Disclaimer: "Smallville" and all its characters are owned by the WB and/or DC Comics and/or Millar & Gough and/or Tollin & Robbins. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and all its characters are owned by UPN and/or Mutant Enemy and/or Joss Whedon. I don't own any of these characters. I'm just fooling around with them. Please don't sue.
A Friday in June, 2005
Dawn Summers walked out of the Theoretical Astrophysics Building into a thick wall of sticky Kansas summer heat. The doggone Midwest was always having some sort of weather going on. Drove her crazy.
"Hey, Dawn, wait up!"
"Oh, great, make my day complete," Dawn thought. Big dumb stupid alien superhero farmboy. Clark Kent came galloping up beside her. She refused to look, and tossed her shiny brown hair away from him for emphasis.
"Come on, at least let me apologize," Clark wheedled.
"Aren't you supposed to be down on the farm?" Dawn growled.
"I'm making deliveries in Metropolis today. Also I really wanted to say how sorry I am about leaving you like that in the middle of our date...."
Dawn turned on him furiously. Clark was at least a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier, not to mention the invulnerable-super-strong-alien thing, but he backed up a step in fear.
"You think I have a problem with you leaving in the middle of a date to take care of an APOCALYPSE, Clark? Do you think I'm an IDIOT? Leaving in the middle of the date to change into Superman to fight the Gorevanor Demon is NOT a PROBLEM! Leaving at the end of the date to chase down Lex Luthor and NOT COMING BACK and making Buffy and me WALK HOME BY OURSELVES! That's the problem!"
"Jeeze! Could you keep it down? I'm really sorry...."
"Apology NOT accepted! Clark Kent, I never want to see you again!"
"Get out! Get Out! GET OUT!" Dawn yelled, then turned on her heel and flounced away.
Buffy Summers happily swung her plastic shopping bag as she walked up the street to her home in the early evening twilight. It had been a good day selling shoes. She had gotten a lovely pair of boots with a lovely employee discount that made them practically not extravagant at all. The Bronze was having its Grand Re-Opening tonight, which meant there would be dancing and monster-slaying, her favorite combination. It had been a nice profitable day; it would be a nice violent night; things were nice in Buffy-land.
A silver Porsche was parked on the street. "Ooh, shiny," Buffy thought.
There was somebody standing on her porch. Buffy quickly reviewed the location of all her weapons.
Then she recognized him. It was Lex Luthor.
Back home in Smallville, Clark dejectedly swung his booted feet in the air. He and Pete were sitting on the edge of the loft, watching the stars.
"She's still so mad, Pete. It's been a whole month."
"You left her and her sister to walk home in the dark while you ran after Lex Luthor, man."
"I'd think she'd be over it by now."
"In Metropolis. In the dark. After YOU asked HER out on the date. To chase Lex. Luthor."
"Okay, I get it. I apologized and everything. She's just so mad. And so cute. I really like her."
"I've actually apologized like four times. It's harder than fighting crime, Pete. Every time I go do deliveries in Metropolis, I go to the school and hunt her down and let her yell at me."
"Sometimes persistence is all a man has going for him."
"I guess. Actually, I think it is getting better. This time she let me say about three sentences before she told me to Get Out!"
"There you go. Did you give her flowers or anything?"
"Girls love presents."
"That's a great idea, Pete!"
"Always happy to help." They just sat for a little while. Then Pete said, "You know, Clark, if I were you I'd be more worried about what Lex is gonna do now that he knows you're Superman."
"C'mon, Pete. Lex is my friend. Besides, what can he do? I'm Superman."
"I don't know. Make bullets outta meteor rocks and shoot you, maybe. You said he was pretty mad."
"Oh, Lex will get over it."
"Like Dawn has?"
"Hmm. I wonder how she feels about pie."
The man who answered the door at 1630 Revello Drive was unshaven and a little heavy. He had a walking cast on his left leg. Except for the cast, Lex thought, there were probably a thousand men just like him working for LexCorp.
Lex put on his best polite demeanor. "Hello. I'm looking for Buffy Summers."
"She's not here right now."
The man made no move to invite him in. "When do you expect her back?"
"May I come in?"
The man let out a rather unpleasant laugh. He produced a big crossbow, seemingly out of nowhere. Lex began to think things were getting out of control.
Suddenly Buffy was on the porch with him. She breezed into the house. Lex was amazed she could do it without bumping into anyone, considering the testosterone-laden showdown that seemed to have been occupying that space just moments before. "Hey, Xander. Hey, Lex." Buffy put her bag away in the hall closet. "Alexander, meet Alexander. Alexander, this is Alexander. Hee." She bustled away into the kitchen. The surly crossbowman stumped over to the battered sofa in the living room and sat down heavily. There was an Angels game on TV.
Lex was left baffled on the front porch. The door was open, so he hesitantly walked in. The crossbow was nowhere to be seen. Lex ventured into the kitchen.
Buffy was staring into the open refrigerator. "Welcome to Sunnydale, Lex. Sorry to not invite you in, but in this town if you can't barge in you can't come in at all. Look! Pears. Want one?" She offered him a green-and-brown, lopsided piece of fruit.
"No, thank you. I actually came by to apologize."
Buffy looked at him disbelievingly. She turned to the sink and started to wash her pear. "You came to California all the way from Kansas to apologize? To a girl you met once?"
Lex leaned against the counter so he could see Buffy's face. "I had business in Los Angeles, so I decided I might as well make the side trip. It was inexcusable for me to race off like that and leave you and your sister with no way of getting back to her school. I'm sorry." If Buffy knew how rare Luthor apologies were, she'd be more impressed.
"No big," Buffy said.
Buffy sat down at the kitchen counter. "No big. Don't worry about it. We made it home fine. There's one Metropolis mugger who'll never be quite the same, but...."
"You were mugged?"
"No, no, don't worry. The guy was all, 'Give me your money' and I just laughed at him and went for my sword, but before I even got it drawn, Dawnie had knocked him over and was groin-stomping him. You shoulda heard him yell." Buffy chuckled reminiscently for a second, then noticed her guest was looking a little pale and added, "Or maybe it's better you didn't."
"Ah. Well. I thought maybe I could ask you out again as recompense for the evening I spoiled. Although, you're living with a man here, and perhaps I shouldn't...."
"Oh, Xander and I aren't living together living together." Buffy ducked her head and the sparkly good humor she'd had ever since he'd first seen her on the porch seemed to go away. Suddenly she looked tired and a little ashamed. "He got hurt while I was gone. In May. Saving people 'cause I wasn't here to do it. And since he wasn't hurt on the job, he didn't have any workman's comp, and so he didn't have any money coming in, and he lost his apartment. So now he's living here."
The big dark-haired man yelled from the living room, "And I told you it's not your fault! And I shoulda left that apartment years ago!"
Buffy plastered a quick smile on her face. "I know!" she yelled back. She got up from her barstool, leaving her half-eaten pear on a napkin on the counter, and walked over to where she could see her roommate. "Can I bring you a pear? Or there's some tomato soup I could make...."
Xander looked at her and smiled. "I'm fine. I can get the soup later. You don't need to...."
"I know. And I'm sorry. And thanks."
Lex ghosted up behind Buffy from the kitchen and broke up the little mutual admiration society meeting by asking, "How about it then? May I take you out tonight?"
Buffy looked up at him a little startled. Her eyes were big and pale. "Um. Thanks, but. Um. I've got a big monsterfest kind of scheduled."
Buffy wrenched her eyes free from his and looked down. "While I was in Kansas, the local vamps decided they should take the opp to scarf on the Bronze -- it's a club. Xan and some friends stopped most of the carnage, but the place was thrashed. It's been closed for weeks for re-fribbing...." Xander muttered something about missing out on something, and Buffy shot him another guilty glance. "Anyway, tonight's the big re-opening, and it'll be packed. Dancing, drinking, vampire smorgasbord. I gotta show the flag and thin the herd."
"Why is it your responsibility?"
The startled eyes were back. Lex thought he liked them.
"I thought you knew. I'm the Vampire Slayer."
Xander made a crash-and-burn sound. "Good job with the secret identity there, Buff."
Buffy rolled her eyes and went over and flopped onto the couch. "I suck at undercover. The Council's used to it by now. Why do you have to complain?"
"In case you haven't noticed, the Council don't give a darn about you. I do."
"You're not going to betray me to my demonic enemies for some unholy reward, are you, Lex?"
Nobody had asked Lex to take a seat, but he gingerly settled himself onto the living room's one threadbare armchair anyway. "I've seen you fight. I wouldn't dare."
"See? It's fine."
"What's a vampire slayer, exactly?"
Buffy began to recite, "Into every generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a chosen one, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil, to...wait, I used to KNOW this. Xander, do you remember the rest of it?"
"Sorry, Buff, I always zoned out on the lectures."
"Dang. One girl in all the world, a chosen one, one born with the strength and the skill...Shoot! I guess I'll have to call England. I bet Willow remembers it. Anyhow," she went on to Lex, "The deal is this: there's one girl in the whole world magically chosen to kill vampires and demons and save the world and stuff. And when she dies, another one is chosen, and when she dies another one, and so on and so on. They say 'every generation' but that doesn't mean you get twenty years, just that there's one at a time. Except I'm sort of a spare, because when they wrote that description no one had ever heard of CPR yet. Tonight I'm betting there'll be a ton o' vamps at the Bronze, so that's where I'll be with my little pointy stakes."
"So you're employed by this Council to kill vampires."
"Sort of, I guess, except that they don't really pay me or, you know, talk to me much anymore."
"The management of this club pays you protection?"
"No, Lex, nobody pays me to slay. I just do it 'cause I'm the Slayer, and when I mess up or blow town for a week, people get hurt and killed and stuff."
Buffy was getting mad. Lex decided to back off, although he still didn't understand. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm not upset," Buffy insisted. She stood up suddenly and stuck her hand out for Lex to shake. "Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate the apology, and I totally forgive you for ditching me on our date last month. Have a safe trip home."
Okay, backing off never really worked for him. He made himself comfortable in the wretched chair and gave her the Luthor smile. "I'm not going anywhere just yet, Buffy. I still want to take you out tonight."
Buffy's eyes sparked with anger. Oh, that was so much better than the earlier guilt and sadness. She was just about to tear into him when Xander interrupted with a fake-sounding cough from the couch.
"Maybe you should let him tag along to the Bronze tonight, Buff."
Buffy turned her mad to the other man. "What?" she yelped indignantly.
"Well I can't come watch your back, and you said he scoobed with you and Dawn in Metropolis. It's just a vamp-hunt at the Bronze; he won't be in any more danger than anybody else who's dumb enough to visit Sunnydale. No offense, Lex."
