***Part Nine***
Word Count: 4,113

Her first week of classes was done. She was in her dorm alone and not sure what to do for the weekend. It was the first time she'd been truly alone since well, since her family died.

Always Bill was around. And if he couldn't be because of work, Claire was. And then she'd spent a month with Xander. Not only was he around her every day, but she'd slept with him every night. Every day she'd woken up to him. She'd watched him deal with women stronger than he was without seeming to care. She realized during this time why he saw her as a survivor. Much like the girls and women he worked with, she'd been dealt a card out of fate's hand and she hadn't rolled over and died. She'd fought to survive even if it meant living alone.

And what was more, they'd talked. About everything. Her family. His family. School. Dreams. Desires. Wants. Needs.


Xander hadn't told Kylie that he loved her and neither had she. She'd been tempted, but it seemed too desperate. Not knowing what was going to happen once she started school, she realized that neither wanted that out there, holding her to a decision based on words spoken during an almost fairytale-like month together. He didn't really have to, though, she knew he did and hoped he knew the same.

He'd taken a risk letting her actually sleep with him. She didn't have to be a genius to know he was afraid she'd be put off by his eye. She was one of only a couple who'd seen him without the patch. It wasn't that bad and she hadn't been grossed out, not in the way he imagined she would be. She just felt sad that of his friends he'd been the one that had a physical, obvious scar from what they'd been through. She knew they all had them even if they weren't visible.

His friend Willow had somehow arranged for her to have her own room on campus. She didn't know how she'd managed it, but from what Xander said the woman was a computer genius. At the time, Kylie had thought it was a brilliant idea even if it meant someone else wasn't getting the room they were supposed to.

No roommate to deal with. No arguments over who'd get which side of the room or worrying about being caught with a guy in the room (not that Kylie was worried about that happening to her).

But now that she was here with two days of nothing to do.

Well, she was bored.


Kind of sad.

And there was no one for her to talk to.

Friday night hadn't been too bad. She'd had classes earlier that day, gone to dinner and watched some TV like she did each night that week.

Today, though. She hadn't gotten up in time to go to breakfast. She had a mini fridge in her room stocked with basic things so she was able to have some cereal and milk. She'd have to go eat dinner later, though because she didn't really have anything to cook. So to this point she hadn't even been out of her room.

She'd made some friends, usually ate lunch and dinner with a couple of girls who were in her classes that had gone through orientation with her but no one she'd feel comfortable calling and asking to hang out. And since her single room came complete with her own shower, she'd never had much reason to venture very far down the hall of her dorm.

The TV was on, though Kylie had no idea what she was watching. She just wanted the noise. She could call Bill or Claire. They'd talk to her. Probably come get her if she asked.

Hell, Bill would be there in a minute if he even thought Kylie was having a hard time. He hadn't said it in so many words, but she knew he was worried how she'd handle it. She thought he was being overprotective and dumb.

She didn't think he was so dumb right now. There was way more to being on your own than simply having your own room and no one to tell you what to eat, not to wear, time to go to bed, and who you could and couldn't have over.

There were huge gaps of time where it was just you. Time that if you weren't used to being alone for so long made your mind wander to things it had no business going.

What teenaged girl thinks she'll ever miss her parents? But, God did Kylie miss them. Every day. Especially this past week, watching as parents helped their son or daughter move their things into the dorms. Of course, Bill and Claire were there to help, and she was grateful but it didn't stop her from missing them.

Bill was kind, never tried to be a father to her, yet still managed to be there for her. There'd been nights right after the infestation that she'd been a wreck. No matter what she did, she couldn't stop crying and Bill had stayed up with her.

Not big on hugging or touching he hadn't done those things, but he'd made her cups of hot chocolate, turned on reruns of goofy sitcoms she'd never seen before, and sat with her long after she'd fallen asleep. Now she realized that perhaps he'd been afraid she - or someone else - would see his offers of physical comfort as being something more sinister than they were. She knew more than one person questioned the likelihood of Bill Pardy taking her in.

There'd been other households, ones made up of families much like hers and some who'd lost people, who'd offered to take her in. He was an unlikely candidate, and maybe that was why she'd wanted to stay with him. He wasn't a parent. She imagined in the back of her mind was the idea she could get away with boatloads of stuff even if he was a cop. It came down to he'd been there when she'd seen her family die.

