The rest of the day played out with remarkable ease.
For the remaining classes, as well as in between them, when Xander was not with Cordelia and Harmony, he was with Larry, Buffy, or Willow. As time went on, he grew if not comfortable with his newfound popularity, at least accepting of it. He continued to remind himself of Cordelia’s sage words that these people didn’t truly know him, and therefore their perceptions were irrelevant. So he followed her plan: be elusive and mysterious, which basically meant keeping his mouth shut, and exude an aura of approachability, letting the others deter followers from venturing too closely.
Much to Buffy and Willow’s surprise, Cordelia invited them to cheerleading practice after classes let out, and they stunned themselves by agreeing to go. Willow attempted to convince herself that she had acquiesced solely because she knew Buffy still longed, on some level, to be a part of the team, but the Slayer could sense that however much she denied it, Willow was both curious and envious of Cordelia’s position as captain. After alerting Giles, who didn’t want to give his approval but succumbed nonetheless, to their plans, the girls found themselves sitting in the stands, as Xander stood on the sidelines with Oz.* * * * *
“What do you think?,” Buffy asked her best friend.
Willow cocked her head and frowned. “It’s...a lot harder than I thought it would be. I mean, you really have to be an athlete, don’t you?”
Buffy nodded. “It’s easy to dismiss it and buy into the stereotype of the Valley girl, but cheerleading is not for wimps." She waved a hand. "Look at the flips Cordy’s doing. They’re almost as good as mine, and she doesn’t have the whole mystical warrior thing.”
The witch cocked a brow. “I’m surprised you’re admitting it.”
“Yeah, well,” Buffy sighed, “as weird as this day has been, one thing came through loud and clear. Xander and Cordelia really like one another. Apart from the whole dating thing, I mean. They’re actual friends
, and this is important to him, so I’m trying to be supportive."
She shrugged. "I don't know if they're back together or not, but I guess it doesn't really matter. Regardless, she's putting herself on the line to protect him, so it makes it a little easier to look at Cordy objectively." She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. "My first day here? I did
want to be her friend. She’s...not who she appears. Kind of like she has a secret identity of her own, you know?”
Willow nodded hesitantly. “Well, I’m biased, and I probably always will be. I don’t think she and I will ever be friends, especially after," she blushed furiously, "you know. But I don’t think I ever really stopped to think how much I was hurting Xander by refusing to accept her." She sighed. "I was awful about it, really. And if I’m supposed to be his best friend, what does it say about me when I try and dictate to him who his other friends can be? I’m lucky he put up with me.”
“You’re not alone in that boat,” Buffy quietly said. “I was jealous, too.”
The redhead turned startled eyes on her friend. “You were jealous of Cordelia? Because of Xander?”
Buffy ducked her head and nodded. “It didn’t really hit me until he showed up today all Cordeliafied. He looks great, Will. He looks happy
. And that's because of her. Whatever their relationship, she makes
him happy." She sighed. "I just didn’t want to see it.”
“Well, he’s never been supportive of you and Angel,” Willow said evenly.
“I think a large part of that has to do with Jesse.”
Willow bit her lip and turned her head, and Buffy grabbed her hand.
“I’m sorry, Will. I know it hurts for you to talk about him. I don’t think I ever understood just how much, and how much Xander was hurting, too." She rolled her neck. "As for the thing with Angel, well, I think once Xan learned that Darla had turned Jesse, and had turned Angel all those years ago, he kind of transferred his hate for Darla to Angel.”
“That makes sense,” Willow nodded. “I guess I never thought about it that way."
"And, if I'm being honest with myself, Xander's hatred isn't reserved exclusively for Angel. I mean, he pretty much hates all
The fact that Buffy now saw this a little more clearly filled her with slight unease.
"But there was the whole jealousy thing, too," Willow halfheartedly countered. She found herself stuck in the middle and not really wanted to argue either side. She liked Angel, but hated vampires. "You can't just ignore that. Xander might not like Angel because he's a vampire, but he also doesn't like him because Angel likes you
Buffy fidgeted. “Sometimes...sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had accepted Xan’s invitation to that dance.”
“Do you regret it?”
