The day after her conversation with Xander, a bedraggled and exhausted Cordelia Chase hauled her discount designer-clad carcass into Angel Investigations, muttering a slur of invectives underneath her breath.
The big stupid vampire had better
appreciate all of the effort she had been expending on this venture – gratitude which she expected to culminate with Angel’s purchase of the lilac Jimmy Choo’s she’d had her eye on for the past month – or she would be making all future pots of coffee with holy water imported from Lourdes. Her arms laden down with helpful implements, she paused in the doorway and raised an interested eye as she was presented with a rather welcome view of Doyle’s backside.
It was a nice butt. Too bad he insisted on rocking the black denim Wrangler look. She shook her head. He was going to have to do something about that if he ever expected her to regard him as anything more than a lifter of heavy boxes and a sounding board for her demon complaints.
Hearing her approach, he scooted away from the filing cabinet and scrambled to his feet. Turning around, his face became marred with concern.
“You look terrible!”
She rose to her full height, squared her shoulders, and gave him a look which would have melted scaffolding.
He fidgeted and his eyes restlessly roamed about the room in search of escape. As Cordelia was unhelpfully blocking the main door, he dove for the staircase and clambered down the steps; he would sequester himself in Angel’s apartment until the girl was no longer homicidal.
Cordelia stared briefly at his retreating form before letting out a contented sigh. She might have lost Xander, but luckily she could still make a worshipful acolyte flee in terror when it suited.
She slogged over to her desk and unceremoniously dropped her purchases on top of it. She peeked into Angel’s private office, because the big dork was too stupid to close his own blinds, and was amused to seem him bustling about, filled with nervous energy. He was straightening his desk, which basically involved determining the best place to position his pencil. He was probably daydreaming, struggling to construct clever insults he could lob at Xander in between breathless make-out sessions. Which was pointless, since Angel didn’t need to breathe.
Her eyes softened as her lips twitched.
The whole thing was endlessly cute and just a bit pathetic. To see the Scourge of Europe so unseated by an eighteen-year-old boy was more karmic justice than those stupid Gypsies could have ever conceived. Xander and Angel, this season’s Goofus and Gallant.
Angel jonesing for Xander was funny; the idea of her helping Angel pursue Xander was hysterical; the look on Buffy's face when she found out her best boy friend and her ex-boyfriend were getting horizontal? Priceless. She held a hand to her stomach, doubled over, and wheezed with repressed laughter.
In a moment, she righted herself and began combing through the material she had researched and authored, all to help the vampire in his quest to score her former flame. Weird. That stupid song by that proto-emo with the tragic hair suddenly began pounding in her ears.
“Irony isn’t a black fly in your chardonnay, dumbass,” she hissed, shaking her head. “Irony is your vampire boss wanting to suck on your ex-boyfriend.” She frowned. “Oh, gross!”
But not too
She flipped through the manual she had produced for Angel – courtesy of an all-night Kinko’s, which she would totally be expensing to the agency – and quickly looked over the charts she had laboriously constructed in lieu of sleep. Because she didn’t need beauty sleep. Too much would set the world on it’s ear, after all. Not everyone was ready for her magnificence.
“One day,” she swore to herself.
She chugged a shot of Evian and mentally reviewed her opening statement. Angel was putty in her hands, and Xander always had been; now, it was time to smash them together and see what interesting shapes they formed.* * * * *
Angel was pacing back and forth before his desk, internally debating his next move.
This in itself was a mistake, because the longer he refrained from taking action, the more Angelus insisted on torturing him with a variety of creative and disturbing fantasies involving a very naked Xander, some ice cubes, and a feather boa. The demon could render even the most innocuous items perverse. It was rather unsettling that Angelus had latched so quickly onto the idea of being with Xander, and it was only now that Angel realized it was nothing new: the demon had always wanted the boy. Huh.
But what to do? Should he try calling Xander again? What if Buffy had taken back her phone? At this point, she was the last person with whom he wanted to speak. Although, he might be able to pump her for information about Xander: what type of music he liked; his favorite flavor of ice cream; the size of his penis.
