Title: Before the Fall of Rome (1/?)

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: You remember all that crap that started post-puberty…yeah, it's great isn't it. It was when life started

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.

"Move it! Move, move, move…" Xander weaved in and out of the crowd in front of the school, deftly dodging his fellow students on his skateboard. "Coming through! 'Cuse me…Coming through!"

It was the first day, and he, Alexander Harris, was officially a high school sophomore, and there was no stopping him. Nothing short of an apocalypse could ruin this day…for once in his 15 years of life on this planet everything would be perfect for one day, he would be perfect…

And then he saw her…

"OMPH!!!" Xander landed hard on his back after his body disentangled itself from the railing he had, oh so gracefully, rammed into. He groaned and shit his eyes, his head resting back against the pavement listening to everybody around him laugh.

Laughing at him again. Just like always.

"Harsh landing there Xan," he suddenly heard her bright voice coming from somewhere above him as he remained on the ground, hoping to be swallowed whole by the pavement.

He smiled wanly and opened his eyes, squinting against the bright California morning sun. "What are you? Kidding?" he chuckled a little and looked up at her, seeing her holding his escaped board in her hand, "I totally meant to do that. That was a patented Tony Hawk move…"

"Which part? When you flew through the air, or when your toy, here, beamed Luke Hampton in the head?"

Xander watched her brush several strands of long blonde hair out of her face as she continued to smile at him, and for some reason his heart wouldn't slow down. That seemed to happen a lot to him recently when he got around her…especially since he went to the beach with her and her family last May for her birthday.

"Your words wound me Buff," he grinned up at her and she extended a hand to him, which he took, and she helped pull him to his feet. "I go through all that trouble learning how to skateboard just to impress you…and what do you do?"

"You learned how to skateboard because you said that rollerblading was a extreme chick sport, and did little to exacerbate your manliness…but I don't even think you can spell exacerbate, so I don't know where you got that…"

He looked sideways at his best friend as they climbed the stairs together…she was, well, as far as best friends go…hot. Xander had realized a few months ago that Buffy Summers was in fact a girl, and now that fact seemed all she could focus on. Buffy was a hot girl…she even had a hot name. Her hair was so…

"Hey, buddy. You in there?" Buffy looked at the young man confused and she waved a hand in front of his blank face.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, uh, yeah…What were you saying?" he struggled to call up some form of conversational memory, but came up empty.

"Nothing," Buffy stated, stopping in front of a bench in the quad and taking a seat, "you were just starring at me."

Xander tried to laugh and rubbed his hands down his shirt nervously before taking a seat next to her, "Sorry…I just…"

"You've just been starring a lot." Buffy cut him off. "I thought once they put a book in your hand that you brain would overload and you'd stop, but apparently I was wrong." She was trying to keep things light, just as she had been for the whole summer. Sometimes, it would be just like it was when they were kids, but recently one fact was getting harder and harder to ignore.

The fact that they weren't kids anymore.

Sometimes when they were together, she could see him…see him as a 'him'. Her best friend, that she'd had since before she could even say her own name correctly was a boy, and becoming more so by the day, and there was no getting past that. She wasn't even completely sure she would want to if she were to try, which is why it was so much easier to ignore…or at least pretend to ignore.

Buffy shook her head…this was Xander Harris she was thinking about. He of the infamous orange and purple print shirt, the ever cheesy come-on, and dorky obsession with Stat Wars or Trek…she could never tell the difference. He knew everything about her…every deep dark secret, like the time in the seventh grade when she thought she had herpes, but it was really just poison oak…and she knew all about him too. She knew about the time he had called her mom's office and sang "I Touch Myself" on her answering machine and her mom had thought it was a stalker. They had taken baths together…not recently, but as children their parents just thought they were so cute together. They were…are. They still had sleepovers…but that's not the point. It was definitely part of it, but there was more.

The point was…the beach. They had gone down to Laguna Beach about four months ago for her 15th birthday. Just Buffy's mom, dad, sister, and Xander for 4 whole days. That was when it started.

One night they had been watching TV in her room and had fallen asleep. Perfectly innocent. But, much to Buffy's begrudging longing; they had woken up a lot closer and decidedly more holdy than they had fallen asleep. And it was different from the other times they had had sleepovers, or even slept in the same bed. There was this…feeling.

And now things were awkward. Almost all the time, and there was really nothing she could do about it.

"Now you're starring." Xander's laugh broke through her thoughts and Buffy grinned.

"Guess we've both got some manners to work on." Xander nodded at her comment.

