwhile boyfriend. He was officially a major hottie after Cordelia had worked her mojo on him.
Harmony castigated herself. Why hadn't she seen the potential before? In a matter of an hour, Xander Harris had become the most popular boy in the land and, if she had played things differently, he could have been hers. Together, they could have taken over the school.
Now she realized there was nothing she could do but suck up faster than the speed of light. With Cordelia still in power and Xander at her side, backed up by freakish Buffy Summers and the devoted Larry Blaisdell, whom she had seen with Cordelia earlier, it would be enough to unite the different factions, and if she wasn't careful, she'd lose her status as second-in-command.
She took her seat at the lab table she shared with Xander, Buffy, and Willow.
"Hi, Xander," she cooed, fluttering her lashes, "and...everyone."
They blinked at her. Usually, Harmony did nothing more but sneer at them. Now, she had addressed Xander by name and had deigned to acknowledge the Slayer and witch.
Xander recovered quickly. "Hi, Harmony," he said softly, a hesitant smile on his face as he peeked at her from beneath his lashes.
He could tell it worked, just as Cordelia had assured him it would. The shy, hot bi guy thing was in full effect.
She beamed and proceeded to rattle off a string of compliments which quickly had Xander genuinely blushing.
Buffy and Willow stared.
Just as Harmony was about to invite Xander to the Bronze with the gang, a gruff voice bombarded her.
She looked up and saw Larry hulking over her. "Excuse you! This is my lab table!"
Buffy and Willow quickly found something else to look at, while Xander looked chagrined. Harmony interpreted this as him being afraid to go against Larry, which she could more than understand. Larry was like the male Cordelia, even though Cordy probably had bigger balls.
Huffing, she gathered her things and glared at Larry.
"I'll see you at lunch, right, Harm?" asked a hopeful Xander, grabbing her hand and stroking her wrist with his fingers. He then unleashed the Puppy Eyes, ratcheting them up to Doom Level.
Her breath hitched as she was trapped by the mesmerizing power. Oh, those eyes!
"Sure!" she tinkled breathlessly, before throwing him a dazzling smile and skipping over to Aura.
"What the hell was that?" a baffled Buffy slowly asked.
"You want to have lunch with Harmony?" an incredulous Willow hissed.
He rolled his eyes. "Desperately. And right after that, I think I'll swallow glass."
Larry and Buffy shared a snort.
"Hi Xan. Buffy. Willow," Larry greeted, nodding to each in turn.
"Hey Larry," the Slayer and witch smiled.
Xander crossed his arms. "Cordy talked to you, didn't she?"
Larry nodded. "She's worried about you. Be grateful she loves you so much."
"I am," he said quietly.
"What's going on?" demanded a worried Willow.
Xander sighed. "Larry's my new bodyguard for when Cordy's not around."
"Why do you need a bodyguard?" Buffy asked. "Are you okay?"
"Because I sometimes like boys," he answered in defeat.
"Oh. Oh," she replied, as she was flooded with insight. She gave him the side-eye. "You do realize we will be discussing this later, right? And probably for the next three months."
"Joy," he drawled.
Willow looked at Xander, at Buffy, and then at Larry, and quickly gleaned Cordelia's plan. She was faking their reconciliation so that when it became known that Xander was also into guys, anyone who wanted to go after him would have to go through her first, which was so daunting, not many people would dare.
However, Cordelia also had planned ahead, knowing that there might be some people who would try to circumvent her decree, so she had installed Larry as backup. The girl was shrewd; with the leader of the school and the star football player backing him, no one was going to mess with Xander.
"Damn," she whispered. "She's really good." She turned to Xander. "And, hey, were you macking on my man this morning?"
He grinned, but said nothing.
"Evil," she pouted.
Buffy, aware of Larry's crush, spared a glance at the boy, who looked upset but was struggling for stoicism. She decided it was best to cut that particular line of questioning short. "Thanks for looking out for Xander."
She meant it and he realized that. He nodded. "Cordy told me everything about...everything." He twisted to look at both Willow and Xander. "About Jesse, too."
The boy and girl quickly grasped hands as Xander swallowed heavily and Willow gasped. Buffy struggled to maintain her composure; it wasn't easy at all for her to remember Jesse, and she knew it was so much worse for her best friends.
"I'm sorry," Larry whispered.
Willow said nothing, but Xander nodded his thanks.
Larry looked back to Buffy. "I'm in this now."
"Hold on," she protested.
"No," he insisted. "Anything that threatens Cordy or Xan goes through me first. If you can use them, and they have no powers, you can use me too."
"What exactly did Cordelia tell you?" Xander asked, narrowing his eyes.
Larry pointed at Buffy. "Slayer." He pointed at Willow. "Witch." He stuck his thumb over his shoulder at Oz. "Werewolf." He looked into Buffy's eyes. "I already knew most of what was going on. I just didn't have names for it."
"Shit," she muttered, before appraising the football player.
She could play this one of two ways: first, she could simply refuse his demand, which might mean that Larry would go off on his own and do something foolish and it would be her fault. Or she could let him see what they were really up against and let him make a more informed decision, hopefully disabusing his interest in helping in the process.
Whatever happened, Larry now understood what was involved and as much as she wanted to be angry at Cordelia, Buffy recognized that if Larry was going to be looking out for Xander, he needed to know everything. And, frankly, it was a relief to have one less person around with whom she had to play games.
"Fine," she said, "but it isn't just my decision. I'll talk about it later with Will and Xan, and you'll need to pass muster with Giles, which won't be easy. We meet every night in the library at ten for patrol. We might be running a little late tonight, though, since we're apparently Bronzing it."
Larry took that as an invitation for the Bronze, as well, and nodded. "Cool. You guys need a ride to the club?"
Xander shook his head. "I'm going with Cordy." He groaned. "She has to dress me."
The other three snickered.
"Well, you have to admit she does a good job," Buffy offered.
Xander beamed so broadly at her, his entire face lit up, and she wondered how the hell she had ever missed how truly gorgeous he was, remembering a time when he had eyes only for her.
"What?" he asked, frowning.
"Oh, nothing. Just remembered I'll need to call Mom to let her know, is all."
"I could use a ride," Willow said to Larry. "Oz needs the van to haul all the equipment for tonight's gig."
She couldn't believe that the guy who had been a total asshole to her for years had just offered her a ride and that she had just accepted.
"Me too," Buffy piped up.
"No problem," Larry smiled.
"What about Angel?" Xander asked. "Is he going?"
"Isn't horning in on one of your best friends' men enough?" Buffy cooed.
He colored so darkly he turned purple.
"Buck up," Willow chuckled, slapping him on the back.
"Angel," Larry repeated. "He's your boyfriend, Buffy? I think I've seen him before. Way to go, girl. You scored a major stud."
He turned to Xander. "Angel or Oz?"
"Eh, I could have either one," the boy shrugged, keeping his face placid.
"Hey!" Buffy and Willow shrieked.
When the bell rang and Cordelia emerged into the main corridor, people followed her like lemmings, which was nothing new of course, but now there were more than ever, all shouting questions and comments at her. All she did was smile coquettishly or raise a well-timed eyebrow because she knew no one was really interested in what she had to say, only in how she reacted. So she worked the halls like they were red carpets and the people flocking to her were merely paparazzi.
Somehow, Harmony managed to navigate the sea of humanity and join her, and Cordelia was inwardly grateful for her presence. While it was sometimes necessary for the Queen to appear to favor all her subjects, the same did not hold true for Harmony, who screamed profanities and hurled slurs like javelins at the more aggressive audience-seekers.
"Well?" Cordelia asked.
"He's so sweet!" Harmony gushed. "Oh! But Larry was such a prick! He made me move, but Xan promised to see me at lunch," she sighed, eyes sparkling.
Cordelia's lips twitched. If only she had insisted Xander charm Harmony months ago instead of letting him continue to antagonize her, things might have been very different. Since the blonde was being such a good sport, the Queen decided to reward her. Lacing her arm through Harmony's, she leaned over and whispered, "I need your help."
Predictably, the girl's eyes lighted. "Sure!"
"I need you to help me form a list of acceptable boys for Xander and I to date," Cordelia explained. "You know what I mean. Hot, but not hotter than us; sweet but not stupid; smart but not a dork."
Harmony looked excited, but then frowned. "At this school? Short supply."
"I know," Cordelia lamented. "Still, I'd like to present Xander with some options at lunch."
"Well," Harmony began, "why don't we watch him at lunch instead and see who catches his eye? Maybe he'll see something we don't, and you can work with it like you did with him."
"That's...actually a very good idea."
Harmony beamed. Her position was safe for a few more hours.
"I need to run to the lav," Cordelia whispered. "Meet you later."
The blond nodded and watched her friend leave, but felt something gnawing at her. After a moment of silent debate, she began pursuit.
Chapter 5: A Peaceable Kingdom
An hour later, Xander was navigating the main hall of the school, Buffy and Larry flanking him as he made his way to English and his reunion with Cordelia.
He honestly had no idea how she endured this. People were following him and chattering to him as if they were best friends. Guys were congratulating him for winning Cordelia back and girls cooed over him and his new look. Others, people to whom he had never even spoken, reached out to touch him, or stood staring at him in quiet wonder.
He felt like a rock star, but one of those who was never left alone and finally ended up in rehab just to get some rest.
Oh, god. He was Mariah Carey.
Still, he supposed it was a step up from Lindsay Lohan.
He looked over at Larry, who appeared equally overwhelmed because, although popular, he had never before been mobbed.
One glance at Buffy, however, told Xander that the Slayer was in her element, and he remembered that she had once described herself as the Cordelia of her class at Hemery. She had the Walk, the Glare, and even the Eyebrow. Everything was working for her and he realized that, once you had it, you never truly lost it. He wondered if Buffy had missed this.
At once, he finally understood what Cordelia had been put through when they had first begun dating and her friends turned on her. When attention like this was all you knew and it was suddenly taken away, it must be incredibly painful and disconcerting, like a loss of identity. He felt rather stupid and angry with himself for not better trying to relate to her upset.
"You're really good at this," he whispered to Buffy.
"It's like riding a bike," she shrugged before looking at him with appraising eyes. "You're not doing too bad yourself, Xan. She's taught you well."
He rolled his eyes. "She made a manual, Buff. We were at Kinko's until two in the morning Sunday night. It has charts, bar graphs, and grids, complete with yearbook photos and astrological signs. Who dated whom when, who wants to date whom now. She made me practice her Ice Glare and its various derivatives for four hours. And don't get me started on the Required Reading list."
Buffy gave them her own glare which, while not quite as menacing, was nevertheless effective.
"It's a lot of work," she argued. "People think popularity comes easily, that it's just a matter of luck." She shook her head. "It's not, especially for girls. Once you climb to the top of the heap and establish your dominance, it's a constant struggle to maintain it. It's like the longest game of Survivor ever.
"You have to make alliances and concessions, and you have to learn to spot your enemies coming from a mile away. You can never really trust your friends to have your back, because you know they're just waiting for the right moment to stick a knife in it. When someone reaches Cordelia's level, they deserve to be called a Queen. She's dealt with this almost every day for four years."
A wide-eyed Xander considered this and nodded.
"Longer, really," Larry said. "Cordy's been doing this since fifth grade."
"Damn," Buffy whispered. "Well, I have to admit that while I didn't always like her, I always respected her. We all have our talents, and hers shouldn't be underestimated."
"I guess I never really thought it about like that," Xander admitted. "She's always made it look so easy."
"Part of the job," Buffy chirped, before turning pensive, "but it's incredibly lonely."
"Do you guys really think I can do this?" he asked his friends.
Larry frowned. "Cordelia wouldn't have taken the chance if she didn't believe you could. It's not just your ass on the line here, Xan. You fuck this up, she goes right down with you, and for good this time."
"I know it's a lot of pressure," Larry said gently, putting his hand on the other boy's shoulder, "but for what it's worth, I think you can do it, too. It's new and it's different, and, yeah, it will take a lot of effort." He raised a brow. "There are some who are going to resist on principle, especially those who are loyal to Cordelia and know what you did with Willow, and there are other guys who will try to unseat you because they want Cordelia for themselves."
He sighed. "You have to understand, Xan, only a handful of people know Cordy. To most of the school, she's a commodity. They use her name and their proximity to her as stock, and their own value rises and falls with the interest she pays them."
Xander spared a panicked look to Buffy, who nodded.
"That's a good analogy," she said, "and it's true. She's taking a big risk, but she wouldn't be doing it if she didn't think it would pay off. You have more going for you then you think, Xander. Cordelia rules several cliques, and the wannabes take their cue from her. But you also have power; you were just never aware of it."
She rolled her eyes. "The geeks, nerds, and dorks all respect you because of your love for comics and your skateboarding past, as well as your relationship with Willow, who has fans of her own. The freaks and the B-List like you because you hang with me and Oz. Giles gives you credibility because he's well-known as a snarky British bastard and he obviously holds you in high regard.
"Larry will help get most of the jocks in your corner; those who refuse will probably just steer clear of you. Out of every possibility in this school and probably at UC-Sunnydale, Cordelia chose you, which means you give hope to most of the guys here. Our run-ins with Snyder give you bad-boy cred. You have an incredible opportunity to unite our class in a way that could never have happened before."
Larry nodded in turn. "And you can't afford to underestimate the power Cordelia wields. It may look like she's tight only with Harmony and the Drones, but our Queen is a master statesman. She's cultivated relationships with the leaders of every clique. Not to mention she has several spies and spies watching those spies. She's like a one-woman United Nations. Nothing gets done in this school without her approval, and people are going to start coming to you for favors and help and to try to make you sympathetic to their causes. Your new status is also going to elevate Buffy, Willow, and Oz, and people will try to get to you through them."
Xander began hyperventilating.
"Breathe," Buffy said softly. "Xander, I can handle this, and I'll take care of Willow. Oz will go with the flow because that's just what he does. Larry's right, but you also have to remember that we're not Harmony, Aphrodesia, or Aura; you can trust us. Ultimately, this is a good thing, because it will take some of the pressure off Cordy. She's going to have enough to deal with."
He nodded fearfully.
"We got your back, Xan," Larry said.
Grateful, Xander slipped his arm around the other boy's waist, resting his head on Larry's shoulder, sending out a fresh wave of whispers among the crowd.
Buffy spared a glance at the guys and wasn't surprised by Larry's huge eyes or reflexive swallow. Xander had no idea how much Larry really liked him, and such close contact was as terrifying for him as it was thrilling. It was obvious that Larry was now completely devoted to her best friend and would do everything he could for Xander.
And as Larry began breathing normally and Buffy more carefully scrutinized Xander, she saw the sparkle in his eyes and the small smirk playing on his lips. She suddenly gleaned that perhaps he understood this game far better than anyone thought.
Larry dropped Xander off at Miss Beakman's English class, and the boy made a beeline for Cordelia, never more thankful to be in her company.
"Are you okay?" she hissed, eyes huge.
He nodded, though his eyes were glazed. "I don't think I ever realized how many people go to this school, and now they all know me."
She shook her head. "They don't know you, any more than they know me. They know what you can do for them. You have friends, Xander, real ones. Keep them close."
He nodded and took her hand and she gently squeezed his in return.
English passed without incident and Xander and Cordelia made their way to French class.
"Two language classes in a row really sucks," he whined.
"Well, look at this way: at least you can speak English. Mostly."
He smirked. "Thanks, Cordy."
"Anytime, dweeb. Anytime."
Buffy and Willow were waiting in French and were unsurprised when Xander and Cordelia came strolling in together. For the first time, the Slayer and witch allowed themselves to look at the couple with some modicum of objectivity.
Xander and Cordelia moved with the ease and closeness of two very close friends. Before, their relationship had appeared to be guided solely by hormones and arguments, but now it looked as if they had moved beyond that, into a realm of comfort and familiarity. Or maybe Xander and Cordelia were just being more open with their affection than they had previously.
Surprisingly, neither Buffy nor Willow was jealous. Xander looked happier than he had in months and so they were therefore happy for him. Besides, a happy Cordelia made things easier for everyone.
"Hey Xan, Cordy," Buffy grinned.
They smiled in reply.
"Cordy," Willow whispered, "ask your boyfriend why he was hitting on mine this morning."
Cordelia, temporarily willing to forgo bitching at the witch, turned amused eyes on Xander as she took her seat, brows raised. Typically, Xander flushed, and Buffy and Willow laughed at him.
"Poaching already, Harris?" the Queen purred. "I thought you said you wanted someone taller."
"Hey!" a mock-offended Willow scolded.
"Um," Xander began, "actually, I needed Oz's advice about something."
Willow frowned good-naturedly. "It better not be anything about how to be gay."
He shook his head. "Um, well, see, there's this guy that I kind of like, and Oz knows him, so I asked Oz to, um, you know, see if this guy would be, um, amenable to, um, a date?"
Buffy and Willow blinked.
Cordelia sneered. "Why don't you just write Mystery Guy a note? You know, something along the lines of 'Do you like me? Circle yes or no'."
The other girls began giggling.
Xander's eyes grew dark. "Look, this is hard enough without the three of you making fun of me."
His best friends looked chagrined, but Cordelia was having none of it.
"Oh, please," she said, rolling her eyes. "We're not making fun of your possible penchant for penis, only your methodology."
"Good use of alliteration," Buffy noted.
"We just came from English class," Cordelia chirped.
Xander sighed and rubbed his temples.
"Who's the guy?" Willow demanded.
Cordelia nodded with approval. "Excellent question."
Xander bit his lip. "At lunch, okay? Oz said he would find out by then. And if it does work out, I'm only going to do this with your permission."
She cocked an eyebrow. "What's going on here, Xander?"
"At lunch," he repeated.
She was content for the moment to let it go, considering lunch was next period, but if he didn't give her answers by then, she'd have to violate the terms of the Geneva Convention and have Harmony torture him for information.
Whining was so much more effective than a hot poker.
As soon as French was over, Xander raced toward the classroom door, with Cordelia, Buffy, and Willow right on his heels.
He ran smack into Larry, whose arms instantly wrapped around Xander to prevent the boy from falling. Xander blushed and thanked him, and Larry thought him the cutest thing he had ever seen. It took a while for him to release his new friend and Xander didn't seem too troubled by that.
"Are you okay?" Harmony, appearing from behind Larry, asked Xander, who nodded.
"Let's go to lunch!" he exclaimed, holding out his arm.
Harmony giggled and took it, and they headed off to the cafeteria, Larry trailing after them.
Buffy, Cordelia, and Willow stood together and watched the departing trio.
"Well," the Slayer offered, "we do live on the mouth of hell."
A dazed Willow nodded.
"Got skates?" Cordelia asked. "Because I think it just froze over."
As they were waiting in line with their trays, Harmony leaned against Xander, taking the time to note how his biceps bulged.
"Did Cordy tell you what happened after second period?" she whispered.
"No." He frowned. "Why? What happened?"