She'd fought against the slug thing getting into her, but she wasn't so sure knowing her entire family was gone she wouldn't have just laid down and let another one in. If she had been alone. They lived in the middle of nowhere and while she could run, there'd been so many of those things she wasn't sure she could have outrun them if Bill hadn't happened along when he did.

Her sisters.

God what pains in the butt they'd been to her, always watching her get dressed, asking her to put some makeup on them. Or do their nails. Or fix their hair. And if one wanted it done, the other did, too. Kylie longed to hear them pester her to read from Harry Potter (something their parents would have had a fit over knowing Kylie was doing). Or even watch Spongebob, a show she still didn't have the heart to watch since.

She had pictures of them in her wallet in her purse, but nowhere in the room. She didn't want to be asked, didn't want to have to explain. There was something very appealing about being just one of thousands. A fresh start. A blank slate. No one knew her past, knew who she was, what she'd been through. She just was Kylie Strutemyer here. She imagined if someone found out she was from Wheelsy they might ask where she'd been that night, but overall she was pretty anonymous because being a minor her name had been kept out of any news articles.

And she liked that concept very much.

She clutched her pillow, closing her eyes. She tried to get her mind to focus on her trip this summer. She'd had so much fun. And while she hadn't been entirely sure she loved him before the trip, she was certain of it before the end of it.

They'd done so much. He'd had to work some, but it seemed like people had gone out of their way to do as much as they could without him. And that meant he'd had tons of time to spend with her. Show her things, take her places. Sometimes it was as simple as a walk through the woods near the castle they lived in. Or dinner at a restaurant he'd wanted to try but had not gotten to yet.

They'd spent three nights up north in the Sherwood Forest area. It was Kylie had never seen anything more beautiful, almost magical. It was their last night there that they'd had sex. She knew it was up to her if and when they ever did. In a castle with a bunch of people wandering around didn't hold much appeal to her. Not that they'd know, but that didn't mean it'd stop her from wondering if they knew.

There was something romantic, too, she supposed about her first time being in the land where Robin Hood and Lady Marianne and the other players in the tale had walked and fought, slept, loved and cried. She hadn't thought of her as that much of a sap, but evidently she was because she knew she'd always remember it.

He'd been so good to her that first time, careful and kind. He'd even had condoms, though by then she'd started taking the pill (thanks to Claire) so she'd almost been tempted to tell him he didn't need it. She knew that wasn't a good idea so hadn't, but the night before she'd left she'd told him so he wouldn't have to that night.

There was definitely something to be said for being with someone older and more experienced. Her friends that were having sex, all with guys their own age or within a year or two, complained a lot about the buildup not ending in too much excitement.

Kylie couldn't disagree more. Oh, there'd been one night he'd been a bit selfish for lack of a better word. But that had only been after he'd used his mouth on her for so long she thought she'd died and gone to a heaven that included non-stop pleasure for women. She'd been so completely satisfied, having already come three times that when he slid into her she'd begged him to take her like he had to need to by that point.

He had and she'd been kind of sore the next day. And his solution to that when she'd uttered a soft, teasing complaint? He'd spent a good portion of the morning after their joint shower using his mouth again. And that time he didn't touch her afterward. She'd asked, offered, tried even to go down on him, but he hadn't let her. He'd said there would be time for that later and he liked too much knowing he'd left her in a state where she was prone to beg him for the things she'd begged him for the night before.

How embarrassing.

How exciting!

Everything about him was exciting.

So, her last night there he'd shown him the pills, expecting him to be upset. To accuse her of lying or misleading him somehow. He didn't. He wasn't, said he totally understood that she couldn't be too careful and seemed to agree that it was about way more than just getting pregnant. He'd offered to use a condom that night, too, but just once she'd wanted him inside of her without one and he'd certainly seemed to like it. A lot. He'd been almost crazily insatiable that night. Maybe it wasn't just the lack of condom, but also knowing she was leaving.

He'd been a great first. She didn't think it was over necessarily, but she knew the odds of a long-distance relationship with an ocean separating them were not great. She could wish and hope all she wanted, but only God knew the plan ultimately.

She'd been hurt, on the verge of being insanely upset when he made the comment about not closing herself off to other possibilities. Was he nuts? She'd nodded her head, mumbled a yes when he asked if she understood what he was saying. Inwardly, though, she felt her heart shatter. If he was bringing it up, giving her a free pass to see other people did that mean that's what he wanted to do?

It was the only time since she'd known him they argued. Well, she'd argued. Yelled even.

