“Did you hear?” Chloe burst into the Torch’s newsroom, brandishing a newspaper in one hand. She snapped the paper open to the first page and slammed it onto the table in front of Clark, completely obscuring the biology homework he was trying to complete.
“Hear what?” he asked, his pen still poised over the space previously occupied by his notebook.
“Bruce Wayne is coming to Smallville,” Chloe said, tapping on a small headline in the bottom right-hand corner of the front page. “Can you believe it? How weird is that?”
Clark blinked up at her. “Bruce who?”
Chloe stared at him. “You’re kidding, right?” Clark shrugged, his face innocently clueless, and Chloe rolled her eyes and let out a long-suffering sigh. “Jeez, Clark. Don’t you ever read the gossip section?”
“Not really, no.”
“Then allow me to educate you.” Chloe grabbed the paper and opened it forcefully to the middle, then folded it and slammed it down once more, this time pointing at a small black and white photograph of an attractive teenage boy, clad in a suit and stepping out of a limo. “Bruce Wayne is a millionaire teenager from Gotham whose parents were killed in a shooting when he was young. He has a reputation as a playboy and a flake and apparently he’s taken the semester off to tour the country, simply because he can. And this week he’s in Smallville.”
Clark raised an eyebrow. “And this is news because…?”
“Because he’s famous, Clark! And I…“ Chloe grabbed the paper and folded it, slipping it under her arm with a triumphant smile. “… am going to get an interview.”
“Uh-huh.” Clark smiled and bent over his homework once more. “Good luck with that.”
“Speaking of luck… can you stop doing that and pay attention for a minute?” Chloe swiped his notebook out from under his hand. His pen left a long mark over the page, and he frowned at her in annoyance.
“Was that really necessary?”
“Yes.” Chloe set the notebook aside and leaned forward, all business. “Have you heard about the weird stuff going on around town lately? People have been having bad luck all over.”
“Weirder than usual?” Clark asked. “Remember, this is Smallville.”
“I know, but this is, like, super-supernatural stuff. Some people are already crying ghost.”
“Lots of things.” Chloe started ticking things off on her fingers. “Random valuables are being stolen from locked houses with no evidence of a break in. Pets are going missing, or simply going crazy. And more than a few witnesses claim that strange activity is going on in the old abandoned farmhouse off of Hickory Lane. Apparently they’re seeing shadows.”
“Yep. Ghosts.” Chloe wiggled her fingers and waggled her eyebrows.
“And you don’t think any of this has to do with the fact that it’s getting close to Halloween and people like to play pranks?”
“Huh.” Chloe sat back with a frown. “Never would’ve pegged you for a skeptic.”
Clark sighed. “You want to investigate, don’t you?”
“Fine.” Clark checked his watch. “I can be at the Hickory farm by eight tonight. Does that work?”
“Perfect. We’ll make a night of it.” She tossed his notebook back to him. “Thanks, Clark! See you later.”
- - -
Clark checked his watch, thanking his superhuman vision that he could make out the hands in the dim light of the late October evening. His breath curled in the air and he jammed his hands into his pockets to stave off the chill.
It was a quarter past eight, with still no sign of Chloe.
Clark glanced up at the Hickory farmhouse from his post beneath a gnarled, leafless oak tree in the lawn. The house loomed overhead, a dark and formidable silhouette against the hazy night sky. The moon glowed silver from behind a drifting cloud, casting long shadows across the craggy, unkempt lawn and illuminating the house's drooping eaves and shattered windows, framed with discolored lace and cobwebs.
“Boo!” Cold hands clamped around Clark’s waist and he jumped.
“Can't you just say 'hello' like a normal person?” he grumbled.
Chloe grinned. “Not when it’s only two days until Halloween and we're about to investigate a haunted house. Come on.” She tugged his arm, heading for the house. “Let’s go do some sleuthing.”
Clark allowed himself to be led, smiling slightly when he knew Chloe couldn’t see; he had planned on acting put out for as long as possible, despite the excited jitters running up and down his spine. Said jitters were becoming uncomfortably common whenever Chloe dragged him along on her adventures.
“Remind me again of why we’re here,” he said, glancing up at the looming house.
“Basically, people have been seeing ghosts and shadows moving in the windows. And there have been weird noises coming from the house, too, even though it’s supposedly abandoned.”
“And you’re hoping to find… what, exactly?”
Chloe paused just in front of the steps and turned back to raise her eyebrows at Clark. “The truth.”
“Right.” Clark gestured toward the door. “Lead on, oh great ghost hunter.”
Chloe stepped up to the front door and pulled out a small flashlight. She shined it on the rusted lock and pulled out a bobby pin, but paused before she began working on it.
“That’s odd,” she muttered, leaning closer to the lock.
“What is?” Clark peered over her shoulder, trying to see.
“Some of the rust around the lock has been scraped away,” Chloe said, rubbing a careful finger over the scratched metal. Slowly, she pushed on the door and it swung open with an ominous creak and surprisingly little resistance.
“Someone’s been here,” Clark said, keeping his voice low as Chloe aimed the thin beam of her flashlight into the hall.
“Or they’re still here.” Chloe turned to Clark, cocking an eyebrow. “Shall we see?”
