Title: Up Over Everything (3b/?)

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.

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

Sunnydale High School

~*~

"Welcome back."

Cordelia's shrill and sarcastic greeting was the first thing that Buffy heard the next morning when she walked into the hallowed halls of Sunnydale High. Oh how she had missed this.

"Thank you?" the blonde responded unsurely and kept her pace towards her locker. She was overly aware that the taller cheerleader was following her, and she glanced over at her. Buffy wondered if Cordelia was going to speak, or just follow her until she found Xander. She reached her locker in silence and, with an uneasy grin, put in her combination. Xander would be done with his morning practice in a few minutes and…

"You're off the team." Cordelia said apropos nothing. "Have a good day though," she smiled brightly and turned on her heel, heading away.

"What?!" Buffy's surprised shout halted the other girl, and when Cordelia turned to face her she was still smiling condescendingly. "What do you mean that I'm off the team?"

"Having a blonde moment, cuz that really was English," the other girl smirked. "Look," Cordelia continued and watched Buffy's rebuttal die on her tongue. After all, she was Cordelia Chase. This was her school, and whatever Buffy – second alternate who got lucky, Buffy – had to say was moot before it was even thought of. "You haven't been at practices…"

"I was in the hospital." Buffy countered not believing what she was being told. Her last bastion of normalcy…

"And before that?" the head cheerleader folded her arms across her chest. "Buffy, you were late everyday, and when you weren't you were screwing up." She watched the blonde drop her gaze to the tiled floor momentarily. "Plus, it's not like you were the best we had anyway. After second worst comes third…you might be around fifth now, bruise-o girl."

Buffy's arms folded over her chest and she couldn't look at the taller girl. She couldn't help the fact that she had minor physical abrasions because she had to fight the forces of darkness…to save people like Cordelia night in and night out. Buffy knew for a fact that if a normal person would have gone through what she had recently they would be dead. And now she was being penalized for it. "Cordy…I…I can work harder or something. I can…"

"Try out next year." The brunette settled with a slight shrug. "Aphrodisia is just…"

"Aphrodisia?!" Buffy sounded more incensed than hurt, but that was hardly the case. "You're replacing me with Aphrodisia? Cordelia…she can't even do a cartwheel. Remember sixth grade?"

The brunette's sympathic look was half hearted. "Remember when you became unreliable and started having fights in clubs?" Buffy averted her eyes again. "Because you should remember, like, last week. Plus, you and the new girl…you've got this whole new book bonding thing you're doing, and good for you. Embrace your inner loser and everything."

Cordelia's voice hummed into a drone and all Buffy could hear was her own heartbeat in her ears. It was anger and hurt…she looked up and glanced at the girl who was still talking at her. No, Buffy corrected herself, this was rage. This was exactly what Cordelia had been waiting for and there was nothing Buffy could do about it.

"Glad your alive and everything though," she let her hand rest awkwardly on Buffy's shoulder but withdrew it just as quickly. "I know I'd need serious therapy if somebody who I actually knew had died… I might not be able to matriculate here. It would be bad." She didn't receive a response and took a step back. "Well…later."

Buffy watched her go and slammed her locker shut when Cordelia turned the corner.

"Buff?"

The sound of Xander's voice behind her made the Slayer jump and whirl around to face him. She saw the smile Willow was wearing die and Xander's worried expression as he covered the last few steps to reach her. She could feel her face starting to flush and her eyes sting and she willed herself not to cry. She knew that she had faced much worse than being cut from the squad, but for some reason the way her friends were looking at her wasn't helping her control her emotions.

"What's the matter, Buffy?" Willow reiterated Xander's earlier sentiment while he abandoned her post, joking by her side as they had headed towards the library and actually in the process of looking for Buffy, to grip both of the blonde's shoulders in his hands. He held her at arms length for a moment, but before Buffy got out more than a sniffle he had pulled her into his chest, hugging her tightly. Willow shifted awkwardly when Buffy turned to rest her cheek against Xander's chest and slipped her arms around his waist while he rocked slightly.

"Aphrodisia Gaison." Buffy mumbled and swallowed the lump in her throat in an attempt to control her emotion.

"That bitch," Xander left Buffy pull away from him and slit his eyes. "Where'd she go? Willow'll kick her ass."

That made Buffy laugh slightly and Xander smiled in return. Willow, on the other hand, looked semi- scared. "B…but Buffy's…she's the strong one. She can…"

Buffy sent her a half hearted grin. "Not her, specifically," she elaborated and took a deep breath. "Cordelia specifically." She started to walk again and was flanked by her group. She glanced over her shoulder to Willow while she spoke and was only partially aware of Xander subtly taking her hand loosely in his own while not breaking their stride. Her brow furrowed only briefly as she adjusted to the gesture, but she made no move to break the contact.

