Title: Up Over Everything (1a/?)

Author: Brooke

Email: yabbadabbadome13@yahoo.com

Rating: R

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I wished I owned the two Xanders' from "The Replacement" though. Buffy and friends are owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, The UPN and whoever else has rights to the show.

Summary: Part 2 in my "Romeverse". Can the Buffy, Xander and Willow put personal issues aside to fight and survive against a growing evil – one that can strike too close to home?

Distribution: I don't know why anybody would want this, but if somebody does…sure.

Feedback: Definitely!! Tell me if it sucked or if you liked it. Whatever. Just write back!

Authors Note: Takes place in an AU season 1 where Buffy and Xander are best friends and Willow is the new girl as Sunnydale High. It is the beginning of their sophomore year and, as 15 and 16 year olds, hormones and feelings are taking center stage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Giles backed up as he blocked her roundhouse kick and the high punch that followed it, the sounds of the contact against his sparring pads echoing through the room. He was glad Buffy had fully fallen into her calling, in theory. The bruises he bore on an almost daily basis and his aching joints and muscles were arguing with his pride and greater reason, that he was a an idiot for insisting that she train with him – kept reminding him to utilize the helpful vampire, Angel, more in sparring exercises to spare himself the hurt. He was actually thinking, as he backed away, of trying to pull the old 'look over there' tactic from cartoons and running to call the souled demon while Buffy's back was turned so that he could replace his immediately.

Frustrated that she hadn't gotten through with that series, Buffy pulled back hard and landed a swinging middle punch to Giles' gloved hands. Continuing with her momentum the Slayer went into a full spin and finished the hand combination with a strong backhand punch. Fully focused and not giving the Watcher any time to recover she executed a full spinning jumping high wheel kick followed by a right middle punch, both landing hard and backing the middle-aged man across the room steadily with her relentlessness.

Buffy was sick of him telling her not to let up on him – to see him as an opponent, a vicious attacker bent on ripping her throat out…dressed in a puffy blue suit, Buffy had pointed out with a grin, but decided to give him what he wanted anyway.

She threw her leg out in a high roundhouse kick and followed it with a front snap kick using her opposite leg. Giles tripped over his feet momentarily, but caught his balance in time to catch her jumping twin straddle kick, placed low, lo land against his stomach. Buffy landed lightly back on her feet and settled on another attack combination before moving again.

Giles jumped back at her quick approach, stopping Buffy short. "Right!" he exclaimed, taking off him face mask and breathing hard. "That's enough training for one day."

Buffy looked at him concerned while her heart rate slowed, "Well, that last roundhouse was kinda sloppy," she pointed out.  "Are you sure you don't wanna do it again?"

Giles stopped panting momentarily at her suggesting, "No! No, no, that's fine. You just... run along." He watched her shrug and head to the table in the middle of the room to get her bags. "Field trip today, yes?" he questioned while removing the rest of his pads gingerly.

Buffy nodded slowly while taking a drink from her water bottle. "Yep. Good ole Sunnydale Zoo."

Giles smirked and wiped his brow with a towel from under the reference desk. "And here I thought you came to school everyday."

"Giles!" Buffy said through a mirror of false shock. "That was good." She grinned at her Watcher's self congratulating grin. "Well, I'm outtie," she scooped up her gym bag and headed to the doors. "Want me to come back afterwards?" Buffy tried to conceal her hopefulness that the answer was yes. She had grown to like training, liked finding out everything she was capable of doing now physically. The newness of her super powers definitely made getting up at the butt crack of dawn to work out worth it for her.

"Quiet alright Buffy," Giles shook his head and Buffy's small grin dropped. "You just have a good day, and restful night off. Catch up on some homework."

Yeah, Buffy smiled to herself, Homework "Kay, Giles. See ya." She turned and bounced out of the library, leaving Giles standing in the exact same position he had been almost since they had finished their training session.

"And I'll have a bloody good time waiting for the feeling to return to my arms," he winced at the swinging doors as he tried to head slowly back to his office.

~*~*~

Buffy swallowed and tilted her head to the side, eyes wide in her face as she studied the scene before her with a disgusted grimace. "What are they doing?"

Xander held the same expression but was laughing out loud periodically. Buffy glanced to look at him briefly before turning back to face forward. Actually, his expression was nothing like hers. He was grinning in fascination and a sort of perverse expression. "This is so cool."

"Make it stop!" Willow cried with her head ducked into her hands. "He's hurting her!"

Xander chuckled and looked down at her while talking a sip of the coke he had brought. "It's the circle of life, Wills…" He seemed to pause in consideration. "Plus," he gestured back to the pen. "How could she not like that?"

