“Are you excited?” Cameron asked.
“I’m excited. I’m scared. It’s not as if I didn’t know before… but somehow…” Xander shrugged.
“It’s official now!?” she asked.
“Yes, I have a grandfather – and Greg has a dad,” said Xander. “It feels nice.”
“You seem… more centered,” said Cameron.
“I do?” asked Xander. “I feel like me.”
“Of course… just… you seem very… Damn, Xander, I don’t know how to articulate it… you seem serene.”
“Serene?” Xander pondered this. “I could get used to Serene.”
Xander swayed back and forth, waving his hands gently together as a hula dancer might do to depict waves on an ocean. He wore a fake beatific, blissed-out look.
“Silly man. This is why I love you,” Cameron said, kissing him on the tip of his nose. “Sorry I can't make it tonight. Blame Cuddy.”
“She’s not that bad,” said Xander.
Cameron narrowed her eyes at him. Xander grinned at her.
“Well, she could break you in half and shish kabob you with her mighty sword, but she’s a very nice lady.”
“Yeah, you’re used to scary women, Xander,” said Cameron, rolling her eyes. “One might argue that you’re friends with the two most powerful women in the world.”
“I’d say that’s a pretty fair argument,” said Xander. “But they’re not scary. They’re my pals.”
“And that makes you
scary,” said Cameron.
“I’m not scary,” said Xander. “I’m a very nice man. I’m not really an evil pirate…”
“No, you’re a very nice man. Very, very nice… and delicious too,” said Cameron, kissing Xander in such a way that he forgot completely about everything but the sweet feel of her for a very long time.
Xander, Quincy and House were meeting at House’s favorite restaurant. Xander was in a good mood as he drove to the restaurant. He was tired, but very happy to be home. The whole operation in Atlantic City and Ohio had been harrowing, but Xander had learned a lot and he’d watched dozens innocent people walk free. Xander had continued to work with Buffy, Willow and Giles all these years because he cared, and because the world needed to saving, but also because, like them, he cared about human beings.
Although the operation run from the farm had mostly been a human on human operation, fundamentally, the job was the same. Protect the innocent. Stop the dangerous. If possible, smash the machine of evil. This machine had been more malevolent than most and he’d been grateful to have a hand in tearing it down. The nicest thing about being part of the council was that pesky things like establishing cases and doing loads and loads of bureaucratic paperwork wasn’t their part of the job. They had, however, learned a great deal about handling evidence so that the guys whose job it was to build the cases could actually do it once law enforcement – which included the council in this case – were finished the enforcement side of things.
Mostly, when the council had paperwork, it showed up on the front end in the form of endless and obscure research, but fortunately, that hadn’t been part of this job either. Once they’d assisted in every way possible, and answered the same questions dozens of times from what seemed to be dozens of angles, their part in the process had finally ended. They’d left, but the FBI, the US attorney and state law enforcement had still been there.
Last night he hadn’t slept in his own bed, but that was because he’d been in the next best place… Allison’s place. Anya had been right. He was definitely ready to move on with his life. His only concern had been whether Allison was as ready as he was. He’d started hanging out with her because he liked her and she was compassionate, caring and easy to talk to. They’d progressed from there because of their mutual attraction, but though Xander wanted to get more serious, sometimes he wasn’t sure what Allison wanted.
Watching his two closest friends move forward in their lives had left Xander feeling a little like the odd man out. Buffy glowed. She and Spike were partners. She was coming into her own as a leader. She was well respected. The change in her had been amazing, even though part of it had come because of what had transpired with Giles. In spite of that one shadow, Xander was very happy for her.
Willow was pregnant! He’d never expected that at all, but then again, after Oz, he’d never expected her to end up with a man either. Watching her with Wes in Ohio had made Xander come to the conclusion that whatever was going on between them was far more solid than Xander had realized. He was happy for her, but much more envious than he could ever remember being when she’d been with Tara. Of course, while she’d been with Tara, Xander had been in the most intense relationship of his life. Even when it hadn’t made him happy, his relationship with Anya had taken up most of Xander’s emotional energy. Xander didn’t grudge her the joy she herself seemed to be discovering with Wesley of all people.
He was grateful it was Wesley. Xander had never felt anything but irritation for Willow’s relationship with Kennedy. Other people had seen their break up coming long before either of them. Kennedy’s attempts to ‘Bogart’ Willow and isolate her from her friends in Brazil hadn’t drawn them closer together. It had actually had the opposite effect. Lonely Willow had become unhappy Willow, and away from distractions, she’d quickly seen the fundamental poverty of that relationship, how self-centered Kennedy was; how abrasive and dictatorial she could be and how little they had beyond physical attraction and Willow’s need to try on the idea of a new relationship after Tara.
