If I Had to Choose

Many thanks to viciouswishes and db2305 who beta read this for me.



Larry stared into Simon’s eyes. Eyes the exact colour of the lime twist in the coke he’d been drinking when Simon came over to his table and began a seduction whose ending was as inevitable as sunrise.

“I’ve never – shouldn’t you, you know, do me?” he whispered.

Simon smiled, slicking up his fingers for the second time and letting them hover, teasingly, an inch away from Larry’s cock. “I know it’s your first time and I want it to be right, want you to be in control, come in me. You trust me?”

Larry nodded, aching for those warm fingers to touch him again, desire fighting anxiety. Simon’s hand drifted down as if that were all he’d been waiting for, smoothly gliding, gripping, guiding.

Minutes later, Larry came, eyes tight shut, young, strong body shuddering happily in release, relief and pride wiping out his earlier doubts.

Simon closed his eyes too, but for different reasons.

Larry had expected that Simon wouldn’t want to talk much afterwards. He’d steeled himself for the gentle dismissal, the promise to call. He was new to this, but not completely stupid. Instead, Simon let him shower alone, as if sensing that Larry needed space, and had drinks and snacks waiting and music playing when he came out. It was all back to front, Larry thought, somewhat muzzily. Simon was doing what you did to get someone into bed. It didn’t make sense unless – Larry swallowed hard, as he realised what it meant. Simon liked him. Really liked him. He smiled at the young man relaxing on a sofa that looked expensive, just like the rest of the apartment, in an attempt to make him see how much he appreciated it all.

“Have a beer,” Simon said. “Toast yourself. Or I’ll do it for you.” His eyes glowed in the cool glimmer from half a dozen artistically placed spotlights. “Do you have any idea how brave you are? Coming out while you’re still at high school? I’m so impressed by that, I really am. It can’t have been easy.”

Larry shrugged. “Some of the guys gave me a hard time, but most people have been pretty cool about it.” He grinned, flexing his arm. “Doesn’t hurt that they know I can still mash them into the floor if I want.” He added hesitantly, “So, how long have you been out then?”

Simon looked about twenty-five, he thought, no older. “Oh, feels like centuries, believe me. Just for ever.”

“Cool.”

“Tell me, Larry,” Simon leaned in and snagged a beer from the table, twisting off the cap and taking a long swallow before glancing casually at his guest. “Anyone else at your school who’s in your situation?”

Larry thought about it. He didn’t want to betray any secrets ... but it wasn’t like Simon went there ... “There’s this one guy; I owe him big; he’s the one who persuaded me to stop pretending, but he won’t - oh, he just can’t do it, you know? Can’t drop the act. He’s mooning about over Buf – this girl; dated another who was just using him, ‘cos that’s the kind of girl she is – doing everything but be himself. I really want to help the guy but what can you do?”

Simon nodded. “You owe him,” he said. “Debts need to be repaid. If you could, what do you wish you could do to help him?”

Larry considered it, draining the last of his bottle of beer, feeling a pleasant rush. Strong stuff. Probably imported. “I wish ... I wish he could see what it’d be like if he came out. Wish all the guys would be great about it, just like they were for me. Told him to put a coming out notice in the school paper; just be upfront about it but he’s not ready, I guess.”

“A notice? Yes ... that would work.” Simon said, half to himself.

“I wish he would,” Larry said, “but you know; it’s got to come from him. Can’t force someone, right?”

“Right,” said Simon, his smile friendly and guileless. “You’re so right. Another beer?”

***

Xander was humming to himself as he changed in the empty locker room, the noise enough to drown out any sounds, which is why the tap on his shoulder had him leaping and whirling, fists ready. Too many people had died on school premises for him to be anything other than jumpy about people who crept up on him.

The lips pressed to his in a clumsy, apologetic kiss, the shy smile and the soft, “Hope that helps,” did nothing, absolutely nothing, to calm him down. Xander stared at Andy Drake’s retreating back, his mouth open wide enough for an entire donut to be inserted. Andy?  Pride of the chess club, Andy, who was last seen speaking above a whisper when a jock knocked over the table just as he was poised to checkmate in five? Kissing him in public? This wasn’t right and Xander had learned to be suspicious of strangeness. Minutes later he was still baffled but had recovered his cool enough to leave the locker room, cautiously glancing around in case he saw Andy anywhere nearby.

