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Gradual Distinction

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Gradual Distinction
by Scorpio

Xander watched as the last of the shampoo swirled around his toes before it was washed away down the drain. Part of him wished that his troubles could be washed away just as easily. Pain, anger, hurt and the hollow echoes of hate-filled words; whoosh-swish and then down the drain. It would make life so much easier because then he wouldn't have to deal with everything that was pressing in on him.

Not really wanting to think about what a strange day he'd had, Xander reached up and grabbed the bottle of conditioner. He had already done the whole lather, rinse, repeat thing, but if he didn't use the conditioner than his unruly curls would end up an untamable puff of windblown silk on the top of his head. He had enough problems without people teasing him for looking like he'd had a close encounter of the electrical socket kind.

Flipping up the top on the plastic bottle, Xander was just about to pour a little of it into his hand when a strong feeling of dizziness hit him. Hard. His vision tilted sharply to the right and then swirled around. Losing his balance, Xander reached out and grabbed hold of the shower wall while squeezing his eyes tight. His stomach churned horribly and for a brief moment he was sure
that he was going to throw up all over himself. With his eyes shut, Xander didn't see the muted swirl of shimmering green mist as it rose up from his feet, along his legs and body until it seemed to coat him in a translucent glimmering aura. He could feel it when that green mist slowly sank into his skin, however, because that's the exact instant that his stomach calmed down and his dizziness eased away.

"Whoa." Slowly and carefully, Xander peeled his fingers away from the wall and stood up straight under the shower of warm water cascading down over him. With each breath of air that he pulled into his lungs, he felt better. Bracing himself for another bout of vertigo, Xander peered out of one brown eye. When the bathroom didn't begin to swirl and tilt again, he peeled open the other eye. Confused and a little frightened, Xander stared at the bottle of conditioner still held tightly in his hand.

"I think I just had my first official panic attack." Xander frowned slightly as he considered everything that he had suffered, "I gotta admit, it wasn't anything like I thought it would be like."

Still, it did make sense, especially after the day that he'd had. Pouring out the conditioner onto his hand, Xander began to finish his shower automatically with mechanical movements even as his mind began to ponder the events that had led to his brief panic attack.

The entire day had just been one huge wiggins, to be totally honest. Even with Buffy's warning that the school was filled with lots of various rumors about his date with Larry, Xander hadn't anticipated the numerous reactions that he had gotten. He'd felt as if eyes had followed him everywhere he went. He'd walk into an area of the school and all of the other students would fall  silent and stare at him...or pretend to *not* stare at him. Then, when he walked away he'd hear everyone start to talk and whisper behind his back. He was willing to admit that he wasn't the smartest kid at school, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that they were all talking about *him*.

The football players had all thrown him for a pretty big loop, as well. He had expected Carl to be friendly, after all, they had gotten along real well during the game at the bowling alley. Carl had laughed at his jokes, hadn't laughed at his nonability to knock all of the pins down with one throw of the bowling ball and he hadn't freaked out and slid down into denial-land when the Hellmouth interrupted their double-date in the form of a few hungry fledges. It was the other members of the football team that had given him the wiggins. All day long, whenever he had run across one of them he was greeted with "Hey, Xan. How's it going?" before they would wave one hand and continue on their way.

He had firmly pushed that out of his mind earlier and had tried to tell himself that it was just a coincidence, a strange and friendly sort of fluke. He had learned long ago, however, that coincidences didn't just happen on the Hellmouth. So, as he slowly rinsed the conditioner out of his thick hair, Xander was forced to admit that it was the football team's way of accepting him as  one of their own. He had seen it before as one player would call out a greeting to the girlfriend of another player. Something like, "Hey, Tina. That's a pretty blouse," followed by a smile and a friendly wave. It was a simple acknowledgment of friendship and support. The team wasn't so much supporting *Xander* himself, he realized, but they were doing what they could to support *Larry*, their team captain. Xander Harris dating Larry Blaisdell was the same thing in their eyes in comparison to Tina Gordon dating Steve Cornwell, or Janice Hopper dating Trevor Jones or even to Bev Thompson dating Carl Polinski.

