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The Many Shades of True Heroes

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Summary: Clark is accidentally transported to Buffy's universe, where Lois is a Slayer and somebody's after The Key ... Pairings? Spuffy. Buffyverse Kal-El/Buffyverse Lois.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Lois and ClarkLMouseFR13139,2354172,15523 Aug 0623 Aug 06Yes
The Many Colors of True Heroes

by

L Mouse

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Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to either Lois and Clark or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Author's notes:

This is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossover with Lois and Clark.

I normally don't do much in the way of author's notes. However, since this is an alternate universe crossover with Buffy, and since I'm not sure how familiar folks are with both shows, a brief note explaining some of the back story is in order. Otherwise readers not familiar with both shows are going to be very confused.

For the Lois and Clark fans, it’s important to know that in the Buffyverse, it's canon that certain girls are born to be Potential Slayers -- Slayers have mystical demon fighting abilities, including super strength and stamina, a certain amount of resistance to injuries, and a rapid healing rate when injured. Whenever a Slayer died, a new Potential was called to duty -- it had been so for eons. However, in the final episode of Buffy, Willow did a spell which turned every Potential into a Slayer. Suddenly there were lots of women in the world with Slayer abilities.

For the Buffy fans not familiar with Lois and Clark, it’s basically a soap opera with Superman and Lois Lane. Great fun. :)

In both universes it is canon that there are multiple universes, each with a slightly different reality.

In this fanfic, in Buffy's universe, Lois Lane never became a reporter -- instead, she became a writer of supernatural thrillers. She was one of the Potentials. Now, she is a Slayer.

For the Lois and Clark fans, this is set after season four.

For the Buffyverse fans, this is set two years after the end of Angel -- it’s present day. Angel is lost, presumed dead. And fair warning, this is a Spuffy story.

Yes, I’m aware that there’s approximately a ten year gap between the end of Lois and Clark and present day (2006). It’s dealt with in the story.

As I’ve noted in a few places, this has turned into the first part of a series. Expect the next one in a few weeks to months; I have other projects which take precedence.

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Chapter 1

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The city in summer was nastily hot, lacking in any sort of cooling breeze, and stiflingly humid. The elevator to Lois' fourth-floor apartment smelled like a locker room. Buffy reflected that she missed Sunnydale, where air conditioning was considered a necessity of life. Metropolis, by contrast, was a typical Eastern seaboard city, which meant most of the buildings had been built before central air conditioning was invented.

"If this weather gets any hotter the vampires will just poof into ashes all on their own," Willow observed as they stepped out of the elevator on the fourth floor. Willow's red hair was damp with sweat; Giles, on the other side of her, was flushed and breathing heavily. He mopped at his face with a handkerchief; idly, Buffy wondered what it would take to get him to give up his tweed. An act of a God, probably.

Apartment 410, Lois' apartment, was at the end of the hall. As they approached Buffy noted the multiple locks on the door with mild amusement. Lois didn't have much to worry about as far as bad guys went. And anything that would be a threat to Lois wouldn't be stopped by a few (dozen) locks on a door. But she supposed old habits died hard.

Buffy knocked on the door, after another glance at her companions. Giles' jaw was set in what she recognized as his stiff-upper-lip mode; Willow was unreadable. Giles didn't like Lois much, but 'not liking Lois' described half of Slayer Central. The other half, including Willow, just hadn't met her yet.

As for herself, Buffy figured there were people she'd rather be fighting with, but this was Lois' city and she could deal with her. She'd worked with far worse.

The locks rattled and clicked and then the door opened. A gust of blessedly cold air swirled out around them. Lois was shorter than Buffy -- which was saying something, because Buffy wasn't exactly tall. Brown eyes, straight black hair cut short, and a mouth that was set in a frown of displeasure. "Buffy, you're here -- is anyone else coming?"

Her tone of voice indicated, Finally.

"We came as soon as you called," Giles said, "But the flight was delayed in New York. We'll call for more reinforcements if we need them."

"Come ..." in, Lois started to say.

"Ah!" Willow cut her off, making Lois blink in surprise and look mildly offended. "Never invite anyone in. Just open the door and see if they walk through it."

"Vampires. Right." Lois sounded annoyed at the reminder. She held the door wide, and the three walked into the apartment. It was neat, except for stacks of books and paperwork on Lois' coffee table. Some of the books were old, some glossy and new. There were also several empty coffee cups, half a cold pizza, and two empty two liter bottles of diet coke.

"Research?" Giles said, picking up a book. He frowned at it. It was a history of Metropolis.

"For my novel. Which, I might add, is due next week." Lois sounded downright angry. She claimed the book back from Giles. "If we can't deal with this vampire problem in the next couple of days I'm going to miss deadline. Then we can forget about some random boogeyman in a dark alley killing me; my editor will do the job himself."

"Killing vampires ..." Giles started to give what Buffy recognized as the infamous 'your Chosen duty is sacred' speech.

Buffy cut him off. Lois also recognized the speech by the look in her eyes; she had undoubtedly heard it before. If not from Giles, then from Faith or Andrew. Buffy spoke up to forestall an argument. She pointed out: "Killing vampires doesn't pay the bills, Giles."

Lois made a face. "Not on the salary you people give me. As grateful as I am for this apartment I need to make this deadline."

Buffy grinned, trying to put the other Slayer at ease. Lois was giving off unmistakably irritated vibes. Lois always seemed like one of those little tropical blowfishes to Buffy -- annoy them and they puffed up and blundered around with spines sticking out. "I hear you there. I had to take a job at the Double Meat Palace to make ends meet a few years back. Then, I didn't get any wages at all for Slaying because Slaying was our 'sacred chosen duty'."

"How did you work a day job around your Slaying duties?" Lois asked, curiously. Lois-the-Blowfish had deflated, Buffy noted with relief. Lois walked over to her computer and started shutting it down. "At least with writing, I can drop everything and go kill what needs killing."

"She didn't," Willow said, with a laugh. Buffy and Giles both grinned, too, at the shared memory. "She got fired."

Lois said, eyes widening a bit, "Really?"

"Really." Buffy said, ruefully. She sobered. "So what are we facing?"

"The usual," Lois said. She was grumpy again. "A potentially world-ending apocalypse."

"Gee, almost makes you wish that the bad guys would try something else for some variety," Buffy said, voice laden with sarcasm.

"The bad guys are vampires, they've stolen some kind of magic book, and it had instructions in it to open a portal to a hell dimension. It's safe to say that they're going to pull something very nasty through," Lois snapped. She obviously failed to see what Buffy found amusing and her spines had come out again. Buffy chalked that up to Lois being a newbie. If she survived long enough, she, too, would learn to snark in the face of the end of the world. And she’d learn that 'magic book' and 'portal to a hell dimension' were fairly minor problems, all things considered.

Lois added, "Also, the vamp running the whole ring's got some pretty major mojo; he's nearly killed me twice."

"You were smart to call us," Giles said, giving her a smile. She didn't return it, and the warm expression slipped off his face. His eyes narrowed at her, and Buffy shot him a worried glance. She didn't need friction between Lois and Giles to escalate beyond mutual cold shoulders. Lois turned her attention back to Buffy, without acknowledging Giles' scowl.

"The stakes are too high on this one to risk losing. So I called you guys. I was expecting more people, frankly," Lois sounded displeased that a small army hadn't shown up at her beck and call.

Willow and Buffy exchanged a look. Buffy said, with a small smile, "I think the three of us can handle a few vampires, mojo or not. Giles will help with any research we need ... Andrew has some of the other girls on standby in Cleveland if we need backup, but they're needed more there, really."

"Hellmouth acting up again?" Lois asked, with an obvious attempt at polite conversation.

Buffy shrugged. "Just the usual. Nothing new. We're still trying to find a way to close it ... without a big mess this time."

"I heard you lost some people when you closed the Hellmouth in Sunnydale," Lois said, quietly. She sounded more human now and less brittle; Buffy looked sharply at her, noting the change in her voice. So there was someone human under that prickly exterior! "Faith told me a bit about what happened, when she found me last year."

Faith had found Lois hunting demons on her own, without ever having heard the title "Slayer." Lois had followed her instincts into dark alleys all on her lonesome. The impressive part, Faith had said, was that Lois had been killing vampires before Willow's spell had turned every Potential in the world into a Slayer. The woman was apparently quite the martial arts expert. When she'd become a Slayer, about four years ago, she'd simply gotten more effective at demon killing.

Buffy nodded briefly. She didn't really want to talk about Sunnydale, and she was conscious of Willow who had gone silent and still beside her. Giles was unusually stiff-upper-lippish as well. None of them liked to think of the last days of Sunnydale. "We lost some good people in that fight. Hopefully, Cleveland will go better. Also, less hole-in-the-groundish. We're trying to be discrete this time. At any rate -- let's go kill some vampires."

+++++

"Willow, you take out the baddy with the magic. Lois and I will clean up the rest of them," Buffy said, voice low. The three women were crouched behind some anonymous crates in an anonymous warehouse. A train whistle blew somewhere close by; the vampires paused briefly in their incantation until the sound lessened. This was an industrial part of town, Hobb’s Bay, and practically abandoned after dusk.

Willow nodded understanding, and wiped sweat from her eyes. Though the sun had set half an hour ago it was still stifling hot. As far as the fight went, this was going to be strictly bush league stuff. Lois was outclassed but Willow smugly thought that her own powers would be overkill in this fight.

There were six vampires; the vampire warlock was the tallest, and by far the most ugly. He was old, and his features showed it. He no longer looked human as he had cloven fingers and a misshapen face. He reminded her of the Master and once upon a time that would have been enough to give even Buffy a good case of the wiggins. Not anymore -- and, Willow thought with quiet pride, that was at least partially because she was here.

The remaining five vampires were younger, though they moved around the pentagram on the floor with confidence that spoke of a certain amount of experience. ’Young’ was a relative thing compared to their master. They did not appear to be an excessive challenge for two Slayers.

A human girl was bound and gagged on the floor next to the vampires. Her eyes were huge, and she was sporadically struggling to escape. Blond. Pretty.

Willow whispered back at the Slayers, "They'll need blood spilled in the circle to get things going with the spell. It's a pretty basic portal spell, of the nasty dark evil magic kind, but it takes some talent to fire it up ... some innate talent, not just practice and pronouncing everything right."

She studied at it, and added after a moment, "It’s a very basic spell, actually. The runes are Lograthian -- that’s a demon language I’m pretty familiar with these days. The Lograthians are pretty involved in the Hellmouth mess in Cleveland.“

That explanation was for Lois’ benefit -- Buffy was as familiar with Lograthians as Willow as; she’d certainly beheaded enough of the big scaley nasties in the last few years. Willow continued, “It's an anonymous call for 'great evil' from another dimension. But it is potent; they'll probably pull through something pretty apocalyptically icky if we don't stop them. And they're getting close to finishing the spell."

"What are we waiting for?" Buffy murmured, then stood up and said, "Hey! Ugly! Did you forget to invite us to your party!"

The warlock promptly fired off a bolt of energy in Buffy's direction, without any apparent hesitation or comment. Willow had been waiting for that and flung up a defensive shield; energy scattered in ten directions at once. She was surprised at the vampire's power because vampires normally weren't bright enough or motivated enough to be potent magic users. This vamp was obviously one of the exceptions. She’d already figured that out, but still, it was a shock.

She reached into the bones of the earth and turned the earth's heat into a gout of flame around the vampire, intending to end this quickly. She didn't want to give him time to think about doing anything unusually nasty. He countered with a force field of some sort that turned the fire back at her; she ducked behind the crates with a squeak of surprise. The crates started burning. The vampire didn't, which astonished her. That spell always worked against vampires -- even ancient ones.

Dimly, she was aware of the two Slayers fighting with the other vampires. The vampires who were holding their own. They were old, and moreover, they knew how to fight. It had been a very long time since she'd seen Buffy even slowed down by mere vamps. Except for Spike, that was.

Willow mentally flipped through magical options that might work to defeat the vampire. He wasn't nearly as powerful as she was, but his age made her very wary of prolonging this fight. He had experience and he hadn’t lived this long without being canny and creative in his defense.

Lightning, maybe ... she reached into the atmosphere, swirled together a charge from a starry night sky, and slammed it through the roof of the warehouse. To her disgust, she missed. The vampire deflected the charge at the last minute and it hit a window high on the wall. Glass rained down on all of them; the vampire's captive yelped in pain around her gag.

Buffy was fighting three-on-one with the master vampire's followers. Lois killed one; Willow didn't see the other and assumed it was dusted. Lois ran to the captive, cut her loose from her bonds, and gave her a shove in the direction of the exit.

Willow saw that the pentagram lay between the exit and the captive. She shouted, "No!" too late, too late ...

The girl stumbled into the circle and fell. And she was bleeding from the glass from the windows ... blood dripped onto the ground in the middle of the circle. Green fire roared around her and she screamed in agony and rolled across the floor. Within seconds the screams turned to howls, then to gasps, then to silence. The portal was open. Willow's stomach turned over in nauseated horror as the stench of burning flesh, smoke, and brimstone filled the air.

The vampire warlock shouted in triumph. "Now you'll all die!"

"Gotcha!" He wasn’t paying attention to her -- a fatal mistake. Willow levitated one of the burning crates at him, at freight train speed. He smacked into the wall, crunched by burning wood, and poofed out of existence. Sometimes brute force and the element of surprise was all it took.

"Idiot," she muttered, turning her attention to the portal. Now she had to figure out a way to close it before the nasty they'd summoned came through.

"Willow!" Buffy said, "Look out!"

She ducked, as the fifth vampire -- apparently not dead yet as she'd assumed -- swung at her with a board. And she could feel something ominous coming through the portal. Something she really didn't want to fight with, unprepared as she was. She dodged another swing from the vampire, and came up with a fast and dirty solution to the portal.

She bolted towards the spell circle, and hastily erased several runes with her foot while frantically avoid attempts by the vampire to catch her. Thank you for using chalk, Willow thought at the late vampire master. The spell hiccupped, sparks arced around the rafters of the warehouse, and she felt raw energy building ... now it was going to simply blow like a nuclear bomb if she didn't give that energy an outlet. Hobbs Bay was going to get a new harbor if she didn’t fix the spell! The vampire grabbed for her; she ducked, levitated him airborne, and pitched him over her head and into the fire roaring around the portal opening. He poofed and vampire dust sifted down over her. She’d need a shower, later!

She reached in her pocket, found a bit of chalk, and penciled in three new runes, standing for "bring great good."

Now the spell was set to snag them a force of great good. Much better, she hoped, than a force of great evil. Though the force of great good was undoubtedly in for a surprise.

A vibration started, from within the earth, but she didn't have time to stop and watch what came through the portal. Lois was in trouble, fighting two on one -- Willow incinerated one, and simply tripped the other, and Lois managed to stake him when he stumbled towards her. Two down, two to go.

One of the vampires that Buffy was fighting was very good. With a pang of memory, Willow realized his fighting style was very similar to Spike's. He'd obviously studied and internalized multiple disciplines; he was giving Buffy a real challenge. The other vampire charged at Lois.

"I'll get him! See to the spell! Shut it down!" Lois shouted at Willow.

"I can't!" Willow protested. "It'll go blooey! But I fixed it ..."

The noise died down, the supernatural fire faded, and with a whuff of displaced air, a man appeared in the center of the pentagram. Willow stared, fighting mild disbelief. She'd been expecting an angel or some kind of minor godling for the force of good.

This was ... she stepped closer to him, brow wrinkling in confusion. This was a man. He looked human, though he couldn't possibly be mortal. He sat on a desk chair that had come through with him, looking a bit befuddled. His hands were raised as if he'd been typing on a keyboard when summoned. He had on glasses that were several years out of style. He wore a brown suit, also several years out of style, and a loud tie, and a badge hanging off his lapel that said "Press" in bold black letters. Mussed dark hair fell forward in his eyes, which were puppy-dog brown. He was handsome, appeared human -- his features were exotic but she couldn’t put a finger on his ancestry.

He stood up, moving with startling athleticism for someone who'd just been yanked across dimensions. He was surprised, but apparently not particularly disoriented. He had broad shoulders and the suit fit him very, very well. Willow realized he was quite attractive -- and not her type, but she fully expected a couple of slayers were going to be very impressed when they mopped up after the vampires.

He looked at her, wordlessly. Then he turned his attention to the Slayers, who had cornered the vampires against the wall and were beating at them with bits of splintered crates, trying to get killing blows in. Both vampires were looking the worse for wear.

The man glanced down, noted the charred dead body -- the girl they'd been unsuccessful in saving -- at his feet, and went several shades of pale. Suddenly, he moved, running with impressive speed. To Willow's horror, he grabbed both Slayers by the backs of their shirts and yanked them off the vampires. He jumped between the vampires and the Slayers, a hand held out towards each group in a "stop" motion.

"Just what is going on here?" He growled, staring first at the vampires -- who were in full game face -- and then at the Slayers. There was authority in his voice.

And then he froze, wavering, staring at ... Lois? Willow thought she saw the man mouth Lois' name with an expression of shock on his face.

"Out of the way!" Lois yelled at him, "Are you insane!"

The vampires did the predictable thing, which was attack him. He obviously didn't know anything about vampires, because one easily got past his startled attempt at defense and bit him.

"My fangs!" The vampire recoiled with a howl. The vampire doubled over, hands clapped over his mouth, blood streaming between them. From the vampire's pained expression, the blood was not the stranger's.

"He bit me!" The stranger said, sounding more astonished than frightened. Belatedly, he added, "Ow!" He clapped a hand over his neck.

Buffy shoved him aside, and impatiently dusted both vampires. The man continued to stare at Lois, with brief glances towards Willow, the pentagram on the ground, and the dead body. His expression was more confused now than when he'd come through the portal.

"Hi," Willow said, walking over. "I'm Willow Rosenburg. This is Buffy Summers. And that's ..."

"Lois Lane," the man breathed out. He blinked, shook his head, and straightened up, shoulders squaring. "I'm Clark Kent. And I take it this is another dimension, correct?"

Willow raised an eyebrow at him. "Exactly right."

"Gee, what was the giveaway?" Buffy grumbled, picking a stake up off the ground and shoving it in her pocket. "Willow, do we need to slay this guy too? Because he's awfully cute."

"You ... d-don't know me?" Clark said, in an odd tone of voice, to Lois. He was staring at her like she had grown a second head.

Lois tilted her head sideways, studying him for a moment. "Nope. I'd remember a face like yours anywhere."

Clark smiled, though it looked like a strained smile.

"No, don't kill him," Willow said. "I changed the spell. It pulled through a force for great good, not a force for evil. Umm. I think."

"Wil, he's a reporter," Buffy pointed out, with some consternation. She pointed at Clark's badge, hanging from his suit lapel. "You snagged a reporter with that spell. See? It says 'Press.'"

"Oh." Clark unclipped the badge from his suit and put it in his pocket. "Yeah. I was covering a political rally in Metropolis; they wanted all the reporters to wear badges. I work for the Metropolis Daily Planet."

"The who?" Lois said, blinking. "Must be a small paper."

"... and I take that to mean it doesn't exist in this universe." Clark scratched his head and adjusted his glasses. His hand had a wedding ring on it. "Umm, can I ask what's going on here? And what were those creatures?"

"Vampires," Willow said, helpfully. "We just stopped them from creating an apocalypse."

"... You were fighting vampires." He stated, doubtfully. His frown was back, and aimed at Lois.

"Vampires," Willow said. "Lois and Buffy are Slayers. I'm a witch. And don't worry, we'll get you home again, but I'll need to do a bit of research to figure out how."

"... Slayers." He was staring at Lois again, a frown on his face. "Slayers fight vampires."

"Vampire Slayers, that's us," Buffy agreed.

Somewhere nearby a police siren sounded. Willow winced. "Ack, the cops are on the way. We were a bit noisy fighting those guys. Let's get out of here!"

"Shouldn't you give a statement?" The man started to protest.

"Are you nuts?" Buffy grabbed his elbow and propelled him towards the door. Willow saw her muscles bunch; apparently the man was stronger than he looked, because he was resisting her efforts to hustle him away. His eyes widened, perhaps in reaction to Buffy's strength -- Willow suspected from her stance that she was putting considerable muscle into shoving him along. Normally, that much Slayer-strength would have sent the man flying into the nearest wall. "The vampires' spell killed that girl and now there are no vampires; the cops are going to pick the easiest explanation, which is that we did it! Go!"

The man moved, then. Willow got the distinct impression that he decided to allow Buffy to shove him along. They ran for the door and down the dark industrial street. Willow noted that the man had no problems keeping up with two Slayers; Willow's own lungs felt like they were about to burst before they reached the safety of a dark alley a mile away. He wasn't even winded.

Not human, she concluded, as she watched him. He wasn't even sweating despite the sweltering temperatures. She could feel trickles of perspiration running down her own face, and her shirt stuck uncomfortably to her back. I don't know what you are, buddy, but I doubt that spell would have chosen a human man. You're something Other.

"Willow, are you okay?" He asked her, brows knit in concern, when they stopped. The Slayers were obviously fine, but she had a stitch in her side and she was dying of the heat and humidity and she wasn't bothering to hide it.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Willow grumbled, hands propped on her knees and breath harsh in her throat. "I'm just not a Slayer. I'm a witch … 100% human."

"You're a magic user," he said, carefully. His brow was furrowed in doubt and dismay.

"Strictly on the side of the light, these days," Willow said, in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. She grinned at him, and was rewarded by a flash of a smile that lit his face up. Whatever he was, he wasn't particularly alarmed by being yanked through a portal and deposited in the middle of a fight with vampires and three women -- none of whom were normal women. "C'mon with us and we'll fill you in on the whole story and figure out how we're going to get you home."

+++++ *

Chapter 2

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"So Slayers are magically enhanced superheroes," Clark said, and then sipped at his cup of coffee. He'd listened to Giles' explanation with quiet interest; his questions had been intelligent, and he didn't seem surprised by much of what they'd told him. Granted, he'd gotten the Cliff Notes version of Slayer History, but Buffy was impressed by his calm attention.

"Pretty much, though I'm not wearing spandex tights when I go slay vampires!" Buffy said, with a laugh. "I guess you could call us that."

Willow's snicker of amusement made Buffy grin back. Willow suggested, "Hey, the demons might die laughing if you wore tights!"

Buffy groaned. "Only if I didn't die of humiliation first."

Clark smiled slightly. His eyes were twinkling behind his glasses. The man had a sense of humor that Buffy had quickly come to appreciate. "I dunno, Buffy, you'd look good in all black -- maybe with a pair of fangs and a stake embroidered on the chest. And a cape. A good superhero costume must have a cape."