“I’ll check it out. Stay here for a sec.” Clark pushed past her into the front hall, motioning for her to wait.
“Why do you get to go first?”
Clark grinned, teeth flashing bright in the moonlight. “Because I’m the invulnerable one.”
Chloe grumbled something noncommittal at that, but she did not put up a fight. Clark slipped quietly into the house, his gaze sweeping the dusty room. Gray-stained sheets covered most of the furniture, and everything else – floor included – was coated with a thick layer of dust. Clark looked down at the ground and saw shuffling tracks in the grime, leading further into the dark house.
“You’re right,” he whispered to Chloe. “Someone’s been here.”
“Then let’s go find them.” Chloe entered the room, the slim beam of her flashlight cutting through the darkness, illuminating dust motes and dangling cobwebs. The light reflected off an old tarnished mirror across the room and Chloe jumped slightly when she caught sight of their reflections, caught like spectres in the smeared glass. Clark caught her arm and she grumbled again, face flushed.
“Do you smell that?” Clark asked suddenly, catching a whiff of something from the room to their right. He edged toward the doorway and glanced inside. It had clearly been a living room at some point, complete with sheet-covered couches and a large grandfather clock with a cracked face. The coffee table had recently been wiped so clean that it shone, and what looked like a pentagram had been etched into the surface, surrounded by half-melted candles. In the middle of the pentagram was a heavy chalice full of what smelled like burned herbs.
“Chloe, come look at this,” Clark said, stepping over to the table and crouching beside it. A few papers covered in a barely legible scrawl were strewn over the table. Clark slid one towards himself, trying to read it as Chloe came up behind him, shining her flashlight over the pentagram.
“Holy crap,” she whispered, her eyes wide.
“Actually, I think this might be the opposite of ‘holy,’” Clark said. Chloe leaned over, reaching for one of the papers, but as soon as her fingers brushed it, Clark jerked to attention, his eyes on the far door.
“What is it?” Chloe asked, freezing.
“I heard something.” Clark got to his feet and moved toward the doorway, his stance wary. “Stay back. I’m going to see what it was.”
He paused near the doorway, peeking around the edge into what looked like a dining room. He scanned the room, watching for any movement, but it appeared empty. He stepped inside, and no sooner had he cleared the doorway than something blurred past him and a shockingly strong grip locked on his right arm, yanking it up behind his back at a painful angle. Before Clark even realized he was being attacked, he slammed into the wall face-first, pinned and quite thoroughly stunned.
“Who are you?” demanded a low, rough voice near his ear.
“Calm down,” Clark said, holding up his free hand. “I’m just a high school kid, looking around. I don’t mean any harm.”
“You shouldn’t be here,” said the voice, and Clark winced as his arm was twisted even further. “It could be dangerous.”
“I really think I’ll be fine.”
“What makes you so sure about that?” the voice growled, pressing him further against the wall.
“Maybe the fact that I have a taser, and I know how to use it?” Chloe stepped into the dining room, her taser pointed at Clark’s attacker with the little flashlight on top. She glared. “Let him go, or I hit you with 10,000 volts.”
Clark felt himself get released, and he turned to watch a dark figure step away from him, hands held up in surrender.
“Why are you here?” Chloe asked, following the figure with both flashlight and taser. The flashlight’s beam caught the figure’s chest and chin, and Clark realized with a flash of embarrassment that it was just another teenage boy, clad in a black hooded sweatshirt with a muffler wrapped around the lower half of his face. Light eyes gleamed in the shadows of the hood, and Clark shivered slightly; those eyes looked dangerous.
“I could ask you the same question,” the boy said, and the roughness was gone from his voice, leaving it a pleasantly low, smooth tenor.
Chloe narrowed her eyes. “Were you the one who performed that ritual?”
“No. I’m actually here to find the one who did,” the boy said.
Chloe lowered the taser and flashlight slightly. “So are we.” She paused, looking the boy over. “Did you hear about the hauntings, too?”
The boy crossed his arms, clearly annoyed. “Why else would I be here?”
“Who are you?” interjected Clark. “Why do you even care about this?”
The boy glanced at him sharply. “Why do you?” Clark just glared – two could play at intimidation – until the boy finally turned away. “I don’t have time for this,” he said. “Stay if you want, but don’t get in my way. I’m going to find the summoner.”
“Summoner?” Chloe asked.
“Who do you think drew that circle?” said the boy, quirking an eyebrow.
“Wait,” Chloe said, and the boy paused in the doorway. “Do you… do you want to work together?”
The boy looked over his shoulder. “… Why?”
“Yeah,” Clark said, fixing Chloe with a dark look. “Why?”
“We’re all here, we’re after the same thing, and you’re clearly competent, since you managed to get the jump on my friend here.” Chloe elbowed Clark in the side, and Clark made a face. “So… how about it?”
The boy said nothing for a minute, apparently thinking it over, then said, “Fine.”
“Great,” Clark grumbled. Chloe elbowed him again.
“So… what’s your name?” she asked.
“Do you really need one?”
Chloe frowned. “Well, what are we supposed to call you?”
The boy’s eyes crinkled as he smiled behind his muffler. “You could call me Sherlock.”
Clark snorted. “Sure. And that would make us Watson, right?”
