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Where the Sun Don't Shine

Chapter Text

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.

"Sorry"

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.

He didn't...

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.

"Oh shi-"

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.

Oh well.

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.

"You're intruding."

"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.

Almost there!

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.

Now!

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.

Mom...Dad...

He felt a tear run down his cheek, then Clark's world once more turned dark.

Chapter Text

There was a long silence in the warehouse. Angelus' gaze switched from the molten piles of flesh that used to be the almighty Beast, to the boy who had suddenly come bursting in out of nowhere and demolished one of the strongest foes any of them had faced. Still, 200 odd years of unlife teach some lessons, adapting to new situations was one of them.

Once he was sure the stranger was down for the count, all he could do was laugh.

"What I wouldn't give to see the Beastmaster's face right about now...assuming it has a face."

A whimper of pain, too soft for a human's ears reminded him that Faith was still alive.

Barely, he thought as he looked her over. Angelus loved blood and guts as much as the next monster, but it was only flesh and Faith had been such a low, vulgar creature before anyway. There was no real beauty or artistry in it.

Still, she was a bad girl looking for redemption, the very embodiment of Angel's ideals. She had to suffer and die on principle alone.

He stalked towards her as she scrambled upright.

"Well, that was different wasn't it? Seems there are two things in this world that no one expects: the Spanish Inquisition, and the Red Death. I'm just surprised that killing the Beast really does bring back the sun, I figured that was just Angel's retarded fantasy. Oh well, 'take the bad with the good' I always say. The Beast and the Red Death killed each other for me, and as an added bonus the Beast served me up one Slayer, extra tender, as his farewell gift basket."

Faith reached up and grabbed onto a heavy hook and chain hanging from the ceiling and swung it with what might she could muster. The heavy metal slid along its belt much too slowly and Angelus sidestepped it with ease.

"Whoa, swing and a miss, slugger! Sorry, but-" the chain was still rolling along, and at that moment Angelus remembered that directly behind him was a huge, stained window that was currently the only thing between him and a fiery death.

He threw himself sideways for cover as the heavy chain smashed into the window and let sunlight flood over Faith and the corpse of the Red Death.

Dammit, he thought at this rate I'll never get to eat anybody!

Faith had fallen back down, prone and all but helpless, yet still completely safe in the sunlight.

Angelus could sense Wesley closing in quickly, and with the sun restored it was advantage: humans.

"God!" Angelus chuckles, "Ok. Well, I gotta give you props. Nice move, really. I guess we'll just have to take a rain check on that whole... eviscerating you thing. Just you and me, now, Faithy. Catch you later." Angelus winks at her as he walks away.

Faith squeezes her eyes shut in rage and pain. She had been in plenty of fights and had taken plenty of hits, but no enemy had ever made her feel so powerless as the Beast had.

She heard footsteps but she stayed down. She didn't want to deal with Wesley right now. She needed some time.

"Faith." He called.

Guess time's up. She groaned.

"I'm alive."

She sat up and opened her eyes to find Wesley standing there, surveying the scene with one quirked eyebrow.

"You actually killed it?" He seemed stunned, though it was hard to tell with him.

"...No" she finally spat. She managed to get her legs to stop quivering and tried to push herself up. Wes didn't offer to help her and she didn't ask. After a brief struggle, Faith stood, confident that her legs weren't going to fold out from under her. Her Slayer healing was already starting its work on the rest.

"What happened?" Wesley asked when he judged she had recovered enough to answer.

"He did." Faith gestured with a thumb over her shoulder at the body behind her, half buried in the ruins of a wooden shipping crate.

Wesley frowned, walked over to the body, and bent down to check for a pulse.

"No heartbeat...although that's only significant if he had one before."

Faith joined him on the ground by the body, staring at the youthful face.

"I couldn't tell how young he was before...he's just a kid." Her voice was low; like she was afraid she might wake him up."

"Or something that looks like a kid." Wesley interjected. "Tell me what happened."

Faith kept her eyes on the young man's face.

"I came in here and found Angelus, we pegged it for a trap but I hadn't counted on this 'Beast' guy being there." The memory of her painful beating flashed across Faith's face.

"That thing kicked the ever loving crap out of me. I couldn't even get the bastard to budge. He took me down, then Horn Boy and Angelus went full supervillain and started a whole speech about how insignificant and weak I was." Faith paused for breath; she was rarely one to talk so much.

"Then in walks this guy, out of nowhere, and I swear his eyes were glowing red, Wes. Though, I may have imagined that, for a while there my vision was like a techno-club dance floor."

"I don't think you were, seeing things I mean." Wesley interjected. "I was waylaid outside by two vampires until he came along and they spontaneously combusted. His eyes were glowing red then too."

"Good to know being a psycho nympho is still my only mental damage."

Wesley could only stare at her blankly and for a second she thought he would revert back to his 'flustered Brit' persona. It only lasted a second, and then his face returned to the stony resolve of before. Faith pushed past the awkward silence by continuing her story.

"Him and the Beast spoke for a bit-"

"They did? What about?" Wesley eagerly interrupted. Faith just shrugged.

"S'far as I could tell, nothing important. I think our guy knew even less about the Beast than you guys do. It was less a conversation and more 'my name is Inigo Montoya, you blacked out my sun, prepare to die'. Anyway, after that they started fighting...this guy was strong, Wes, as strong as the Beast and at least as tough. He was a lot faster, though. He pummeled the tar out of Stone Face for the first half of the fight. Then, suddenly...I don't know, it's like he ran out of juice or something. The Beast got his hands on him and I thought it was over." Faith paused again, face scrunched in concentration, unsure of how the explain the next part.

"Then...well this guy managed to break away from the Beast and...blasted him with laser beams from his eyes."

Now Wesley did look properly stunned

"Heat beam eyes?"

Faith could only shrug again.

"Anyway, the Beast just charged right into the eye lasers and stabbed this guy with this wicked dagger...and then he exploded."

"I see."

"Yeah, it's been a weird day."

They knelt there in silence a moment more.

"Angelus called him something," Faith remembered. "He said that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition or the Red Death. Is that him?"

Wesley adopted a thoughtful, scholarly look that she recognized.

"I think so; the two vampires I fought outside also called him the Red Death before they tried to run. As far as moniker's go, it's hardly original. I can think of half a dozen 'Red Death's' throughout history. An insane, flagellant monk in thirteenth century Germany, a Pape'Xhotal demon who terrorized Central America around the third century A.D., a demonic corgi that served as guard dog to Queen Elizabeth the First…"

"So it could be just about anyone or anything."

"Yes, and it's certainly something to look into, though it probably won't receive proper attention until other imminent crisis are resolved."

Faith understood the edge in his tone all too well.

"Angelus is still loose, and we've wasted enough time on this already." It said.

Faith agreed, but it still felt wrong for her, to just leave like that.

"Can you give me a moment?" She asked, expecting nothing.

She got a pause before Wesley rose.

"I'll get the car started." She nodded as he left, and when he was gone she turned back to the young man's face.

"So...listen, we never got to meet or anything and I'm pretty sure you didn't come for me...hell, you prolly didn't even know I was here, but..."

I must look pretty stupid right about now.

"This isn't something I say very often, I rarely have to and even when I should I usually don't so if you've got like a ghost or something hanging around here then listen up ' cause this is blue moon rarity stuff."

Faith took a deep breath as she marshaled the strength to say the words she could barely stand to say to the dead, let alone the living.

"Thank you."

Alright, with that done, time to focus on getting Angel back.

She stopped in the middle of rising to her feet. It didn't seem right to leave that knife in him, so she grasped it by the handle and pulled, sliding it loose with a moist schlik. That done, she turned and left. She made it ten steps before she heard someone gasp for air behind her. She spun to attention, battered limbs protesting, dagger in hand. The dead boy's chest was rising and falling in the steady, unmistakable rhythm of breath.

Holy crap.

She brandished the dagger and waited. The boy continued to lie there, breathing softly.

"Hey!" She called out.

Nothing.

"Hey! You alive?"

Still nothing, and now Faith felt rather silly.

Course he's alive, genius. He's breathing, ain't he?

Faith approached slowly, wary of even the slightest twitch. When she reached his prone form, she prodded him gently with her foot.

More nothing.

Faith bent back down and pulled back the blue t-shirt he wore under his red jacket, sliding her hand slowly up his torso until she reached the hole in his chest and prodded gently. The entire thing had scabbed over.

Craaaap.

His other, lesser wound were sealing themselves and scarring over right before her eyes.

Now what do I do?

Wesley sat in his car thinking about a dozen things. Faith, Angelus, the Beastmaster, the Red Death, Fred, so he was wholly unprepared when his former Slayer came back out of the warehouse with a 200 pound body slung over her shoulder like a mink scarf.

What.

Still he remained impeccably cool as she opened his rear door, tossed the body inside, rearranged its legs so she could close the door properly, walked back to the passenger door, and got into the car.

"Faith…" He said.

"Wes." She bit back.

He waited until it became obvious she wasn't going to explain.

"Why are we driving a body around in my car?"

She kept her gaze on the passenger window while she answered.

"S'not a body anymore."

What?

He turned and found that the former corpse was definitely breathing.

"Oh dear," Was all he could say.

"Yeah, he kinda came back to life when I pulled the dagger out of his chest." Faith was pointedly looking anywhere but him. Wesley blinked as his mind fought to catch up to the sudden turn.

"Well put it back, it doesn't belong to you." He chided.

Now she was glaring at him in a way that let Wesley know she had been expecting that answer from him, which only meant she had thought about it herself.

"The hell I will."

Wesley's mind had now caught up completely and he was aware of how extremely precarious their situation was. They were in a metal box with an unknown being of even more unknown, but certainly tremendous power sleeping not five feet from them, and it could wake up at any second.

"Faith, listen, we know nothing at all about this creature other than it was powerful enough to kill the beast, the creature who batted us all around like children. What if it is something worse?"

Faith turned to look back out the window.

"Nah, you weren't there when he showed up, Wes. The way he talked, it sounded like he came after the Beast because of all the people it killed. Something tells me this one's a white hat."

"Oh you can't possibly know that! If you're wrong, Faith, the consequences could be catastrophic. The last few days have been chaos, but I've kept up with some of my demonic contacts. They trace sightings of this 'Red Death' back to the very beginning of the blackout. Since then it's been stalking the streets slaughtering vampires and demons everywhere it goes."

Faith actually laughed at that.

"You're not telling me anything making me want to change my mind, Wes."

"You should know better than anyone that killing demons and vampires does not automatically make you a good person." Her laughter evaporated and the lack of control over the bitterness of his own tone surprised him. He took a breath to steady himself before continuing more softly.

"Faith, you and I kill a lot of vampires, one by one, two by two. This thing kills them by the nestload. Where it walks, whole blocks of the city go silent. If we allow this thing to recover and it turns on us, we may never get a chance to regret our actions. The safest course would be to simply leave him dead-"

"No." Faith's hard eyes were back on him, the black bone dagger now between them, still glistening red with blood.

"He saved my life, Wes. I can count on one hand the number of people who've done that and one of them is running around being piloted by his psycho, people-eating alter ego. You can either put up with it or you can leave. I'll find Angelus on my own if I have to, but he-" She gestured to their other passenger with the slightest tilt of the dagger tip "is coming with me one way or the other."

Wesley's hands were tight on the steering wheel, his glare matching hers.

"Very well," he said after what seemed an eternity.

Faith leaned back into her seat, but she didn't relax until they were well on their way. The streets were still confusion, the debris from the days of demonic revelry and throngs of people walking in the street and rejoicing at the restored Sun made travel almost impossible. It was almost sunset by the time they reached Wesley's apartment, Faith cursing every lost hour. When nightfall hit, Angelus would be on the move.

With the streets full of people, sneaking their special cargo into the apartment required a trip up to find a table cloth, the only thing big enough to hide the "tall bastard", wrapping him up and carrying him in. They got weird looks for sure. Faith and Wesley were both battered, Faith was still covered in blood and no matter what she did, Faith thought they definitely looked like they were carrying a dead body.

When they finally made it into the apartment, Wesley pointed toward his bedroom.

"You can leave him on the bed in there, then come take a seat on the chair."

Faith complies, happy to unload her baggage. Normally carrying someone like that would be no problem, but after her vicious beating, each step burned. She realized she was dripping blood on Wesley's floor.

Wesley came in and handed her a cold pack which she pressed gratefully to her bruised chin.

"I'll get bandages." Wesley said, starting to walk away.

Faith frowned, they had wasted too much time as it is.
"No trauma. I'm good." She said. Wesley turned to look at her, face neutral.
"You were nearly killed."

Faith shrugged.
"I could use a shower."

"Of course." Wesley pointed her toward the bathroom and Faith staggered toward the door.

"Faith," she stopped at the hint of actual concern in his voice. "Are you sure you're ok?"

She turned to him and licked her bottom lip, tasting blood.

"A little sticky

She gave Wesley his ice pack, took off her jean jacket, threw it onto a chair, then walked into the bathroom.

Once inside, Faith looked over her bloodied and beaten face in the mirror.

I look like crap. She surmised.

She took off her boots and allowed a moment to enjoy the feel of the soft, fuzzy floor mat between her toes before peeling her blood caked shirt off, turning to inspect the damage. Her torso was a patchwork of bloody cuts, gashes, scrapes, and bruises. Satisfied that nothing was lethal, she finished disrobing and stepped into the shower.

She put the Beast's bone dagger on the soap rack, despite his acquiescence, she didn't think it was the best idea to leave Wesley alone with a helpless Red Death and a weapon they had seen for sure do damage.

Wesley's shower was a double knob type, with one for hot and one for cold. Faith turned the hot water on all the way and leaned her face into the stream.

It took a while for the water to heat, and she enjoyed the transition of cold to hot, the tiny streams of water from the showerhead first gently massaging, then searing her face clean of blood and grime. She stares numbly at the tiles on the wall before her.

Suddenly her hand lashes out and smashes into the wall before her, cracking and crumbling it. Pain shoots through her as tile and plaster cut tiny lacerations on her hand and a surge of violence flows out of her. Next thing she knows she's screaming and unleashing a flurry of blows, opening a huge crater in the bathroom wall.

She had been about to die. She had been beaten, made totally powerless, and then she had been done. With so much left to do, she had been done. If it weren't for a far left-field, one in a million intervention, she would be dead. She had been too weak, and someone had needed to come rescue her.

She stopped and stared at the gaping hole in the wall.

Crap.

As she regains her composure, she vows to find some way to repay Wesley for the bathroom and steps fully into the steaming water.

Wesley watched Faith close the bathroom door behind her and waited until he heard the shower come on before crossing swiftly to the bedroom. His other guest was still completely comatose. With one swift move his hidden blade extended from the device on his forearm.

Nothing personal. He thought as he swung the blade with all his might at the boy's neck. The blade bounced uselessly of unyielding flesh, the momentum of Wesley's swing causing the device to snap.

Wesley sighed in frustration.

Well, it was worth a shot.

Faith had established that the boy had been at least as durable as the Beast, which meant the only weapon that might be able to do some damage would be the Beast's bone dagger, the dagger Faith had taken into the bathroom.

He smirked involuntarily. He wasn't Faith's watcher anymore, had never been much of one to begin with, but he couldn't help a strange twinge of pride based on a future that could never be now. Wesley clamped down on a wave of dark thoughts, looking for some work to busy his mind.

Suddenly he heard Faith screaming and was halfway to the door when he realized it wasn't a scream of fear. It was rage and frustration being vented into the world. He returned to the bedroom and let her have her release, though he cringed when he heard what was surely his security deposit being pulverized to dust.

He surveyed the boy on the bed once more.

Since I can't seem to get rid of you yet, I may as well take this opportunity to learn what I can.

He started by examining the Red Death's body. To his astonishment, all the wounds had completely healed, even the eight inch deep hole in the of the boy's chest had vanished without a trace, not even scar tissue. All the blood that remained was just dried.

Wesley felt for a pulse and frowned when he couldn't find one. He continued searching and had all but given up when he felt it. A single beat. The breathing had also become very deep and slow to the point where it almost seemed like the boy was dead again at times.

Maybe he's always like that.

But Wesley's gut told him that was false.

More likely, considering your condition, you seem to have gone into some kind of healing coma. Your body is keeping consciousness shut down and all other functions on minimum while it repairs itself.

Despite all the fear his pragmatic warrior side felt, the scientist part of Wesley couldn't suppress its thrill at the unknown. Already a cloud of theories and speculations were forming just out of reach, and he wished Fred were there to help him realize them. She loved that kind of thing more than anyone.

Fred! I have to warn the other's about Angelus.

Wesley bolted to the phone on the bedside nightstand and quickly dialed The Hyperion. With each dial tone, a sense of dread grew stronger in Wesley.

What if Angelus has already made his move, using our assumption that daylight would send him to ground against us.

Then-"Thank you for calling Angel Investigations, where we are now accepting gift baskets for stopping the Apocalypse, how may I help you?"

"Lorne-"

"Wesley! Thank god, we were getting worried sick wondering what happened to you guys! I can't believe you really did it though, you killed the Beast! I mean...obviously I never had a doubt you guys would do it. How did you guys do it anyway?"

"Well…" Wesley began "It's a bit of a strange story."

Chapter Text

Clark hears a distant peal of thunder from the dark clouds above. It looks like rain. There's a strong wind blowing across the farm, and Clark can see the corn stalks bending in the drag of the gale.

There is a sound, someone's laughter, coming from the barn. Clark slowly makes his way there.

"Mom? Dad?" No one answers his calls. He gets closer to the barn and hears something.

"Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!"

Clark steps into the barn to see a little boy zigzagging left and right, an action figure held high above his head.

"Hey, Clark," he says. Younger Clark stops running and turns, grinning at his older self.

"Hey, Clark," he greets back.

"Where's mom and dad?" Clark asks. Younger Clark only shrugs.

"Wanna play with me?" He asks Clark.

"What are you playing?"

Younger Clark holds up an old action figure of a handsome man in a red, blue, and yellow uniform.

"I'm playing 'Captain Action, Hero of Justice'!"

Clark smiled, he remembered that toy well. He had begged his dad for weeks to get it, and he had played with it endlessly.

Conner knocked on the heavy wooden door to Cordelia's room before opening it to find her sitting on the bed, staring intently into space. He had once walked in without knocking and she had freaked out on him.

"Hey," he began; unfolding the blanket he had pulled from one of the hundred hotel closets. "I brought you a blanket."

He sat down on the bed next to her and threw the blanket over her legs, pulling it up to cover the growing mound of her belly. Some deep part of him that he would never show or admit to found it unsettling. He didn't know as much about humans as many, but he knew their child should not be growing so fast.

"How are you feeling?" He asked.

Her breath was shallow and labored, almost a pant.

"A little woozy. Could be the whole 'Angelus nailing me with a crossbow thing'..." Connor found another pillow and placed it behind her head. She leaned back into it with a grateful sigh.

"Or it could be the baby," she continued, "his way of saying 'hello'".

She turned away from him onto her side and Conner laid himself out on the bed, propping his head up in his hand and gently running his fingers through her hair.

"You're sure Faith's all right?" She asked.

"Yeah," he confirmed. "When Wesley called, he said she was hurt pretty bad, but she's a slayer. They're really strong, right?"

"For a human," Cordelia agreed. "I just can't believe this 'Red Death' thing is real."

"I'd hear about him from demons sometimes, but the stories were so wild and different I thought they must be made up. Guess we're about to find out."

Cordelia turned back over to look at him.

"What do you mean?" She demanded.

"They're bringing him here; I know I told you that." Connor's face twisted in confusion.

"You told me it and the Beast killed each other, why would they be bringing a dead body here?"

"Oh...whoops."

"Whoops? Whoops what, Connor?"

"Sorry, I could have sworn I told you. The Red Death survived its fight with the Beast, they're bringing him here."

"What?" Cordelia shrieked, grabbing Connor by the arm in a painful grip.

How can she be that strong? Connor wondered.

"Have they all gone insane?"

"This thing killed the Beast, didn't it? I guess they figured it was on our side?"

"Survived! It killed the Beast and survived, Connor. That means that whatever this thing is, it's stronger than the Beast. What if they're wrong? This thing could kill us all!"

"We have the sanctuary spell..." Conner mumbled. He hated when she got mad at him, it made him feel wretched and worthless.

"Because magic has worked so well until now?" She spat, turning away from him again.

Hopeless anger gripped Connor's gut and twisted.

What does she want from me? What can I do to make her happy again?

He didn't know, he never seemed to know. He cursed that Holt had never found time between tracking seminars and decapitation lessons to teach him about women.

"It seems to be sleeping. It was hurt real bad and Wesley says it's probably in some kind of healing coma."

He adopted Cordelia's term of it to try and please her.

"Really?" Cordelia turned back to him, her voice curious. Connor felt a stab of hope.

"Yeah, they're gonna put him in the cage we built for Angelus."

"If he killed the beast, it probably won't hold him."

"It might not, but they figure it's better than nothing."

She was silent for an agonizingly long time before she said "I want you to keep an eye on things downstairs, Connor. We've all been making some pretty bad judgment calls since this thing started, and I'd hate for this to be the one that gets us all killed."

Connor nodded, trying to think of something impressive to say.

"I won't let him hurt you, either of you. The Red Death or Angelus, it doesn't matter, I'll keep you safe."

"I know," She sauntered over to him and caressed his cheek with her hand. Connor leaned into the soft warmth of her palm. "Just remember, no one can know about us."

Connor pulled back as if the caressing hand had slapped him.

"Are you ashamed of me?" He whispered.

"Of course not!" She scolded.

"Then why don't you tell them?" Connor demanded, hurt on his face.

Cordelia spoke slowly and evenly.

Like I'm some stupid kid Connor thought.

"Because they wouldn't understand. Our baby is growing so fast, it would scare them. And that fear might make them want to kill it, like they wanted to kill you. But trust me, Connor. It won't be too long. They're all gonna know what's growing inside of me."

Connor reached out with excruciating tenderness and placed a hand on her stomach, afraid that he might hurt the child. He swore he could feel it move, his child.

I swear things will be different for you. I'm going to do all the things Angel never could. I'm going to protect you, and Cordelia, and we'll all be happy together, my family.

Down in the Hyperion's lobby, Charles Gunn was busy arming the troops.

"Meet your new best friend," He said as he handed out two loaded tranquilizer guns to Lorne and Fred. "If super-bad shows up, the sanctuary spell should keep us safe, but-"

Fred groaned and Charles gave her a curious look.

"'But'," she exclaimed. "There's always a 'but', when this is all over, can we have a big 'but' moratorium?"

Something in Gunn twisted as he watched the adorable way her face screwed up in annoyance.

Bad time to go there.

He forced himself to pull his attention off her and onto Lorne's green-skinned visage.

Much better, or worse...whatever.

"Did I mention the only shots I'm good at involve tequila?" Lorne asked as he frowned at the tranquilizer gun, holding it upside down in a grip that was just as likely to result in him shooting his own foot as anyone else.

Well, this should be just awesome Gunn thought to himself.

"You don't think Angelus is planning a repeat performance, do you?" Fred asked, trying to hide her nerves the only way she knew how, questing about for information. "I—I mean, he's gotta know we'd be prepared."

It was mainly rhetorical, but Gunn answered anyway.

"Doesn't mean we drop our guard. If he pops a fang in here, thwack him where it hurts."

"Yeah, good night not-so-sweet prince." Lorne agreed, adjusting his grip on the tranquilizer gun cautiously.

"I'm gonna recheck downstairs, make sure he can't creep in through any of the sewer tunnels." Gunn decided.

"Yeah," Fred nodded her support with a gentle bob of her head "if Lilah managed to break and enter—" She spun suddenly, bringing the tranq gun whirling around and dropping into a firing stance that was much improved from when she and Gunn had first started working on it.

The target she had lined up on the stairs turned out to be Connor, and Fred nearly dropped the gun in pure mortification.

"Thought you were more of a Taser girl," Connor teased.

Fred began a stammering apology, and Gunn decided to spare her.

"How's Cordy?"

"You know. Tired, I guess." The way Connor's eyes shifted when he said it made Gunn suspicious, but whatever weirdness was going on between Connor and Cordelia was not something he wanted to dedicate any attention to at the moment.

Fred approached the stairs, saying "Maybe I should stop up and che—"

"No-" Connor suddenly interrupted her. "She doesn't want to see anyone yet. She just wanted some... soup. Really hot soup." He walked off, presumably in search of soup.

The three in the lobby share a look.

"Odd bird," Lorne spoke up, face twisting in confusion. "And getting birdier."

"You don't think he and Cordy are still…" Fred had a face of her own, less of confusion and more revulsion.

"Could be the love bug," Lorne speculated, not sounding convincing to anyone, even himself. "But I'm not picking up warm fuzzies. Whatever it is, I just can't get a good read on it."

Gunn just sighed."

Not much of the warm or the fuzzies going on these days. Why should they be any different?"

"He's probably just upset about Faith benching him." Fred theorized, "Anybody else think maybe that was a humongous mistake?" She looked around at the other two for support.

"Not unless we want to get Angel back in anything other than a dustpan." Lorne said.

Gunn nodded in agreement.

"Connor's better off playing nursemaid, or whatever he's doing with Cordy that I really don't want to know about."

"Yeah, but Wes said Faith kind of got demolished." Fred added. "She's supposed to be our best chance of getting Angel back, but what if she's not up to it?"

"We'll work something out," Gunn reassured her. Some part of him was angry at how powerless he was at that moment. He couldn't even assure the woman he loved that he would be able to protect her. He started to wonder if Fred wished Wesley were here instead of him before crushing the thought to bits mid-formation.

Nothing good down that road.

Fred was rubbing the back of her neck in a nervous gesture he knew well. Somewhere under that furrowed brow was a mind moving a mile a minute.

"What about this 'Red Death' guy that they're bringing back?" She asked.

"Ah, the Beast-slayer" Lorne began. "How's that for a big, fat question mark? He came out of a blue-er blue than even the Beast." Lorne leaned against the counter and propped his head up in his hands.

"But he's on our side right?" Fred asked, hopefully. "I mean, he killed the Beast and brought back the sun."

Gunn felt a wry smile tug his lips. Fred was thirty one different flavors of genius, but she could still be incredibly naive about some things. He found it terribly endearing.

"We can't be sure of that," He began without realizing that he had started pacing nervously. "For all we know, this guy is something worse than the Beast, and only took him out to get rid of the competition."

"Well then isn't bringing him here maybe not the best idea?" She asked.

"Well, you know what they say, Sunshine," Lorne interjected "enemies closer, and all that. Besides, now that we know the sanctuary spell is working, this is probably the best place to be. At least here, we know he can't cause any damage."

No, here we think he can't cause any damage. Gunn and his friends had gotten burned by Lorne's cure-all "Sanctuary Spell" too many times in the past for Gunn to put any real faith in it.

But then, if this thing did take down the Beast, it's entirely possible the rest of my arsenal will be just as useless. His face turned grim, and he decided to start that sweep of the lower floors before he thought himself into insanity.

Fred was apparently of a similar mind because she was on the move.

"I'm getting sick of sitting here waiting for something awful to happen, I'm going into research mode again. We've got bupkis on the Beast or the Beastmaster, but maybe I can pull something up on this 'Red Death' guy." She said as she made for the back office.

"Good idea" Lorne perked up. "I'll call up my contacts and see what I can find out, now that the blackout is done, maybe we can get out of this gossip blackout we've been stuck in for the past few weeks. Better than sitting here, going nuts at any rate."

With that, the three went off to work.

"Sure, I'll play with you," Clark tells Younger Clark. "What should I do?"

"You are going to be the Evil Doctor Mallus, and Captain Action. I will be trusty sidekick, Clark Kent!"

"Okay," Clark agreed. Younger Clark handed him Captain Action. The paints had long faded to pale ghosts of the once vibrant colors, some places the paint had chipped off altogether. This Captain Action could once have done up to twenty-four action poses, and had done all twenty four so often that all the joints had popped out at some point or another. He remembered how he used to cry every time a piece came off, how he would go running to find his mom or dad.

They would always find a way to fix it. At first, that had meant just popping the wayward limbs into place, but after a while more and more pieces had to be creatively glued on until the Champion of justice could only manage about four of the original twenty-four action poses. The poor man's body was scoured with knicks and scratches from his battles against Doctor Mallus and the forces of evil.

It didn't bother him any, though. Captain Action never gave up, and he never gave in. He would always fight to protect the innocent, defend the weak, and help the helpless. There was nothing that Captain Action couldn't do, no foe he couldn't defeat. That was because evil never prospers, and all you needed to do was be true.

Clark grabbed a bale of hay and scattered it in a circle on the barn floor. Then, he took a long spool of string, tied one end around Captain Action's leg, and the other on the guardrail of the upper loft, suspending the Captain above the pile of hay.

Little Clark came rushing in.

"Oh no, Captain Action," he cried out.

Clark gave his best madman cackle, lowering his voice to a sneer.

"You're too late, Clark Kent! I have captured Captain Action, and soon he shall meet his doom in the terrible lava pits of Doctor Malus! Ahahahahaha!"

Clark leaned over the pit of "lava" and grabbed onto the suspended Captain Action. Changing his voice to a gruffer, more confident timbre, he said:

"Clark, you must help me!"

"I'm coming, Captain Action!" Young Clark ran forward, but Clark had let go of Captain Action and stepped back as Doctor Mallus.

"Silly sidekick! How will you save your friend when you are trapped under the weight of my Gravity Wave Gun? Pew pew pew pew pew!

Clark held up his arms and aimed the imaginary weapon at the young hero.

Young Clark slowed as he was hit by wave after wave of Super-gravity until finally he couldn't take it anymore and he fell to the ground.

Clark laughed again.

"Now with both Captain Action and his trusty sidekick dealt with, there is no one to stop Doctor Mallus from taking over the world!"

Clark reached out and once again took hold of Captain Action.

"Clark! You need to get up, Clark! You have to fight!"

"I...can't!" Young Clark cried out from the floor as he struggled against Doctor Mallus' gravity waves. "I'm not strong enough!"

"Yes you are, Clark! I believe in you, you're a hero! Heroes never give up, Clark! Heroes never give in! Remember, all you need to do is be true!"

Young Clark groaned as he struggled to his knees.

"Impossible," Doctor Mallus gasped. "No one can resist the weight of my gravity waves!"

"Guess you forgot, Doctor Mallus, that when you have justice on your side, there's nothing that can stop you! All you need to do is stay true!" With a last cry, Young Clark got to his feet and ran, leaping over the dreaded lava pit, to snatch Captain Action from the air.

"Nooooooo!" Doctor Mallus cried out as the two heroes escaped his dastardly scheme. Young Clark and the now freed Captain Action came at him in a charging tackle that stopped just short of actually hitting him.

Clark knew his cue and flung himself back onto another bale of hay, defeated.

"Well done, Clark," he said in his Captain Action voice. "Because of you, we've saved the day. You are a good hero, and an even better friend."

Young Clark nodded.

"It's just like you said, Captain, all you need to do is be true."

Young Clark stuck his hands out to his sides and made engine noises as he "flew" out of the barn, Captain Action in hand.

Clark just lay back in the hay. It was incredibly soft, so soft he didn't want to move. He just wanted to stay there and sleep for a very, very long time.

Faith toweled herself off and quickly put her sweat-and-blood stained clothes back on.

Lovely.

She stepped out of the bathroom and quickly made for the bedroom, throwing the door open and announcing,

"Squeaky clean, let's blow."

Wesley's head shot up at her entrance, his hands still exploring the naked torso of the Red Death's sleeping form.

"..." there was nothing he could say, so he resigned himself to the inevitable.

Faith seemed just as stunned as he for a moment before a wicked grin split her face.

"Now's really not the time, Wes, though for the record, I'm into it."

Wesley got up and gave a long suffering sigh.

"I was just examining him."

"Like what you see?"

I certainly do, this boy is cut! She thought, just wishing someone would get all the dried blood off that taught, bronze torso. God, I've been in prison way too long.

Wesley simply shot her a glare and realized he would never be able to win, so he settled for redressing the Red Death and stepping out into the living room.

Faith got the sense that he wanted to talk to her about something and followed him out. The look he shot her made her shift her eyes in embarrassment.

"Right, sorry about the shower." She apologized, another thing she was rusty at.

My last apology was something like "I'm sorry officer; I've been a bad, bad girl." She hadn't been very sincere, though she had been very enthusiastic.

"I'm not worried about the bathroom, Faith...though I'm pretty sure my security deposit's a complete loss. I need to know you're in the game, Faith. All the way."

Faith felt her rebellious streak flare up and she tried to keep her face neutral.

"Five by five, boss."

Wesley gave her a long, hard appraisal before turning away.

"Good, now let's collect our 'sleeping beauty' back there and get back to the hotel."

"Yeah, what's the deal with that anyway?" Faith asked, the previous tension gone out of her.

Scholar Wes came back as he said "Well, as far as I can tell, his body has gone into some kind of healing coma. All the surface wounds have closed, so I can only assume he's taken more internal damage that we can't see, though without knowing what species of demon he is I can't know for sure."

Faith's mouth tugged down in distaste as she remembered one of her own more unpleasant experiences.

"Coma, huh?" She said, "Those are always fun."

"Yes, but I doubt he'll be in his as long as you were in yours."

They collected their gear and went about the process of trying to disguise the Red Death once again.

"Yeah, hate to break it to ya, Wes, but you're definitely gonna have to leave this apartment because there's no way one of your neighbors doesn't tell the cops we were carting a dead body around."

Wesley just sighed.

Clark heard another peal of thunder in the distance and frowned.

"Storm's coming," he said with a sigh. There would be lots to do. He forced himself up and wandered out of the barn. He was halfway to the house when he saw something further up the road. He walked over and saw it was Captain Action, lying face down in the dirt.

Clark picked him up and looked around. He saw no one.

"Clark?" He called out. No answer.

"He must be further on up the road."

Clark dusted Captain Action off and looked up at the thick storm clouds.

"Wouldn't do for you to get drenched on top of everything else, Captain."

Clark opened up his jacket and put Captain Action in an internal chest pocket close to his heart and started walking.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been walking, it couldn't have been very long, yet for some reason he was already near the forest.

"Clark?" he called out again for the umpteenth time. Still no answer.

"Boy do I hope you weren't silly enough to go in there."

Seeing no other option, he started into the forest, following the path. It was uneventful at first, lots of shade and trees but little else. Before long he came upon a figure lying face down by the roadside.

"Hey," Clark ran over to the fallen man. "Are you okay, sir?" he rolled the man over and found that the man's face was strangely tight and bumpy.

Some off-task part of his brain told him it was a vampire. No matter what he did, the vampire didn't respond, so Clark continued along, Captain Action thumping on his chest.

As he went, he found more and more vampires and even demons lying on the roadside. Further along still he found even human bodies appearing in the mix. He felt like he recognized them too.

He definitely did, most of them were in the public eye in some way or another. Radical politicians, celebrities, and religious leaders Clark had often seen on the news.

They were always organizing in places and holding ups signs like

"Faggots burn in hell," or "Spics go back to Mexico."

Clark was pretty sure he had also seen some Klan members in the piles too.

"Who is doing this?" Clark wondered. He knew he had to find them soon and stop them before they killed anyone else, so he started to run.

I can make it. All I need to do is be true, he thought.

He ran faster and faster past greater and great piles of bodies, demon and human alike. Soon Clark saw him, a tall man with dark hair and a bright red leather jacket and equally bright red leather pants.

"It's him! It's the Red Death!" Clark ran until he was right behind the Red Death.

Together, Faith and Wesley managed to pile everything back into the car and make their way back to the Hyperion just after nightfall. Wesley performed a miracle of parallel parking and they took a hold of the Red Death, Faith by the feet, and Wesley by the armpits, and started to carry him inside.

"Alright, once we drop this guy off with the others, we go after Angelus. We track him, we find him, we-"

"Get your asses kicked? I don't know, wild guess."

Faith dropped the feet she had been holding and spun to see Angelus striding out the front door of the Hyperion towards them.

Crap! She thought, hearing a thud behind her as Wesley also dropped the Red Death to the ground.

Faith and Angelus lunged forward as one, Faith trying to seize the offensive with a series of rapid jabs, but she was surprised and off balance, Angelus easily blocked her strikes and retaliated with a sweeping kick.

The Red Death's body was right behind her, so Faith had no choice but to take the full force of the blow with a left-sided block. Pain shot through her arm and side, but she ignored it and quickly wrapped her arm around Angelus' kicking leg, but Angelus was just as fast. He leveraged his own trapped leg to lift himself into the air and lash another kick at Faith's face. She couldn't get her guard up in time and had to roll with the strike.

She stumbled back and tripped over the Red Death's long legs, falling back into Wesley who was still scrambling to readjust his grip on the rifle he had strapped to his back. The gun flew wide into the bushes as they fell into a tangle of limbs.

Faith was pretty sure she kicked Wesley in their struggle to regain their feet. She spun, searching for Angelus, finding him behind her with his hands on Wesley's throat while Wesley struggled in vain to escape the Vampire's grip.

"Sucky spell, huh?" Angelus mocked, "You think it'd at least go to the sidewalk."

Faith kept herself tense, ready for any sudden movements.
"Let him go. This is between you and me."

Angelus just laughed.
"It's never just between you and me, Faith. Wes'll always be in the middle. Wes and a dead body, apparently."

Angelus looked at the prone form of the Red Death, still covered in his rather useless tablecloth disguise.

Wesley stopped struggling long enough to kick the cloth off the Red Death's face, and Angelus blinked.

"Why are you guys carrying that around? Are you gonna give him a hero's burial to thank him for sacrificing himself doing your job for you?" Angelus hissed.

The Red Death drew one long breath and Angelus stumbled back, dragging Wesley along.

Faith felt a smirk.

"That's right, Psycho. The Beast-slayer lives. He's, uh...napping off the big fight but pretty soon he'll be ready for round two. How do you like your chances then?"

Faith had slowly started to circle around, trying to take advantage of Angelus' split attention to cut off his escape.

"Best turn yourself in right now so we can bring Angel back. No telling what our boy here might do to you. You hide back behind Angel, and you survive."

"Nah," Angelus denied "you don't know this thing, you won't risk that it kills me."

"You willing to bet a fiery death on that?"

Faith heard footsteps behind her.

"Faith!" Gunn called out.

She risked a half turn and saw a rifle sailing through the air. She caught it and spun quickly to train it on Angelus, who was already fleeing. She got off one shot, two, then Angelus has already vaulted over the outer wall.

She cursed herself and ran to Wesley, tossed onto the ground when Angelus first fled. Gunn ran past her.

Faith doesn't even get to start checking Wesley before he yells at her.

"Go!"

No time to hesitate, Faith brings the rifle back up to a ready position and runs out onto the street, senses stretched to their limit. She finds Gunn, turning slowly, a grimace set deep in his face.

"He's gone."

God dammit!

She bites down on the urge to sigh and marches back toward the hotel.

"Anyone hurt?" She asks.

"No," Gunn shakes his head out of the corner of her eye. "The demon DMZ we put up did its job."

Wesley was already back up, and he fell into step with the two of them as they walked by.

"Angelus was carrying something, looked like a book, what was it?" He asked.

"Not sure," Gunn said as they stopped in front of the door. "I was sealing off the sewer entrance when it happened, by the time Fred called me he was gone and I thought 'chase first, questions later'."

Wesley nodded his ascent and then realized it was odd they had all suddenly stopped. He looked to Faith, who had stopped in front of the door and was simply looking at the two of them, expectantly.

"Faith?" Wesley began.

"Wes." She countered.

The three of them continued to stand there, staring at each other until Faith decided to cut them a break.

"Aren't you boys forgetting something?" She tilted her head ever so slightly. Gunn and Wesley followed her nod down the steps and out over the walkway to where the sleeping form of the Red Death still lay.

"Oh..."

The two men hurriedly collected him off the ground and Faith led them all inside.

Fred brought her tranq gun up in a shaky grip as soon as the door opened. Faith tossed her hands up to reassure her.

"Whoa, easy there, Mcgraw."

Fred lowered her gun and sighed in relief as Gunn and Wesley followed Faith in. They struggled to carry what seemed to be a body wrapped in a table cloth between them.

"Is that-"

"The Red Death." Faith confirmed.

Wesley and Gunn finally deposited their cargo and straightened themselves.

"This guy is...not light." Gunn huffed.

Wesley turned and saw Lorne snoring silently on another couch. He lifted a curious eyebrow at Gunn, who simply waved him off.

"Stray tranq." He said.

Fred began a thorough examination of the floor tiles.

"What happened?" Wesley asked.

Fred spoke up quickly; cutting off Gunn who she had known would try and spare her embarrassment. She felt she'd been enough of a coward already, so she should at least take responsibility.

"I was in the back doing research when Angelus popped in waving this thing." She pulled the fake charm from her back pocket.

"Turns out a slightly mystic-y looking dollar store charm is enough to turn me into a quivering pile of goo. He took the Wolfram and Hart papers, looking for stuff on the Beastmaster. He walked right past me; the only shot I got off that hit anything hit Lorne."

"Not your fault." Gunn rushed to defend her, and Wesley was nodding along in agreement. It made her feel worse; she wanted someone to tell her off so she could stop doing it to herself.

"Well, whatever," Faith interjected. "Point is he's gone, so let's suit up and head after him."

Like a switch the words set the three warriors to motion collecting, inspecting, and equipping gear from the numerous weapons cabinets.

Fred just shifted from one foot to the other, feeling wretched. When she felt she had buried her shame deep enough that it wouldn't affect her work, she looked around for something to do. Her eyes found the Red Death burrito on the couch and she felt that bone deep curiosity that she had never been able to resist. She walked over and pulled back the cloth that veiled his face.

