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I thought you slept outside to avoid your family's drunken Christmas fights?”

"Yes. And that was a confidence I was hoping you would share with everyone"


 

They seemed to be spending a lot of time in closets lately. Utility closets, broom closets, one time the closet in one of the science labs where the weird smelly chemicals were kept. In fact, that seemed to be the only place where Xander and Cordelia spent any time together. Not that Xander minded, because the thing they did in closets was, well, in the top five of his favourite things.

Xander and Cordelia came up for breath, briefly, and Xander took that moment to observe Cordelia Chase. She was looking down at the floor, her chest rising fast but her breathing was soft, like she was trying to hide the fact he'd left her breathless. Not like she was hiding it, actually, she was definitely hiding it. He didn't really understand why she did it. Why she pretended not to like him when they always ended up here. It didn't really do anything for his confidence, considering that outside of Willow when they were six and a brief fling with an Inca Mummy Girl Cordelia was his first real, actual girlfriend.

Except she wasn't, he struggled to remind himself. He was a mistake to her. She was a mistake for him, too, despite every part of his body that wasn't his brain screaming at him otherwise. If anyone in the school knew about what they had just been doing, they would have viewed it as Cordelia Chase, Sunnydale High royalty, making a mistake and Xander Harris, nerd extraordinaire, hitting the jackpot. Mostly, he felt that way. Feeling her breath tickling his face, her lips curling against his mouth as they kissed, her body pressed up against his, warm and lithe...

It was, literally, the stuff of his dreams. His most wonderfulest, stickiest dreams.

But it was a mistake. Because she was pretending not to like him (or maybe she just really didn't like him) and he was starting to like her. He didn't want to pretend anymore. Not because he wanted people to think he was cool because, more likely scenario, Cordelia would end up dropping down the popularity scale. But because he wanted her to be his. Which he understood was incredibly patriarchal and disgusting and if Willow heard him say it she would have three different aneurysms for three different reasons but it didn't stop it being true. He wanted guys to stop flirting with her because she was Xander's girl. She wanted to be able to make out with her in the cafeteria. In the open, where people could see, not just in the kitchen when the lunch lady was out. He wanted to be able to hold her hand when they walked down the hall, sling an arm over he shoulder when she was cold or hug her close after they nearly died and have it not be weird. He wanted her to be his girlfriend.

She looked up at him, their eyes meeting and he realised she was pretty. Not hot, pretty. When her face wasn't arranged in a perfect uncaring glare, when she wasn't detaching herself from the world around her and making herself seem above it. When she was just being Cordelia.

It didn't happen very often. Like a sunbeam catching her face in just the right way to illuminate it, make it glow.

But the glow was already starting to fade.

“What are you looking at Harris?”

“I was just thinking about how much more I like it when you don't talk” Xander replied without thinking. Because it was easier when he didn't think.

“Then shut up and stop mooning at me you geek” said Cordelia. But her smile didn't seem angry for once. Flustered, maybe?

“Like I said, not mooning. Contemplating a murder suicide, maybe”

And then Cordelia's arms weren't around his neck anymore. She didn't say anything in response, just made a disgusted noise and rolled her eyes before taking out a little pocket mirror and examining herself.

“Daddy wants us to stay here for Christmas instead of going skiing like we usually do. In sweatydale of all places like, what are we, poor?” Cordelia said all of this without looking up from her mirror. In fact, Xander wasn't completely sure he was actually part of this conversation or is this was a patented Cordelia monologue. “So I went to my mother and I guess she like, agrees with him? Like they want me to, what, spend time with them?”

“Yes I'm sure your home life is full of constant pain. The maids, the money, the inability to travel from one side of the house to the other without a golf cart...”

“Like you know” Cordelia frowned briefly at her mirror.

“You want me to ask about your home life? I think you've made it pretty clear questions are off the table” said Xander. He could feel his ire rising, what did she want from him?

“That doesn't mean I don't want you to try. God, do you know anything about women?”

No was the right answer. But Xander wasn't going to give that one up so easy.

“I know a lot about women, it's hell beasts I have a bit more trouble with”

“So you didn't learn anything from that Mantis-teacher-lady?”