Buffy made a sort of gag sound in her throat when she saw what Xander was now pointing at. "I can't believe you're watching this. You're sick…"

"You're still standing here too." He pointed out with a smirk.

"I just wanted some coke," she fired back and snatched his drink from his hand before turning away quickly. Willow looked up to see Buffy wandering slowly away while sipping on Xander's soda and turned to follow suit.

"That's what they all say!" Xander called back over his shoulder at the girls. "Man!" he said turning around and finding them perched on a bench behind him, "You made me miss the end." He pouted as he flounced over to them and flopped himself down on the bench, "That was probably going to be the only worthwhile sight in the stupid fieldtrip."

"It was zebras," Buffy shrugged offering Xander's cup to Willow who took it with a grin.

"Mating." Xander said matter-of-factly. "You don't see that everyday."

"Thank God," Buffy snorted. She poked Xander in the shoulder hard several times and he rocked back and forth in his seat melodramatically. "You may have corrupted Willow," she accused lightheartedly.

Xander stuck his tongue out at Buffy and she mimicked the move before he lifted his gaze to Willow. The red head paused mid sip and spoke philosophically. "It was kind of like the Heimlich…with stripes."

"Well," Xander defended and jumped off the seat, "I thought it was very exciting. Better than the elephants at least." He turned to Buffy with a superior smirk and dared her to deny it.

Buffy stood up in front of him and smiled as she walked past. "I guess that depends on what you're trying to get from this experience. I was intending to get my chuckles in the Joy of Sex with the animals of the Serengeti."

"He's a boy, Buff," Willow stood up and followed her path, handing Xander back his empty cup when she passed.

The blonde snorted, "Don't remind me."

Xander mimicked her barb in a high pitched voice but jogged to catch up to her side and draping his arm over her shoulder before he spoke. Buffy pretended to try to get away but then simply sighed and let them walk together, keeping her between himself and Willow. "I just find joy in the little things in life," he told her metaphorically.

"Oh," Buffy denied, reaching up with her right hand and grabbing his where it was draped over her shoulder. "There was nothing little about that."

"I know I've never seen that before," Willow nodded wide eyed. "It made all the animals seem shiny and new... and a little masochistic."

"And nothing beats a good masochism," Xander nodded happily and offered the empty cup of ice back to Buffy, and she took it with a grin that he returned softly. "So what next?" he asked as the walked slowly past a cave like structure that was blocked off with yellow caution tape.

"We have, like, two more hours," Willow pointed out distractedly as she read the sign that was fastened to the wall of the cave.

"We can go see the fishes," Buffy suggested hopefully with a bright smile directed at Xander.

"What is it with you and fishes all the time?" he asked with mock disgust. "You never want to see cool things like the Gila monsters!" Xander finished in a shout at his own suggestion.

Buffy pouted and leaned briefly against his shoulder, "I like fishes…"

Willow stopped walking, and called ahead to Buffy and Xander who had continued on oblivious, "Wait guys."

Buffy stopped walking first and turned with Xander, still under the shelter of his arm. "What is it Wills?"

Willow glanced at them, "There's Hyenas," she pointed out with a grin. "They're pretty cool."

The Slayer walked back to Willow leaving Xander to follow. She ran her fingers over the yellow tape over the entrance. "Too bad it's closed," she noted as Xander came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist this time.

"Unless…" Xander said in a low whisper while leaning over Buffy's shoulder. He looked around quickly, "There's nobody around here. We could run in and run out…"

"I don't know, Xan," Willow looked doubtful. "Maybe it's not open cuz it's empty right now…"

"Or maybe it's not," Xander pointed out.

"Either way," Buffy spoke, leaning back slightly against the boy behind her, "We shouldn't…"

"If it isn't the original loser," A new voice broke into their conversation directed at Willow, but then addressing the group, "And her association of social rejects."

"Kyle," Xander greeted with false enthusiasm. "To what do I owe this flaming hot pain that his engulfed my brain at the sound of your oafish drone?"

 The other boy's face turned up in confusion and Buffy fought off a laugh. "Hey," he said suddenly in his defense. "Did you ever wonder why nobody cool ever hangs out with you guys?"

"You mean like you guys?" Buffy questioned with mock wonder. "No, we're just thankful."

"Careful," Rhonda spoke up from her friend's side with a cruel smile. "You don't want to piss her off."

"Yeah," Tor added for her, "She might beat you up."

