Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13

***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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***Part Two***
Word Count: 2,672

"Hello," Xander said gruffly into the cell phone. He'd forgotten to turn it off. No, wait, he'd left it on because he needed the alarm clock. He'd forgotten the travel-sized one he'd brought on the previous trips. He didn't keep much of a rigid schedule normally, but today he had to be sure to wake up at a normal hour. After those flights he felt like he could sleep for days, he didn't know how Buffy did it regularly. Maybe your body got used to it.

"My, long night?"

"Uh huh," he said. Jet lag combined with Claire and Kylie not leaving until almost one in the morning. He opened his one eye to glance at the clock on Claire's bedside table. "It's nine in the morning."

"I figured you'd be up, doing pre-prom stuff."

He groaned. "What are you talking about?"

He could hear the muffle sounds of Willow talking to Kennedy, which meant she'd covered the phone with her hand. Whatever she'd said was followed by female laughter. At his expense no less.

"What am I missing?" he asked.

"Well, you know, hair cut, shave, corsage, shoes polished, boutonniere, wash the car, and things like that."

"I can shave at home," he said, mentally going over his toiletry kit to be sure he had a razor in there. And shaving cream. He'd been known to get a little scruffy staying here in Wheelsy because he'd forgotten that two of the first three trips here. The hair cut? Well, he wasn't sure he wanted to get his hair cut. She seemed to like his hair longer. He remembered the feel of her fingers running through it last night while he kissed her. The safe thing would be to cut it. He just wasn't sure he wanted safe tonight.

"And the corsage?"

"The town's not that big, Willow. I ordered it a week ago and will pick it up later. And she's supposed to get me the boutonniere."

"What about your tux?"

"I was going to rent one, but Giles seemed to think I should own one. I have no idea what I'll ever need a tux for after this, but Giles hooked me up with a good deal."

"it's not a blue Armani is it?"

"Huh?" Xander said with a frown, wondering what she was talking about. And what joke he was missing. He did have one thing to do this morning. He'd called the cleaners before coming into town to make sure they'd be able to fit in pressing his shirt. No matter how he packed it there would be wrinkles.

"It's from Father of the Bride," she said. He had a vague recollection of Willow, Xander, and Buffy renting it once upon a time. It had Steve Martin in it, and while it was funny Xander had expected it to be funnier. Instead it was a family-type move, so he'd forgotten most of it.

"What about the bow tie?"

"She's picking that out, too, to match the color of her dress. She didn't want me to know what color it was before tonight."

"Oh, how fun," Willow said.

"If you say so."

"Oh come on, Xander. She's excited, that's great. This was your idea. Remember?"

"Your point?"

"Never mind," Willow said followed by a soft laugh. "I wish I could see you. I know you'll look very handsome."

"Thanks, Wil," he said. He thought he'd looked pretty stylish in the tux Giles had helped him pick out. Giles had even commented on it, so Xander didn't think it was all in his imagination.

"You're welcome. I'm sorry I woke you. I really thought you'd be up for the day, ready to give 'em hell."

"Not yet, hell giving was scheduled for eleven o'clock. The only schedule I have to keep is getting my shirt to the cleaners by noon."

"Late night?"

"Sort of. The guy she lives with, his girl friend is letting me stay at her place while I'm in town. I drove Kylie here with me last night and the two of them sat and talked to me for another two hours before heading out for the night."


"Nothing! I mean, it seemed like nothing. I don't know, maybe Claire was trying to feel me and my intentions out for Bill. I'm sure he'll have the house staked out all weekend."

Willow laughed at that. "You've never been there socially either to take her out."

"I know, Wil, I know. It's cool."

"You charmed her pants off, I'm sure."

"No, she left pants intact."

Willow laughed again. "That's probably best. Well, have fun, be safe, and if you haven't already go to a drug store and get some protection."

"Willow! I'm not going to sleep with her."

"And you and I planned on kissing?"

"That was different. That was you and me with eleven years of friendship and history."

"You like her, she likes you, and you're going to prom. It's a well known fact that sex and prom seem to go together. Archaic, but it's almost as if prom is some last rite in that bridge from childhood to adulthood or something. Sex helps them shed their youth."

"Um, Willow?"

"I'm sorry, it's one of those things I think about sometimes."

"Apparently," he said with a frown. Did she really think about things like that? He supposed so. He hadn't had to worry about it. First, Faith had taken care of whether prom would be his first time. Secondly, you need something besides your hand to make it into sex.

"Have a good time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

He laughed at that. "I don’t think you'll have to worry about that since we're not both women."

"Call me if you need anything, Buffy, too."

"You make it sound like I've never had a date before."

"Not this kind of date, Xander. A girl looks back on prom and wants to remember it fondly."

"Wow. No pressure or anything there. It's not like I wasn't already nervous or anything."

"Good luck," she said and just like that she was gone.

He closed the phone and set it on the night table by the bed. He still had an hour or so before he'd set the alarm to go off, but now he was awake. Was prom really that big of a deal? He glanced at himself stretched out on the bed in his boxers and a T-shirt. He was fit.

Buffy had said he was buffer than high school. Construction work had gotten him into taking care of his body and he continued a workout regiment when he could to maintain what he'd achieved. He was no Sly, but he knew heads turned when he walked the beach.

He reached to the night table for his patch, putting it on before turning onto his side. He wasn't ready to get out of bed yet, but it was second nature for him to wear it when he was awake. He'd tried sleeping with it, but it always came dislodged so he just took to removing it.


Claire was definitely getting used to waking up in Bill's bed. She'd spent one night at her house in the last month, because Bill's mother needed to stay at his place. She was having work done at her house and couldn't be there over night. It was a good thing her house was paid off or she'd question the logic in having it. It was too soon to think about selling it or anything. At least she had more than just one drawer at Bill's dedicated to her stuff. She did miss her yard, but sleeping next to Bill was worth the trade off.

It had been late when she and Kylie had gotten home. They'd stayed at her place talking with Xander for a while. She liked him. He seemed sincere and from what Claire could ascertain wasn't out to hurt Kylie or get her out of her dress tonight. He wasn't a Brody of the world. He was one of the nice ones who seemed to mention taking her to prom so the girl would get to go if she had no other options. She doubted he'd realized she didn't want another option. Claire knew of at least one guy Kylie had turned down. She wasn't sure Bill knew that and Claire wasn't going to tell him. Some secrets were better left kept between the two of them.

Claire recognized the in his eye of someone who'd seen things and lost a lot. Things and losses few others knew about. She recognized the look because it was familiar to her. It made her wonder about him, what he did. Beyond what Bill had told her. Did he know about her? Not that she could do anything if he did. As long as she was still safe here. He didn't strike her as the type to divulge information like that, if he did know it.

Of course, there was more to his taking Kylie to prom than merely doing a favor. They liked one another, that was pretty clear. There was nothing wrong with an older guy. As long as Kylie wasn't going to drop everything and chase after him, Claire didn't see the harm in the two of them talking.

She felt Bill's hand slide along her hip and then between her legs. He was one of the good guys of the world, too, and was currently waking up. If his hand touching her as if wanting to be sure even while was sleeping she was there for the taking wasn't evidence of that, feeling him hard against her was.

"I waited for you," he said, kissing her shoulder.

"Sorry. It got late and I didn't want to call and wake you just to tell you we were going to be late."

"It's okay. I missed you."

"Me, too," she said, turning onto her back. He moved on top of her. She wasn't sure she'd ever tire of waking up this way. Fingers found their way so he could touch her. She groaned breathlessly as he ensured she was ready for him. There was nothing like morning sex.

They finished with her on top, which is where she was currently. His arms were around her and she was snuggling against his chest, listening to his heart return to its normal rate.

"So, Xander made it to town I take it."


"And he's using your house?"

"Yup." She laughed, kissing his chest before looking at him. "And, no, I did not lie and tell him cameras had been installed in all of the rooms."

"Defiant. I see how it is"

"Mm hmm," she said with a smile.

"Good thing I like that in a woman."

"I guess so."

"I can't stop her anyway, not that I really have a right to. She's practically an adult."


"And it's not like she's been living with me for years or anything."

"You've expressed your concerns, she listened. She's not dumb, she knows Xander isn't from here and he's not going to pick up and move here either."

"Get a feel for whether she has a desire to do that instead?"

"No, I don't think she does. And proof should be she's chosen a college."

He let out a deep breath then.

"You were really worried she'd do that?"

"The thought crossed my mind. You didn't know her before her folks died, Claire. She was wild. Not killing people or animals wild, but dye her hair different colors and paint her nails all various shades of black and piercings wild."

"You think that's wild?"

He arched an eyebrow. "You remember this is Wheelsy, right? She's not a small town girl, she just happens to be from one."

Claire laughed. "Yes."

"I'm not saying she was on the path to get knocked up or anything. Far as I know, she never really had boyfriends and as sheriff, I know she never crossed that line of violating the law. At least nothing she was caught for and I suspect it wasn't anything major, kid stuff, if she did. Putting pennies on the train tracks, taking a lipstick she couldn't afford, that sort of thing."

"So, why are you worried?"

"I don't know. It's got to be appealing, a chance to get out of here."

"So is college."

"Yeah, but my vision is a lot less work."

"She doesn't strike me as the type to be afraid of work. She tended to the cattle and other animals by herself a few times before you were able to sell them off."

"Oh, I know she's not afraid of work."

"You're just being fatherly."

He rolled his eyes. "I guess I am imagine that."

She leaned up and kissed him. "I like it. Now, no lectures today, no suspicious glances when Xander shows up in a tux, and just remember there'd be nothing stopping him from taking a hotel room despite staying at my house."

"That's supposed to ease my mind?"

"The fact I'm telling you I don't get that vibe off of him, yes, it should ease your mind. I like him. He seems respectable."

"I just hope she doesn't get laughed at or feel embarrassed."


"Well, you might have noticed he's wearing an eye patch."

"I have, yes."

"She doesn't seem to mind it or anything."

"But some of her friends might?"


"I'm sure she's thought of that, Bill. Girls aren't going to set themselves up to be ridiculed or embarrassed, especially at this age."

"Guess I have to trust you seeing as how I ain't ever been a girl."

"That is very good to know."

"Up for a shower?"

"With you?"

"Thought crossed my mind."

"Then yes."

"You seen her dress?"

"Yes," she said, sliding off him and the bed as she spoke. "I took her to get it, remember?"

"Right. And?"

Claire laughed, shaking her head. "No way are you getting me to slip up today of all days."

"You going to cry?"

She ducked her head. "Yeah, probably."

"You didn't get a prom, did you?"

"Not really, moving around. I mean there was a prom at my school, but I didn't go."


She shrugged. "I'm not. I mean, I'm not scarred from it or anything."

"Ha ha."

"I didn't mean it like that. But, yes, I'll probably tear up. She's going to look beautiful and both you and Xander are going to really have your eyes opened."

"I don't want Xander's eye opened any more than it has to be."

"Like you said, you can't stop her even if you wanted to. Where there's a will there's a way. At least he likes her."

"You know something I don't?"

"No, I don't even think that's on either of their minds."

"He's a guy, darlin', it's on his mind. Believe you me."

"I suppose so, I just don't think that's the point of tonight for either of them. I mean, he's legal and all, if he just wanted that there are certainly easier girls to go after. The girl living with the sheriff wouldn't be my first choice if I was out to break hearts, whether she was his daughter for real or not."

"Point taken," he said, following her to the bathroom where she started the shower. One of these days she was going to convince him to invest in a tub made for two but until then this would have to do.

"I'm glad you're being reasonable."

"He hurts her, I'll hunt him down like a dog."

She glanced at him as she stepped over the edge of the tub and into the shower. "You don't think he knows that? Now quit fretting over things you can't do anything about and come wash my back.'

"That's an invitation I'd be insane to pass up."

"Glad you find it appealing."

"Everything about you is. I should know, I've conducted some very up close and personal surveillance."

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***Part Three***
Word Count: 4,799

"I think I'm going to be sick," Kylie said, meeting Claire's eyes in the mirror. Xander was late. Not worrisome late, but past the time he said he'd be here.

"You are not! I didn't go to my prom so that means you have to go for both of us and have a great time."

"You've been so nice to me."

"Not really," she said with a shrug. "I mean, I haven't done anything special."

"You have, too. Taking me to get the dress and shoes, doing my hair."

"It was fun. I don't have anyone to do girlie things with. I got stuck with a little brother, so you got to be my guinea pig."

"It's just nice of you."

"It's not like I think of you as a charity case, Kylie. You're beautiful, and the dress makes you look gorgeous. I'm glad you were willing to try it on."

"I second that," Bill said, though his eyes were more on Claire just then. "I don't think I can recall ever seeing you in a dress before."

"Church," Kylie said.

"Well, besides that, and this ain't that type of dress," he said as Claire fixed one of the bobby pins in Kylie's hair. She'd straightened it and then curled it. Nothing too drastic. She'd insisted she wanted to look at the pictures years from now and not wonder who the girl in the pictures was. A few of the curls had gotten a little unruly once she'd slid the dress on, thus the bobby pins.

"He'll be here," Claire said.

"If not, I'll string him up and maybe after the varmints are done with him I'll shoot him."

"There will be no stringing or shooting. He's not going to stand her up," Claire said.

"You got the money and stuff I gave ya?" Bill asked.

"Yes," Kylie said with a roll of her eyes.

"I saw that. Not much sense doing something like that when you're facing me."

"I wanted you to see it. We're going to be fine. His car isn't going to die or anything."

"Just in case."

"I suspect he has money, too."

"Just in case," Bill repeated through clenched teeth.

"Ignore him," Claire said, stepping away from Kylie and looked her over thoroughly. Kylie felt a little strange. More than a little. The dress was beautiful, nothing she'd ever imagined herself wearing. "You go, have a good time. You deserve it."

Claire had taken her to Charleston to ensure that she got a dress that no one else would have. Not able to decide on whether she wanted a floor-length gown or a shorter one, she'd fallen in love with the high-low hem immediately. And when Claire said they'd make sure she had shoes dyed to match, Kylie had known it was the dress for her. She tugged a little at the top of her strapless bra. She'd never worn one before and it was a little uncomfortable but necessary since the dress was strapless.

Her friend had thought she was nuts to buy a blue velvet prom dress. They were far enough south there was no telling how warm it would be in May. She'd had to explain that it was just the color, though she'd kind of wondered herself why it had to be named that instead of just blue.

"Just making sure she's got everything I'm sending her out with."

"I do," Kylie said, opening the little blue purse that she and Claire had found at a thrift store. It wasn't the exact same shade as the dress but it was darned close. It was barely big enough for Kylie to fit the lipstick Claire lent her, the money Bill had given her, her keys, and her cell phone. She'd debated about bringing a comb or brush, but the chance of her hair coming down was pretty slim after the amount of hairspray Claire put in it.

"You need something, anything…"

"I know, I know, call," she said, glancing at the clock again.

"He'll be here," Bill said confidently.

"Did you threaten him?" Kylie asked.

He chuckled. "No, haven't seen him, wouldn't have anyway. He just seems like a decent enough guy he wouldn't leave a girl in the lurch is all. 'sides, he'd have to be a fool to pass up seeing how pretty you look. I know I'd be curious if I was him."

Kylie stared at him for a minute. It was the first positive thing he'd said about Xander since the first time he'd come to Wheelsy. He hadn't had many negative things to say necessarily, he just didn't say anything nice about him either. And, well, Kylie knew one huge thing that Bill didn't. Xander had left someone in the lurch on a bigger day than her prom. She tried not to let those thoughts fill her head. This was one evening not the rest of his life, so surely he wouldn't do that to her. It wasn't as if they were having a shitty time she'd make him stay until the very end or anything.

Besides, this was totally his idea. She might have gone with someone else if he hadn't asked, but there was no one she really wanted to go with. Except for him. She hadn't said anything, though, not even realizing it was a possibility. So, would he blow her off after coming up with the idea to begin with?

She wasn't doing a great job of convincing herself. She tried to picture what his ex must have felt like. Here she was all dressed for prom. She couldn't imagine what it would have been like to be in her wedding dress, guests there and everything.

"See," Bill said at the sound of a car door closing on the driveway.

Kylie let out a breath, feeling bad for doubting him. He'd told her about that day long before ever asking her to prom or he probably would never have told her about it. For just this reason.

"Told ya." He walked toward the door and Kylie felt like she was going to be sick all over again. What if he didn't like her dress? What if he didn't like her hair? What if…

As if she knew what Kylie'd been thinking, Claire came up and squeezed Kylie's hand. "You'll be fine."

"Oh god," she said, sliding a hand to her stomach. She was glad she hadn't eaten anything yet that day, because she was pretty sure at that moment it would have come back up. "I've never. I mean, I've never really had a date before."

"I know," Claire said as if she understood. Maybe she did, though Kylie had a hard time believing someone like Claire lacked for dates growing up. "And don't worry, we're not going to be waiting up for you."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm positive," Claire said, her voice barely a whisper. She leaned toward Kylie a bit, straightening her necklace. "I have a card or two up my sleeve to distract him."

Kylie smiled a little, feeling the heat of a blush on her cheeks. She knew they were having sex, it was just so weird to hear Claire say so out loud. Her parents certainly never announced they were going to their room for that reason.


"Have fun, be safe, and just remember that you don't have to do anything tonight you don't want to do."

"I know," Kylie said, glad it was Claire that said so not Bill. "I won't. I mean, I'm not even sure he's into me that way."

"He will be when he sees you. Now let's go take some more pictures and then you can go. Oh, and don't forget this," Claire said, holding up the bow tie they'd bought to match her dress.

"Thanks." She almost had, probably would have remembered seeing Xander without one, though.

"Was beginning to think you got lost," Bill said from the living room, judging by the exaggerated loudness to his tone, Kylie suspected it wasn't the first thing Bill had said to Xander.