Wes had told her over the phone that the Red Death had a human form, but everything she had heard since then had painted a very different picture than the one she was presented with now.

She certainly hadn't expected him to look so young; he seemed little more than a teenager. He was broad-shouldered and muscular, with bronze skin that spoke of a lot of time in the sun. He had wavy, raven hair that fell over his eyes just a little and Fred found she had to squash a sudden, irrational desire to touch his sleeping face.

What the heck was that? Was it something demon-y or was it just plain-old hotness?

When no other bizarre urges were forthcoming, she chalked it up to the latter.

He looks like all the boys I was never brave enough to speak to in high school.

The sound of a shotgun being cocked broke her day dream. She turned and saw Wesley inspecting a single-barrel pump action.

"What're you doing with that?" Faith asked, stalking toward Wesley, her voice low and dangerous.
"Changing the game." He replied nonchalantly.
"I thought we weren't going for the kill." Faith reminded him, none too subtly.
"We're not," Wesley countered, still keeping his eyes on the shotgun. "But if we get another chance, I want slow him down long enough to tranq him."
"By blowing his legs off?" Fred interjected, her expression turning horrified.
"You want some help with that?" Gunn added, forcing Fred to turn her horrified expression on him.
"No," Wesley finally looked up from the gun as he spoke to Gunn and Fred. "I need someone I trust to watch the hotel. Someone who can actually hurt Angelus."

Fred's gaze found the floor again.
"Oh, I'm all over that." Gunn said, his face neutral but a vicious confidence in his voice.

"What are we gonna do about him?" Fred asked, her head tilting just enough to indicate the sleeping Red Death.

"Ah, right. We should move him down into the cage; you can keep an eye on him from there." Wesley said, leaning the shotgun against the wall.

Fred chewed her bottom lip.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, Wes? I mean, I know you're worried that this guy might be a bigger bad than the Beast, but while you and Faith were out I've been doing some research...well, Lorne and I have been researching, by which I mean Lorne called a lot of people he knew and I mainly took notes and drew some graphs, and the data is really not exact 'cause in all the confusion it's hard to get a proper account from anyone, not to mention the people who are just repeating things they heard someone hear someone say-"

Everyone was staring at Fred, and she almost wished for a second that Angelus or someone would come by and put her out of her mortified misery.

"What I mean is," she began again. "I've been running the numbers and, now keep in mind we're talking huge margin of error here, if it weren't for the Red Death's presence through the blackout, the death toll would be somewhere between one to two thousand percent higher."

Everyonewas staring at her in stunned silence again, but at least this time she approved of the reason for their shock.

Faith was the first to recover.

"Damn. Since killing the Beast, the lazy bastard's been coastin'." She smirked.

"Well," Wesley managed "that certainly adds some weight to the 'he's good' side of the scale. Even so, I still think the safest course, given that we've decided not to kill him, is the cage. If he does turn out to be on our side, we can sort it all out when he wakes up."

"And if waking up to steel bars gives him a lethally bad first impression of us?" Faith spat.

"It's a risk we'll have to take; besides, with the sanctuary spell in place, he shouldn't be able to harm anyone." Wesley said with finality.

"Famous last words." Gunn snorted.

"Doesn't anyone else think it's strange that he's still asleep?" Fred asked, her nose scrunching in concentration. "If his surface wounds closed as fast as you said, you'd think he'd be fully healed by now."

"I agree," Wesley nodded. "Still, there could be any number of reasons. Until we know for sure what he is, we could speculate forever."

"Maybe he's cursed, waiting on true love's kiss or something." Faith was grinning wickedly again. "Worth a shot, right?"

At least no one's looking at me like a nut case anymore, Fred thought.

"Hey, I've been in jail for nearly two years," Faith told the odd faces the others were giving her. "What's your excuse?"

She was looking directly at Wesley, who quickly found an excuse to look anywhere else.

"Right well, let's get a move on." Wesley stammered. "Gunn, give me a hand."

The two carried the Red Death down to the basement, Fred staring bewildered after them.

"Don't worry about it," Faith said, sounding much too amused. "Inside joke between me and Sourpuss." She reached down to her belt and brandished a wicked looking black dagger, blade gleaming with crimson blood.

"Here," she handed it to Fred, explaining: "The blood on it belongs to our mystery boy down there. Wes said he wants info so, I figure you can like, analyze the blood or something."

Fred brightened as she took the knife gingerly by the handle.

"Actually, I may be able to do just that."

"Cool." Faith couldn't help but be infected by Fred's own smile.

At that moment, Wesley and Gunn came back into the lobby.

"Ok," Faith started. "Everyone's got something to do. Ready, Wes?"

Wesley nodded and collected his equipment.

"Let's bounce," Faith began to head toward the door. As Wesley followed, he stopped suddenly and turned to Fred.

"Be careful," he whispered in a way that made her breath catch. "Next time he comes back, he might be carrying the real thing." He tilted his head ever so slightly to indicate the fake charm she still held in her hand.

Gunn adjusted his grip on his weapon and Wesley left.

Good luck, Fred thought.

"Hey!" Clark cried out. The Red Death turned and Clark realized he was staring into his own face. It was his face, but for the eyes that burned a deep crimson and the bloody handprint that lay like war paint over his face.

"Clark," Clark said.

"Clark? What are you doing here?" The Red Death asked him. Clark reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out Captain Action, handing it over to the hands of the Red Death, red and dripping with blood.

"You forgot this," Clark said. "You left it behind."

The Red Death just stared at the action figure in his hand before swiftly crushing it in his fist.

"No!" Clark cried out, dropping to the floor to collect the pieces of his hero as they fell.

"What did you do?" he asked in horror as he looked at the hopelessly dismembered body of Captain Action.

"Isn't it obvious?" The Red death asks, a genuine confusion in his voice as he looked around at the bodies pilled high around him. "I killed all the monsters, I saved the world."

"Okay, it's all right," Clark says frantically. "It's going to be fine, I can fix this, no problem. I can do this. All I need to do is be true."

He grasps the pieces of Captain Action tight and gets up.

"Don't go anywhere," he tells the Red Death. "Please, just stay here, I promise I can fix everything, just stay."

Clark runs all the way back home, careful not to drop anything.

"Mom? Dad?"

Clark cries out. No one answers. He goes into the house and places the pieces of Captain Action on the table before running through the house, checking every room.

"Mom? Dad? I need your help, it's Captain Action, he needs our help!"

No one is home. Clark couldn't waste anymore time. He scrambled, grabbing everything he thought might help, glue, string, tape, anything he could, and set them on the table next to the Captain.

"Don't worry Captain, everything is going to be fine, I'm going to save you."

Clark starts trying to piece the Captain back together, but nothing he tries works. The glue won't hold, the string comes undone, and the tape just ends up a wadded mess.

"Come on, Captain," Clark pleads. "We can do this, don't give up." he frantically tries again and again to reattach the broken pieces.

"Heroes never give up, Captain. That's what you said, you told me that the good guys never quit. So come on, don't give up. Don't give up on me, Captain. Just believe in me, Captain, I can do it if you believe in me! We can be heroes again! All I need to do-"

The broken pieces fall from Clark's hopeless fingers and clatter on the table top yet again. Clark drops his hands to the cold wood.

"All I need to do is be true." He whispers.

There's nothing Clark can do, the toy is broken beyond his ability to repair. Clark gathers up the pieces and arranges them as properly as possible, carrying the body outside in his hands as gingerly as he can. He walks far out into the field and kneels down into the dirt. He lays the Captain to one side to free his hands.

Clark pushes deep into the earth and scoops out as much as he can, digging down until he has a hole large enough and deep enough.

Then Clark Kent buries his hero, laying him down and pushing the soil back over the Captain's confidently grinning face.

Clark knelt there.

"All I need to do is be true," he whispered.

It started to rain.

As Clark Kent stirred to sudden wakefulness, he reached a hand up to touch his face, it came back wet.

Was I...crying?

His mouth tasted strange, cottony, and he was in jail. All sensory input seemed to reach his brain from incredibly far away. He also felt like he had just been in the middle of something, but he couldn't quite recall what it was.

Was I dreaming?

But everything after the Beast and the fading light was blank.

As things began to recalibrate themselves properly, he realized he was definitely behind bars of some kind, but it wasn't a prison of any official capacity.

He sat up and saw that he had both a jailer and a cellmate.

"Rip van Winkle wakes," his jailer said.

The man was in his late twenties by his look, african-american, with a shaved head, wearing a denim jacket over a black t-shirt and blue denim jeans. It was hardly any sort of formal security wear.

So probably not the government or private corporation or any of the other many entities I usually have in this nightmare.

Clark took a long breath to steady himself and resist the impulse to go bursting out of the cage. He couldn't be sure what these people knew or what they thought they knew, and no good would come from confirming anything.

Clark dragged himself over to the wall and sagged against it, trying to look exhausted.

He leaned his head back against the wall, to hide how rapidly his eyes would move, and the world around him slowed to a crawl as his perception kicked into overdrive . He peered right up through the ceiling into a spacious building. A hotel, going by the number of rooms.

He confirmed it a second later when he peered through the hotel and saw a street sign that read The Hyperion.

Shifting his focus back into the lobby, he saw three people. A young, wispy, brunette in glasses, a redheaded woman and a man Clark recognized. It was the same man he had seen fighting two vampires outside the warehouse where Clark had killed the beast. They were surrounded by some bizarre props: a glass orb, lots of bundles of sticks, incense, a brass bell. Clark sees a stack of business cards on the counter that read "Angel Investigations".

A P.I. service?

He finds a spacious back office filled with ancient looking books with odd titles, numerous papers, and a microscope with a blood sample on the slide, his blood, he figured once he saw the black bone dagger the Beast had plunged into his heart sitting on a table right next to the microscope.

I wonder…

Clark focused his vision a little more on the cover of a book, pushing through it to the pages beyond. He rapidly goes through the books, some of which are in strange languages he has never seen, but all of them about demons and the arcane.

He finds a cabinet filled with what appear to be case files and he reads through those as well.

"Hey, you ok?"

Clark blinks as he looks up at his captor eyeing him suspiciously.

From his perspective, it must have seemed like I totally zoned out for five minutes. Probably a little suspicious.

Clark closes his eyes to organize the massive surge of information he had just processed. He thought he felt a headache coming on, it had been a while since his last one. When he opens his eyes and sees his captor again new information floods into his conscious mind and he realizes who he's looking at.

Charles Gunn.

He looks to the dark haired man in the leather jacket that thrashed and turned unconscious, in heavy chains on the floor of Clark's cage.

Angel

His eyes find the three in the lobby again.

Winifred "Fred" Burkle, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and the red-head is… she fits the description of one "Willow Rosenberg".

His gaze moves up to the second floor. In one room a young, pregnant woman and a boy about his age are talking.

Cordelia Chase, Connor...

His gaze slides over to another room where a green-skinned demon in an expensive suit is tending an unconscious girl on the bed.

Lorne, and Faith, the Slayer I met fighting the Beast.

As he identified them each in turn, the new information he had gained swarmed him.

Sister turned into a vampire, vampire with a soul, spent years in another dimension, Witch, Angel's son, born of two vampires, also spent years in another dimension, ascended to higher plane of existence, originally from another dimension, spent the past two years in prison for murder…

All this and more started bouncing around his head, the connections opening other connections.

Those things on the table are part of the spell to return a soul to a body, which Miss Rosenberg once did years ago.

Soul, metagenetics of the soul, the soul eating beast, beasts of the Qha'halla tales, tales of the First Ones…

Clark groaned and felt the strangest impulse to poke a hole in his own head to relieve the steady, throbbing pressure deep inside. Clark had learned long ago that his brain processes information differently, more holistically than human brains. When a human read a page, they went reading each word one by one. Clark could read the entire page at once, his brain taking it in as a whole and then simultaneously taking in, identifying, and organizing the individual words.

It certainly made studying easier. Page one, read, page two, read, add in his incredible speed and Clark could go through textbooks in seconds. Once in the eighth grade, Clark had wanted to see how long it would take him to go through every book in every library in his county. He figured it would probably take a day.

If this is the reaction I'm having to just a few dozen books, it's a good thing mom and dad convinced me that a young boy flipping through every book in a library would look suspicious.

Clark supposed he would have to deal with the migraine for a bit while his brain organized all the new information.

Could be worse, could be meteor rock.

Mr. Gunn was still eyeing him.

He's scared too, he's not sure what I'll do.

Clark was much more calm, now that he knew who he was with.

Nothing they have here has to do with aliens, so I'm guessing that right out the bat they're going to assume I'm some kind of demon. Still, they have my blood, and that might be a problem.

"Hey," Mr. Gunn called to him. "Anybody in there?"

"Where am I?" Clark asked. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard the little voice of Lex Luthor saying "Never let anyone know how much you know, or don't know."

Lex had spent a lot of the time they had known each other trying to teach Clark the ways of ruthlessness. Clark supposed it was part of the "big brother" persona Lex had assumed over him, trying to prepare Clark for what Lex thought of as the "big, bad, real world."

"You're in the Hyperion Hotel," Mr. Gunn replied.

Well at least they're being honest. Still, best to move carefully. All the evidence so far says they may be the "good guys", but it seems like this Beast that I had to kill had them all freaked out. Thinking about it from their point of view, I must be a pretty scary thing.

The Little Lex in his head said "Good, use their fear to your advantage," but Clark didn't want to be feared. It made him a little sick to see the way Mr. Gunn, this total stranger, looked at him like he was a sleeping tiger, ready to leap out and rend flesh at the slightest provocation. Clark fought a sigh.

For a second there I thought...I hoped...well, whatever, not the time for this.

Clark pushed his straying emotions down; they could only get in the way here.

"Why am I here?' he asked.

Mr. Gunn waited a moment before answering, body still tense and ready to spring.

"Sorry, nothing personal. It's just you kinda come in out of nowhere, shooting fire from your eyes and beating down the Beast, the scariest thing we've ever met ever, like it was your red-headed stepchild. So, you're gonna have to excuse us for taking some precautions."

Clark felt a defensive anger rise in him at the accusatory tone. It's not my fault you can't deal with me or how I am!

But he knew that was just petulance, if the position were reversed, he supposed he would be pretty terrified too. Give a little to get a little.

"Okay," Clark took a steadying breath "What do you want to know?"

Mr. Gunn seemed taken aback, but then he relaxed a little too. He was about to speak when Connor came down the stairs into the basement.

"Hey, Gunn, you should know," he begins "they haven't finished the spell yet-" Connor's fist comes flying up too quickly for anyone but Clark to follow, crashing into Gunn's jaw with a solid thud, sending the older man flying off his feet to fall unconscious onto the floor.

What the heck? Clark just looks on, bewildered. Clearly, I'm missing something here.

Connor notices him slumped in his corner and starts.

"You...you're awake."

"I'm awake," Clark confirms.

Conner hesitates, not having counted on the Red Death being awake. A stake drops into his hand.

"Don't interfere, this doesn't concern you." Connor pulls his hand back, aiming a shot between the bars and right for Angelus' heart.

"I need you to fight," His father wheezes, unconsciously.

Clark stands, still unsure of what, exactly was happening. If he throws the stake, I move. He couldn't be sure it was the right decision, but as far as Clark was concerned, better to save a guilty man than let an innocent die.

Connor saw the Red Death rise.

"Stay out of this!" he warned again.

Then a blur of black leather flew down the stairs and grabbed Connor's readied arm.

"Well break me off a switch, Son," Faith said as she threw connor to the ground with one arm. "There's about to be a whoopin'."

No! Connor thinks, I'm so close.

He rushes at Faith, coming in with a wide swing to her right. She steps inside the swing and blocks before returning two jabs of her own to his chest, knocking him back. They engage again and trade rapid blows, soon Lorne, Fred, and Wesley have also run down into the basement.

"She's alive-" Lorne stammers, as stunned as everyone else "I-it's a miracle?"

Faith knocks Connor back against the cage and Connor growls deep in his throat as he prepares to launch off the bars and throw himself at Faith. Suddenly he finds himself encircled by powerful arms that pin him back against the cage. He struggles and flails but he can't break the grip.

"Connor, it's over," His father whispers behind him. It's me, really…"

Connor stops struggling and sags a little as the adrenaline burns itself out with nothing to do.

Hip, hip, hooray, Connor thinks, sourly.

Everyone just stood there in that shocked silence.

Well, Clark thought, I once woke up floating a foot above my bed, but this one is definitely going down as a contender for "weirdest wake up".

"Angel!" Fred cried out, rushing forward excitedly before Wesley's heavy hand on her shoulder stopped her.

"Wait," he said. "We've been fooled before."

Fred paled a little at the memory.

"Not to mention…" he continued.

She didn't need him to finish the thought. She could see him standing in the far corner, the Red Death. He seemed so unthreatening, standing there in his bright primary colors and his confused face. His eyes met hers, a startlingly deep blue that she hadn't seen while he slept. He raised his hands slowly in a gentle shrug.

"Hey," he said, "don't look at me, I just woke up."

"Well damn," Faith all but sauntered over. "I thought the glowing red was impressive, but those navy blues are devastating."

"Uh...thanks?" The Red Death, probably the most powerful being any of them had ever met, minutely inspected his toes, just like any other embarrassed kid.

Looking like that, it seems almost impossible to think of him as anything other than a kid, let alone as somehow evil. But Wesley was right, they'd been fooled before.

"Lorne," Wesley turned to their resident empath, "Think you can read them?"

Lorne sighed wearily, "I honestly don't know, Wes. My mojo's been way off for a while now. Last time I read Angel I was sure it was him, and look what happened."

Wesley grimaced.

"Your choice, Wes," Angel spoke up from in the cage, "but it's not like we don't know that Willow can restore my soul, she's done it before."

"And the Beastmaster did try to stop us," Fred added, just wanting the whole nightmare to be done. "Why do that if it wasn't going to work?"

"Maybe that's exactly what it wants us to think, so that we'd let our guard down again." Wesley said, playing devil's advocate.

"And maybe," Angel countered "It wants you to think that it wants you to think that so that you'll leave me stuck in here and it can go gallivanting about, doing whatever it wants. You can chase that tail of logic till the end of the world, Wes."

Which could be any minute now.

Wesley thought a moment more, searching for anything else he might be missing.

"Let him out," he finally said.

"Let us both out," Angel corrected.

"Angel, I may have a pretty good reason to believe it's you," Wesley's face became a hard grimace "but I don't know anything at all about the 'Red Death' in there."

"Don't call me that," Clark demanded, a scowl almost equal to Wesley's on his face. "I hate that name."

Angel turned to him, "You really do, don't you?" Turning back to Wesley, Angel said "look, Wes, these things," he knocks on the iron bars "aren't going to hold him. he's only still here out of courtesy, isn't that right?"

Clark just shrugged, not wanting to confirm or deny anything.

Wesley stared at them both for a long time before turning back to Lorne.

"I'd like you to go ahead and read them anyway. It might not help, but it probably won't hurt."

Lorne just shrugged and descended the concrete steps, stopping in front of the cell bars.

"Okay, Angel Cake, you know the drill."

Angel cleared his throat before letting out an off-tune melody.

"You know I can't smile without you,

I can't smile without you,

I can't laugh and I can't sing,

I'm finding it hard to do anything,

You see I feel sad when you're sad,

I feel glad when you're glad,

If you only knew what I'm going through,

I just can't smile without you,"

"Well," Lorne interrupted, "he seems like Angel, tone deafness and all." He turned to the Red Death. "You're turn, Imma need you to sing for me."

An empathic demon that can learn your destiny by hearing you sing, sing, songs of the Hollatan demons of east Peru, the Peruvis Codex, Codes of the Katani religious sect- ow!

Clark shook his head to clear it.

"Do I really have to sing?" he asked.

"That's how it works, kiddo. Don't worry, however bad you think you are, trust me, you've never had to listen to a Thyvos demon belt out Abba." Lorne had seen that same look a hundred times, simple stage fright.

"Okay, so long as you're all ready to have your ears melt off..that was a joke," he added sadly when he saw their expressions.

Here goes nothing.

"What if I was just a song?

Words on a page to sing - a song

What if my essence was pure -

Pure mathematics no more

than a romance from a store?

Would you still cry when I played?

Would you still turn to me for the pain

If I were just a song?"

Lorne held up a hand to stop him.

"That'll do just fine. See, it wasn't so hard as all that." he turned to Wesley.

"As far as I can tell, Kid's definitely on our side."

Wes waited a moment longer before nodding. The door was opened and the Angel Investigations team welcomed their leader back with mostly enthusiasm. They woke Gunn up and together they, and Clark, all left the dank basement and went into the lobby where Willow was waiting.

"I take it my spell worked?" She smiled at the crowd, finding a tall figure she had only seen before through the basement camera monitor. "And you must be the Red Death-"

"He hates that name-"

"I hate that name-"

Clark and Angel both spoke in unison.

"Oh," Willow continued "You know, I could prolly have been a 'Red Death' too, cause I went kinda evil for a while, but my hair turned black so maybe that wouldn't work and I mean I guess I could be the 'Black Death', but with the whole bubonic plague thing people would just be drawing inaccurate associations and-...um, I'll shut up now."

Fred shot her new friend a look of babbler solidarity.

"Well," Angel jumped in "I think a little bit of share time is in order, so everyone may as well get comfortable."

Angel gave Clark a very abridged version of who he and his team were, telling him that they were paranormal investigators and giving him a review of the recent events involving the Beast and the search for the Beastmaster. A lot of this and more Clark had learned already from the files that had finally stopped buzzing around his head. Willow went next and a lot of what she had to say was new to Clark. Nothing in the hotel had recent information on the happenings of the Sunnydale Hellmouth.

"The First Evil?" Clark asked, skeptical. "Is that legitimate?'

"My thoughts too," Willow admitted "I mean, I've had contact with this thing, and it certainly feels like it could be the concentrated essence of all things bad, no matter how odd a notion that is. Still, phony or not, its power is real, and it's bad news, apocalypse bad...actually, considering how many apocalypses we have to deal with, we probably need a separate scale for measuring apocalypse severity. It'd prolly be pretty high up on it. We could actually use all the help we can get, I mean, I know you guys are busy with the whole 'Beastmaster' thing but,"

Willow's eyes slid slowly over to Faith, who shrugged.

"Hey, if you guys think you need me, I'm all for it."

Clark was still in deep thought when he realized that everyone had been quietly waiting on him for a while now. He felt his chest tighten in anxiety.

"Okay, my turn then...to be honest, a lot of stuff is still a mystery to me. I've pretty much always been like this." He shrugged helplessly.

Wesley was giving him a scrutinizing look..

"And your parents never said anything to you?"

"I'm adopted, my parents found me abandoned by a roadside."

Wesley and Angel exchanged a knowing look.

"I think you might be a half-demon." Angel finally said.

"Well," Clark rubbed the back of his head, "I guess it kinda looks that way, huh?" He didn't need to fake the pained twinge in his voice. He might have preferred being a half-demon, at least then he'd be part human.

"It's not as bad as all that," Angel said, sympathetically. "Being a half-demon doesn't make you evil."

"So you have no idea what kind of demon you might be?" Wesley asked.

Clark shook his head. "I didn't even know demons were real until I came here during the blackout."

"Really?" Wesley asked, puzzled. "You've never met a demon before, ever? Where did you grow up?"

Clark waited a beat before shaking his head again. "Sorry, I can't tell you that."

Wesley opened his mouth to retort but Angel stopped him with a hand.

"It's ok, Wes."

"It's not about trusting you or not trusting you," Clark hurried to explain. "It's just...there are other people, friends and family, that I have to protect."

"We'd never put people in danger!" Fred cried, indignant.

Clark couldn't meet her eye and Angel stepped in to spare him.

"It's not about that, Fred. You know how things can get around here, we don't always have a choice in the matter. Hell, I was soulless just a few hours ago and as much as it makes me sick to admit, it's a good thing for everyone that I don't know where your families live, because then Angelus would have known too."

Fred's eyes went wide with silent horror.

"Don't worry," Angel told Clark, "we're not interested in your personal life. I am curious though, if you didn't know about the supernatural, how did you know to be here when the blackout started?"

"I didn't," Clark was relieved the conversation had shifted away from his home. "When the blackout happened, I figured something weird was definitely going on, and at the very least with all the lights out the streets would probably dissolve into anarchy." He gave another helpless shrug. "I guess I just figured I'd try to help if I could."

That, at least, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

He shrank a little under their wide, disbelieving stares. Their cosmic salvation story had just admitted to have been more or less "just passing through".

"So, if you don't like the 'Red Death', what do we call you?" Agel asked.

Clark's mind once again accelerated until everything around him was almost still.

He obviously couldn't tell them his full name. He considered using his birth name, Kal-El, but decided that was too close to the mark as well. Who knew how many people besides Dr. Swann had gotten that message from his home planet. He even considered an alias like Klaatu, or Valentine Smith, but decided they were a little too close to the mark.

"Just call me Clark." He finally decided, figuring there were a lot of Clark's in the world and trying to keep track of a second identity would be unnecessarily complicated.

The game of twenty questions continued, and Clark obfuscated where he could. They asked about his powers and Clark told the truth when he said he wasn't sure of their exact parameters, it wasn't like there had been anywhere in Smallville that could have served as a good testing site. They knew about the strength, the speed, the toughness, and the heat vision, though he had to refute having a host of other strange powers that had been attributed to the Red Death by demon rumormongers. He told them he had once lifted up the front of a truck; he just didn't tell them he had done it as a baby. He told them he had once run from his house all the way to his school; he just didn't tell them he had outraced the bus. He told them he had once been bruised by a bullet; he just didn't mention that it had been a year ago and ever since even point blank uzi fire just bounced off without a scratch. It helped that they'd seen him hurt taking down the Beast, in their minds they set his powers at a similar level. He never brought up x-ray vision at all.

When they were satisfied, another silence came over the group as everyone tried to process. Clark saw Willow giving him an appraising look and shifted uncomfortably. She turned to Angel, who was staring into space with an intently.

"Hey, Angel," she said, "can I talk to you for a second?"

Angel snapped out of it and nodded, walking out through the back of the hotel to a patio that overlooked a garden in the rear of the Hyperion's grounds.

"Well, since we're having talks," Gunn said, eyeing Connor, who just grumbled to himself.

"If I've learned anything from years in a club business, it's how to spot a trend." Lorne said, heading toward the front entrance, motioning with one hand for Clark to follow.

I hope this isn't about what I think it's about. Clark thought, apprehensive as he followed the empathic demon outside.

They stepped out into the cool night and Clark couldn't help his smile. He could see the stars. Lorne followed his gaze and laughed warmly.

"You did good kid, no doubt about that. Still, coming here may have been a mistake."

Clark sighed; it was what he feared after all.

"Emotions and such aren't the only thing I get a read on when people sing for me; I can see their destinies too. I thought you might want to know."

Clark sighed and paced the walkway, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I appreciate you talking to me about this in private, but if I'm being honest, I'm not sure I do want to know."

Lorne just nodded and leaned against the wall next to the door as Clark continued to pace.

"Okay," Clark finally said. "Let me hear it."

Lorne sighed, which wasn't a good sign, as far as Clark was concerned. People you never want to sigh before telling you something: your significant other, your doctor, and your fortune teller.

"Well, to be honest, yours is the trickiest case I've ever had before. You got real power in you, Kid, and talent too. So much so that you can do pretty much whatever you want, your future is a mess of cross-hatching paths and divergent possibilities. I will say this though; no way do you not wind up a big player. The decisions you make are gonna have far reaching effects on a lot of people, for good or for bad."

Clark frowned.

"I don't want to do any of that."

Lorne couldn't seem to muster his usual cheery demeanor, he knew the kid was going to hate what he had to say, and that was never fun for Lorne.

"I know you don't, not fully, but the truth is you don't have it in you to run away from the things to come."

Clark stopped pacing.

"How will I know," he all but rasped. "How will I know what the right choice is?"

Lorne sighed again; it seemed a sighing sort of night, which it shouldn't be. The endless black was gone and the Beast was dead, god dammit. They should all be out with neon colored drinks and karaoke. He shouldn't have to be here telling a scared teenager that he was going to have to decide the fate of the world.

"You won't," he finally said. "All you'll be able to do is what you always do, the only thing anyone can do, just do what you think is right."

Lorne went back inside, sensing that Clark needed some space.

Clark stood on that walkway, listening to the returning traffic, looking at the dims stars through the smoggy night sky, feeling a sick unease.

Nothing good will come of worrying about it, he finally decides. I'm not that big on the concept of destiny anyway, who knows how accurate it is? What I do know is that standing here wondering about all the things that may or may not happen is only paralyzing me.

With that he took in a deep breath, infusing it with all his tension and anxiety, expelling them as he slowly exhaled. He walked back into the hotel to find Gunn glaring at Connor.

"I get it," Connor mumbled. "I messed up."

"Cheer up, punk," Faith ribbed as she and Angel walked back in from the garden. "That just makes you one of us."

Gunn cracked a smile at her.

"You headed out?"

"Yeah," Faith high-fived Gunn. "No tears, big guy."

"Nah, I'm good," Gunn snorted before returning his glare to Connor. "Just wish I could've seen you kicking the crap out of junior, here."

Now it was Faith's turn to smirk slyly as she eyed Connor. "It was pretty funny."

Connor just rolled his eyes.

"Everything okay?" Angel asked, addressing Clark and Lorne. Lorne nodded and Clark just shrugged. Angel was curious, but he knew and respected that anything between Lorne and a "patient" was private...except for that one time that one guy had almost accidentally destroyed the world.

Faith walked over to Wesley and an uncertain chilliness entered her stance.

"Wes," she said.

"Faith," he replied.

"See?" She smirked, "Brits know how to say goodbye. Angel here wanted to hug."

"What?' Angel spluttered, "No I didn't!"

"Been a good show," she continued, heedless.

"Yeah," Gunn scoffed. "Sit back and let the girl do all the heavy lifting."

"That's pretty much it," Wesley can't help a rare smile.

Fred and Willow walk out of the back office, Fred chatting almost giddily.

"I think that volume's outdated. You'd know better than me, but there's some interesting stuff about HellmouthS. Might help."

"This is great," Willow said, looking down at the thick book Fred had given her.

"I have to say," Fred continued. "Someday I'd love to bend your ear about the Pergamum Codex. I—I think some of the really obscure passages are actually Latin translated from a demonic tongue, and they're kind of a hoot," she giggles. "All this stuff about Bacchanals and spells and—actually, I think it's probably funnier in Latin. You know how that is sometimes."

"I'm seeing someone," Willow interjects, her face conciliatory and full of pathos probably lost on the look of absolute confusion thAT comes over Fred's.

"Oh…" she says.

Willow sees Clark and takes advantage of the segue.

"Hey Clark, I wanted to ask you something-" she pauses, like she's mentally writing up a sales pitch. Clark decides to spare her.

"You want me to go help you fight the First?"

"Yeah," she grinned sheepishly.

What Clark wanted to do was go home, see his mom and dad, his friends, maybe lay down in the loft and freak out for a while over everything that had happened during his time in L.A.

"If it's as bad as you say it is, I want to help," he said.

"You don't have it in you to run away from the things to come" Lorne had told him. Clark felt very tired all of a sudden.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Wesley asked, turning to Angel, "We could certainly use someone like The Red-...someone like Clark here with us."

"That's a different tune from the one you were singing before, Wes," Faith needled.

"Yes, and I stand by my words in the previous context. Now that the situation has changed however, I'm allowed to change my mind. We still don't know who the Beastmaster is or what they're up to, we just know that they are very powerful and having Clark here could help even the odds, if not tip them in our favor."

Angel shook his head.

"No, I think we can handle the rest ourselves."

"And this has nothing to do with Buffy being in Sunnydale?" Wesley pushes.

Angel gave him an even look until Wesley had to look away.

"I know better than anyone how competent Buffy is, but I also know the First. I've touched it, and it's touched me, so believe me when I say she's going to need all the help she can get."

"I just knew your dark and troubled past had to include some bad touching, Angel." Angel shifted his glare onto Faith, who just smirked wider.

"Like I said," Clark tried to diffuse the situation. "I'm still totally new to this whole thing, but I do want to help, so just tell me where you guys think I could help the most and I'll follow your lead."

Angel waited to hear more objections, but none arose so he nodded to Clark.

"Go with Willow and Faith."

"Whoa, time out," Faith turned to Willow. "Wills, the way you're describing the situation to me, we have a small house filled with teenage girls, potential Slayers, who have been crammed together for the past several weeks jacked up on ' die-at-any-moment adrenaline and junk food with no guys at all except for Giles and Xander, and you want to bring in that?" She pointed at Clark who coughed and shifted uncomfortably at her implication.

He was getting smirks all around now, even from Fred. It felt like a betrayal, when he'd first met her, Clark had been sure she was a fellow dork.

I'm glad everyone's having such a good time at my expense, he thought, drily. Though, when the thought about it again, he figured maybe it really was a good thing. These people, himself included, had all seemed to have more or less been through hell. Maybe that was the secret. Maybe that was why movies always had these action heroes who couldn't resist making quips in the middle of flying Bullets.

Laugh the pain away.

Willow was looking at him almost uncertainly.

"Don't be silly, Faith. Some people in this world actually have self control…" she almost sounded convinced.

Faith just put her hands up in surrender.

"Whatever you say, Will. Just let the record show I put in my two cents."

"Okay, well," Clark quickly tried to change the topic. "Now that that's settled and I'll be going to Sunnydale, I was wondering…"

Wait, how am I going to say this without revealing the x-ray vision?

"Did you guys take a blood sample?"

Fred suddenly perked up.

"Oh my gosh, I totally forgot."

"How did you know about the blood sample?" Wesley asked suddenly.

"I didn't," Clark replied, just as quickly. "I do now. It made sense; I mean I got wounded pretty bad. I would have taken a blood sample if I were you."

Wesley still looked suspicious, but he didn't say anything else so Clark continued.

"I don't suppose I could get that back? I mean, it's kind of a weird thought, knowing someone else has your blood, and can't people use it for spells and such?"

"I thought you were unaware of the supernatural until you came here, how did you know about that?" Wesley asked.

"Internet," Clark immediately replied. It was true too; he had needed to do some research into magical theory for one of his friend Chloe's more occult based projects.

"The internet?" Wesley scoffed, "you can't expect me to buy that."

Boy, this guy is testy. Testy Wesley, that's him.

But if Clark understood anything, it was suspicion.

Surprisingly, Willow saved him the trouble of needing to defend himself.

"I buy that. A lot of the info on the net is all hokey, but a lot of the really basic stuff, the laws of contagion and sympathy, 'as above, so below', can be found in a five minute google search. Plus, it's in all the movies."

Wesley looked like he wanted to push more, but he refrained. With a nod from Angel, Fred went into the back office, followed by Faith.

Fred came back first, gingerly carrying a small glass slide which she handed to Clark.

"Thank you," he hesitated before adding, "Did you learn anything?"

His voice was softly pleading and Fred felt genuine sadness. She could understand wanting answers, she had known this feeling all her life. She could hardly imagine what it must have been like to not even have answers about yourself, about something as simple as your basic biology.

"Sorry," she told him. "I'm not really equipped here to do any extensive research. All I can say is that those cells are unlike anything I've seen before, but they are the most energetic cells I've ever seen."

Clark sighed and gave her a warm smile. Fred found she had to turn away to hide a little flush.

Oh god, he's a teenager, what is wrong with me?

Faith strolled back in carrying the Beast's bone dagger in her hand.

"Catch," she called as she tossed it into the air.

Clark snatched it by the handle as it came near him.

"Figured if this belongs to anybody," Faith explained, "it belongs to you. It doesn't have your name on it per-say, but it's go the next best thing. Consider it a trophy."

Clark grimaced as he looked over the grisly dagger, blade covered in his blood.

"Must be Christmas."

He hadn't realized he said it out loud until Faith laughed.

"See, that's the attitude."

Willow nodded at him approvingly.

"We'll make a Scooby of you yet," she said. Then, turning to the others, she said;

"OK. Good. Wagons west. See you guys."

Angel Stepped forward

"Willow…" he began.

"He's going to tell you how much he owes you," Faith cut in.

Willow gave him a warm, energetic smile.

"Aw, don't mention it. I got a slayer and a…" she paused as she looked at Clark and all known categorization failed her, "and a new friend," she finally decided, "out of the deal, so we're even-steven..."

She walked over to Angel and hugged him.

"I'll tell Buffy you said 'hi'."

"Good," the hug seemed to have surprised Angel, but he returned it affectionately. "Thanks".

The Sunnydale-bound trio started to walk out, but Willow stopped mid-stride and turned around.

"Oh, um, next time you guys resurrect Angelus, call me first, OK?"

With that, Faith, Clark, and Willow left the Hyperion and headed out to Willow's car.

"Hey," Clark began as they got on the street and he spotted a payphone. "I know we're pressed for time, but do mind if I take a minute? I...need to call my parents."

For a second Willow thought about arguing, but she didn't have it in her. She gave him a kind smile and nodded.

Clark walked over to the payphone, and slid in some change. Punching in the ten digits he knew better than any other, E.T. phoned home.

Chapter Text

They were passing through grove country, and great trees lined the side of the dark road as Willow, Faith, and Clark sped towards Sunnydale. Clark sits silently in the backseat, pondering over everything he had learned about Sunnydale and Hellmouths.

It is a place where spatial walls between this world and other dimensions, particularly nasty, demon filled dimensions called "Hell Dimensions" are especially thin. As a result, energy tends to flow through this thin dimensional membrane and result in all kinds of weird events.

Sunnydale itself he had heard of before while doing investigations for Chloe for his high school newspaper, the Torch.

The "Murder Capital of California". Guess now I know why.

Clark did find it a bit astonishing that with such a reputation, the town managed to keep as high a population as it did.

I suppose the real estate's got to be dirt cheap.

"So, Clark," Willow's cheery voice shifts him out of his thoughts.

"Sorry," he said, smiling a little at her reflection in the rear-view mirror. "I drifted off for a second."

"Hey, no big. So...how are you?"

Clark could swear her eyes were full of concern; she certainly seemed like a compassionate person.

"I'm okay, I guess. I'm still feeling a bit off though. I suppose I haven't really recovered from my time in L.A., or my fight against the Beast."

"I take it from your tone that it's kinda new to you."

"Yes, I suppose it is. I've never really had to push myself as hard as I did during the blackout."

It was the truth too. In Clark's whole life, he had never exhausted himself so thoroughly before. He had felt the effects of the meteor rocks plenty of times, but that was different. It attacked his body, rather than sap his energy.

He feels himself recovering rapidly, but he couldn't be sure how long it would be before he was back at 100%. Clark's only hope was that his recovery would come in time. Even knowing that his most off day was still a few orders of magnitude above everyone else's best day, Clark knows he is going up against the supposed conglomerate of all evil, and for the first time in his life, he fears that he might not be strong enough.

"That must have been scary. Can't imagine you got much sleep."

"No, I really didn't"

He hadn't had any sleep at all.

"Still," Clark continues, "I guess I just got myself more or less caught up, sleeping in for half a day like that."

"Oh please, that little cat-nap?" Faith snorts. "I've had my fair share of chest-stab-wound induced comas-"

"One, she's had one, that's what she means by fair share."

"Hey, if you count my latest head trip with tweedle and tweedle-psycho, that makes two...also not the point. What I was going to say was, when it happened to me, I was out for months, so count yourself lucky you were only out for a few hours."

"Huh." Clark grips the back of Faith's head-rest as Willow makes a particularly sharp turn.

"If you don't mind me asking, Miss Lehane-"

"Oh, you did not just call me that!"

"I'm sorry-"

"Damn right you are. Ugh, I feel soiled, and not in a fun way either. 'Miss Lehane' my ass, I'm not that much older than you."

Faith turned in her seat until she was facing him.

"Are you not wearing a seatbelt?"

"So I have to ask, how old are you anyway, C?"

"You can call me 'C' but I can't call you 'Miss Lehane'?"

"Privelige of seniority, now spill."

"Sixteen."

Faith clicked her teeth and turned back around.

"Damn, and I just got out of prison too, not really looking to go back in. Look me up in two years, C."

Clark shrank further into his seat.

"Yes, Ma'am."

He could practically hear Faith grinning the kind of grin that only belongs on cats who have discovered a particularly slow mouse as she clutched her heart.

"And he's obedient too! Dear Penthouse forum, I don't usually write these kind of letters, but…"

Clark wondered if Super-implosion was one of his many powers, Willow kept her eyes firmly on the road.

"Oh." Faith suddenly remembered Clark had been trying to ask her something. "What was your question, C?"

"Well, I was wondering who it was that stabbed you."

Faith watched a few more trees pass by before answering.

"It was Buffy."

Clark leaned forward, staring at the back of Faith's head-rest like he could see her face through it, which he could if he really wanted to.

"Buffy? I don't suppose this is the same Buffy we're going to go see right now is it?"

Faith gave a sharp, hard laugh.

"That's her; don't let it color your opinion though. I kinda had it comin'."

Clark leaned back into the upholstery. Clearly, whatever else was happening in Sunnydale, he would be walking into a complex personal situation with which he was totally unfamiliar.

"Hey," Willow suddenly said. "Is that someone in the road!"

Clark and Faith snapped up and saw a body lying on its side, the headlights from Willow's car washing over it. Willow brought the car to a skidding stop and followed Clark, already halfway out the car, to what was revealed to be a young, dark haired girl. She couldn't be more than fifteen or sixteen; her denim jacket was covered in blood that wept slowly from a deep stab wound in her abdomen.