Xander hugged Buffy back tighter as her eyes fell to the ground and her smile died. It seemed that ever since the Harvest…the night that she had probably saved everybody in the schools pathetic life, she had been labeled the school thug, of sorts. Always the topic of quiet snickers and more rumors than Xander would ever tell her about. Just like Slaying had been designated Buffy's priority extracurricular, defending her to the general student population had been assigned to both him and Willow; and they were more than happy to do the job. Neither of them wanted to her hurt, ever wanted one of their friends to suffer needlessly. But every so often Buffy would hear something, a joke or a comment directed to somebody else behind her back or in front of her face; and occasionally assholes like Kyle, Rhonda, and Tor, the designated tenth grade misfits, would say something to her face.

Willow noticed the change in Buffy's mood and instantly felt bad. If half of their classmates knew how many times Buffy had saved them while they assumed she was some sort of social deviant they'd be on their knees begging for forgiveness; but the Slayer never said anything about it. Buffy had told her once that she didn't slay for thanks, for recognition. She didn't say what she did it for after that, but it wasn't for these reasons when it so easily could be. "Why don't you guys just get lost," Willow rolled her eyes at them. "We weren't bothering you, and you're presence is actually making me feel dumber."

"Oh good one, loser," Rhonda shot at Willow when Buffy and Xander laughed.

"Not loser!" Buffy exclaimed with wide eyes. "That has to be the harshest…"

"What's going on here?" the principle sounded as he approached the loitering teens, who to him, looked to be at a stand off.

Kyle and his group forced themselves to back off high alert and appear relaxed. "Nothing Mr. Flutie," he sighed. "We were just…talking."

The overweight principle eyed the kids suspiciously.

Kyle Martin, Torrance Bramlent and Rhonda Dorfman were known bullies…troublemakers, and he was always on the look out for their handiwork. Ranging from vandalism to tormenting…well, everybody.

Xander, he recalled the files on the boy, was an underachiever, yes, but also had never been in any real trouble besides class disruption – a problem that he had suggested be fixed with Ritalin, but Harris didn't seem to have taken his advice.

Buffy Summers was another case for him altogether. She had been a good kid – no problems. Involved with school activities, gotten pretty good grades – not great because she didn't apply herself, but pretty good; a cheerleader to boot, so she was popular. But she had been slacking lately, more so than usual even for herself. Skipping classes, late when she didn't. Not turning in assignments, failing tests, and most disturbingly reports of fights off campus. Richard Flutie had been working with children since before he graduated from college and he knew something was up with the girl. Something beyond the troubles of puberty. Drugs maybe, he thought more times than not. He would have to call her parents in…

So that left him with - "Willow," he questioned turning his gaze to the new student who had taken up with Harris and Summers.

"Hum?" she squeaked, her green eyes going wide in her face.

"Is that true?" Flutie asked. She was the last untainted one there. If he wanted an genuine answer, he had learned, it would always come from the new one

Willow's eyes darted to Xander's and he shrugged, unable to offer any help.

"We're fine Mr…" Buffy tried to answer but he cut her off with a raised hand.

"Willow?"

The red head turned to Kyle and his friends before she answered. "Yeah," she nodded weakly, "We're fine…just talking."

"See," Tor said snidely and the principle shot him a look. "All friends here. Right Buffy?"

Xander bit back a new well of anger at the comment and the way the other boy eyed his friend and the kissing gesture he made afterwards. Wait till we get back to school…

The Slayer sensed Xander tense behind her and rolled her eyes. "Yep Mr. Flutie. Everything's copasetic."

"Good," Flutie nodded cautiously and took a step away. "Good." He pointed warningly at the kids, "I'll be watching you…all of you. Oh," he stopped and added. "Harris and Summers," he gestured by putting his hands together and pulling them apart. "One body length," he emphasized when everybody looked at him confused, "Apart."

"Oh," Willow nodded distractedly in understanding. "I get it now," she looked down sheepishly.

Principle Flutie stood in place until Xander let his arms fall from around Buffy and she stepped away. "Good," he called back before turning and walking away.

"That guy is such a chode," Kyle shook his head.

"Something we agree on," Xander snorted. "That world must be ending."

Kyle snorted in agreement and then turned to face Willow. "You came through," he smiled.

"Yeah," Rhonda rolled her eyes at the situation, "Flutie's always looking for an opportunity to come down on us."

Buffy lifted the cup of ice she was holding to her mouth and poured some in, crunching through her next statement. "Maybe it's cuz you guys are Satan spawn." She grinned at Xander who had chuckled at her response and nodded in agreement.

"Maybe," Tor nodded at her with a flirtatious grin.

"Ooorrhhh," Buffy rolled her eyes sarcastically and Tor sneered at her.

