Word Count: 3,483
Breakfast had long been cleaned up. Kylie was in her room watching TV while Claire and Bill were in his room. Their room. Kylie wasn't sure which house they were going to end up keeping. Claire's was paid off, Bill's was not. It seemed to her, Claire spent her nights here rather than the other way around because of Kylie. She supposed she should feel guilty for that, but she didn't really. She liked Bill's house and was comfortable here now, she hadn't been at first.
She was nervous about lunch, wondering if Xander would look at her funny or suspiciously after last night. Or if he'd think she was a tease. She hoped not and didn't think so, but could see where he might be inclined to think so.
Faintly, she could hear Bill and Claire talking. They did that a lot. Talked. She got the impression Claire hadn't really had anyone to talk with before and Bill didn't really either.
The doorbell rang and she got up from her bed. She'd put a skirt on. It wasn't anything fancy, but she wanted to look nice when Xander got here. And the skirt was a great one for showing off her legs. She didn't bother informing Claire and Bill she was getting it. She couldn't be sure they'd even noticed it rang.
She wouldn't mind if she got to eat lunch with Xander alone, though it would be a little odd knowing Bill and Claire were right upstairs. In their room.
She smiled widely when she saw Xander, not that she'd expected anyone else.
"Hey," he said.
"You look none the worse for wear. And very nice, too."
"Thank you. You, too."
"Uh, oh yeah, these are for you," he said, handing her a bouquet of flowers.
"Thank you. They're beautiful." She'd never received flowers. From anyone. For any reason.
"He knows, by the way," she said, stepping aside so he could come in.
"Bill," she said.
"I see. You know, the saying confession is good for the soul is merely a myth. Do I need to worry about which weapon he's going to come after me with?"
She laughed a little, walking toward the kitchen. Luckily, Bill had a vase or two. None of which was really suited to these flowers, but that was all right. "No."
"Well, that's good. Where is he?"
"Oh," Xander said.
"With Claire," she added when they heard the sound of a shower coming on.
"Oh," Xander said, nodding a little. "Well, then," he said, tugging her to him. "That means I can do this then and not worry that I'm pushing my luck."
"What's that?" she said, heart stopping for just a moment. She knew he was going to kiss her, had been hoping he would since she answered the door. And felt the disappointment that he hadn't at the door wash away as he leaned in to do just that.
It was not like their kisses last night when they knew they wouldn't be disturbed. He held back a little, though he did open his mouth and she did the same. He broke it when their tongues touched, his hands going from the small of her back to either hip.
"That was a much better hello."
"Yes, much," she said, relieved he'd said exactly what she'd been thinking.
"Wasn't sure if Bill was lurking in a corner somewhere."
"No, I think his mind is on other things at the moment."
"I can understand that."
"Do you want to go outside while they get ready? Or we can eat without them if you want."
"No, it's fine. Outside is good. It's a nice day."
"Yeah, Claire and I mentioned at breakfast we could eat outside."
"Sure," he said. "I haven't done that in years."
He shrugged. "I haven't really spent much time outside the castle we live in and there are always a dozen girls around somewhere so I tend to eat in the peace and quiet of my room. Or my command center."
Always a dozen girls. She'd sort of forgotten about that part of how he lived. That he lived with and around hundreds of girls who were strong and, like, super heroes. Yet, he'd never mentioned one of them by name other than Buffy, and he'd admitted having had a crush on her back in high school.
She grabbed some things to take outside with them, handing him a few odds and ends for the table out there, too. The three of them ate outside a lot when the weather - and bugs - allowed them to.
"So, he's all right?" Xander said, setting the things down once they'd gotten to the picnic table.
"Yeah. I mean, what can he say? I mean, he and Claire aren't married and I know for a fact he didn't wait for her or anything."
He stepped up behind her and slid his arms around her, wrapping them around her waist. He nuzzled her ear a little and Kylie thought she might melt into a puddle of goo right there. And the scary fact was that he probably wasn't trying to do anything. She was just reacting to him simply being this close to her, touching her.
"You know for a fact, huh?" he whispered.
"Well, not from personal experience, no, but talk around the town."