She winced. "Well, in between second and third periods, Garrett Langdon – do you know who he is?" Xander nodded. "He...he attacked her in the hall outside the bathroom!"
"What!" he exploded, dropping his tray.
Larry turned around. "Xan?"
"Did you know Langdon attacked Cordy this morning?"
Harmony waved him over and began explaining. Cordelia didn't know that she had witnessed the exchange and while the Queen had gotten in a good kick, Harmony wasn't about to let it go so easily. It was one thing for her and Cordelia to fight about dating habits, but it was something altogether different when some random douchebag physically threatened one of them.
At that moment, Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia walked in, the sight of the three of them together setting tidal waves of speculation in motion.
To those who didn't know the witch or Slayer, they would have believed the two girls comfortable, but Willow and Buffy were both nervous about standing with Cordelia. Everything was so weird and they really didn't know how to act, but Cordelia was being nice to them for the moment and ridiculously supportive of Xander. So even if it was all a charade, they would play along for a while until they could determine an appropriate course of action.
Of course, Cordelia was no less thrilled to be in their company and she knew that hanging with Willow was a double-edged sword. Some would look upon her with awe at her remarkable powers of forgiveness, while others would sneer at what they assumed was a new wave of weakness. Still, she knew what the girl meant to Xander, and though she didn't like it, she would tolerate it unless or until Willow gave her reason not to. Hopefully, the witch had learned her lesson.
The trio shrugged off their confused emotions as they caught sight of an outraged Larry and a furiously panting Xander and raced over.
"What's wrong?" Willow asked.
"What the fuck did Langdon do to you?" Xander demanded of Cordelia.
Her eyes opened impossibly wide before they became hooded. She turned to glare at Harmony.
"He should know," the other girl said quietly, though with conviction. "No guy should put his hands on you that way."
"What?" Buffy and Willow screeched.
Cordelia grabbed Xander by the ear and pulled him over to her reserved table. The others quickly followed.
"What happened?" he seethed.
"It was no big deal," she said.
"Yeah, it was," he barked, "or else you would have told me."
She sighed. "He cornered me in the hall and made a pass, which was quickly rejected. He got a little aggressive and I handled it."
"Was this because of me?" he asked.
She hesitated a fraction too long, and he hung his head.
"What did Langdon say to you?" Larry hissed at Cordelia.
She sighed again. "He told me he could show me what a real man could offer."
Xander began vibrating with fury, with Buffy and Willow quickly following suit as Harmony furtively scanned the room in search of the asshole in question.
"Problem?" Oz asked, appearing from behind Willow.
"Garrett Langdon attacked Cordy in the hallway this morning," Buffy muttered.
His eyes narrowed a fraction, the only clue as to his anger.
Larry began laughing.
"You think this is funny?" Xander and Harmony simultaneously roared.
He shook his head. "No, and he'll pay for hurting Cordy, but he was lying."
"What do you mean?" asked a confused Cordelia.
"I know Gary."
"Gary?" Buffy repeated.
Willow waved her hand. "His real name is Gary, but in third grade he decided Garrett sounded more..."
"Pretentious," Xander supplied.
"What do you mean you know him, Larry?" Oz questioned.
Larry raised a brow.
"Oh," the rest said, nodding.
"He was trying to get to Xander through me," Cordelia realized.
"Gary's always believed any attention is better than none," Larry explained. "He probably figured that going after you would spur some kind of interaction with Xan. I do believe that he let himself get out of hand and probably didn't even realize how far he was going. Gary's a dickhead, but he's not violent."
"Well," she shrugged, "he probably got annoyed when I shoved my knee into his crotch."
"Good for you," Buffy and Willow growled.
"I'm going to kill him," Xander said with nonchalance.
"Don't," Harmony warned. "Then you give him exactly what he wants."
They all stared at her and, wary of their sudden notice, the girl began fidgeting.
"If Xander goes over there and does something, then Garrett gets to talk to him and Garrett wins. It's like, um, that thing we learned about in Psychology? You know, with the dogs? Something about Palmolive?" She frowned. "Negative, uh, reinforcement!" she declared in triumph. "It's stupid and a waste of time." She shrugged. "Buffy should do it."
A gleam lit the Slayer's eyes as a cruel smirk settled on her face, while Cordelia and Willow were rather startled by Harmony's flash of brilliance.
Larry was slowly nodding. "That's actually a good idea. Gary's a lot like I used to be in the way he treats girls. He's scared of them."
"That's retarded," Xander savagely muttered. "Girls rule. Do you know how many times these three chicks have saved my sorry ass?"
Cordelia and Willow, sitting on either side of him, quickly pecked his cheeks and Xander flushed again as catcalls and wolf-whistles erupted throughout the room. Cordelia rolled her eyes and merrily waved to her subjects, but Willow, realizing what she had just done, turned sorrowful eyes to Oz.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"I get it. I would have kissed him, too."
"So what's stopping you?" asked a sly Xander.
Willow slugged his arm as Oz smirked and leaned over until he and Xander were nose-to-nose.
"Don't even think about it," the witch warned her man.
"Aw, come on, Will," Xander leered, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, drawing her flush against him while using his other hand to caress her boyfriend's face, who seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. "Wouldn't you like to be the filling in an Oz and Xander sandwich?"
As soon as he said the words, his eyes became huge and he shrunk into himself. Willow blushed furiously, while Oz appeared to be considering the suggestion.
Larry and the other girls regarded the trio with huge eyes.
"Did I just say that out loud?" Xander whispered.
"I really gotta work on that."
Cordelia looked at the werewolf, remembering Xander's earlier words in French class. "Hey! What did Xander ask you this morning?"
Oz opened his mouth, but was cut off by Buffy.
"In a minute. I want to hear, too, but I need to take care of something first."
Willow restrained her and glanced around the room. "Who's on faculty duty?"
Buffy smiled pleasantly. "Giles."
The witch smirked. "As you were."
"You don't need to do this, Buffy," Cordelia quietly said.
"Yes, I do," the Slayer countered. "One, because you're my friend. Two, because you're Xander's friend. And three, because I'm not going to let some dirtbag just molest a girl in the hallway."
With that, she stood up and stalked her way over to Langdon's table, where he and his boys were laughing uproariously about something Buffy was sure was stupid.
Giles, instantly aware of his Slayer's movement, gently put down his cup of tea and watched her with wary eyes.
Garrett wasn't even aware of her presence until he found himself unceremoniously hanging from almost two feet off the ground.
"What the hell?" he screeched, anxious that this friends weren't rising to his defense.
Buffy, now conscious of all eyes on her, loudly announced, "If you ever put your hands on Cordelia again, or on any other girl for that matter, I will kick your flat, pathetic ass until Hell won't take it back. Is that clear?"
Her Watcher appeared at her side. "What is happening, Buffy?" he quietly demanded.
She jostled Langdon in her grip. "This sleazeball attacked Cordy in the hallway before third period."
Low growls echoed throughout the cafeteria and Buffy was unsurprised to recognize that one of them came from her Watcher.
"Is that so?" an icy Giles queried, causing Buffy and those around her to shiver.
"What is the meaning of this?" squeaked Principal Snyder's reptilian voice as he rushed toward them.
"It would appear," the librarian began, removing his glasses and beginning to polish them, "that Mr. Langdon attempted to assault Miss Chase in the east hall this morning."
"I will not tolerate violence in this school!" the midget roared. "Summers! Put him down immediately or you'll be expelled!"
Giles cocked his head. "That should prove interesting. I am quite sure that when I alert Robert Chase to the fact that his daughter was attacked on school grounds during school hours and that nothing was done, he won't hesitate to contact the Board and call for your immediate dismissal. Given his standing in the community and Cordelia's exemplary academic and extracurricular record, I have no doubt they will agree."
Snyder, now red-faced and panting, said nothing and turned on his heel and stomped away.
"Buffy," he Watcher added, "please do hurry this up. Exposure to toxic waste has a threshold."
Grinning, she began shaking the boy again. "Touch Cordelia again, and you die. Is that clear?"
"Apologize to her."
"I'm sorry, Cordy!" the boy screeched across the room.
"Now apologize to Xander."
The boy's eyes became the size of saucers and he flushed in humiliation.
"What does Xander have to do with this?" Giles asked.
Buffy spared a look at Langdon and decided he wasn't worth it. No good would come from taking it further, other than that Xander would be embarrassed, and there's no way she would out someone, even a troll like Langdon.
"Just do it!" she barked.
"I'm sorry, Xander," he mumbled.
"That will do," Buffy cheerfully said, dropping him and smiling when he crashed to the ground. She turned to her Watcher. "I need to go wash my hands."
"Quite. We will discuss this later."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, well, let me put on my Big Surprise Face!"
Several people tried to rush Cordelia, but Harmony steered them away as the Queen curled up against Xander.
"Are you okay?" he whispered.
"It was scary," she admitted. "I knew I could handle him fine. It was just that he surprised me."
"What a creep," Willow bitterly mumbled. Oz nodded his agreement
Harmony looked down at her hands, and Xander gave her a curious look.
"Harm? You okay?"
"Yeah," she whispered.
"Did...did Langdon do that to you, too?" he demanded.
She raised pained eyes to him, but said nothing.
"Oh, Harmony," Cordelia said sadly, "why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?" Buffy chirped, plopping back into her seat.
"That Langdon also went after Harmony," Xander complained.
Immediately, the Slayer stood up.
"Don't!" Harmony begged. "He didn't really do anything, he didn't even touch me. He just scared me."
"What did he want?" Willow whispered.
Harmony shrugged. "He wants to take down Cordy. He thinks he should be running the school. And since she would never go out with him, he figured the best thing to do would be to get me on his side."
"And you didn't do it?" asked a surprised Cordelia.
Harmony grimaced and blushed. "Look, I know you and I don't always get along, and despite the rumors about me, I do have standards. I would never touch that piece of filth or allow him to replace you. Even I'm not that much of a bitch to betray you like that."
Cordelia quickly embraced the girl.
Buffy and Willow unabashedly stared at the blond, trying to reconcile this Harmony with the one they had known - or thought they had known - these past three years, the girl who Willow had known since kindergarten.
Apparently, Harmony wasn't as stupid as they had once believed. Of course, that didn't say much, but if Cordelia had her number and still tolerated her, and if Xander, for whatever reason, was willing to endure her company, perhaps there was more to Harmony Kendall than previously thought.
Harmony pulled back and cleared her throat. "So we're Bronzing it tonight? You're coming, right, Xan?"
He nodded. "Sure, but only if these guys can come, too. Oh, and Angel, I guess."
She shrugged. "Why not? Maybe I won't have to listen to Aura bitch about her mythical boyfriend all night long."
"I knew he didn't exist!" Cordelia crowed.
"Wait," Buffy interrupted. "She makes up a boyfriend and does nothing but complain about him?"
"Welcome back to our world, Buffy," Cordelia drawled.
The Slayer smirked.
Willow cleared her throat. "So. Oz. You and Xander. This morning? What was that about?"
Oz quirked a brow and shifted his attention to Xander who, predictably, had two large dots of color on his cheeks.
"Start talking, dorkus," Cordelia commanded. "What is it you need my permission for?"
Xander spared a quick look at Oz, who slightly inclined his head.
"Um, to go out with one of your ex-boyfriends?" he winced.
Cordelia said nothing, content to stare at him and unnerve him further with her silence.
Harmony smothered her giggle with her hand.
"An ex of Cordy's?" Buffy repeated. "Well, that could be just about..."
"Anybody," an amused Larry finished.
Oz choked on his orange.
"Hey!" Cordelia shrieked, but she began connecting the dots. An ex of hers who was also tight with Oz. "Devon?"
Xander nodded, refusing to meet her eyes.
"Devon's hot," Larry said.
Buffy and Harmony nodded.
"He said yes," Oz said.
"Really?" Xander asked, eyes full of hope.
Cordelia, Harmony, and Buffy all looked at Larry with sympathy, but the jock was determined to put his best face forward.
"I didn't know Devon was into guys," Willow frowned.
Larry snorted. "Devon's into everything."
The Queen crossed her arms over her chest and contemplated this unwelcome situation.
"Has Devon been warned?" she coolly asked.
"Warned about what?" several people questioned.
"Devon's a slut," Cordelia and Oz both announced.
"He sleeps with anything that moves," she added. "I think I was the first person he couldn't seduce."
"You were," Oz wryly noted. "It's all I heard about for weeks."
"I don't like this," Willow declared. Buffy also looked uneasy.
"Um, excuse me," Xander began, obviously trying to rein in his temper. "I am perfectly capable of handling myself and, as I am not a slut, if he thinks I'm going to fall to my knees and worship his cock in one of the stalls of the men's room, he's in for a rude awakening."
The others blinked.
Xander crossed his arms and huffed. "I'm not an infant. I know Dev's reputation. I'm just after a date with a good looking guy who I kind of know. I can take care of myself," he said in a dangerous voice, his eyes blazing with fury.
"Sorry, Xan," Buffy said quietly. "No one's trying to handle you, okay? We're just concerned, and you know as well as I do that if it was me, Willow, or Cordy, you'd be just as worried."
He deflated with a sigh. "Yeah, you're right."
Harmony decided to stomp on the fluffy bunny feelings which threatened them all. "So Xander and Devon have a date tonight at the Bronze. The rest of us will be there to observe."
Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia all smiled poisonously.
"Observe?" Xander squeaked.
"Of course," Harmony airily replied. "Two hot guys dancing together, all sweaty and growly? I'm there."
"Growly?" Oz repeated.
She nodded. "Growly."
He shrugged and nodded in return.
"I don't want you all there!" Xander barked.
"Too bad," Cordelia said. "Dating locales in Sunnydale are pretty limited. The Bronze is the only suitable option, and you can't expect the rest of us to stay home and twiddle our thumbs just because you're on a date."
He had lost, and he knew it. "Fine," he muttered.
"You're really inviting Angel?" Buffy asked him.
He shrugged. "Why not? Might as well give him a laugh, too."
"He's not going to laugh at you!" she insisted, slapping his arm. "Not if he knows what's good for him," she darkly added.
He gave her a weak smile, but was rather suffused with warmth at her protectiveness.
"Come on, Will," Buffy said, "let's go get our lunches. We'll get stuff for you guys, too," she said to Xander, Harmony, and Cordelia.
The three looked up and blinked, but Slayer, witch, and werewolf had already taken their leave.
"Okay," Xander began, "you know Langdon can't get off that easy."
"That was easy?" Harmony asked, raising a brow.
"Very," Cordelia nodded. "The public humiliation was a bonus, but I demand satisfaction. Ideas?"
Larry, who had brought his tray with him, sat there quietly munching on an apple.
"What do you know about him, Larry?" Xander asked.
"Well," the jock began, after swallowing, "he's big into dominance and submission games. It's probably why he's so threatened by Cordy."
"Are we talking about bondage here?" Harmony sniffed. "Ew."
"So what's he into?" Cordelia demanded of Larry. "Toys, leather, chains?"
Xander blinked. "How do you know so much about this? And why didn't you mention it before?"
She smirked. "Well?"
"Toys," Larry answered.
Cordelia filed that away for later dissection. "That will be useful. Thanks."
Xander turned to Harmony. "I don't know about you, but I don't want any part of it."
She nodded. "We'll leave it in their capable hands." She hesitated a moment. "Xander?"
"I, I'm sorry."
He knitted his brows. "For what?"
"For being such a bitch to you when you and Cordy first got together."
At that moment, the others returned and were positively stunned to hear her admission.
"Why were you?" Xander asked softly. "I know we've never been friends, Harm, but I've known you my whole life. The things you said, they really hurt."
She sighed and then shrugged. "I meant for them to. It was...really hard to watch you with Cordy. She's my best friend. All of a sudden, she's sneaking around and blowing me off and skipping cheerleading practice to spend time with you. It was like a betrayal. I was jealous." She looked away.
And Willow suddenly realized she had more in common with Harmony than she had ever realized.
Cordelia frowned. "I guess I never thought of it that way. I never thought I'd be one of those girls who'd ditch her friends for a boyfriend."
"I think that's something we're all guilty of," Buffy gently interjected.
Xander held out his hand to Harmony. "Friends?"
She beamed and they shook on it.
"Thank you," Cordelia murmured.
Harmony cleared her throat. "So, Xan, what are you going to wear tonight?"
"Not a word!" Cordelia trilled. "It's a surprise."
The others groaned.
"Can Harmony come over and help?," he asked.
Cordy shrugged. "Sure."
"Help you get dressed?" asked a wary Buffy.
"Jealous?" he teased, then faltered when she frowned.
Instantly, her face cleared. "No!" she laughed. "No, of course not."
No one was fooled but Xander.
"What's that?" he asked Harmony.
"Huh?" she replied, looking up from the table. "Oh, my trig homework. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong! I know I'm doing the steps right, but the answers keep coming out all wonky. Do you know anything about it?"
He begged off. "Sorry. I dropped math after algebra. Numbers just aren't my thing."
"They would be if you wore your glasses," Cordelia complained.
"Xander doesn't wear glasses," Willow said.
"Yeah, he does," Cordelia insisted. "They're these weird things with red and blue lenses to make sure the numbers don't move around. You know, for his dyslexia? He thinks they make him look like a dork, so he won't wear them."
Willow, Buffy, and Oz blinked. "Huh?"
Xander set his jaw and colored darkly. "I asked you not to tell anyone about that."
Cordelia waved her hand. "Whatever. There's nothing wrong with being dyslexic. It's not as if you're ugly or stupid, or like you don't have a huge..."
He quickly slapped a hand over her mouth, blushing furiously, and shrieked when she licked his fingers. Buffy watched all of this with very wide eyes, as did Harmony.
"How could you never tell me this?" Willow exploded.
"He's embarrassed," Cordelia confided.
Willow turned her deadly gaze on the cheerleader, who rolled her eyes.
"I'm telling Giles," Buffy pouted, crossing her arms. "This is ridiculous."
"Thanks a lot, Cordy," Xander seethed.
"Welcome! But now back to Harmony's problem. Willow?"
"What?" the witch snapped, before reining herself in. "Oh."
Harmony and Willow eyed each other warily.
Xander snorted. "Forget it, Will." He scanned the room. "Hey! Jonathan!"
Jonathan Levinson cringed and looked up from his tray when he heard his name called. He looked around the room nervously, terrified that he had attracted the wrong person's attention. He was quite surprised to see Xander Harris waving at him.
"Can you come over here for a minute?"
Jonathan pointed to himself, a questioning look on his face.
Xander laughed. "Yeah, you! Come here!"
The slight boy looked around him, just to be positive that the boyfriend of Cordelia Chase was asking to speak with him. Finally ascertaining that this was indeed the case, Jonathan nervously hauled himself to his feet, cursing his shaking knees, and hesitantly made his way across the room, softly groaning at the billowing silence he left in his wake.
He squeaked. "Um."
Xander beamed. "Thanks for coming over, Jonno. You know everyone, right?" he asked, waving his hand around at his friends.
