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Gradual Dissonance

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Gradual Dissonance
by Scorpio

Glancing over at Xander as they walked together through the highschool hallways towards the student lounge, Larry felt an odd mixture of giddy happiness and shy nervousness. Xander Harris had been the object of his obsessive crush for so long now that he'd fantasized just about everything...except actually winning the other boy's affections. The reality of it happening was staggering.

Xander liked him. Not just the let's-be-friends like, but the I-want-to-date-you kind of like. He still had a little trouble believing that this was all really happening and that it wasn't some sort of bizarrely wonderful dream. And he wanted to kiss Xander again so badly that it practically made his stomach hurt.

Then again, his indigestion could also be due to the fact that his nerves were wound up tighter than a drum. It was bad enough that he was worried about doing something or saying something wrong that would end up accidentally chasing Xander away, but Larry especially didn't relish the idea of messing it all up publicly. And it would be public because everyone in the school seemed to know about them and they all seemed to take great delight in watching them like hawks.

If walking through hallways filled with staring eyes and the hushed whispers of random students was bad, then what was coming next was even worse. Xander wanted Larry to go with him to the student lounge to meet up with Xander's friends. He had been so happy that Xander wanted to spend time with him that Larry had agreed before he'd considered the consequences. Now, all he could imagine was that Xander's friends would think that he wasn't good enough to date the dark haired boy or that they would see him as some sort of perverted corrupter taking advantage of Xander's broken heart.

Larry didn't have time to ponder it any further or get himself all worked up with nerves because they were suddenly there. Xander looked over at him and flashed him a quick encouraging smile which was all shiny white teeth and warm dark eyes. Mustering up his own grin in return, Larry followed him into the lounge.

Right away, they both spotted Xander's friends sitting over by the old sofa with the beat up coffee table and the chairs with the soda stained upholstery. Willow was sitting with that musician guy that she was dating and the other girl, Buffy, was sitting in the least ugly chair. Both girls turned and smiled when they saw Xander, but then they both spotted him as well. Willow's smile dimmed and a confused look washed over her face. Larry hoped that didn't mean what he thought it meant even though that expression on her face made his stomach flip over. Buffy's smile, on the other hand, only grew larger when she saw that he was with Xander and with a twinkle in her eyes she waved them both over.

"Xander! Larry! Hey guys. Come on over and pop a squat."

Larry could have kissed her for that easy welcome and the simple way that she just automatically included him. Xander had told him that he had come out to Buffy and told her all about their double date with Carl and Bev. He'd said that Buffy hadn't been mad or upset, merely surprised by the turn of events. Larry, however, was glad that she hadn't let that shock stop her from feeling comfortable around Xander.

Feeling better about this whole situation, Larry followed Xander over to the small group of friends. When Xander sat down on the one remaining chair, Larry simply perched on the padded arm of that chair and leaned back carefully with one foot braced against the floor. Xander grinned up at him bashfully and Buffy beamed at them both.

"Hey guys." Xander's voice betrayed his happiness, "So...what's up this fine morning?"

Still looking at Larry as if he was some exotic bug that she just couldn't quite figure out, Willow held up a small handful of letters and envelops. "Early college admissions." Larry let one of his eyebrows raise up, but even he wasn't sure if it was because of the way she was looking at him or if it was due to genuine curiosity of the topic. In either case, Willow just swallowed hard and looked down at the letters in her hand. "I...I got into Harvard an..and Yale." Willow's head snapped up then, her expression almost defiantly proud.

"Hey! Way to go, Wills! Those are like, two of the top brainiac schools."

Willow preened slightly at the praise from Xander and her boyfriend, Izz? Ooze? Oz?, whatever his name was, reached out and squeezed her hand gently. The smile that she gave to him was soft and much more real than the one he and Xander had been graced with.

Then Willow turned back to him, an arch look on her face that was totally at odds with the wavering and hesitant quality of her voice. "So...uh, Larry. Have...have you looked into, any schools for after graduation?"

Larry grinned over at her even as he thought, 'so it begins, the gentle interrogation for more information'. Shrugging, he reached up with one hand and scratched gently at his temple even as he smiled in a way that was supposed to be modest but probably couldn't hide his true proud happiness.

