Kansas was very… flat. Xander hadn’t realized how much so while flying over it at thirty thousand feet, nor while surrounded by the glass and steel canyons of Metropolis. It was very hard to miss, however, while driving between cornfields upon cornfields. There was nothing else visible except blue skies. He’d never realized how much the hills stand up on the horizon back in Sunnydale. There was always a slight feeling of being cradled between the hills and the ocean. Here… here it felt like the sky went on forever.
He drove through town, a little more small town, USA than he was used to, but not by too much. Definitely more pickup trucks. The welcome to Smallville sign was a bit funky, if less battered than the one for Sunnydale. Course, Spike probably hadn’t come around here to knock it over.
Actually, that was a funny image. Spike in Smallville. Xander eyed the lone coffee shop as he passed, and shook his head. Yeah, never happen.
Coffee sounded good, but he didn’t want to risk chickening out. Instead, he kept going through town and on down the local ‘highway’ towards the Kent farm. Heh, highway. Even the roads around Sunnydale were bigger that the country highways around Smallville. This whole trip was so surreal.
The directions Aunt Martha had included in her last letter were very clear and easy to follow. She’d also included a phone number, to call when, or if, he was in the area during his summer road trip. He should have called last night, or this morning, or even last week when he’d picked a date to show. But he had an urge to surprise her.
Okay, he had tried calling the day before. No need to lie to himself. But on one had been home and he’d chickened out on leaving a message. To be honest, he feared they wouldn’t like him, and didn’t want to pre-prejudice anything. Just because Grandfather William had taken him in with open arms didn’t mean his aunt would. Or her husband.
Okay, so maybe part of his problem was Uncle Jonathan. Grandfather William had been quite clear that Uncle Jonathan had more than a bit of a temper and was rather insular. Xander got enough of that from his father and didn’t really need another temperamental man in his life.
But he really did want a chance to get to know his aunt, his mother’s older sister. And he wanted to give her a chance.
With sweaty palms, he turned the wheel so the car glided onto the rutted road that ran under the big sign that said “Kent Organic Farms”. The barn at the end looked well used, there were even cows visible in the field beyond it. But the yellow farmhouse looked loved. Something about it reminded him of the Summer’s house, though he didn’t have a clue why. Still, pulling to a stop beside the battered and rusty truck, he had a feeling this just might work. Even if he did hear raised voices inside the house.
Stepping out onto the slightly muddy track, Xander was glad he’d worn his boots. He was also glad he’d worn jeans and an old shirt when he found himself bowled over five feet from the porch steps by a whirlwind as tall as he was.
The whirlwind squeaked and froze, looking down at Xander with anguished green eyes.
“Clark,” a panicked cry came from the house, and Xander looked away from his attacker to spot a blond man and a redheaded woman coming out of the house.
“Are you alright?” the blond man asked, proffering a hand and gently pulling Xander to his feet once he accepted the grip.
“Fine,” Xander said with a big grin. “One of the girls back home knocks me down all the time. I’m a bit of a klutz.” Of course, she was the vampire slayer and stronger than many demons. So whatever Clark was, Xander was in a position to know human might not be all of it. Still, his joke dropped the tension level by half.
“What are you doing here, young man?” the blond man asked, and there went the release of tension. Oh how Xander loved a good accusation. Not.
“Hi, sorry. I should have called. I’m Xander Harris.” He paused and took in the blank looks on all their faces. “Jessica’s son? From California?” The woman’s eyes finally lit up.
“Xander, welcome.” She stepped forward and, ignoring that he was definitely carrying a layer of mud and/or dirt down his whole back, pulled him into a firm hug. “I’m your Aunt Martha.” She held him firmly for several seconds before stepping back and turning to the blond man. “Jonathan, I told you I’d heard from my sister’s son. Xander, this is my husband, Jonathan, and my son, Clark.”
Clark still had a wary and panicked look in his eye, but offered a hand readily enough even when his father just stared. “You didn’t tell me I had a cousin,” Clark said, a bit accusatory.
