He felt ridiculous as he stood from the table and, with a vague wave good-bye, left Buffy and Willow to their healthy university lunch. People swarmed past him, moving in and out of the cafeteria with their little backpacks filled with a college education. It made him wish he had the energy to be bitter, but he couldn’t bring himself to dislike his friends and their fellow students. Still, it would be nice if they had actually seemed happy to have him there instead of uncomfortable with his presence, like him simply sitting there would cause them to lose cool points.
College, Xander decided, was too much like high school for his tastes.
Xander made it to the doorway of the building, eyes scanning the campus as he tried to remember which direction he had parked his car. For a moment he was caught in watching all of the happy people with their promising futures. He could admit to himself it made him depressed. Even the Slayer, a girl not expected to live long at all, was working toward a hopeful life while he was stuck sitting in his basement with the want ads and dreaming of a guy he’d never see again. Sometimes, Xander’s world kind of sucked.
Someone bumped hard into his shoulder, sending him into the wall. “Watch it!”
Xander stumbled and shot the dark-haired boy a glare. He managed to stay on his feet and, ignoring the curious looks around him and the guy’s obvious attempt at starting an argument, Xander hopped down the steps onto the sidewalk. He made it about twenty feet before he realized he was heading in the wrong direction. Cursing under his breath, he turned on his heel and nearly collided with a large and muscular chest.
Hands grabbed his shoulders and a flash of memory attacked him, which he swiftly pushed away as he looked up. Apparently pushing that memory away was pointless because the very man that he had been thinking about for weeks now, the very man that he still jerked off to, was standing before him and, oh god, touching him. Riley Finn was touching him. Here. In Sunnydale.
He sucked in a sharp breath, eyes growing wide as they met Riley’s confused gaze. He swallowed and found he couldn’t do more than stand there. All of the fantasies he had created about this moment were gone, leaving him with nothing to say. Shit, he was going to start looking like a moron if his mouth didn’t close.
“Riley?” he whispered, knowing perfectly well that he probably sounded like a teenager girl who was about to swoon. He didn’t care, because this was Riley. The guy who had watched him strip and saved him from sexual harassment. The guy that had pinned him to a motel bed and done things that had made Xander’s toes curl.
“Graham, I’ll catch up with you later,” Riley said, not bothering to look at the guy at his side.
And then Riley had grabbed his arm and dragged him around one of the buildings, into a dark alcove that was hidden from both the sun and prying eyes. Xander allowed Riley to push him up against the brick wall, almost afraid that if he said anything else then it would all become just a dream.
Riley’s fingers traced down his cheek as blue eyes scanned his face. “What are you doing here?”
“Uh, I’m visiting a couple of my friends,” he stammered out. “They go to school here.”
“Shouldn’t you be in Oxnard?” Riley asked, before shaking his head. “Wait, I don’t care, I just want to enjoy seeing you again. Wow. If I had known you would be here I would have…I don’t know, but I’d have done something to ensure we got to see each other.”
“Oh, umm, heh.” Xander felt himself grinning and knew he probably looked like a loon, but Riley’s hand had rested on his neck and the touch made him feel drunk. “I guess I should have asked what university you were going to, huh?”
“Yeah,” Riley breathed out. He swallowed, watching as Riley’s eyes focused on his mouth. A soft moan escaped him seconds before Riley pinned him to the wall, tongue thrusting into his mouth aggressively. The kiss was overwhelming, like Riley was trying to steal a part of him. Xander moaned again, wrapping his arms around Riley’s strong torso, underneath his backpack, and pulling him close. Then Riley pulled away, his face flushed. “I have to get to class.”
“Oh, right. College boy,” he said, trying to control the urge to grab the other man again. “You should go do that, then.”
“Can I give you my number?” Riley paused, unzipping a side pocket from his bag and pulling out a small notebook and pen. “If you, uh, want it.”
Xander nodded almost frantically. “Oh hell yeah, I want your number.”
He stood, practically vibrating in place, as Riley scribbled his number down and tore the sheet from the notebook. He accepted the slip of paper, managing not to kiss the damn thing, before sending Riley a bright smile. Riley grinned. He stared at that grin, the flash of perfect white teeth and blonde hair. God, Riley really was an example of the All-American Boy.
He reached out, fingers barely touching Riley’s chest through his t-shirt. He felt Riley suck in a sharp breath and he wasn’t surprised when Riley had him pressed against the wall once more as they kissed. This was the kind of kiss Xander loved drawing out from Riley. It was the kind of kiss that spoke of possession and that demanded complete surrender from Xander. A shiver ran down his spine and he arched his back, rubbing up against Riley’s strong body.
Riley gently pulled away, breathing hard as his eyes darted around them. “I should go.”
“Call me?” Riley asked, taking a step back. Xander nodded, watching as Riley turned and walked away.