He angrily shook his head. Buffy had better not know anything about Xander's penis! That penis was his
! He clamped his mouth shut to stave the whine struggling to escape his lips.
Jesus, what was wrong with him? The last time he had talked to Xander, the boy had told him never to contact him again, that he wanted nothing to do with him, but that only made Angel want him more. It was like he was entering another adolescence, some mutant souled vampire puberty which insisted on mocking him and leaving him with a permanent hard-on which no amount of masturbation could relieve.
Maybe he was just lonely; in fact, he knew he was. Ever since he had left Sunnydale – and Buffy – there had been a pervasive, consuming ache in his heart, an emptiness he longed to fill, and it was surprising and frankly terrifying that he wanted to fill it with Xander, and not Buffy.
What did this mean?
He knew he loved Buffy, that he always would, and that nothing would change that; but he also knew that their time together was over and had been even before they had officially ended things. He loved Cordelia and Doyle as family, coming to rely on them so completely it scared him, but he didn’t consider either a serious romantic prospect. He sincerely doubted that Cordelia would ever involve herself with a vampire - especially him - remembering all too well that of which Angelus was capable, and it was obvious that Doyle only had eyes for Cordelia.I love you
, he thought.
How desperately he wanted to say that to someone again, to mean it with the force of everything inside of him. He wanted to love someone who knew everything about him, who understood both parts of him.I love you. I love you so much
And the more he thought of those words, the more he imagined himself saying them to Xander, watching the boy’s huge eyes fill with surprise and wonder and happiness, but knowing there would also be confusion and fear and trepidation.
Angel didn’t want those
things, not for himself and certainly not for Xander.
He flashed back on their second conversation, overcome with sadness. Never had he thought that his leaving Sunnydale had hurt Xander, that the boy might miss him. Not that Xander missed him per se, but mourned the demise of life as he had come to know and understand it. For Xander, the school was gone, Cordelia was gone, Buffy and Willow were off at college; the boy was alone and had drifted into a relationship out of desperation, now horrified that his perceived selfishness would eventually devastate Anya.
Could Xander really miss him? Could Xander ever love him?I love you.I love you, Xander.
“I love you, Xander.”
A wave of peace washed over him, his lips curving into a goofy smile as he gave voice to the words.
“Well, that certainly makes things easier.”
He spun on his heel, eyes wide, and began backing up as Cordelia leaned in the doorway, smirking at him.* * * * *
She cocked her head. “Yeah, you’re going to need to work on your repartee if you plan on keeping up with Xander.” Her face turned thoughtful. “Of course, it might be funnier to watch him verbally decimate you while that Bambi look you’re currently sporting takes on new levels of hilarity.”
He grunted and sat down behind his desk. “Cordy, I’m busy.”
“Yeah.” She glanced around. “Yeah, you look
“What do you want?,” he sighed, knowing there was no way he was getting out of this.
“Oh, nothing,” she sang, training her eyes on the ceiling and twirling a lock of hair around a finger. “I was just talking to Xander yesterday, and…”
He swallowed heavily as nausea kicked in. “You what?,” he croaked.
“Talked to Xander.”
“That’s what I thought you said.”
“Let’s hear it for vamp hearing!” She frowned. “Hey, was that a pun? Or a play on words?” She shook her head. “Something. Whatever.”
“What did he say?”
“About you?,” she cooed, eyes sparkling.
He grumbled, before startling. “Wait! How do you even know about this?”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, Sparky, you left your phone on your desk two days ago and guess who called?”
“Xander?,” he beamed. “Xander called me?”
“No, you great baboon! Buffy called.”
“Bambi look,” she grinned. She shook her head in fond exasperation. “Apparently, Xander neglected to erase your calls to her phone while it was in his possession. He’s been acting weird, and Buffy managed to catch on to that fact relatively quickly, which is surprising, considering she’s, you know, her, but whatever. Anyway, she put two and two together, for once not coming up with twenty-two, and called the 'mysterious' phone number. Luckily, I answered and convinced her that I was the one calling Xander.”