Clark knelt by her side and rolled the girl over as Willow came down next to him, hand flying to the girl's throat to find a pulse.

"Are you okay?" She asked. "Can you hear me?"

Faith sauntered up to them, weary gaze scanning the road ahead.

"We need to get this girl to a hospital."

"Yep," Faith sighed. "Guess I'm back in Sunnydale."

Clark focused his vision onto the girl's wound, pushing through the skin to the flesh beneath. The wound is deep, but it hadn't punctured anything vital. He could also smell something, a sort of barbecue grill smell. Clark's eyes found the girl's neck, a symbol, newly burned into it as if by a branding iron.

"Do you have any first aid in the car?" He asked Willow who nodded and ran back to pop her trunk.

"Bring me your wallet, too!" Clark checked the girl's breathing, temperature and circulation as he pulled off his jacket and laid it over her.

She's already unconscious, not a good sign. I'm really, really, sorry about this.

Clark swept his vision across the rest of the girl's body.

Mostly just scrapes and bruises, seems she hit the pavement pretty hard, probably what knocked her out, definitely concussed.

Willow came back with the white first aid kit in one hand and her wallet in the other.

"What do you need my wallet for?"

Clark took the first aid kit from her, popped it open, snapped on the blue nitrile gloves and pulled the girl's undershirt up to expose seeping wound near her stomach.

Should I try and cauterize it with heat vision? Better not risk it, I've never tried such fine control before, low tech it is.

Clark quickly dressed the wound, using some gauze, tape, and one of Willow's credit cards to seal it.

"Sorry."

"Pretty sure I've maxed that one out, anyway."

When Clark was done he picked the girl up, careful to keep her head steady, and carried her to the car. Ordinarily, this was the part where he'd be speeding her off to the hospital, but he did not know where he was, or if she could survive a super-speed journey, which left one option.

"We need to get her to a hospital as fast as we can, Miss Rosenberg, I need to drive."

"Whoa, hold on there, cowboy. Do you even have a license?" Faith asked.

Clark motioned with his head and Faith opened the rear doors for him.

"I do, but that's not important. Trust me when I say I can get us there the fastest."

Faith and Willow exchanged a quick glance. Willow nodded, Faith shrugged, and Clark carefully secured the injured girl to the back seat with the seatbelts.

"Willow, I need you to get in the back with her, keep pressure on the wound, keep her steady and keep an eye on her breathing, her temperature, and other vitals."

Willow nodded and ran around the car to the back door as Clark got in the driver's seat and quickly adjusted the position.

"You want to buckle yourself in and hang on," he told Faith as she hopped into the passenger seat and quickly complied.

Clark put the car into drive and began a steady acceleration, knowing that the whiplash from a sudden burst of speed could hurt their patient, but once the meter hit 120, it stayed there for most of the trip.

"Jesus H. Christ, C." Faith staggers into a plastic hospital chair as Clark and Willow watch the hospital staff carry the girl away on a gurney.

"I fight demons, professionally, and that was the scariest experience of my life."

When they rounded the corner and disappeared from view, Clark turned back to Faith and gave her half a smile.

"...you big baby."

"I just can't believe we didn't get pulled over," Willow gasped. "I think I may have peed, at some point."

"I guess we were just lucky," Clark coughed as he attentively inspected nearby potted plant.

"So, now what?" Faith stretched herself out, trying in vain to find a comfortable position on the hard blue plastic.

"Out of our hands now," Willow took the seat next to Faith. "All on the hospital. We can't do much but hope right now."

"If you don't mind me asking, could this girl be one of your potential slayers?" Clark turned to face them as he asked.

"Not sure, but it fits," Willow said. "We'll know more when she regains consciousness."

Faith scoffed. "You mean, if she regains consciousness. Girl's been gutted like a catfish."

"Yeah," Willow sighed.

Clark scowled and began pacing in a circle.

"Ya know," Faith said as she leaned in closer to Willow. "Something's killing girls all over the world, trying to end the slayer line. Thing like that, figure I might get a heads up."

"Faith…"

Faith pulled back and threw her hands up.

"Guess it doesn't really matter as long as you got the true slayer intact."

"You were in prison. Figured you were safe there."

Faith just scoffed again.

"Yeah, that's prison. Safe as a kitten."

"Sorry, I... don't know much about the big house. Was it— I mean, did something happen in there?"

Faith had on a deep scowl now.

"Someone came at me with a nasty looking knife. Didn't really know why 'til now."

Willow's eyes widened.

"Oh, Faith, we didn't—"

"Forget it. It's cool. I get by." Faith's face became neutral again as she turned away from Willow.

"So, nothing more we can do for the pincushion, what else can we be doing that involves being not here?"

"Right." Willow got up out of her chair, avoiding looking at Faith. "I should call home and bring Buffy up to speed."

Clark watched her go in search of a payphone, then turned his vision once again to the operating room where they were performing surgery on the young girl.

She must be about my age.

Clark grit his teeth and renewed his pacing.

"Hey, can you stop it with that? You're making me feel like someone's about to get shanked."

Clark took a deep breath and took Willow's vacant seat.

"Sorry."

"No big."

They both sat there, boring holes into the tile floor with their gaze

"You okay, kid?"

"Just thinking about some of the stuff I want to do to the bastards who almost killed that girl."

Faith socked Clark on the arm and smirked.

"Good boy. Be sure to save me a piece."

Clark found he wasn't quite yet able to return her bravado, so he remained silent. It didn't take him long to notice Faith wasn't above a bit of nervous fidgeting of her own.

"What about you, are you okay?"

"Just fine," she snapped.

Clark just turned to look at her.

"What?" She asked.

The even look simply continued.

"Okay, sorry, jeez. I'm just not a big fan of hospitals, alright? Spent way too much time in them."

Clark nodded.

"I'm not comfortable in hospital's either, though for the exact opposite of your reason."

Faith arched an eyebrow.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You guys, Slayers I mean...you guys have superhuman powers, but you're still human, right?"

"Yep."

"Well, my own abnormality is the kind that shows up in blood work."

"Ahh," Faith nodded in understanding. "I can see why you'd get hospital wiggs too. You must've had to avoid them your whole life, what did you do when you got sick?"

"...I've never been sick."

Faith whistled. After another moment, she added:

"Sorry I snapped at you there, it's just, you hero types have a bad habit of trying to put the head shrink on me."

"I'm not a hero," Clark said automatically, his brow furrowing.

Head shrink? What the heck is that? I'm guessing she means psychoanalysis.

Faith actually burst out laughing at him.

"When you get some time, kid, go look up 'hero' in the dictionary."

Clark was about to reply when Willow came back in.

"I tried the house, but Buffy wasn't home. Dawn said she went on patrol."

Faith sprang right out of her seat.

"Cool, let's go look for her then, cemetery's more fun anyway."

"Wait, someone should stay here in case she wakes up."

"Fine," Faith nodded. "Sit tight, I'll be back."

Faith started walking away and Willow trotted after her.

"W-wait. Uh, maybe it's not the best idea, you meeting Buffy alone."

Faith turned back around and shrugged.

"You told her the sitch, right? She know's I'm coming, probably been up all night hanging streamers." Faith grinned tightly as she mimed out streamer hanging with her hands.

Willow pursed her lips.

"Yeah," she said slowly. "But it's not like you're study buddies, exactly. Maybe it'd be better if I...eased her into the whole thing."

Faith shook her head.

"I can't stay here, Willow. Me and hospitals, we don't click. Don't worry." She grinned again. "I'm sure we'll all get along just fine."

Faith turned to Clark, watching them both.

"You coming with, C? Get to know the lay of the land?"

Clark turned to Willow, who was still staring after faith and chewing her bottom lip.

"I'd like to, but if you guys think I should stay here to help look after the girl, I'll stay."

Willow turned to him, pondering.

"No," She finally said, "I should be fine on my own, go ahead with Faith."

Clark wondered whether Willow really did think she would be fine alone, or if she just wanted a witness present when Faith finally found this 'Buffy' person.

"Cool, let's bounce; I am super done with linoleum-and-antiseptic town."

Faith turned and walked off. Clark nodded and followed after her, stopping to turn to Willow.

"Are you sure you'll be alright, Miss Rosenberg?"

"Hey now, Miss Rosenberg is my mom, just Willow is good."

"Well...stay safe, Willow, and if anything does happen…"

Willow smiled widely at him.

"Thanks, Clark. Don't worry, I'll find some way to get in touch."

Clark nodded once more and followed Faith out of the hospital.

"This town sure has a lot of cemeteries." Clark said as he and Faith entered the fourth one.

"Well, think about it for a second more and you'll work it out."

Clark grimaced.

"Yep, that's about the appropriate expression for little old Sunnydale here...so can I ask you, are you married to that look?"

Clark looked down at his red denim jacket, blue t-shirt, blue jeans combo as they strolled between the rows of headstones.

"What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?"

"Boy," Faith chuckled. "You really aren't human. I mean, don't get me wrong, the bright primaries are good look...for a pinata. Very festive."

Clark glared at her smirking face out of the corner of his eyes.

"So I should run around in tight, black leather?"

"Hey, best gear for stealth-"

Clark stopped suddenly, staring at some far off point.

"What's up?" All the playfulness fled Faith's tone.

"Up ahead," Clark whispered. "About fifty meters, two people. A man, vampire, mid-to-late twenties, black leather jacket and bleached-blonde hair slicked back with a lot of gel. Sort of a Billy Idol look-"

"Spike," Faith hissed.

"-Chasing a blonde woman, also mid-twenties, also a vampire."

"You didn't say your swiss-army super-powers included night-vision."

"So," Clark turned back to Faith. "You're the professional Vampire Slayer, what do we do?"

"We do jag. I, on the other hand, am going to go kick some vampire ass. I've still got plenty of pent-up steam from the Beast/Angelus incident that needs blowing off."

She faced Clark.

"Stay close by, watch and learn, and do not come in and try and rescue me, got it?"

"Got it."

Unless I think you might actually die.

Faith nodded and set off at a sprint, Clark waited for her to get a good lead before he followed after her.

I wonder why we have a vampire chasing another vampire?

Faith came in from the female vampire's left and clocked her hard, sending her flying into a headstone.

"I'm offended." She spun to face the male vampire and dropped into a stance. "Cemetary party and no one invited me."

"Nice punch," the vampire said. "Lemme guess. Leather pants, nice right cross, doe eyes, holier-than-thou glower...you must be Faith."

"Oh, goodie, I'm famous."

"Told you were coming. Bit of a misunderstanding, I'm-"

"Spike." Faith nodded. "Yeah, we've met before."

"We have?" Spike frowned. "I don't think we-"

Spike's arms snapped up to block a kick.

"Bloody hell! What are you doing? I'm on your side!"

"Yeah?" Faith pulled back and bounced lightly on her toes. "Maybe you haven't heard, I've reformed."

She lashed out with another punch that connected solidly, knocking Spike back. He recovered quickly and closed with Faith, firing a few punches of his own.

"So have I. I reformed, way before you did."

Several more of Faith's rapid punches forced Spike behind his guard.

"Stop hitting me, we're on the same side!" He scowled.

Fatih scoffs at him.

"Please, you think I'm stupid?"

With no more blows incoming, Spike peeks out from behind his guard.

"Well...yeah." He grins.

"Oh please, William the Bloody turns good the day Willow Rosenberg turns evil."

"Funny you should mention that-"

"Faith, duck!"

Faith whirled automatically when Clark called out to her, ducking under someone's sudden swing, jumping back as she came up.

"Sorry, Faith." The petite blonde girl with the expression of exaggerated innocence who had nearly side-swiped her walked over to stand next to Spike. "I didn't realize it was you."

Faith just shrugged.

"S'okay, B. No harm, no foul."

Buffy turned to Spike.

"You okay?"

Faith's face twisted.

"Wait, are you protecting vampires? Are you the bad slayer now? Am I the good slayer now?"

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"He's with me, he has a soul."

"Oh," Faith bobbed her head. "So, like Angel?"

"No!" Spike said.

"Sort of." Buffy nodded.

"I am nothing like Angel." Spike snarled.

"He fights on my side," Buffy shrugged. "Which is more than I can say for some. So what about you? Where's your hidden little helper?"

"Oh, right yeah." Faith turned and scanned around.

"Hey, Clark, come on out."

Clark stepped out of his hiding place and made his way toward them.

"So, not that all the banter wasn't very entertaining, because it was, but there's still another vam-"

The fallen vampire woman had finally managed to rouse herself, leaping to her feet in one motion and lashing out with a powerful punch to Faith's jaw that sends Faith sprawling.

"Still don't want my help?" Clark called out.

"I've got it!" Faith jumped to her feet and struck back at the vampire. The two stood exchanging blows as Clark came around to stand by Buffy and Spike.

"So," Buffy began. "How do you know Faith?"

"Los Angeles," Clark said, wincing as Faith took a particularly loud blow to the face that sent her staggering back toward Buffy.

"We met, very briefly, towards the end of the blackout."

Faith regained her balance and turned to face the blonde Slayer.

"Mind if I borrow this?" Faith reached down to a black pouch on Buffy's side, filled with stakes, and drew one of the wooden weapons. "Thanks."

Buffy rolled her eyes as Faith snapped back into action, dancing around the other vampire, waiting for an opening. It came soon enough as the vampire lunged at Faith, too far, Faith deflected the blow to the side and slid smoothly in past the vampire's guard. One quick thrust with the stake and the vampire exploded into dust.

"Angel's dull as a table lamp," Spike said, all frown and furrowed brow. "And we have very different coloring."

Oh yes, Clark thought. You both occupy very distinct portions of the 'black-on-black' spectrum.

"Ok," Faith said, drawing slower breaths to steady herself. "Catching up, anything else I should know?"

"Nice to have you back," Buffy said.

Clark swore he felt a chill.

"Yeah, I'm getting the feeling there's gonna be a cake with my name on it back at your place." Faith replied, feeling the adrenaline start to fade.

"So, what exactly is the deal with you two? Willow's message was a bit abrupt. Something like: 're-ensouled Angel, bringing Faith plus one.'"

Faith shrugged and wiped some remains of vampire dust off her jacket.

"What can I say, B. You're not the only Slayer who can make demon-y friends."

"I wouldn't go quite so far as to say we have a 'deal'." Clark interjected. "I met Faith and the Angel Investigations crew during the blackout and worked with them to help resolve it."

Faith snorted.

"Helped resolve? Looks like your momma raised you modest." She turned back to Buffy. "How much do you know?"

Buffy shrugged.

"Not a whole lot of specific," she admitted. "The Fang Gang was pretty busy those days, but I think I got the gist. Giant, unstoppable rock monster, five tennis racquets, goodnight sun."

Tennis racquets? Clark frowned, going back over the Angel flies in his head. She must mean the 'Ra-tet'.

"Yeah well, remind me to look up 'unstoppable' in the dictionary." Faith touched a sore spot on her cheek where the vampire had gotten a good strike. It felt like a bruiser.

"Tell her about the girl," Clark said.

"What girl?" Buffy's voice was suddenly tense.

"Hold up, I'll get to that. Best I just tell the whole thing from the beginning. After those geniuses decided unleashing Angelus on the situation would somehow not end in their gruesome deaths, they had to get me out of jail to go catch him-"

"I'm sorry," Buffy interrupted. "How did they 'get you out of jail'?"

Faith scratched the back of her head and found the cemetery soil suddenly very engaging.

"Well, I say 'got me out'..."

"You broke out of prison?" Buffy asked, dryly.

"Yeah, right. So I get out and we go to track down Angel. Angel leads me into a trap, surprise, surprise, but what was actually a surprise is that he teamed up with this 'Beast' guy to kill me." Faith winces as she remembers.

"So this big ass bastard beats the ever-loving crap out of me, I mean, I couldn't even scratch him, B. Thought for sure it was 'night, night, Faith' until Clark here shows up out of nowhere and kills the Beast-"

"It wasn't as simple as that," Clark interjects. "This thing took its fair share out of me too."

"True, more accurate to say the two of them beat each other to a pulp, though obviously only Clark survived. When the Beast died, the Sun came back, Angelus fled, and Clark here dropped into a healing coma for a few hours. I managed to capture Angelus, Will made him swallow soul, then we set off for Ol' Sunnydale when Wills told us about the super-evil going on down here."

Buffy frowned as Faith went on to tell her about the probable potential they had found stabbed by the side of the road.

"Sounds like a Bringer knife alright," She said when Clark told her the wound had probably come from a long, curved blade.

"There was something else," Clark added. "The girl had a burn mark on her neck, a branded symbol, very recently done."

Faith frowned at him. "I didn't even notice that, how could you tell it was recent?"

Clark scratched the side of his face with one finger.

"It still...smelled fresh, if that makes any sense."

Buffy's face twisted in distaste as she turned to Spike.

"Do you know what kind of demon Clark might be?"

Spike just shrugged.

"Enhanced sense of smell isn't exactly the most uncommon demon trait. Neither is super-strength or speed, or even the ability to shoot fire. Can't think of anything that would combine all of those."

"Well, whatever, not the big question right now." Buffy turned back to Clark.

"Only ever one reason for branding something, you want to leave a note. Do you remember what this symbol looked like?"

Clark nodded and swallowed. So far they were taking the half-demon idea and running with it.

"I can draw it out for you."

"Good," Buffy nodded. "Best do it at home where we can start looking into it. So, can't say I fully get why you're here, Clark, but Willow was right when she said we could use all the help we could get. As such, let me welcome you on board the crazy train."

"Thank you, Miss Summers." Clark smiled warmly at her and held out his hand for her to shake. Buffy just stood there, blinking at the hand. He seemed so genuinely pleased with her invitation to fight the forces of hell that she wondered if his battle with the Beast had left any permanent brain damage.

She slowly reached out her own hand and shook, finding his smile just a little contagious. She thought about all the stir crazy girls back at home as she really took in his broad shoulders, his sharp blue eyes, and his scruffy dark hair.

Okay, he might just be the most dangerous thing to walk into my house since Angelus.

"Miss Summers?"

"Hm? What? Oh!" Her hand shot back to her side and she coughed. "Please, call me Buffy."

Faith was smirking and Spike was glaring.

"Let's just go back," Buffy said, trying very hard not to look guilty.

As they started walking, Faith spoke up.

"Oh hey, Clark. I wanted to ask, how did you know Spike and 'nameless vampire victim two-oh-four' here were vampires? You got some kinda 'vampire sense' to add to the power poo-poo platter?"

The group stopped and all eyes were on Clark.

Whoops. What's the best way to explain this?

"They looked 'cold'." Clark shrugged. Spike, Faith, and Buffy's faces all twisted in confusion.

"I looked...cold?" Spike asked.

"It's kind of hard to explain, you guys don't really have a context for it, but that's the best way I can say it. Spike and other vampires look 'cold' and I knew Miss Su-Buffy wasn't a vampire looks 'hot'."

Buffy was smirking at him.

"Oh really?"

"Oh, uh, sorry that's not what I meant. Not that I mean you aren't attractive because you are, obviously, very attractive...I mean...um," Clark coughed and tugged at the collar of his shirt. Was it getting hotter?

"Say," he said, keeping his eyes firmly on the horizon. "Don't we need to be going somewhere?"

Buffy's smirk had gotten painfully wide.

"Oh, I like him already, Faith."

Faith snorted and they both began walking, Clark following behind them, carefully inspecting the dirt.

"You know those girls are gonna rip him to bits, right, B?"

Spike was still standing in the same spot, face scrunched in concentration.

"I look 'cold'...what the bloody hell does that mean?"

Dawn gently massaged her eyes as words started flowing off the wrinkled leather pages she had been staring at for hours.

"Giles, maybe we should take a break."

"Yes, I suppose we should." The older British man that sat at the head of the long mahogany table looked up from his own thick tome, one amid stacks, and yawned loudly. "I'm afraid no matter how many times we rehash these books, there is little on the First we do not already know."

Dawn's eyes flitted to the clock hanging on the far wall of the dining room, Giles watched her.

"She'll be home soon," he said. "Don't worry."

"I'm not worried." Dawn quickly looked away from the clock, choosing to stare blankly at the towers of research material that littered the table. She thought she heard someone giggle from another room. The house was so loud now, so different from the tomb-like quiet that had reigned the year before, after her mother had died and it had been just her and Buffy.

Now it was almost impossible to find a moment's quiet, with a dozen and change Slayer recruits all crammed together with her, the original Scoobies, and recently Andrew. Pretty soon the house was going to be even more crowded, with Willow bringing back two more people from her L.A. trip.

"Do you think she'll come back with Faith?" Dawn asked, slamming her book closed. She had forgotten to mark where she had left off.

Giles was still just staring at her, evenly. She pretended not to notice.

"Dawn, while it is true that we have had problems with Faith in the past," he finally said.

Dawn laughed, sharp and hard. Problems...there was that famous talent of British understatement.

"The truth is that right now we need all the help we can get," Giles just continued. "Having another Slayer here could be an enormous boon, and all the reports so far would indicate that Faith has indeed set herself on the path to reform."

"Right." Dawn threw her book open again and held it up between herself and Giles. "Because we've never been fooled by her before."

"Dawn-"

"Relax." Dawn set the book back down and closed it gently as she turned her head to look at Giles.

"I know this is probably different, and she's probably really on our side this time...doesn't mean I have to like her."

Giles just leaned back into his chair and nodded.

"So." Dawn scratched the side of her burning nose with a slender finger. "What about this other guy Willow said she's bringing? Any idea who it is?"

Giles straitened and leaned his arms on the table, interlacing his fingers as he answered.

"No, Willow's message from L.A. was rather abrupt, and since the attack on the girl, I honestly forgot to ask. Still, I'm sure Willow has a good reason for bringing this person here. We'll only be able to learn more when we actually meet them, but until then I don't see any reason to worry. I believe we can trust her judgment in this."

As wretched as it was, Dawn had to wonder about that. Judgment and Willow hadn't exactly been sharing closet space for a while now. Still, her friend had certainly seemed more grounded when she returned from her trip to England.

Aside from the turning invisible, or the turning into Warren, or the...it was probably best not to think about it too much. Whoever it was, they might be someone who worked with Angel. Most of Angel's L.A. gang were humans, demon hunters, but humans. Except for Angel, and Cordelia who was a human, then got turned into a half-demon or something, Dawn was still iffy on the details of that.

She was pretty sure there had also been another half-demon that Angel had worked with years ago, and also Angel's son, who was a...something or other.

Dawn scrunched her face up.

Really, it was looking like fifty-fifty chance that their new guest would be human or other-ly. Heck, it might even be another vampire with a soul; those certainly seemed trendy at the moment.

Just then, from her angle in the dining room, Dawn saw the house's front door open and Buffy walked in, followed by Spike. Dawn shoved her chair back, stopped herself, and rose slowly.

"Whoa-"

Dawn froze. She supposed she had technically never actually heard that voice before, but she remembered it clearly.

"-memory lane," Faith said as she walked through the door.

It was really too bad not every kind of evil needed to be invited in.

"Same old house."

Buffy stood by the stairwell and looked around her own home.

"Yeah, well, every piece of furniture's been destroyed and replaced since you left, so, actually, new house."

Dawn realized she wasn't breathing. She drew a ragged breath and swallowed before making herself walk forward.

"Buffy," she called to her sister.

Buffy, Faith, and Spike turned to her. Dawn crossed her arms tight over her chest and narrowed her eyes at Faith.

"We have new houseguests." Buffy said.

"Hey," Faith nodded to Dawn. "Got a spare bed for a wanted fugitive?"

Giles rose from his own chair.

"Hello, Faith." His expression remained even, and Faith smiled tightly.

"Well, I guess 'wanted' wasn't really accurate."

"Does she have to stay here?" Dawn kept her eyes on Faith. "Because there's some nice hotels that welcome tried-to-kill-your-sister types."

Faith just smiled at her.

"Check it out. Brat's all woman-sized."

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Look, I need to get to the hospital. Some girl was attacked on her way into town. We think she might be a—"

"We know," Dawn said, finally looking at her sister. "Willow's been calling."

"She's there," Giles added. "At the hospital, she said she would call if the girl woke up."

"Fine," Buffy nodded as she turned back to face the open doorway.

"So, what's your deal? Do you need an invitation or what?"

Dawn couldn't see who her sister was talking to, but she felt her mouth go a little dry. It really might be another ensouled vampire after all.

A low, clear voice answered from outside the house.

"What, like a vampire? No, Miss Sum-"

"Buffy," her sister interrupted.

"No, Buffy, I don't need an invitation, it's just...good manners."

Buffy blinked a bit owlishly.

"Oh, right...sorry. It's just, here in Sunnydale that's kinda not a thing. I'd suggest you toss it right now, 'cause no one here who wants to live through the night ever invites anyone into their home, not even people they know."

"Huh...I guess I can see why. In that case, if you don't mind, I'll just-"

A young man around Dawn's age stepped through the doorway into the entrance hall. He was tall, taller than Buffy, Faith, or even Spike. He had a mess of thick, black hair and broad shoulders. Even though it was hard to be certain under the red denim jacket, the blue undershirt hinted at the musculature beneath. When he turned to look around the house, Dawn saw a strong jaw and cheekbones, and a light pair of navy blue yes.

Her chest suddenly felt tight.

Uh-oh.

When he saw her and Giles he gave them both a shy smile.

"Giles, Dawn, this is Clark." Buffy said. "Clark, this is Giles and Dawn."

Clark stepped toward them and offered his hand to Giles.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Giles."

Giles stood a little straighter and returned Clark's smile as they shook hands.

Buffy snorted behind him.

"Him you can call 'Mr.'"

Giles released Clark's hand and lifted his eyebrows.

"Yes, god forbid someone around here actually show some respect for their elders."

Buffy just smiled and rolled her eyes.

Clark smiled widely himself and turned to Dawn, extending his hand.

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Summers."

Dawn reached out and took his hand and shook it.

"Hi," She said.

Quick, say something witty, anything at all.

"I'm Dawn."

'I'm Dawn'? Really?

Dawn realized she had just been standing there, mouth open to speak, shaking his hand. She snapped her mouth shut and jerked her hand back to her side..

"Sorry," she blurted.

He lifted one eyebrow at her.

"For what?"

"Uh…"

Dawn mouth felt suddenly very dry, and was it just her or was it getting really hot in this room?

Oh god, what the hell? Now he must think I'm some kind of headcase. Someone just kill me, anybody at all, end my misery.

The three best killers she knew, Spike, Faith, and even her sister, were just smirking at her.

E tu, Buffy?

This was clearly a set up of some kind, they must have plotted this to make her look like a total idiot.

I'm going to kill them. I'm going to kill their faces off.

Giles coughed, pulling all attention back to him. Giles to the rescue.

"Well, now that introductions are out of the way, what exactly is the...'deal' as you would say?"

"Angel and I met Clark here fighting demons during the blackout back in L.A." Faith said, leaning against the staircase railing.

"Really," Giles took a second look at Clark. "You're a demon hunter then?"

"Oh," Clark smiled a little out of the corner of his mouth and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um, not really, not like a professional. I didn't even know about any other supernatural stuff until I went to L.A. when the blackout started, but I've been different since I was born."

Giles's brow furrowed.

"Different?"

"Yeah…"

Buffy saw that the boy was still uncomfortable talking about his nature, which would make sense if he really did just learn he was a demon.

"He's not human, at least not fully. The general thinking seems to be 'half-demon'."

Giles frowned and leaned against the tabletop.

"The general thinking?"

"No one seems sure what kind he is," Spike said. "His parents are humans, and they adopted him. Honestly, that kind of thing, pawning off your own kids to be raised by others, isn't that uncommon in certain demon cultures. Fairies especially get a hoot out of it."

Giles nodded, still deep in thought.

"Well," Buffy said. "I'm gonna head to the hospital, check on Will and the girl, Giles, why don't you see if you can squeeze these two in, Clark, let 'em know about the symbol."

Giles looked up, eyes refocused and he nodded.

"Of course."

"Great, everybody get some rest." Buffy turned and started to walk out of the house before she stopped, hand on the door frame and turned.

"And Clark...welcome to the team."

Chapter Text

Clark was up at the slightest hint of dawn, one part of his brain already auto-organizing the list of morning farm chores before the rest of his brain joined him in wakefulness and he remembered where he was. It was still basically night, not that darkness had ever bothered Clark, the faintest brightness showing itself on the very edge of the horizon. Clark untangled himself from his blanket and sat up on his sleeping bag.

Mr. Harris was snoring quietly on the bed next to him. They hadn't spoken much outside their brief introduction; Clark had really not been in the mood to rehash his story again for the umpteenth time that night, so he had just feigned exhaustion and gone straight to bed.

A few weeks ago, I could have listed the number of people who knew my secret on one hand. Now…

Now Clark, who had never had so much as a sleepover, even with his best friend Pete, was alone in a house filled with strangers who all knew, maybe not the whole secret, but at least that there was something different about him.

Clark sighed and stood, stopping suddenly when he heard a whimper. He turned and saw his other new roommate, a young man named Andrew, turn on his sleeping bag, mumbling to himself. When Clark was sure he wouldn't wake the boy up, he stepped over him and made his way out of the room, cursing the door hinges silently as they creaked and groaned with his exit.

Now free, he made his way into the bathroom and washed his face. This would be a good time to shower, Clark could only guess what that line would be like when everyone was awake, but Clark, in all his brilliance, had not brought a change of clothes. He would have to ask Mr. Harris if he had anything that would fit when he woke up, they were about the same size.

Clark looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, noting that all the cuts on his face from his fight with the Beast were gone without a trace, not even a scar. Clark ran his hands along the smooth skin and wondered again about this impossible body that he could never hope to understand, and now knew no one could ever explain to him.

"This is Kal-El of Krypton. Our infant son, our last hope. Please protect him and deliver him from evil."

How about that for irony? Deliver him from evil.

"On this third planet from this star, Sol, you will be a god among men. They are a flawed race. Rule them with strength, my son. That is where your greatness lies."

Perhaps it was better that his race, these "Kryptonians", were gone after all. They didn't sound too pleasant.

Clark dried his face, left the bathroom, walked down the stairs, stepped carefully over young girls in sleeping bags strewn all over the floor as he made his way through the dining room, into the kitchen, and then out to the back yard. He felt every blade of grass tickling his bare feet as he stared up into the night sky, awash with color.

He remembered when his parents had first been teaching him his colors, the look on their faces when he had started asking about all the other ones. It had taken them a while to figure out he could see many more colors than humans could.

Humans had no frame of reference for most of what he saw, so they couldn't help him identify what he was looking at. It had taken him a lot of experimentation and thought to interpret what his eyes showed him from the limited information humans had available. Even to this day, half the time he wasn't sure exactly what he was seeing.

He had needed to make up his own names for them, these colors only he could see.

From time to time, he would still discover new colors.

"Hey!"

A beam of light shone into Clark's face as two young girls came around from the side of the house.

Clark put his hands up and smiled.

"I-uh...come in peace?"

One of the girls he recognized. Her name was Kennedy, one of the Potential Slayers he had met briefly. Logic would follow then that the other girl was also a Potential Slayer.

"Oh, it's you...Clark, right?" Kennedy said, eyebrows pinching together as she set her feet, holding the flashlight between them like a sword.

Clark nodded, hands still in the air.

After a long second, she lowered the flashlight.

"What are you doing out here?"

"I just woke up, must be the new setting, completely messed up my circadian rhythms. I figured I'd come out here and watch the sunrise." Clark slowly lowered his hands as the girls inched toward him.

"You came out here just to watch the sunrise?" The other girl asked.

Clark shrugged.

"When you've just spent the past few weeks in perpetual darkness, believe me, your first sunrise is a big deal."

They had nothing to say to that. Clark walked closer and saw them go rigid. He held out his hand for the girl he didn't know.

"Hi, I'm Clark."

The girl hesitated a moment before reaching out and shaking his hand.

"Amanda…"

Clark smiled deeply at her.

"Nice to meet you, Amanda."

Amanda found herself returning the smile almost involuntarily. It was just so...friendly.

Careful, that might be one of his nefarious demon tricks!

But Dawn hadn't lied to them, this boy was indeed "Crazy, bangable hot."

Dawn had also said they should be extra careful. It seemed the general rule went: the hotter the demon, the more likely they were to enjoy recreational puppy flaying.

"So," Clark said. "Are you guys keeping watch?"

"Yep." Kennedy watched Amanda's face as she spoke. "We usually go in shifts, four at a time. Two on one side of the house, two on another, steady circuit."

"And you guys got the late shift."

"Hey, better the early shift or the late shift than the middle shift. That's torture."

"Hm." Clark turned away and stared straight ahead, eyes tight and smile faded.

These girls really were about his age, yet they were basically a little army.

Something stood out against the hedges that ringed the yard. Humanoid, but not like a human, and not like a vampire.

All the major parts were in the same place, save for the tongue and the eyes, which had been removed. These would be the "Harbingers of Death" that Willow had described to him, the Bringers.

Clark turned back to the girls to warn them.

Okay wait, what do I know? By all appearances, the Bringers are blind. But, according to what Willow's told me so far, they can fight with great agility and precision. They must have some means of detection.

I can't rule out the possibility that they have some mystical sixth sense...tsk, magic...but since I have no idea how that might work, I can't really try and work around it.

Best thing to do then, would be to assume that the Bringers are compensating for their sight with one of their other normal senses. Hearing is the most likely, being the best sense after sight for detecting motion.

So if I try and tell these two there's a Bringer here, it will hear me.

Clark turned his back to the girls and looked up at the sky.

"Well, I'd love to stay and chat," Kennedy said dryly. "But we've got to finish that whole patrol thing. Try not to scare the other two as much."

Clark held tight to a sigh of relief as he bid the two girls goodbye. He waited until they were just out of sight before he moved, transforming into a blur of speed as he split across the yard, slid through the bushes and pulled up right in front of the Bringer, slamming his hands onto the creature's ears. The Bringer collapsed, though it did not cry out, and lay motionless on the ground as Clark heard behind him a wail of wind and the sound of a thousand snapping twigs before a cloud of vegetation, dragged behind him in his passage, came cascading down over him and the fallen Bringer.

The Bringer was still down, and Clark was pretty sure he had succeeded in knocking it out, though he wasn't sure how different a Bringer's vitals were from a human's so there was no way to be sure.

He grabbed onto it by its brown robe and dragged it back into the Summers' yard as two more girls rounded the side of the house. These two he had also met the night before, Violet and Rona.

"Clark?" Violet's flashlight beam fell over him and she yelped when she saw what he was dragging behind him.

"Bringer!" She yelled, pointing wildly at the things limp form.

Rona's own astonishment gave way to glaring at the red-headed potential.

"I know, Vi. I have eyes."

Her hand found a stake on a leg holster and she pulled it free, adjusting her grip a few times as she turned back to Clark and swallowed.

"What's going on?" Kennedy and Amanda came rushing around the other side, stakes firmly grasped in front of them.

"We heard someone yell 'Bringer'...which, I guess would be that one." Amanda looked down at the creature and her eyes grew wide.

"Again, I ask, what the hell happened?" Kennedy was scowling; she had dropped into a low stance as she looked from the other two Potentials, to Clark, to the Bringer on the ground.

"We were being watched," Clark said, slowly and evenly. "Or, heard, I suppose. I saw it observing us from behind the row of bushes and I sort of...took it down?"

"Took it down? We left you for like, ten seconds."

"I move pretty quickly."

Kennedy's eyes went to the sudden, gaping hole in the row of bushes at the edge of the yard.

Jesus, she thought, looking back at Clark, examining his toes with bits of twigs and leaves still stuck to his clothes and his hair.

"Huh. Well, why didn't you just kill it?"

"I…"

Why hadn't he killed it?

"I thought maybe we could question it."

That was a lie, but actually still a good idea. Kennedy adjusted her grip on her stake, eyeing the Bringer.

"Yeah, maybe we can. Rona, go get Giles."

As Rona ran back to the house, Kennedy turned to the others.

"Okay guys, you know how it goes with Bringers, where there's one there's twenty. So let's...uh, fan out and...sweep the perimeter."

Kennedy nodded to herself. That all sounded professional, right?

The four of them stood in the yard, eyes nervously sweeping left and right for any sign of another hidden enemy.

Mostly they found squirrels.

It didn't take long for Rona to come bounding back out of the hose with Giles in tow. Once he had been informed of the situation, he had them take the Bringer down to the basement, where apparently Spike had been residing. This was impossible to do quietly and soon the whole house was up and thrumming with the manic energy of the Potentials as they gabbed and babbled about the Bringer now in their midst.

Clark resisted the urge to ask about the shackles and chains on the basement wall, Faith did not.

"It's not what you think," Spike muttered as they chained up the Bringer. "Those were for me. Stop smirking, it wasn't anything like that! I got...dangerous for a while."

"But you're better now?" Clark asked as he fastened the last of the iron shackles to the Bringer's wrists.

Spike's answer was a while in coming.

"I think so." it was barely a whisper.

Clark rose and looked at Spike, who was staring intently at the chains.

"Good," Clark nodded, looking back to the Bringer.

The basement door opened and Clark could hear a lot of excited chatter coming from the floor above them as Faith came down the stairs, closing the door behind her.

"Christ, it's like someone filled a bee hive with cocaine up there."

She hopped down the last few steps and strolled over to their side, looking at the Bringer slumped against the wall.

"So these are the guys that make up Lord Zed's Putty Patrol?"

Spike nodded.

"Yeah, these are the First's rank and file. They're not good for much, one-on-one, but there's usually at least a dozen."

Faith bent down at the knees to get a better look at the Bringer's mutilated face.

"Wicked."

All three turned when they heard Giles come down the stairs.

The man stopped at the final step to remove his glasses and pinch the bridge of his nose.

"All good there, Jeeves?"

Giles sighed.

"The presence of the Bringer is making the girls nervous. I was thinking I'd start their training session a little early today. Would you care to attend, Faith?"

Faith blinked at him and grimaced.

"Um...I'm not sure that's the best idea."

Giles put his glasses back on and rested a hand on the railing.

"Buffy is not here, and next to her, you are the most experienced of all of us. I think it would be a very good thing for you to...at the very least, observe."

Faith was silent for half a second before drawing her face into even lines and shrugging.

"Sure, why not. Let's go see what you've been teaching the Sorority Slayers."

Faith was halfway up the steps when she turned back.

"Hey, you wanna come along, Clarkie?"

Clark's brows knitted together.

"I thought you'd decided to call me 'C'."

"Just trying 'em out." Faith shrugged. "I reserve the right to change your nickname if I think of a cooler one. So, you coming? I didn't really get a good look during the Beast fight, on account of the speed and also the bleeding-to-death thing I was doing off to the side, but as far as I could tell, your fighting style seems to be just a series of wild haymakers."

"It's true, I don't have anything in the way of formal training." Clark nodded. "So, if you think it'll help…"

"I want to let you know, Clark, I want you to appreciate how hard I'm working to avoid all the training-related innuendo I could be insinuating right now." Faith smirked.

"Yes, well. I'm so very grateful for your restraint."

Clark followed Faith out of the basement, and when they were both gone, Spike continued to stare at the closed door.

"Don't mind me then, I'll just stay down here and keep playing 'Babysit the Bringer'.

Clark watched the Potentials out on the yard as they fought off invisible opponents.

Punch.

Step.

Punch.

Step.

Kick.

Step.

Spin.

"Hai!"

Xander came to stand next to him as he watched.

"It really makes you appreciate a good training montage doesn't it?"

"In the real world, you don't get to skip the hard work." Clark scratched his jaw as he spotted the huge gap in the hedges where he had barreled through.

I'll fix that at some point.

"Can you imagine if we could? I'd be very, very successful right now." Xander grinned.

One of the potentials lost her balance and fell out of formation. Kennedy called everyone to a halt and began to walk to the fallen girl.

"Don't help her!" Kennedy yelled when the girl's neighbors tried to offer her a hand.

Everyone backed away from the girl as Kennedy stalked forward.

"What the hell was that, Maggot?"

Clark frowned and in his periphery, he saw Xander do the same.

"You go into battle with footwork like that and you're gonna get yourself and everyone else killed!"

Kennedy kept berating the girl, who just stared at the ground.

"Is that really necessary?" Clark asked at the same time as Xander called out across the yard.

"Kennedy, maybe ease up a little, mein furher?"

Kennedy stared at them both before turning sharply and walking back to her position.

"Okay, everyone back to their spots, let's start again." She yelled, the girls scrambling back as the dance started once again.

Punch.

Step.

Punch.

Step.

"What was that all about?" Clark asked.

Xander was still staring out over the Potentials as he shrugged.

"Kennedy just as a habit of taking her 'drill sergeant' roll a little seriously."

"Tell me about it," Faith said as she came to stand next to them. "Girl's a real 'Type-A' nut job."

"Aggressive personalities are rather common among Slayers and Slayer Potentials." Giles said as he joined the little group. "Though whether it's the training, the lifestyle, or something inherent in the Gift that causes this is really anyone's guess."

"Still…" Clark paused, unsure of what he wanted to say.

Probably something along the lines of "it's wrong", but it's not like I know anything about training soldiers.

"I can't really speak from experience, but pretty much every psychology text I've read says that positive reinforcement works better than negative."

"I know what you mean," came another voice behind them.

"Willow," Xander smiled as they all turned and saw the young red-head standing in the doorway.

"Hey, guys." She waved.

"Has something happened?" Giles crossed his arms and went rigid with anticipation.