Deciding that this was one day where the routine of class was comforting, not mind-numbing, he made his way to the chemistry lab and perched on the high stool beside the lab bench. The room was empty – not surprising as it was still ten minutes before the bell. When the door opened, he looked up, expecting it to be Willow, full of admiration for his punctuality and with a quip about her tardiness hovering on his lips. Chris Carter walked in. He usually sat at the other end of the room and was a leading light on the baseball team. Xander gave him a friendly nod, not expecting a jock to do more than sneer back, and glanced down at his book, doodling idly on the cover. A shadow fell over it and he looked up in surprise. Chris bobbed forward and kissed Xander. It might have been intended for his mouth; it landed on his ear as Xander was scrambling away, feeling his face flush scarlet.

“What is your deal, Chris?” he said in an agitated whisper, his eyes flicking around the room as he edged towards the door. “What the hell is going on?”

Chris looked upset, but before he could answer, the door opened again and a crowd of chattering students swept in, making conversation impossible. With a glare that promised a painful death if he came any closer, Xander drove Chris back to his seat, and then pushed his way out of the laboratory and headed towards the library.

Giles would know what to do.

Xander came into the library, walking fast and breathing hard. In the space of a few hundred yards of corridor two boys had given him looks that could best be described as interested. He was officially freaked, with the memory of his disastrous love spell of the year before fresh in his mind. Wesley looked up from the book in front of him, smiled with a tight twitch of his lips that was wonderfully, reassuringly indifferent, and went back to reading.

“Is Giles here?” Xander demanded, tapping his fingers nervously against the table.

Wesley winced and sighed. “No. Could you not do that? Please? Thank you so much.”

“Where is he?”

Wesley closed the book, using his finger to mark his place. “Some sort of teacher get together. I believe it concerns the duty roster for study hour, or something equally trivial. Giles wasn’t planning on going, but when he found that I was here to man the fort, shall we say, he decided to –”

Escape, Xander thought, tuning out Wesley’s chatter. He stared hard at the Englishman, until Wesley came to a halt and raised an enquiring eyebrow. “Xander? You seem a little on edge. Is there news on the Mayor? Because, really, you should be reporting to me, rather than Mr. Giles. He has no official standing whatsoever and –”

Xander faced Wesley across the table and bent forward, laying his palms flat against the smooth wood and looking at him earnestly. “Wesley? Can I ask you something?”

“You can and you may,” said Wesley, smirking slightly as he corrected Xander’s grammar.

Xander failed to notice, swallowed, and then blurted out, “Wesley, do you want to kiss me?”

Wesley gasped and shoved his glasses further up his nose than they were ever meant to go. “Do I -? No! It never occurred to me! Why should it? Why should you assume it would and ask me that? Why would I want to?”

Xander frowned. “Calm down,” he said, a little testily. “Some people want to and don’t act as if I’d asked them to eat toenail pie.”

Wesley wrinkled his nose in fleeting disgust at the image and then looked up at Xander. “Do you want me to want to kiss you?” he asked tentatively. “Is this some kind of ... oh, it’s a joke isn’t it! Fine, fine. I suppose the Slayer and the rest of your cronies are, are lurking outside –” He strode to the door as he spoke and flung it open dramatically. The corridor was empty.

He turned and looked at Xander, his face open and puzzled. “I don’t understand.” He walked back slowly, watching Xander who was sitting on the table, staring down at the floor. “Xander?”

“I’m sorry,” Xander muttered. “I didn’t mean to ... it’s just -”

Wesley reached out and patted Xander’s shoulder. “Say no more,” he said kindly. “An older man, in a position of authority ... power ... someone you look up to and admire ... it’s not to be wondered at if you develop feelings of, well, if an attraction develops between you and –”

“Giles!” said Xander, as the door swung open and Giles walked in.

“Giles?” Wesley said, managing to sound insulted and resigned at the same time. “Not me?” He turned, following Xander’s gaze and blushed. “Oh. I see. Yes. Let’s just forget I spoke, shall we?”

Xander brushed Wesley aside and went up to Giles who looked irritated and bored. “Of all the bloody waste of time. Oh, are you still here, Wesley? Why is that again? Xander, you should be in class. Please leave before Snyder takes it into his head to blame me for your delinquent behaviour.”

“Giles!”

Xander’s imploring voice made Giles glance at him quickly. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure. Something. Giles, don’t go taking this the wrong way because you know how I feel about you and it doesn’t include being your toy boy –”

“I beg your pardon?”