Xander inhaled sharply and almost drowned himself in his own shower when he suddenly realized that he was dating a football player. Okay, technically it was only one date and a double-date at that, but he *had* gotten a kiss goodnight on his front porch at the end of the night and everything. He, Xander Harris, had somehow unknowingly reached the pinnacle of teenaged girlhood that thousands of starry-eyed teen girls across the country aspired to. He was dating the captain of the school's football team.

Reaching for the soap, Xander figured that he would contemplate his ascension into greater girlhood later so that he could contemplate another wiggy happening. Cordelia. She'd always been a bit cold and aloof, but Xander had always believed that her attitude was a sort of armor to hide and protect her more gentle side. He had even been witness to that gentler Cordelia a time or two, so he *knew* that it was there. And despite what a lot of people said, Xander wasn't a complete fool, he had known that she wouldn't like the idea of him dating someone else, no matter *who* that someone was. What he hadn't counted on was the ugly stream of hate that had flowed out of her mouth when she had found out that someone new was another guy. He had been prepared for a few cutting remarks and a couple of well placed barbs, but what he had gotten had been  pure acid.

The fact that Willow and Giles had overheard her rant of hate and prejudice only made it worse. As much as he had appreciated Giles offering his quiet brand of support, he didn't want to be pitied and Willow's green eyes had shone with pity right before she had run off in hysterics.

Rinsing off and turning off the water, Xander stepped out of the shower and grabbed for his towel. Giles had shocked him, though. He could admit that. He never really thought of the older man as being anything other than what he was, all teasing aside, so it always sort of surprised him whenever some hint of Giles' past was revealed. Xander still couldn't quite wrap his brain around the idea of his stuffy British mentor sharing wet sloppy kisses with anyone, let alone another guy. The whole concept of Giles-sex was as wiggins inducing as parent-sex in Xander's mind.

Still, Giles telling him that it was okay to be gay and to be in a gay relationship went a long way to making him feel better about himself and his situation. Oh, intellectually he had known that it was okay and perfectly natural and normal. He himself had told that very thing to Larry when the other boy had been contemplating coming out. The rest of the Scooby Gang had also been relieved to hear that, as well. Larry being gay was a good thing, Larry being a werewolf was not. Okay, so it wasn't very cool that Oz was the werewolf, but they were dealing with it. Still, in his *head* Xander had known that it was okay to be gay, but now that Giles had given his unique brand of support and approval it was if Xander suddenly knew it in his *heart* as well.

Slipping into his bedroom, Xander quickly pulled out a pair of sweat pants and an old t-shirt to change into. Hanging the wet towel over his bedroom door, Xander picked up his comb and ran it through his hair as he considered what all of this meant.

First of all, Xander had to acknowledge that he had a good base of support. The football team would back up Larry all the way and by extension, that meant him as well. On his side of things, he had Giles firmly in his camp and he was pretty sure that Buffy would come around. She had admitted to being startled even as she assured him that she wasn't mad or disgusted, just shocked.

He also knew that he couldn't just dismiss Cordelia's reaction as her blowing off steam over the fact that he was apparently over her and their relationship. She had all but promised him that she would do everything she could to make his life miserable and to turn the rest of the school against him. Xander believed her. Yes, she was angry at the time, but Cordelia was the type of girl who held onto grudges and actively punished people who upset her. She was...vindictive. Anyone that didn't believe that should sit down and have a chat with Anya. It would be educational if nothing else.

Xander figured that he had two choices when it came to dealing with Cordelia; he could admit defeat and slink away somewhere to lick his wounds or he could stand up for himself and live his life the way that *he* wanted. He just had to chose; did he want to keep seeing Larry? Or did he want to pretend that nothing really happened and that he wasn't interested in the other boy?