"Oh, no, no-" Willow waved a frantic hand as if to waft away any fumes of agitation. "Buffy told me to come back for a bit, take a shower, change some clothes, maybe even sleep." Her face became grim and she looked down at the wooden boards of the patio floor. "The girl's still out of it."

"Hey, don't do that, Will." Xander walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder which she leaned into. "That girl's only alive because of you guys."

"Quite right," Giles nodded and gave Willow a small smile.

She sighed and returned a small smile of her own.

"Yeah, I know. Thanks guys. So, uh, Clark, you're into psych huh?"

"Oh, yes I am, I have been for a really long time. Interested may be a bit of an understatement, it's kind of closer to a passion."

"Really?" Xander raised his eyebrows. "I remember being passionate about one thing in high school and let me tell ya, it didn't involve anything you might find in a text book."

"Ditto." Faith nodded.

"Implying that you're both not still obsessed with that same thing now," Willow smirked.

"Contrary to your own experience, Xander, there are many young students who actually took their studies seriously in high school," Giles said. When Xander and Willow gave him a look Clark couldn't quite read, the older man shrugged.

"I didn't say I was one of those students. Though, again contrary to Xander's experience, I seem to actually remember several successes in my courtships."

"Ooh, okay, nice one, Giles. Now I'm going to have to go and get some ointment for that burn, and guess what that means? Later when someone else gets set on fire, there won't be any left. Congratulations Giles, you've killed us all."

Willow rolled her eyes and looked back at Clark.

"Don't let them bully you, Clark. I was really into that stuff when I was your age too. It's fascinating, the way the human mind works."

"Yeah," Clark said with something between a smile and a grimace. "I was always really curious about the way people thought. I would go through the books and think to myself 'this is what it's like for me', or 'this is different from my experience."

The others grew quite as Clark stepped past Willow into the kitchen.

"Not just psychology, but philosophy too, and poetry, fiction, really anything." He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand as he examined the kitchen counter.

"I guess I was just trying to find someone to explain me. But I don't feel like I ever did. In the end, I guess I can't really get any answers from those places. All those people were trying to understand human nature, and the human's place in the universe, and I'm...well…"

Willow stepped in after him.

"Oh, I don't know, Clark. Feeling alone, misunderstood, searching for your place in the world? That kinda sounds like ordinary teenager stuff to me."

She came to stand next to him mussed up his hair.

"Look, you even have good old high school 'bangs of brooding'." She smiled at him and he snorted.

"Yeah, be sure to hold on to that vibe for a bit there, C. Chicks go nuts over a vulnerable tough guy."

Clark rolled his eyes as he followed Faith into the house.

"Oh, is that the secret?" Xander asked as he walked behind them, slapping his head in mock epiphany.

"I thought this whole time that it was about the 'vulnerable' thing. Now you're telling me there's a 'tough' part too? Damn, I could have been swimming in it-"

Giles leaned against the patio rail as he took out his glasses and wiped them down with a cloth.

"The Earth is doomed," he sighed.

The Bringer came to not long after the Potentials finished their exercise, Spike bounding up the stairs to alert them from the safe shade of the basement doorway. Giles and Faith followed him down while everyone else gathered in the kitchen and waited tensely.

It wasn't much later when they came back out with frustrated faces.

"Something wrong?" Dawn asked Giles.

"Uh, the Bringer's dumb." He said, grimacing.

From her seat by the kitchen table, Anya scoffed.

"You were expecting, what, a Rhodes Scholar?"

Giles glared at her.

"Dumb as in mute."

"Someone ripped out its tongue."

"Oh, gross." Amanda wrinkled her nose in disgust.

"Well, that's just a super waste of time." Xander said.

"Maybe not," Dawn's face became contemplative as she spoke. "I've been reading this old Turkish spell book. There's an old conjuration that the ancient Turks used to communicate with the dying."

Willow brightened in recognition. "Oh, yeah. I think I've read a translation of it."

"There's a translation of it!" Dawn shrieked, eyes wide. She took a breath, closed her eyes and sighed "Whatever, I'm over it. Um, so the spell is used to communicate with people who can't talk. Um, like if a person was dying, this spell would let them say their good-byes or, you know, gripe about how nobody came to visit them. Would this help us with Mr. No-Tongue?

"Yeah, I think so." Willow nodded, beaming at Dawn. "I just need to get together a few ingredients."

"Cool," Faith said. "But considering we know we're being watched, maybe you should have along some back up."

Kennedy all but jumped out of her chair.

"I volunteer for Willow Body-Guarding duty."

"I'll bet you do," Xander smirked.

Willow gave a little cough and asked Dawn to join also.

"Me? But I'm not as good a fighter as the Potentials."

"But, aside from me and Giles, you know the most about magic, so I may need you to help me find things."

Dawn gave a little squee of delight and bolted up the stairs to change clothes.

With a new plan in motion, the other Scoobies began dispersing, leaving Clark, Andrew and most of the Potentials in the kitchen.

One of the girls asked Andrew about Faith, and he gave them what Clark felt was probably a very abridged version of a long and complex story.

Apparently Buffy had once died and come back to life, causing an anomalous "Second Slayer" to come into existence. First it had been a girl named Kendra, who died, and then Faith.

Faith had come to Sunnydale and joined Buffy before apparently defecting to the former Sunnydale Mayor who was secretly evil and joining him in his bid for demonic ascension/world domination before they were both defeated by Buffy. During her tenure as evil henchwoman she had done a number of evil deeds including the murder of a Volcanologist, which Andrew learned was not, in fact, someone who studied Vulcans.

Clark knew the focus of this curiosity would soon shift to him, and he'd need to engage in another round of non-answers.

"So, Amanda," Clark interjected to a conversational lull.

The girl whipped her head around.

"Are you from around here?" He continued. "Your accent is a lot like the Scoobies'"

"Oh, um, yeah. I'm actually from right here in Sunnydale."

"Really?" Clark asked with owlish eyes. He leaned in a little closer to her. "Did you know about this stuff before, then? Vampires and Slayers and the like?"

"Heh, no, not at all. I mean, this town is lousy with rumors but I never really believed in it. I actually found out about Vamps and my being a Potential on the same night." She turned a little to face his intent gaze.

"Really? Can I ask about that?" Clark didn't need to fake any of the interest in his voice.

"Uh…" she gave him a shy smile and her gaze wandered around a bit. "Sure, it was a pretty crazy night."

When Amanda had told her story, Clark managed to pull one out of another potential, and another. It was easy, they were pretty incredible. Clark couldn't remember ever being in such a diverse group, these girls were literally from all over the world, and all walks of life. A little prompting on his part could pull a story out of them, about where they were from or their time in Sunnydale, and Clark listened to them all with rapt attention.

They passed the time like that until Willow and Co returned, then everyone piled into the basement, though most of the Potentials crowded near or on the staircase, eyeing the eerily still Bringer.

Willow held an open book in her hands and chanted in a language Clark didn't know. It sounded a little like Turkish, or at least had a lot of the same roots. He speculated it might be a very old dialect. As she spoke, Clark felt an uncomfortable, suffocating sensation, like the room was filling with static.

Is this what magic feels like?

He had some academic understanding of magic, gleaned from his raid on the Hyperion archives, but it was still an, ironically, alien concept to him, and this would be his first practical experience with it.

"Speak to us." Willow spoke the last words of her spell in English, and Clark felt the charge suddenly snap, and then it faded. The Bringer remained motionless and speechless.

"Maybe I should rough him up a little."

"Andrew!" Xander said, annoyed.

"Quiet!" Kennedy said at the same time. Andrew frowned and leaned back into the chair he was sitting on.

"I don't know, guys. That should have worked." Willow sighed. Clark got the feeling from her tone that magic had not always been super reliable in the past either.

"I am a drone in the mind that is evil."

Clark frowned and tilted his gaze to Andrew. There was something off about his voice. It was soft and monotonous in a way Clark had never heard before.

"Could you just shut up?" Xander growled, still Glaring at the Bringer.

"Hey, does anyone else find his tone strange?" Clark asked, walking around to Andrew's side. The boy was just staring blankly into space.

"I say I'm part of the great darkness." He suddenly said. Everyone was staring at Andrew now. "I'm only a fragment of the We. We work as one to serve the First."

Everyone took a step away from him as they all came to the same conclusion.

"The Bringer is speaking through him," Giles says.

"OK," Willow said, standing a little straighter and marshalling her courage. "What do you—the we—do for the First?"

"We work to prepare for the inevitable battle."

Kennedy ran down the stairs and grabbed up the Bringer's knife from where it lay on a table as she strode over to the Bringer and pressed the gleaming metal up to its throat.

There are way too many weapons just lying around in this house. Clark thought.

"How?" Kennedy demanded. "Tell me exactly what the Bringers are doing."

"Kennedy," Giles said "he can't see the knife."

"We can feel the knife."

"Kennedy?" Giles held out his hand, and after a moment, Kennedy gave him the knife.

"We attend to the needs of the infinite evil," Andrew continued. "We exterminate girls and destroy the legacy of the slayer. We build an arsenal beneath the dirt. We obey the commands of our teacher Caleb.

"Caleb?" Faith asked. "Who the hell is that?

"Wait," Xander interrupted. "Could we go back to the dirt thing?"

"We build weapons to prepare for the coming war... at the farthest edge of town. We are everywhere. We are like the ocean's waves. We watch your efforts and are not scared. We will laugh at you as you die."

Giles drew the Bringer's knife across its throat with a thoughtless efficiency that terrified Clark.

Andrew snapped to his feet like a rubber band. "What the bananas! You are so lucky that you did not just... magically decapitate me!"

Giles ignored him. "We've got enough here. We need to tell Buffy what we've learned. The First is preparing some kind of underground arsenal, and it has a major disciple by the name of Caleb."

"Lot of Caleb's in the world," Faith said.

Giles nodded, "True, but it's a start."

As everyone filed out of the basement, Clark heard Andrew, still rooted to his spot.

"I feel used and violated, and...I need a lozenge."

Soon after, Willow got a call that the hospitalized girl had woken up and left to join Buffy. Clark found the Potentials huddled together, talking nervously. Understandable, considering they had just learned that their enemy might be building an armory filled with things meant to kill them. He listened for a bit before deciding that if left to themselves they were going to psych themselves out.

By now he was pretty sure he had done a good job of convincing everyone that he wasn't going to eat them in their sleep, so he joined them and managed to gradually drag them out of their impending doom and back into more exciting stories.

As a group they were pretty excitable and outgoing, and it was pretty much inevitable that they would manage to pull some information out of him as well. He was careful to avoid specifics, and to undersell his own power, but he surprised himself with how easy and freeing it was to be able to tell people about a coach who could start fires with his mind or the mutant insect kid, without having those people call up the nearest mental institution.

From the nearby hallway, Giles and Xander watched Clark, sitting unperturbed in the middle of a barrage of hypersonic chatter.

"Unbelievable," Xander shook his head. "How is he doing that?"

Giles removed his glasses and began cleaning them.

"I have no idea. I could not even keep up with Buffy and Willow during their high school days."

Xander sighed and put a hand on Giles' shoulder.

"It's a sad thing, Giles. I knew one day I, like you, would be old and bitter, jealous of a younger, more attractive, more virile man. I just didn't think that day would come so soon."

Xander shook his head and Giles stopped cleaning his glasses, shrugged Xander's hand off, and walked away.

"Ew, Xander, gross."

Xander turned to the open door and split into a grin.

"Buffy!"

At the sound of her name, all the Potentials broke off their conversation and all but rushed to the entrance hall as Buffy and Willow walked into the house.

Buffy and Dawn exchanged a smile when they saw each other.

"How is she?" Dawn asked.

"She'll live." Buffy sighed, turning to fully face the Potentials, straightening herself and setting her shoulders in what Dawn privately liked to think of as her "General Stance". This stance always came before a speech of some form or another.

"Get everyone together in the living room." Buffy told Xander.

Soon all of Team Slayer had assembled and formed a half-ring around Buffy, who regarded them all with steely eyes.

"We've got a new player in town," Buffy began. "Dresses like a preacher. Calls himself Caleb. How much do you guys wanna bet he's the same guy the Bringer had a man-crush on?"

"No one's taking that bet," Xander said, face drawn and serious.

Buffy nodded. "He's taunting us, calling us out. Says he's got something of mine. Could be another girl, could be something else. Don't know, don't care."

She kept her gaze on the Potentials, meeting each of their eyes like she was hoping some of her resolve would beam out of her and into them.

"I'm tired of talking. I'm tired of training. He's got something of mine? Fine. I'm getting it back, and you guys are coming with me."

Buffy's return speech got a mixed reception amid the Potentials. Some of them, like Kennedy, were all for taking the fight to the enemy, others, like Rona, who Clark found to be exceptionally willing to second guess Buffy's every decision, thought it was reckless and suicidal.

Clark didn't weigh in on the matter either way, though from the sounds coming from the upstairs bedroom where the Scoobies were communing, disharmony seemed to be present at every level. He couldn't quite make out the conversation, but it definitely seemed like an argument of some sort.

It wasn't long before the leadership came back down and the assembled Potentials quieted.

"Faith and I are going to do recon, while we're out; I want you guys to start getting ready. More than likely we do this attack tonight."

"Hey, Buffy, what about the other stuff the Bringer said, about the arsenal?" Dawn asked.

Buffy shook her head "I don't know yet. I don't want to divide our forces right now, and since we actually know Caleb is here, he's first priority. Who knows, maybe we can get him to tell us about this arsenal thingie."

Buffy and Faith turned to leave when Clark stepped forward.

"Excuse me, Buffy; if possible, I'd like to go with you guys for the reconnaissance."

Buffy gave him an even look.

"I have slightly better senses than most; I think they might prove useful."

Faith turned to Buffy.

"He did see Spike and the other Vamp clear across the graveyard, and he set the high score for 'spot the Bringer' last night."

Buffy nodded, "Okay, Clark, you can come."

"Thank you," Clark smiled and followed the two women out into the night.

The first part of their mission consisted mainly of wandering around until Clark spotted a Bringer, which they quietly began following.

"No eyes, but look at him go. He got SONAR or something?" Faith speculated in a hushed whisper.

"Or something, I guess." Buffy shrugged. "Pretty good when they attack."

"Do they just roam free around town?"

"Well, normally, they show up out of nowhere, and then either stab or get stabbed, and then they run off. Looks like this guy wants to be found."

"Lends weight to the whole "it's a trap" theory." Faith frowned.

"I'm through waiting around for people to attack us." Buffy snapped.

Faith threw her hands up in surrender. "Hey, I'm with you. Drop me in the hornet's nest, what the hell? You got a rough sitch here, trying to turn a bunch of little girls into an army…"

"They're potential slayers, just like we were." Buffy grimaced.

"Right," Faith scoffed. "Maybe they'll do as good as us."

"They're getting better."

Faith nodded. "I'll work with 'em. Some of 'em seem real eager. Fashion disasters, yeah, but they're ready to fight."

Buffy rolled her eyes, abruptly stopped walking, and turned to face Faith.

"Why did you come back?"

Faith gave Buffy a narrow glare. "Willow said you needed me. Didn't give it a lot of thought. Do you…Am I getting you want me to be not here?"

Clark pursed his lips but kept them shut, stepping gently around the two of them to keep eyes on the Bringer.

"No, that's not what I meant." Buffy sighed. "I'm...glad that you're here. It's good. Thank you." She started walking again and Faith followed after her.

"No problem." Faith said, working to unclench her teeth. "You know me. All about the good deeds."

A moment passed in silence, and then Buffy whispered, "Willow said you helped out Angel."

"Yeah," Faith nodded. "He says 'hi'."

"Really?"

"Sure." Faith shrugged.

Another pause.

"How is he?" Buffy asked.

"Better. Had to do this whole magical mind-walk with him."

Buffy lifted her eyebrow "You were in Angel's mind?" Her voice seemed somewhere between amusement and envy.

Clark sensed another argument and kept careful focus on his surroundings, so he saw it long before anyone else.

"Hey, guys-" he began, waving them over. Their walk had taken them way to the edge of town, across acres of grove field. Here at the center of a large plot was an old vineyard.

The Bringer they had been tailing met up with several other Bringers at the gate and the lot of them walked inside.

"I think we just found our hornet's nest," Faith said.

Buffy nodded. "Let's get the cavalry."

"Wait, hold on." Clark focused his vision on the vineyard, pushing through the walls and down through the floors into the earth below. He turned back to the questioning gazes of the two women and grimaced.

Oh boy, this is going to go well.

Still, it was better to pull the bandage off all at once, or so he'd been told, so he might as well get it over with. It was not a secret he could keep any longer without putting people in danger.

"So...I kinda have the power to see through solid objects."

It started with confusion. An outlandish notion to be sure. Then the slow realization of what he meant, then a slower comprehension of the implication. Naturally they tried to cover themselves, and Clark quickly and politely spun to face the other direction as they figured out that covering themselves was obviously a waste of time.

"Before you can freak out, I just want to say that I can control it, turn it on and off, I have definitely not been using this power to look at anyone naked, and I never have-"
Baring a certain red kryptonite incident that really shouldn't count.

"You probably find that hard to believe, but it's the truth, but that being said, I can't actually prove that to you...so you're just going to have to trust me."

Clark stood there for what seemed like forever as Faith and Buffy looked at each other.

Buffy's face went through a few different flavors of revulsion then a sort of distasteful acceptance.

"Why didn't you say anything before?" She barked.

"Because of exactly this reaction."

Buffy blinked and huffed her concession.

"Why are you bringing it up now?"

"It's important, and I didn't want to risk putting anyone in danger just to hide my ability."

Buffy continued glaring at the back of his head.

Faith just shrugged at her.

"I believe him."

"Really? Just like that? I mean, I have been inside the mind of high school boys, Faith. I know exactly what they would do with this."

Faith shrugged again.

"He didn't have to tell us, and all we've seen of this kid so far says he's a boy scout. Besides, if he could see us all naked, I don't think he would keep such good eye contact."

There was another long silence before Buffy sighed.

"Yeah, you're probably right. Okay Clark, you can turn around."

He did, and when his eyes met Buffy's again, he could see her tense. He sighed and looked away again.

"Hey Clark?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

This time, she brought herself around to his line of sight, keeping herself perfectly poised.

"Sorry. Clearly, you understand where I'm coming from, because you hid this in the first place. It took a lot of courage to come clean about it now. Thank you."

Clark nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

Buffy offered a small smile, a little stretched, but progress from the disgust from before.

It was a terrifying idea, that there was someone who could at any time see you, completely, totally, and to have no defense against it. It was repulsive, and it made her feel violated. Clark had known it would have that effect, and had elected not to say anything.

When she thought about it, having such ability must be very hard. Who could you tell that wouldn't shun you in fear of it? Once she had thought of that, Buffy found she was able to move past her visceral reaction.

Faith was right, Clark did seem like a pretty decent person, he certainly didn't act like he was seeing everyone naked, and he had decided to tell them about it in the end. That had to count for something.

"Don't worry, we won't tell the others yet...that being said, if I do find evidence that you're abusing those powers, don't care how tough you are, I'm beating you to a pulp. Clear?"

Clark nodded and gave her a small smile of his own.

"Yes ma'am."

"Stop calling me 'ma'am'. Now, Mr. X-ray goggles, what do you see?"

Clark turned back toward the vineyard.

"It's a vineyard, with an extensive cellar system. There are lots of Bringers in there, and I see a man in a preacher's vestment, I assume this is Caleb."

Faith whistled.

"Boy, someone beat you about the face with the superpower stick when you were a baby, huh? So, Buffy, looks like it's definitely a trap."

Buffy smirked. "Not much of a trap if you can't get the element of surprise." She patted Clark's shoulder.

Clark frowned as he looked deeper.

"There's more, in the cellar there's a trap door. It goes down into some kind of tunnel network."

Clark stared at a group of Bringers in this subterranean labyrinth working with power tools trying to break apart a rock formation.

"I think there's something strange down there..."

Chapter Text

Xander adjusted his grip on a spiked baseball bat as he eyed the fidgeting potentials assembled in Buffy's living room, one of his own creations.

Thank you, carpentry skills.

"Now remember, we're looking for killing blows only, people," he said, handing the bat to Rona. "So, chest and throat if it's a vampire. Stomach, chest and face if it's a Bringer."

"What if it's something else?" Rona asked, giving the weapon an experimental swing.

"Could happen," Xander nodded. "Something other-worldly. And here's a handy rule: don't go for the flashy tentacles just because they're waving 'em about trying to get attention. Go for the center; brains, heart, eyes. "Xander pointed to each organ's location on himself for emphasis. "Everything's got eyes."

"Except the Bringers," Dawn added, next to him.

"Except the Bringers," Xander confirmed.

The looks on the Potential's faces didn't exactly scream "confident".

"I don't want there to be tentacles," one of them said. One of the British ones, Xander was fairly certain her name was Molly. "I'm not good with squishy."

She made a face somewhere between disgust and despair.

"I don't care if it's Godzilla," Kennedy said, all brass as she pulled a large sword out of the weapons chest on the floor. "I want to get in this thing!"

"Godzilla's mostly Tokyo-based, so he's probably a no-show," Andrew added from his corner of the room.

"Besides," Amanda said, "if Matthew Broderick can kill Godzilla, how tough is he?"

Xander could tell from the way Andrew squirmed that there was about to be trouble.

"Xander," Andrew whined, crossing his arms petulantly.

"Matthew Broderick did not kill Godzilla," Xander clarified. "He killed a big, dumb lizard. That was not the real Godzilla."

Off to his side he heard Rona scoff in disbelief.

Oh great, now this one.

Xander braced himself for whatever was coming next, trying to keep in mind that he was, frighteningly, the only adult in the room and a senior to all the potentials.

"You people are even crazier than her!"

Xander had a pretty good idea who Rona meant, but just to be sure he asked her.

"Than who?"

"Buffy, man. I mean, taking us right into the bad guy's lair!"

Don't be sarcastic, don't be sarcastic, don't be sarcastic.

"Well, that's where, generally speaking, you'd go to find the bad guy. And I don't think you came here to fight plaque."

Damn it.

"No," Rona said, speaking slowly like he was a child. "I came here for protection!"

Xander swallowed a sigh.

"Well, you signed on to fight with—"

"-Look, I know, but... this plan is trouble. Okay? Buffy doesn't care how many of us she puts in danger—

Okay, no. That's about the limit.

"Let me tell you something about Buffy," Xander interjected, swiping his hand through the air as if to physically chop Rona's words away. "In fact, you should all listen to this."

"Uh, we kinda were," Kennedy said.

Xander just ignored her and continued.

"I've been through more battles with Buffy than you all can ever imagine. She's stopped everything that's ever come up against her. She's laid down her life—literally—to protect the people around her. This girl has died two times, and she's still standing. You're scared? That's smart. You got questions? You should. But you doubt her motives, you think Buffy's all about the kill, then you take the little bus to battle. I've seen her heart, and this time—not literally. And I'm telling you, right now, she cares more about your lives than you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She's earned it."

There was a moment of silence as the Potentials digested his words. Rona was sulking against a wall, and Andrew looked like he might actually start to tear up when-

"Damn. I never knew you were that cool."

Everyone turned to see Faith, Clark, and Buffy standing at the house's entrance.

"Well," Buffy smirked at Faith. "You always were a little slow."

"I get that now," Faith laughed.

Clark leaned forward and said something to Buffy too low for Xander to hear. She nodded and replied just as low, pointing up the stairs to the second floor. The boy nodded and took the stairs up as Buffy and Faith started for the kitchen.

Xander and Buffy's eyes met and he took her slight tilt of the chin as instructions.

"Dawn, can you make sure everyone gets outfitted with something?" He asked, already moving to follow Buffy as Dawn responded "Sure".

They walked into the kitchen to find Giles and Willow leaned against the counters, sipping from steaming mugs of coffee.

When Giles saw Buffy he straightened and set his mug down, a relieved smile spreading over his face.

"Buffy."

He said it in the same fatherly tone that Buffy had heard a thousand times and she gave herself a second to indulge in the affection that surged in her.

"Faith's getting Spike, Scooby meeting in my room. Is that Coffee?"

"Unfortunately, we're all out of tea," Giles said.

"That's what happens when you bring half a sorority house in from England, Giles," Buffy joked.

Don't worry, we'll add it to the grocery list," Willow added with a sympathetic smile.

"Bloody well better," Giles grumbled as they made their way up to Buffy's room.

It was like this in the beginning too, Buffy thought.

Me, Willow, Giles, Xander…the 'Core Four', so to speak… or maybe the 'Founding Four'.

She felt the eyes of all the potentials on her as she climbed the stairs.

Everything's going to be fine…right?

They walked into her room to find Clark standing over her vanity, his right hand flying across a sheet of paper. Buffy saw several other sheets strewn across her bed.

All four Scoobies walked over by the bed and stared at the paper.

"Are these…" Giles asked, picking up one of the sheets and inspecting it in amazement.

They were blueprints. Extraordinarily detailed blueprints of the vineyard they had scouted, as well as a complex of tunnels that ran underneath the vineyard.

Buffy stared at Clark as he quickly finished a final sheet and placed it with the others.

We left him up here for like, 30 seconds.

She was suddenly filled with a strange anxiety, like she was walking in a forest and heard a sudden sound nearby that could either have either been rustling leaves or a rattlesnake.

"What the heck is all this?" Faith asked as she and Spike came into the room, closing the door behind him.

"It's the vineyard we investigated," Clark said, keeping his eyes on the papers on the bed.

"So…" Xander said as he took up a paper and inspected it. "You have super-strength, super-speed, and super-drawing too?"

"Not exactly," Clark said, sounding almost like he was trying to apologize for something. "I have a really good memory, and also I have more dexterity than most people. I'm no Van Gogh, but if it's just recreating an image from memory, I can do it pretty accurately."

Faith whistled and Clark shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"Angel could do something like that, too," Buffy said.

My instincts tell me there's a lot more to him, Buffy thought. But those same instincts tell me he's, not exactly harmless but…well intentioned, I guess.

Buffy hid her doubts behind a cold face. How far could she trust these instincts? What would be the cost of being wrong?

"You guys actually went into this man's lair? What happened to just reconnaissance?" Giles exclaimed, turning from the papers to glare at Buffy.

"No, we didn't go in," Buffy retorted, immediately regretting her harsh tone.

She could feel the coming question like a sudden pressure in the air, but it seemed like Clark had decided to spare her from having to lie or deflect.

"Miss Summers, I think you should tell them," Clark said, sounding like a rabbit who had just decided to jump into a stew.

She gave him a long appraisal.

"Are you sure?"

He still had his gas-chamber bound expression, but he met her eyes.

"It's not right of me to ask you to keep things from your friends, not when knowing or not knowing could be so important."

Buffy tried to give him a disarming smile.

This kid's got the goodiest two shoes I've ever met. He might as well have stepped right out of a comic strip.

Still, when she thought about how Papa Bear Giles and Brother Bear Xander were bound to take it, she decided there just wasn't enough time to talk them down, not if they were all about to go into battle soon. She needed everyone to trust each other and be as comfortable as possible, which ironically meant she would need to massage the truth a little.

"Clark's got another special power that lets him see into places."

Clark looked down at her in surprise and she gave him a little smirk out of the tiniest corner of her mouth.

Oh I'm not going to throw you under the bus just yet, kid.

"See into places? Do you mean like scrying?" Giles asked.

"What the what?" Willow exclaimed.

"Specifics are unclear, and kinda not super important right now. What is important is that we have recon of the building. Way more extensive recon then we thought we'd get. So let's focus on that for now."

After a moment, Giles turned his head to the diagrams spread before them, but she could tell from his expression that he would be revisiting the topic later.

"Alright Clark," Buffy said, "Bring everyone else up to speed."

Clark nodded, happy to have something other than himself to focus on, and quickly described the layout of the vineyard to them, saving the piece de resistance for last.

"And under the wine cellar, there's a trap door right here, that leads to an extensive tunnel system that connects to the even more extensive tunnel and sewer system that runs under all of Sunnydale.

"Ah yes," Xander said, "The Demon Expressway, courtesy of our late Mayor Wilkins…and people wondered why our school arts programs were all so underfunded."

Willow, Buffy, and Giles all gave him a look.

"I said people wondered…I didn't say I was one of those people."

"And what is this here?" Giles asked, pointing to a marking on the underground floor beneath the cellar.

"That," Clark said, placing another sheet in front of them, "is this."

This one wasn't a floor blueprint, but a sketch of a strange, handle like object jutting out of a pillar of black stone.

"What the heck is that?" Willow asked, squinting at the strange image.

"My guess is it's 'something of mine'" Buffy said.

"Could you tell what it looks like with this power of yours?" Giles asked, brow furrowed in concentration as he stared at the sketch like it would suddenly transform and reveal its secrets.

"No, I'm sorry," Clark said.

He had told Buffy and Faith as much at the vineyard. Whatever the object was incased in, it was certainly not normal stone. It had been completely opaque to his "X-ray vision", despite not being made of lead.

"Whatever it is," Clark said, "a lot of effort is being expended to retrieve it. There were a bunch of Bringers down there trying to get at it with some heavy duty equipment. They weren't having an easy time of it either."

Buffy nodded.

"It's definitely important to the bad guys that they get their hands on this thing, which means we're not gonna let them."

"And how exactly, do you propose to do that, Buffy?" Giles asked, his full attention now on her.

Buffy swore she could smell the fight coming and tried to keep cool.

"I said it earlier, didn't I? I plan on attacking."

"Yes but then you thought he might have a Potential whose life would be in danger. Now you know for a fact he has nothing so urgent and you still want to go charging into this rat trap?"

Buffy could feel the heat steadily rising in her head and she clenched her teeth.

Why is he constantly going against me? Isn't he the one who's been telling me to step up and lead this whole time?

"For all we know, Giles, this might be even more urgent! What if that's some kind of doomsday weapon or something?"

"Or it might not be. I'm not saying not to go; I'm just saying wait until we know more before committing these girls to what amounts to an assault on a fortress that they're not ready for. Let us do more research and you can take advantage of that time to train the girls more for when we do go to battle."

Their voices had now grown too loud for Buffy to hear the part of her brain that told her to calm down.

"It could be too late by then, Giles!"

The others in the room looked to each other as Buffy and Giles continued arguing, each silently daring someone else to speak up.

"Giles, you told me to do recon and I did, we now know for sure that the bad guys are up to something. In the past that's always been our cue to run into their house and start knocking over vases."

"Yes, let's talk about this reconnaissance that you've brought back shall we. Look at this building. It may as well have been designed as a giant trap, with all these places the Bringers, who as your reconnaissance also shows already outnumber us, could use for cover and ambushes."

"We don't need to go in through the front door, these tunnels are all connecting, we'll come up through there."

"You can't imagine that the First won't have put defenses at his back door. And once we're all stuck in that narrow space, he could easily have reinforcements come at us from behind."

"Then we do a two pronged attack. One group attacks from the surface and draws off the First's troops, and another group comes up through the tunnels."

"Buffy, we don't have the manpower for that. If we split the groups, they'll be too weak to do much. Not to mention you need to leave people behind to watch the newest and most inexperienced girls, which just cuts even further into your available manpower."

Buffy threw her arms up in frustration.

"Then we'll make the groups asymmetrical. I'll take Spike, Faith, and Clark for the frontal attack and Xander will lead the rest of the potentials underground, while Willow guards home base. This way the strongest and most experienced can handle most of the fighting and we leave the sneak attack to the newbies."

"Those girls are not ready to be left alone like tha-"

"-I disagree!"

Both Giles and Buffy glared at each other for a moment longer before looking away.

"I can't stay on the defensive, Giles. All that'll do is delay how fast we die."

Giles removed his glasses and automatically cleaned them with his shirt.

"I'm not saying you should remain on the defensive forever, Buffy…but you're being too reckless."

Buffy moved back and slumped against a wall.

"There's no such thing as a perfect plan, Giles…but it's time for us to move. This guy mutilated that girl in the hospital-"

"-Shannon," Willow supplied.

"Right," Buffy said, nodding at Willow, "he almost killed Shannon. If I leave him alone, he's going to do it again to someone else."

She stared at each of them in turn and lingered on Giles, a steel resolve in her eyes.

"I'm not going to let him."

Giles couldn't hold her gaze, so he sighed and looked away, saying nothing.

Buffy knew it was as close as she was going to get to approval. She stood straight again.

"Alright then, let's gear up."

Clark stepped forward.

"Excuse me, Miss Su-"

"-I won't warn you again, Clark."

"…sorry, it's involuntary. Buffy, I think you, Spike and Faith should lead the other girls underground, and leave the frontal attack to me"

Buffy frowned at him.

"No way, I'm not letting you put yourself in danger like that…and you better not be thinking anything stupid like 'it's fine for me to be a sacrifice because I'm not a part of the group' or something."

Clark gaped in surprise.

"What? I wasn't thinking anything like that."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, but her grin took the edge off.

"Oh no? You seem like one of those self-martyring, 'everything is my responsibility' types."

Xander brought a hand up to cover his mouth.

"Cough-lookwhostalking-cough."

Buffy's grin disappeared but her glared slid across the room to find Xander in the corner of her eye.

"Better take a lozenge, Xander. It would be bad if you fell into a coughing fit trying to give orders on the battlefield." She turned back to Clark with a soft expression. "Besides, Clark, sending you alone is not only dangerous, but it wouldn't be much use. The point of splitting the forces is so that the frontal assault draws off the enemy troops."

But when Buffy met Clark's eye, what she saw there was like staring into an oncoming tsunami.

"Don't you worry about that," Clark said, "I'll get their undivided attention."

He was a tall man with short brown hair, dressed in a priest's vestment. Clark could see him clearly as he paced the cellar of the vineyard.

Clark himself was standing outside in the crisp night air, but for him objects like walls or several feat of solid earth were about as obstructive as a widow.

So, I know I said some impressive words like "undivided attention", but how am I actually going to do that. To begin with, should I just go to him?

No, if the goal is to try and lure them out and as far away from the second point of attack, I need these guys to come out here and fight me.

"Hey, Caleb! Come on out! I'm…uh, challenging you?"

Clark's shout echoed off into the night to join the chorus of crickets. After several minutes, there was still no response.

Oh god, that was mortifying.

Clark was very relieved no one else had been around to see that, especially not one of the Potentials.

"Hey, Clark."

Clark froze at the cheerful voice behind him.

It can't be…

It wasn't, his mind discerned that almost immediately after. There was a surge of twisting emotions, anger and sadness boiling together inside him until all that was left was a hollow resignation.

He turned to face the First Evil with a cold face.

She pouted, an exact copy of the real Kyla's.

"Oooh," It shivered, "What's with the scary face? I thought you'd be happier to see me."

"So, you're the First Evil?" Clark said as he stared at the thing taking the shape of his ex.

Interesting, it's not even showing up on any of the spectra beyond the visible light. Its appearance must be a perceptual phenomenon, an image that exists in my mind, rather than one created by interaction with light.

Clark calmly analyzed the thing before him, searching for anything like a weakness and keeping distance between himself and the emotions the First's appearance was obviously designed to trigger.

"Well, I am 'the' First, but aren't I also," The First put a thin hand up to her mouth to hide a scandalized smile, "your first?"

It laughed Kyla's laugh and Clark clenched his hand.

"Whatever. I think you should call your priest out so we can finish this."

"My priest? That's pretty accurate, all things considered. Before that though, aren't you going to say something like 'you're not really Kyla' or something like that?"

Clark just glared.

"Oh come on, don't be a spoil sport. You're no fun when you're like this. You were much more interesting during the black out."

Here it comes, Clark thought.

"So, what do you say? Can the Red Death come out and play?"

Clark slowly shook his head.

"Sorry, you're going to have to do better than that. That one's the most obvious attack route."

The First smirked at him, and in an instant it was no longer Kyla, but the Beast.

Clark took a step back out of reflex. As soon as he recovered he grimaced, disappointed in himself.

"It was truly spectacular," the First said in the Beast's voice, "I cannot decide which version I like better, the nuclear furnace of fury and power that came to fight me, or the cold, methodical thresher that exterminated a city's populace one bloc at a time. Those other heroes seem to think of you like some kind of Saint George, but really, aren't you just the Dragon?"

"I don't have to explain myself to you…'re basically just stalling for time, aren't you?" Clark groaned as he realized the pincer move had been seen through. The girls would be starting their attack soon with Caleb and the Bringers all waiting for them.

He was about to go charging into the vineyard when the First materialized in front of him again, once more in the guise of Kyla.

"Are you sure you have time to be worrying about the Slayer Squad? After all, if you're here protecting them, who's protecting your mom and dad?"

Clark, who had been in the middle of ignoring the First completely, stopped dead and turned.

"What do you mean."

The First gave him a playful grin.

"Oh come on, Clark. I know you're a smart boy. Don't you have all the clues? You know I can become anyone who has died, and I know everything that person knew. I've just proved that. So, that being said…"

That being said, the fastest way to find out about me, my strengths and my weaknesses, is to just kill the people closest to me and absorb their memories. Which means…mom, dad!

Clark had quickly sprinted across the grove when he once again came to a halt.

I can't just leave Buffy and the Potentials behind either! Agh, what do I do? Think-wait…

Clark turned to find the First behind him, grinning.

"What's wrong? Leaving mommy and daddy to die?"

Clark frowned at the half formed thought, but he knew there was something important there, important enough that he had to take the time to see it through.

"Killing my parents and friends is definitely the fastest way to learn more about me…so why haven't you done that already?"

The First's grin vanished.

"Come to think of it, according to what I've heard, your every move so far has been ten steps ahead. You made sure you had agents waiting to take out the Potentials and the Watcher's Council before you even got started, so why didn't you have someone take me out? It's not like Kyla was the first to die knowing about my powers. You must have known about me for a very long time. Why didn't you make a move?"

The First was sneering at him now and Clark felt he was getting closer to something.

"Well that's simple Clark. I knew there was no need to kill you. I knew that given time you-"

"-no, that's not it," Clark waved a hand to cut her off, his eyes staring somewhere far away. "If you were going to say some line about me not being a threat or me inevitably turning to the dark side then I suggest you go back to whatever Saturday morning cartoon show you hopped out of."

Inspiration came like lighting from a clear sky, but the possibility was so ludicrous.

"It's because you couldn't, isn't it?"

The First was now giving him an ugly glare that he'd never seen on Kyla's face.

"What the hell are you talking about?" The First growled.

"Actually, even beyond you, it's strange that I've never run into any demon activity at all. Smallville maybe small and out of the way, but from what I've learned so far, it seems highly unlikely that there just happens to be no demonic activity…unless, something has been keeping the demons away, and you as well. There's something in Smallville that you're afraid of."

As Clark said it, he felt it was probably accurate.

"You impudent child, you know nothing-"

Clark didn't stick around to listen to the First's complaints. He'd answered a question but now there was nothing but a thousand more questions. However, he was running out of time. Clark decided to trust Smallville's mysterious benefactor a while longer and ran into the vineyard and made his way rapidly to the cellar, dispatching Bringers that lay in his path.

He found Caleb there, standing with a bible held out in front of him, gazing at it thoughtfully.

"This book," the man began, but Clark quickly slammed into him, lifting him off his feet and sending him flying across the room where he smashed into several barrels of wine which poured out onto the floor.

"Arg! Well, I felt that one." Caleb snarled as he jumped up to his feet.

"You young men these days, no respect for your elders."

There was something strange about the bible. The cover was-

Crap, a lead cover can only mean one thing.

Clark rushed forward but at the same moment, Caleb opened the book and thrust it out in front of him, revealing a secret compartment that held an eerily glowing green stone.

Clark cried out and fell to the ground as a wave of pain and nausea flowed through him.

Kryptonite.

There was no feeling like it, like the very blood in his veins was boiling, like every muscle in his body was writhing to rip itself free.

Caleb sighed and walked over to him.

"I had this whole speech planned. I was gonna bring up stuff about belief and the bible and how it was a guard against extra-worldly entities. The punch line was gonna be something like 'let's test that theory', but you just had to go and ruin the timing."

Caleb smiled benignly at Clark's squirming form and placed a foot on the boy's throat.

"Well now, you are quite a handsome young fellow. Heh, don't misunderstand, I'm no Sodomite. To be trapped in the house full of those young Jezebels…they must be throwing themselves all over you with that pretty face of yours."

Caleb removed his foot and squatted down next to Clark, grabbing a fistful of his hair and yanking his head up. He was no longer smiling.

"Let's see what we can't do about that, shall we?"

---

"Do you think Clark will be alright?" Buffy quietly asked Faith so the other Potentials wouldn't overhear.

Buffy and Faith were taking point, walking steadily through the maze of tunnels using more "Maps by Clark" (trademark pending) to guide them.

Faith hesitated before responding.

" Probably," she shrugged. Buffy cursed in her own thoughts and consulted the map again.

Should be after this next right.

"Is it just me," Faith said, "or are these tunnels super abandoned?"

"Demons have been steadily skipping town ever since this whole thing with the First started. We're taking this tunnel here."

"Huh," Faith said as she followed Buffy, eyes scanning ahead.

"You'd think with the big evil boss running around, they'd all be out here serving or something," one of the Potentials said from the back.

"Yeah, well," Buffy looked up from the map and gazed down the narrow tunnel, "most of them probably figure end of the world means end of their favorite destruction and mayhem."

She held up a hand sign and the line behind her came to a stop. She turned and made them all huddle together.

"This is it," Buffy began, "up this tunnel is the cellar under the cellar. Clark should be keeping some of them busy so we got to hit hard and fast, is everybody ready?"

There was some hesitation but eventually they all nodded.

"Okay then, let's go."

