It started with a series of tremors in Los Angeles.
"All those poor people," Martha Kent gasped as the news anchor read off a death toll. Her husband Jonathan turned from the ongoing tragedy to find their adopted son sitting on the staircase, watching the screen with a far off frown.
"Clark, there's nothing you can do."
The boy was silent long enough for Jonathan to wonder if he'd been heard at all. Then Clark suddenly stood and stomped back up the stairs.
"I know, dad." He called back.
Later that night, fire rained from the L.A. sky. The news called it a "freak micro meteor shower". Some tiny cloud of space dust that had evaded telemetry.
Too small for detection, yet large enough to survive reentry and devastate the city? Unlikely.
"Clark... this has nothing to do with you." his father began. He knew his son too well and Clark struggled to keep the heat from his voice.
"No, just a freak meteor shower that kills hundreds of people. Nothing to do with me at all."
"Strange things happen, son. Not all of them have to do with you."
Clark knew that too, he'd made extensive searches of the abnormal in his attempt to understand himself...before learning he was actually an alien. Still, the parallels were too close for comfort. More important even than that;
"People are dying, dad." Clark all but whispered. Jonathan's tension eased out with a sigh. He placed a hand on his son's shoulder and responded almost as softly.
"I know, Clark but people are dying everywhere all the time. Are you going to be there for all of them, save them all?"
"So I, what, do nothing?" Clark shot back.
"No, not nothing. Do what everyone else does, just work your own corner. It's all we can do, we're-..." Jonathan paused painfully at his own carelessness.
"We're not gods, Clark. No one can do everything, not even you."
From the look in his son's eyes, Jonathan was sure the boy guessed at the actual words he had almost said.
"We're only human..."
A few days later, Jonathan came into the kitchen to find Martha standing rapt before the little countertop television.
"Have you seen Clark? There's something wrong with the truck and I need his help fixing it."
Martha said nothing. She simply handed him a ball of paper she held crumpled in her fist. Jonathan took it and unfolded it in confusion. It was a sheet of ruled paper, edges feathered from where it had been torn from a notebook. It held one word in blue ink printed neatly in the center, large enough to catch the eye but still within the margins.
Jonathan looked to his wife, her gaze still fixed on the television. He turned to see just what, exactly, was so damn important when their son was missing. He caught the tail end of an anchor's report.
"Meteorologists still baffled by the complete darkness that enveloped the Los Angeles sky, though some have suggested unusual sunspot activity may be to blame. Law enforcement entities are urging people to stay indoors-"
"I'm going after him!" Jonathan growled as he strode to the door, one hand already reaching for the keys in his pocket when sudden realization stopped him dead. The truck wasn't working. The son knew his father well too.
In a helpless anger fueled by worry, Jonathan threw his useless keys across the living room. Martha put a hand on his shoulder and Jonathan stubbornly struggled to hold on to his anger, but when she leaned her head against him he could only turn and pull her into a desperate embrace.
They stood like that until Martha judged her husband would listen to reason.
"You can't go after him."
"The hell I can't!" He snapped, but it was mostly for show, he had always valued Martha's insight. The fight was leaving him.
"He made his decision, and he doesn't want us to follow. He wouldn't have disabled the truck if this weren't important to him. We always knew something like this might happen. Someone as powerful as Clark could never stay on our little farm forever, and we've raised him to always try and follow his heart. He has far too much compassion to just let it go."
Jonathan sighed, angry still, but the anger now of impotence, of a father who can no longer protect his son.
"He's only 16..." he whispered into his wife's ear.
"I know, I'm worried too, so worried I feel ill, but nothing good will come from trying to control him."
They held each other still amid a vortex of fear, sorrow and resignation, thinking of the lonely little boy who had only ever wanted to do the right thing.
"He's still grounded when he gets back."
"Grounded like a lightning rod."
Clark had made good time from Smallville to L.A., though he had never pushed his speed so hard for so long before and for a while he feared he wouldn't make it.
He had never seen anything so frightening. Just outside the city limits, the sky was clear and bright. Then as he turned toward the city he saw a disk of pure darkness, like someone had cut a piece out of the heavens.
Well, now or never.
Clark walked into the darkness.
The first few days were normal, or normal as one could expect from a city gone perpetually dark. There were numerous accidents and a sudden swell in crime. Clark helped where he could, using his powers to avoid detection when able and simply trying to seem as human as possible otherwise.
The game changed when he met his first vampire. There hadn't been much else to call it. He had found it assaulting a young woman, and when he confronted it, it revealed a horrifying visage. Its face was warped, face muscles bunched about the forehead, sickly yellow eyes and protruding fangs.
Clark had been too shocked to do anything other than pummel it into submission, his standard operating procedure for common crooks until now. He left it lying on the street and walked away in a daze.
