It was Sheriff Adams herself who arrived ahead of another car, one Xander hoped very much held who he thought it did. The driver of the other car, a woman of middling height dressed in jeans and a respectable blouse, strode up to the farmhouse with confident strides.
Martha met them on the porch and all three women spoke for several minutes before Martha waved at the trio observing from the barn loft. Xander glanced at Clark at his left and Tina at his right. Clark looked curious but Tina looked angry and edgy.
“Shall we?” Xander prompted and herded the two down.
“Tina,” Sheriff Adams said, “I’ve got good news for you. This is your mother’s cousin.”
“Jackie Douglas,” the mystery woman said politely, her accent a bit less British than Giles but still clearly originating from outside the US. “I just heard about your mother. I’m so sorry.”
Tina remained mulish and silent but Xander stepped forward and offered his hand. “Xander Harris.”
“Xander,” she said, managing to sound utterly delighted. “Oh, I’m so glad to meet you. Cousin Rupert told me you’d found us. We thought I’d be the best guardian for Tina.” She turned back to Tina. “I just got a position with the Metropolis History Museum, so we can stay local and Tina won’t have to lose contact with her friends.”
“There’s more of you?” Sheriff Adams said hesitantly.
“Just a few of us,” Jackie said. “We’d only just made contact with Doris recently and Xander found out letters. I’d looked forward to getting to know Doris better but I’m so glad to be here for Tina. The foster system is better than orphanages, but whenever there’s a better option…” She smiled at Tina again. “For such a special, unique girl, family is a much better option.”
Tina looked at Xander with a frown. Xander leaned in and whispered in her ear, “She’s a watcher, like Giles back in Sunnydale.”
Tina looked back at Jackie, now with a hint of curiosity. “Medieval weaponry?”
“Want to learn how to build your own crossbow? I’m your girl,” Jackie said.
“I think that sounds… keen,” Tina said.
Xander made sure Tina had his cell phone number and Giles number and address. If anything went south with Jackie, or God forbid Jackie should die, Tina was to call for help. The forged papers would give Jackie legal custody, but Xander wanted to be sure Tina had a a backup plan. He and Giles were in agreement. Never another Faith.
“You sure you have to leave?” Jonathan asked over cider on the porch after dinner.
Xander had announced his departure for the next day just at dinner. Mabon had been three nights past. “Yeah. I’m already overdue. My friends will get worried if I don’t show up sometime soon, and it’ll take a few days to get back still.”
“So give them a call and stay.”
“The emphatic tone surprised Xander. He’d never quite been sure if his uncle liked him. “I’d like to… but Sunnydale is home. It’s getting time for me to go back.” If he didn’t go now, he’d get talked into staying through Halloween, and the possible apocalypse season would be starting any day.
“Well, we’ll miss you around here.”
“Really?” Xander couldn’t help the word slipping out.
“Really.” Jonathan clapped Xander on the shoulder. “You’re a good boy. I know you did something for Tina. And I’ve watched you with Clark. You’re a good friend for him. I hope you’ll stay in touch. With him and us. Martha has enjoyed having you here.”
“I’ve enjoyed being here.” Xander took a deep breath and savored the warm air with minimal car fumes. “You’ve got a good home. An amazing family.”
“Thank you. You’re welcome back any time.”
“I’d like that, sir.”
Jonathan chuckled. “No need to sir me, son. We’re family.”
“Do you have to go?” It was only the hundredth time Clark had asked, but this time Xander had his hand on his car door, the trunk packed with his luggage.
“You know I do, Clark. Buffy and Willow need me.”
“I need you too,” Clark said, tone sulky.
“You’ve got my number.” Xander added more softly, “And my address.” He nodded pointedly toward the road. “You know….”
Clark grinned, eyes lighting up. “Right. I’ll…. Write.”
“You do that, cuz.” Xander slapped the boy on the shoulder. He then gave Aunt Martha a big hug and was, surprisingly, drawn into another by Uncle Jonathan.
“You take care of yourself, son,” Jonathan said, following the hug with a handshake. A handshake with something in it.
“I will,” Xander said, trying to figure out what he’d just been passed.
“And stay in touch,” Martha said.
“I promise.” It was a wad of money. Xander started to protest, but Jonathan would have none of it.
“You’ve done good work here. Harvest will be better than last year. Family or not, you deserve that.” Jonathan then shoved Xander toward his car.
Oh it hurt to leave. These people were closer to him in one summer than his parents would ever be. But it was time to go home because Buffy and Willow were closer still.
Driving away, Xander kept looking in the rear view mirror. First to catch sight of everyone waving after him.Then to see the Kent farms sign above the corn fields. Then wondering if he was catching glimpses of Clark following him.
Damn, he was going to miss this place.