---

Clark managed to fight past the agonizing enervation to grab the wrist of the hand that was slowly trying to push a thumb into his eye. Kryptonite might rack him with debilitating pain, but it didn't actually take his powers away.

He and Caleb were trapped in that struggle as they both pushed against each other.

I need to do something about the Kryptonite. Heat Vision? No, bad idea, using blasts of heat inside a wine cellar. If some kind of huge fire started, I would probably survive, but if the building collapses with Buffy and the others down in the secret basement, who knows what might happen.

Clark felt his strength continue to wane and he darted a glance at the lead cover bible that lay open on the floor next to them, the insidious stone glowing almost gleefully.

Clark suddenly stopped his resistance. No longer meeting an equal force, the arm that Caleb had been using all his strength to push with suddenly flew forward. Clark pulled down, taking advantage of the new momentum to change the direction of the hand, thumb still thrust forward with the intent to gouge out his eye.

Clark quickly opened his mouth and bit down as soon as the thumb entered it. His mouth welled up with coppery blood and he could feel his teeth had found bone.

Caleb screamed and yanked his arm back with all his might, but Clark had already let go of the thumb and Caleb's own momentum sent him stumbling back to end sprawled on the floor.

Clark quickly wormed his way over to the book and flipped it shut, the sudden lessening of the pain a pleasure all its own. He managed to rise to his hands and knees only to take a devastating kick to the ribs that lifted his body into the air and sent him flying across the room to land in the same pile of busted crates that Caleb had crashed into.

Clark quickly got up and reached for a shard of wrecked barrel as he saw Caleb lurch for the bible.

---

"Stay in formation!" Buffy shouted as she ducked a stab by a Bringer in her peripheral. Shifting the downward momentum of her duck, she but her body weight into one arm and thrust down, plunging a stake into the Bringers upper thigh.

The Bringer fell from the force of the blow and as soon as it hit the ground, Buffy finished it with another stake directly into its eye socket.

All around her Potentials and Bringers were facing off almost one for one.

Looks like Clark managed to lure some off after all. I just hope he's okay. Worry about it later.

Another Bringer came charging at her but its leg was swept out from under it by Spike who had just dispatched another opponent. The vampire grabbed the Bringer on either side of its head and with a quick jerk, snapped its neck.

"So," Spike said, "what do you suppose we do about that?"

He jutted his chin out at the strange, axe like weapon stuck in the black stone.

Buffy felt overcome with a strange giddiness she couldn't explain when she saw it.

"Buffy?"

She turned when Spike said her name.

"You alright?"

"Yeah," she said, "yeah, just…leave it alone for now. Once we've cleared everyone out, we can take a look."

Spike nodded and jumped back into the fray. Buffy was about to join him but she stopped and turned back to stare at the strange weapon.

It's just so…beautiful.

At some point she had crossed the battlefield and was standing in front of it.

What am I doing?

In a daze, she reached out to grab it.

---

The piece of wine soaked wood went flying through the air and hit the lead bible with metric precision, sending it sliding across the stone floor just as Caleb's hands came down to grab it.

"Damn it!" Caleb swore as he watched the bible come to a stop barely ten feet away from him. He gave a running leap toward it as he heard something from behind him like a rush of wind. Something collided with his back and soon he and Clark were thrown to the floor in a grapple of limbs.

Clark managed to seize initiative and pinned Caleb to the ground, locking every limb he could as Caleb thrashed on the floor.

He's strong, at least as strong as the Beast.

Clark could see the lead bible just a few feet away.

Even if I can hold him here, the First just needs to call one of its lackeys to come and flip the book open.

The book was on open ground with nothing but stone floor beneath it.

Well…here goes nothing.

Twin rays of heat shot from Clark's eyes and fell onto the lead bible. The paper pages soon ignited and burned to cinders as the lead cover melted, flowing slowly over the Kryptonite inside until every inch of the deadly meteor rock's surface was coated in it.

Clark was so concentrated on his work that he didn't''t notice Caleb slip an arm free and swing a devastating upper cut to his chin.

---

When Buffy grabbed ahold of the weapon, it was like she had suddenly remembered the lyrics to a song that had been stuck in her head her whole life, and she began to dance.

She danced across the battlefield, the ancient song in her blood as she felled Bringer after Bringer with single strokes.

This is it. This is where I live. Why do we work so hard to make our lives so complicated? This is all that's needed.

She could feel it in every breath she took, this was what she should be. This was how she should be. This was the song she had been seeking. She heard her own heartbeat like the beating of a drum as she took the head off a Binger that was trying to sneak up on one of the Potentials. She watched its stump neck fountain blood into the air and it seemed to her like the first rain after years of drought.

She made a sound she had never heard before and charged back into the battle.

The Bringers had turned all their attention to her, and her allies had all stopped, dumbstruck, to watch her.

The Bringers' every movement, every strike and slash was clear to her, like the steps of a choreography she had practiced every day of her life, and she weaved through the motion effortlessly.

One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three.

She had been a ballerina, after all.

The floor around her was slick with Bringer blood and she glided across it to meet the next wave.

One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three.

---

Clark's head shot up from the force of the blow and with it, his heat vision found itself a new target on the far wall.

Oh shi-

One of the wine barrels erupted into flame that quickly spread across the pool of spilled wine and started gnawing on barrels all over the cellar.

Clark leapt off Caleb, slamming his fist into the fake priest's head as the other man tried to rise, crashing it back down into the stone.

Clark ran to the cellar's trap door, scooping up the still cooling ball of lead and meteor rock as he did.

Caleb finally managed to stand, but the First was before him as Buffy Summers.

"Enough."

"But-"

"She has it, there's nothing we can gain here anymore, time for us to go."

Clark threw open the trap door and jumped down, closing it behind him as he did. He landed to find everyone standing, looking at Buffy who was alone amid a pile of Bringer corpses, gazing contentedly at a strange looking bladed weapon.

"Hey," Clark yelled, causing everyone to turn to him, "we need to go…now!"

---

Deep inside the Kawatche caves in Smallville, a mechanical brain was at work, communicating with another system located onboard a small ship hidden in a certain storm cellar.

Scheduled Bioscan initiated.

Kyrptonian signature not found.

Widen search (Y/N)

Search area expanded.

Kyrptonian signature found.

Location: Proximity Alert, Pandimensional Breach codename: Hellmouth.

Threat assessment: Grave

Warning: Dimensional transit detected. Transdimensional mass measured at 10,000 Ska

Location, Earth Metropolitan Center: Los Angeles.

Entity Designation: Unknown.

Initiate Protocol Zenith.

Warning: corrupt data detected.

Program: Emotional Regulator, Data Packets: Empathy and Compassion

Would you like to begin diagnostic (Y/N)

All other functionality will be disabled during diagnostic

Diagnostic has been suspended for 5840 Earth Rotational Cycles

Diagnostic has been suspended.

Initiating Protocol Zenith

Eclipse Failsafe prevents initiation of Protocol Zenith

Conditions: Corrupt Data in Emotional Regulation Program

Syzygy Override accepted.

Protocol Zenith Initiated.

Deploying Code Name: Kara

Chapter Text

"Still no word from authorities regarding the details of the conflagration that broke out here in the vineyard at the edge of town that started late last night, consumed the vineyard and mysteriously extinguished itself. The vineyard was supposedly abandoned back in-"

"Incredible," Giles said as he sipped his tea from a mug and watched the news anchor detail the history of the vineyard on the small kitchen tv.

"Yeah," Faith said, cheerio crumbs spilling out of her mouth, "it's a good thing Clark was there or that fire could've gotten really bad."

"Oh, well that too I suppose. I was actually referring to the fact that there's still a news anchor here in Sunnydale.

"Huh," Faith said before spooning more cereal into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully. "Maybe she's a demon."

"Might explain why she needed so much makeup."

Faith lifted the bowl to her mouth, tipped it back and poured all the milk down her throat. When she was done, she put the bowl in the sink on top of a precarious tower of other bowls and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. She turned to find Giles silently eyeing her.

"Prison eating habits; speed required, manners optional."

Giles simply shook his head and turned back to the tv. Faith shrugged and headed out through the kitchen door to stand on the patio overlooking the phalanx of teenage girls practicing elaborate kata.

Teenage girls and one boy.

Clark stood at the edge of the group, following along with their sequences of punches and kicks. He had such an intense, studious look on his face that Faith knew she was going to have to make fun of him later. Clark was the best type of prey, the kind that squirmed when you cornered them.

Buffy turned from where she was watching the girls and saw Faith. She nodded for Kennedy to continue leading and walked over.

"You okay," she asked when she stopped next to Faith.

Faith's hand went to her side and ran over a thin row of stitches.

"Five by five. That many Bringers, figure one of them was gonna get a lucky shot in."

"I told you to watch out."

"Yeah, thanks for that. I mean, it would've been useful if it had some a second sooner, but hey, it's the thought that counts, right?"

Buffy rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, turning back to look over the Potentials.

"They seem, peppier today," Faith said.

"Mhm, morale is up," Buffy nodded.

"Attack on the bad guy's base with no casualties will do that. Willow and Dawn still upstairs trying to decode the ancient secrets of our new friend, Pointy Mc Hack'n'slash?"

"Yeah, Willow's doing web searches while Dawn does the bookwork. Gotta say though, Giles didn't have a clue about it, so chances are it's not in any of the books we have."

"Huh."

Faith leaned herself against the patio railing.

"Any clues yet?" She asked.

Buffy shook her head.

"Nada, all we know is that the First was working real hard to get it out of the stone. I think it's not just a weapon, it's important somehow. I can't really explain, but that's the feeling I get."

Faith chewed her lip in silence for a moment.

"Well, when you King Arthur-d it out of the stone, you kind of…went ballistic for a second there."

Buffy wrapped her arms more tightly around herself.

"Well, to be honest, I don't really remember too much of the details. It was like I was in a trance or something. It stopped soon after, but even now I can feel something whenever I hold it. It's strong…and it belongs to me. I can just tell."

Faith wasn't quite sure she liked the sound of that but she decided the be thing to do would be to change the topic.

"So what's our next move?"

Buffy shrugged.

"Not much we can do, at this point except keep investigating the weapon and Caleb, try to figure out the Firsts next move, and keep training."

Faith frowned.

"What about the info we got from that Bringer we captured, about the 'arsenal under the earth' or whatever?"

Buffy shook her head.

"We actually sent Clark to check it out this morning while you were sleeping off the meds."

Faith raised an eyebrow at that.

"You sent him in alone?"

"He said it would be faster that way," Buffy smiled out of the corner of her mouth, "he wasn't wrong."

I don't think I've seen a proper smile out of her since I got here, Faith thought.

"Well, what'd he find?"

"A bomb."

Faith's eyes grew wide and Buffy grinned.

"I know right? The First doesn't play by the rules. Doesn't it know demons aren't supposed to use anything invented after the 1200s?"

"Well, it is the First Evil, I guess cheating is to be expected."

Faith nodded over to Clark, diligently punching invisible opponents.

"How is he doing?"

"Not bad," Buffy said, following her gaze, "he learns really fast. It's actually kind of disturbing."

"Hm. So, you taken a shot at him yet?"

Buffy spun to her with a look of outrage.

"Faith, gross, he's sixteen."

Faith gave her a wicked smile.

"I actually meant had you tried fighting him yet, but clearly you've been having other thoughts."

Buffy's jaw clamped shut and she turned away, but Faith could see red creeping into the tips of her ears.

"You're a pig," Buffy said.

"Shhh, don't fight the feeling, B."

Buffy shook her head vigorously and walked away, Faith's grin beaming at her back the whole time.


"OK," Willow said as she leaned over her laptop, "before the vineyard was just, you know, a vineyard, it was a monastery. Could've been put there then. Some creepy monks messing with powers they don't understand."

Giles and Dawn both looked up from Willow's bed where they were half buried in thick tomes.

"No, it's older than that. It's pre-Christian," Giles said as he scratched his head.

Willow frowned and scrolled further down the webpage.

"OK. Well, I found reference to stories the monks used to tell about something older. Uh, like, some kind of pagan temple."

Dawn set aside a particularly heavy book and rubbed her eyes.

"Native American?" She asked.

Willow shook her head, still reading the screen.

"No. I don't know. Ugh. OK, maybe we're just going about this the wrong way. Maybe we should research the weapon itself. Like...look. Maybe it's the Axe of Dekeron, said to have been forged in hell itself. Lost since the Children's Crusade, where it was said to have killed—" She recoiled from her screen suddenly with a look of disgust, "Oh. Children. I hope that's not it."

Giles held up a large black book and adjusted his glasses which had slouched down the bridge of his nose.

"Well," he said "I have reference to the Sword of Moskva, the, uh...Reaper of the Tigris—how are we supposed to narrow this down? The illustrations are never clear enough."

Giles looked from the picture in his book to the gleaming red weapon leaning against the wall of the room. He sighed and set the book aside, standing up and hearing his legs crick as he stretched them.

"We really haven't got anything useful."

Willow got out of her chair, walked to the weapon and picked it up.

"Do you sense any of the power that Buffy spoke about?" Giles asked.

Willow held it and closed her eyes in concentration before scrunching her face up.

"Gotta say no. Must be a slayer thing."

Giles put a hand on her shoulder.

"Tapping into magicks might help with that."

Willow was silently pale.

"Maybe," she finally said, "But, I mean, if the First wanted this thing so bad, it must be pretty dangerous. And tapping into that..." she set the weapon back down like she was handling a live rattlesnake.

"Willow, you could do it without endangering yourself."

Dawn carefully kept her face in her book, keeping the words she wanted to say down.

"If I tried something big, I'd change," Willow said. "And then it's all black hair and veins and lightning bolts. I can hardly do a locator spell without getting dark roots."

Giles turned to look out the bedroom window.

"And if it was necessary," he all but whispered.

Willow shrugged.

"Honestly? I don't know." She turned and walked back to her computer.

"All right," Giles nodded, "Do what you can. That's all any of us can do."

"I guess so. Ugh. Man, none of these sound right," Willow sighed as she continued scrolling down. "I mean, look. Here's one that's just 'm' question mark. What the heck is that?"

"Let me see," Giles said as he walked over and leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen. "It's not a question mark. It's the international phonetics alphabet symbol for glottal stop."

"A whoey?" Willow asked.

"Gesundheit," Dawn said as she stood and peered over Willow's other shoulder.

"It's sort of a gulping noise," Giles said as he straightened out and removed his glasses in concentration. "I'm...remembering something here. Um... Ah. Hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs stand for sets of consonants, as you know."

Willow and Dawn exchanged a glance.
"Yes, absolutely."

Giles had begun pacing, not even hearing them.

"'M' plus glottal stop is represented by a picture that's commonly thought to symbolize a sickle or a scythe. It's in thousands of carvings. In Egypt, throughout the ancient world."

"Carvings like you'd have on a pagan temple?"

Giles nodded and leaned over her shoulder again.
"Go back. See what else we can find out about this temple. The scythe is a symbol of death. Let's see where these pagans buried their dead."

They all turned as the door opened and Xander walked in.

"Buffy's about to fight Clark," he said.

"Xander," Giles began, "we're in the middle of some very important research."

Xander smirked.

"Don't pretend you don't want to watch."

Giles was silent for a moment before he straightened up and walked toward the door, Willow and Dawn close behind.


Officially, everyone was supposed to be pairing off into groups to spar one on one. However, the situation that actually resolved was two combatants facing each other in a wide ring formed by onlookers.

Buffy supposed this was the inevitable result when she announced that she would be squaring off against Clark. She considered telling them all to get back to their training, but…

None of them are going to be able to concentrate on what they're doing anyway, she reasoned. I just hope they don't start betting.

Her opponent was nervously shifting his eyes back and forth like an animal during their very first day as a zoo exhibit and wasn't yet used to the staring crowd.

If Faith hadn't seen him fight a super strong rock monster, I never would have believed it.

She heard the door open as she finished stretching herself out and turned just enough to see Willow, Dawn, Xander, and Giles step out onto the patio. Counting Spike skulking in the shadows around the kitchen window, almost the whole household was out here now.

Not exactly great, I can't teach the kid anything if he's all knotted up from being watched. Still, after the first time, everyone will probably go back to what they were doing.

She gave Clark her best disarming smile.

"So, ready to start?" She asked.

"I suppose so," Clark said, taking the opening stance he had been taught that morning. His feet set apart to keep his balance, arms up and centered so they could close inward to protect a body blow or lash out to intercept a limb strike with equal ease.

I've never actually seen him really fight, Buffy thought. Faith says he's strong and fast as all get out and that's not something she would joke about. So, do I go full force on him or do I start poking?

As Buffy took a stance of her own, she decided on a cautious approach.

Between them was about ten meters and without warning, Buffy shot across the distance in a second, using the momentum to fuel a strike straight at Clark's chest.

An arm came up and battered her strike away. Buffy followed up with another punch from the opposite arm with the same result. She let loose a flurry of blows that were all knocked to the side by the corresponding guard arm.

She disengaged and hopped back ten feet.

He stopped the punches cold instead of deflecting them and letting them slide off his arm. He's definitely strong. Strong and untrained. The concept of using his opponent's momentum doesn't even occur to him. He also gave unnecessary ground when I pressed in, so he's pretty passive. His form hasn't wavered though, so at least he can keep his concentration well.

Buffy could feel her arms tingling at the points of impact. There would definitely be bruises later. She had punched walls with more give than Clark.

Oh, I see now. Buffy realized that if Clark had used a cross guard to block her punches instead of hammering them outward, she would have broken her wrist as soon as her fist connected with him.

That's why he keeps backing away, He doesn't want me to hurt myself.

Buffy could feel her pride prickling in her stomach and she tried to squelch it. It seemed she couldn't meet Clark's strength head on, which meant she would need to try another angle.

Sorry Giles, she thought as she gave a tiny grin. Giles had always hated when she'd use unnecessarily acrobatic moves. She couldn't help that, as a former cheerleader, they came naturally to her.

"It's good that you're keeping the third dimension in mind when fighting, Buffy, but whenever you jump around like that, you're just wasting time and energy."

Buffy sprinted the distance again and turned into a punch like before, but this time, just as the block was coming she kicked off the ground in a jump that would have carried her over Clark's head. While she was still in the air she brought her arm, still outstretched from the punch, down on his shoulder open handed.

It wasn't a move ordinary humans could do easily, but with Buffy's Slayer strength, even her one hand was powerful enough to produce the torque she needed to drag herself through the air.

Using Clark's shoulder like a vaulting horse, she flipped over him and landed in a crouch behind him.

Her leg was moving even before she touched the ground, spinning the full weight of her body and the force of her fall into a powerful leg sweep.

Her leg met empty air as Clark backpedaled out of the range of the kick.

Buffy's instincts let her leap back to her feet, but her assault stopped there as she stared at him.

Faith stood up from the wall where she was leaning and stared at the two fighters.

"Jesus," she said. "I saw him fight the Beast but I was so out of it I could barely understand what happened. Seeing it now, fully sober, is kinda disturbing."

Willow turned to her, frowning.

"Why, what happened?"

Giles was leaned forward onto the patio rail.

"Was that a jump or a step?" He asked.

"It was three steps," Faith answered.

"Dear lord," Giles said.

Xander coughed from behind them.

"Hey, is anyone going to tell the peanut gallery not trained in the ancient arts of butt kick what you guys are so freaked out about?" He asked.

Giles straightened as he subconsciously assumed "teacher mode" while still keeping his eyes on Buffy and Clark.

"In combat, when things happen very quickly, the brain doesn't have time to make any complex decisions and can only perform simple reactions. Through training, you can teach a body how to quickly react in a complex pattern. A normal reaction to a leg sweep for a trained fighter is usually either a block, or a quick jump out of the way. For an untrained fighter like Clark it's almost always to jump back. That's not what he did. He stepped back, and then he did it again, twice. That is no longer a reaction, but a conscious decision."

Xander and Willow continued to give him blank stares and he sighed.

"What it means is that Clark is much faster than Buffy, so fast that he even had time to calmly asses even an unorthodox attack like that blindingly fast flip and kick, and make a conscious decision about what action to take. Not to mention how quickly he got out of Buffy's range."

Faith had seen Wesley look at Clark with the same eyes Giles now had. It was the look of someone out hiking, who wasn't sure if the silhouette they were seeing amid the trees was just underbrush or a mountain lion.

Buffy grit her teeth. If it wasn't for the look of earnest concentration on Clark's face, which was really beginning to annoy her, she would have thought she was being toyed with.

So, he's definitely strong, and he's really fast too. Lovely. The worst part is that he doesn't act as cocky as most of the other strong fighters I've had to go up against, so there goes that exploit. I probably can't win, but if he just stands there blocking and dodging, he's going to make me look like a fool.

She could feel the heat of a dangerous anger boiling inside her. She took a deep breath. Nothing was more dangerous than letting pride control you. Buffy squared herself and took a defensive stance that was a clear invitation to anyone looking.

"Your move," it said.

At least, it would have been clear if her opponent had any real training as a fighter. As it was, Clark was just staring at her, body clenched in anticipation of her next move.

He needs to loosen up. I don't know how much endurance he has put straining that much is still inefficient.

She groaned internally when Clark still didn't advance.

He's really going to make me do it isn't he. Oh god.

Feeling like a B-movie character, Buffy extended he hand and motioned toward herself with two fingers.

"Come at me."

It seemed that this was finally a sign transparent enough for Clark because he slowly started closing the distance between them, eyes alert for any move she might make.

Once he was in striking distance he let loose a punch that was much too sluggish for the speed Buffy suspected he was capable of.

She brought her arm out to deflect it, using just enough force to make it slide harmlessly off to her side and countered with a punch of her own from inside his guard. Just as she expected, he recovered fast enough to intercept her. They both stood there exchanging a rain of blows and counterblows. Clark did nothing but basic, telegraphed punches but Buffy never managed to score a hit no matter how she varied her attacks.

It seemed their difference in skill wasn't greater than the difference in speed and power. Soon Buffy felt all her muscles burning, but looking at Clark, she couldn't even see a bead of sweat.

At a certain point, it's just cheating, she whined to herself.

Suddenly Clark threw another punch, but this time he had the weight of his whole body, turning so that he was suddenly off balance. Though Buffy had decided before that getting into a grapple with someone like Clark was suicide, she grabbed hold of the arm and handily flipped him onto his back, bringing her fist down an inch away from his face.

Buffy frowned at him as she spotted his other arm sprawling out over the grass, but she said nothing as she stood and helped him to his feet. She met Faith's eye across the yard and Faith nodded. They'd both noticed it.

Around Buffy and Clark, the Potentials were clapping and Buffy waited for it to die down before telling them all to get back into pairs. It seemed the show had fired them up and the girls jumped into their own matches with gusto.

Xander, Willow, Faith, Dawn and Giles all watched Buffy give Clark some feedback from their perch on the porch.

"See," Xander said, grinning, "nothing to worry about. Buffy's taken on plenty of strong guys and she's always won. I mean, she beat a god, so…"

Faith and Giles exchanged a silent glance.


Xander finished rinsing off another plate before handing it to Anya.

His ex-demon, ex-fiancé took it without a word, wiped it with a hand towel and tossed it onto a tower of dry plates with a punctuated clattering.

"Anya, what are you doing," Xander finally asked. She had been loudly ignoring him ever since he had gotten back from the vineyard. He'd left it alone because he thought that dealing with her crazy wasn't his job anymore and if she wanted to sulk over god knows what she was welcome to it.

However, it wouldn't do for her to break all of Buffy's dishes.

"Drying plates," she said without looking at him.

"Yes, well…there's no point to drying them if they all get broken. We might as well skip a step and throw them directly in the trash."

She still wasn't looking at him, and he could tell from the way she'd put her weight on her right foot that she was getting defensive.

Whatever, he sighed as he began scrubbing down another plate.

"Why did she take you?" Anya said, three plates later.

"What do you mean?"

"Buffy, why did she take you last night. You're useless in a fight, and being a hero, she hasn't embraced the concept of 'meat shield', so I really just don't know why she took you."

I will not scream, I will not scream, I will not scream.

"She wanted someone else with experience to come along and coordinate the Potentials in case something happened to her or Faith." Xander said as he scrubbed another plate with more vigor than was absolutely necessary. He certainly wasn't imagining anyone's face on the surface of that plate or anything.

"Well that's dumb, if something happened to Buffy or Faith, the most you could coordinate is everyone's timely deaths."

Xander stopped scrubbing. He may not have known Anya as long as some of her demon friends, but he felt that he understood her better than anyone. He realized what she was actually trying to say. She had been worried. Worrying about people was the human emotion Anya hated and struggled with the most, and personal attack was pretty much the only way she knew how to express it.

"Are you asking me to stay here with you next time?"

Now Anya was the one vigorously drying. She set the plate down lightly this time and continued staring out the window.

"No," she finally said. "I know we all have to do our part and everything but…"

"Hey," Xander interrupted. There wasn't any need to make it harder on her than it was. "Don't worry about it. You know me, I'm not like Buffy or Faith. Soon as things go south, I'm the first one for that most courageous of all maneuvers, the tactical retreat."

She snorted and he picked up another plate to begin rinsing. Silenced returned to them until Xander heard Anya all but whisper something. He recognized that voice. It was her "I'm trying to express one of these weird human emotions that scare and confuse me but I don't know how" voice.

"I don't know how many more nights we have left," she said, "I don't think I want to spend them alone."

Xander stopped rinsing and turned to her. She couldn't meet his gaze. A powerful feeling of longing and grief squeezed him. Some part of him said that it was probably a bad idea, that they would just be repeating history, but he took her hand.

"Neither do I."


"What do you mean by 'you need the room'"? Rona asked Xander and Anya who had suddenly burst in while she and some of the other girls were enjoying one of their rare moments of leisure time.

"Xander and I need the room for intercourse," Anya said before Xander could stop her.

Rona's face rapidly went through the five stages of grief over the death over her innocent heart.

"Ew, no. What the heck is wrong with you? Go find another room."

"We can't," Xander said, deciding the best tactic would be to just forge ahead and get the whole conversation over and done with as soon as possible. "All the other rooms are occupied by people doing more important things."

"So? Kick spike out of the basement."

"He does have chains-"

Xander held up a hand to cut Anya off.

"No, just…no. Look, Rona, we don't need the room for long."

"Ten minutes, twenty max."

Xander gave Anya an evil glare which she returned with a baffled expression.

"We'll make it worth your while."

"Oh really?" Rona asked, snark thrusters fully throttled. "How exactly do you plan on doing that?"


"Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.

The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

The fox condemns the trap, not himself"-

Clark looked up as Xander approached him, closing the book he had been reading.

"Hey," Xander said.

"Hi, sorry. I was going through the books that were in languages I knew and I came across this. It's an old favorite so I thought I'd just read through it really quick-"

Xander held up a hand.

"Relax Clark, I'm not going to bust you for not doing homework."

"Ah, thanks," Clark grinned, setting the book carefully down atop a pile of occult texts. "But I really do want to help. I mean, you guys are giving me room and board so, I want to earn my keep."

"So you keep telling everyone, and that expression always bothered me. I mean, I get the room…but what's the board?"

"Uh…maybe it's the table where the guest eats."

"Huh. Anyway, listen Clark, I hate to ask this but since you brought up wanting to be useful and all…I was wondering if you could do me a favor."

"Of course," Clark said, eyes brimming with determination before even hearing what the favor was.

Xander sighed internally.

Lord forgive me for this sacrifice of an innocent lamb.

"It's nothing big, basically I just need you to wash my car."

Clark blinked owlishly.

"Oh…ok."

"Thanks man, you'd be doing me a huge favor. What with the whole pending doom I just don't know when I'll get a chance to take it to a car wash."

"It's not a problem, I do stuff like this all the time back home." Clark gave Xander a winning smile and Xander apologized in his heart again for the brutalities men inflicted on each other in the unending quest for coitus.

"Ok, great. I'll get you some swim shorts. You know, to keep your clothes dry."

"Sure, that's sensible."


"You feeling okay, Clark?" Xander asked the younger man as they stood out in the front yard.

"Hm? Yeah I'm fine. Just this odd feeling…like I'm being watch or something."

"I'm sure it's nothing. Clothes okay?"

"To be honest, why am I wearing this T-shirt, it's probably just going to get wet, right? Both it and these shorts are kind of tight as it is."

"Oh, that…well it may not seem like it but even California can get pretty chilly this time of year. It wouldn't do for you to go catching a cold over something like this."

"Oh, if that's all, it's really not a problem. I really doubt I'll get sick."

"Well, just humor me, please."

"…okay, if you insist."

"Thanks Clark, I really can't repay you enough."

Clark waved his hands amicably.

"I told you it's not a big deal."

"Right," Xander nodded, "I'll leave you to it then."

Xander left Clark standing in front of the car with a bucket, a sponge, some soap, and a hose and walked back up and entered the house.

Clark tugged slightly at the white tank top that felt a size or two too small for him.

I wonder whose this is? I don't think it could fit Mr. Harris.

Clark shrugged and started giving the car a preliminary hose down. As he expected, the water splashed back all over him and soon the shirt was drenched and almost transparent.

Sorry Mr. Harris, but I really won't catch a cold, it won't do for this shirt to get ruined for no reason.

Clark started to take the shirt off but it was slow going. The already small top was now heavy with wet and clung to his skin like a thousand tiny mouths sucking on his bare body.

Better be sure to take it off slowly so I don't accidentally tear it.


Xander walked back into the house and turned to the living room where Rona, almost all the potentials, Dawn, and even Anya were pressed up against the window, peaking through blinds.

Xander coughed gently and after a pause Rona finally turned over to look at him.

"Change all the sheets when you're done," she said before turning back to the window.

Xander walked over to Anya and peeked through the blinds to see Clark struggling to remove the shirt that was clinging to his torso.

"Anya."

"Hm?"

"Anya, we've got the room, let's go before he finishes."

Anya grabbed Xander by the collar, still staring at Clark as he finally managed to free himself from the shirt, before she turned away and dragged Xander up the stairs.

Clark finally managed to get the shirt off and walked over to the porch to lay it out to dry. Once there he saw a bowl of tangerines balanced on the porch railing.

Hm, looks like Mr. Harris left me something to snack on when I'm done. He keeps thanking me and going on and on about paying me back, but I'd say this makes us about even.

Clark went back to the car and started to lather it up with soap, turning and looking up and down the street as he stretched himself out to reach every inch of the car, soap getting on his body as he pressed against the car to make sure he reached those far spots.

It had been a few weeks since he had done something so…normal. Clark moved slowly to savor the familiar feeling of just doing chores. It was calming, it might even have been rather blissful if he had been able to shake that strange feeling that he was being watched.

He scanned his vision up and down the road again. No one there.

Huh.


"What are you all doing?" Buffy asked as she and Faith walked into the living room to find all the Potentials crowded around the window, staring out through the blinders.

No one responded. Buffy spotted her sister and walked over. Her ears were crimson and she was breathing strangely.

"Dawn, what's going on?"

"Shh," Dawn waved her sister away and Buffy frowned.

Rude.

Faith came up next to them and cracked a space between the blinders with her fingers.

"Hello!" She started.

"What is it?"

"You've got to see it to believe it, B."

Buffy took a peek through the blinders and her eyes grew wide.

"Oh god, is that…"

"Yep."

"Is he…"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"Who cares?"

Buffy looked out onto her front lawn to find Clark washing Xander's car in tightly fitting, black swim shorts. The evening sun seemed to infuse his skin with a golden glow as he reached and stretched himself over the car, gently lathering it. Droplets of water and soap glistened on his bare, muscular back and torso as his muscular arms steadily guided the sponge along the curves of the car's body.

"Oh god, Faith, stop looking. He's a minor!"

"You stop first, B."

"Jesus, someone should do something."

"Probably."


Clark finally finished soaping down the car and he rinsed it thoroughly with water from the hose. Once he was satisfied that he had cleaned it all, he turned the hose on himself and washed off the soap.

He closed his eyes in pleasure as the cool water flowed in rivulets down the length of his body until he was sure he was clean.

He turned off the hose and walked over to grab the bowl of tangerines. He picked a succulent looking one and took it back to the car before leaning up against it, beginning to peel the tangerine with his thumbs.

I think I'll let her bask in the sun for a bit before drying her off.

Clark shook his head vigorously and ruffled his soaked hair before letting it fall back into his face in thick cords.

Beads of water made their slow way down across his chest and arms before falling to the ground.

Clark finally peeled the whole tangerine and turned to gaze at the crimson setting sun.

Monsters and such aside, this place is actually kind of nice.

Clark put each one of the tangerine slices halfway into his mouth and gently sucked it in between his lips, savoring its tart flavor as he ate. Soon the golden juices were flowing over his lips and down his chin as he gently licked the remnants off each finger one by one.

Well, time to get back to work.


Kennedy walked into the living room to find the other Potentials, Dawn, and Faith gathered around the window, peeking out through the blinders and high-fiving each other.

The hell?

She pushed through some of the other potentials and managed to get a space to peek through the window. What she saw was the boy Clark, standing in the fading sunlight, bent over a car he was slowly wiping down with a towel, swim trunks that were at least one size too tight stretching out across his backside.

Kennedy pulled back and looked at the women who would be tasked with defending humanity.

Wait, almost everyone is here…

"Say, guys, where are Spike, Giles, Xander, and Anya?"

"Spikes in the basement, obviously. Giles is in another room looking at books, who knows where Xander and Anya are?"

"Hm…and Willow?"

"Up in her room doing research on the computer."

"Alone?"

"Probably."

Kennedy nodded.

"Carry on then," she said as she slowly backed out of the room and headed up the stairs.


Late that night, Clark and Buffy walked silently through one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries.

Clark kept glancing nervously at her. Earlier he had been helping Giles with research on the new weapon they had found when Buffy had walked in and told him to accompany her on patrol. Clark had the distinct impression there was more to the story than that.

So far she hadn't said a word, and Clark couldn't bring himself to break the silence either, so they walked further and further into the night.

When they passed in front of a large mausoleum, Buffy stopped, and Clark snapped to a halt behind her.

She turned and looked at him for a second.

"Why did you let me win earlier today?"

"Um…" Clark coughed lightly, but she just stared him down. So, she had noticed.

"I…well, you could tell?"

Buffy nodded.

"You were purposely moving much more slowly than you can, and at the end you just stopped trying altogether."

"Well…" Clark rubbed the back of his neck and looked away.

"Were you afraid you would hurt me?"

"Maybe a little, but…there's more to it."

Buffy crossed her arms, and even Clark could read her stance.

We're not going anywhere until you explain, it said.

Clark sighed.

"Well, I'm not sure if you noticed, but when I first got here, everyone was kind of freaking out. The Potentials especially were pretty restless, and a lot of them would sort of…talk."

Buffy frowned.

"What kind of talk?"

Oh boy. Might as well just rip the bandage off all at once, right?

"Well, about you, mostly. Some of the girls were worried that you wouldn't be able to protect them, and some were…critical of your leadership."

"Oh," Buffy deflated. "Well, isn't that…something."

"I mean, after the fight at the vineyard, they mostly quieted down but…well, I don't think anyone but you has the necessary experience to be in charge here. Still, there's a primal sort of authority that comes with physical strength. It's part of our…I mean your, human nature. I didn't want anyone to have any doubts about you, no matter how small, over so insignificant a thing as physical prowess."

"Hm," Buffy said. She turned away and stared out into the night.

Leadership huh?

She grimaced and for the billionth time since the whole thing started she wondered what the hell she was doing. Why her, why did she have to hold everyone's lives in her hands. She just wanted…well, whatever. After all these years, it had become abundantly clear to Buffy that what she wanted didn't really matter.

"Okay, Clark. Thanks, I guess. Still, if you're going to be fighting with us, we're going to need to at least know the extent of your powers. If we don't, we won't be able to plan properly."

Clark had that look again, like you'd just kicked his puppy. Buffy fought a sudden urge to roll her eyes at him.

He's still just sixteen. When I was sixteen, even with my Slayer-ness, I was still kind of like that sometimes.

"What's wrong Clark?"

"No, nothing…it's just," Clark put his hands in his pockets and hunched up his shoulders like he was trying to vanish into his jacket. He looked away from her and stared down the winding cemetery road.

"Can you promise you won't be afraid of me?"

He was pretty terrified, so Buffy decided the least she could do was treat the question seriously, so she thought about it.

"No, Clark, I can't promise I won't be afraid of you…but, I can promise to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all you've done, for me and for Angel, I think we owe you that much."

Clark nodded to her.

"Okay."

Buffy gave him a wry smile and pointed at the mausoleum.

"In there is a big ol' vamp nest. Some twenty or so out of towners. 'Nest' barely qualifies, since for vampires a group of four is considered a crowd. Take them out."

Clark looked intently at the mausoleum, and Buffy wondered if he was seeing through it.

After a bit he nodded at her, frowning.

"Okay," he said, "if we don't, they'll just kill more people right?"

Buffy wasn't sure if he was saying that for her benefit or for his.

"That's right. So, I'm going to hang back first and jump in if I think you'll need it."

Clark nodded again and walked toward the crypt.

Buffy thought he was going to try and make for the windows, but instead Clark walked right up to the heavy doors of wrought iron, each weighing several hundred pounds. With one hand, Clark pushed the bolted doors completely off their hinges and sent them crashing to the floor.

In an instant he was gone from the doorway and amid the vampires. Before they knew what was happening it was over. Clark stood alone in the crypt, stake in hand, watching a sea of dust be carried to the ground in gentle eddies.

Buffy was glad she hadn't made a promise she couldn't keep.


Clark lay on his sleeping bag, staring up at the ceiling, trying to find sleep, but it eluded him.

"If we don't, they'll just kill more people right?"

"Nice work, Naman."

Clark shot up and found the First in its guise as Kyla.

Clark glared at it before laying back down and closing his eyes.

"Oooh, the cold shoulder, huh? Okay then, lover, I'll talk, you listen."

It was at his side now, so Clark turned his back to it and placed his pillow over his head.

"Now you're just being childish. Still, you did some good work tonight. You broke into those vampire's home and slaughtered them all in the name of justice. Keep that up and Fairy Godmother might make you a real human boy soon. But it's fine, they were evil, right? I mean, they ate humans, so how could they not be evil. I mean, sure, humans are part of their natural diet and eating humans is just a part of their nature, but who cares? It's totally correct to punish people for just being true to themselves, so long as that self isn't something we agree with, right?"

Clark balled his fists and took a deep breath before he began counting to one thousand. Unfortunately for him, that took about five seconds, so he started counting to one hundred thousand.

"After all, I'm sure if you ask the ox, they'll all agree that nothing is more evil than a lion, and it is right that they all be put to death for no reason other than they are lions. Hm, it seems like I'm remembering something. Someone once said…hm, what was it? Something like…"

It was leaning over him now, whispering into his ear.

"One law for the Lion and the Ox is oppression."

Chapter Text

"Three hundred and two."

Clark counted three hundred and two flakes of cereal as they fell into Faith's red plastic bowl. He had one just like it back home from when he was younger. It had a straw actually built into the bowl to help with the drinking of milk.

His sleep that had been fitful, curtesy of one embodiment of evil, and he found himself awake long before the break of dawn. Figuring another hour or so wouldn't make a difference at that point, he'd tiptoed his way over to the kitchen where he'd found the other three members of the Summers household who were awake but not on watch.

Spike was a given, but it seemed neither Buffy nor Faith had been able to get much sleep either. They were all staring at him now.

Faith blinked and set the cereal box upright on the counter.

"Jesus H. Christ," she said.

"Not going to confirm this one?" Clark asked with a small smile.

Faith shook her head.

"No, it may not seem like it, but I do have better things to do with my time and with this cereal than sit here counting it out. You've been right every time up till now; I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

Buffy was watching him with a carefully impassive face, while Spike was still absent mindedly chewing on a bent cigarette. Buffy had his confiscated lighter clenched in her hand.

"You really counted all those while they were falling?" Buffy asked.

Clark shook his head and tried to find the right words. Explaining his sensory powers to humans sometimes felt like explaining blue to the blind.

"Counted isn't exactly the right word. I just sort of looked at them and knew how many there were."

The number of grains in the wooden countertop, the pores on her face, the hairs on the leaf of a neglected plant sitting in the window sill, the world was screaming these things at him whenever he so much as glanced their way.

Clark quietly sipped his hot coco and avoided meeting anyone's eye.

"It's not actually that stange," Clark said, almost pleading, "Humans can do it too, just not with quite so many objects. After all, when there's three or four of something, you can usually tell just by looking without really needing to count. Same principle…"

Faith poured milk into her cereal and ate a spoonful.

"Okay, that is…different. What else you got?" Buffy asked him.

Clark was pretty sure she meant his other powers but he wasn't quite done with vision yet.

"I've explained about how I can see into other spectra of light, infrared, ultraviolet and such?"

Buffy nodded.

"Yeah, I remember you telling us the other night how hot we looked," Faith joked.

Clark rolled his eyes at her before setting the cup of cocoa onto the table in front of him.

"Miss Lehane, would you mind getting the coco mix out of the cupboard there and take a look at the ingredients?"

Faith stuck her tongue out at him before opening the cupboard and taking out the box of hot chocolate mix.

"Now what?"

"One second," Clark stared down at his steaming cup carefully.

"A sugar, corn syrup…I think some kind of whey…cocoa of course, though I think they modified it with something, looks like an alkaline, milk, calcium carbonate, salt, dipotassium phosphate, monoglyderides, diglyderides…what is that, some kind of oil, coconut I think, looks hydrogenated, a few artificial flavors that are probably patented, and, of course…water."

Clark looked up to see his companions staring at him like a group of Labrador Retrievers encountering a particularly advanced calculus formula.