Buffy pointed a finger at him, "That's just wrong and it's so not happening. Besides, we try to be discrete. People would notice if I ran around in a spandex costume."

"True," he agreed, with an open grin now. Buffy grinned back; it was almost impossible not to like a man with a smile like that. Or mistrust him. She'd initially had some qualms about telling their story to a reporter -- but Willow had pointed out he was a long way from home, and his paper didn't even exist here. They'd have him gone before he would have a chance to write and sell a freelance story, and in the meantime life would be much easier if they didn't have to hide things from him.

"So," Giles said, "What's your story?"

"Like I said, I'm a reporter," Clark said. Now there was a flash of -- Fear? In his brown eyes. Buffy didn't miss that. "That's pretty much my life. I've got a wife back home, and good friends, and a mother and father."

"You're remarkably calm about this for 'just a reporter'," Giles said, with friendly steel in his voice. "Willow thinks you're something more than human."

Yep, Buffy thought, that was fear in those brown eyes. He'd gone a couple shades paler. "R-really. I'm just a man. I'm not surprised by this because my world's just as weird as this one. -- Do you have Superman here?"

"Superman?" Buffy said, in confusion.

"A man who wears red and blue and flies through the sky under his own power, doing good deeds?"

"Um, no, not that I've ever noticed." Buffy shrugged. "Do you have vampires in your world?"

He shook his head. "Nope, not that I've ever noticed. -- Anyway, Superman's only one of lots of weird things in my world. I've written plenty of articles about strange stuff, and seen more things that I couldn't write about for fear someone might get hurt," Clark said. Buffy relaxed a bit at his casual mention of not putting everything into a story; he apparently had some common sense to go with his brains, sense of humor, and stunning good looks. "I've been involved too many times in weird and scary and threatening situations. As problems go, this isn't even in the top ten."

"Well, then, you just haven't been here long enough," Lois shouted from her computer in her living room, having evidently overheard his brief speech. "Give us time and we'll show you weird!"

He grinned, raised his voice a bit, and said, “I’ll bet you could!”

He turned his attention back to Buffy, "I was actually hoping to get home in a hurry. M-my friends are probably worried about me, and I've got an assignment due." He glanced at Lois as he said this, a look that held a fair amount of unspoken signficance. Buffy looked down at his ring, and frowned. Her Slayer intuition was telling her that there was a considerable amount that he wasn't saying.

Willow nodded agreement. "Giles? Got any suggestions for the safest way to send him back?"

Giles pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was silent in thought for a minute. "Can you sketch out the runes they were using?"

"Sure. Lois, got a pencil around here somewhere?" Willow asked.

"Here," Lois chucked the pencil at them and turned back to her book.

"Paper too?" Willow said.

Lois grumbled something that sounded rude and pulled several pieces out of her printer's paper tray. "Sure you guys can't get a hotel room or something? I'm on deadline here."

"Sorry, everything's booked up because of that car convention downtown," Willow said, apologetically. "We'll be quiet."

*And*, Buffy thought sourly, *This apartment is rented on the council's dime. Most Slayers share apartments anyway. She's only got a private apartment because she's the only Slayer in town.*

Clark muttered, "Some things never change."

"What doesn't change?" Giles asked, curiously, as Willow sketched.

"I know Lois in my universe," he admitted, with a grin that lit his eyes up. He looked at her again. "She is something else."

Buffy frowned. Surely not -- surely, this nice man ... and Mad Dog Lane? She glanced at his wedding ring. The Slayer who'd managed to piss off every Watcher they sent her so thoroughly that after six Watchers, including Andrew who was nearly impervious to insults, and after a year's trying, they'd given up and let her work solo?

Willow looked up sharply. Clearly, something similar had gone through her head at Clark's pronouncement. "There's two of them? Gods forbid we ever get them together in the same place; that might be a critical mass."

"Very funny!" Lois said, from her computer, without turning her back.

"Many more than just two," Clark shrugged. "There are a multitude of parallel universes, each one a little different from all the others. I've actually -- well, this isn't the first time something like this has happened to me. I've met my counterpart in another dimensions before."

Which explained why wasn’t having a major wig-out now, Buffy realized. It was amazing the things you got use to after a few rounds of the same-old same-old.

Willow said, "Actually, I've met my counterpart from another dimension also. Umm, not such a good meeting. She was scary."

Clark said, "She couldn't have been that bad. She's you."

"She wasn't. She was a vampire," Willow said, with distaste. “She was scary.”

"That's horrible!" Clark said, aghast at the idea. Buffy noted the real horror in his eyes. She was building a mental picture of a decent, honorable man, someone trustworthy, from his comments and reactions. Her Slayer intuition was chiming in with a warm and fuzzy assessment as well. Well, Willow had said that he was supposed to be a force of great good. Nothing especially surprising there.

Willow changed the subject. "How'd you get home before?"

"Science. Which isn't going to work here unless we can find the appropriate mad scientist with a machine to transport me through space and time. Wells *might*come after me eventually if I don’t turn up on my own but I’m not going to count on it. However, I have it on good authority that I do get home because I've met someone from my future." He shrugged and said with far more calm than Buffy thought she could have summoned in the same situation, "We'll figure something out."

"Here, Giles, this is what they used. And I made these," Willow had made a quick sketch of both sets of runes, "changes." She pushed the sheet of paper across the table at him.

Giles cleaned his glasses with his handkerchief then peered at the sketch. "Quick thinking, Willow. I never would have come up with that idea. This is a rather simple spell, but they would have used an Orb of Kritik to get things going, in addition to the book they took."

"I didn't see any orb or book," Willow frowned. "Do we need one to send him back?"

"The spell would have consumed the orb and the book, and yes, we do, if we want to get him to the proper plane of existence in one piece ... the orb is the hard part, I'll make some calls and see if we can get one. The book's the easy part; I've got a copy of the same book in my library in Cleveland. I'll have it Fedexed here. It's a common one." Giles stood up and walked onto the balcony; they'd already established that Lois' apartment had lousy cel phone reception inside.

Clark frowned when Giles took his phone out, looked over his glasses at it, then seemed to dismiss it. He said lightly, "One thing I'd like to do before I go home is find the other me."

Willow paused, then said, with some concern, "Clark, you might not like what you find."

Clark nodded agreement. "I know. But the other me needs to know some things."

He fiddled with his watch for a moment, winding it. Buffy pointed out, "You might freak the other you out."

"I seriously doubt it," Clark said, with a sudden grin. "Surprise him, maybe. If his life's anything like mine, though, his freak-out factor is pretty high."

"His life may be nothing like yours," Willow reminded him.

"True." Clark said. "Still. I'd like to find him. There are things he may need to know, and perhaps things he can tell me."

Buffy was also hesitant about the idea. It wasn't that she was worried about surprising the other Clark Kent; he'd get over the shock eventually. It was the fact that they'd disclosed their secret to this Clark Kent under the assumption that he would be leaving eventually. What if he told the other Clark Kent, who may also be something other than human? There was no guarantee he'd be a good guy.

Clark said, mildy, as if reading her mind, "Don't worry. I'm not so naive as to assume that the other Clark will be a Boy Scout like me. I won't tell him your secrets. That's your choice to do. Though if he is anything like me, you might find him a useful ally."

"What are you?" Willow said, frustrated by Clark's evasions. She knew very well that he was hiding something.

Buffy saw the same fear in the man's eyes. He stared at Willow, clearly trying to figure out how to answer a direct question. Without lying, Buffy suspected. Whatever he was, sharing his secrets wigged him out greatly. But her instincts told her that this was also a very, very honest man. She shook her head, "Clark, you can trust us."

"I'm just a man," Clark said, finally, and fell silent. The look on his face was mulishly stubborn. He'd clearly decided not to share whatever he was hiding.

Lois interjected, from her computer, "'Just a man' my ass. You're not human and we know it."

"Do I look like an alien?" Clark said, tone somewhat desperate.

Buffy blinked at him. He'd said alien, not demon. Which counted as a major clue; anyone she knew would have said, 'do I look like a demon?' She'd frankly been expecting to hear that he was a demon, and he was keeping the secret because he didn't want to get slain by two Slayers. "I don't know. I haven't met many aliens. You tell me what an alien looks like."

"I -- I need to get some air. Excuse me, ladies," Clark stood up, and headed for the door at almost a run.

"Oh, hell," Lois stood up from her computer and hurried after him. "Clark, wait. Don't mind them; they're being rude."

"Rude?" Buffy muttered under her breath. "I'll give her rude."

Clark stopped, hand on the door.

"I ... ladies, please. There's things I can't talk about and that I have no intention of telling you. Please, just give it a rest." He paused for a moment, hand on the doorknob, then he added, "Besides, this isn't my world and I'm not sure they're my secrets to tell. But I promise you, I'm no monster; I'm just a man."

Lois said, "They'll drop the subject. Right, Buffy?"

"Yeah, I guess," Buffy said, in a small voice. She didn't like being rebuked by Lois, but Lois was actually right. Clark's voice had held the strained irritation of a man who was trying to be polite but was stretched nearly to his limits.

Lois said shortly, "I'm hungry. I'm going to get something to eat. Does anyone else want to come?"

Giles waved from the balcony. "Go without me. I'm not hungry."

"I will," Clark said, "And -- uh, I should probably find a hotel room."

Lois pursed her lips together in a frown. She stared at the Buffy and Willow then with apparently reluctance, she said, "You can stay here, I guess."

"Oh, no -- I don't want to impose or make you uncomfortable," Clark said, diffidently. He held the door open for Lois as they walked out.

"Don't worry about it. They," Lois jerked her thumb over her shoulder at Buffy and Willow, "Are crashing here anyway. The more the merrier."

Buffy rolled her eyes at Willow, communicating her opinion of Lois' attitude. Her tone of voice indicated that having the others as guests was *not* a merry thing. She resolved to tell Willow later about her analogy between Lois and blowfishes.

"You don't sound happy about the company," Clark observed, quietly.

"I'm on deadline on my book," Lois's expression was frustrated. "I figured they'd be gone in the morning. Now they're staying over."

Annoyed at Lois' attitude, Buffy spoke up, "There isn't a free hotel room in the city, Lois, because of that car convention. We can fly out of here in a few days with Clark, when the next flight to Cleveland has available seats, but until then, we have to rely on your hospitality. Would you like us to sleep on park benches? "

"If I could finish my novel by deadline, yes," Lois grumbled.

Clark, to Buffy's amusement, laughed at Lois. "Some things never change. I'm sure you'll get your book out and the publisher will love it."

"You haven't even read anything by me. You're not even from this universe. How the hell would you know if my publisher will love it?" Lois demanded, irritably, as they waited for the elevator. Buffy was mildly surprised that she hadn't taken his head off for laughing at her.

"The Lois in my world has won three Kerths," Clark informed her, with a grin.

Lois Lane mumbled something unintelligible as Clark held the elevator door open for all three women.

+++++

Clark walked, his hands in his pockets, behind the women. He contemplated his unexpected companions. Lois wasn't even bothering to be nice, Buffy had clearly been biting back barbed comments of her own, and Willow had been dead quiet. Only hunger had was drawing them together for a meal.

Buffy was a born leader; that was quite obvious. Clark watched the woman as she walked a few strides ahead of him. She carried herself with authority and strength beyond her years; he thought she was in her late twenties but looked younger. She also had delightfully snarky sense of humor that had cropped up a few times when she was talking about past opponents.

She was someone used to commanding others and fighting secret wars. He'd realized that simply from the brief history he'd been given.

Giles said Slayers had unusual strength, coordination, and rapid healing abilities, a certain amount of invulnerability to injuries, plus better than normal intuition. He'd also alluded to mystical gifts that nobody fully understood. These weren't Kryptonian level abilities, by any definition, but Buffy had given him a good hard shove and he'd been impressed by that. Her strength was definitely way above normal.

Willow, the witch, was an enigma. She was quiet, but when she spoke, Buffy listened. She also claimed her powers were magic, though Clark figured at a certain level of ability, the difference between science and magic was academic. His own powers could be considered magic, by certain definitions, as well. He certainly couldn't completely explain them using known physics.

And then there was Lois.

She was a Lois who was somehow hurting far more than his Lois ever had. Those dark eyes were full of anger and this Lois was older, harder, more contemptuous of life. He saw no sign of her sister or others in her family -- not even a photograph -- and he was afraid to ask. There were no photographs of friends or family in her apartment. It was obvious that this world's Clark had never found her. When he contemplated a life without Lois, and the obvious pain this world's Lois was in, his heart hurt for both of them. They needed each other; he knew that with a deep conviction. He and Lois were soulmates, regardless of the universe they were in..

She'd never known the family that was the Planet, either. What little of her history that he'd put together based on offhand comments from the others seemed to indicate that she'd dropped out of college, had bounced from bad job to bad job, and now made a living writing supernatural thrillers. The Watcher's Council paid for her apartment; they paid for housing, weapons, and medical expenses for all of their Slayers. The books paid for everything else she needed.

Willow had done something involving major magic about three years previously which had made every Potential manifest as a Slayer and Lois had been one of the Potentials. However, Lois hadn't been identified by Buffy’s organization until about eighteen months ago -- and had promptly pissed off most of Buffy's people who had tried to work with her. She’d been on her own for about six months. He got the distinct impression that the others respected, but did not like, Lois much. And from the behavior he’d seen so far Lois had earned that dislike.

Somehow, that didn't surprise him. Lois under the best of circumstances was hard to work with; he knew that all too well. But her attitude worried him, because it was obvious they dealt with some pretty serious trouble, and Buffy had told him the life expectancy on a Slayer was typically short. They lived heroic but very hard lives. Lois needed allies -- she needed Superman, maybe more than the Lois in his world did. Darn it, where was this world's Clark, anyway?

It had been 1996 in his universe. He contemplated his surroundings as they walked down the street, well aware that he was somewhere in the future as well as thrown into another dimension. The cars were sleeker, rounder. Every single one of his companions had a cel phone, and the cel phones were a third the size of the ones he was used to. The one he'd seen Giles open had a fancy color display. The internet was mentioned multiple times in casual conversation, and he saw domain names everywhere -- billboards, advertisements, corporate logos. Google was mentioned in the context of doing research on sending him home -- Giles had confessed to not knowing a particular rune, and needing a book to find it, and Willow had said, "I'll just Google it. I'm sure it's on the internet somewhere." -- what was a Google?

Lois' desktop computer had been much smaller, and it had a large, sleek color screen -- not a monitor, but a two inch thick panel. She also had a very large TV that hung on her living room wall like something out of a science fiction movie, and he'd caught a passing reference to a movie recorded on a DVD. What was a DVD?

Fashions were markedly different; it seemed the 70's had made a comeback and the 80's were being hinted at.

"What year is this?" He asked, catching up with Buffy.

"2006," she replied. "Why?"

"Ten years?" He said, a little surprised. "Feels like it should have been longer. I guess Lois doesn't look that much older."

Buffy made a politely curious noise.

"It was 1996 in my universe. I suppose it's not important, just interesting." He walked with his hands in his pockets, looking around with interest.

"Make sure Willow knows," Buffy said. Willow had gone ahead of them, and was walking with quick steps in the lead. "She'll need to make sure to put you back in approximately the same time."

"Yeah. It would upset my friends if I was gone ten years." Lois! He thought, suddenly scared at the thought that he wouldn't get back to the same time. Would she wait ten years for him? Did he want her to wait that long, alone? He hadn't thought about the implications before. He wasn't sure what was worse, the idea of Lois being alone for ten years or of returning home to find Lois in a relationship with someone else because they'd assumed him dead.

For that matter he'd disappeared in mid keystroke from his desk at the Daily Planet. He was more than a little curious about how Lois was explaining his sudden absence.

Buffy said, "Don't worry. Willow's the best there is. She'll figure it out."

"Where's she going?" Clark asked, watching in surprise as Willow, several paces ahead of them, turned down a dark and rancid smelling alley.

"It's her turn at bait," Buffy said, with a smile. She slowed down, then stopped a few feet from the mouth of the alley, leaning against the wall. Lois was glaring at her.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at her. "What?"

"I patrol these alleys every night. This is my home turf. You think there are ..."

"Vampires here?" Buffy cut in. "Smart ones, wary ones, probably. I've had the same problem at times. They figure out what you look like and they're harder to catch."

"I thought we were going for dinner," Clark said, confused.

"We are." Buffy shrugged.

Lois said grimly, and with something that sounded like frustration, "Killing vampires is our sacred chosen duty, yadda yadda. Therefore, pizza comes second."

"Has anyone ever tried to ... work with ... vampires?" Clark said. "Give them an alternative to murder and mayhem? Perhaps they're just killing people because they're hungry."

Buffy started to shake her head; Clark suspected her response would have been polite. Lois just hooted a laugh. "Work with them? Without exception, they're evil, Clark. You can't trust them!"

Buffy's sigh sounded very weary to Clark's ears. "Lois is right, Clark. Mostly, anyway."

"Mostly?" He said.

"Pretty much always." He thought she was, if not lying, at least obfuscating the truth. She tossed her hair back and looked up at him. For a moment, he saw something change in her eyes, but he couldn't identify the emotion because it was gone so quickly. She said, firmly, "They kill people because they like to."

"I can't believe that. Not a whole race of monsters. Maybe some are, but there have to be exceptions." He shook his head in denial. It felt wrong to condemn to death an entire race because some of them were violent monsters.

Lois patted him on the chest as she walked past him to peer down the alley. With a smirk, she said, "You'll learn different, if you're here long enough."

Willow's scream made both Slayers launch into action. "Told you so!" Buffy shouted at Lois as they bolted around the corner.

Clark brought up the rear, reluctantly. He really didn't want to see this -- but he couldn't let the women risk their life without helping them. Particularly Lois.

Willow had screamed, but, he discovered, she was far from defenseless. They came around a corner in the alley just in time to see a vampire poof into dust. Three others surrounded her -- they whipped around in surprise as the Slayers arrived.

"Shit! It's the Slayer!" One shouted. "Let's get out of ..."

Clark didn't even see Buffy move, but suddenly, she was blocking the vampire's escape. Lois neatly stepped up behind them, a stake in hand, as Buffy said, "Didn't your mother ever teach you it's rude to attack and run?"

One of the vampires answered with a snarl and lunged at her. The second went for Lois, and the third charged at him, teeth bared in a rictus of rage. He ducked away, caught the vampire by its -- her -- wrists, and shoved it against the wall face-first. He held her there from behind, careful not to exert too much strength. The vampire was strong, and she was spitting curses at him.

He looked back in time to see Buffy and Lois busy with the slayage of the other two vampires.

He leaned forward and said in his meanest voice, "I'm going to let you go. I don't agree with what they're doing. But you will seriously regret it if touch another human -- another sentient being -- again. Do you understand?"

The vampire shut up. She peered back at him. The terrible vampire face disappeared and she looked human now. Blue eyes, blond hair, high cheekbones -- she was model pretty. And very young. He wished he could simply take her to the police but what would the police do here? If they didn't know about vampires, that would be putting the cops in danger. If they did know about vampires, they might kill her, or worse -- Giles' explanation of their world last night had included allusions to government experiments on vampires.

"Do you understand what I am saying? I want you to start a new life. No more killing people. Promise me you'll do that and I'll let you go."

She nodded, and in a voice that tore at his heart -- she didn't look much older than sixteen or seventeen -- she begged, "Don't kill me! Please!"

"Go," he released her. She bolted. He figured he'd find her later and discuss the matter with her; he would try to find her alternatives to her current life.

He glanced back at the others in time to see Lois slay her opponent. He winced. There had to be a better way. Vampires were clearly sentient beings and that meant they could be reasoned with.

Buffy was still fighting with her vampire. Despite his misgivings about her claimed calling he couldn't help but be impressed. Her opponent had a good seventy five pounds and twelve inches of height on her and she was clobbering him. He started to go intervene -- and he was not looking forward to Buffy's reaction -- when a motion caught his attention.

A man stood in the shadows of a Dumpster. If not for Clark's superhuman vision, he never would have seen him. He was watching the fight with interest. The man was thin, perhaps a bit too thin. Wavy brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail. Very fair skin. Black jeans, work boots, and a black shirt. Clark paused, unsure if this man was a friend, a foe, or just a curious spectator.

The man's eyes met his. The man's eyebrows rose -- Clark noted one eyebrow was scarred. He knew Clark had seen him and was surprised. The man turned, and ducked between two buildings in a hurry.

Buffy dusted the last vampire with a flourish and a witty remark that he didn't quite catch. Something about party. He frowned in innate disapproval of joking about killing things, even monsters.

"What?" Lois said, from beside him. "Did you see something?"

He realized he was staring after the man. Something about him bugged Clark; he couldn't put a finger on it. He said, "A man was there. Watching us."

"Where?" Buffy joined him.

"He was in the shadows. I just saw him for a second."

"What did he look like?" Buffy asked.

"Wavy brown hair -- he had it pulled back in a pony tail with a silver clasp. Down past his shoulders. Wore all black. Very fair skinned. You girls would probably think he was good looking," Clark said.

Buffy said, "Doesn't sound like anyone I know. Probably just curious about the fight. What happened to the other vampire?"

"She got away," Clark said, with his fingers crossed. He didn't feel like having a discussion about the nature of vampires with Buffy just yet; he wanted to prove his theories first. He got the impression he'd be here for awhile until they gathered the materials needed to send him home.

+++++

Dinner was somewhat strained, though he managed to make casual conversation with Willow and Buffy over pepperoni pizza. He found out that Buffy did an amazing ditzy blond act, and she did it often enough that he thought it was something of a cover for her nocturnal activities. Who would suspect a bubbly Valley girl of being anything other than a cute blond airhead?

Or maybe it wasn't entirely an act. As she relaxed a bit in his presence more of the ditz appeared. Maybe this was the real Buffy. She was, truthfully, a bit hard to figure.

Willow was friendly to both him and Lois -- he suspected she was innately friendly. She was someone who cared about what others thought. A nice woman, overall, though he'd seen her slay a vampire without even hesitating in the fight earlier.

Lois was prickly and silent, though Willow occasionally got a polite response out of her. She also kept glancing his way with curiosity that he didn't entirely feel comfortable with. This was Lois, just not his Lois, though somewhere out there he hoped there was a Clark for her. He didn't want her attracted to him; it would only lead to trouble. He did hope she'd count him as a friend before they left. This was going to be a fine balancing act.

He was on his fourth slice of pizza when a distant scream caught his attention. He didn't even think about his reaction; he simply stood up and said, "I've got to use the men's room. I'll be right back, ladies."

It only took a second to spin into the Suit in the alley behind the pizza place. He was airborne in a heartbeat, zooming between skyscrapers and down an alley, following a trail of terrified screams. He was almost on top of the attack when he realized the person screaming was a man.Despite the speed of his rescue the screams cut off as he came around the corner.