"No, just haven't had much of a reason to worry about how well I shaved for a while now."

"I hear that," Bill said.

Xander gave a low whistle when she entered the room.

"Wow, you look great."

"Thank you," she said, offering him a smile. She thought he looked pretty good, too. "You look nice, too."

"A tux is a tux," he said with a shrug.

Claire used up another roll of film. Kylie had to admit it was nice, she wasn't sure Bill would have thought of it. He just wasn't that kind of guy. He'd had no reason to be until she'd come to live with him just recently.

Xander's boutonnière and bow tie in place and her corsage around her wrist, they left the house.

"They'll watch until we get out of the driveway, won't they," Xander asked once he'd started the car.


"He was better about it then I would probably be."

"I think he realizes there's not a lot he can say anyway."

"Well, I'm about to test that theory."

"Oh?" she asked.

He draped his arm around her headrest and leaned toward her, kissing her briefly. It didn't last long, something that probably wouldn't have mattered if he hadn't kissed her last night. He drew away almost immediately.

"No bullets zinging past us, so I guess that was okay."

"I guess so," she said, glancing in the direction of the front door. It was closed, so maybe Claire had dragged Bill away.

"You do look pretty," he said, putting the car into gear.

"Thank you, Claire took me to Charleston shopping. We spent the weekend."

"A weekend to find a dress?"

"Well, we did other stuff, too. It was kind of fun."

"If you say so. I'm not much on shopping. Giles took me shopping for this tux and I thought that was torture."


He shrugged. "I'm not much with suits or anything. Jeans, T-shirts, the occasional flannel shirt."

"Well, thank you then."

"You're welcome. So, where to?"

She gave him directions to the restaurant where they were meeting a group of her friends. Twelve of them all together. She hoped it wasn't too much for him, but she'd kind of wanted to show off that she had a date from out of town when she'd agreed to the idea of a group dinner. Coming from rather strict parents, she was always the one without a date.

He'd met four of the girls they had dinner with last night, Lindsay was the only one who hadn't seen him before. And their dates, of course. He sat, listening more often than contributing to the dinner conversation. She'd found out that he lived in London, which was something she'd never thought to ask. She just assumed he lived out west somewhere. It made her wonder what else she didn't know. She knew things he probably didn't tell others, but something as simple as where he lived she'd been clueless about.

At the high school, she put her hand over his wrist to stop him from moving once he'd stopped the car. She wasn't ready to go inside yet. She was a little nervous and felt a little foolish. Dinner had gone fine and everything, but this was different.

"You never told me you lived in London."

He shrugged. "You never asked."


"Does it make some sort of difference?"

"Other than I can imagine a plane ticket wasn't cheap, I guess not."

"I offered I wouldn't have if coming up with enough to pay for airfare was an issue."

"Yeah, but…"

"I didn't tell you because you already know so much about Buffy and what we do."

"You weren't sure you could trust me," she said, surprised at how much that hurt. She thought he liked her and with that trusted her. She turned to look out her window then, watching as other couples were making their way to the school. "I didn't realize that was an issue. I told you about me, about Claire."

"I know that, Kylie, I do, but there are a few hundred girls who I could put the safety of in jeopardy if I walked around saying where we were. And besides, had you actually asked, I would have told the truth, you just never did."

"I just assumed…"

"I lived out west?"

"Yeah," she said, giving a soft laugh. How embarrassing.

"Does it matter, Kylie? I'm not sure what the big deal is."

"I just realized there are things I don't know about you."

"There are lots of them, the same is true for me concerning you."

"And you don't plan on that changing, do you?"

He dropped his hand then, she let him not that she could have really stopped him. He opened his door, causing her to blink at the brightness of the dome light. He was at her door in a matter of seconds, opening it for her. She took his offered hand and let him help her out of the car. He placed his hands at the roof of the car, boxing her in. Not that she felt particularly threatened or trapped.

"Kylie, I don't know what I'm doing. I haven't had a date in years, truthfully, I probably haven't ever had what normal people would consider a real date. I was broke all the time so dates weren't exactly an option. Cordelia and I hung out more than anything. I mentioned taking you to prom because I realized you wanted to go and it didn't sound like you thought you'd be going."

"That's the only reason?"

He cupped her cheek and she tried not to let that affect her, feeling him touch her. He had to know she hadn't been touched like that often.

"I saw my chance at going to prom with a date, how could I resist."

She gave a soft laugh, glancing over his shoulder.

"Yeah, right."

He was handling this all wrong, he knew that. There was an answer he should have given, but it wasn't in him to be dishonest or to mislead her. He guessed there was nothing behind him she was looking at, more she was avoiding looking at him for whatever reason. Her eyes would probably tell him too much, and he kind of wished just then she would look at him.

He didn't think too much about it when he let go of the top of the car with one hand. He slid a fingertip along her collarbone, stopping before he got to the dip. He had her attention now. She didn't have to be looking at him to tell him that. She'd stopped breathing for a second and he'd bet a million dollars that her heart was going a mile a minute now.

He slid his hand to her shoulder, cupping it as he brought his mouth to hers. Her skin was so soft and smooth and this close to her with her shoulders bare like they were tonight he realized it was simply baby oil that she used that he thought smelled so good. He hesitated before kissing her. "How else would I get to see you in a dress like this?" he asked in a whisper.


He kissed her then, hoping that would give her his answer. He wasn't good at this, whatever it was. He knew that, or he'd probably be married by now. There was something kind of perverse - and maybe fitting - that the first person since Anya to catch his eye lived across the ocean from him.

"We'd better get inside," he said after breaking the kiss. He had to smile because the look on her face told him she wasn't thinking about the prom just then.

"I guess. If you think it's lame you'll tell me, right?"

"Definitely," he said, though he wouldn't and she probably knew that. It wasn't in him to do that to her because she so clearly cared about tonight.

He'd forgotten what a high school gym looked like. Flashes of rainy days and dodge ball ran through his mind, one day in particular when he'd been possessed by a hyena. Then there was Buffy's cheerleading tryouts with cheerleaders catching on fire. Yeah, not much normal happened in the Sunnydale gymnasium.

Dinner hadn't been as bad as he thought when she'd mentioned they were meeting some of her friends. He wasn't embarrassed or anything, but sitting around talking with a bunch of high school seniors just wasn't something he did every day. Or if he did, it was with slayer stuff as the focal point of conversations. She hadn't seemed mad that he didn't talk much, but he knew when the subject of where he lived had come up that he should have told her before then. It just hadn't seemed to matter until this visit.

He wasn't much of a dancer, but he'd asked her so he would go out on a limb and make a fool of himself for her sake as far as that went.

"You know," he said while they stood in line to get their picture taken.


"There's nothing saying you couldn't come to London sometime, on a break or something."

"Like I can afford that."

"Well, if you ever come into a windfall, the option's open."

"Thanks," she said, unable to hide the smile his words had brought out of her.

He knew the likelihood of that happening was pretty slim and unless Giles had to send him to Wheelsy for anything else, chances were this was the last time he'd see her. She'd move on to college, get out of Wheelsy and he'd no longer be so appealing. Not that he understood what she liked about him now. Image was everything at her age and the image he presented wasn't exactly the stuff fairy tales were made of.

Their picture taken, they scanned the room together. Kylie more than likely looking for her friends where Xander was checking things out.

"Why me?" he asked after a pretty thorough looking over of everyone in the gym that he could see amidst the decorations and dim light.

"Why not you?"

"You're telling me no one else asked you to prom?"

"No one else I wanted to go with," she said.

"That's honest at least."

"No one else saw what I saw, had to do what I did, Xander. I know I'm only seventeen, but I feel so much older than everyone else now. Different. I know I'm not the only who lost things and family or friends, but I'm the only one who lost everything."

"And survived."

"Right," she said softly.

"I can relate," Xander said.

"I know you can, and that's why I'm here with you. You haven't told me everything you went through and I don't pretend it's the same thing. We had one thing happen in Wheelsy, you've done that type of thing more than once."

"Well then," he said as the band started playing and couples took to the dance floor. "I guess we should make the most of the night and dance then."

He surprised her by dancing with her as much as he did. She could tell he wasn't entirely comfortable around her friends, but then she couldn't blame him really. They all wondered what had happened to his eye. And probably what he was doing here with her.

She might not understand what they were doing. Because, oh my God, he'd invited her to London. Hadn't he? It sounded that way to her. He had to be uncertain, too, but he didn't do anything to betray that. Not that she'd walked around telling everyone he was her boyfriend, but she hadn't debunked the idea when someone said that either.

While the night wasn't perfect. Jimmy Sanders must have had more than the punch to drink because he was obviously drunk about an hour into the dance and slugged Tom May for taking Becky Simms to the prom. Other than that, though, it was pretty uneventful. She could tell, though, that Xander was ready to call it a night.

So, when asked if they wanted to head out to a nearby lake for a few hours she initially said no.

"We can go if you want to," Xander said.

"No, it'll be boring. Even worse than this."

"I'm not bored, Kylie. And if you want to go we'll go. That's the point of tonight, my being here, giving you the night you want."

"Are you sure?"


"There'll be drinking."

"Suspected as much."

"Probably some drugs."

"Do you do them?"

"No, but they'll be around."

"Fair enough. I'm not there to be a cop or the responsible adult. Anything else?"

"I guess not," she said, smiling widely. She threw her arms around him. Bill hadn't really specified a time she needed to be home, seeming to understand this was one of those nights that a curfew wouldn't work anyway. She'd stayed out most of the night before once or twice, but it had been sneaking out of her house and always she had to be home before the rooster crowed it was time to wake up.

They stopped at Claire's on the way to change where she called Bill then to tell him where they were going. He didn't sound happy, but seemed grateful she'd at least called. It was something she was getting used to, being responsible to someone who wasn't her mom and dad. He was being generous, more than necessary, taking her in, making it so she wasn't a ward of the state and placed in a terrible home. Or having to spend the rest of her senior year at a different high school. She could report to him her comings and goings in exchange for his kindness.

She'd just brought a pair of jeans and a nicer shirt along as her change of clothes. She had no idea what anyone really wore to this type of thing. Not to mention she really hadn't been sure where they were going to go afterward. She knew that some would probably stay in their dresses and tuxes, but Kylie didn't see the point in that.

She paused in the doorway to the spare bedroom where Xander was staying and watched as he hung his tuxedo on a hanger. He'd put a shirt on, but hadn't buttoned it so she had a somewhat nice view of his chest when he turned and finally saw her standing there.

"Was I taking too long?" he asked.

"No, just came up to see what you were wearing and to tell you that I called Bill to tell him where we were going."

"Probably a wise move."

"Yeah, I guess," she said with a shrug. She knew what she wanted to do, but her feet seemed to pick that moment to stay rooted in place as if frozen.

"I figured you'd take longer, having a dress and stuff to get out of."

"It didn't take that long. And I decided to leave my hair up. Claire went through a lot to put it up like this. I wasn't sure what you were going to wear."

"I didn't bring anything real nice but the tux, so I'm kind of limited." He paused, glancing at himself in the mirror. "Do I look all right?"


"It looks nice. Your hair, I mean. I paid more attention to the dress earlier."

"Thank you, I like it, too." Her feet finally got into sync with her brain and allowed her to enter the room.

"I, uh, well, am ready to go I guess."

She sat on the edge of the bed, which he'd taken the time to make she noticed. Bill didn't all of the time. Neither did she for that matter. What was the point? No one else saw it and she was just going to fall asleep in it again.

"Take your time."

"We should," he said, reaching for the bottom of his shirt and working the buttons. "Not be up here I'm guessing."

"Bill knows we're here, Xander."

"Not in my bedroom!"

She laughed. "No, probably not, but he knows we're both changing."

Xander chuckled softly with a shake of his head. "I be that went over well."

"What can he say?"

"Not much I suppose." She watched him as he turned away from her and tucked his shirt in. "I guess I'm set then. Are you going to be warm enough in that?"

"I'll be fine," she said with a little smirk. Chances were, yeah, she'd probably get a little cold considering she was just wearing a short sleeved shirt but she wasn't going to complain about that tonight. All the more reason to stay close to him. And she couldn't believe she was thinking like that.


It'd been a while since she'd been out here, so she almost missed the turn off to the road that led to the road. Xander slammed on his brakes, though, as soon as she told him to turn and they were there in no time at all.

She'd been right, there were people there still dressed for prom all the way down to some guys in just shorts and nothing else. She didn't get that exactly, but then she remembered seeing a little of Xander's chest and realizing she wouldn't mind seeing more of it.

She knew a few were staring at her. At Xander. She was used to it by now, though, and she didn't think Xander knew. Or cared if he did know. Rumors and exaggerated stories about the night her parents died had spread like wildfire. She knew there was one rumor that went around early on that she'd killed her parents and just used the creatures as a cover. She did little to correct anyone's misconceptions. Her friends knew the truth and those that didn't, probably couldn't handle it anyway.

She grabbed a cup from near the keg and filled it, only about half way. She wasn't a big beer drinker and she noticed Xander hadn't followed her to the keg. She slid her arm through his, trying to figure out what he was looking at. How he was seeing everything. This had to be so totally weird to him. A high school party when he'd been done with high school for a while.

"You can have some, you're the only one here actually old enough to drink it."

Xander glanced at her with a smile. "Nah, I'm okay."

"Okay. So, what are you thinking about?"

"Nothing really, I didn't know this was back here."

"Oh, yeah, it's a popular spot. Close enough to town that you can get to it easily but far enough away that you feel like even if it's only for a couple of hours you've gotten out of Wheelsy."

Xander chuckled. "I know the feeling well. There were times I wanted out of Sunnydale so bad when I was in high school. And then when I did get out," he shrugged, sliding his arm out from hers. She felt her heart drop to her stomach at that. He didn't want her to touch him.

And then he held her hand. He smiled a little, as if knowing what she'd just thought.

"So when you finally did get out?" she prompted.

"I went back. It was home and safe, which is strange considering all we'd been through there. I'm just a chicken when it gets down to it, I guess."

"You are not. Everything you've told me about what you've gone through and done. That's not someone afraid."

"How do you know I'm not exaggerating? Or that I'm even telling the truth?"

She shrugged, taking a sip of her beer and looking out over the lake. A few of her classmates had jumped into the water. It had to be freezing and it made her shiver just thinking about it. They were probably already well on their way to being drunk, though. A few hadn't been at the dance.


"A little."

"Seems to me I asked if you were going to be warm enough."

"Maybe I just wanted an excuse to stay close to you."

"You don't want to move around and mingle?"

"Not really. I'll see them at school and everything's been said that needed to be said anyway. I got to talk to them all at dinner and the dance."

"You sure?"

She slid her arms around him. "Positive. I don't get you for much longer."

"Well then, I guess I need to do the gentlemanly thing and see to it you don't freeze to death on my watch."

"I guess so."

Return to Top

***Part Four***
Word Count: 4,020

Xander jingled the car keys, waiting for Kylie. She was ready to move on to another party, but wanted to say good night to a few of her friends first. He'd lost sight of her as she drifted to and from various spots but he was always aware of the general vicinity she was in.

So, it took him by surprise to see a guy reach out and grab onto her arm, jerking her toward him. Even at night with only one eye, Xander could tell the movement wasn't a gentle one. And it wasn't meant to be either.

Xander gave the guy a minute, assuming he was drunk and had Kylie confused with someone else. When that was obviously not the case he started toward them.

"I saw you before you went into the gym," he heard as he approached.

"Me and a few dozen other girls from school, Scott."

"You looked nice."

"Thank you," she said, sounding truly flattered. He couldn't see her face just yet to know for sure. "I didn't see you."

"I didn't go to the dance. I was just sitting in the parking lot, watching."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I could have asked someone else if I really wanted to."

"Scott, I…"

So, this guy had asked her and she'd said no? Xander wasn't sure how he felt about that. Bad for the guy, for sure, because he knew what it felt like to get the nerve up to ask 'the girl' and be shot down. However, he was here as Kylie's date not to do any male bonding over the mindset of women and the choices they make.

And besides, if she'd wanted to go with him she would have said so and told Xander she'd changed her mind or something. It wasn't as if they were promised to one another or anything. With that in mind, he did what any real date would do, he swooped into rescue the damsel in distress.

"You ready to go, Kylie?" Xander said, deciding that pretending he hadn't seen the rough way the guy had handled Kylie. If he let on he'd seen, well he wasn't sure he could contain himself. Or that the guy still had said hand on her arm, though it didn't look like he was hurting her. The last thing he needed was to have Bill called out here because Xander punched a minor.

"Yeah," she said, sounding relieved he'd come.


"No," she said.

"You sure," he prompted.

"Scott was just telling me I looked nice earlier."

"That you did, and I'm sure he'll understand that while I still have you as my date for the evening I'd appreciate it if he kept his hands to himself. Because I'd really hate getting mad right now, and I'm sure everyone else here wouldn't appreciate Bill or any of his deputies having to come out here and ruin the fun they're having."

The guy released her arm then, backing away. He didn't say anything else. Xander just offered him a smile and draped his arm around her shoulder. He wasn't really the possessive type, but it seemed appropriate and he was pretty sure Kylie would appreciate it.

He handed her the keys since she was going to drive to the next location. He didn't mind letting her drive since she knew the roads better than he did. Letting her drive to dinner and prom hadn't seemed right, though, so he'd pretty well insisted he do the driving earlier in the evening.

She slid an arm around his waist, letting her head rest against his side. She was short enough that she fit against him nicely. She was colder than she'd let on, too, because he felt her shiver this close.

"Okay then, let's get you to the car so you don't freeze to death."

The other guy snorted. Xander did the best to glare at him with the one eye he had available to do that with.