Kyle nudged Rhonda and then cocked an eyebrow at Willow. "We were gonna check it out in there," he pointed behind her to the hyena display. "See why it's all blocked off. You game?"

What? Willow looked confused and surprised at the suggestion and she glanced over her shoulder at the opening of the cave.

"Wills," Buffy spoke up, putting her hand on her arm lightly. "Don't," she said quietly and shook her head. "Flutie just said…"

"When did you turn into saint Buffy?" Rhonda asked as she pushed her way through Willow and the blonde before turning to face everybody again. "No need to stand in the way of her fun cuz you've got a righteousness quota to fill."

Buffy squared herself against the dark haired girl and sneered, "I just think it's my duty as a human to advise against following ass holes into stupid situations."

"Well listen up Harris," Tor smirked and bumped his way past the other boy to follow Rhonda's path. Xander reached out and shoved him on his way past and the other boy stumbled over his feet into Rhonda. When he righted himself he turned quickly on Xander and shoved him back hard and Xander moved to jump back at him, but was stopped by Buffy's hand on his chest, "Stop it," she whispered harshly to him, breaking up the minor scuffle.

"That's right Harris," Kyle smirked at him and stepped up beside Willow, throwing his arm over her shoulder. "Listen to you Piece." He felt Willow try to pull away and held her tighter, "What do ya say, Willow? Wanna come with us, or watch these two rub each other some more…I mean, that might be your thing…"

Willow pretended to be disgusted by what he was saying to her, but she couldn't help but consider his words, no matter what secret intention he had. She knew that she shouldn't trust Kyle, but another part of her asked why. Why were Buffy and Xander her only friends, but they each had another intersecting and overlapping group that didn't include her at all. Why was it only she who was limited to these two friends. And they were hanging all over each other a lot, something that while she was beginning to force herself to accept, she could use a slight break from… "Ok," she shrugged.

"What?" Xander spoke in disbelief, "You've got to be kidding me!"

"She wants to go with us Harris," Kyle grinned over his shoulder as he started walking, ducking both himself and Willow under the yellow tape.

"Be right back," Willow called back as she and the three other teens disappeared into the tunnel.

"This is ridiculous," Xander stated in shock while trying to see around Buffy to where Willow had disappeared to. "What is she thinking about?"

 Buffy shrugged and shook her head. "I'm going in after her," the Slayer stated sternly and started to duck under the tape herself.

"Naw, Buff," Xander interjected quickly and grabbed her arm to stop her. The short blonde stood to face him outside the cave when he spoke. "I'll go," he told her.

"Are you sure?" she asked concerned. "Those guys…"

"I can handle them," Xander assured. "They're just obnoxious…professionally. They don't require any actual Slaying, you know," he grinned and leant down to give her a quick kiss, which Buffy grinned into, before he ducked under the tape. "I'll go give Willow back her brain and be right back."

Buffy couldn't fight the giggle that bubbled out of her throat. It wasn't so much what he had said, as the fact that they had gotten into the habit of good bye and hello pecks when they were alone, and since they hadn't been all morning, she could tell that he had been waiting all that time to do it. "Please do," he smiled, refocused.

The Slayer watched Xander's form disappear down the tunnel and glanced around the area herself. Yeah, Kyle and his friends were just regular kids, but there was no need to for Xander to have any unnecessary brawls.  Buffy sighed and ducked into the mouth of the cave display – she'd be in and out quick.

"Oh, hold it, hold it!" a male voce boomed from behind her and Buffy stopped dead in her tracks. She turned to face, who she assumed by his khaki garb, worked of the zoo.

"Are you blind, or are you just illiterate?" The zookeeper asked harshly and the girl winced. "Because hyenas are very quick to prey on the weak."

Prick, Buffy thought, but spoke uncertainly instead. "Oh, I…I was just gonna take..."

The man cut her off sharply and lifted up the tape for her to exit the tunnel, "You're not going in there. Anyone that does is in a world of trouble."

Buffy shook he head obediently and stepped out to face the brash zookeeper. "No," she agreed, "no one's going in there." The Slayer's senses went on high alert at the warning she had just received and she wanted nothing more than to get Willow and Xander out of there. "Why is it off limits?" she tried to sound nonchalant.

"It's quarantine." The zookeeper explained looking the blonde in the eyes, "These hyenas just came in from Africa, so keep out." He cocked an ominous eyebrow and leaned down further into Buffy's face, "Even if they call your name."

The Slayer leant back precociously, keeping her temper in check enough to not beat the living crap out of this man. "What are you talking about?"

The zookeeper smirked at his superior knowledge as he explained, "The Masai tribesmen told me that hyenas are capable of understanding human speech." The man smiled as he could see the chill that passed through the teen in front of him.