Lex stretched his legs out and crossed his exquisitely shod feet at the ankles. This was working out better. "None taken," he smiled.
"Xander, are you nuts? Taking a date out slaying is the worst idea ever!"
"It's not like it'd be the first time. Plus A) Everybody needs backup. B) You deserve a fun evening out."
"Killing vampires is fun," Buffy interrupted.
"C)" Xander continued. "He could buy you dinner. Did you eat today?"
"I ate a pear!" Buffy insisted.
"Half a pear," Lex corrected her.
"D) Give the guy a break."
There was silence for a minute. "Fine." Buffy finally said. "I'll go upstairs and get changed."
Dawn lay on her tummy on top of her neatly made-up bed. The window was open, letting in a little cool evening air; living on the third floor was nice. She had a lollipop in her mouth and a physics text in front of her, and she should have been perfectly content. But as she kicked her feet and read about electromagnetism she was paying almost half her attention to how furious she was at Clark Kent.
Dawn had a tendency to never forget and never forgive. You could ask anyone in Sunnydale, "Who's the most implacable girl around?" and unless they remembered Cordelia Chase, they were sure to answer, "Dawn Summers." She thought that Clark had been an idiot and a bum for leaving her and Buffy to find their own way home alone after their big first date, but he did keep apologizing, and she probably would have forgiven him by now if he just weren't so doggone certain that she was going to. He shouldn't be so dang sure of himself, just because he was kind of gorgeous. Plus, of course, a COMPLETE lack of prezzies. It was annoying.
A voice out of the blue said, "Knock knock." Dawn practically jumped out of her skin. She grabbed a stake from under her pillow and bounded across the room to the window.
Of course. Clark Kent. Not even dressed as Superman. Was he a complete fool? "Are you insane?" Dawn hissed.
"Hi, Dawn." Clark smiled that blinding smile, and held out something round. "I brought you a pie."
Okay, that was just surreal. Dawn accepted the pie while she was still stunned by the oddness of it all.
"Baked fresh this morning. Can I come in?"
The automatic NO! that question invoked in Dawn's Sunnydale-bred brain snapped her out of her momentary stupor.
"You... you..." she sputtered. "What part of Get Out I Never Want to See You Again do you not understand, Clark? What part of I Don't Forgive You? And why in the name of all that's holy would you be Flying In Public In Your Doggone Street Clothes?! Are you nuts? And... pie? What the heck's up with that? Pie? Pie!"
Dawn threw the pie at Clark. She hit him right in the face.
For a second neither one of them could believe it. The metal pan fell thirty feet or so to the ground. If it hadn't been grass, there would have been a heck of a clang. Clark wiped sticky cherry goo out of his eyes. Dawn's eyes were round with shock.
Finally she spoke. "Oh My God. Clark, I am so sorry. I can't believe I did that."
"Now you know how I feel."
Clark continued to remove pie from his person. Finally Dawn heaved a sigh.
"I guess I have to forgive you now," she said.
"I don't have to, but I will, because I'm just gracious by nature," Clark laughed.
Dawn smiled and ducked her head. She stepped aside from the window and made a sweeping gesture. "I invite you in. But I'm warning you, if you're a vampire, I DO have a stake and I know how to use it."
Clark clambered in through a window more gracefully than anyone she had ever seen.
Lex wanted to drive to the Bronze, but Buffy argued that it wasn't far, and she'd have a better chance of noticing and killing vampires if they walked. Buffy won.
As they walked, Buffy lectured. "Okay. You can kill a vampire by staking, beheading, burning, or putting it in the sun. That last one pretty much only works during the day. Vampires are a lot stronger and faster than people, and they heal up from injuries in no time at all." Buffy handed him a cross and a stake, and Lex put them in his pockets. "A cross will usually repel a vampire, and they get burned if you hit them with a cross or holy water. Oh, and actually I one time tricked a vampire into drinking a whole glass of holy water and he went to dust from the inside out. Would've been funny if he hadn't been holding my mom prisoner and torturing her at the time."
Lex kept the sympathetic horror he felt from showing on his face. Instead he drew his pistol from the shoulder holster under his coat and said, "I put something together after the last time we met...."
Buffy rolled her eyes at him. "Lex, guns are useless against vampires. Don't you remember...."
"Wooden bullets," he interrupted. "I'd heard that the German army used wooden bullets for firearm training when lead got scarce during World War Two. I did a little research, and I think these might work."
Buffy smiled at him like he was a genius. "Modern weapons technology boy strikes again. Well, World War Two would be more modernish than modern, I guess. The Initiative had, like, ray guns and stuff. Plus tasers work on vamps, but just to knock them out. Still, way modern compared to crossbows and pointed sticks, which is me. Give 'em a try, and if they work give us the recipe. Xander's a pretty good shot, and it'd be nice to be able to keep him out of the close-up hand-to-hand stuff. Which by the way? Try to keep out of the close-up hand-to-hand stuff." Buffy's eyes had been roaming throughout the entire walk, searching all the little places they passed for evidence of vampires and monsters. "Stay here," she commanded quietly, her hand momentarily on his elbow, and then she was just gone.
"Like Clark," Lex thought. His throat closed up for a moment. He didn't want to think about Clark being Superman, about all the lies -- years and years and never a word of truth -- he was supposed to be Lex's friend, his one actual...
Buffy was back. "Got 'em," she said. Then she looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face. "You okay, Lex?"
Lex pulled himself together. "How many were there?" he asked.
"Just two. Okay, it's only a couple of blocks to the Bronze. We'll circle around first, see if they've posted any sentries or anything and take them out. Then we go in and see if anybody tries to start anything. If they do, I'll take care of them. You just warn me if they're coming up behind me and look after yourself -- nothing fancy." She looked up at him and smiled reassuringly. "You'll do fine, Lex. I saw you backing up Dawn at the museum. Just be careful, and don't do anything dumb."
Their eyes held for a second, and for that second Lex wasn't thinking about business, or grieving over Clark, or worrying about his father. He was just going into battle behind a beautiful uncanny fierce little goddess, and it felt better than any corporate war had ever felt. Buffy danced ahead to look for monsters to kill, and Lex followed.
Clark seemed to take up an unreasonably large fraction of the space inside her dorm room, Dawn thought. Also, his face and shirt still had a lot of sticky on them. And he was gorgeous.
"Um, Dawn? I should rinse this shirt out before the cherry stains set up. Can I use your sink?"
Dawn nodded mutely.
Clark took off his glasses and washed his face, then took his shirt off and put it to soak in her dorm room sink. He turned to her and smiled. "Thanks," said the big beautiful golden alien farmboy superhero.
Darn Midwestern weather. Was it getting even hotter in here?
Clark had started to believe in luck again.
On the one hand, it had taken him all dang year to get the nerve up to ask Dawn out on a date. None of the other girls at Met. U. seemed to see him at all, probably because of those ugly glasses he'd taken to wearing once Superman became his secret superhero identity in Metropolis. Metropolis wasn't Smallville. Everybody down home knew there was something odd about him, but they didn't pry. That wouldn't fly in the big city, hence the two-way disguise.
On the other hand, Dawn had gone out with him. She'd even found out his secret, in a way that really wasn't his fault, and she was absolutely fine about it.
On the third hand, Lex had found out, too, and was really mad about all the lying that Clark had been doing for the last four or five years.
But on the fourth hand, at least Lex knew, and maybe they could start over, and be better friends than before because the lies were all out in the open. Of course, that last one would only work if Lex was willing to ever talk to him again.
On the fifth hand, Dawn had been furious at Clark for a month, and had ultimately thrown a pie in his face.
On the sixth hand (and this was where the luck came in) apparently that had been just what she'd needed in order to forgive him. So things were definitely looking up. Clark decided to press his luck.
"Would you go out with me again? Tonight?"
"Huh?" Dawn looked a little dazed or something, ever since he'd taken off his shirt. She snapped her eyes back up to his face. "Oh. Sure, Clark, that'd be great. Um...." her eyes drifted down to his chest again for a minute; then she was back. "Ah. You should probably get dressed if we're going anywhere. I have a big Met. U. t-shirt that I sometimes sleep in...."
"Oh, I can just zip back home and get something to wear. I should probably take that pie pan home anyway."
"I thought you said you wanted to go out tonight."
"It won't take long."
"Clark, isn't it like a three-hour drive to Smallville?"
"Five minutes there, five minutes back. Five minutes to find a shirt."
"Really?" Dawn thought a minute. "That means you could get to Sunnydale in like an hour."
"California, right? Maybe a little less."
"Could you take someone with you?" At Clark's nod, Dawn went on. "It's Friday night. If it only takes you an hour to get to California, we could go to the beach, tonight."
"Two hour time change," Clark put in. "It would be awfully late by the time we got there and back, though."
"Hmmm." Dawn thought a moment, then came up with, "We could fly there tonight, stay at our house in Sunnydale, then get up in the morning and go to the beach, then fly back tomorrow evening."
Clark felt duty-bound to object, even though he really wanted to see Dawn on the beach, preferably in a bikini. "My folks need me on the farm in the morning."
"Well, you were going to zip home anyway. Ask them if they can spare you for just the one day, and if they can, pack a bag. If not, just change your shirt... um... and come back and we'll go out for coffee or something."
"You're right, Dawn. It can't hurt to ask. And thanks for inviting me, even if they say no. I've never actually been in the ocean." Clark beamed at her, grabbed his specs and his damp shirt, and took off out the open window.
Lex and Buffy found two vampires standing watch just across the street from the Bronze main entrance, and Buffy dusted them easily. Her buoyant good mood from earlier in the afternoon seemed to be returning with every kill. They went down the alley next to the building, and Buffy slew two more guarding the fire exit. Lex noticed one jumping down from the roof of the building to join the fray and shot it through the heart. It dissolved before it hit the ground. As the vampire he had killed dissipated into nothingness, Lex felt a kind of glee bubbling up inside him. It was different from when he had killed Roger Nixon. Then the bitter feeling of tiredness and no more chances had completely overwhelmed the power he felt at snuffing out a man's life. This was far better, purer. "More dangerous," said a tiny voice inside him. "Don't let yourself get carried away."
They finished circumnavigating the building without seeing any more of the evil dead. The man collecting the cover charge at the entrance was human and seemed unharmed. He greeted Buffy with a respectful smile and a nod, and let her and Lex in without paying.
The club was crowded and hot inside. A live band was playing, and lots of people were dancing. The scents of coffee and fried food could be detected over the fresh paint and sweat. Lex had to bend over and put his mouth right up to Buffy's ear to be heard over the crowd. "Let's get you something to eat!"
"Before the carnage starts!" she agreed.
