Xander turned the lights out and sat down; relaxing into the couch. It was an addiction, he knew that already; and it was one of the few things Willow didn't know about him but that was OK because it wasn't something he was proud of. He sat back with a smile on his face as the effects washed over him. Jesse had known about this, he had known that it was Xander's way of coping with his spectacularly bad home life. Not that Jesse had liked it or even condoned it; but he had understood. Xander knew instinctively that if Willow knew about this she would try and take it away, but after so much time it was something that Xander simply couldn't live without.
It had started out as an escape from his parents; a haven from the insults and neglect he lived with daily. Soon though, he found himself looking forward to it, even planning his week around it; that's when it started to be a problem. This was followed very quickly by Buffy Summers showing up and soon Xander had to completely re-define what constituted a problem. First he had lost Jesse, and now he was immersed in a world that made his previous life look like a walk in the park.
After staking Jesse he had found himself needing it more and more. He didn't know and frankly didn't care if what was going on had managed to penetrate his parents alcoholic haze because he knew that whether they approved or not he was in this new world for keeps. But his resolve didn't change the fact that he needed this to cope, there was just nothing else that compared.
So now, a couple of times a week he would come home after dealing with horrors beyond imagining, slip into his basement and indulge his addiction; Xander was coming to believe more and more that it was the only thing that kept him going. He grimaced at the thought but he couldn't deny the truth of it. His grimace turned to a smile as the commercial ended and with a flourish of music; Roy Roger's came on. After a moment or two Xander's smile got even larger, this episode was one of his favorites. It was one of the predictable episodes where there was a conflict between a group of miners and the local rancher but the bad guy was particularly good and had a couple of snappy lines. Jesse had called them "Kraft" westerns because there wasn't anything cheesier but Xander loved the simplicity of the world it portrayed; the bad guys always had mustaches, the good guys always won and no one ever died. Xander wasn't an idiot nor was he delusional, he knew that what he was watching had no resemblance to the real world, but it was fun to pretend for a couple of hours a week. The scene ended with the sheriff asking Roy for help and then faded to commercials; Xander leaned back with a sigh and a smile as he tried to put the latest horror they'd dealt with out of his mind. He was still trying, without much success when he heard the last thing he expected, someone knocking on the basement door. Curiosity getting the better of him, Xander silently moved across the basement and slowly opened the door.
"Well it's about time you dork, were you just gonna let me stand out there all night," Cordelia declaimed as she burst into the basement.
"Cordelia," Xander said; pinching the bridge of his nose in an unintentional immitation of Giles, "I know I'm gonna regret asking this, but what the hell are you doing here?"
Honestly Cordelia wished he hadn't asked that, because she truly wasn't sure why she was there. In the last year she had learned about the hidden world and been drawn into it again and again, sometimes willingly, but usually not. The conversation she'd had with Buffy at the end of her Sophomore year had been weighing heavily on her mind lately as the people she'd dismissed most of her life had saved her again and again. She began to suspect that the Scoobies were indeed more friends to her than the people that called themselves her friends and she wasn't sure just how she felt about that. One other thing that had been slowly encroaching was her regard for Xander Harris. Her feelings had started to change when she had watched Buffy use him as a human pole, it had occurred to Cordelia later that she'd stood there and watched Buffy treat him the same way that she and her friends had treated him for years and she felt ashamed. Since then she'd watched Xander and noticed the many ways he'd changed, becoming more focused and even dangerous but somehow maintaining a fairly harmless façade that most people bought into. But Cordelia had watched him carefully and could see behind the mask that he wore and she found herself liking what she saw. This had lead up to a series of dreams that finished up with some rather intense images and had necessitated more than one cold shower. It had finally come clear tonight at the Bronze when she'd been suffering through Harmony's one thousandth retelling of Buffy attacking her back in Sophomore year and the realization that every guy there was a waste of her time; Cordelia had realized that she wanted to be somewhere else, with someone else and so she'd stood up and left without a word. Her sudden departure caused a flurry amongst the Cordettes but she hadn't been there to see it and if she had been she wouldn't have cared. Cordelia had no conscious thought as to where she was going and Xander's house is where she'd ended up. Now there was no way in hell she was gonna tell him everything so she just edited a bit out of the truth "the Bronze was boring and your house is on my way home, I saw the light and knocked". She looked around, taking in the dark atmosphere and the TV providing the only light and turned quickly back to Xander "you weren't sitting down here watching porn were you," mild disgust coloring her voice.