“I’m sorry. Is this too difficult for you to follow?”
He groaned and put his head in his hands. “What happened?”
“You mean after I figured out from her babble that my first love is the guy you want ride like National Velvet?,” she barked, eyes hard.
He raised his eyes and gave her a mournful gaze. “Cordy, I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She pressed her lips together, but was unable to stave off the smile.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m fine with it.” She held up a hand. “No, I really am. I think you two could be good for each other.”
He raised a brow. “And?,” he asked, suspicion tingeing his voice.
She shrugged. “What? Like my best friend and my best ex, both incredibly hot, rolling around in the sheets isn’t enough?” She tilted her head. “Okay. Well, there’s the bonus of getting Xander away from the Evil Fairy. Plus, the look on Buffy’s face when she finds out she made you both gay? That’s just gravy.”
“She didn’t make us gay!”
“No, but she’ll think she did, which is really all that matters. At least as far as I’m concerned. Which – again
– is really all that matters,” she nodded.
She blew a raspberry. “Oh, please. Now, do you want the skinny?”
“You’re so old
,” she complained. “Do you want to know what’s going on? What Xander’s thinking? About you?”
Oh, yeah. Taunting the vampire was her new favorite game!
“I don’t care,” he petulantly grumbled.
She shrugged. “Okay. Well, now that I know that Xan really does consider guys an option, I’m sure there are some hotties out there I can hook him up with.”
“What other guys?,” he screamed. “Option?,” he blinked. “Guys are an option? For Xander?”
“Stuck on repeat?”
“Cordy!” He rubbed a hand over his face. “Please?”
Her face softened. “He likes you.”
The desperation in his voice should have amused her, but instead she felt sad, and maybe a little guilty for teasing him. She frowned. No, not guilty. She didn’t do guilt.
“Yeah, but he’s also majorly freaked, okay? And you’re going to have to be a little bit patient with that.”
“But there’s a chance?”
“Well,” she drawled, deciding that more taunting was in order, “that depends.”
“On whether you’re willing to suck it up and learn from the master.” Her eyes glittered with anticipation.
A very bad
feeling began coursing through his veins. He knew better than to question the identity of this supposed master. It could only be one person.
Still, she was the one person who had had a relationship with Xander, who knew him far better than Angel himself did. And hadn’t Cordy once called herself the Slayer of Dating?
Wait, he wanted to date Xander? Oh, yeah. He sure did. And if Cordy had all the answers, he would be her willing student.
“What did you have in mind?”
She planted her hands on his desk and leaned down into his face.
“I’m so glad you asked,” she purred.* * * * *
He watched with incredulity as she hauled an easel into his office and set it up before his desk.
His mouth dropped open as she displayed upon it a picture of Xander, blown up poster-size, the boy’s bright eyes and enormous smile looking back at him and warming his heart.
Then he noticed that superimposed over the picture he wanted to affix to the ceiling over his bed was a large red target sign.
Beneath the picture, the caption read Stalking the Wild Xander
Oh. Holy. Shit.
She unceremoniously threw on his desk a book. He stared at her before glancing down. The same picture was reproduced on the cover of the book, though the title was different.
He squinted. “Hunting Xanders: Your Guide to Snaring the Geek
, by Cordelia Chase?”
She nodded proudly before then dropping on his desk the bill for the materials, as well as for her matchmaking services. Surprisingly, it was less than he would have expected.
What the hell had he gotten himself into?
He looked again at the manual, then at the poster, before running down her itemized expense report. He glanced up at her.
“I’ll cut you a check by the end of business today.”* * * * *
“Step One,” Cordelia barked, slamming a tactical baton up against the poster, making Angel jump, “know your target.”
“I know Xander.”
“There will be a question-and-answer period later,” she sniffed, “and you don’t know nearly as much about him as you think.”
He sat back in his chair and waited.
