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One Wish, One Regret
Xanatos hacked loudly and Fox leaned in to stroke his now bald head. Sometimes it still amazed him how devoted she was. At the time, getting married had been just a whim- something to amuse them and play into a couple of schemes. He doubted either of them had really thought about what a lifetime of commitment meant. Certainly his father had doubted their sincerity. Yet thirty years later she was still by his side, a few wrinkles added but still as gorgeous as ever. The same could not be said for him
Cancer. Lung cancer, to be exact, despite his never having smoked a day in his life. His personal hypothesis was that he had breathed in too many fumes from his battle armor's jet pack, but none of the doctors could tell him for sure. All they could do was give him drugs to slow the spread and update the timetable. A year, six months, nine months, four weeks.
The thought caused him to shiver, and Fox pulled the blanket tight over him. "You're sure you couldn't find him?"
"The only doctor who might be able to solve this puzzle."
Fox frowned and pulled back slightly. "Sevarius? I told you, David, he's disappeared. If I'd backstabbed you, Demona, and Thailog, I'd do the same."
"Yes. So you've said- repeatedly." He heard something in his voice, something he'd tried to keep out of it-
"Are you saying you don't believe me?" Even in this situation, she could still have flares of temper. "David, I've searched everywhere for him. You know I'm not the type to sit at home crying when my family needs help. If he could be found, I would have found him."
"That's assuming you really want to find him."
"What does that mean? You know I'd do anything to help you."
"You told me I shouldn't look for him, remember? You said I couldn't trust what he'd do to me, that I'd end up a monster 'just like you.'"
"And I was probably right. As if your attempts at curing yourself with nanotechnology weren't disaster enough, you wanted to try gene splicing, too. Goliath tells me you asked him to help you mount an expedition to Avalon to find a Child of Oberon to help you. What's next- a golem, like my father? But I still did everything you asked; if you don't trust me, you can deal with this on your own." She turned on her heel and stomped towards the door-
"Wait!" She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Oh, darling, please- I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I just-" He suddenly had trouble finding the words- he, the man with the silver tongue, reduced to senseless gibbering.
"It's okay," she said softly, crossing back to him. "You're scared, I know." He opened his mouth to argue, but she put a finger over his lips. "You don't have to play the unflappable titan of industry with me, dear. You're scared of what's going to happen soon, but you don't have to face it alone. I'm here for you."
"What about Alex?"
"Alex is flying back from London- he was part of the UN envoy to Knight's Spur, remember?"
Xanatos laughed softly, trying not to set off another coughing spell. "Yes, my boy building peace between the species. The apple falls pretty far from the tree, eh?"
"Nonsense, David. Your boy adores you. You made him who he is- you and me together."
"I helped, but we both know you did most of the raising. You and Owen, that is. Where is dear Robin Goodfellow, anyway?"
"He's over in the office, meeting with a couple of your managers. I can call him if you like?"
"Please- I need to talk to him." Fox punched a call button on the wall that would page David's faithful assistant. Within three minutes he was there- remarkable time to get all the way across the castle.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Xanatos?" Xanatos had noticed that Owen had started to age. He never had until recently, but his training sessions with Alex were getting more and more infrequent. Xanatos suspected he got used to aging and forgot to "reset" himself after becoming Puck. It was probably for the best if they wanted to avoid suspicion about Xanatos's immortal aide. He looked over at Owen, then at Fox, trying to say what he needed to say politely.
"I need to take a trip to the little girls' room," Fox said. Bless her. She'd joked about being jealous of Owen, but in the end she respected David's relationship with the other man. The door closed and the two were left alone.
"Help me to the window, please, Owen."
"Of course, sir." He put his stone arm under Xanatos's back to brace him as he helped him into his wheelchair. Owen pushed him over to the window, trailing an IV bag and a breathing tube. The two looked out the window, not saying anything for a moment, just taking in the Manhattan sunrise. The doctors said the cold air was bad for his lungs, but he liked the winter smells too much to listen.
"Look at it," Xanatos said, waving a hand at the city. "My empire. You know how much it's worth?"
"Well, based on today's market conditions, your total gross holdings are approximately-"
"Nothing." The word hung in the air for a moment. "It's nothing, because soon I have to go away, and I know I can't take it with me."
"I see, sir. May I say that your creations will far outlast your time on this Earth? Certainly your technological innovations and your archaeological discoveries were highly influential, as were your recent philanthropic acts."
"Desperate flailing by an old man looking for a legacy." They stared out the window, watching seagulls fly by. He wished it were night- he much preferred the sight of gargoyles passing his window. "You know you're my best friend, right, Owen?"
"I know I've never said that before, but really, aside from Fox and Alex, who understands me as well? We've been through more than most people have ever dreamed of together. The ironic thing is that a lot of it was to avoid this very eventuality."
"I fail to see the humor in that sentiment."
"The humor, old friend, is that without you this might not be happening at all."
"Ah. Yes, I had thought of that, sir. If only you had chosen differently all those years ago."
"Would it have mattered? You and I both know it's not in The Puck's nature to grant a fair wish. Maybe I'd have ended up like your fist there."
"I… don't know, sir. It's hard to say what Puck would have done at that time. He was a different person then, as was I." Owen turned his head down and wiped his glasses on a handkerchief. Really, it was just like Owen to be the only person he knew who still carried a handkerchief. "If I could do something now, I probably would, but it's too late. I've thought it over every way I could, and there's no way saving you can be construed as protecting or educating Alexander. Maybe if this had happened decades ago, but your son is a grown man. He'll carry on and have a good life without you."
Xanatos chuckled. "Is it possible to feel proud and neglected at the same time?"
"My observation suggests it is in fact quite common."
"He has grown up strong, hasn't he? I know I wasn't much of a father to him. What child needs someone like me as a role model?"
"You did an excellent job raising Alexander, sir. Courage, tenacity, intelligence- all those things, he gets from you. And, if I may say, you have become a far more compassionate and happier person from knowing him."
"I've learned as much from him as he has from me, no doubt. And I've picked up a few lessons from others, too. Hudson had my number years ago. I didn't want to tell Fox, but he was right. This terrifies me. Do you think the old codger will be waiting for me when I get there?"
"I couldn't tell you, sir."
"Really, none of your Third Race buddies know? Anubis never let slip the secrets of the next world?"
"Anubis escorts people to the other side, but if he knows what's waiting for them there, he never told any of us."
"So, I have to go it alone. For all my wealth and wit, I'm stuck here the same as everyone else."
"Do you- do you regret it, sir? Do you wish you had taken the wish when you had the chance?"
Xanatos was quiet for a long minute, breathing in the cold morning air. "Of course, the other side of the coin is that, without you, I wouldn't even have a son. He'd be with Oberon right now and we'd have never known one another. And when I put that on the scale- thirty years with my son, versus hundreds without? No contest."
"I see, sir." Owen stood quietly for a moment, and Xanatos almost thought he saw a tear in the other's eye. "Alexander should be here within the hour. I need to prepare for his arrival."
Owen left the room quietly, and Xanatos was left alone, peering out the window. Today was going to be a good day.