When he'd asked his question, Xander had noticed that for a fleeting instant, Cordelia had looked uncertain. He wasn't the smartest guy in the world but he knew what he'd seen and so he was able to shrug off the beautiful brunette's attempt to change the subject. He knew that this was important because quite frankly he'd never known Cordelia to be uncertain about anything. "No Cordy, I wasn't watching porn. Now, one more time, why are you here; cause you've passed my house hundreds of times without even pausing so what's up with tonight?"
Cordelia looked away for a moment, ordering her thoughts; she didn't want to tell Xander about her possible change in feelings towards him and she certainly didn't want to go into the whole dreams issue. So she went with the truth, just not the whole truth, "I've been thinking lately about something that Buffy said to me last year. I've kinda realized that you bunch of losers are actually better friends to me than the people that say they're my friends. I was sitting there listening to Harmony go on about something stupid and suddenly I just had to get out of there. I started walking and just kinda stopped outside your house." Cordelia was about to continue when the commercials ended and familiar music was once again wafting through the Harris basement. Cordelia turned towards the television, an unusual expression on her face; "are you really watching Roy Rogers"?
"Yeah," Xander replied then flinched in anticipation of the avalanche of derision that would be arriving any second now; but that wasn't what he heard.
Cordelia saw the wince of anticipation and was surprised at what she felt; part of her was pleased, after all she was Queen C for a reason and Xander had been her target of choice for years. But a part of her was ashamed as well, she and Xander had known each other most of their lives, he was as much a constant in her life as Harmony was and it hurt her to realize that the guy only expected an attack. What really shamed her, though, was the realization that she was about to verbally assault the guy even now; she'd seen a weakness and was attacking automatically. Cordelia took a breath and mentally shifted gears, "I can't believe you're watching Roy Rogers" she said.
Xander saw the look on Cordelia's face and it certainly wasn't what he'd expected; there was no snark or cynicism, instead she looked both wistful and vulnerable, two things Xander never thought he'd associate with Cordelia Chase. "Why," he finally managed.
As she turned to face Xander, he could see that what had been in her voice was echoed on her face, it was clear that she was reliving a fond memory. "My dad used to watch it all the time and some nights when I couldn't sleep I'd sneak downstairs and crawl into his lap and we'd watch it together. He'd never make me go back to bed until it was over and he never mentioned it to Mom, it was our secret." She blushed lightly, "actually, Roy Rogers is the main reason I wanted a horse."
"Really," Xander said, mainly because he couldn't think of anything else to say; as far as he was concerned the whole evening was like something out of the twilight zone.
"Yeah, but that was all back when Daddy actually paid attention to me"; as she said this Cordelia's mask slipped for a second, it was brief but Xander noticed.
The realization that there was such a hidden layer to the young woman surprised Xander. Cordelia Chase had been a thorn in his side since Kindergarten and in all that time he had never suspected that there might be more to her than what she showed the world. To him, Cordelia had been a 'what you see is what you get' type of person; now he knew that what he'd seen had been an act. That was mind blowing. The face that he'd glimpsed triggered something in him, something he didn't yet want to acknowledge, maybe something he was currently unable to acknowledge; but at the same time he didn't want things to end quite yet. Mentally he shrugged, the evening couldn't get any more surreal anyway, so what the heck, "you wanna watch, it's a double feature tonight since its Friday."
Cordelia's face lit up, there were no other words to describe what happened; and from that day on Xander knew what her true smile looked like, the image was etched onto his brain. But again, it was a fleeting glimpse because her mask almost immediately re-asserted itself. "Sure," she said in a bored tone "I've got nothing better to do".
Despite her words and tone, Xander knew the truth and as the two of them sat on the couch and watched the old black and white drama work it's magic, he couldn't hold back the little smile that touched his lips.
A/N I loved the Cordelia/Xander interactions during the first three seasons, but what bothered me about their relationship was that they went from fighting to kissing during the whole "Bug Guy" episode. That didn't really seem plausible, not without some kind of less combative foundation. For my own peace of mind I have supplied that, I hope you enjoyed it. The usual disclaimers apply of course, all I own is an old car and an older Basset hound and both are getting pretty cranky; so please don't sue me. Reviews are appreciated, even negative ones, but please no rants, they cause my tiny brain to combust and I can't afford to lose any more of it.