author's notes: sorry i've been MIA for a while, especially to those of you following my other fic, "disconnection". i've been feeling kind of creatively blocked lately, but hopefully i'll get back to that soon. this one-shot kind of goes with that fic, but would probably have had to have happened at some point before chapter 16. anyways, i think Chad's been acting too nice in that fic lately, i just wanted to make sure folks didn't forget his bitter origins.

a note on the rating, there is one cuss word in here, but nothing worse than that, so for those of you who might be offended by that, consider yourself warned!

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Chad knew that he shouldn't have said yes when Stacy asked him to the prom. Now he had to rent a tux and buy a corsage and spend hours with some girl he didn't even like. But he had an ulterior motive. It was a plan that he had been considering for weeks, even before the word "prom" was on everyone's lips.

He knew that Cree would be going to the prom with Maurice; it was a matter of course. And he knew that seeing the two of them together at the dance would be about as much fun as jabbing needles into his eyes. And he knew that Stacy would cling to him and blather on about things he didn't care about. In short, he knew the whole experience would be miserable.

But still, when Stacy cornered him after practice one day, face flushed and eyes shining, as Chad tried—and failed—to care, when she finally giggled out the invitation at a rate almost too fast to be understood, he said, "Sure. Okay." And then she giggled more, bouncing up and down a little, and ran off, and Chad knew immediately that he was going to have a horrible time.

He was right. Getting the tux was a pain, and renting the limo pretty much bled his savings dry, even after splitting the cost with Cavallaro. Chad needed to ask his dad for an advance on his allowance to buy the stupid corsage, and of course Stacy wanted him to pin it on her—"over my heart" she had winked—and he silently ground his teeth as he tried not to stab her.

Once at the prom—or rather, once at the dark and badly decorated gym—things only got worse. As Chad predicted, Stacy was a clinger, and she insisted they dance whenever a slow song was played. He hated slow songs. They were always too long. During the excruciating minutes when he was obligated to dance with Stacy, when she wrapped her arms around him tight and rested her head against his shoulder, he felt like the single most wretched person in the room—on Earth, even. He kept internally urging the song to end, and yelled at anyone unfortunate enough to bump into him on the crowded dance floor. And he kept searching the mass of couples for Cree. He didn't know why he did, because whenever he did catch a glimpse of her it was pain. She looked so happy with her arms around him; she looked the exact opposite of how he felt. But he couldn't help it; whenever he saw her he was transfixed and couldn't take his eyes off her. And whenever another couple got in his way and he lost sight of her, he searched and strained until he found her again.

It was in the middle of one of the dances that Chad finally snapped. He had been watching Cree with her head against Maurice's shoulder, almost exactly the same way Stacy's was on his. It felt like his heart was being wrenched from his chest, but he didn't look away. What he really wanted to do was go over there and tear the two of them apart; to throw Maurice aside and claim Cree for himself. Of course he couldn't do that, so all he could do was stare. And when they were blocked from view, and he could no longer do even that, he suddenly found himself unable to breathe.

"Stacy, let go, you're holding on too tight," he choked.

She didn't hear him, or at least didn't react.

He fought for air. "Let go!" He pried her off of him and staggered off the dance floor to the punch table where he leaned his weight on his arms and gasped for breath.

"Chad, what's wrong?" asked Stacy.

Dammit, why did she have to follow me?

"I'm fine. I just couldn't breathe in there."

Stacy stepped even closer to him. "We could go outside," she suggested mischievously.

Chad knew all too well what the couples outside were doing. "I'm fine," he repeated, straightening, pouring himself some punch with shaky hands.

"Okay, if you say—oh! I love this song!" she squealed, grabbing his arm to pull him back to the dance floor.

He flinched away from her. "I've already danced with you four times, isn't that enough? Just leave me alone!" he snapped.

Stacy gazed at him with a hurt expression and Chad immediately felt guilty. He didn't mean to yell at her. It was just…she was so…annoying.

"Stacy, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"

"You ASSHOLE!" she suddenly roared with surprising volume, grabbing the punch ladle and splashing a healthy amount into Chad's face. Then she ran from the room.

Chad cursed as well, but more because he knew that punch stains would cost him extra on the rental tux than anything else. Several people standing nearby were staring and whispering to each other. Now he was damp and cold and sticky, but he didn't care. It wasn't as if the night could get any worse.

He sat down in the nearest available chair and dabbed futilely at the punch with a handful of cocktail napkins. The entire evening was nothing but a waste of time and money, and he didn't even get a chance to put his plan into action. As if he'd have the courage to put it into action if he had even gotten the chance….

"Rough night?"

Chad's head jerked up and he dropped the napkins. Cree was smiling sympathetically at him.

"Yeah."