Recent events had only confirmed what Xander had come to realize about Willow a long time ago. For Willow, real attraction was based more on feeling a strong connection to someone, than on gender, and he’d been relieved to realize it was only a matter of time before Kennedy was out. After Tara had come into Willow’s life, Xander had wondered for a long time about the nature of his little dalliance with Willow in high school. He’d come to the realization that it had been all about connection. Probably, even then, Willow’s understanding of her sexual identity had been in question.
It had been natural to experiment with the one person she’d felt closest to all those years. He’d been ‘safe’. He suspected that, had things not gone sour with Oz because of Veruca, Willow and Oz might have well made a go of things. Whatever Willow had been trying to capture with him hadn’t been forthcoming – probably because deep down, after being flattered and being a lustful hormone bomb of a teenage boy, he really didn’t view Willow that way. Evening clothes and curiosity simply wouldn’t have been enough to fulfill Willow’s childish dream of being with him either. Even though they were deeply connected, it had always been a different kind of connection, especially for Xander.
Xander was pondering the nature of the connection between him and Allison. Were they really a good match, or was it his wishful thinking? Allison was bright, not Willow genius bright, but very, very smart, and extremely disciplined. Xander knew that he’d spent high school as a slacker, having long since given up any idea he’d make it any further than a dead end job somewhere. With what he now knew about both his biological parents, Xander regretted that just a little, even though, all things considered, his life had turned out just fine. If things ever slowed down, perhaps someday soon he might consider college.
Allison, by contrast had worked very hard to master something immense and complex. That said; the fact that she was a lot better educated than he was didn’t seem to matter most of the time when they were laughing, chatting, and having a good time together. She was good for him. She made him think about his relationships more analytically, and she was extremely supportive. Sexually, it was intense, and she seemed to be enjoying it every bit as much as Xander was. Anya had trained him very well. That thought made Xander smile. That was another gift Allison had given him. Healing.
Most of the time, when he and Allison were laughing and relaxing; their differences didn’t seem to matter. Xander was used to being less educated than any of his friends, and after holding his own with some of the tweed-heads in London, he was no longer intimated by people’s qualifications. Now he’d met his father, he had begun to trust that perhaps he’d gravitated toward all these smart people not by accident, but because he actually had something to offer and because people who weren’t smart tended to bore him. Of course, Willow hadn’t chosen him as her partner. She’d chosen two brilliant men, and a woman who had been as well educated as she was, and Tara was still one of the best human beings Xander had ever met.
He didn’t want to be with Willow, however. Xander had come to the realization he did want to be with Allison.
The question was whether that was a realistic goal or not. Was he as good for her as she was for him? Did it matter that he made her laugh, especially since it seemed that laughter hadn’t been that big a part of her life before him? Bottom line: did she want to be with him? Not just as a friend with the side benefit of great sex, but for keeps. Did the fact that he had major deficits in his education and sometimes was painfully aware of it matter to her?
Of course, this all depended on Allison. In addition to their mismatch educationally, there was something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was as if they were dancing together, but when the music changed to something slower and more intimate, she always seemed inclined to sit the dance out. There was a distance there that made him uneasy, and it almost didn’t matter whether it was due to his lack of education, some difficulty she had with commitment, or something else he hadn’t figured out yet. Yes, it was still early days in their relationship, but after his relationships with Anya and Cordelia and even his friendships with Buffy and Willow, Xander knew what it was to be truly close to someone.
There were spaces between them that bothered Xander. He wasn’t sure it was just him either. Allison Cameron had no close friends. She socialized. She hung out. She was friendly and personable. It was good that she didn’t take emotional hostages the way Anya had. Still, he wasn’t sure what to make of her. If she was willing to be with him but this was all she could give, would it be enough? Xander honestly wasn’t sure. Every time he’d needed her, she’d come through for him.
Except for one thing. She never ever let herself need him. They talked about him. They talked about his life. His needs. His dreams. His fears. They talked about ‘stuff’. They talked about her cases. They didn’t talk about Allison Cameron. It wasn’t for lack of trying on his part.
Oh, Xander knew the facts of her life. He could catalogue them neatly. Her school. Her parentage. Her marriage to a man she’d known was dying. What he didn’t have to go with that collection of information were her feelings, fears and motivations. Her needs, her desires and of course, what she needed from him. He knew that she was deeply principled and had a strong sense of right and wrong – and he respected and loved her for their shared values, but he never really ‘felt’ what she felt – not about her own life – and this felt like a loss for Xander because he was a deeply empathetic person.
He knew Allison felt empathy for him, for others, for the victims in Ohio. For patients… sometimes too much empathy… She’d had a great deal of difficulty telling a couple their baby was dying; then actually failed at breaking the news that the baby was dead. Yet, she hadn’t told him about that heartbreak. No, he’d learned about it from Greg, because Greg had been furious that she’d leaned on Wilson’s empathy and got him to do what she couldn’t.