"Like I said," Xander nodded confidently. "Willow'll…"

Buffy rocked into his side, silencing his mock threat when she saw the redhead's eyes go even wider than before. "She…I…Aphrodisia…"

"Xander?" he filled in, taunting her inability to get the thought out. His joke wasn't well received and when both of the girls turned to glare at him he cleared his throat nervously and averted his eyes. "What happened?" he managed to gulp out after a moment.

"She kicked me off the squad." Buffy spoke dejectedly.

Xander inhaled a shocked breath that coincided with Willow's.  "That's bull," Xander spoke vehemently. "You were the best one on that squad." Willow nodded in agreement, but Buffy furrowed her brow in disbelief.  "You were," he insisted off of her look. "You were the only reason I got excited about the back to school uniform modeling fest."

Willow shook her head for Buffy and the blonde rolled her eyes.

"You do get to keep that right?" he made a show of looking worried and Buffy shoved him away. He was back at her side in an instant, this time draping his arm over her shoulder and Buffy dropped her head against his side while he guided them to the unspoken destination of the library.

Buffy sighed, "She told me to try out again next year." Willow pushed open the swinging doors on the library. "Do you know how many years I had to try out?" she posed the question to a sympathic Willow. "This was the first year I was a stable. I was in the front!"

"And the drama continues," Giles' dry voice preceded him from his office. He studied the teen who had been the first to enter the library for the better part of a week and felt a soft smile spread on his face. "I'm glad to see you up and about," he said to Buffy with a certain amount of staunch formality.

Buffy grinned back. "Thanks Giles." She slipped from Xander's side and approached her Watcher. She stopped in front of him and bounced brightly on the balls of her feet. "I feel a lot better…"

Giles gave his nod of approval and agreement at her appearance. This was the Buffy he knew, so…"Enough to start up your patrol again?" Buffy's expression fell and she grabbed her stomach and winced slightly. "So, tonight," Giles ignored her faux show and turned to head back into hi office. "And," he called out to her from inside the cubicle. "I've set up some training exercises that I think you and Angel should run through…"

Buffy's expression fell and she rolled her eyes to display her intensifying boredom. She glanced back over her shoulder to where Xander was sitting on the elevated checkout counter and talking to Willow who was leaning forward and facing him. She cleared her throat to get their attention through their conversation, and she chucked her head back towards the exit.

With a devious grin Xander hopped off his perch and made a show of grasping Willow' shoulders so that she was in front of him and tipping towards the door. Buffy backed up, following their path, while Giles continued to talk while looking for things that she assumed he wanted to show her in his office.

"And I just had this short sword delivered," The Watcher reappeared in the main room of the library, his mouth quirked into a grin while he studied the weapon in his hands. "It's from Madrid. I'd like it if you took it on a field…" He looked up in time to see the room empty, the doors swinging, and the top of Buffy's head through the glass portal as she tried to hurry away. "Bloody children…"

~*~

That night

~*~

She had caved some time around lunch and went back to the library. She had even managed an apology for leaving and to her surprise he had given her gifts. Buffy had never been given weaponry before. It was thoughtful in an eerily practical way…like that silver cross necklace that Angel had given her, but more stabby.

Giles had told her that vampire activity, from what he had noticed, was fairly slow, and attributed it to Angel even though he confessed to her that they hadn't heard much of him lately. She had shrugged it off, and now she was glad that she didn't let it worry her because she knew for certain that the cryptic vampire was unalive and well.

Xander had had a minor freak out, but she convinced him during forth period, she remembered with a private grin, that she would be fine. She told him that if he went to the Bronze with Wills she would meet them there when she was done. She was glad that she was almost done because, and she had mentioned it in the past, the cat and mouse thing wasn't something she was interested in.

"Long time no see," Buffy commented wirily while strolling down the sidewalk. She didn't need to turn to see him and kept her hands in her jeans pockets.

"Could say the same about you," Angel's voice seemed to melt into the night air and he suddenly, but without a tremendous amount of surprise appeared by her side. "You look well," he nodded and eyed her with a subtle glance.

Buffy smiled slightly, having felt his visual appraisal, but keeping her eyes focused ahead. She had known that he was behind her…well he was traveling by roof for a while, but he was around, and she was doing a mental countdown as to how long it would take him to make himself known. But, even before she became the Slayer, Buffy was not one of huge fonts of patience, and she had given up the ghost just now after thirty minutes. "Alive and kicking," she muttered slightly and still didn't turn to look at her new companion. "Not so much tonight though," she added the observation unnecessarily since she knew that he knew that from following her.