“I honestly don’t know. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about Xander in that way." She shrugged. "My feelings for Angel were just stronger, I guess.” She hesitated a moment. “Will?”
“Did you ever...did you ever think Xander might like guys?”
Willow’s immediate nod surprised her friend. “Yeah, every once in a while, though I tried not to think about it too
hard. He and Jesse were so close, Buff. I mean, I was close to both of them, but they had this whole secret language thing with each other. I don’t know if there was anything more to it than that, and I’ll never ask, but sometimes I’d watch them watching each other and...yeah, I thought about it.”
Immediately, Willow went on the defensive. She was not about to tolerate any homophobic nonsense; not from anyone, and certainly not from her best friend. “Does it bother you? That Xan likes guys, too?”
“If I say yes, does that mean I’m terrible?,” Buffy whispered.
Willow struggled to keep her face placid. “That depends. Does it bother you because of the guy-on-guy thing, or because there’s a part of Xander that you don’t know?”
“I’m from L.A., Will,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “I’m no stranger to the Gay, and I don’t have a problem with that at all. I think it’s just that now there’s this whole new side to him that I never saw coming.”
“And you don’t know where you fit in?,” Willow suggested.
“But Cordy obviously fits in just fine?”
“Join the club, sister.”* * * * *
“Where’s Larry?,” Oz asked.
Xander snorted. “You mean my own personal Terminator? He had football practice.”
“Do you think I’m weird?,” Xander asked after a long moment.
“More than usual?”
“No,” the werewolf replied, tilting his head to look up at the other boy. “Are you freaked?”
“A little.” Xander paused. “A lot.”
“Well, I’d be surprised if you weren’t. Xander, let me ask you something, and I want you to be totally honest, okay?”
“Is you liking guys a real thing, or is it about you being afraid you just can’t make it work with a girl?”
Xander sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe a little of both? I mean, I know I’m attracted to guys, but I’ve always tried not to think about it too much." He snorted. "And my track record with girls isn’t exactly stellar. Aside from Impata and the Mantis Lady, most girls don’t even know I’m alive. Then I finally get the girl I had always dreamed of, and I threw it away for the friend I thought I was losing.”
“Is that what you and Willow were all about?,” Oz softly asked, his discomfort with the topic obvious.
“I think so." He sighed again. "Oz, you have to understand something: Willow's been there for everything; I literally don’t remember life without her. Losing Jesse was devastating, but at least Will and I had each other." He shoved his hands in his pockets. "But then we started dating other people, and we just didn’t fit like we used to. I was terrified I was going to lose her, and it would be worse than losing Jesse, because I’d see her every day." He shook his head. "But not with me.”
“I get that.”
Xander turned wide eyes on him. “Really?”
Oz nodded. “Really.”
Oz nodded again. “So. Devon?”
“Are you nervous?”
A nod. “Aside from the whole ‘we’re both guys’ thing, Devon’s so...out of my league.”
Oz frowned. “He wouldn’t have said yes if he wasn’t interested.”
“Yeah, well according to everyone else, Devon’s interested in anything,” Xander mumbled, trying to keep pouting resentment from his voice.
“I want you to listen to me very closely, because this is probably the most you'll ever hear me say on one subject.”
“Devon’s one of my best friends,” Oz said, “but, what Cordy and I said at lunch is true: he's a slut. He usually only goes out with people who he knows in advance will sleep with him." He held up a hand. "I don't know if that's what he wants from you. I do know he's excited about this date, and I do think he genuinely likes you, but I've never known him to go without.
"So he might put the moves on you, or he might not. If you turn him down, he might dump you, or he might not. I just don't know, but I want you to be prepared. Regardless of what happened with Willow, I really don't want to see you hurt, Xander, and Devon might hurt you. Just...be careful.
Xander listened to every word and nodded slowly. "Thanks, Oz. I appreciate it."
Oz nodded. "All that aside, Devon’s also a really good guy. He's just horny all the time. But he’s also smart, and funny, and charming. A lot like you, actually.”
“Are you hitting on me?,” Xander joked, eyes twinkling.
Oz eyed him. “If I wasn’t with Willow, yeah, I would be.”