Lex got Buffy settled at a table and asked her what she wanted to eat. "Barbecue chicken wings and a Coke!" she asked prettily.
"Are you sure that's enough?
"Oh, yeah. I'm not that hungry." She was bouncing to the music in her seat, and scanning the crowd for threats, not really paying attention to Lex. He smiled at the picture she made, then went to get their food.
True to his estimate, Clark was back in less than twenty minutes. Dawn had taken the time to put her toothbrush, hairbrush, change of clothes, nightie and swimsuit into her big canvas purse. She figured that she could just stick her keys and wallet in her pocket if it was coffee, and if it was the beach she'd be all packed.
Clark was all tricked out in his superhero costume when he got back. He had an ordinary blue nylon backpack that looked totally out of place with the Superman suit, and a huge grin on his face.
"That smile says we're going to California!" Dawn chirped. "Good thing I packed while you were gone!"
"I can't believe they said I could go! This is so cool, Dawn! Thanks again." Clark blushed a little. "Um...you should probably, you know, go to the bathroom before we leave."
"Good advice, from the frequent flyer," Dawn agreed. "Come on in and sit down or something. I'll be back in a minute." She was in such a good mood. This was going to be fun.
Buffy was having a nice evening. The chicken wings were good; there had been a little slayage earlier; Arnie was working the door and let her and Lex in for free; the band wasn't bad. Not to mention: Lex? total flirt. It had been years since any guy had looked at her like that. She wasn't taking it personally; she'd seen that Lex looked at a lot of people (and, in fact, objects) the same way. Watching him drink a bottle of water was as good as pay-per-view, and she could've sold tickets to the people who clustered around to watch him beat her at pool.
Still, she wasn't just here to enjoy herself. Better scope out the crowd, see how many vamps they were talking about here. If there was going to be some sort of a big concerted attack it would be good to know where all the players were. Giles would have suggested that she get some altitude, check out the crowd from the overhanging balcony, but Faith would have understood that it could be easier to pick up on the undead when you were dancing with them.
Lex had finished his water. Buffy laid her hand on his wrist. "Let's dance," she said. She pulled him deep into the crowd.
Buffy knew that an excited Slayer, riding high with blood pumping, is one of the most potent baits in the world. The trick was to get wild enough that no vampire could fail to feel the attraction of that hot Slayer power surging beneath her skin, and yet to be in control of herself enough that she would notice them hovering. She needed to get lost in the dance, but still be aware of everything around her, so she could notice and remember the fiends in the crowd, marking them for later destruction. It was her favorite way to spend an evening, and it was even more fun with a partner. Lex was the second best she'd ever had.
Of all the "gifts" that fate had chosen to bestow on him, flying was the one Clark enjoyed playing with the most. He had only really figured it out this year, and it had been the final straw in the decision to become Superman. A Man Had to Do his Best to Help his Neighbors. Unfortunately, if his best included actually being able to FLY, then he had no other real choice except to become a costumed superhero and dedicate most of his spare time to protecting the citizens of his fair city or country or planet or whatever, because With Power Came Responsibility. On the plus side, at least he got to fly around a lot, which was fun. On the very very plus side, tonight he got to fly to California for the weekend, with a pretty girl in his arms.
First they just had to figure out how to arrange everything.
"So, how do we do this, exactly?" Dawn asked. "Do you need your hands free, or anything?
"No, not really," Clark replied. "And weight's not going to be a problem...."
"'Cause you can fly around carrying trucks and planes and stuff."
"Right. I just don't want to, you know, drop anything." Clark made a couple of ineffectual gestures with his hands.
"Let's try this." Dawn slung her canvas purse across her shoulders, then put Clark's backpack on over it. She walked up to Clark and stood close. "How do you want to...pick me up?" Her voice was a little breathless.
Oh, how Clark wished he didn't blush so easily. He swallowed hard, and then put his right arm around Dawn's slender waist. "Hold on to my shoulders," he breathed, looking deeply into her warm brown eyes. Dawn smiled at him, and held on, and she fit so well...Clark blinked and put his left arm out to be his leading edge, concentrated and made that little hop that made gravity not a factor. He flew them out the window.
Dawn squeaked when they crossed over the sill. "Wait!" she said urgently.
Clark was suddenly afraid she was going to back out of this whole trip to California thing. He told himself sternly that being able to take Dawn out for coffee tonight was not bad at all, and a lot more than he had expected to be able to do when he woke up this morning.
Dawn squiggled around in his arms until she could close the window. "There," she said. "Up, up and away!"
Clark laughed and headed west.
Considering that the Bronze was a mediocre little club in a nondescript suburb in the middle of nowhere, Lex was having a terrific time. "It must be the company," he thought. Dancing with Buffy was astonishing -- he'd had no idea people moved like that when they weren't high.
All too soon the band took a break, and people started to leave the dance floor. Buffy twined her arms around Lex's neck and brought her mouth to his ear. Lex shivered with the feel of Buffy's hot breath on his neck as she whispered, "I counted eight. Come on."
Adrenaline rushed through Lex as he followed the Slayer into the little hallway at the back of the club where the phones and restrooms and an emergency exit were located. He had his hand on his stake, since it seemed firearms would be unwise in such a crowd, but Buffy dusted both the vampires they were tailing before they could even notice. Her smile as she killed them was as bright as Clark's, and as sharp as Lionel's.
There was some sort of commotion in the main room of the Bronze. "That would be the main event," Buffy commented. She started pulling Lex through the panicky milling crowd. "Let's get you to Arnie, the doorman, and you can help get people out. I'll have a little confrontation with whoever this is."
Arnie was ushering people out the main entrance of the club. He had a big cross in one hand. As soon as Buffy and Lex saw him, Buffy gave Lex a little shove towards the door, and then she herself slipped away. She disappeared into the crowd, not fighting the tide of the mob but rather sliding easily around each panicky individual, so that they hardly hindered her at all.
The patrons of the Bronze were fleeing freely into the night because Buffy and Lex had done away with the vampires outside who had been guarding the Bronze's exits. Apparently the head vampire noticed that people were escaping who should be trapped, because a couple of vamp minions came looming up to the door. Lex still didn't want to shoot in such packed conditions. He stepped back against the wall and watched the first attacker try to knock Arnie's cross away. The second vamp was watching that, too, so Lex backstabbed him. His aim was good enough, and the vampire was dust. The other one quickly joined it on the floor as Arnie whacked him in the face with the cross, and Lex staked him while he was distracted by his eyeballs smoking. With the two underling vampires gone, the humans continued to escape, and soon only Lex and Arnie were left at the door.
"Thanks, man. My friend's apartment is across the street. We'll be safe there until she's finished."
Lex could hear intense sounds of combat coming from the main part of the club. "I have to make sure she's all right."
"Whatever. Good luck." Arnie left at a run.
Lex pulled his gun out of the holster. His heart was hammering with exhilaration as he crept back to get a look at the fighting. Buffy and four -- no, suddenly three -- vampires were on the dance floor. The vampires were fast and strong. They seemed to know what they were doing as far as fighting was concerned, but Buffy had them completely outclassed. Unfortunately, she was outnumbered. Lex's heart was in his mouth as he saw Buffy barely escape from one untenable position after another. He wished he could get a clear shot at one of the monsters. He ached with the need to help her. Maybe if he could get a better vantage point -- Lex climbed the stairs to the balcony, all his attention on the fight between Buffy and the vampires on the first floor.
Lex steadied his left hand against the railing and waited for an opportunity to shoot. It came when the ugliest of the remaining vampires grabbed Buffy around the neck and hauled her into the air. When one of the others rushed up to punch the helpless-seeming Slayer, she kicked it clear across the room. Lex quickly shot the sprawling vampire twice. His second shot must have gotten the heart, because the creature dissolved into dust.
Suddenly an iron-hard hand grabbed his wrist and made him drop his gun. Lex desperately snatched for the cross in his pocket, but the vampire was too fast and too strong. She crushed his arm to his body, and he couldn't get it loose. Lex refused to stop fighting on general principles, but nothing he did could prevent the vampire from wrenching his head to one side and biting him in the neck.
Flying was the coolest thing in the world, Dawn decided. It was weird, too, but not too weird for a Sunnydale girl to enjoy, and not too weird for a Physics Major to try to figure out.
Dawn decided she'd have to yell a little bit because they were going so fast, although the wind was actually a lot less than she expected it to be. "How do you do this?"
"I don't really know." Clark turned his head to smile back at her, snugged up under his right arm, then turned his head back to look forward again. "It started with floating in my sleep, when I was about fifteen. Then when I was sixteen there was a tornado, and I kind of got caught up in it, and I found that I can steer in the air pretty well. Then last summer I got to where I could pretty much float whenever I wanted, and the actual going somewhere seems to be sort of a variation on the steering... long story short, I don't really know."
"Doesn't it seem like there should be more wind? Are you making some sort of a counter shock-wave?"
"Maybe? I don't know how much wind there should be. It's about as windy when I fly as when I run, for the same sort of speed. Is that not right?"
"Haven't you ever taken any physics? Aren't you curious about how all this stuff works?"
"I took Biology in High School. There was only one year of science required to graduate. And I'm a Journalism Major. No physics needed."
"You should take it anyway," Dawn declared. "It's really interesting, and way more useful for someone who can fly than Biology would ever be."
Clark laughed again. "I'll keep that in mind."
Dawn had been grateful for the cool night air at first, but now it was getting chilly, what with the wind and the altitude. She held tight to Superman's warm, broad, muscular chest. The shivering was not entirely from the cold, but she thanked Clark when he noticed it and tucked the corner of his cape around her.
A Luthor doesn't give up without a fight. No! A Luthor doesn't give up at all! Lex tried to convince himself that his struggles weren't futile, but the fact remained that he was fighting as hard as he could, and he wasn't getting away. The vampire's bite hurt like blazes. She was drinking his blood and he couldn't stop her. His useless thrashing became weaker and weaker. He wasn't even able to hold up his own weight, now. He was leaning back against her as she killed him.
Suddenly there was nothing holding him up. He fell to the ground in a helpless tangle of limbs, dizzy and hurt.
Hard warm little hands turned him onto his back and clamped painfully over his wounded neck. "Talk to me, Lex," Buffy commanded.
"That's quite a rush," Lex whispered.
Buffy frowned and looked disapproving. She wouldn't meet his eyes. "Some guys get off on the neck-biting. I'd advise against getting addicted to it, though. People get killed."
People get off on the neck-biting? Not his kink. "No. Not at all. I meant being rescued. It's a rush."
Buffy looked pleased at that. "Stay still and let me try to stop this bleeding."
"Do you suppose that's why I liked Clark? He was always rescuing me...."
"This isn't so bad. Do you feel like you're going to pass out? We could get you to the hospital...."
