***Part One***
Word Count: 6,990

He was an idiot is what he was. He glanced at the entrance to the diner, listening to the latest weather forecast on the local radio station. They had two types of stations here in Wheelsy. Country and Western. The SUV he'd rented on trips previous to this one offered satellite radio. He wasn't here on official business this trip so couldn't splurge on such a luxury. He was debating whether to go in now or just wait and see her tomorrow while Hank Williams sang about tears in beers.

She was in there with a few friends, looking as if she was having a good time so he wasn't worried about her needing him there or anything. Not to mention, he was hungry so he could probably sit down and eat anyway. He'd mentioned maybe not getting here until the next day, but he imagined she'd like to know he made it.

His cell phone rang, allowing him to put off a decision for another few minutes anyway.

"Hello," he said simply, recognizing the number as Buffy's.

"Well, hello to you. How's the world traveler?"

"Ha ha," he said dryly. She'd been travelling across the globe collecting slayers for a while now. This was his fourth trip to Wheelsy. He supposed it had something to do with the fact that this trip didn't have to do with Council business in any way, shape, or form.

They were still going to be able to write off the expenses. While he was here, he'd check around and make sure things were still contained. Never mind that Kylie or someone would have gotten a hold of him if things had started going to hell again.

"How was your flight?"


"You nervous?"

"Uh," he said, thinking over his answer for a moment. "Yeah, I guess. I'm not sure I knew what I was doing when I mentioned this."

"You looked rather nice in your tux from what I recall. I was a little distraught, but I remember. And you're way buffer than you were then."


"Well, yeah."

He laughed then, running the pads of his fingers over the string near his temple that held his eye patch in place. "Sorry, it just sounds funny hearing Buffy say buffer."

"Uh huh," she said. He could just imagine her thinking that one over. "So, have you seen her yet?" Well, technically, that wasn't true. He was seeing her now, just in a kind of one-sided way.


"Why not? Your flight got in hours ago."

"Well, I had to drive here first. I just got here not too long ago and I'm sitting in front of the diner now. She's in there with some of her friends."

"That's kind of creepy, Xander."

"I don’t know why I'm doing this. I'm way too old to go to prom. People are liable to think I'm a chaperone."

"Mm, because you're one of the good guys, you felt bad for her, probably remember what it was like for the both of us to go to ours stag, and if they think you're a chaperone you'll get away with all kinds of crazy stuff. And, well Xander, I think you like her."

There was that. They'd hit it off almost immediately, before he even knew she was a survivor of the zombie attack. And before he'd found out she wasn't quite eighteen. Her birthday fell in the summer, so even now she was only seventeen. He'd always had a thing for chicks that could hold their own. Kylie Strutemyer wasn't a slayer, but the story she'd told and the ones Bill had told him painted the picture of someone unwilling to just roll over and die. She fought. And, well, she knew how to handle a gun, which was kind of cool in Xander's mind. As long as she wasn't pointing it at him anyway.

"And if the guy she's staying with had a problem with you he wouldn't have signed the approval thingy letting you take her."

"Yeah, yeah," he said.

That had surprised him. Sheriff Bill Pardy hadn't liked Xander at first. Probably saw him as some city slick guy come to town trying to take advantage of a girl who'd been through a traumatic experience.

They'd met at the diner during Xander's first trip to Wheelsy. He'd stopped in the diner a few days after arriving there to talk to her personally when he realized the waitress he'd been talking to and flirting with was one of the survivors. He'd decided after talking with Buffy to tell her about the Council. Well, not all of it, but at least enough to make her realize he wouldn't think she was crazy to talk about aliens and zombies.

Bill had been a little hard core about ensuring Xander realized she wasn't eighteen yet. Xander couldn't blame the guy, though. She was cute and receptive to his sense of humor.

He hadn't planned on ever seeing the sheriff again, but he and Kylie had stayed out later than he'd originally thought that evening. She'd been giving him a tour of the areas effected in the attack. She'd mentioned the other ranches wouldn't be too keen about having them walk around on their property, so they'd spent a long while going around her folks' ranch until nightfall. Then they'd gone around to the other ranches so Xander could see all of the areas first hand.

Nothing had happened, but he knew how it looked. Stranger passing through town, girl might think he's her ticket out of Nowheresville, and guy might take advantage of that fact. That wasn't Xander's style, though.