It had been a week and he still hadn’t called Riley. A part of him was spending day after day reminding him of how dumb he was for avoiding the other man. The majority, however, was simply terrified. Riley was living in a world that he didn’t fit into, a world where Buffy and Willow existed while he just orbited around. In comparison, Xander knew he was the basic definition of a loser. So instead of calling he left the piece of paper on his bedside table where he could occasionally wake up in the middle of the night to stare at it.
In the end, it was Willow that got him to call Riley, though how that came about wasn’t something Xander wanted to dwell on after the fact. They were at Giles’ for one of their usual Scooby meetings. He was draped across Giles’ sofa and pretending to listen to their conversations on classes and how homework interfered with patrolling. Buffy had been talking about some guy she was thinking of going out with, a Parker something or other, when Xander heard Willow say Riley’s name.
He jerked, looking over and tuning in, trying to figure out if they were talking about his Riley.
“I think he likes you,” Willow said, shooting Buffy a smile as she pulled yet another leather bound book from the box before her. They were slowly yet surely getting the books saved from the high school put on the shelves that Xander had helped Giles build. “He’s always looking at you with this funny expression.”
“That’s because Riley thinks I’m strange,” Buffy said with a slight pout. “Parker on the other hand actually talks to me. Riley looks like he’s Mr. Depresso or something.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of weird,” Willow commented. “He was in such a good mood last week in class. Even Professor Walsh was getting annoyed with his grinning, but then the last couple of days he’s been the total opposite.”
“Exactly,” Buffy agreed. “He’s like bipolar or something. But Parker…”
Xander turned away from the conversation, biting his lip. If they were talking about his Riley then that meant that Riley was missing him, which both warmed and twisted his insides. He sat up and pulled one of the boxes toward him, trying to push Riley out of his mind. Of course, it didn’t work. He hadn’t really expected it to. Riley was connected to every thought he had these days. He wasn’t sure if that meant he had fallen in love or if it meant he was a crazy stalker who needed to get a life.
He suspected it was both.
And suddenly, because Xander really wasn’t the type to think this kind of thing through, he said, “Guys, I have something important to tell you.”
Buffy finally stopped talking about Parker and the two turned to look at him curiously. Even Giles popped his head out of the kitchen where he was supposedly making tea.
“I’m kind of gay.” Wow. So, that was definitely not what he had meant to say. He fully planned on telling them he was bisexual, yes, but for some reason the word gay had popped out before he could stop it. Maybe the world was trying to tell him something. Or he could just be too nervous to control his own ability to speak.
“You—“ Buffy blinked. “Oh.”
“That’s…really?” Willow asked.
“Oh dear Lord,” Giles mumbled, returning to the kitchen and effectively vanishing from the conversation. Xander figured the man would think about it a while and then pull him to the side later to tell him that it was okay to be gay and that Giles supported him. Giles was good for that sort of thing.
“Yeah, I really am,” he said with a wince. “I figured out I was maybe bisexual a while ago, but over the summer…I kind of met this guy, see, and I just…it was perfect and I don’t want to have anything but that. I really don’t. And I might get to see him again if I get off my lazy ass and call him like he asked, but I wanted to tell you guys first because you’re my best friends and I really need the support maybe—“
“Whoa, Xander.” Buffy held up a hand, her mouth twitching. “It’s always a good idea to breathe.”
“Okay, so you’re…” Willow waved her hand around before looking to Buffy for help. Xander was thankful that Oz had band practice, because anymore stoic silence and he would probably go insane. Willow drew in a deep breath and finally spoke after what seemed like an hour of nervous fidgeting. “Gay. You’re gay.”
“I really, really am,” he replied.
“Well, that’s good, right? I mean, being gay is good. It can be…fashionable?” Buffy offered.
“Heh, yeah. Everyone needs a gay sidekick,” he said with what had to have been the most fake laugh he’d ever managed.
“Ouch,” Buffy muttered, looking down.
“So, there’s a guy?” Willow asked, having clearly moved on from freaked into a true attempt to be supportive. That was why she was his best friend, hands down.
“Oh, umm, yeah, I think there is.” He shrugged, trying for nonchalant. Giving their expressions he doubted it worked. “It’s kind of funny. I met him on my doomed trip to Oxnard. He said he was going to college, but I didn’t realize it was here. I ran into him last week.”
“Talk about coincidences,” Buffy said with a smile that actually looked real. Xander felt something inside of him relax. “So what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know if I should really call him or not,” he admitted. “I mean, he’s college material and me? Not so much. What if…I’m not good enough for him?”
Both girls opened their mouths to protest, but oddly enough it was Giles who spoke from the kitchen doorway. “Don’t be ridiculous, Xander. If he gave you his number then he’s clearly interested. You’ll never know if you don’t try and if things turn out badly, well, you will probably never have to see him again.”