Oz smirked at him.
The werewolf nodded. “You’re not ugly, you know.”
“Thanks,” Xander replied, fidgeting. “Um, does Willow know?”
Oz shrugged, but was also pleased that, in some weird way, Xander was still so clearly protective of and loyal to Willow. “She knows I love her, but yeah, she knows that I go both ways.”
“And it doesn’t bother her?”
“No. She knows I’m with her because I want to be, and for no other reason.”
“Um, have you and Devon ever...?"
Oz shook his head. “Surprisingly no. We’re not each other’s type. Funny how you’re both of ours, though.”
“If you weren’t with Willow, if she wasn’t my best friend....I really liked, um, cuddling with you this morning."
Oz smirked. “Wanna make out?”
Xander fidgeted again and then sighed. “I’m never going to be as cool as you, am I?”
“No.”* * * * *
Cordelia called for a pause in the routine, causing the other cheerleaders to burst into applause. All of them, save for their captain and Harmony, were sweating like whores in church. Cordelia and Harmony, however, looked invigorated, their eyes shining. Together, they wandered over to Xander and Oz, who extended towels and bottles of water.
“Thanks,” Cordelia smiled.
“Sure,” Xander replied. “You guys look really great out there.”
Harmony groaned. “Yeah, right. Did you see Anderson? Her ass is so wide it keeps knocking into Cornwell and Jackson.”
Xander and Cordelia snickered.
“Get rid of her,” Oz suggested.
“We can’t,” Cordelia complained. “Her daddy sprung for the uniforms.”
“She bought her way onto the team?,” asked a surprised Xander.
“Happens all the time,” a sour Harmony replied. “Personally, I wish we could boot her and put Buffy in her place. At least we know she can handle the gymnastics.”
“Really?,” asked the wide-eyed Slayer who, along with Willow, materialized from behind the boys.
“Yeah, well,” Harmony sighed. “I know we really don’t know each other that well yet, and what we do know, or used to know, we don’t like." She shrugged. "Still, I saw your tryouts. It’s obvious you know what you’re doing. And there’s the whole Slaying thing.”
Everyone blinked before exchanging nervous glances.
“Oh, please,” Harmony drawled, rolling her eyes. “No one’s that dense. Did you really think Larry was the only one who figured it out? Most of us know something’s going on, but for some reason, it’s like we’re... made to forget.”
“So how is it you remember?,” Willow cautiously asked.
Harmony shrugged again. “I followed you a couple of times when I was trying to figure out what Cordy was up to. I figured she had a new boyfriend, but it was a hell of a surprise to find her and Harris, uh, I mean Xander, stalking through graveyards in the dead of night.”
“Are you nuts?,” Cordelia demanded. “Do you know how dangerous that is? You could have been killed!”
“I stayed in my car the whole time,” Harmony smoothly replied. “And now I carry holy water and a crucifix wherever I go. I started putting it all together after Madison’s psycho mom began targeting the squad." She shook her head. "No way
was all that stuff normal.”
Xander shrugged. “So much for having to speak in code."
“Xander!,” Willow hissed.
“Will, get serious, okay? I mean, really, aren’t you surprised more
people haven’t figured it out? How many of our classmates has Buffy saved now? Even the mystical whatsit of the Hellmouth can’t disguise it forever. So now Harmony and Larry know. So what? I trust them.”
“You do?,” Harmony asked, raising an eyebrow.
He snorted. “Well, I trust you enough to look out for your own best interests.”
“That’s fair,” the girl chirped.
They grinned at each other.
Willow and Buffy began arguing with Xander and Harmony, while Oz and Cordelia stood on the sides and watched in amusement.
“I wish I had popcorn."
“I think I have some cookies in my purse,” she smirked.
Suddenly, everyone’s attention was distracted by a figure jogging toward them.
“Hey,” Percy West greeted them, nodding to the crowd but, in particular, at Xander, who furrowed his brow.
“Hi, Percy,” Willow cooed.
The boy blanched.
“Uh, Rosenberg. I mean, W-Willow.”