He'd had never been so scared in his life. Facing demons and vampires was nothing compared to facing an irate father figure who thought the rough-looking stranger might be interested in taking advantage of his innocent ward. Maybe it was the fact that the father figure in question knew how to use a gun, and had several to choose from to do the executing with.

Xander told him the truth then, hadn't seen much choice. As with Kylie, he told him what he had to in order to be believed. Bill eased up then, seeming to read Xander's interest in Kylie as purely business.

That was possibly true that first visit, though how a guy could look at her and not have some thoughts run through his mind was baffling to him. It had been easy enough to put thoughts of her out of his mind once he'd left.

Xander had come back a second time to get some soil and water samples for Giles from the area where the first attack had taken place and the barn where the slugs had been bred. He'd found upon checking into the little inn - a place Giles would probably call quaint but Xander just considered small - that he looked forward to more meals at the diner just across the lot.

Kylie had taken him to both places without batting an eyelash. She did admit when they got to the barn that it gave her the creeps. He couldn't blame her there. It was because of the things that had been let loose here at the barn her parents and twin sisters were dead. It was there that Xander found out that she knew how to handle a gun as if she knew what to do with it. She'd refused to enter the barn without one despite the fact it had been weeks since the infestation.

She'd been fine during his first trip. She'd walked him through her house and showed him around the property. There were no animals there. The sheriff, acting as her guardian, had sold off all the livestock and put the funds into a trust for her. Xander imagined it was so she could go to college. The house was paid for and hers if she wanted it she'd told Xander. He didn't blame her for not knowing if she could live there. Bill seemed to understand that was something she'd probably decide much later on.

That afternoon at the barn, though, she'd lost it. She'd seen a mouse scurrying along the floor and shot three holes in it before he even knew what had happened. He hadn't realized how edgy she'd been up until then. Someone had cleaned it up, but it still smelled like road kill and death. She'd let the shotgun fall to the dirty floor of the barn and covered her mouth, tears welling in her eyes when she realized what she'd done.

He'd been the one lucky - or unlucky - enough to be there when it happened and caught her as she practically collapsed. He'd offered her a hug as any good person who saw someone hurting and confused would do. She accepted it and it had led to a bit more. Not much, Xander wasn't a complete cretin, but there'd been a kiss that hadn't been friendly in nature for sure.

He walked her to the door that evening, finding himself glad that the sheriff and his girlfriend were already gone for the evening. He suspected that it would be plainly obvious something had happened and wasn't ready to deal with the consequences just yet. He did not have a very good poker face.

While they hadn't been alone again that trip, he saw her at the diner when she was working and he was eating. She'd given him his e-mail address before he left town. He'd put it in his wallet, surprised when he got back to London and took it out to add her to his contacts. He was even more surprised when he'd dropped her an e-mail a couple of days later.

He'd never told her where he lived. She knew he was from near LA, and for all he knew she thought he was still somewhere out on the West Coast. He'd told them too much about Buffy, slayers, and their history for him to feel comfortable revealing where they were currently based. She wouldn't do anything, but if she let it slip to Bill or someone else, they could. Although, Bill seemed to believe him.

Xander had wondered about the ease with which Bill believed him. Kylie he could understand to a point. Not that Bill was much older than Xander himself was, but if he'd found out today about Buffy he wasn't so sure he'd be as inclined to believe. Well, not without seeing Jesse be the walking undead anyway.

Kylie had explained that easily enough, though what she'd told him about Bill's girlfriend was a little hard for Xander to swallow. Xander had asked Willow to hack into Bill's hospital records to be sure his injuries were as extensive as Kylie believed they were. Willow had, informing him that the good sheriff was lucky to be alive.

And, really, was it so hard to believe that if Buffy had a genetic makeup that made her the slayer that there might be others out there with genetic makeups that made them different, too. He'd debated about mentioning Claire and her ability to Giles, but in the end decided not to say anything. He didn't want to be the reason anything happened to her, and from what Kylie had said she'd come to Wheelsy to hide.

The third trip had been more of the same. Collecting some more soil samples and conducting some more formal interviews with those willing to talk. Xander wasn't sure what had Giles' interest in the events in Wheelsy piqued, he suspected it might have something to do with Glory and the Queller demons that accompanied her presence. Giles had asked Xander to check and make sure the psychiatric wards from the area weren't experiencing an influx of patients. Xander found on the third flight across the Atlantic that he didn't mind returning to the little town.