"They follow humans around by day, learning their names," he continued. "At night, when the campfire dies, they call out to a person. Once they separate him, the pack," he snapped his fingers to startle the girl, "devours them."

Buffy looked at him under hooded eyes and studied his smile at the end of his tale. It sounded too brutal to give anybody a happy. "Well," she sighed out finally with a slight shrug of her shoulder. "Thanks…"

"That's what field trips are for," the zookeeper nodded. "Education outside the classroom." He watched the girl nod before he turned and walked away, leaving her outside the cave. "Remember," he called back, without turning around. "Stay out of there."

As soon as he was gone Buffy's eyes snapped back into the darkness of the cave, panic and worry spreading through her body and setting the Slayer in high alert, and she swallowed. "Yeah…"

 ~*~*~

Kyle let his arm fall from around Willow's shoulders when he entered the dark room. "Cool," he spun around admiring the surroundings. He approached his friends whom were leaning over the bar into and looking down into the cage.

Willow looked around nervously from her position where they had entered the enclosed space. "Ok," she fidgeted, "I don't see anything."

Tor glanced at her over his shoulder, "That's cuz you're all the way back there." He waved her towards them, "Com'ere."

Willow took a cautious step forward but stopped when she heard a low growl from within the cage, "Okay, we've seen…now we can go." She girl took a step back but Kyle jogged over to her quickly, holding her back.

"They're cute," Rhonda tossed over her shoulder with a devious grin while the animals growled again.

"They're hungry," Tor smiled in kind while Kyle pulled a struggling Willow towards the partition.

"NO!" she fought back, "Let me go!"

Kyle laughed menacingly, "C'mon Wills," she shoved her into Tor by the cage, "Supper time…"

"Willow!" Xander called, interrupting them, as his jog slowed to a halt. "C'mon," he said sensibly, "Be serious." He stumbled into the cave and stopped when he saw Kyle forcing Willow to lean over the ledge into the cave. "Hey, Kyle! Why don't you pick on somebody your own species!" he suggested smugly, and the other boy let Willow go. The red head ran to Xander and he stepped in front of her.

"What?!" Kyle approached Xander with his arms out in challenge. "It's not enough you're dyke ass girlfriend starts fights, but now you're going to get in my face too?"

Xander fumed at the Kyle and clenched his fists as he started to head towards him. He had been listening to this buffoon spread things about Buffy for weeks – months even, but it was going to end now, he settled.

"Xan!" Willow pleaded with him when he started to walk away. "C'mon! Let's just get out of…" She trailed off when the hyenas growled from within the cage and Xander turned his fiery gaze from her to the animals, along with Kyle, Rhonda and Tor.

Xander felt dizzy when his eyes focused ahead and Willow's voice seemed to have faded away…melted into the background before it was completely gone and replaced by an eerie silence…deafening clarity almost, saturated into his subconsciousness when he turned to the cage. He was drawn to the flash of green light that emanated from with in the constructed animal habitat, and he focused on it – making it part of himself.

"Xan?" Willow called meekly when his back was turned to her for several long moments and his head suddenly whipped around. She flinched when his usually dark eyes seemed to flash neon green, but dismissed it as it only lasted a brief second before it was gone. "Let's go, Xander," she said again quietly when he just continued to stare at her an odd smirk now spreading across his features.

Kyle and his friends studied Xander's back while he watched his friend and then stared to laugh…cackle even more maniacally when she jumped at the loudness and suddenness of the noise. Willow's forced smile died when Xander turned back to them and joined in their unprompted glee with a low but distinct chuckle, and she turned and ran out of the cave.

~*~*~

Buffy and Willow sat at their table and moved periodically to the live music that was flooding the Bronze. Giles would, every so often, give Buffy the night off, and when that coincided with a lax in parental regulations, the Slayer was always quick to jump on it and make sure to be out of range of any adults as fast as humanly possible. She had found that if she took her time deciding how she wanted to spend her free time she ended up doing things like babysitting Dawn or pottery class with her mother or, and this one was the most torturous, talking with her father – who, now, seemed bent on making sure that she was still his little girl. Buffy was actually glad that she wasn't an only child during many of their hour long talks, or listens, as it was on her side, because she couldn't wait until Dawn was subjected to The Hank Summers Inquisition.

"Is Xan coming?" Willow asked and Buffy could notice the nervousness in her voice.

"I think," Buffy shrugged and took a sip of her Coke. "I dunno, probably…"

Willow grinned knowingly and Buffy finally raised her eyes to see her friend. "Oh, please," she exasperated. "You know that you know. Why always pretend that you don't care?"