He only had a heartbeat to see that a vampire was crouched over a man. The man was slumped against a wall, not moving.

Clark barreled into the vampire and knocked her flying. Horrified, he pinned her down with one hand and stared at the man's face. Blood poured in a crimson cascade down the young man's chest. His breath bubbled in his throat. And he looked achingly, alarmingly, familiar.

"Jimmy?" Clark breathed. A Jimmy who was ten years older, but definitely and indisputably *Jimmy.*

He stared down at the vampire in his hands. He had to do it. He had to kill it. Then he had to take Jimmy to the hospital, immediately.

The vampire stared up at him. The monstrous face disappeared and he realized that this was the vampire he'd let go earlier. She was young, just a teenage girl ... she was crying, great tears of terror. He couldn't do it.

He froze, unable to let her go to kill someone else, unable to go to Jimmy -- and paralyzed with the knowledge that this was his fault. Buffy had told him vampires were monsters; he'd not believed it and now Jimmy was laying in a pool of his own blood, throat torn out, and it was his fault.

"Are you going to kill that vampire or not?" A voice said, richly accented British, above him. He looked up, startled, as a man dropped off a fire escape next to him. It was the pony-tailed stranger from earlier.

"My ... Jimmy ..." Clark couldn't quite form words. He couldn't think. He realized he was gaping like an utter fool.

The man gave him a disgusted look and stripped out of his black t-shirt. He wadded it against Jimmy's throat then said, "Bloody hell. Where's Buffy?"

"Back ... at the restaurant ... I think." Clark said.

"This guy needs to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. You think you can fly him there? I saw you land." The man sighed. He offered, "I'll deal with Tootsie there."

"Uh, yeah," Clark shoved the vampire at the man, who caught her neatly, produced a stake seemingly from thin air, and dusted her, all in one smooth move. Clark's stomach churned at what he'd just done. He'd caused the creature's death by giving her to the man. And his stomach rolled more at what his previous actions had caused.

Clark grabbed Jimmy up -- this world's Jimmy, not his Jimmy, but the difference was academic -- and leaped skyward. Jimmy's body was cold against his, and blood soaked through the t-shirt and covered his hands. It took him barely ten seconds to get Jimmy to the closest hospital and deposit him on a stretcher in the hotel's emergency room. Ten more seconds to explain to a very startled nurse that Jimmy had been bitten by "something." Ten more seconds to return to the alley.

The man was walking away, thumbs in his jeans pocket, bare chest very pale in the dark of the alley. He was rail thin and his chest bore burn scars. Clark landed next to him and said, shortly, "Who are you?"

"Nobody important." The man shrugged. His lips quirked up in a mocking smile. "Who are you, Spandex Man?"

"They call me Superman."

"I imagine Buffy does, at any rate," the man said, with a snort of amusement. "She always knew how to pick them. Still, you're probably an improvement over Peaches. And the Immortal. And Soldier Boy."

"I'm not," Clark said. "I'm not in any kind of relationship with Miss Summers."

He was suddenly nauseated by the realization that if Jimmy died it was his fault. He barely heard the man as he continued to speak, "What sort of demon are you, anyway? I've never heard of anything like you."

"I'm not a demon," he said, dimly. His pizza was threatening to come back up in reaction to what he'd caused. "I'm from another planet called Krypton."

The man's eyebrows went up. "Explains your fashion sense, anyway. Well, chum, I've got to be going. See you around."

Clark could have followed him between two buildings if he'd wanted to, but he didn't. He didn't know what to do, frankly; had he been home, he'd have called his parents, or Lois, and spilled his grief and guilt in their laps. But he wasn't home. He was desperately alone here.

+++++

Clark didn't sleep much that night after returning to Lois' apartment; he woke after a very brief nap and spent most of the night sitting on Lois' balcony, staring out at a city that was achingly familiar yet painfully not his own. The skyline was almost the same. The rules were very different.

He sat watching the sunrise and he mulled over his encounter with the stranger. The man had obviously known a great deal about monsters and demons in this world because he'd commented that he'd never seen anything like Clark. Who -- or, in this world, *what,* was he? He couldn't ask Buffy without giving away his rescue.

With a sudden and belated cold stab of fear he realized that the stranger *knew who he was.* Or, at least, he knew that Clark and Superman were one and the same. Because he'd assumed that Superman was in a relationship with Buffy (and why had he assumed that?) and he'd never seen Superman with Buffy. He'd only seen Clark with Buffy.

How in the world had he figured that out? Clark had never had anyone figure the secret out like that.

And was Jimmy going to be okay?

Clark had resisted the urge to return to the hospital as himself or as Superman. This world didn't have a Superman and his appearance as Superman would generate more questions than he was currently willing to answer. Appearing as himself would be inexplicable given that Jimmy didn't know him in this universe -- unless, by some miracle, Jimmy and this world's Clark did know each other. And if people here assumed he was the other Clark that could cause a different sent of complications.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, under his glasses, then took them off to wipe away smudges. When the balcony door slid open next to him he reacted with instinct, jamming the glasses back onto his nose and leaping to his feet.

Buffy blinked at his sudden movement. She was dressed in flannel pajamas and only looked half awake, though he noted she'd reacted to his motion with a defensive crouch. This was a woman who'd fought hard and long much of her life. She straightened and relaxed when he merely stood looking at her. "Good morning."

"Uh. Morning." He failed to see what was good about it.

"Willow's making breakfast. Are you hungry?" Buffy yawned.

He wasn't, but he'd eat to be polite. "Yeah, sure."

"You've been out here all night. Are you okay?" She sounded concerned.

"I ... this isn't my world. I'm feeling a bit out of sorts," he confessed.

She gave him a sympathetic look. "We're going to hit some shops around town for some of the supplies we need to send you home. Do you want to come?"

He nodded, and followed her into the apartment. Lois was awake, barely, staring moodily at the enormous TV hanging on her wall. Willow was making pancakes. Giles was reading a paper.

He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the kitchen counter. Without thinking, he made Lois a cup also, and set it down beside her. She looked up at him, surprised, "What's this?"

"You look beat. You were up until about two AM working on your novel." He calculated she'd had about four hours of sleep.

"You were up all night too," she pointed out.

"I slept a couple of hours. Homesick, mostly." He shrugged.

She sipped the coffee, and gave him an approving smile. "The other Lois takes her coffee the same way?"

He nodded.

"What's she like?"

He grinned, he couldn't help it. Lois' eyes narrowed; clearly, that grin had given something away. He said, "We've been friends for years."

"More than friends." She glanced at the ring on his finger.

"Friends first. Married, later," he admitted. He hadn't wanted to, it could complicate things, but she'd asked. And he couldn't lie to her -- couldn't lie to either of them -- anymore. That inevitably complicated things even more than telling the truth.

"I'm not her," she said, shortly, and he sensed her defenses coming up. She set the coffee down.

"No. You're not." He sipped his coffee and spoke carefully, not wanting to spook her. "I miss her; I cannot wait to return home to her. She's the center of my world."

"I hope she knows how lucky she is," Lois said, relaxing.

"I'm incredibly lucky to have her." Clark said, softly.

Lois said with a short and bitter laugh, "Then she's definitely not me!"

By implication, she was saying that nobody would be lucky to have *her.* Clark winced and put his hand out instinctively, covering Lois' fingers on the table. "Don't say that. There's someone out there for you too."

"Bah. I've never bought the whole soulmate-for-everyone crap. I've got a nasty temper, an arrogant streak, and a bad attitude. A man would have to be a saint to live with me." Lois pulled her hand free from his, and stood up, discussion evidently at an end. She walked into her living room where she changed the TV channel to LNN.

"... Olsen, owner of Olsen Publishing, is in stable condition after an apparent attack by some kind of wild animal. Doctors are not certain if he'll make it. A mystery surrounds his arrival at the hospital; a strange man, wearing a blue costume, delivered him to the emergency room as you can see in this video ..."

Clark stood up, fists balling, thinking *he's stable,* as the news story switched to grainy surveillance camera footage. Superman charged through the doors, dropped Jimmy on a stretcher, and ran out again.

"Jimmy's my editor ..." Lois said, sitting down hard on the couch. "Oh, God. I wonder what he tangled with?"

"Vampire, probably. Who's the guy in the tights?" Buffy asked.

Lois picked up a remote labeled "TIVO" and, to Clark's surprise, rewound and then froze the image of Superman on the screen. She squinted at the screen. "Nobody I know. Man, look at that butt, though!"

"Lousy fashion sense," Buffy snorted, to Clark's chagrin. "He looks like a clown in that outfit, or a nine year old who's mother made the costume for Halloween."

"Ah, he hardly looks like a nine year old, Buffy," Lois grinned.

"True." Buffy paused the image. Both Slayers regarded the frozen picture of Superman with heads tilted to the side, interest obvious. Buffy agreed, "He's definitely all male."

Clark realized he was blushing and took a long swig from his coffee. He hoped the women didn’t notice his embarrassment. This was humiliating. Also, flattering.

Willow said lightly, "Down girl. Down."

Buffy said, "Buffy see hot male demon. Buffy want hot male demon."

Willow swatted her friend on the arm. "Cut it out. You're scaring me."

“Hey, my city, I get first dibs!” Lois said. Then she frowned, the amusement fading from her voice.

"Wonder if he's the one who hurt Jimmy?" Lois sounded dangerous when she said that. "Jimmy's one of the few decent people in this city. He's just an ordinary guy. I'm going to kill whoever or whatever hurt him. Slowly. Painfully ..."

"I doubt Superman was the culprit," Clark said, finding his voice.

"*Superman*?" Lois said, incredulously. "That's the Superman you mentioned?"

"Yeah. That's him." Clark spoke very carefully. He was treading on thin ice here; these people were smart, they were used to dealing with the unnatural and superhuman, and he was scared they were going to figure out who or what he was. The excrement would hit the fan if they found out he'd lied to them about Superman. When he found the other Clark things might get even more interesting …

"Arrogant bastard, to go by that handle," Lois growled.

Clark didn't think now was the time for humor, given Lois' revelation that she knew Jimmy -- and probably knew him fairly well. But he said mildly, "Superman didn't name himself. My Lois named him because he didn't have a name and they needed to call him something in the paper. The costume's deliberately gaudy; he's actually a pretty humble guy. He just wanted something really noticeable for the costume so people wouldn't associate Superman with him in real life."

Lois snorted. "I can't believe I'd call anyone Superman."

He shrugged and asked, "Do you want to go visit Olsen?"

Lois swallowed hard. When she looked at him her eyes were suspiciously bright. "I'm not family. I don't think they'd let me in."

"So sneak in," he said, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world to do. His Lois wouldn't even have hesitated. "Lie or something. Say you’re his sister. Besides, Jimmy in my world doesn't have any family in town. His dad travels a lot and might be hard to reach."

"You know him?" She said, surprised. "And no, he doesn't have any family here, either. He hasn't spoken to his father in years; his mother died when he was a kid. Only child."

"Yeah," Clark said. Guilt threatened to swallow him whole. "We're good friends. You should go."

"So tell me about this Superman," Buffy said, conversationally, as she watched the tape play through again on about the third rewind. At some point she'd claimed the remote from Lois.

"He's from the planet Krypton," Clark said, promptly. This was safe territory. "He's got superhuman speed -- he can break the sound barrier in flight -- and is pretty much invulnerable to injuries. His body's much denser than human ...

*Let's not tell anyone in this world about Kryptonite. With any luck the only person in this world who will know about that is Clark himself when I find him.*

He gave a brief, wholly accurate, and clinical description of Superman's abilities. Buffy listened quietly, but her joking demeanor quickly faded and he sensed she was extremely unhappy. Giles, behind her, was looking a bit constipated. Willow was frowning. When he was done, it was Willow who spoke first.

"What about magic?"

"What do you mean?" He asked, wary.

"Can he be harmed by magic?" Willow asked, bluntly. The four of them exchanged glances.

"Superman," Clark said, very distinctly and carefully, "Is a force of good."

The truth was that he was pretty sure he was vulnerable to some extent to magic; he certainly could be harmed by voodoo. But he didn’t want them to know.

"Yes, and what you just described is a man with the powers of a God. Power corrupts, Clark," Buffy scowled at the screen and replayed the brief image again. "The last time I went up against a God I got killed and a bunch of people got hurt."

Willow agreed with an exceedingly grim tone in her voice. "I know all too well how corrupting power like that can be. It's addicting, worse than any chemical drug out there. Will magic hurt him?"

"I honestly have no idea how he‘d stack up in a magical battle compared to the average human," Clark admitted. That was safe enough. "But I don't think it's going to be an issue, except, maybe, if Superman comes up against black magic of some kind. He'll be on your side."

*One hopes,* Clark thought, quietly, to himself. He still hadn't found the other Clark.

He realized Buffy had said something a little odd with belated curiosity. "Killed you?"

"Her name was Glory," Buffy said, giving Clark a look that seared. He'd seen unexpected pain in those eyes, and soul-deep wounds which had not and might never fully heal. "The powers you describe are remarkably similar to what she had. I ... they brought me back. From heaven. Later. Because they needed me. But yeah, she killed me. I'm not afraid of death again, but I am terrified of a force that powerful loose in the world."

Clark said with as much assurance as he could muster in his voice, "Superman will *not* be a villain, Buffy. He'll be an ally. You'll see."

"It would have been nice to have someone like that on your side when you were fighting Glory, Buffy." Lois pointed out, with some optimism in her voice.

Buffy said shortly, and with something that sounded like exasperation, "Clark, I hope you're right. I don't need another Big Bad in my life right now."

+++++

Elsewhere in the city, Bobby Bigmouth looked up as a woman entered his restaurant. His brows rose in surprise at her appearance. She was tall, thin, and, well, blue. She had blue highlights in her hair, blue eyes -- and not in any normal shade of blue, those had to be contacts -- and some sort of armored body suit as well. It was a rusty red color though he didn't think it was metal. It looked like the carapace on a beetle.

She walked right up to him and said shortly, "I understand you know things."

"Sometimes. But there's a price." He grinned at her.

With lightning speed she reached over the counter, grabbed him by the lapels, and yanked him airborne. He found himself suspended in the air at arm's length. Belatedly, he realized she wasn't human -- probably one of those demons he tried hard to avoid. Demons were trouble. He only dealt with humans if he could help it.

"Hey, easy!" He protested.

"I'm looking for The Key."

"I know a bunch of good locksmiths. I can get you any key you want! Special deal for a pretty lady. I'll get it for you free. Just ... put ... me down...." His heart was pounding wildly in his chest.

"Not a mortal Key, you insignificant gnat." She tossed him casually to the ground and stood towering over him. Bobby was aware that most of the restaurant's patrons were hastily leaving. "I seek a Key to open doors between time and space. I understand you know things. Where is a Key such as this?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, lady. Now, if you want to know who's going to win tonight's boxing match between Gonzales and Albert the Giant, I can tell you that. The match is rigged, I tell you, rigged ..."

"Pah. Useless man." She kicked him with so much force that he flew backwards into the wall. He *heard* his ribs crunch and his arm snap. Pain. Agony. Then nothing, as he blackness rose up and swallowed him whole.

The blue-haired woman stood motionless in the middle of the restaurant for several minutes before walking to the door. The door said "Pull." She pushed at it. When it failed to open, she tore it off its hinges, casually tossed it aside, and walked without concern for a block before she suddenly and unexpectedly morphed into a rail-thin and somewhat mousy human woman.

"I will find more on the internet," she said, grimly. "I must find The Key to open a portal to what was. What is now is most unsatisfactory."

+++++

Chapter 3

+++++

"There's over fifteen thousand Clark Kents in the US alone," Willow said, sounding frustrated. Clark had asked her to help him search; his relatively common name didn’t make things easy. Still, he was a Kerth-award winning investigative journalist and Willow was, by the accounts of her friends, one of the most potent witches in this world. He was optimistic that they could track the other Clark down even if he proved harder to find than simply calling the Kents in Smallville.

She sat at Lois' computer, fingers dancing skillfully over a keyboard. Clark was quite impressed with the amount of information available on the internet now, compared to what had been there in his world in 1996. Computers were also faster and Lois' connection was lightning quick. She got it through her cable TV connection, he’d learned.

Cable hadn’t changed much. There were 400 channels instead of 40, and LNN had been replaced by an apparent clone, CNN, (and nobody had heard of Lex Luthor) but he still had a hard time finding anything worth watching on the TV. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised by this.

Clark suggested, "I'm from Smallville, Kansas. We should start the search there. It's a *small* town -- that should make things much easier."

Willow pulled a site up; he realized after a moment's surprise that it was a genealogy site. He raised his eyebrows at the familiarity she showed with the site -- apparently she was used to doing research of the mundane kind as well as of the supernatural kind. The site proved to have birth certificate information on for the entire state of Kansas. She searched for "Clark Kent" and "Smallville" and found nothing.

He had a brief pang of worry at that. What if he didn't exist at all in this universe? It was certainly possible, though his gut instinct said it was improbable.

"What are your parents' names?" Willow asked.

"Jonathon and Martha Kent," he said, promptly.

Cross referencing his parents's names found nothing on his double, though they found records for both his parents. In his world, they were on his birth certificate because the birth certificate was forged by a sympathetic doctor.

"I'm adopted," he said, reluctantly.

"Do you know what your birth mother's name was?"

"You won't find her in anything online." He shook his head. That was a total dead end for reasons he couldn't elaborate to Willow. Fortunately, Willow didn't press the point. She did give him a curious look. He was a little surprised that she didn’t have any more questions about that -- then remembered that these people were convinced that he was something other than human. Willow had probably just drawn the logical conclusion that his mother wasn’t going to be found in any human database because she wasn’t human.

Damnit, he was treading on very thin ice here if he wanted to keep his secret (and Bill’s secret) safe. He wasn’t dealing with an office full of mundane and oblivious colleagues; these were people whose lives consisted of dealing with the strange and the supernatural.

However, she simply she asked, "Where did you got to college?"

"Midwestern," he said, "I was on the football team, too. Do you think they have a website?"

She shrugged and went to Classmates.com -- a search of his graduation year, and a couple years before and after, found two Clark Kents and a Kent Clark. More searching found Web sites for two and a blog -- which turned out to be an online diary -- for the third. Two sites had photos that definitively proved they were not his double. The third guy's profile mentioned growing up in Florida and a sister named Julie. That was obviously not the right person either.

"Classmates isn't comprehensive," Willow said. "He may just not have registered on it. Many people don't."

Clark ran a hand through his hair. "Any other ideas?"

"Sure. I could spend all day at this," Willow said. "In fact ..."

She searched Smallville's property tax records online and found nothing. "Well, at least we know he doesn't own property in Smallville."

"He could be anywhere." Clark felt like pulling his hair out in frustration. "I traveled the world before I settled down in Metropolis. And I mean, really, the entire world. Never stayed more than a few months in one place."

Willow asked, with curiosity, "What made you stop in Metropolis?"

"Not what, who," he responded, quietly, fingering his wedding ring. He missed her so very much. For a moment, he was desperately homesick and lonely. He’d have given a great deal for a hug -- or a barbed and pointed remark -- from his Lois. Perhaps followed by a kiss, and …

Willow cleared her throat, drawing him back to reality. She glanced at his ring, then gave him a small smile. "I can try a few locater spells if you'd like, but given that none of us actually know the other Clark or have anything of his, I'm not sure how effective they'll be."

"Magic," he breathed out. "It's worth a try, I suppose."

An hour later they established, *Not very effective at all*

Though he’d been fascinated by the process. He got the sense that Willow didn’t exactly take magic for granted, but she was comfortable using it.

The spells insisted that Clark was in Metropolis -- and she narrowed the spell down to a several city block area around Lois' apartment. Willow wasn't sure if that meant that this universe's Clark was practically underfoot, or if the Clark sitting in front of her was confusing the magic. "You guys may have auras so similar as to be indistinguishable. Or he may have landed here just like you did."

"Great," Clark rolled his eyes. "He could be here. There's tens of thousands of people living within a few miles of this apartment. Too bad the spell can't be more specific."

"Sorry. Not without having something of his," Willow apologized.

He blew a sharp breath out. "I think I want to pay a visit to my par... the Kents, in Smallville."

"Don't you think that might alarm them?" Willow said with some concern.

Clark smiled. "They're strong people. They'll deal with it."

"What will you tell them when you talk to them?" Willow asked

"That I'm looking for my twin brother. I’m adopted and I can guarantee that they won’t know anything much of my past. It’d be a plausible story -- for all they know, there could easily be two of us. That’s the story I’ll stick with least until I know what the status is here. My own parents already know about alternate dimensions; I may be able to tell his as well without a problem. We'll see." He stood up, reluctantly. He‘d thought the story over and had decided to go with “twin brother“ simply because it was closest to the truth. Genetically, they were twins. He just wasn‘t disclosing the entire truth! "Before I go, though, there's some ... research ... I want to do at the library."

"I'll take you there," Willow offered. She stood up.

He gave her a short smile. "It's okay, Willow. This Metropolis is a lot like my home city. I think I can find the library. I've got enough money for the subway, even."

+++++

So it wouldn't be a lie he did go to the Metropolis Library, but that was mostly to find out if there was a Clark Kent registered there. He pretended to have lost his card and the librarian looked him up by name; she found a dozen Clark Kents in the system. He saw and memorized the addresses for all of them by leaning on the counter and looking charming as she worked. He picked a Clark at random to stand in for himself, paid for the replacement card, then tossed it in the garbage on his way out.

A quick change into the Suit and a quick flight by each address didn't help. He'd try again later; it was the middle of the work day right now.

Smallville was up next. He had decided to fly there rather than simply calling his -- or rather, the other Clark's -- parents. This was the sort of thing that might need a personal touch.

The first clue that something was wrong was the state of disrepair of the Kent family farm. He frowned as he landed behind the barn. Nothing had been painted in years. The barn roof was badly in need of repair. His father's prized antique Ford 9N tractor was cultivating only cobwebs in a corner of the barn; the tires were flat and the body rusting. It hadn't run in a very long time.

Fences were sagging. The harvest was in, at least; the fields were prickly with corn stubble. Somebody was farming here, although not very well.

He walked up to the front door and knocked. Given the state of the farm he was honestly a little surprised when his mother opened the door. And not necessarily relieved; his parents had always run a tight ship where the farm was concerned.

"Mo...Martha Kent?" He said, when Martha looked at him blankly through a security screen door. That look made his heart sink down to his toes. She didn't know him.

"Yes?" She sounded happy enough to talk to him, though she left the security door latched. He actually approved of that. Although Smallville didn't tend to have much crime one never knew. "What can I do for you?"