The boy shrugged, his eyes still shining with mirth. “If you want.”
Clark glared, but before he could make a comment, something thudded loudly upstairs. Chloe jumped and snatched at Clark’s sleeve. All three of them looked at the ceiling.
“What was that?” Chloe hissed.
“It must be the demon,” said the boy, his eyes fixed on the warped wood above them.
“The – the what?” Chloe said, eyes going wide.
“The demon summoned during the ritual.” The boy dug in his pocket and pulled out a set of gleaming brass knuckles. He slipped them over his fingers with practiced ease, hefting his fists to check the weight. “It’s here in the house, and so is its master.”
“Very good, young one,” said a cackling rasp of a voice, and the trio rounded on the doorway to the living room. In it stood an old wisp of a man, his eyes rheumy and wall-eyed with blindness, his mouth agape in a lunatic grin. “This Halloween, you see, there will be blood,” he said, wringing his skeletal hands. “This Halloween, my demon will thrive.”
A shadow loomed behind him, too tall to be human, and Clark stepped forward, automatically placing himself between the demon and his companions.
“You summoned the demon?” he asked the old man.
“But why?” Chloe asked.
The old man’s grin widened and his head cocked to one side as he stared sightlessly at them. “Because, dear girl. I can.” He thrust out his hand with a whoop of manic laughter and the shadow rushed forward.
“Move!” yelled the boy, and Clark ducked out of the way just as claws much too solid to belong to a mere shadow raked through the air right over his head. He heard the other boy curse, followed by the dull thud of a punch meeting flesh. A pained, inhuman shriek filled the room and Clark whirled to watch as the other boy began pummeling the shadow creature into a corner, brass knuckles flashing, arms and legs lashing out with lithe strength.
“Dude,” Chloe whispered at Clark’s side, her eyes fixed on the fight. Clark set his jaw in displeasure.
“While you’re busy gawking, I’m going to grab the old guy,” he said.
“Good call,” Chloe said, and suddenly there was a small video camera in her hand, recording the battle between boy and demon. Clark rolled his eyes and glanced around for the old man, but he was nowhere to be seen. Clark was about to run into another room to look for him when the demon let out a triumphant screech and the boy yelled. An ominous crash followed, and Chloe screamed for Clark.
The shadow demon was hovering over the other boy, who had been tossed into a china cabinet across the room and was lying motionless in the wreckage.
“Hey!” Clark yelled, waving his arms to get the demon’s attention. Its featureless face turned in his direction, and Clark lunged for it, tackling it into the opposite wall and away from the stunned boy, who was just sitting up and shaking his head groggily.
The demon writhed in Clark’s grip and Clark managed to give it a few good punches before it hissed and dissolved, leaving Clark only punching the wall, with the result of a spider web of cracks and dislodged hunks of dusty plaster.
“That must have hurt,” the other boy said from where he stood near the ruined china cabinet. His hood had fallen and he held one hand against his dark hair, pulling it away periodically to check for blood.
“Yeah,” Clark said, shaking his fist with a feigned wince. “Ouch.”
“Did you break the skin?” the boy asked. He sounded surprisingly calm for someone who had just spent the past few minutes battling a shadow demon.
“Er, no,” Clark said, flexing his hand. “And I don’t think anything’s broken.”
The boy looked at him oddly. “Lucky break.”
“There’s no sign of the old guy or the demon,” Chloe said, and Clark noticed that she was just then reentering the room, slightly out of breath. “What do we do?”
“We dismiss the demon,” the boy said, stalking past her into the living room, where the papers still lay strewn over the coffee table. “It poses more of an immediate threat than that old man, and I trust he’ll show up if we get rid of his pet.” He picked up a handful of papers and moved into a small patch of moonlight to start flipping through them. It was only then that Clark realized that the boy’s muffler had been shredded away by shadowy talons, revealing the bottom half of his face.
Chloe gripped Clark’s sleeve, staring at the boy with wide eyes.
“… Bruce Wayne?” she asked, and the boy glanced over at them, his face expressionless.
“You know who I am,” he said dryly, then sighed, folding the papers and stuffing them into a pocket. He continued in a sotto voice, as though talking to himself. “I stop at the smallest po-dunk town I can think of, in the middle of freaking Kansas, and they still know who I am. Christ.”
“Sorry,” Chloe said. “It’s just… well, I didn’t expect to see you here of all places.” She gestured at the dilapidated farmhouse with a helpless smile.
The boy – Bruce Wayne, Clark corrected, silently memorizing his face, from the wolfish blue eyes to the dark hair and aristocratic features – returned the smile, albeit rather grimly.
“You and me both,” he said. “This was originally supposed to be just a stop on the road, but when I heard about the rumors of a haunted house…” He shrugged. “I figured I’d check it out. Couldn’t hurt, right?”
“So what are we doing about this?” Clark asked, eager to get back on topic; he was still watching the shadows for any trace of unnatural movement, convinced that the demon’s retreat had been all too easy.
“I’ll research the summoning spell and see if I can find a way to reverse it,” Bruce said.
“I can look into the pentagram,” Chloe added, stepping over to the table, camera in hand. She gave Bruce a meaningful look as she started recording the set-up, candles and chalice and all. “You did say we could work together, after all.”