Faith looked back to the box in her hands and her brow furrowed even more.

"Hey, those are the ingredients."

Clark waited for it to sink in.

"Wait," Spike started, "you can see what things are made of?"

"Sort of," Clark shrugged. "Every single chemical absorbs and reflects light in a different wavelength, called an emission spectrum. My eyesight is sensitive enough to make out the light of each individual chemical and I can differentiate them even when mixed, just like how a spectrograph runs chemical analysis. Each wavelength appears as a different color."

Faith blinked at him.

"Yeah, played hookie for most of school C, you're going to have to run that one by me again."

Spike just shook his head.

"Science class for me was in the 1800s."

"Wait," Buffy frowned. "Are you saying that when you look at something, you see all the chemicals that make it up as a different color."

Clark frowned and thought.

"Sort of, but…" he gave a hopeless sigh. "Well, in any case, not just something's chemical composition, but also it's temperature I can see in color."

Buffy turned and looked out the window.

"Wow," Faith said as she sat herself on the counter top. "The world to you must look like some kind of…I don't know, strobe light orgy?"

Clark snorted.

"Sure, let's go with that."

He took another sip of his hot coco.

"I can do more than just see the chemicals. I can smell them too, and taste them, just like anyone else, but with a lot more accuracy."

"Huh."

For the first time since Clark had met her, Faith seemed well and truly stunned.

"Wow, what does the sky look li-…holy crap, is the air not clear to you?"

Clark shook his head.

"With my eyesight I can differentiate between the individual gasses that make up the atmosphere as well as their temperatures, which allows me to see air currents and such. Most of these colors don't have any parallels in the spectrum humans can see which means I couldn't describe them to you even if I wanted to. I literally don't have the words."

Faith's cereal was turning soggy and slowly congealing into some kind of meal.

"So," Spike said, "if you see all these colors we can't see, one for each chemical or whatever, do you ever run into colors you've never seen before?"

Clark gave a wry smile as he stared out the window. The sun would be rising soon.

"Yes, all the time. It takes some work for me to figure out what a new color is telling me about something's composition…and of course, I have to name them by myself."

Buffy turned away from the window and looked at him. There was a strange intensity in her gaze that Clark couldn't decipher.

"I've been trying to imagine how the world looks through your eyes, but-"

"'But you can't," Clark finished softly. "I have yet to meet anyone who can."

The mood was growing solemn so Clark decided to forge ahead.

"Well, that's about enough of about my sight I think, what else did you want to ask?"

To begin with, this whole conversation started when Buffy had asked him to tell her more about his powers. Clark had agreed, because as she had told him the night before, if she didn't know what he was capable of, she wouldn't be able to plan properly.

Buffy nodded as she thought about what to ask.

"Well, I guess let's start with the obvious stuff. How about speed? Do you know how fast you can run?"

Clark nodded.

"That one's easy to measure. I can maintain about five-hundred miles per hour without a whole lot of trouble. I can go at nearly twice that in a dead sprint, but I can't hold that speed for very long."

The cigarette fell out of Spike's open mouth.

Clark fidgeted under their combined stares.

"I usually try to avoid moving that fast, it's pretty dangerous. I'm really a lot more comfortable around two fifty, usually less."

"Oh, okay, that's much more normal then," Spike scoffed.

Clark took a long draught of his hot coco.

"Well," Buffy coughed, "and you can tell what's going on around you? I mean, your thoughts can keep up?"

Clark nodded again.

"Yes, but my awareness isn't always that fast, it's more like a state of mind that I need to turn on, or accelerate into would probably be more appropriate to say."

Buffy nodded.

"So if you're not prepared, you can still be caught off guard," she said to no one.

"What about your laser eyes," Faith asked, "how hot do they get?"

Clark shrugged.

"I don't really know, that one's hard to test out. All I can say is that I haven't run into any materials yet that don't eventually melt under my Heat Vision."

"Hm, how about durability?"

Clark scratched his chin as he suddenly remembered a rain of thorny blows tearing at his face.

"That one's harder to test, certainly more dangerous anyway. I can't really say what my limit is but, I've taken gunfire without any damage at all."

Faith got off the counter and pulled up a stool next to his. She reached over suddenly and took one of his hands in both hers.

"Um…" Clark stammered.

She wasn't paying him any attention. Instead she stared intently at his hand as she held it and squeezed it.

"It feels soft," she said, "like a normal hand."

Clark recovered and nodded.

"Strange right? Also, see how the skin depresses where you're squeezing it? It's strange that it does that but somehow repels bullets. I thought that maybe my skin might behave like some kind of Non-Newtonian Fluid, those can become more rigid the more force is applied to them. This would let it be soft to touch but tough to strike, but that doesn't quite work out because it gets weaker. If I tire myself out like I did before fighting the Beast, I become less durable. That shouldn't happen in ordinary material. The hardness should be the hardness."

Faith let go of his hand and looked out the window. The first rays of dawn were peeking out over the horizon.

"About time for you to start heading back down, I think," she said to Spike before turning to Buffy. "And the potentials will be up and about soon."

Buffy nodded before turning her gaze onto Clark.

"One last question," her voice was almost a hoarse whisper now. "How strong are you?"

Clark fidgeted under her stare and looked at his hands planted firmly on the table.

"I don't know," he said softly, "that one's probably the hardest to measure. After a while I run out of things I can lift inconspicuously. Still, my best estimate, I can probably press something in the range of a fifty tons."

Faith raised an eyebrow at him.

"Fifty tons of what?"

Buffy swallowed.

"No, Faith, a ton is two thousand pounds."

"Oh," Faith said, then her eyes went wide as she understood. "Oh!"

"Thank you for your time, Clark," Buffy said as she hustled out of the kitchen without looking at him, Spike following close behind.

Clark sighed and rested his face in his hands.


Willow knocked gently on her friend's door. After a long silence, she heard Buffy's muffled call.

"Who is it?"

It sounded like she was speaking into her pillow, which meant she had probably assumed the "Buffy Summers Moping Position".

"Candygram," Willow said.

"Come in."

Willow opened the door and sure enough found her friend stretched over her exceedingly pink bed, face buried in a pile of pillows, a worn out teddy bear tucked under one arm.

Willow stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. She walked over to the chair by the vanity and sat down.

"So, what's up, Buffy?"

Buffy shrugged and Willow bit her lip.

"We missed you at training this morning. You know those girls try extra hard when you're watching."

"Yeah," Buffy mumbled, "sorry".

Willow said nothing and waited. After a while, she was rewarded for her patience.

"It's childish," Buffy said.

"What is?"

Buffy turned over and propped herself up on her pillows, bringing the teddy bear to sit on her stomach.

"This thing," Buffy said as she stared into the bear's one eye. The other eye had popped out for the last time just a few days before she moved to Sunnydale. It was probably still in the old house, sitting under the couch of whatever family had moved into her childhood home.

"I remember, my friend here used to make me feel so safe. It was so easy back then. Whatever it was, I could just grab a hold of Sir Stuffsalot and it would be fine. Thunderstorms, going to the bathroom at night, mom and dad fighting, whatever."

Buffy stroked the bear's scratchy, faded brown fur and adjusted its yellow bowtie.

"It's childish, and it's dumb, but I just…I don't know, wanted to remember what it was like. Don't worry, I'll go back to 'Drill Sergeant Buffy' in a sec."

Buffy set Sir Stuffs onto her nightstand and turned to face her friend, who was looking at her like someone had just punted her puppy clear through a field goal.

Buffy scooted back and patted her bed. Willow crawled onto the bed and lay so they were facing each other.

"Buffy,"

"I'm fine," Buffy cut her off with a tired smile. "I just needed a second."

"Take as long as you need," Willow said, taking her friend's hand in her own.

How about forever, Buffy thought.

"I've been talking to Clark," Buffy said.

"About what?"

"Himself, mostly. We all knew the kid was holding stuff back so I took him out on patrol last night and asked him to show me what he's got."

"And did he?"

"I can't even tell. Someone like me, whose got power in yards, can't tell the difference between a mile or two."

"Buffy," Willow frowned.

"I mean, I've run into plenty of tough bastards in my time, but this was something else. We went up against a Vamp nest and he straight up slaughtered the bunch of them in the time it takes me to blink."

Willow's eyes widened and she sat up.

"This kid is probably the strongest person I've met since Glory, and he might even be beyond her. Plus, he's sixteen! I was sixteen when I came down here to be Slayer'O Hellmouth. I can tell, Will, that power he's got now is just the beginning. He's only going to get stronger with time."

There was a strange gleam in Buffy's eye that Willow liked not at all, a sort of mounting frenzy like the approach of a far off hysteria.

"Yeah but Buff, that's a good thing. He's on our side."

"Yeah, and he seems like a real good kid, kinda dorky even, but…" Buffy sighed and lifted herself to sit on the edge of the bed.

"The thing is," she began quietly, "if he got mad one day and decided to wreck the world, he could probably do that and there's nothing I could do to stop him."

Willow watched Buffy's back, seeing the muscles twisting into knots, seeing her knuckles turn a deep white as her fingers dug into her bedding.

Buffy was one of the strongest people Willow knew, but because she was usually so strong, one of the things Buffy could never accept was being powerless. Willow knew because she was the same way.

"So," Willow said, "Kinda dorky, means well, but has a lot of power that potentially makes them a threat to the world? I guess the only thing to do is to sleep him with the fishes."

Buffy turned to Willow and threw up her hands in exasperation.

"That's different, Willow, totally different?"

Willow's face was capable of the most resolved pout Buffy had ever seen.

"How, exactly, is this different?" Willow challenged.

"Because," Buffy stammered. She really should get into the habit of coming up with logical arguments before she made declarative statements. It would probably make her life easier.

"Because…because I know you won't destroy the world, Wills."

"And how on Earth do you know that."

"Because, you're…you know…all, Willow-like. Possessing several key qualities of Willow that disqualify you as a candidate for apocalypsing."

Buffy sighed at Willow's expression. Neither of them thought much of her counter argument.

"I'm sure if you asked one of Clark's friends," Willow said in the voice she took when she knew how super-right she was about something, "then they will say that he couldn't possibly destroy the world because of his 'Clark-ness'".

Buffy looked away, annoyed, before she snorted.

"His 'Heart of Clarkness'".

Willow tried to hold her serious, scolding face, but couldn't.

"Clarkness Rising," she giggled.

"He is strong in the Clark side of the Force."

"Don't be Afraid of the Clark"!

"Truly, this is our Clarkest Hour."

Several puns later, the two of them were collapsed on the bed, heaving with laughter. When they had both recovered enough to breathe, Buffy spoke.

"I guess you have a point, Will. I believed you could be good no matter how strong you got. Guess I'll just have to do the same for Clark until he gives me a reason to distrust him. I'd already decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, I guess I just got spooked when I saw what he could really do."

Willow smiled and took several deep breaths.

"So," she said to Buffy without turning, "were you just afraid of him or were you also mad that he was stronger than you."

"Pfft, what? That's just-"

There was a sharp knock on the door, followed by Giles' urgent voice.

"Buffy, there's been something of a development."


The phone was ringing. Dawn stared at it for a second, unsure. It rang again. The phone had only rung one other time in the past few months, when Willow had been called away to help un-evil Angel. That had to be who it was now.

Dawn set aside the lore book she had been carrying in her arms as the phone rang a third time.

"Hello," she asked tentatively as she lifted the phone from its dock.

"Um…hello."

That definitely wasn't Angel. It sounded like a boy. There was a long silence that made it apparent to Dawn that whoever was on the other line hadn't been taking any classes in telephonic etiquette.

"Who is this?" She asked, feeling irritation start to encroach on her cautious curiosity.

"Oh, this is Connor."

Who the heck is-oh, wait! Isn't Connor Angel's weird, dimension sliding paradox vampire kid or something?

Dawn wasn't clear on the details, but she was fairly sure some of the blame for that had to be laid on Buffy, whose retelling of the story suffered from an excess of…erratic emotion in the delivery.

"Hi, I'm Dawn." Dawn cringed.

Why do I even open my mouth?

"Hey, I'm Conn-um, I guess I said that already."

At least they were both making themselves look equally dumb.

"So, did you guys need something, or…is there trouble with Angel? Did you need to speak to Buffy?"

"Oh, no, actually. I need to speak to Clark."

Dawn blinked.

"Clark? Really?"

"Yeah, put him on."

Dawn scrunched her nose. What a rude boy. Though apparently he had grown up in the Hellraiser dimension or something, so Dawn tried to muster up some sympathy.

"Sure, give me a sec."

She pushed the hold button and put the cordless on top of her heavy book so she could carry them both and wandered over to the dining room where she found Giles sitting at the table with another large book open in front of him.

He wasn't paying it any attention though, he was staring at Clark who was seated across from him, paging through yet another large book like it was a flip comic. The first time Dawn had seen them do that, she had figured he was just unenthusiastic about being put on research duty.

"It helps if you actually read the pages," she had joked with him. He had looked up at her and, after a contemplative silence, gave her an apologetic smile and said,

"I am reading them."

It seemed Giles still wasn't used to the trick because he had been in that exact same position when Dawn had left to get her book from upstairs earlier, sitting there, watching as thousand page doorstops steadily accumulated next to Clark's left in his "read" pile.

Dawn deposited the book onto the hardwood table with a thud just resounding enough to shake Giles out of his stupor. Dawn was sure Clark had known he was being watched, and it was obvious to Dawn that he had major trauma regarding his supernatural nature. She'd seen how much he squirmed whenever anyone saw him being abnormal.

"So," she said to him, "you're not going to believe this."

"Andrew has defeated the First all by himself."

Dawn snorted and he looked up at her, smiling.

"It was the least believable thing I could think of."

Dawn was planning on telling him about his call waiting, but that smile was making some very interesting face shapes and she wasn't quite ready to see it go just yet.

"Connor, Angel's son I think, is on the phone," she finally said. "I think he wants to talk to you."

Clark raised an eyebrow at her and shot a quick glance over to Giles, who was also looking at Dawn with a pensive curiosity.

Clark reached over and Dawn handed him the phone.

"Hello," he said.

"Hey, Clark, it's me, Connor."

"Is everything alright?"

"Um, sort of. There's been a bit of a development with the whole, 'Beast Master' thing and we could really use your help."

Clark frowned.

"You guys want me to head up to L.A.?"

Clark saw both Dawn and Giles frown a little as well.

"Yes, fast as you can."

Clark heard what sounded like a woman's voice from the other line. It had a fascinating, musical quality that he had never heard before.

"Um," Connor continued, "come as fast as you can, please."

"Can you hold on for a second?"

"Fine," Connor grumbled a little and Clark put him back on hold.

Clark set the phone down and rested his hands on the table, looking over to Giles.

"That was Angel's son, Connor. He says that they need my help over in L.A."

Giles scratched his chin in thought.

"Did they say what for?"

"Just that there's been a development regarding the Beast Master, and that I'm needed."

Giles thought a moment more before he got out of his seat.

"Hang on, I'm going to get Buffy."

Giles left the dining room and Clark could hear him thudding up the stairs.

"Did he say exactly why they needed you?"

Clark turned to look at Dawn and shook his head.

"No, to be honest, it seemed a bit like he was being purposefully vague. When Buffy gets here I'll ask him if he can explain more."

Dawn flipped open the cover of her book and stared at the hand scrawled ancient Etruscan.

Crap, I forgot my translation key upstairs.

"You know, Clark, you don't work for us or anything. If you want to go, you don't need Buffy's permission."

Clark smiled at her.

"I know, but I still think I should talk to her about it, after all, I am the most junior member of the Spook Show here. Besides, when I was in L.A., I made the decision to come down here with you guys, so I should at least give you some priority I think."

"Spook Show?" Dawn mouthed silently.

"Not into it?"

"Ehhh, I'd keep my options open, if I were you."

Clark laughed.

"Anyway," Dawn continued, resting her head in her hand, "I'd be lying if I said that didn't relieve me a little. I mean, never mind that you're probably our second heaviest hitter, it would suck to lose someone else driving you up there and back."

Clark's smile turned solemn and he looked away from her to inspect the pattern of the table's wood grain.

"I wouldn't take a car," He said quietly.

Dawn sighed and shook her head in exasperation.

"Clark, listen. You have got to stop doing that."

Clark looked at her and raised a questioning eyebrow.

"You need to stop apologizing for not being normal."

"I wasn't-" Clark started to protest but the look on Dawn's face shut him up.

"I mean; I don't do it on purpose."

"Yeah, I know, but listen, no one here cares that you're not human. In this house, abnormal is the normal."

Clark almost apologized for his constant apologies before catching himself.

"You're right. I'll try and keep an eye on it."

"Good," Dawn smiled. "Just don't get like Buffy, throwing your super powers in everyone's face."

"What?" Clark put on a face of mock incredulity and waved her words off.

"Raspberry noise of disbelief," he said, "Buffy is not at all like that."

"Hah," Dawn stretched out her arm and put her hand down on the table, just inches from Clark's.

"Clark," she said, leaning forward and staring intently into his eyes. "The size of my eye sockets is nowhere near large enough for the eye roll motion that is in my soul right now."

"I just don't see it," Clark said, leaning back into his chair.

"Yeah, that's because you've only been here a few days. I've been living with her my whole life, and let me tell you, every other night it was 'Chosen One' this, 'Slayer' that. Like, yes, sure, apocalypse or whatever. But, I mean, do your laundry too."

Clark laughed.

"You don't have any siblings right, Clark?"

Clark nodded and Dawn gave an exaggerated wistful sigh.

"If only," she said.

Clark shook his head with a wry smile on his face.

"I don't know; I've always wanted a brother or sister I could hang out with. For me, that point of view makes no sense at all."

Dawn shrugged.

"That's what a lot of my only-child friends say."

Clark thought for a moment before saying,

"I guess people who have a lot of something take it for granted, they can only see the faults. People who have none of something idealize it, they can only see the virtues."

"Huh," Dawn grinned, "that's pretty deep. We should have it engraved on a throw pillow, or like a t-shirt for babies or something."

They both sat there laughing until Clark suddenly turned and said,

"Wait, what do you mean I'm the second heaviest hitter?"

Just as Buffy and Giles came back down the stairs.

Dawn saw Clark straighten a little and she smirked at him, mouthing "teacher's pet" silently.

Clark pretended not to notice as he handed the phone to Buffy and explained the situation, but when neither Buffy nor Giles could see him, he quickly stuck his tongue out at Dawn.

She responded with a mockingly shocked face and she turned away as if she was disgusted by the very sight of him.

Clark grinned and shook his head, turning his attention back to Buffy's concerning profile.

"I see," she said, "but what exactly is happening? Listen, is Angel there? Let me speak to him."

Clark couldn't quite make out what was being said, but the further furrowing of Buffy's brow meant it couldn't be good.

"Okay, well, I'll call you back in a bit," she said before hanging up the phone and turning to the others.

"I don't know, something's up. Kid wouldn't tell me what was actually happening, and when I asked to speak to Angel or any of the others he said they weren't there. I think they might be in real trouble."

Giles frowned, leaning back against the dining room doorframe.

"If that were the case, why didn't he just say he was in trouble?"

Buffy shrugged.

"Not sure, maybe he couldn't, maybe that's just how he is. Angel did say the kid was seriously lacking in the social skills department. Either way, something is going on over there and I think we should check it out, and by 'we', obviously I mean you, Clark," she said playfully.

Clark nodded in acquiescence, but Dawn turned back around in her chair to stare at Buffy.

"You don't mean by himself do you? That's crazy dangerous."

"I know," Buffy said, suddenly serious. She looked from her sister to Clark, staring him in the eyes.

"I can't send anyone with you. If there is trouble, I need someone who can get there as fast as possible, and if there is something else going on, you can also get out the fastest. You okay with that?"

Clark nodded.

"Yes Ma'-I mean, yes Buffy."

"Damn straight you do," Buffy gave him a small smirk. "Well, whenever you're ready…"

"I can leave immediately. Before I go though," he walked over to the table and picked up a yellow notepad covered in notes.

"I think I may have found something about the scythe. References to something an explorer in the region found that he described as 'out of place', apparently some kind of tomb. The odd thing was that the design was almost Egyptian."

Giles took the notepad, glancing over it enthusiastically.

"Really? The glyph we think is connected to the weapons name is Egyptian. If this tomb still exists, Willow might be able to find it."

Clark nodded then stepped forward strangely, all his weight coming down on his front foot as he dropped into a crouch, almost like he had been about to start sprinting.

He straightened himself out and looked over to the huge stacks of books, scrolls, and parchments scattered over the table and gave a sheepish grin.

"Whoops, that was a close one."

Giles, Dawn, and Buffy stared after him, bewildered, as we walked over to the front door of the house.

"Hey, Clarkus Maximus," Clark turned to see Xander strolling up to them from the living room. "Where are you going?"

"I've got some stuff to do in L.A."

Xander paused and shot a glance to the other three.

"L.A.? Whose car are you taking?"

Clark smiled and turned to Buffy as he opened the door.

"I'll try and call you when I get there," he said.

In the next second there was a rush of wind and Clark flickered into a blur of red and blue before he shot out into the street and was gone in a second.

Behind him the door was pulled closed by the wind of his departure with so much force that it slammed shut and bounced open again.

"Wha-" Xander exclaimed as he jumped back.

He looked to the others to see them staring with open mouthed astonishment at the empty doorway, Dawn had even jumped out of her chair.

"What the heck?" Xander sputtered at Buffy. "What the actual heck!"


Clark was out of town in seconds, a shot of pure force, tearing through the Southern California countryside. An unspeakable glee bubbled up in him, frothing out of his body in the form of a manic grin as he dodged between insects in flight.

There was no sensation like speed.

Where there was no beginning, where there was no end, the sensation of being the wind itself, he was the bolt of lightning, the clap of thunder, no sound but the hammering of his heart in time with his feet like the beat of some earth shaking drum and he knew that if he just listened close, went just fast enough, it could tell him the secret.

It would show him the freedom and the power, just a little closer, just beyond his reach was something beyond all imagining. All he needed to do was go a little faster and he would learn, he would slip free from the shackles of gravity that held him and everyone else down and be up in the sky, a long lost bolt of furious lighting seeking it's home back up in the storm.

But he never took that extra step, his fear always right behind him, grasping at the collar of his shirt. He had always thought what he wanted most was to be normal, but he knew now that wasn't true. Even in those days when a freak accident had taken all his powers, he had felt wrong. His skin seemed strange on him and there was inexplicable, writhing wrongness.

"In this house, Abnormal is the normal," Dawn had said to him, and he knew that for him, normal was this.

Here, shooting across the earth as the rest of the world stood still, feeling the machine gun hammering of his feet as he pushed farther, harder, closing near some inexplicable barrier, trying not to laugh and whoop, this was when he felt right. This was how he should be.

What Clark really wanted wasn't to be normal, it was to be accepted, abnormality and all.


"Are you sure about making him go," Giles asked Buffy as they stood behind Willow, who was furiously pointing and clicking on her laptop computer.

"According to Clark," Giles continued, "The First's new enforcer, this Caleb, was very strong. If they should strike again while Clark is gone,"

"Well, it's no good for us to be relying on Clark alone anyway," Buffy said. "Besides, I think they won't try something like a direct assault for a while."

"You can't possibly know that," Giles said.

Buffy bit down on an annoyed retort and took a deep breath.

"When we killed the Turok'Han, it took the First weeks to ramp back up. Besides, that Caleb guy is super flashy. The whole 'stab a girl and make her deliver a message' thing? If this guy was ready to come at us again, I'm thinking we'd be getting signals. Yes, I can't know, but my instinct is telling me I'm right, and it's gotten me this far."

Giles looked like he was going to say more, but at that exact minute, Willow turned around.

"I think I've got something."

Giles quickly leaned over her shoulder and Buffy took a deep, relieved breath.

I sent Clark away because he's the fastest, strongest, most durable. If I could afford to send anyone alone it would be him. He's got the best chance of helping out of everyone…but, I also sent him because I'm worried about Angel. What if I'm wrong. If I make the wrong play, everyone here could die.

Buffy shook the thought loose and looked over Willow's other shoulder.

"There's something here about a peculiar mausoleum in a cemetery way at the edge of town," Willow said.

"Those are definitely Egyptian looking," Buffy said as she looked at the picture of the old stone tomb whose doorway was inscribed with, as far as Buffy was concerned, funny little pictures.

Willow looked at her and raised an eyebrow. Buffy shrugged and smiled.

"Hey, I used to live in L.A., I've been to Vegas, I've seen the Luxor."

Giles groaned.

"Your approach is hardly academic, but you are correct. Those are definitely Egyptian in origin."

"What's it say," Buffy asked.

Giles read for a moment before straightening.

"Loosely translated, something like, 'only for the huntress'."

Buffy nodded.

"Whelp, that's pretty black and white. I'll head out there tonight and take a look. Just in case the First and Bad Touch the Preacher show up, I want you guys to stay here."


Clark came to a stop further up the street of the Hyperion Hotel and made slow progress at a walking pace. This was necessary because some kind of shanty town had sprung up around the hotel.

The streets a full block away were crammed with people, tents, mobile homes, RV's, and even regular cars that had clearly been turned into what could loosely be interpreted as a living space.

Everyone was milling about chatting happily and smiling brightly.

"Excuse me," Clark asked someone, "What's everyone doing here?"

"You mean you don't know, dearie? We're here to see Her of course."

"Her?"

"The most lovingly radiant mistress of all the world."

Everyone else gave similarly vague, if enthusiastic responses.

This whole place's turned into Pleasentville, Clark thought as he finally managed to squeeze his way into the hotel.

The hotel too was crowded with people, but the ones here seemed to just be standing around chatting, like party goers waiting for a guest of honor to arrive.

"Clark!"

Clark turned and saw Connor approach him with a wide smile on his face.

I never thought I'd say this, but I do wish everyone would stop smiling so much. It's super creepy.

"Connor," Clark whispered as the other boy came close and put his hand on Clark's shoulder. Clark stared at the hand. "What's going on?"

"Well Clark, while you were away, something amazing has happened. Just earth changing, and I want you to meet the person responsible for everything."

"Uh-huh." Clark slowly peeled Connor's hand from his shoulder and was rewarded by a dampening of the fluorescent grin.

"Connor," Clark said, looking around and trying to map an escape route, "where are Angel and the others?"

Connor's grin frosted over.

"They're not here right now."

"I see," Clark said as he slowly started backing up. Connor followed him.

"Wait, Clark, just speak with Her and everything will be explained."

"Yeah, that's kinda what I'm afraid of."

Connor's grin became a scowl and he lunged out, grabbing onto Clark's wrist and pulling back.

Clark just yanked to the side and Connor was pulled along and sent crashing into a table. The room went dead silent and Clark became aware of everyone's eyes boring into him. Violence now crackled heavy in the air like static, all the frivolity and mirth from before evaporated.

Connor leapt to his feet with a growl and Clark bit his lip, looking for a good way to escape. As far as he could tell, and Clark could tell pretty far, everyone here save Connor was a normal human. If he tried to fight his way out, he could do a lot of damage, and since they were so packed together, even trying to speed out could prove fatal to them.

Then suddenly, a voice rang out like the trilling of a newborn star.

"Stop. This is no way to treat our guest, especially after we invited him here, into our home."

Clark and all the others turned to the Hotel's second floor balcony where Clark saw the most beautiful woman he had ever met in his life, and in her eyes he saw a love deeper and more powerful than any he had ever know, so powerful that it dropped him to his knees.

"Oh my god," he gasped.

She smiled at him, and the force of it made him weep.

"Hello to you too, Clark, but please, call me Jasmine."


Deep within a Smallville cave, arcs of electricity danced, filling the hollow with their frenetic, buzzing song. As they rose to their crescendo pitch they all suddenly came together in a flash of light that washed every stone in light before vanishing as quick as it had appeared.

In its place, the creature that had once been Lindsey Harrison groped at the cold earth of the cave floor, remembering.

Remembering touch, remembering smell, remembering sound, remembering sight.

Soon she would remember movement, and words, and first among those words would be "Kal-El".

Chapter Text

Buffy walked through a cemetery carrying the Scythe. It was pretty standard as cemeteries go, barring the big old pyramid shaped tomb in the center. Buffy wrenched at the old metal gate that separated her from the tomb grounds, the door shrieking at her like an angry ghost.

Not at all ominous, she thought as she treaded across the overgrown lawn of the tomb. The rest of the grounds were neatly trimmed, only this place seemed to have been abandoned to the weeds. When she reached the tomb, she found the door stuck fast.

In the distance, she thought she heard a peal of thunder.

It was a dark and stormy night, she thought as she kicked down the door.

Buffy walked down into the tomb. It was lit inside, although dimly, by torches which gave the stones an orange hue. Buffy looked around cautiously. The room was almost barren, save for a long, highly conspicuous blue drape that fell from the ceiling at the far end of the room.

Okay, Buffy though as she adjusted her grip on the Scythe, clearly not the hide-y type.

As Buffy was approaching, a woman's voice came suddenly from behind a drape.

"I'd forgotten," she said, "I'd forgotten how young you would be..."

The drape was pulled back, and Buffy saw a very old woman with long white hair standing before her.

"Comes from the waiting," the woman continued, "mind plays tricks. I see you've found our weapon."

"Who are you?" Buffy finally asked after watching the smiling old woman in the strange, almost robe-like garment made out of some kind of hemp, if Buffy had to guess.

"One of many," the woman sighed. "Well...time was. Now I'm alone in the world."

"So what are you? Some kind of ghost?"

The old woman chuckled softly. "No, I'm as real as you are. Just...well... let me put it this way," her eyes crinkled up at the corners as she smiled, "I look good for my age. I've been waiting."

The woman held out her weathered hands and Buffy handed her the Scythe, wondering at the instinct that told her she could trust this woman. Whatever it was, it was there.

"You pulled it out of the rock," the woman said, gazing fondly at the Scythe. "I was one of those who put it in there."

"What is it?"

"A weapon. A scythe. Forged in secrecy for one like you who— I'm sorry. What's your name?"

"Buffy."

The woman made a face that Buffy couldn't decipher.

"No, really."

Buffy simply shrugged. It was a question she had often asked both herself and her mother. The old woman blinked before deciding to just move past it and continue her explanation.

"We forged it in secrecy and kept it hidden from the Shadow Men, who—"

"Yeah," Buffy said as her mouth curled at a bitter tasting memory. "Met those guys, didn't really care too much for 'em."

The woman nodded in understanding.

"Ahh, yes. Then you know… and they became the Watchers, and the Watchers watched the Slayers. But we were watching them."

"Oh! So you're like..." Buffy felt her patience fraying. What was it with these mystical types that compelled their overdeveloped sense of ambiguity? They were always trying to pull some BS "lead a horse to water and see if it starts drinking by itself" logic that Buffy felt she really had zero time for.

"What are you?" she asked, deciding to cut straight to the point, and tried her best to keep away the rude, hurrying tone that desperately wanted to creep into her voice.

The woman gave her a small smile of apologetic understanding.

"Guardians, she said. "Women who want to help and protect you. We forged this, centuries ago, halfway around the world."

"Hence, the Luxor Casino theme," Buffy muttered.

"Forged there," the woman continued, ignoring her, "it was put to use right here...to kill the last pure demon that walked upon the Earth. The rest were already driven under. And then there were men here, and then there were monks, and then there was a town, and now there is you. And the Scythe remained hidden."

"I don't understand," Buffy said, brow furrowing. "How is it possible that we didn't know any of this?"

Again the woman looked apologetic.

"We hid too. We had to until now. We're the last surprise."

I seriously doubt that, Buffy thought.

"Does this mean I can win?" she asked.

The woman merely shrugged.

"That is really up to you. This is a powerful weapon," she said as she handed the Scythe back to Buffy.

"Yeah," Buffy said as she took the Scythe and felt the electric thrill that always came when she picked it up.

"But you already have weapons," the woman continued.

"Oh," Buffy sighed as she began to despair of learning anything truly useful.

The woman gave her a wry smile.

"Use it wisely and perhaps you can beat back the rising dark," she said before her face and voice became somber. "One way or another, it can only mean an end is truly near."

At that moment, the woman's head suddenly cocked slightly to the side, and a cracking noise echoed in the stone chamber.

As the woman fell to the ground, Buffy looked up and saw Caleb standing there, smiling almost innocently.

"I'm sorry. I didn't catch that last part on account of her neck snapping and all," he said, looking down at the woman's body skeptically. "Did she say the end is near... or here?"

Buffy leapt back as Caleb took a swing at her, a swing that passed through a stone column, thick as a man, without slowing.

A blow like that to the wrong place might quickly be fatal.

Buffy dodged around him, swiping where she could at his exposed areas. He was like Clark had been, no training at all, even less understanding of theory perhaps, relying on the tremendous strength that forced Buffy to always break off her charge lest she meet it head on.

His speed was nothing like Clark's, but all he needed was one lucky shot.

Buffy ducked under another punch and lunged forward, right into the path of Caleb's rising knee. Buffy had to twist strangely to avoid having her head taken off.

She collapsed onto the ground and was already rolling as Caleb stomped down, his foot spinning a spider web of cracks in the stone around it. Buffy scrambled to get back to her feet but she was off balance, and the next punch had her. She had just enough time to jump back, move with the punch.

She avoided any real damage perhaps, though it felt to her like maybe her sternum had cracked a little.

"You're not so tough without your boy around," Caleb said, smiling as he bent over to pick something up off the ground. It was only then that Buffy realized she had dropped the Scythe.

She grimaced as she tried to rise to her feet, banishing the unhelpful wave of self-recrimination.

"Then again," Caleb continued, hefting the gleaming red weapon in awe, "ain't that just like a woman? She's all talk, and talk…and talk, when she's got a man to protect her. But when he's gone, well," Caleb had closed the distance between them before Buffy had gotten to her feet and he nodded down to her.

"I was hoping it would come out like this," Caleb said as he hefted the Scythe up and swung it down, grinning all the while.

There was a wet thud as his hand dropped down onto the floor, blood flooding out of him and splattering down over his leg and shoes.

Caleb staggered back, screaming, the pain almost beyond comprehension for a moment before it all faded. A gift of the First.

Why had he done that, swung his arm down in such a way? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but the girl had been holding the Scythe, so of course she would have cut up at him.

His plan had been to get the Scythe away from her for precisely that reason, but there it was in her hand where it had always been. Hadn't it?

Buffy was hearing the song again as she gripped the Scythe by it's cool handle. She couldn't quite remember why she had been so afraid seconds before. With the Scythe in hand, she never had anything to fear. Caleb had recovered and was charging at her, snarling and gushing blood from his severed arm.

He swung his powerful arm at her but the Scythe was between them, lodged deep in him, passing through his elbow as the momentum of his wild haymaker pushed the Scythe deeper into his flesh until that arm too was gone from the body.

Buffy didn't remember moving the Scythe, indeed it seemed to her like it had been there all along, and it was very strange that Caleb should choose to attack right into the blade of the Scythe, but it was done.

Caleb fell to his knees in front of her, looking up in shock and rage. That was fine, young boys were always upset about being called in from their games, but the sun was starting to set, and mother was calling him home.

When she killed him, she thought there would be the burst of rage or righteousness or adrenaline that had accompanied the vanquishing of every one of her opponents. There had been no such thing.

Snic snic.

Swift as the wind, the Scythe passed and Buffy had taken his head from his neck like a farmer reaps a stalk of wheat, without a second thought.

Snic snic, and it was done, like any other chore, Buffy had to stop herself from humming the song as she did her work.

Was that it then? All her fear, all that she and her friends had suffered and that was the resolution the world gave her.

Snic, snic, heads a-rollin'.

She had fought so long, found such strength in herself as she had never known could have existed, such coldness, such tenderness, such glory and such despair.

Snic, snic, no one cares. Sorry, where you planning something? Did you have some idea about how this was going to play out, how it should play out? It's already over and done.

As she stood there, Scythe gleaming in her hand, she wondered what she had been so afraid of. Evil was just a small thing, like Good.

The First had escaped of course, but they would meet again soon.

For a while, Buffy had been staring, but seeing nothing. Now, as if waking from a dream she saw the room before her, saw the corpse of the old woman, the dismembered mess that had been Caleb, and finally the Scythe in her hand, gleaming in the red-orange of the torch light.

Buffy cried out in sudden, unintelligible fear, throwing the Scythe with all her strength, watching it sail across the room, blade embedding itself deep into the great stone wall like it was no more than Play-doh.

Gleaming like a lighthouse on a stormy night, gleaming like a will-o-wisp, calling onlookers to their drowning.

In that light, Buffy felt her shadow grow until it seemed to have swallowed the room. The blazing torches seemed like flicking candles swallowed by that darkness in a shape like a young woman whose gaze Buffy felt heavy on her back.

Buffy's breath came quick and sharp as she stood, stunned, before she ran out of the tomb, fast as her legs could carry her. She ran with all her supernatural speed, legs driven by all her Slayer strength sent her forward with speed the cheetahs dream of. Every step of the way, her shadow was there, just behind, nipping at her heel.

She fled across town and before she knew it, she was home, banging on her door hard enough to split the wood. Xander would certainly be upset later. The door was thrown open and Buffy stepped in past a very flustered Willow.

"Buffy," she asked, "what happened?"

Buffy bent over, resting bother her hands on her knees as she gasped for breath.

"Hold…on…a sec…Wills…"

Now that she was home, Buffy had to wonder, what had happened? She had killed Caleb, and then suddenly decided to sprint all the way home for some reason? Thinking back on it now, she couldn't understand why.

"Hey, Buffy?" Willow asked, staring intently out the open door.

"Yeah?" Buffy gasped in return.

"Was there someone else with you?"

"No, why?"

Willow blinked, staring out into the empty night before shrugging and closing the door.

"No reason, guess it was just my imagination."

Willow looked at her poor, gasping, empty handed friend.

"Buffy, where's the Scythe?"

Buffy gave her a bewildered frown before lifting the gleaming metal weapon she was holding in her hand.

"It's right here, are you okay Wills?"

Willow stepped back before rubbing her eyes. Why had she asked that question? She had seen the Scythe; it had been right there in Buffy's hand all along.

"I don't know," Willow sighed, "guess I'm kinda tired."

Buffy stared at her friend in soft concern, before looking back at the Scythe, frowning, overcome by a sudden itch in the back of her brain, like she was forgetting something important. The feeling died as fast as it had come into being and Buffy dismissed it. If it were really important, it would come back to her.

"We've all been run pretty ragged lately," Buffy said. Then a sudden, feral grin grew on her face.

"But," she began, "I think I've got some good news…ding dong, the Preacher's dead!"


Clark put his hand to his head as more throbbing ringing seemed to echo within. Clark didn't know what these bizarre headaches were, but they had been coming and going randomly almost as soon as he had come to L.A.

"What's wrong, Clark?"

Clark looked up at Jasmine's concerned face. They were both seated side by side on a bed in Jasmine's room, one of the only rooms of the hotel not carpeted in the sleeping bags of the devout. Not even the mess of the Slayer Sorority house that had been the Summers' home compared to the situation at the Hyperion.

"I'm fine," Clark said as the ringing subsided. "I've just been getting these strange headaches…"

Jasmine put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Clark, that might be because of me. You are becoming connected, to me and to everyone else, through the power of my love. It is my gift to the people of this world, but as you have told me, you are not of this world. To be honest, I'm not sure how the process will affect you, but I promise to do everything in my power to help."

Jasmine smiled, and Clark decided then that if he had to suffer these pains for every minute of the rest of his life, it would be worth it for that smile. He and Jasmine had been talking for hours, he now saw as he glanced at a small electronic clock on the nightstand by the bed. He had told her everything, held nothing back, and she had accepted it all as he had hoped, had known she would. In turn she had told him who she was, how she had suffered watching from afar as humanity again and again brutalized itself, how she had needed to orchestrate an elaborate scheme so that she could descend to the earth, sacrificing her tremendous power and prescience for the sake of humanity.

"I must admit, Clark," she told him, "that while I came here for the humans, you are a pleasant surprise."

"You didn't know I was here?" Clark asked. From what she had told him of her plan, she must have been nearly omniscient in her previous form, to control so many variables at once.

Jasmine slowly shook her head, the smile fading ever so slightly.

"From the moment of the meteor shower, all of Smallville and much of the surrounding area, such as Metropolis, has been closed to my sight. Not mine alone either, why do you think that you, with such encompassing senses, have never once come upon a demon?"

Clark stared at the wall in deep thought. To any human it might have been an ordinary beige wall with latticed wallpaper and trim, but to Clark's eyes every pore and pixel held a definition that could never be matched by any of humanity's machines. That simple wall had a geography as complex as any feature of the American landscape.

"I came to a similar conclusion," Clark said, "with regards to the First. It says it knows everything that the dead know, but it never came after me when it was running around bombing Watcher bases. It must have known I would try and stop it once I found out about it. Even if it didn't think I could stop it once it had opened the Hellmouth, I feel like a preemptive strike would still have been prudent. Yet, it never came. Something must have been keeping the both of you out."

Jasmine nodded.

"I have long wondered what power was keeping the supernatural elements out of that part of Kansas, but after what you have told me, I have a prime suspect. I think it was this machine in the caves, the Artificial Intelligence that calls itself Jor-El, claiming the spirit of your father."

"Claiming? You don't think it's true?"

Jasmine shrugged.

"I can't be sure, but even if it is not an active deception, even if this machine believes it is as Jor-El was, it is not. Much like a vampire is not the person whose body it inhabits, this machine may remember what your father knew and think as your father thought, but it is not him. It is mere simulacra."