"Umm. Mrs. Kent? Hi. Uhh. I'm talking to people in the area because, umm, I -- I'm researching a family mystery." He realized he was stammering and took a deep breath. "My name's Clark ..." he realized he couldn't tell her his last name without causing undue questions. He also decided not to ask about his father; he didn't want to hear. Either they were divorced or his father was dead. Those were the only explanations he could come up with to explain the state of the farm. He was willing to bet his mother was working the fields but one person couldn't do everything necessary to keep a farm running and in good shape. Hence, the disrepair.

His heart clenched in pain. *Oh, mom ...*

She smiled, waiting for him to elaborate. He came up with a question to explain his presence on her porch.

"Umm -- I'm looking for a boy who was found in this area, about thirty-five years ago. He'd have been just a few months old. The circumstances might have been kind of ... odd ... when he was found."

"Odd?" Martha frowned. "What do you want with this boy?"

"He's my twin brother," Clark said, softly. He sent a mental request to birth parents' ghosts for forgiveness for the implied slur and added, "My parents may have left him here. Alone."

Martha brightened suddenly. "About thirty-five years ago, you say? That might have been the day that a meteor hit the Smith's barn ..."

He gave the date of his arrival on earth, with some hope. So the meteor hadn't landed in exactly the same place or the Smiths had put the barn somewhere else than it was in his world.

She nodded. "Sounds about right on the date. Anyway, about a mile away, the fire fighters responding found an infant laying in the road. Dark hair, dark eyes, about three months old."

"That sounds right," Clark said. Hope flared. "What happened to him?"

Martha shrugged. Clark wasn't surprised by the amount of gossip she knew on the mysterious boy; it was the small town grapevine at work. "Nobody ever claimed the little guy. It was treated as a criminal investigation because of the circumstances he was found in. They never found his parents. Everyone in town wanted to adopt him, and the Smiths ended up getting him. We tried to adopt him too, but we were too old ... unfortunately, then the Smiths died when he was about four. Car accident."

Martha hesitated. "We offered again to adopt him, but they said we were too old again. Can you believe that? Instead, they put the poor kid in foster homes. I'm not sure what happened after that."

"Thanks." Clark said. "That's a huge help."

Martha shrugged. "Wish they'd let Jonathon and me adopt him. We were old, but not that old -- we could have handled a boy."

"Do you know where he is now?" Clark asked.

"No, sorry. Though they named him William Clark Smith -- Clark was our suggestion. Funny that you have the same name. It seemed to fit the boy. Though the Smiths called him Bill." Martha smiled again. "If you find out what happened to him, will you let me know?"

"Sure," Clark smiled. "I will. And -- thank you."

"Good luck finding him. It's terrible being alone." Martha's eyes were distant for a moment.

With great reluctance, Clark left.

The next morning, when Martha woke up, she found the barn and house painted, the tractor running, and the fence fixed. It was the least Clark could do, he figured, for the women who would have raised him as her son if she could have.

+++++

His next stop was the Smallville High School's journalism classroom, a few minutes after school let out.He wanted to find a picture of William Clark Smith and verify his identity.

He wasn't the slightest bit surprised to find that Ms. Garfield was still teaching journalism -- she'd been the teacher almost two decades ago when he'd been a budding newspaper nerd himself. By his calculations she'd been teaching journalism for forty years now; he expected she'd continue to teach journalism until she fossilized in place at her desk with a red pen in one hand and a Strunk's Guide in the other.

She'd been one of his favorite teachers in high school. He still sent his world's Ms. Garfield Christmas and birthday cards and the occasional letter. She'd called him after he won the Kerth award a few years ago and invited him back to Smallville to talk to her class. He'd been happy to oblige and it had turned into a school assembly. It had been rather pleasant to address a crowd as Clark Kent for once and not as Superman.

"Hi," he said, giving her a smile.

She didn't return it. She didn't know him. "What do you want?"

It felt weird not to be beamed at by Ms. Garfield. He hesitated then said, "Umm. I'm looking for my long lost twin brother ..."

Now she smiled, but it was a predatory smile. This story, he suspected, was going to make the school newspaper. He'd have to tread very carefully here.

"I've found out he was named William Clark Smith ..."

Those eyes lit up even further. "Bill! Yes, I remember Bill. I thought you looked familiar when you came through the door. Identical, yes? Goodness, it's been twenty years!"

"Yes. Look, I don't know much, just that he was found here as an infant, laying in the road. My parents ... my parents couldn't care for him anymore, so they left him here. I think they thought a small town in Kansas would be a good place for a boy to grow up." He ran a hand through his hair. "Does he still live around here, by any chance?"

"You're the brother of the boy who was left in the middle of the road?" Ms. Garfield said, acerbically.

"He probably ... crawled. Look, Ms. Garfield, I don't want to be a bother, but I've been trying to find him."

She sat down at her desk, picked up a red pen, and fiddled with it. "I remember Bill. Good kid, even if life cut him a bunch of bad breaks. He was in my gifted program in middle school. I run a class for the gifted kids; they bus them here from Smallville Junior High. He was a brilliant boy. He had an amazing gift for languages; I remember he spoke several -- learned them from books and tapes he checked out from the library. He wanted to travel. A joy to teach. A little rough around the edges, but not a problem child -- though some of my colleagues would disagree."

"What happened to him?" Clark asked with concern.

"The other kids used to pick on him because he was so different from them. Genius level IQ, you know, and his social skills weren't the greatest. Typical system kid -- no consistency in his life and he was a complete moron when it came to dealing with other people. No bad intentions, just no clue. Painfully shy, very withdrawn, but a bit of a temper when they picked on him. Plus they hassled him simply because he was a foster kid."

She sighed, paused, and continued, "They'd push him and push him until he'd blow up. Call him names, throw things at him, you know -- the usual kid stuff. Then he'd cry and you can imagine what the jocks around here would call a boy who cries. Some of the adults, too, used to call him queer, a fairy, because they could push him and push him until he'd break down and cry. Even the other gifted kids would hassle him. You know he had an IQ of 180? Real shame they treated him like that. I tried to intervene when I could. He was so sensitive, but I don't see that as a flaw in a boy."

A hint of old anger sparked in her eyes and he remembered just how much he liked this woman. “All they had to do was leave him alone and he’d have been just fine. He was so curious -- given some peace he’d come out of his shell all on his own. Instead they just wouldn’t give it a rest.”

Clark swallowed. He'd always been popular in school -- or, if not popular, at least accepted. He'd been a jock, and handsome. The picture she was painting was of a very different boy indeed. Bullied, shy, terribly insecure. Was this really the other Clark?

"One day they pushed him too far. I never did hear what exactly they did. I don't think any of the kids told the real story to the authorities. But he punched a boy -- a football player. Kid never woke up from a coma."

Clark's stomach churned at that. Undoubtedly, it had been an accident -- a little too much strength in the punch. It would have been so easy for that sort of accident to have happened.

She wiped her glasses on her shirt, and said, "He was sent to Juvie for six months, convicted of aggravated assault as a minor. He was thirteen. When he came out ... he was a lot angrier. Nobody wanted him in their class -- I ended up with him in my Journalism class, my English class, and as a student aide in the gifted class, simply because he scared so many teachers here."

"He wasn't violent, was he?" Clark said, with concern. "Other than ..."

"No. But he threatened a few kids when they tried to harass him. Didn't take much threatening from him to convince them to leave him alone, but it didn't do much for his social life either. He was completely ostracized by both the adults and the other kids. The kid he hurt? Richie Chandler ... he was the football team captain. Very popular young man. Nobody was about to forgive him."

Ms. Garfield shrugged. "To his credit he probably could have run with the bad kids. Every school has a few. But he never did. He had standards and it was really clear he'd rather be entirely alone than associate with the usual troublemakers. I don't think he had any friends at all for his last few years here."

Ms. Garfield sighed, "I tried, Clark. He had so much promise. But he ran away when he was fifteen ... the home he was in was really bad and his social worker refused to move him. I even offered to take him when I found out how bad it was but they said they didn't think I could handle him. Stupid social worker wanted him in a 'strict' foster home. Translate that to bible-thumping hypocritical fundie idiots in public; vicious with their kids in private. Nobody's ever heard from him since."

"I see." Clark wasn't happy with this news, but he was more determined than ever to find his double. "I actually came by to see if I could find his photo in one of the yearbooks. You've told me more than I could have hoped."

"Here," Ms. Garfield stood up and pulled a yearbook off a shelf. She flipped through it and found a picture.

William Clark Smith was indisputably his double. Clark said, "Thank you."

"Will you let me know if you find him? I'd like to hear how he turned out. If he's still alive, that is." Ms. Garfield said. "And good luck."

+++++

Elsewhere, in Metropolis, the blue-haired woman walked down a busy city street. She was one of a throng but somehow the crowd gave her several feet of space. It wasn't just her hair and outfit; it was also her aura of menace.

Ahead, a blond head bobbed. The woman suddenly broke into a swift, silent run. Blond hair cut short, ankle-length leather duster ...

"Vampire!" She said, grabbing the man by the arm.

He swung around, startled. "What?"

Not a vampire. Not Spike. This man dared to wear Spike's hair and clothes like Spike, but he was not Spike. Not Spike who played video games with her and didn't complain much when she beat him bloody. Not Spike who treated her like she mattered.

"You are not him. You are insignificant."

She tossed him into a wall; he hit with a satisfying crunch. "No one is of significance. All I care about are gone. I shall change this when I find a Key."

She walked on down the street without further comment on the matter. The man lay groaning in her wake.

+++++

Chapter 4

+++++

Clark stood on the building's roof, staring out over the city. Lois hesitated, watching him, uncertain if she really wanted to approach him. But mad curiosity propelled her forward. The man was truly intriguing.

He'd purchased a change of clothes that day -- jeans, sneakers, and a casual long-sleeved shirt. Despite the hot weather the shirt was buttoned up to the collar. In the stifling afternoon heat he should have been sweating. He wasn't. The sun beating on the rooftop made her feel like melting.

"Any luck at the library?" She asked, finally. He didn't jump or seem surprised she was behind him.

He glanced back at her. "Hi, Lois. I had some. I got in touch with some people in Sunnydale and found that my double was a foster child. He wasn't raised by my -- by the Kents. His name's William Clark Smith. Other than that, I'm no closer to finding him."

"I'm sorry," she said, and was surprised to find that she meant it. He was clearly bothered by the difficulty in locating his double.

"He may not even be under the same name now. They put him in a foster home run by religious zealots, according to one of his teachers. He ran away when he was fourteen. At a guess, they were pretty horrible to him." Clark ran a hand through his hair. His brown eyes were dark and troubled.

Lois knew Clark wasn't entirely human and was probably at least part demon; how miserable would it have been for a demon child to live with fundies? If he'd done anything to make them suspect he wasn't a normal boy that experience could have been bad indeed. She mentally winced at the thought.

She wondered again what, exactly, Clark was. And what his talents were. A sudden idea occurred to her and she acted on impulse without really thinking it through. "Hey Clark, would you do me a favor?"

"Sure," he said, with a smile that was genuinely friendly. "What do you need?"

"I never have anyone to spar with who can hold their own against me. I work out at a gym but I've always got to pull my punches when I'm sparring with the guys at the gym. I've seen you fight -- you obviously know at least some hand to hand stuff. And you're a bit stronger than normal humans. Would you ..."

He blinked at her, arms folding. He seemed very wary. "You want me to be your sparring partner?"

"Sure. It's like dancing, only we hit each other. I'll show you some moves ..."

He clearly wanted to say no. She gave him her brightest, sunniest, smile and said, "Pretty please?"

"I don't think so ..."

"C'mon. You might learn something!" She swung a sudden kick at him, to see how quickly he would react.

The answer was, *very* quickly. He caught her foot and dumped her on her butt.

"Sorry ... Lois, this is a very bad idea. I don't want to fight with you, even a pretend fight."

"Don't be sorry! That was great!" She bounced back to her feet and spun another kick at him. He dodged back, and she nailed him with her other foot in the chest.

"Ow!" Kicking Clark was like kicking concrete. She'd pulled the blow to avoid hurting him, and he'd been ducking so it was only a glancing strike anyway, and that turned out that was a good thing, but more for her own sake than his!

He gave her an apologetic look. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea... Lois, I really think this is not a good idea ..."

"Nonsense. You're perfect!" She caught his arm and tried to flip him over her shoulder. Except she couldn't budge him. She tried to ignore the terror in his eyes as he backed away from her and focused on getting him to fight back. This was going to be harder than it looked!

+++++

Lois was limping a bit, and very sweaty, when she stepped into her apartment half an hour later. Clark had said he'd be down in a minute -- he'd never even perspired. He'd also never fought back. He'd been a rather uncooperative partner, all told, but she'd learned quite a bit about him in the impromptu and one-sided match. He hadn’t gotten mad at her; he’d just seemed acutely uncomfortable with the idea. She wasn’t sure if that was because he didn’t want to hit a girl or if he was afraid she’d learn stuff about his abilities in a sparring match.

The answer might be “both” to that question.

Buffy and Willow were both plowing through stacks of books on her kitchen table, researching something. Possibly more information about the spell that would send Clark home. She cleared her throat, "Buffy?"

"What's up?" Buffy looked up.

"Clark? Is 100% definitely not human." She rolled her neck. Her muscles felt like jello; she'd be sore in the morning.

"We know that," Willow said, without looking up. "That spell would not have picked a human man to bring through."

"I just beat on him with full Slayer strength for half an hour. He doesn't even have a bruise to show for it." Lois had a few bruises of her own on her hands.

"You got into a fight with Clark?" Buffy sounded alarmed. She started to stand up.

"Sparred with him. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was trying very hard to hide how strong he really is," she splashed cold water on her face at the kitchen sink. The heat was stifling; she‘d given up when she‘d started getting dizzy from it. "He never hit me back, never tried to fight me. Just let me whale on him. And I don't think it hurt him much, if at all. He was faking pain."

"I'd sure like to know what he is," Willow said, thoughtfully.

"I think I'm going to take him out on a patrol with me this afternoon," Buffy said, after a moment's thought. "You're right, Wil. We need to know more about him. And I'd like to discuss the nature of vampires with him -- I'm not sure that he really gets it yet."

+++++

"Aren't you hot?" Buffy asked. She was roasting even dressed in shorts and a spaghetti top. The nasty humid heat was making her hair frizz as well; she was *so* ready for summer to be over. Cleveland was just as bad as Metropolis.

Clark, in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, shook his head. "I'm fine. So we just walk around in the graveyard until we find a vampire?"

"Yeah, that's the plan." Buffy grinned at him. Convincing Clark to patrol with her had been fairly difficult until she mentioned she'd go alone, otherwise. Then he was willing to tag along. She wasn't sure if that was chivalry or chauvinism on his part. Chivalry, her gut said.

"Lois says you sparred with her," Buffy said, conversationally.

"She didn't give me much choice ..." Clark trailed off. He was wary about her intentions now. "She's a lot like my Lois in many ways."

When Buffy lit into him with several no-holds-barred blows he was so surprised that he landed on his butt in the dirt. Buffy stuck her fingers in her mouth and sucked away the pain from beating on the nearly immovable object that was his chest and looked at him with new respect -- Lois was right, hitting him full force was not a wise idea. She'd nearly broken her hand punching him. It was like hitting a concrete block, except that if she’d hit a concrete block that hard it would have broken.

"C'mon," she crouched, wondering if this was a bad idea, "I bet you can't take me down."

He held his hand up, not rising. "I'm not going to spar with you, either, Buffy. This is completely silly."

She offered him a hand up, wordlessly. He accepted it without hesitation -- and obviously wasn't expecting it when she flipped him over her shoulder. She grunted in surprise at his weight, which was significantly more than a human should have weighed. He was *dense.* She added that bit of knowledge to his enhanced strength and speed that they'd already noted.

"C'mon, Buffy," this time he stood up on his own, "I don't want to do this. If ..."

"I need to know what your capabilities are if you're going to patrol with me and hang out with my Slayers," Buffy said, quietly. "C'mon, hit me."

"No." He stood with his hands down, refusing to cooperate.

Buffy said shortly, "Got something to hide?"

"Yeah," he said, grimly. The worry in his eyes was warring with a sense of general pissed-offedness. She suspected it took quite a bit of provocation to make this man angry; she knew she was getting close to the line. That didn't bother her much -- if he wanted to go home he couldn't exactly stalk off and never speak to her again. "And I'd like it to stay secret. I'm starting to get annoyed with this, Buffy."

*Tough*, Buffy thought. "I'm not letting one of my girls get hurt, which is quite possible if you're as strong as I think you are. What are you, part demon? If you are you should know that I've got plenty of demon friends. I only slay bad demons."

"And you're the judge, jury, and executioner all rolled in to one," he said, shortly. His tone matched the look in his eyes. He wasn‘t happy. "How do you determine who's a good demon and who's a bad demon? Ever make a mistake and kill a good guy? I like you, Buffy, but I don't like your methods. They could use some ..."

"Generally speaking, the bad demons are the ones who are killing people and the good demons are few and far between." Buffy launched a kick at his stomach. This time he caught her foot and shoved up. She had to hop backwards to keep from falling over.

"I'm not a demon," he said, quietly, arms folded.

"Then what are you? You're not fooling any of us by claiming you're a man." She kicked at his head. He deflected her foot with a hand, this time less gently. She landed on the ground on her back.

"I am a man!" A bit of his anger at this interrogation touched his voice.

"And you’re something else. I don't like not knowing what you are, Kent. I've had too many surprises in my life." She lashed out with a foot and kicked him in the knee, sweeping his feet out from underneath him. He fell with a startled noise and she launched across the grass at him and tried to pin him down. Except that he was faster than she was and far stronger it was she who was pinned down. He held her down by the shoulders.

"Will you stop it?" He snapped in her face. Yeah, he was mad now. "Look, I don't want to talk about it."

"You could be a threat to us," Buffy pointed out. She wasn't scared, somehow, despite the fact that he might be able to take her apart at the seams if he was this fast and strong -- but she wasn't happy to be on the losing end of the fight. *Some fight -- he's not even trying.* She tried to knee him in the gut -- he was holding her down with enough strength to genuinely scare her. She connected, but his reaction was decidedly less than she'd expected. He just gave her a dirty look. She should have launched him airborne. Her knee would be black and blue tomorrow.

"I am NOT a threat to you!" He growled. "I'm not a bad guy, Buffy! Knock it off!"

She asked, "What are you going to do now?"

"Let you up as soon as you promise to stop hitting me. I'd like to be friends with you but you don't seem to have much respect for me." Clark started to release her.

At that instant a vampire barreled into Clark with a ferocious snarl. Clark was knocked off her and into the moonlit grass; the vampire rolled to his feet first and growled in gameface, "What are you doing to Buffy?"

Clark reacted faster than she would have believed. He leaped to his feet, lunged at the vampire, shoved him against a tree and reached over his head to snap off a dead branch. Then he hesitated, vampire pinned, hand pulled back, every line of his body tense. She was truly impressed by the speed and power he'd shown; the vampire had no chance at all when Clark had gone after him. She could see Clark's face -- his eyes were wide and full of emotional agony. This was not a man who liked to kill anything, even vampires.

The vampire looked at Buffy and said, "Buffy! A little help would be a good thing here ..."

The vampire had long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She almost didn't recognize him, he looked so different. But his voice hadn't changed, that wonderful British accent, and one eyebrow was scarred, and she'd seen his game face often enough that even with the different hair style she knew.

Clark started to make a killing blow. The vampire's eyes widened in horror. Buffy didn't know she could move that fast. She caught his wrist. "Stop! Woah! Not this one!"

Clark gave her a confused look but held his blow. "I thought you said all vampires are evil."

"They are! This is Spike. He's a good guy! Let him go." Had she explained Spike to Clark? No, she hadn't. Giles had given him a very abbreviated version of Slayer history and had left out both her vampire lovers. Giles had never approved of either of them and he tended to gloss over mention of them when explaining things to newbies.

Clark, with something akin to a sigh of relief, did so. He stepped back, dropped the vampire, and gave her a look that begged for an explanation.

Spike adjusted his shirt, rolled his neck, and said, "Buffy? You okay?"

"I'm fine." She stared at him. Spike. Spike was dead. Spike was dead for three years. Spike had died in Sunnydale. This was indisputably Spike. She couldn’t catch her breath, her heart was pounding in her chest, and there was an incredible sense of rushing joy in her soul. Spike. It was Spike. Spike was dead; Spike was alive. It was surreal.

"I saw Spandex Man here had you pinned down. I thought he was hurting you," Spike said. He glanced at Clark -- glared at him. With an utterly familiar tone of voice he said, "What, was that just some kind of foreplay?"

"What?" Clark said, blushing in embarrassment. Buffy's own cheeks grew hot. Yeah, this was Spike all right, and he was even at his obnoxious best. He might be alive, however killing him on general principles seemed like a viable option. Elation changed to annoyance and threatened to morph into anger. She’d dreamed about this before, of course; he’d always come back to her with soft words, romantic gestures, gentle touches. Nowhere in her daydreams of Spike’s return to life had she contemplated him snarking and sniping jealously, insulting her friends, snapping and snarling and being a jerk.

Really, she should have known better.

"Buffy here likes it rough." Spike snorted. "What, you haven't figured that out yet?"

"I'm married!" Clark held a hand up, displaying his wedding ring on one finger. Buffy thought that anyone less polite than Clark Kent would have lifted a *different* finger at Spike. He sounded indignant, mortified, and quite angry.

"And you're supposed to be dead." Buffy managed to say, without too much of a quaver in her voice. She wanted to throw her arms around him and cry into his shoulder. She wanted to strangle him.

He shrugged and asked sardonically, "Are you going to hit me?"

"That all depends on what your excuse is for not being dead." Stung, Buffy forgot about hugging him. She glanced at Clark, wondering what he was making of this. Clark was watching the interchange with utter fascination.

She turned her attention back to Spike. He gestured loosely at Clark, "So now it's aliens?"

"Aliens?" So her earlier guess about Clark's origins, based on his inadvertent slip, was right. He wasn't human at all; he was some kind of extraterrestrial. "Spandex Man?"

Spike laughed. She noted he was also standing out of slugging distance -- that bothered her, because she wasn't seriously considering punching him. Slaying him, maybe, but not beating him up. "Ask him about his Halloween costume. I take it he hasn't told you."

Clark looked like he was sucking on a lemon. "What I'd like to know is how you figured it out."

Spike tapped his nose. "Vampire senses."

Buffy translated -- though she wasn't sure what she was translating -- "Vampires do this gross thing were they sniff people's scents like dogs. And Spike, Clark's so not my boyfriend. So cut out the jealous macho crap."