Bruce looked rather nettled. “I know I did.”
“Should we reconvene sometime tomorrow for the dismissal, then?” Chloe asked. “Clark and I will be at school, but we could meet up after. I feel like we should take care of this demon as soon as possible.”
“That works for me,” Bruce said. He slid a hand into his pocket and produced a white card, blindingly bright in the moonlight. “My number’s on here. Give me a call if you need anything.” Then he nodded to them both and disappeared out the door.
Chloe was holding the card like it was a precious gemstone, her eyes sparkling.
“This is so cool,” she said. “Who would’ve thought Bruce Wayne was an amateur detective?”
“I don’t like him,” Clark said.
“Of course you don’t," Chloe said, putting the card carefully into her pocket. "He’s another dominant male, invading your territory. And he’s incredibly competent. That’s got to be annoying. But you two are going to have to quit your posturing for long enough to get rid of this demon, or we’re going to have a much larger problem on our hands than an alpha male pissing contest.”
“I am not posturing,” Clark said. “And I don’t have pissing contests.” But Chloe was not paying attention. She was making sure she captured the pentagram from every possible angle and with every single detail. Clark shoved his hands into his pockets and glared out the window. He knew he was being petty, but something about Bruce Wayne simply rubbed him the wrong way. He thought maybe it was the eyes. They were far too knowing, far too sharp. Or maybe it was the fact that he tried to hide his identity from them, or that he called Smallville a “po-dunk” town.
Whatever the reason, Clark was definitely not looking forward to seeing the boy again.
- - -
“Ma, I’m home.” Clark swung his backpack down from his shoulder as he entered the kitchen. Martha Kent was washing dishes, elbow deep in suds and warm water.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said over her shoulder. “A boy came looking for you about an hour ago. He told me to tell you to call Sherlock.”
Clark rolled his eyes to the ceiling, but he tried not to let his annoyance carry into his voice. “Did he leave a number?”
“On the table.”
Clark dropped his backpack into one of the kitchen chairs and picked up the business card lying on the table. The name had been blocked out with permanent marker, leaving only a finely printed number with a Gotham area code.
Martha walked over, wiping her hands on a towel.
“So how do you know Bruce Wayne?” she asked, calmly looking at the card over his shoulder.
Clark looked at her in surprise. “You knew who he was?”
“Oh, please.” Martha flicked the towel at him, making a face. “That poor boy’s photo is all over the tabloids. Did you really think I wouldn’t recognize him?”
Clark frowned down at the card. “I guess so,” he muttered.
“I spoke to him for a little while, you know. He was very polite,” Martha said. “You should invite him over for dinner tonight.”
“What?” Clark whirled, eyes wide. “Ma, no.”
“Clark Joseph Kent, that boy is traveling across the country with no family and no friends. The least we could do is show him some good old-fashioned Smallville hospitality.”
Clark slumped into a chair. “Yeah, right. And while we’re at it, why don’t I ask him to come over after dinner, during the trick or treating? We can, I don’t know…” Clark waved his hand. “Hand out candy together, or something.”
“That sounds wonderful.” Martha pointed at the card in Clark’s right hand. “Now call him.”
Clark looked up at his mother, his face carefully blank. “Ma, I was kidding.”
“I’m not,” Martha said, already turning back to the sink. “Call him. I’ll bake a pie.”
Clark rested his head in his hands. “This is going to be a disaster.”
- - -
A series of light knocks sounded on the front door around six o’clock, and Martha bustled Clark into the front hall so he could answer it. Clark heaved a deep sigh and took a moment to steel himself before swinging the door open.
Bruce Wayne stood on the front porch, looking decidedly uncomfortable. He wore a plain black jacket that probably cost about as much as the farm, and his hands were shoved in his pockets.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” Clark stepped aside, motioning for Bruce to enter, and the boy stepped past him into the warmly glowing hall.
“Dreading this?” he muttered as he passed, and Clark could not help a lopsided grin.
“You have no idea.”
Bruce grunted and slipped out of his jacket, revealing a collared charcoal gray shirt underneath. He handed his coat to Clark and stood awkwardly to the side as Clark hung the jacket in the closet.
“Bruce!” Martha Kent came into the hallway and clasped hands with Bruce, smiling brightly. “I’m so glad you could come for dinner. My husband is just washing up, and then we’ll eat. Please, come sit.”
“You have a lovely home, Mrs. Kent,” Bruce said, taking in the autumnal decorations with a smile. “Thank you very much for having me for dinner. I hope I’m not inconveniencing you.”
“Nonsense, dear,” Martha said, waving a hand. “It’s the least we could do.”
Clark stared at Bruce as the other boy continued to charm his mother. He was utterly baffled by how different this Bruce Wayne was from the one he had met the other night. He opened his mouth to make a comment about the change, but then Jonathan entered the kitchen and shook hands with Bruce and all attention turned to the meal.