Buffy snickered. Percy’s cowed behavior was one of the only good things to come out of vampire Willow’s little jaunt to their dimension. Cordelia and Harmony, however, saw the way Percy was sizing up Xander, and crossed their arms.
“Why aren’t you at practice?,” Harmony demanded.
He shrugged. “I skipped.”
Willow looked lost, but Buffy had cottoned on and was rather displeased.
Cordelia smirked. “Huh. Well, practice makes perfect. I think most men need
a little practice, don’t you, Buffy?”
The Slayer burst out laughing.
“The new look works for you, Harris,” Percy leered, looking Xander up and down like a side of beef.
“No problem. So, how is everyone?”
The others eyed each other.
“Percy, what is it that you want?,” Cordelia barked. “Oh, let me guess. Xander?”
“Yeah?,” Xander replied.
She rolled her eyes. “No, you wingnut! He’s interested in you!”
Oz elbowed Xander in his side.
“Ow! What’s going on here?”
Willow, having caught up, stared at her best friend. No one could be that clueless.
“Um, are you busy tonight, Harris?,” Percy asked shyly, his face a fierce blush.
Xander blinked. “What?"
“Yes, he is!,” Cordelia shrieked. “Percy, go away!”
“Hey!,” Percy protested. “You don’t speak for him!”
“Wanna bet? Xander has a date.”
“With who? You?,” he scoffed. “I’m not buying your fake reconciliation, Chase." He rolled his eyes. "Look, I get that you’re trying to protect him or whatever, and if it wasn’t so pathetic, I’d give you props. But this is California, not Alabama. No one cares if Harris goes both ways, so why are you trying to get in his business?" He grinned. "Jealous? Tell me, Queen, who’s this mythical date of his?”
“Um, Devon?,” Xander quietly interjected, though his confusion was apparent.
“Jealous?!,” Cordelia screeched.
“MacLeish?!,” Percy barked. “You can’t go out with him!”
Xander screwed up his face. “Why not?”
“You can do better!”
Buffy looked upon the jock with scorn. “Like who? You? You haven’t said boo to Xander in the three years I’ve been here, not to mention how you tortured Willow, his best friend! What the hell makes you think Xander would want to go out with you? Oh, and in case you missed the newsflash, insulting Cordelia is not the way to get close to Xander.”
Percy colored darkly. “Look, this is hard for me, okay?”
Xander balked. “You want to go out with me
The other boy turned pained eyes upon him before sharply nodding once.
“Why?,” Xander demanded, his eyes narrowing. “Is this some kind of joke? You don’t even like me, West. We’ve been trading barbs for years.”
“That’s probably his twisted idea of flirting,” Harmony complained.
Percy scowled. “Well, it worked for Harris and Chase, didn’t it?"
Cordelia and Xander gaped. “Oh. My. God,” they whispered.
Oz snickered, and was soon joined by Buffy and Harmony.
Percy cleared his throat. “How about tomorrow night?"
Xander stared. “I don’t get you.”
“You’re hot, okay? You always have been. God, why do you have to be such a, such a dork?!”
Xander turned to Buffy and Willow. “Is this what it feels like to be wooed?"
“Look,” Percy sighed. “I know you and me haven’t always gotten along, but..."
“But what?,” Xander prompted.
The other boy shrugged and motioned to Xander with a hand. Hesitantly, Xander stepped forward and stood next to Percy, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders and turned them from the others. Cordelia, Harmony, and Willow meant to protest, but Buffy and Oz, whose attuned senses would allow them to eavesdrop, held up their hands in bids for silence.
“I just thought, I thought that maybe sometimes you, you might feel as lonely as I do,” Percy whispered, shuffling his feet.
“Oh. Uh, yeah, sometimes, I guess. Sure.”
“I really do think you’re cute,” Percy said softly, offering a hesitant smile.
“And you...you thought that, um, I might be like you?"
Percy laughed gently. “It’s not that you’re particularly obvious, or anything. I guess I was just hoping.”
“So how come you never said anything before?”
“I was scared,” was the blunt response. “I mean, until Blaisdell, it just wasn’t something that was discussed, and I have an image to maintain, you know?”
Xander soured. “Yeah. Nice image, by the way.”