"Night Scott," Kylie said, letting Xander guide her toward the car.

"Who's that?" he asked once they'd walked out of earshot.

"No one. I mean, just a guy I go to school with."

"Huh," Xander said.

"He's nobody, really. Just someone who asked me, thinking I'd be desperate to go. So when I said I had a date and it wasn't anyone from school, he thought I was lying."

"And came to see if you were?"

"Something like that."

"Why would he think you were lying?"

"Well, we lost a lot of people you know. It wasn't just my parents and sisters. There were more. Lots more. I was sure that night leaving the scene with Bill and Starla that we were the only three left. It wasn't as apocalyptic as all that, but it still took its toll on our already little town."

"So, not a huge selection of willing guys to take you to prom?"

She laughed. "Yeah, sums it up pretty well."

He had to admit, it would be interesting to find out why there'd been so many survivors. Why hadn't they been infested? Had they fought back as Kylie had? Had they been passed over? Or had they just not been gotten to yet?

He walked her to the driver's door, opening it for her before getting in on the passenger side.

"So, where to now?"

She shook her head as she started the car. He noticed she turned the heater on almost immediately.

"You aren't telling?"

"Nope. It's a surprise."

"Okay then," he said.

He let his head fall back against the headrest, watching the road but not really paying attention. Until they turned onto a road familiar to him even though he'd had few occasions to travel on it.

"Kylie," he said softly, knowing now where she was taking him.


He didn't say anything else. Maybe there was a party at one of the few other houses along the road.

Nope, sure enough she turned onto her driveway. The mailbox still marked it as belonging to the Strutemyer's. It did still belong to them, he realized, just one of them now. Kylie. He wouldn't be surprised to see her sell the house one of these days.

There were no lights on, predictably since no one lived here. Anyone in the area knew she didn't so turning any on would be futile.

He had to admit, he liked the house. He'd only been inside of it once for about an hour, but it was nice. Her parents clearly did well with their farming.

Kylie opened her purse and reached to the bottom where she'd safety pinned the key to the lining earlier. She hadn't expected Bill to search her purse, but she wouldn't have put it past him either. He would have seen the key if he took everything out, but under her silver cell phone, the key didn't really stand out.

She wasn't sure what Xander was thinking. Or what he was feeling. She really had no idea why she was doing this. It had been one of her friend's ideas. Kylie had dismissed it at first until last night at dinner. She sat there listening to the plans her friends had with their guys after the dance and she'd decided.

She opened her door and got out before he could say anything. He didn't seem like he was going to, but she could just picture what was going through his mind.

She was tempted to ask him if he was going to stay in the car, but was a little afraid of the answer. So, she kept her back to him as difficult as it was to do.

She unlocked the door, glancing behind her when she heard the car door close. God, he was cute. She'd seen cuter and most would probably think the patch took away from his looks. She didn't think so, though. Maybe because he didn't treat it as any big deal. She remembered in the restaurant one night when he'd covered his good eye and pointed at the menu as a way to decide what he'd have to eat. And she knew how he'd lost the eye. He'd trusted her enough to tell her things that she was pretty sure no one outside of his circle of friends knew about.

She felt him stiffen as she touched it out in front of the diner last night. She hadn't meant to, but her fingers had been touching his hair and there the strings were. She had no idea what the eye looked like under the patch. She wouldn't think to ask such a thing, but after what she'd seen here in Wheelsy she doubted too much could gross her out.

"I thought Bill left the power on?" he asked softly when she proceeded through the front door into the house without flipping a light switch.

"He did. I don't need lights," she whispered.

"Why are we whispering?"

She gave a soft laugh. "I don't know. I guess habit from when I was coming in from doing something wrong."

"Did you do wrong things often, Kylie?"

"A time or two. Nothin' real bad. I wasn't out whoring around or anything, if that's what you're asking."

"None of my business even if you were," he said.

"Just my parents were so strict, they wouldn't let me do anything."

"So you took it upon yourself to do things."

"Right. Exactly," she whispered, glad he seemed to understand without judging. "Did you have to do that much?"

"Sneak out?"

"Yeah. If you were helping Buffy I'd think you'd have had to."

"Well, yeah, but that's assuming my parents were sober enough by dark to even notice our house was on fire let alone my not being in bed asleep."

"I'm sorry. I forgot, I shouldn't have…"

"Kylie, it's okay," he said with a shrug. "No big, right? I'm here, I survived. Who really has a normal life? I told you about our friend Cordelia's parents. One of her friends got turned."


"Yeah, you know, made a vamp."

"Oh," she said simply. "You were friends with people who became vamps?"

"Well, sure, just like you said about Wheelsy not being that big, neither was Sunnydale. It didn't happen real often, but sure. Buffy had to stake a friend of hers she'd known since grade school."

"Ouch," she said as she stopped just inside the family room. She took a deep breath. This was do or die time. She could still turn back, take him to another room and he'd never know she had gone to any effort to prepare for this. "I can't believe that's real. I mean, I lived through something no one would believe if they didn't see."

"I believe."

"Well, most anyone then. And yet, I still find it hard to believe the things you talk about are real."

"They're real. I'll show you one day."

"Really," she said, not wanting to sound too hopeful. But that meant he was thinking of seeing her again. One day. Who knew when? But at least he wasn't leaving here after the weekend putting her out of his mind permanently.

"Sure. You already know about us, no harm in showing you some things."

She picked up the matchbook from the table and struck a match, using it to light a few candles that she and her friends had set out earlier. The house was still furnished so she could have chosen any number of rooms in the house. Like her bedroom, but she thought that'd just freak him out beyond reason. She didn't want that humiliation. Not tonight anyway.

"Kylie," he said but she continued what she was doing.

Blowing out the match, she lit another one, moving onto more candles until she could see him pretty clearly with the light they put out. Her last stop was the entertainment center where the stereo was. The TV was in her room at Bill's house now, but the stereo was still here.

"How long did it take Claire to get your hair like that anyway?"

She smiled, turning to face him after finding the station she wanted. Not her usual choice, but tonight was different.

"Not real long. I don't know how long it's supposed to take."

"Never had it done like that before?"

"Nope," she said, adding mentally that she probably wouldn't have reason to again anytime soon. That's why she'd left it up. She liked it, thought it made her look not necessarily older but, just different.

He took in their surroundings. It wasn't the most romantic setup, which made her feel a little self-conscious. The family room had been setup for comfort not romance or coziness. Though the coach was comfortable for snuggling. She'd used it a couple of times for that purpose.

"Why?" she asked.

"Just curious, it looks nice and it's stayed put pretty well."

"That's more the hairsprays doing than Claire's I think. I'll probably need to wash it a couple of times to get it all out."

"I admit, I like it down, though." He smiled then, his gaze finally coming to rest on her. "When did you have time to do this?"

"This morning. I had some help."


"Yeah. A couple of friends. Are you mad?"

"Mad?" He shook his head, tilting it a little as if thinking. "Why would I be mad?"

"Well, you said that…"

"I said that's not why I'm here. I didn't say I'm not attracted to you."

"You are?"

He scoffed. "Yeah, I'm here, aren't I? You think I'd fly here from London to take someone to prom I wasn't attracted to?"

"You could be…"

"I'm not just being nice, but this," he said, gesturing to the room. "Isn't why I came here, Kylie."

She walked to him then. The rush of him admitting his attraction to her fueling her feet to start moving. She took his hands in hers and drew him toward the blankets she'd placed on the floor where the great big, oak coffee table usually was. She and her friends had moved it out of the room earlier.

She nibbled a little on her lower lip, thinking this through. She wasn't trying to give him the wrong idea, and she had the feeling that whatever did happen tonight would be due to her prompting not his.

"Just sit down for a minute," she said.

"All right," he said.

She waited until he actually sat before going into the kitchen. So far so good. He hadn't run away or told her he was taking her back to Bill's place.

She got the few things she'd bought at the store earlier together and returned to the family room. He was still sitting on the floor. She set the tray down and started back toward the kitchen.

"You've got more?"

"Just one more trip," she said.

"All right," he said, glancing at the tray. "This is a lot, though."

It wasn't that much. Just some fruit. Okay, a lot of fruit. She wasn't sure what he liked so she'd gone all out and bought a little of everything she could think of.

She went back to the kitchen to collect the last of the stuff.

"You didn't buy that today," he said when she came back.

"No. It's my parents. I don't know what they had it in the fridge for."

"Bill left a bottle of champagne in your fridge?"

"He pretty much threw out anything that would spoil and left the rest. I don't think he thought of my coming out here."

"Or at least not with a guy, huh."

"Maybe not." She handed him the corkscrew as she joined him on the floor. His back was resting against the couch, which was what she'd pictured when imagining this scene. "Here, you can do it."

"Are you trying to get me drunk, Miss Strutemyer?"

She gave a soft giggle. "I'm not trying to get either of us drunk. I just wanted to do something special to remember this night by." And you, though she left that part unsaid. "Besides, if I have to get you drunk, I wouldn't want you anyway."

He slid a hand to her shoulder, cupping it before he slid it to her neck. He brushed the back of his hand against her throat, causing her to shiver before he let his palm rest at the nape of her neck. He drew her toward him, kissing her lightly.

"You wouldn't have to get me drunk. I promise you."

"Thank you," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely now.

He drew away, putting the corkscrew to use and opening the bottle. He poured them each a glass in the flutes she'd brought in with the bottle.

"So, the fruit?" he asked.

"Can't drink on an empty stomach," she said with a shrug, grabbing a cherry and eating it.

He reached for a strawberry. He didn't eat it, though. Instead he dipped it into the champagne and after withdrawing it, held it to her lips. She took a bite, groaning softly at the bittersweet taste the combination offered her and at the little bit of juice that coated her lips. He drew the stem away.

"That tastes good," she whispered as he leaned in to kiss her.

"It sure does."

She kissed him then, arms going around his neck as it deepened. She groaned softly as his lips opened a little. She dipped her tongue into the opening, shivering at the sensation. This was way different than his kissing her in a parking lot. They were alone here, no one was watching. There was no doubt he was doing this, kissing her because he wanted to not so she could save face in front of her friends or anything.

This wasn't about sex and he seemed to know that just as well as she did because he remained a perfect gentleman. They kissed and talked about whatever came to their minds and kissed some more but he never tried to push her further. The bottle of champagne was emptied at a leisurely pace and the fruit was picked over and nibbled on as the mood struck them.

His hands never strayed where they shouldn't have. She could tell a couple of times he was tempted, but he always stopped before she had to worry about whether she should let him go any further.

She learned more about Sunnydale and his life there while she told him more about herself before Wheelsy had been invaded. She told him about Bill and Starla and how happy she was Claire'd come to town when she had.

Eventually, once the candles she'd lit earlier had burned down to practically nothing they fell asleep.

Xander woke, unable to move his arm. He opened his good eye, trying to remember where exactly he was. There were no bounds holding his arm down. It was merely the weight of a sleeping Kylie. One of them had drawn one of the blankets around the both of them at some point. She was still sleeping soundly as far as he could tell.

It had been a long time since he'd slept with a girl. Just slept. He couldn't remember the last time. And, as odd as it may seem to some, it was more beneficial to him than any sort of sex they could have engaged in the night before. Being surrounded by women who could beat him in fist-to-fist combat and save the world without breaking a sweat didn't lend itself well to stroking the old ego.

He wasn't sure what it said that he found that in a not quite yet legal aged woman. He'd say it was comfort, but it was more than that. He felt like a piece of him that had been laying dormant since before Anya died felt alive. He felt wanted and needed, things that despite the skills he had to offer the Council he just didn't feel all that often anymore.

And he hadn't even needed sex to feel those things.

Not that the thought hadn't crossed his mind when he realized this was where she was bringing him. It would have been relatively easy for him to push just that little bit more. He was willing to bet she'd have caved. He didn't want that, though.

He stood, slowly disengaging his arm from under her. She gave a soft groan but otherwise remained asleep. He walked to his jacket and pulled out his cell phone. It was past sunrise so there was no way Bill wasn't already awake, wondering where Kylie was. This was a phone call he dreaded making, but he had to do it.

The sound of the doorbell stopped him from going any further than scrolling through his contacts list to her home number. There weren't very many people who would come out here, knowing the house was vacant and ring the bell. It narrowed it down to Bill, Claire or one of Bill's officers.

He padded to the front door, running his hand through his hair as he went. He must look a disheveled sight. At least his patch had stayed in place. He hadn't slept with it on in a long time.

He was relieved to see Claire standing there.

"Hi," he said. "I was just about to call," he said, showing her the cell phone as if it was some sort of proof that the scene was not at all what it looked like.

"I thought you'd be here."

"You knew?"

"I suspected. Bill got called away to an accident out of town a bit so he doesn't know she's not home yet."

"Well, let's fix that. I swear nothing happened," he said, holding the door open for her. He led her to the living room where Kylie now sat on the couch, obviously awake and fearing that it was Bill not Claire coming to read her the riot act.

"Hey," Kylie said simply.

"Hi," Claire said, eyes taking in the scene before her. It was clear they'd slept together but Xander was pretty sure it was obvious that's all they'd done.

"Why don't you take her home and I'll clean up here. Bill would expect the both of you to be home."

"That's nice of you," Claire said. "I don't want him to worry."

"Why isn't he here?"

Claire glanced at Kylie, realizing she didn't know. "There was an accident."

"Was it bad?"

Claire shrugged. "I don't know. I just know he got a call real early and he left right away. He didn't even kiss me goodbye, so I'm guessing it was serious."

"Are you going to tell him?"

Claire laughed lightly. "Not in this lifetime. You may not be his, but one day we might have one or two that are his. I don't want him worrying about things he has no control over before they even start. Let's get going," she said, leaving them alone in the room.

"I woke up and you were gone," she said softly.

"I'm sorry. I woke up, saw that it was daylight, and knew I had to call."

"You weren't awake long?"

"I bet my side of the floor was still warm it hadn't been that long at all."

"You mad?"

"That's the second time you asked me that. No, I'm not mad," he said, sliding a finger to her chin. He tilted her face up so he could kiss her. "I had a good time."

"Me, too," she whispered, pulling away. "Will I see you later?"

"I'm in town for two more days yet and I have no one else to see but you, so yes."

She smiled, stretching up to kiss him again. "Come over for lunch."

"I'll be there."

"Good. And thanks for cleaning up."

"No problem. It's not a big mess or anything and Claire's right, you need to get home so Bill doesn't know or he'll forbid me from seeing you the rest of the time I'm here."

"And that would be bad?"

"It would be," he said with a nod.

Return to Top

**Part Five**
Word Count: 3,960

"So, how was it?" Claire asked before they had even gotten to the road that led to town.


"What she asks? Um, I don't know. How about, oh, you know, everything. Dinner, the dance, after the dance."

"We didn't, he didn't…"

"Start with dinner."

"It was a little odd. He didn't know anyone, but he tried and everyone was decent to him."

"Just didn't go out of their way to make him feel accepted?"

She shrugged, trying to see it from Xander's point of view. "I think they were okay, I get the feeling he didn't want to say anything that would make them think badly of me. I don't think he really minded being around a bunch of people younger than him."

"Reasonable. And good so far. You didn't spill anything on the dress?"

Kylie laughed. "No! I was nervous enough I'm lucky I didn't."

"And the dance? Did you stay the whole time?"

"Yes. I thought for sure he'd want to bail as soon as he could."

"And did you dance?"


"A lot?"

"Enough," Kylie said, smiling a little.

"I take it he was a decent dance partner?"

"Yeah. Then we went out to the lake for a while with the others."

"What made you come to your place?"

"I just wanted him to myself for a while. He came here before and had work to do. He came here this time and we were around a bunch of people that he didn't know. I'm sort of a freak to some of them."

Claire placed her hand over hers. "You're not a freak, Kylie. People may not understand what you went through or how you survived, but you're not a freak."

"I just…" Kylie shrugged, not knowing how to respond to that. She knew, deep down, that she wasn't a freak, but there were times she felt like one. How do explain to people how you were one of only a few that survived something? She guessed it was no different than people surviving a hurricane or tornado, but it felt different to her.

"So, you were alone with him."



"I told you…"

"I know what you told me, but I saw the room, Kylie. You didn't just go back there and crash."

"Well, no. We talked and stuff."


Kylie felt herself blushing. "You're not really going to make me tell you?"

"No, just asking and I think I'd rather you talk to me about what happened - or didn't - than anyone else."

"Yeah," she said. Her friends knew what she'd planned, but they didn't have to know she'd actually gone through with it. And if she told them nothing happened, they'd never believe her. She had a reputation for being a little wild.


"It was nice. I mean, he was nice and didn't do anything really. We kissed and stuff, but clothes stayed on."

"All of them?"


"Just asking."

"Bill doesn't know?"

"No. He was called out," Claire paused and glanced at her watch. "I don't know, it was about three o'clock."


"He didn't say, but I suspect probably so."

"Was he worried about me?"

"He didn't say anything. He trusts you, Kylie. And he also realizes there's not much he can really do or say to stop you from doing whatever you want to do."

"I know."

"He just hopes you know he cares."

"He does. He's cared more than anybody. I mean, he didn't have to take me in."

"No, he didn't, but knowing him - even not knowing him as well as I do now. He'd never have let you go to a stranger's house."

"No one's really a stranger around here."

"No, but he knew what you'd seen that night. Not many do. I sure don't."

"Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask me anything, don't know if I'll have an answer."

"Had you … Before Bill?"


"You had the opportunity before him, though, right?"


"And you knew he had a thing for Starla?"

"Mm, yes."

"So, how did you know he was the one?"

Claire gave a soft laugh. "I don't know that there are words to describe it. I was hesitant because of Starla, probably would have been more hesitant if she still lived in town. And I won't deny I wonder what would happen if she came back."