"It has been pretty dead."

Buffy quirked an eyebrow at him as they make their way down the street.

Angel caught her look and cleared hi throat semi-apprehensively. "Where's Robin?"

"276 North Center," Buffy fired back quickly and dryly, stating the address of the building that they had just passed.

The vampire chuckled and hung his head.

"You have to admit that you walked right into that one," Buffy matched his small grin and received a nod. "Xander," she emphasized and turned the corner, "is at the Bronze with Willow."

"Gave him the night off?"

The Slayer's shoulders shifted and she let out an irritated huff. "I told him I could handle it tonight…Not that it's your business."

Angel shrugged and was silent.

"And this," Buffy gestured between them brusquely. "Picking a fight and then going mute. Not helping me stave off the killing of you."

"Did you ever count how many words more you use in sentences than you actually need?" He posed the question with a genuine amount of interest and heard her sneer.

"Too busy counting all the extra seconds that I'm letting you bother us," she bit back. "Look, why don't you just melt back into the shadows all ominous and creepy like, and I'll call it a night…"

"Go play touchy feely with the kid?" If Angel sounded bitter, he supposed it was because he was. Buffy seemed to pick up on it because she smiled next to him.

"Wouldn't you like to know," She stopped and made a show of thinking deeply. "Oh wait, you probably do know, what with you lurking and all."

Angel matched her move and turned to face her. "Then why don't you?" Buffy looked confused and the vampire huffed out a frustrated breath. "If you hate me so much why haven't you killed me?"

Buffy's jaw flexed at his question and she shrugged. She pulled her hands out of her pockets and folded her arms over her chest, unconsciously shielding herself from the larger figure who was now facing her down. If he would have swung at her, she would have had a counter attack, but the verbal…there was no defense against that. "Well, you're a vampire. Why haven't you killed me?"

Angel's jaw clenched when his mouth snapped shut.

"Because of your soul?" her voice sounded like a singing taunt.

"Because," his voice was unwavering, "The world…this place needs you." He settled on a response that she obviously hadn't been expecting and he watched her shift her eyes and hug herself tighter in front of him. "Because, Buffy, we need you to do great things."

"We?" she tilted her head to the side and regarded him.

Angel nodded. "We." He didn't offer any further elaboration.

"Well," Buffy's voice was just above a whisper. "we need you too."

"We?" Angel pressed.

"We." Buffy responded in the same aloof way she felt he had. She shrugged and started walking again, stepping past him to make her way down the street and wrap up this useless patrol. Xander was lucky he was in the Bronze with Willow, where it was warm and not creepy and dark and boring…she wanted to get away from Angel and go do that too.

Angel turned and caught up with her slow pace quickly. "You're cold," he commented.

Buffy raised her eyebrows and snorted. "Nah, I just don't like you."

"No," the vampire shook his head. "I meant that you look cold." He shrugged off his jacket and caught Buffy's surprised sideways glance.

One second she had been glad that she was headed for the Bronze and her friends, now, what with Angel taking off his leather jacket…his soft, huge, warm leather jacket and draping it over her shoulders, Buffy was ecstatic that now she could see the club. She hastened her steps to reach her destination, but was halted when her companion reached out suddenly and caught her forearm. As far as she could remember this was the first time he had ever outwardly touched her and it made her shudder in response.

"Buffy," he said steadily, as if he was unaware of her inner turmoil and her heady desire to get out of there. He saw her eyes focusing on everything but his face and after a second knew that she had noticed the slightly bloody scrapes on his bicep.

"You're hurt," she choked out on a gulp, but just continued to stare at the wound.

"Look…I…" He ducked his head briefly to collect his thoughts. "I was following you tonight because there's something…a vampire out here…"

"Really?" she asked sarcastically and with feigned surprise.

"He's strong." Angel ignored her. "He's got this claw…"

Her eyes locked on his arm again. "Like a giant fork?"

"Like knives." He corrected seriously. "I just want you to be careful," his voice was sincere. "Please."

Buffy shook her head dismissively and pulled out of the hold that he seemed to forget he still had on her arm. "Always am," she called back over her shoulder. "You should get that cleaned up too," she gestured vaguely to his arm and jogged away, unaware of Angel's grin and the fact that she was hugging the jacket around her tighter as she went.

~*~

The Bronze

~*~

Willow really was working on not looking as disappointed as she always felt when Xander's face would light up. He almost always was talking with her and being overtly goofy as only he could be, but the second – the exact second that Willow always knew he had made visual contact with Buffy his face would go 1000 watt.