“Alexander Lavelle Harris…”
She slammed the baton down on his desk, narrowly missing his hand. “Please pay attention!”
His eyes widened and he nodded.
“Alexander Lavelle Harris, born Friday, October 13, 1981.” She glared at him. “Yes,” she testily replied, “he was born on Friday the Thirteenth. No smart comments.”
He nodded again, making sure to keep the smirk off his face.
“As if you could say anything smart anyway,” she sneered. She cleared her throat and continued. “Vital statistics: 5’11”, 160 pounds. Hair: black. Eyes: chocolate brown. Penis size: 8.5 inches.”
Angel gurgled as his mouth watered.
“Would you like to know what it tastes like?,” she grinned.
Two could play at this game, he thought, annoyed that she knew so much about Xander’s penis when he himself did not. “Yes.”
Her mouth fell open as she flushed. She briefly looked away.
He finally smirked.
“Irrelevant!,” she finally announced, nodding. “If you’re lucky, maybe one day you’ll find out for yourself. Just remember, one word from me, and you’ll be back to jerking your junk while dreaming of him telling you off.”
He balked. "How did you know?!"
He whined and sighed. This was going to be a long day.
“Why aren’t you taking notes?,” she screeched. “There’s going to be a quiz later!”* * * * *
“Okay,” she said cheerfully, “moving on. Family.”
“He lives with his parents, right?”
She nodded. “Tony and Jessica Harris, both alcoholics who regularly express to him their wish that he had never born.”
He stared. “What.”
“You heard me. They’ve told him point blank that the only reason they got married was because his mother got knocked up. They don’t like each other, they don’t like him, and that’s why he spends as much time away from his house as possible.”
Angel didn’t know what to say to that, but he was afforded new, yet unwelcome, insight into Xander.
“Oh,” he said in a small voice.
“This is not information he wants getting around,” she continued, “and not something he likes talking about. The only reason I’m telling you is so that you avoid all mentions of his family. Don’t ask about them, don’t talk about them, never bring them up. If he gets one whiff of pity from you where his home life is concerned, he will kick your ass, and I will don my old uniform and cheer him on. Is that clear?”
“Did you ever ask about them?”
She shook her head. “No. He didn’t want to discuss his family any more than I did mine. It was one of the few things we had in common, and if you’re smart, and I pray you are when it comes to Xander, or else I’ll have to stake you, you won’t ever ask him about them.”
He nodded. “Okay. Are…are they the only family he has?”
She nodded. “He’s an only child, and has no other relatives.”
“Like me,” she said in a clipped voice.
He sensed it was best to move on. “Okay. What else?”
She moved back to the easel, which was when he realized that the poster of Xander was actually part of a much larger book. She flipped the page and her eyes watered at the next photograph.
“Jesse McNally,” she whispered.
“I remember Jesse,” Angel said quietly. “Xander and I spoke of him.”
She nodded and wiped away her tears. “Good. Then I don’t have to. Suffice it to say, Jesse is an incredibly sensitive topic with Xander. Given that it was Darla who killed him, I would advise you never to speak of Jesse with Xander unless he initiates it. As far as I know, even he and Willow don’t talk about Jess.”
“Do you, Cordy?”
“Step off, Angel.” She flipped the page and glared at the next photo.
“Willow Rosenberg.” She curled a lip. “There’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know, but let me just say this: Xander will die for this girl. He will kill
for this girl.
"They’ve been best friends since before they could speak, and if anything does happen with you and Xander as a couple, never ever underestimate the influence she has over him.” She held up her hands. “I’m not saying that he allows her to choose who he dates, but she will make her opinion known – loud and often – and he does listen. He might not take it into account, but he listens.
"You have a better relationship with her than I do, but don’t expect that to count for much where Xander is concerned. She might have rooted for you and Buffy as star-crossed lovers or whatever, but everything that Xander thought about you and Buffy? That’s
what Willow will think about you and Xander, and she will parrot it right back at him. Trust me on this, okay? I know her, too. I have all my life.”
