“I have the worst taste in paper topics in the world,” Buffy announced, leaning her head sideways until it rested on Xander’s shoulder. She peered up at him, lower lip extended. “Tell me again why I decided to go to college?”
“Umm, because otherwise you’d be stuck delivering pizza like me?” Xander offered. He sniffed his opposite shoulder, trying to see if he still smelled like grease and pepperoni.
“What happened to your bartending job?” Willow asked, passing out paper plates for the overly large pizza that Xander had brought before sitting down next to Oz. “I thought that was going well.”
“Turns out my boss was the creator of the caveman beer,” Xander said through a mouth full of cheese. “I thought Buffy told you.”
“No, she didn’t,” Willow said, shooting Buffy a frown. “Though, that does explain her behavior a couple of weeks ago. I just thought she was having a hangover at the time.”
“I was having a hangover,” Buffy said, picking sausage off her slice with a grimace. “It was just a very primitive hangover. You left to hang out with Oz before the dramatic stuff went down and, well, I was distracted later and forgot to tell you about it.”
“Yeah, by that cute math TA,” Willow teased.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Buffy said, blushing.
“Come on, Buffy, he’s cute. Admit it,” Willow insisted.
“He seems to like you,” Oz offered, before turning his attention back to his pizza.
“See?” Willow said with a grin. “It’s obvious he likes you, what with the way he came to check up on you the other day and offered to help you with your Algebra homework. What guy just offers to help with math like that?”
“He’s a math TA!” Buffy exclaimed, snagging the last slice before Xander could get to it. He retaliated by scooping up her discarded sausage. “It’s in the job description.”
“Yeah, and helping is automatically part of your duties, but going out of your way and offering to help is another story altogether,” Xander pointed out. “Who are we talking about anyway?”
“You probably wouldn’t know him—“ Willow started.
“No, hey, actually, you would,” Buffy interrupted. “He was with Riley at the bar, remember? He helped me home. His name’s Graham.”
“Oh, right, him,” Xander said, nodding. Oh, yeah, he knew who Graham was. Graham was the guy that Xander was currently worried about. He had hung out with Riley a total of two times since they agreed to play it straight for most of Sunnydale and both times they had ended up running into a friend of his. Graham, out of all of Riley’s friends, appeared to be the only one to suspect something about their friendship. Or so Xander assumed, what with the speculative looks Graham always gave them. “Yeah, he’s one of Riley’s buddies.”
“Speaking of Riley, what is up with the two of you? I didn’t realize you guys were friends,” Buffy said.
“Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?” Willow asked, looking hurt. “Since when does Xander hang out with Riley?” She turned to Oz. “Did you know about this?”
“No,” Oz replied with a headshake. “I heard rumors, but—“
“Rumors?” Xander squeaked. He cleared his throat and tried to appear calm and collected. Which never worked for him, but there was a first time for everything. “What kind of rumors, uh, exactly?”
“Just that Riley’s cool rating is going down since he’s associating with the townie population,” Oz said with a shrug. Oz’s mouth twitched and he added, “Your secret is safe thus far.”
“Secret? What secret?” Willow demanded, narrowing her eyes.
“So, Buffy, what’s your paper topic on?” Xander said in a dramatically loud voice.
“Tuvalu,” she said with a look that told him that she knew what he was attempting to do. It also said that his attempts at distraction wouldn’t work, but she was willing to play along. “We had to pick some tiny society and write a paper on its relationship with the rest of the world. Or I think that’s what it’s supposed to be about. I picked Tuvalu because it sounded pretty, to be honest.”
“That sounds fascinating,” he said with fake cheer. God, he was not going to be winning an Oscar any time soon. “Tell me more?”
“Well, Tuvalu is, like, really small when it comes to people—“ Buffy started.
“Whoa, no!” Willow cut in, shooting Xander a look that was more pout than glare. “What secret?”
Xander glanced around at all their faces, saw that Buffy wasn’t going to be any help anymore, and slumped in his seat. He really hadn’t wanted to go into this right then, not without easing them into the idea of him dating a college guy first. The fact that he was dating a guy that was forced to keep their relationship a secret was a bad thing on all levels. Or so his friends would claim. He sighed. “It has to stay between us, okay?”
“Sure,” Willow quickly agreed.
“No, I’m serious, Will,” he insisted. “Riley is surrounded by a bunch of…well, let’s just say it would be safer for both of us if no one outside this room hears about this. Except Giles, of course.”
“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, Xander,” Willow said looking hurt. Which, yeah, made Xander feel like a total ass, but his point had to be made. He glanced at Buffy, who gave an odd shrug-nod combo which he took to mean she agreed to his demand. Oz just blinked, which was all the agreement Xander had expected from him. “So, tell us the big secret.”
“Umm, Riley and I are dating,” he mumbled.
“It’s true, all of the hot ones are gay,” Buffy complained, slumping against him on the sofa.