Staring up at his bedroom ceiling, Xander wondered where his skills at denial suddenly went to, because he couldn't even lie to himself. He wanted to see Larry again. Yes, it was scary and new and he wasn't sure just where this thing between them was heading, but he wanted to find out. Larry felt something for him that Xander was unused to being handed; respect. Being respected was an amazing thing. Larry didn't see him as being dumb or weak or clumsy or strange. Larry liked him and respected him and wanted to spend time with him. In public even. Xander wasn't ready to give that up. He enjoyed the way that Larry made him feel and he enjoyed making Larry just as happy, so even if their relationship never became some giant epic romance, Xander still  wanted to give them the chance to try.

So...that decision made, it still left Xander with one problem. His parents. Easily half of the school knew about his date with Larry already, and with Cordelia's campaign of hate on the horizon, it wouldn't be long before *all* of them knew. And as much as he might wish it at times, his parents didn't live in a vacuum. That meant that someday, probably soon, one of them would go to work or the bar or the store and run into a friend who also has a kid in school and that friend would say something like, "Hey, Harris. I heard that your kid is gay." Xander could easily imagine his mother fainting away in a swoon only to wake up bursting into tears. His father, on the other hand, would probably just start swinging his fists in some bizarre attempt to defend the family name. His Uncle Rory would shrug it off as unimportant and simply add gay-jokes to his repertoire of Xander-teasing material.

Of course, he could just suck it in and tell them himself. Xander's stomach quailed at that thought. He didn't want to have that conversation with his parents. He *never* wanted to have that conversation with them, but down deep inside, he knew that it would be better if he did. They could get over the shock in private and then be prepared for when, not if, someone said something to them. Xander really didn't think that his father should find out at the bar from some drunk that had already had a few too many.

Wondering how he managed to talk himself into doing crazy and dangerous things, Xander briefly contemplated hiding in his closet until the whole mess went away. Then he snorted in morbid amusement in the irony of hiding in the closet. It was kind of sad that closet-hiding defined the majority of his relationship with Cordelia and here he was being open about a relationship that was taboo on so many levels. However, if he was honest with himself, and for some reason he was being just that, he was tired of hiding and being ashamed. He had gone through that with Cordelia and he knew just how horrible it felt to be someone's dirty little secret. He couldn't and wouldn't do that to Larry.

Pushing himself off of the bed, Xander took a deep breath to steady himself and fix what he wanted to say to his parents in his mind. Walking to the door and then marching down the hall to the stairs, Xander didn't give himself a chance to back out of this. He *knew* that it was the right thing to do and he knew that it wouldn't be easy, but he also refused to run away.

Stomping down the stairs, Xander steeled himself for the upcoming confrontation by reminding himself of other things he had faced. Things much more frightening. He'd faced the Master. He'd faced the Hellmouth opening. He'd faced Spike and Drusilla and Angelus. He'd faced vampires that wore the faces of close friends and he'd faced demons with faces that not even a mother could love. He'd faced zombies and bombs and dancing at the Bronze. He could do this.

His litany of past adventures brought him right into the living room where his parents were staring with alcohol blurred eyes at the Weather Channel. He stood there wondering how to start when his mother turned her unfocused dark eyes up at him and frowned slightly, "Honey? You okay? You're a bit pale."

Xander's mouth opened and closed silently once or twice, but then he swallowed hard and nodded his head. Stepping over in front of her, he pulled the ottoman closer and sat down on it at her feet.

"Mom? I...I have something important to tell you both. It's all over school, so you'd hear it anyway, but I think you should hear it from me."

His mother nodded encouragingly even as his father leveled a blurry glare at him for a moment before turning off the television and taking a sip of his beer. "Okay. Ya got our attention. What's this important thing we gotta know?"

Xander swallowed again and briefly wished that he were anywhere else at that particular moment. Then, he took a big gulp of air and let it out in a whistling sigh.

