Chapter Three: Three Minutes Late
Saturday morning Xander was late to the clinic. Jack had of course arrived early and then spent twenty minutes not reading some article in People and glancing at his watch. He wasn't worried. Really. After all his son was the one who had set up the appointment, but nonetheless he let out a sigh of relief when Xander banged through the door.
"Sorry I'm late," he flashed a quick yet harried smile. "Small crisis in Girlville."
Jack stood, his earlier irritation quenched now that he was here. "What happened?" he asked as they went to the desk to check in. Xander greeted the nurse by name as she handed him the forms they needed to fill out with a coy smile. Looked like someone had a crush, mused Jack, though Xander merely thanked her politely and went to sit down, oblivious.
"Oh, you know, the usual 'she looked at me funny' thing," said Xander, frowning at his pen that refused to write. "Does yours work?" he asked.
Jack tried it and nodded, wondering instead what Xander was talking about while his son asked the shy nurse for another pen. "So what thing is that?" he asked when the young man rejoined him.
"Huh?" Xander looked up, the confusion on his face quickly dissipating as he caught up. "Oh, there's this whole . . . thing. You know, where one girl looks at another and makes her cry." He must not have look convinced because Xander added, "Yeah, I don't get it either," before turning back to his form.
The paperwork didn't take long to complete, and before Jack knew it, they were being led into an examination room where another nurse Xander knew named Cathy scraped the insides of their cheeks with a half dozen Q-tips.
"Is that it?" he asked in surprise as she took off her gloves.
"That's it," Cathy smiled. "Now we just send it off to the lab on Monday and we'll mail you the results by Friday." It seemed too simple for it to be legit. Janet was always shining lights and poking and prodding, and now the inside of his cheek would tell them what they need to know? He and the Doc were going to have a serious conversation when he got back.
"Xander, how's Lydia doing?" asked Cathy over her shoulder as she led them back to the waiting room.
"She's good now," Xander told her. "Not much keeps them down. Like Energizers. The batteries, I mean," he tripped over this last, making Jack smile.
"That's good to hear," Cathy held the door for them as they left. "And I hope everything works out for you guys."
The door closed, leaving the two of them alone in the sunshine, another awkward pause filling the space between them. "So you come here often?" Jack's curiosity finally got the better of him.
Xander shrugged, his face devoid of anything readable. "The girls sometimes get hurt. And being in the very scary position of responsibility, guess who gets to drive." Jack didn't have anything he cared to say aloud to that. "So when's your plane leaving?"
"One-seventeen," said Jack, looking at his watch. It was almost eleven now. He'd have to leave soon to make it through security. When he looked back up, Xander was watching him closely out of his single eye. Jack wondered suddenly what he looked like without the eyepatch.
"So I guess this is it, huh?" said Xander.
"Oh, I hope not," said Jack with a grin trying to dispel the sudden seriousness of the conversation. He knew it was a defense mechanism, but hey, it worked. "Now that you got me, I don't intend on leaving you alone. Besides, your little Buffy will rip my arms off if I don't come back."
That startled a laugh out of Xander. "You really shouldn't underestimate Buffy," he said, shaking his head and grinning wryly. "And you really, really shouldn't call her little."
"Sounds like other short people I know."
"But this one can rip your arms off."
"Well, we can't have that now, can we? So I guess I better keep in touch?" Jack turned this last into a hopeful question, slightly rocking on his heels. Xander didn't respond for a moment.
"You're that sure?" he asked softly, doubt coloring his voice. "About me? I mean, I could be an axe murderer for all you know." And underneath the sarcasm Jack heard a scared young man wondering why he cared.
Jack smiled and shook his head, a little taken aback by the emotion in the gaze that bored into his soul. "You're not an axe murderer," said Jack solemnly, for once not hiding behind humor. "You're my son. And I know you don't really trust me right now," he let out a breath of cynical laughter, glancing at his shoes, "especially since I messed up this whole meeting you thing." He looked up. "But all I'm asking for is a chance."