Well, Dad, looks like you were right. It seems there are weird things in this world that have nothing to do with me.
Vampires became more prevalent and law enforcement more scarce as time dragged on. Not too long after their first meeting, Clark ran into the same vampire from before standing over the body of a child. When it saw him, it sneered.
"Hey now, seems the Neighborhood Watch is back. Sorry, Slugger you were too late for this one...or the dozen I've had since you let me off."
The words barely registered, Clark was still staring at the dead child.
"Why?" He croaked. The vampire laughed at him.
"Cause I'm a vampire, stupid! I gotta eat! More than that, its just fun! The way they follow you with a few sweet words, knowing you're dangerous, half wanting it. The way the scream like they weren't asking for it. The sweetness of terror in their blood. There's no feeling like it."
The vampire swaggered up to him, fanged face inches from Clark's own, mouth still stained and stinking with the blood of a young girl.
"I'm gonna live forever, Hero. I'm gonna be infamous, rack up a body count that'll make William the Bloody and Angelus himself look like a coupla pansies. I'm gonna..."
The vampire quickly backpedaled when Clark's eyes began to burn red.
A flash of red light and nothing remained of the vampire but a swirl of dust and bubbling asphalt. Clark stood in that street, silent for a moment more. Then he screamed.
He screamed for what he'd done.
He screamed for what he hadn't done, and for the dozens who had suffered and died because of it.
He screamed for what he knew he would still need to do.
Clark dropped to his knees before the young child's prone form and fought back an exhausted sob. He lost his sense of time, the sound of a far off car alarm and what may have been a scream shaking him back to alertness.
He felt ill when he got to his feet. He felt like something inside him had gone cold. Clark had touched something dark in himself, and he feared that if things continued, that dark part would grow.
He did the only thing he could, he marched on.
Clark learned more over the next few days. Through trial and error he discovered vampires could only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart, fire or decapitation.
Vampires were also hardly the only thing on the move. Beings of all shapes and sizes were crawling out of the woodwork.
"Demon" was their general label, though their variety seemed almost infinite.
At first, Clark unleashed on them with all his might. He devastated ranks of demons with Heat Vision and darted all over the city at tremendous speeds.
But he quickly learned it wasn't something he could sustain. His power was draining from him more rapidly than ever before, and it didn't seem to be recovering nearly as fast as it used to.
Clark cursed how little he knew about his own powers more in those dark L.A. days than he ever had before.
He had to take things much more slowly, and he engaged more and more in hand to hand combat. Heat Vision and Super Speed were the biggest drains on his power.
What scared him more than his growing weakness was how much more havoc was beyond his reach at his new pace. He tried to hold on to his father's words.
Just work your corner.
He probably would have gone crazy, but it wasn't all darkness all the time. He saved people more than he killed monsters, and that kept him going through the bloody fights he couldn't help but get better at.
He wasn't the only one fighting them either. Lots of the worse neighborhoods had groups of youths who banded together to protect themselves. Clark made sure to keep himself to the level of a skilled human around such groups. They tended to be tight knit and attacked anything that seemed even remotely inhuman with extreme prejudice.
"Human good, not human bad" was their general assumption. Something Clark learned wasn't actually true, even applied to demons.
One night he had taken down a gang of vampires and turned to see s spiny faced creature staring at him evenly. It took a long drag of a cigarette but did little else. When Clark decided it wasn't going to attack, he approached it.
"So..." the demon began "you're him then, the Red Death?"
Clark made a face. He hated that name. Some demons escaped him from time to time, and it wasn't long before the name got around. He wasn't sure if it came from his red jacket or the way his eyes glowed when using Heat Vision. It was probably a little of both.
The name projected terror and destruction, everything Clark hated. Still, the name had it's uses. Demons tended to steer clear of places where "The Red Death" had been sighted.
"So they call me." Clark said. The demon nodded.
"Keep up the good work."
Clark's confusion must have shown on his face because the demon laughed.
"We're not all evil you know. Lots of us just wanna get by like everyone else. The bad ones do tend be the absolute worst though."
The demon signed as it looked Clark over again, seeing now his truly ragged appearance.
"I've got kids your age...it ain't right that you should be here, doing this. I guess someone has to though. We're counting on you, son. Thanks for all you're doing."
Clark just nodded and left. He didn't know what else to do.
News traveled fast in the underworld, and Clark heard a lot from demons he questioned. Apparently some super vampire called Angelus was loose and a Slayer was in town. A Slayer, he was told, was part of a long line of young woman who were gifted with supernatural powers used to fight demons. Before Clark had shown up, it was the scariest thing a creature of the night could face.