He clenched his teeth and nodded; she was right and he knew it. Willow would very much be an issue in whatever relationship he tried to begin with Xander.
She exhaled and flipped to the next picture. “Buffy Summers.”
She tilted her head and studied the photograph for a minute, then nodded. “She will be the major obstacle you’ll have to overcome. Xander doesn’t just love her; he reveres her. She’s his hero
,” she sneered.
“Don’t make that out for less than what it is. He will never willingly hurt her,” she snorted, “even though she doesn’t extend that same courtesy to him. You can better believe, and he and I have spoken about this, that she is one of his major concerns about even speaking with you on the phone. He knows that any inkling of the two of you together will likely devastate her.”
“But what about Riley?”
Cordelia blinked. “Who?”
“Buffy’s new boyfriend,” he soured. “Xander told me about him. He’s her T.A.”
She frowned. “He didn’t mention this Riley person to me.”
Her eyes hooded, annoyance seeping from her pores.
“Whatever. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Buffy thinks of Xander as her property. She’s his hero, and he’s her doyenne. Except, you know, he’s a guy. It won’t make a difference if she’s with someone else or not. She won’t want to see you moving on, and especially not with her best friend. Newsflash, vampire: girls don’t like their friends dating their exes.”
He chewed on his lip. “Is that how you feel, too?”
“I already told you I’m fine with it, and I am. What Xander and I had is over, but you and Buffy? Well, there’s still all this unfinished business between you two. Xander and I had fifteen years of history before we started dating, and while our breakup was…bitter…we’ve made peace with it. I may not like to think about him with someone else, but I want him to be happy, which is what makes me such a wonderful person." She nodded. "Much better than Buffy or Willow.”
He splayed his hands on his desk and looked up at her. “So what do I do?”
“Correction: what do we
do? Leave Willow to me; I have some pull with her.” She gave a predatory grin before her face again shut down. “As for Buffy?”
She shook her head. “You’re on your own there, but if you’re serious about Xander, I suggest you call Buffy and deal with shit before trying to start anything with him. Take all of the blame. Make her hate you, and tell her that Xander doesn’t know you’re talking to her about this. Play on her guilt. She’s hurt him before, and she knows it. She won’t want to do that again. Also? She’s not happy about Xander and the Evil Fairy. Talk up that angle.”
Her eyes flashed. “If all else fails and she won’t see reason, remember this: he brought her back to life; she owes him. Make her think that you could take Xander away from her for good. That will keep her line.”
“You want me to threaten her?”
“Threat. Promise. Whatever.”
He looked down. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Well then it’s obvious you’re not interested in Xander enough to fight for him, which means you’re exactly the wrong person for him.”
She began packing up her teaching implements.
“Yes?,” she prompted.
“I…” His words fled.
“You want to know the biggest secret about Xander Harris?,” she barked. “He doesn’t believe that anyone could ever want him.” She slammed her hand on Buffy’s face. “This? These people? In the end, they don’t mean dick
, because Xander will torpedo your relationship as soon as he begins to question why you’re with him.”
“Shut up. I’m talking now. Listen up and listen well, vampire: Xander’s self-destructive streak will eventually rear its big, ugly, pointed head, so you need to be prepared. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of love. His self-esteem has been in the toilet for years. He doesn’t think he’s smart enough or strong enough or handsome enough. These are things you have to realize, accept, and deal with, because they will come up over and over again.”
She sighed. “As much as I love Xander, as much as I always will, as charming and goofy and funny as he is, and as great a kisser and a sparring partner as he is, it’s not easy being in a relationship with him, Angel, because he will never believe that you won’t leave him for something better.”
He mulled that over, recognizing that she was imparting something incredibly important, despite how much he wanted her to be wrong. “So how do I prevent that?”
“You can’t. Like I said, all you can do is prepare for it.” She glared at him and narrowed her eyes. “Why do you want to be with him?”
Angel frowned. “Because he’s smart. Maybe not the way Willow or Giles is, but in his own way.” He started. “In your way.”