"So he is a vampire. But he's a good vampire. I thought you said they were all evil." Clark still had the sour citrus expression on his face.

"And that is a very long story. I'll tell you later. Umm -- Spike, you do have a soul still, right?" Buffy turned her attention back to him with some concern. It wasn’t an absolute disaster if he didn’t, but she wanted to know where she stood.

"Yeah. Unlike Peaches, mine doesn't have a return policy." Spike folded his arms and gave her a glare that she wasn't sure she deserved. What had she done to him to piss him off? Well, lately, anyway. Last time she'd seen him they'd been on excellent terms.

"I thought you were dead. How could you let me think you were dead? You're dead, Spike!" She took a step towards him. He took a step backwards. She stopped. "I'm not going to hit you. I might kiss you."

Spike took another step backwards. He held his hands up in a fending gesture. "Sorry, Buffy. I'd rather you not."

"Spike?" She stopped short, stunned by the rejection. He was alive -- alive! -- and he didn’t want her. That hurt more than she was ever prepared to admit to anyone.

He turned on one heel and walked away. She stared after him with her mouth open. She wasn't sure what to think -- too many things had been thrown at her in a very short order. Finally, she found her voice. "Spike! Wait!"

"Don't follow me," he tossed over his shoulder at her and kept going.

"Damn him," Buffy growled. She wanted to cry. She wanted to run after him and beat on him until he bled and bruised and until he told her everything she wanted to know about where he’d been and why he was leaving as unexpectedly as he’d come.

"Old boyfriend?" Clark hazarded a guess after a moment's silence.

"Something like that." She turned her attention to Clark and frowned at him. He was wearing the long-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way up to the collar, sleeves buttoned at his wrist, and his expression was exceedingly wary.

She reached out -- as fast as she could because she'd seen how quickly he could move and knew that she'd need to catch him off guard -- and grabbed his collar and gave a good hard yank. Buttons popped. Blue spandex was revealed. She folded her arms and looked up at him. "Superman, hmm?"

"Yeah." He admitted. He scratched his head and eyed her warily. "What are you going to do now?"

"Well, I can't blame you for not wanting to tell me the whole story," Buffy said wryly. She hadn't exactly been receptive to the idea of a nearly invincible hero. History and experience told her to be afraid of him; her instincts and Slayer intuition told her he was a nice guy. "Umm, can you really fly? Because that's weirdly cool."

"Want me to fly you home?" He offered. He was still looking at her with some trepidation.

"No, thank you." Buffy found that idea remarkably unappealing. Having fallen to her death one, she didn’t exactly want to risk it a second time. He looked vaguely relieved that she'd turned him down.

"Look, I didn't want you to know because I never tell anyone. In my world the only people who know are my parents and Lois and that's it. I don't tell anyone the secret because it's dangerous for them to know and it's dangerous for me and for my friends and family." He paused. "Plus you made it pretty clear you thought Superman might be an enemy. I don't want to fight with you."

He hesitated and added, "And it's not even my secret to tell. It's this world's Clark's. He should decide who knows what he is, not me."

Buffy said in a tone that was somewhat apologetic, "Well, you'd have a hard time in this world keeping a secret identity, as Spike just demonstrated. Half of the demons out there have enhanced senses. They'd figure it out."

He exhaled sharply. He'd never thought of that complication. "And I assume there's a fair amount of communication between demons and humans?"

Buffy nodded. "Afraid so."

She paused, then asked, "Are you mad at me for prying?"

"Not really. I understand your motives."

"Do you ever get really mad?" Buffy asked, which was an actual and honest question.

"I live with Lois Lane," he pointed out, lips twitching into a smile.

Buffy snorted a laugh. "That makes you an angel, not an alien."

This generated a grin from him. There was relief in his eyes that matched the relief in her heart. She’d pissed him off and learned his secrets but he apparently still considered her a friend -- and she liked Clark, liked him as a decent guy who might end up a good friend if he was here long enough. She was glad he wasn’t angry with her.

He hooked his thumbs in his pockets and didn't answer that comment directly. Instead, he said, "So Spike's a good vampire?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. She exhaled a long sigh. "He is. He's saved my life on several occasions, and saved my sister a few times too. He's been loyal beyond the call of duty and beyond all expectations I've ever had. He's one of a kind."

"You love him." It was a statement, not a question. Clark was looking at her, watching her through his unfashionable glasses. She supposed her expressions and reaction had made that very obvious.

"Yes, but not at first. At first he was just a useful tool. He was implanted with a behavior modification chip by the government -- the government had this secret program where they were dissecting demons and they made this really icky Frankenstein demon called Adam -- what?"

Clark had gone pale in the moonlight. He swallowed and said, "Sorry. My father used to warn me that if the government ever found out what I was they'd dissect me like a frog."

"Oh. And they might have, at that," Buffy said, darkly. "The Initiative is dead, thank God. So's Adam. That's a story for another day ... anyway, Spike was chipped by the Initiative and he got these horrific headaches if he tried to hurt humans. But he could beat up on demons all he wanted. And he wanted. And he was useful in other ways. And he was harmless -- or mostly harmless, anyway. So we used him. I couldn't kill him; he was helpless against me."

She chuckled. "Besides, he'd been a thorn in my side for years before that. Seeing him helpless was kindof revenge in and of itself."

She wondered for a moment why she was telling this stranger about Spike. But Clark was quiet, listening. He had a sympathetic feel to him. He was just a decent guy -- she wondered again how he'd ended up married to Lois "Mad Dog" Lane, of all improbable people. His Lois *had* to be a nicer person!

After a moment, she continued. "I ... died ... stopping Glory. She was a Hell God. They brought me back, but I hurt so bad, inside. It was so hard to live in the world after being at peace ... Spike was ... Spike loved me, by that point. He truly did. As for me, he was convenient and I was not in good state of mind. If you know what I mean."

Clark shot her a surprised look. Then he blushed when her expression -- which she knew was slightly embarrassed -- confirmed the meaning of her words to him.

She gave him a wry look. "Don't look so shocked, Kent. And ... I'm stronger, now. Lots stronger. I was really just a kid; that was a long time ago."

He shoved his glasses up his nose with one finger and said, "You didn't love him then?"

"He wasn't the man then that he is now, either. I ... I finally rejected him. Drove him away. He was madly in love with me, Clark, and he decided to *make* himself worthy of my love. He found some way to get a human soul and he went and he did it. For me. Because he loved me. And I don‘t think it was an easy thing for him to do." She blew a stray bit of hair out of her eyes.

"Did you fall in love with him when he came back?" Clark asked, quietly.

Buffy was silent, thinking quietly to herself. When had she fallen in love with Spike? She grimaced. "I'm not sure, honestly, when I fell in love with him. I think the seeds were there before he ever got a soul. After -- that last year, when we were fighting The First -- sometimes he was the only person who stood by my side. He was there for me even when everyone else turned against me. He's really a remarkable man. I know when I actually realized I truly loved him, though."

He made an encouraging noise.

"About a minute before he died. Or before I thought he died, anyway. I told him I loved him in the Hellmouth and he said I didn’t, but thanked me for saying so ." Buffy kicked at a clump of grass. "I've prayed for another chance to tell him. To convince him. Maybe to kiss him, one last time, with real feeling. I'd have given up years of my life for one last talk with him ..."

She grinned, but it wasn't entirely a happy expression. It was a crazy, feral, mad grin. "And now I find out the bastard survived and he never told me!"

Clark suggested, "Perhaps he had good reasons for not contacting you. He's obviously still protective of you."

"Maybe." She sighed, and ran her hands through her hair. The look she gave him was bleak. "Maybe. I'd like to sit down and talk to him about it."

Clark said softly, "Buffy? Don't give up on him. If you really love him, don't give up."

She glanced up at him. He gave her a smile that said he'd *been* in her shoes at some point in his life. She wondered just how complicated his romance with Mad Dog Lane had been. Very complicated, if Lois' temperament was any indication.

She sighed again. "I'd be happy if he just gives me a chance to talk."

+++++

Chapter 5

+++++

One of the seven wonders of the modern world was Giles using a computer, Buffy thought, as she let herself into Lois' apartment. Clark hadn't gone in the building with her although he'd seen her right to the door. He'd said something about checking on Jimmy Olsen -- she had not misunderstood the flash of guilt in his eyes. Guilt for what, not getting there fast enough?

Clark was a big boy; she figured he didn't need a chaperone to go visit a friend in the hospital. Particularly since she had a good idea that this visit would be strictly clandestine and probably conducted without anyone's knowledge, given the late hour.

In Lois' living room Giles was hunched over the keyboard. He typed one finger at a time, slowly. The monitor reflected blue from his glasses and he looked like he had a headache. However, he was voluntarily using the computer.

They'd finally convinced him that computers were a necessity a few years back -- Willow had gotten tired of printing out Watcher's Council emails for him and had basically demanded he learn, *or else.* So he had, reluctantly, and with great grumbling. He was now more-or-less competent at the basics of research.

Buffy walked over and asked, "What's up?"

"Somebody new on Practicing Magic," he said, without looking up at her. "Look at this question -- Andrew sent me a message about it."

He scrolled the screen up to display a post on one of the internet's better known "Real Magick" bulletin boards. It was a board populated by actual witches, warlocks and the odd demon, plus a good assortment of crankpots. The Council monitored it and occasionally found some good leads on new Slayers or new troubles that way.

The poster was called "Illyria," and the post was rather short. One sentence, actually. Illyria stated,

"Tell me about the dimensional Key."

Buffy felt her blood run cold and her hair stand on end. She wished she had Clark's powers of flight; she'd be on Dawn's dorm doorstep in minutes. "I'll call Dawn ..."

"It's midnight, her time," Giles said, mildly. "This is probably just some harmless crank."

"What are you telling her?" Buffy reached for the mouse and scrolled past several other answers to Giles' response.

Giles' response, which he typed as she watched, was simply, "What would you like to know?"

Well, that was harmless enough -- and maybe even useful, if this Illyria gave any sort of a response to "R. Giles'" post. Buffy bit her lip and tried to convince herself that Illyria probably meant something other than Dawn. Her Slayer senses were buzzing, though, and she failed at persuading herself not to worry.

"Do you think we should get her out of school?" Giles asked. "Tomorrow?"

Buffy shook her head. Dawn was taking summer classes in Cleveland, retaking a couple of courses she'd bombed during the school year. "Illyria" would have no idea who Dawn was -- Buffy could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who knew that Dawn wasn't just her kid sister and she trusted every single one of them with her life and Dawn's. Dawn was -- probably -- safe enough. "I'll call her in the morning and warn her, though."

+++++

Clark glided slowly up to the fourth floor window; his x-ray vision had let him determine which room Jimmy was in from the outside. It had also shown another figure in the room -- Lois, apparently taking his suggestion to just "sneak in." It was well past visiting hours.

She was seated in a chair by the window, her back to him, curled up under a blanket. She looked so young -- even though she was ten years older than "his" Lois, she looked almost childlike and very vulnerable.

Jimmy by contrast didn't look very good at all -- Clark honestly didn't recognize him despite years of friendship in his own world; it had been Lois' presence in the room that had helped him identify the man. His face was swollen and he was surrounded by beeping, ticking machinery. He wasn't on a ventilator, which Clark took to be a good sign, at least. But he was too still, too pale.

He must have made a noise, or maybe Lois' "Slayer senses" alerted her -- she leaped up and spun around suddenly and stared through the window at him. Her eyes went wide and she dropped into a defensive, combative, crouch.

He gestured at the latch on the window, suggesting she open it. Her eyebrows lowered and she frowned at him. To his surprise, however, she did open the window. It had a catch on it and she could only push it out a few inches.

"How's Jimmy?" He asked, voice low.

"What the fuck are you?" She asked. He was surprised by the language, and mentally reminded himself that this Lois had lived a much harder life than his wife.

He considered the question a moment, then decided with a mental apology to the other Clark that she might as well know everything. Keeping the secret of his identity from her was only going to piss her off; he seriously doubted that Buffy could be persuaded to keep quiet -- and the vampire, Spike, was a lost cause. The odds of this Lois finding out that Clark was Superman were high -- no, considering that this *was* Lois he was dealing with they were probably nearly 100% definite.

"Meet me on top of the parking garage." He didn't offer to fly her over to the big concrete structure. He wasn't about to flirt with her, or even do anything that might *imply* flirting in her head. Though she was looking at him with less hero worship and more grim suspicion. His Lois had never given him a look like that, but then, his Lois had not been fighting actual bonafide monsters for years. She was probably contemplating the unpleasant prospect of trying to take him *out* if he turned out to be a bad guy.

It took her twenty minutes to reach him. Long enough for him to worry about her and contemplate going in after her; the knowledge that likely the worst she'd face would be a hospital security guard kept his feet on the ground. He listened carefully and heard nothing other than normal night noises. She appeared suddenly, moving with startling silence in the shadows. He wondered if she'd been watching him for awhile.

"How is Jimmy?" he asked, stalling for time.

"He had a stroke," she said, quietly. "In the aftermath of the attack."

Clark's stomach churned. *He had caused this.*

"How bad?" Clark asked.

"Bad enough. -- Do you know him?" She asked, head tilted to one side and regarding him with curiosity.

"Actually ..." He took a deep breath then exhaled sharply. "Lois, I wasn't exactly truthful with you when I told you about Superman."

She stared at him in complete bafflement. "What?"

It took him a moment to realize that Superman had never met this Lois before. She'd never spoken to "him" before -- only Clark. He shook his head, and said, "Not me. I mean, yeah, me, but not this me. Lois, I wasn't entirely honest when I was talking to you in your apartment. Earlier."

This was not going well. Lois was staring at him like he'd grown tentacles, scales, and a second head to go with the Suit and super powers. He decided to get this over in as few words as possible. "Look, Lois, I'm Clark."

"... Kent?" she said, incredulously. She peered at him, clearly trying to spot Clark in Superman's features. Her eyes widened suddenly in recognition. "*Good* disguise."

She stared at him a moment longer. He gave her an embarrassed smile. "Does Buffy know?"

"Yeah."

"Which is probably why you're telling me ..." She gave him a dark look. "Secret's out, hmm?"

"Actually, I wanted to apologize to your for misleading you. In person. I had my reasons -- most of which don't actually apply to you." He ran a hand over his hair and regarded her for a moment with an expression that was somewhat less than happy. "Maybe it's best that you know from the beginning if we find my double, anyway. Things might be less ... complicated."

"Does your Lois know?" She asked, suspiciously. "And that's assuming I want anything to do with your double, which is an assumption I don't necessarily like."

"My Lois knows. Has, for awhile." He decided not to touch on her reaction to meeting his double; anything he said would probably make her react even more negatively and he had utterly shameless hopes of playing matchmaker. But he knew Lois would need to think any sort of relationship with him was completely her idea.

He walked wall to the edge of the roof and sat down on the thigh-height concrete. A hot breeze ruffled his hair and cape as it blew off the road behind him. "I feel horrible about what happened to Jimmy, Lois. I really screwed up there."

"What do you mean?" She hugged herself and stared up at him. "It was a vampire. Right?"

"A vampire that I let go was the one who attacked him ... I didn't want to kill her. Lois, I'm not a killer. I'm just ... can't." He confessed. He looked up, at the stars, and willed the tears of grief gathering in the corners of his eyes not to show. He swallowed hard and said, "But because I let her go Jimmy was hurt."

"I -- I don't know what to say. What do you want me to say?" She asked him hesitantly. Then anger flared in her eyes and she stepped closer to him and poked him in the chest. "Did you learn something?"

He looked away and nodded. "This world isn't mine ... Lois, I'm completely adrift here. Vampires, magic -- you! You're some kind of superhero yourself! -- it's not my world. And I don't know what to do here or what the rules are I should follow and I'm lost."

She didn't sound very sympathetic when she said, "Well, then, it's a good thing we're sending you home soon."

He winced. She'd struck a nerve that he hadn't even known existed. Lois was talented that way, apparently regardless of the dimension. That realization amused him a bit. "Lois ... I want to help while I'm here. I was given these powers for a reason and that's to do good."

She said, short and ticked, "Then next time, kill the vampire."

"And what if it's a good vampire?" He protested. He raked a hand through his hair. "How do I know the difference? The answer is I can't, and I'm not sure I have the right to make that judgment call!"

"They're *all* evil!" She was indignant. She was beautiful when she got ticked off; he kicked himself for noticing and reminded himself that this was *not* his wife.

"What about Spike?" He said. "Buffy said he's a good guy."

"Never met him. And he's dead." Lois shook her head, denying his point. "And he had a soul."

"Which he chose to get," Clark returned. "Do you see my point?"

"It's a moot point; he's dead. The only other vampire I know about who's good is Angel and he had his soul forced on him." Lois said. "Buffy gives every Slayer Angel's photo and makes them memorize it so they won't accidentally slay him if they run into him. I can show you if you'd like. Otherwise, it's safe to assume that all vampires and most demons are evil."

Clark ran a hand over his head. "I'm not sure I can ever agree with that. And about Spike ..."

She cut him off. "This is a war, Clark. You might be right -- on very rare occasions, Slayers may make mistakes in who or what they slay. But we have to look at the big picture, the greater good. Not killing vampires because one in a million might be the next Spike -- well, there'd be an awful lot of people hurt and killed in exchange for that one good vampire you saved."

He actually saw her point. It made sense. So why did it feel so very wrong?



+++++

"R. Giles -- that would be Rupert Giles," the clerk in the Metropolis Shoppe of Magicks said. He gave the blue-haired woman a glance that wasn't surprised, just curious. He was used to oddballs showing up in his shop. He blew a sharp whistle out and said, "He's a heavy hitter these days. Runs with Watcher's Council. We go way back."

The woman claimed back the printout of the exchange she'd had with Giles. "The Shell remembers Giles. He was Buffy's Watcher. His response implied knowledge of the Key. I seek him."

"Well, you're in luck. He's in town -- he was buying supplies here this morning," the shopkeeper said, conversationally.

"I seek him." She regarding the shopkeeper with glittering, inhuman, blue eyes.

"Well, try Lois Lane. Though I'd recommend watching your step around her; she's the local Slayer and she doesn't have much tolerance for demons." The shopkeeper warned her.

"Slayers are of little consequence." The woman informed him.

After she'd left the shopkeeper muttered, "She must be new on this plane of existence ..."

+++++

Chapter 6

+++++

Spike sipped his wine and leaned back against the wall in a dark corner of the bar. The room was smoky and the air smelled wonderfully of barbeque meat. Mama's Bar was known as much for Mama's pulled pork as it was for being a fine drinking establishment.

It was also neutral ground, as far as demons went. Certain classes of humans came here as well -- most fit in with the demon crowd for one reason or another. And he worked here -- Mama knew exactly what he was. Being inhuman helped her there; he wasn't exactly sure what flavor of demon she was but few human women stood seven feet tall, massed around four hundred pounds of solid muscle, and had three fingers on each hand. She had pegged him as vampire the moment he'd walked in her door a few months ago.

She'd calmly handed him a menu, and had equally calmly threatened to stake him if he made any trouble. When he'd pitched in to help evict a pair of Throk demons who were making trouble a few weeks later he'd earned himself a paid job as "peacekeeper." It had helped that Mama had sources who'd told her some of his back story; she didn't care for vampires much, normally.

Bouncing at Mama's paid some of his bills; various odd jobs -- not all of them legal, but all of them honest -- covered the rest. Metropolis was an expensive place to live even for a man who was perfectly happy with a dank basement apartment in a bad part of town. The last several months hadn't been easy but he was making it on his own -- and doing it in ways that he could be proud of.

Mama caught his eye, from across the room, and cast a significant glance at a trio of men who'd just entered the bar. She made a staking motion. She could identify a vampire faster than he could; he had to rely on smell and an acute sense of hearing. She wasn't asking him to stake the vampires but simply to keep an eye on them -- what he did later, on his own time, she'd made clear she didn't want to know about. Vampires were trouble, though; violent and bad for business. She didn't mind when unpleasant vampire customers came up missing. She just didn't want to be associated with it in demon circles.

He didn't recognize the trio, but knew the type. They were well dressed, drinking freely, athletic, raucous. The trio had a certain, unmistakable, sexually charged edge. Once, he and Angel and Darla and Dru had been something similar. Party animals, always on the prowl, dangerous, not to be trusted. And these weren't fledges; something about their demeanor warned him that they had some experience as vampires. They wouldn't be easy kills and he'd already made up his mind that he needed to kill them.

They claimed a booth and began loudly haranguing Evelyn, one of Mama's waitresses, for drinks. Blood and rum; the taller, older of the trio ordered drinks for his companions. He was the sire, Spike decided; the other two were his get. As he watched, the master reached out and stroked one of his boy's cheeks -- then turned the gesture into a vicious slap.

"We go back!" The master said, shortly.

Spike casually claimed a table near their booth. By prearrangement with Evelyn he ordered whisky -- "Just bring the bottle!" but the amber liquid in the bottle was tea. If he was going to tackle this trio later in the evening he'd need to be sober. He'd also need to have the element of surprise so he wanted to appear that he was just a lone vampire on a bender.

He listened, discretely, as the trio argued. As he'd assumed, they were up to no good.

"Pier, there's millions of people in this city, all easy pickings. I don't see why we have to go kill *that* one!" One of younger vampires, a blond man, protested. "He's got some kind of mojo!"

Pier glared at the blond vampire. "He's in the way. We haven't been able to use the construction site for ... amusement ... since they hired him. He's just a man, Rufus. Like any other. We can take him out."

Huh. Somebody'd hired someone -- what, a security guard? -- with the stones to tackle vampires, Spike realized. Now he was curious as well as feeling a bit heroic on general principles. He was new to town, but he'd identified most of the players on the side of the light -- there were twenty or thirty people in town who might be able to put the hurt on a vampire. None of them worked as security guards.

Could be somebody under cover, he supposed. Given that Buffy was in town, it could easily be one of the Scoobies. He decided he'd let the vampires lead him to their intended victim before he dusted them, rather than catching them in a dark alley somewhere.

"You've got to admit he's gorgeous," the other young vampire said, with a leer of appreciation. "Hey, Pier, do you think we could turn him? You know I love guys like that -- gotta love those brown eyes and that black hair and we could make him our pet for a few decades. He wouldn't be no trouble, Pier!"

Black hair. Brown eyes. Working as a security guard on a construction site. Able to do something nasty enough to an experienced trio of vampires to make them hesitant about going another round.

Spike knocked back a shot glass of tea and listened with a growing sense of amusement as the blond fledge -- Rufus -- joined in, proclaiming the man's attributes. It seemed like the guy had broad shoulders, and was tall and handsome and generally appealing. Given that these were vampires and vampires weren't exactly known for being discriminating about their sexual partners, that might mean simply that the guy was moving.