"Ah. And you, of all people, know to believe everything you hear being said about someone?"
She gave a little laugh. "You mean because the rumors about me are so wildly accurate all of the time?"
"Right," he said. She'd told him about her reputation, most of it unfounded.
"Well, there's a difference."
"He had a tendency of trying to forget about Starla by keeping himself occupied in other women's beds."
"Maybe they were playing Pinochle."
She laughed then. "Maybe." She turned in his arms then. "And maybe I found his stash of condoms before Claire moved in with him."
Xander chuckled. "Babe, guys start carrying condoms in their wallets when they're like ten. Just in case."
"Really?" she asked with a frown.
"Ten might be an exaggeration, but only just barely. Trust me, guys, that's all they think about. Pretty much."
"Just guys that age?"
"Well," he said. "We just learn to control the thoughts, channel them into other things."
"And if a girl doesn't want you to channel them into other things?"
"Well, then you end up like Bill and Claire, needing a shower in the middle of the day. Or afternoon or night."
"Hmm," she said, trying to picture Xander in the shower. He probably took his patch off. She wondered if he'd take one with her for that reason. He'd told her once upon a time he took it off to sleep but he hadn't last night.
"Was that the doorbell?" he asked.
"Ha ha," she said. "Nice way to change the subject."
"No, I'm serious, it sounded like a doorbell."
"Oh, I didn't even hear it." She gave him a quick kiss, liking that she could and hating that answering the door meant she had to stop being this close to him.
She went inside then, Xander followed her into the house.
"He's prompt I'll give him that," Bill asked just as Kylie opened to the door. "And I guess he's already here," he added, apparently noticing Xander.
"Hi," Xander said. He might have said more, but Kylie didn't hear anything. Had she somehow subconsciously wished for this? She didn't think so.
"Um. Hey, Kylie."
Kylie couldn't have been more shocked if the governor was standing on their doorstep.
"I'm looking for Bill, is he here?"
"Right here," Bill said.
Kylie wished he hadn't seen or heard her, that she could just shut the door and pretend no one had come to the door. Except, judging by the looks of her she wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. She took a moment to notice Bill's hair was still wet from the shower and his feet were bare. He didn't go barefoot often, but she liked when he did for some reason. As weird a thought as that was.
"Where are your manners, Kylie?" Bill asked, coming to the door. It was then that he saw her for the first time. How did Kylie know he hadn't seen her before that moment? Because he audibly took a sharp breath at the sight of her. "Oh, well, I see where you might have been a little stunned."
"Hi, Bill," Starla Grant said.
"Starla, can't say as I heard you were back in town," he said. And one thing Kylie knew is that Bill would have heard about it if anyone else knew. It was just the way Wheelsy worked and especially with the history between these two.
"Here I am. Can I come in?"
"Uh, yeah, sure, Starla, come on in. We were just setting down for lunch in a bit."
"Oh, good," she said, apparently having taken that as an invitation. Kylie didn't think Bill had meant it as one, but he would be too polite to his long-time friend to say so.
"So, uh, what's going on?"
"Can we talk?"
"Hey, Bill, I was thinking we should see if Kylie and Xander want to go to the beach since you have the day off," Claire said as she came downstairs. She'd blown her hair dry but that was all she'd done so far to get ready. She even still had Bill's bathrobe on.
"Hi, Claire," Xander said.
"Claire this is Starla Grant."
"Hi," Claire said, glancing from Bill to Starla to Kylie. Kylie merely shrugged. She had no idea what was going on. She saw a very confused, and if she wasn't mistaken, hurt look on Claire's face.
"Will ya'll quit staring at me as if I've grown a second head or something."
"I don't know about a second head, but you're clearly growing something," Xander quipped from behind everyone. "Hopefully, a head's part of it."
Kylie couldn't help but let out a giggle.
"I, um, Xander and I are going to take Lucky for a walk I think."
"I'll get dressed and come with you," Claire said.
"Okay," Kylie said, unable to blame her exactly.
"Come on," Kylie said, tugging on Xander's arm.
"What's going on, Starla?" Bill asked as Kylie and Xander closed the door.