He'd found out that the psychiatric wards hadn't seen business pick up before or since the infestation. So, this had nothing to do with Glory, or so it seemed anyway. And from the way Kylie described it, he was more than convinced that was the case. Surely, if Glory had been behind any of it, Kylie would have gotten a visual of her. All of the zombies would have been connected to her not the man infected in the first place.

That third visit he'd sought her out when he didn't need to. He knew where everything was by now and how to get there without getting lost. He'd been a little surprised that Bill had been so easy-going about him taking her to a movie his first night in town. They didn't have a movie theater in Wheelsy, so it meant driving a fair distance to the next town in order to accomplish the date.

He'd kissed her for the second time that night and there was no question this time he'd wanted to, it wasn't from feeling sorry for her or wanting her to feel better.

She'd asked him about his eye and he'd told her the story. Up until that point, he'd avoided talking about that specific night in his tale of fighting apocalypses. Surprisingly, she didn't seem put off by the idea of him going through life having to wear an eye patch. At her age, he wasn't sure he'd be able to look past it. The sap that he was when she mentioned prom and her lack of date possibilities, he'd offered himself.

If she'd known it would mean another transcontinental flight, she probably would have turned him down. She didn't, though, and he could tell by the smile in her face that she was going to take him up on his offer, despite not answering for a day or two.

"I really didn't think she'd say yes."

"Maybe she likes you, too," Buffy said.

"Well, right, but she's hot, Buffy. I mean, she's tough and everything, so she could have gotten a date around here if she wanted to."

"Do you really need me to say this again?"

He sighed. "No." He knew what she was going to say, she'd said it before. Kylie probably wanted to go with him, not someone else.

"Go see her, Xander. You're sitting out there watching her, go see her. You'll make her night."

"All right."

"And you should really tell her you live in Europe so she doesn't expect four visits in the span of a few months again."

"You're the boss, Buff."

"I'm not the boss and this conversation has nothing to do with slayery stuff. I'm talking to you as a friend. My good friend, one of my two best friends. You deserve some happiness. Anya was a long time ago. And no offense, but she wasn't right for you. Human's the way to go."

It didn't hurt as much anymore hearing her name. He wasn't sure if that meant he'd made the right decision in not marrying her or if it was just that he knew he had to go on. She was gone and he was not.

"What does it say that I find it in a seventeen year old girl?"

"What does it say that my first true love was over two centuries old?"

"Good point," he said.

"Just don't do anything to get arrested or shot and you should have a good time."

"I didn't much like prom the first go around."

"You went stag and you didn't have Cordelia or Willow on your arm but had to be in the same room with both of them looking all pretty for other guys."

"I don't know any of her friends."

"Isn't she in there with some right now?"

"Yeah," he said, glancing again at the table through the window.

"Well, then go change that."

"I am a little hungry."

"There you go."

"Night, Buffy," he said, glancing at his clock. "Why are you up so late?"

"Just getting in from some clandestine slayer activities."

"I see. Profitable ones?"

"Don't you know it."

"Good. Get some rest."

"You, too."

He hung up then, pocketed the cell phone, and opened the door before he could change his mind. Why he was so rattled about seeing her a day early he wasn't sure. It could have been her friends. She seemed to think he was cool and funny. What if they didn't?

She saw him as soon as he pulled the door open and stepped inside. She stopped what she was doing, even listening to her friend talking and looked at him without hiding that she was. It'd been a long time since someone had looked at him like that. He couldn't remember the last time Anya had even. Like him walking into the room made her world stop for just a second. He'd place bets on the fact she didn't have the thoughts going through her mind Anya usually did.

He could be wrong, he supposed, but she didn't give him the impression that she'd been kissed real often. Of course, just because someone didn't do things didn't mean the thoughts weren't there. She could be a real good actress, he supposed. If he'd had a guy friend to talk to, he'd probably be told to be careful. Small town girl could be looking for an easy way out. The way she described herself, though, he got the impression before the incident that might have been the case. Now, not so much. It was almost as if what had happened made her appreciate living here and her friends.

They'd talked about college when she'd mentioned the trust fund. She'd applied to colleges, most as far from Wheelsy and South Carolina as she could get. Her goal was to put as much distance between herself and her hick parents and the small town she'd been born and raised in. She was second guessing wanting to go so far last they talked about it. It wasn't as if he was planning on taking her back to London with him or anything. For all he knew, after this long weekend he'd never see her again.