“ – I just have to know if you feel the slightest urge to kiss me.”

Giles looked him full in the face and said, “None whatsoever. Though hitting you sometimes features in my fantasies when you’re being particularly annoying. Like now.”

“Thank God,” Xander said devoutly. “You’re sure?”

Giles bit his lip to hide a smile. “Certain,” he said.

Xander threw his arms around Giles impulsively and hugged him. Giles felt solid, a comforting anchor in a sea of weird. “I knew you’d stay normal, Giles.”

Giles pushed Xander away gently and cleared his throat. “What’s going on?”

Xander frowned. “I thought it was a spell, but you and Wesley don’t want to kiss me –”

“Of course not!” Wesley said, his voice going two tones deeper. “Ridiculous notion.”
 
Xander quickly outlined the events of the last hour. “So what do you think’s up, G-Man?” He turned hopeful, expectant eyes on Giles, feeling relief now that the problem had been shared. Giles would fix it. He always did.

“Don’t call me that,” Giles said automatically. “I don’t think we can rule out a spell, or something similar. Not yet. It could be a prank of some kind but from what you tell me, these boys aren’t the usual type to play such a trick. Do you know them well?”

“Not really. Not best buds or anything close. Two of them are chess club geeks, one’s a jock, and one’s just ...ordinary.”

Giles shrugged. “Well, that isn’t helping in pinpointing the common ground. Would you like to ask Willow to –”

“No! No Willow, no Buffy. Please?”

Giles smiled reassuringly. “As you wish. I’m sure we can sort this out very quickly.” He paused. “Xander? The simplest solution might be to ask the boys.”

Xander squirmed uneasily. “Suppose they try and kiss me again?”

“It won’t kill you,” Giles said, a little asperity creeping into his voice.

Xander looked at him, wondering how someone so intelligent could say something so dumb. “Giles? How long have you lived here? This is the Hellmouth. Anything can kill you.”

Giles thought about it and nodded sheepishly. “Point taken. Are they gay?”

Xander was taken aback by the casual question. “What? No! Well, I don’t think so. The geeks don’t date of course; who’d have them?”

“Not even female chess players?”

“Female geeks have standards too.”

Giles sighed. “I’d forgotten the cruelty inherent in every social interaction at your age.”

“Oh, yes,” Wesley agreed fervently, breaking his long silence.

“Huh? Anyway, the other two, yeah, I’ve seen them with girls. Doesn’t mean much though. Ever since Larry came out, well, if he could fool everyone all this time ...”

“Larry? Oh, yes. Well, there’s an idea. Go to him. If he kisses you, there won’t be any risk of him thumping you if you ask him why he’s doing it.”

“Works in theory, maybe,” Xander said, his mouth drooping as he anticipated a painful punch on the nose. “He’s being nice to me these days because...”

“Yes?”

“Oh, nothing. If that’s all you’ve got, I’ll go find him.”

“I would,” Giles said, giving Xander an awkward but kind pat on the shoulder. “Let me know how you get on.” He turned to Wesley. “As you’re here, perhaps you’d like to help me cross-reference the details we have on the Mayor’s plans?”

They moved towards Giles’ office and Xander stood forlorn for a moment, before going to look for Larry.

Finding Larry turned out to be simple enough; he was in the cafeteria, chatting to Freddy, the editor of the school paper, and beaming happily.

“Larry? Got a minute?”

Larry glanced up and his smile widened. “As many as you like, Xander. I was going to go looking for you after lunch as it happens.”

Freddy nodded to Xander, pushed back his chair and walked away. Larry patted the chair beside him and Xander sat down. “What did you want me for?” he said.

Larry grinned. “Just wondered how today was going for you. First day of the rest of and all that.”

“It’s Tuesday and it’s the middle of the month. What’s it the first of?”

Larry glanced around and hitched his chair closer. “I see you put it in.”

Xander shook his head. “The signal faded there. Put what in where?”

Larry’s smile dimmed slightly. “The notice? In the paper? I was just congratulating Freddy; he gave you a great spot; right by the match report, so no one will miss it.”

“Whoa, Larry. You’re starting to freak me. I didn’t ask Freddy to put any... oh God. This is something to do with people – Larry, what notice?”

Larry stood up. “Let’s go someplace quieter,” he said, his eyes concerned.

Xander marched beside Larry in silence until they had reached an empty classroom and closed the door behind them.