Percy bristled. “And you never once thought about what it would be like to be popular? To be a good athlete? As much as you dissed me and my friends, you never thought what it would be like to be one of us?”
Xander set his jaw and looked away.
“Exactly. We all have roles to play, Harris, whether we want to or not. High school is not for the squeamish.”
Xander offered a small smile. “And now?"
“Now?,” Percy exhaled. “After Blaisdell came out and no one really said or did anything, I thought it was probably because he could clock any jerks into next year. Not to mention he pretty much announced you as his personal savior. And then you show up today with Chase on your arm, and no one says anything. You were just...accepted; as the new King, apparently. And then suddenly everyone’s talking about how you dig guys, and the girls think it’s hot, and the guys aren’t going to mess with you because of Cordy, Larry, and Summers. And I guess I thought maybe I found someone I could be myself with.”
“What about Larry?”
“Not my type.”
“Oh. And I am?”
“You are,” Percy smirked.
“You keep saying that.”
“Because it keeps surprising me.”
“I’m not the hot guy. You are. It’s weird.”
“Who says you’re not hot?,” Percy asked, brow furrowed.
A snort. “Right. Hello, you dated Chase. She’s the ultimate arm candy.”
“Don’t talk about her that way,” Xander grumbled.
“You must know a side of her that’s hidden from the rest world, like the dark side of the moon.”
Xander giggled, but felt guilty for it.
“I can be funny,” Percy insisted. “Can’t you give me a chance? Or am I not your type?”
Xander turned and studied him critically. Rich, dark hair, cropped close, shone in the sun and just begged to be stroked; enormous deep, blue eyes framed by thick black lashes; clear skin with a healthy tan which was real and not the fake-and-bake in which many students indulged; a rosebud mouth with luscious lips which...
Percy smirked again.
Strong, broad shoulders which Xander sensed could support his weight. Tight black jersey shirt which clung to a muscular chest and arms, tapering down to a narrow waist, which Xander thought would fit in his hands quite nicely. Snug jeans which hinted at a rather large...
“Uh, y-yeah,” Xander stuttered, flushing scarlet. “What were we talking about?”
The smirk turned into a leering grin. Percy leaned over. “Whether or not I’m your type,” he purred.
“Oh. Right! Yeah, I guess.”
Percy frowned. Not exactly a ringing declaration. Had he misread the signals? Or had Harris been thinking about someone else? Someone like a lean, sinewy singer whose tight ass was always clad in leather pants? Fucking MacLeish. Figures he would have gotten there first.
Xander began fidgeting and looking everywhere but at Percy.
“Did I say something wrong?,” Percy asked, knitting his brows.
“Huh? Oh. No, not at all. Sorry. This is all just a little weird for me. I mean, up until Friday night, I really never thought about guys that way.”
“Really? What happened on Friday?”
“Well, I was having a sleepover with Buffy and Will...”
“A sleepover? With two girls?”
“Well, Mrs. Summers was home, of course.”
“Summers’ mom lets you sleep over at her house? Wait, were you in Buffy’s room?”
Percy boggled. “Do you three share the bed?”
“Of course not!,” Xander sputtered. “Buffy and Willow sleep in the bed, and I sleep on the floor. Or all three of us sleep on the floor.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “We all keep our hands above the blanket.”
“They really are
“I guess I’ve never really had friends who are that close. I’ve always had to keep people at arm’s length.”
“That must be hard.”
Percy nodded. “Are we...can we be friends?”
Xander shrugged. “I guess. But aren’t you worried about what will happen when everyone sees you hanging with me? Because they will
talk, you know.”
Percy threw a look over his shoulder, wincing slightly at the harsh glares of Harris’ friends which, for some reason, now seemed to include Harmony Kendall. Bizarre. “You’ve got some group of protectors.”* * * * *
“What’s going on?,” Larry barked, jogging up to the others.
“Check it,” Buffy drawled, nodding at the two boys. “Percy’s putting the moves on Xan.”
“Did you hear everything?,” Cordelia demanded of Buffy.
The Slayer nodded. “He’s sincere. He’s lonely.”
“I don’t trust him,” Harmony said. “He’s always been a dick. Not just to Xander, but to everyone.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Willow murmured, “but I agree with Harmony.”