"He wouldn't…"

"It's not like we're married, Kylie."

"But he loves you."

"Yeah, but a past as they have can be hard to get out from under the spell of."

"She won't be back," Kylie said.

"How do you know?"

She shrugged. "She didn't fit in here. The only reason she stayed was because of Grant and the life he could provide for her here. She could live high on the hog and show everyone who knew her growing up that she'd come so far."

"Wow, you don't really like her much do you?"

Kylie shrugged. "I don't dislike her. I just hated the way all the guys at school fawned all over her as if she was the next Elizabeth Taylor or something. She wasn't that pretty. I think you're prettier."

"Ah and thank you," Claire said. "So, does that mean you're thinking about it with Xander?"

She shrugged. "I don't know."

"You're still young, Kylie. There's no reason you should hurry. If he likes you, he's going to like you a couple of years from now, too."

Kylie shook her head. "As if he'll remember me."

"Well, if that's how you think he is, you don't want to do anything you'll regret."

"No, I'm just saying. It's not as though he has any reason to come back here again."

"So, you give him one."

"He did mention my going to see him…"

"Really?" Claire said, sounding kind of glad about that.

"I think it was more offhand than a real invitation."

"But he's open to the idea?"

"I guess."

They'd arrived at home now. Bill was obviously there, too. There was no way Kylie was going to continue this conversation with Bill anywhere nearby to overhear them.

"What are you going to tell him?"

Claire reached to the backseat and pulled a bag of groceries toward her. There were two others, Kylie hadn't noticed them until now.

"That we wanted some girl talk without worrying about him listening in."

"Thank you," Kylie said, relieved.

Claire kept the car running, though she put it into park and shifted a little to look at Kylie.

"I can't tell you what to do. I didn't wait until I was married, I didn't even wait until there was an indication of marriage. I wasn't seventeen and Bill wasn't leaving in two days either. And I did love him."

"I know," Kylie mumbled, knowing she sounded like a child.

"On the other hand, you've been through things not many others have. There's something to be said for those type of experiences making people grow up fast. You like him. He likes you." Claire shrugged. "All I can say, sweetie, is don't expect him to stay or for anything to change. He doesn't strike me as the type who came here just to get laid, but he is a guy who had to catch on you were into him."

"You think he's using me?"

Claire laughed then, resting her head against the back of her seat. "No, Kylie, I don't. I think there are easier, more obtainable women than someone who lives across an ocean with the local chief of police. Just be careful whatever you decide. If that's what you want to do and you want me to go and get condoms or something…"

"Oh God, they'd think you were…"

"For me and Bill?"

"You'd be okay with that?"

Claire laughed again. "Kylie, worrying about whether people are thinking about my sex life isn't top priority for me. I mean, I stay here most every night they're going to assume anyway."

"Well, yeah, but if you buy them that's proof."

"I really don't care. Actually, let me look in our bathroom, he may have some left over in the cabinet in there."

"You don't need them?"

"Not anymore," Claire said softly. "Until I knew we were it for one another, at least for now, we used them. I wasn't sure if the pill or those shots would work on me. I mean, I can't get drunk so it stands to reason prescriptions wouldn't stay in my system."

"So you're not using anything?"

Claire laughed a little. "If I left it up to Bill, I don't think we would be, but no I use a diaphragm. We still use one every once in a while when I don't have it with me," she said, blushing profusely at that statement. It took Kylie a minute to realize she meant for times they weren't, like, in the bedroom or even at home. "They have IUDs but I'm not sure my body wouldn't just reject it."

"Oh," Kylie said, mulling that over. "You have way more things to worry about than I do when it comes to that."

"Well, I honestly don't know if I can get pregnant. I mean, I know someone who had my ability and he had children, but he was a guy and I'm just not sure. So, it may be for nothing. I can't get sick or diseases or anything," she shrugged.

"I guess, I hadn't thought about that," Kylie said, mulling that over. And the worst thing for Claire was she had nobody to talk to about this stuff to. She couldn't very well tell the local doctor or anything.

"You heard what I said, though, right. We used them all of the time at first," Claire said. "I mean, even my not being able to get sick or anything, there's no guarantee. I mean, I don't know I can't get something like AIDS. There may be things my immune system can't fight off. And you don't have my ability."

"Yes, I get it. I know there are some things worse than getting pregnant."

"Just making sure." Claire turned off the car then, but didn't open her door. "I'll help you in any way I can, whatever you decide. Just know going into it you might get your heart broken. I don't see him moving to Wheelsy."

Kylie laughed. "God, I hope not. And I know. I don't even know that I want to have sex with him."

"But you want to do something?"

"Well, more than kissing. He's the first boy I ever really liked. Wouldn't you?"

Claire shrugged. "I was content with lots of kissing with the first boy I ever really liked, but you're not me. So, don't think I'm saying you shouldn't."

"You don't think I should though?"

"I just want you to be careful. That's all. He seems nice, but you still don't really know all there is to know about him. And I'm saying this as your friend, not as Bill's girlfriend or anything else. I like you, Kylie."

"Thanks," she said, smiling. She liked Claire, too. She'd been worried at first Bill would still be so focused on Starla to really notice her. Kylie was very glad she'd been wrong on that. She hoped that Starla did come back one day, too, and saw that Bill had moved on because Kylie thought Starla Grant liked knowing Bill was in love with her.

Maybe it was guilt, knowing she'd hidden the truth from Bill, but the last thing Kylie expected when stepping through the front door was to be grabbed by long, strong arms and hugged to the chest of Bill Pardy. They weren't much on emotion. It wasn't as if she was his daughter and she knew he wasn't entirely used to having her as a permanent fixture in his house. It wasn't as if they loved one another like a parent and child would or anything. She liked him and he her but it was different.

So, being hugged by him was not something she could recall ever having happened before in her life. A couple of her friends thought he was cute and had made a couple of comments about him when she started living here. A few had asked questions that Kylie had no answers to. Even if she did she wouldn't have provided the answers.

"I'm so glad you're okay," he said, kissing the top of her head much the way her father used to when she'd worried him.

"We just went to the store to get some things for breakfast, Bill," Claire said.

"I know, I saw your note, but I came home saw your car was gone and I panicked. The accident was a ways out of town so radio reception isn't great. I thought I'd missed a call about you."

"I'm fine," she said, not sure what to say beyond that.

"I see that. And I'm glad. Did you have a good time?"

"Yes," she said, glad for the change of subjects.

"Good. You two got your girl talking out of the way?"

Kylie smiled a little at that. "Uh huh."

"All right," he said, apparently not willing to let go of her. Instead, he slid his free arm around Claire and started leading them both to the kitchen.

He started unpacking the grocery sacks.

"So, I take it we're having French toast for breakfast?" he said, dropping back as if he was going to throw the loaf of bread like a football.

"Yes," Claire said. "Unless you squeeze it and I can't salvage it."

"Spoil sport," he said, setting the bread down.

"Yeah, yeah."

"So, it's just the three of us then?"

"Who else would there be?" Claire asked.

"Well, Xander, didn't you invite him back here for breakfast? Or did you get sick of him after spending the night with him?"

"Lunch," Kylie said, her heart pounding. Did he know somehow? He couldn't, but then of course he could. Claire didn't react to what Bill had said beyond a brief pause in putting away the groceries. "He's coming for lunch."

"All right," he said with a nod. He stepped behind Claire, wrapping his arms around her. Claire gave a soft laugh when he kissed her neck. Kylie suspected he whispered something in her ear because she could see Claire blush when she turned to look over her shoulder at him.

"Um, I'm going to go take a shower before breakfast," Kylie said, sensing somehow neither one of them really knew she was in the room anymore. They got that way sometimes. It was kind of sweet. Kylie's parents had never been like that. Maybe before she'd been born. She liked to think so. She thought they were happy like this before the worry of a household bore down on them. They hadn't been expecting twins the second time around, but they made do.

"All right, Kylie, we won't start without you," Bill said before whispering what to Kylie sounded as though he'd told Claire he liked the idea of a shower, too.

She took extra time getting ready, blow drying her hair and styling it more than she would on a normal day she planned to be around the house. Mostly because she knew Xander was coming over and she wanted to look nice for him. Also, though she wanted to give Bill and Claire all the time she could. She wondered if she'd ever have that type of relationship, joking and flirting in the kitchen, so intent on one another the world seemed to disappear around them.

They weren't always like that, they paid attention to her and she certainly didn't feel jealous or neglected. She was happy for both of them, but especially Bill whom she'd known all of her life. And had heard the gossip about through the years of how he spent his life pining away for Mrs. Grant. She didn't know Bill well until the night they were forced to work together to save their lives. She knew, though, that he deserved better than Starla Grant because she was nothing but an opportunist. At least that was how Kylie saw it.

Would people think she was an opportunist if she slept with Xander? No one would have to know, of course.

After she was dressed, she walked to the head of the stairs. They were still in the kitchen and if her ears weren't deceiving her they'd stopped putting groceries away. Probably as soon as she'd gone up to the shower.

Convinced they were still busy and not paying her any mind, she went into Bill's room. She knew where he kept his stash of condoms. She'd found them once looking for a pair of nail clippers when hers broke. Sure enough, there was a whole box in there. And the box was already open. What was one or two missing? He probably wouldn't notice, especially if as Claire said they didn't use them real often anymore. And if he noticed? She suspected Claire would cover for her.

Could he get mad at her for being safe and prepared? What was he going to do anyway? Yell at her for having sex when she wasn't married? He wasn't either so he couldn't do that. She was young, but like Claire said she'd come close to dying that night. Certainly, that had to count for something?

She could have slept with any number of guys, before and after that night, but she hadn't. So, it wasn't like she was just out to have sex. She wasn't sure she was in love with Xander, but she liked him and knew that he wouldn't be a jerk to her afterward.

"And what about his fiancé?" she murmured, pocketing two of the condoms after glancing out the door to ensure no one was there.

He told her the truth about that. She was dead so he didn't have to mention it at all. She would never have known. And it wasn't as if she was asking him to marry her.

She stayed at the top of the stairs until she was sure that Bill and Claire were presentable.

"What was that for?" she heard Claire ask, though she didn't sound at all upset or put out.

"You see the life of someone you've watched grow up since they were in diapers get snuffed out it tends to make you want to do whatever you can to feel alive."

Kylie's eyes closed, tears threatened to spill. Someone she knew, a classmate, had died last night. Their little town could hardly do with any more casualties.

She heard Claire's voice but she was talking too softly for Kylie to pick up on what she said.

"She stayed the night with him, didn't she?" she heard him ask. She knew then for sure they were done having sex.


"Don't lie to me, Claire. First of all it ain't right and second of all you're terrible at it. I saw it all over both of your faces when you walked through that door. She wasn't at no store with you this early in the morning the day after prom. Besides, I spoke to a couple of people who were at the lake and they said Kylie and her date left well before sunrise."

"Don't get mad at her," Kylie said, making her way down the stairs. "She was just telling you what I wanted her to tell you."

"Let me guess, and you girls always have to stick together."

Kylie smiled a little. "Well, yeah."

"Kylie, honey, you're almost eighteen I can't much stop you from doing what you feel the need to do. Just don't lie to me. Lying brings mistrust and things start to fester. I like having you here and hope even after you go to college you'll still come home to Wheelsy and this house."

"I know," she said. "It's just you don't like him."

"I don't dislike him. I'm just not sure I trust him or you."


"Oh come on, Kylie, weren't that long ago you couldn't wait to get out of Wheelsy. I knew that. So, I worry that you see him as a way out."

"I don't!"

"I know that. Now. I saw how you were with him. And everyone I talked to last night seemed to go out of their way to assure me that your date behaved himself."


"Yeah, all but one guy. Scott something or other. You know the guy I'm talking about?"

"Yes," Kylie said.

"I didn't believe him, though, because it was fairly clear he was lying through his teeth and had an agenda. Like possibly getting you to go with him."

"Yeah," Kylie said.

"But you didn't want to go with anyone but Xander?"


"Well, then, there it is. I accept that. I reckon someone who handles a gun and was able to stop one of those worm thingys from getting full-on into you deserves to make a decision like who they date on their own."

"Thank you."


"By the way," Kylie said with a wry smile.


She pointed at his shirt. "You buttoned it wrong."

"Funny, I hadn't noticed that before," Bill said, fixing the shirt.

"Yeah, funny," Kylie said, walking to the fridge.

"I'm sorry, Bill," Claire said.

"Yeah, well, you owe me," Bill said as Kylie set the eggs for the French toast on the counter next to the bread.

Claire smiled at that. And it was that smile. The one Claire only gave Bill at times when she was thinking about him in ways she probably had no business thinking in front of her or anyone else.

"You just tell me how to pay off my debt, Chief. Do you want that here and now? Or is my credit okay?"

He stammered a little, glancing at Kylie who ducked her head before peaking into the fridge again. Milk, she needed milk.

"I think your credit will do just fine."

She gave a soft giggle then and Kylie wondered how she did that. Did it come natural? Was it because she loved Bill? Or was she just that comfortable with herself? Kylie knew she was pretty. Not the prettiest girl in town by any means, but she was attractive, but there were times she looked in the mirror and saw a frumpy girl.

"As long as you're sure," Claire said.

"I'll take an IOU. Just need to see some ID."

"Oh God, please just go on upstairs and I'll make the French toast while you two get it out of your system." They'd just had sex and were acting as if it'd been hours or days since. Maybe that's how it was, Kylie certainly wouldn't know and none of her friends were in the position to have frequent sex.

"What?" Bill stammered.

"Like I don't know what you two are talking about. I'm not clueless. Go collect your debt," she said. "Or whatever you need to do."

"Kylie, honey, we're just playing," Bill said. His eyes widened then, realizing Kylie had known that all along. "I assure you I can resist at least until after breakfast."

"At least til then, huh?" Kylie said with a shake of her head. "Hopefully when you come down for lunch you'll have buttoned your shirt right."

"Maybe I'll come down not wearing one at all."

Kylie couldn't deny that idea didn't bother her in the least. She'd seen him more than once around the house without a shirt and he was nice to look at.

"At least it wouldn't be obvious you'd just had sex in our kitchen!"

"Kylie Strutemyer!"

Claire laughed, distracting Bill with a kiss. "Now who's lying?"

Return to Top

***Part Six***
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.

"You're welcome."

"He knows, by the way," she said, stepping aside so he could come in.

"Who knows?"

"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."

"What's that?"

"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.

"Hi, Xander."

"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?"

"Last week."

"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."

"And Kylie?"

"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."

"Just curious."

"That bothersome?"

"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."

"Just wondering."

"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."

"Thank you."

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***Part Seven***
Word Count: 1,220

Buffy knocked, going into Xander's room once he'd said she could come in. She didn't usually go for such formalities, but for once there was someone else in Xander's room. Buffy wasn't too sure how she felt about an outsider spending much time here, but the girl already knew about Buffy and the other slayers. And besides once Xander had explained the situation, she hadn't had it in her heart to refuse. And really, Xander had given up so much already, lost his parents they were pretty sure so she probably wouldn't have told him no anyway.

She couldn't blame Kylie's guardian for being concerned. Most people had a limit on how much they could see and experience before they started shutting down. Or acting out. And since Kylie had lost everyone close to her, she could understand why Bill had expressed concern about Kylie being around for a baby with the possibility of being not completely human.

Xander had been back for about three weeks. Kylie just got here two days ago. During the time Xander was here alone, Buffy made sure that Bill realized there wasn't anyone around here to play chaperone. Not that she didn't trust Xander, but Buffy'd known he liked Kylie after his second trip to Wheelsy. She and her slayers had too much to be responsible for as it was to be worrying about whether Xander was having sex.

Besides, she was close enough to eighteen and after everything she'd been through, some would consider her more of an adult than some adults who hadn't been through what she had. Buffy also knew that Xander wasn't going to pounce on her the second the wheels of her plane set down in London. Xander wasn't that kind of guy, his relationship with Anya aside.

"Hey, sorry," Buffy said, not accustomed to feeling as if she was disturbing Xander. He had become almost as much about the mission and the job as Buffy was. Kind of scary, but he was good at what he did.

"It's all right. What's up?"

"I've got some correspondence I need you to look at."

"All right. Now?"

"Well, yeah," she said.

"What's up?"

"I don't know. Some cryptic message. Or maybe it was encrypted. I don't know."

He smirked then and she pouted. "Don't get all smirky on me because I don't know the lingo. That isn't my job! You, Mister," she said, thumping his chest good naturedly, "are the tech guy. I'm the muscle."

"And don't I know it," he said, rubbing the spot she'd hit. "You don't have to hit me, Buff."

Her eyes widened. "Did I hurt you? Oh my God, I'm sorry. I forget sometimes, you know? I was just playing."

"Buffy, it's fine. I'm fine. Really. I was just pulling your leg. I'll be down in a minute. Okay?"

"All right," she said, pouting again.

Xander closed the door and padded the short distance to his bed where Kylie slept. She'd been doing that a lot since she'd gotten here. Between the end of school, graduation, and the arrangements to come here being done in a matter of weeks he imagined she was pretty tired. Not too tired last night to keep him awake half the night, though. Not that he was complaining.

"Kylie," he said softly, setting a hand gently on her shoulder.

"Mm hmm," she mumbled.

"I gotta go downstairs with Buffy for a bit."


"You remember how to get a hold of me if you need something right?"

"Mm hmm," she replied.

"Okay, I hope you're coherent enough to remember this and you don't wake up freaking out because I'm not here."

He walked to his bathroom. Their bathroom. He'd offered to give her a room to herself. It would have taken some finagling but it could have been arranged. Not all of the slayers stayed here and some could have been sent off to Andrew, Faith, or Robin for training if need be.

