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, chattering to him as if they were best friends. Guys were congratulating him for winning Cordelia back, and girls cooing 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 High. 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, and 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 who when, who wants to date who 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
"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, “but it’s incredibly lonely.”
“Do you guys really think I can do this?,” he asked his friends.
Larry frowned. “Cordelia wouldn’t have started this 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 chance, 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 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 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?,” the wide-eyed girl whispered.
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."
“Any time, dweeb. Any time.”* * * * *
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 the witch allowed themselves to look at the couple with objectivity. Xander and Cordelia moved with the ease and closeness of two good friends. Before, their relationship 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. Surprisingly, neither was jealous. Xander looked happier than he had in months, and so therefore they were 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. “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’.”
Slayer and witch 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. “Good 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.
He frowned. “No. 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 was being 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, 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 is," 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 no attention,” 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. 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?”
“Giles,” Buffy smiled.
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 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 do not doubt they will agree.”
Snyder, now red-faced and panting, said nothing, instead turning on his heel and stomping 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 once went after Harmony, too,” 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. But 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.
“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 is 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 relatively 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. “Friends?,” he whispered to Harmony.
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.”
“Well, 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 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?,” 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.