One corner of her mouth tugged up, almost against her will. “Explain.”
“He knows…things. He knows people. He looks at things in a way different from almost everyone else, but he has the ability to cut right to the heart of the matter, no matter how you might try to hide.”
“Good,” she nodded with approval. “What else?”
Angel pulled a face. “He really doesn’t think he’s good-looking?”
She snorted and shook her head. “Not when compared to someone like you.”
“What does that mean?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Look, I know it might be hard for you to remember what you look like because of the mirror thing, but you’re hot, Angel. You’re gorgeous. I went through this with Xander, okay? He could never believe that someone as beautiful as me would be interested in him, because he truly doesn’t understand that he’s handsome. And while, no, he’s not conventionally handsome, and he’ll never be a supermodel, he has that boy-next-door thing working for him. His beauty is…wholesome.”
She laughed, though it was brittle. “He’d hate to be described that way, but it’s true. His beauty is natural. If you look at each of his features, they’re all extraordinary. His lips, his eyes, his cheekbones. And maybe some part of him thinks he does have nice eyes or nice lips or whatever, but for him, the sum of the parts is less than ideal.”
“I certainly think so. Even when we did nothing but scream insults at each other all those years, I always knew he was hot. In a completely strange and bizarre way, of course.”
He sighed. “Is it really as bad as you’re making it out to be?”
“Yeah, and if you can’t deal with that, walk away now. Spare both him and yourself.”
He thought about it, perhaps longer than he realized, for when he turned back to face her, she was now sitting in a chair and filing her nails.
“I can’t. I can’t walk away.” He shook his head. “I won’t.”
She smiled. “That’s all I needed to know.”* * * * *
Angel listened patiently to Cordelia for an additional two hours as she droned on and on
about Xander’s likes, his dislikes, and his surprising – and frankly disconcerting – obsession with boy bands.
Regardless, he made diligent scribblings under her watchful eye, pleased when she nodded with approval that he had cottoned on to the fact that a point delivered with a half-raised brow was something worth noting. He was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information she was imparting to him, most of which was cunningly omitted from her manual to ensure that he would be forced to endure her lecture.
Finally, he was beginning to understand how her mind worked. And that scared him.
He was also startled by how much he didn’t know about Xander, and was for some annoying reason insanely jealous that Cordelia did, in fact, know these things when he himself did not.
He knew Xander, or thought he had. After all, he had spent three years in the boy’s company, observing his behavior and learning all of the ways either to avoid him or antagonize him. And didn’t that seem incredibly childish now?
But how was he to know that Xander’s favorite appetizer was pâté de foie gras – goose, not duck – on toast points? Did the boy even understand what it was?
Xander had a favorite author? Xander liked to read? Something other than comic books? Why didn’t he know these things? Further, did Willow or Buffy? Neither had ever made mention of Xander’s rather eclectic tastes.
He glanced up at Cordelia, who had halted momentarily in her tutelage. “Xander likes Thomas Hardy? Xander knows who Thomas Hardy is?”
Cordelia frowned and shook her head. “You’re as bad as the others. You buy too easily into the slacker image. Haven't you figured it out yet? Can't you see through the illusions?” She pursed her lips. “Do you really think he would have graduated if he was as stupid as everyone thinks? Sunnydale High might have sat on the mouth of hell, but it didn’t pass dummies.”
“I never thought he was dumb,” he growled. “I know how smart Xander is.”
“Well, aren’t you a good boyfriend?,” she sneered, "and if you growl at me again, you'll be waking up to a holy water enema! No, you just thought his mediocre grades were indicative of his intelligence. Heads up, toolbox: I don’t date morons!”
She sighed with the exasperated disappointment which heretofore he believed only Darla could offer.
“Look, Xander didn’t like school because most of the work didn’t interest him. He was never good at math and has zero ability for languages, but he does like literature and science.” She paused. “Well, some kinds of science. He hated chemistry and biology, but he liked physics. Except for the math. He just couldn’t be bothered.”