"Well, I've been approached by a few scouts that want me to play football for their school's team. Penn State, Michigan State and," Larry chuckled with good humor, "ironically enough, San Francisco to name a few."

Willow just sort of looked shocked even though she tried to cover it up and Larry guessed that she had expected him to hem and haw and admit that he didn't plan on going to school. Buffy just looked interested and leaned further forward in her chair.

"Talent scouts, huh?" At his nod, she tilted her head slightly. "Full athletic scholarship?"

This time he truly did look happily smug. "Yeah."

Buffy simply grinned and nodded, but the look of quiet happy pride on Xander's face made him feel about ten feet tall and sculpted from gold. Larry was knocked out of his dreamy contemplation of Xander's shinning eyes when Buffy continued to speak.

"That's sort of like Willow here. Only, not with the athletic thing. Her scholarships are all of the academic kind."

Looking up and around, Larry figured that he should probably try and make nice with Willow. Even though she and Xander were sorta on the outs at the moment, he knew that the two of them had been the best of friends forever and he didn't want to make Xander's situation with her even worse. Grinning over at her, Larry gestured to the letters. "Oh, hey. Congratulations on that. Academic scholarships are even harder to get than the athletic ones...and I know how hard you gotta work for those. So, go you."

Xander chuckled softly. "Yeah, Wills here has always been of the brilliant and of the brainy. It's just nice to see that other people appreciate that fact." Then Xander shrugged and he wore that look of self-depreciation that Larry sometimes strove for and missed. Xander, however, had it down perfect. "Me? I just wanna concentrate on graduating from this place. After that...I'm not  sure yet."

Willow's boyfriend nodded at Xander with this oddly sage look on his face even as he made a vague gesture in the air. "Same with me, man. Getting held back a year isn't the thrill trip that you'd think it was."

Willow squeezed her boyfriend's hand in support and Xander nodded his head in agreement. Buffy just sighed and flopped back in her chair.

"Speaking of graduating...I'm kinda worried about chem class. We have an end of chapter test scheduled for tomorrow and I'm not so good with the material." She frowned then, her bottom lip sticking out in a pout. "Why couldn't it just be a paper to write? I can do those. Ya just sorta look up the information and then write it down. These tests though," Buffy sighed and shook her head, "I can't always guarantee that the answers are gonna stick in my brain after studying."

Xander chuckled loudly. "I know what you mean, Buf. I'm the same way. It's like I have mental teflon and the answers just slide right out of my memory banks."

Willow turned to Buffy and offered up a pitying sort of smile. "It's okay Buffy. We can study for the test together tonight if you want to."

Buffy beamed at Willow, but Xander sort of leaned back against Larry, his smile wavering a bit. Confused at first, it took Larry a moment to realize that Xander was in the same chem class as the two girls. That, of course, meant that even though both Buffy and Xander had admitted to needing help studying for the upcoming test, Willow had only offered help to Buffy. He didn't know if this was normal or if it was a recent thing that started up since the whole mess with Xander and Cordelia, but whatever it was, he didn't like it one bit. Thinking furiously, Larry finally elbowed Xander lightly to get his attention.

"Hey. Is this chem class the same one as Bev's taking?"

Xander smiled and nodded. "Yeah, she sits the next row over and two chairs up from Buffy. Why?"

Larry shrugged and smiled. "It's just that Carl and I both have to work on this assignment for history class. It's the kind of paper Buffy likes. We have to turn in the outline by the beginning of next week so we were gonna actually start the research tonight while she was studying for her test. I was just thinking that since you and the girls have to study for the same test that we could all go over to Bev's."

Xander grinned again and nodded. "Like a study party?"

Larry couldn't help but smile back at Xander. The other boy's happiness was irresistible. "Yeah, why not? Bev's real good at all that chemistry stuff. If you asked, she'd probably show you some good tips for the test."

A snort of air caught Larry's attention and he looked out over the group ready to extend the offer to all of them in an effort to include Xander's friends. Buffy looked interested and that made him happy. Willow, however, had her nose scrunched up and a frown on her face.

"Thanks, but no thanks. I think we can do just fine on our own. *I* don't need Bev's help to study."

Larry could feel Xander stiffen up next to him at her haughty tones even as her boyfriend, Ounce? Inez? Uhz?, whatever his name was, looked at her in mild surprise. Buffy merely looked extremely uncomfortable and shifted in her seat uneasily, "Uh..."