That was just what had happened. They had been talking and she was genuinely comfortable and happy and Buffy had told them to enjoy the night at the Bronze as she could handle the patrol solo. The redhead believed that she had actually lulled Xander out of worry mode and he was enjoying himself too. They had danced and he was talking louder than necessary to get over the music, but to her it just sounded like shouting and that made her smile too.

It wasn't even that she was still harboring major crush issues about the boy who was and had obviously been Buffy's all along…she was just still, kinda sorta in a way, still adjusting to being the center of a member of the opposite sexes attention. When Willow went out with Xander, it was like it was just the two of them. This guy…this cute funny guy was like her best friend and it made her feel all warm inside. She couldn't help that. And then Buffy would show up, and she really liked Buffy too; but in Xander's eyes, it felt to Willow that the blonde just outshined her.

Xander's face would light up that much more.

"Buff!" he called and waved excitedly at a point just beyond Willow's shoulder.

He was so distracted that he completely missed Willow's customary chipper grin falter slightly, but when she saw Buffy standing in her peripheral she forced it back.

"Hey Wills," the Slayer grinned from her side and received a wholehearted smile in return.

"How was the slaying tonight?" the redhead shifted in her seat to look at her friend who had made no move to reach for a stool and join the table. She sputtered under Buffy's sharp look and dramatic wave around the packed night club, and was vaguely aware of a boy who was passing behind her stopping briefly. "I…I meant…how was the laying?" She beamed and Xander briefly nodded proudly before his brow furrowed. "No...no wait. I didn't mean that either…"

"It's ok Willow," Buffy comforted, but then put on a mock stern glare. "I just won't tell you anymore secret stuffs."

The redhead caught the teasing tone and looked affronted.

"Don't worry about her," Xander shot Buffy a raised eyebrow and a lopsided grin. "I got all her secret stuff anyway, and I'll rat anybody out for…" He trailed off then Buffy moved quickly, obviously a lingering result of the slaying she had just completed, and grabbed his hand where it was resting on the table. With a deft twist and a friendly sneer she maneuvered so that she was now standing behind him with his arm still caught in her grasp. "What I meant was…" Xander gasped when she tugged sharply, daring him to say the wrong thing while Willow was giggling. "That I love my Buffy and anything she tells me is vaulted.

Buffy yanked his arm again for good measure and ignored his surprised exclamation. "That's what I thought," she released him and finally let her eyes fall on an empty stool.

Xander read her intention to take a seat between himself and Willow, but moving with a similar amount of swiftness that she had, he tugged her arm, swinging her around and pulling her slight form into his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist and laughed into her cheek when Buffy made the obligatory show of trying to get away.

Buffy finally settled against Xander's hold and reached for the plastic cup in front of Willow. "How's Oz's set?" she asked when her friend pushed the drink towards her. Her friend flushed and her eyes went wide before darting down to the table.

"Dreamy…" Xander replied for her in a breathy voice that melded into kissing noises. Buffy pinched his arm that was around her waist hard when she saw Willow shift nervously. "You're too violent," he rebuffed dramatically, knowing that it hardly hurt and that he had always found her attempts to correct his behavior annoyingly adorable.  "We'll see whose the slayer when you end up on Cops. You'll be the one girl in all the world chosen to cell with Big Bertha." He was kicked in the shin for that and Willow laughed again. Mission accomplished as far as he was concerned.

Willow's eyes scanned the crowded club for the stage briefly before turning back to Buffy. "He's so good Buff. It's like he's…he's…"

"Stupid band guys." Xander muttered as he watched Willow stutter and receive a nod of agreement from his girlfriend.

Buffy rolled her eyes and noticed Willow's infatuatedly reminiscent grin turn into a frown of confusion. "That's a great jacket Buffy," she smiled. "Did you just get…" she gulped when she saw Buffy's expression fall worriedly. "Um…"

Xander's eyes narrowed and fixed to the leather jacket that he hadn't noticed Buffy was wearing. "Where'd you get this?" He felt Buffy shift nervously against him and he ran his fingers over the soft leather. It was obviously used…and it was too big…too big like a guy's jacket.

"I'm going to go to find Oz," Willow spoke hurriedly and stood, picking up her cup from the table. "Up by the stage." She turned quickly and cut through the crowd leaving her friends alone.

"Buffy," Xander pressed again, not watching Willow disappear from his sight. He let her go when he felt her start to pull off of his lap. Buffy grinned uneasily and reached for Willow's vacated stool, pulling it closer to where Xander was, now, rapt with attention and waiting for her response. "What…where'd it come from?"