Jonathan blinked. Was Xander serious? Of course he knew these people.
"I was hoping you might help me out?" Xander shyly asked.
He then unleashed the Puppy Eyes, but kept them dialed down to Fluffy Level.
Jonathan squeaked again. "Sure?" he whispered.
"Thanks! Harmony needs some advice about her trig homework. I wish I could help her, but math really isn't my strong suit, and since you and Willow are pretty much tied for School Genius, I was hoping you might lend your expertise? Will's mad at me right now, so she's sulking."
"I'm not sulking!" the redhead screamed. "I don't sulk!"
"Of course you don't," Oz agreed, patting her hand.
"Please Jon?" Xander asked. "Harmony's sure that she did the steps right, but the answers keep coming out wrong. Maybe she's just overlooking one thing?"
"Okay?" Jonathan shuffled his way over to Harmony, but gave her a wide berth. Somehow, he was able to review her homework from several feet away, and immediately found the error. "Oh, I see, H-Harmony. You did all of the steps correctly, but you keep mixing up the sine and cosine functions. Where you're supposed to take the sine, you took the cosine, and vice versa."
The girl blinked at him, blinked down at her notes, dug through her Marc Jacobs bag and emerged with her calculator. She pressed several buttons, looked up at Jonathan again, and grinned. "I was right! Thank you!"
Jonathan blushed spectacularly.
"See?" Xander smiled, before his face grew serious. "You're not dumb, Harmony. I've had people tell me that all my life, too. Just because we don't learn things the way most people do doesn't mean we're not just as good as they are."
Her eyes opened very wide as she stared at him, her cheeks slightly tinted.
Cordelia, Buffy, and Willow's heads volleyed back and forth between Xander and Harmony, as insight careened into them.
"Jonathan, why don't you come with us to the Bronze tonight?" Xander asked. "That's cool, right Harm?"
The nerd boggled.
Harmony shrugged. "Why not? As long as I don't have to talk to Aura, anyone who wants to come is fine with me. I'm sure this kid and I must have something in common."
"Breathing?" Oz suggested.
Jonathan screwed up his face in thought. "Was that an invitation?"
"Yeah, okay," Harmony nodded. "We'll pick you up. Where do you live?"
"Um, two streets over from C-C-Cordelia. On Bougainvillea?"
Dollar signs flashed before her eyes. "No problem," she smoothly replied. "Seven-thirty?"
Jonathan nodded and drifted away.
Larry and Buffy gaped at Xander.
"What just happened?" a dumbfounded Larry asked.
"You flirted! With Jonathan!" Buffy hissed.
Xander pointed to Cordelia, who beamed with pride. "It's on page twelve of his manual: in situations which require the assistance of a stranger or brief acquaintance, count on your sex appeal and a few well-placed compliments to see you through."
Harmony nodded as if this made complete sense.
"Sex appeal?" Larry repeated.
Xander turned huge, limpid eyes upon him. "I'm not sexy?" he whispered, devastation marring his features.
Larry choked out his protestations.
Buffy raised a brow at Cordelia. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you're good."
The Queen offered a serene smile in reply.
Chapter 6: New Alliances
The rest of the day played out with remarkable ease.
For the remaining classes, as well as in between them, when Xander was not with Cordelia and Harmony, he was with Larry, Buffy, Oz, or Willow. As time went on, he grew if not comfortable with his newfound popularity, at least accepting of it. He continued to remind himself of Cordelia's sage words that these people didn't truly know him, and therefore their perceptions were irrelevant.
So he followed her plan: be elusive and mysterious, which basically meant keeping his mouth shut, and exude an aura of approachability, letting the others deter followers from venturing too closely.
Much to Buffy and Willow's surprise, Cordelia invited them to cheerleading practice after classes let out and they stunned themselves by agreeing to go. Willow attempted to convince herself that she had acquiesced solely because she knew Buffy still longed, on some level, to be a part of the team, but the Slayer could sense that however much she denied it, Willow was both curious and envious of Cordelia's position as captain. After alerting Giles, who didn't want to give his approval but succumbed nonetheless, to their plans, the girls found themselves sitting in the stands, as Xander stood on the sidelines with Oz.
"What do you think?" Buffy asked her best friend.
Willow cocked her head and frowned. "It's...a lot harder than I thought it would be. I mean, you really have to be an athlete, don't you?"
Buffy nodded. "It's easy to dismiss it and buy into the stereotype of the Valley girl, but cheerleading is not for wimps." She waved a hand. "Look at the flips Cordy's doing. They're almost as good as mine, and she doesn't have the whole mystical warrior thing."
The witch cocked a brow. "I'm surprised you're admitting it."
"Yeah, well," Buffy sighed, "as weird as this day has been, one thing came through loud and clear: Xander and Cordelia really like one another. Apart from the whole dating thing, I mean. They're actual friends, and this is important to him, so I'm trying to be supportive."
She shrugged. "I don't know if they're back together or not, but I guess it doesn't really matter. Regardless, she's putting herself on the line to protect him, so it makes it a little easier to look at Cordy objectively." She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. "My first day here? I did want to be her friend. She's...not who she appears. Kind of like she has a secret identity of her own, you know?"
Willow nodded hesitantly. "Well, I'm biased and probably always will be. I don't think she and I will ever be friends, especially after," she blushed furiously, "you know. But I don't think I ever really stopped to think how much I was hurting Xander by refusing to accept her." She sighed. "I was awful about it, really. And if I'm supposed to be his best friend, what does it say about me when I try and dictate to him who his other friends can be? I'm lucky he put up with me."
"You're not alone in that boat," Buffy quietly said. "I was jealous, too."
The redhead turned startled eyes on her friend. "You were jealous of Cordelia? Because of Xander?"
Buffy ducked her head and nodded. "It didn't really hit me until he showed up today all Cordeliafied. He looks great, Will. He looks happy. And that's because of her. Whatever their relationship, she makes him happy." She sighed. "I just didn't want to see it."
"Well, he's never been supportive of you and Angel," Willow said evenly.
"I think a large part of that has to do with Jesse."
Willow bit her lip and turned her head, and Buffy grabbed her hand.
"I'm sorry, Will. I know it hurts for you to talk about him. I don't think I ever understood just how much, and how much Xander was hurting, too." She rolled her neck. "As for the thing with Angel, well, I think once Xan learned that Darla had turned Jesse and had turned Angel all those years ago, he kind of transferred his hate for Darla to Angel."
"That makes sense," Willow nodded. "I guess I never thought about it that way."
"And, if I'm being honest with myself, Xander's hatred isn't reserved exclusively for Angel. I mean, he pretty much hates all vampires."
The fact that Buffy now saw this a little more clearly filled her with slight unease.
"But there was the whole jealousy thing, too," Willow halfheartedly countered. She found herself stuck in the middle and not really wanted to argue either side. She liked Angel, but hated vampires. "You can't just ignore that. Xander might not like Angel because he's a vampire, but he also doesn't like him because Angel likes you."
Buffy fidgeted. "Sometimes...sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had accepted Xan's invitation to that dance."
"Do you regret it?"
"I honestly don't know. I'd be lying if I said I never thought about Xander that way." She shrugged. "My feelings for Angel were just stronger, I guess." She hesitated a moment. "Will?"
"Did you ever...did you ever think Xander might like guys?"
Willow's immediate nod surprised her friend. "Yeah, every once in a while, though I tried not to think about it too hard. He and Jesse were so close, Buff. I mean, I was close to both of them, but they had this whole secret language thing with each other." She paused and looked away. "I don't know if there was anything more to it than that, and I'll never ask, but sometimes I'd watch them watching each other and...yeah, I thought about it."
"Oh." Buffy's guilt swelled exponentially. If Xander and Jesse had been involved when Jesse had been killed…god, she couldn't even bear to think of it. Because if that were true, Xander had lost his best friend and his boyfriend. Because it meant that Buffy had been inadvertently rubbing his nose in the fact that she had a boyfriend – a vampire, no less – when his own had been murdered. She wanted to throw up. And she knew that, like Willow, she would never ask Xander about Jesse. She would not be the one to reopen that wound. All she could do was hope that one day he would be ready to speak of it and that he trusted her enough to let her listen.
Willow misinterpreted Buffy's pensiveness and immediately went on the defensive. She was not about to tolerate any homophobic nonsense; not from anyone, and certainly not from her best friend.
"Does it bother you that Xan likes guys too?"
"If I say yes, does that mean I'm terrible?" Buffy whispered.
Willow struggled to keep her face placid. "That depends. Does it bother you because of the guy-on-guy thing, or because there's a part of Xander that you don't know?"
"I'm from L.A., Will," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "I'm no stranger to The Gay and I don't have a problem with that at all. I think it's just that now there's this whole new side to him that I never saw coming."
"And you don't know where you fit in?" Willow suggested.
"But Cordy obviously fits in just fine?"
"Join the club, sister."
"Where's Larry?" Oz asked.
Xander snorted. "You mean my own personal Terminator? He had football practice."
"Do you think I'm weird?" Xander asked after a long moment.
"More than usual?"
"No," the werewolf replied, tilting his head to look up at the other boy. "Are you freaked?"
"A little." Xander paused. "A lot."
"Well, I'd be surprised if you weren't. Xander, let me ask you something, and I want you to be totally honest, okay?"
"Is you liking guys a real thing, or is it about you being afraid you just can't make it work with a girl?"
Xander sighed. "I don't know. Maybe a little of both? I mean, I know I'm attracted to guys, but I've always tried not to think about it too much." He snorted. "And my track record with girls isn't exactly stellar. Aside from Impata and the Mantis Lady, most girls don't even know I'm alive. Then I finally get the girl I had always dreamed of and I threw her away for the friend I thought I was losing."
"Is that what you and Willow were all about?" Oz softly asked, his discomfort with the topic obvious.
"I think so." He sighed again. "Oz, you have to understand something: Willow's been there for everything; I literally don't remember life without her. Losing Jesse was devastating, but at least Will and I had each other." He shoved his hands in his pockets. "But then we started dating other people and we just didn't fit like we used to. I was terrified I was going to lose her, and it would be worse than losing Jesse, because I'd see her every day." He shook his head. "But not with me."
"I get that."
Xander turned wide eyes on him. "Really?"
Oz nodded. "Really."
Oz nodded again. "So. Devon?"
"Are you nervous?"
A nod. "Aside from the whole 'we're both guys' thing, Devon's so...out of my league."
Oz frowned. "He wouldn't have said yes if he wasn't interested."
"Yeah, well according to everyone else, Devon's interested in anything," Xander mumbled, trying to keep pouting resentment from his voice.
"I want you to listen to me very closely, because this is probably the most you'll ever hear me say on one subject."
"Devon's one of my best friends," Oz said, "but what Cordy and I said at lunch is true: he's a slut. He usually only goes out with people who he knows in advance will sleep with him." He held up a hand. "I don't know if that's what he wants from you. I do know he's excited about this date, and I do think he genuinely likes you, but I've never known him to go without.
"So he might put the moves on you or he might not. If you turn him down, he might dump you or he might not. I just don't know, but I want you to be prepared. Regardless of what happened with Willow, I really don't want to see you hurt, Xander, and Devon might hurt you. Just...be careful."
Xander listened to every word and nodded slowly. "Thanks, Oz. I appreciate it."
Oz nodded. "All that aside, Devon's also a really good guy. He's just horny all the time. But he's also smart and funny and charming. A lot like you, actually."
"Are you hitting on me?" Xander joked, eyes twinkling.
Oz eyed him. "If I wasn't with Willow, yeah, I would be."
Oz smirked at him.
The werewolf nodded. "You're not ugly, you know."
"Thanks," Xander replied, fidgeting. "Um, does Willow know?"
Oz shrugged, but was also pleased, in some weird way, that Xander was still so clearly protective of and loyal to Willow. "She knows I love her, but yeah, she knows that I go both ways."
"And it doesn't bother her?"
"No. She knows I'm with her because I want to be and for no other reason."
"Um, have you and Devon ever...?"
Oz shook his head. "Surprisingly no. We're not each other's type. Funny how you're both of ours, though."
"If you weren't with Willow, if she wasn't my best friend...I really liked, um, cuddling with you this morning."
Oz smirked. "Wanna make out?"
Xander fidgeted again and then sighed. "I'm never going to be as cool as you, am I?"
Cordelia called for a pause in the routine, causing the other cheerleaders to burst into applause. All of them, save for their captain and Harmony, were sweating like whores in church. Cordelia and Harmony, however, looked invigorated, their eyes shining. Together, they wandered over to Xander and Oz, who extended towels and bottles of water.
"Thanks," Cordelia smiled.
"Sure," Xander replied. "You guys look really great out there."
Harmony groaned. "Yeah, right. Did you see Anderson? Her ass is so wide it keeps knocking into Cornwell and Jackson."
Xander and Cordelia snickered.
"Get rid of her," Oz suggested.
"We can't," Cordelia complained. "Her daddy sprung for the uniforms."
"She bought her way onto the team?" asked a surprised Xander.
"Happens all the time," a sour Harmony replied. "Personally, I wish we could boot her and put Buffy in her place. At least we know she can handle the gymnastics."
"Really?" asked the wide-eyed Slayer who, along with Willow, materialized from behind the boys.
"Yeah, well," Harmony sighed. "I know we really don't know each other that well yet, and what we do know, or used to know, we don't like." She shrugged. "Still, I saw your tryouts. It's obvious you know what you're doing. And there's the whole Slaying thing."
Everyone blinked before exchanging nervous glances.
"Oh, please," Harmony drawled, rolling her eyes. "No one's that dense. Did you really think Larry was the only one who figured it out? Most of us know something's going on, but for some reason, it's like we're... made to forget."
"So how is it you remember?" Willow cautiously asked.
Harmony shrugged again. "I followed you a couple of times when I was trying to figure out what Cordy was up to. I figured she had a new boyfriend, but it was a hell of a surprise to find her and Harris, uh, I mean Xander, stalking through graveyards in the dead of night."
"Are you nuts?" Cordelia demanded. "Do you know how dangerous that is? You could have been killed!"
"I stayed in my car the whole time," Harmony smoothly replied. "And now I carry holy water and a crucifix wherever I go. I started putting it all together after Madison's psycho mom began targeting the squad." She shook her head. "No way was all of that stuff normal."
Xander shrugged. "So much for having to speak in code."
"Xander!" Willow hissed.
"Will, get serious, okay? I mean, really, aren't you surprised more people haven't figured it out? How many of our classmates has Buffy saved now? Even the mystical whatsit of the Hellmouth can't disguise it forever. So now Harmony and Larry know. So what? I trust them."
"You do?" Harmony asked, raising an eyebrow.
He snorted. "Well, I trust you enough to look out for your own best interests."
"That's fair," the girl chirped.
They grinned at each other.
Willow and Buffy began arguing with Xander and Harmony while Oz and Cordelia stood on the sides and watched in amusement.
"I wish I had popcorn."
"I think I have some cookies in my purse," she smirked.
Suddenly, everyone's attention was distracted by a figure jogging toward them.
"Hey," Percy West greeted them, nodding to the crowd but, in particular, at Xander, who furrowed his brow.
"Hi, Percy," Willow cooed.
The boy blanched.
"Uh, Rosenberg. I mean, W-Willow."
Buffy snickered. Percy's cowed behavior was one of the only good things to come out of vampire Willow's little jaunt to their dimension. Cordelia and Harmony, however, saw the way Percy was sizing up Xander and crossed their arms.
"Why aren't you at practice?" Harmony demanded.
He shrugged. "I skipped."
Willow looked lost, but Buffy had cottoned on and was rather displeased.
Cordelia smirked. "Huh. Well, practice makes perfect. I think most men need a little practice, don't you, Buffy?"
The Slayer burst out laughing.
"The new look works for you, Harris," Percy leered, looking Xander up and down like a side of beef.
"No problem. So how is everyone?"
The others eyed each other.
"Percy, what is it that you want?" Cordelia barked. "Oh, let me guess. Xander?"
"Yeah?" Xander replied.
She rolled her eyes. "No, you wingnut! He's interested in you!"
Oz elbowed Xander in his side.
"Ow! What's going on here?"
Willow, having caught up, stared at her best friend. No one could be that clueless.
"Um, are you busy tonight, Harris?" Percy asked shyly, his face a fierce blush.
Xander blinked. "What?"
"Yes, he is!" Cordelia shrieked. "Percy, go away!"
"Hey!" Percy protested. "You don't speak for him!"
"Wanna bet? Xander has a date."
"With who? You?" he scoffed. "I'm not buying your fake reconciliation, Chase." He rolled his eyes. "Look, I get that you're trying to protect him or whatever, and if it wasn't so pathetic, I'd give you props. But this is California, not Alabama. No one cares if Harris goes both ways, so why are you trying to get in his business?" He grinned. "Jealous? Tell me, Queen, who's this mythical date of his?"
"Um, Devon?" Xander quietly interjected, though his confusion was apparent.
"Jealous?" Cordelia screeched.
"MacLeish?" Percy barked. "You can't go out with him!"
Xander screwed up his face. "Why not?"
"You can do better!"
Buffy looked upon the jock with scorn. "Like who? You? You haven't said boo to Xander in the three years I've been here, not to mention how you tortured Willow, his best friend! What the hell makes you think Xander would want to go out with you? Oh, and in case you missed the newsflash, insulting Cordelia is not the way to get close to Xander."
Percy colored darkly. "Look, this is hard for me, okay?"
Xander balked. "You want to go out with me?"
The other boy turned pained eyes upon him before sharply nodding once.
"Why?" Xander demanded, his eyes narrowing. "Is this some kind of joke? You don't even like me, West. We've been trading barbs for years."
"That's probably his twisted idea of flirting," Harmony complained.
Percy scowled. "Well, it worked for Harris and Chase, didn't it?"
Cordelia and Xander gaped. "Oh. My. God," they whispered.
Oz snickered, and was soon joined by Buffy and Harmony.
Percy cleared his throat. "How about tomorrow night?"
Xander stared. "I don't get you."
"You're hot, okay? You always have been. God, why do you have to be such a...such a dork?"
Xander turned to Buffy and Willow. "Is this what it feels like to be wooed?"
"Look," Percy sighed. "I know you and me haven't always gotten along, but..."
"But what?" Xander prompted.
The other boy shrugged and motioned to Xander with a hand. Hesitantly, Xander stepped forward and stood next to Percy, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders and turned them from the others. Cordelia, Harmony, and Willow meant to protest, but Buffy and Oz, whose attuned senses would allow them to eavesdrop, held up their hands in bids for silence.
"I just thought, I thought that maybe sometimes you, you might feel as lonely as I do," Percy whispered, shuffling his feet.
"Oh. Uh, yeah, sometimes, I guess. Sure."
"I really do think you're cute," Percy said softly, offering a hesitant smile.
"And you...you thought that, um, I might be like you?"