She hadn't wanted her own room. That had made Xander a little nervous. He'd been surprised when Bill had agreed to her coming here instead of a trip somewhere else. Xander knew Kylie had money saved up from Bill selling stuff off, but that was supposed to be for college. And this way all she'd been responsible for was a plane ticket. Housing, food, and anything else she'd need would be seen to by Xander. Or the Council.

He'd thought for sure Bill was going to say no way in hell, but he hadn't. Xander figured the sheriff probably realized they didn't need to be across the ocean for things to happen if that was where their intentions lay.

Nothing had happened yet. Well, nothing much. He really couldn't remember the last time he'd just laid in bed with a girl and kissed. And, well, a little touching, but nothing she wasn't a willing participant in and didn't do to him as well.

Bill's final words to Xander were still as clear as if he'd just said them seconds ago.

"You just make sure she comes back here when the time comes for school."

"I wouldn't stop her from going to school."

"No, but she may decide she wants to go there. You and I both know that wouldn't be good for her."

"Yeah," Xander had said simply.

He knew how young Kylie was and that despite liking one another she needed more life experience than just her time in Wheelsy to make any decisions. Not that Xander was thinking of marrying her or anything. There wasn't anything wrong with her, but he'd known even before Bill mentioned it that she had a whole bunch of living to do.

And so, Xander was being careful. Ever so careful that nothing happened, emotionally or physically, between them that would serve as incentive for her to stay here. And there was Claire and Bill's wedding. Kylie had been worried with Starla coming back into town Bill would change his mind about Claire.

Evidently, that hadn't happened because one of the first things Kylie had told him when she stepped off the plane was that Bill had proposed. And Claire had accepted. As if Xander didn't know that! He liked Claire, and hadn't revealed her secret to anyone here. He'd come to find out why she was in Wheelsy and knew that what knowledge he had had to stay with him.

He dressed and went down to his area in the castle. He'd shown it to Kylie so that if she needed to find him she could. She'd been more than mildly impressed at their setup. He supposed until actually seeing it she had pictured a clandestine outfit barely scraping miscellaneous items together to keep in contact. He didn't tell her that they hadn't come by all of this stuff legally or legitimately.

They were at war, though, and they did what had to be done to ensure as many slayers survived as possibly could. Buffy wouldn't have it on her conscious if she'd activated hundreds, thousands of slayers only to have them die due to lack of proper equipment and tools to help them in the field.

"What's up, Buff?" he said finally, sitting in his chair and tapping on the keys that would let him into the system.

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**Part Eight**
Word Count: 1,414

"I'm kind of going to miss her," Giles said over his tea in the kitchen.

"I think we all are," Buffy said. "If only for the fact that I think Xander's going to be mopey for a while."

"I can't say as I blame him. I don't know what I imagined," he said, taking a sip of the steaming hot beverage. "But when he first mentioned her staying here."

"Me, too," Buffy said, knowing Giles had had many of the same reservations Buffy had. "If I could handpick slayers, she'd be one of the first I'd choose."

"To think what she went through. And they're, her guardians, they're sure this baby the woman had is normal?"

Buffy shrugged. "Xander said that Bill told him everything checked out. Human as human can be."

"Well, that's fortunate."

"Yeah, I'm not sure I could have done what he'd been asked to do."

"She obviously trusted the man, Buffy."

"True," she said, realizing that this man right here was the one she trusted over anyone. "If I'd been in that situation, I'd have asked you."

"And I'd have done it."

"I know."

"Let's hope, however, there are no demon babies in store for you."

"That would require my having sex, Giles, and it's been so long I'm not even sure I know what the word means anymore."

"Sex?" Xander said from the doorway. "There's nothing wrong with not getting any."

"Says the man who's been getting some."

"Not anymore for a while anyway. And, hey, you aren't supposed to talk about that."

"Like Giles doesn't know, Xander."

"Well, anyway, no sex for Xander for a while."

"Unless you count the cyber variety," Buffy said.

"Yeah, not so much."

Buffy chuckled softly. "Uh huh, come talk to me in a couple of weeks after she's been gone and is at school with her own computer to do with whatever she pleases with."

"There are phones, Buffy!"

"So, she got on the plane okay?"

"Yup, I watched the plane taxi down the runway and everything."

"I'm sorry," Buffy said as Giles excused himself from the room.

Xander shrugged, grabbing a beer from the fridge. "It had to be done. I knew it when she came to visit."

"So, got your tickets for your next trip booked yet?"

"No, actually, I think she might be coming here."

"Really? No Bill's house?"

"I think that's why. They're getting married around Halloween."


"Yeah, something about bow hunting season, or something."

"Oh," Buffy said as she thought over that. "So, he's one of those types."

"He is, but she's going to go with him."

Buffy laughed a little. "So, they're going hunting on their honeymoon."

"Uh yeah," Xander said, taking a sip of the beer.

"Well, I guess if that's what she wants to do on their honeymoon."

"I think it was more along the lines of their entire relationship having Kylie then Starla around, so going to a remote area with a cabin and nobody but animals appealed to her."

"I could see that, I guess," Buffy said, though no, not really. She'd still have chosen something other than killing Bambi for her honeymoon trip.

"So, anyway, they're going to be gone for a while I guess. Bill hasn't taken a vacation in like three years or something, always understaffed so he's got a lot of time coming."

"Which puts them gone over Thanksgiving, I assume."


"You can just say you want her here for Thanksgiving."

Xander shrugged. "I wasn't going to bring it up to her. She did. And the plans may change. I don't know."

"If it means anything, Giles, Willow and I like her."

"Well, thanks, Buff."

"I didn't mean it like that, Xander. I'm just saying. She's nice."

"I know she is. And hey she didn't run away screaming or have nightmares the first time she saw me without the ol' Blackbeard prop. So, I guess that just cements it."

Buffy walked up to him, taking a sip off his beer before reaching for his patch.

"Xander, if there's anything I could undo it would be…"

"Don't even say it because you wouldn't. I know it and you know it. Seven years and I got out pretty unscathed if you think about it. I'm not dead, I lost Anya but not in the way Willow lost Tara or you lost Spike and Angel." He shrugged. "It's who I am now."

"But you could be doing construction or something."

"And miss out on all of this?" He shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous, Buffy. For that matter, I wouldn't have met her your way of thinking. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen. Four years is a long time. She could meet someone else. I could meet someone else. We could decide to hell with it and get married in a year. I don't know."

"I know."

"But I will say that it made me see things. About me. About Anya and me," he said, "I wasn't ready to get married. I thought I was, wanted to be, but in the end, that guy did us a favor. I can't help but think we would have been miserable eventually, and I would have forever been afraid she'd do something demony to me if I tried to get out. Do you know how nice it is to just sleep with someone? I haven't had that ever. It was nice, you know, to know she wanted to be with me like that. For me not for my body or what sort of pleasure I could give her."

"Xander, you're a great guy."

"I know, I know, I've heard it all before, Buff. I'm not saying I haven't believed you. I'm just saying, being around her, seeing and hearing how normal couples work through things. It was nice. I mean, no offense, but I'm surrounded by slayers all day. Giles is off the charts smart and Willow's a powerful witch. Sometimes a guy starts to get a complex no matter how nice he thinks he really is."

"So, say she wanted you to move to South Carolina?"

He shrugged.

"You wouldn't stay because of me? Us I mean?"

"That depends I guess. I wouldn't right now, no. She needs the same thing I had. Time and a chance to experience stuff. I can't help but think that maybe we were what we needed, you know? I think she needed having someone there for her towards the end of school that wasn't a part of her life from birth to her family being murdered by aliens."

"It's been nice seeing you happy."

"I told her she could see other people."

"I'm sorry, you did what? Xander!"

"I didn't want her to think she couldn't. I mean, I don't want her to, but she's eighteen, Buff. I can't chain her to me being across an ocean from her. So, if she meets someone and wants to go out with him she knows I won't hate her for it."

"So, that's how you said it?"

"What do you mean?"

"You didn't tell her you wanted her to see other people, did you?"

"Well, no, I just told her that if she met someone or whatever I wouldn't blame her. The distance thing is hard and I understand that."

"What'd she say?"

"Nothing really. I don't think she realizes she'll have the opportunity. I mean, hopefully she won't meet up with any of the Parker's on campus."


"You know what I mean, Buff."

"I do," she said wryly.

"But if she meets a Riley or something."

Buffy's eyes widened.

"You know, a good guy, I couldn't really blame her."

"But you didn't say you wanted to see other people, right?"

"No, of course I don't. I'm pretty sure I love her not that I'd tell her that right now. If my heart gets broken, so be it. It's probably about time I got mine crushed rather than the other way around."

"It doesn't work like that."

"It's how I think, though."

"Fair enough."

"You off to patrol?"

"Yup, a slayer's job is never done. I'll see ya later. When she calls to tell you she landed okay, tell her I said hello."


"Ten euros, Xander."


"Ten euros she calls within an hour of the plane landing."


"Not taking it because you know I'm right."


"Well, tell her I said hello just the same."

"Will do, stay safe."


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***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.

Return to Top

***Part Ten***
Word Count: 2,381

Kylie had been more than a little surprised to find that she wasn't the only person who'd gone to church that morning. Bill went with her sometimes, but not all of the time. It was something so engrained in her to do that she decided to check out the campus service. It was different from what she was used to, definitely more casual. Her parents would never have let her wear jeans to church.

After church she'd eaten breakfast at the dining hall and then come back to her room to pick it up some before Bill got there. It wasn't horribly messy, but he'd need somewhere to sit, which meant her bed had to be clear of books and papers. Having her own bathroom meant she was responsible for keeping it clean so she did that, too. Sunday seemed like a good day to be in the habit of doing that sort of thing.

He hadn't said exactly what time he'd be there, but lunch implied sometime around noon. Everything done that could be, she opened her laptop to check her email while she waited. And wondered what he'd bring for lunch. She'd said no pizza, but that left things wide open for anything.


She'd bet anything he would bring subs. There was a pretty good sub place not far from campus. They delivered, that's how she knew about it. They weren't cheap from what she found out, but supposedly they were very good. As pizza was much cheaper, and could make up more than one meal, the couple of times she'd ordered in this week she'd gone that route over a sub.

There was a message from Claire reminding her to be sure to get fitted for her dress. Kylie would have thought it ridiculous Claire e-mailed her when she was seeing Bill, except Bill could be forgetful. And probably wouldn't think about how important it was Kylie be fitted for the dress on time. The wedding stuff went over his head sometime. Kylie admitted she didn't get it all either, but she understood why Claire was so excited. And as small as the wedding would be, she still wanted everything to be perfect.

TheRealSgtFury: Good morning.

She smiled at the IM box.

xKylie Sx: Hi to you, too.
TheRealSgtFury: Am surprised to find you up so early.
xKylie Sx: Early? It's almost noon.
TheRealSgtFury: For someone in college, noon can be early.
xKylie Sx: LOL. Yes, the dining hall was pretty dead at breakfast this morning.
TheRealSgtFury: Breakfast? You were awake enough to go eat breakfast?
xKylie Sx: Yep. Went to church even.
TheRealSgtFury: Wow. No one can accuse you of being a sloth.
xKylie Sx: Not today anyway.
TheRealSgtFury: So, settling in?
xKylie Sx: Yeah. All right. Kinda boring this weekend. Bill's bringing me lunch today, though.
TheRealSgtFury: Oh? What's the occasion?
xKylie Sx: Claire and Mrs. Pardy are coming to town for something to do with the wedding. He called to see if I wanted to be his lunch date.
TheRealSgtFury: To which you of course said yes?
xKylie Sx: Of course. Like I'd turn down a free meal that isn't served on a tray.
TheRealSgtFury: I vaguely remember the dull food choices when Buffy and Willow went to school.
xKylie Sx: So, what are you doing?
TheRealSgtFury: Besides talking to you?
xKylie Sx: Yeah, besides that.
TheRealSgtFury: Nothing. All's quiet on the homefront, so I thought I'd see if you were on.
xKylie Sx: So, you're in the computer room.
TheRealSgtFury: Yes.
xKylie Sx: Hmm.
TheRealSgtFury: That a bad hmm or a good hmm?
xKylie Sx: Just a hmm, picturing you sitting there.
TheRealSgtFury: And this is a good picture?
xKylie Sx: You know it is.
TheRealSgtFury: Well, my picture of you sitting in your room by yourself has to be better.
xKylie Sx: They could both be better.
TheRealSgtFury: Yeah, they could.
xKylie Sx: I miss you.
TheRealSgtFury: Miss you, too. I'm not sure what to do with all that room in my bed and shower now.

She laughed. He'd agreed with her. She wasn't sure about sending that last message, but then she did miss him. Shouldn't she be able to say that?

xKylie Sx: Wish I could help you there, but I'm stuck here.
TheRealSgtFury: You're where you're supposed to be for now. There'll be plenty of time eventually.
xKylie Sx: You think so?
TheRealSgtFury: Why wouldn't I?
xKylie Sx: Dunno.

She hadn't really been sure what he wanted from her, from them, when she'd left.

TheRealSgtFury: So, the wedding plans are coming along then?
xKylie Sx: I guess. Claire sent me an e-mail reminding me to get fitted for my dress.
TheRealSgtFury: What color is it?
xKylie Sx: Kind of a wheat color. You know, to go with fall?
TheRealSgtFury: Oh, right. Cool. Wish I could see it, though it'd be tough to top your prom dress.
xKylie Sx: You liked it?
TheRealSgtFury: Uh, yeah, did I not say that at the time?
xKylie Sx: Well, no, not about the dress specifically.
TheRealSgtFury: It was definitely a memorable dress.
xKylie Sx: Well, good. And thank you. I'm glad.
TheRealSgtFury: Okay, I gotta go. Getting something in I need to take a look at. Have a good lunch.
xKylie Sx: Okay, thanks, Have a good night. Sleep well.
TheRealSgtFury: I could think of ways I'd sleep better, but some other time. Night.

And with that he was gone. Their cyber connection lost. Only for the time being. He'd had to explain to her the meaning of his screen name. Hers was simple. The x's were there simply because she didn't want to be Kylie S2332 or something.

He'd sought her out, though. The couple of other times they've chatted they'd been online at the same time, e-mailing back and forth and she'd suggested they move their conversation to IM. Today had been all him, he couldn't have known she'd be online. Of course, she left her IM on most of the time so maybe he just took a chance she was actually there.

Either way, she felt better than she did a few minutes ago. Stupid maybe, but she did. It was barely twelve and she'd no sooner closed out of her e-mail account when a knock on her door came. She was more than ready for some company.

"Hey," she said when she saw it was in fact Bill. "You made it."

"I did and through my finely honed detective skills, remembered the way to your room without requiring a trail of breadcrumbs."

She rolled her eyes, but stepped aside so he could come in. "I'm glad to hear that. I wouldn't want you to get lost in the big city."

"I know, right?"

He held up a large plastic bag and she could tell by the smell that subs was a wrong guess.


"Yup! Not much good Chinese in Wheelsy and I remember you mentioning how much you like it that one day a while back we had it."


"Well, lucky for you I have a memory like an elephant's."

"Are you really comparing yourself to an elephant?"

"My memory? Didn't you ever read that story? Horton hatched an egg or something?"

She gave a soft giggle. "Yes, I think I remember it. I was just being sure."

They dished out their food. He'd even thought to get plates, napkins and flatware. She had a couple of things here and dish soap, having her own sink she could wash things but she appreciated he was so considerate. This way they could just throw everything away.

"So," he said once lunch was out of the way. There were some leftovers, which she was sure she'd eat for dinner later.

"Want a tour?"

"I'd thought you'd never ask."

The campus wasn't huge, but she showed him everything. Each building she had a class in, the library, the sports complex, the dining hall and everything in between.

"So," he said, when they'd taken a moment to stop in the union and get a drink.


"You know Claire and I are getting married."

"Uh, yes," she said, not hiding her puzzlement at the question.

"You realize that means one of our houses is gonna go?"

"Figured as much, yeah."

"I'm thinking it'll probably be mine. I like where hers is, truth be told. Out a town a ways, nice yard, and I'm not sure that'd be fair to Lucky, moving him from ample yard space to mine."


"That sit all right with you?"

"Why wouldn't it?"

"Well, I realize it ain't where you grew up or anything, but it's been your home for a while now and I just wanted to talk it over with you a spell."

"Oh, no, I'm totally fine with wherever you want to live."

"But you realize that no matter Claire's house or my house, you're still welcome."


He took a sip of his drink. "I mean it, Kylie. You're welcome to hang your hat at my place, our place, as long as you need to. Just cuz you're in college doesn't mean I expect you to be on your own or anything."

"Oh, Bill, I know."

"And Claire has said were something to happen to me that she'd keep her house open to you just the same as if I were there. Also as long as you need it."

She blinked back the tears that were forming in her eyes at what he was saying.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Hey, Kylie," someone said. Kylie looked away from Bill at the source of the voice.

"Hi, Maggie. How are you?"

"Good, just heading to the library."

"Oh cool. This is my," she paused, not sure what to call him. "Friend, Bill. He's just here visiting for the day from home."

Bill offered Maggie his hand, which she took.

"Nice to meet you," he said.

"You too. See ya in class tomorrow."

"Yeah," Kylie said.

"Making friends. That's good."

"Yeah, she's in my English class."

"So, I just don't want you to think Claire and my getting hitched means you have to look for a place here or whatever. You've got a home with us as long as you want it."


"Welcome. Now, about the wedding."


"You are going to come home Thursday, right?"

"Uh, sure. Why?"

"Because I think my mother and Claire will have driven me crazier than a mad hatter by then and I'll need you to keep me sane."

"What makes you think that I won't just help them?"

"Because you wouldn't do that to me!"

She chuckled lightly. "Yeah, I'll come home Thursday night."

