"He's just standing there," Willow whispered.
Faith snickered. "That's cuz he's in lurrrrve."
Xander blushed spectacularly and looked down at the floor.
Cordelia looked to Devon, saw the asshole staring back at her Xander, and melting.
"How sweet," she savagely mumbled.
This wasn't what she had planned at all.
When Xander had said he was attracted to guys, it had been no big deal. Hell, she liked guys, too. Completely understandable. Besides, she knew he was unsure, so she had decided the best course of action was to force his hand and encourage him to date boys. Then he would realize that he only liked girls.
That he only liked her.
Of course, she had considered that he truly was attracted to men, and that was okay. It really was.
As long as he didn't fall in love with one.
She hadn't pushed him toward Larry because she foresaw the potential heartbreak for the jock, even though Xander never meant to hurt anyone. She certainly hadn't counted on Percy West, but doubted the prick had the wherewithal to withstand a real, open relationship, and Xander would demand nothing less.
How could she have been so stupid?
Of course there must have been guys other than Larry who would be interested in Xander. No matter what he thought about himself, others found him attractive, herself most definitely included. And of course Willow. She had seen both Slayers check him out on occasion, just to make sure that he was still there should they ever deign seriously to consider him. Even Harmony seemed to be a little smitten.
So she had made him over and played his best hag and ensconced him firmly at her side so that no one could torture him.
And then the little bastard had gone behind her back and set up a date with Devon, who, of course, had agreed.
Devon MacLeish was a dog. Except that was an insult to all dogs. And at least dogs could be neutered.
She knew Devon all too well, knew what a slimeball he was. Knew how seductive he was, how beautiful he was, how his lips tasted. And she knew Xander would be putty in his hands, because Xander was ripe for seduction. He had this perpetual innocence about him that was as annoying as it was endearing and she knew Devon would take full advantage of it.
So she had insisted that they all go out together so she could keep an eye on things. So that she could interfere if she sensed that Xander was getting scared or impossibly nervous. Still, she knew Xander was a good judge of people and he would probably see through Devon's games.
But when Devon had looked at Xander like that, she had seen that this wasn't one of his typical dates. That he really liked Xander.
Shit. She hadn't expected that.
But she wasn't going to cry, she wasn't going to make a scene, and she wasn't going to show a hint of her devastation. She had started this and she would see it through. She knew how much Xander was counting on her, how much he loved and needed her.
And she really liked that. She liked feeling wanted and needed for something other than popularity. She liked feeling special just because of who she was and not what she represented.
These past few months without him had been hell. Him not being her boyfriend was bad enough, but not having his friendship had been almost unbearable. But he had to be punished.
She just had never counted on his punishment hurting her so much.
And she didn't even really understand what her feelings for him were. She knew she loved him and that she probably always would. He washer best friend, as pathetic as that sounded. Not that Xander was pathetic, but that she felt the need for a best friend. She knew that Harmony considered her a best friend, but how often had they plotted against one another? She had lost count.
Goddamn it, Xander was supposed to be hers! He was supposed to love her for all time and go to his grave wanting her back!
Like all of her plans, Operation Fabulous was the epitome of success.
If only she had swallowed her pride. If only she had listened to her parents. If only she had just beaten the hell out of Willow.
This sucked big time, and she had no one but herself to blame.
Devon dashed off the stage, and no one noticed the knowing smirk gracing the face of the bass player.
"What just happened?" Xander squawked. "Oh, god! He's dumping me already! This was such a bad idea. I need to go. Have to get out of here."
"Calm. Down!" Cordelia barked, slamming her fist on the table.
Everyone stared at her and she schooled her features into a blank mask of indifference and cleared her throat.
"It's obvious that the...Devon was a little more responsive to your attire than we planned. All that means is that he thinks you look great, Xander. He's not going anywhere," she explained with strained patience. "He probably went to fluff his hair," she finished with a smirk.
Several snickers broke out, but not from Willow, who was looking curiously at Cordelia, recognizing the look in the other girl's eyes.
"I have to go to the bathroom," the witch announced. "Cordy, come with me."
"You know the rule; we go in pairs. Let's go."
"Forget it! I'm not going anywhere until Devon walks his ass over here," the girl snapped.
"I'll go with you, Will," Buffy interjected.
Willow forced a smile. "No thanks. I need Cordy's advice about my makeup."
"It's really past time," Harmony automatically replied, before wincing as she remembered Willow was sort of a friend now. "Sorry."