"No! I heal fast, and I hate hospitals."
"Me, too. Well, just keep talking so I know you're awake, and I won't make you go."
"Was he ever my friend really, do you suppose?" Lex's mind was wandering a little.
"Was I just a damsel in distress for him? Is there as much of a buzz in the rescuing as the being rescued?"
"Again with the what are you talking about?"
"Clark. If he's the Hero, and he doesn't trust me enough to tell me anything... I don't want to always be the Victim. I don't want to be the Idiot Friend... and I can't forgive him for the way he's lied to me. I'd have to be the Villain."
"Baloney, Lex. You can do whatever you want.
"A Luthor Will Not be Trifled With."
Buffy laughed, and did something painful to his neck. "This is clotting just fine. Unless a Luthor is some kind of demon I never heard of before, a Luthor can forgive his friend for lying if he wants to. Human beings have souls; they can choose what they want to do."
"Well, it's been said that my father is actually Satan."
"Human/demon half-breeds have souls, too. And this is definitely blood, not demon ichor. I've seen enough of both to know."
"I'm not sure I want to forgive him. I'm not sure I ever want to talk to him again." The thought of never talking to Clark again closed around his heart, and made it hurt worse than the neck wound. In a smaller voice he went on, "It's not a good thing to let him get away with lying to me like this."
"Well, friends of mine know stuff about dimensions -- here, let's sit you up a little and see how that works." Buffy helped him sit up. "Dizzy? Okay?"
Lex breathed in great gasps for a moment but didn't pass out, and Buffy smiled at him. "Anyhow, they say dimensions split off from each other all the time. If a decision's a little dodgey, you can take comfort in the idea that you probably decided it the other way in an alternate dimension. So really you only have to decide which world you'd rather live in. The one where you hold that grudge against Clark Kent forever or the one where you let him kind of sort of make a fool of you. Just this once. Ready to stand up now? Ooh! Wait. Your gun."
Buffy retrieved Lex's pistol from the floor and gingerly put it back in his shoulder holster. She slung his arm around her shoulder and hoisted him to his feet. Lex swayed for a second and briefly considered throwing up, but then he steadied.
"See? You're fine. Let's just take it easy...." Buffy helped Lex down the stairs and across the dance floor of the club. "You don't have to be a victim or a villain, you know. You could be Q!"
"Q is a villain. And I'd rather be Picard."
"Not Star Trek Q! James Bond's Q. With the cool inventions and stuff. You seem to be really smart and good at building things. That gun of yours really worked, you know. Wooden Bullets! You should be proud of yourself." They left the building and started the long walk home.
Clark and Dawn had decided that he'd do all the navigating until they found Los Angeles, and then she'd be responsible for finding their way to Sunnydale from there. Clark was almost disappointed when the vast bright sprawl of L.A. turned up beneath them. It meant this prolonged chatty snuggle of a flight was almost over.
"Is that L.A.?" Dawn asked.
"Yup. I'm almost sure."
Dawn laughed. "It looks so pretty from up here. A lot cleaner than it is up close. Okay, go to the ocean and turn right. Um, north would be right, wouldn't it?"
Clark smiled. Dawn was so cute! Lana would never have reacted this well to being taken flying. "It would. We'll turn right at the ocean, then, and follow the coast north. Do you think you'll recognize the town from the air?"
"I think so. We can, like, land and look at street signs if we need to, can't we?"
"I don't see why not."
They came to the coast and headed north. The fog was rolling in, and Dawn had to pay close attention to figure out the landmarks. Eventually she asked, "Shouldn't my arms be all tired by now? I've been... mmm... holding onto you for almost an hour." She gave him a little squeeze that made him catch his breath. "You must have some sort of anti-gravity going on."
"Maybe. I don't really...."
"I know, I know. You don't really know. If it is anti-grav, though, there are a lot of very cool things you should be able to... Oooh! I think we're getting close!" Dawn started bouncing and wriggling in a very distracting way. "Go lower, closer to the highway there. Look! It's the Welcome to Sunnydale sign! We're there!"
"Neat," Clark said. He swooped down and made a perfect landing right next to the sign. "Is your house far from here?"
"Not far," Dawn replied. "Sunnydale is a pretty small town."
"Okay. Let me get changed, and we can walk the rest of the way." Clark took his backpack from Dawn and went behind the sign.
Dawn looked a little confused for a second, then nodded. "Right. Secret identity."
Clark changed quickly and came right back. Dawn looked relieved to see him again so fast. She took his arm.
"Let's go this way. I can show you all the so-called sights."
"That sounds like fun."
"Not so much, really. Watch out for vampires and demons. We'll skip the fourteen graveyards, but we can go past the vacant lot where I was nearly sacrificed by an insane hellgod, and the Bronze, where I was nearly abducted by a dancing demon and taken to a hell dimension to be his queen."
"You'd get along fine in Smallville. We mainly just have mutants, but a lot of them have superpowers and are insane."
"And yet you've maintained your secret identity."
"Not all that well. My friend Pete figured it out -- well, he found my spaceship once after it got out of the storm cellar during a tornado, and I had to tell him the truth. My folks were mad, though."
"So your parents have always known. About you being an alien and a superhero."
"Well, yes about the alien part." Clark whispered the last two words. "The superhero stuff kind of came on gradually. I was always extra strong and fast, but my folks didn't even TELL me I was, you know, until after Lex crashed into me doing sixty miles per hour and drowned and I ripped the top off his car and saved him and came home and freaked out and put my arm in the wood chipper."
Dawn squeezed his arm sympathetically. "Ouch," she said.
"No, it didn't hurt at all. Didn't even leave a mark. Completely shredded my shirt, though, which was dumb of me."
"I didn't really mean the chipper, although, you know, ouch. I meant more the finding out all of a sudden that you're not actually a human being. And that people you knew and loved and trusted knew about it all along, and kept it from you."
"Well, yeah. That did. Hurt."
Dawn was smiling at him in such a warm, knowing way. "I know just how that feels..." she started.
Suddenly Clark noticed a couple walking down the sidewalk a couple of blocks ahead of him and Dawn. The girl was tiny and blonde; the guy was bald and leaning heavily on the girl's shoulder. Was that Lex? Clark focussed his x-ray vision on them to be sure -- he'd know Lex's skeleton anywhere, and how freaky was that? "Dawn, that's...."
"Buffy and Lex? Oh my God! Buffy!"
Buffy turned her head and looked back at them. "Dawn!" she called. "What are you doing here?"
Clark noticed Lex didn't look too good. He could see there was blood on Lex's shirt. Faster than the eye could follow, Clark sped to Lex's side. "Lex!" he shouted, and grabbed the smaller man's arm.
Lex pulled his arm away and looked up at Clark angrily. "I'm right here, you know. You don't have to yell."
Lex looked pale and tired. There was a big bite -- a vampire bite? -- on his neck, and blood stains spilled down on his shirt below it. It looked like Buffy was holding Lex up, like he wouldn't be able to walk without her. "Lex," Clark said again. He wanted to pick Lex up and take him home to Smallville, where vampires couldn't hurt him. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure that wasn't anything Lex would be willing for him to do. He had to settle for a lame, "Are you okay?"
"He's fine," Buffy said. "Little vampire bite, nothin' much. Plenty of fluids, get some rest, probably shouldn't drive for a while... Here," she squiggled out from under Lex's arm and gently pushed him over towards Clark. "Lean on him for a while." Buffy turned back to Dawn and hugged her sister.
Lex staggered a little and drew himself upright. Clark looked at him pleadingly. "Lex. I'm so sorry I had to lie to you all those times. But it wasn't just you. I couldn't let anybody know. Pete found out, because he found my spaceship, but it was an accident, and I never told anybody else. I've been lying to everybody, for years, but I hope you'll forgive me."
Lex's severe look softened. "You have a spaceship?"
Clark smiled at him. "Uh huh."
Lex leaned over toward him, and Clark immediately put an arm around him and helped support his weight. "Will you show it to me?"
"Sure, Lex. What are friends for?"
Buffy and Dawn had been having a conversation behind them. Now Buffy declared, "Okay, then. Everybody can stay at our house tonight. I think there's room. And then the beach tomorrow -- great idea, Dawn!" The whole party resumed walking.
"Do you think you'll be able to come along to the beach tomorrow, Lex?" Clark asked his friend.
"I'll have to see what the situation is with my business in Los Angeles."
"I hope you'll be able to make it." Clark was beaming at him.
"I'm still mad at you, you know," Lex groused.
Clark's smile was blinding. "I know."
"I reserve the right to throw your dishonesty up in your face for years to come."
"Okay." Clark was so happy. Lex was forgiving him! This really was his lucky night!
"I'll never let you live it down."
Clark gave him a very little squeeze, and the smile, impossibly, grew even brighter. "That's fine, Lex. After all, you're a Luthor."
Snugglefic interlude (with apologies to Isilya) By LastScorpion
Rummaging around the world-wide-web (so much more accurate than 'surfing' IMO) I came across something called "The Snugglefic Challenge" by isilya at http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=isilya&itemid=71627 There are a lot of really funny, cute, very short stories there. Most of them seem to be in the G to PG-13 category, although I can't guarantee they're all as mild as that. She was saying that to participate in the challenge, people should post links to stories they'd written on their own livejournals, of which I have none. However, I did have this idea for what comes directly after "Second Date," and it certainly fits the description she had posted for "Snugglefic." If I'm stepping on anyone's toes by posting this here, all I can do is apologize in advance.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. I'm just fooling around. Please don't sue.
Lex woke up in an unfamiliar bed.
His head hurt; his neck hurt; he was dying of thirst, and he was not alone. There was a startlingly huge arm cradling his aching head against an impossibly broad chest. An enormous hand rested on his hip. Someone's warm breath snuffled in and out against his naked scalp.
Oh, yeah. It was all coming back to him. Lex remembered coming to Sunnydale to apologize to Buffy. He remembered going to the Bronze with her. He remembered the vampires. Then Clark and Dawn had turned up somehow. He remembered Buffy saying he shouldn't try to drive just yet, and Clark bringing him his overnight bag from the trunk of the Porsche. He remembered starting to put on his gray silk pajamas, in Buffy's bathroom, and then nothing.
Suddenly a tiny alarm sounded, like a wristwatch alarm, and Clark was asking him, "Hey, Lex, are you awake?"
"Uh huh," he breathed. "What happened?"
Clark chuckled. It sounded strangely deep in the dark like this. "You fainted in the bathroom and hit your head on the sink. Dawn's sharing with Buffy, and we're in Dawn's bed. There's nothing wrong with your skull -- x-ray vision -- so I'm just gonna wake you up every hour."
"Alright," Lex muttered.