They continued to look at each other in silence, both wearing a gentle smile in the bright sun. Then Xander was thinking, and talking at the same time…something he hated when he did, "You're so beautiful," he said quietly and then averted his eyes, suddenly stammering with his words while Buffy just looked at him. "Oh God," he breathed facing straight ahead, "I didn't mean that…" he cast a brief glance at her out put look, "I didn't mean…I mean, you are…I just shouldn't've…"

"Thank you," Buffy said almost reverently, interrupting him, her eyes focused on the bench.

Uncomfortable silence reigned for a few moments, both teens focused on their own thoughts before Buffy spoke again, "Listen, Xan…I…we…should…we need to…"

"X-Man, B-Rock!" A new voice interrupted their conversation and both eyes snapped up to look at the new comer. "Calm down compadres, I didn't mean to disturb your deep conversation." He said holding up his hands in defense.

"Uh…hey, Jess." Xander greeted half-heartedly. He wondered if he wanted to know what Buffy had to say, if he should thank Jesse for interrupting when he did, or strangle him for possible ruining what could have been the greatest moment of his life. "What's up?" he heard Buffy ask in the voice she used when she was trying very hard to sound interested.

"Glad you asked," Jesse started excitedly, rubbing his hands together. "Great big news, and you're hearing it here first," he raised one foot onto the bench were his friends were sitting, "There's a new girl."

Buffy looked at him for a moment when he didn't continue, "And?" she asked pointedly.

"And there's a new girl. That's all." Jesse visible deflated.

"Well, thank you for being the first to crack that case wide open Stone Phillips." Buffy rolled her eyes sarcastically and then punched Jesse in the shin when he imitated her. "You haven't even seen her." She shook her head as he friend moved to Xander's side of the bench.

"What do you think Xander?" he asked his silent friend, snapping him back into reality.

"Huh?" he shook his head, and Buffy became transfixed with the way his hair moved in the wind. She noticed that his dark brown locks seemed to have grown a couple of inches, and she wondered when the last time he had a hair cut was. He should let her cut it for him…

"You haven't even seen her." She heard Xander state, "Until we get a visual I'm remaining in unenthused mode."

"Fine," Jesse complained, more than a little peeved at his friends attitudes, "If you don't want to help he find a potentially new hot girl, who probably needs some handsome gentlemen to escort her around campus and town then just sit here."

"Alright," Buffy agreed with him, "We will." Xander nodded at her and settled back onto the bench.

"Alright Harris," Jesse smirked ignoring Buffy, "but if she's hot, I got dibs."

"You're such a pig." Buffy scoffed at him.

"You're such a pig." Jesse fired back at her.

"Do you guys want me to leave you alone?" Xander smirked at the two of them. Ever since they all started hanging out in the fifth grade it was a known fact that Buffy and Jesse could go at it like rabid dogs for hours if left untended.

"If you do, you might never see him again." Buffy shot Jesse a glare and he grabbed his chest as if she had shot daggers at him. They were friends, but just a different kind. They were the type that loved to hate each other, and both didn't know what there life would be like if they didn't have each other as an outlet.

"You don't have to do whatever Gidget here says, Xan. Grow a pair, please." Jesse pretended to beg. "Come with me yonder to scopeth out possible hot girls."

I'm sitting next to a known hot girl Xander thought to himself casting Buffy a glance. "Whatdaya say Buff? Lets find the new girl…we could save her from Cordelia." Xander's voice was hopeful at the end of his sentence.

Jesse watched Buffy break and knew that she was game. He wonder what it was that Xander did that always got his female friend to do whatever he wanted…which left him wondering if she had, in fact, done whatever he wanted…He'd ask later. He had started wondering just exactly what type of friends Buffy and Xander were to each other of late.

"Then it's settled," he beamed, "Let's go…" he trailed off as he spotted a redhead enter the quad from under the stairs. She was about 5'4 and had long, almost mousy auburn hair, and was clutching several books to her chest, blocking a picture of some kind of animal on the front of her brown dress. She looked so…shy…out of place…

"I'm glad we didn't have to get up for that." Buffy commented, apparently seeing the same person Jesse had and Xander elbowed her in the side. "What?" she asked, looking at him with wide eyes, "I'm just saying…"

Xander seemed to notice the new girl, but saw Cordelia and her group doing the same. "Looks like somebody's locked and loaded," he commented to Jesse as they all watched the tall brunette cheerleader start over to the new girl with a confident stride. "We should help." He said standing up on his skateboard and starting across the open space, more than a little upset about Buffy's comment. She rarely had a serious put down for anyone and the fact that she had moated the new girl right off the bat had hurt him.