"Mom. Dad. I'm...I'm bisexual. I...I mean, I like girls, yeah. But...but I also like guys, too. You know?"

Xander watched his mother go pale even as her dark eyes opened up real wide. His father, on the other hand, sputtered incomprehensibly for a moment before shifting forward in his seat so that he was leaning towards Xander, a look of stunned disbelief on his face.

"What!? Are you...are you telling me that you're some kind of...of *fagot*!?!?"

He couldn't help it, he flinched at that angry shout even as he flashed back to Cordelia's hate filled rant. But whether it was the tone of his voice, the word that he had chosen or Xander's reaction to it, his mother snapped out of her own shock and jumped into the conversation with an admonition.

"Tony!", she hissed at Xander's father. "I won't have such ugly words in my home." She turned and offered a wobbly and uncertain smile at Xander. "I...I believe that they, uh...I mean, the proper term is *gay*, not...not that nasty F-word."

Suddenly, Xander felt a bit of the nervous anxiety in his stomach fade away even as he grinned back at her. With that halting and stuttering little declaration, his mother had let it be known that even if she didn't understand it, she would support Xander.

Reaching out to grasp her hand, Xander squeezed it gently in silent thanks before letting it go. "Yeah, Mom. You're right. Gay is a good word and not an insult."

Tony Harris snorted air out of his nose and slumped back in his chair even as he covered his eyes with his beefy hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine! *Gay* then." Then with a sigh that sounded less angry and more tired and confused, Xander's father removed his hand and stared over at him. "Just...just tell me how this all happened. I don't...I just don't get it. I mean, I know that you've been having problems with that girl of yours, but I figured that it would get straightened out eventually. It's not like you two didn't have problems before...and it worked itself out. Right?"

Xander looked at his father and saw that the man really did want to know, to understand how this whole thing came about. Xander didn't have any illusions that Tony Harris would like it or agree with everything, but maybe he could be made to realize that this wasn't something that was going to go away. Xander really liked Larry and he thought that the two of them had the potential to be even more than what he and Cordelia had been for each other. It would be a whole lot easier if his father could at least *accept* it, instead of actively trying to fight it.

So, being careful to edit out all the Hellmouthy parts, Xander began to talk. He explained about how Cordelia had been ashamed of him and their relationship. He even told them about Larry coming out as gay last year and how he had wanted Xander to do the same thing. He explained how he had reacted out of fear and denial by bending over backwards to win Cordelia back even though their relationship had been painful and unfulfilling. He told them about feeling that something was missing from his relationship with Cordelia and how he had tried to find that something in Willow. His mother shook her head and tsked at that part of the story while he could only nod and admit that if had been a horrible decision that had almost destroyed his friendship with both Willow and Buffy. Then he told them about Larry and how the other boy had been  *proud* to go on a date with Xander, unlike Cordelia who had been ashamed of her feelings for him. He told them about how the football team was supportive and accepting of their new relationship and he told them about Cordelia's hate filled rant and her promise to turn everyone in school against him. Xander finally wound up his story with his decision to make sure that they had heard the story from him and not some random kid's parents.

Xander took a deep breath and grew still. Or at least as still as he could be with his hands shaking in his lap. He watched silently as his parents just blinked at him in a sort of shock from information overload. His mother seemed to pull out of it first by opening and closing her mouth silently a few times. Then, she cleared her throat and offered up a wobbly smile.

"I...I.... Wow, honey. I'm...I'm not sure what to say. I...I guess that the important thing is for you to be happy. And...and it's obvious that that Cordelia girl just wasn't able to make you happy. And if...if, this boy...uh, Larry did you say?" Jessica Harris swallowed and then gamely  pressed on, "Uh, if this Larry boy makes you happy, then...well, that's a g..good thing. I guess."

Xander's father simply stood up and stomped out of the room and into the kitchen. Xander smiled with watery eyes up at his mother even as his heart dropped into his toes at his father's reaction. He could clearly hear the older man open the refrigerator and pull out a beer, open it and guzzle it down. This was followed by the clatter of the empty can being tossed into the recycle bin and then the refrigerator was opened again. After grabbing another beer, Xander's father walked back out into the living room and sat down.