He'd insisted that wasn't the case, that he was invested in whatever they had but that he wouldn't blame her if someone came along that wasn't in London who caught her eye. Someone more her age, who was going to college as she was, who could take her to movies on Friday nights, and parties on the weekends like a boyfriend was supposed to do.

She only stopped arguing when he challenged the reasons for her argument. She knew he liked her, right? He hadn't flown to South Carolina and taken her to prom just to be nice or because he felt sorry for her. He asked her to deny that one day those things a guy an ocean away couldn't give her wouldn't appeal to her.

Of course she couldn't. She knew that she was going to be exposed to many different things, even on a campus as small as hers was. And she couldn't deny right here and now that it would be great to have someone to take her to a movie.

Her parents had been high school sweethearts. Childhood sweethearts really. They'd met in elementary school, gone to the same church, and had gotten married and from everything Kylie knew were relatively happy until the day they'd died. She knew they had their moments. Farmers especially had those. Times could be tough and while theirs was fairly profitable, she remembered times as a little girl when Dad was concerned about things.

And so, she'd stopped arguing with him. All he'd asked her to do is be honest, which was something she could do. It wasn't as if he was telling her to go off and sleep with someone else the day she set up her dorm room.

She'd told Claire about the conversation, not sure what it meant. Was he telling her to see other people? Was he telling her not to see other people in an odd sort of way? Was he saying their relationship was on hold until she was done with college or they lived closer?

Claire said he probably didn't mean anything by it other than what he'd said. Simply put, he didn't want her to feel obligated to him or guilty if she did meet someone and things happened. Kylie still wasn't sure she understood it, but she got that he wasn't dumping her or encouraging her to go off and meet other people.

He was, of all things, trying to be nice.

That had been a relief, because she looked forward to visiting him again. She had no idea when it would happen, they'd talked about Thanksgiving but she wasn't going to presume he had nothing else going on until plans were actually made.

She'd gotten sort of spoiled getting shown the sites by him. And he'd been a fabulous tour guide. While other people had posters of their favorite actors or singers on their dorm walls, she had pictures plastered all over her room from her time there. Most had only her or Xander in them alone as there was no one along to take their picture.

The British Museum. The National Gallery. The Natural History Museum. Tussauds. The Eye. All of these things, and more, she had a picture of herself taken in front of. The one place their photo had been taken together was Buckingham Palace, the day they'd taken in the changing of the guard.

It had all been so exciting! He'd made sure the not quite month was jam packed with things. Things he probably took for granted living there. Though it hadn't seemed as though he was taking her to places he'd been to a hundred times before. He'd admitted shortly before she'd left that had been true, he hadn't had much of an opportunity to sightsee. He'd thanked her for the chance.

She opened her eyes, grabbing the framed photograph of them in front of the castle he lived in that sat on the desk just by her bed. She traced her finger around his outline, wondering what he was doing. Was there some world-saving thing going on now?

Bill's reaction at seeing the picture had been a little odd. She wasn't sure why or anything, but he seemed genuinely surprised to find out that Xander had been telling the truth all along. Slayers. Castles. Apocalypses. She imagined he was relieved to find out she hadn't been played.

He'd told her stories and she heard others from Buffy, Willow and Giles that made her wonder how they accomplished the things they had without people knowing. Then again, she'd survived a world-threatening event and the only person that she knew of who came to question anything about what had happened was the guy she'd fallen in love with.

She wondered what her parents would think about him. Would they like him? Think he was too old? Too worldly? Would they be disappointed if she sold the family farm? At first she'd wanted Bill to sell it all. Not just the livestock, but all of it. He hadn't, and while she was mad at him at first (thinking only of the money it'd give her to go to college), she was sort of glad she still had her home even if she hadn't lived there since that night. Theirs was one of the older pieces of land in Wheelsy so there was a lot of it. Who knows? Maybe some day she'd tear down the old house and build a new one, her house, on a different part of the land.

Her phone rang. The phone in her room not her cell phone, which always surprised her. So very few people called her on it. All of her friends from Wheelsy called her cell. It was always with her and always on.

She sat up, using the remote to turn the TV off before answering.

"Hello," she said.

'How's my college girl?'

She rolled her eyes. There were times she thought Bill was more excited about her going to college than she was. She'd intended on going all along, just as far away from South Carolina as she could get. "I'm fine, Bill. How are things back home?"

'Oh, you know, this and that. Busy. Claire and my mom are driving me crazy with plans and ideas and themes. Who the hell needs a theme at a wedding?'