Before Buffy could say anything to try and soothe the sudden tension in the air between Willow and himself, Cordelia Chase sauntered into the lounge and headed towards the soda machines. The tension jacked up another notch as the tall leggy girl glided over to her destination, put her money in the machine and chose a diet coke. Then she turned around and spotted them all sitting in a group. Larry couldn't help but suck in a gasp of air at the acid look of hatred and disgust she leveled at him and Xander.

"Well, well, well." Cordelia strutted over to them. "If it isn't the loser brigade and the two faggots."

Everyone bristled except for Xander who went pale at her words even as a sort of resigned expression washed over his face. Then Cordelia turned her piercing gaze on Larry.

"You should just do yourself a favor and cut Xander loose now, Lar." She smirked bitterly. "He's stupid as a rock, can't be trusted to dress himself, has no understanding of the meaning of the word fidelity and is going nowhere fast...just like the rest of these losers."

Larry leapt to his feet, his first instinct was to pound her into the dirt, but he couldn't do that. He had never hit a girl in his life and he wasn't about to start now, no matter how much she deserved it. So, he ended up sputtering in anger much like Buffy and Willow. Xander, however, appeared to be an old hand at dealing with Cordelia's razor tongue as he gazed up at her with a mixture of anger, sorrow and oddly enough, pity.

"Bitter jealously much, Cordy?"

Cordelia turned an arrogant look on Xander and flipped her dark silky hair over her shoulder. "Don't be ridiculous. Me? Jealous? Of *you*? I so don't think so."

"Uh-huh?" Patent disbelief colored Xander's tone of voice. "That's funny. I could've sworn that's what this whole typical ex-girlfriend doing the embarrassing scene by making snotty remarks in front of the new romantic interest was all about."

Larry's heart skipped a beat as the words 'new romantic interest' floated through his head. He couldn't have stopped his smile from exploding across his face if he'd had a gun to his head. Xander, however, merely sighed again and spoke to Cordelia in a tone that was meant to convey distaste.

"I gotta admit though, I am a little disappointed, Cordy. I never took you for the kind of girl that would do something so cliched and...pedestrian."

Cordelia reacted as if she'd been spit on and the expression on her face made her look very ugly. At that moment, Larry wondered if she had ever been his friend and he couldn't understand how Xander could have dated her for so long. The guy deserved a metal for outstanding bravery in the face of overweening arrogance.

"There is *nothing* common about me and you know it. I was just trying to give Larry here some good advice, but if you two want to totally ruin your lives by doing disgusting perverted things together than that's your problem. Don't say that I didn't warn you."

Larry couldn't just stand there anymore. He stepped between Cordelia and Xander, blocking him from her view. "Back off, Cordelia. You've known for a long time that I'm gay and you *never* seemed to have a problem with it before. There isn't anything wrong with being gay. It's *not* perverted or disgusting and if Xander and I want to be together than that's fine! Get over yourself and get over him. You blew it, babe and now it's my turn."

Cordelia looked shocked for a quick moment, but that quickly faded into a blazing anger. "How *dare* you!?"

Larry was aware of Xander standing up behind him and laying one hand gently on his shoulder as if to remind him not to hit the bitch in the face. Buffy and Willow had stood up too. Buffy seemed wary that things would deteriorate further, but Willow was almost frantic with upset as she latched onto Xander's other arm.

"No! No pervy stuff happening here." Willow turned and hissed as Xander. "Tell them! Tell them the truth, Xan. Tell everyone that Cordy is a paranoid idiot and that you're not doing gay things with Larry. That you're just...just friends. Through Bev from chem class." Willow almost looked desperate. "Tell them, Xander."

Cordelia just chuckled cruelly and made a 'go ahead' gesture. "Yeah, Xan. Go on and tell me." She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot impatiently on the floor. "I'm waiting."

Larry glanced over his shoulder to see that Xander's face was pale and he could feel that the hand on his shoulder was trembling. All the other people that had been milling around in the student lounge were all now still and staring at the drama playing out. His stomach turned into a pit of ice and he tried to brace himself for the pain of Xander taking the easy way out and simply agreeing with Willow to ease back the unbearable tension in the room.