"Well," he opened his beer and took another healthy swallow. "If you're gonna insist on being gay than at least you have the good taste to date the captain of the football team and not some frou-frou artsy-fartsy pansy in pink lace."

Suddenly, Xander could breath again and his heart skipped a beat in relief at his father's tentative acceptance even if it was couched in terms that inspired a totally ridiculous mental image of Larry in a pink tu-tu while prancing around reciting a poem about the color blue. Xander grinned slightly even as his nose squished up in a classic "ewww" motion.

"Ah...I can promise that there's no pink lace or frou-frouing happening anywhere near me. Because that's just *too* wiggy to think about."

Then his mother frowned slightly and tilted her head to the side. "You know, honey. I'm not really surprised that Cordelia was so vindictive about your...uh...your new, um...b..boyfriend." She shrugged and blushed, but whether it was over the thought of Xander with a boyfriend or over what she was about to say was uncertain. "I ran into Mrs. Chase in town last year when you and she were still dating and that woman *snubbed* me. In public, too. She was so rude about it, acting all superior as if she were better than everyone else." She shrugged slightly and offered up an apologetic smile, "I didn't say anything at the time because I didn't want you to get upset over how your girlfriend's mother had treated me."

Xander watched his father's eyes narrow and his cheeks go from the paleness of shock to the flushed red of anger. It was sort of predictable and he should have seen it coming, but he didn't. His mother would never allow his father to aim his true anger at Xander. Upset; yes, frustration; yes, disappointment; yes, but not real anger or hatred. And Tony Harris *was* angry. And while Jessica Harris would never let that anger find a target on Xander despite the whole issue of gay boyfriends, it didn't really matter now. Tony Harris had found a new target to aim his anger at; the Chase family. Predictable and expected, Xander watched as his father hopped out of his chair and began to pace about the living room.

"That...that *bitch*! How *dare* she treat my wife like that!? She thinks she's somehow *better* than the us?"

Xander nodded his head even as his mother shrugged. Tony Harris continued pacing and ranting.

"How *dare* she think she can come along and look down her nose at the Harris'? *No one* treats my family that way. Not her! And not her scrawny cow of a daughter. Ashamed!? Of *my* son!? I don't think so! As if she should be proud of a snotty assed slut of a girl that runs around getting into closets for some cheap sex with horny boys." Tony Harris stopped pacing to throw his arms  wide and tip his head back to address the ceiling, "And if *that's* not bad enough, the stupid girl is *so* bad at it that her harpy-bitch ways end up turning those poor boys into *homosexuals*!"

It was at that point that Xander's mother leaned over and patted him gently on the shoulder. "Maybe you should just run along to bed now, honey. I'll...I'll calm your father down and then we'll be up to bed shortly as well."

Standing up, Xander cast one last confused look over his shoulder at his father. "Uh, okay., well, he *does* know that Cordelia really had nothing to do with me seeing Larry, right? I mean, I like Larry because he's nice and funny and he treats me good."

Xander's mom nodded and patted his arm again. "I know. I know. Your father's just...well, he's angry right now. At Cordelia for how she treated you and at her mother for being rude to me. You know that your father doesn't take well to people looking down on us Harris'. He's...he's a sensitive man, your father is."

Xander nodded and leaned over to kiss his mother on the cheek. Then with one last wobbly smile, he turned and dashed back up the stairs. He'd never really thought of his father as a "sensitive" man, but his mother was right about one thing, the man was terribly proud and protective of the family name. So, while Tony Harris might not be too thrilled with the idea of his son dating another boy in private, he'd most likely beat the snot out of anyone who dared to make a disparaging remark about it. Xander would be willing to bet his last dollar that by the end of the week, gay pride would be a very popular thing at his father's work place.

END: Gradual Distinction