"Why's everyone making such a big deal over the pregnant woman? Don't women in Wheelsy get pregnant?"
"It's Bill's crush."
"Oh, you mean the one you've mentioned?"
"Yeah, her. She's been gone for months."
"You think it's his?"
"Kylie… The baby?"
"Oh," she said, not even having thought that. Of course, why else would she show up on their doorstep now? "I can't help but think I made this happen."
"How could you possibly?"
"I've thought a time or two I wish she'd come back so she could see Bill's moved on and is happy."
Lucky bounded up to them finally and Kylie hooked the lead to his collar.
"Come on, Kylie. I've lived with supernatural stuff for years now and it's just a fluke that you've been thinking that."
"Are you sure? You can't wish something to happen?"
"You'd need magic for that, Kylie. Or a talisman or something."
She nipped at her lower lip and wasn't surprised when Claire wordlessly joined them.
"Uncomfortable much," Xander said.
"Yes," Claire said, petting Lucky who looked to his master for attention as soon as she joined them.
"Did he say anything to you?" Kylie asked.
"No, they were in the living room, didn't sound like they were saying anything yet."
"You all right?"
Claire shrugged. "Not sure yet. I mean, it could be his, right?"
"I don't know. I mean, if they were together like that I never saw it. I mean, it wasn't at our house."
Claire smiled a little at that. "Thank you."
"It's the truth."
"Well, still, thanks. Nice to know she wasn't in the same bed I sleep in with him."
"Claire, you can't think…"
There was that shrug again. "I don't know what to think."
"He doesn't love her. Not like that."
"I think you're right, but that doesn't mean he knows that completely."
"So, what?" Xander spoke after a few minutes of silence, the three of them watching the energetic - and clueless - dog jump around the yard. No doubt excited at the prospect of three people to play with him. "We just sit here waiting for them to talk."
"I don't know," Claire said, worrying her lower lip. "I should go…"
"No," Kylie said quickly. "Don't. You basically live here."
"I have my own house."
"Sure, but when's the last time you actually spent the night there?"
"When Bill didn't have to work the graveyard shift."
Claire opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t come up with one. "I don't remember." She noticed Kylie's smug grin and shook her head. "I can't compete with a baby, Kylie."
"You don't know it's his."
"Why else would she be here now?"
"I tend to agree with Claire," Xander said. "Women don't just randomly show up on your doorstep pregnant without a reason."
"You're not helping," Kylie and Claire both said.
"Just being honest," he said with a shrug. "Hey, I know some people who are pretty tough. Want me to pay them to beat her up?"
Claire laughed then. "No, I don't think that would go over very well."
"Well, hey, you change your mind…"
"I'll let you know."
Claire took a seat at the picnic table, Lucky settling his head against her thigh. She pet the dog out of instinct, not really paying attention to what she was doing.
Claire couldn't remember a time when things passed so slowly. Oh, she was sure there'd been times and this wasn't world ending stuff, but God it hurt just the same. Because Xander was right. There really wasn't much reason to show up on Bill's doorstep looking as she did except for the baby being his. And when she finally saw him walking toward her, looking rather grim, she just knew. She'd never gotten her heartbroken before but she knew she was about to.
She'd told herself when Kylie had asked her initially about her interest in Bill to stay far away from a guy like him. He'd loved one woman for so long that she knew better than to think he'd be over her just because she was gone.
"You two go on in and so to lunch, will ya?"
"Uh sure," Kylie said with a frown.
"Just give me a bit to talk to Claire. And we'll need another plate for Starla."
"She's eating with us?" Kylie asked. One didn't have to be incredibly bright to know she didn't like that idea at all.
"Yeah," Bill said simply.
"You do remember if it wasn't for Claire you wouldn't be here right now?" Kylie asked.
Bill frowned then, his eyes piercing her with a serious stare. "Go on inside I said while I talk with Claire."
"All right," she said, grabbing Xander's hand and leading him toward the house.
Lucky lifted his head from its spot against Claire's thigh and looked at Bill who scratched behind his ears just as the dog liked.
"Can I sit?"
"Your table," Claire said simply.