But the description of the guy made him grin with anticipation. Given that Buffy, Giles, and Willow were in town that likely meant the third original Scooby was around somewhere too. This might just be fun.

+++++

"Taxi!" Giles waved his hand. The taxi cruised by without stopping, leaving him standing alone on a dark street. He could smell rotting garbage and diesel fumes; the hot night magnified the foul city air. There was no one human in sight.

He glanced around warily, assessing his surroundings. The Magic Book, one of several magic shops in town, wasn't in the best neighborhood and he'd spent far longer than he'd intended catching up with the owner, an old friend, after buying some of the supplies needed to send Clark home. It was well past dark.

Grimly, he started walking back to Lois' apartment. "Just my luck to die of a mugging," he muttered as he headed down the dimly lit street.

When he heard footsteps behind him, he wasn't surprised. He was even less surprised when it turned out to be someone after him -- he sped up and so did the footsteps. He turned up a side street; the footsteps followed.

He broke into a run. The person ran after him. He looked back, saw blue hair and glittering blue eyes, and ran harder. The woman was faster than he was; she was clearly a demon. He ducked into an alley, and tried to punch the woman as she whipped around the corner after him. Impossibly fast, she grabbed his wrist, slammed her other fist into his gut, and then flung him into a wall. He tried to scramble to his feet but another blow followed, and then muzzy darkness. Dimly he was aware of being carried before consciousness faded entirely.

+++++

Tracking the vampire trio wasn't hard; they left a sour odor of plentiful quantities of wine in their wake. They'd drank a couple of bottles each -- enough to get a vampire buzzed and happy but not enough to slow his reflexes down substantially. Spike followed after them, a few hundred yards behind, hands in his pockets. They were having a good time -- he watched as they kicked in a door on a liqueur store and helped themselves to more booze. Party boys; he knew the type.

He slid his hands into the pockets of his duster and fingered his stakes. This was going to be a heck of a fight. He was looking forward to it; he grinned as he followed them from a block behind. They led the way to a fenced construction site -- a very large skyscraper was being erected on a city block. It loomed overhead, backlit by a full moon -- it was a skeleton of steel girders and concrete pillars and three very large cranes. The site itself was a jumble of construction materials, equipment, trailers, and assorted shadowed and bulky objects.

Everything had a certain patina of neglect over it. The equipment had cobwebs on it, and flat tires, the lumber was warped and sunbleached, and rust coated the girders. Spike was new to town but he had a vague memory of reading a newspaper article about a company going bankrupt and a bit of a political fight over what to do with a half-built skyscraper that nobody now wanted to complete or pay to tear down, and creditors warring over the assets on the site.

Spike grimaced as he hopped the fence after the trio. The place was a maze. He could see why the vampires wanted to be able to use it; it would make a fine lair. The lower levels of the building were partially complete and the basement should be closed in and safe from the sun.

A construction trailer had lights on in it, at the base of the building. He could hear an old movie playing on a TV in the trailer and could smell somebody's dinner -- ramen noodles, maybe some egg. He crept closer, keeping to the shadows. He was just as much a vampire as the trio of playboys and if this guy did have any kind of magic he didn't want to get caught in a case of mistaken identity. Emphasis on the "stake" in mistaken.

Something crashed, loudly, nearby. Glass broke. The vampires shouted with drunken glee. Spike drew farther back into the shadows.

When the door opened on the trailer and a man burst out he was moving so fast that Spike only caught a glimpse of black hair, olive skin and broad shoulders. *Maybe ...* He wasn't sure who he'd seen. He ran after the man, towards the noise.

"Hey!" The man shouted, "Get out of here!"

The vampires whirled -- they'd been smashing the windows in on one of the cranes, no doubt to lure the man out into the open. If he lived in the trailer they wouldn't have been able to cross his threshold so they had to make him come out. Spike winced as they whirled around, game faces illuminated by moonlight.

"You freaks again," the man said, stopping lightly on the balls of his feet. Spike approached from behind, frowning. The man was athletic -- he wore battered jeans, Redwing work books, and a tight t-shirt, and Spike noted significant muscles. He had black hair, a bit curly. For a moment, Spike entertained the thought that this might be Xander ... but no, he was built wrong. Xander was a big man, but no athlete, not like this guy. Spike was vaguely disappointed; coming to Xander's rescue would have just made his day, mostly because it would have pissed Xander off.

"I told you to get lost the last time."

With snarls, the vampires lit into the man. Spike was *impressed* when the man more than held his own. He fought well -- he was fast, very strong, and fearless. Spike watched as the man caught Pier by the arm and threw him hard into a pile of iron scraps, and sent Rufus flying over the fence. He punched the third vampire in the face hard enough to send blood flying.

Spike watched for a few minutes more as the man proceeded to beat the vampires to a pulp. The vampires weren't backing down, though.

"Give it up already!" The man said, chucking Rufus against the side of the crane so hard that he left a dent. There were several previous dents on the crane already. Rufus -- battered, bruised, but with singleminded vampiric determination -- rolled to his feet and charged at the man again.

"What are you freaks *on*!" The man said, "Damnit, give it up!"

He obviously had no idea how to deal with a vampire. When the dark-haired man tossed Pier at Spike's feet Spike pulled out one of his stakes and efficiently dusted the vampire. The dark-haired man stared at Spike, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.

Spike tossed him another stake. "Your turn."

The man was a *quick* learner -- he dusted the other two in short order, after seeing Spike's example, then spun around and stared at Spike with wide eyes. "What are those things?"

"Vampires." Spike stepped closer, and frowned. The man looked familiar. Not Spike, but -- "Clark?"

No, that wasn't right. The man gave him a puzzled look. He had Clark's face, but his hair was a bit longer, he looked ten years older, and he was just slightly heavier. But they could be twins, or clones, ten years apart. Maybe brothers. Or maybe all just aliens simply looked alike.

"I'm Bill," the man said, holding a hand out for Spike to shake. "Bill Smith."

"Spike." Spike said. Bill even smelled almost like Clark Kent, though Bill's odor indicated he hadn't been eating nearly as well -- he smelled of junk food and ramen noodles. The classic American poverty diet. There was no taint of booze or drugs on the man, though. Given his physique, Spike wondered briefly why the man was living in a construction trailer babysitting an abandoned building site. With looks like that he should have been able to find a decent job -- Spike had no illusions about how having a pretty face affected one's job prospects.

"Vampires?" Bill said, regarding Spike levelly. "You're the same as they are."

Spike held his hands up defensively and backed away. Bill obviously had detected he was a vampire. And one taste of Clark's power and speed had made him exceedingly wary of Kryptonians in general. "Not a bloody bad guy, mate. I'm the only vampire you're ever to likely meet who willingly works for the forces of good. Excluding Angel and he's probably dead."

Bill said shortly, "Why are you here?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Got wind those three were going to make some trouble. I thought I'd stop it."

Bill said, "Why?"

Spike shrugged expansively. He glanced at the horizon; late evening was rapidly becoming morning. "It's a habit. And now I do have to go."

"Wait!" Bill said, hurrying after him. "You can answer my questions, can't you?"

"Questions?" Spike said.

"You knew -- know -- about things. It's obvious you know what vampires are. I want to know. About the supernatural. Please." Bill asked. His tone was pleading and there was a yearning look in his eyes. "I've never met anyone who could answer my questions."

Spike hesitated. It was curiosity about the stranger more than any sympathy for his desire for answers that led him to answer, "Sure, mate. I'll fill you in on what I know. Mind, I'm no nerd boy, but I can tell you a few things."

Bill gave him a delighted grin. "Really?"

"Sure. Why the hell not. Meet me at Mama's Bar tomorrow night. This should be amusing." Spike glanced again at the horizon. "And now, I do have to go -- it's a long way back to my apartment."



+++++

Chapter 7

+++++

"Lois. Lois!" Buffy called, urgently, from Lois' bedroom door. "Lois, wake up!"

"What time is it?" Lois yanked the covers over her head. "Don't answer that. Early. Go away. I was up until two AM."

"It's six AM and Giles never came home last night." Buffy said. Her voice was urgent and somehow much younger than Lois had ever heard before. "We're going to go out to look for him."

Lois peered over the covers at Buffy -- who was obviously dressed and ready to go. She had on a long coat despite the heat; Lois assumed from personal experience that Buffy was packing a crossbow and some sort of bladed weapon under the coat. Buffy's expression was deadly serious and extraordinarily grim.

"He said the owner of The Magic Book was an old friend. Maybe he just ... spent the night?" Lois said, tentatively. Tweedy Giles didn't seem like anyone to "spend the night" with a friend but she had to ask.

"Giles? No. Anyway, the owner of The Magic Shoppe is some sort of bug demon. And male." Buffy said. With no embarrassment she added, "Not Giles' style."

"You think he's in trouble?" Lois said, a little more concerned now.

"Yeah, I do."

"I'll help you look." Lois kicked the covers off and scrubbed at her eyes. "Just let me wake up."

"Willow's making coffee. And -- thank you." Buffy said.

"Oh, don't sound so surprised," Lois grumbled at her. "I may think Giles is a stuffy, judgmental old fart but it's sort've part of my job to help with stuff like this."

"Gee, thanks," Buffy said, with a wry smile. "It's so good to know you care."

+++++

William Clark Smith -- Bill -- was waiting at Mama’s Bar when Spike showed up a half hour after sundown. He was nursing a drink that Spike’s nose identified as Coca Cola straight up -- no booze added. Unusual, for this bar. Not a drinker, then, or smart enough not to drink in a demon bar. Or dead broke and not willing to pay for the booze.

The latter seemed quite probable; Bill was wearing recently laundered but decrepit jeans with holey knees, the same t-shirt as last night, and the same Redwing work boots -- which were practically antiques. He was clean, though, and smelled strongly of cheap shampoo and cheaper bar soap. The guy was definitely down on his luck but he had standards -- something Spike approved of. He’d lived on the edge most of his Unlife, but no matter how bad things got, a chap needed to find a way to have a bath and get quarters for the Laundromat.

“I didn’t think you were going to show up,” Bill said, standing up.

“I’m a vampire, had to wait for the sunset before I headed here,” Spike replied, shortly.

“No, I mean, I wasn’t sure if you’d show up at all. People -- don’t.” Bill regarding Spike with brown eyes that were guarded and wary.

“Said I’d be here,” Spike protested. He flagged Evelyn down with a casual wave as he claimed a booth across from Bill.

“The usual?” The waitress asked, walking over to the table. She glanced at Bill and then gave him a second, appraising, look. “Haven’t seen you here before.”

Bill looked sharply down at the table, not meeting Evelyn’s eyes. He mumbled, “Yeah.”

“The usual. And a plate of hot wings, if you would, and some of those jalapeno cheese fried things.” Spike said. “Thanks, pet.”

Bill said, curiously, “Don’t … people like you … drink … you know …”

“Don’t vampires drink blood?” Spike said, with a grin of amusement. “You can say the word. I’ve been called a whole hell of a lot worse than ‘vampire’ in my life. And yeah, I have to drink blood. I just like food.”

“Oh.” Bill looked down at the table again. He was embarrassed, painfully so.

Odd duck, Spike decided. “So what is it that you wanted to know?”

Bill looked up quickly. “About … everything. The supernatural. Stuff. I’m curious.”

More than curious, to judge by the rabidly interested light that had appeared in those brown eyes. Spike idly noted that women had to swoon around this man. He wondered again why Bill was working as a night security guard on a bankrupt construction site. Maybe the answer was ‘odd duck’ but Spike thought there was more to it than that.

Spike was still trying to figure out how to answer Bill when the bar’s front door opened and trouble -- or, precisely, the resident Slayer -- walked in. He’d seen her from a distance on many occasions. She was short, skinny, dark haired, and had a remarkably nasty disposition. He’d been tempted on a few occasions to bait her just for the heck of it -- and not too long ago he wouldn’t have hesitated -- but he’d never found exactly the right occasion. Plus, he was supposed to be a good guy and picking a fight with the resident Slayer wasn’t in his job description anymore.

She surveyed the bar with narrowed eyes. Mama, behind the counter, frowned at Lois with a tight-lipped and unhappy expression. This Slayer wasn’t welcome here -- he‘d heard Mama vent about her in the past though she‘d never entered when he was around. Mama had mentioned liking Faith to Spike on a few occasions so Spike figured whatever was between Lois and Mama was personal and predated his arrival in Metropolis.

In a low voice, Spike said, “Well, I suppose we could start with Slayers. That’s one by the door… Bill?”

Bill was staring at Lois the Vampire Slayer with a slack-jawed thunderstruck expression. As Spike watched, in amusement, Bill suddenly shut his mouth and looked abruptly down at his drink. He was actually blushing.

The Slayer, to Spike’s mild concern, headed in their direction. “Clark!” she said, “Aren’t you supposed to be checking Hobb’s Bay out?”

Bill looked up from his drink briefly, then down again, and said something that not even Spike’s vampire hearing could decipher.

“Clark!” Lois planted her hands on the table. “Look, flyboy, I thought we agreed …”

“Not Clark,” Spike said, idly, leaning back in his seat with his fingers laced behind his head. He studied the Slayer appreciatively. She really was an attractive woman. “I think you’ve got him mixed up with someone else, Slayer.”

Lois rounded on Spike, hand sliding inside her jacket. Spike had absolutely no doubt that she was reaching for a stake and that she intended to dust him right in the middle of the bar. “You’re a vampire.”

He lifted an eyebrow at her. “Very good. If you’re going to stake me you might wait until I settle my tab with Mama. Otherwise she might be unhappy with you.”

Lois hesitated. Glanced again at Bill, who was looking baffled.

Spike said conversationally to Bill, “Slayers kill vampires. It’s the natural order of things. They’re Chosen to do it by some sort of magical mumbo-jumbo. Kill vampires, take out the occasional Hell God, demon cyborg, or other impossibly powerful bad guy, stop apocalypses, and generally be heroines. They also tend to be short fused, arrogant, beautiful women. Gotta love ‘em.”

Lois started to reach for the stake again.

Spike added, conversationally, “I fought beside a Slayer for several years. Loved her, too.”

Lois stopped. She slapped both hands down on the table, leaned over it towards him, and said, “You’re not Angel. I’ve seen his picture.”

Spike winced. She’d seen Angel’s picture but not his? Well, he’d always known that was how he ranked up -- second best. He managed to vent a disgusted laugh and say, “God forbid.”

“Buffy gives every Slayer Angel’s picture, so we don’t accidentally slay him. So don’t even try to pretend you’re Angel. You aren’t.” Lois said, voice terse, posture downright hostile. If looks could dust he would have gone, “Poof!” without her ever needing to touch him.

“I’d stake myself before I pretended to be that wanker,” Spike said. “Anyway, you might want to let Slayer Central know that Angel’s probably dead -- he disappeared in LA, probably dusted when I wasn’t looking -- no, scratch that, I should really tell Buffy myself, first. It’s only right that she hears it from me since I was there ... Unless she might think I’m gloating. She mustn’t think that, it’s not true …”

Lois said, shortly, “Pay your bill so I can stake you.”

“Might ask Buffy if she wants Spike staked first,” Spike said, amiably.

“Spike’s dead,” Lois said, flatly. “Buffy told me that herself.”

“Ask her again, pet.” Spike said, a grin touching his lips. “See what she says now. I imagine her response will be … colorful.”

Lois straightened up, folded her arms, and said, “You’re Spike.”

“Last I checked.” Spike gave her his most charming grin. It didn’t work; she continued to glare at him.

“She thinks you’re dead.”

“I was.” Spike said, and wondered briefly if he could get away with letting Buffy think he’d only recently been resurrected. Was there anyone left alive who knew otherwise? Probably, on the side of evil. She’d find out sooner or later. Just to annoy Lois he added, “Still am. Dead.”

She gave him a long and thoroughly annoyed look that only served to make him grin wider. Ah, yes, he’d need to get to know this Slayer better. Baiting her could be a great deal of fun.

She turned her attention to Bill. “Bill Smith, am I right?”

Spike glanced at Bill as well and was surprised by the look on Bill’s face. Bill was regarding Lois with an astonished, intent expression. He’d leaned forward in his seat; he was clearly fascinated by her.

“Uh,” Bill said. He blinked, seemed to realize that she was actually speaking to him, and he turned his fascinated attention to his Coke. “Uh.”

“Bill Smith, Lois Lane. Lois, Bill,” Spike said, introducing them.

“Huh. I thought so.” Lois said. “You really need to meet a friend of mine.”

“So they are related?” Spike asked, curiously.

Lois gave him a surprised glance. “You’ve met Clark?”

“Met him in the unstoppable force sense, yeah,” Spike said, somewhat disgruntled. He hadn‘t forgotten the ridiculously easy way that Clark had defeated him. “They look identical. What are they, clones?”

“There’s somebody else like me?” Bill looked up at Lois. His voice was carefully controlled; Spike couldn’t read what emotion was in it.

Lois met his gaze. Her expression suddenly softened; Spike was startled by the change it made in her. She’d been beautiful before -- now she was stunning. Spike couldn’t read Bill but Lois had evidently seen something that brought the woman out in her.

Bill sucked in his breath, made a vaguely strangled noise, and stared into his Coke. He seemed to find that Coke incredibly fascinating. Lois said, in a gentle voice, “Yeah, Bill, there is. He’s been looking for you, too. I’ll let him explain it -- it’s a bit of a story -- Spike, do you *happen* to know where my apartment is?”

“Sure,” Spike said, easily. He’d made a point of knowing where the major players lived within days of arriving in towns.

“Why am I not surprised? -- Why don’t you bring Bill by tonight, about midnight. We’re regrouping there then.” Lois ran a hand over her head. She looked tired, suddenly, and Spike’s warning bells rang.

“Is something wrong?” He asked, with genuine concern.

She gave him a long, measuring look. “Buffy’s Watcher is missing.”

“Giles?” Spike responded, with somewhat mixed feelings. There were old wounds there; Giles had made it abundantly clear on many occasions what he thought of Spike. Monster. Animal. Thing. Multiple betrayals, deserved and undeserved, both first and secondhand. A room with crosses. God, *Fred* -- would they have lost Fred if Giles had helped Angel when Angel’d swallowed his pride and asked for it? Giles hadn’t exactly been a friend.

“Yeah.” Lois said, “Not exactly my favorite person but he’s one of the good guys …”

“Buffy’s got to be torn up about that,” Spike said, softly. Buffy was probably more than ‘torn up’ - if anything happened to Giles, Buffy would be *devastated.*

“Pretty much.” Lois agreed. “We don’t know what happened -- he went to The Magic Book last night and never came back.”

Spike blew out a sharp, annoyed breath. “He’s probably just lost in the boffin section of the library. Still --want some help looking?”

Lois shrugged. “Don’t see why I should say no.”

“I’ll talk to a few of my sources, see what I can find out.” Spike turned his attention to Bill. “So, Bill, want to tag along? You might find this interesting.”

Bill gave Lois a brief, but very … interested … glance. Lois returned it, and Bill made that awkward squawk again. This time it was a painting of dogs playing poker on the wall that he stared at.

“Or do you want to tag along after the Slayer here?” Spike suggested, with a grin, mostly because he wanted to needle Lois one last time.

Lois surprised him. In a measuring tone of voice she said, “I wouldn’t mind.”

Bill stared at her a moment, mouth hanging open, before he responded, “No, please. I’ll stay with Spike. If that‘s okay, Spike …”

“Sure. Fine. Though I daresay the Slayer might be better company than me …” Now he was picking on Bill.

Bill said, shortly, “Not a good idea.”

Lois opened her mouth, as if she was going to say something, then shut it again. After a minute she added, “See you two tonight.”

After she was gone Spike observed, “I think she might be single, Bill.”

“I can’t … Spike, there’s things about me you don’t know … I can’t …” Bill stared at his Coke again. Spike noted all the ice had melted in it -- that was certainly strange. “Do you really think she is?”

Spike said, “Haven’t ever seen her with a boy or heard any rumor of one.”

“There’s things about me … things you don‘t know. That she doesn‘t know.” Bill said, softly.

Spike leaned back in his chair and regarded Bill with amusement. “What, that you’re an alien from the planet Krypton?”

“A who from the what?” Bill replied, eyes wide and growing wider.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, man,” Spike said. “That’s nothing. Heck, I’m a vampire in love with a Vampire Slayer. At least Lois wouldn’t have a conflict of interest about a relationship with a Kryptonian.”

“Krypton?” Bill said, faintly.

Spike hooted a sudden laugh. “Oh, boy. You didn’t know, did you? Well, damn. Clark will have to tell you the details because for damn sure I don’t know. Oh, this is rich!”

The glass of Coke suddenly exploded in Bill’s hand. He leaped to his feet, stammering apologies to Evelyn and Mama and Spike. Spike, grinning, stood up as well. He tossed a twenty on the tablet to pay for his uneaten meal and a generous tip, and said, “C’mon, Tentacles, let’s go look for a boffin in need of a rescue.”

+++++

“That was …” Bill looked over his shoulder at the magic shop they’d just left. “That was a giant bug.”

“Yeah, he dropped his illusions and whatnot when I came in. Only polite, since I’m a demon and not human. He looks like Hulk Hogan with brown hair if you’re a human customer.” Spike said, conversationally. The shopkeeper had known who Giles was -- had even seen him the night he’d disappeared -- but didn’t know where he’d gone after leaving. “He just looks human to make his human customers comfortable.”

Spike thought he was telling the truth about not knowing where Giles was; for a giant bug the shop owner wasn’t a bad chap.

“Next stop …” Spike jaywalked across the street, “… Ollie’s Cafeteria. Bobby works nights; he’s useful. Doesn’t much care for demons but he doesn’t know I am one. He has good info on the human side of things. This isn’t necessarily a demon crime, Giles disappearing -- sometime tonight I’m going to need to look up the location of Ethan Rayne.”

Spike snickered, “Maybe he turned Giles into a frog. For that matter, maybe I could pay him to turn Giles into a froggy …”

“I take it you don’t like this Giles much,” Bill observed. “Why are you looking for him?”

“Giles is a bastard, but he’s one of the good guys and he’s one of Buffy’s oldest friends. It’d tear her to shreds to lose him. And I love Buffy,” Spike said, with a shrug. He pulled the cafeteria door open.

“So Buffy’s your girlfriend?” Bill asked. “You mentioned a Slayer …”

“Buffy’s The Slayer, yeah. Long story, I’ll tell you later. And no, we’re not … she’s not my girlfriend. Never has been. It’s complicated.” Spike scanned the line of cafeteria workers and didn’t see the man he was looking for. He asked the cashier, “Where’s Bobby?”