Xander took in a deep gasp of air and let it out in a long sigh. "Wills..." He shook his head lightly, "I've tried to fight it. I've tried to deny it and lie to myself, but I just can't do that anymore. I like Larry. A lot. And not just as friends. We went out on a date together and I'd like to go out on even more dates with him. It's true. Larry's gay and I'm bi and we're together."

The soft soothing tone of his voice then turned rock hard, "And nothing that you say will change that, Cordelia. I don't know if it's 'cause you're angry at me still or if you really are just prejudiced, but you're not gonna scare me away from this chance at happiness."

Cordelia's face twisted up and Larry just knew that she was going to say something ugly and mean and hurtful, but before she could there was a sharp gasp of disbelief from Willow. Turning, he could see her face go even more pale and her wide green eyes held stunned betrayal in them.

"No." Her voice was a haunted whisper. "No. I don't believe it. You're lying. Somehow, and I don't know how you managed it, but somehow you're lying."

Shaking her head violently from side to side, Willow grabbed up her things and backed away from them. Then, with a low cry, she turned and ran from the room in tears. Everyone just stood there in shock as they stared after her fleeing form. Everyone except Cordelia that is. She merely threw back her head and laughed in rich tones of bitter mirth.

"Oh! Oh that was just *too* perfect. I *loved* that."

Buffy chose that moment to round on Cordelia by reaching out and lightly shoving the dark haired girl back a step or two. They both hissed angry words at each other and Larry was very grateful that Buffy was watching Xander's back and facing off against Cordelia because he was too busy turning around and trying to figure out how he was going to help Xander work through Willow's public rejection of them.

Then Willow's boyfriend was there. He reached out and squeezed Xander on the shoulder that Willow had latched onto earlier and grimaced with sympathy. "Don't worry, man. I'll talk to her. This is a good thing. Congrats."

A ripple of pleased surprise washed over Xander's face. The other boy must have caught it too, because he merely shrugged and explained. "Hey, I *do* know a thing or two about doing stupid things when you're confused about who and what you are. Ya know?"

A look of sudden understanding crossed Xander's face and he nodded. "Thanks, Oz."

Oz nodded and turned to walk away. It was a measure of how weird things had gotten that Larry's brain seemed to be amused that he had finally learned Willow's boyfriend's name. With a sigh, he shook his head and focused on Xander. Reaching out with one hand, he gently tilted the other boy's face so that he could look into those sad shell-shocked dark eyes. "Xan?"

Xander blinked. "I didn't...I guess I didn't think that Willow would...that she could think...I...." Xander trailed off with a lost look on his face that was heartbreaking.

Then Buffy was there, reaching out and clasping hands with Xander. "I'm sorry about Wills, Xan." She shrugged. "Just...just give her some time to adjust." She gestured between Larry and Xander with her free hand. "I mean, this is big news, ya know? It's a little weird at first, but then it's cool. And we're all good at dealing with the weird. Plus, this is a good-weird and not a bad-weird, so she just needs, process it or something."

Xander released Buffy's hand and then wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick hug and a light kiss on top of her shimmering golden hair. "Thanks, Buff."

With a blush and a sad smile she shrugged and hugged him back. "Anything for my Xander-shaped friend, you know that."

Larry grinned at her, grateful that at least one of Xander's friends would be there for him. "Xander's right, Buffy. You are one cool chick. And thanks for running off Cordelia, she was really getting on my last nerve."

Buffy turned and frowned in the direction that Cordelia had went. "Yeah well, she's just being a bitca...nothing unusual there. I just wish for once that she'd pick someone else to sharpen her barbed wit on. Her attitude is getting real old, real fast."

Xander looked as if he was going to say something else, but then the warning bell signaling the start of the school day rang and they only had five minutes to collect all of their things and get to class. Larry gathered up his books and then ran the back of one hand gently down Xander's cheek before whispering a soft, "See you later." As he walked off towards english class, he made a mental note to spread the word that Buffy Summers was cool and that Cordelia Chase was being a total bitch. Cordelia might have the cheerleaders and half the basketball team wrapped around her little finger, but Larry ruled the football players and the wrestlers with an iron fist and if she wanted a popularity war then she was going to get one. And Larry had never lost a fight yet.

END: Gradual Dissonance