Most important of all, Clark found out about the Beast. There was a lot of speculation about what exactly had caused the blackout, but the majority consensus was that it was a big, bad demon with rock-like skin, cloven hooves, and twisted horns. They called it the Beast.
Clark was certain that it was the enemy he needed to defeat to end the nightmare, and he'd finally found it.
Clark was all but stalking forward. It was an old abandon loading dock. Someone had put up an enormous sign, a message cut into a tarp that read "Hello Faith". Clark didn't have the patience for it, he could see clearly. Two vampires were fighting one human not too far away, and in the warehouse were another human, another vampire, and the Beast.
The rumors hadn't been exaggerated. This thing was a Demon with a capital "D". Its body was black and stoney, like cooled lava. It had cloven hooves and great black horns on its head. It was currently beating the tar out of the young human woman, who moved with a strength and speed no human could have. That would be the Slayer then.
"Hey now, looky here. Looks like we got another wanna be hero trying to spoil Angelus' fun!"
It took Clark a minute to realize that one of the two watchdog vampires outside the building was speaking to him. The duo had disengaged the human they'd been tag-teaming, moving back to redress the new odds.
Like I have the time.
The furious heat answered his call with the smallest of urgings, his eyes igniting with the barely restrained fire. The vampires went pale, an impressive feat for vampires.
"Holy crap...its him! It's the Red Death!"
I really hate that name.
They turned to one another, then they turned and ran. They made it five feet before twin blasts of light scorched them from existence.
There was black on the edges of Clark's vision for a few seconds after the blast. He was more tired than he had ever been, these long days of endless struggle beneath a sunless sky had drained him to his limit. Every step felt like the end of his endurance, and this Beast was powerful in a way nothing he had ever faced was. He knew this was a fight he might not escape from, let alone win.
The human scrambled out of his way, coming up in a defensive stance, weapon in hand. Clark walked right past him without so much as turning his head. He only had eyes for the Beast.
He thought of everything he had seen before now, the fear and the death,families and homes destroyed, lives taken and ruined for demon sport and hunger.
"This ends." Clark growled in a voice he would never have recognized as his own.
Faith was down. She struggled and denied and searched for anything resembling a second wind.
Though, fifth wind might be more accurate. Doesn't even need to be a proper wind, really I'd settle for a second raspberry at this point.
The Beast had stopped pummeling her and now loomed, no doubt savoring her final moments along with Angelus Way-too-pleased-with-himself.
"This...is all you are?" Its voice was a low, deep drawl.
Faith tried to think of friends and loved ones and the innocent and all the other things she had always assumed Buffy used to motivate herself in times of crisis. What she discovered was that Angel was the closest thing to a friend she could come up with, she had no living loved ones, and she didn't really care about the innocent.
Guess that whole "turning over a new leaf" thing is a game of increments.
"I had heard the Slayer possessed great strength, but there's no real power here."
Oh god...is he monologuing?
"My master's power is beyond all limits, beyond your petty imagining."
Please, someone put me out of my misery. This is just cruelty.
"You are weak...you're nothing."
I should have had more sex...
Suddenly the shutter door came up with such force that it nearly came off its belt. All eyes turned to the figure in the doorway with the blazing red eyes.
"You're the Beast." Clark said.
The Beast turned slowly and regarded him with crimson eyes of its own.
"Hey, kid what the hell are you doing here? Get out!" The Slayer managed to scream before the blood pooled in her lungs reduced her to a fit of coughing."
"Well now," the vampire chimed, grinning "looks like we have a special guest appearance from...a previously unintroduced character! God, don't you just hate it when a show brings in a new guy at a pivotal moment in an attempt to trick us into thinking they're important?"
Clark ignored them both. He breathed deep to steady himself and addressed the Beast.
"You're responsible for all of this. All this death, all this destruction!"
The longer I stay in this dark city, the weaker I get. Better hit him hard and fast.
The Beast's only response was an arrogant sneer.
"Why?" Clark demanded, his voice harsh and choked with sadness and fury.
Again the Beast answered in the non verbal, with a long, low chuckle.
Clark had seen all he needed to see, asked all he needed to ask. He turned up his speed, pushing past the burning fatigue in every fiber of his being and blurring across the space between him and his target almost instantly, delivering a stone crushing blow to the Beast.
The creature was launched into the air and through several storage crates. Clark winced and looked down at his cracked and bloody knuckle. It hurt to make a fist, something had either been broken or was in the process of breaking. He ignored it, balling his hands back into fists as the Beast leapt back upright. It roared at Clark,and he could see the rock-like hide had fractured and crumbled where he'd struck it.
Now I have Its attention.
The Beast charged forward, but while it may have been phenomenally tough and strong, it couldn't match Clark's speed. As it charged into the spot Clark was standing, Clark appeared suddenly behind it. He wasted no time delivering several rapid fire blows into the creature's back, rock-like skin crumbling off with each strike.