“Giles is right,” Buffy agreed while Willow nodded fervently.
“Well, okay then. I’ll give him a call.”
It wasn’t until later, after helping Giles with his books for a few more hours, that he had the time to call Riley. He sat in his basement of horrors, ignoring the loud roar of some action flick his dad was obviously getting drunk to that filtered from upstairs, and stared at the slip of paper sitting next to his phone. He was being idiotic. Dialing a phone number really wasn’t that difficult. All he had to do was pick up the phone.
Okay. He could do this.
Once he had the phone in his hand Xander had to fight the urge to set it back down. He tried to remember the pep talk Willow had given him before he had left Giles’ place. Nodding to himself, more determined to avoid the disappointed wrath of his two best friends than anything, he snatched the paper up and began tapping the numbers on the keypad. He listened as it rang and nearly hung up when a voice came over the line. “Finn speaking.”
“Uh, Riley? It’s Xander,” he stammered.
There was a long period of silence, followed by the sound of Riley drawing in a breath. “I didn’t think you were going to call.”
“Honestly? I almost didn’t,” he admitted. “I had a bit of a freak out, but after getting hit in the head by my friends over how stupid I was being I figured I might as well call. I can handle the humiliation of you realizing you’re too good for me, after all. I’ve done—“
“Xander,” Riley interrupted, “stop insulting yourself.”
“Yes! Good plan.” The other man chuckled, a deep sound that felt like honey pouring into Xander’s ear. Which, okay, that was a little gross. “So…”
“Go out with me this Friday,” Riley said, his voice low. Either he was trying to sound seductive or he was attempting to keep others from hearing him. Xander didn’t really care either way as he was too busy having a mental orgasm over the idea of Riley asking him out on a date here in Sunnydale where people they knew would see them.
“I think I can manage that,” he replied, grinning.
They ended up mimicking their first date with a dinner and a movie. The movie came first, of course, so they’d have a good conversation piece for when they got to the diner. Riley had Xander chose the place to eat since Xander had grown up in Sunnydale, so he ended up picking a small and comfortable diner that had probably opened the same day the Hellmouth formed. They settled into their booth, facing one another because Xander knew that sitting side by side would be far too much temptation. Riley ordered a burger and Xander simply flashed the waitress a big grin that sent her off with a raspy, old woman giggle. She brought back what could have probably counted as half the menu.
“Don’t worry, I’ll share,” he said at Riley’s expression. “The best way to eat here is to have a little bit of everything. This is just a small taste of their best. I always get this.”
Riley didn’t comment, though his mouth twisted into an adorable smile of amusement.
They were silent for a long moment, simply eating and enjoying each other’s presence. Then the soft murmur of voices around them started to get to Xander and he had to speak or possibly have a panic attack. “How do you like Sunnydale?”
“It’s okay,” Riley said with a shrug, wiping his hands on a napkin. “It gets a little weird around here at night, though.”
He snorted. “You have no idea.”
Riley gave him a speculative look, before blinking rapidly as though to clear his thoughts and reaching for his drink. “What have you been doing since you got back into town?”
“Job hunting, avoiding my parents, and pretending to be involved in my friends’ college lives,” he replied. “I might have a bartending job lined up soon! I’ll be all illegal and working under the table. It’s kind of exciting.”
Riley’s mouth opened and closed for a moment. “What if you get caught?”
“You say that like it’s bound to happen,” he said with an eye roll. “Allow me to tune you into a little Sunnydale fact: the cops around here? Probably wouldn’t notice someone breaking the law even if it happened right in front of them. So don’t worry about me.”
“I do worry about you,” Riley said, blushing lightly. Xander couldn’t help reaching out and taking Riley’s hand in his own, feeling the heat of his palm and the soft skin along his knuckles. “It tends to happen when I think about you as often as I do.”
“Oh, that makes me so with the happy.”
Riley laughed. “You really do have the most atrocious grammar, Xander.”
“It’s part of my So-Cal charm,” he said.
They stared at one another, both grinning in that ridiculous way that ensured the people around them knew they were together and quite possibly in like or love. Then Riley glanced over Xander’s shoulder toward the door, stiffened, and yanked his hand away like he’d been burned. Xander frowned in confusion and looked back to see two men enter the diner. They didn’t look familiar, but Xander didn’t make a point to visit the university enough to know the students there. They did, however, have the same stance as Riley. It was the one that said they were in control of the situation, no matter what anyone around them thought.
Normally Xander found that kind of attitude sexy, but when it resulted in Riley getting a pinched look on his face he didn’t really appreciate it.
“Forrest, Graham,” Riley greeted when the two strangers approached. He waved in Xander’s direction. “This is Xander. He’s been showing me around Sunnydale.”