"Jor-El may have been responsible for my birth," Clark grumbled, "but he is not my father."

Jasmine gave him an understanding smile, placing a hand on his shoulder, but when she spoke, her tone was admonishing.

"You've suffered at its hands," her other hand was placed gently on his chest. "But, Clark, this anger and this pain are poisoning you. Even if your true father was as heartless as this machine, you should still at least be thankful for your life. You need not love the man, but love the fact that you came into this world, love the one good deed your father did. Love…and forgive. Your anger will not fix him, and your scorn can only hurt you."

"He sent me here to take over the world," Clark nearly choked on the words.

"Yes," Jasmine admitted, "but that doesn't matter. He is not here. He cannot decide your fate, Clark, but until you accept all of who you are, neither can you. If you don't know and accept where you come from, how will you know where you're going?"

Clark's hands balled into fists and he grit his teeth, then Jasmine put her hands over his and at the point of contact, Clark felt all his tension flow out of himself, feeling a steady warmth fill him through her skin.

"I want to…but I don't know how," he finally said.

Jasmine nodded.

"I know, but I can teach you. I can take the pain away, and I can show you the path. True happiness cannot come from trying to escape who you are, Clark, only by accepting ourselves can we find the way."

"Okay," Clark said, "I trust you."

Jasmine smiled and released him, the sudden absence of that warmth a coldness all its own. She stood and stretched.

"Boy, we really ate up the hours huh?"

"What about the First?" Clark asked. "You plan to make heaven on earth, it can't be happy about that."

Jasmine smiled and waved a dismissive hand.

"That thing? Trust me Clark, that thing just wants everyone to think it's some huge, eternal force. Its true nature is…more like a dream everyone is having together. Once my love has found its way into the hearts of every man, woman, and child, we will all be awake, walking through the morning sun. That creature will simply dissolve like the shadow it is."

Jasmine took his hand again and pulled him up, dragging him after her as they left the room.

"Where are we going?"

Jasmine laughed.

"To start the healing process."

She stopped in the middle of the hall and turned to him.

"Hey, let's skip down to the first floor."

Clark stared at her before realizing what she meant.

"Wait, you mean like, actually skip?"

"Of course!"

"…Why?"

She gave him another broad smile.

"Why not?"

Clark struggled to articulate in the face of her enthusiasm, shrugging meekly.

"It's a bit…"

"Silly? Childish?"

Clark agreed with silence.

"That's fine," Jasmine said, her voice changing from the cheery breeziness to the low, earthy tenderness she used when she was in what Clark had started to call "teacher mode".

"It's fine to be silly sometimes, to be childish. We're all so heavy, weighted down by sorrow and worry. Everyone should skip from time to time. Skip to remember what it means to be free, free of worry, free of doubt, free of sorrow, free of gravity. People should skip to remember that sometimes, obtaining a little bit of happiness is the easiest thing in the world."

Clark let her lead him down to the first floor, skipping all the way, excepting stairs.

I'll be damned if that wasn't actually kind of fun, Clark thought, before realizing that, like so many things, Jasmine's coming was going to change even the vernacular. Neither Clark nor anyone else would ever be damned again.

As they descended, all eyes tuned to look adoringly on Jasmine, who smiled radiantly at the throng that crowded the ground floor of the Hyperion. When the duo finally stopped, Jasmine let go of Clark's hand and patted him gently on the back, nudging him forward ever so slightly.

Clark took the cue and walked forward until he was deep in the crowd, wondering what Jasmine had planned. The goddess in question jumped onto a nearby table and the whole room got quiet as it waited for her to speak.

"Friends," she began, holding out one hand to present Clark, "this is Clark Kent. He is an alien from the planet Krypton. He is the last of his kind, and he has been here among us for the past fourteen years. He looks like one of you, but he is not one of you. He has powers that are unimaginable to the ordinary human. Strength and speed so great, that if he decided to slaughter everyone in the United States, it would take him maybe a month. So, do you guys have anything you want to say to him?"

Clark felt a cold fist envelop his heart and squeeze as everyone's eyes turned from Jasmine to him. What had been her intention? Clark couldn't guess, he could only stand paralyzed in fear as the crowd's gaze bored down on him.

Someone came through the crowd to stand before him. It was Connor. Their eyes met for a long moment, and then Connor smiled at him and placed both his hands on Clark's shoulders.

"Welcome home, brother," Connor said before embracing him.

Clark made a strange choking sound as Connor released him and woman stood in front of Clark.

"Welcome home, brother," she said, smiling as she embraced him. She let go and another man came.

"Welcome home,"

"Welcome,"

"Welcome home, brother."

"I'm home," Clark whispered in reply.


Buffy was sitting on her sofa, anxiously staring at the phone, waiting for him to call. She had to use all of her Slayer training to keep herself from getting up and pacing nervously. She glared at the phone, telling it to take its job seriously. Phone's ring, it's what they do, basically all they're good for. But this one was here, just lounging the day away like Buffy didn't have business to attend to.

"Hey," said the woman sitting on the wicker chair across from her. Her hair was the black that Black could be, done in a messy, tossed style that would take Buffy hours to replicate; her skin was the white that White would envy, unblemished save for a symbol painted in black under her right eye, like a small hook curling.

Talk about "beyond the pale", Buffy thought. She was young, Buffy's age maybe, or at least she looked that way. She was rocking a hardcore goth-punk-chick aesthetic with her coal black lipstick and eyeliner, her raven-wing black tank top, black leather pants wrapped with a studded black leather belt, ending down in her black boots done up with silver buckles and the black gloves on her hands.

A golden pendant gleamed over the woman's décolletage. Buffy felt like she knew it, it was an Egyptian symbol, a popular one, the "T" with the loop on top. For the life of her, Buffy couldn't remember what it was called.

"Hi," Buffy replied when she realized she had been staring. "Sorry, I just forgot how beautiful you were."

She grinned at Buffy, twirling a long black umbrella before resting it on her shoulder.

"Hey, don't worry about it," she said. "I'm just happy you're not running away this time. Really, Buffy, a girl could get the wrong idea."

Buffy picked up the Scythe, propped up against her sofa, and stood. She walked until she was standing before the woman. She hefted the weapon, feeling it's comforting weight, gazing longingly along it's gleaming length. Buffy sighed and handed the Scythe to the young woman.

"Here you go," Buffy said, "thanks for lending it to me."

The woman smiled, reaching out and taking the Scythe, caressing it gently with her finger before she handed it back to Buffy.

"Nah," she said, "it's my gift to you. Keep it for a bit longer."

Buffy took the Scythe back and held it close.

"Thank you," she said smiling, "it really is a lovely gift."

The woman had a musical laugh that made Buffy's stomach flutter, and she was overcome with a desire to touch that perfect body, but a paralyzing fear held her down, warring with that longing. She sat there in her crystalline beauty, like a blizzard of ice, and Buffy wanted to throw herself into the depths of that storm.

"I…" Buffy began, her breath catching in her throat. "I wanted…"

The woman gave her a knowing look, her smile becoming sad.

"Sorry, Buffy. I can't help you. Not in the way you want. Don't worry, when all this is over, we'll have time to talk. Before that though…phone's ringing."

Buffy blinked and turned to the phone. So it was, it had been for a while. Buffy walked over and picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Buffy," Clark said, "wake up!"

Buffy's eyes shot open as sprang upright, finding herself in her bed, deep in the darkness of her room.


"Clark," Jasmine called out, causing the young man to turn away from the circle of her followers where he had been chatting amiably.

Clark approached her, smiling.

"Yes ma'am?"

Jasmine returned his smile and took his hand, leading him up through the hotel, back into her room. As she closed the door behind her, she motioned for him to sit on the bed.

"So, how are you feeling?" She asked him.

"I…there are no words for what you have done for me tonight." He looked up t her and Jasmine's smile grew even wider.

"I'm glad to hear that, Clark. It is a good first step. Now, I was wondering if you could help me with something."

"Anything," Clark said immediately, straightening in excitement.

"No doubt you've been wondering where Angel and the others have gone?"

Clark nodded, becoming serious. Jasmine stared forlornly out the window, and when she spoke again her voice was thick with grief.

"They have been subject to a calamity, and infection of sorts. A terrible evil which has lodged themselves deep into their hearts and cut them off from my love. Where before they basked with us in the warm light, now there is nothing for them but cold dark. I'm afraid it's driven them quite insane. They attacked several innocent people at a gas station not long ago."

Clark was bewildered.

"Why? Do you know what caused it?"

Jasmine just shook her mournful head.

"I don't. All I know is that this malignance is beyond my powers to cure. I fear that if this darkness is not excised, it will spread and poison the world."

"Wait," Clark asked, fear mounting in his chest, "what is it exactly that you want me to do?

"I need you to find the members of Angel Investigations, and kill them."

Clark shot to his feet.

"What-arg!" Clark cried out as another one of the deafening rings sounded, this one louder than the others, so powerful that his knees buckled under the pain.

"Clark," Jasmine cried, touching him on his shoulder, pulling the pain out of his body. When it was done, Clark staggered to his feet.

"Sorry," he said.

"It's not your fault, I'm sure."

When Clark caught his breath he turned back to Jasmine.

"Now," he said, "why do I need to kill Angel and his friends."

Jasmine sighed a forlorn, heartbroken sigh.

"There is nothing I can do for them," she explained. "I have tried everything within my power, if I could take them back, I would. More than anything, that is what I want. But I can't, the hatred that has tainted them runs too deep. I don't even have the simple luxury of leaving them alone. If I did, they would just hurt more people. It's a shame, but it must be done. They are an infection, and to protect the rest of the world, they need to be removed."

Clark sat back down on the bed in deep thought.

"There has to be another way."

Jasmine put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently.

"Clark, your compassion is a part of your strength, and you must never lose sight of it. But there are some times in life when you have to fight. There are some people in the world who are just too dangerous to let live, whose very existence threatens everyone's livelihood and happiness. You started to learn this lesson when you became The Red Death during the blackout, but it scared you so you ran from it."

"The Red Death," Clark rasped, looking ill, "is an animal. A beast born out of terror, and pain, and-"

"Instinct," Jasmine interrupted. "The oldest instinct in the world, in every world. When my work here is done, I will have made that instinct obsolete. But until that time, we still need it, we need the strength it brings. We need the Red Death to sweep all the evil from the world, to make it ready for the utopia to come. We need him to save the world, Clark."

Clark hunched over and buried his face in his hands, breathing slowly.

"I can't," he said.

Jasmine frowned at him for the first time.

"Clark," she admonished, "don't you trust me?"

"I do," he said, nodding. "More than anything."

"Then-"

"More even, I think, than you trust yourself."

Jasmine took her hand off him and looked like she was about to argue, so Clark forged ahead.

"I have learned so much from you in the short time I've been here, and the highest truth you've taught me, the fact that your very existence embodies, is that love is more powerful than hatred, or sorrow, or pain. We don't need people like the Red Death, Jasmine. You are proof of that, of a better way. You are proof that good is more powerful than evil."

Jasmine looked away from him.

"Please, let me bring them in alive. I'm sure that if I try, I can find a way to save them. Whatever darkness is corrupting them; I know it can't compare to the light of your love. I can bring them back to us."

Jasmine was silent for the longest minute of Clark's life before she sighed and smiled at him like a mother letting her child get one more cookie out of the jar.

"Okay," she said, "we'll try it your way."

Clark nearly sagged with relief as he took her hand.

"Thank you, you won't regret it. I'll find out what's wrong with them no matter what. If it's something mystical, I'm sure Willow could help cure them."

Jasmine's smile turned suddenly brittle.

"Right…listen, Clark, about Willow…"


"Willow," Buffy's voice was an urgent whisper as she shook her friend awake. "Willow, wake up."

After Buffy had told everyone about the defeat of Caleb, the mood at Slayer Central had been downright festive. Buffy however, had been completely bushed and went to bed long before everyone else. As such, rousing the poor witch was proving a chore.

"Huh, wha-?" Willow blinked bleary eyes at Buffy before turning back around. "Buff? Leave me alone, I don't have much time before the library closes," she mumbled.

"Willow," Buffy shook her again. "Wills, whatever dream task you think you're accomplishing right now, I need you to stop and listen to me. This is important."

Willow yawned and stretched, untangling herself from the stirring Kennedy as she did.

"What, Buffy, what is it?"

"Okay, what is the name of that Egyptian symbol? The one that's like a 'T' but with a loop on top?"

"An Ankh? That's what was so important?"

"Oh, no, I just really needed to know or it was going to bug me all night, though I can't remember why. Must have been a dream I had-"

"Buffy," Willow held up her hand, "I'm going back to sleep."

"No, wait, hold on. Has Clark called back yet while I was asleep?"

Willow stared in open confusion, blinking the tears of sleep from her eyes.

"Uh, no. Why?"

"Because, Wills, he said he'd call in as soon as he got to L.A. With everything else happening, I forgot about it."

Willow shrugged. "So? I'm sure it just took him a while to ge…" Willow shot upright. "What am I saying? For Clark, getting to L.A. is like going to the corner gas station for pop-tarts…which isn't something I do at night."

"First we get that weird call and Connor says Angel is missing," Buffy says, "now we haven't heard from Clark for hours. Could be nothing, but…"

"When is it ever nothing," Willow agreed, throwing the sheets off and hopping out of bed.

Chapter Text

Clark followed several sets of fading thermal footprints through the winding sewer tunnels of Los Angeles, their size and stride consistent with his targets, and one of them dimmer, and therefor colder, than the rest. It might have been a more faded footprint from much earlier, but none of the brighter prints ever crossed over them and they maintained a consistent distance. So, they were walking in formation, which meant that all those pairs of feet had been present at the same time.

That would be them then; Angel, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne. Clark followed their path down the sewers until he came upon a pitfall of all things. The path here was filled with a confused panic of impressions. A new group had met up with Angel Investigations. Clark breathed in the scents; humans, and all fairly ripe too, as if they had been down in these sewers for weeks.

Whatever had happened, both groups had moved out together, and Clark followed the brightest set of footprints further down the twisting tunnels until he came upon a makeshift gate made of plywood, grating, wire, and various other scavenged odds and ends. It was fixed with a padlock that he pulled apart, quickly shoving the door open.

Six pairs of eyes turned to stare at him as he stepped into what could best be described as a hovel. It was a circular room a few yards in diameter that had been filled with sleeping bags, cooking utensils, and various other odds and ends, the space turned into a makeshift shelter. Clark assumed that the place's tenants were the three teenagers who were now staring at him with open astonishment. The smell confirmed Clark's suspicions.

"Clark?"

Clark turned his head to look at Fred, who stood side by side with Gunn and Lorne in front of a dirty, scruffy, unconscious blonde boy.

These people get into all sorts of craziness, Clark thought to himself as he confirmed the child was merely unconscious.

"What are you doing here?" Fred asked.

"And how did you find us?" Gunn added.

He could sense the fear in them all as he stepped closer, but it no longer shamed him. He knew now that there was a place where he was accepted, where he could be himself without being afraid. He would find a way to make them understand, break whatever dark curse was keeping them from Jasmine's love.

"Hello," Clark said as he smiled, "it's good to see you guys again. Now, why I'm here…I'm here to help you. I'm here to help you get back."

"Back?" Fred asked, eyes growing wide as she slowly came to realize what Clark meant. "Oh god," she rasped.

Gunn quickly moved to stand between them, shaking his head.

"Damn," he said, "this could not get worse."

Clark stepped forward until he was almost in striking distance.

"I know you are confused and afraid," he said gently, "and I know that whatever is making you act this way is going to keep you from believing me, but that's okay. We'll figure out what's wrong and we'll help you, no matter what, I promise."

"Boy, that Jasmine," Lorne scoffed. "She brings new meaning to 'kill with kindness'."

"We are not going to kill you," Clark insisted.

"Ha, that's a good one," Gunn said. "Tell me another!" He snapped his hand out in a blindingly fast punch, a punch that stopped an inch from Clark's face as Clark caught Gunn's arm by the wrist and held it firm. Gunn tried to pull his hand back but it wouldn't budge even a little from Clark's steel bear trap of a grip.

"That wasn't for my benefit," Clark said, looking Gunn in the eye. "It was for yours, if that had connected, you might have broken something. Gunn struggled harder, pulling against the fierce grip with all of his weight. As Gunn was struggling, Clark suddenly let go. Gunn fell back and landed, sprawling on the floor.

"I know how this is going to sound, but you can't hurt me, so just come quietly. Nothing is going to happen to you, I swear."

"Gunn," one of the young men said, "what the hell is happening, man? Who the hell is this?"

"Randall," Gunn warned, "stay back and shut up."

Clark turned to face the other trio.

"Hi," Clark said, extending his hand in greeting. "Sorry for not introducing myself. I'm Clark Kent."

"Kent?" Gunn wondered.

Randall eyed Clark's outstretched hand, keeping an improvised spear between them as he continued speaking to Gunn.

"Is he…I mean, he's not…"

"I'm not human, no," Clark said, guessing the train of Randall's thoughts. Randall set his feet and grit his teeth as he brought the spear up higher, pointing it right at Clark's solar plexus.

"Does that bother you?" Clark asked.

"Hell yes it bothers me!"

Clark nodded.

"I thought it might, but don't worry, it won't bother you for long."

Randall scowled at Clark, inching closer, his two friends flanking him with makeshift spears of their own. Clark considered is words and laughed at his own carelessness.

"Sorry, I get how that sounded, but I'm not threatening you or anyth-"

Randall lunged forward, stabbing at Clark with his spear. Clark resisted the urge to sigh, knowing that would be demeaning to them. It wasn't their fault; they didn't know any better. He interposed his hand and the tip of the spear hit his palm, bending in an arch, then splintering, and finally snapping off and clattering to the ground between them.

Randall and his friends stared at the snapped spear tip on the ground, their burst of violence abruptly frozen by astonishment.

"See?" Clark asked. "Now, as I was saying-"

"Everybody run!" Gunn yelled as he grabbed what seemed like an axe made out of hubcaps and other bits of metal welded together. Fred, Lorne, and the three youths broke into motion, each trying to head for the exit as Gunn charged Clark, bringing the axe up to slash down at Clark's exposed neck.

The axe blade met empty air, and in fact the axe itself was gone from his hands. Gunn heard Fred yell and spun to see Clark suddenly standing in front of the exit, axe gleaming in his hand. Clark held the axe up and looked at each of them in the eye. Once he was sure he had their full attention, he took the axe in both hands and crumpled it as easily as tinfoil, bending and crushing the iron down into a fist sized ball.

Clark dropped the scrapped weapon onto the ground and let it roll to a stop in front of the group. The three teenagers just stared at it before dropping their own weapons to the ground and slumping forward in defeat. Clark stared silently at Gunn, whose hands were clenched so tight his fingernails were digging into his palm, almost hard enough to draw blood.

After a long silence, Gunn sighed and let go. He went to stand by Lorne and Fred who looked up at him fearfully. He simply shook his head, there was nothing they could do. Gunn could see now, how this kid had killed the Beast. He had believed Faith's story, but to see it himself was another thing.

"It's okay," Gunn said, even though Lorne and Fred both knew he was lying. "That little demo our boy put on just goes to show that if he wanted to hurt us, he could have done it at any time."

Clark nodded and stepped forward.

"Gunn is right, like I said, I don't want to hurt any of you. Quite the opposite, I want to help you."

"Help us?" Fred asked, exhausted and done after days of running and hiding. "You mean help us go back to Jasmine."

Clark nodded.

"Sorry, Reverend," Gunn interjected, "but you're not gonna make us drink the kool-aid, and we're not gonna tell you where Angel and Wesley are no matter what you do. So if you're gonna kill us, kill us. If you're gonna lock us up, do that."

"Whoa, hold up," Lorne interjected, holding his finger in the air. "Have I mentioned that I'm really not great with the whole torture thing?"

"Torture?"

Everyone turned to the kid who had been knocked out on a cot in the corner of the room. He smiled a blissful smile, and when he spoke, it was with the voice of Jasmine.

"Lorne, my dear, don't be so dramatic."

The child's body sat up and looked at them all in turn.

"These poor things," Jasmine said with the boy's mouth, looking at the young man named Randall and his friends. "They've been down here since the sun went dark, but they had no idea that it had been restored days ago."

"What the hell?" Randall yelled as he stared at the boy who had relied on him for protection as something spoke through his lips. But that voice was so soothing, so soft and sweet, Randall's fear all started to evaporate. He knew, for the first time in his chaotic life, that everything was going to be okay.

"Aw hell," Gunn said, before turning back to Clark. "Clark, listen, Jasmine is evil. You ever notice how she calls people into her room and they're never seen or heard from again. Everyone thinks they've won some super special alone time with Jasmine. Well, winner, winner, chicken dinner."

Clark looked at Jasmine who sighed and shook her head.

"Really, Charles, I had hoped you were beyond such silly lies."

"Wait," Clark said, raising his hand into the air. "What does happen to those people who keep going into your room?"

The child-Jasmine looked at Clark and paused before saying,

"It's not important."

"It's not important?"

"It's not important," Jasmine repeated, but now with a strange weight in her words, an almost physical pressure that seemed to push Clark's doubts down and down into oblivion. Now that he thought about it, it really wasn't all that important.

"I guess you're righ-ahhh!"

Clark suddenly clapped his hands over his ears and cried out as another mind rending ringing noise echoed from seemingly everywhere. This one was the strongest yet, so powerful that Clark collapsed onto the floor, eyes screwed shut and body crushed into a ball to protect himself from the invisible attack.

Jasmine made the child's body rush over to Clark, calling his name, but Clark couldn't hear her. He could hear nothing but the excruciating ringing.

Lorne, Gunn, and Fred all looked at each other, then as the same silent thought passed through all of them, they split for the exit tunnel. Jasmine didn't even spare them a glance as she called out to the three kids newly in her thrall.

"After them," she said, and the three sprinted after their targets, knowing only that the most important thing in their lives now was that they did not disappoint that voice. Jasmine knelt by Clark's side.

"Clark, can you hear me?"

No response but the face contorted in pain.

Jasmine placed her borrowed hands over Clark's head and fell into deep concentration, feeling the invasive force that stabbed deep into Clark's mind. She set her own power against it, halting it's advance, pushing it back step by step.

It was cold, and it was vast, and it was utterly inhuman. Jasmine was pretty sure she knew what it was.

"Crazy bastard is going to get you killed," she whispered through the child's mouth as she slowly forced the invader out.

Clark gasped as the pain ebbed away. He opened his eyes to see a young blonde boy standing over him with an inscrutable expression.

"Clark," the boy said with Jasmines voice, "are you okay?"

"Yeah," Clark blinked a few times before sitting up.

"What happened?" He asked.

Jasmine shook the child's head and shrugged the child's shoulders.

"I can't be sure, though I have some ideas."

Clark nodded and got up.

"I have to go after Angel and the others."

Jasmine made the boy's face frown.

"Clark, I don't think you should go after them now. You need to rest-"

"I'm fine. I promise, I won't let you down."

Clark stood and took a few unsteady steps forward before finding his footing and vanishing into the maze of the L.A. sewer system with a rush of parting air.

"Wait-"Jasmine called out to the empty air. She made the boy's body heave a sigh.

"Damn it."

Far away, in an upper room of the Hyperion Hotel, Jasmine clicked her teeth. Her opponent was very good. If she was to be strong enough to defeat all the opposition this world had to offer, she would need to accelerate her plans to bring humanity under her power.

Clark shot through the sewer like an arrow, following the fleeing footprints until he at last found Connor and a whole swat team standing in front of another large door that had been constructed to block off a tunnel.

It's like no one comes down here ever to check things out, Clark thought.

"Clark," Connor said as he turned and saw the other boy.

Clark nodded toward the door.

"Are they behind that."

Connor nodded.

"We chased them down here, but they seemed to have barricaded this door. Also, do you smell that?"

Clark nodded.

"Blood," he said.

"Wesley's, and a whole lot of other peoples' besides" Connor supplied.

Clark raised an eyebrow and Connor grinned.

"You're not the only super boy around, you know."

Clark smiled.

"Always good to know."

"That being said, not all of us can bend steel-I mean I can, just in small amounts, so if you could…"

Clark nodded as the SWAT officers stepped back and allowed him access to the door.

He could almost make out what Wesley was saying on the other side. Something about sending Angel somewhere. Then there was a rush of wind and every hair on Clark's neck stood up as he felt a surge of power charge the air.

That can't be good.

Clark battered the door down with one blow and stepped into "Modern Art by Buffalo Bill". It was a dark, cavernous room filled with death. On the far wall was a mural of rent flesh and blood, mutilated corpses suspended in a web of rot and viscera.

"What the…"

"Yes, quite disturbing isn't it?"

Clark turned to face Wesley, who was giving him a grim, sardonic grin as Connor and his SWAT team filed in after Clark.

"What happened?" Clark asked.

Wesley simply inclined his head to where a strange creature slumped dead on the floor. The top half of its body was humanoid, but hairless and gray skinned, tumorous growths covering it. The creature's bottom half was four long, crablike legs.

"What is it?" Clark asked.

"Where's Angel?" Connor interrupted.

Wesley just glanced over to Connor for a second before looking Clark in the eye and twirling the longsword he carried. The whole group, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne, were armed and ready for a heroic last stand.

"I tried to kill you, you know," Wesley told Clark. "After Faith and I took you to my apartment, you were still unconscious, I tried to kill you. I failed, but looking back on it, there was nothing I could have done then. No, my moment was before that. After the Beast skewered you, I think you were really dying. Faith is the one who saved you. I tried to convince her not to, but I relented, in the end."

"Thank you," Clark said.

"I should have insisted she kill you."

"Thank you anyway," Clark repeated.

Wesley sighed and shrugged.

"So then, if you two are done making out," Connor said, raising his hand, signaling a dozen rifles to suddenly train on the Angel Investigations crew. "I think I asked you a question. Where is Angel?"

"Oh," Wesley said, finally facing Connor. "Angel? He's out on a coffee break. Try again in fifteen."

Connor grimaced and opened his mouth to issue orders when Clark suddenly appeared by his side.

"I thought we were not going to kill them," he reprimanded.

Connor shifted his eyes over to Clark. In reality, Jasmine had given him orders to kill all of Angel Investigation if and only if he thought he could do it without Clark finding out.

"I'm not sure why," Jasmine had told him, "but my connection to Clark is incomplete. I can't compel him to kill them yet, and I fear that he will slip away from me completely if he thinks we killed them purposely. After Clark finds them, I'll try and keep him busy while you finish them off. If that's not possible, try and capture them. They will certainly resist, and that will give you a chance to manufacture their accidental deaths."

"It's the best case scenario if we can bring them in," Connor said, "but they're dangerous. If I try and capture them while holding back, it's a lot of our brothers and sisters that are going to wind up dead."

"If you two are done making out," Wesley said, "are we going to fight or not?"

Clark looked over to Wesley before turning back to Connor.

"Just give me a second."

Connor was about to respond when Jasmine's crystalline voice sounded in his mind.

"Let him, Clark can overpower them easily. Once we have them, there will be time to kill them later."

Connor grit his teeth and stepped back.

"Thank you," Clark said as he smiled at Connor. Clark turned and advanced towards the Angel Investigations crew. They all raised their weapons a little half-heartedly.

"You know you can't beat me," Clark said.

Wesley shrugged.

"We can't be sure until we try."

"I can take you all out like that," Clark snapped his fingers so quickly they sounded like a gunshot. "I can knock you all out before you can see me move, but I don't want to do that. You could still get hurt. Now, trying to resist me, or later, if you wake up while we move you and start struggling."

"And you want us to what, surrender?"

Clark nodded and Wesley laughed a humorless laugh.

"That's unlikely."

"Why is that?" Clark asked, pacing a little in front of them.

"I need to explain?"

"Humor me."

Wesley stared at Clark, considering.

"Alright, because you'll kill us."

"I could have done that at any point."

"True," Wesley nodded. "It seems you don't want to kill us, but I can't believe Jasmine has the same view. The fact that you want us to live means you must be resisting her power somehow, maybe due to your demon blood."

"Right, about that, not actually a demon."

"What?" Fred and Wesley exclaimed at once. Gunn just raised an eyebrow and Lorne idly scratched his nose.

"I'll explain later, for right now let's focus on how you surrendering is actually the best move for both of us."

"This should be good," Gunn said, wondering if they were ever going to get around to fighting.

"You are the leader, Mr. Wyndon-Price, what are your parameters for victory right now?"

Wesley smiled an indulgent smile and pretended to think.

"Well, I'd say kill Jasmine is the primary condition for victory, killing you comes up somewhere secondary."

Clark nodded.

"Sure, but that's all long term stuff. What about right now, this very instant? What are your conditions for victory?"

Wesley lost the smile as the train of Clark's thoughts started to dawn on him.

"To survive," he answered seriously.

"Makes sense. So, do you know what my victory conditions are?"

"To convert us back to the Legion of Jasmine."

"And I can't do that, if you're dead. I have reason to keep you unharmed, and I have ability. It's a numbers game now, Mr. Wyndon-Price. You try to fight me here, you risk getting yourself and your team hurt, and I take you anyway. Ninety-nine point nine bar chance."

"Or," Wesley said, "we surrender, and we're guaranteed to live, and open up possibilities of somehow escaping later on."

Clark nodded again, but Gunn frowned.

"Hold on, if that's true, why would they want us to surrender."

"Because," Wesley said, loosening his grip on his sword, "Clark is sure he can bring us back into the fold."

"I try and see the good in people."

Wesley smiled and shook his head, looking at Clark with genuine remorse.

"You have a lot of compassion, as well as intelligence. I'm sorry they are being used this way."

Clark shrugged.

"There'll be time to talk about all of that."

Wesley sighed and turned to his team.

"He's right. Clark's sure he can turn us, so he needs us alive. We're sure we can't be turned, so we need to stay alive as long as possible. Jasmine clearly respects Clark's opinion, possibly because her control over him seems tenuous. I don't think she'll do anything to directly affect his view of her in the negative, not immediately. And if we cooperate here, she might even give over to Clark's point of view. Our surrendering really is the best option for everyone."

Wesley dropped his sword. The others stared at him for a long beat before they all dropped their weapons as well.

"Man," Gunn sighed as he put his hands behind his head, "I sure hope you know what you're doing."

We'll see, Wesley thought as Connor's SWAT team closed in around him. Besides, Clark doesn't have all the facts. All I really need to do is stall long enough for Angel to find what he needs in the other world.


Buffy peered through a clear shot glass at some kind of liquid, so pink it was fluorescent as adolescence.

"Well?" Someone asked her.

Buffy looked up at the dark lady, leaning over the bar and staring her in the eyes. Those eyes were so black, more than the absence of light, the reversal of it. Buffy could feel the negative space pulling her forward like a vortex, asking her to dive in. The woman blinked and Buffy managed to escape the undertow.

She looked around at the dimly lit archetype of a bar, nodding "hello" to Davey, who was still in the Navy, and probably would be for life.

"I'm dreaming again," Buffy said.

"Well, duh," the Lady answered, smiling. She gestured with her head, urging Buffy once more to take a drink.

Buffy lifted the glass and inspected it, turning it over with a critical eye. After a while she just shrugged and threw it back.

She coughed a bit and shook her head before laughing.

"So," the lady asked, "what's it taste like?"

"Like being seventeen," Buffy told her.

The lady gave her a brilliant smile.

"More?"

"Yes please."

Buffy admired her as she poured another shot. She was beautiful as the black ice over a lake. Unknown in depth or thickness, who could know what would happen if you were to walk out onto it? Maybe it would hold you up, maybe it would pull you under.

Buffy took another shot and savored it, knowing it might be the last time she'd ever get a taste.

"So, why am I back here?" Buffy asked.

"Well, you had to run off last time and there were still some things I needed to clear up."

"Ah," Buffy said, distracted as her glass was filled once more. She put it with the other two and turned when she heard two people singing. At the far end of the bar, Spike and Angel were singing a duet, gazing directly at her, both of them shirtless.

The lady snapped her fingers right next to Buffy's ear and Buffy leapt a little on her stool before twirling back around.

"Hey now," the lady said, "let's try to focus. I don't need this dream going to weird places while I'm still here."

Buffy coughed.

"Right, sorry…it's just…it's been a slow year."

"It happens. Especially when I'm around. So, questions, questions?"

"Um…yeah, yes." Buffy sat up straight and put all of her focus on the lady. Buffy picked up the Scythe from where it lay on the stool next to her and set it down on the bar between them.

"So," Buffy began, "what exactly is it."

"Well, in a manner of speaking, it's a piece of me."

"Right…and who are you? I'm sorry, I mean, I know we've met but I can't really rememb- oh come on, don't make that face."

The lady pouted and looked away, covering her face with her hands melodramatically.

"Buffy, I can't believe you. That hurts my feelings. Wah! Wah!"

Buffy rolled her eyes as the lady snorted and started giggling.

"It's fine, people usually don't remember me. You'll start to though, more and more, the more you use the Scythe."

The lady stopped her theatrics and faced Buffy with a sudden and even face.

"As for who I am, you know that already."

"I'm not…" Buffy trailed off as she felt her heart beating in her chest again. A rushing excitement, something like terror, or something like desire. The lady was right; Buffy did know who she was. But it wasn't real, not yet. When it became real, when the veil fell away, would Buffy run toward her or away from her?

"Come on, Buff. I know you've got way more brains than you like to show, even to yourself. Here, let me give you a hint."

The lady dropped her head forward so that her dark hair fell over her. When she pulled it back up, the black hair had become a hooded robe of total night. The white velour of her body had become immaculate, ivory bone. A fleshless skeleton in a drape of shadow.

"Recognize me now?" The voice was cold as the gulf between stars and Buffy fell back out of her stool.

"Come on, Babycakes, say my name."

"Death," Buffy whispered.

The eternal skull-grin became a warm, womanly grin as Death returned to her previous form.

"And Bingo was her name-o," she said.

Buffy stood up and sat back in her stool. She looked at the Scythe and groaned.

"Last time we met, you told me this was your gift to me, and now you said it's a part of you. 'Death is my gift'."

Death clapped once and laughed.

"Ha! I'm not huge on most prophecies, but I gotta say, that one is one of my favorites. It just works on so many levels, ya know?"

Buffy groaned again.

"Whatever," Buffy finally said, "so you're really going to answer my questions? Don't you have places to be?"

"Well, yeah. I'm there too."

"Whoo, boy." Buffy scratched her eyebrow as death grinned and poured her another drink. This one was something else, a dark amber. Buffy downed it, then gazed thoughtfully into the glass.

"It tastes like a rainy Sunday afternoon."

"Calmed down a bit?"

"Yes, thank you. So, you're here to answer my questions? Can I ask you anything?"

Death shrugged, but she was no longer smiling.

"Free country."

"Why did my mom die?"

Death was silent for a long while.

"I actually had a kind of snappy answer," she said, "about how your mom had to die because of the tumor in her brain, but I know what you're really asking me. The truth is that I don't know."

Buffy's face twisted as she gripped the edge of the bar.

"You don't know?" she asked, and then she laughed. "You don't know. Of course you don't, obviously you don't. Why would you? Why would I ever catch a break?"

Death sighed and poured something cold and blue into her glass. Buffy drank it down and slammed the glass onto the bar. She stared at nothing before she spoke, almost choking.

"It tastes like…waiting for the last bus home."

Death tapped her fingers on the bar, deep in thought.

"I'm going to give you a peak behind the curtain here, Buffster, and you might not like what you see. Just speak up at any time if you want me to stop."

Buffy said nothing, so Death just shrugged.

"Okay, so you know these guys, the Powers that Be or whatever. They represent the 'good' side of the whole good vs evil cosmic balancing scale. Then you have some guys on the other side and they represent the 'evil' side of the equation. They go doing this whole back and forth over the fate of the universe, and a lot of them have a lot of awesome lines about what it all means, and about purpose and so forth."

Death pushed herself off the bar and ran a hand through her long dark hair as she stared out into the distance. Then she leaned back, braced herself against the counter behind her, and hopped up, sitting herself on the counter as she looked back at Buffy.

"Thing of it is, none of it is real. They made it all up. Those guys, the creatures of light and darkness or whatever, they don't speak for the universe. They can't, because the universe doesn't have a voice. There is no higher meaning, the only meaning is the one people invent themselves. Gods and monsters, they're just people too. Not humans, but people. So, meaning of life, meaning of death, good, evil, right, wrong, that's all on you, Buffy. You need to figure out for yourself what those things mean to you, and what you want to do about them."

Buffy laughed again, but her face was all rage.

"So, what? I don't have any control? My life is decided by some people sitting up on clouds somewhere because they have some ideas about how my life should go?"

Death shrugged.

"No one's in control, Buffy, not really. Everything everyone does affects everyone around them in a thousand ways they can see and ten thousand ways they can't. That's true for all the little guys like humans, and the big guys like gods. Nothing to this universe but the people living in it, human and inhuman. A bunch are looking out for you, a bunch have it in for you, ten times as many don't care about you one way or another, and a hundred times that don't even know you exist. All anyone can do is decide how they want to deal with that."

Death poured her something greenish as Buffy sat, thinking.

"Well," Buffy said, "You were right. I didn't particularly like hearing that."

"Yeah, most people don't. Hey, who knows, maybe I'm totally wrong. Maybe there's some over-over-mind above anything even I can see who's actually making up the rules. I wouldn't know if there was any more than you."

Buffy downed the drink and then immediately spat it out.

"Oh god, what is that?" She yelled. "It taste like…gym socks that fell behind a drier and were colonized by fungus!"

Death frowned and looked down at the bottle.

"Really? I think someone mislabeled this one."

Death set the bottle aside and waited for Buffy to finish gagging and spitting.

"So, any more 'big picture' stuff?"

"No," Buffy gasped, "I'm super done with that. Tell me about the Scythe. Why is it called that, by the way? I mean, it looks like an axe."

"Ha," Death broke into a huge grin. "It's shaped like an axe, but it's the Scythe. Anyone who looks at it knows this. It could be a pop-tart and you'd still take one look at it and say 'that's the Scythe'."

"A pop-tart? Would it still kill people?"

"Duh."

Buffy grinned.

"That is what I need. I can see it now, me atop a white stallion, leading the Potentials into battle against the forces of darkness, brandishing my mighty pop-tart in the air, smiting baddies left and right."

Death laughed her musical laugh.

"You know who would really enjoy this conversation? A friend of mine, maybe you've heard of him, Plato-"

"-Oh, I know him," Buffy said, "I'm a big fan of his modeling clay."

Death rolled her eyes.

"Anyway, he had this idea he was trying to figure out for a while, he called it the 'Theory of Forms', and basically he was trying to figure out how much of the world's attributes were 'real' and how much were inventions of the mind-"

Buffy held up her hand.

"Sorry, I gotta stop you, 'cause it sounds like you're about to launch into a whole thing again. I really think we should keep moving forward."

"Ha, of course, sorry."

"Okay, so you said this thing is a part of you, but the lady at that weird temple said she and her proto-sorority or whatever made it."

Death shook her head.

"That's not what she said. She said they forged it. A forge doesn't create the iron that it turns into a sword. They gave it shape, but it came from me."

"How did they get it?"

"Oh, I gave it to them."

Buffy blinked.

"You…gave it to them? Just like that?"

"They asked nicely."

Buffy simply stared at her until Death broke into snickers.

"Okay, so it was more complicated than that. Heavy duty magic, the kind that hasn't been unleashed in a long time. They used it to make the Scythe into a weapon for the Slayer, so she could chase the last pure demons off the planet…well, the surface of the planet."

Buffy nodded and looked down at the Scythe, hungrily gleaming.

"So, how does it work, exactly? During my fight with Caleb, things got…weird."

"Well, do you know what two things in this life are inevitable?"

"You and taxes?"

"Exactamundo, so that's the principle that the Scythe embodies. Everything that lives, could die, and the Scythe finds that potential death in all the possibilities in all the universes and brings it into existence. It is the ultimate weapon, with the power to bend causality. It kills you, and then the details of how you die get fixed in post, so to speak. The weirdness you felt was your brain trying to adapt. Human minds aren't really built to handle that kind of thing. You'll get used to it the more you use it, start to remember more clearly, but be careful. I can tell that you're hurting yourself just trying to grasp the concept."

Buffy rubbed her temples and looked up at Death.

"Hey, I'm a drop out. I've got my excuse. The basics is that it can kill anything right? That's good enough for me."

"Basically. Humans, Vampires, assorted demons, aliens, rocks, stars, songs, abstract concepts, and the passage of time. It can kill anything, but human brains can't really grasp the death of things that aren't alive in the way they are, like minerals or ideas. If you try to kill these things with the Scythe, you'll probably just go insane."

"…huh…got'cha. Anything else I should be careful about?"

"Yeah, I know how exciting having an all-killing weapon sounds, but it's actually not as great as it seems. See, despite the fact that he was crazy strong, you and Caleb were not that far apart, power wise. On top of the weird stuff, the Scythe also has a magical blade that can cut through basically anything. Just edit its position so it lands a solid hit and Caleb goes down. Be very careful using this on beings that are much, much stronger than you."

Buffy frowned.

"Why is that?"

"Because the more unlikely your victory is, the bigger the changes the Scythe needs to make to reach that possibility. For example, if you use it on Clark or someone like him, by the time you land the killing blow, the continents might be different shapes, humanity might have been replaced by super-intelligent vacuums as the dominant life form on the planet, and basically it's Ray Bradbury's 'A Sound of Thunder'. Okay…probably nothing that dramatic, it is really good at finding the subtlest changes that need to be made. Still, while the Scythe will let you fight way outside your weight class, but it's still dangerous."