The girl’s expression darkened. “Some lady came in here, day before yesterday. She had blue hair, blue eyes, this really weird outfit. Skinny but really strong. She grabbed Bobby and threw him into the wall.”

Spike froze, breath catching in his throat. “Illyria … is Bobby okay?”

“He’s still in the hospital. Bad concussion and a broken hip.”

“Damn it.” Spike said, grimly. “She say what she was after?”

“Something about wanting a key. I don’t know why she’d hurt Bobby over a key!” The cashier’s voice rose several decibels. Anger, fear, outrage.

“I do … oh, bloody hell. Illyria’s after The Key. Which means she wants to open a portal. This isn’t good …” Spike spun around and half ran out the door. “C’mon, Bill. This is not good news. I need to talk to Buffy *now*.”

 

+++++



Chapter 8

+++++

“No, Xander, no sign … no clue … Andrew’s deploying about a dozen of the girls from Cleveland but they can’t spare more than that …”

Willow sat at Lois’ kitchen table. Her stomach hurt with worry for Giles. She listened, hugging herself, as Buffy talked to Xander -- in Africa, a world away, and unable to get to Metropolis in under a week. As if he could do anything more than the rest of them were doing. They had no leads, no ideas, not even a hunch to work with.

A knock sounded at Lois’ front door. Willow said, “I’ll get it!” and ran to the door.

The First stood there. It had to be, because Spike was dead.

Clark stood behind him, looking curiously over his shoulder. No -- not Clark. The man was several years older, a few pounds heavier, and the look in his eyes wasn’t Clark’s at all. This was definitely not the man who’d reacted with such confident calm when he and his desk chair had been yanked out of another dimension and dropped into the midst of a fight with vampires. Clark had his meek moments; this man looked downright timid.

“Xander, I’ll call you back. I’m going to slay a vampire -- I did mention Spike’s back, right?”

From clear across Lois’ kitchen and living room Willow heard Xander’s squawk. It sounded like an obscenity. Buffy hung the phone up and walked to the doorway. Given the look on Buffy’s face, Willow decided this was the genuine article and not The First. Buffy obviously knew that Spike was alive; she hadn’t bothered to tell anyone.

“I suppose you want an invite in,” Buffy said, folding her arms.

“Would be nice, Slayer,” Spike said, without much of a smile. Willow saw genuine -- fear? -- in Spike’s eyes. And it wasn’t fear about what Buffy was going to do to him; if she was going to kill him she’d have done so many years before. It was something else unrelated to his relationship with Buffy.

Buffy looked mad -- as mad as Willow had seen her in quite awhile. Forestalling Buffy’s likely attempt to slam the door in Spike’s face Willow reached out, grabbed Spike by the wrist, and said, “Get in here, Spike.”

And then she surprised even herself by hugging him. “We thought you were dead!”

“I was,” Spike said, his English accent as warm and familiar as the smell of cigarettes on his duster. He also sounded surprised -- why, because she‘d hugged him? Well, she‘d missed him -- not in lost-a-true-love sense that Buffy had, but in the lost-a-friend sense. He‘d saved their butts often enough to have earned her regard.

Somewhat awkwardly, he patted her back, then stepped free. He regarded her for a second with his head tilted and a curious look in his eyes. Then the fear was back. “Long story, pet. Tell it later. Big trouble now.”

“What do you want?” Buffy said, shortly. There was hurt in her voice. Deep, fresh hurt.

Willow mentally winced and wondered what they’d done to each other this time. Obviously, Buffy had reasons for not mentioning Spike. Buffy tended to keep her own council when it came to her boyfriends, though, particularly when she was pissed off or when she thought her friends might not approve.

Spike was silent for a moment. Then he said, his voice choked, “Dawn. Where is she?”

Buffy blinked. “I talked to her yesterday. Why?”

“Trouble. Key trouble.” Spike said, expression deadly grim. “Her name’s Illyria. She’s an Old One. She’s looking for The Key.”

Buffy sucked in a sharp breath and went several shades paler. When she exhaled she said, carefully, “Someday I’d like to go at least a week without my friends and family being targets.”

“Where is she?” Spike said, voice surprisingly gentle. “Illyria’s trouble and I know for a fact I can’t stop her myself but you know I’ll help.”

“Yeah,” Buffy gave him a level look. “I know I can count on you. You‘re the one person in this crazy world who I can completely count on when the shit hits the fan.”

Both of them were silent for a moment, a measuring silence full of unspoken hurts and old pain. Spike nodded once, “I’ll go, then. Be good to see the niblet anyway.”

Buffy shook her head. “Not alone. I’m not risking you *or* Dawn against an Old One.”

Willow heard the real fear in Buffy’s voice -- that she’d gotten Spike back only to lose him with deadly finality a few moments later. It would be ironic, and poetic, and so very typical of the subset of Murphy’s Law that governed the Slayer’s love life. Willow winced at the very thought.

Buffy sat down at Lois’ kitchen table and stared up at Spike, who met her gaze with a suspicious expression. She just looked at him, expression full of a thousand emotions -- more than Willow could identify. There was grief in there, and hope, and horror, and a terrible and infinite exhaustion. The smile that touched her lips was a terrible thing. “Spike, will you promise me one thing?”

“Maybe,” he answered, warily.

“When this is all over, will you talk to me?” Buffy didn’t make a move towards him, but Spike flinched like she’d struck him. “I’ve missed you so very much. I want to know why, what I did wrong.”

“You did nothing wrong …”

“Then come back later, and explain. But now -- Dawn, yes, we need to get Dawn.” Buffy reached for her cel phone. “I’m going to have her come here. We’re better protection than anything else I can think of on short notice.”

Buffy dialed a number on the cel phone. She listened for a second and then said, “Clark, when you get this message come back to Lois’ apartment. I need your help -- something might be after my sister.”

She smiled wearily at Spike.

“You’re sending the alien after her?” Spike started to protest.

“I’m sending both of you. Clark’s got the powers of a minor god, and I’m not exaggerating that in the slightest …” Buffy glanced at Bill, then shook her head imperceptibly. Willow remembered Bill was Clark’s double, and presumably had Clark’s powers.

“Can you trust him?” Spike said, with concern.

“Who, Clark? Yeah, he’s cool. Wish he was one of ours, but he’ll be going home eventually … he‘s got a wife and friends and family to go home to.” Buffy glanced at Bill with a look of speculation. Bill was of this world, belonged here, and Willow was certain that Buffy was already trying to figure out if he was going to be friend or foe.

Bill stared at his toes. At least he didn’t appear to be aggressive.

Buffy glanced at Willow, who shrugged.

“So, Bill,” Buffy said, carefully, “What’s your story?”

He glanced up sharply at her and mumbled something unintelligible.

“Uh-huh. Care to speak in English rather than in tongues?” Buffy said, waspishly. Willow sucked in a surprised breath; she really didn’t want to provoke Bill until they knew more about him.

Buffy’s tactic worked, though. Bill said in a stronger voice, “I’m a security guard.”

“Underemployed much?” Buffy said, eyebrows rising. “Security guard as in walk-a-beat, eat donuts, and smack people with a great big flashlight?”

“Pretty much,” Bill said. “It pays the bills. It‘s honest work. I work by myself -- I like that. I don‘t like crowds.”

Given how he was dressed, Willow noted, his definition of ‘paying the bills’ appeared to be a little different from hers.

Lois’ front door opened and faster than Buffy would have believed, Clark stepped through the doorway. He said, “Buffy, I got your message. What’s …”

He was in his gaudy costume, cape swirling around his ankles, bright as a tropical parrot. Bill turned and simply stared. Clark froze, staring back, eyes gone wide. Quietly, he reached behind himself and shut the door and said, “Wow.”

“Who are you?” Bill breathed. Clark’s appearance had apparently made a rather big impression on Bill.

Clark suddenly remembered his manners, blinked, and held a hand out to Bill to shake. “Clark Kent. You’re Bill Smith, aren’t you?”

“Uh. Yeah.” Bill grasped the proffered hand.

Willow watched, amused, as the tendons stood out on both men’s arms. Not a testosterone challenge, but an experiment on both their parts, she suspected. They were sizing each other up by handgrip strength -- mutually checking for super strength, at her guess.

Both men rubbed their fingers when the handshake ended.

“You’re like me,” Bill breathed, “That’s why they said we should meet. We’re alike.”

“We’re more than alike,” Clark was grinning. “I am you, from another dimension. Though it sounds as if our histories parted at around the time the ship landed.”

“Ship?” Bill said.

“From Krypton.” Clark said. He paused, and said, “Do you know … anything … about your heritage?”

Bill mutely shook his head. He couldn’t take his eyes off Clark’s face.

Clark hesitated. “Short version: We’re from the Planet Krypton -- which was a dying world and exploded. There were only a handful of survivors; we survived because our parents sent us here as infants. I’m assuming your history is the same as mine, anyway.”

Clark paused, and said, “You weren’t abandoned. Sending you here, alone, was a last act of love from your birth parents.”

Something sparked in Bill’s eyes, something Willow couldn’t define. He said, “This is true?”

“Yes. I’ll tell you more, later -- I need to go be Superman now, it sounds like.” Clark turned to Spike, studied him dubiously, then said, “Will you fill me in on the way? -- I assume you know the details.”

Willow thought that was one of the more logical things she‘d from anyone in a long time; rather than wasting time asking Buffy questions, he clearly intended to get the story from Spike on the way. But Spike ignored him, and said to Buffy, “Buffy, are you sure …”

Buffy cut him off. “Clark, Dawn doesn’t know you and you don’t know her. I want Spike along to make the introductions. I’ll try to call her but she never leaves her cel phone on … Spike knows what the Big Bad we’re facing looks like too.”

Spike said, “I’ll call and get tickets. You paying, Slayer? Be expensive on short notice.”

“No need to call the airport,” Clark said, with a grin.

Spike’s eyes widened. “No.”

“Fastest way, Spike. Do it for Dawn.” Buffy’s voice held just a hint of amusement.

“Are you bloody mad?” Spike took a step away from Clark.

Clark moved in a sudden blur, scooped the vampire up under one arm, and floated in mid air. Spike’s response was downright profane. He thrashed and swore profusely.

“Relax,” Clark said, “I’m not going to drop you. Promise.”

“You’re bloody crossing your bloody fingers!” Spike protested.

Clark had his fingers crossed -- in Spike’s field of view, deliberately, if Willow didn’t miss her guess. Clark laughed, uncrossed his fingers, and said, “I promise. I haven’t dropped anyone yet.”

“This is humiliating!” Spike complained.

Grinning, Buffy opened the balcony doors. “Have a nice flight.”

“Fuck you, Buffy!” Spike shouted at her as Clark took off.

“Maybe later!” Buffy shouted back, waving.

Spike shut up abruptly. Clark gave Buffy a startled look over his shoulder.

“Buffy, that was mean.” Willow said. “You hurt Spike’s man-pride.”

“He’ll get over it.” Buffy shrugged. “He had it coming. I think Clark’s ticked at him too, on my behalf -- though the man’s too well mannered to actually say anything. Anyway, if he was really upset we’d have seen some fang. He just had to keep up appearances.”

“I wonder what it’s like to fly like that …” Willow stared after the rapidly disappearing dot that was Clark and Spike.

Buffy looked at Bill again with that keenly speculative look. Willow was certain now that Buffy was giving serious thought to adding an alien to Slayer Central‘s small army of Slayers, freaks and geeks. “So. Can you fly too?”

“I … don’t.” Bill said, shortly. He paused and then said very quietly, “Do you want my help? It sounds as if you might need it.”

Buffy glanced at Willow. Willow shrugged.

“I mean, you don’t know me. I’d understand if you don’t want anything to do with me. I’m kindof a freak and it sounds like you people know it. Most of the time people find out about me and they don’t want nothing to do with me. Most of the time people are scared of me. Really scared, sometimes. They think I’m possessed by demons or that I’m a monster or …”

Buffy held her hand up, and he ground to a halt. His eyes searched her face, then Willow‘s. “Stop there …”

“Hold it there, or Buffy might ask you out on a date.” Willow said, with a snicker.

Buffy gave Willow a mock glare. “Hey. Watch it. Who dated a werewolf?”

Willow grinned.

Buffy turned her attention back to Bill, who was staring at his shoes again. Buffy said in a much gentler tone of voice, “Don’t worry, Bill. Compared to some of the other people I know your weirdness ranking is really low.”

+++++

“Why would you waste your insignificant life over The Key?”

The Old One’s voice was pleasant, if monotone. The blow that struck Giles’ face no longer came as a surprise, however.

“I will not tell you,” he said, through swollen and split lips.

“Why not? I do not understand.” The woman regarded him with head tilted a bit to the side and no expression on her face.

“I don’t expect you to,” he tried to focus on her. His vision was blurry and sweat and blood stung his eyes.

WHACK. She hit him again. Though she used the back of her hand the blow felt like it came from a lead pipe.

“Why will you not tell me? I would spare your life.”

“Never.” Giles said. “I would die first.”

Silence. “Killing you will accomplish nothing. I must think on this.”

The creature left, and Giles felt his consciousness slip away. Darkness swallowed him whole, blessedly empty of pain and terror.

 

+++++

Chapter 9

+++++

Tap. Tap tap.

“Dawn!”

Tap. Tap. KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK!

“You think you can jimmy this window open?” British voice. Achingly familiar.

“I think I’d break it if I tried. I don’t want to break it.” Stranger’s voice. Midwestern accent, pleasant.

“Bloody girl’s dorm. Wouldn’t let us in through the front door. I still say we can sneak in.” Spike.

“And if they catch us?” Stranger.

“We’ll fly away. You can provide that the flight.”

“Superman does not need a reputation in this world for sneaking into girl’s dorms. We’re less likely to be seen this way.”

“Dawn sleeps like a damn rock …”

Dawn was no longer asleep, however. She had her covers up over her head and was listening to the voices outside her third floor window with disbelief. Spike. And some stranger with a pleasant Midwestern accent.

Spike. Spike was dead. So either the First was out there, or some other form of trouble. She reached under her pillow for the vial of holy water and the stake she kept there. It was very tempting to stay under the covers, however, in her experience bad guys did not go away if you ignored them.

“Niblet, will you WAKE UP!” Spike’s voice snarled.

“Any louder and you’ll wake up the entire building,” the Midwestern voice chided him.

“Just break the window, will you?”

She took a deep breath, steeled her resolve, and stuck her head out from under the covers. A perfectly impossible sight greeted her: Spike and a stranger peering through her dorm window. The stranger was cradling Spike in his arms; by Spike’s body language, he wasn’t happy about being held. It definitely did look like Spike, even without his trademark bleach-blond hair. He’d grown his hair out and it hung in a short pony tail to his shoulders.

The stranger was wearing a spandex outfit in brilliant blue and cardinal red.

“Niblet!” Spike said, “Open the window!”

She walked to the window in her pajamas but didn’t open it. The thin, fragile glass was probably no protection, but it made her feel better. “You’re dead. Go away.”

“I’m back and your sister sent me to get you. We’ve got trouble, Dawn. Glory type trouble.” Spike said, tersely.

“I’ve got mid terms Friday!” Dawn protested, a wail of outrage that the supernatural world dared interfere with her college plans. “No fair!”

She paused, then sensibly -- to his mind -- demanded, “Prove that you’re Spike.”

“Little blue glowy key.” Spike said, shortly. “How I’d like to turn you over my knee. Open the damn window, Dawn!”

She opened the window. The stranger immediately started to fly -- yes, he was really flying -- through the window. He hit the barrier that prevented vampires from entering homes without an invitation and smashed Spike against it hard; they both bounced off.

“Ow. She’s got to invite me in.” Spike rubbed his shoulder. “You’re obviously not from around here if you don’t know that.”

“Come in,” Dawn said.

The two entered. The stranger set Spike down; Spike took several steps away from him, straightened his clothes out, reassumed his dignity with squared shoulders and folded arms, and said, “Dawn. I’ve missed you, Niblet.”

“You’re really alive.” Dawn said, as it suddenly sunk in. Spike. Spike, alive. He looked … different … without the blond hair. But it was really and truly Spike. She shrieked and tackled him, “Spike!”

He hugged her, a bone-crunching hug of welcome. He murmured in a choked voice, “Didn’t much miss the others, Niblet, ‘cept your sister of course, but I’ve sure missed you.”

After a moment, he stepped back. “Her name’s Illyria. She’s an Old One. Something left over from LA. Trouble. I can’t stop her if she’s bent on going through me, but Flyboy here might be able to.”

“She’s after me?” Dawn shuddered. Half-buried memories of Glory threatened to swallow her now with claustrophobic suddenness.

“Yeah.” Spike said, voice gentle. “We’re going to take you to your sis so she and Glinda ‘n the rest of us can protect you better.”

“I … I’ll pack my things.” Dawn said. She tried not to stare at the strange man with Spike. He was dressed in one of the most gaudy costumes she’d ever seen in her life. It was ridiculous, it was audacious, it implied bold heroism. She decided she liked it.

Spike sighed and glanced out the window. The sunrise was lighting the eastern sky. “We’re not going to beat the dawn, I don’t think. Don’t hurry; we’ll have to fly back tonight.”

“Fly. With him?” Dawn stared.

“Dawn, this is Clark Kent. He’s an alien …”

“Do you have to tell everyone that at any chance you get?” Clark said, with some annoyance.

Spike just gave Clark an amused look.

“He’s a friend of your sister’s.”

“Latest boyfriend?” Dawn said, somewhat cynically.

“No!” Clark said, hastily, as Spike laughed. “Why is it everyone assumes that I’m involved with Buffy? I’m married!”

Dawn snickered at his aggrieved tone. She and Spike exchanged a look of amusement and she explained, “It’s probably the reverse. People think Buffy’s involved with you. My sister likes her men, shall we say, a bit exotic. If you’re the most exotic thing around the logical conclusion is that Buffy‘s got the hots for you.”

She studied this tall, dark stranger. Shame that he was married -- if he’d been single she’d have been seriously considering him as a prospect. He was handsome, stunningly so. She did like the costume.

“Any more like you on the home planet?” she asked, conversationally, as she dumped several scoops of coffee into her coffee pot hopper.

“No,” Clark said, voice gone quiet and eyes haunted. “There aren’t. Krypton was destroyed, a long time ago. Almost everyone died.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” She paused, changed the subject, “Spike, I’ve got an old sleeping bag around here. If you wanted to hide under it we could probably drive back today. Get there faster than waiting for dark. It’s about ten hours to Metropolis, probably about fourteen hours to dusk, plus flying time. I’m inclined to try to be a moving target if something’s after me again.”

Spike nodded. He observed in a mildly surprised tone, “You’ve grown up, kiddo.”

What was that about? Dawn shrugged and gave him the best answer she could think of, which was, “Three years will do that to a girl.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I can fly the whole car.” Clark offered, helpfully.

“Isn’t that a bit … heavy?” Dawn asked, doubtfully.

Spike said, “Reason Buffy sent Clark to get you is that we think he could probably put the hurt on Illyria if we run into her. Flying a car around …”

“That, I can do.” Clark nodded firmly. “Easily. I can actually go faster because you two will be protected from the wind.”

+++++

A gentle hand resting on his forehead woke Giles. “Rupert. Rupert Giles.”

When he opened his eyes the world spun around him in crazy loopy circles. Dizzy, nauseous, sleepy …

“Giles. You’re Giles, aren’t you?” The voice insisted.

He forced himself to focus on the owner of the voice. She was a brown-haired woman, mousy, painfully thin, all angles and awkward lines. “Who are you?”

“Fred.” She said. “Illyria’s gone. Let’s get you out of here.”

“Fred …”

She gave him a quick, shy, grin. “Winifred Burkle. Fred.”

The name was startlingly familiar. He frowned at her. “Angel’s Fred?”

She nodded, “That’s me. Let’s get you out of here. Can you walk?”

“Illyria …” The woman looked familiar; he stared at her, trying to place where he’d seen her before. He’d never met her. Something was tickling the back of his brain; he finally remembered what it was. “You’re dead, I heard.”

“They brought me back,” Fred gave him a quick grin. “C’mon, let’s get you out of here.”

She tugged at his arm, and he somehow managed to find his feet. He gasped, “Buffy … Buffy needs to know that Illyria’s after the Key.”

“Where is the Key? I’ll tell her,” Fred said.

“I’ll just call her at the first phone …” Giles leaned against Fred as she guided him to a set of stairs leading out of the demon woman’s lair. But his head was swimming and he realized he couldn’t remember his own phone number, much less Buffy’s cel number. “No, we need to go there. To Buffy. I think I remember where her house is …”

+++++

“No luck,” Lois said, wearily, to Buffy and Willow. She‘d come home at dawn, having missed the arranged midnight meeting time by several hours, frustrated and empty handed after twenty four hours of fruitless search. “I looked, Buffy. Honest, I talked to everyone I know -- which isn’t many folks, I’ll admit. Most people don’t like me once they get to know me. Checked every place I could think of -- everything from the bars and flophouses to the usual … dumping grounds.”

She sat on her couch, hands in her head. “I went by the hospital, by the way, see if he was there. I know you did too, but I figured I’d pester them. Checked on my publisher … Jimmy was awake. He knew me.”

“Well, at least there’s that,” Buffy said, sympathetically. Willow made a noise that might have been encouraging; Lois had seen vampires who looked less dead than Willow. Lois suspected Willow had been fruitlessly spell casting to find Giles.

She sighed. “Yeah. I just wish I could find your Watcher …”

“Willow couldn’t find him with a locator spell so he’s probably somewhere that’s shielded from magic. That tells me we’re dealing with something particularly nasty.” Buffy ran a hand over her face and leaned against the wall.

“Worse,” Buffy continued, “Spike came by. He found out there’s an Old One loose in the city and we think she might be planning big trouble.”

“Old One.” Lois said, blankly.

“Think of it as something like a God for demon kind and an ancestor, all rolled into one. Ancient. Really really ancient.. Spike says he thinks she’ll be trouble and Spike’s been accurate about that sort of thing for as long as I’ve known him.” Buffy shook her head, a faint smile touching her lips. “First time Spike ever worked with me to save the world he was still a creature of evil. He just loved the world too much to see it destroyed.”

“Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?”

“Yeah … Spike‘s all contradictory and stuff.” Buffy’s eyes brightened, for just a moment. “I thought he was dead. I still haven‘t decided if I should kill him or kiss him.”

Bill appeared from Lois’ kitchen, cups of steaming coffee in his hands. Lois glanced at him, then did a double take when she realized it wasn’t Clark. She accepted the coffee. “What’s he doing here?”