The hand left Lex's hip, and the bed lurched as Clark reached somewhere with that long arm of his. Lex heard a weird sound, like the noise a twist-off cap would make if it were being levered off by a super-strong alien thumb, and then Clark was handing him a bottle of water. He struggled up into a sitting position and started to drink it.
"Buffy and Dawn said you'd probably be really thirsty, so I brought in some bottles of water from your car. Wouldn't want you to have to drink plain tap water, like a normal person." Lex could hear Clark smiling.
Lex finished the water, and Clark took the empty bottle out of his hands. "What time is it?"
"It's one o'clock in the morning. Here." Clark's big warm hands gently pulled him back down to lie flat again. His head ended up on Clark's shoulder this time. Why was this so comfortable? It was hard to remember what sleeping with Desiree had been like, but he was sure Victoria had never been as comfortable as this. There weren't many people he'd slept with, in an actual sleeping sense. None of them had been exactly cozy.
"C'mon, Lex. You have to go back to sleep so I can wake you up at two."
"Okay," Lex said, and he did.
A Day at the Beach
"Hey, Lex. Wake up." Poke.
"C'mon, Lex. It's 4 a.m. Don't make me get people up to take you to the emergency room." Poke.
"Stop prodding me. I'm awake." Lex rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed. Oh, good. The room didn't spin. His head ached, but it didn't pound. His neck was sore, but it didn't throb. He was ferociously thirsty, and he needed a bathroom, and he was wide awake.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked. Clark sounded sleepy, and he was disturbingly cute with his messy hair and rumpled cotton pajamas in the dim streetlight glow from the window.
"I feel much better. Is my bag in here?"
"On the floor by the door." Clark yawned. "Are you getting up?"
"It's six o'clock in Kansas, you know." Lex sat there for a minute without looking at Clark. Then he said, "I forgive you for deceiving me."
"Thanks." There was a laugh behind that word, but Lex didn't let it anger him. This was serious.
"I have to. If I don't, I'll have to hate you, and considering what you are, and what I am...." Lex looked over his shoulder. Clark looked serious, too, now. "A lot of things would end up being destroyed. I don't want to live in that world."
"Okay," Clark said. "Thanks."
Lex looked away again. This would be the hard part. "I need you to forgive me, too."
"I was the one who started Nixon on your trail. I tried to call him off, later, but he wouldn't listen to me. And I did fund Dr. Hamilton...." Lex's voice trailed off when he felt Clark sit up behind him.
"Lex! My dad almost died -- the Nicodemus flowers AND Nixon? He blew up our TRUCK! How could you?" Clark was mad. Lex couldn't look at him.
"I know. I'm sorry," he replied in a small voice.
"Anything else?" Clark asked coldly. Jeeze, he sounded like Jonathan Kent. Or Superman.
"Yes," Lex whispered. His throat hurt, and his shoulders were stiff. He was hating this. "Those... thugs... that held my dad and your mom hostage at Luthorcorp that time. I...." Words failed him.
Clark was absolutely silent. Lex couldn't sense him moving or breathing.
Lex steeled himself to go on. "I hired them. To bug my dad's office. Well, I hired the man who hired them, and there wasn't supposed to be anyone there that weekend, and I didn't know. I never intended...." God, that sounded weak.
"Lex." It was still the Superman voice. "I'm going to tell you something my father told me every day of my life." Okay, not Superman; it was the Jonathan Kent voice. "You are too dang strong to be careless. You are too smart and too powerful to not think things through. You can really hurt people, even when you're not trying to do anything of the kind. I know Lionel tried to convince you that he was always the stronger and the better man. He was wrong. You can do better than this, and you have to."
Lex thought he'd probably be angry if he had the blood pressure for it. He had never taken kindly to being lectured. But he had to face up to it. He was apologizing, even though a Luthor Never Admits He's Wrong. He had been wrong; people had gotten hurt; there was no getting around it, here in the dark, with no one but his best (only) friend. The last month had shown him how little he had when he didn't have Clark. "There's more." He didn't recognize his own voice.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Clark's voice was gentle, Clark's again.
Lex swallowed hard and shook his head.
Behind him, Clark sighed. "Okay. I forgive you." Lex looked at him. "Try not to do it again. And I'll try not to lie to you anymore." Clark smiled at him.
Lex instantly felt better. He smiled back. "Friendship stuff of legend?"
"Absolutely. Don't trip on the stairs or anything. I'm going back to sleep."
"Okay. I'll see you later." Lex picked up his overnight bag and went down the hall to the bathroom.
The sound of the shower running woke Dawn up. She stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, wondering vaguely where she was. Then she recognized the room and the inert blond-tufted lump buried under most of the blankets. "For someone so very tiny, Buffy sure hogs the covers," Dawn thought. It looked like the sun would be up in an hour or so. She wasn't sleepy. "Livin' on Kansas time," she guessed. "Might as well get up."
Dawn grabbed her canvas bag and went out into the hallway, closing Buffy's door softly behind her. The sound of the shower had stopped, so she went to the hall closet and snagged a couple of towels. The bathroom door opened, and Lex came out. The big bruise on his left temple from last night was yellow already. The bandage was gone from his neck wound, and most of the scab as well. Both injuries looked like they'd had three or four days to heal. He was awfully well put-together for before the crack of dawn. "How the heck does he make his slacks be unwrinkled?" Dawn thought. "His stuff must have been in that little overnight bag. It doesn't make sense!"
"Good morning," Lex said formally.
"Hi. You look pretty good, considering how thrashed you were just yesterday."
He narrowed his eyes at her. It was probably pretty menacing, but she'd been menaced by way scarier things than Lex Luthor.
"Oh, don't worry. I'm in no position to cast aspersions on mutants. Can I get in the bathroom please?"
"Of course." Dawn was surprised he didn't bow.
Lex found his way downstairs. He grabbed one of his bottles of water from the fridge, settled down on the decrepit couch and opened up his laptop. Ever since his father had moved into the castle with him, thus depriving him of most of his office space most of the time, he'd developed the ability to do business pretty much anywhere. A shabby living room in Southern California was certainly quieter than the busiest coffee shop in Smallville, and it was comforting to be somewhere his dad couldn't have had bugged. The company in Los Angeles had accepted his first offer. That was convenient. It meant this crazy beach expedition should be doable after all, especially if he could get a couple of things out of the way first.
Forty minutes later, Lex looked up with a start when Dawn set a glass of orange juice on the coffee table in front of him. He hadn't heard her approach.
"Thank you," he said.
"You're welcome," she replied. "You really should drink that before you forget, and some more water, too. Blood loss is no fun."
"Living here, you've probably been bitten before."
"Not I," she retorted with a flip of her shiny brown hair. "I'm not dumb enough to get bitten by vampires. No offense. But I've been sliced up by demons with blades, and I know what I'm talking about."
Lex chose not to get into a squabble with the girl and drank the juice.
Xander came stumping down the stairs. "Hey, Dawnie, Lex," he greeted them. Whistling a jaunty tune, he opened the front door and went out and got the newspaper from the drive. When he came back in, he went into the kitchen and filled a teakettle.
Dawn bounced into the kitchen after him and demanded the paper. He gave her part of it. She took it to the dining room table.
Lex rubbed his aching head on his fist and asked, "Is there any coffee?"
"Nope," answered Xander. "Just tea. I can make you a cup."
"Dang!" Dawn yelled. She was gesticulating wildly with the newspaper. "Beach closed indefinitely due to sewer leaks!"
"Does it say 'Monster Activity Definitely Not Suspected?'" Xander inquired from the kitchen. "It's usually way down at the bottom, unless it's in the headline."
Dawn looked at the paper more closely. "Yeah, it does."
"That means they think it's monsters." Xander popped his head into the living room. "Lex, do you want sugar? There isn't any milk."
"No thanks. That's an interesting standard of journalism you have there."
"Yeah, well. Welcome to Sunnydale." Xander brought in two mugs of tea and handed one to Lex. Then he sat down in the armchair.
Dawn came in and perched on Xander's chair arm. "I want to go to the beach. If it's just monsters we still can, right?"
"What's with the monsters?" Buffy asked from the stairs. Dawn hopped up and got her sister the paper. Buffy sat down on the steps and started to read. Dawn went into the kitchen to make a couple more cups of tea.
"Tito's probably up. I'll call him," Xander volunteered. "He'll know if there's really something wrong with the sewer. All those plumbing types stick together." Xander hauled himself up out of the chair and went over to the telephone.
Lex watched Buffy read the paper. Her hair was still damp from her shower. She was wearing a tank top and jeans. Her feet were bare. She was unusually pretty for a girl who hadn't had more than five hours of sleep. She noticed his eyes on her and looked up. They traded smiles; then she went back to her reading.
Xander got off the phone. "Tito says there's nothing wrong with the sewers except that there's monsters in them. All the guys that have to go down there are being super-careful to go in teams."
"That makes sense," Dawn called from the kitchen. "Unlike this here." She brought out three cups of tea and set one on the step near Buffy and another on the coffee table in front of Lex. "Finish that, and drink this," she told him. To Xander, she complained, "Did you know that you guys have nothing but tea bags, canned tomato soup, and pears?"
"And I'm takin' the pears for my lunch today." The girls stopped what they were doing and gave Xander a Look. "Richard got me a day's work at a re-model on the east side of town. Cabinetry. I can do it mostly sitting. So I am finishing my tea, grabbing a couple of pears, and outta here."
"You taking the Mom-mobile?" Dawn asked.
"Nope. I don't drive so good with the gimpy leg. Richard's picking me up."
"Good!" Dawn declared. "Then I can make a grocery run. Is there any money?"
"Did you look in the coffee can?"
Dawn bounced into the kitchen to check. "Seventeen dollars!" she called.
"Take it all," Xander told her. "They're paying me cash by the day." A car horn honked from outside. "That's Richard!"
Dawn came out of the kitchen and tossed Xander two pears. He caught them and left.
"Be careful, and have a good day!" Dawn called after him.
"Mom-mobile?" Lex asked.
"When Mom died she left us the house and her SUV, so we call it the Mom-mobile," Dawn explained.
"She died right there on that couch," Buffy added dreamily.
Lex tried not to look freaked as he quickly moved his computer to the dining room table.
Dawn moved up the stairs to her sister. Buffy's eyes didn't track her, and her face was strangely empty. "Hey," Dawn said gently. "Hey, Buffy. What did you find out in the paper?"
Buffy blinked suddenly and looked up at the taller girl. "Oh! Um, it says that people noticed a terrible smell. I'm thinking I should make some calls, too. Good thing it's my day off." She handed Dawn the newspaper and got up.
"You have contacts in the Police Department?" Lex ventured.