"Whatever," the redhead offered. "Cordelia. Come with me. Now." After a beat, she added, "Please."
Cordelia rolled her eyes, but gave no other sign that she was going to agree. She raised a brow and looked at Willow and started. She could have sworn the witch's eyes flashed black.
"Fine," she scowled. "I need to check my eyeliner anyway."
She stood up and stalked away, Willow scrambling after her.
"What the fuck was that?" Faith demanded from the remaining collective.
Percy and Larry shrugged. Xander looked thoughtful, Harmony and Buffy confused, Jonathan nervous, and Angel quite knowing.
He knew jealousy when he smelled it.
Willow pushed past Cordelia and entered the bathroom, checking each stall to make sure they were alone.
"What's going on?" Cordelia hissed.
Satisfied no one else was present, Willow raised her hand in the air and sealed the bathroom door. Cordelia's eyes widened and then narrowed.
"Don't do this to him," the witch stated.
Willow grabbed her by the shoulders and spun them around to face the bank of mirrors. "Cordy, if you had ever once bothered to look at me during all the months you were with Xander, you'd recognize the look on your face."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cordelia haughtily sniffed.
"Bullshit. The envy is pouring off you in waves. I can almost see it. Angel could certainly smell it, and Oz would have too. You can't do this to him, Cordy. I did. I tried to make him choose and I almost ruined four people's lives. You almost died, and believe me when I say that not a day goes by when I don't think about that."
The cheerleader set her jaw and said nothing.
"I don't want him with Devon any more than you do," Willow continued, her voice more sedate, "but that's not our call. We don't get to pick and choose who Xander can be with. After I found out about the two of you, I froze him out, just like I did after Jesse died. And you know what? He gave up on me. Even though I knew he still loved me, he made his choice, and it wasn't me. I allowed my jealousy to cost me precious time with him. And then Spike took us, and I honestly believed we were going to die, and I didn't want to die with Xander still angry at me. So I took a foolish chance and almost lost him forever."
Cordelia bit her lip and angrily swatted away a tear.
"Once you have Xander's love, you have it until you die," the witch added. "Probably even after that. He's never going to excommunicate you, he will always be there for you, and he will die to protect you. You need to let that be enough. If you want him back, you need to be honest and tell him. I understand what you're trying to do. I know you just want what's best for him and I respect that. But don't do what I did and think you know better than he does."
A sob escaped the brunette's lips. "This hurts so bad," she gasped. "I didn't think it would hurt this bad."
Willow hesitated before deciding the past no longer mattered and drew Cordelia into her arms.
"I know," she whispered. "I know."
Ten minutes and a quick makeup re-application later, Cordelia and Willow were heading back to the table. Devon was still nowhere in sight, although Oz had joined the group.
Xander was practically hysterical.
"What the hell is your problem, dweeb?" Cordelia demanded.
"I knew this wouldn't work," he morosely replied. "He can get anyone he wants. Why would he want me? I'm nothing special. I'm just a girl's second banana. More than one girl's, apparently."
The cheerleader turned to the Slayers. "Has he been whining like this since we left?"
"Pretty much," Faith sighed.
"He's not listening to us," a worried Buffy added.
Cordelia turned back to Xander and slapped him. Hard.
"Thanks," he stated. "I thought my teeth were too attached to my gums."
"You're being a moron! I don't know where the hell your loser date is, and you know what? I don't care. You're here with five hot girls and four hot guys. Oh, and Angel."
"Oh, thank you," the vampire drawled.
Cordelia continued unabated. "If that dickhead doesn't realize what he's passing up, then it's his loss. What do you care? You can do better."
"You never stop singing my praises, do you Cordy?," Devon wryly observed as he joined them.
"You don't deserve praise," the girl barked. "If you were a small yellow dog, I'd box you in a crate and send you off to Abu Dhabi. You really haven't changed, Devon. You're just as selfish as you ever were."
"You would know," Devon volleyed. "And maybe I haven't changed because I've been waiting for the right person." He grinned when she immediately shut up. "Hi," he said softly to Xander.
"So. I believe we're on a date."
"I guess," Xander replied, looking down at his shuffling feet.
Devon leaned over and whispered, "I'm nervous, too."
Xander trained wide eyes on him. "You are?"
He nodded. "The reason I didn't get here sooner was because I had to go the bathroom."
Devon nodded again, a little sheepishly. "One look at you and I had a, um, well, I jizzed my pants."