Percy laughed gently. "It's not that you're particularly obvious, or anything. I guess I was just hoping."
"So how come you never said anything before?"
"I was scared," was the blunt response. "I mean, until Blaisdell, it just wasn't something that was discussed, and I have an image to maintain, you know?"
Xander soured. "Yeah. Nice image, by the way."
Percy bristled. "And you never once thought about what it would be like to be popular? To be a good athlete? As much as you dissed me and my friends, you never thought what it would be like to be one of us?"
Xander set his jaw and looked away.
"Exactly. We all have roles to play, Harris, whether we want to or not. High school is not for the squeamish."
Xander offered a small smile. "And now?"
"Now?" Percy exhaled. "After Blaisdell came out and no one really said or did anything, I thought it was probably because he could clock any jerks into next year. Not to mention he pretty much announced you as his personal savior. And then you show up today with Chase on your arm, and no one says anything. You were just...accepted; as the new King, apparently. And then suddenly everyone's talking about how you dig guys, and the girls think it's hot, and the guys aren't going to mess with you because of Cordy, Larry, and Summers. And I guess I thought maybe I found someone I could be myself with."
"What about Larry?"
"Not my type."
"Oh. And I am?"
"You are," Percy smirked.
"You keep saying that."
"Because it keeps surprising me."
"I'm not the hot guy. You are. It's weird."
"Who says you're not hot?" Percy asked, brow furrowed.
A snort. "Right. Hello, you dated Chase. She's the ultimate arm candy."
"Don't talk about her that way," Xander grumbled.
"You must know a side of her that's hidden from the rest world, like the dark side of the moon."
Xander giggled, but felt guilty for it.
"I can be funny," Percy insisted. "Can't you give me a chance? Or am I not your type?"
Xander turned and studied him critically. Rich, dark hair, cropped close, shone in the sun and just begged to be stroked; enormous deep, blue eyes framed by thick black lashes; clear skin with a healthy tan which was real and not the fake-and-bake in which many students indulged; a rosebud mouth with luscious lips which...
Percy smirked again.
Strong, broad shoulders which Xander sensed could support his weight. Tight black jersey shirt which clung to a muscular chest and arms, tapering down to a narrow waist, which Xander thought would fit in his hands quite nicely. Snug jeans which hinted at a rather large...
"Uh, y-yeah," Xander stuttered, flushing scarlet. "What were we talking about?"
The smirk turned into a leering grin. Percy leaned over. "Whether or not I'm your type," he purred.
"Oh. Right! Yeah, I guess."
Percy frowned. Not exactly a ringing declaration. Had he misread the signals? Or had Harris been thinking about someone else? Someone like a lean, sinewy singer whose tight ass was always clad in leather pants? Fucking MacLeish. Figured he would have gotten there first.
Xander began fidgeting and looking everywhere but at Percy.
"Did I say something wrong?" Percy asked, knitting his brows.
"Huh? Oh. No, not at all. Sorry. This is all just a little weird for me. I mean, up until Friday night, I really never thought about guys that way."
"Really? What happened on Friday?"
"Well, I was having a sleepover with Buffy and Will..."
"A sleepover? With two girls?"
"Well, Mrs. Summers was home, of course."
"Summers' mom lets you sleep over at her house? Wait, were you in Buffy's room?"
Percy boggled. "Do you three share the bed?"
"Of course not!" Xander sputtered. "Buffy and Willow sleep in the bed, and I sleep on the floor. Or all three of us sleep on the floor."
Xander rolled his eyes. "We all keep our hands above the blanket."
"They really are your friends."
"I guess I've never really had friends who are that close. I've always had to keep people at arm's length."
"That must be hard," Xander whispered.
Percy nodded uneasily. "Are we...can we be friends?"
Xander shrugged. "I guess. But aren't you worried about what will happen when everyone sees you hanging with me? Because they will talk, you know."
Percy threw a look over his shoulder, wincing slightly at the harsh glares of Harris' friends which, for some reason, now seemed to include Harmony Kendall. Bizarre. "You've got some group of protectors."
"What's going on?" Larry barked, jogging up to the others.
"Check it," Buffy drawled, nodding at the two boys. "Percy's putting the moves on Xan."
"Did you hear everything?" Cordelia demanded of Buffy.
The Slayer nodded. "He's sincere. He's lonely."
"I don't trust him," Harmony said. "He's always been a dick. Not just to Xander, but to everyone."
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Willow murmured, "but I agree with Harmony."
Harmony couldn't believe it either, so she settled for a befuddled stare.
"Not our decision," Oz said. "Like Xander said, he can pick his own friends."
Buffy nodded. "Oz is right."
"For now," Cordelia muttered, "but I'm keeping an eye on Percy. One toe over the line, and he'll be feasting on his own pancreas."
"They don't like me."
"You've never given them reason," Xander argued.
"Since when are you friends with Kendall?"
Percy raised a brow.
"If people ever bothered to stop and talk to her instead of just dismissing her as Cordelia's drone," Xander said, "they would be very surprised. Like you said, we all have roles. She's not what people think, any more than Cordy or you or me."
"What are they saying?" Cordelia hissed.
"Um, Xander's defending Harmony," Buffy replied.
The girl in question swooned.
"So. You and MacLeish?"
Xander blushed and nodded. "It's my first date. You know, with a guy."
"Nervous?" Percy asked pleasantly, though he was silently seething.
"Honestly? Yeah. This is all moving really, really fast. And people have been warning me all day."
"With good reason," Percy carefully stated. "He does have a reputation."
"So do you, although it's improved since Willow kicked your ass."
"I still haven't figured that out."
"You really don't want to."
"Now what?" Willow asked.
"Xander's reminding Percy of you kicking his ass," Oz muttered.
"That must have been beautiful," Cordelia said dreamily, clutching her hands together, before shaking her head to clear her haze. "I wish I had been there to see it." She nodded to herself. "Well, now we know what to do."
Harmony frowned. "We do?"
"Sure," Cordelia chirped. "If Percy screws up, we just dress up Willow as a dominatrix and turn her loose on the unsuspecting populace."
Willow smiled evilly as Oz and Buffy burst out laughing.
"You can come with us to the Bronze tonight if you want," Xander offered.
He didn't know if he believed the other boy's interest in him, so he decided it best to subject him to a ruthless Cordelia Chase Interrogation. If he survived, he might become a friend.
"Who's going?" Percy asked.
"Me, Devon, Buffy, Willow, Cordy, Harm, Oz, Larry, Jonathan, and Angel. He's Buffy's boyfriend. Oh, and maybe Faith, too. She doesn't go to school here, though, so you might not know her." He blinked. "Actually, you probably don't. No one ever forgets meeting Faith."
Harmony heard that quite clearly, stalked over, and thrust a finger at Percy's chest.
"That geek helped me today, for no other reason than because he's a nice person and Xander asked him to. He was totally decent and didn't have to be, so he's going. We all want him to. Most of us, however, don't want you there."
Percy grimaced and meant to interrupt, but Harmony cut him off.
"You wanna be Xander's friend?" she asked, using air quotes. "Then you better start by respecting the friends he already has, or Cordy and Willow will make you sorry!"
Percy swallowed heavily. He actually wasn't sure which girl he was more afraid of. Willow might beat him up, but Cordelia could murder his soul. He turned around, looked at the aforementioned twosome and shuddered at their menacing glare.
"Got it," he meekly replied.
"If you really want to be friends," Xander said, "I could use your help with teaching an asshole an important lesson. Well, Larry and Cordelia are really the brains behind the operation."
Percy smirked. Now that he could handle. "Victim?"
"You didn't see the scene at lunch today?" Harmony asked.
He shook his head. "Detention. Why? What happened?
"He shoved Cordelia up against the lockers this morning and tried to grope her just to try and start a confrontation with Xander."
Percy set his jaw and narrowed his eyes. He didn't particularly care about Cordelia one way or the other, but he had known her for forever and he had a mother and an older sister, so he wasn't about to stand by and let some raging dickbag treat women that way.
"Buffy humiliated him at lunch," Xander continued, now furious, "but that's not enough for me. Cordelia and Larry have a plan. Do you want in?"
Percy shot him a wolfish grin. "Absolutely."
Chapter 7: Tribal Elder
At five o'clock, once the various practices were completed, the newly assembled group stormed the library.
Wesley and Giles, pouring over large dusty volumes, looked up in consternation. Faith, who was lounging on a table and contemplating bothdinner and Cordelia's tits, looked up with interest.
"What's this?" she asked, eyes roving over the arrivals and the newbies.
"Hi Giles! Hi Faith!" Buffy cheerfully greeted. She then scowled. "Wesley."
"Er, Buffy, was a school assignment given of which I am unaware?" asked a wary Giles.
"Huh? Oh, no. Harmony, Larry, and Percy figured out the whole Slaying thing, so you have three new Scoobies. Aren't you excited?"
Slowly, Giles removed his glasses and began furiously polishing them. "I see."
Wesley, outraged, stood and began bellowing.
"Take it down a notch, Scarecrow," Faith drawled, before turning to Buffy. "How'd all this happen, B?"
"Xander's into guys."
Faith blinked at the non sequitur. "Huh. Okay. Have to say, kind of saw that one coming."
"What!" Xander screeched. "Why does everyone keep saying that?"
She chuckled. "Yo, X, look at your harem: there's the Queen, who has a bigger pair than any guy I know; B, who's pretty damn emasculating herself; Red, who's all with the freaky mojo; and me, with my obvious hotness." She shrugged. "You worship our collective shiny, but haven't gotten beyond third base. It's no surprise you turned to guys."
"I still like girls," he mumbled petulantly.
"Oh?" she smirked. "So you're looking for a threesome?"
His eyes sparkled. "Are you offering?"
Her smirk turned to a leer.
Giles decided it best to interrupt this potentially horrifying turn of events.
"Buffy," he said calmly, "none of this explains how Ms. Kendall, Mr. Blaisdell, and Mr. West came to be aware of your Calling."
"Excuse me, Mr. Giles," Larry interjected, donning his best Mature Adult Voice, "but I've suspected something to be amiss for quite a while. I've grown up on the Hellmouth and I've watched people disappear or turn up dead my entire life. That started to change when Buffy arrived. I've seen her save people. I've seen how Willow, Oz, Cordy, and Xander stand at her side. I don't have much to offer, but I'm strong and I'm fast. I can't just walk away."
Giles cleared his throat. "Your attitude is commendable, Mr. Blaisdell, but I cannot condone your active participation in Buffy's duties. She and I have both been taken to task for allowing the others to be involved."
"Screw the Council!" Buffy bellowed. "What have they ever done for me but try to kill me and my mother?"
Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Oz, and Faith, each of whom had an extreme fondness for Joyce Summers, all glowered.
"Bastards," Faith muttered.
"Now see here!" Wesley interjected.
"Shut it, Queen Mary," she snarled, "or my foot's going to use your ass to launch you back across the Pond."
The younger Watcher reddened but fell silent.
Harmony sniffed disdainfully. "I'm now involved in this whether you like it or not, librarian."
Giles curled a lip. "And just what is it you think you can contribute, Ms. Kendall?"
In response, Harmony eyed the training dummy the Watcher had set up for the Slayers before launching into a series of flips, landing at the foot of the model and rearing up a leg, kicking off its head.
Faith whistled appreciatively. "That'll do."
Giles didn't know what to say, so he settled for prevarication. "And you, Mr. West?"
Percy balked. He had only been filled in on the walk from the field to the library and, frankly, he still didn't believe it.
Buffy walked over to the weapons cache, withdrew two titanium tactical batons, and tossed one to Faith, who nodded. Simultaneously, the Slayers snapped the batons in half.
Percy turned a sickly shade of green and stumbled back. "Holy fuck!"
"Quite," Giles smirked. "Buffy, you still haven't explained this to my satisfaction."
She sighed. "Well, remember what happened at lunch?"
He darkened and nodded tersely. "I don't see how that relates, however."
"Wait, what happened?" Faith demanded.
"This punk attacked Cordelia in the hallway before third period."
"What!" Faith and Wesley exploded, for entirely different, though vaguely similar, reasons.
"I wish we could just stop talking about it," Cordelia groaned.
Xander put an arm around her and she happily curled up against him.
"Buffy?" Giles prompted, his patience all but gone.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. Well, you know that Xander spent the weekend with Cordy and she designed this whole makeover dealy for him. Xander now rules the school at her side. Well, with her permission, of course." She snorted. "In one day, she transformed him from the King of the Dorks to King of the Land."
Faith looked over at Xander and was surprised that she had missed the new duds and do. "Wow," she whispered. "You rock!"
He blushed. "Thanks."
She laughed. "Not you! I was talking to her Highness! Talk about playing Fairy Godmother." She doubled over and howled. "Literally!"
"Children, please," Giles moaned.
"Right," Buffy said. "Part of Cordelia's plan entailed procuring a bodyguard for Xander for the classes which she didn't share with him, so that he wasn't harassed. That's where Larry came in."
Wesley nodded. "Admirable."
She rolled her eyes once more. "Whatever. Anyway, like Larry said, he had it all pretty much figured out. He just didn't know our official designations."
A startled Willow blinked. "We have designations?" She frowned. "You mean like the Borg?"
"Dear Lord," Wesley murmured, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Yet it's obvious he knows who the Borg is," Percy hissed.
"You do too?" Xander asked.
Percy offered a shy smile.
"You're all nerds!" announced an annoyed Cordelia. "Can we move this along?"
Giles sighed. "Thank goodness someone other than myself has been gifted with a modicum of common sense."
Faith huffed. "Wait. I still want to know about these designations."
"You. Me. S-L-A-Y-E-R-S," Buffy said slowly.
Faith narrowed her eyes.
"Right," Buffy rushed on. "Willow's the witch, Cordy's the bitch, Oz is the wolf, and Xander's the token penis."
"Token penis?" Xander screamed. Still, he guessed it was better than being one of the girls.
"I have a penis!" Giles roared.
They all blinked at him.
"For the purposes of this argument, you are penisless," Buffy argued, shuddering. She was just not able to posit her Watcher having bits.
"So he's a eunuch," observed a happy Xander. "Like Angel?"
"Angel is not a eunuch!" Buffy protested.
"Might as well be," Cordelia demurred.
Xander preened in triumph. "Ha!"
"How do you stand it?" Wesley whispered to Giles.
"I lace my tea with bourbon."
Wesley nodded sagely. "And now there's more."
Giles shook his head. "Absolutely not. I have yet to be convinced."
"Well, what's it gonna take, John Houseman?" Harmony barked, hands on her hips. "We all know what's going on here. If you think I'm going to stand by and let Cordy or Xander get killed, think again! Who's going to stop me? You? I don't think so!"
Cordelia looked at Harmony with approval.
Faith snorted. Loudly.
"Besides," the girl continued, "I need to learn to protect myself. I'll be damned if I'm going to be some demon's midnight snack."
"John Houseman?" repeated an aghast Giles. "But he's...rotund!"
Wesley snickered but withered at Giles' dark look.
"Look Giles," Buffy said, "here's the bottom line: Harmony, Percy, and Larry know what's up. That's not going to change. You can either give your approval, or we can ignore you and you lose all control of the situation. Either way, they're in this now. So it's up to you how you want to handle it."
"What about Jonathan?" Xander whispered.
"Later," she hissed. "We still need to feel him out."
He grinned. "I'll just leave that part up to you."
She colored and shot him her best Death Look. He volleyed with The Cordelia Chase Patented Evil Glare of Malevolence; she blinked and quickly turned away. She felt rather than saw his smirk and made a mental note to torment him later at her leisure.
"We're gonna do it anyway," Percy said to Giles, a lazy smile on his face.
"We shall see," Giles said stiffly. "One month's probation. If you can prove yourselves useful, you may stay, with limited participation." He schooled his face into one of disinterest. "Now, then, shall we plan tonight's patrol?"
Buffy shrugged. "Yeah, okay, but let's make it fast. We're all going to the Bronze."
Giles raised a brow.
"We've discussed this," she said evenly. "I will perform my duty, but I will be allowed to have a life."
"Faith too," Xander added.
Buffy nodded. "Right. Faith, too." She turned to the other girl. "You're coming, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
Harmony grinned poisonously. "Good. You can help us keep an eye on Xander and his date."
Faith perked up. "Date? You and the Queen reunite and are feeling good, X?"
"Oh, no," tutted Harmony. "Xander has a date with a guy."
Faith, Giles, and Wesley stared.
"Thank you so much, Harmony," Xander hissed through clenched teeth.
"And tomorrow you might find yourself asking if you know where your unicorn collection is."
"Who's the lucky dude?" Faith asked lightly, trying to diffuse the situation.
"Devon," Oz replied.
"The guy from your band?" At his nod, she let loose a wolf whistle. "Choice Cuts! Good score, X."
Xander blushed and shuffled his feet.
Giles growled. "Xander, in my office. Now."
The boy turned wide eyes on his friends, distressed to see them looking just as nervous and uncertain. "Yes, Giles," he whispered.
Wesley's mouth fell open at the quiet submission.
Giles turned on his heel, stormed into his office, and took his seat, awaiting his prey.
"Be strong, but firm," Buffy advised. "He has no real power over you."
"Right," Xander replied, a forced smile on his face. "Just like the Wicked Witch of the West."
"Watch out for fireballs," Willow whispered.
Xander silently entered the office and hovered.
"Shut the door."
The boy complied.
"Sit," the Watcher ordered, gesturing to the chair across from him.
Xander sat and stared at the floor.
"Xander," Giles said softly, "look at me."
"You're disappointed in me," Xander whispered.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Giles said kindly. "However, I think you need to discuss these...developments with someone who has a bit more knowledge than your peers."
Xander panicked. "I'm really not comfortable with this!"
"I'm sure," Giles smiled, "but nevertheless, I cannot allow you to run about misinformed and ignorant. I am unsure as to what your parents have told you of, er, relations, but..."
Xander held up a frantic hand. "Whoa! Cease and desist! I am so not talking about this with you! I haven't, I mean, I've never, I mean, this is none of your business!"
Giles sighed and placed a hand on the boy's knee. "Young man, I care about you. I worry for you as much as, if not more than, Buffy." He sighed. "Your heart is so open, Xander, that I'm afraid it leaves you quite vulnerable. You wore your heart on your sleeve for two years with regard to Buffy." He looked away. "I confess I had rather hoped you and Cordelia would stay together, as you are ideally suited to one another. Indeed, I would go so far as to say you bring out the best in each other." He blinked. "As well as the worst, on occasion."
"Yeah," Xander whispered.
"But this, Xander, I just don't know. I fear that you are jumping into a situation which you cannot truly fathom. Have you even discussed this with your parents?"
The boy blanched and began trembling.
"I take it you do not believe they will be accepting."
Xander shrugged a shoulder. "I-I don't know. I can't believe I didn't even think about it. I guess my mom would be okay, but I don't know about my dad."