“So he’s lazy.”
She raised a brow. “And where did you go to college, Liam?”
His eyes widened.
“Exactly.” She bit her lip and comically widened her eyes. “Didn’t Spike go to Oxford or something? He must be a genius! After all, Willow got in there, and Wesley and Giles are alumni.” She curled a lip, put her hands on her hips, and glared down at him. “Apparently grades are the only indicator of brains.”
“Point taken,” he quietly said. “I didn’t mean to insult you, Cordy.”
“Whatever.” She rolled her neck. “Xander did get into college, you know. He just couldn’t afford to go.”
Angel blinked. “What?”
She snorted. “UC-Sunnydale? Please. It’s a state school, and it’s in the lower-tier of California universities. Xander graduated and had a decent C average. He got in, but had no money. He was embarrassed, so he didn’t say anything to the others.”
“But he told you?”
She closed her mouth and looked away.
He narrowed his eyes. “Just how close are
you and Xander, Cordelia? And for how long? Have you been in regular contact with him since you left Sunnydale?”
“That’s not relevant.”
She shrugged. “That’s your problem. This isn’t about me and Xander, it’s about you
and Xander, and what you’d like the two of you to become. I’m helping you out of the goodness of my heart and, you know, for the money you’re paying me. Speaking of which, I want my check before the banks close.”
“You’ll get it,” he snapped.
Had she kept in touch with Xander? But that didn’t make sense, because she hadn’t known he was dating Anya. Of course, that was information Xander might not have wanted to share with his ex-girlfriend. Still, he had just assumed, along with the others, that Cordy and Xander had never reconciled after their breakup, but that was apparently another error in judgment on his part. He shook his head to clear it, unwilling to let this go just yet.
“I know what Buffy and Willow got on their SATs. What did Xander get?”
She gave him a pained smile. “He beat Buffy,” she softly said.
An impressive feat. “She never told me.”
“She doesn’t know. No one does.”
“He didn’t tell them?”
“Angel, they never asked.”
He gnawed on her answer for a moment, experiencing anger toward Xander’s friends on his behalf, which he knew was pointless and ridiculous. Xander didn’t need anyone to fight his battles, and would resent him trying to swoop in and do just that. Still, it rankled.
“And what was your score?”
“In between that of Xander and Willow.”
“They didn’t ask you either?”
She threw her head back and laughed. “Of course they did. I just wouldn’t tell them.”
He became even more upset. Buffy, Willow, and Giles had assumed that because of Xander’s grades, he had done poorly on the test, but Buffy and Willow knew that while Cordy was smart, she didn’t want that information getting around, so they pestered her to reveal her scores. It was so…high school. Dear God.
“What colleges accepted you?”
She blew a lock of hair out of her face. “USC, Colorado State, Berkeley, Duke, and Columbia.”
Outstanding schools, all. Even he knew that much. “But you couldn’t afford to go.”
“Duh. Thanks for rubbing it in.”
“Cordy,” he said quietly, “if you want to go to UCLA, I’ll pay for it.”
She regarded him solemnly, her eyes wide. Finally, she looked away. “Thanks. I’ll think about it.”
“Promise?” He knew her word was her bond, and if she would acquiesce to giving the matter more thought, he was pretty sure she’d go for it.
And he would continue her harass her until she did. She was too smart to play his Gal Friday for the rest of her life, and he wanted more for her; she deserved better. He realized that the more he came to know of Cordelia, the more similar she and Xander were.
Looking back on their relationship, he now understood that it had made sense, and was probably the healthiest and most equal that any of their group had experienced.
“Promise.” She raised a brow. “Did you just have an a-ha moment?”
He nodded slowly. “I think I did, yeah.”
"Well, let me call Oprah."
"You watch Oprah?"
"I never said that."
"You so did."
"I admitted nothing." She frowned. "Nothing that would hold up in court, in any case," she added under her breath before clearing her throat. "So, you finally got one. Would you like a cookie?”
“Do you have Oreos?,” he asked hopefully.