Dinner passed surprisingly well. Bruce kept up an easy flow of conversation with Martha and Jonathan, telling amusing stories of his childhood in Gotham and his road trip across the States, on which he was apparently accompanied by his butler, Alfred. His stories were engaging and charismatically told, and even Clark – who had planned on staying as quiet as possible throughout the meal – was drawn into the conversation when talk turned to the Gotham Knights’ winning season and their upcoming series against Boston. By the time Martha rose from the table to serve the pumpkin pie, Clark found himself deep in a debate with Bruce over which ball club had more potential for the next season, Metropolis or Gotham.
“But Metropolis’ pitching is so much better!” Clark was saying, but Bruce shook his head.
“Pitching does not a ball club make,” he said sagely, and Jonathan let out an approving snort of laughter.
“Goodness, look at the time,” Martha said as she returned to the dining room with the steaming pie. “It’s nearly seven-thirty. The trick or treaters will be coming around soon. Would you boys mind eating your pie in the front room, so you can hand out candy while Jonathan and I tackle these dishes?”
Bruce got to his feet. “I can help with dishes if you want, Mrs. Kent.”
Martha just waved him away. “Nonsense. Handing out candy is enough of a chore. Now go get settled, and I’ll bring you your pie.”
Clark rose and led the way to the living room, where a fire was already crackling happily in the grate. A bowl full of candy sat ready on a table near the door. Bruce settled into the chair beside the candy, and Clark sat on the couch.
“That went better than I thought it would,” he admitted with a rueful smile.
“Of course it did,” said Bruce dryly. “I’m a wonderful person.”
Clark laughed. “Yeah, you’re a peach.”
Bruce grinned and leaned back in the chair. He looked toward the fire, his eyes suddenly turning sad. “Your parents are very kind.”
Clark glanced at him, feeling a pang of remorse when he remembered what Chloe had told him about Bruce Wayne’s parents. “Thanks,” he said. “I think they like you.”
Martha came in bearing two slices of pumpkin pie, then, and the conversation halted until she left once more. Bruce’s piece was a little bigger than Clark’s.
“Scratch that,” Clark said, indicating Bruce’s piece with his fork. “Now I know they like you.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Bruce said through a mouthful of pie. “This is delicious.”
They ate in silence for a moment, Clark chewing thoughtfully as he watched the fire dance in the grate.
“So… why’d you leave Gotham?” he asked finally.
“I haven’t left it forever,” Bruce said, absently poking at his pie. “I’ll be back in a month. I just needed to get away for a while, that’s all.”
“Was there a particular reason?”
Bruce glanced at him. “Nosy much?”
Clark shrugged. “It’s the reporter in me, I guess. Sorry.” He eyed Bruce closely, searching for any tells, but the boy’s face was a closed book. “So. Why leave?”
Bruce turned his gaze back to the fire. “I couldn’t be myself in Gotham. In fact, this is probably as close as I’ve been to my real self in… months. Maybe even years.”
“So that whole flaky playboy thing Chloe told me about. That’s all an act?”
Bruce shrugged. “Sometimes it pays to be underestimated. A good act can save a thousand secrets.”
Clark frowned, setting his empty plate on the coffee table. “But why? This you – the real you – is so…”
Another sharp glance. “Yes?”
“I don’t know.” Clark shrugged. “Normal. Maybe even fun. You know, when you’re not shoving me up against a wall and trying to break my arm.”
Bruce winced. “Right. Sorry about that.”
“So why not just be yourself all the time?”
“We have time.”
Bruce stood and set his plate beside Clark’s, then grabbed the candy bowl from the table and headed for the door. Through the front window, Clark could see a group of trick or treaters coming up the walk.
“I’m not so sure we do,” Bruce said with a grim smile, and then the doorbell rang and he tugged the front door open, his smile brightening instantly as he started exclaiming at the tiny princesses and clowns on the stoop. Clark watched him with a furrowed brow, wondering just how many different Bruce Waynes there were. By the time the last clown hopped away with a high-pitched thank you, the smile was gone from Bruce’s face and he again looked like the dangerous boy Clark had met the night before.
“Listen,” Bruce said. He set the bowl of candy back on the table and sat down again, this time hovering on the edge of his seat, his palms pressed together. “We should probably get down to business if we’re going to dismiss this demon tonight. The reason I came by earlier is because I found a dismissing spell that should work to get rid of it.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Clark asked. “You don’t look too pleased.”
“It’s a complicated spell,” Bruce said, his brow knitting. “And dangerous. It requires a very precise Latin incantation, as well as a larger replica of the pentagram from last night and…” Bruce cringed slightly. “Blood.”
“Quite a bit of it, actually. And that’s not even the worst part.”
“What’s the worst part?”
“If we use my blood for the ritual, the demon will try to possess me in order to stop the dismissal.”
“What–?” Clark shook his head, leaning forward on the couch. “No. No way. Who says we’re using your blood, anyway? I won’t let you risk yourself like that. I’ll do the ritual.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “You speak Latin?”
Clark flushed slightly. “No.”
“Well I do, thanks to years at a private school, and since we can’t afford any mistakes, I’ll be doing the incantation. Which means we need to use my blood.”
Clark sat back hard in the couch, arms crossed. “No. I’m not okay with you endangering yourself like this.”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Oh, and it would be so much better if you endangered yourself? That makes no sense, Clark. Either way, one of us has to perform the ritual, and since I have the qualifications we need, I’ll do it.”