"No, the Sunnydale PD has a strict anti-Buffy policy. But I went to high school with a guy who works for the Coroner now. He's got me on his speed-dial! It's saved me from a lot of long boring stakeouts in the graveyards, and it's handy sometimes for other stuff, too. Stakeouts." Buffy giggled a little as she dialed the phone, waited a second, and then said, "Hi! This is Buffy Summers. Is Chris Epps there? Thanks." As an aside she muttered, "I'm glad it's his shift."
"Chris made a Frankenstein Monster once," Dawn put in.
Buffy covered the receiver with her hand. "That's not exactly true, Dawn." She suddenly took her hand off the receiver and turned her back a little. "Hi, Chris! How are you? Yeah, we're fine. Good! Say, um, have you guys found any bodies floating in the ocean or washed up on shore with lots of, you know, big bites taken out of them recently? Eew. Okay. Eewww. Yeah. I think so, actually, but could you send me the preliminary autopsy report just so I'm sure? Thanks. Oh. You remember the Swim Team? Junior year? Well, they didn't so much vanish, really, as, you know, turn into Fish Fiends. So. Fourteenth Street? I'll check it out. Thanks, Chris. Say hi to Sophie for me. Bye."
Clark came clattering down the stairs. "Fish Fiends?" he asked.
"Good morning, sleepyhead." Lex and Dawn came out with it almost in unison. Clark looked from one to the other and blushed. Lex smirked. Dawn laughed out loud.
"Really," she went on. "Aren't farmers supposed to be up with the sun?"
"I was," Clark insisted. "As soon as the sun came up, I was awake. But then I had to find my stuff, and my shoes -- it's not like it's really so late now!"
"Relax," Buffy told him. "They're just teasing you. Besides, I bet they'd sleep late the next morning if they had to fly a few thousand miles."
Clark beamed at her. "Thanks."
Buffy beamed back. "Us superheroes have to stick together."
"Well, I'm going to the grocery store," Dawn announced. "Who's coming with?"
"And if we're going to the beach today, I'll need to find some weapons. And towels," Buffy contributed.
"I still want to know about these Fish Fiends," Clark persisted.
"I can totally fill you in," said Buffy, "Whereas Dawn wasn't even technically here at the time."
Dawn glared at her sister.
Lex saved his work and got up from the table. "So I'll accompany Dawn to the market."
"You're going to ride in an SUV?" Clark looked skeptical.
"Better that than haul groceries around in the Porsche."
"You sure have a lot of swords."
Clark and Buffy were in the basement. She was dividing her attention about equally between the laundry machines and the big cabinet of weapons.
"And not a single harpoon. Dang! What did I do with them? I'm sure I used to...." An ominous thumping came from the other side of the large dim room. "Unbalanced load again! What is the matter with that thing?" Buffy ran over to rearrange the towels in the clothes washer. "Stupid demonic washing machine," Buffy muttered.
Clark was still handling the weapons. These were nothing like Lex's fencing swords. "You were going to explain the Fish Fiends to me."
Buffy finished rearranging the wash, then restarted the machine and hopped up to sit on it. "Once upon a time, there was a town called Sunnydale, that was located on the mouth of Hell. Old Sunnydale High School was literally built right on top of it. Actually, new Sunnydale High School was, too. You know, the last time we were using those harpoons, Giles might have been in town. He's tall; you're tall. Could you maybe look on all the high shelves for me?"
"Sure," Clark said, "I'd be glad to." He started rummaging through the high shelves around the basement walls. "When you say the mouth of Hell...."
"It's a thin place between here and one of the nastier hell-dimensions. Easy to open, easy to get through, and it emits this evil vibe that attracts all kinds o' monsters and tends to make the people who live here get kind of, well, evil. The Spanish called it Boca Del Infierno, so we call it a Hellmouth. The late great Mayor Richard Wilkins built the town on top of it so demons would come -- he used them to get power so he could live forever and turn himself into a giant snake and stuff."
"Your mayor's a giant snake? I thought Smallville's mayor was bad."
"Oh he's dead now. We thwarted his plan to eat my entire high school graduating class by blowing him to smithereens. The high school, too."
"But, back to the Fish Fiends. And, are these harpoons I'm supposed to be finding made of metal at all?"
"The pointy parts are, I think. Back to the Fish Fiends. The coach at old Sunnydale High was apparently either evil or nuts, or both. Prob'ly because of living on the Hellmouth for so long. He really really wanted a winning season, so he did some research on some stuff the old Soviet Union had decided was too gross to use for their swim team, and he gave it to ours. He told them it was steroids, I guess, but actually it was derived from sharks and other fish. It made them a lot faster, and they made the State Semifinals, but after a while it made their skin come off and inside they were these big Creature-From-the-Black-Lagoon things. We thought for a while that the monsters were attacking the swimmers and eating them. We tried to save them, but we lost two more before we figured it out and Giles came up with a way to stop it happening to the rest of them. The monsters killed the school nurse, who was in on the plot, and the coach, and they broke through a metal fence thing in the sewers and escaped to the ocean. We thought they wouldn't come back, but now it looks like they have."
Clark gave up on physically searching the shelves. He stood in the middle of the basement looking intently all around. Suddenly he said, "Ah Ha!" and reached way up under the basement stairs. He brought down two long dusty spears, with the heads wrapped in cloth. "Is this what you were looking for?"
Buffy slid down off the washing machine. "That looks like them." She came over and unwrapped the points. "Great! They're not even rusty! Thanks, Clark." The washer stopped complaining. "Dryer time!" Buffy sang. She handed the weapons back to Clark, loaded the laundry into the other machine and set it. "If there's anything else you see there that you like, you could certainly bring it with."
"I don't usually fight with weapons. Lex can fence, though."
"I know; I saw him. We'll bring him a nice thin sword."
"Buffy," Clark said uncomfortably. "Are we gonna -- I mean it sounds like these guys are people. Were people. Are you just, are we just gonna...."
"Kill them?" Clark nodded unhappily. "Yeah, Clark, I think we're going to have to. I already let them go once, and they've come back, and they're killing people. Chris said... well, I don't really want to think about what Chris said had happened to that girl. I don't want to think about how many others they may have killed since I let them get away the first time, either. So I'm not going to. Let's just get the weapons upstairs and come up with a plan."
Twenty minutes later Dawn and Lex returned. Buffy had fired up her old computer. It was a hand-me-down from her friend Willow, she said, but it did all she needed. The preliminary report from Chris at the Coroner's Office was downloading when Clark heard the clatter of people and grocery bags at the door. He hurried to help carry stuff in.
"You got a lot of canned goods," he commented to Dawn.
Buffy's head whipped around at the comment. "Dawn," she said angrily. "We only had seventeen dollars. Have you been...."
"Relax," Dawn interrupted. "I wasn't stealing. Lex paid."
"Oh." Buffy stopped looking mad and looked embarrassed. "Thanks, Lex."
"You're welcome. I must say, you accept gifts more graciously than the other heroes of my acquaintance."
Clark was embarrassed now. He hoped the others didn't notice him blushing, and drifted into the kitchen to help Dawn put away cans. There were dozens, and he commented on it again to Dawn.
"Well," she said, neatly stacking soup and fruit in the cupboard, "Sometimes they shut the power off, and if the place is full of canned goods I know Buffy will at least have food."
Clark was a little shocked, and his face showed it. "I didn't know you, um, your family, was so badly, um, struggling so much."
"It's not that she can't afford to pay the bills. Ever since Mom died, Buffy's always worked hard to make ends meet, but she's managed. It's just that sometimes, what with so much working hard, and the slayage and world-saveage and all, sometimes she just forgets to pay them." Dawn tossed her head in dismissal. "It's no big, and with Xander living here it shouldn't really be an issue at all. I just feel better, all the way back east in Kansas, if I know Buffy has something to eat in the house. And Lex was right there, and really nice about it, so I went for it." She glared at him defiantly, and wait, what had he done now? "You going to tell me It's Wrong to let a rich guy buy my sister a cupboard full of groceries?" Clark was about to break into a flurry of incoherent denials when Dawn was fortunately distracted by conversation coming from the front room. She flounced out of the kitchen. Clark carefully stowed the empty grocery bags and slowly followed her.
Lex, who didn't really do kitchens, had stayed with Buffy at the computer. They were looking at the report Chris Epps had sent.
"That's very disturbing," Lex commented. He looked even paler than the blood loss and blow to the head had left him, Clark thought, although it was a little hard to tell.
"It really really is," Buffy agreed. "Boys have other needs," she muttered angrily.
Lex looked at her like she was crazy. "What?"
"That's what the swim team coach said to me when he threw me into their lair. Damn! I wish I'd killed them then!"
Dawn looked at the image on the screen, then quickly looked away again. "So," she quavered, "You're sure this is them again? And is there a plan?"
"I'm sure." Buffy sounded resolute. "And there is a plan." She gestured to Dawn and herself. "Bait." She waved a hand at Clark. "Big Gun." She jerked her thumb at Lex. "Back-up."
"It's a Buffy plan," Dawn ventured. Buffy narrowed her eyes at her sister.
"You have any objections? Let's hear 'em." Dawn shook her head. Buffy widened her focus to include Lex and Clark. "Anybody have a different idea? This would be the time to say." The boys shook their heads, too. "Okay, then. Let's pack up and go to the beach."
Clark couldn't believe that they were worried about gruesome person-eating monsters on such a beautiful day. True, he should know better. Certainly any number of grisly mutant things had happened back home under equally pretty skies. But somehow the lovely pale sand and deep blue ocean seemed to make monsters seem even less likely than usual. On days like this, he could sometimes still hardly believe that he himself was an alien from outer space.
"Are we sure these monsters even come out during the day?" Clark asked dubiously. "It's just so pretty out here."
"Well," Buffy replied. "The girl in the morgue was reported missing by her swimming buddies at 11:30 yesterday morning. Her body was found washed up on shore at ten p.m. I'd say that means they hunt during the day."
"Hey, Superman! You gonna help carry this stuff, or just stand and stare all day?" Dawn didn't sound very mad. Clark figured he'd better hurry up before that changed.
Soon they had towels, lawn chairs, weapons, a cooler and a big colorful umbrella set up on the deserted beach.
"I want to go in the water!" Dawn exclaimed.
"You and Clark are first in, then," Buffy told her. "Act baity!"
Dawn shucked her cover-up and ran towards the ocean cheering. Clark stopped with his t-shirt half-off and just watched. "I'd take that bait." Oh, shoot. Did he say actually say that? Lex and Buffy were laughing loudly at him. Apparently so.
"Kent, I'm surprised at you," Lex scolded. "What would your mother say?"
Clark blushed all over and fled. He reached the waves at the same time as Dawn.