"It ain't what it looks like."
"How's that," she asked.
"Well, I know what it looks like, and while I won't deny before she left we tried to make things work we never got to that point."
"I'm saying that the baby's ol' Grant Grant's. No question of that. 'less she slept with someone else, but it sure as hell wasn't me, Claire."
"And she came to you because?"
"She got pregnant while he was, uh, possessed I'd guess you'd call it. By that thing."
"Oh," Claire said softly.
"She says all the tests and sonogram things have showed up normal, but she's afraid that they don't have tests for what could be wrong with the baby."
"So? What can you do about that?"
"She wants me there when it's born. In case there's something not completely human about it."
"To do what exactly?"
He looked away, staring at the house.
"Oh," she said then.
"She needs a place to stay til then."
"And of course you offered your house."
"Well, I've known her forever, Claire."
"I know," she whispered.
"I figured I can give her run of my house and stay with you at yours."
"Well, she could stay there, too. I know she's none too fond of Starla."
"That's an understatement."
"No kidding. Another thing I thought of. She's got money. Not a lot, but a lot of her friends are doing that summer abroad thing. Backpacking through Europe or whatever."
"She mentioned maybe wanting to do it."
"I'm afraid if the baby isn't right. Well, I just don't know Kylie could go through something like that again. You know? T'weren't that long ago she almost lost me as she just pointed out a few minutes ago. I mean, maybe there's some sort of last minute trip she could go on. A cruise or something. I don't know what the options would be. I just think it'd be best she get out of here for a while."
"I think you'd need to talk to her."
"Well, yeah, but needed to talk to you first. I know how it looks."
"What would you have done?"
"If it had been yours?"
"I guess that'd be up to you. She left here, I certainly wouldn't have known she was pregnant. I don't want her like that. So, I guess it would depend on whether you could handle being a step-mom."
"Hmm." She shrugged.
"I'm not saying it would have been an easy decision, but I certainly wouldn't have asked her to marry me or anything. I wouldn't make her happy. Hell, some days I don't understand how I make you happy."
"I see the things you've got. Nice car, nice house, nice things in that house. I can barely afford the little extras I like to go hunting and fishing with. And it's not like my wage is going to get much better."
"Those things were bought for me. Believe me, I can't afford them either."
"Yeah, but you've got people. Family. That can afford that stuff."
"My mom and dad couldn't. I mean, we didn't want for anything, but I don't think our kids would want for anything either."
He let out a slow breath and she realized he'd been nervous about some things, too. He shifted and she let out a soft squeal as he lifted her onto his lap. Lucky didn't seem to know what to make of the commotion so he slinked away a bit.
"Not if they have you as a Mamma anyway." He kissed her briefly. "So, we're okay? I'll find some place else for her to stay. That's why I came out to talk to you, but we've each got a house seems silly to make her pay rent or something for only a couple of months."
"We're fine, and it's fine. I don't have to like her, do I?"
He chuckled. "Nah, most women around town didn't too much. She's not bad people, though, once you get past the surface."
"I'm sure she's not."
"What?" he asked, apparently reading her well enough to know she was thinking something.
"Will you be able to do it?"
"If it's something that looks like one of those creature thingys? Yes," he said simply. "You forget, I got skewered by it and was almost a goner myself. Not to mention half my town. So, yes."
"I wasn't here so I don't know what you saw or went through, so I guess in a way it is. I trust you, though, and I was just curious if you could do it."
"Hopefully, it'll be all okay, ya know? She loved him in her own way."
"So, that means she had sex with him after?"
"Before she knew I guess. I don't know the timing of it and I didn't ask, but I'm sure she didn't have sex with him once she knew something was wrong with him. Not that there'd been any time really. He was more focused on, uh, eating."
"Well, let's see to lunch and then I guess moving some of your stuff to my place. Where's she gonna sleep?"
"Kylie's room I reckon. Not mine if that's what you're getting at."
"We can sleep here if you're worried she's gonna do something funny."
"No, no, that's fine."
He chuckled. "Can't say as I blame ya. I don't think I'm in danger of encountering anyone you've liked in the past but I wouldn't like it either."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com