"That's my girl, thank you!"

"Don't mention it."

"You bringing a guest?"

"Nah, no one worth asking really."

"Well, you've still got time. You decide otherwise, it's fine with us. Just a small shindig anyway, so one more won't make much of a difference."

"I can't believe she's going along with that."

"Well, she doesn't have much choice. We talked about her mom and brother, but it's too risky. I'm thinking maybe next summer we'll head out to California for a spell to meet them. Make a vacation out of it. Disneyland or something so it wouldn't be too obvious what we were doing."

"Sounds fun."

"Well, she's going hunting with me, figure Disneyland is the least I can do for her."

"Not too many women would do that."

"That's why I love her."

"Yeah," Kylie said softly, running a finger along the lip of her can.

"You miss him?"

"Yes," she said softly, hating to admit it.

"You talked to him lately?"

"Emails and stuff, yeah."

"You know, they do have colleges over there," he offered.

"I'm sorry? I didn't just hear you say that."

"I know, I know, I was afraid you were going to run off to London after him, but you haven't. You're here, going to college close to home. So, that makes me think you're thinking with your head. I'm just saying, you know, you love him, right?"


"And him?"

She shrugged. "I think so. We didn't really say it, you know, knowing we weren't going to see each other again for a while."

"Well, I don't deny to thinking you're too young, but I know your parents and mine were young when they got married and all."

"I am not thinking of marrying him, Bill."

"Oh, I know," he said quickly. "Just saying, to think that just because you're eighteen doesn't mean you can't know what it is you're feeling."

"Are you encouraging me to be with him?"

"I just want you to do what makes you happy. I'm glad you've taken this year to be here and have the chance to see if what you feel is real. But, you know, you decide school further away than here is what you need, I'd make it work."


"Welcome, I just want you happy. And healthy. You know? Whole. And as much as I'd like to, I can't give you all of what you need." He glanced around at the few people in the union. As it was Sunday there weren't too many people here. "And I look around at the guys here and I can't say I think they can give it to you either."

"Why not?" she asked, curious more than anything.

"Don't know. Just that they don't know what you've been through and I don't expect you to tell all or anything. He does so it's not like you'd have to worry about him finding out later or anything."

"Yeah," she said, having thought of that. Every time she talked to someone it entered her mind what they'd think of her if they knew what all she'd done, been through.

"Anyway," he said, glancing at his watch. "I suppose it's about time we head back."

"All right."

"I hope you weren't looking forward to those Chinese leftovers for dinner because Mom suggested we take you out for a 'proper meal' when they're done."

"Oh, you don't have to. Really, leftovers are fine."

"No have to's about it, want to. Besides, not sure when I'll get back here, though Claire probably will I'm sure."

"All right. I'm not going to complain."

"Figured as much."

Return to Top

***Part Eleven***
Word Count: 3,020

She had taken to spending less time in her room. Even if it just meant hanging out at the union or library. A couple of weeks of living like a hermit in her room and she'd had enough. That was the point of having a laptop after all. She could take it anywhere. She'd even taken it to a nearby park and written a paper there one day. No Internet connection at the park, too far away from campus, but she was able to get her homework done. And relax some in the process.

She was making more friends, had gone to more than a couple of parties. She'd gotten an extra role in the Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet and she'd even pledged for a sorority. It made her cringe doing that, but her major of English didn't really give her much opportunity to make friends outside of class.

She'd pledged before getting the part in the show. She may not have otherwise, because she'd made a lot of friends doing the show. Enough that she thought she just might get more involved in other stuff. They were always looking for tech help and she wasn't afraid to get dirty or to use tools. So, why not?

She was doing well in her classes. It'd taken her a couple of weeks to get into the habit of studying without her parents or Bill getting after her about it. She'd sort of slacked for a while, until she realized that she wasn't going to pass let alone get the good grades she was used to if she kept going.

She was sitting in front of her dorm, waiting for Claire. She had gone to a party the night before and while not hung over was definitely needing the fresh air. She didn't get sick or anything, but she knew this morning she'd pushed her limits as far as beer went.

"Hey Kylie. You busy?"

"No," she said, glancing from her laptop to Sheryl. "What's up?"

"Your step-dad coming this weekend?"

"No," she said, not bothering to correct her.

She hadn't figured out what to introduce Bill as. Friend was kind of stupid and step-dad wasn't right either, but people knew she lived with him and just assumed. Seeing her sitting out here was a logical assumption, too.

"I think he has to work this weekend, his fiancée is though."

"Oh. Cool. You like her?"

"Yeah, she's nice and Bill's head over heels with her. We're going to try on my dress for the final time and then she's going to bring it home with her."

"Cool. The wedding's coming up, right?"

"Yes, only a couple of weeks now."

"Well, cool." Kylie knew that Sheryl didn't think it was cool at all. Wheelsy was a hick town as far as she was concerned. Not that Kylie had much to argue against that opinion being wrong. "There's a party at the Theta house tonight."

"Oh, right, I'd heard that. I think I should be able to make it." She honestly wasn't sure she wanted to go to two parties back to back, but she didn't have anything else to do. She didn't even have any homework to use an excuse.

"Great. I suppose I should tell you that Matt Hartwell asked me to let you know about the party."


"You've spent time with him?"

"Yeah, kind of, I mean, I know him from a couple parties, but not real well or anything. I wouldn't say I know him or anything."

"Well, he evidently wants to get to know you better."

"Well, you can tell him I know about it and I'll try to be there."

"He's a nice guy."

"I'm sure he is. He seems like it anyway."

"He's from a good family. His dad's a big shot corporate lawyer, his mom's a nurse."

Was that supposed to impress her somehow? She was from a small-time hick town, her parents had been farmers and her step-dad was a sheriff, so she was supposed to. What? Be flattered some guy she barely knew had his eye on her. Flatter her that someone like him would be interested in a girl like her?

"That's nice," she said simply, not knowing what else to say. She wasn't impressed or flattered.

"Well, give him a chance. I mean, he's not bad to look at, and he's majoring in Chemical Engineering so he's smart."

"I'll talk to him if he talks to me, Sheryl."

"All right," she said. Apparently that wasn't the right answer, at least judging by Sheryl's frown. "I'll see ya there then."


"Have fun trying on your dress."


Sadly, she was looking forward to trying on the silly dress more than she was going to the party. Xander had told her he wouldn't get mad if she tested the waters, but she didn't even really like Matt Hartwell. Everything Sheryl had told Kylie she'd already known and it didn't impress her the second time around anymore than it had the first.

Money wasn't her thing. Neither was stature really. Sure, yeah, Bill had been kind of a slacker to some degree at first, but he'd gotten to be chief for a reason and he was taking his job more serious. And, heck, he'd kept Wheelsy on the map. That was more than Matt Hartwell could probably say about his parents.

And Claire. She'd done world-saving stuff, too. So had Xander and his friends.

Maybe that was the problem. She'd come across people who'd done extraordinary things that she had her standards set too high.

"Wow, you look far too thoughtful for a Saturday afternoon."

"I do?" Kylie said, smiling at the intrusion into her thoughts that was Claire.

"Yeah. What's up?"

"Oh, nothing, just a friend telling me that someone else wanted to be sure I knew about a party tonight."

"A guy someone else?"

"Yes," Kylie said with a little bit of a blush.

"You want to go?"

"Not really," she said with a shrug. "I just went to one last night and am still recovering."

Claire gave a soft laugh. "I wish I could know what it feels like firsthand, but I saw it enough in college to at least empathize with you."

"You can't get drunk?"

"Oh, I can get a buzz if I chug a can of beer or do a couple of shots quickly in a row, but it doesn't last more than a couple of minutes."


"Yeah. Good, I guess. I never had to worry much about a guy taking advantage of me in that way."

"This guy, Matt's his name, the girl telling me about him wanting me to know about the party. Well, she told me his dad's some attorney and his mom's a nurse or something. I'm not sure if that's supposed to impress me so much that I'll want to go out with him or what?"

"Some people think it will, I suppose."

"But it doesn't. Not compared to people like you, Bill and Xander."

"Yeah, I suppose we sort of set the bar a little too high. You don't have to go to the party."

"I don't have anything else to do."

"Hmm. No other friends who'd want to see a movie or something?"

"Not really, and since I don't have a car."

"Oh right, I suppose that limits you."

"Yeah, a little. I'll probably go for a while and then bail early."

"You don't have to decide right now. Let's go see your dress, have some lunch, and see what the day brings."

"Okay," Kylie said, grabbing her things and heading toward Claire's car with the other woman.

"Have you talked to Xander lately?"

"Not physically, no. It's expensive, so we just email and IM."

"But you've been doing that regularly?"

"Yeah, pretty much. Sometimes it's just an email saying hi or whatever, but we manage to every day."

"Makes it kind of difficult to move on even if you wanted to."

"I really don't. I mean, I'm doing my part not to be a hermit, to at least say I'm leaving myself open for something to happen, but I'm not trying very hard beyond that."

"Not saying you have to."

The dress fit perfectly. Kylie thought she was going to look nice in it. Even better, since Kylie was her only bridesmaid and the ceremony was rather simple, Claire had picked a dress that Kylie could wear again. It'd have to be to a formal dance or a fancy dinner or something, but she could possibly wear it again.

Claire's dress was done, too, but she was leaving it here until a day or two before the wedding so there'd be no risk of Bill seeing it. Kylie still found it hard to believe some days Bill Pardy was getting married. And to someone who wasn't Starla Grant. She wasn't the only one surprised at their relationship.

"So, Bill's put his house up then?"

"Yes," Claire said once they'd ordered their lunch. "He's kind of nervous about it, I think, but I offered to sell mine."

"He likes yours. I do, too."

"Thank you, I do, too. I bought it after all, but Bill also bought his."

"He bought it because it was close to work more than anything, I think."

"Yeah, he said as much. I guess you compromise when you get married," Claire said with a little shrug. "I never thought my family wouldn't be there to see me get married, that my dad wouldn't be able to give me away."

"Yeah, I know," Kylie said.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

"No, it's okay."

"Kylie, there's something I've been meaning to tell you for a while now. I've kept putting it off, but I know Bill told you last time he was here that I want you to feel free to stay with me if something were to ever happen to Bill."

"Right," Kylie said, wondering what she could possibly have to say to her.

"Well, when I first met you and Bill, I said my dad died. It's what I tell everyone, because he did die."

"Okay," she said, confused now.

"He's not, though. They, well, the people he worked for used my blood to heal him, just like I did with Bill."

"Oh," Kylie said, eyes widening.

"I can't see him anymore than I can my mom or Lyle. You know? It's not safe. Peter's the only one who even knows for sure where I live. I mean, his brother and my father know what town I'm in and everything, but that's the extent of it. I just, well, I never corrected the lie, and I'm sorry. Bill knows, I told him when we were talking about wedding stuff and whether I'd want Nathan to give me away if I could."

"Would you?"

"No, because he's not my dad and my dad is still alive. I just didn't want you to find out somehow and think I lied to you about something when you had really lost your parents. I just find I am asked fewer questions, you know? And the less questions about me, my life before Wheelsy and Bill the better."

"Have you seen him?"

"No, not in a long time. He's afraid he'll lead the people looking for me right to me."

"But you want him to be there don't you?"

"More than anything," she said softly and Kylie noticed tears in her eyes. "I can't even imagine what you'll go through knowing that your folks can't be there. It hurts enough just knowing they can't come. I want them there so much."

"I'm sorry," Kylie said, unsure of what else to say.

"It's okay, don't mind me. I just wanted to tell you."

"I appreciate it."

"You're not mad?"

"No, if I didn't know your situation I might be, but I understand why you lied. You didn't really know you were going to end up marrying Bill."

"Right, and by then I'd already said he'd died and it's sort of hard to bring it up."

Claire dropped her off at her dorm after lunch and a quick stop at the mall. Neither had anything specific they wanted to buy, Claire just seemed to enjoy the company as much as Kylie did. Judging by their conversation, Claire had made some friends. Kylie knew that Janine, the woman who owned the coffee shop in Wheelsy, was planning a shower for Claire. Kylie got her invitation in the mail just yesterday. She gathered it was a surprise and wondered just how the little town of Wheelsy would pull it off.

She still didn't want to go to the party, but had something to do first before she'd decide for sure if she wanted to go. She said goodbye to Claire, giving the other woman a hug before heading up to her room.

She never used her dorm phone, calls home were free on her cell, and she didn't have much reason to call anyone else. So, she didn't feel so bad making one lone long distance phone call today. Granted, it was an overseas call and would probably cost an arm and a leg, but she thought it might just be worth it.

'Greetings, my South Carolina woman,' he said.

She gave a soft laugh. "Hi yourself."

'To what do I owe the honor of being able to hear your voice?'

"Well, I have kind of a favor to ask of you."

'A favor?'

"Yes, it's a pretty big one."

'Hmm, well, what would I get in exchange for agreeing to do this favor?'

"I guess that depends," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely just then.


"Well, you'd have to tell me what you want."

'Do I really need to answer that?'

"You might have to, yeah."

'All right, well, shoot with the favor and we'll go from there.'

"You said you have a friend who can teleport, right?"

'Uh, yeah,' he said, sounding as though he wasn't sure where the question was leading.

"And she can take other people with her, right?"


"And unless someone was like in the same room as them, they wouldn't know the person left their house?"

'That's pretty much how it works, yeah. I mean, I don't actually do the teleporting, but I'm pretty sure it's quite discreet. Why? You want me to send her to get you for the weekend or something?'

"Tempting thought, but no."

'Oh,' he said, sounding more than a little disappointed.

"Sorry, this is for Claire really."

'Claire? Is everything all right?'

"Yeah, but you know they're getting married."

'Right, followed by a rustic hunting honeymoon.'

She laughed at that. "Yes, well, Bill's choice of honeymoon spots aside, her mom can't come. Plane tickets and stuff can be traced."

'And you were thinking there might be an untraceable way around that hurdle.'


'Well, you're just lucky you have an in with someone who is exceptional at going around hurdles.'

"I do, huh."

'Yes,' he said. 'And that would be me I'm talking about.'

"Hmm, you sure? I thought maybe it might have been someone else."

'Quite positive.'

"Well, I'm a lucky girl then."

'I think I'm the lucky one, but if you say so. Let me talk to Willow and see what we can come up with.'

"Do you need dates and stuff?'

He paused for a minute and Kylie wondered what that was about, other than she realized he might be working on something. 'Yeah, sure, shoot with the dates and we'll need the info. on her mom's whereabouts.'


'Do you want me to call you back?'

"No, I mean, you don't have to. If you want to, you can, but I'm sure I'll figure out what your answer was by whether or not Claire's mom is there."

'Well, I think a phone call from you warrants one in exchange.'

"If you want to."

'Kylie,' he said, voice lowering a little.


'It's nice to hear your voice.'

"Yours, too."

'You having fun?'

"Yeah," she shrugged, not that he could see her do it.

'That's good. I want you to have fun.'

"I am! I swear. I went to a party last night and drank too much and everything."

'That's my woman, build up a tolerance so you can drink me under the table one day.'

"You don't really drink, though, do you?"

'Uh, no.'

She knew he didn't, he was worried he'd turn into his parents. "I don't really either, just last night."

'Don't worry about it, it's par for the course in college. I'd think there was something wrong if you didn't get drunk more than once or twice.'

"Okay. I'm not turning into a lush or anything."

'I'd probably love you even if you did.'

"Really?" Had she just heard him right? Did he really mean it the way she hoped?

'Yeah, really.'

'Did I just ruin the mood? You haven't already hooked up with someone?'

"Uh no to both. I just wasn't expecting…"

'Yeah, I wasn't really expecting to say it, but what can you do.'

"Do you want to take it back?"


She smiled and she was sure it was a stupid, stupid smile. "Xander?"


"I love you, too."

'All the more reason to get Willow to agree to this favor of yours. I can think of a favor or two that would demonstrate to me just how much.'

"And you think you need to do me a favor to get those demonstrations?"

'Can't hurt, right?'

"You don't."

'When's summer break again?'

"End of May."

'Not soon enough.'

"I know."

'I'll let you know when I can.'


'Thank you for calling. Computers just aren't the same, but I know it's expensive so I'll let you go.'

"Okay, have a good night."

'You, too.'

She hung up, feeling better about going to the party tonight for some reason. She didn't need to get to know Matt Hartwell any better, or any other guy on campus, to know she had exactly what she wanted already.

Return to Top

***Part Twelve***
Word Count: 4,183

The surprise as it turned out was on Kylie. She should have been suspicious when Bill called to tell her he would be coming to town the day before the wedding. He'd given her a good line about Claire not wanting him to see her the day of the wedding and all.

So, when the knock on her door came, she was expecting it to be Bill and they'd grab dinner and he'd go to a hotel to spend the night.

Instead, it was Xander standing on the other side of her door.

"What are you doing here?"

"Well, if you want me to go back home…"

"Don't be silly," she said, grabbing onto his sleeve and tugging him into her room. "I was expecting Bill."

"Yeah, about that."

"It was going to be you all along?"

"Promise not to get mad?"

"Mad about you being here? Why would I?"

"Well, because after you called me about getting Claire's mom here for the wedding, I called Bill."

"Why?" she said with a frown.

"See, now you're starting to get mad."

"No, just confused. Why would you do that?"

"I didn't know if it was safe. I mean, Claire's been there for how long and no one's come to visit her. And then all of the sudden her mom shows up out of the blue? I wasn't sure, you know, Bill would want attention drawn to her like that."

"Well, it'd be one guest."

"Out of a guest list comprised of Wheelsy townsfolk, Kylie," he said, tucking some hair behind her ear as he reached to hug her. "She'd stand out and I had to be sure."

"I hadn't thought."

"Well, it seems Bill had thought on that already."

"He had?"

