Xander followed Joyce down the stairs from Buffy’s room, filled with a sense of impending doom. Joyce had told him who was here, mainly because she’d seen the look of terror on Willow’s face when she’d thought that she was about to be taken away, and although he’d felt relieved at first, now his insecurities were making themselves known He’d never met his biological father before, and knowing that the guy was his legal guardian now made Xander kind of nervous. He felt Willow reassuringly touch his shoulder and let himself relax a little, knowing his best friend was at his back.
Xander and Willow followed Joyce into the living room, where they paused in the doorway. Giles and a man, whom they presumed to be Xander’s father. Willow could see the strong resemblance between them instantly.
What Xander noticed immediately about the man was that he was military. He had to fight the urge, left behind by the soldier possession at Halloween, to salute the older man, who he was almost certain was highly ranking military, not just a run-of-the-mill soldier.
“Um, hi,” Xander managed.
“Hi. Colonel Jack O’Neill,” the man replied, introducing himself and smiling at the pair. Xander inwardly nodded. Yep. Highly ranking military. Soldier Boy was right.
“Are you Alexander?” Jack asked and Xander nodded.
“Are you my dad?” he replied and Jack nodded.
“I thought so; you looked familiar, sort of.” Xander gave a shrug and a half-smile.
“I’m sorry about your mother and stepfather,” Jack said sincerely. He’d been sorry to hear about their deaths. Not just because of Xander, but there was a part of him that still loved Jessica.
“Thanks.” Xander felt his throat thicken up with emotion.
“Before all this, did you know about me?” Jack asked. Alexander hadn’t shown any sign of recognition to his name, but then Joyce hadn’t been surprised to hear him say he was Alexander’s dad, so maybe he did know.
Xander nodded. “Yep, no bombshells from beyond the grave here. I’ve known for my whole life. Not much in the way of details. Just that Tony Harris wasn’t my real dad, my mom’s ex-husband Jack was, and that I had a twin brother that you had custody of. I know he died too, so you don’t have to tell me about that. Mom wasn’t going to tell me, but I overheard her telling Tony about it. I never knew your surname, though, or where you lived, because otherwise I would have tried to find you.”
“You probably wouldn’t have found me anyway. The military like us to be hard to find.”
“As proven by the Sunnydale Police,” Xander pointed out and Jack laughed.
“So what branch of the military are you in?” Xander asked, sitting down on the couch. Jack had already been sitting in one of the arm chairs.
“Air Force, out of Colorado Springs,” Jack replied.
“That’s where the Air Force Academy is, even though you definitely already know that, so I’ll just be quiet,” Willow faded off, ducking her head shyly.
“How do you know that?” Xander asked his best friend. He knew, but only because of his shared memories.
“It came up on my list of prospective colleges that I’ve been making,” Willow explained shyly, focusing on Xander.
Jack smiled, liking the shy young redhead at his son’s side. “You should go for it. We need more girl applicants going into the Academy.”
Willow blushed. “I don’t know, it might not be an option now.”
“Willow’s parents were killed the same night as Xander’s, by the same person,” Giles explained.
“Oh yeah, introductions. This is Willow Rosenberg, my best friend in the entire universe since kindergarten, and Mrs Summers, who is my other best friend’s mom, and this is Mr. Giles, who we just call Giles, the librarian from my school. He’s, um, doing some stuff for Buffy’s mom, because Buffy’s missing.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Willow.” Jack said sadly. That was one hell of a coincidence; two best friends losing their parents on the same night to the same killer. Jack frowned. Maybe his boy was going to be next. It was a good thing that he was going to be getting out of town soon.
“Thank you, Colonel O’Neill, and thank you for coming for Xander.” Willow smiled weakly.
“It’s my pleasure, Willow. I’ve always wanted to meet Alexander, although I wish the circumstances were different,” Jack said. “Can I have a word in private to Alexander?”
“Of course,” Giles said with a small smile and he and Joyce left the room. Willow gave Xander a quick, encouraging hug before she followed the others out. Xander chewed his lip nervously as Willow closed the door.
“What’s up?” he eventually asked.
Jack sighed. “When your mom and I broke up and agreed to take one of you boys each, we decided that if something would happen to one of us and the partner of that one, if one existed, then the other parent would get guardianship. I really wanted to come and see you, but I haven’t seen you since Jessica married Tony, and you had him as a father figure. Jessica and I agreed that you were better off having Tony as a full time dad rather than me, who was away so much.”
Xander spoke. “Mom told me this, a few years ago.” Jack nodded, that made it a little easier to explain then.