Buffy looked at the oversized sleeves and shrugged the jacket off. She flung it over a vacant stool. "I was cold," she replied meekly with a shrug.

Xander's brow furrowed. "Alright…"

"And," Buffy looked after Willow and where she was leaning against the side of the stage.  She grinned when she saw Oz emerge from behind her friend and tap her on the shoulder making her jump and whirl on him in surprise. But when the Slayer turned again she found Xander still waiting for her response. "AndAngelsaidIcouldhaveit."

Xander almost hadn't caught that she had said it so fast. All he knew for sure was that she had said Angel, and that made him narrow his eyes. Why was Angel giving his girlfriend jackets? Why was his girlfriend taking jackets from Angel? "What happened to mine?" he asked in a surprisingly dejected sounding voice.

Buffy's expression softened further and she reached the short distance between them for her hand. She grabbed is and interlaced their fingers. "I left it at home," she looked apologetic. "I wasn't cold when I left and I thought what with all the fighting that was supposed to happen I'd be even hotter…" She tugged their joined hands into her lap. "I didn't want to get it all grungy in dirt and stuff cuz its special to me."

Xander raised his eyes to hers with a slight smile, but then asked, "Angel was there?"

"It was so slow tonight, Xan," Buffy said instead of giving him an outright answer.

"That guy," the teen shook his head. "Who does he think he is? In 48 out of 51 states he's legally a stalker."

Buffy titled her head while Xander's eyes were wide with conviction. "There're only 50 states."

"Point stands. That's even worse for him."

Buffy grinned and stood up. She took a half step until she was standing between Xander legs and looked him in the eye briefly before ducking in and pressing a quick peck on his steady frown. "Forget him," she shrugged and tugged Xander from his seat. "Let's dance." She smirked and licked her bottom lips when Xander wiggled his eyebrows at her and she walked backwards, pulling him onto the dance floor.

~*~

 "Thanks for coming," Oz grinned at her.

Willow was physically shaking in front of him and she didn't know why. Well, she knew exactly why, but Oz was the most laid back and comfortable person she had ever met…like Xander, only he seemed to be interested in her. "You guys were great," her chin shook nervously. "I had no idea you…you… You guys were great." She wanted to hit herself in the head when it registered that she had repeated herself, but Oz was still giving her an easy going half smile.

"Two 'you guys were greats'. Can't beat a review like that." The raven haired for right now bassist assured. "Best review we've gotten since…since that guy who used to plug in our amps and get gas for the van."

Willow giggled a little, not needing Buffy's patented 'get guys to fall for you' tips to pull it off. It was genuine. "You had a man groupie."

"Well," Oz's eyebrows raised slightly. "He had breasts. The man boob is highly underrated." She smiled brighter and Oz reciprocated her expression. "But really," he insisted. "Thanks for being here."

Willow shrugged and looked over his shoulder, quickly finding her friends on the dance floor. She was actually doing this without Buffy…she kinda wanted to go get Buffy and tell her that she was doing this without her, but shook off the thought with a half smile when she saw the blonde frowning tightly at her friend's erratic dance moves. She watched Buffy imitate him and Xander slit his eyes, and with pursed lips start shimming in, what Willow assumed was, his imitation of Buffy-dancing.

Oz glanced over his shoulder when he saw that she was focused just beyond him just in time to see Buffy shove Xander back playfully, and him respond by wrapping his arms around her waist and pull her closer. Oz turned back to Willow who gulped and refocused on him, clearing her throat, just as her friends started a mini-make out session in the middle of the crowd.

He hiked his thumb back to the dance floor and reached for her hand. She jumped a little and looked shocked at the contact but didn't pull away from his grasp. That was a step as far as Oz was concerned. "You wanna dance…or something?"

Willow watched his even expression shift unsurely and noticed that Buffy and Xander were headed for some of the couches in the corner. She shrugged and nodded excitedly, appearing indifferent and anxious all at the same time. "Yeah…dance….dance is good."

Oz's smile grew wider than he was used to for a split second and he pulled her towards the center of the club. She started to sway with the music, still a good distance from making any kind of bodily contact, and the idea struck him. Biting his lower lip and fixing her with a serious expression Oz started moving mechanically and jerkily, and in actuality looking a lot like Xander when he danced. Willow watched on wide eyed, but then gasped again when just was suddenly he stopped, took a step closer and looped his arms around her waist. "Just kidding," he said good-naturedly but without a hint of a smile.

Willow tensed momentarily in his hold, but then with a trembling sigh forced herself to relax and keep moving, as smoothly as possible, to the music. Something about this guy…

~*~

Sunnydale High School

~*~

Dr. William Gregory loved bugs.