She said something to the friend next to her who slid out from the booth so that Kylie could slide out, too. He stayed put then, waiting for her to come to him since it seemed like that's what she wanted.

"Hi," she said. Her smile told him that she was relieved to see him.

"Hi yourself," he said.

A quick glance in the direction of her table told him that her friends were watching them, whatever conversation they'd been engaging in before he got here was forgotten for the moment. He had no idea what she'd told them about him beyond the fact they knew she had a date to prom.

So, was he supposed to kiss her? Is that what her friends were waiting for? It wasn't like they'd gotten to where kissing was second nature or even instinctive for them. A few kisses good night, but other than the night he'd taken her out to a movie he'd put ensured the kisses stayed pretty benign.

"You made it."

He held off with the kiss, but did reach for her arm and touched it lightly with his hand. Not as affectionate, most definitely, but there were adults in the diner, too. Wouldn't do to make the good townspeople of Wheelsy who knew how to use weapons maybe better than Buffy could wield a stake think he was accosting one of their own.

"I did. Were you worried?"

She shrugged, her eyes betrayed the fact she'd thought he might not show up. He couldn't blame her. His track record at keeping dates important to women in his life wasn't exactly stellar.

"I told you I'd be here."

"I know, but you're busy and way out of high school."

He shrugged. "I went stag to my prom, so maybe this one will be more fun."


"Yeah, I haven't told you that story?"

"No," she said.

"Well, I'd been dating this girl. She was the last girl I ever expected to go out with, or to be willing to go out with the likes of me."

"Likes of you?"

"Yeah, I wasn't much to look at or listen to back then. Not that I am now."

"You are," she said.

"Thanks. Anyway, Willow and I. Well, I don't remember exactly how it happened, but we kissed while I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend."

"Oh," she said.

"We weren't caught then. It actually took us being kidnapped by a vampire to be caught."

"And they blamed you for that? You probably thought you were going to die."

"I don't think they saw it that way. Especially when Cordelia fell through a rotting step leading to the room we were in and got impaled on a piece of steel."


"Oz eventually got back together with Willow, but he didn't really have anything to lose. Cordelia on the other hand, was as popular as you could get, so there was no chance for me to be forgiven."

"I'm sorry."

"It was my own fault. She fell on hard times, her parents were being investigated for tax evasion. Maybe it was tax fraud. I'm not sure, anyway, she'd gotten a job and hadn't earned enough to finish paying off the dress she'd picked out by the time prom came around."

"Let me guess. You paid off the balance?"

"Yeah," he said, ducking his head a little. He still wasn't sure why he'd done it. It wasn't like he thought Cordelia was going to forgive him or anything. Guilt, he supposed. And the fact that if there was anyone who deserved to go to prom it was Cordelia. "Anyway, I ended up going alone. Danced with Buffy a couple of times. Got to watch Cordelia flirt with the older, much more charming and suave Englishman that had come to town for a while. Pretty much stayed away from Willow."


"Yeah. Didn't feel like remembering prom night because it was the night I was turned into a werewolf."

"You know, it's still hard for me to believe that you know vampires and werewolves."

"And a demon or two," Xander added for good measure.

"Are you hungry?" she asked, sliding her hand around his arm and tugging him a little closer. Apparently, she was okay with the lack of kiss.

"Pretty hungry, yeah. I don't like the food on planes."

"Well, you've come to the right place then."

"Yeah, I can always count on something good here. Except the person serving it won't be as pretty as usual."

"Thank you," she said, ducking her head. Not before he saw her blush.

"Oh, by the way, Claire is going to let you use her house this weekend."

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, I mentioned feeling bad that you were coming here for this and having to pay for the hotel and everything."

"It's all right. I don't have too many expenses otherwise."

"I'd initially asked Bill if you could stay at our house, but he didn't go for that."

"I can't imagine why," Xander said with a soft chuckle.

"Well, he'd be home so what could happen?"

"Hmm," Xander said, thinking of the things he and Anya had accomplished with his parents upstairs. Of course, his parents had been drunk ninety-nine percent of the time. There were times as an adult now and after seeing what Buffy had gone through with Dawn after their mother died why social services had never been called in at his house. Neighbors, relatives, someone had to know his parents were incapable of functioning half the time. He supposed he was glad, Buffy and Dawn hadn't exactly had a picnic with their case worker.