Giles nodded. "Well, it is, of course, your decision what you wish to tell them. You will soon be eighteen and will take responsibility for your own life. I just want to ensure that these feelings you believe you have are yours alone, and not those which someone has led you to believe you are most suited."
Giles sighed lightly. "Xander, are you truly attracted to men, or have the girls convinced you that you should be?"
"Well," the boy exhaled, "it's something I've always kind of known. I just tried never to think about it. Then this weekend, I was hanging with Buffy and Willow, and we started talking about, um, things, and before I knew it I was thinking sexy thoughts about Angel!"
"Oh, dear," Giles murmured.
"And about you!"
Giles raised a brow. "Really?"
"This is not the time to fishing for compliments, Giles!" the boy trilled.
Giles smiled softly. "I was not. I was just rather surprised."
"Xander, as much as it pains me to admit, Angel is rather spectacularly put together. I imagine he appeals to a great many people, the lack of a pulse notwithstanding."
The boy snorted.
"As for me, well, I am quite flattered."
"And not disgusted?" Xander asked bitterly.
"Of course not! Xander, being attracted to the same gender is not abnormal or perverted or all of this other rubbish that narrowminded bigots proclaim. Who you love is simply who you love, and that's the end of it."
"Thanks," Xander mumbled, ducking his head and blushing.
"I just want to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Even I am aware of Mr. MacLeish's reputation, and while I in no way doubt your ability to guard your, er, honor, and while you seem to have quite a number of potential assassins at your disposal, I just don't want you to rush into anything."
He held up his hands. "Got it. No rushing." He sighed. "Look, Giles, I'm not ready for that. I wasn't even ready for that with Cordy, and I love her."
"Love? Present tense?"
Xander bit his lip and nodded. "I'll always love her," he whispered.
"Ah, I see. And I take it she is unaware of your continued feelings."
"I don't know," Xander moaned. "I mean, we made out Friday night, but I put a stop to it because I didn't think we were ready, especially after that disaster with Willow."
"That was quite sensible of you."
Xander raised his head and stared into the man's eyes. "Giles? How could I hurt her that way?" He bent over, putting his head between his knees, his shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs.
"Get up and come over here."
Xander hauled himself to his feet and took a step, still staring at the floor. Giles reached out, grabbed the boy's waist, drew him forward, and settled him in his lap.
Xander curled up, grabbed a fistful of tweed, and continued to cry, albeit it much more quietly. Part of him hated that he had succumbed so easily to his tears, and he couldn't fathom why he was sharing them with Giles and not Cordelia, but Giles…made him feel safe. He didn't think Giles particularly liked him, but he knew Giles loved him like a son. It was just something they'd never talked about, and he was a little freaked that Giles wanted to start talking about it now.
But he was also happy and a little relieved and a lot embarrassed. He'd never been close with dad and, in many ways, he considered Giles a better role model. A better father. It mattered to him what Giles thought of him.
Giles patted his back. "You made a mistake, dear boy, as have we all done at various times. You did not set out to hurt Cordelia or Oz intentionally. You have learned and grown from the experience, and that is all you can do. You have offered sincere apologies and have attempted to make restitution; whether or not you will be forgiven is out of your hands.
"I believe Oz has forgiven you, and I rather think Cordelia has as well, though perhaps not tacitly. You must give her time; indeed, you owe her that. Still, it would appear that she continues to support you, and you must be nothing but grateful."
"I am," Xander said quietly, "but I know I don't deserve it."
Giles quirked a brow. "I believe you would be hard-pressed to inform Miss Chase how and with whom she chooses to spend her time," he smiled, rubbing soothing circles on the boy's back.
"Why are you being nice to me?" Xander halfheartedly demanded. "You're always angry with me."
"Rubbish. As I said before, I worry about you greatly, Xander, much more so than the others." He paused. "I expect you to make mistakes, but I also know that you hold your hurts and your regrets so close to your heart that I fear you will one day allow them to overwhelm you."
He pulled back, took Xander's chin in his hand, and forced the boy to look into his eyes. "You are more than your mistakes, Alexander, and you must learn to forgive yourself. You have great potential, and while it aggrieves me that you do not see it and sometimes attempt to run from it, I have no doubt that you will be a great man."
"I love you too."
Giles sputtered. "Yes, well." He smiled wryly. "Yes."
"What do you think's going on in there?" a worried Cordelia hissed to Buffy. "It's so quiet."
Buffy tried to shrug, but the gesture devolved into a spasm. "I don't know, but whatever it is, it can't be good."
"Should we go in there?" Percy asked. "I mean, who is this guy? Who is he to order Harris around? And why did Harris listen?"
"Giles is kind of like our teacher-mentor-surrogate father," Willow replied, "and if you think that was bad, try going in there. Just leave your next-of-kin by the telephone."
"I don't like this," Faith muttered, pacing. "X is too, well, not scared of Jeeves, but kind of nervous about him, you know what I mean?"
"Giles's opinion means a lot to him," Buffy said quietly.
"Xander needs to do this," Oz stated. "Leave them alone."
Wesley cleared his throat. "Let's plan the patrol, shall we?"
"I mess everything up," Xander whispered, now sitting atop Giles's desk, his head ducked and a faint blush on his cheeks.
"Ridiculous," Giles countered. "You brought Buffy back to life. You saved me from Angelus and Drusilla. You stopped the Judge. Not to mention standing up to Angelus in the hospital."
Xander froze before pulling back and looking at the Watcher in horror. "How did you know about that?"
"Cordelia, of course. After you told her, she made a beeline for me and then proceeded to rip me up one side and down the other. She's rather tenacious, that girl, and doesn't suffer fools gladly. She lectured me for a good half-hour of how my treatment of you sometimes presents itself, which is certainly not how I intend, and then she railed at me for leaving Buffy alone in the hospital with only an unarmed mortal boy for protection." He nodded. "She was quite right to do so."
The boy knitted his eyebrows. "Cordy was worried about Buff?"
Giles chuckled. "Indeed. The girl's heart is just as big as yours, but she keeps it closely guarded."
"That's what I need to learn how to do, huh?"
"Quite. Xander, you have this misconception that your empathy for others is a detriment, when nothing could be further from the truth. Your belief in the goodness of people, while sometimes distressingly naive, is as fundamental to fighting the darkness as any book or trusty weapon. We've only gotten this far because of you. Buffy is only alive because of you."
Xander swallowed heavily and looked away.
Giles sighed. "You don't believe me. Perhaps I've waited too long to tell you, as Cordelia rather pointedly suggested. Nevertheless, it is true, and the others know it as well."
Giles was frustrated but knew it was a lost cause and decided discretion was the better part of valor. He had a long way to go in repairing his relationship with the boy. He knew he had always been harder on Xander than on the girls, treating him much the same way his own father had treated him, but Xander took criticism very harshly and turned it inward, which was something Giles himself should've taken into account. He knew they would get there eventually, but it would take time.
But he was worried about this date. Regardless of Devon MacLeish's humanity, Xander always seemed to attract the worst sort of romantic attention, save his relationship with Cordelia. Therefore, it was time to engage in Evasive Maneuvers. Right!
"Now we must discuss sexual intercourse between two men," the Watcher declared with finality.
The others looked up collectively at the horrified shriek.
"I don't want to know," Harmony said, throwing up her hands.
Xander sat there, stunned and miserable, as Giles described the prostate and how best to stimulate it, before launching into a rather colorful and disturbingly vivid lecture on hygiene and safe sex practices. He had never been so humiliated and mortified.
"I can't believe this," he whispered.
"No, it's quite true," Giles insisted. "You see, should your partner have a foreskin..."
"Stop! This isn't happening. I'm hallucinating. This is a spell. This is a nightmare! This is something Hellmouthy!"
"Xander," Giles said slowly, "if you believe that I am going to allow you date randy young men without knowing how to protect yourself, you are sorely mistaken. By the way, do you have condoms?"
"Giles! I'm not planning on doing...that...with Devon, okay?" a peeved Xander complained. "It's just. A. Date. Our first! It might not even work out! We might despise each other!"
"Or," Giles argued, "you might get carried away and before you know what's happening, his cock is in your mouth and you have no idea how it got there."
Xander blinked. "Wait. You didn't just say..."
"I assure you that my vocabulary is quite varied."
"Apparently!" Xander sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Look, Giles, I get what you're trying to do, okay? I really, really do. And I appreciate it more than you'll ever know. And I promise that if I have any questions, I will come to you. But this is just one date! One small, tiny date. Not to mention I won't be there alone! The Apple Dumpling Gang out there will be with me the entire time. Probably taking notes and devising hand signals."
Giles chuckled. "Truthfully, Xander, what do you think about these potential new members?"
"Are you seriously asking?"
"I trust and value your opinion."
That made Xander want to cry again, but he forced himself to man up. "Okay. Well. Larry's obvious. Big, strong, stubborn. For some reason, this whole Hellmouth thing really, I don't know, offends him. He's going to be involved whether or not we like it, and he'll do it on his own if he has to. Isn't it better that we know what he's doing?"
"Agreed," Giles nodded. "Continue."
"Percy and Harmony are wild cards. Both are in good shape and are smarter than people think. I don't know about their dedication. I trust them not to say anything about all of this to anyone else, but beyond that, I'm just not sure. I can see Harmony wanting to be involved because Cordelia is. Percy?" He shrugged. "Who knows? I mean, it has to be about more than just me."
"I see. So Mr. West has declared his intentions, has he? Well, I must confess that I would much prefer for you to see him over Mr. MacLeish, but it is, of course, your decision. You are aware, of course, that Mr. Blaisdell fancies you."
The boy nodded hesitantly.
"Don't make the mistake you made with Willow," Giles advised. "Don't ignore it and hope it will go away, because it will just fester and rear itself when you least expect it. If you are not attracted to him, let him know so that he is free to move on. I understand that you don't want to hurt anybody, but sometimes it cannot be avoided."
Xander fidgeted, bouncing his leg. "I don't know. Larry...he's a nice guy. I've gotten to know him better, and he's pretty much a big teddy bear. I know he would protect me and care for me, but he still scares me a little. He made me miserable for years."
"Is that not also true of Cordelia?"
"Yeah, but that was fun!"
Giles laughed. "I understand. Well, perhaps it would be best if you didn't put all your eggs in one basket. You have three young men interested in you, so why not play the field? You're only seventeen, Xander. You don't yet have to decide your life or with whom you wish to share it."
"That just sounds weird. I mean, I go from having no love life, to having all these demons try to bed me, to Cordy and me snarking our way through months of heaven and hell, to that really wrong Fluke-thing with Willow. And now when I decide that I might want to date guys, they're just all crawling out of the woodwork?"
Giles cocked his head. "This school is rather small, you know, and I would gather that same-sex options are somewhat limited. Your young men are probably relieved to find that they are not alone and that there is an appealing candidate."
Xander flushed and began issuing denials.
Giles frowned and examined the boy more critically, never before realizing just how poor Xander's self-esteem was; guiltily, he realized he probably had contributed to that.
"You honestly have no idea how attractive you are, do you? Xander, you must stop comparing yourself to others. Yes, Angel is very handsome, but so are you. Just because you're not his twin does not mean that you're inferior. Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia look nothing alike, but you have been strongly attracted to all three of them. Why is it so hard to believe that others might feel for you as you have felt for those three? And there is, of course, Faith to consider."
Xander frowned. "But they're girls. And Cordy's the Queen! They're used to it." He shrugged. "They know they're beautiful."
Giles sighed. "Honestly, I don't know how you can have four girls for best friends and not understand that women are just as insecure of their appearance as males. This is not a gender issue, but a human one, particularly for adolescents. Do you truly believe that someone as meticulous and demanding as Cordelia Chase would deign to date someone physically repulsive? And for months, at that?"
Xander shrugged. "I guess not," he muttered.
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. "Exactly. Now, what is this Buffy tells me of special glasses? She left me a note in my faculty mailbox. You are dyslexic, correct? Cordelia also came to me earlier and informed me that you are under the misguided impression that you won't be attending university. Young man, think again."
"No," Giles snapped, "you look. You are an intelligent person. You have a duty to yourself and to the world to develop that mind and stop looking to television and comic books to expand your horizons. You will wear your glasses. If you are embarrassed to wear them in class, fine, but you will wear them here. You will also report to the library after the end of classes each day to do your assignments, which I will be reviewing prior to your turning them in."
"That's crazy!" Xander yelped. "What's the point, anyway? I've already missed the deadlines for college applications."
"Luckily for you, Cordelia has decided to assume control over your life and came to me for advice." Giles looked at him over his glasses. "You perhaps might not be aware that I am a fully-qualified as a teacher; it was part of my training to become a Watcher. I had no idea you were struggling so severely with your coursework." He sighed and shook his head. "Xander, you must learn to ask for help when you need it. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. Why would you allow people to believe you are unintelligent when that is clearly not the case?
"I've watched you research every night for almost three years, Xander, and while you complain incessantly while you do it, you are far more skilled at it than Buffy and even Willow. I had just assumed that you were as diligent in your classes, despite your scores. Tests don't accurately judge anything of import, and I had no idea you had a learning disability. You read for content, are able to summarize things more concisely than most, and have a better sense of intuition than all of us combined."
Xander stared at him.
Giles nodded emphatically. "Now, I've looked into the admittance policy for UC-Sunnydale. They have rolling admission and, as a resident of the state, you are entitled to attend. Your grade point average, while not spectacular, is acceptable. Further, it is not as if the school is Berkeley or UCLA. You are more than adequate. I will assist you whenever you require."
Giles glared at him. "I took the liberty of pulling up your academic records and was rather surprised to see your high standardized test scores; you beat Buffy, and her score was quite impressive. I can only assume the girls don't know of this, or they would have mentioned it, which means you downplayed yourself once again, most likely in a bid to make Buffy feel good about herself. While that is very kind of you, you do not have to sacrifice yourself for her, and we both know she wouldn't want you to."
Xander mumbled something incomprehensible and Giles rolled his eyes.
"Again, I don't believe that tests are indicative of anything, really, but you clearly have potential. I have also drafted a letter to the Admissions Committee to advise them that you were only recently diagnosed with a learning disorder, and as such, your application should be viewed accordingly."
Xander balked. "What application?"
"The one I have right here," was the easy reply, as Giles patted a stack of papers to his left. "I have filled out the statistical data for you and will allow Willow to assist you in drafting the essay." He raised a brow. "You will not let her write it for you."
"And how am I supposed to afford tuition? Books?" Xander, both resentful and grateful, demanded. Why did Giles have to care so much? And could Giles maybe give him another hug, because he was kind of freaking out.
Giles waved a dismissive hand. "We will look into scholarships. You may have to take a part-time job or student loans, but you will attain an education. Is that clear?" he asked coldly.
Xander sighed in resignation. "Yes, sir."
"Splendid!" With that, Giles stood and walked toward the door. "Shall we?"
The girls looked up anxiously as the office door opened and were upset to see a smug Giles followed by a meek and pale Xander.
"What did you do to him?" Cordelia roared.
"Nothing at all," Giles replied. "There were some issues that needed to be discussed and they have been. As per your decree, my Queen..."
Faith and Buffy snorted while Harmony and Larry snickered. Cordelia crossed her arms and cocked her hip.
"...Xander will be applying for the fall term at UC-Sunnydale. I have told him that Willow may help him write the essay, though she will not write it for him. Is that clear, Miss Rosenberg?"
Willow squeaked and nodded.
Cordelia began bouncing.
Buffy grinned. "Awesome, Xan!"
He shrugged and plopped down on a table, where he was soon joined by Percy, who bumped him with a shoulder and smirked at Larry.
"Maybe we can room together," Percy purred.
Xander's eyes became huge.
"Get over your damage, dorkus!" Cordelia barked at Xander. "You're not going to waste your life in dead-end jobs only to come home and zone out in front of the talking box like some loser."
"Indeed," Giles sniffed. "I have drafted a preliminary letter of recommendation and am reasonably certain that I can coerce, er, convince a few other faculty members to do the same. Should that fail, I will simply draft a new letter and sign Miss Calendar's name."
"You what?" Xander demanded. "But that's...just wrong! And gross!"
"On the contrary, I find it highly appropriate. Jenny was quite fond of you and remarked on several occasions that she believed you far more intelligent than that which you or anyone else gave you credit for being. I will backdate the letter, of course, prior to her death."
"Giles, are you sure about this?" Buffy softly asked.
"Very. End of discussion."
"Daddy would write you a letter, too," Cordelia told Xander. "I'll ask him."
"Please don't," Xander begged. "I'm embarrassed enough."
"By what? That people want to help you? That they believe in you? God, you're so lame. You do a lot for other people, Xander. Why can't they help you?"
"Oh, hell no! Let's count down Harris' Greatest Hits: you saved me from being raped and murdered by the demon which wore your best friend's face; you saved Giles from further torture at the hands of the Scourge of Europe; you blew up a supposedly unkillable demon that would have destroyed the world; you went undercover on the swim team to keep the coach from turning the guys into caviar; you stood up to that creep Angelus when he came to kill Buffy in the hospital. And let's certainly not forget that you brought Buffy back from the dead after forcing Angel by crucifix to take you to the Master's nasty lair."
Faith, Wesley, Harmony, Percy, and Larry gaped.
"Hospital?" asked a confused Buffy, as Angel blew in.
"Aw, man!" Xander whined as the vampire entered.
"Good to see you too," Angel drawled.
"What night in the hospital?" Buffy demanded, whirling to face her boyfriend.
Angel's eyes found Xander, who swallowed heavily as his eyes bugged.
"I didn't say anything, I swear!" he loudly announced, holding up his hands in surrender.
"Hey, Sir Broods-A-Lot!" Cordelia bellowed at the vampire. "I'm the one who spilled the beans. Got a problem? Take it up with me."
Faith smiled blissfully. "I'd pay to see that."
"Wait," Larry interrupted. "Angel's a vampire? Buffy's dating a vampire?"
"Who are you?" Angel asked.
Larry crossed his arms and glared.
"What. Hospital," Buffy hissed.
"No big, Buff," Xander rushed to explain. "When you had the flu, remember? Angelus came to pay his respects and I advised him that you weren't seeing visitors."
She first stared at Xander, before turning to stare at Angel. "Is this true?"
"It is," Angel said somberly.
Buffy stared another minute before nodding. "Okay. Xander, thank you. I really don't know what else to say. Thank you."
"I never wanted you to know," he mumbled.
"And that's what upsets me more than anything," she replied, "but we can talk about that later. We need to get going."
"Okay," Xander whispered.
"I'm not mad at you! Why would I be? You saved my life!"
He held his tongue, wondering what she would do if she knew he had tricked her into sending Angel to Hell. He didn't regret it, not after everything Angelus had done, and he truly believed the vampire would have killed her, but he felt guilty that it was Angel and not Angelus who had been the one to endure the torment. As much as he still debated whether or not the soul truly made the man, he knew it was wrong that Angel had suffered.