"Behave yourselves!" Buffy called after them. "And look out for monsters!"
Dawn rolled her eyes and waded in hip-deep. She dived under a breaker and reappeared a little past the surf line. "Come on, Clark!" she yelled. "The water's fine!"
Clark plowed into the Pacific Ocean. It was nice, livelier than a pool, not cold (not that he really was bothered by cold, but he could tell it wasn't), salty, and very very big. He swam out to Dawn, and she splashed him. He splashed back. As they played, he started trying to figure out how to see through salt water. It wasn't exactly like regular water, and the way everything kept moving was messing him up. Suddenly it worked for a second, and he had a good look at Dawn in her blue-green bikini, treading water about three or four feet above the ocean floor. Then the vision slipped a little too far, and he had to close his eyes and dive to cool the resulting blush. Wow. He was glad Dawn didn't have x-ray vision.
'Cause that could be embarrassing.
"They're having fun," Buffy commented as she slipped her oversize t-shirt off and sat down on a towel.
Lex agreed. He sat down heavily in one of the beach chairs under the umbrella.
"Aren't you going to, you know, change? You did put on a swimsuit under that?" Buffy gestured at Lex's black workout clothes.
"I'm prepared to swim, but I'd rather not get a sunburn."
Buffy waved a little pink bottle at him. "Lex, sunscreen? Fancy new invention that keeps you from getting sunburned. You know, you do me, I do you?" Lex smirked at her, and she raised her eyebrows at him. "You KNOW what I mean. C'mon."
Lex sighed and got up. Buffy stretched out on her stomach, watching the two in the water the whole time. He settled down next to her and opened the bottle. Sticky. He didn't like it. But he did like the way Buffy wriggled a little as he smoothed the goop onto her back.
"You're... pale," he told her.
"Hence the sunscreen. I don't get out in the daytime enough anymore." She was still watching Clark and Dawn cavorting in the water. "Look at them," she mused.
Lex looked up and studied them playing for a moment. "I was never that young."
"I was," Buffy sighed. "But that was a long time ago." She grimaced. "Lotta gore under that bridge." Impatiently Buffy sat up and took the sunscreen bottle from Lex's hand. "I'll do the rest of me. Take. Off. Your. Clothes. You won't be much good as back-up if you have to stop and change before you charge into battle."
Lex sighed and stripped. It wasn't that he was ashamed of his appearance, even though the lavender Speedo that he'd packed with an expensive hotel's pool in mind seemed a little out of place here. It was the bruises. Even though Buffy had been the one in the middle of last night's fight, even though he was a Smallville Mutant and healed fast, even though he'd only been on the edges of combat and hadn't even noticed being hit much at the time, he was the one covered with bruises today. It didn't seem fair.
Buffy was still keeping a hawk's eye on Clark and Dawn in the ocean. She'd finished applying her own sunscreen and handed him the bottle without looking at him. "Let me know when you want me to do your back."
Lex started putting on sunscreen. It was annoying the way he kept doing whatever this girl told him to. His shoulder twinged unexpectedly when he stretched it, and he made a little sound. Buffy's head whipped around to look at him, and her eyes filled with alarm. He didn't like that either.
"Lex! Why didn't you tell me you were so beat up?"
"I'm not," he protested, as she forced him down to sit on her towel. "It's not as bad as it looks. I just -- my skin shows bruises particularly vividly. They'll be gone by tomorrow."
"Well, I'm sorry I let you get hurt. And I'm sorry I yelled at you just now. Although it is better for you to not have the cover-up on. Sunshine is good for bruises." Buffy was watching the ocean and smoothing sunscreen onto Lex's back and shoulders as she spoke.
"Is that so? I never heard that before."
"Oh, yeah. Salt water, too. Spend the day at the beach; it'll cure whatever ails ya. Southern California Folk Medicine." Buffy's hands were warm and sticky, gentle on the innumerable bruises and sharp on the rest of his skin. He could feel her sensible black one-piece and her satiny skin brush against his back as she knelt up to apply sunscreen to his head. "You know," Buffy's breath made him shiver as it ghosted across his naked scalp. "This is a really unusual fashion choice for a white guy. But it suits you."
"Thank you." Lex cleared his throat. "It's not exactly a choice, though. I've been bald ever since the Smallville Meteor Storm in 1989."
"Good thing you can carry it off, then."
"Yeah," Lex breathed. He closed his eyes. This was mesmerizing. Warm sun, warm sand, warm girl rubbing his head....
It seemed as if he heard the shrieks and felt Buffy rocket away towards the ocean at the same instant. He lurched to his feet and grabbed the nearest weapon, ready to run down and help fight the -- whatever they were.
However, the sight that met Lex's eyes wasn't combat. It was just Buffy, arms akimbo, snarling at Dawn about how We Don't Scream When We're Not Really In Trouble as Clark looked on, abashed. They were all knee-deep in the surf (well, about ankle-deep on Clark), and Lex could tell from the way that Dawn's expression was shifting from apologetic through mulish to furious, that there would be a big fight soon.
"Hey!" Lex yelled. ("And when the hell did I become the peacemaker?" he wondered.) "Come on up to the towels and let's have lunch!"
It was a good lunch. It felt like a hundred years since Buffy had been on a picnic. This was turning into the best monster hunt ever. "I had no idea you were such a perfect picnic planner, Dawnie"
"It wasn't me," her sister replied. I went 'round and picked up the boring stuff, and Lex parked himself at the deli counter and picked out the picnic supplies."
The more Buffy heard about Lex, the better she liked him. She gave him her warmest smile. "Thanks, Lex. These sandwiches are really good. And I've never had taro chips before. They're nice."
"I'm glad you like it. I'd never tried them before either, but they seemed interesting."
"I like the pie, too," Dawn commented, looking slyly at Clark. Man, that boy blushed a lot.
"It's not a patch on Clark's mother's pie," Lex looked up and seemed to notice Clark blushing, too. He sighed.
Suddenly Clark threw a forkful of pie at Dawn. She screeched and got up and ran at him. He ran away laughing. They chased each other all over the beach. Lex and Buffy looked at each other and shook their heads. Kids.
When Buffy declared it was her turn to be the bait now, Lex didn't really want to go in with her. However, his only alternative seemed to be staying on the shore where Clark and Dawn were making googly eyes at one another, and he was afraid they might start using baby-talk at any moment. He chose to brave the ocean.
It was the first time he'd been swimming in uncontrolled conditions since the crash. He had to work hard to conceal his nervousness. Buffy was past the surf by the time he nerved himself to dive in under a wave. The water was cold, and he didn't like the taste. He was glad they'd confirmed that there was no sewer problem; at least it should be clean enough. The way the surf pulled and pushed at his body was disturbingly similar to the current in that damn river. Pools didn't remind him of drowning, but this did.
Buffy was directly next to him without warning. "Oh, yeah," Lex remembered, "It would be wiser to worry about the monsters out here today instead of the river I crashed into four years ago."
"How ya doin', Lex?"
"In the ocean you want to keep your eyes out to sea; that's where the next wave's coming from. Are you freaking out at all?"
"Speaking as someone who's drowned, I just thought you might be a little upset."
"Are you?" Lex challenged.
"Nah, I'm fine in the ocean. When the Master drowned me, it was in this little decorative sort of an indoor pond thing he had in his underground lair. Still water, no light. Completely different from this." Buffy turned a contemplative somersault. When she came back to the surface, she continued. "Dawn and I took a little road trip last summer up and down Highway 1. We took the tour at Hearst Castle, and I had to LEAVE when we got to the big indoor pool with the statues and stuff. I'm still kinda proud I didn't scream."
Lex smiled. He felt a lot better. "I can tell you this; I'm glad it's not a river."
Buffy smiled back at him and did some surface dives. Presently she came back and floated on her back next to him.
"These guys that we're after -- before they turned into monsters -- one of them told me how he felt about the ocean, all mother-of-us-all and stuff. It was poetic, really." She was silent for a minute or two. "I told him to me it was just big and wet."
"It happens, sometimes, some places. In Smallville, too, there were several times when people I had... known... turned into monsters and tried to kill me. The effects of the meteoritic rocks were unpredictable, and generally horrific."
"I wish I could have saved them. We tried. We failed." Her face was cold and closed-in -- when did that happen? "I wish they had stayed away. They didn't, and now I have to kill them."
Lex swam quietly next to her for a while. Quietly, trying to be encouraging, he said, "Remember what they did to that girl. You have no choice."
Buffy turned and glared at him angrily. "I have a choice," she spit out. "I choose to kill them. Me, Buffy Summers, the Slayer. Making that choice." She swam rapidly out to sea.
Lex returned to the shore.
Dawn had been seeing how red she could make Clark by saying things, and tickling him. The goal was to get his skin to match his shorts. It was maybe a little mean, but oh so very fun. Clark didn't seem to object much. Okay, yeah, he squawked, "Dawn!" pretty frequently, but he also laughed a lot, and she was sure he could get away from her if he really tried.
She was also keeping a fairly sharp eye on the ocean, since it would just be stupid to let the monsters take her sister as bait without noticing. If Clark was the Big Gun, someone had to know where to point him, and she didn't really believe Lex's stories about how good Clark was at it by himself. She'd known him at school for a whole year, after all, and he was basically a goof.
Although he did seem way more competent, and, you know, sexy, without his glasses.
Right! Eyes back out to sea, and Dawn noticed that Buffy seemed to have become enraged, and Lex was heading in. "That didn't take long," she muttered.
"What?" Clark asked.
"Oh, looks like my sister and Lex had a fight. Nothing to worry about. Par for the course. I'll go out and help her attract monsters; you stay here and see if Lex has become evil yet."
Clark looked confused. Dawn bounded down the sandy slope and jumped into the water.
Clark and Lex sat on the beach and watched Dawn and Buffy playing in the water. The girls were right at the surf line. They seemed to be playing tag, with breaking waves as the hazards. There was a lot of splashing, and a certain amount of squealing. "You never see that in Kansas," Clark thought. "I'm glad I came." Then he looked at Lex and sighed. Lex was brooding. Gotta put a stop to that.
"So, Lex," Clark smiled brightly and gestured with his chin towards the girls. "You falling in love yet?"
Lex laughed scornfully, but his eyes looked -- sad. "Come now, Clark. You know I don't do that anymore."
"Huh?" Clark asked brilliantly. "Why not?"
Lex looked bitter. "Surely you remember my wife, Clark? The woman I fell in love with, who framed you for arson and plotted to have me killed for the inheritance?"
Clark felt a little stupefied. "But, what about Helen?" he finally came up with.
Lex snorted. "Helen just confirmed the lesson Desiree taught me. It's better for me to avoid falling in love. I'm bad at it."