"Well, Claire spends most of her nights at our place anyway now so it's kind of a formality that she has her own house. She said you can use it. It's kind of out of town a ways, but it's private and you'd have groceries and stuff so you wouldn't have to eat out all of the time. This meal and tomorrow night's."

"You really put some thought into this."

"Well, yeah, I mean, it's expensive. You didn't have to pay for the tickets, too. It's my prom."

"I couldn't let a girl pay for a date."

There was that blush again. "And why are you still single?"

"Uh, bad timing?" He'd told her about his engagement to Anya and how it had ended.

They were at her table now. She slid her hand down his arm to his hand, clasping her fingers through his.

"Everyone, this is Xander."

This was followed by a round of various sounding hellos. Everywhere from curious to thrilled to thoughtful to cynical.

"And this is Caitlan, Melissa, Sarah, and Nicole. We were talking about last minute things we needed to do before tomorrow night."

"Oh right. Hey," Xander said. It was a good thing he was used to being the only guy in a group of girls or he'd feel incredibly self-conscious about now. The only time the odds had been evened out to some extent was when Buffy and Riley were dating.

"We're going to take the next table over," she said, leading him there. Thankfully, she sat across from him rather than next to him. He wasn't much for sitting side-by-side in this type of situation.

They talked quietly while he waited for his food and ate it. She did most of the talking. She was more animated than his previous visits. Excited school was almost out and to be that much closer to finishing high school. She'd made a decision about college since he'd been here last. She was going to stay in South Carolina, which he couldn't say he blamed her for. She was still going to leave town though and go to an actual university over a community college. He thought it was a smart move.

"So," she said pausing, as if realizing she'd been doing most of the talking. That was fine, he didn't have too much to say. "So you want to stay at Claire's?"

"I don't know. I'd feel a little strange."

"She offered, honestly."

"It would beat a hotel…" Boy would it. A real house for him to walk around in, though he doubted she planned on leaving him with too much downtime.

"Well then, I'll call her, you can drive me out there and she'll drive me back into town. She should still be there yet."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she said. "I think Bill likes the idea that you won't have a hotel room to take me to."

Xander snorted. "Like that'd stop us."

"Well, he'll know for sure where we are…"

"And he's a cop. Do you think her house will be staked out for the duration of my visit?"

Kylie gave a soft giggle, covering her mouth with her wrist. "Maybe." She reached out and touched his hand, stroking it with a fingertip. "It's a good thing I know how to be sneaky."


"I know that's not what you're planning, but I mean, it's prom and everything…"

Not as blunt as Anya, but she knew how to get the message across just the same. No less effective in eliciting a response, which would have been noticeable if she'd been sitting next to instead of across from him. Man, it'd been a long time. He had no idea what to say to that, so was glad she apparently did.

"Besides, there's parties after the dance at some of my friends' houses."

"Bill knows we're going?"

"Well, yeah, but he's not sure which friend's house," she said slyly. "And he's short staffed so he can't possibly watch all of the houses."

"I'm beginning to see that rebellious streak you've mentioned wasn't an exaggeration."

"If he had his way I'd stay home all weekend."

"He's just looking out for you," Xander said.

"Not doing a very good job of it, is he?"

He chuckled. "Do you plan on sneaking into her house while I'm there?"

She took one of the fries off his plate and bit into it rather suggestively, or it was just his mind that saw that in it.


"Well, you know, so I pick up my socks off the floor and everything."

She smiled widely. "In that case, keep the socks picked up."


She rolled her eyes. "You don't have to be all nervous."

"You're not the one who could go to jail."

"Bill would believe me if I said nothing happened."

"You sure?"

"Yes," she said, sounding pretty certain. She leaned toward him, gesturing with her index finger for him to do the same. "Besides, all of my friends will pretty much assume. Older, mysterious, traveling guy and all."

He coughed softly. "You want them to think we're doing something?"

She shrugged.

He laid money on the table with that and stood, taking her hand in his. Her eyes widened, clearly surprised. He didn't go out of his way to touch her very often. It wasn't a lack of wanting to, he just didn't trust himself to behave. And his mind kept reminding him she was still seventeen, willing or not.

He practically dragged her outside, pushing the door open almost violently. What was she thinking? A reason he'd liked her was because she wasn't cheap, didn't seem like the type of girl that would just hop in bed with someone because it was prom and that's what you did because everyone else was.

"What are you thinking?" he asked her, giving voice to his thoughts.

"What?" She blinked rapidly, obviously fighting back tears. He didn't need to be in touch with his feminine side to know that.