Angel blinked, confused by the waves of sorrow and affection pouring off the boy, especially as Xander was staring right at him. It was uncomfortable and annoying and very sweet. And he kind of wanted to give Xander a hug. Or a kiss.
No! Bad Angel! Down, demon!
He cleared his throat, trying to get his bearings. "Buffy, what's going on? Who are all these people?"
Buffy sighed. "Cordy, if you would?"
"Sure," the girl nodded. "That's my other best friend and cheerleading co-captain, Harmony Kendall. Next to her is Larry Blaisdell, quarterback and Xander's bodyguard. And next to Xander, and sitting far too close, is Percy West, fullback and allegedly Xander's new potential love interest."
Angel blinked again, questions burgeoning on his lips.
"Xander needs a bodyguard because he's realized that he also likes guys, and I won't tolerate any nonsense from the Blockhead Brigade who might try to harass him because of it."
She shrugged. "Let's see, what else? Larry's gay, but he's out, so it's okay that I tell you. Percy's not out, so don't tell anyone yet that he likes Xander. Oh, and Larry and Harmony already figured out the Slaying thing. Larry's known about it for a while, and Harmony used to follow me and Xander on patrol. Percy just found out, though, but he's taking it very well. Probably because he's sitting way too close to Xander."
"That was...succinct," Angel allowed. "Thank you."
"It's what I do," the girl cheerfully replied.
The vampire turned to Xander. "So you do like guys?"
Xander frowned and narrowed his eyes, looking to Buffy, who blushed.
"I might have let it slip," she whispered. "Xander, I'm sorry."
He knew she was and decided to let it go. "Wanna make something of it?" the boy barked, his hackles raised as he glared at Angel.
"Hey, it's cool," Angel responded. "It's none of my business, anyway."
Xander desperately wanted to offer a smart retort, but in the name of peace he settled for mumbling his thanks.
"So what's the plan for tonight?" Angel asked no one in particular.
"We're Bronzing it," Buffy said, "all of us. Oh, Cordy, Xan, and Harm are also bringing another guy, Jonathan Levinson. You'll meet him later. I don't know if he knows about the Slaying, but he might. I've saved him a couple of times before, and he's really smart, so he might have put two and two together."
"And we'll all be watching out for Xander. He has his first man-date tonight with Devon MacLeish."
Angel darkened and looked at Oz. "That singer from your band?"
The boy nodded.
"Save it," Cordelia snapped. "Xander's been warned, and so has Devon."
Angel nodded tersely.
"What the hell?" asked a floored Xander. "Why would you care who I date?"
"Because you deserve someone who will treat you well. I can smell sex on that boy. He actively reeks of it. And of pot, too. Who you date is your business, but if it's going to be him, you're going to be watched."
"Who do you think you are?"
"I may not be your friend, but I am your ally. You saved Buffy. Twice. Once from me. I owe you."
"You don't owe me anything!" protested an affronted Xander.
"We'll have to agree to disagree."
"Hold on!" Xander shrieked, before he was led from the room by Harmony and Cordelia.
"Let's go!" Harmony trilled.
"Have to get you all gussied up for your man!" Cordelia added.
"But...but!" Xander tried, before the doors swung shut after them.
Larry turned to Willow and Buffy. "I'll pick you up in two hours?"
"Can I get a ride too?" Percy asked.
Larry stiffened but nodded. "Where do you live?"
"Actually, two streets behind Summers. I could just meet you at her house."
"Perfect," Buffy sang, grinning like a piranha. "My mother will probably want to speak with you about Xander. See, she pretty much considers him her son, and she's very pro-Cordy/Xander. Prepare to be interrogated and judged accordingly."
Percy looked very nervous very quickly.
"Look," Willow cut in, "Devon was warned and now you will be. Fair's fair."
"But Harris and I aren't even going out!" Percy protested, before smirking. "Yet."
"Doesn't matter. Whenever a potential suitor is introduced into the group, they have to get the Shovel Speech."
"Yes, quite right," Giles agreed, "and Joyce is just the woman for the job."
Percy moaned. "Oh, man! I didn't sign up for this."
Willow glared. "So you're saying Xander's not worth it."
Faith glowered. "He better not be saying my boytoy's not worth it."
The girls looked at each other, nodded, and began moving toward Percy.
"Okay, you win!"
Buffy turned to Faith. "Why don't you come home with me for dinner and then can we can plan what to wear."
The other girl snorted. "Wear? What's wrong with what I've got on?"
"Fine," Buffy replied, rolling her eyes. "You can help me decide what to wear."
Faith looked the other girl up and down, wondering if there was possibly enough time in the world to correct Buffy's sartorial preferences. But if anyone was up the challenge, it was her. "Yeah, okay."
Buffy turned back to Angel. "Meet you at eight?"
Angel nodded, still slightly overwhelmed.
Faith had already begun storming out. "B! Red! Studs! Let's go!"
The girls and Oz, Percy, and Larry followed her, leaving an uncomfortable vampire and two annoyed Watchers in their wake.
"You will keep an eye on him?" Giles asked Angel.
The tone was casual, but Angel recognized an order when he heard one. He nodded. "I will."
Giles nodded in kind and returned to his office while Angel took his leave.
Wesley stared into space. "It is amazing that any evil is ever fought around here."
Chapter 8: Mother Lion
Buffy stumbled through her front door, Faith in tow.
"Is that you, dear?" Joyce called from the kitchen.
"Yeah, Mom!" the girl screeched. "I hope there's enough for three. I have a guest."
Joyce appeared and beamed. "Faith! How good to see you again! How are you?"
Faith grinned. "Five by five, Big J. How they hanging?"
"Gravity is not a woman's friend."
Faith howled with laughter as Buffy blushed.
"Dinner's on the table," Joyce said, "and of course there's more than enough. As long as Buffy doesn't once again inhale the meal, of course. She eats me out of house and home."
"Hey!" her daughter groused. "Slayer metabolism, remember? Not my fault!"
Joyce playfully rolled her eyes before turning and beckoning the girls to follow.
"So, what's on the agenda for tonight?" she asked.
"The Bronze," Buffy curtly answered as she tore into a dinner roll. "Me, Faith, Will, Oz, Xan, and, um, some others."
"What am I missing?" Joyce asked, brows drawn.
Faith snickered. "B still can't get over it. Queen C did this whole Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo thing and now X runs the school at her side. Gave him a complete makeover, too." She closed her eyes and smiled wolfishly. "Man, that boy was looking tasty."
"I see," Joyce said evenly. "How did Xander look, Buffy?"
"He was okay," the girl mumbled.
"Right," Faith drawled. "Which was why, even with the souled undead in the room, you couldn't tear your eyes from X's juicy ass."
"Oh, fine!" Buffy growled. "Xander looked great, okay? He's...gorgeous. In a completely offbeat though very cute way."
Faith winked. "Told ya, B. You shoulda hit that when you had the chance."
Joyce raised an eyebrow.
"Uh, sorry, Mrs. S," muttered a chagrined Faith, before she shrugged. "Sometimes my mouth just talks before my brain can tell it to shut up."
Joyce winked in reply and said nothing. "So does this mean that Xander is back with Cordelia?"
Buffy shook her head, spooning potatoes by the pound on to her plate. "We don't know for sure, and they're not talking. Something happened this weekend, I know that much. They showed up at school together and they're acting like if they're out of each other's sight for more than an hour at a time, they're going to have a coronary. Some people think it's for real and others think it's a cover since Xan's decided he also likes boys." She looked defensively at her mother and Faith. "Which is a totally valid lifestyle choice!"
"Hey," Faith barked, "who's complaining? No one here has a problem with hot man lovin'." She frowned. "Gotta say, though, I'm surprised Red climbed aboard the Acceptance Train so fast."
Buffy gave her the side-eye. "Well, me too, actually, but Will and Xan, no matter what they feel or think about the other's choices, will always go to bat for each other in public."
Faith nodded. "That's pretty damn cool, to have someone who always has your back."
Buffy looked at her speculatively. She knew Faith had gotten very close to both Xander and Cordelia, and again regretted the distance between herself and the other girl. They were both Slayers and they had friends in common; therefore, they themselves should be better friends.
She nodded to herself. It was time to work on that. Inviting Faith to dinner had been a good start, and she thought the invitation should be a standing one. She knew her mom would agree.
"So," Joyce interjected, "I still don't know who else is going with you tonight."
Buffy swallowed noisily. "Like I said, me, Will, Oz, Faith, Angel, and Xan. And, um, Cordy, Harmony Kendall, Larry Blaisdell and Percy West. Oh, and Jonathan Levinson."
Joyce's forehead furrowed. "Larry Blaisdell. He's on the football team, right? Didn't you tell me he came out of the closet last year? Oh! Oh, I see."
"No, you don't," Faith smiled. "Larry's got it bad for X, and so does this guy Percy. What the hell kind of name is that, anyway? Should've been Wussley's name. You know, all proper and boring. Anywhore, this Percy's also on the team, and he's a smokin' hot babe. He's warm for X's form too."
"Are you telling me that Xander is dating both of them?" Joyce demanded.
"Nope. Larry and Perce want X, but X is going out tonight with Devon."
"He's the singer in Oz's band," Buffy added.
"I know who he is," said a distracted Joyce. "Let me make sure I'm understanding this correctly. Xander and Cordelia may or may not be together. Cordelia gave Xander a makeover and he is now popular. Two of the members of the football team are pursuing Xander, but he's going out with Devon MacLeish, whose reputation is quite well-known. Somehow, Harmony Kendall is also involved in this. I know she's a cheerleader and is friends with Cordelia, but I was under the impression she didn't care for Xander. And I don't know who this Jonathan is."
"Harmony and Xander buried the hatchet today at lunch," Buffy said. "Harmony saw this jerk manhandle Cordelia in the hall, and..."
"What!" her mother demanded. "What the hell goes on at that school?"
Joyce immediately resolved to have another chat with Principal Snyder. In fact, she was looking forward to it, especially because she knew he wouldn't be. A slow, satisfied smirk spread across her face.
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, it's being taken care of. Well, I handled part of it, with Giles' okay, but Cordy, Larry, and Percy are going to finish it. Whatever, Xander and Harmony had a Moment and now they're friends. Somehow, Xander brought Jonathan, a huge nerd, into all of this by asking him to help Harmony with her math homework. It was unreal! "
She shook her head either in confusion or consternation, she wasn't sure. "Xander was totally flirting with this kid, and Jonathan was lapping it up! It was probably the first time it ever happened to him." Her eyes narrowed. "And Xander was really good with the flirting, too. Cordy made him a manual."
Faith and Joyce laughed.
"Don't forget how Jeeves gave X the Population Zero speech and bullied him into going to college," Faith added.
Joyce's eyes widened to epic proportions. "Rupert spoke with someone regarding sex?" She drew her head back. "Was he coerced?"
"What are you talking about, Faith?" Buffy asked. "Xander didn't say anything like that."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Please. What do you think they were doing in the office that whole time? Just discussing applications? Did you see his face when he escaped? X was all pasty and shaky. You know G was talking about bodily fluids and whatnot."
"But Xander's a virgin!"
Her mother and the other Slayer stared at her.
"I don't want to know how you know this," Joyce stated. "Whatever Xander's, er, status, I'm just glad that Rupert took the initiative. The boy should be informed, especially with regard to other boys, and specifically with that Devon character. I know his mother discussed preventing pregnancy when he began dating Cordelia. And I'm thrilled that Xander is going to college! He's far too smart to languish in this town."
Buffy was now lost in thought, trying to discern how her Watcher knew enough about gay sex to counsel Xander before deciding she really didn't want to know.
"Are you almost done?" she asked Faith. "I still need to get ready, and I want to watch the fireworks when Percy gets here."
Faith grinned evilly.
"Percy?" Joyce repeated, her tone casual but her eyes hard. "He's coming here?" She smiled, baring her teeth. "Oh, how delightful! I really must get to know him better."
The Slayers looked at each other and smirked.
"Cordy, I don't know about this," squeaked a nervous Xander.
"No, it will fit."
"It's too tight!"
"No such thing is possible," Harmony declared, cocking her head. "Yes, this will work well."
He became even more panicked. "I'm gonna look like a such a fruit! Everyone is going to laugh at me!" He shook his head furiously. "No one dresses this way!"
"Well, they should," Cordelia sniffed, hands on her hips. "Everyone could use a personal shopper, and it's high past time you had one. I know you're...on a budget, Xander, but those old clothes of yours were absolutely atrocious."
Harmony wrinkled her nose at the memory and nodded.
"And if even one person says anything snide to you," Cordelia growled, hands now curled into fists, "you leave them to Harmony and me."
Harmony grinned and cracked her knuckles. "I look forward to it."
"I can fight my own battles, Cordelia," he hissed.
She shrugged. "I know that. I'm just saying you don't have to."
"Oh, sure," he snapped, "because having two cheerleaders come to my rescue isn't humiliating at all. It's bad enough when Buffy does it." His face grew thoughtful, and then accepting. "Although," he admitted, "it's usually because I'm in mortal peril."
Cordelia waved her hand dismissively. "Get with the program, you anachronistic bisexual. Women are all about saving the day now. As you well know!"
"But..." he tried, sighing and knowing it was a lost cause.
"Just make sure you break in those shoes," Cordelia advised. "You don't want blisters after dancing for ten minutes."
"Dancing? Whoa, who said anything about dancing? I can't dance!"
She closed her eyes and smiled. "Oh, you definitely have rhythm. We just need to find the best way to bring it out." She had several ideas about that actually, many of which involved a broom closet.
Harmony quirked an interested eyebrow, but quickly swallowed her curiosity.
Cordelia could tell that, at any moment, Xander was going to start whining again, so she held up a hand. "What did we discuss this weekend?"
He sighed. "No more hiding my thunder."
"And?" she prompted.
Another sigh. "Cordy is always right. Always listen to Cordy."
"Thank you. Now go put these on."
He snatched the clothes from her hand, gave them both a vicious glare, and stomped toward her bathroom.
Harmony and Cordelia gave each other smug, satisfied looks.
"Wait!" the Queen called, before forking over a scrap of fabric to the boy.
"What's this?" he asked dubiously.
She blinked. "It's a thong, Xander."
He blushed. "Cordy..."
"It's not mine, you goon! It's for you! To wear!"
He balked. "I'm not...I've never...no way!"
She waved him off. "Be ready in ten."
"I'm not wearing this!"
"You are," she said with a nod, pushing him toward her bathroom. "Unless you want your wang flopping out all over Devon," she smirked. "Or was that what you were going for?"
Xander's mouth was opening and closing though no sound emerged, his face so mottled that Harmony fretted he was about to stroke out.
Cordelia gave him a final shove and pulled the door shut between them.
Buffy and Faith began giggling the moment they heard the doorbell ring.
"At the top of the stairs," Buffy whispered. "We'll be able to hear everything."
Faith nodded, eyes gleaming. They grabbed each other's hand and slunk out of Buffy's bedroom and arrived at the landing, just as they heard Joyce opening the door.
"Hello," the woman said warmly. "May I help you?"
"Hi," replied a masculine voice. "My name's Percy. I'm supposed to be meeting Buffy?"
"Of course," Joyce said, nodding. "And Xander, as well, correct?"
Percy swallowed heavily. "Um, yeah?"
Joyce moved aside and raised a brow. She wasn't going to invite a stranger into her home, and Buffy had said this Percy boy was aware of Sunnydale nightlife, though he still didn't necessarily believe it.
Silence reigned for several long seconds.
"I'm not going to bite," Joyce laughed.
"Uh, sure," Percy said lamely, his voice breaking slightly.
Buffy grinned. "Just wait till she shuts the door."
Faith held a finger to her lips, but her smile was wide and predatory as she heard the lock click in place.
Just then, the doorbell rang again.
"Even better!" Faith wheezed.
Buffy leaned against her and buried her face in Faith's shoulder to stifle her snickers.
Joyce opened the door for a second time and extended a similar greeting.
"Oh, and you must be Larry!"
"Yes, ma'am," the boy said politely. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Summers."
Again, Joyce stood aside to allow the boy entrance.
Larry cottoned on quickly and nodded, entering the house. "Thank you."
The Slayers heard Larry's footfalls as he entered the living room and could almost see the glares which were surely being exchanged between the two boys.
"Blaisdell," Percy nodded.
"West," Larry said curtly.
"Ah," Joyce drawled, "I just love the smell of testosterone on the night air."
The boys looked askance at her before once again staring menacingly at one another.
"Would you two like a ruler?"
Buffy bit her hand.
"Your ma is so, so cool," Faith whispered.
The other Slayer nodded fervently.
Joyce waited a moment, but when neither boy spoke, she decided it was time to take the bulls by their horns. And neuter them.
"Sit down," she commanded.
They looked at her.
"I said sit!" she snapped.
"I presume that each of you were warned by Buffy and probably Willow. I'm quite sure that warnings from Cordelia are unnecessary, as you are both undoubtedly aware of what she will do to you if you damage her property. For all intents and purposes, she considers Xander hers, and I'm similarly inclined.
"That boy is like a son to me, and if either of you does anything to hurt him, my daughter, or their friends, you will have to deal with me, and let me assure you, I'm more dangerous than Cordelia and Buffy put together. Just ask Spike, if he's still in town. He's a vampire whose head I introduced to an ax."
The eyes of Percy and Larry grew extremely wide.
"Talk about your Kodak moments!" Buffy panted. "Oh, my god, we could have sold tickets to this!"
Faith rolled back and forth across the floor, beating her thigh with her fist.
"Ma'am..." Larry began.
Joyce held up her hand. "I am well aware that Xander will be seeing Devon tonight, and I gather that your opinion of that young man is probably the same as mine."
Percy and Larry looked at each other, back at Joyce, and nodded.
"Excellent," she said, "but that's neither here nor there. We're talking about the two of you. See, boys, I've learned a lot being the mother of a Slayer. I know the Hellmouth like the back of my hand, and I know what to do with a body."
Their mouths fell open.
"I'm sure you've noticed that Xander has a lot of powerful young women surrounding him. Don't make the mistake of believing he needs their protection; he's quite capable of taking care of himself, I assure you. It just doesn't occur to him to do so. Instead, you should ask yourselves what it is about him that inspires such devotion within his friends. And what those friends will do to you should you hurt or embarrass him in any way.
"Xander doesn't like being the center of attention," she continued, "so you will do nothing to exacerbate the confusion he is currently experiencing. If he wants to date Devon, although I can't imagine why he would, then he will date Devon. If he wants to date either of you, so be it. Or, if he wishes to reconcile with Cordelia, I'll personally don her cheerleading outfit and bust out my pompoms.
"So answer me this," she said, "what is it that you want from him?"
"To be his friend," Larry said. "I like Xander. He's a good guy."
"And you?" she asked Percy.
"To date him. I'm not going to lie and say that it's not about how he looks, because it is; he's hot as hell. But he's also smart and funny." He shrugged. "He makes me laugh."