“Larry, two guys came up to me and kissed me today. That’s not normal – and no, that’s not a dig at you, it’s a fact. It’s not what usually happens to me. I’m getting a feeling you know why. Spill.”

Larry studied him and nodded slowly. “You remember I said you should put a notice in the paper? Tell the word you’re gay?”

“Oh, yes,” Xander said. “It haunts my nightmares just thinking about what ...would ... no. Tell me you didn’t do it!”

Larry’s face darkened. “You think I would? You think I’d do that to you?” He grabbed Xander’s shirt in both hands, heaving Xander up so his feet dangled. “Well?”

“No!” Xander said hastily, the words tumbling out. “Of course you wouldn’t, because you’d know that it would ruin my life and be totally pointless because, hello? Not gay. Not.”

Larry eased him down and let go, patting him apologetically on the arm. “Sorry. Still got a bit of a problem controlling my temper sometimes. It just hurt that you’d think that, you know? So you didn’t put it in, then?”

“No!” The horror of it burst over Xander. “But someone did? Someone – what did it say? Did it actually mention my name? Oh, I am so dead! No, I’m going to kill whoever did this and then I’m going to –”

Larry grabbed him and hugged him hard. “Don’t talk like that, Xander.” He stepped back and looked at him earnestly. “Has anyone given you grief over it?”

Xander shook his head. “The opposite; told you; everyone’s being big with the smooches. If they were female, not male, this would be the best day ever.”

“This is so weird,” Larry murmured. “It’s happening just like I wished it.”

“What?” Sick dread curdled in Xander’s stomach. A hair trigger response to Hellmouthy happenings had been something he’d developed over the last few years. Words like ‘wish’ rang bells and set off sirens. Loud ones. “Larry? Tell me all about what you said and who you said it to. Not Anya by any chance?”

“Who? No. Look, don’t be mad. I didn’t think it mattered but ...”

Larry told Xander everything he knew and Xander opened his mouth, tried to think of something to say, failed, closed it, and went off to find Giles again.

“More than one demon magnet in town,” he muttered. “I’m never special, am I?”

As luck would have it, Anya was in the corridor, drinking from the water fountain. Xander hooked his arm in hers and pulled her along. “Hey! What’s with the dragging?” she demanded.

“Need you, Anya.”

She stopped resisting. “Really? Well, that’s nice to know. Does this mean that you have something you want to ask me? Something that involves formal wear?”

Xander gazed down at her, baffled and bewildered. He shook his head as they went into the library. “Do you take pills for being this odd? I want you to tell me about vengeance demons. I want you to tell me about wishes.”

“’Wishes’?” Giles said. He stood up, leaving Wesley poring over a book, and came over to them. “Anya, if you’ve been causing trouble again, I must warn you –”

Xander held up his hand. “Chill, Giles. This was a man.”

Anya glared at Giles. “If I had my powers, old man, I’d –”

“You don’t,” Giles interrupted, his voice flat. “And I’m not old,” he added. “Unlike some of us who’ve seen better centuries.”

Honours even, they both turned to Xander. “What man?” Giles asked.

Xander breathed out gustily. “Larry got off with this guy who picked him up at the Bronze. Seems they chatted about me and Larry wished, yes, you heard me, wished that I’d come out and everyone be happy about it. Mentioned this not so bright idea he had once that I put a coming out notice in the school paper. Well guess what went in? Guess who’s just been outed and whose life is now officially over?”

Giles looked concerned. “Xander, I can fully appreciate your feelings –”

“You’re not gay, though?” Anya demanded. “Because I have plans for you that require that you not be gay and I’d appreciate you being frank with me here, because I don’t have much time left to pick someone else.”

Xander stared at her, mouth open. “I always thought when I met Cordelia that I’d come across the most self-centred person in this, or any other, dimension. Congratulations, Anya. You just pushed her off her gold medal spot.”

Anya preened herself for a moment before his words sunk in. “There’s no need to be rude just because a Terneti demon’s after you.”

Wesley’s head jerked up. “A – I know that demon! I once, that is, a friend of mine – no, really –”

Giles sighed. “Just tell us, Wesley. Tell us about your ‘friend’.”

“They target young – uh, that is, those with less experience in the –”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! I have math class in five minutes,” Anya said impatiently, her foot tapping. “They go after male virgins, appearing in whatever form the virgin would find most appealing.” Wesley gasped and flushed scarlet, his eyes flickering to Giles. “The power of that first time feeds them, nourishes them, gives them a high that lasts for weeks. It sounds as if he’d got you down for his next victim.”