Clark glared right back at him. “I don’t care how qualified you are. I can’t just let you–”
“Who says you have any choice in the matter?” Bruce snapped, then shook his head. “Look, your concern is… touching, but I’ll be okay, I promise. I won’t let it take me.” Bruce grinned wryly. “In case you haven’t noticed, I can be rather stubborn.”
Clark frowned and opened his mouth to argue further, but the doorbell rang and a chorus of tiny “Trick or Treats” sounded from the front door. Clark got to his feet and snatched the candy bowl from the side table.
“This conversation is far from over,” he growled, then stalked to the door and plastered a smile on his face for the kids.
The house phone rang while he was handing out candy, and Martha answered it in the kitchen.
“Hello? Oh yes, of course. Hold on a second.” She stepped into the front hall and handed the phone to Clark. “It’s Chloe.”
Clark closed the door after the last trick or treater and exchanged a meaningful glance with Bruce before taking the phone.
“Hey, Chloe. What’s up?” he said.
“I figured out the pentagram,” Chloe said, her voice bright with barely contained glee. “And Bruce sent me the incantation earlier today. I can get to the abandoned lot near Hickory Farm in about an hour so we can do the spell. Does that work for you?”
“You want to meet up in an hour?” Clark repeated aloud for Bruce, and the other boy nodded to show he was in. “Yeah, that works.”
“Great. Should I call Bruce?”
“Uh.” Clark glanced at Bruce, his cheeks reddening. “I can tell him. We’ll see you there.”
“You sure? I kind of got the impression you didn’t like him much.”
Clark’s cheeks darkened even further and he surreptitiously turned away from Bruce so the other boy would not notice. “He’s not so bad,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”
“If you say so,” Chloe said, still sounding skeptical. “I’ll see you in a bit, okay? Be ready.”
“I will. See you later.”
Clark set the phone on the table beside the candy bowl, then sat back down on the couch. Bruce was watching him, a small smile on his face.
“I’m not so bad?” he asked.
Clark fumbled in the candy bowl and chucked a Kit-Kat at him. “Shut-up.”
Bruce grinned and caught the candy with one hand, then started unwrapping it. “Seriously, though,” he said. “We’re meeting Chloe in an hour, right? Where?”
“An abandoned parking lot near Hickory Farm. Do you have what we need?”
“It’s in the car.” Bruce shoved the Kit-Kat into his mouth. He crumpled the wrapper and tossed it back at Clark. “Did you want to continue our argument over who gets to dismiss the demon?”
Clark scowled and looked down at his hands. “No,” he admitted grudgingly. “Your reasoning makes sense, as much as I hate to admit it. And I’ll feel better knowing I can protect you if need be, without having to worry about memorizing Latin.”
“That’s a good point. Do you have any weapons you can bring?”
Clark’s brow knit as he considered that. “I think there might be an old pitchfork or something in the shed. Why, do you think I’ll need it?”
Bruce quirked an eyebrow. “What else are you going to do, take on the demon with your bare hands?”
“I did yesterday.”
Bruce eyed him thoughtfully. “That’s right,” he said. “You did.”
Clark cleared his throat, eager to change the subject. He caught sight of another group of trick or treaters scurrying toward the front door.
“Your turn,” he said, handing the bowl to Bruce, who grinned and reached out to take it. Clark did not let go at first. He met Bruce’s eye with a serious expression. “You promise you won’t let the demon take you?”
Bruce’s grin vanished, and he gave a terse nod, his eyes shining. “I promise.”
After a moment, Clark let the bowl go.
- - -
The drive to the lot was a quiet one. Bruce’s knuckles were white where they clenched around the wheel, and Clark gripped his weapon – an old broken pitchfork scrounged from the back of the shed – tight across his lap. The moon gleamed bright between the tarnish on the iron prongs, and illuminated the night outside in an eerie argent glow.
“You have everything we need?” Clark asked for the third time since they had left, if only to break the silence.
Bruce flashed him an annoyed glance. “Yes.”
Clark jiggled his knee. His eyes unconsciously moved to the sheathed silver knife at Bruce’s side. “And have you, uh, practiced this before?”
“You mean have I practiced bleeding myself for a spell to dismiss a demon?” Bruce paused, apparently thinking about it, then smiled. “No. Can’t say I have.”
Clark scowled. “This isn’t funny.”
“You’re making it funny. Relax, Clark. This will work.”
Clark kept jiggling his knee and watched the silver-dark countryside speed past.
Chloe was waiting for them when they arrived. She crouched in the middle of a circle of papers, surrounded by a spilled box of sidewalk chalk and an old wooden bat. Clark could see the thick white lines of a large pentagram etched into the cracked cement of the lot, glowing dimly in the silvery moonlight.
“Pentagram’s done,” she said when they walked up, not even bothering to look away from her papers. “Bruce, why don’t you look over it to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong?”
Bruce set off around the circle with a curt nod, carefully avoiding the chalk lines, his eyes flicking around, looking for mistakes.
“You two seem to be getting along better,” Chloe whispered once Bruce was out of earshot.
“Ma invited him over for dinner,” Clark said, twirling the broken pitchfork in one hand. “And we talked. He’s… nice.”
“The circle looks good,” Bruce said, approaching them. “Ready to get started?”