“Xander, this is going to be a big change, a huge change. New school, new house, new friends, new life. I’m away a lot with my work, but I’m going to come home as much as I can, I promise. I’ll be there for you, and you can talk to me, trust me, about anything, okay?”
Xander nodded, although his skin had paled dramatically. He’d been looking forward to meeting Jack, but he’d forgotten that it would mean leaving Willow, Sunnydale, Cordelia and Oz, Giles and Joyce, not to mention Buffy if she was still alive, and the slaying and patrolling, and the fighting of the forces of evil and darkness behind.
Jack noticed the expression on Xander’s face and inwardly cursed. “I’m so sorry about this, Alexander.”
Xander blinked, imagining what his life would be like without Willow. She’d always been there for him, just like he’d always been there for her. They’d seen each other almost every day for the past twelve or so years, and now they weren’t going to see each other anymore, possible ever again.
How would Willow go continuing to cope with her parent’s deaths without him at her side? They’d practically been left in their grief alone, with only each other to rely on. Now she would be alone, trying to deal with her grief.
And then there was him and Cordelia. Xander knew that Cordy wasn’t a long-distance relationship kind of girl and that any chance they had of working out as a couple was dashed the moment Xander discovered his parent’s bodies. Cordelia knew it too; Xander had seen it in her eyes, although they might continue being friends. Xander hoped they would. Once you got past the bitchiness and self-centeredness, Cordy was actually a nice enough girl.
Willow and Oz fell in the same boat; with neither party confident enough within themselves to be able to cope in a long-distance relationship, or at least, that was what Xander thought, although it would be easier with Oz being older. Of course, that was going by the assumption that Willow would have to leave Sunnydale, but Xander saw there was little chance of her being able to stay, he was pretty sure that there were no foster parents in the area that would be able to take in Willow.
“Are you okay, Alex?” Jack asked, having not got a response from the teenager.
Xander shook his head, both to answer his dad’s question, and to clear his mind of his chaotic thoughts. At least Willow would be away from the Hellmouth, and the things that went bump in the night if she was away from Sunnydale. He would be too, in Colorado Springs, he guessed.
“Just call me Xander, everyone else does. Even the teachers at school and my parents.”
Jack smiled in relief having gotten a response, a reaction, out of his son.
“Xander, I like it. It’s different. Where did it come from?”
Xander smiled at the memories Jack’s question evoked. “Alexander is a big name to try and say when you’re in kindergarten and you tend to speak really fast when you’re excited. Willow couldn’t manage it, so she called me Xander and it just kind of stuck.”
Jack smiled. “When your mom was pregnant with you and Charlie, Alexander was my favorite name. Her favorite name was Charlie, so we each named one of you.”
“Who was responsible for my middle name, because LaVelle, really?”
Jacked laughed at that. “It was your mother’s maiden name. I thought it sounded a bit silly, but I didn’t mention it. She was the one who did all the hard work, after all.”
Xander nodded understandingly. “Did you ever get remarried?”
Jack nodded. “Yes, just the once though. Sara, she would have loved you. She loved Charlie like he was her own. She never forgave me after what happened to Charlie and she left me. We still see each other, occasionally.”
Xander grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, it happened a long time ago. What about you? Any girlfriends I should know about? You and Willow, maybe?”
Xander shook his head quickly. “Not me and Willow, not since we were little. We’re just best friends. She’s like my little sister; we’ve seen each other for almost every day since kindergarten. We’ve always been there for each other. I have a girlfriend, though, her name is Cordelia. She’s, well, I have no idea what she sees in me. She’s a cheerleader, and I’m one of the geeks that hang out in the library. Her and Oz, that’s Willow boyfriend, couldn’t get time off school to spend with us, so they’re at school at the moment.” As he thought of Willow, his thoughts also turned to Jesse and wondering who would tend to his grave and leave flowers like he and Willow did when they were gone.
“That’s a long time to be friends,” Jack said softly as Xander struggled to hide the tears in his eyes.
“I’m going to really miss her. She’s the only reason I made it this far through school. She’s been my study buddy the whole time.”
Jack inwardly cringed, though he kept his face neutral. It was going to be difficult to watch Xander try and deal with the loss of his parents, but the loss of his best friend too.
“Does Willow know where she’s going yet? Maybe you could go and visit over the holidays, or she could come and visit us?” Jack suggested.