"Right behind ya, man." Jesse called out and started after Xander with Buffy beside him.

"What was with that look?" Buffy wondered out loud, starring at Xander's back through the crowd, referring to him before he started across the quad.

"What look?" Jesse asked confused, "I didn't see a look."

"He looked at me and then went to pull a Superman." Buffy shook her head.

"Maybe it was because you went SuperBitch…" Jesse said in mock contemplation, earning a glare from his companion. "What do you care anyway? It's Xander." He stated, as if that were the answer to all of life's questions. "The guy goes through moods like a chick on the rag."

"You're sick," Buffy's face turned up in disgust, "You literally make my physically ill…"

"What?" Jesse whined as Buffy walked ahead of him.

Buffy stalked up to where Xander had skated, just past where the redhead and the cheerleader were standing. They listened for a few moments as Cordelia laughed at the new girl's clothes before Xander spoke, "We need a plan."

"How 'bout, we go up to her and say 'Hey Skank, leave her alone'?" Buffy suggested hopefully.

"And draw Cordy's wraith," Jesse said, coming up next t them, "If that's what you want, I vote that you do it."

"I vote that you go hit on her again and she knees you in the nads…again." Buffy smirked back at him.

Jesse sneered at her and was about to respond, but was instead pushed backwards and sent stumbling to the ground, surprised, by one Xander Harris. He made a quick move to push himself up, ready to confront his friend when he saw the prodding look on Xander's face. Jesse looked to the right of where he now stood, next to an outright laughing Cordelia and a frightened redhead.

"Smooth, McCormick." The cheerleader smiled at him, "You've been in school for three minutes and you've already made an ass of yourself." She looked at him for a moment, and the added, "A bigger ass of yourself."

"Funny," Buffy interjected, coming up behind them to her friend's defense, "That's what Victoria's Secret said yesterday about you. I mean, they almost ran out of lace…"

Cordelia shot Buffy a look that, if it could kill, just put her great great great grand kids six feet under. "Alright Freak. We'll see whose laughing at the end of tryouts," she smiled evilly and turned back to her shocked group of friends.

"Your words cut like a sword!" Buffy called out after her in mock pain and horror before looking at Jesse and the new girl.

"That was genius!" Xander was smiling as he came up to his friends, throwing his arm around Buffy's shoulders and pulling her into his chest in a sideways hug. Buffy let herself be pulled into him and she could swear that she felt his lips press ever so slightly into her hair, but she was released before she could react properly, if at all.

Xander tried to keep his smile in place despite his nervousness I just kissed her head!!!!! I just kissed her head!!!! "You didn't have to push me down," Jesse complained rubbing his back, unaware of his friends' internal conflict.

"It was a spur of the moment thing," Xander defended thankful for the distraction, "I just knew that we had to get in there…"

"Thank you guys," the new girl spoke, drawing the three friends' attention, "I'm a little new here…"

"And what a welcome to the hallowed halls of Sunnydale High," Buffy joked sarcastically earning a laugh from the girl. "I'm Buffy Summers" she offered her introduction, "And these doofus'," she gestured to her sides where Xander and Jesse stood, "are my faithful lackeys, Xander Harris and Jesse McCormick."

"I'm not a doofus," Xander defended good-naturedly, "Dumb-ass yes, doofus, no."

"And I'm not a lackey." Jesse took the girls hand in his own and brought it to his lips, kissing it gallantly, "I run this outfit."

Willow looked at him confused as he released her hand, "I'm Willow. Rosenberg." She shook her head, "Willow Rosenberg." She completed finally, her eyes settled on Xander with a shy smile in place; a fact that did not go unnoticed by Buffy.

"Well, Willow Rosenberg. Welcome." Buffy added, taking Willow's arm and walking away from the two boys. She didn't want to admit that the move effectively took one dark haired you man out of the girls' line of vision. "We'll make sure you have an easy time here in Sunnydale and you know all the fun stuff there is to do, and…"

"C'mon now Buff," Xander said coming up beside her and jamming his hands into his pockets. "Let's not get the girls hopes up. You and I both know that there is no fun stuff here in the Sunny-D."

Jesse was now walking beside Willow, "Well, we've got a Starbucks now," he said thoughtfully.

Xander shook his head in disagreement as they made their way through the halls, "That's a cheap knock-off Starbucks. It's called the Espresso Pump, if you ever want to look it up," he added for Willow's benefit.

"Well, we do have the Bronze." Buffy settled, leading the group into homeroom. Willow took a seat next to her and Xander and Jesse sat behind them.