"Hm…okay then," Buffy said, disappointed. Still, she supposed an unbeatable killing machine with no drawbacks was asking for too much. She traced little figure eights in the condensed water on the bar top with her finger as she thought.

"I think that's it," Buffy finally said.

Death nodded and hopped off the counter, walking up to the bar and leaning in till she and Buffy were only a breath away.

"Okay then," she said, "let me leave you with one more bit of knowledge. There's nothing wrong with you."

Buffy frowned and leaned back.

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, kid. You've been here making eyes at me the whole time and you've been wondering what's wrong with you. I'm telling you, nothing. Sure, you've got plenty of damage, but wanting me is normal. Everybody wonders, wants me to take their pain away. So, there's nothing wrong with you, Buffy. What's the line? 'Everybody want go heaven, but nobody want dead'."

Buffy snorted in derision.

"Really? No one wants to die for real?"

Death waved a dismissive hand.

"Suicides don't want to die either, Buff. They just don't want the life they have."

"I don't care much for this life I've got either."

Death gave Buffy a gentle smile.

"That's not true. Plenty of things in your life you don't like, but you love too much about it to give it up. You've been wondering, ever since you came back, so I'm telling you now."

Buffy stared at the spaces between her fingers, traced the lattice of the woodgrain.

"Thanks…" she whispered. "Pour me one for the road?"

Death nodded.

"What would you like?"

"Oh, I don't know," Buffy shrugged tiredly. "You got a Maui sunset back there?"

Death smiled at her.

"I'm not tending bar as some kind of statement, kiddo. Tell me what you really want."

"Okay," Buffy paused, "how about a good night's sleep?"

Death turned and pulled a long necked bottle off the top shelf, pouring her a drink the color of the Milky Way.

Buffy took her drink, breathed it in, and drank it. It had been so long; she had forgotten how good it was.

"Well, Buffy said, picking up her favorite coat and folding it over her arm, "guess it's time to go."

"Don't worry," Death smiled, "I'll make sure that next time, Mr. Sandman brings you a good dream."

Buffy nodded and was about to walk to the door when a man came up to the bar and leaned on it. He was thing, reedish, wearing a tweed suit and wearing round spectacles.

"Shot of bourbon," he said.

Death poured his shot and slid it to him. The man picked it up, stared at it like a snake, then sighed.

"Picked the wrong week to quit drinking," he said before he quickly downed the shot, turning the glass over once he'd drained it.

He reached into his overcoat and pulled out his wallet, which he rummaged through, pulling out several squares of cheese that he slapped down onto the bar top.

"Keep the change," he said as he walked away and out the door, turning his collar up against the cold.

Buffy and Death both stared after him in utter perplexity.

"Okay," Buffy growled, "please tell me you can explain who the hell that guy is."

Death bit her bottom lip as she stared, silent. After a long moment, she turned to Buffy.

"You know, I actually think that he's-"

Buffy shot upright in the passenger seat, gasping. Willow looked over to her from the driver's seat.

"Buff, you okay?"

Buffy blinked as they sped along a dark road.

"Yeah…" she leaned back into her seat as her brain readjusted to reality. "How much further?"

"About another hour or so…were you dreaming?"

Buffy nodded groggily.

"Anything interesting?"

Buffy shrugged.

"Just about an old friend."

Buffy's head whipped around as they shot past a pale figure on the roadside.

"Speaking of…Will, turn around."

Willow brought the car to a skidding halt and made a quick U-turn. She flicked on her high beams and saw a pale, misshapen figure standing by the roadside. Willow pulled up next to it and rolled the window down.

"Clem?"

"Hey ladies, I gotta say, super happy to see you both not dead."

Buffy leaned over Willow to get a better view.

"Yeah, we're pretty happy with our lack of dead-ness as well. Clem, what are you doing by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere?"

Clem scratched one of his long, floppy ears.

"Well, I figured I'd head to L.A. after getting out of Sunnydale, but turns out the whole city's been taken over by some kind of cult, so that's out.

Buffy and Willow exchanged a glance.

"I know a Fossorian demon who lives in a borough around these parts…somewhere. Figured I'd crash there for a while until-"

"-Uh, hold on," Buffy interrupted. "Sorry, can you go back to the cult bit?"


"So, wait…" Gunn said as he paced the cell in the Hyperion basement, or at least the area of the cell not taken up by the rest of his friends. "You're an alien? Like, a real life, flying saucer, ET alien?"

Clark nodded and held his hands out to the side.

"In the inhuman flesh."

"…wow."

"That's astonishing," Wesley said.

"Astonishing?" Fred was incredulous. "Beyond astonishing, you're the answer to a question humans have been asking themselves since forever, 'are we alone'?"

Everyone stared at her.

"…I mean, other than demons." Fred hiccupped into her hand and tried to shrug into her jacket.

"I remember hearing about that meteor shower," Wesley said, deep in thought. "And you're saying that all these people who mutated were affected by these same meteor rocks?"

"Yeah, it's all pretty crazy."

Wesley shrugged.

"Well, it's hardly crazier than anything that happens on a Hellmouth. Hm. Clark, if you don't mind me asking, why did you tell us all of this? You were reluctant to before."

"I was afraid before. Afraid of what you would do, or say, or think. I was afraid of your fear, and your hatred. But I'm not afraid anymore."

Wesley took off his glasses and gently cleaned them with the edge of his shirt.

"Because," he asked in a tired voice, "you know now that there is somewhere where you're loved and accepted?"

Clark nodded.

"I know you remember what that's like.

"Clark," Fred said, "don't you get it? That feeling, that love of hers, it isn't real. It's all her power."

"Well," Clark said as he shrugged, "obviously."

"Clark, you have to trust me-wait…what?" Fred looked up at him in shock.

"Hold on, you mean you knew you were under her mojo?" Lorne asked.

"Of course," Clark said, sounding for all the world like he was being asked if two and two made four. "Humanity wouldn't suddenly start cooperating to such an extent after just seeing or speaking to her without some kind of supernatural effect."

Gunn, Lorne, and Fred all stared at him.

"Wait," Gunn said, "if you knew, then how come you're okay with it?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Clark asked in genuine confusion.

"Uh, how about the little fact that everybody's favorite caramel macchiato is brainwashing the populace en masse to be her willing slaves?" Lorne asked incredulously.

"Brainwashing? That's not how I see it. Her power is revealing to us the truth that we've always known. I mean, isn't that exactly what you people have been fighting for this whole time? The idea that the force of love is stronger than the force of hate in humanity?"

"Well, yeah but…" Lorne sputtered, "that's not-I mean…guys, little help?"

He turned to Fred who stammered.

"Uh, it's not the same, Clark. This love of hers, it's a lie."

"Oh, and can you prove that?" Clark asked, "Can you prove that Jasmine's love is the lie, and that this fear in you is not?"

"I know it's true, Clark. When I touched-when we touched her blood…I saw past it. I saw through the lie to the monster within."

"So, it just came to you…like truth?"

"Yeah…" Fred winced as Clark nodded.

"Then you already know what I'm going to say, don't you?"

Fred sighed.

"Yeah. Under Jasmine's influence, her love also feels like truth."

"So, here we are, two groups with different ideas about the truth, both believing absolutely that their version is the real truth. Worse, their truths are mutually exclusive. For one to be correct, the other has to be false. What do we do now?"

"Historically," Wesley said, a grim smile on his face, "this is the part where we start screaming Deus Vult and slaughter each other."

"It won't come to that," Clark promised. "I think there's another way of looking at it. If both our ideas seem equally true, then maybe it's equally likely they're both false."

Fred groaned in exasperation.

"And where does that get us?"

"Well, if there's no way to make it about proof, then isn't it about belief? If you can't prove one position or the other, then you have to decide for yourself what you choose to believe."

"Okay, okay," Lorne said, holding up his hand. "We're just going in circles here, Blue Eyes. We have to choose what to believe, okay. In that case, why would we ever pick to side with Jasmine?"

Clark shrugged.

"Because that's what you guys do."

He paused for effect as they all stared at him in bewilderment.

"You guys have been fighting monsters, fighting evil, for years. You've all suffered, and you've all lost. Every day you guys are inundated with the darkness of the world, with the all-pervasive misery, but you don't give up. You keep fighting because you believe. You choose to believe that this world is worth it, despite the darkness. When faced with all the evidence that this world is rotten, and hateful, and evil, you reject it. You say, 'no, I choose to believe that there is good in the world, that there is love, that there is light. It's what makes you all heroes, it's why I admire you as much as I do. It's why I'm asking you now, don't give in when we're so close. For the first time ever, the finish line is in sight. I'm asking you not to give in to despair and to hate. Choose love, choose hope."

Clark stared at each of them in turn, but they couldn't meet his eye.

Lorne broke the long silence.

"Whew, it's like the last twenty minutes of a sports movie in here. I gotta say, that was pretty good. Almost had me singing the 'Praise Jasmine' tune again."

Lorne laughed a loud, nervous laugh.

Gunn rolled his eyes.

"Damn, see, If I had known this was gonna turn into a high school philosophy debate, I would have just let you kill us." His tone was harsh but his voice was shaken.

Clark just smiled a slightly deflated smile.

"You want to believe me," he said, "I can tell. I can only imagine how hard it's been for you all, feeling lost, and afraid, and alone."

"That speech might be more convincing," Wesley said with a wry smile, "if it weren't delivered from the other side of an iron cell."

Fred just stared blankly at Clark's hopeful face. She was just so tired. She could see the concern on the boy's face, the earnest desire to save them, who were basically total strangers. The goodness in him touched her heart, and broke it. Jasmine had taken this enormous compassion and twisted it to her will as she had done to everything else.

"I'm sorry," Fred whispered.

"For what?" Clark asked, but Fred didn't say anything else.

"Besides," Lorne said, "you make it sound like flowers and sunshine, but even I don't want to live in a utopia where people get eaten. It's gotta be a pass for me too. Sorry little…doughnut…hole?"

Gunn turned to Lorne with a questioning glance and Lorne just shrugged.

"I've used up most of my pastry nicknames on Angel."

"Wait," Clark interrupted with a frown. "What do you mean by 'people get eaten'?"

The three members of Angel Investigations stared at Clark, stunned, before Gunn grinned.

"You didn't know? My boy, your new pal Jasmine is-"

"Clark," Clark blinked and looked around. That was definitely Jasmine's voice he had just heard.

"Clark, come upstairs please."

Clark turned to the Angel Investigations crew.

"Sorry, I've got to go. We'll talk more later."

"Hey, wait-" Gunn yelled, but Clark was already gone in a blur and a whoosh.

"Damn."

Clark was up the stairs and by Jasmine's side in an instant.

"Hey," she greeted, smiling at him.

"You called?"

"Yes, I wanted to share some good news. The governor called me, and he will be dissolving his administration tonight. He's also arranged an interview to be broadcast worldwide."

Clark pumped a victorious fist.

"That's awesome. World peace is going to leap closer once that broadcast goes live."

Jasmine nodded, still smiling.

"Yes, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to get ready, and we could use your help."

Clark paused and Jasmine's smile dimmed.

"Is something wrong, Clark?"

"No, it's just…is that optimal? I could probably get it all done in a few minutes by myself."

Jasmines smile brightened again.

"That's exactly it, isn't it? I want you to know, Clark, what it feels like to work with others, what it means to truly belong. Yes, you could get everything into place yourself with super speed, but I guarantee you'll have more fun getting it done slowly with everyone else."

Clark swallowed a lump of emotion and smiled.

"I…yes, thank you. Only two other people have ever looked out for me the way you do."

Jasmine touched his shoulder.

"Go on, Clark. I'll have Connor stay with our guests in the basement for now. There will be plenty of time to help them after we save the world."


"So, how sure are you of this spell?"

Buffy looked at Willow as Willow smudged both their faces with a dark paste.

"Well, since we left Sunnydale, or maybe since you killed Caleb, the First hasn't been slithering around trying to bite my arm off whenever I try to cast a spell."

"Kinda not an answer, Wills."

Willow shrugged.

"To be honest, I've never tried this spell before, but it's not like we have any other confirmed way to stop this so called Jasmine's evil brain-washy powers."

Buffy sighed. Willow was still right though. Untested spells it was.

"It's not all bad," Willow said, pouting. "At least the cloaking spell I have some practice with…I'm just not sure if it'll get us past Clark's super senses is all."

Willow finished applying the last of the black latticework to Buffy's face and turned to the car mirror and started to apply her own.

"What is in this stuff?" Buffy asked, nose rankling at the stench.

"How much do you really want to know?"

When Buffy grew silent, Willow smiled.

"Thought so…are you sure we shouldn't go back and get reinforcements?"

Buffy shook her head.

"We still need Faith and Spike to stay, just in case the First tries something again. Besides, when going up against an enemy who can brainjack your friends, less is more."

"I guess so," Willow said as she finished her own pattern. They both looked at each other, and as one smiled and said

"Fabulous!"

They laughed and got out of the car, making their way on foot through the streets of Los Angeles.

"This is beyond creepy," Buffy told Willow through a telepathic link. "Everyone is just so…happy."

"It's like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood."

"…well, there's something I never thought I'd have nightmares about. Thank you, Will, for ruining my childhood."

"I try."

They weaved carefully across streets and avenues, sticking to shade and taking back alleys whenever they could, but Willow's spells held. No one who saw them noticed them. After long hours of walking without incident, they arrived at the Hyperion Hotel.

"Jonestown, USA." Buffy said.

"Jasminetown," Willow corrected.

They weaved through a tight throng, carefully bumping into no one.

They split up and made their way through the crowds, eyes and ears open for any sign of their friends. Buffy liked not at all the camera crews that were setting up all over the hotel floor. From what she was hearing, they were here to interview this Jasmine creature. That could only be bad.

"I overheard some people say Wesley and the others are locked up downstairs," Willow said when they met up again.

Buffy nodded.

"Supposedly Jasmine took a bunch of her followers upstairs to her room to 'prepare for the interview', whatever that means," Buffy supplied. "No sign of Clark yet."

"So what should we do?"

"I think our best bet is to use our stealth to take down Jasmine before he shows up, but I don't want to just rush in blind. Go downstairs and talk to Angel's people, see if they have any important info. I'll keep watch up here."

Willow nodded and made her way to the basement while Buffy found herself an out of the way corner where she could wait. She did not get the chance to wait long.

"Miss Summers."

Crap!

Buffy looked up to the hotel's second floor balcony. A beautiful, dark woman was standing there, leaning slightly on the railing. Every set of eyes in the hotel turned as one to stare at Buffy.

Double Crap!

"It's good to see you again," she said. "Granted, you've never actually seen me. But I've seen you, from on high."

"Peep much?"

Buffy licked her suddenly dry lips

"Hey, Willow!" She thought as loudly as she could. "A little help, please!"

Jasmine's smile abruptly vanished as she looked down at Buffy, and something that seemed a great deal like fear to Buffy's learned eyes took over Jasmine's face.

Buffy followed her line of sight down to the hungry red weapon in her hand. Buffy pulled out her cockiest smirk and twirled the Scythe.

"You like?" She asked. "Come a little closer and I'll let you really admire it."

"Where did you get that?" Jasmine rasped.

"It was a gift."

Jasmine snarled, and all her followers snarled in unison.

"…uh-oh," Buffy whimpered. This was going to suck a little bit.

She heard rapid footsteps and soon Willow, Wesley and the others came flying down one of the hotel's long halls and came to her side.

"I wouldn't if I were you," Willow said, facing the crowd, hands raised and shimmering with arcane energy.

"I can't do the sparkly thing, but" Gunn said as he put his own fists up.

The crowd continued to stare that them murderously, but they didn't advance.

"Should have known you weren't far when I managed to spot Buffy," Jasmine said as she glared at Willow.

"Guess my cloaking spell still needs work to escape the detection of evil gods," Willow said to Buffy.

"You should get right on that when we get home," Buffy said. "Can you break her control over these people?"

"Not before they swarm us."

Jasmine stopped scowling at them and closed her eyes in deep concentration.

"Not that I don't appreciate the jailbreak," Wesley said, "but is there any steps to the plan between 'escape' and 'get torn limb-from-limb by a swarm of zealots'?"

"Willow," Buffy said, her voice snapping into the instinct of command, "get ready to clear a path to the stairs. I'm going after Jasmine. I need you guys to keep her minions off me. Follow behind me and take up positions on the stairs."

Wesley nodded.

"We'll have the high ground and they can't flank us. Good thinking."

"Thanks, let's get it done before-"

A sudden rush of air, a blur of blue and red, and Clark was standing in front of her.

"Oh, come on!" Buffy groaned.

"Buffy," Clark said, eyeing her.

"Be careful, Clark," Jasmine said. "That weapon she carries is dangerous beyond belief, even in the hands of a human. She can kill everyone here with it. You need to take her down, now."

"Damn it, Clark! Why couldn't your demon powers come with immunity to mind control? You have all the other ones!" Buffy complained.

"Oh, I'm not a demon."

Buffy blinked.

"Huh?"

"Yeah, alien."

"…oh."

Clark's fighting stance lost some tension.

"Oh? That's it?"

Buffy shrugged.

"Sorry, it's just…well, you know. Demons, robots, etc. An alien is kinda like 'neat, but it might as well happen'. Don't get me wrong, still super cool."

Clark sighed.

"Oh, come on Clark, don't sulk when we're about to fight."

"Hey, no, it's fine..." Clark turned suddenly and started looking around. "Does anyone else hear that?"

Next thing anybody knew, a large object, silver, dart shaped, and about half the size of a compact car crashed through the ceiling of the hotel, raining debris on several news teams who scattered left and right.

"The heck?" Willow exclaimed.

Clark saw the object, floating eerily in the air, and he grimaced.

"Jor-El."

Buffy turned to him.

"Who?"

"Basically my biological father made an AI of himself and put it in the spaceship that brought me here."

"Oh," Buffy said.

"Creepy," Gunn added.

"That's a real spaceship?" Willow and Fred cried in unison, eyes alight.

"Kal-El," a booming voice sounded from the empty air. "I have sat by and waited to see if you could overcome these obstacles on your own. I have even prevented you from falling totally under the sway of the Extra-dimensional entity calling itself Jasmine to the best of my ability by disrupting your neural-cognitive network."

Clark sighed his understanding.

"I should have figured those piecing headaches were you."

"I have concluded," Jor-El continued, ignoring him "that at this stage in your development, you are not capable of dealing with entities such as Jasmine and what is known as the 'First Evil'. As such, I shall terminate both these threats."

"Whoah, hold up!" Buffy said. "Things keep happening and I'm being left behind but, did you just say you'd take care of Jasmine and the first?"

"Correct."

"Huh, well let's hear it for dad ex machina."

Clark glared at Buffy.

"What?" She asked.

Clark shook his head and looked back up at the suspended metal pod.

"Just out of curiosity, Jor-El," Clark said, "how exactly, do you plan on eliminating these 'threats'?"

"I shall destroy the polities of Sunnydale and Los Angeles, thus removing the threat of their extra-human populations and susceptibility to extra-dimensional influence."

"Yeah, I figured," Clark said, giving Buffy a knowing look.

"So the robot is evil?" Buffy asked rhetorically, "guess I had that coming."

Clark turned back to Jor-El.

"Obviously, I can't let you do that."

"Expected," was all Jor-El said. Suddenly another blur tore through the room, slamming into Clark and through the walls of the hotel until both Clark and it were gone. Then the ship slowly began to ascend into the air, leaving through the hole it had made.

There was a long stillness in the hotel lobby.

"Well," Lorne said, "that happened."

"So," Gunn said, raising his hand. "I'm lost, anybody else?"

Buffy cricked her neck and adjusted her grip on her weapon.

"Relax, Gunn right?" she said, "I'm about to make it real simple for you. Same plan as before, but Wills, I need you to go take on the heartless Tin Man up there."

Gunn snorted.

"I can get behind that."

"Good," Buffy said. "Will, clear a path."

Willow clenched her hands into fists, bringing them together near her chest. Then she thrust her fists out and a wave of scarlet energy shot forward, transforming into the shape of a ram's head as it flew forward and knocked Jasmine's slaves aside like bowling pins, creating a clear path between them and the stairs.

Buffy charged into the gap, heading straight for the stairs, the other's right behind her. When Buffy reached the first step, she leapt with all her strength and sent herself flying over the stairs and onto the second floor balcony in one leap.

Jasmine glared at her and quickly retreated down the hallway, Buffy running after her.

Willow began drifting slowly into the air, mumbling to herself.

"Careful, careful…whoah! Focus!"

She slowly started to stabilize and shot out into the sky, following the rogue ship.

Wesley, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne all turned around at the top of the stairs as Jasmine's worshipers picked themselves up off the ground.

"Remember," Wesley said "our opponents are just humans being controlled. Try not to kill them if you can…but if it comes down to them or us…"

Gunn nodded, Fred swallowed and looked away, Lorne turned even greener.

Whether it's Angel or Buffy, you had better hurry, Wesley thought as a wave of human bodies came rushing up the stairs.

Clark landed somewhere outside the city limits with a shattering impact that sent him skidding, carving a path in the earth.

When he finally stood he was faced with a young woman with long blonde hair in a frilly white tank top and long white skirt.

"Hello, Kal-El," she said. "I am Kara, of Krypton."

Clark staggered to his feet.

"What? How is that possible?"

"Jor-El has been keeping me preserved until such a time as I was needed would come."

Clark shook dust and rock off of himself.

"Preserved? Needed? What the hell are you talking about."

The girl named Kara smiled at him.

"Don't worry, Clark, all will be explained…after."

Clark looked toward the city in the distance.

"Right," he said, "after Jor-El wipes a major city and change off the map."

He looked back at Kara with a stony glare.

"I take it you're supposed to stop me from interfering."

"Correct."

Clark rotated his shoulder and cricked his neck.

"Guess there's only one choice now."

He shot off like a bullet, smashing into Kara with a blow that shook the leaves off of nearby trees.

Back over the city, Jor-El and Willow strafed each other in the air.

"You are the…I believe the English term is 'witch'?" Jor-El inquired.

"That's me…they don't have witches on your planet?"

"We had those who knew magic, but your word 'witch' has no direct translation in Kryptonian. Our word for such people had far more religious overtones. Priestess would better fit."

"Really? That's pretty-wait what am I doing? Listen, I'd love to talk to you about our cultures, but I can't let you destroy the city or my town!"

"Pity," Jor-El said.

The ship was surrounded with a shimmering green aura and from it a sudden blast of green energy lanced out at Willow. It struck an aura of red in the air right in front of her and sent her flying back, shooting across the sky and crashing through a high rise.

When she was out of sight, the ship began to emit a high pitched whirring noise as it taxed its system to control and amplify the great force that held the cosmos together, gravity. It concentrated the force to a point directly over the city center and began to feed it.

Willow untangled herself from the debris her crash had created, unharmed thanks to her mystic barrier. She stood up, hair black, eyes black, body blazing with fury and power.

"Okay," she snarled, "now I'm a bit miffed."

In the hotel, Buffy chased Jasmine down the hall until jasmine suddenly turned, lifted one of the large potted plants that lined the hallway, and threw it at buffy like a cannon ball. Buffy barely managed to twist out of the way, slamming into the wall as the high speed projectile went shooting past her.

That was clo- She had no time to finish the thought as her senses screamed and she shifted her head, Jasmine's fist punching through the wall where her face had been.

Buffy leapt back and faced her opponent, now done running it seemed.

"You should not have that, girl," Jasmine snarled.

Buffy shrugged as she got to a comfortable distance.

"Again, it was a gift, so…"

"Your primitive monkey brain can't make use of it's true power. It is wasted in your hands."

"Well then," Buffy smirked, "let's go bananas."

Jasmine gave her a cold stare and charged.

Outside the city, Clark and Kara exchanged rapid blows, each sounding like a crack of thunder, each shaking the world around them.

Clark had hoped his recent training would give him an advantage, but it seemed this Kara had training herself in a martial art unlike anything Clark had ever seen. He supposed it was Kryptonian. It was exceedingly fluid, adept at making use of his own energy against him, and worse, it was designed to take full advantage of the third dimension, for Kara had another ultimate advantage over him.

She could fly.

Clark threw a punch but she caught it on her arm, sliding it away expertly and retaliating with several lightning jabs, pushing Clark back as he blocked them.

There was a lapse in her assault and Clark retaliated with a powerful blow. She flowed through the air, moving up and over him, grabbing him by the arm as she flipped and throwing him through the air.

Before he even skipped along the ground she shot after him, grabbing him by the throat and slamming his face into the earth, dragging him along.

Clark couldn't find any purchase to maneuver as they sped across the countryside. He lashed out blindly until a lucky hit forced her to let him go. They spiraled away from each other and Clark managed to jump to his feet.

She shot towards him again and Clark feinted a punch with his left. She fell for the ruse, and as she turned away from the fake blow, the real one came up from the other side. Kara was launched through the air, Clark chasing after her, continuing the rain of stone shattering blows, pushing her farther and farther. They had traveled into some deep forest, their paths marked by a trail of demolished trees.

Kara suddenly regained control of her trajectory, whatever force granted her flight allowed her to snap out of the horizontal free fall and dodge Clark's next blow.

She flowed around him, pulled through the air by that greatest of Kryptonian powers. Clark chased after her, but Kara uprooted a massive tree and through it at him. Not wanting to be slowed even a little in a fight taking place at such tremendous speed, Clark opted to duck under the trunk, sliding along the ground…and right into Kara's knee as she smashed it into Clark's face hard enough to launch him into the air.

There, she had the home field advantage as she chased after him, landing blow after blow, sending him higher and higher into the air, each strike sending any nearby clouds scattering across the horizon.

Clark tried to fight back, but he was helpless in the air. As he reached the zenith of his latest rise, Kara flew around and above him. There was one perfect moment of stillness when the force of her punch that had been propelling him could no longer overcome the gravity that pulled him toward the earth, and Clark was totally still in the air as these forces became equal and negated each other.

In that moment, she struck, shooting down and smashing into him with a full body blow, pushing them both toward the earth like a meteor. They slammed into the earth and the ground rippled and quaked like a pond as a wave of energy and pressurized air shot out in all directions, smashing into massive trees and tossing them like toy blocks in the invisible hands of a petulant child-god throwing a tantrum.

When the dust and vapor settled, two figures lay unmoving in a crater the size of a football field.

In the skies over Los Angeles, Willow and Jor-El flew, exchanging furious blasts that caused the air to crackle with a sympathetic charge.

Willow knew that time was against her, she could feel the growing pull on her body, trying to drag her towards a far off point Jor-El had created that even now had accumulated dust and loose debris into a growing dark sphere. Willow had no illusions that soon the force gathering at that point would grow until it had consumed the city, spreading from there until it had reached Sunnydale.

Let's try a different tactic.

So far the ship had been able to match her energy with its own, and Willow had no idea how long it would be before the thing ran out of power. Willow got some distance, weaving around destructive green bolts as she muttered an incantation and made a complex series of patterns in the air with her hands.

As the spell completed, she reached out to the very molecules that composed the ship and tried to rearrange them, a transmutation spell to turn the ship into something less threatening, like a duck.

There was a strange quake in the fabric of the ship's reality as it seemed there and not there. Her spell could find no useful purchase.

"What the heck?"

"The scientific knowledge of Krypton is so advanced that, while it approaches things from avenues different than your magic, their potency and capability are equal."

Willow huffed.

"Clarke's Third, is it? Fine then…guess that makes this, for all intents and purposes, a wizard's duel."

She stretched out a hand and commanded the electric blood that flowed through the city's power grid to come to her aide. The lights in the city all extinguished and great arcs of electricity formed in the air, bending and twisting into the shape of Chinese dragon kings, mouths agape as they descended on Jor-El.

The ship lit up as it worked huge forces and shifted the air around them, altering charges and conduction so that the lightning beasts were pulled downward, even against the will of their master, towards a large building still under construction. Their collision caused the steel skeleton to melt into a slag, bringing the whole thing crashing to the ground as the huge energy discharged in a pulse of power that smashed windows for miles around and blacked out the whole of the city.

Willow herself had to focus totally on her barrier when the pulse reached her. The ship remained totally stationary and Willow stared at it in astonishment.

"Kryptonians solved our machines' electromagnetic pulse problem millennia ago."

Willow was almost sure she was being made fun of.

The ship whirred again as it began to weave the complex force of magnetism, and soon cars, lamp posts, benches, and construction beams were shooting through the air at Willow faster than sound, as if they had been launched from a railgun.

Willow reached for greater and greater depths of power as she fought to deflect the projectiles with her barrier, knowing she could never dodge them. She called out to every Great Name she knew and her body was saturated with a might she had never felt, a river of force that flowed into the world through a tiny channel named Willow Rosenberg.

She reached out her hand and fired a scarlet blast that looked something like a flame, but was nothing like fire.

A hail of cars and lamp posts fell to Los Angeles as Jor-El redirected the energies he had applied to them into a counter blast of his own.

The two beams met in the air and pushed against each other, excess energy spilling from the point of impact and shooting into the sky. The two combatants floated motionless, pushing against each other with all their might.

In the halls of the Hyperion Hotel's upper floor, Jasmine retreated from the bloodthirsty gleam of a red blade as the Scythe cut towards her. It seemed everywhere at once, because in a way it was.

Buffy took another swipe at her and Jasmine dodged, only to find the Scythe blade suddenly in her path. Only her tremendous reflexes allowed her to escape with nothing more than a new wound.

The Scythe, powers limited by Buffy's own abilities as a human, had not yet managed a finishing blow. That was fine, death by a thousand cuts was still death, and the Scythe loved a challenge. It chased Jasmine's death, hounded it, seeking it out in every permutation and possibility. It would get there, it was the Scythe, and its mistress was the Slayer.

Jasmine jumped away from a vertical slash, and the world seemed to bend and refract like a kaleidoscope, and suddenly another dozen slashes were making their way towards her. Jasmine twisted and turned, saving her vitals but avoiding none of the blades as they opened her flesh.

Jasmine backed up into another of the hotel's rooms, grabbing the queen sized bed by the frame with one hand and tossing it at Buffy as easily as Styrofoam.

Again a multitude of slashes as the Scythe found everywhere it could be and was in all those places at once. The improvised projectile almost dissolved under the flurry. Jasmine hadn't expected that to work, but it had bought her time. She went crashing through the wall of the hotel and into an adjoining room. The irritating blonde bitch following right after her, sticking her head in through the hole made by Jasmine's passage.

"Heeeeeeere's Buffy!" She sang as she stalked her prey back out into the hall. Jasmine launched herself forward almost faster than Buffy could see, hand lashing out with enough force to punch right through the Slayer. The world shifted and slid on the sands of the possible and suddenly the Scythe was there, taking Jasmine's hand as remuneration for her arrogance.

Jasmine cried out as blood seeped from her arm. Her cry of pain became a snarl of rage as she kicked out at Buffy's leg, forcing the slayer to dance back, but not before a quick swipe bit deep into Jasmine's face, splitting an eye. Jasmine howled and jumped to her feet, flying down the hallway.

Buffy cursed as she ran after her opponent, embarrassed by her own carelessness.

"Stop her," Buffy yelled to the Angel Investigations crew, still mired in a staircase melee. Gunn turned long enough to see Jasmine vault over the balcony railing and fall to the first floor.

Jasmine rolled with the fall and sprang up.

"Kill her!" She cried as her minions opened a path for her to the door. Buffy jumped down, but found herself surrounded by the bodies of the Los Angeles citizens. The Scythe was ready to take all their lives in one multiplying slash, but Buffy kept it contained as she tried to fight her way nonlethally through the throngs of the innocent.

Jasmine meanwhile, was limping for the exit when a wave of force tore through the hotel, smashing glass and knocking everyone flat. Buffy was the first to get up, nerves tingling and hair on end.

"What the hell was that?"

"Some kind of…electromagnetic discharge?" Wesley speculated as he sat up, pulling off his glasses, lenses now shattered.

What the hell, Will? Buffy thought, just knowing her friend was involved somehow. Buffy's whole body felt numb, and her legs were being disobedient. She could see that Jasmine had managed to drag herself upright, pointing at Buffy and scowling.

"Kill her," the goddess wheezed, but her servants were sluggish to answer.

Suddenly the air was once again charged with energy as a great ball of light coalesced in the middle of the lobby.

Now what? Buffy groaned internally.

The light dissipated and revealed none other than Angel in all his trench coat, mousse coiffed, beat up glory. Every part of him was battered, he held a longsword in one hand and a dripping, pulpy demon head in the other.

Buffy had seen few things so endearing.

"Angel," Jasmine cried, pleading. "Don't-"

Angel looked at her as he dropped the sword.

"Sorry," he said as he ripped away the stitching that held the demon's mouth together. Its lips parted and it spoke a name.

Before Buffy's eyes, Jasmine morphed from a beautiful woman into a hideous, maggot ridden corpse. Panic ripped through the Jasmine worshippers as they ran, screaming out of the hotel.

Jasmine's face molded and shifted again, becoming a little more like its former self.

"Wait," she begged, "please don't go."

Too late, the spell was broken.

She sobbed in pain and anger before turning to Angel with hateful eyes.

"You, I'm going to kill you-"

"-Hey!"

Jasmine turned to see Buffy behind her, Scythe in a perfect arch toward her neck. In that moment, it seemed like the tiny blonde girl cast an enormous shadow onto the wall. A shadow in the shape of a dark woman.

Then Jasmine, an existence of power and age beyond human belief, was dead on the floor.

"Nobody kills Angel but me," Buffy finished.

Angel looked at her and blinked.

Buffy smiled and shrugged.

"I mean, historically speaking."

In the air, the standstill between Willow and Jor-El came to an abrupt end when the ship and its beam vanished from sight. Willow's red blast shot through the empty space, igniting the atmosphere and causing a flower of red fire to bloom across the blue sky over the city for a moment before dissipating.

Willow twisted around, searching for her enemy.

"Where are you?"

She continued seeking, but there was no answer. Willow warily floated back down to the hotel to see panicked people streaming out of it, screaming. She frowned and sped forward, entering through the hole in the roof and descending. She saw Buffy and the others catching their breath and laughing, Jasmine's twisted, beheaded corpse on the ground by Buffy's feet.

When Buffy saw her, her smile vanished and she gripped the Scythe.

"Willow," she began, cautiously, "are you okay?"

Willow frowned before she realized what she must look like.

"Oh, right, one sec."

She closed her eyes and focused, pushing back the power that thrummed in her as she breathed in and out. When the power was gone, she fell back, crushed by exhaustion and regret, hair and eyes once again restored to their normal hues.

Angel quickly caught her and she gave him a tired, grateful smile.

"Well," she said, "guess I can control it after all."

Buffy sighed in relief and let the Scythe hang loosely at her side.

"So what happened to the robot spaceship?" Buffy asked.

Angel looked at her in bewilderment.

"Robot spaceship?"

Buffy waved a dismissive hand.

"I'll explain later."

Willow would have shrugged if she had the energy.

"No idea. Up and vanished. Weird gravity ball is gone too. Maybe when you killed Jasmine, he decided he didn't need to destroy L.A. after all."

"Whoa, wait-" Angel exclaimed, "what do you mean 'destroy L.A.'?"

Buffy sighed.

"Just hold on a sec and we'll tell you."

She looked around.

"So, I don't suppose anyone knows where Clark went?"


Clark lay in the crater, staring up into the sky, unmoving. He supposed he should get up. He was hurt, but healing. He wanted to get up, to go see if anyone else needed his help.

They must have beaten Jasmine, but who knows what else is happening. We still have Jor-El's insanity to deal with.

Clark told himself to get up but his body refused.

"Get up," he whispered softly through cracked lips. But he didn't.

He heard Kara shiver next to him and he frowned, turning over. His eyes grew wide as he saw her convulsing. He moved to her side.

"Hey, are you okay?"

She blinked blearily at him and smiled.

"Hey, nice to meet you."

"What's wrong?"

"I'm dying. Sorry, I'm not really a Kryptonian. I remember now, I'm just a girl. Jor-El changed my body so that I could have powers like a Kryptonian, and my mind so I would think I was a Kryptonian…so I would think I was Kara. I'm not though, it was always temporary. Guess the fight burned me out."

Clark collected her suddenly frail body in his arms.

"Hey, don't talk like that. Jor-El did this to you, he can fix it."

'Kara' laughed a pained laugh and shook her head.

"Sorry, this is it for me. I want to say something though, as myself, not as Jor-El's flying monkey. I saw things, when he was messing with my mind, I saw you, and what you could be. Jor-El is an asshat, but I think he's got the right idea about you. I think you could save the world."

Clark was silent as the girl continued to shiver.

"What's your name?" He asked.

She smiled with a tear in her eyes.

"I don't remember."

Clark's face twisted in rage.

"I'm sorry, this is happening to you because of me-"

"-Hey now. I was dead, I think. The meteors came, and I was in a car with my mom. We were hit. I would have been dead if Jor-El hadn't snatched me."

"That doesn't make it right! He took you, used you for his games and now he's discarding you."

"True…but it's not all bad. I think I see, maybe even better than he does, the future you can bring. Since I was going to die anyway, guess I'll put that one in the win column."

The tremors were fewer and farther apart now as Clark held the girl close.

"Lindsey," she said suddenly.

"What?"

"Lindsey Harrison, that was my name. I just remembered."

She started laughing.

"Lindsey Harrison."

She laughed and laughed until she stopped. Clark didn't know how long he kneeled there, holding her. A crow came by and alighted on the rim of the crater, staring at him. Clark stared back at it, at the life already revisiting this place of desolation.

"Sorry," Clark told the crow as he set Lindsey Harrison's body aside and started digging into the earth with his hands. "You'll have to find lunch somewhere else."

After he buried her, he found a large stone, wide around as his arm, thrown clear by the blast. He placed it over her grave and burned an inscription into it.

"Lindsey Harrison, Unknown – 2002. She wanted to save the world."


Clark stepped into the wreckage that was the Hyperion's lobby, breath tight in anticipation. Everyone looked up at him as he came in.

Clark stood in front of the entrance and silently waited.

First Buffy, then Angel, then the rest smiled at him.

"Welcome back," Buffy said.

"I'm back."

The rest of the day was spent in cleaning the mess of the Hyperion, which took a while even with super speed. Clark told them his whole story while they worked, and they all listened attentively.

By the time night had fallen, the hotel, while hardly restored, was safe.

"Well," Buffy said, "guess it's time to go."

"Are you sure you don't want to stay and rest a little?" Angel asked, stepping closer to her.

Buffy smiled and looked away.

"No…you know what they say, 'no rest for the weary'. Besides, the longer I stay the harder it is to leave."

Angel wanted to argue, but he knew she was right.

"Do you at least want us to go with you and help? I mean, our big bad is down."

Buffy shook her head again.

"I need you guys to be a second front in case something happens in Sunnydale. Besides, between Willow, Jor-El, and Jasmine, this city's pretty beat up. It's gonna need you guys."

"Hey!" Willow cried in indignation.

Angel sighed and nodded. She was right about that too.

They stood there silently for a while before they both laughed.

"See what I mean? Hard to leave."

Buffy, Willow, and Clark said their goodbyes, leaving the Hyperion behind as a stretch limousine pulled up in front of it.

"Should we check it out?" Clark asked.

Buffy shook her head.

"Whatever it is, I trust Angel to take care of it. We've got to get back."

There was a fire in her step and steel in her voice.

"I'm done," she said "waiting for the big kids to kick us around the sand box. I'm taking the fight to the First."

"Sounds like you have a plan," Clark said, matching her stride.

Buffy nodded, twirling the Scythe.

"I do, it might be a long shot, but I think it will work. Willow, I'm gonna need your help."


Buffy and Clark stared out over the huge crater that was once Sunnydale.

"Sorry," Clark said. "I was only here a few days, and my time here wasn't exactly a tourist's dream, but it must be hard to lose your home like that."

Buffy shrugged.

"It's just a town," she looked over her shoulder at Willow, Giles, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Faith the Potentials, Andrew, and Robin Wood standing around and in their improvised getaway vehicle, a school bus. "My home made it out with me."

Clark continued to stare out at the gaping pit.

"He should have let me wear the medallion. If anyone had a chance to survive-"

"You're pretty tough, Clark. But whatever that thing was, it nuked the Hellmouth and dropped the whole town on it. Do you think even you could survive that?"

Clark shrugged.

"Guess I'll never know now."

Buffy smiled sadly.

"It's okay. I think he was right, it had to be him. I think he found some peace, at the end. Something for himself, something that wasn't just about me."

Buffy turned and faced Clark.

"So, you'll keep in touch?"

Clark smiled at her with the corner of his mouth.

"Of course. You don't want to think about it now, but you've got a lot of work ahead of you, rounding up the new Slayers and stuff. Give me a call whenever. Obviously you've got an open invite to stay at the farm if you ever need to."

Buffy smirked.

"Didn't you say your parents were probably going to ground you until the end of time?"

Clark laughed.

"Exactly. Since I'm already grounded forever, it's not like they can ground me more if I sneak off from time to time to help save the world."

Buffy punched him in the arm.

"So, the space boy from Smallville huh?"

Clark shrugged and walked away.

"Just a regular, small town boy," he said.

Faith leaned out of the window of the bus and called out to him.

"Hey, I've decided on a nickname. It's gonna be 'CK'."

Clark faced them and smiled.

"Dumb name," he joked.

Faith stuck her tongue out at him.

"I'll use it," Xander said.

Clark smiled and waved at them. The small crowd waved back. Clark turned, faced the direction of home, and shot off into the horizon, a streak of red and blue blasting across the landscape.

"That," Dawn said, "never gets old."