“So why out me?” Xander said. “Why not just go after me? And hey,” he beamed with relief, “I’m not even a virgin, so I’m safe.”

“You’ve had sex with a man?” Anya asked bluntly. Xander stared wide eyed and shook his head frantically. She shrugged. “He’d count that as being a virgin. To him, you’ve only gone half way.”

“Why the wish, though?”

“They’re not bad people; that’s what they give in return – a wish. Larry could have gotten anything, but he wanted to help you. Sweet.”

“No! Not sweet! Are we forgetting my life’s been ruined?”

Silence fell, broken by Anya fidgeting and glancing pointedly at her watch.

“Aha!” Wesley said. “I have it!”

Giles looked politely astonished. “Really? Go on, then.”

Wesley looked at Xander, a cool smile playing over his face. “Find this Simon. Sleep with him; wish that Larry’s wish be reversed. Simple.”

“Sounds good,” Anya conceded. “I’m leaving now. Xander, I’ll speak to you later. Please discontinue your annoying habit of pretending not to see me and changing direction hastily when I approach.” She smiled and left.

Xander recovered his speech. “Wesley, that has to be the most stupid, lame – I’m not gay! He’ll just look like a girl! Like, oh, like Buffy, maybe – and I wouldn’t do that to her. Way creepy. Besides, it wouldn’t work.”

‘They don’t necessarily take the form of a person you know,” Wesley pointed out. “It might be a general type that you’d find attractive.”

“Still female, though!”

Giles studied him thoughtfully. “No one would know, Xander. Afterwards, the universe would essentially return to how it was this morning. You don’t feel you could -?”

“No! Not in a million –”

The library doors swung open and Willow came in, her eyes full of hurt and unshed tears. She saw Xander and held out the paper to him. “Xander! You didn’t tell me? Your oldest friend and I find out in the paper? You couldn’t trust me, you couldn’t share?” Her lip quivered. “Have you told your parents yet? Because they’re not going to be happy. You know how your dad was when he found you with my Barbie, even when you said you were just holding it hostage until I gave you back your G.I Joe parachute. Do you want me to go with you when you tell them? Does Buffy know? Did you tell her?”

Xander looked around desperately for help and found none. “Willow, I didn’t – it’s not true –”

She sniffed. “I’ve thought you were gay for a while now, Xander. I kissed you, remember? A girl can tell.” A tear spilled over and trickled down her face and she rubbed at it, looking so pitiful that Xander lost it. He couldn’t bear Willow feeling like this, so soon after the Faith deal.

“O.K, that’s it!”

“Xander? What do you plan to do?” Giles asked, alarmed by Xander’s tight-lipped fury.

Xander gave him a level glance. “Whatever I have to.”

***

Simon smoothed back his hair and laughed shakily. “You are so full of energy, so vibrant!”

“Yeah, and you’re so full of shit. I know what you are, demon, and I know how this works. I want my wish and I want you to reverse Larry’s wish – remember him? No notice, no coming out, no one thinking I’m gay, right?”

Simon shrugged. “If you’re sure.”

“Certain.” Xander said. He winced. Hearing that familiar voice crying out his name, begging him to go faster, harder ... seeing his face unguarded and open as he came, strong hands wrapped around Xander’s arms – had he ever seen him look so vulnerable before? He wasn’t supposed to; he was supposed to be the strong one, the grown up. “And could you change your face? Stop looking like –”

Simon let his face shimmer into the face Larry had fallen for. “This better?”

“Much,” Xander said, pulling on his clothes as quickly as he could.

Simon gazed at him curiously. “So who was that you chose? He looked very hot. Distinguished, you know? I go for the older man myself, but by the time they reach that age, they’re usually not qualified, if you get my drift.”

Xander stared at him, his eyes cold. “No one,” he said. “No one at all.”

The guilt at using a friend like that – and the lack of surprise he’d felt as Simon had changed, as if, deep down, he’d known who it would be - stayed with him for weeks. Wasn’t as if he could run to Giles for help either. No, he couldn’t do that. Not ever again. That hurt worst of all.


A/N. Written for a ficathon for Mpoetess who said, “What if Larry had posted the coming out notice in the paper as he mentioned in ‘Earshot’?” He doesn’t, quite, but I hope my slight cheating doesn’t matter.

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