"Evidently your fiancé."

'Good point.'

"Just stay out of the way and say yes whenever she asks a question."

'I ain't just randomly saying yes. Next thing I know I'll have committed to wearing a dress or something crazy. Like Seinfeld when he had to wear that silly shirt.'

She chuckled. She'd seen that episode with him, not having ever seen Seinfeld before living with him.

"So, is she out then?"

'Well, no, but she and Mom are heading your way tomorrow. I thought you might like a lunch date.'


'None other.'

"I'd love it."

'All right. Everything going okay?'

"Yes, I already told you that."

'I know what you said, but you don't sound like your normally perky self.'

"Just kind of lonesome."

'Huh. Heard from Xander lately?'

"That's not why I'm lonesome. Just my first weekend here, you know? No classes, no homework to speak of yet."

'Well, get out there, make friends. There's gotta be a volleyball pit or something somewhere on campus.'

She had seen a sports center that had things like that. She was pretty sure she'd heard tell there was a pool and stuff there too students could use whenever the swim team wasn't practicing or having a meet.

'I bet there's a party or two tonight, too, if you knew who to ask. Just don't drive.'

"I know, it's just not that easy."

'You want me to come get you? You could come here for the weekend? Claire and Mom could put their trip off til Monday morning, bring you back on the way.'

"You'd do that?"

''ust say the word.'

She knew he meant it. Knew he'd do it, no questions asked, no teasing or tormenting about how much of a Wheelsy girl she really was.

"No, that's okay," she said, knowing she couldn't do it. She was sure she'd take him up on his offer one day, but not today. Not her first weekend there.

'If you say so. I'll pick you up around noon for lunch then. Actually, I may bring lunch to you since they'll need the car.'

"That's fine."

'Any preference?'

"Anything that's not pizza or residence food."

'That narrows it down,' he said with a low chuckle.

"Thanks, Bill."

'You're welcome, sweetheart.'

She smiled at his use of the word. He wasn't big on sweet talk or emotions, but every once in a while he'd say something that told her how much she'd come to mean to him. Just as he did to her. They'd changed one another in a way.

Claire'd been responsible for some of it, too. He'd been so different when he was stuck on Starla Grant.

Starla Grant, a new mother. There was something that she never thought she'd see happen. She was one of those women that would think having a baby would ruin their figure. Kylie had no way of knowing that for sure, she just seemed like that type of person.

Kylie had been relieved she'd left town once everything checked out that the baby was normal. A girl. She had a daughter. Not Bill's, another thing Kylie was grateful for since Claire wasn't sure she could have kids. That would have been something awful hard to compete with. Ol' Starla was back in Seattle or Sacramento. Somewhere out West. Kylie wasn't sure and she didn't care.

It wasn't that she didn't like Mrs. Grant, but she'd always hated the way her classmates (the guys) had fawned over her, had crushes on her. And while Kylie couldn't deny she was pretty, she thought there were prettier women. And ones who weren't so obviously shallow as Mrs. Grant was. Otherwise, she would have been with Bill all these years and not ol' Mr. Grant for his paycheck.

Of course, that would mean Bill and Claire weren't getting married in a couple of months time, so Kylie imagined things worked out the way they were supposed to. Because Claire was good for him. She softened him a bit. Words like sweetheart didn't exist in his vocabulary before. Not to say he was a jerk, but he just wasn't one of those kinds of guys.

He had a reputation. Kylie knew better than to believe everything, but she was pretty sure there was some truth to the rumors about him. She knew that Claire was one of the first women he ever took out on dates in Wheelsy.

And Claire moved there, thinking most likely her life was over. She was hiding from people looking for her. Who better than to protect her than Bill? Okay, before the infestation Bill hadn't exactly been a prime example of what a cop should be, but he'd grown since then. Taken his job a lot more seriously. Some people were happy about that and some weren't so much. Understandably so because all of the sudden turning a blind eye wasn't done.

Now that she was at her desk, thanks to the phone call she figured she may as well do something with the day other than lay on her bed like a slug. She opened the lid on her laptop and logged into her email, to send an email to Xander. She swore she wasn't going to get all mushy or emotional. Just say hi, ask how things were, tell him about her week, her classes.

At least she had something to look forward to this now, even if it was just eating lunch here in her dorm room. And, well, maybe there was a party or something she could find out about and go to. She had a couple of phone numbers, surely someone would know of things to do. Anything had to be better than sitting here by herself.

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