So, if she was so full of feeling, why did he feel as if she were freezing him out just a little? He honestly didn’t think it was about his lack of education. No, he was certain it wasn’t about him at all. This feeling was bolstered by the fact that between his council salary, his inheritance from Anya and the money that the town of Sunnydale had distributed evenly amongst those who had survived, he was actually financially better off than she was. He might not be as educated, but they shared the same interests in silly movies and at best, ‘medium’ brow entertainment. They laughed at the same lame jokes.
He’d have to figure a way through this or whether there was even one. Could Allison ever let herself need
him? Xander put all this out of his mind as he parked his car and made his way into the restaurant.
“I’m joining the Quincy party,” Xander said.
“This way,” said the woman.
Quincy and a strawberry blonde woman about ten years younger than his grandfather were already at the table. Even though she was not a young woman, she was still quite attractive. This had to be his… step grandmother… Xander smiled. His family life was so complicated these days… complicated, but not necessarily bad.
“Hello… grandpa,” said Xander.
Quincy beamed at him and they both stood up. His wife squeezed Xander’s hand enthusiastically and Xander kissed her on the cheek.
“It’s good to meet you,” said Xander, wondering just what to call her.
“You may call me grandma if you like or you may call me Em,” she said. “It’s great to meet you. Titles don’t matter, my dear.”
“Does that mean I have to call you mom?” said House, coming up behind them.
“You may call me Emily,” said Emily. “I think your mother might have issues with me usurping her role.”
“That would be a sure bet,” said House. “It’s good to meet you, Emily.”
“Hello, Greg,” said Quincy. “Guess the cat’s out of the bag.”
“Oh, I figured it out before you did,” said House. “Glad you got with the program!”
“I’m a cautious man,” said Quincy. “Put it down to the nature of my work.”
“It’s a tenet of mine, actually,” said House.
“What’s that?” asked Emily.
“Everybody lies,” said House.
“That’s a dark worldview,” said Emily.
“It’s a dark world,” said House.
“It’s a wonderful world,” said Emily. “There are dark things in it.”
“I’m with you, Gram,” said Xander.
“Gram?” Emily said. “I like it.”
“Speaking of darkness, I hear you all helped close the case,” said Quincy. “Alice says her boss was very happy to get all those folks back to their families.”
“I’m glad we could do that,” said Xander. “Wish we could have saved more of them.”
“It sounds as if you saved quite a few people,” said Quincy. “I hear there were dozens of people at that place.”
“That’s true,” said Xander.
“And of course, the perpetrator isn’t out there killing any more,” said Quincy.
“Did Alice tell you we ended up in Ohio, going after him?”
“She said you left to go after him and that he’d been captured,” said Quincy.
“Well, you missed quite an exciting time,” said Xander. “Kind of depressing how horrible people can be…”
“You should probably Google ‘Alexander Farm’,” said House.
“Don’t need to. It’s been all over the papers. Didn’t know for sure, if it was the same case. You took down an entire sex trafficking racket. That is quite an accomplishment,” said Quincy.
“You were part of that?” asked Emily. “I have friends all over the country who’ve been telling me about the number of places that are being raided and put out of business because of that one operation.”
“Really?” asked Xander. “Haven’t been following the news. It’s been a very long week.”
“TV news? I haven’t even watched a single soap opera since Cameron and I came out to meet you,” said House.
“He likes General Hospital,” said Xander.
“You’re joking!” said Quincy.
“Nope. I really don’t get it,” said Xander.
“It’s relaxing. I like to see what they get right,” said House.
“Thought you’d say what they got wrong!” said Emily.
“That list is much too long,” said House.
“That’s a relief… It’s good to know you’re not patterning your treatments after them!” said Xander.
“I’m not delusional, Xander,” said House.
“You stick to that story!” said Xander.
“I can’t believe you let him speak to his father like that!” said House.
“Hmmm… I think I’ll play the role of wise old man and stay out of it!” said Quincy, laughing.
“Now I know where I get my wisdom from,” said Xander.
“Perhaps it skipped a generation,” said Quincy.
“Now you two are just picking on me,” said House.
“Someone has to!” said Xander. “Not that we could ever make you behave or anything.”
The two younger men continued to trade barbs back and forth, sounding sillier by the minute.
Quincy looked from one to the other and smiled. Ever since he and Emily had finally married, he’d been a very happy man, but one thing had been missing. Fatherhood was turning out nothing like he’d ever imagined it might be, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. His son and grandson, as quirky and unique as they had turned out to be, were the greatest gift of his old age.