His mother had criticized him for being a distinguished etymologist and taking a job in a high school, but he had a second passion to insects. Children. He had heard that 'children were the future' and he believed that whole heartedly. One of his high school teachers had lived his life like that and William wanted the same satisfaction from his own.

He held the vague and semi-conceited notion that maybe on of the children in his class would one day share his view. Dedicate their life to future generations.

That was on his mind as he toiled into the night to get his slides ready for his class tomorrow. William sighed, he wanted to affect their lives, but sometimes he just had to settle that maybe one would have done the reading. he could usually count on the new girl, Willow Rosenberg, to be that one. He made it a point to know their names. It made them feel special and he knew how important that was to children.

He held up a slide to the light and examined the translucent photo image it held. "Praying mantis," he muttered to himself. "That's number 23…"

A soft scraping sounded behind him and Dr. Gregory turned partially to his left to look over his shoulder. "Hello?" he called into the still empty room. "Is somebody there?" He got no response and shook his head with a chuckle. When he started hearing things, it was definitely time to pack up.

He nodded at the notion and slipped the slid into the projector…

Then his world went black.

~*~

Xander's House

~*~

He shifted nervously and he didn't know why.

"I'm so proud of Wills," Buffy was ringing her hands and standing in front of him expectantly. She could see the lights on in his living room and from the occasional shadow that darted past she knew that his mother was still awake. There would be no climbing into his window tonight, that was for sure.

Xander grinned and nodded. All her frivolous comment told him was that she was matching his sentiment. Not about being surprised that Willow had taken Oz up on his offer to drive her home, but about the nervousness. "You're going to call and get me the good gossip, right?" he licked his lips in mock anticipation.

Buffy giggled at his expression and nodded. "You won't go without."

Buffy giggle was his invitation. Big strong Slayer types didn't giggle unless they were suffering massive amounts of anxious anticipation. Buffy rocking on the balls of her feet was another key give away. She wanted him to kiss her…some more. The good night kind that they hadn't really had yet.

Xander cleared his throat and took a fraction of a step closer. "I um…I…"

She nodded.

"You don't know what I was going to say," he teased with a smile.

"I thought it was going to be along the lines of 'Thank you for protecting me with your life just then, Buff. I know the guys supposed to do the walking you home thing."

He nodded as that seemed alright, even though he wasn't sure about that faint dig at his masculinity. "Then what?" His voice dropped an octave and he stepped closer still. He caught Buffy's masked hitch of breath and gave a lopsided grin, slipping his arms around her waist beneath the jacket she had put back on.

Angel wanted to give her things? He could go ahead. But let him watch them now, Xander dared silently. Let the vampire civet his girl night and day, but Buffy would stay just where she was. She wanted to be just where she was.

"Mmm," she hummed and tilted her head up to regard him at his new closer proximity. "Goodnight?" her voice did that girly high pitched thing and she was well aware of it.

Xander arched an eyebrow, "Anything scripted after that?" He wondered if she would answer, but she just shook her head coyly.

"I say you ad lib it."

Xander steeled himself and ducked his head quickly, kissing her softly by surprise and taking full advantage of her gasp. He felt her arms tighten around his shoulder and she pulled herself up into him fully while their mouths worked with a contrasting languidness that tempered the excitement. "Night, Buffy," he smiled when she pulled back with a final peck.

He kissed her again more chastely just as the porch light above them flicked off and on in rapid succession, signaling that Mrs. Harris had had enough of their antics outside. He let his arms fall from around her waist and gripped her hand, squeezing it slightly. "Call me when you get in," he swallowed deeply and she nodded timidly and with a slight flush.

Buffy let go of his hand. "Night Xan," she was beaming as she headed off the porch and knew Xander was watching her walk down the street from just inside his doorway, for safety's sake. Feeling as if she was floating and swinging her arms back and forth Buffy headed home, just in time to make curfew, and feeling her personal, self appointed, protector's annoying, yet conveniently available, eyes on her the whole way.

~*~

Sunnydale High School

The next morning

~*~

What a spectacular morning. Perfect southern California weather. Perfect sun. Perfect school…well, everything but the school part was perfect. Willow spotted Buffy heading towards her with Giles at her side. "He said that there was a vampire…with a spork."

Giles cleared his throat and swallowed a bite of his apple. "A spork?"

"Like a knife fork combination." Buffy explained and sat down beside Willow.

"Sporks are spoon and fork," Willow pointed out and Buffy looked perplexed. "You mean, like, a kniork or a forife."

"Forife?" Buffy seemed to consider and accept the new word with a nod.