“I just learned myself,” Martha said. “Well, I knew Jessica had married and had a child, but we haven’t been in touch in ages. Xander just contacted me recently. I’m so glad you could make it to Smallville.”
“It’s really nice to meet some of Mom’s family,” Xander admitted. “Dad’s isn’t… well, let’s say Dad’s family is much like him and leave it at that.”
“Well, we haven’t made the best start,” Martha said with a pointed look at Clark.
“Sorry about that,” Clark muttered, sounding a bit less than repentant.
Xander smiled. “Really, I hit the ground harder on a regular basis.” And trees, and headstones, and gothic crypts. “And since it never rains in California the ground is harder too.”
Martha looked at him, and seemed to see the mud this time. “Oh, this won’t do. We should get you changed. Do you have options?”
Xander waved at his car.
“Give Clark your keys. He can grab your bags while we get you set up.”
“What about the cows?” Clark asked dryly, but he held out his hand as prompted.
“Your father can get started and you can join him.” Martha was already nudging Xander towards the door, but he did catch a surprised look crossing Jonathan’s face. “It’ll give me time to get to know Xander, and we can all bond over dinner. You will stay with us for a few days, won’t you?”
There were protests behind him, but Xander had a feeling he’d met another Mrs. Summers. There was no use protesting, so he went along with the whirlwind.
The kitchen was the heart of the Kent home, and Aunt Martha was it’s queen. Sitting at the table on his slightly bruised ass, drinking hot chocolate that more than made up for skipping the coffee shop in town, Xander felt a moment’s peace.
“I admit I’m surprised Jessica kept my contact information,” Martha commented as she sliced apples for the pie she’d promised him for dessert.
“Umm, she didn’t,” Xander admitted. “I found Grandfather William’s information in a box in the basement. He told me about you.”
Martha frowned, but her hands never stopped moving. “You’ve met him?”
Xander nodded, tapping his fingers nervously on the side of his mug. “I called to tell him my car broke down and my plans for the summer were shot… He insisted on flying me out, rented me the car to come down here.”
“Not quite the life you’re used to?”
“I had some fun, but no. Very much not what I’m used to. It was very… intense.”
“The Metropolis night life is that.”
“So’s your father,” Xander admitted. “And yet… I had a rich girlfriend in high school. We had our ups and downs, and it didn’t end well. But once you got past the rich bitch surface, she’s a good person, has a good heart. You know? And while the money and the friends were a bit much, I got the same vibe from Grandfather William.”
Martha smiled. “I’m glad you could see that. My father can be very overwhelming. Jonathan could never get past the facade and the money.” They shared an eye roll.
Sipping his hot chocolate and watching Martha spread sliced apples into the pie crust, Xander considered his next words carefully. He could wait to ask, but he didn’t want there to be any sense he was there under false pretenses.
“Mom… Mom made kind of a shitty choice in husband,” Xander said softly, and while Martha kept spreading, her attention snapped sharply to him. It reminded him of Joyce whenever Buffy mentioned slaying offhand. “And I know Grandfather William worries. He admitted as much… I guess, well, he asked me to see if you were happy. And I guess I want to know. Did you make the right choice? Coming here? Leaving Metropolis?”
“You’ll tell him you asked, and what I say?”
Xander nodded, meeting her eyes. They were green, the same shade as his mother’s. He’d always wished he’d gotten her eyes. The only time they’d ever been that color was when they Hyena was surfacing, and that didn’t count.
“I made the right choice,” Martha said, touching his hand from across the table. “I love this life. And my husband. And my son. I’m sorry about the rift with my father… but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing if I could.”
Smiling, Xander tightened his fingers around hers for a moment. He’d so rarely seen his mother really happy, but when she was, she looked like Martha did now. “I’m glad,” he said. “And I’ll tell him that. I think I might even be able to make him believe it.”
The shared a laugh, and changed the subject to the differences between California and Kansas.