"Why would you do that?"

"Do what?" She sounded legitimately confused.

"Why would you want your friends, Bill, anyone to think you're sleeping with some guy you barely see? Don't you know all they'll see is you letting yourself get used! You think they see me as mysterious, traveling guy. They see me as the older, experienced guy coming to town and hooking up with someone whose had a recent tragedy in her life and is vulnerable."

She didn't respond, but made a sniffling sound that told him the tears had started to fall.

Hell, he hated making girls cry. He hugged her, much the way he'd done that day at the barn when she'd broken down after making target practice out of the mouse. He smoothed down her hair and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm sorry. That was callous of me. I just don't want you to get hurt. And a reputation, a bad one, could get you hurt. You're not like Bill's girlfriend, you won't heal. So, if some guy thought you were easy… And I imagine Claire would tell you that there are some things her healing abilities don't actually heal. You know what I mean?"

She nodded against his shirt. He didn't like to seem like he stereotyped or generalized, but he'd seen some of the guys around Wheelsy on his visits here. And he thought more than one or two of them wouldn't be inclined to take no from an answer. And if they thought the girl had been willing in the past even more so.

"You haven't even thought of me like that have you?" Her voice was so soft, her face buried in his shirtfront as it was. "I'm just someone you feel sorry for."

He laughed then. Full, throaty, his chest shook with it.

"Babe, if you believe that you don't know men very well."

"But that's not me then. It's just any girl."

"I haven't thought about a girl like that in a long time," he said. It was true. Oh, he'd had some clandestine thoughts about Buffy late at night when sleep escaped him. One or two that featured Willow and Kennedy. And maybe one or two of the slayers. He'd never done anything about them, though. Well, besides the instant gratification the images gave him. It wasn't the same, and he knew there wasn't a chance for him with Buffy, Willow and Kennedy, or any slayer.

So, while it wasn't entirely true what he'd just said, it was for the most part. Fantasizing about someone that wasn't obtainable wasn't the same thing as far as he was concerned. Everyone needed release.

He slid a finger along her jaw, tilting her head back so he could look at her. "You're a brave person, Kylie. I knew that almost instantly. If you hadn't told me about your family I never would have known you'd gone through something like that such a short time ago. You helped defend this town from being taken over. And by doing that you helped save the world, because don't fool yourself into thinking it would have stopped with Wheelsy. You managed to stop one of those things from taking up house inside of you. The first thing I thought about you that day you walked up to my table was how hot you were. And then you laughed at my jokes, even something as lame as covering my eyes picking my lunch that way. You laughed."

"It was funny."

"And you don't know how great that makes me feel to hear you say that. Yeah, I've thought of you, a lot of ways I probably shouldn't and won't admit to. At least until you're eighteen later this summer."

"I can't wait."

He chuckled then. "I'm not sure all of them are appropriate for when you turn eighteen, some may even be illegal altogether."

"Hmm," she said with a laugh. "Have you done these illegal things?"

"Some. I'm not going to lie to you and pretend I haven't lived a life until now."

"I wouldn't want you to."

"Same goes for you."

"You mean you don't want to be led to believe you're the only one?"

"If it's true, sure." He started toward her and stopped, realizing what he was doing and where they were. "Anyone in there going to come after me with a pitchfork if I kiss you?"

"Mm, not tonight. They're fresh out of pitchforks I think."

"Good," he said, closing the distance between them. "Though I have to admit, I'm not sure that thought would stop me just now."

She was shorter than he was, not that he was a giant or anything. She slid her arms around his neck, bringing her closer against him. He didn't notice before now how nice she smelled. A sweet smelling shampoo and her lips tasted like some kind of berry. They were soft so whatever she wore on them did its job. His shirt was a little damp from her tears, but when he felt her breasts brush against the same spot, he quickly forgot about crying and tears.

Her fingers found his hair. It was a little longer than he normally kept it, but just then, he thought longer hair was the bomb if it meant she touched him. Until she found the string holding his eye patch in place. He had to fight not to draw away. Real way to turn a girl on there.

She felt him stop the kiss briefly, realized what she'd done. He was touchy about it and she supposed she couldn't blame him.

She had no idea why she liked him really. She knew next to nothing about him, though she imagined she knew things about him people who considered him a friend didn't. Bill had told her more than once he was too old for her, especially when he found out that she'd turned down one or two requests for dates from guys from Wheelsy.