"What's that?" Willow asked, glancing between the three friends. Maybe, she thought for the first time since her father had took her that they where moving, this town wouldn't be so bad. She had three potential friends here. And that Xander kid…

"It's only the club, here." Buffy spoke and Willow drew her eyes away from the boy sitting behind her who was watching the blonde speak intently.

"Yeah," Jesse agreed, "It may reek of dive, but anybody who's anybody in this town frequents the Bronze."

"So we'll have to make an appendence," Buffy interject, looking excitedly amongst her friends.

"Tonight?" Xander asked, seemingly perking up to the conversation for the first time.

"Yeah," Buffy fixed him with a look, "You're not busy are you?" she asked sarcastically.

"No." Xander shot at her, "It's just a Wednesday. I thought tonight was movie night."

Xander had grown to love summer movie nights with Buffy. When he was lucky, Jesse was busy, usually babysitting for his little brother, which left just him and Buffy alone. Alone, and since May, alone included more holding than it had in the past… he wasn't ready to give that up yet, even if he had not idea what exactly that was.

"C'mon Xan," Buffy said, her mind flashing back briefly to the image of her head resting on Xander's shoulder as they lay side by side watching some B-rated flick or another. "Willow's new. We need to show her around."

"Yeah, Xander." Willow smiled at him, "Pretty please lets go to the Bronze."

Xander looked at her and then to Buffy, who had fixed him with her patented pout, "Fine," he sighed, "We'll Bronze it tonight, but tomorrow…"

"Movie Night!!!!" Jesse sang with his impression of Pavarotti.

Great. Xander shut his eyes. Now Jesse and probably Willow would be at Buffy's house tomorrow and he'd have to stay as far away from her as conditions would allow. Today officially sucked, and through no fault of his own. Nope. It was all Jesse and the new girls fault…all the school boards fault. Who starts a school yeah in the middle of the week? If I would have had one more day of summer, I could've…could've done…something…anything…

He was vaguely aware of Mr. Davis' voice introducing them to the New Year when he saw Buffy reach behind her and scratch her back, sweeping her hair away from her neck in a way that totally fascinated him. One more day. One more day and he could have been the one to do that, but no. Now they were going to be forever stuck in the loop of the friend…

A small scrap of paper dropped onto his desk from Buffy's hand and, although surprised, he picked it up as discretely as possible. Xander slid down in his seat and unfolded the note, reading the simple words drawn inside… 'Talk outside after 2nd.'

Xander shifted in his chair and took a deep breath. Apparently…hopefully, Buffy was going through some of the same things he was. Either that or she wanted to tell him that they couldn't be friends because she knew he was in love with her and since she could never feel the same there relationship would be eternally screwed. Oh man, he wished it was the first one.

He didn't know how he was going to get through two whole periods with this on his mind, he stood as the bell rang and heard Willow asking Buffy what she had first period, while Jesse had entered into a conversation with Paige Durmot and walked out of the room with her.

"Calculus." He heard Willow say and watched Buffy look at her in disbelief before telling her which room to go to.

"See ya," he called out after the redhead as she headed to class waving, leaving he and Buffy alone in the hall, neither saying anything as the walked towards theirs English class.

"She's nice," Buffy commented after a moment, and Xander sighed and nodded. "She's from LA." She continued not sure of what else to say. "Can you imagine moving form LA to here? It's like moving from New York to Green Acres."

Xander nodded again, looking straight ahead and keeping his hands in his pockets. "I can't wait for second period." He commented out of the blue as they reached the class room.

"And that's the root of the weirdness between us." Buffy sighed, almost angrily, "That's all I want to clear up between us."

"Well," Xander resigned, walking behind her hurried stride to a desk, "the weirdness goes two ways."

"I know that. That's the problem." She watched him sit down right next to her and lean in to continue the conversation.

"Is it a problem?" he asked seriously.

"I think it is." Buffy was unable to meet his gaze, but she could feel him still watching her. "We can't be friends…"

Xander's heart clenched, "I think we should go to the bathroom." He interrupted her, "Now."

Buffy simply nodded and walked quietly out of the room. She walked down the hall and turned the corner, leaning against the wall and waiting for Xander. This was exactly why she wanted to wait to have this conversation with him. She knew it wouldn't be an easy one, and truth be told, she just wanted to wait to see that maybe the problem would dissipate between forty minute intervals.

But they couldn't be friends. Not when she could hardly concentrate around him. Not when all she wanted him to do sometimes was to…

"Come on," Xander's voice was a harsh whisper as he came around the corner and took hold of her hand, gently pulling her after him. He kept walking at  a brisk pace and tried not to concentrate on the feel of Buffy's small warm hand held firmly in his. They had held hands before, sure. In reality it was nothing. But now, it seemed to Xander, each touch they shared was something he coveted.