“Why is that the one we always go to and not Willow dating a computer demon? That was just as pathetic”

“Because you seem to have-” Cordelia stopped herself, his words seeming to finally register “Wait, a computer demon?”

“Yep”

“Like a demon that lived in a computer?”

“Uhuh. It built itself a robot body so they could be together and everything”

“She's such a nerd its actually kinda terrifying”

Xander knew he should step in and defend Willow. And he would have, but there were no venom behind Cordelia's words. He was getting more used to it, her saying things that seemed, on the surface, like insults but were actually just observations from a mind that never learned that some things were better left unobserved. It was almost endearing.

They stood in silence for a moment, both refusing to meet each others eyes. Because whilst there had been the storm of a fight brewing, Xander was pretty sure Cordelia had just asked him to take more of an interest in her. Not just in her lips and tongue and... other parts. But in her life.

Xander didn't really know how to do that. He knew he wanted to, which was probably something. But it also didn't really feel like enough.

“So what will you be doing over Christmas then? Sunbathing with the girls? And a camera?”

She was rolling her eyes at him again. But it was a good eye roll, not a bad eye roll. There was a subtle difference, Xander was learning.

“I don't know, is there some sort of Christmas demon that needs slaying? Oh, sleighing, I made a pun!” Her excitement turned to disgust. “I made a pun. You're rubbing off on me”

“You never seemed to mind before”

“Yeah Xander, I love it when a dog humps my leg”

“I do not hump- You know what, I'm moving past it. You don't want to spend time with your gal pals?” said Xander. Cordelia's face softened. She wasn't meeting his eyes again. But now she was on the defensive.

“First of all, gal pals? Gross. If you could not be such a total creep it would make this a lot easier” she said, motioning at the broom closet they were currently in. “My friends are fine. I just...”

“You just?”

“I don't know, sometimes they're a bit boring? I guess? I can only talk about make up and clothes and boys so much, you know?”

“I didn't know that Cordy, in fact it might be knowledge beyond my comprehension”

“Like most knowledge then”

They lapsed in to silence for a moment. Xander didn't know what to say. Nothing seemed like it could fill the void of Cordelia actually opening up to him. She was feeling alienated from her friends? What was he supposed to say about that. What could he say that would make her feel better?

“What are you doing for Christmas then? Are you and Willow going to run around wearing footie pajamas and watch Snoopy?” said Cordelia.

“No, I'll be doing my usual Christmas tradition of-... Nothing” Xander suddenly realized he really truly desperately didn't want to tell Cordelia how he spent his Christmas'. He'd never told anyone. Not even Buffy, not even Willow. It was embarrassing. The worst thing in the world would be Willow's big, pitying eyes and Buffy's knowing look when he unleashed another part of his sad home life on them.

But Cordelia...

“Nothing? What are your family like, Jehovah's Witnesses or something?”

“No but they are drunks” said Xander. He wasn't really thinking, he was just kind of talking. Filling silence with noise even if that noise was something that hurt and was being given to someone who could quite easily and efficiently use it to hurt him. He wanted her to know. “I usually just camp out, you know, avoid shrapnel from all the things that they throw around. At the walls, each other, me. Fun times at the Harris household.”

Cordelia looked at him. For what was, in Xander's mind, an uncomfortably long time. He'd never seen this look on her face before. He could see her mind working, he imagined a dozen insults had flitted through her head the second he started talking. But she wasn't saying any of them.

He'd shared something with her and she wasn't throwing it back in his face. And she wasn't pitying him, like Willow did whenever she came over to his house and his father called him a useless waste of space or his mother started loudly calculating how much Xander had cost her to raise and how many holidays that could have paid for.

“Can we go back to making out now?” said Cordelia, shocking Xander. Then he was entirely unshocked. Of course that was how Cordelia would respond. And he was, oddly OK with that. Cordeia didn't care, he didn't care, anything they said to each other was just page breaks between what mattered in this relationship which was disgusting, hormonal smoochies.

So when their lips met again Xander didn't really notice that Cordelia's arms were wrapped around him a little more protectively, or that her kiss was a little more tender. And when they left he didn't notice that Cordelia's hand stayed in his until a microsecond before they ran in to someone.

 

And even if he did, who would blame him for not believing?