Buffy pouted and looked back down at the table. "I'm not pretending. I really don't care where he is…"

"Right." Willow agreed disbelievingly. "There's nothing wrong with your hyperawareness. He's your best friend."

"I'm not hyperaware," Buffy shot in defense. "I'm of regular wareness. Just because I know that he's allergic to shrimp and grapes and his heart rate in 180 over 30, does not constitute hyper anything."

Willow nodded with a smirk. "You got it bad," she shook her head and reached for Buffy's drink. "Almost as bad as him."

Buffy ducked her head shyly and swallowed, "Is it obvious? I mean, if you were an outsider…"

"I don't have to be an outsider, Buffy." Willow stated. "Why do you think I've been forced to give up my crush on him?" The blonde looked up in disbelief but her friend waved her hand dismissively at her. "Oh, please, Buffy. You knew, and you hated it."

"I…I…"

"You've always had him, so I'm ok with it." Willow stopped her stammering. "I don't want to lose friendships over this type of thing…we're cool." The redhead then cocked an eyebrow, "As long as you guys don't try to inhale each other in front of me. I'm not ready for that yet," she finished holding her heart melodramatically, and Buffy laughed.

"Thanks Wills," Buffy said sincerely. "I…I kinda wanted to talk to you about…but I didn't know…"

"It's fine Buffy." Willow assured. "You've got more to get together than telling me that you and Xander are…whatever. Besides, I'd have to be living in another dimension to not put the pieces together – but," she paused in contemplation, "according to Giles that might not be completely impossible."

Buffy shook her head with a heavy sigh through her grin, "Yeah. Tell me about it."

Both of the girls scanned the club before Willow's eyes settled on the stage, focusing on the bassist of the band that was headlining that night. Oz. Just the name brought a smile to her face. And a slight twist in the pit of her stomach. She had met him when she was out with Percy; she had noticed him then, liked him, even. But now, there was so much guilt overshadowing those initial reactions. Percy was dead. He didn't deserve to die and he had been out at the Bronze that night alone because she had told him that she had homework to do – he had asked her to come with him, and she had said no. What if she had said yes? Maybe then nothing would have happened; maybe then Buffy would have been nearby and swooped in to save the day. Willow couldn't possibly even consider degrading the innocent boy by being attracted to somebody else so soon.

"Speaking of other dimensions," Buffy spoke again and Willow turned to face her blushing heavily. "Did Xander seem…I dunno – weird, or anything on the way back today?"

Willow sighed in relief at the fact that Buffy hadn't even been paying attention to her. "I didn't notice," she shrugged taking another sip of Buffy's drink. "How so?"

The Slayer shrugged and glanced at the sleeve of Xander's jacket that she was wearing, running her finger over the maroon and gold striped cuff. "He was just…quieter, I guess. He just seemed more…" Intense? the Slayers mind asked, Dark?

"More what?" Willow questioned, her interest peeking.

"It was like…" Buffy tried to explain, "He'd be looking at me. And I'm used to that, you know," she smiled briefly but then let it fall. "But it was like he was looking through me…and when I called him on it, he didn't even turn away, he just smiled. It was creepy. It's weird."

Willow shrugged again, "I didn't notice."

"Ladies!" a voice sounded from behind Buffy and she turned when she felt a hand on the small of her back as the person came into view. "Buffy," Scott greeted with a genuine smile at his ex. "How are you doing?"

Buffy shrugged dismissively while the boy hopped up onto the stool beside her.

"I'm pretty good," Willow offered a vocal response at Buffy's continued silence. "You?"

"Eh," Scott mimicked Buffy's shrug. "Can't com…"

"What do you want?" Buffy interrupted him suddenly, her eyes narrowed. She had no interest in carrying on a conversation with him and he knew exactly why. Xander had begged her not to mention what he had heard from Jeff, but she just couldn't sit on it. Scott had the whole school thinking that she was some sort of slut while he sat there and smiled in her face. He could have single handedly ruined her reputation…more; she guessed she should add now. But, and Buffy stood firm behind this, she would rather be gossiped about for "starting fight" that saved lives, than for being a cheap whore.

Scott backed up a little at her cold tone and blinked. "I'm sorry Buffy," he offered. "I don't know how many times I can tell you that before you believe me, but it's true. I am sorry."

"You should be," Buffy bit her lip and turned back to her drink, stirring it absently. "And," she turned back to him, "You're sitting in Xander's seat." She knew that would get him. At first Scott had insisted that they all hang out – buddy around and such, but as the weeks passed he seemed to have picked up on, what according to Willow, she and Xander were broadcasting to the general Sunnydale population, that they, for all intents and purposes were together. In turn, Scott Hope had developed an intense and burning hatred for Buffy's male 'friend' and any mention caused an immediate cloud to fall over his features.