Claire didn't share Bill's feelings on that, probably because Bill was older than her. Kylie was going to call Bill on that except she realized Bill would tell her it was different. Claire wasn't still in high school.

There was something about him, though, that she could identify with. They'd both been through so much, things that no one who hadn't been through it could understand. She knew he was still hurting from breaking things off with his ex on the day of their wedding. And she was full of the same thing still from being without her parents and sisters. Surviving when they hadn't. If she was strong did that mean they had been weak? She put on a good show most of the time.

She'd lost it in front of him once. At the barn where Mrs. Gutierrez had been kept while the slug things bred inside of her. He hadn't said anything, hadn't laughed at her. He just stood and held her, which was what she needed. She didn't want anyone feeling sorry for her.

He could sort of identify, too. He didn't know the fate of his parents, but he'd said while he didn't think they hadn't made it out of Sunnydale alive he hadn't bothered to look for them. He and his friends had left Sunnydale with little more than the shirts on their backs.

The patch should have scared her off, but it didn't really. It was a little weird but so was she. And he'd lost the eye in an effort to save the world. Would she have wanted a guy to shun her if she'd been scarred in some way fighting to get the slug thing out of her?

And then there was the not being from Wheelsy thing. Maybe that was what she liked about him. He was a connection to the outside world. She imagined he was cautious, afraid she was the type to latch on to someone as a way out of the small town existence she had.

Only thing was that wasn't her style. If she moved away from Wheelsy it would be on her own, not on the coattails of someone else. She certainly wasn't going to run off and marry a guy or live with a guy in order to get out of here. She wasn't thrilled with the town most of the town, but it wasn't that bad. Hopefully, he knew that about her.

His lips parted and she gave a startled groan when his tongue found hers. Until now he'd never done anything but kiss her. There'd been one night she thought - hoped - he'd go this far but he hadn't. He'd dropped her off after the movie that night and she wondered if it was her.

She'd sought Claire out that night, not wanting to embarrass herself in front of her friends. And unable to ask Bill who'd probably arrest Xander for making her think of French kissing. Claire had told her he was probably being careful. And not wanting to scare her off. It didn't make her wonder if she was doing something wrong any less but she felt a little better. He had experience and was probably trying not to push her into gaining more than she was ready for.

She broke the kiss, not sure she was even doing it right. She'd never Frenched a guy before beyond tongues touching.

"Is that because my friends are watching?"

"That's because I'm here to see you and for no other reason."

She glanced up at him then. "So you didn't before because you were here for work?"

"And I wasn't sure I'd see you again. I'm not that type of guy. Had it done to me once and it's confusing. Not to mention hurtful. I don't want to hurt any more women, two's enough."

She'd thought of that, too. That one of these visits would be his last. She'd given him her e-mail address for that purpose, hoping he'd at least write her once in a while so she knew he hadn't forgotten about her.

"Besides, if you think I'd subject myself to another prom for the sake of your friends who I hadn't even met you don't know me very well."

"Subject yourself, huh?"


"It was your idea."

"I was obviously some kind of spell you'd bewitched me with and not thinking clearly."

"Uh huh."

"Footnote, personal experience talking here, love spells don't work."

She laughed with a shake of her head. Who'd have thought there was really such a thing as a love spell?

"So, are you ready to show me Claire's place?"

"You're going to stay there?"

"I may as well save money if I can."

"All right. Let me go get my stuff and say good night to my friends."

"Aye aye, Captain."

She gave a soft giggle.

"I'll call Claire too to make sure she hasn't left."

"You can use my cell," he said, reaching into his pocket and handing it to her.

"I could probably talk Bill into letting me stay for a while if you wanted."

"I expect he might not be too happy about it. And I'd rather store it up for tomorrow night if you can."

"Okay," she said.

What was he doing? Telling her he didn't want her there? "Not that you'd have to turn around and leave right away or anything, but no sense pushing it two nights in a row. Right?"

"I guess."

"And besides, Claire probably wants to get to your place."

"Right. I'll be right out then. Don't go anywhere."

"Will do," Xander said, moving to stand next to the car while he waited for her. She was perfectly capable of opening the door herself, but he liked doing that sort of thing. Now he just had to figure out just what that kiss meant as far as tomorrow night went. Would she expect something from him now? Not that it would be a hardship. On the contrary. If only he wasn't leaving at the end of the weekend and probably for good this time.

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