Chloe exchanged a worried glance with Clark. “Bruce…” she said. “Are you sure you want to do this? I mean–”
“It’s fine.” Bruce stepped into the middle of the circle, just above the iron bucket Chloe had set up as an equivalent to the chalice full of burning herbs. He unsheathed the silver knife and rolled up his left sleeve. The blade gleamed as he set it to his skin.
“You don’t want to do that,” said a raspy voice. The old man was back, hunched over beneath a flickering streetlight across the lot, staring at them with his walleyed, rheumy gaze.
“I think we do,” Bruce said, tightening his grip on the knife’s hilt.
“Then my demon will have to kill you.” A shadow moved behind the old man, just beyond the edge of the streetlight. It loomed forward, obscuring the old man, and Clark stepped in between the demon and his companions.
“Do it!” he yelled. He looked away as Bruce sliced a deep gash into his forearm, but not quick enough to miss the flash of crimson and the way Bruce gritted his teeth against the pain. It made his stomach turn, but he had little time to dwell on it, because the shadow demon was approaching and the old man had vanished.
“Clark!” Chloe yelled, taking up her bat, and Clark leapt forward to tackle the demon. It slithered wraith-like from his grasp, passing just below him and swirling like oil on the ground and into the pentagram, aiming for Bruce.
“Find the old man!” Clark yelled, trying to grab after the demon, but it was too late. The shadow loomed over Bruce in the pentagram, tendrils curling around his neck, arms and legs. Bruce stood firm against the onslaught, his eyes closed, chanting the dismissing spell in a steady voice. His blood dripped steadily into the bucket, sizzling against the burning herbs. Clark turned away to grab his father’s pitchfork, but just as his fist closed around the worn wood, Bruce’s voice abruptly choked off. Clark whirled in time to watch a tendril of shadow twist tight around Bruce’s throat.
“No,” Clark hissed, taking a step toward him, but Chloe grabbed his arm.
“Leave him, he’ll be fine,” she said. “The demon can’t hurt him so long as he’s in the circle, and we need to take care of the old guy.”
Clark hesitated, looking back toward the circle. Bruce’s eyes had flown wide as the demon tightened its grip around his throat. It towered closer to him, trying to draw him in, and Clark wanted nothing more than to leap into the circle and tear the other boy out of the monster’s grip. Tendrils of shade roamed all over Bruce’s skin, congealed around his bleeding wound, and his hands suddenly fell slack at his sides as his head lolled back, eyes glazed and staring sightlessly at the bright moon up above.
Horrified, Clark pulled easily out of Chloe’s grip. “Bruce!” he called, but Bruce didn’t even twitch. “Bruce! Bruce! Damn it, Chloe, it’s possessing him! We have to help!”
Chloe’s mouth set in a grim line and she hefted her bat in one hand. “Fine. I’ll go after the demon, you grab Bruce.” With that, she sprinted for the circle, yelling and brandishing the bat. The demon wheeled toward her, fanged mouth spread wide, tendrils sharpening to talons.
Clark dropped the pitchfork and used the distraction to run for Bruce. He grabbed the other boy’s shoulders and started to shake him, rocking him in panicked jerks.
“Bruce, please!” he yelled. He gripped Bruce’s face tightly, trying to make those sightless blue eyes meet his own. “Come on, come back to us. Bruce!”
Unnerved by that blank stare, Clark hesitated only a moment before crushing Bruce to his chest. He brought his lips close to Bruce’s ear and began to whisper.
“I know you can hear me,” he hissed, almost shaking with desperation. He could hear the demon’s unearthly shrieks behind him, punctuated every so often by Chloe’s high yells. He felt shadowy tendrils sliding over his own impenetrable skin, searching for purchase, searching for Bruce. Clark curled himself tighter around the other boy, trying to keep him out of reach.
“Please, Bruce,” he whispered. “I’m here. I’m right here. You can fight this. I know you can. You promised me you wouldn’t let it take you, remember? You promised.” He clutched Bruce’s limp body tight. “Please come back. We need you. Remember that. Remember the spell.”
“Clark.” Bruce’ voice was low, slurred, but Clark grasped at it, urged him on.
“I’m here,” he said. “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. Do you remember the spell?”
“S-sanguine et umbra…”
Bruce suddenly writhed in Clark’s arms, his eyes wide, his mouth agape. The shadow demon, sensing the beginning of its dismissal, rounded on them, and Bruce went rigid in Clark’s grip. His eyes rolled up and he fell limp again.
“No!” Clark slammed his fist backward into the shadow demon and it screeched and reeled away. Clark clutched Bruce close. “Don’t let it win,” he said. “You can’t let it take you, okay? Not now. Not when we’re so close. Come on, Bruce.” Clark turned his head, let his lips press against soft dark hair. “Fight it. Come back.”
Shadowy talons tore at Clark’s shoulder, tearing through his jacket and sweatshirt to rake across invulnerable skin. One of the claws caught Bruce’s temple, drawing more bright blood, and Clark growled, infuriated that the demon had injured Bruce. Heat pooled behind his eyes and his vision slowly began to bleed crimson.