"And what if he decides he doesn't want to date either one of you?" she demanded.
The boys looked at each other and shrugged.
"That's up to him," Larry said. "Either way, I'm still going to be his friend."
"Ditto," Percy replied, "but I don't want him with MacLeish. The guy's a whore."
Joyce raised a brow.
"Sorry," he said insincerely, "but he is. MacLeish has done more banging than a screen door in a cyclone. Harris deserves better."
Joyce stared at both of them for several moments, rather impressed when the boys met her gaze with clear, unblinking eyes. Though she would never, ever tell them that.
"Okay," she said, nodding. "Treat him well, either as friend or boyfriend, and I will welcome you into my house and even feed you. Hurt him, and you'll know pain like you never imagined. I'm neither a teenage girl nor a British librarian. I'm a mother. I imagine you've seen those nature videos about animals attacking when their young are threatened?"
The boys mouths fell open for the last time and they nodded.
"Live in fear."
They nodded again.
"Girls!" Joyce called. "You can come down now." She looked back to the two boys. "I assume we're finished? Questions? Comments? Concerns?"
They shook their heads as the Slayers came clattering down the stairs.
Joyce took one look at her daughter and raised a brow. "I gather Faith dressed you?"
Buffy blushed and nodded as Faith beamed with pride.
Larry and Percy were rather startled to see Buffy in a pair of white leather pants and a silvery sequined thing which barely qualified as a top, with her hair artfully arranged around her face and rather smoky makeup.
"You look very nice," Larry said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I look like a Solid Gold dancer, but it wasn't up to me."
Percy examined her critically and began nodding. "It works. Can't say I've ever seen you dressed like that, but it looks good on you."
The girl bit her lip and nodded, her confidence rising. She turned around to make sure she had placed by the door her bag, which contained a change of clothes. No way was she patrolling in this outfit, but she had to admit she felt sexy, and it was nice to get dressed up just for the sake of it.
Faith rolled her eyes. "Oh for Christ's sake, B, loosen the hell up! We're going out with friends old and new. Your vamp honey is going to be there and his eyes will roll back in his head when he checks you out. Besides, what with me, Xan, and the Queen looking undeniably fine, you don't want to get left in the dust, do ya?"
Buffy rolled her eyes again in reply and grinned. "Whatever. Let's go."
"Who's driving?" Joyce asked.
"I am, Mrs. Summers," Larry replied.
The woman nodded, picked up a pen and pad from a nearby table and crossed to the window, peering outside. Quickly, she jotted down the license plate number.
"In case of...emergency," she casually remarked as she turned back around.
"May I?" Percy asked, gesturing toward the pad and pen in her hand.
She held them out and Percy took them and scrawled something.
"This is my cell phone number. If something comes up, just give me a call and I'll hand the phone over to Buffy."
Joyce nodded and gave a small smile before turning toward her daughter. "Are you patrolling after?"
Buffy nodded. "Just briefly. We need to break in Harmony and Larry, and Percy if he wants to come. I don't know about Jonathan. Or Devon, for that matter. I don't know how much he knows, if anything. I'm leaving it up to Xander and Oz."
Percy and Larry scowled but said nothing.
"Can we get going now?" Faith whined. "If we're late, Queen C is going to snack on all of the hotties before I can even sink my teeth in."
Joyce chuckled and ushered them out the door.
Harmony raced up the steps of the Levinson home as fast as her heels would allow and rang the doorbell.
A rather short and sour woman opened it, looking up at her visitor and blinking. "May I help you?"
"Hi!" Harmony chirped. "Are you Mrs. Levinson?"
The woman nodded, suspicion in her eyes.
"I'm Harmony Kendall. I'm here to pick up Jonathan?"
"You?" the woman all but screeched, her surprise evident.
Harmony raised a brow. "Me. Is he ready?"
The woman turned around and bellowed for her son, her shrill tone causing Harmony to wince. Mrs. Levinson peered past Harmony into her driveway and narrowed her eyes.
"Who's with you?" she demanded.
"Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase," the girl politely answered. "Would you like them to come up?"
"Cordelia Chase?" the woman trilled. "What would she possibly want with my son?"
Harmony frowned. What was this cow's problem?
"Jonathan is our friend," she said slowly. "We're going to the Bronze to meet up with some other people."
Just then, Jonathan rushed down the stairs and hovered on the threshold. "Hello Harmony," he said softly, blushing.
"Hi Jonathan!" the girl greeted. "You look great!"
And he did, much to her pleasant surprise. He was dressed rather like Xander's earlier outfit of that day: dark jeans, black boots, and a simple button-down. Apparently, Xander had collected a fashion fanboy. Still, he looked decent; more than, actually, and that was all that mattered.
"Are you ready?"
The boy nodded shyly.
"How do you know this girl and Cordelia Chase?" his mother barked.
A mortified Jonathan looked up at his mother and stumbled for words.
"Well, Jonathan has known me, Cordy, and Xan since kindergarten," Harmony drawled, "and we're going to meet Willow Rosenberg; her boyfriend, Oz; and Xander's other best friend, Buffy Summers, and her boyfriend, Angel."
"What kind of name is Angel for a boy?" the woman demanded.
Harmony blinked. "Who cares? He's hot."
"Is Larry coming too?" Jonathan asked.
"I don't know these people," Mrs. Levinson complained.
Harmony turned to Jonathan. "Do you have a cell phone?"
"Well, if you need your son, you can just call him, right?" she asked the boy's mother.
Mrs. Levinson appeared to ready herself for an argument, but just then, Cordelia rolled down her window and stuck her head out.
"Is there a problem?" she shrieked, glaring at Jonathan's mother.
The woman's eyes widened. "It's really her," she whispered.
Cordelia, of course, heard her, as she heard everyone who dared to talk about her. She cocked her head. "Of course it's me! Who do you think is driving my car? Know someone else with 'Queen C' plates?" She narrowed her eyes. "Hey, I know you! Aren't you the lady who threw a fit in Daddy's bank because they wouldn't take your eight sacks of unrolled pennies?"
The woman squeaked and all but threw her son out of their house, slamming the door shut in Jonathan and Harmony's faces.
"What's her damage?"
"I don't really have friends," Jonathan said quietly, shrugging, "especially not incredibly gorgeous and popular girls who knock on the door and ask for me."
Harmony felt bad for Jonathan, but her pleasure at his compliment was obvious as her face lit up. Smart, rich, kind of cute, and knew to keep the compliments coming. She could definitely work with this kid.
"Let's go!" she cheerfully ordered, pulling him toward Cordelia's car.
They walked around the passenger side, which necessitated Xander stepping out of the car to push forward his seat and admit them entrance to the back.
Jonathan took one look at Xander, mouth falling open and eyes bugging.
"Not. A. Word," the boy seethed.
Harmony rolled her eyes. "Xan, you look great!" She nudged her companion's shoulder. "Jonny, tell him he looks great."
Jonathan inhaled sharply. "You really do, you know. If you didn't, I'd tell you. I know what it's like to be embarrassed, or did you miss the scene on my porch just now?"
Xander's face relaxed into a small smile. "Thanks, Jonno," he quietly said, ducking his head.
Jonathan and Harmony scrambled into the backseat and Xander got back into the car.
"How's it going, Jonathan?" Cordelia chirped, looking at him via her rearview mirror.
"My mother just humiliated me," the boy complained as Harmony patted his knee.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Parents," she muttered in sympathy. "Oh, just so you know, Percy West is going to be at the Bronze with us. If he gives you any grief, just let me or Buffy know and we'll take care of it."
"No," Xander interrupted. "I'll take care of it."
Cordelia eyed him and finally nodded.
Jonathan swallowed heavily. "Okay," he whispered. "Anyone else?"
"Buffy's boyfriend, Angel," Xander added, "and our friend Faith. She's a handful, but you'll like her."
The other boy nodded as a thin sheen of sweat broke out across his upper lip.
"There's Willow's house," Buffy said to Larry, who nodded and pulled up into the teen witch's driveway.
Buffy hopped out of the car and skipped merrily up to the Rosenberg house and rang the bell.
"I can't believe she's out saving the world on a daily basis," Percy said, his voice half-jeering and half-awed.
"She doesn't do it alone," Larry said evenly, "but believe me, I give thanks every night. Most of us would be dead if not for her."
"We really live in Hell," Percy whispered, as the shock finally began to ebb away.
Larry chuckled. "Nah, just Sunnydale. Same zip code, though."
The girls raced to the car and piled in, Buffy in the front next to Larry, and Willow in the back next to Percy, Faith on his other side.
"Hey!" Willow said enthusiastically.
"Hiya, Willow," Larry smiled.
"Cute skirt, Red," Faith said.
"Rosenberg," Percy said, nodding gravely.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to hurt you, Percy." She then decided to have some fun and grinned devilishly. "Unless you're into that kind of thing." She leaned over, placing her mouth next to his ear. "Are you?" she purred.
He choked and quickly pulled himself away, accidentally falling into Faith, who laughed uproariously.
Willow exchanged a high five with the girl. "See what kind of an influence you are?"
Faith laughed. "I know. How awesome am I?"
"Mom warned them both," Buffy announced.
Willow nodded. "That's good. Mrs. Summers can be scary."
Larry and Percy both nodded as the former threw the car into reverse, backed out of the driveway, and began barreling toward the Bronze, Faith laughing the entire way.
Chapter 9: Gentleman Caller
Buffy and her retinue were the first to arrive at the Bronze and claimed the biggest table available. Percy immediately co-opted another close by, as per Willow's barked command, while Larry went off to procure the first round of drinks. Faith restlessly scanned the room for potential victims, er, dates.
The Dingoes were setting up for their second set in an hour, and Oz took a break to come over and greet Willow.
"Hey," he whispered into her ear.
She squealed and threw her arms around him. "Hey!"
"Everything okay on the ride over?" he asked.
She nodded. "Has Devon said anything about Xander?"
Oz quirked a brow. "It's weird how excited he is over this date. I've never seen him like this before."
Her eyes found the stage and she gave the singer a quick once-over. "He looks like regular old Devon to me."
"You don't know him like I do," he countered. "He's actually nervous. He knows what people say about him, and he usually encourages it. I don't think he ever realized that it might be held against him by someone he really likes."
Buffy and Faith exchanged a glance.
"He really likes X?" Faith casually asked.
Oz nodded. "He's been watching him a while. I thought he was watching Cordelia, but..." he trailed off, shrugging.
"Better tell him not to tell Xan that," Buffy advised. "The last thing he wants to hear is that another person thought he was gay."
Larry returned with a tray of Cokes.
"J.D.?" Faith inquired.
Larry and Buffy soured, but Percy slyly slipped her his flask. That singular action made Faith decide to support Percy in the Quest for Xander.
Willow was watching her boyfriend suspiciously. "Are you okay with Devon going out with Xander?"
He gave a mild shrug. "Sure."
Faith laughed. "You too? So, I guess everyone but B and Red are rocking the alternative lifestyle."
Buffy gaped at Oz while Willow coolly regarded Faith.
Faith laughed and winked. "I've been down with the swirl on occasion."
Willow's mouth fell open.
"You?" Buffy addressed Oz with a raised brow. "With the boy parts?"
He smirked and leaned over to whisper in her ear. "You and I both know that Xander's hot. Just because I'm less obvious than some at looking doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention."
Buffy jerked back, her eyes wide. Faith, who easily overheard, snickered.
"What?" Willow demanded.
"Hey, Red!" Faith cheerfully screeched. "What's hotter? Wolfie and Dev, Wolfie and X, or X and Dev? All three? In your bed, touching each other?" she purred. "Waiting for your direction? Playing X Marks the Spot?"
Willow's eyes glazed and Larry released a strangled cry.
Percy really, really liked Faith.
Angel was the next to arrive and he headed toward Buffy, led by her scent and not bothering to scope out the rest of the club. He seemed to materialize next to her and she and Faith were the only ones unsurprised.
"Hey," he quietly greeted.
She smiled. "Hey. How's it going?"
Angel shrugged. "Same as ever." He nodded at the others. "Where's Oz?"
Willow pointed up at the stage, and Angel nodded again.
"You look beautiful," he whispered into Buffy's ear, pleased when she blushed.
"Thanks. Um, Faith dressed me."
"And I did a damn good job," the cheerful girl interjected. "Fang, tell her how lucky you are that she wants your undead ass."
"I'm lucky you want my undead ass," Angel deadpanned.
Buffy snickered and slapped Faith's arm.
"What?" the brunette demanded. "It's a hot undead ass. Vamps are a little too alternative for me, but if I went that way, I'd be on that like white on rice," she declared, pointing at Angel.
"White on rice?" Angel repeated.
"It's a simile," beamed a proud Faith.
"I know what it is! Dance?" the vampire asked, turning to his girlfriend.
"Later, okay? I want to wait until the others get here and make sure Xander's all right," Buffy replied.
"Is something wrong?"
"Cordelia and Harmony dressed him."
He shuddered. "Had I known, I would have stopped off at Hallmark. They say there's a card for every occasion."
The door to the Bronze flew open and Cordelia stormed in and began sizing the place up.
She immediately spied Buffy, who was was dressed like a Solid Gold dancer, and, tossing her hair, she began stalking toward the table, sure the others were following close behind. She smirked as heads turned, deciding that, for once, it was just fine that she wasn't the focus of attention.
She strutted over to where the others had gathered and sent a pointed look at Larry and Percy, who scrambled to add another table and more chairs to the collective.
"Queen," Faith drawled, offering a lazy smile.
"Faith," the girl purred, giving her an obvious once-over. "You look good. Not as good as me, but you look good."
"Your backhanded compliments make me wet," the Slayer cooed.
"I told you, it was only that one time. I was just brimming over with school spirit," Cordelia winked.
"Good one," Larry laughed.
Cordelia and Faith slowly turned toward him, each raising an eyebrow, and he blanched.
"You're a goddess," Percy whispered to Faith, who preened.
"Chill, Red," Faith advised. "The Queen and I are just funnin' with ya."
"Yeah, Willow," Cordelia grinned. "It's all a...game." She came to stand behind Faith and wrapped herself around the Slayer, her hand not-so-accidentally grazing a pert breast.
"Don't start something you don't have the guts to finish," Faith said, forcing a smile.
"Who says I wouldn't" Cordelia whispered.
Cordelia patted her arm and was satisfied. She had sufficiently distracted them all to the point that they were unaware to Xander's presence.
"Hey Harmony," Buffy smiled. "Jonathan," she added. She looked past the boy. "Xan...der?" she gasped.
As everyone turned to look at him, their mouths fell open.
He turned to Harmony. "Is this good or bad?"
"Oh, it's definitely a good thing," Harmony grinned.
"Xander?" Willow whispered.
"Is that you?" she demanded.
"No, it's Angelus." He twisted his hands into claws and raked the air. "Grr. Argh."
"That's not funny," Buffy chided her boyfriend and her best friend.
"Sure it is," Xander countered.
Buffy steeled herself for an argument, but was cut off as Faith hauled herself out of her chair and began circling Xander like a shark. The boy eyed her warily, but didn't offer any protestation.
"You look...delicious," Faith murmured.
"Really, really good," she added, cupping an ass cheek in her tiny hand.
He jumped and she laughed. "Hands off," he groused.
"Yeah, I know," she grinned. "This is for the singer. Maybe I should challenge him. What do you think, X? Me and Dev in the ring, wrestling over who gets you?"
"Is there mud involved?" Xander asked.
She considered the question. "No mud. There could be Jello."
He smiled lasciviously. "There's always room for Jello."
Cordelia cleared her throat. At once, Xander snapped to attention, scampered to her side, and pulled out her chair for her. She smiled and took her seat. Buffy and Harmony looked at the cheerleader with approval.
"So," Xander began, turning to Percy and Larry, "what do you guys think?"
He was poured into a pair of caramel leather trousers that Angel sorely envied. Despite their tightness, they looked buttery smooth and as if they were just waiting for an admiring hand to stroke it. They gripped Xander's thighs and emphasized his long, lean legs. The fact that the crotch was secured with laces was a bonus. The shirt, what little there was of it, clearly demonstrated that his duties as a Slayerette had done Xander's body good.
Larry blushed. "You look...wow."
"Wow is nice," Xander smiled.
Percy looked at him with feral, hungry eyes. "If I wasn't scared of Cordelia and Willow, I'd drag you to the floor right here and now and show you what I think," he growled.
Xander's eyes widened and his mouth went slack as Percy's words went straight from his ears to his groin. The cheeks of Harmony, Jonathan, and Buffy all turned pink.
"Uh..." Xander trailed off. "Angel?" he squeaked.
"You look good. You don't look stupid and you don't look like a sissy. If you did, I would tell you. In fact, I'd be quite happy to do so, and you know it." He shrugged a shoulder. "You're very good looking, Xander."
The vampire could see that his words actually mattered to Xander, and he wondered why his opinion should be relevant at all. Then it dawned on Angel that by Buffy rejecting Xander for him, the boy had taken a harsher blow to his self-esteem than any of them had ever realized and the poor kid must have spent an inordinate amount of time comparing himself to the vampire and always believing he came up short. Not even having Cordelia as a girlfriend had been able to overcome Xander's lack of self-worth.
"Told you so," sang a smug Cordelia.
"Yeah," Faith snickered. "Apparently the lounge lizard up on stage agrees. He took one look you and forgot the words."
All eyes traveled toward the back of the club, where Devon was staring at Xander with a big, stupid look on his face, a cross between paralyzing fear and that of someone who had just won the lottery.
Xander gave his date a cautious smile and Devon called a halt to the band's sound check.
Devon MacLeish fancied himself rather captivating. He was hot and he knew it.
He had a naturally good body, and he enjoyed showing it off to anyone who wanted to look. He was terrific in the sack and took every opportunity to indulge. Some encounters were regrettable, others were memorable. There were some lovers whose names he couldn't remember, others he never knew, and a few whom he knew he'd never forget.
He wasn't stupid, but had dropped out of school because he had found it boring. He had wanted to do his music since he was four, and there was nothing in Sunnydale High's curriculum that was going to advance his career. He had a few friends, some of whom he truly loved, and tons of acquaintances who ensured he was welcome at every party in the tri-county area.
He had been scouted by record promoters and was deemed not only talented, but marketable, and in this day and age, being commercial was everything. His songs were good, his voice was awesome, his band was decent. He was still paying his dues, but didn't doubt he'd hit it big before his twenty-first birthday next year. Until then, he was just killing time. The gigs at the Bronze paid well enough and word was traveling throughout the campus circuit thanks to a few performances at UC-Sunnydale.
It was all within his grasp and he'd get his in only a matter of time.
So, until then, he had no problem filling his nights with song and his days with booze and pot and any hot guy or girl who wanted a ride.
He had known of Xander Harris long before the kid had begun hanging with Oz. Even though Devon was only two years older than Xander, he still thought of him as a kid.