The Beast spun where it stood to catch Clark in a powerful sweep of its arm. It met empty air as Clark ducked under the blow and came up in the creature's guard, slamming a fist square into its chin. Part of his fist caught the spiky protrusion jutting from the tip of the Beast's chin and Clark shouted, his pain and anger fueling his strike. The Beast was launched bodily to the warehouse ceiling.
Clark closed the now definitely broken fist, swatting aside the pain with pure will. He leapt high into the air as the Beast began to descend. They met halfway and Clark joined his hands above his head, bringing them down in a double fisted strike to the center of the Beast's back.
The Beast came crashing down, cratering the ground and sending chunks of pavement flying in all directions. Clark landed more lightly by the Beast's prone form seconds later, delivering a thundering kick to the creature's side as it tried to rise, sending it flying once more. It smashed through crates and slammed back onto the floor, finally coming to a skidding halt that dented the far wall of the warehouse.
Clark had no intention of giving the Beast any breathing room. He made a beeline toward his opponent, but it was at that moment his reserves seemed to expend themselves. For a second everything went black and Clark stumbled, the momentum of his charge throwing him forward to land at the hooves of the Beast.
Before his head could stop swimming, he was lifted up by a hand clamped firmly around his throat. As he gasped for air, blow after blow fell onto his face, each strong enough to send him flying, yet the firm hand on his throat held him still so that his head snapped back with each strike.
Lights were exploding in front of Clark's eyes, at least in the parts that weren't going dark. The spines of the creature's palms were cutting into Clark's throat and he could barely feel his limbs at all.
Another strike came at him, but this time Clark managed a half hearted block that just slid the blow so it grazed his cheek. It was enough. In that moment of reprieve, his focus recovered enough for him to find a target. His right hand came up and with all his might he jabbed his thumb into the Beast's eye, which was fortunately much softer than the rest of him.
Black ichor spewed from the socket and the beast bellowed in agony, throwing Clark through the air to land amid yet more crates. Clark lost consciousness for another moment, and when he came to, his vision was at least partially restored. He saw the Beast on the other side of the warehouse, throwing crates and debris to the side in a frenzy. When Clark sat up, the whole world began to spin.
When he recovered enough to focus on the Beast, Clark scanned over it with x-ray vision, searching for a weak point he could exploit. The effort nearly cost him his consciousness again, but learned some interesting things. The creature's organ structure was completely inhuman, nothing in its head even remotely resembled a brain, so there was no chance of going in through the eye and scrambling the Beast's eggs. More importantly, Clark saw something deep in what was probably the creature's stomach. An orb filled with a swirling darkness. Insight set Clark's heart to racing as he guessed that whatever it was, it was probably not an organ and probably important.
The Beast finished its frantic searching, pulling from a pile of debris a wicked looking dagger made of what appeared to be an obsidian-like stone. Clark quickly put two and two together. The dagger was made of the Beast itself.
In my current state, that thing will punch right through me. Can I reach the orb before he reaches me? The effort might kill me long before he gets a chance.
The Beast turned to him and roared so mightily that small bits of the ceiling came down.
All or nothing.
The Beast charged as Clark put every last ounce of remaining energy and will into a burst of Heat Vision millimeters thick and began burrowing into the Beast's torso. The Beast's powerful steps shook the ground as it ran full tilt at Clark.
The Beast closed the distance in a berserk rage, not even noticing the beam of heat searing through him. Clark found himself unconsciously bellowing to match the rampaging monster as it met him.
The beam cracked the surface of the orb, punching through it a second later. The Beast was still for a moment, then it stumbled back in shock. Its remaining eye looked on Clark in a wondering daze.
"Who are you?" It rasped. Suddenly a violent spasm shook its body, then another, and another. Soon the Beast was thrashing on the ground, its body wracked by energies too great for even it to contain. Those energies burst forth with tremendous violence, rending the Beast to pieces that scattered in all directions as a great pillar of light shot into the sky. A moment later, the darkness that had obscured Los Angeles for days burned away.
Clark couldn't see the newly risen sun from inside the warehouse. He was really aware of very little beyond a strange cold that seemed to be spreading through him.
The Slayer, is she ok? There's still a vampire here somewhere.
He tried calling out to her, but it was nothing but unintelligible babble. Clark finally looked down at himself to find a bone handle protruding from his chest.
When did that happen?
Clark reached for the handle and tried to pry it from himself, but his hands were slick with blood and his fingers refused to close properly. The most he could manage was to slap it about wetly for a bit before his hand fell away of its own volition.
His vision was fading again.
He felt a tear run down his cheek, then Clark's world once more turned dark.