Xander could feel his heart constricting at that. He hadn’t expected Riley to broadcast their relationship to the world, but to be so easily knocked down to acquaintance status in front of the man’s friends hurt more than Xander thought it could. He swallowed and looked at Riley, knowing he was giving him a puppy dog look in an attempt to get a better form of recognition.
In the meantime, Forrest was looking at him with something close to annoyance, like he was a fly in the guy’s ointment. Xander winced, not bothering to check to see if Graham had the same expression. The odds were good that he did and Xander didn’t think he could handle even more rejection.
“There are better places you can go for a tour, Riley,” Forrest said, his voice laced with something Xander couldn’t identify. He couldn’t identify it, but he understood it. Forrest could tell just by looking at him that he was nothing more than a townie and, therefore, below their radar and only meant for entertainment. Forrest practically sneered, before turning back to Riley. “We have a meeting in about an hour. We saw you through the window; otherwise we’d have just paged you.”
“Right,” Riley nodded, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “I’ll be there.”
Forrest nodded, glanced between the two of them, before turning on his heel and heading for the door. Graham stood there a moment more, meeting Riley’s eyes in some form of communication that reminded Xander of Willow and him. Whatever was said between them was quick and soon Graham was walking away as well.
“Well, I feel wanted now,” Xander said, somehow managing to keep his tone emotionless.
“Xander, I can explain,” Riley said quickly, reaching out to grab his hand. He pulled it away, off the table so Riley couldn’t reach, ignoring Riley’s expression of hurt. “They don’t know, okay? My friends don’t and, frankly, can’t know that I’m…”
“Gay? Or fucking a townie?” he asked. He sounded bitter, but he didn’t care. Hell, he was bitter. He was bitter and pissed off and if he had been a girl he would have thrown his soda into Riley’s face already.
“Both.” Riley rested his face in his hands for a moment, taking in a deep breath. “I can’t tell them, do you understand?”
“Actually, no,” he admitted, shaking his head. He waited until Riley had looked up, meeting his blue gaze before continuing, “I don’t understand at all, Riley. If this was your parents then I’d get it. There is no way in hell I could let my father know about you, but my friends? I choose them. They love me for myself and would support whatever relationship I ended up in as long as it wasn’t hurting me. That’s what friends do. So, no, I don’t understand because you picked these friends and who they are says a lot about you.”
“Do you want me?” he demanded.
Riley lowered his hands and nodded. “More than anything.”
“I want you, too, but I’m not going to be shoved in a closet for you,” Xander said. “I refuse to hide how I feel about you, Riley. I’ve done that before and I hated every moment of it.”
“I can’t tell them,” Riley insisted, voice tight. “You have no idea how much it hurts to not be able to explain why to you, Xander, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Me, too,” he whispered, reaching for his wallet. He pulled out enough money to cover his portion of dinner and threw the bills onto the table. He stood and paused, looking down at Riley. Unable to stop himself he leaned down and kissed the man lightly, a barely-there brush of lips. “When you’re ready to be yourself I’ll probably still be here, waiting for you.”
“Please,” Riley said, grabbing his arm. “Don’t. Why can’t we try? We don’t have to let anyone know—“
“I’m not so worthless that you can date me and then be ashamed of me around everyone else,” Xander finally snapped, yanking his arm back and stepping away. “If you change your mind, find Buffy or Willow at the university. They’ll tell you how to get a hold of me.”
That said, Xander turned on his heel and stormed toward the door. He ignored the sad look the waitress gave him as he passed, knowing she had probably overheard the entire conversation. He made it down the street before the first shudder hit him. He wasn’t going to cry, not yet and probably never, but that didn’t stop his body from acting like it was.
He told himself that feeling like he had his heart broken was stupid, because they weren’t really together. In fact, he could have been just a summer gay fling for Riley, something to get off his chest before he went back to being straight in his perfect college life. The more Xander had to think about it on his long trek home the more Xander was certain that the entire thing had been a set up and Riley was back at his frat house laughing it up with his friends right now.
He felt stupid and ridiculous and utterly devastated in a way he hadn’t felt even when Cordelia had dumped him on Valentine’s Day. By the time he had made it home he had repeated his last words over and over again in his head, realizing that he had partially lied to Riley, because he felt like he truly was utterly worthless. He had known he wasn’t good enough for Riley, but he had let Willow and the others pump him full of false self-esteem.
The piece of paper with Riley’s phone number was sitting on his bed when he entered the basement. He stared at it for a moment, before snatching it up and crumbling it in his fist. He took a moment to enjoy the feel of the paper bending and ripping. Then with a rush of anger he threw it across the room, watching as it hit the wall and fell behind the dryer.
Tired, Xander collapsed on his bed and pretended he was stuck in a motel in Oxnard with Riley’s arm thrown over his hip.