Cordelia bounced into his 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 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 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 laid 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, 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 smiled. "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 coolly 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 sharply. “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.”