"But Desiree doesn't count... You couldn't help it! She was a meteor mutant."
Lex got very still. "She was what?"
"A meteor mutant? She had this pink mist sort of stuff, that came out of her mouth, and she could make any man fall in love with her and do whatever she wanted. Well, not me. I guess 'cause pheromones are pretty species specific."
Lex was just staring at him.
"It was just like Hathor on Stargate SG-1, actually. The one where Hathor infiltrates the SGC, and all the men fall in love with her and all the women get locked up and then Carter and the doctor break out and...." Clark's lame explanation petered out to nothing at the look on Lex's face.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" Lex finally whispered.
"I thought you knew? I gave you copies of all the stuff Chloe found out about Miss Atkins -- how she was actually from Smallville, and where she was during the meteor storm, and about that guy killing her parents so she'd inherit and then totally denying it from jail two days later and how the exact same thing happened later with her first husband.... I guess I just assumed you jumped to the same conclusions we did."
"I think I remember you giving me some papers, but... it's hard to remember things that happened when I lived with her. I guess Desiree got them away from me before I read them all. So it...." Lex looked lost in thought. He turned his full attention to Clark and asked, "Did you and your dad really see through her and concoct that clever plan to get her to incriminate herself?"
"No, Lex," Clark said gently. "That was just a cover story. She got Dad under her control. If I'd been two minutes later breaking out of jail, Dad would have murdered you and woken up days later not remembering anything about it."
Lex looked hurt and kind of lost. "I thought I really loved her," he breathed.
"I'm sorry, Lex. I thought you knew."
Suddenly there was a scream, and Clark was gone in a flash. Lex looked up and saw the huge splash of his friend entering the ocean, the vanishing slick of brown hair that was probably Dawn being dragged under, and no sign of Buffy. He grabbed a harpoon and the rapier, and he ran towards the fight.
By the time he got to the water, there was blood in it. Dawn came gasping to the surface, considerably farther out than he'd seen her last. She was bleeding and trying to swim using only one arm, so Lex dropped the heavy metal sword and swam out to meet her.
"Where's Buffy?" Dawn choked out, as Lex pulled her towards shore.
"I don't see her. Stay calm." Lex's feet touched bottom, and Dawn pulled away from him.
"I'm calm," she growled. "I'm fine. You go help Buffy." Dawn clambered up onto the sand, and Lex watched her go. She had four deep parallel gashes on her left shoulder, and more on her right side. She was bleeding, but she made it out of the water and picked up his discarded sword. "Go!" she shouted at him.
"Go do what?" Lex thought. How was he supposed to even find these monsters? He scanned the ocean desperately. There was a boiling pattern to the surface about a dozen yards further out. He swam closer, and thought he saw a face for a second -- maybe Buffy, grabbing a breath of air? He dived, trying to keep his eyes open.
It was Buffy, and she was struggling with two big monsters. Fish Fiends was a pretty good term for them, actually. As they came into view, Lex saw one of them make a try at biting Buffy's hand off, but she turned it into an unbelievable punch into the thing's mouth and -- eww -- out the back of its neck. Blood blossomed from the lacerations that ran all the way down Buffy's arm as she pulled it from the creature's suddenly unresisting jaws. The other one had seized its moment to bite her on the other side. Buffy jabbed at its head with her elbow as it shook her back and forth like a terrier with a rat. Neither of them noticed Lex. He swam up behind the monster and stabbed it in the back with the harpoon. It let go of Buffy and whipped around like a snake to face its new attacker. Lex couldn't hold on to the harpoon handle. He backed up desperately, but then he saw that Buffy, swimming strongly despite the blood that poured off of her like smoke, had grabbed the harpoon still embedded in the monster's back. She kicked and thrust powerfully, and the harpoon went all the way through the monster. The sharp steel head emerged from the creature's chest, and the flat ugly face had just time enough to look down in surprise before it went slack with death. The two humans broke for the surface.
"Where's Dawn?" Buffy demanded as soon as she had taken a breath.
"She made it out of the water," Lex told her. "What happened to Clark?"
"I don't know. I didn't see."
Lex looked around franticly, but he couldn't see any more signs of underwater combat. Even if he could find Clark's fight, he probably couldn't be much help. Also, the girl next to him was bleeding heavily, and he now noticed that she was swimming more and more slowly. "Come on," he said, and put his arm under her shoulder. "It's not much farther."
"'Kay," Buffy said. Lex really started to worry when she let him help her to shore.
"Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed as they climbed up out of the surf. "Are you okay?"
Lex found the question irritating. Didn't Dawn see the blood? Buffy didn't object, though, and she seemed to take comfort from her sister's concern. Lex herded the girls up to the towels and got out the big first aid kit he'd noticed among their gear. Buffy seemed a lot less out of it once they got her sitting down, and she recovered quickly once she'd drunk a bottle of fresh water.
Once both girls' wounds were thoroughly bandaged, and everyone was dried off and dressed again, it was Dawn who voiced everyone's growing concern. "Where's Clark?"
"I don't know, Dawnie. I didn't see him."
Lex kept looking out to sea, expecting to see Clark speeding back at any second.
"He pulled those things off of me. Then they ran away, well, swam away, and he chased them. But how far?"
"I'm pretty sure they couldn't have beaten him, Dawn. Not if he can always fight like he fought the Gorevanor."
"Then where is he?" The nervous girl turned to Lex. "You know him. Does he need to breathe? Could those things have drowned him?"
Lex couldn't look at her. "I don't know, okay? I don't know." His voice dropped. "I don't know anything about him."
Clark was having a terrible time.
Fighting the monsters hadn't been that hard. He couldn't really believe how mad he'd been when he saw them attacking Dawn like that, and it turned out they were pretty darn fast. He had to figure out how to be really fast underwater himself, so it took a while before he caught them and tore them to pieces.
They were dead by the time he noticed that he'd chased them into some sort of underwater caves, and it turned out that he could hold his breath for a really long time, possibly forever, which was good because he was extremely lost.
He found a way out of the water before he found a way out of the caves, and that was when he noticed that his swimsuit had been destroyed during the fight. Then when he finally remembered to use his x-ray vision to overcome the annoying total-darkness feature of the caves, and to use his super-strength to bash his way out when he got near the surface, he was nowhere near the ocean anymore.
Finally he ended up super-speeding it back to Buffy's house, flying up to the roof and breaking in through a conveniently unlocked second-story window. He hoped the Summers girls wouldn't get in trouble with the neighbors for having a naked guy flying in their windows in the middle of the day.
He found his clothes and got dressed, and sped back to the beach as fast as he could. He even risked flying. Now that his clothes were on, so he wasn't so horribly embarrassed and could think again, he was afraid he could remember blood in the water.
He hoped everybody was all right.
"I should have known better than to ever invite anyone to Sunnydale," Dawn moaned. She and Lex were staring out at the ocean. The blood had dissipated. The bodies were apparently denser than seawater; they hadn't surfaced, and weren't washing up on the beach. Buffy was glad of that. Burying monsters was hard work, and she didn't really feel up to it.
Lex and Dawn seemed even worse-off than she was, though. She could remember how upset she'd been about becoming hard inside, years ago. Now it was one of her secrets, the guilty gladness she felt that people could die and she could just keep functioning.
Let them mourn their friend. He was a good guy. Buffy cleaned the salt water and sand off the remaining weapons. Then she started packing everything up into the SUV. Her arm didn't hurt much; her side would heal, the big t-shirt covered up how wrecked her swimsuit was.
Strong arms relieved her of the heavy cooler on her second trip to the car. She looked up (way up) into worried green eyes. "Hey, Clark," she said. "What a nice surprise."
"Let me get that. Are you okay? Is Dawn?" He put the cooler away, then looked at her funny for a second and frowned and said, "Your ribs are cracked. Did, uh, did you know that practically every bone in your body has been broken?"
She smiled at the kid, even though that fall was one of her least favorite memories ever. "Yeah, I did actually." She raised her voice, "Hey, Dawnie! Hey, Lex! Look who's here!"
Dawn looked around and jumped up and ran to Clark. She tackled him in a huge hug, demanding excitedly to know just what had happened and where had he been and why had he changed his clothes. Lex wasn't far behind, but he was quieter. The sight of the three of them together made Buffy happy. She finished packing up their stuff.
Suddenly Clark's voice could be heard above Dawn's enthusiastic babbling. "Oh my gosh. Is it 2:30 already?"
Buffy checked the dashboard clock in the Mom-mobile. "Yup," she said.
"I told my mom and dad I'd be home by five! Oh, no!"
"I thought you guys said it only took an hour to fly from here to there," Buffy commented.
"Two hours time difference to Kansas," her sister pointed out. "It's okay, Clark. Now that you know you don't really need to breathe much, you can fly higher. You should be able to go faster where the air's thinner."
"But what about you? You need to breathe. And what about our stuff? It's still at your house."
"Dawn can ride back to Metropolis with me, Clark. Plenty of room in the jet. And that way you can go straight home to Smallville and not be so late."
Clark looked around at all of them. "Um, okay. Thanks, Lex. Thanks for having me, Dawn, Buffy. It was, well except for the, you know, it was really fun."
Buffy smiled at him. "We were glad to have you. Thanks for all your help with the Fish Fiends. Fly home safe."
"You want to come pick up your stuff from Metropolis tomorrow? You know -- five minutes there? We could get that coffee we were talking about?" Dawn was smiling at Clark, and he was beaming back at her.
"Yeah, Dawn. That would be great." Clark ducked his head down closer to Dawn's. "I guess I should go."
"Fly safe," Dawn murmured. She reached up and curled her good arm around his neck and kissed him.
Clark kissed her back. Then Superman flew back home.
There's a thing called the Wednesday 100, where there are (so far) 131 people with livejournals who participate in a fic challenge every Wednesday. Someone puts up a theme late Tuesday night, and then people post little 100-word long pieces of Smallville fanfiction. I just lurk and read it, because I'm like that, but the third theme was "in, under, above, entering or exiting Metropolis," and I thought of Dawn and Lex heading back home in the jet, and it came out exactly 100 words first crack off the bat! The Wednesday 100 is at livejournal.com/community/wednesday100
I just look at them all and marvel.
The Learjet was comfortable and well-appointed. Dawn refused to feel out of place in her T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. After all, Lex was the only one there with her, and they'd already Scoobed together twice.
Coming into Metropolis International was nothing like coming into LAX. There was no ocean, for one thing, and the buildings of Metropolis were tall and black compared to everything in Southern California. Flying in the jet wasn't like flying in Clark's arms, either.
"Hope he made it home before curfew," she said.
"He did," Lex answered, and pointed.
A blue-and-red figure outside the window waved.
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