Xander was all big eyes and big smile and big laughter, a guy who had no clue as to how hot he was or how funny or smart. Devon liked that. He loathed pretentiousness and didn't have time to stroke anyone's ego. Not that he was above a little stroking, himself. He quite enjoyed it, as a matter of fact. That was probably why he and Cordelia Chase hadn't worked out. There was no way a relationship between two people as vain as they could ever be healthy.
He still liked Cordy, though, even if she despised him. In fact, that just made it better. She was a real bitch, but Devon didn't mind, because she had reason to be. She was gorgeous and smart and rich; she was going places and she knew it. She said what she thought, didn't care if people liked it, and never apologized for her own behavior. A lot of people didn't like her, and as far as she was concerned, they could go fuck themselves. Everyone, however, respected her.
Cordelia was, in a word, fierce.
So he kept track of her when they split and he was rather stunned when she took up with Xander. He wasn't surprised that they had gotten together, only that Cordelia had caved and admitted she wanted him. Anyone with a single firing neuron could tell the two had it bad for each other. People who truly loathed one another went out of their way to avoid the other person, and if Cordelia had really thought Xander worthless, she wouldn't have wasted any of her precious time by bothering to acknowledge that he drew breath.
Devon used to wonder if they were fucking. Sometimes he liked imagining it.
Yeah, he had definitely noticed Xander Harris. Had always had a sneaking suspicion about him. The kid all but sweated passion, and Devon wondered what Xander would be like if that passion was ever focused on one single event...or person. He bet Xander, once directed, fucked like an animal.
So when Oz had called that morning and woken him from a sound sleep, the singer had berated his bass player for a good five minutes, until Oz had broken in with, "Xander Harris wants to go out with you. Interested?"
Now he hadn't heard any songbirds or seen stars or heard shitty emo music strike up when Oz had posed the question. Instead, this slow-burning warmth began to suffuse his gut, and immediately, a couple of things became apparent:
One, Xander actually liked him. He wouldn't have involved Oz if he didn't. From this, Devon inferred that not only did Xander like him, but wasn't embarrassed by who knew it and wasn't ashamed to be seen with him. That made Devon feel...special. But not in a lame way. He had seen the football player eye Harris; hell, he'd seen Oz do it once or twice.
The only reason he had never made a move was because that Buffy chick was always around the kid and he could never get a moment alone with him. Not to mention Willow; he knew the redhead always had Xander's ear and he was sure she would trash him to Harris at every opportunity. But then Oz started dating Willow and Devon thought maybe she would mellow out.
And then there was that really tall guy who seemed to stalk Buffy. He and Harris had a real freaky vibe between them, like they hated each other totally, but couldn't keep out of each other's faces. Literally. When they argued, which was all the time, they stood so close to each other that they always looked like they were about to kiss. That was some weird shit.
Two, if Xander wanted to go out with him, that meant that Cordelia was probably aware of it, which meant if Devon did anything to hurt him, she would gladly feast on his bones after ripping him apart. Ex or not, Cordelia Chase was definitely someone you didn't want to piss off.
So he gave Oz his consent to set it up, trying to sound reluctant, but not managing it very well. That Oz knew it and didn't call him on it reinforced his belief that Oz was a really good friend.
He had spent the rest of the day fantasizing about Xander. About what it would be like to talk to him, to dance with him, to run his fingers through the kid's hair. To tilt up his chin and devour those ridiculously pouty lips. To grind his crotch up against him. To feel Xander grasp his waist and pull him flush before flipping him over and pounding into him.
Then he began to lose his shit.
Devon was a pretty sexually adventurous guy, but there was one thing he had never done with another dude. The fact that he was even considering doing it with Xander was more than a little disconcerting, and made him realize just how far gone he was. And then he realized that he was really jumping the gun. It was a date, not a fuck, and he knew he was going to have to treat the kid with respect, otherwise there would be a posse of really scary people after him. He also gleaned that the kid had probably never gone out with another guy; Xander might not even understand what two guys did together.
And then he thought about Xander dressed in a Catholic schoolboy's uniform and a pair of saddle shoes. They were in a classroom together, and Devon was the teacher and holding a really big yardstick, all set to impart a little instruction. And then Xander would drape himself across Devon's legs and present his firm ass to be spanked.
It just got hotter from there.
He had lit a blunt and thought about what all of this meant.
What was the big deal with Harris, anyway? Devon had no problems getting laid. So why miss out on a potentially great fuck to squire some kid he didn't even really know? Why waste time on conversation and getting to know one another when you could get right to the point and have your dick in someone's mouth? He wasn't looking for anything serious, he didn't want to commit to anyone.
Yet he sensed there was something special about this kid, that Xander might...mean something.
As night drew closer and the more he thought about it, the more he became convinced this whole thing was a really bad idea. He didn't know what to do with a nervous virgin who was probably scared shitless about the whole gay thing. He didn't want to involve himself with the drama that always seemed to follow Buffy's gang around like a storm cloud.
He didn't want to care.
Maybe the best thing to do was make a move right away and scare the kid off. But what if that didn't work? What if Xander responded? What if the sex was so fucking incredible it made Devon rethink everything? Or what if it so pathetic that he couldn't hide his disdain? What if he hurt Xander's feelings? And why the fuck did it matter?
He didn't need these complications, but it was too late to back out now. Not to mention, he wasn't a pussy. He could deal with this. If either he or the kid wasn't feeling it, no problem. They'd just shake hands and walk away, and Devon would be onto his next conquest, and Xander could wade back into life at high school. No big.
And then Xander had walked in and Devon had completely blanked on the song he was singing. The song he had written.
Because there was hot, and then there was, at that moment, Xander Harris.
So he stared and watched as an adorably clueless Xander fidgeted in clothes which were obviously new and most likely not selected by him, but by his erstwhile ex. Clothes that oozed an undeniable sensuality and which basically rendered their wearer liquid sex.
And Xander wasn't even looking at him, but at his friends, worried about what they were going to say about his appearance.
Man, the kid was really insecure, and that was something he didn't want to have to deal with.
But damn, Xander Harris was beautiful.
And when the kid turned and smiled at him, Devon MacLeish, sex god, came in his pants.
Chapter 10: Happily Ever After...For Now
"He's just standing there," Willow whispered.
Faith snickered. "That's cuz he's in lurrrrve."
Xander blushed spectacularly and looked down at the floor.
Cordelia looked to Devon, saw the asshole staring back at her Xander, and melting.
"How sweet," she savagely mumbled.
This wasn't what she had planned at all.
When Xander had said he was attracted to guys, it had been no big deal. Hell, she liked guys, too. Completely understandable. Besides, she knew he was unsure, so she had decided the best course of action was to force his hand and encourage him to date boys. Then he would realize that he only liked girls.
That he only liked her.
Of course, she had considered that he truly was attracted to men, and that was okay. It really was.
As long as he didn't fall in love with one.
She hadn't pushed him toward Larry because she foresaw the potential heartbreak for the jock, even though Xander never meant to hurt anyone. She certainly hadn't counted on Percy West, but doubted the prick had the wherewithal to withstand a real, open relationship, and Xander would demand nothing less.
How could she have been so stupid?
Of course there must have been guys other than Larry who would be interested in Xander. No matter what he thought about himself, others found him attractive, herself most definitely included. And, of course, Willow. She had seen both Slayers check him out on occasion, just to make sure that he was still there should they ever seriously deign to consider him. Even Harmony seemed to be a little smitten.
So she had made him over and played his best hag and ensconced him firmly at her side so that no one could torture him.
And then the little bastard had gone behind her back and set up a date with Devon, who, of course, had agreed.
Devon MacLeish was a dog. Except that was an insult to all dogs. And at least dogs could be neutered.
She knew Devon all too well, knew what a slimeball he was. Knew how seductive he was, how beautiful he was, how his lips tasted. And she knew Xander would be putty in his hands, because Xander was ripe for seduction. He had this perpetual innocence about him that was as annoying as it was endearing and she knew Devon would take full advantage of it.
So she had insisted that they all go out together so she could keep an eye on things. So that she could interfere if she sensed that Xander was getting scared or impossibly nervous. Still, she knew Xander was a good judge of people and he would probably see through Devon's games.
But when Devon had looked at Xander like that, she had seen that this wasn't one of his typical dates. That he really liked Xander.
Shit. She hadn't expected that.
But she wasn't going to cry, she wasn't going to make a scene, and she wasn't going to show a hint of her devastation. She had started this and she would see it through. She knew how much Xander was counting on her, how much he loved and needed her.
And she really liked that. She liked feeling wanted and needed for something other than popularity. She liked feeling special just because of who she was and not what she represented.
These past few months without him had been hell. Him not being her boyfriend was bad enough, but not having his friendship had been almost unbearable. But he had to be punished.
She just had never counted on his punishment hurting her so much.
And she didn't even really understand what her feelings for him were. She knew she loved him and that she probably always would. He washer best friend, as pathetic as that sounded. Not that Xander was pathetic, but that she felt the need for a best friend. She knew that Harmony considered her a best friend, but how often had they plotted against one another? She had lost count.
Goddamn it, Xander was supposed to be hers! He was supposed to love her for all time and go to his grave wanting her back!
Like all of her plans, Operation Fabulous was the epitome of success.
If only she had swallowed her pride. If only she had listened to her parents. If only she had just beaten the hell out of Willow.
This sucked big time, and she had no one but herself to blame.
Devon dashed off the stage, and no one noticed the knowing smirk gracing the face of the bass player.
"What just happened?" Xander squawked. "Oh, god! He's dumping me already! This was such a bad idea. I need to go. Have to get out of here."
"Calm. Down!" Cordelia barked, slamming her fist on the table.
Everyone stared at her and she schooled her features into a blank mask of indifference and cleared her throat.
"It's obvious that the...Devon was a little more responsive to your attire than we planned. All that means is that he thinks you look great, Xander. He's not going anywhere," she explained with strained patience. "He probably went to fluff his hair," she finished with a smirk.
Several snickers broke out, but not from Willow, who was peering curiously at Cordelia, recognizing the look in the other girl's eyes.
"I have to go to the bathroom," the witch announced. "Cordy, come with me."
"You know the rule; we go in pairs. Let's go."
"Forget it! I'm not going anywhere until Devon walks his ass over here," the girl snapped.
"I'll go with you, Will," Buffy interjected.
Willow forced a smile. "No thanks. I need Cordy's advice about my makeup."
"It's really past time," Harmony automatically replied, before wincing as she remembered Willow was sort of a friend now. "Sorry."
"Whatever," the redhead offered. "Cordelia. Come with me. Now." After a beat, she added, "Please."
Cordelia rolled her eyes, but gave no other sign that she was going to agree. She raised a brow and looked at Willow and started. She could have sworn the witch's eyes flashed black.
"Fine," she scowled. "I need to check my eyeliner anyway."
She stood up and stalked away, Willow scrambling after her.
"What the fuck was that?" Faith demanded from the remaining collective.
Percy and Larry shrugged. Xander looked thoughtful, Harmony and Buffy confused, Jonathan nervous, and Angel quite knowing.
He knew jealousy when he smelled it.
Willow pushed past Cordelia and entered the bathroom, checking each stall to make sure they were alone.
"What's going on?" Cordelia hissed.
Satisfied no one else was present, Willow raised her hand in the air and sealed the bathroom door. Cordelia's eyes widened and then narrowed.
"Don't do this to him," the witch stated.
Willow grabbed her by the shoulders and spun them around to face the bank of mirrors. "Cordy, if you had ever once bothered to look at me during all the months you were with Xander, you'd recognize the look on your face."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cordelia haughtily sniffed.
"Bullshit. The envy is pouring off you in waves. I can almost see it. Angel could certainly smell it, and Oz would have too. You can't do this to him, Cordy. I did. I tried to make him choose and I almost ruined four people's lives. You almost died, and believe me when I say not a day goes by that I don't think about that."
The cheerleader set her jaw and said nothing.
"I don't want him with Devon any more than you do," Willow continued, her voice more sedate, "but that's not our call. We don't get to pick and choose who Xander can be with. After I found out about the two of you, I froze him out, just like I did after Jesse died. And you know what? He gave up on me. Even though I knew he still loved me, he made his choice, and it wasn't me. I allowed my jealousy to cost me precious time with him. And then Spike took us, and I honestly believed we were going to die, and I didn't want to die with Xander still angry at me. So I took a foolish chance and almost lost him forever."
Cordelia bit her lip and angrily swatted away a tear.
"Once you have Xander's love, you have it until you die," the witch added. "Probably even after that. He's never going to excommunicate you, he will always be there for you, and he will die to protect you. You need to let that be enough. If you want him back, you need to be honest and tell him. I understand what you're trying to do. I know you just want what's best for him and I respect that. But don't do what I did and think you know better than he does."
A sob escaped the brunette's lips. "This hurts so bad," she gasped. "I didn't think it would hurt this bad."
Willow hesitated before deciding the past no longer mattered and drew Cordelia into her arms.
"I know," she whispered. "I know."
Ten minutes and a quick makeup re-application later, Cordelia and Willow were heading back to the table. Devon was still nowhere in sight, although Oz had joined the group.
Xander was practically hysterical.
"What the hell is your problem, dweeb?" Cordelia demanded.
"I knew this wouldn't work," he morosely replied. "He can get anyone he wants. Why would he want me? I'm nothing special. I'm just a girl's second banana. More than one girl's, apparently."
The cheerleader turned to the Slayers. "Has he been whining like this since we left?"
"Pretty much," Faith sighed.
"He's not listening to us," a worried Buffy added.
Cordelia turned back to Xander and slapped him. Hard.
"Thanks," he stated. "I thought my teeth were too attached to my gums."
"You're being a moron! I don't know where the hell your loser date is, and you know what? I don't care. You're here with five hot girls and four hot guys. And Angel."
"Oh, thank you," the vampire drawled.
Cordelia continued unabated. "If that dickhead doesn't realize what he's passing up, then it's his loss. What do you care? You can do better."
"You never stop singing my praises, do you Cordy?," Devon wryly observed as he joined them.
"You don't deserve praise," the girl barked. "If you were a small yellow dog, I'd box you in a crate and send you off to Abu Dhabi. You really haven't changed, Devon. You're just as selfish as you ever were."
"You would know," Devon volleyed, "and maybe I haven't changed because I've been waiting for the right person." He grinned when she immediately shut up. "Hi," he said softly to Xander.
"So. I believe we're on a date."
"I guess," Xander replied, looking down at his shuffling feet.
Devon leaned over and whispered, "I'm nervous, too."
Xander trained wide eyes on him. "You are?"
He nodded. "The reason I didn't get here sooner was because I had to go the bathroom."
Devon nodded again, a little sheepishly. "One look at you and I had a, um, well, I jizzed my pants."
Xander furrowed his brow until understanding blossomed across his face. He gaped. "Because of me?" he whispered.
Devon laughed. Xander really liked his laugh.
"You wanna get a drink?" Devon suggested.
Xander nodded shyly.
His date turned to the others. "We're going to the bar. Feel free to watch us. Maybe you'll learn something."
With that, he spun on his heel and ushered Xander away.
"Learn something?" Cordelia screeched. "Like anyone could learn anything from him!"
"Well, the game is afoot, people," Faith grinned, "and I'm all for getting down." She turned to Percy. "Let's hit the floor, stud, and show them how it's done."
Percy gave a small smile which didn't meet his eyes. "Yeah. Sure."
They stood up and took their leave, swiftly followed by Harmony, who had latched on to a sputtering and horrified Jonathan. Willow caught Angel's eye, nodded at Buffy, and then nodded toward the dance floor. The vampire quirked a brow, but nonetheless complied, guiding his smiling girlfriend down toward the dais. Cordelia parked in a seat and began fuming. Larry scooted over toward her and bumped her shoulder with his. She glared up at him in annoyance, but at the look in his eyes, she sighed and leaned against him.
"This sure is going to be a fun night," Oz whispered to Willow.
She put her head in her hands.
Three hours and several Cokes later, Devon couldn't remember the last time he had so much fun.
He and Xander talked about everything from movies (they both had a penchant for Kevin Smith) to television (Thundercats, Ho!) to music (Devon was shocked and pleased that Xander's taste was as varied and eclectic as his own).
They had talked about Cordelia, and Devon was rather startled by Xander's fierce devotion to and respect for the girl; Xander was happy that Devon seemed to have a soft spot for Cordy, as well.
They talked about acquaintances they had in common, about people they had lost, and how Sunnydale was pretty much a dead-end town in more ways than one.
They talked about their favorite foods and their favorite books and their favorite superheroes.
They talked about their families and their dreams and how Starbucks was destroying America.
They talked about everything and nothing, and it was easy. It was natural and effortless, and the more they talked, the less nervous they became. Xander became more animated and Devon saw that sparkle in his eyes which had arrested him months ago.
Devon really liked this kid, this Xander. His date.
It was Devon's first date.
Everything up to that point had been hanging out or hooking up or silent encounters. This was something altogether different and new and exciting. And the more he opened up, the closer Xander moved toward him, until their shoulders were touching. And then their knees were touching, and Devon really liked how Xander's warmth was seeping into him.
He was still wary, though, especially when he looked behind him every so often to find himself on the end of a particularly vengeful glare from several different people.
But did he really want to do this? Did he really want to get involved?
Getting involved with Xander meant getting involved with his friends, and he wasn't sure he was that interested. Would it really be worth putting up with Cordelia again on a regular basis? Did he want to have to deal with Willow and Buffy and the blond ditz and that sultry brunette? Not to mention the two jocks who so obviously were into the kid?
What if he hurt Xander?
What if Xander hurt him?
It was that vulnerability which so terrified him.
And it was just one date. How could he possibly be so into someone after one date? It didn't make any sense.
What if they ran out of things to talk about? What if they decided the more time they spent together, the less they liked one another? What if Xander's friends tried to interfere? What was going to happen when he left town to find his big break? What would happen when Xander graduated and went to college? Devon wasn't going to stick around and be the townie boyfriend.
Oh, Christ. Boyfriend?
He didn't do exclusive. He didn't even do callbacks. What the fuck was wrong with him? It was One Date.
But he could picture so many more.
He could see them together at the movies, or driving down to L.A. to catch a concert, or just hanging out at his apartment and making out. Catching a quick bite to eat, setting up for Dingoes gigs, going to Wal-Mart to make fun of people. Blowing Xander in the hot tub at the school's natatorium.
He liked how Xander made him feel, as if he were the only one in the room, that he was worthy of his sole attention. As if he weren't 'Devon' or 'that singer' or 'that slut'.
He was just Devon MacLeish, out on a date with a really cute, nice, and surprisingly entertaining boy.
Xander was babbling and Devon was staring at his mouth before his eyes slowly began working their way up the kid's face until they were staring at each other. Xander's words died away as he looked intently into Devon's eyes. And then he released that one-of-a-kind grin.
Devon felt those flutters again.
Did he really want this?
He really did.
Impulsively, he grabbed Xander's hand and led him out onto the dance floor.