"Yes," Giles' voice was dry when he interrupted the pointless conversation. "Well, there's a vampire…"

"With a forife," Buffy added brightly and Giles rolled his eyes. "It scratched him pretty bad. I didn't know vampires could bleed like that. It was gross."

"Then we'll step up your training and I'll see what I can find," the Watcher squinted in the sun. "We'll look for this creature tonight?" He received a nod and then turned to scan the students who were milling and chatting in the sun. "Everyday here is the same," he frowned slightly. He was too caught up in his own judgmental grimace to notice Buffy's mimicking him.

"Yeah," Willow tried to keep from giggling. "All sunny and bright."

"I don't know how we survive this eternal torment." Buffy shook her head. She glanced at Giles who muttered something and started heading for the entrance of the school, Xander headed out in the opposite direction. "G-man!"

"Good morning, Xander," the Watcher grinned tightly. He still hated that name, and when Xander reached out and without making direct contact herded the older man back to where the girls were sitting. "Guess what the word is?" he spoke excitedly, forgoing an actual greeting.

"The word for what?" Buffy's voice was rightfully confused. "Because Wills and I just make up forife."

"That knife fork thing?" Xander nodded. "I think the Colonial had all flatware combinations already, Buff." He watched Buffy's bright smile turned into a disturbed frown. "But I'll make it up to you," he promised hurriedly. He looked down at Willow and noticed her biology textbook lying next to her lap. Reaching for it he deftly tossed it onto the ground behind them, "You're not going to be needing that today."

Both girls looked perplexed and Willow reached back to retrieve her book.

Xander shook his head in disappointment when he saw her brushing the grass off on the cover. "Your section's canceled, Wills. No books for you."

Buffy looked intrigued but seemed pleased all the same as she and Willow was in the same class.  "What happened?" she inquired despite her internal happy dance at having one more free period. She'd be sure to rub that in Xander's face later while he was on his way to his Bio class.

"Mr. Gregory," he nodded. "Dead."

Buffy and Willow both gasped in shock. "What?" the redhead's brow furrowed.

"Well," Xander shrugged dismissively. "Missing. But I have, surprisingly enough, little faith in that category anymore."

Giles nodded beside him, and caught Buffy's silent prompt. "I shall see what I can fond on this situation as well then, yes."

"Maybe Fork-guy has something to do with it?" Willow raised an eyebrow and the Slayer nodded enthusiastically.

"Fork guy?" Xander pursed his lips and glanced at Buffy.

Willow answered instead. "Angel said that there was a new vamp in town," she whispered secretively. "He has a claw where is hand used to be." He hummed and nodded.

They all expected a useful contribution to the situation at hand but when Xander spoke up it was bitter. "So now Angel's a narky coat fairy." He chose to ignore the fact that Buffy was, yet again, wearing the jacket that the vampire had given her the night before. She averted her gaze when she saw him notice her apparel. Giles scoffed and started back to the school mumbling something about children and leaving them behind.

Buffy watched him go over Willow's shoulder while Xander stood with his arms folded over his chest. "Do you really think he's dead?"

"Why don't you call Angel?" Xander offered condescendingly and ignored the hurt look that flashed in Buffy's eyes. "He can smell fever; I bet he'd be on a dead body like Old Yeller." His voice dropped and he turned his eyes away from where the girls were seated. "…shot that dog in the end," he muttered under his breath.

Buffy, having heard his comment, matched his snooty tone. "Don't you think there're bigger problems?"

"Oh yeah," Xander eyed her and nodded exaggeratedly. They both seemed to miss Willow shifting uncomfortably. "I run all around this school to help you out and when I find you all you talk about is that tall dark and pedophile…"

"Dr. Gregory might be dead, Xander." Buffy reiterated. "Angel's got nothing to do with…"  She trialed off when she heard him mumble 'whatever' under his breath. "You know my friend Xander," she spoke rhetorically; "He wasn't half as crazy as this version."

Xander's eyes went wide. "Well my friend Buffy was…wasn't…she…" Buffy was watching him expectantly, but in the heat of the argument no smart retort came to mind. "She was more rational!" He looked confused as she did when he finally got that out. Xander sighed and dropped his folded arms to his sides. "Look," he ran his hand back through his hair, "You know how… I just…" his eyes skipped away from where Buffy was holding his attention with hers and scanned the steps. "I justghhh…"

Buffy's brow furrowed and she caught a matching expression on Willow's face beside her when Xander seemed to zone out mid-word.