“Uh, hello? Have you looked at Graham?” Xander asked.
Buffy slowly grinned. “You have a point there.”
“I can’t believe you’re dating Riley Finn,” Willow said, eyes wide. “He’s so…I just never would have expected. Not that you’re not, you know, attractive. You could have any guy you wanted, but Riley is kind all-American, and well…”
“The man is dreamy,” Oz concluded.
“Are you saying he’s too good for me?” Xander asked, trying to feel insulted. Really, he didn’t. That was the type of thing Buffy and Willow said to him all the time, so he was used to it by then. “Because, hey, I was the one to take him back after he messed up. I think it’s me that’s too good for him.”
“I think we need to officially meet him,” Willow announced.
“We do have class with him,” Buffy pointed out, frowning in vague confusion. Xander had a feeling that all of the Tuvalu research was getting to her, because that was a little ditzy even for her.
“Officially,” Willow repeated.
He sighed once more and wondered if this really was a good idea. No, scratch that, he knew that this wasn’t a good idea. Still, he had told Riley that he wanted the guy to get along with his friends, so maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would’ve happened eventually. “Okay, we’ll all hang out at the Bronze this weekend, but remember he and I are under wraps in public. Also, no Slayer stuff. I’d really like to have a normal relationship that doesn’t involve the Hellmouth.”
He was not panicking. He adjusted the collar of his shirt and cleared his throat. And, okay, yeah, he was totally panicking. “What if this goes really badly? What if my friends hate you? What if Willow wants to talk about schoolwork? Don’t hate her if she wants to talk about schoolwork.”
Riley reached out, grabbed his arm, and easily dragged him into a secluded alleyway. Xander had to briefly wonder if Riley didn’t spend every night scoping out the most isolated spots in Sunnydale. Maybe it was the Army training in him. He let out a breath as he was pushed up against the wall and looked up the one inch required to look into Riley’s blue eyes. Riley stepped closer to him, hands gently cupping his jaw.
“Is it a closet homosexual power that lets you find hidden corners throughout the city?” he asked.
Riley rolled his eyes. “Can you let me have a serious conversation with you and in the process calm you down with physical affection without you disturbing it with bad humor?”
“…No?” Xander offered. He didn’t bother to hide his grin as he raised his face a fraction of an inch and wiggled his eyebrows. “Are we going to make out now?”
“I should not indulge you,” Riley murmured before their lips connected.
Xander hummed in response, feeling Riley smile against his lips. He slipped his arms around Riley’s waist, pulling him closer to feel the heat radiating off of his body. Their lips easily glided together and Riley’s tongue ran briefly along his lower lip. Xander made a sound in the back of his throat and parted his lips, deepening the kiss so he could taste Riley. The brick dug against his shoulder blades as Riley pressed against him, close enough that their hips nearly pressed against each other. Xander pulled back, panting. “You’re such a tease.”
“Are you saying I don’t deliver?” Riley asked innocently, which Xander didn’t buy for a second. The man grinned and dropped a kiss to his forehead. “Come on, we don’t want to be late.”
They had been there for one hour and twenty-three minutes before Willow sat down her glass and turned to Riley with what Xander had labeled the Resolve Face back in second grade. Riley, who hand been slouched comfortably in the chair next to Xander up until then, suddenly stiffened and sat up. He had to wonder if that was yet another Army skill, because Riley’s ability to know when to pay attention was pretty impressive. Either that or the guy had a lot of sisters back home.
“Guys—“ Xander began, hoping to stop whatever Willow was going to say before she said it. He had no clue as to what she was about to tell Riley, but he figured it probably wasn’t a good thing. He liked Riley and wanted to keep the guy around. The last thing he needed was to deal with Willow and Buffy trying to scare him off.
“Its okay, Xander,” Riley cut in with a smile. In a move that was invisible to everyone but the four of them, Riley reached over and trailed the back of his fingers along the outside of Xander’s thigh as he reached out to pick up his drink. It was a smooth move and even Buffy looked impressed.
“I’m only going to say this once, Riley Finn, so you better listen closely,” Willow said, pointing a finger at Riley as if that alone would make her look intimidating. “If you hurt Xander in any way, I’ll hunt you down and beat you with a shovel.”
“And I’ll help,” Buffy added.
Riley stared at the two of them in mute shock, mouth parted. He glanced at Xander for confirmation of their words, who could only give him a sheepish smile. That is, until a thought struck him.
“Hey, wait a minute!” he exclaimed. “You never said that to Cordelia.”
“We figured that was the danger in dating Cordelia Chase,” Buffy said with a shrug. She turned back to Riley with narrowed eyes, “Now, how about you tell me everything you know about Tuvalu.”
“Buf, he’s not helping you with your homework,” Xander said, rolling his eyes.
“It was worth a shot,” Buffy pouted.