"What happened?" she asked with curiosity, sitting beside him. Maurice was nowhere to be found.

"Stacy threw a gallon of punch at me."

"Stacy?" Cree asked with raised brows. "I didn't know you guys were dating."

"We're not. We just…came here together."

"Oh, okay. Good. 'Cause she's leaving with Steve."

Chad looked in the direction that Cree was. Sure enough, Stacy had Steve by the arm and was giggling uncontrollably as she lead him outside. "Huh. She sure recovered fast. I wish she'd done that before she threw the punch at me."

"What did you do to her?" Cree asked with a small laugh.

"Why do you assume that I did something wrong?" Chad asked defensively.

"Girls don't throw punch at their prom dates just for the fun of it."

He chuckled weakly. "Yeah…well, you probably heard what she called me. I was pretty much acting like one."

"Hm," was her only reply, and he was glad that she didn't press the matter.

"So…where's Maurice?" Chad asked grudgingly.

"In the bathroom…I think." Cree scanned the gym. She settled a little deeper into her chair. "It's good to sit down. I love these shoes but they're really not built for standing."

Chad laughed slightly but didn't know what to say in reply. Somehow talking about the usual random stuff didn't seem quite right at a formal dance. Cree didn't seem to be in a talkative mood, either, so they both sat in silence and watched the other couples as the minutes passed.

Finally, Cree stood. "I wonder what's taking Maurice so long. Maybe I should look—"

"Do you want to dance?" Chad blurted, having stood when she did, his ears keenly tuned to the sound of another slow dance beginning.

She looked at him in surprise.

"Stacy's ditched me, and Maurice is MIA, so I thought…." He tried his best to sound non-chalant in spite of his pounding heart.

"Oh…um…well…okay," she hedged as she continued to look around the room. Then she met his eyes and smiled, which immediately sent his brain reeling. He woozily took her offered hand and together they walked to the dance floor. Once there she turned to face him, her smile a little shyer. She took a step closer.

Giddy as he was, Chad was aware and slightly disappointed that she wasn't holding him nearly as close as she had held Maurice. There was definitely plenty of air between them. But it was probably better this way. This way she wouldn't feel his thumping heart or all his trembling.

Her smile widened. "You smell like fruit punch."

He managed a grin. "All part of the plan."

There was something about being there with her, his arm around her waist, looking in her eyes…that made it very easy to imagine kissing her. It was as if he had slipped into a dream where being with her, loving her, and being loved by her was not only a possibility, but a certainty.

He was pulled from his reverie when he heard the song ending. He hated slow songs. They were always too short. It was then that he realized his eyes were closed. Maybe he had been dreaming after all…maybe he still was. Because he then became aware that he was holding her close—much closer than he had been at the beginning of the dance. His cheek was touching hers. When did that happen…?

It was too late to wonder about it, the song was over and she was already pulling away. She stood at an arm's distance, smiling that shy smile. Her hand was still clasped in his, and there was something…he knew there was something he should do….

Cree laughed a little and pulled her hand away; he released it reluctantly. The dream was over. She turned and walked off the dance floor, and he followed. Once again neither of them had anything to say.

Chad served her punch, having completely forgotten that he was still covered in it. They both drank in silence, standing by the punch table. Soon he sensed rather than saw her stand more upright, and he turned to see Maurice approaching.

"There you are, where have you been?" he heard Cree ask.

Chad didn't wait for the response. "I'm going to head out now," he said and turned to the door.

"Oh…okay," he heard her say. But then he felt her hand on his arm. Why would she do that? He turned to her questioningly.

"Good night," was all she said. Anything else he may have seen in her eyes must have been imagined.

"Good night."

He decided to be generous and let Cavallaro and his date have the limo. Home was walking distance anyways, and he wasn't in a rush to get home. When he did arrive there, his mother was conspicuously waiting in the living room.

"Back so soon, dear? Your curfew tonight's not for another hour and a half."

"Yeah, I decided to come home early."

She looked at him and gasped loudly. "Your tuxedo!" She scurried off to get the club soda.

"It's all right, Mom, I'll just pay the penalty fee."

She returned with a damp towel and proceeded to wipe at his jacket. "Oh, what a mess," she fussed, "you must have had a terrible time, poor thing…."

"It's okay, Mom, really." Chad took off the jacket and his mother immediately claimed it and continued to fret.

He headed up the stairs to his room, pulling off his bowtie. "It actually wasn't so bad. I had a good time."

His mom wasn't listening, and Chad didn't care. For a few minutes, Cree was his, which was more than he had ever dared to hope for before that night. Once he was alone in his room, he closed his eyes and tried to remember the certainty he had felt when he held her. With a wistful sigh he realized he couldn't. But after that night…it felt like a definite possibility.