He led them quietly through the halls, thankful that the Principal was nowhere to be seen. The only thing he needed to make his suckfest day complete would be detention on the first day of school. "Here." He said finally reaching for the doorknob of a broom closet and opening the door.

Buffy looked around quickly before letting go of his hand and walking through the open door, pulling the lamp string hanging from the ceiling as Xander shut the door behind them. "When you say we can't be friends anymore, we need to talk about it right away." Xander was talking immediately.

All Buffy could do was nod in response, unable to meet his hurt eyes. "That came out wrong." She said quietly, "We'll always be friends…it's just…" she looked up to see Xander watching her expectantly, "It's been…"

"Weird." Xander filled in. "We've established that."

"Yeah, but it's been like that all summer." Buffy shook her head. "We're not the same…"

"Good." Xander said confidently, "That means that we're growing up. It was bound to happen some day Buffy."

"So it's good that we're not friends anymore," Buffy's voice cracked, but she ignored it. She didn't know why she felt like crying right then.

"We're best friends…I think we are. Why don't you?" he tried, hoping to fish something out of her before he admitted to any of his own feelings.

"Because…" she stated and then stopped talking.

"Because what?"

"Because you…" Buffy started again, pissed that he was pushing her to explain why he was spending all his time starring at her, "You held me that night." She said quietly.

"I loved waking up with you." He admitted in hopes of comforting her after her confession. "I'd been thinking about it before that night…I don't really know why…"

"And you're a guy…" Buffy kept talking.

"Thanks for noticing…" Xander smirked at her statement.

"And I've noticed," Buffy shook her head, "Oh, God, I've noticed…"

"If it makes this any less embarrassing, I've notice you're a girl too." He tossed her a labored grin.

Buffy silently wondered if all coed best friends went through this. If they all got to a point where this person…your best friend was all of the sudden a member of the opposite sex, and was therefore, not only very available, but also increasingly appealing. The availability just made the situation more dangerous…because you trust each other. Trust each other with all that you are and all the sudden you're not just best friends, you're a guy and a girl. You're a teenaged guy and girl and you're so close and you both want the same thing…and there's the love and the trust and… "When?" Buffy mumbled, now standing in front of him.

Xander laughed at himself, "The first day at Laguna." He remembered vividly, "That's when I saw you as a girl…you walked out of the sliding glass door of the kitchen out by the pool…"

"The bikini?" Buffy smirked at him and Xander shrugged his shoulders.

"You have boobies. I don't know when that happened." Xander laughed and Buffy swatted his arm.

"So all this is about puberty?" she asked, shaking her head.

"Of course," Xander agreed, but then added, "But I think for me it's also because it's you, Buffy. It's just not possible more me to not be…" he shook his head, the close proximity of there bodies suddenly registering with him and his throat dried out.

Buffy sensed his change in demeanor and shifted from foot to foot, "For you to what?" She wanted him to be able to say…whatever it was he was just going to say. There was a fluttery feeling that started in her stomach and tickled up her throat when Xander's eyes opened and looked directly down into hers. They were so close now all one of them would have to do was lean…she could easily lean up just to test…just to see if what she had, begrudgingly, been obsessing over for months was worth all the thought…

"We need to get back to class," Xander rasped out, taking a sudden step back, trying not to concentrate on how Buffy's stature visibly deflated in front of him, "We've been gone too long already."

"Yeah," Buffy agreed, "I'll, um…I'll go first."

Xander nodded to her and watched as she turned towards the door as he cursed his own stupidity and took a deep breath. Buffy must have heard his early exhalation loud and clear because she suddenly turned to face him, the broken look in her eyes now slightly tinged with the fierce determination that was always just below the surface.

"We still need to talk," she stated, leaving no room for questioning, "We just need to find the words first."

Xander swallowed again If there are words his mind laughed bitterly, but his mouth just answered with "Sure, we'll have to definitely talk later."

Buffy saw something else in his eyes and wondered if the same was true for her with him. She needed to think that it had to be…that this boy knew her better than she knew herself…but at the same time she wondered if he was the same boy she thought she had grown up with. He didn't feel the same to her anymore…didn't act the same…didn't look the same to her any more. The boy she knew wouldn't have thought something about her that he didn't say…and she wouldn't be…wouldn't have to try to figure him out.

She opened the closet door and cautiously stepped out into the hallway, quickly making her way back to class without looking back to see where Xander was.

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End Part 1