Harmony couldn’t believe it either, so she settled for a befuddled stare.
“Not our decision,” Oz said. “Like Xander said, he can pick his own friends.”
Buffy nodded. “Oz is right."
“For now,” Cordelia muttered, “but I’m keeping an eye on Percy. One toe over the line, and he’ll be feasting on his own pancreas.”* * * * *
“They don’t like me."
“You’ve never given them reason,” Xander argued.
“Since when are you friends with Kendall?”
Percy raised a brow.
“If people ever bothered to stop and talk
to her instead of just dismissing her as Cordelia’s drone,” Xander said, "they would be very surprised. Like you said, we all have roles. She’s not what people think, any more than Cordy or you or I.”* * * * *
“What are they saying?,” Cordelia hissed.
“Um, Xander’s defending Harmony,” Buffy replied.
The girl in question swooned.* * * * *
“So. You and MacLeish?”
Xander blushed and nodded. “It’s my first date. You know, with a guy.”
“Nervous?,” Percy asked pleasantly, though he was silently seething.
“Honestly? Yeah. This is all moving really, really fast. And people have been warning me all day.”
“With good reason,” Percy carefully stated. “He does have a reputation.”
“So do you, although it’s improved since Willow kicked your ass.”
“I still haven’t figured that out.”
“You really don’t want to.”* * * * *
“Now what?,” Willow asked.
“Xander’s reminding Percy of you kicking his ass,” Oz muttered.
“That must have been beautiful,” Cordelia said dreamily, clutching her hands together, before shaking her head to clear her haze. “I wish I had been there to see it." She nodded to herself. "Well, now we know what to do.”
Harmony frowned. “We do?"
“Sure,” Cordelia chirped. “If Percy screws up, we just dress up Willow as a dominatrix and turn her loose on the unsuspecting populace.”
Willow smiled evilly as Oz and Buffy burst out laughing.* * * * *
“You can come with us to the Bronze tonight, if you want," Xander offered.
He didn't know if he believed the other boy's interest in him, so he decided it best to subject him to a ruthless Cordelia Chase Interrogation. If he survived, he might become a friend.
“Who’s going?,” Percy asked.
“Me, Devon, Buffy, Willow, Cordy, Harm, Oz, Larry, Jonathan, and Angel. He’s Buffy’s boyfriend. Oh, and maybe Faith, too. She doesn’t go to school here, though, so you might not know her.” He blinked. "Actually, you probably don't. No one ever forgets meeting Faith."
Harmony heard that quite clearly, stalked over, and thrust a finger at Percy’s chest.
helped me today, for no other reason than because he's a nice person and Xander asked him to. He was totally decent and didn’t have to be, so he’s going. We all want him to. Most of us, however, don’t
want you there."
Percy grimaced and meant to interrupt, but Harmony cut him off.
"You wanna be Xander’s friend?," she asked, using air quotes. "Then you better start by respecting the friends he already
has, or Cordy and Willow will make you sorry!”
Percy swallowed heavily. He actually wasn’t sure which girl he was more afraid of. Willow might beat him up, but Cordelia could murder his soul. He turned around, looked at the aforementioned twosome, and shuddered at their menacing glare.
“Got it,” he meekly replied.
“If you really want to be friends,” Xander said, “I could use your help with teaching an asshole an important lesson. Well, Larry and Cordelia are really the brains behind the operation.”
Percy smirked. Now that he could handle. “Victim?”
“You didn’t see the scene at lunch today?,” Harmony asked.
He shook his head. “Detention. Why? What happened?
“He shoved Cordelia up against the lockers this morning and tried to grope her just to try and start a confrontation with Xander."
Percy set his jaw and narrowed his eyes. Now, he didn’t particularly care about Cordelia one way or the other, but he had known her for forever and he had a mother and an older sister, so he wasn’t about to stand by and let some raging dickbag treat women that way.
“Buffy humiliated him at lunch,” Xander continued, now furious, “but that’s not enough for me. Cordelia and Larry have a plan. Do you want in?”
Percy shot him a wolfish grin. "Absolutely."