“She’s going into the foster system. She’s got no family left. No grandparents, or aunts and uncles. Her mom thought that the foster system would build up Willow’s confidence and would make Willow become a well-respected, resilient, balanced member of the community. Willow’s terrified, though. She’s smart, really, really smart, but she’s shy and she babbles and she gets picked on a lot by the other kids at school, not so much as she used to. She has no idea where she’s going. Because she has a roof over her head at the moment, she’s not high on Social Service’s list of priorities, but they’re going to come, soon, and she’s pretty sure that she isn’t going to be in Sunnydale anymore.”
Jack sighed. There went that plan. Daniel had told him stories about the foster system and Jack wouldn’t wish it on any kid, especially not his son’s best friend. As an older child, it was highly unlikely that Willow would be adopted out, considering most couples went for younger children.
And both Xander and Willow knew what she was about to go into. Jack reflected on the way that she’d said ‘thank you for coming for Xander.’ She knew that she was about to enter the hardest period of her life so far and she was glad that he was there to make sure that Xander wouldn’t have to share the experience with her. It was the thought of a loyal, selfless and supportive friend and Jack was glad that Xander had found a friend like that for himself in Willow.
“Do any of your friends, or work colleagues, have kids my age?” Xander asked, bringing Jack back from his innermost thoughts.
“Yeah, one of my work friends has a daughter, maybe a few months younger that you. I was thinking that I might send you to the same high school as she goes to, so then you might already know someone before your first day. Cassie’s a good kid. I think you’ll get along okay.”
“Did she know Charlie?” Xander asked.
“I didn’t know her mother back then, but I think they would have got along okay.”
Xander hesitated before he asked his next question, not knowing what sort of reaction he would get. “I don’t know if this is pushing things a bit, but how did Charlie die?”
Jack closed his eyes as the memories of that fateful day came back. “I knew you were going to ask that question, and he was your brother, you have a right to know. I was stupid, and I left my gun out when I came home from work. Charlie found it and picked it up. He accidentally shot himself and Sara and I couldn’t save him. The doctors told us he didn’t have a chance. Sara never forgave me for it.”
“I’m sorry,” Xander said honestly.
“So am I,” Jack agreed.
The two sat in silence for awhile, both of them unable to think if something to say.
“So, what do you like doing outside of school?” Jack eventually asked. Xander smiled.
“Me? Um, watching TV, hanging out with my friends, going to the Bronze, that’s a local club. My friends and I are part of a study/research group that meets up in the high school library. You know, that sort of thing.”
“Really, what kind of things do you study?”
“Um, myths, legends, ancient folklore stories, old languages, and archaic weaponry. I’m really food run guy though. Provider of sustenance and all things full of energy, that’s me. Willow and Giles are the brains of the group though. Willow’s research girl and net girl, and Giles is Book man.”
“Daniel is going to love you,” Jack found himself saying. Xander looked at him, confusion written across his face.
“One of my work friends is an archaeologist and he’s really good at ancient languages,” Jack explained.
“Ah, right. I’m not as good with the languages as Willow. I like English, it works as a language.”
Jack cracked up in laughter. He liked this kid; he reminded him a lot of himself when he was younger.
“So, what do you like doing outside of work?” Xander asked.
“I’ve got a little cabin in the woods that I like to go to on weekends. There’s a lake and I go fishing. I like watching TV, sports or The Simpsons, or anything that will make me laugh. Nothing educational, though. Spending time with my work friends. You know, that sort of thing.”
Xander nodded, “The Simpsons are good, and laughing is fun too. I’ve never been fishing though. Do you want a drink of something? Tea? Coffee? Um, I don’t know what else Joyce has.”
“Coffee is fine, I haven’t had any since the jet fuel they call coffee they had on the plane this morning.”
Xander got up and opened the door, leading Jack into the kitchen. Joyce had made hot chocolate for him and Willow with marshmallows on the top, and after Xander asked, she made up mugs of coffee for herself and Jack as well, while Giles made up a cup of tea.
“How long do you have off work, Colonel O’Neill?’ Giles asked as they waited for the drinks to be done.
“Call me Jack. I only have a week, I’m afraid. It was the longest I could get, at short notice.”
Xander shifted in his seat at Jack’s words, moving as close as he could to Willow and gripping her hand reassuringly. Jack realized with a pang at that moment, that if he wanted the chance to be able to build a strong relationship with Xander, he needed to find a way for Willow to be there too, because without Willow, Xander would be broken. They might not be in love, but they were two parts to one whole and without one another, they would be completely shattered. A.N. Wow, I've gotten really good feedback from the first chapter. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed. Thanks especially to those of you who picked up on Jack being really OOC, I'll try to remedy that in the coming chapters. Anyway, I hope you've all enjoyed chapter 2. Reviews are much appreciated.
The next update won't be until after the Easter long weekend, as i am going away on holidays. Yay