Xander furrowed his brow until understanding blossomed across his face. He gaped. "Because of me?" he whispered.
Devon laughed. Xander really liked his laugh.
"You wanna get a drink?" Devon suggested.
Xander nodded shyly.
His date turned to the others. "We're going to the bar. Feel free to watch us. Maybe you'll learn something."
With that, he spun on his heel and ushered Xander away.
"Learn something?" Cordelia screeched. "Like anyone could learn anything from him!"
"Well, the game is afoot, people," Faith grinned, "and I'm all for getting down." She turned to Percy. "Let's hit the floor, stud, and show them how it's done."
Percy gave a small smile which didn't meet his eyes. "Yeah. Sure."
They stood up and took their leave, swiftly followed by Harmony, who had latched on to a sputtering and horrified Jonathan. Willow caught Angel's eye, nodded at Buffy, and then nodded toward the dance floor. The vampire quirked a brow, but nonetheless complied, guiding his smiling girlfriend down toward the dais. Cordelia parked in a seat and began fuming. Larry scooted over toward her and bumped her shoulder with his. She glared up at him in annoyance, but at the look in his eyes, she sighed and leaned against him.
"This sure is going to be a fun night," Oz whispered to Willow.
She put her head in her hands.
Three hours and several Cokes later, Devon couldn't remember the last time he had so much fun.
He and Xander talked about everything from movies (they both had a penchant for Kevin Smith) to television (Thundercats, Ho!) to music (Devon was shocked and pleased that Xander's taste was as varied and eclectic as his own).
They had talked about Cordelia, and Devon was rather startled by Xander's fierce devotion to and respect for the girl; Xander was happy that Devon seemed to have a soft spot for Cordy, as well.
They talked about acquaintances they had in common, about people they had lost, and how Sunnydale was pretty much a dead-end town in more ways than one.
They talked about their favorite foods and their favorite books and their favorite superheroes.
They talked about their families and their dreams and how Starbucks was destroying America.
They talked about everything and nothing, and it was easy. It was natural and effortless, and the more they talked, the less nervous they became. Xander became more animated and Devon saw that sparkle in his eyes which had arrested him months ago.
Devon really liked this kid, this Xander. His date.
It was Devon's first date.
Everything up to that point had been hanging out or hooking up or silent encounters. This was something altogether different and new and exciting. And the more he opened up, the closer Xander moved toward him, until their shoulders were touching. And then their knees were touching, and Devon really liked how Xander's warmth was seeping into him.
He was still wary, though, especially when he looked behind him every so often to find himself on the end of a particularly vengeful glare from several different people.
But did he really want to do this? Did he really want to get involved?
Getting involved with Xander meant getting involved with his friends, and he wasn't sure he was that interested. Would it really be worth putting up with Cordelia again on a regular basis? Did he want to have to deal with Willow and Buffy and the blond ditz and that sultry brunette? Not to mention the two jocks who so obviously were into the kid?
What if he hurt Xander?
What if Xander hurt him?
It was that vulnerability which so terrified him.
And it was just one date. How could he possibly be so into someone after one date? It didn't make any sense.
What if they ran out of things to talk about? What if they decided the more time they spent together, the less they liked one another? What if Xander's friends tried to interfere? What was going to happen when he left town to find his big break? What would happen when Xander graduated and went to college? Devon wasn't going to stick around and be the townie boyfriend.
Oh, Christ. Boyfriend?
He didn't do exclusive. He didn't even do callbacks. What the fuck was wrong with him? It was One Date.
But he could picture so many more.
He could see them together at the movies, or driving down to L.A. to catch a concert, or just hanging out at his apartment and making out. Catching a quick bite to eat, setting up for Dingoes gigs, going to Wal-Mart to make fun of people. Blowing Xander in the hot tub at the school's natatorium.
He liked how Xander made him feel, as if he were the only one in the room, that he was worthy of his sole attention. As if he weren't 'Devon' or 'that singer' or 'that slut'.
He was just Devon MacLeish, out on a date with a really cute, nice, and surprisingly entertaining boy.
Xander was babbling and Devon was staring at his mouth before his eyes slowly began working their way up the kid's face until they were staring at each other. Xander's words died away as he looked intently into Devon's eyes. And then he released that one-of-a-kind grin.
Devon felt those flutters again.
Did he really want this?
He really did.
Impulsively, he grabbed Xander's hand and led him out onto the dance floor.