"That surprises you?"

"Well, no, I mean, what'd he do? Offer to fly her here or something?"

"No, one better."

“One better?”

"That hunting trip they're taking isn't one."


"He's surprising her with a cruise."

"Oh my God, Xander," she said, pushing on his chest a little to put space between them. "He can't do that. She'll have her suitcase packed for the woods and cold not a cruise and warmth."

"He's told her by now, so she knows just doesn't know her mom and brother are going to be there, too."

"Oh," she said.

"So, Bill figured that maybe Willow wouldn't mind getting me here."

"He figured that?"

"Well, I may have mentioned I thought it was a shame Claire's maid of honor didn't have a dance partner."

"As if there's a dozen of us."

"Still, seems a waste to spoil you getting all dressed up. And you said I danced all right at your prom."

"You do!"

"Well then."

“Is Bill really coming to town tonight?”

“Yes, so that we have a way of getting to Wheelsy tomorrow.”

“We were supposed to have dinner.”

“Yup, dinner but then after that I think he’s going to cut us loose.”

“Does it sound bad to say I’m kind of glad?”

“Not at all,” he said. “I was kind of hoping there’d be some way around having to have dinner with him, but it’s his wedding that brought me here so I guess I shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth.”

“Definitely not,” she said.

“So, this is it,” he said, taking in her room.

“Yeah,” she said, feeling a little self-conscious having him here. So much from their summer together in England was plastered all over the walls she hoped it didn’t bother him for some reason.

“I like it,” he said after a few minutes. Not that it took him that long to see everything she was sure.


“Want to show me around?”

“Sure,” she said.

“You don’t sound too enthused about that option.”

“No, I am. I’m just still kind of surprised.”

“Well, it’s up to you. Bill should be here in a couple of hours so I’m all yours until he comes to take us to dinner.” His eyes widened a little and she wondered what he was thinking. “And I just realized something.”

“What?” she asked perplexed.

“You’re surprised by my being here, but I’m not and I haven’t quite demonstrated how good it is to see you.”


“Yeah,” he said, taking her into his arms. He lowered his mouth to hers and she whimpered softly at how intense the kiss was so quickly. Her arms slid around his neck, drawing him even deeper into it because she didn’t want it to stop. Ever.

He must have been thinking the same as her because he inched her back against her bed, sliding his coat off and letting it fall to the floor before settling them there.

Hands and arms became busy exploring. It hadn’t been that long since they’d seen one another, but sex was still new to her. He seemed to understand that, because he let her touch and explore. His shirt came off in the process, which she didn’t mind at all. She loved his chest, breaking the kiss to kiss his collarbone.

“I missed you,” he whispered hoarsely as she kissed his chest.

“Me, too,” she whispered, working his pants.

“Kylie,” he groaned.


“We don’t have to. I mean,” he stopped when she slid her hand inside his jeans. “Oh God,” he said then and she gave a soft giggle.

He started returning the favor, his hands mirroring hers as she worked him so he was hard in her hand. He switched them so she was on top of him, straddling him once he’d slid her jeans off. She ducked her head a little as he looked at her, watching as his hands touched her body.

“So beautiful,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said softly, leaning in for a kiss as she slid herself over him.


“What’s it like,” she asked afterward when she was lying on top of him.

“What’s what like?”


“Oh. Well, it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s definitely weird. Kind of like your spinning around or being sucked into a vortex or something. Not that I know what that feels like, but it’s how I imagine it’d feel. It’s very cool, though.”

“It sounds like it would be.”

“It’s not an exact science either. I mean, Willow got me to your campus but not to your dorm. Sometimes she can be more exact than others, not sure why that is. If it’s a matter of focus or other things at work I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure she could either.”

“Hmm. You have the coolest friends.”

“You have one who can’t be injured or die and can heal someone with their blood. I’d say you have cool friends, too.”

“That’s just one.”

“Still pretty cool.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“Excited for the weekend?”

“Yes! I’m so excited for them.”

“Good.” He kissed her, lingering a minute. “I was very excited at the prospect of seeing you if you couldn’t tell.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Is that right?”

“Nope. Must not have been very direct about letting me know.”

“I’ll try better next time.”

She gave a soft laugh.

“So, was that a no on the showing me around campus thing? Or now that you’ve seduced me and had your wicked way with me are you ready to do what normal couples do?”

“Normal couples don’t have sex?”

“Oh sure, put like that, of course they do, but I figured, you know, tonight after dinner and stuff. I certainly wasn’t thinking right away like some guy who can’t control himself.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a while and that’s not what I came here for. I like Claire and Bill, they’re special to you, and I love you so I wanted to be here for you.”

“You’re so sweet.”

“That’s me.”

Her fingertips skimmed along the string of his patch and he flinched instinctively. He didn’t mind her touching it, but she knew he was self-conscious about it. She’d seen him without it a few times, but he was always asleep. As soon as he woke up the patch was the first thing he reached for. She wondered if he did that when she wasn’t with him.

“It’s okay to be some guy who can’t control himself.”

“Well, you know, I think I displayed how much control I am able to have by keeping my hands to myself the weekend of your prom, but don’t get me wrong. You’re definitely loss of control worthy.”

“I am?”

“You are, babe, you are.”

“You are, too.”

“Why, thank you.”

“In that case, I’ll show you around later.”

“Later, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s not that exciting anyway.”

“Well, sure it is, you’re here. It’s your home, temporary as it may be, it’s you. You chose to come here, so I want to see.”

“Okay,” she said. “But I want more of this for now. And then maybe a shower before dinner.”

“This,” he said, sliding on top of her. “Is definitely something I can give you more of.”


She was very grateful for her own room and private bath now. Xander had given her even more of this in the shower. As tiny as it was, they still managed and Kylie knew she’d never look at a shower the same way again.

Bill showed up not too long after they’d gotten dressed again. He had to know as Xander’s hair was still wet, but he didn’t say a word.

“So, why are you here and not out for a bachelor party?” Kylie asked at dinner.

“Well, had that last weekend while Claire had hers.”

“Claire had a bachelorette party?”

“Yeah. They went to Myrtle Beach.”

“Oh my God! How fun.”

“Yeah, she said something similar.”

“You’re jealous.”

“No, I am not,” he said, though Kylie knew he was in a way. “She can’t get drunk, so I don’t have to worry about her having done something questionable.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just wish I could have gone along with your idea and gotten her mom or some of her friends here. I feel bad for her that the only people with her were people I know.”

“Well, she likes them and they like her. I know Janine does now even if she didn’t at first.”

“Wait, someone didn’t like Claire?” Xander asked. “What’s not to like? She’s as nice a person as there can be.”

“A lot of women didn’t like her at first,” Kylie said. “Once Starla left town, the single gals all thought they had a chance with the Sheriff.”

“Ah, I see, then along came the mysterious outsider and swept him off his feet.”

“I swept her off her feet, I’ll have you know.”

“You did not. If I hadn’t suggested inviting her over to have pizza with us you never would have gone out with her.”

“Yeah, okay, I needed a little push, but I knew what to do with a good thing once I had her in my grasp.”

“Good things are definitely grasp-worthy,” Xander said.

“Exactly! I just, you know, she’s a little younger than I am, and not from Wheelsy so I didn’t know what her deal was. The infestation wasn’t too far in the past. I was still healing from being impaled by that thing,” Bill said, rubbing the spot.

Kylie knew the spot well. She’d had to help him for about a week after change the bandage. He’d ordered her to keep a gun by her side at all times, afraid he hadn’t escaped being infected after all. Kylie’d known he hadn’t been, but she did as he asked because it made him feel better and he seemed to need that at the time.

Starla had left town without much of a goodbye or any explanation. Kylie didn’t see Mrs. Grant as the type to change Bill’s bandages anyway. It was pretty gross there for the first couple of days. Oozing puss and bordering on infection.

“I tell you, Xander, you find someone who can see past your imperfections, it’s a great thing.”

“You’re not imperfect,” Kylie said.

“I just meant. Well, someone like Claire especially, you know. She has no blemishes, scars. I’ve got myself a few and she doesn’t shy away from that. Saved my life, too.”

“I know,” Kylie said.

“Even if she did it more for you than herself.”

“She did not!”

“At the time, I’d say it was pretty close to fifty-fifty her not wanting to see you lose me.”

“I think you’re underestimating how much she felt then, but I’ll give you that I probably played a part in it.”

“What’s Claire doing tonight anyway?” Xander asked.

“You know, I have no idea. Janine and Mother are with her I’m sure, I think Janine’s staying there.”

“I should be there,” Kylie said, feeling guilty.

“You had no way of getting there, honey, she knows that,” Bill said. “And it’s not like Janine can’t sit with her just as well.”

“I know, but I’m her maid of honor.”

“Who isn’t in town right now, she gets it. You’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Who’s taking care of Lucky?”

“Mother,” Bill said.

“I’m glad.”

“Yeah, took her a while to warm up to him, but she likes him now.”

“He is a little intimidating looking,” Xander said. “I mean, to someone like me who’s never had a pet. He looks like a big dog.”

“Right,” Bill said. “You never had a pet?”

“Uh no,” Xander said. “My parents had enough to worry about taking care of me let alone being responsible for pets.”

“Oh, right, sorry,” Bill said.

“It’s all right,” Xander said.

Bill dropped them off at her dorm after dinner. Kylie was amazed at how calm Bill seemed about getting married tomorrow. Maybe that’s just how someone was who knew what they wanted. He’d certainly waited long enough. She was glad, though, that he hadn’t run off and married the first girl after Starla had married Mr. Grant. It made him … better for some reason because a marriage like that wouldn’t have worked.

Having Xander in her room was so weird. Her bed wasn’t exactly great for two people to sleep on, but they made it work just fine.


The wedding went perfectly. The weather was great and no one got too drunk or did anything to ruin the day. Xander and Kylie drove Claire's car back with them so when Bill and Claire came back they'd have a way back to Wheelsy. They'd hired a limo for the ride into town tonight. Kylie and Mrs. Pardy knew where they were staying, but no one else did.

Xander had stayed the rest of the weekend with her. Willow evidently got her coordinates, or whatever it was she used, down better this go around because she managed to teleport closer to Kylie's dorm building.

"Now you two kids understand as much as I'm a huge proponent of love I can't be at your beck and call whenever you get an itch to see one another."

"Thank you, Willow," Kylie said. She hadn't seen much of Willow when she'd been in London so she wasn't as comfortable with her as some of the other women she'd met. Xander loved her, though, and clearly Willow felt the same. Kylie had tried to be jealous of that except it was so obvious it was a friendly kind of love that it was hard for her to be mad about it. Whatever it was that had made them kiss one another in high school wasn't there anymore. It maybe helped that Willow was a lesbian.

"You're welcome. I'm glad we could work something out. I hope you'll tell me about Claire's honeymoon because I admit I was totally on board with bringing her mom here as a surprise. I understand why I couldn't, but she's going to be thrilled beyond anything that Bill did that for her."

"I know. I can't wait to hear about it too. I'm not sure how long it's been since she's seen her mom so I know it'll mean a lot."

"So," Xander said as Willow left Kylie's room.

"Yeah," Kylie said.

"Hey," he said, kissing her. "We'll make this work somehow. IMs aren't great, but it's better than nothing."

"I know."

"I love you, Kylie."

"I love you, too."

"And I'm glad you haven't met anyone else."

She laughed at that. He had no idea how ridiculous an idea that even was.

"I know when I said that when you left, I'm sure it sounded like I wanted you to."

"No, I got it after I thought about it."

"Good. We'll figure out the next time we can see each other. I don't count this as a visit to you really, so technically I think it's me who has to come to you next."

"Yeah, but you came to Wheelsy like four times."

"Only once was exclusively to see you, though."


"I said exclusively," he said, hugging her tight. "We'll figure it out. Maybe Christmas, let me see what I can work out."


He opened the door, letting Willow back in.

"Bye, Kylie, it's nice to see you again."

"You, too," she said.

And then she was alone again. At least she had Claire's car for a while so she could go to the mall or whatever if she wanted to over the next ten days.


"So, how was the wedding?" Buffy asked.

"It was nice. Pretty short and to the point. Not real small. I think the whole town showed up at one point or another."

"The beauty of small towns, I guess. Everyone knows everyone and they can't stay out of anyone else's business."

"It was actually kind of nice."


"Yeah," he said. "They've been through so much. Not just Kylie and Bill, but the whole town. I guess there've been a couple babies born since the infestation, but I think their wedding was the first time they'd all gotten together like that."

"I see, makes sense," Buffy said.

"What's that look for?" Xander asked.

"You're thinking about leaving, aren't you?"

Xander shrugged. "I don't know."

"Xander, it's all right, I mean, I wouldn't blame you. I don't think anyone here would for taking the chance to get out and running with it."

"What if I didn't have to get out completely?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you're pretty stuck here as it should be. You need the most space because you have the most slayers. You and Giles, you need to be here where everything is based. You could have anyone do my job, though, really."

"Xander, that's not true."

"Come on. Willow was the brains behind the computer system. I'm not doing anything but watching things, passing them onto you. There's nothing saying there couldn't be another one set up somewhere else with someone else for me to pass things onto."

"Let me guess, in South Carolina?"

"Why not?"


"It's not like there's not an abundance of property available in Wheelsy now. There's a slew of it because so many died."

"I'm listening," she said, taking a seat on the chair next to his.

"There are at least two connected with the Strutemyer's that are standing vacant. They were large properties because where Kylie's folks lived they had livestock."


"We could do on a smaller scale what we have here. Buy up the houses; add a secret room or a small basement for the control room. We could get some animals so they don't wonder. Kylie knows how to take care of them and could teach me and others what to do."

"Xander, she's in school."

"Yeah. That's why I said she could teach us."

"Are you listening to yourself? I mean, have you really thought this through. You're talking about becoming a farmer, Xander. And I have to say it again. She's in school."

"Yeah, I know that, Buffy. You're not telling me anything I don't know, but it'd be better than me being here not being able to see her. What Willow did was great, but it just drove home the point that I need to make a decision."

"You do?"

"Well, sure, that's her home. I don't have one. I'm here because you're being generous, Buffy, don't think I don’t know that. Seeing all of those people together having a good time made me want one. God, Buffy, I never had a normal life even before you came to Sunnydale. Willow was the only friend I ever brought home because I was too embarrassed. I have a chance at it with someone who knows my secrets and still loves me. Kylie loves Bill and Claire, I can't expect her to pick up and leave them. They're the only family she has. She may not go back to Wheelsy, but she's not going to go far so it would still be a reasonable place for us to make camp."

"And you don't think the people of Wheelsy are going to wonder where all these new people came from?"

He shrugged.

"I doubt it. I mean, we're not talking hundreds of slayers. We're talking a few, a watcher and a smaller squadron. I'm sure Willow can use her computer skills to come up with some non-covert sounding reason for The Council to be there."

"Have you talked to her?"

"Well, no, I figured I'd better approach the boss lady first. No sense getting her hopes up, or getting mine dashed by her saying no, if you were against it."

"How much property are we talking here?"

"Just Kylie's is a lot, but like I said there's two or three other houses that are vacant adjacent to hers."

"And you want to farm?"

"A man's got to do something with his life. What's wrong with working the land? Let's face it, Buff, I'm pretty limited with my handicap. I'm good with my hands, that's all I have. This is just another way of using them."

"Uh, you're talking beef cattle and stuff, right? Not crops? You realize that's a twenty-four hour a day gig, right? I mean, there's no vacations and stuff."

"Yes, I know, and you're right I'd have to find out from Kylie what would work. Maybe there's something other than livestock I could do so I'm not tied down, but if not I'm not afraid of hard work."

"I know you're not, but I think you should talk to her first because what you're talking about is a plan for a future that she may not want. She was ready to leave Wheelsy and she may not want to stay in the family business."

"I know. I'm going to go there over Christmas. I'll probably be gone for a couple of weeks."

"You deserve it. You don't have to ask permission or act as though I'm going to get upset. Let me know what she says and then we can work on it from there. We could bring Robin in to do what you do if we have to. There are others."

"Like Spike," Xander said.

"Yeah, like Spike. I know Giles is trying to work him in somewhere. He being a watcher doesn't work so well given he's so combustible."

"All right."

"And Xander?"


She set a hand on his thigh, patting him there lightly. She grabbed his hand then, lacing her fingers through hers. It was a friendly gesture and kind of a huge deal for Buffy. She wasn't a huge touchy-feely person. He couldn't really blame her, he supposed, she probably thought the people she cared enough about to touch ended up getting hurt. They all went into it willingly, though. There wasn't anyone here today who didn't know what they were getting themselves into.

"I'm glad that this, us, The Council, me - is so important to you, but honestly if she says yes to the possibility of this life with you I want you as far away from this as you can get."


"You're not walking away; you're not abandoning me or the mission. You're getting out. I asked you to with Dawn and you didn't. I'm not asking you to this time, I'm just telling you what I want and how I feel about all of this. I want someone to get out and we all knew it wasn't going to be me or Willow. So, if she says yes, or God, even if she says she needs to think about it, Xander, get out. Find a place in South Carolina and stay there until you sweep her off her feet and make her say yes. I know you'd be there if we needed you. I imagine Kylie, Bill and Claire would be there to help, too. I want one of us to get married, have babies, have grandbabies, and have a good life that they can look back on and know there was more to life than this." She stood then, gesturing to the command center. "So, please," she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Get out."

Return to Top

***Part Thirteen***
Word Count: 4,036

"Why are we whispering?" Claire asked.

"I'm listening," Bill said.

"Her door is open!"

He scoffed. "That's not what I'm listening to or for," he said.

"Are you sure? You're the one who said their doors had to be open when they were upstairs."