“You can’t have him!” he roared, rounding on the demon, and his eyes released fiery death, burning away the shadow demon’s very essence. It shrieked and writhed and Clark heard Bruce groan behind him, and then a surprisingly strong hand gripped his shoulder and Bruce’s voice spoke in his ear.
“… the hell?”
Clark clamped his eyes shut, horrified. Dread dropped leaden in his stomach, and he felt a sudden chill of panic.
“I – I can explain,” he stammered, but Bruce’s grip on his shoulder tightened.
“No time,” Bruce croaked. “Keep doing that. It’s helping.”
Clark hazarded a glance at the other boy and was relieved to see him looking peaky, but determined. His jaw was set and his ice-blue eyes, though sunken, glinted with defiance.
“Sure. Okay,” Clark said. “Just… stay behind me.”
He concentrated and unleashed another attack on the wounded demon. Scarlet beams burned away the creature’s shadowy flesh, and Clark could hear Bruce chanting the spell in his ear. He suddenly realized how close they were standing. He could feel the way Bruce trembled as he leaned against him, his fingers digging deep into Clark’s shoulder.
Then another voice joined in the chanting, and Clark felt Chloe come up on his other side. She was bleeding from a gash on her cheek, but her eyes were narrowed and fierce as she grabbed his arm, still holding the wooden bat with her other hand.
The demon’s shrieks grew deafening and it began to fade, burned away by Clark’s heat vision and worn down by the dismissing spell. It faded gradually, shadowy flecks of flesh detaching from its looming form and shriveling in the air, and then Bruce and Chloe reached a crescendo in the chant and the demon collapsed in on itself, charred and thrashing and sucking the darkness in like a vortex until nothing was left but a glowing pile of embers and soot floating in the breeze.
Bruce’s knees buckled and Clark caught him before he could hit the ground.
“That sucked,” Bruce gasped, smiling weakly as Clark carefully helped him stagger out of the circle. “What happened to the old man?”
“He got away,” said Chloe, making a face as she started digging through her bag. She pulled out some bandages and started wrapping Bruce’s sluggishly bleeding arm.
“Damn,” Bruce muttered, slurring slightly. “Was hoping we could question him.”
Clark glanced at him sharply; Bruce’s eyes were hazy and heavy-lidded with exhaustion.
“Another time, maybe,” Clark said. “We should get you home.”
Bruce nodded limply, and they started for the car, Clark half-dragging, half-carrying his companion. Clark got Bruce settled in the passenger seat of the car, then went back to help Chloe clean up the pentagram before setting off for the Kents’ farm. Clark kept a close eye on Bruce drowsing in the passenger seat as he drove. The other boy still looked pale, but his breathing was even and he appeared to be simply weary.
“So laser vision,” Bruce mumbled. “Is that a common thing in Smallville?”
Clark was silent for a moment. His hands clenched on the wheel. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Bruce chuckled weakly. “Oh, we’re playing that way, are we? Fine. I imagined it. I am, after all, very tired. Must’ve been my imagination.”
Clark looked over at him, smiling. “Thanks, Bruce.” He paused as they pulled onto the long drive leading to the farmhouse. “Look, why don’t you spend the night at my place? That way you don’t have to worry about getting all the way back into town. I don’t trust you driving like this.”
Bruce grinned, but his eyes stayed closed. “Clark Kent, are you proposing we have a sleepover?”
Clark opened his mouth to refute that, then huffed out a laugh. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I am.”
Bruce chuckled and turned his head to rest more comfortably against the leather seat. “All right, then. I’ll stay. But I need to call Alfred.”
Bruce was asleep by the time Clark parked the car outside the shed. Clark considered waking him, then decided to let him sleep. He moved to the passenger side of the car and easily lifted Bruce into his arms. He carried him into the house and, after a moment’s deliberation, settled him gently on the couch and draped an afghan over him. He palmed Bruce’s cell phone and searched the contacts for Alfred, then stepped over to the front window and pressed send.
A prim British voice answered. “Yes, Master Bruce?”
“Um. Is this Alfred?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“My name is Clark Kent. I’m a… a friend of Bruce’s.” Clark watched the sleeping boy in the dark reflection of the window and realized with a small smile that that friendship might not entirely be a lie.
“Are you, now?” Alfred said. “And where might Master Bruce be?”
“He’s fine, he’s just sleeping on my couch for the night. But he wanted me to let you know where he was so you wouldn't worry.”
“Ah. Thank you, Mister Kent. That is a relief. Please inform Master Bruce that I will be awaiting his return tomorrow morning.”
“I will. Good night.”
“Good night, sir.”
Clark hung up and placed the cell phone on the table near Bruce’s head. Bruce had turned onto his side, so Clark straightened the afghan around his shoulders, then headed upstairs to his own bed.
- - -
The next morning, Bruce was gone. Clark stood beside the empty couch and stared at the neatly folded afghan. A folded slip of paper rested on the blanket, addressed in slanted handwriting to Clark. Clark unfolded it and skimmed the short note.
“Clark – I’m sorry for leaving so early, and without saying good-bye. I hope we can meet again soon. I have some questions, of course, but don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. Keep in touch. You have my card. Sincerely, Sherlock. PS: Happy Halloween!”
Clark folded the paper with a smile. “Happy Halloween.”