The boy gulped and shook his head slightly, his eyes still on the steps. "I, uh…uhhh…" he bit his bottom lip. This was new. He was seen Ms. French before, but…

He took a deep breath and turned back to Buffy, but then found his attention drawn back to the woman who was walking, as if in slow motion, towards him. His eyes went wide and his face relaxed with a sigh as he focused on the older woman's hips. They were all extra sway-y. And her lips all red and pouty. And her breasts…all breasty. He chuckled to himself and reminded himself to blink. What was this? He thought briefly and the inhaled sharply at the sharp clench in his abdomen…oh no…

"Are you kidding?" Buffy questioned caustically when she had obviously turned and seen what, or who, Xander had become so interested in so suddenly. The Slayer rolled her eyes at her boyfriend, as he seemingly forgot their current argument, and turned to Willow. "She's like 40."

Willow grimaced sympathetically and shrugged. She didn't like all the tension she always had to feel now. She could feel the 'middle man' syndrome falling upon her and it was not of the good.

"Xander," Ms. French was at his side before Buffy turned to face him again. Her death-scowl went unaccounted for by all except her redheaded friend.

"I didn't know that you got here so early in the morning," the teacher spoke rather sultrily and let her arm fall onto the teens. She grinned when she saw his wide eyes fall to where it had landed on his bare skin.

"I ah…uhh...ahyeah…"

"School starts at 8," Buffy informed her dryly. "Getting here by 7:50 is always a good step."

Ms. French turned, her grin souring and her expression was matched to a tee. "Yes, well…" she turned back to Xander and smiled before sparing Buffy another acidic look. "The biology sections are to be combined today. I trust you'll show up, Ms. Summers. I've checked your attendance record from Dr. Gregory's roll, and you seem to be having some difficulty in that area."

"Oh no," Willow piped up hurriedly. "Tardy isn't absence. She always comes…just fashionably late." She smiled in satisfaction at Buffy's subtle 'thanks a lot' grin.

"Of course I'll be there," Buffy smiled sweetly and sidled up to Xander's side. He was still distracted and she didn't like the little bit of drool that was forming at the side of his mouth while his eyes were fixed with this 'Mrs. Robinson's' chest. she looped her arm around his and forced him to comply dumbly, leaning into his side. "I never miss a class with my boyfriend."

Ms. French nodded. "Or you always miss class with your boyfriend." She titled her head and grinned flirtatiously at Xander. He managed a stupid sounding mumble in response, and combined it with an equally as inane slow forming grin. "I checked my attendance chart and you two have a tendency of being absent together."

Xander looked guilty and Buffy shrugged indifferently. She was more than ready to end this conversation by having this woman fired. She was never liked Ms. French…always making all the guys fall head over heals to get her whatever she wanted. The Slayer's brow furrowed suddenly. The reaction didn't happen all of the time. It was seasonal, it seemed…and when she had noticed Xander's in the past… and other boys…

The pieces were falling together and the cogs were turning. 'Missing' did seem to be a common term that was severely over looked because rarely did they end up 'finding'…

"Let's try to break that habit, yes Xander." Ms. French touched his arm again and Xander made a 'gahh' sound that Buffy didn't wholly like. "In class then," she nodded and side stepped the teens on her way to the entrance.

"That lady's weird," Willow commented while watching her be intercepted by Blain Hart. She watched him brush his fingers over the varsity letters that were sewn onto his jacket the way he always seemed to do in front of girls, and grin cockily at the older woman. She saw Ms. French smile back and touch the boy's arm and noticed an exact replication of Xander's daft look before both student and teacher headed inside seemingly engrossed in discussion.

"What was I talking about?" Xander shook his head and sounded confused for a moment – right before Buffy slapped him, none too gently, in the shoulder.

Willow refocused on her friends who were glaring at each other, until Xander cracked and flashed Buffy a smile that the Slayer fought hard to resist. "Biology," the redhead filled him in with a sense of mock shock.

"No," Buffy disagreed and turned to scoop up her bag. "Ms. French was talking, Xander was being an invalid."

He frowned at her assessment and jogged a few steps to catch up as she and Willow started inside ahead of him. "I was not," he whined from his post at Buffy's side.

The Slayer arched a disbelieving brow and reached for his face. With a smug grin she swiped at the corner of his mouth with her thumb and made a show of wiping it on his sleeve. "Had a little bit of residual drool," she walked through the door that Xander was holding open for her and Willow to enter the homeroom. "Must have been all the old woman boobs you were staring at." She caught his deep frown over her shoulder as he followed them inside the room.

"Well," he settled and sighed hopefully. He slid into his seat behind Buffy and glanced between his two friends. "At least we all have class together." He was met with a bright Willow nod and a huffed chuckle from his girlfriend, so he just sat back in his seat.

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The End Part 3b