Two weeks before the Saturday scheduled for the Summers-Grant wedding, the rest of Alan's friends started descending on Missoula, Montana.
Buffy had met the inimitable Billy Brennan, of course, Alan's former protégé and now a doctor of paleontology in his own right. They still worked together on the dig out at Fort Peck Lake, so she'd seen a lot of him over the two summers since she'd met him, and he'd practically haunted Alan's office between Alan's occasional teaching hours his last term at the university as well. He had lots of fun stories to tell about Alan's curmudgeonly phase, and had offered his bemused support to their relationship since its cautious beginnings.
She'd met Ellie Sattler-Degler, too, Alan's old partner. Once they'd found a patch of common ground to work from-- not a simple task, given their generational and educational differences-- they'd formed a fast friendship as well. Ellie understood just as well as Billy and Alan what it was like to claw and scrape for your own survival against creatures that viewed you as tasty snack food; but unlike the boys, she'd also fought for and won the right to a normal life afterward. Husband, children, and a publishing career: Buffy could talk to her about things she'd never bring up with anyone else.
The others Alan had met on the isles of Las Cinco Muertes had scattered far and wide, though, and kept in contact mostly by phone and letter. Alan had assured her they would like her as well as Billy and Ellie did, but there was a part of her that was still on tenterhooks, aware of the way most people reacted to their relationship and wary of inspiring the same disdain in people whose opinion Alan cared about.
Like the mathematician knocking on the door of Alan's office late that Friday afternoon. Buffy sat up hastily, jerking her boots off Alan's desk and quickly closing the textbook for her Multicultural Psychology course to hide the lavender and lime highlighting she'd been doing in her review for the final.
"Come in!" she called. "Alan's not in right now, but he should be back from his class any minute."
A dark-haired guy dressed all in monochrome from black shoes to sunglasses opened the door at her summons and gave her a curious look. "Hey. Are you the new assistant? I know Brennan got his doctorate last year, but I haven't had a chance to visit since before his graduation."
Buffy smiled tightly at him, then waved her left hand, the subdued sparkle of her garnet engagement ring catching the light as she set down the book and got to her feet. "Assistant isn't quite the right word," she said, extending her other hand to shake. "And of course, you're Dr. Malcolm."
"Ian, please," he replied, automatically turning on the charm as removed his sunglasses and clasped Buffy's hand. "I do apologize; I should have recognized you from the picture, but you just seem so...."
"...Much younger in person? Especially dressed like a student?" Buffy let herself laugh, a little. "That's not the first time I've heard that."
Buffy Summers, the Cali girl usually dressed as stylishly as she could afford with perfect hair and tall-heeled shoes, hadn't made much of an appearance in Montana aside from their first few dates and their engagement pictures. She still shopped out of Alan's price range and accessorized to her heart's content, but her old favorite fashions just weren't practical when Alan spent so much time out in the dust and wind. Plus, she liked the way his eyes warmed when he saw her in practical cottons, denims, and leathers.
Particularly the leathers. Especially when he peeled her out of them afterward.
"I was going to say, genuine," Dr. Malcolm replied, smirking as he let go: it had been a firm handshake, but not too firm, which Buffy tentatively took as a good sign.
"Is this where you tell me I'm obviously an ambitious little princess after him for his money and/or fame, and that you're going to advise him to iron out a prenup if he hasn't already?" she replied, lightly.
He smirked at that. "First of all, he doesn't have enough money to tempt an ambitious little princess, or he'd never have agreed to overfly Sorna a few years back, which you would know given how long you've been dating him; and secondly-- hell, no. You may be young enough to be his daughter, but you're old enough to drink, and who am I to throw stones? Besides, he's not the fickle type, so he's not likely to have to worry about settlements if you're not playing him. Although, if you are willing to be persuaded away, I am still in the market for a new ex-Mrs. Malcolm...."
He trailed off with a suggestive wink and an unselfconscious, barely there touch to her arm, just enough flirtation paired with a complete lack of pushiness easily conveying his intent to tease. It was no wonder he and Alan had such a tumultuous friendship; she knew Alan was fond of him, in that guy-type way they camouflaged as 'grudging respect', and it seemed clear Dr. Malcolm returned the sentiment, but their personalities were like mayonnaise and Miracle Whip.
"Do you make Alan sputter with ridiculous comments like that?" she said, smiling more warmly at him now. "I bet he sputters; that'll be fun to watch. Ooh; and I should get Sarah Harding's number from him and report a dirty old man sighting. Haven't made an honest woman of her yet, I see."
"Ah, and a sense of humor in addition to beauty, charm, and loyalty," he said, eyes sparkling, then eyed her up and down again and glanced over toward the desk. "And you even bring the student-teacher fantasy factor to the relationship; I can clearly see his interest here. But come on. You know I've got to ask. How the hell did he catch you?"
"And what makes you think I wasn't the one who caught him?" she asked, laughing at the clear disbelief he telegraphed back with his eyebrows. Then she mimed a shiver and a dreamy-eyed expression. "He's just so... ruggedly handsome, don't you think?"
He chuckled. "Touché. Clearly, the next time someone expresses skepticism about chaos theory in my presence, I'll just have to introduce them to the pair of you, and fait accompli."
"You'll do no such thing," a warm, familiar voice broke in from the doorway.
"Alan!" Buffy lit up, bounding past Dr. Malcolm to tilt her face up for a kiss. "Lecture ran late?"
"Just the question and answer portion, as usual, my dear," her fiancé replied, ruefully. Then he nodded to his friend, grinning. "Ian. I'd say it's good to see you, but I see you've been terrorizing my wife-to-be in my absence?"
"Hardly terrorizing," Dr. Malcolm snorted, extending a hand for an armclasp of greeting. "What was it you used to say about Ellie? She's tenacious? Dr. Grant, I do believe you have a type."
"That I do," Alan admitted, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he looked down at her. There was a lot of warmth in that gaze, and a lingering wonder, too; she'd first seen that look out at the dig when she'd arrived at Giles' request to check whether the skeletons Dr. Grant was digging up belonged to demons, and it had caught at her spirit; made her want to feel the same joy he did in his work.
She hadn't quite expected to inspire it toward her in turn, but she was thankful every day for the circumstances of their meeting.
"That right there," Buffy breathed. "Ian? You wanted to know how he caught me? That look, right there, is what did it."
"Ah, romance," their visitor sighed, clasping a dramatic hand to his breast. "Alan, you're a lucky man."
"Don't I know it," Alan replied, smugly, then tilted his head at his friend. "You're earlier than I expected. Check into your hotel yet?"
"Yep. So how about I treat you and the Mrs. Grant-to-be to dinner? You can be sickening at each other some more, and I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures for later blackmail."
"With an offer like that, how can we refuse?" Buffy grinned.
Now if only the rest of the introductions went half so well, she'd be content.