"Oh come on, I'm supposed to just let them have sex? I know she's eighteen now, but still it's my name on her guardianship papers at college. The state could still change that I reckon."

"Bill," she whispered.

"He's talking about moving here."

"This surprises you?"

Bill shrugged. "Most people, including Kylie Strutemyer, want to leave Wheelsy not move here."

"I moved here."

"Yes, well, my world's a lot better and brighter for that, but the fact remains Wheelsy is not a town people flock to."

"He wants to be near her and I think he likes it here."

"Yeah, mentioned something about liking the people here."

"You'd be surprised how many people that sort of thing, community and feeling at home, means to some who don't feel like they belong much of anywhere."

"He's talking about something to do with her house and one or two of the properties out that way now vacant."

"You shouldn't eavesdrop!"

"They shouldn't be snuggling on her bed together talking then."

She laughed softly. "Bill. They're going to decide what they're going to decide with or without you listening."

"I know. I just," he shrugged, turning to her. He ran a hand along her hip. "I want her happy, you know. Happy and healthy, whole. It never much mattered to me until I met you and got a chance at it. I came too close to dying for my taste. Kylie, though. Well, she fought back against that slimy thing and she still lost everything, everyone who mattered in her life. Gone. I want her to have a life again, a real one."

"We're a real life for her, Bill. We love her and she knows that."

"I know, but you know, the makings of a family. Suddenly such things matter to me. And I spend a fair amount of time thinking about them. Certainly more time than I ever thought I'd spend thinking on such things."

She blushed prettily at that. "You don't think he can give that to her?"

"I do, but I've been thinking since he got here."


"I'm not sure how happy either of them would be here. Farming anyway. It's a tough life. Some do it with a song in their heart and never regret it. Some don't. Now we don't have the bad weather they have up north, but we still get storms and heat. He says he liked our wedding and the community we have here. I get that, but he's no more a farmer than I am."

"You could."

"Well, sure I could. I could do most anything I put my mind to, proof being you're here with me in my bed, but I chose not to do that."

"What else is there?"

"Well, I was going to ask you."

"Me? Bill, I work for you, what do I have to offer him?"

"I was thinking I could offer him a job."


"I've been short on deputies since the infestation. Wally and Margaret dead. Then ol' Paul in prison now. I don't have an abundance of applicants walking through my door."

"Yes. I still don't get where I fit in."

"What you did for me."

"I've done a lot of things for you."

He chuckled, leaning closer to kiss her. "You have at that. All of which I am extremely grateful for and if I haven't told you that since last night well then I apologize. Specifically, though, I'm talking about when I lay dying in the hospital."


"Can that blood of yours heal him, do you think?"

She shrugged. "I don't see why not. Why?"

"Well, I can't give a job to someone who can't shoot a gun, Claire."

"Oh," she said, obviously not having thought on that. "I suppose only one eye limits him."

"Maybe he wouldn’t want a job with me, but I remember Kylie saying he'd done construction or something in California. Can't do that neither because of his injury."

"I can't…"

"Heal everyone, I know. I ain't asking you to. I just was wondering. I don’t want to see them stuck here because they have no other option, you know? Kylie's is a beautiful house, but I really don't know she'd ever want to live there again. I doubt I would. Then she's a might stronger than I am I wager. I certainly don't want her staying there because she feels she has to because he can't do anything but farm."

"She's not stronger than you are, Bill."

"She is! She was just a kid and fought back while I was winging it, lucky to get her and Starla out alive with me. I'm not ashamed to admit it."

"People are going to wonder how he healed."

"He doesn't live here permanently and it's not like people have talked to him beyond the questions he asked for his tests or whatever. As far as I know no one knows he lost the eye. He could've had surgery or gotten hurt that the patch was needed to protect him or something. I don't know."

"Well, I saw my dad get shot in the eye and he's fine, but what happened to Xander happened a while ago. I'm not sure it'd work. I'm willing to try, but I want them both to understand that I can't say for sure what my limitations are."

"He may not want to, but listening to them…"

"When you should be minding your own business."

"I'm incorrigible, what can I say?"

"Just think when it's your daughter what you'll be like."

"I don’t even want to imagine! I can assure you he wouldn't be in her bedroom with her, though."

She laughed softly. "We can talk to them, sure," she said.

"I like him," Bill admitted.

"You didn't at first."

"I didn't dislike him; I just had a hard time trusting not only him but Kylie. You didn't know her back before things happened. That Kylie, I'm not so sure she wouldn't have latched on to him, hoping he'd whisk her off to London or California, somewhere not Wheelsy. Now, though," he shrugged.

"She's growing up some. College will do that to you. Finding people who care about you for you not because they have to helps, too."

"Yeah. You had that, too, didn't you. Your uncle."

"And some others you haven't and probably will never meet, but yes, it helps immensely when you feel you're the only one going through something to know people care even if they can't fix it for you."

"Did you hate it at first?"

"My ability?" She shrugged. "I didn't know what was going on! I thought I was a freak of the most bizarre variety. I had no idea there were others out there."

"Still blows my mind what you say is true." He kissed her again, sliding his lips to her ear. "And you're no freak."

"You're biased."

"I am at that, but I'm as honest as the day is long so if I say you're not a freak you're not."

"What if he does want to farm?"

He shrugged. "Well, then I guess that's up to them to decide. Sounds like he's thinking of ways to not completely abandon his friend."

"You like that."

"Yeah, I do," he admitted. "I reckon his friends would let him off the hook, but the fact he wouldn't just bail on something like that tells me a lot about him."

"How about the fact he's come back here so many times when he clearly didn't have to?"

"That, too. I told Kylie if she wanted to go somewhere else for college next year we could see that it happens."

"You did?"


"Hmm. She didn't jump at the chance?"

"No, didn't seem to anyway. I haven't heard her talking about planning a permanent move across the Atlantic or anything."


"I worry, though, you know, she's only eighteen."

"I don't think they're going to get married tomorrow, Bill."

"I know, but if he moves here for her the pressure will be there to force it to work."

"You think so? I don't."

"Why not?"

"Because they're not stupid. I think he wants to move here to give them a legitimate chance at finding out if it's real. I don't think he's going to pressure her. He just wants to spend time with her, there's nothing wrong with that."

"No, I don't see him pressuring her, but I think us tying the knot may make her think she needs to find another place to hang her hat."

"We've told her she doesn't have to."

"Sure, and in your ideal world of newlywed life you'd want an eighteen-year-old living with us?"

"I never had an ideal picture of newlywed life until now, so this is all I know. That includes Kylie being here, it's only a couple of months out of the year anyway, it's not like she's a little kid here every day."

"I know. I just worry that she doesn't see it that way, that she views herself as being in the way or a charity case or something. I mean, I wasn't afraid to show my surprise she chose me to live with. I thought she was crazy."

"And I love you for that."

"Just for that?"

"Among a few things, maybe."

"Just a few things? Then it shouldn't take you long to show me these things about me you love."

"You wanted to talk to Xander and Kylie."

"I suspect they'll be there in an hour."

"The door…"

"I said their doors have to stay open, not ours," he said.


"I'm sorry. You want to what?" Xander asked.

"I want to try to heal you. Your eye."

"Why?" he asked.

"So suspicious," Bill said.

"Well, yeah. I mean, what for?"

"I want to be sure you have all your options open as far as what you can do with yourself. You want a life in Wheelsy, well we can give that to you but it doesn't have to be farming. I can get you a job. There's always construction jobs, I know Kylie mentioned you'd done that before. But you need both eyes to do most things like that. Not saying there aren't plenty of jobs you could do, and I imagine you're used to your visual defects after this long, but something like shooting a gun I'm not sure I'd trust you in the heat of the moment to have the right aim."

"You can say that again."

"So, what's the harm in trying? Claire doesn't know it'll work for sure, but worst thing that can happen is it doesn't and you know. Best thing that can happen is that you can see with two eyes again."


"I just want you to make decisions with all the data available to you."

"You think if I have both eyes I'm not going to move here?"

"I didn't say that," Bill said. "What you're talking about doing is an everyday job. You moving here to farm wouldn't get you much more time with Kylie. Not to mention the expense of adding animals back into the equation. It's not cheap."

Xander glanced at the three of them unsure he was really hearing correctly. "You think it's easy as that? I mean, the eye is gone."

"My dad was shot in the eye and my blood healed him. That's why I think I might be able to, but it wasn't years later so that's where I'm not sure."

"Oh," he said, running a fingertip along the eye patch. "You can just do it here?"

"Sure. I only needed a couple of things, but Bill already got them from the hospital easily enough. I talked to my friend and he told me what I needed to do because I wasn't totally paying attention the night we did this for Bill."

"It's worth the risk, don't you think, Xander?" Kylie asked.

"Well, sure, I just. If it works I'd never be able to repay you."

"It's a good thing that's not why I'm doing it then. I'm doing it as a favor to Kylie and Bill."

Xander glanced at Bill then at Kylie.

"Well, sure I'm game, I guess. It can't hurt. You'd really hire me?" he asked.

"Why wouldn't I? I need the manpower and at least it's a job where you'd have days and evenings off so your moving here wouldn't be just to work your fingers to the bone. I mean, no sense moving here to be closer to Kylie if you can't see her. Trust me, overall it's a pretty boring job. Weekends can get a little harried, but after the infestation I tend to look at things a might differently than I used to."

"Seeing things no one else even believes in tends to change a person," Xander said. "I couldn't believe it the first time I saw a vampire."

"Do you ever wish you could go back?" Claire asked.

"No," Xander admitted. "Never. I mean maybe Jesse would still be alive. Maybe other people I knew would still be alive, but there's no saying they would be. I do at least know that there are people alive and kicking today because of what we've done."

"Not even for the eye?"

"No. It's just an eye. I could go to college, get a degree to do something, but I'm just not that smart. I barely made it through high school without Willow's help, but maybe one day I'll rethink that and decide to go. If it doesn't work I can find something I just never thought about what I might want to do before."

"Well, we'd certainly help you. There's plenty to do around Wheelsy. They may not pay a lot but they can be fulfilling in other ways. I'm sure there are tons of things for you to do in a college town, too."

"I had my share of college towns, which is why I chose to come here."

"All right, Kylie, let's go do our grocery shopping," Bill said.

"What?" Kylie asked.

"No sense you sitting here, waiting and wondering. We'll leave, come back, and we'll see what happens. Xander and Claire won't want you staring at them anyway."

"Go with Bill, Kylie," Xander said, leaning down to kiss her lightly. "I'd really rather you not be here if I take the patch off and see it's the same ol' thing as it was before trying."

"But I don't care…"

"I know you don't, and I love that about you, but I care. It's not pretty and I'd rather you not have to see it."

She sighed softly, but she understood he knew. She'd slept next to him without wearing the patch a few times, but he never turned the lights on without having it on first.

"But if it doesn't work…"

"Well then I guess at some point you'd have to see it. I figured it'd happen eventually, just not quite yet. You know?"

"I wouldn't feel any different."

"I don't think you would, but you know your mind does funny things with your imperfections, heightens them. This beautiful woman likes me, I'd rather not scare her off for a while."

"It's already been a while!"

"A while longer then when we're both living on the same continent."

"Come on, Kylie, he'll be here when we get back," Bill said.

"Yeah, all right," she said with a frown.

"So, how long did you and Bill talk about this before you actually asked me about it?"

"The first night you got here. He brought it up to me. I think he waited to mention it to see how you two got along here in Wheelsy."

"He doesn't think we would?"

"Wheelsy's a little different than London. Not a whole lot to do and there are no tourist attractions here."

"I know that," he said.

"I know you do. I moved here, too, you know. It's not bad."

"Not bad? I hope you find it more than not bad since you're evidently staying put."

"Well, it has its downside, but every town does. Not everyone was fond of me at first. Bill was finally over Starla and a few women thought they'd have a chance."

"He saw you and there wasn't a chance for anyone else, I take it."

"Eventually. It wasn't right away."

"I know how he feels."

"She may not want to stay in Wheelsy," Claire said.

"I know. I just needed to be closer to her. Something had to give. The idea of her finding someone else was eating at me."

"You told her it'd be okay."

"Well, yeah, sure, I didn't really want her to! I just knew it might happen and I didn't want her to think I'd hate her for it or something. But I knew at your wedding I had to do something one way or the other."

"I'm glad you chose not to break her heart."

"Me, too, but I love her too much to do that."


"So, what do we do then?"

"You ready?"

"As ready as I'm going to be. I feel a little like Frankenstein."

She chuckled. "I guess you kind of are," she said, following Peter's instructions.

"How long does it take?"

"With Bill it was pretty immediate, but you might be different if it works at all."

"Hey, Claire," he said as she began the process that would give him some of her blood.


"Thanks, by the way."

"For what?"

"For doing this. I suspect it's not something you do for anyone."

"No, but only because I can't. There was a man I knew who had my ability and he was very specific about the extent to which we could interfere."

"Tipping the balances, setting things off kilter, the cycle of life."

"Right! Exactly. I mean, I'd love to cure every cancer patient."

"But you can't play God."

"No, I can't."

"I understand, and no one who knows what you can do thinks badly of you."

"Does anyone else know I should worry about?"

"No, I haven't told anyone."

"They're going to wonder."

"I'll have to tell Buffy and Giles, but that's it. The rest can wonder or be told I had surgery or something to fix it."

"He thought we were gods."

"Who?" Xander frowned, watching the blood flow from her arm through the little tube of plastic and into his.



She laughed softly. "The other one like me."

"But he's dead. How is that possible?"

"I'm not really sure. There was someone else with an ability that enabled him to absorb other abilities."

"Oh," Xander said. "Well, I'm glad you're standing here today and not the other guy."

"You are, huh?"

"I don't think Bill would be nearly as happy if that wasn't the case."

Claire laughed, watching the clock to be sure she gave him enough blood. It was so weird to be doing this. She kind of liked it, though, the possibility of using her ability to help someone other than herself. And, well, Xander was a good guy. If anyone deserved her help it was someone who'd saved the world a time or two.


"I just got back! Where are you taking me now and why?" Bill asked as Claire tugged his arm toward the door only minutes after he and Kylie had gotten back.

"Your wife wants to have lunch with you and you question this?"

"Well, put like that, no," he said, eyeing her suspiciously.

"We'll be back in a while," she called, closing the door behind her.

"What is going on?"

"Give them some time," she said as she got into his pickup truck.

"Some time for what?" he asked and then frowned. He leaned into the window a bit. "It didn't work, I take it. Hey, you know I've heard of people getting their pilot's license with only one eye, it's not completely limiting. He's admitted he hasn't really looked at doing anything else. It's just here in Wheelsy."

"Bill, it worked."

"Then why are we leaving them alone?"

"Because I suspect the first time he's able to show her his eye and look at her with both eyes they'd prefer we're not there."

"It really worked?"

"It did."

"How do you feel about that?"

"I'm glad," she said.


She shrugged. "It just makes me wonder what else I can do. I wish Adam wasn't dead."

"Well, he didn't sound like the type to share information with you anyway from what Peter's said."

"No, but I can't imagine he wouldn't enjoy talking to someone like him the same as I would."

"I suppose I could see that, but he's not here, darlin'. I'm sorry."

"I just," she shrugged.

"I know, I do, and I'm sorry if my asking you to do it opened a can of worms you'd rather have been kept closed."

"You're fine. I'd do anything for you and Kylie."

"Back at ya. Now where to?"


"Hi," Kylie said once Bill and Claire had left.

"Hi yourself," he said, tugging her to him for a hug.

"They didn't leave because of us, did they?"

"Oh, I expect maybe yeah."

She reached up and touched the patch then, running her fingertips along the outline of it. She did that a lot. It had bothered him at first, but he realized she was just touching it as she would any part of him.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"For what?" he asked.

"Well," she said with a shrug. "You wouldn't have tried if we hadn't pushed you into trying."

He chuckled then, lowering his mouth to hers. God, he loved kissing her. She kissed him as if he was the only thing that mattered. He'd never experienced that before, not fully. Anya there was like one thousand years of history before him, which made him self-conscious at times. His fault, not hers.

"Go upstairs with me?"

He didn't need to ask twice, she joined him without question, leading him to her bedroom. He joined her on the bed, picking right back up with the kissing they'd been doing downstairs.

He was quick about undressing her while he lavished kisses on her. He placed his hand over hers, sliding it to the back of his head and the strings there.

"Go ahead, undo them," he whispered.

She did, nimble fingers untying the string capably. She let go then, letting the strings fall free.

He lifted his head then and she gasped softly.

"It worked."

"I thought it only fitting the first thing I see the way I'm supposed to was you completely naked."

"But you're not."

"I've seen myself naked before."

"Yes, but it's not nearly as fun with only one of us that way."

"There is that," he said, quickly joining her.

He moved them so she was on top of him. Hands at either hip as she moved her body over his length the way she was supposed to. She had tears in her eyes, but he knew it wasn't because anything was wrong.

"Most beautiful thing ever, watching you do that to me," he whispered.

She leaned over him when they'd both finished, kissing his jaw before settling comfortably on top of him like she always seemed to do when they were in this position.

"I can't believe it worked."

"Really? You didn't think it would."

"I honestly didn't know. I hoped."


She shrugged. "Because I love you and I wanted it to work."

"No other reason? No doubts about being involved with one-eyed Xander?"

"No! I didn't care. Bill's got quite a scar on his abdomen. Claire loves him just the same."

"Just wondering."

"I just want you to be able to do whatever you want to do, you know."

"I want to be near you. I know that much."



"Well, can't get much closer than this."

"Oh, you could be a little closer."

She giggled softly, kissing his chest. "I could huh?"

"Yes. This eye has a lot of catching up to do."

"How long do you think they'll be gone?"

"Not sure, but I suspect Claire will keep Bill occupied for a while."

"Well, let's get it caught up then."

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