Scott looked around the club and then back to Buffy, "Don't see him."

"He's running late," Buffy shot back. "He'll be here soon."

"Well," Scott argued back, "Then he won't need a seat until he is."

"I really just don't want to talk to you." Buffy sighed and took a sip of her drink, "I've got nothing to say to you, for one, and two, I'm trying to have a conversation with Wills."

He always had a deep look etched on his face, but when he wanted to gain pity it would break into a hopeful smile. "I'm going to wait until you forgive me, Buff."

"Hold your breath," she said, earning a giggle from Willow.

"I guess I deserve that," Scott sighed and then sent Willow a withering glance when she nodded in agreement, just content so sit and listen to his and Buffy's conversation unfold in front of her. "Well, can I at least try to make it up to you?" he asked next. "I'd hate to think that we invested so much into us and then to not even be friends. Breaking up shouldn't have to mean that has to happen."

"And it doesn't," Buffy challenged. "When both people are mature and trustworthy. And don't make up lies to impress their friends."

"Pin it on the guy factor, if you have to, but I never meant to hurt you…"

"For her to find out," Willow threw in knowingly and Buffy nodded enthusiastically.

"Well," Scott sighed with a grin and pulled out a small flask from his jacket pocket. "Let this be the first in my petition for amends," he maintained his grin and reached for Buffy's half empty cup and poured some of his containers contents inside. He set the plastic cup back in front of her and Willow watched as Buffy said nothing in protest and simply began stirring the drink together.

The Slayer sighed before taking a sip under Willow's gaze. "What's the second part?" she questioned eyeing the boy, "Because this, so far, is not nearly enough for me to want to waste time looking at you." Buffy took another longer sip and slid the cup to Willow.

The red head shook her head with wide eyes and her friend laughed at her reaction. "You sure?" Buffy asked, "I can finish it."

"What is it?" Willow stammered out, and this time Scott chuckled.

"Rum n' Coke," he smiled and then asked. "You don't drink?"

"Not old enough," the red head said nervously, feeling instantly stupid under Scott's continued, almost disapproving smile.

Buffy simply shrugged and took another sip, speaking before he could question Willow's obvious moral objections. "You can go now," she smiled in an eerily sweet manner.

Her ex boyfriend's smile fell and he slid off the stool dejectedly. When he was on his feet again he hesitated, "Buffy?"

"Yeah?" she answered half heartedly, not turning away from Willow to address him.

Scott took a deep breath, "Would you…like to…um…dance or anything?" he finally got out. He saw Buffy about to reject his suggestion and jumped back into his speech. "Cuz, you're just sitting here, you know – and it doesn't have to mean anything…just…"

"GIRLS!" Xander's voiced boomed as he approached the table from behind Buffy and she turned excitedly to face him, leaving Scott to her back.

"BOY!" Willow greeted in kind.

Xander smiled at her, but she noticed something else behind it – like it was fake, just a simple gesture that wasn't even for her benefit…just… empty. "Sorry I'm late," he offered reaching Buffy's side and slowing his speech as he focused on Scott standing at her other side. "I... just forgot that we were gonna be here." Xander's dark eyes narrowed and Scott matched his glare, "Get lost." Xander sat simply, sliding his arm low around Buffy's waist where she sat on the stool.

Scott turned his face up and scoffed at the other boy before speaking to Buffy, "If you ever want to…"

"I don't." Buffy said simply and cut him off.

The shorter boy fixed Xander with a heated glare when he began laughing, a low rumbling sound in his throat that he tried to disguise, but failed when his face contorted with the effort.

"I guess the court has spoken," Xander choked out in amusement, "And we have decided that you need to go the fuck home."

"Whatever," Scott shook his head and walked quickly away from the table, hearing Xander laughing behind him.

"What a tool," the boy's laugh died down when he was left with Willow and Buffy, and his arm fell from around her. His eyes roamed the club for a split second before settling on the croissant on the plate in front of Buffy. "Mmmmmm – Hungry!"

Both girls watched in confusion at his behavior when he reached for the pastry and bit into it, tearing off a large piece and chewing it into his mouth.

"So," Willow tried after catching a 'told you so' glance from Buffy who was watching her friend eat with an almost disgusted look on his features. "Xander, you still want me to help you with algebra tomorrow? We can meet in the library so you can train with Buffy after."