"Yeah, well," Xander didn't seem to know what to say. "To save your arms, I guess you can call me. And if you'll, you know, still buy me a dog." A teasing smile snuck its way into the conversation and Jack's heart.
"It's a deal." And when Jack offered his hand and Xander took it, he felt like he'd been given the world.
Xander closed the door with a heartfelt sigh when he got home. Around him the bubbly sounds of teenagers on their free day bounced off the walls around him. Over to the right of the entranceway, the sitting room door wide open with one of the newbie cliques giggling over the rustle of magazines and newspapers. They paused when they heard him come in, several arching their necks to see who it was.
"Xander!" called Melissa, a tall ganlgy brunette that reminded him of a stork with freckles. "How'd it go?"
He smiled for them as he ambled over to the doorframe. "Fine," he shrugged, though he still didn't know how he felt about it. "Cathy says hi."
"Cool, she was there?"
"Hey, we're going to see a movie today," spoke up Ashley. "You wanna come?"
A half a dozen titles cluttered the air as soon as he asked. Xander recognized a few of them and knew he definitely wasn't in the mood for the chick flicks. He needed something brainless and full of hitting people over the head with big guns. And a good chase scene. He'd probably end up watching Wrath of Khan again with Andrew and a few of the girls. Man, he really needed to get some guy friends to watch real guy movies with that didn't involve men in jumpsuits, he thought as the girls continued to squabble. "Let me know when you decide," he interrupted the movie debate, turning toward the kitchen. "And don't forget to put it on the board so we can get you a ride."
With a chorus of, "we won't s" with regard to the activity board, also affectionately known as the Where-the-Hell-is-she? board, Xander left them for the kitchen where he found Andrew complaining loudly to pair of hungry slayers. "Xander!" Andrew whined as soon as he saw him. "Tell them they can't just come in here when I'm trying to get lunch together and pick at the Cardassian egg salad!"
"It's good salad!" Veronica tried appeasing Andrew looking for the world like a regretful eight-year-old, which wasn't hard considering she was barely over five feet tall.
"Well, eat something else," said Xander shaking his head and wondering as he always did how he had ended up as the peacemaker around here. It still surprised him more than Andrew's Star Trek dishes. He wondered if the egg salad would get voted onto the make-it-again-and-die list that was stuck to the pantry door with a dagger. "Andrew," he got back to his original purpose for being in the kitchen at all, "do you have your shopping list ready?"
"No, because some people keep coming in and just eating the lunch I've spent the last two hours slaving over without a . . . a can-I-please?" The house chef glared at the two girls who didn't look the least bit ashamed, which of course only made Andrew pout harder. Damn. Xander was going to have to get him another Hallmark card. He so did not need a rebellious cook on his hands again.
"After lunch then?" he asked.
"Fine," said Andrew sullenly.
"All right, come on," Xander shooed the two girls out of the kitchen. "Let's let his Cardassianness work." They left with Andrew muttering something gargly about proper titles. While the two girls headed out back to do girl things, Xander passed into the dining room and plopped down at the table. Dawn, Giles, and their piles of books looked up and smiled. Well, the books would have if books smiled, but then they were books. And Xander didn't like books. They were one of the sure signs of the apocalypse. "So what's all this?" he waved a vague hand at the ill-omened tomes.
"One of the patrols last night ran into an unknown demon," said Giles who had just returned his nose to the page. His shirt-sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and a pencil twitched between his fingers as he read whatever it was he was reading. "Reddish brown, five horns, and a rather large . . . 'squick' factor."
"Nope, not ringing any bells," said Xander. "So what happened to the research-your-own-stupid-demons policy?" It was, hands down, his favorite policy.
"It's Saturday," said Dawn who hadn't yet gone back to her work. "Most of this stuff is my bastardized Sumerian." Her face crinkled at the evil books that were tying up her Saturday. Or at least her morning. Last night's entertainment had been watching her and Giles go head to head over what constituted a day off. Unfortunately prophesies were time-critical, and they had ended in this compromise with the argument that she got to sleep in during the rest of the week anyway.