Xander seemed to ignore her as he swiped up Buffy's Coke and took a long gulp, pulling it away with a bitter frown while licking his lips. "Yeah," he said to Willow distractedly before turning to Buffy. "What is this crap?"

"Well," Buffy said irritated as she looked into the now empty cup and then to the crumbs left on her plate. "It was my buttery croissant and my rum n' Coke…which by the way was my only repentance for my failed relationship…"

"I need some food!" Xander cut her off and looked around the room again. "Birds live on this!" He scratched his shoulder and cracked his neck, "And don't drink. Not good for you," he said with his eyes narrowed at her.

"Alright Dad," Buffy tossed him a half smile. "And this coming from the guy who cried because I had never played Quarters last year?" she asked rhetorically to Willow who forced out a smile in support, born mostly out of discomfort at the fact that she didn't know that her friends had spent vast amounts of time inebriated. One more thing she hadn't known about them about the lives they had, for the most part, together, for years before they even knew she existed.

"It's bad for your system…makes you weaker." Xander added distractedly and Buffy and Willow looked at each other and then back at him. Xander smiled and looked back and forth at them, "What?"

"What's up with you?" Buffy inquired with a furrowed brow. She needed to lean back to see his face; he was standing so close to her.

"Yeah, Xan," Willow threw in, noticing Buffy's new Xander shaped shadow. "Is something wrong?" She thought back to earlier in the day and his apparent tine and attitude towards her now. Even though she could come up with no explanation involving her directly she asked anyway, "Did I do something?"

Xander snickered at her, "What could you possibly do? That's crazy talk." He scratched his stomach absently, "I'm just... restless."

"Well," Willow piped up excitedly, "we could go to the ice cream place..."

"No," Xander interrupted and pointed to the table "I like it here." He looked up and scanned the area a bit, his body discreetly leaning further into Buffy and he audibly sniffed her hair.

Buffy watched Willow's brow furrow at the action and leaned away from her friend. He had done that before, he just had never been so overt in his intent – almost acting as if her were checking her, or trying to stake some sort of claim… "Okay," the Slayer demanded, "Now what?"

Xander looked her in the eyes and held for a moment without blinking. He could sense the shiver that went through her body, even though there was minimal physical movement. It held a hint of desire with her question – just a little fear with her curiosity. "You took a bath," he said simply.

"Yeah," Buffy stuttered, "I-I often do. I'm actually known for it."

"That's okay," Xander nodded after a moment of consideration. "I can live with that."

Willow shot Buffy another look conveying her agreement in his strange behavior while he scanned the club yet again. She had seen him do that about six times since he had gotten to the table, almost as if he were waiting for somebody to get there.

"And the weird behavior award goes to..." Buffy tried to joke, but it was delivered with minor strain.

Xander wasn't paying attention though and he tensed by her side when he noticed Kyle and his friends enter the club. Xander focused on them and Buffy turned and followed his gaze, her eyes darting between his face and the newcomers as he watched them push through the crowd.

"Oh, great," Buffy sighed to Willow when Kyle had noticed them and stalked up to the table, his group behind him, "It's the winged monkeys."

Kyle ignored her comment and faced Xander from her other side and Willow watched on uncomfortably, while the two boys locked eyes over Buffy's head. Without saying a word Kyle turned and pointed to another table to the right of the one they were seated at.

Willow's wide eyes met Buffy's again and conveyed her confusion, to which Buffy shrugged and mouthed 'I have NO idea.'

"Y'know," Kyle spoke and Buffy and Willow turned to see him speaking to the occupant of the new table that they had approached. "I don't understand why you're sitting at our table."

Rhonda spoke up from behind him, "Yeah, shouldn't you be hovering over the football stadium with 'Goodyear' written on you?"

Three started laughing out loud while the boy at the tables face fell and he slid of his stool seeming ready to say something in his defense, but wilted under Kyle's silent dare.

Buffy turned to Xander and saw him watching the other boy all but run away with the insistent giggling following him out of the club, before he joined in as well. Xander watched the boy disappear from sight before turning back to his table and finding Buffy's gaze fixed on his and his laughter died. "Kid's fat," he stated directly in a cold tone before casually dropping the subject and asking, "Wanna dance?"

"No." Buffy shook her head in disbelief, but Xander had stepped around her and was heading towards the bar before she could speak again.

"Suit yourself," he tossed over his shoulder with a shrug.

Buffy and Willow watched him walk towards the bar with their mouths open, and the Slayer snorted in disbelief when she saw him stop and look a passing girl up and down with an approving smile on his way. That, most definitely was not Xander Harris, she settled. And it was up to her…well, Giles, to find out why. But if there was to be fighting for him to be normal again – then it was all her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The End Part 1a