Absently Xander grabbed Argyle's Compendium off the top of the much smaller stack of demon books before remembering he hated these books with a passion and for once didn't have to do the research. So there, he tossed the book back with a light thud as it slid to a stop. He grinned at Dawn who brightly returned the smile while Giles appeared not to have noticed at all. "So who's the lucky group?" he asked.
"We-Love-Orlando-Bloom," Dawn told him. "I think they're holed up with Pirates right now."
"Ahh," Xander nodded, not surprised in the least.
"So how did it go?" she asked.
"Fine," Xander shrugged as he had before. "He went straight to the airport after. And Cathy's gonna send a couple samples to Fred."
"And how are you with all this?" Giles spoke up, his attention now focused on Xander who shrugged again.
"What's there to feel? Everything's back to normal." He stared at the tabletop, the emotions that had subsided with his return home bubbling back to the surface. Confusion, hope, dread, and a little anger at Jack for doing this to him. His life was crazy enough without some stranger trying to be a part of it. One he couldn't share. And yet, Xander found himself wondering what it would be like to have a parent that cared all to himself.
"Xander?" Giles prompted softly.
He looked up at the older man and suddenly wondered if Jack would ever measure up to him. "I don't know," said Xander, the indifferent façade slipping. "It's all just so . . ."
"Hellmouthy?" Dawn finished as he struggled for words.
"Yeah, but also in a big kinda not way."
"You mean it is so un-hellmouth-like that it must be hellmouthy?" asked Giles who then frowned to himself, both trying to understand his own sentence and appalled that he had said 'hellmouthy.'
"Something like that," Xander agreed. Honestly, he could do without all this emotional stuff right now. The last couple of days had been exhausting, and he was tired of feeling all mixed up. He'd just lost his real parents for good and now Jack was there being the parent he had always wanted. It was a like a parent market, one for two deal. "I told him he could call me."
"Do you think he will?" asked Dawn.
"Yeah, actually," Xander let out a huff of laughter. "I think he might."
"I guess that's cool."
"Yeah." Their eyes met and Xander slowly grinned. It would be cool. As long as he wasn't a slimy creature of the dark or an asshole, that is, the cynical voice in his head chirped. But he just mentally shrugged it away. After all, there were good demons like Clem around.
For a few moments the three of them sat silently, sharing the quiet. In the background, Xander heard gaggles of girls talking and laughing. Giles was the first to turn back to his work with Dawn following soon after, her light smile remaining. Xander watched them, so different and so alike in their work.
"Honestly!" Giles suddenly broke the silence with an exasperated sigh, whipping off his glasses and polishing them on his shirt. "'And he shall smite him down with pink sandals,' Dawn?"
"It says 'pink'!" Dawn protested with an angry jab at the original text before her.
As the two of them broke into an argument over their Sumerian bastard, Xander chuckled to himself before slipping quietly away.
Jack stifled a yawn as he made his way through the crowded terminal to the baggage claim. He hated flying commercial; there were too many people and not enough space for half of them. And it was noisy and so incredibly, mind numbingly boring, and right now he just wanted to get out of the airport. The doors were nearby but unfortunately so were about a million other people jostling for their bags. As he was pushing and shoving his way through the masses, he heard someone call his name.
The someone turned out to be Daniel who was there to pick him up. Jack grinned, happy to finally see a friendly face after his long trip. "How was your flight?" asked Daniel when Jack finally reached his side.
"Very long and dull," said Jack, adjusting his grip up his single bag that he had thankfully carried-on with him. "Next time I'm gonna claim there's a dangerous pot or something in Cleveland so I can fly myself."
Daniel smiled and shook his head at him. "Car's this way," he said turning toward the sign that said East Parking Deck. "So your trip was good?" he asked.
Jack shrugged. "I met him. Can't say it went like I planned." Daniel gave him an inquisitive look asking for an explanation. "He goes by Xander. And yes, you were right," Jack cut his eyes at his friend, hating to admit it and feeling petty for it at the same time. "He didn't believe me at first. Had one of the girls at the house check if the birth certificate was real, though I don't know how." It had been awfully quick too, now that he thought about it.
"Girl?" Daniel interrupted his thoughts. Jack shook himself back to the present. He'd get Carter to look into it later, along with that Giles character and the camp.
"Yeah. He and a couple of friends run a summer self defense camp for teenage girls."
"I don't know," said Jack, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He felt sticky and gross all over. "I mean, it didn't look like anything was really going on; the kids all liked him. It's just set up in a house in the suburbs."
"Well, they did just lose their town a year ago," Daniel reasoned as they reached the car. He unlocked it, and Jack threw his bag in the back before clambering into the front passenger seat. "It's not a cult, is it?" he asked suddenly.
"No," Jack shook his head. Definitely not a cult from how talkative the girls were, but it just seemed so odd. But then the whole experience had been odd, even for him. "You know, I was expecting a carpenter. A man with a nine to five job, maybe a girlfriend. Definitely not kids. And definitely not a denmother for a bunch of girls."
"A bit of a shock?" Daniel smiled.
"Like a hurricane. But maybe that was just seeing him." His son. The idea still gave him chills. Things had gone so wrong with Charlie. He hadn't been there enough, hadn't been there when Charlie had found his gun. Now, Xander was giving him a chance to be there for him.
"Yeah, sorry. What was that?" He realized Daniel had just asked him a question.
"I asked what he's like?"
Jack thought back, trying to capture what he had seen on that first meeting. "He lost his left eye recently," he said quietly after a moment. "I asked about it, probably shouldn't have." He could still remember his son's good eye challenging him to push harder and see how far it got him. "The kids like him," he went on. He didn't know what else to say. How do you describe someone you had barely met? They hadn't talked much, just that first stilted conversation, then the one over dinner. "He's got a sense of humor," he added with a smile. "And he rescued me from his friends that threatened to kill me."
"What?" That brought Daniel up short, and Jack pointed to the road his friend was suddenly ignoring. "They threatened you?" Daniel returned his eyes to the front.
"This girl, Buffy, threatened to rip my arms off if I dropped out of Xander's life, and his good buddy Mr. Giles outright told me he'd kill me if I hurt him."
"That speaks highly of him," said Daniel. "Xander, I mean."
"Yeah," Jack couldn't stop the grin from spreading across his face. "And he said he'd give me a chance."
"Just like that?"
"Well," Jack didn't meet his friend's eyes. "There may have been some shouting and apologizing and a paternity test. He was wondering why I would even care about him. Makes me wonder . . ." he trailed off. Daniel didn't say anything, but the glance they shared said it all. The thought of a not so happy home had only occurred to Jack on the flight back. "So what have you been up to while I was away feeling awkward?"
Daniel gave him another look, but decided not to protest the change in subject. "Negotiations," he replied sourly. "The Yibbites are almost as stubborn as you."
"Hey! I'm not the only stubborn one on the team."
"Yeah, but Sam's at least nice about it," Daniel shot back with a quick grin. Jack mock glared at the neat derailment of his teasing.
"Our next mission's on Monday?"
Daniel grinned even wider at his ungraceful attempt to change the subject, but again, he went with it, nodding. "Though I'm still behind on my paperwork from our last mission because of the Yibbite negotiations."
"Yeah, me too," Jack sighed. His unexpected trip had foiled his procrastination technique. Now he would be writing reports all day tomorrow. God, he hated paperwork.
"So when do you find out?" asked Daniel.
"Find out what?"
"The results of the paternity test." Oh. That.
"Friday or thereabouts." But he had already decided that it didn't matter. Jessica said Xander was his, so Xander was his as far as he was concerned, and he wasn't going to back out of it. "It was more for their peace of mind."
"I know," said Daniel quietly, a million reassurances in those soft words. The little doubts that had popped up their ugly heads every so often shuffled away. "So pizza?" Daniel asked as they arrived in Jack's neighborhood.
"Pizza sounds great," Jack agreed. They rode in a comfortable silence the rest of the way to Jack's house. The conversation wasn't over, just paused for later. Jack found himself wondering what Xander would think of his house and his friends. Maybe one day he'd get the chance to find out.
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