Buffy glanced at him. “Spike left him here when I sent Spike and Clark off to get my sister. I’m concerned Illyria may go after her … I’d rather have her with me, where we can protect her. Anyway, Bill offered to help us.” Buffy said. “I think we can put him to work. What do you think?”

Lois regarded him for a long, silent, moment before sipping the coffee. “Good coffee.“

He gave her a shy smile, then stared at the toes of his battered work boots.

“You might find him useful at Slayer Central, I guess.” Lois said. “I work alone, you know that.”

Bill looked up sharply. The disappointment was obvious on his face, but he didn’t say anything. He looked like a kicked puppy, Lois thought, and she said, shortly, “Don’t look at me like that. I don’t need any help. I work alone. Makes life much easier.”

Buffy said drily, “Don’t worry, Bill. She hates everyone, it’s nothing personal.”

“I don’t hate people. I just find people … complicating. Easier to be by myself.” Lois protested.

“I understand that,” Bill responded, quietly. He didn’t meet either of their eyes; he stared down at the ground.

“And I’m really too tired to continue this conversation,” Lois announced.

Lois’ balcony door opened, and Superman stepped inside, alone. Lois glanced between the two, seeing them together for the first time. The physical differences were slight; Clark was a tad thinner and a decade younger -- she suspected that it was age more than anything else that was causing the weight difference. It wasn’t an obvious difference; in poor light she’d have had a hard time telling them apart. If she didn’t know there were two of them they might even have been able to swap for each other and fool her.

The biggest difference was attitude, however. That was immediately obvious simply in the way they looked at her. Clark -- damn, he was gorgeous -- met her eyes with bold fearless calm. He wasn’t afraid of her; it wasn’t an arrogance but rather confidence in his expression when he looked at her. He was sure that others would like him, and comfortable with himself if they didn’t.

Bill, on the other hand … he was staring at his feet again, occasionally glancing up at Clark with wary interest. He reminded her of a stray dog, desperately lonely but scared he’d be kicked if he let anyone within striking distance. Something stirred in her heart -- she wanted to see him grin openly, like Clark; she wanted him to meet her gaze without immediately looking away. She wanted … she didn’t know what she wanted, except to say she was fascinated by this strange, awkward man.

She didn’t want Buffy to take him away to the Slayer headquarters in Cleveland -- though she knew that Buffy would be a fool not to consider it. She was already regretting the declaration that she worked alone. Perhaps it would be good to have backup. A partner. Someone who could hold his own in a fight, that she didn’t have to worry about. Bill could tear vampires apart with his bare hands. He’d make a great partner.

What was she thinking? She didn’t need any complications in her life. Particularly not some alien who was probably unstable. How could she trust him if he wouldn’t even meet her gaze and look her in the eyes?

“Where’s Dawn and Spike?” Buffy started to stand up. Lois, startled,

“Parking Dawn’s car …”

“You drove here?” Buffy blinked, did some math in her head, and said, “How fast did you speed?”

“I flew the car. It made sense -- thank you, Bill,” Clark gave his double a long look as Bill handed him a cup of coffee.

“Lots of cream and sugar?” Bill asked.

“Yeah.” Clark sipped the coffee.

“Just like me. Weird.”

Lois let out a long, low whistle as the comment of, “flew the car“ suddenly penetrated. “Just how strong are you?”

Clark chuckled, “Strong enough. Maybe Bill could give you guys some demonstrations …”

“I don’t,” Bill said, very quietly. “Use those powers.”

Clark’s look was surprised. “But there’s so much good you can do with them.”

Lois felt a pang of acute disappointment, which she resolutely squelched. She wasn’t planning on even knowing Bill after this. Why did his statement that he didn’t use his super powers bother her?

“I’ve done so much evil.” He stared at his hands, fingers spread, palms up, for a moment. Then he clenched his hands into fists. “What I am isn’t a gift, it’s a curse.”

Clark glanced at Lois and Buffy. Buffy raised an eyebrow at him, and made a little gesture with her hand that seemed to encourage him to talk to Bill. Lois bit her lip and forced herself not to say anything.

“Bill,” Clark said, very carefully, “What happened?”

Bill met his eyes. The look on his face was naked grief and terrible guilt. Clark reached out and gently placed a hand on the other man’s arm. “I know about the boy when you were a kid.”

Lois marveled again at this man who was Clark Kent. He was some strange, appealing combination of sensitive soul and manly man. How many grown men had the guts and the sensitivity to reach out to another guy like that?

Bill didn’t seem to mind. In a bare whisper, he said, “He was the first.”

Clark said with confidence, “All accidents.”

Lois, fascinated, watched the interplay between the two. They were so much alike, yet so obviously different. Yin and yang, light and dark, hero and … not a hero.

“It doesn’t matter. Accident or not. People get hurt when I do things. I don’t -- I can’t take the risk.” Bill averted his eyes from Clark’s face and stared at the floor. “I just can’t.”

Lois’ apartment door opened at that second, and two people entered, a man leaning on the shoulder of a tall, gangly woman.


“Giles!” Buffy shrieked, bolted across the room, and tackled him. He winced, but returned the hug. The utter and absolute relief on Buffy and Willow’s faces was almost painful to witness.

Willow exclaimed, “You’re hurt!”

“Fred rescued me,” Giles explained, sitting down somewhat heavily at the table. Lois regarded him with some concern; he had two black eyes and was breathing shallowly. She was rather familiar with the symptoms of being beaten to the point of shock; he was close.

“We should take him to the hospital,” Lois suggested.

“No -- no, she might find me there,” Giles shook his head. “Might find me here, too, but that’d just make your jobs easier.”

Kill the demon, he meant. Lois felt a surge of pride at that assumption; that they as Slayers (and a witch) would deal with the problem. It was what she’d been born to do.

“I thought you were killed,” Willow said, giving Fred a bright grin. “Good to see that intelligence was wrong.”

Fred returned the grin and giggled, “Well, you know. Not necessarily a permanent condition.”

“Tell me about it …” Buffy said. Then she sobered suddenly, and gave Willow a look that Lois couldn’t interpret. Willow looked grim and sad and returned Buffy’s look with a small shrug. What was that about? Someone whose death had been permanent, perhaps?

Bill hugged himself, and stepped away from the others. There was fear in his eyes and in his posture. He walked to the balcony door and stared out the window.

Clark started to go after him, but Buffy said, “Clark, are you with us?”

Clark nodded, firmly, “I’ll help. Of course.”

No hesitation, Lois noted. He hadn’t even had to think about it. Bill, on the other hand, looked like he was facing his own execution. He was chewing on his lip and hugging himself.

Buffy said something about *weapons* -- probably offering Clark something sharp and/or pointy. Or both. She heard Clark’s negative, he didn’t want a weapon; she didn’t hear Buffy’s response because Bill had her total attention.

She walked to him, feeling a compulsion she didn’t begin to understand. “Bill?”

“I … I want to help.” He looked down at her, when she stopped beside him. He met her eyes and she felt as much as saw the despair in his heart. He hadn’t had an easy life, this strange alien man. He was terribly lonely; she sensed that, too. A loneliness to match that in her own heart. He looked away, too quickly. She could have stared into his eyes forever. She wanted to tell him he wasn’t alone but couldn’t find the words. Maybe if he looked at her again he’d simply sense that.

What was wrong with her? She was turning into a sloppy ninny over a pair of broad shoulders and deep brown eyes.

“You can,” Lois said, putting her hand on his arm. She was shocked by her own boldness at that gesture. She wasn’t exactly the touchy-feely type. “Bill, we could probably use your help.”

“I don’t … I don’t use my powers. They’re a curse. He,” he jerked his chin at Clark, who was now deep in a conversation with Buffy and Willow, “he’s not me.”

“Didn’t say he was …” She squeezed his arm, an impulsive gesture. He had muscles like rocks. He reached up and put his hand over hers, grasped her fingers. At first he didn’t look at her, he stared out the window instead.

After a minute, he glanced down at her again. She gave him a smile and he returned it, shyly. Something lit in his eyes. It was hope, and she realized with a shock that hope had been missing from his heart and soul for a very long time. She wasn’t sure how she knew that, just that she did. He’d been living a bleak, hopeless existence. No family, no friends, nothing to live for. And this was a man who needed things to live for.

In a husky whisper he said, “Lois, what you people do is amazing …”

Her front door opened again, admitting Spike and a tall brunette that Lois assumed was Dawn. Bill glanced up, gave Spike a brief smile of recognition and greeting. Lois wasn’t entirely sure why Buffy was so worried about her sister; she supposed there was some history she hadn’t been told. She wasn’t on some critical need-to-know list and that bothered her more than she was willing to admit.

Fred was staring across the room at Dawn. A warning bell rang for Lois; Slayer intuition suddenly kicking in. Buffy, as well, was looking hard at Fred.

Spike’s expression was thunderstruck. He grabbed Dawn and thrust her behind him. “Buffy …” His voice held enormous warning. “Buffy, that’s her!”

“You died …” Buffy said, to Fred. It was an accusation, a condemnation. She took a couple of strides across the room in the general direction of Lois’ weapons chest.

Fred simply blurred. One second she was a gawky, awkward looking woman and the next she was blue haired, blue eyed, and very Other.

“Illyria …” Giles breathed, “Oh, lord, I’ve been tricked. I brought her here …”

“Key,” Illyria said.

Spike said, “Illyria.”

Ilyria regarded him with her head tilted to the side, no expression on her face. “I believed that you ceased to be, vampire.”

Spike said quietly, “I’d rather not fight you, Illyria.”

“I wish to have the Key. I wish to return what once was to reality as it is now. I wish you to step aside, vampire.” Her words were imperious. There was no trace of the nervous, geeky Fred in this creature. Lois was having a hard time even recognizing Fred and Illyria as the same creature.

“No.” Spike said. He lunged forward, leaping fearlessly into the fight.

She moved, impossibly fast, and struck Spike with a stunning blow. He hit the wall with horrible force, leaving a dent. Buffy snarled a cry of inarticulate rage and lit into the demon -- and one blow from the woman sent her flying through the air and into Lois’ kitchen. Wood splintered, and Buffy hit the ground under cabinets full of pots and pans-- she was out of the fight, at least temporarily.

Lois grabbed a kitchen chair and swung it at Illyria with what should have been deadly force. She hit her with everything she had. The chair splintered; Illyria didn’t even blink.

“Insignificant creature,” Illyria said, and made a lazy gesture with one hand. Stunning force launched Lois airborne … she crashed through the balcony door, scrambled to grab at the balcony railing, missed, and screamed in horror as the ground rushed up from seven stories below. She was going to die …

“Loooooois!” A scream from above her. Arms wrapped around her and her fall was arrested with painful force.

Bill. Bill had caught her. His eyes were huge, and terrified and she could feel him shaking. He‘d reacted without thought -- had just gone after her, using the very powers he said he considered a curse moments before.

“Don’t drop me!” She latched onto his neck.

“I c-c-caught you …” he breathed out. Even his words were shaking.

“You did,” that was Clark, who was hovering inches away. She realized they were only a scant few feet from the ground. She’d come very close to hitting it. Slayer or not, that would have killed her. Clark looked nearly as frightened as Bill. “I couldn’t have caught her in time.”

Someone -- it sounded like Willow -- screamed in the apartment above their heads.

“Get her to safety,” Clark said, shortly. In a blur of red and blue he zipped back to the apartment.

Bill’s arms tightened around her. In a strained, husky whisper, he said, “I saved you. You would have died. I saved you. I did it.”

“Yeah, and I need to get back up there. Can you fly me up?” She pointed in the direction of her apartment.

“No!” He said, “You’ll get hurt. That thing -- that thing’s dangerous!”

“Bill,” Lois said, “That’s my job. That’s something you need to know about me -- I have to fight things like that. It’s what I was Chosen to do. It’s my duty. You have to take me back into the fight.”

“But …”

“I could die,” Lois said, “but I accepted that a long time ago. I was fighting monsters before I ever became a Slayer.”

Bill cupped her face in his hand, eyes searching hers. She smiled weakly. “Bill, please.”

He swallowed, she saw his adam’s apple bob up and down twice. “Okay.”

Flying was a most amazing sensation -- he just zoomed back up to the balcony and set her down. The door was mangled and splintered; he yanked it off the hinges and tossed it aside. She ran back into the room.

Clark was on his knees, shaking his head slowly, blood running in a steady stream from his nose. So much for invincible; he’d said he didn’t know how he’d fare in a battle that involved magic. The answer was apparently, “Badly.”

She saw him struggle to stand up, then sink back to his knees. She thought he’d be back in the fight in a minute but she wasn’t sure they had a minute.

Buffy was conscious, but tangled up in the wreckage of Lois’ cabinets. She was thrashing about, trying to extricate herself without success.

Spike was struggling to his feet. He’d vamped out, eyes amber, fangs showing. If the stories of this man were true he’d fight to the death -- had, in the past. Lois fought down a gut-level Slayer instinct to consider the vampire an enemy; she firmly reminded herself he was an ally.

Giles was out cold, or dead; she couldn’t tell. He was slumped on the floor, not moving, limbs askew.

“Luz Arcanum!” Willow’s voice hit a pitch that made the hair on Lois’ neck stand on end. The witch stood up from behind Lois’ couch, eyes gone utterly black.

Light flared in the room, bright as the sun, ferocious and painful on the skin. Purple afterimages swam across Lois’ vision. She couldn’t see …

That was apparently the idea, because she heard the demon grunt in pain at the same time Spike screamed in agony. Willow’d just blinded Illyria -- apparently, at the cost of Spike’s sunlight allergy. Then she’d hit her with something nasty.

“Spike!” Willow’s voice was horrified. “No!”

A whoosh of icy cold air swirled across the room. She smelled smoke; blinked as her vision cleared. Spike was covered in soot and ice and he was glaring at Willow. “Thank you, Glinda, I needed a tan.”

“Sorry,” Willow said, meekly. “Did it work?”

“It worked …” Bill breathed, but she thought he was referring to his icy cold breath putting out a Spike-sized bonfire, not to Willow’s spell. Good for him, she thought, as she looked for the demon in the wreckage of her room.

There. Lois’ big screen TV had hit the ground in pieces -- Illyria stood up, shoving it aside. She didn’t look hurt.

“You are a very interesting creature for a mortal,” Illyria said, with something that sounded like respect in her voice.

“You’ll have to kill me before you touch Dawny,” Willow stood between Illyria and Buffy’s sister -- who was standing with her back to the wall and a lamp in her hands, held like a baseball bat.

Spike stumbled over to stand beside Willow. “You’ll also have to kill me, Illyria.”

Illyria stood stiffly, hands by her sides, glittering blue eyes inhuman and expressionless. Clark, behind her, found his feet. He spat a mouthful blood, started to take a step forward, then stopped when Illyria spoke.

“You repulse me, vampire. Vile half-breed.”

“Yeah, I’m in love with you too, Blue,” Spike said, sarcasm in his voice. “What are you going to do now?”

“This world is changed and I am no longer relevant to it. I wish it to be as it was.” Illyria stared at him, silent, wordless.

Clark silently picked the shattered remnants of a chair up off the ground and began to creep up on her from behind. Spike saw him and shook his head, almost imperceptibly. Clark hesitated, glanced at Lois. Lois shrugged. The direct approach wasn’t working; Spike apparently had something else in mind.

“They’re gone, Illyria. You can’t bring them back.” Spike’s voice was curiously gentle. “Mourn for them. But do not do this. Angel wouldn’t want it. Wesley wouldn’t want it.”

“I hurt. I wish to make it stop.” Illyria still had no inflection in her voice. “I hate this world. It is not my world. Once I ruled all. Now I grieve for a halfbreed and a human. I wish this to stop.”

Spike took a step towards her. “Illyria, it doesn’t stop. Grief is part of living in this world. Believe me,” he glanced at Buffy, “I know how much you’re hurting right now. But killing people only compounds the grief. The Key you seek is Dawn, she’s Buffy’s sister.”

“She is not. She is made, not born. You bear false memories and see illusions. Smoke. Mirrors. Fallible mortal minds. I can make them forget.”

“Buffy doesn’t want to forget Dawn,” Spike said, quietly. “Nor do I. Nor does Angel. Angel’s fond of the Niblet too. How do you think he would feel if you created a portal to the past and destroyed Dawn in the process? He would hurt as you hurt now. You can’t do it, Blue.”

The demon was silent, watching him with inhuman eyes. No expression, no emotion, that Lois could identify. She didn’t know what Illyria was thinking or if Spike’s tactics had any hope of working.

Buffy let out a small sound, suddenly, a gasp of comprehension. Face stricken, she said, “Angel. Angel’s dead. You’re trying to bring back Angel? With *Dawn*? This isn’t about … ruling the world?”

“No.” Illyria turned to face her.

“Look, lady, I’d give my soul to save Angel, but I’m not giving up my sister.” Buffy was angry -- Lois heard a peculiar note of outrage in her voice. This wasn’t simply another fight anymore. She was pissed on a personal level.

“He loved you.” Illyria stated. “He died a glorious death. You were not there.”

“He didn’t ask for my help.” Buffy said, shortly. She glared briefly at Spike, who was present with Angel during that fight in LA. “Or I would have been.”

“I cannot change time as I once did.” Illyria held a hand up and stared at her fingers. “With the Key, I could. I could step back, I could … I could ask for the help that Angel needed and did not have. You would have come.”

“Over my dead body,” Buffy said. There was horror in her voice at the thought of killing Dawn to save Angel.

Spike rested a hand on Illyria’s shoulder. “Blue, you’re not alone. Grieve. But do not do this.”

“I do not know how to bear this pain. Wesley. I lied to Wesley at the end. He wanted me to. I wish I did not have to.” She stared at his fingers.

“We’ve all done things we wished we didn’t have to do, Blue,” Spike said. He removed his hand; her eyes had held the barest trace of warning. “What are you going to do, Illyria? Because if you’re going to try to kill Dawn you’ll have to go through me to do it. Do you want to do that?”

“I did not know The Key had been given mortal form,” Illyria said, finally. “I find I am curiously fond of mortals. Once I found them vile and repugnant and of little consequence.”

“Once.” Spike prompted. He let go of Illyria’s arm. “And now?”

“I must think on this.” Illyria said, stepping away from him. “I cannot answer your question now, vampire.”

Spike exchanged a look with Buffy that held a rather large amount of relief. “Go out in the world, Illyria, and live in it. Trust me in this: humans grow on you.”

Illyria studied him for a moment, head tilted to one side. “I underestimated you, Spike. We shall speak again.”

“Looking forward to it, Illyria,” he said honestly. “But rather than beating up on my friends the next time you’re wanting a spot of friendly company, just call my cel phone. I’ll give you the bloody number.”

“Very well.” Illyria inclined her head slowly. “I shall … call your phone.”

Lois let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. Clark murmured to her, “See? It’s not always necessary to slay the bad guys.”

 

+++++

 

The following evening, Lois knocked on the door of the small construction trailer. She heard footsteps inside, and then a curtain was pulled back. Bill peered out, saw it was her, and hastily opened the door.

“Hi,” he said, shyly. But he met her eyes when she looked up at him. There was a new light in those eyes. Hope, again, and something else. He’d been a hero; he’d saved her life. She couldn’t define the change in his eyes in words but she liked it.

“Can I come in?”

He held the door open, wordlessly. She entered, and glanced around. The trailer was just two rooms -- she was standing in a tiny living room. It was neat, tidy, furnished with a battered but clean couch, an ancient TV with rabbit ears, a single kitchen chair and a card table. His kitchen was composed of a refrigerator plus a hot plate, microwave, and toaster oven neatly lined up on a small counter. The sink held clean dishes in a strainer.

Through the doorway she could see a neatly made bed.

“I wanted to thank you,” she said, as he shut the door after her.

“For what?” He sounded surprised.

“For saving my life, silly,” she grinned at him.

He grinned back, briefly, hesitantly. Then he sobered, and asked, “How’s Giles?”

“Willow says he’ll be fine. He’s a tough old man.” Lois sat down on his couch. “He’s got some broken ribs and a concussion but he says he’s had worse.”

She paused, “Clark’s fine too -- Illyria hit him with some kind of magical whammy but he heals incredibly fast. You know that, though. Buffy’s got a broken arm but Slayers are tough; we heal pretty quickly too. She’s pretty tore up over Angel, though -- Spike says he thinks Angel died but he can’t prove it. Spike had some burns from Willow’s spell but they’re healing.”

“Sounds like everyone’s going to be okay, then.”

Lois looked sharply away from him. “My publisher’s still in the hospital. They don’t know when he’ll get out or if he’ll be … be himself … when he’s out.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, his tone clearly indicating that he meant it.

“Yeah. Me too.”

“I still can’t believe that Spike talked Illyria down like that.” He straddled his kitchen chair backwards. “Do you think she’ll be trouble?”

“I don’t know. Buffy’s worried about it. Giles is talking about sending an army of Slayers after her. Clark says they should wait and see what she does. He thinks she’s not a threat now.”

Bill nodded. “But she’s not the only danger this world faces, is she?”

“No. This world needs heroes, Bill.” Lois glanced at the door to his tiny trailer. “It needs every hero around to keep the darkness and the evil at bay.”

He looked away from her. “I’m not sure that I’m a hero.”

She wasn’t sure what impulse made speak. A crazy one, surely. But she said with a grin, “Well, big guy, why don’t you join me on patrol tonight and find out?”

His jaw hung open for a minute, then he nodded gravely. “I’d like that.”

“Good. I could use a partner out there. You’re the first person I’ve met that could hold his own in a fight, that I didn’t want to kill within five minutes of meeting them.” She hadn’t been planning to suggest they team up when she came here, she’d done so on impulse -- but it felt very right.

She was genuinely surprised and delighted when he gave her a teasing grin. “You just haven’t known me long enough, then.”

Lois laughed, the first time in a long time, and stood up. “C’mon, Flyboy, let’s go find some vampires to slay.”

+++++

“Buffy.”

Spike’s warm voice stopped her in her tracks. He was behind her. He’d left Lois’ apartment minutes after Illyria had; she hadn’t seen him since and it had been three days.

Without turning around she said, “Why?”

Why had he let her think he was dead. Why hadn’t he at least picked up the phone and called her. Why hadn’t he sent her a letter or bought an airline ticket or told a friend who’d tell a friend who’d tell a friend until some disjointed and inaccurate rumor of his resurrection reached her. If she’d had even a whiff of an idea that Spike was alive she’d have traveled to the ends of the earth, left no stone unturned, shredded reality itself, to find him.

“Because,” he said.

He stepped up beside her, not touching her. She still wasn’t looking at him. She didn’t think he was looking at her, either. Her mind supplied a thousand clarifications to that statement, “Because.”

Because I was mean to you.

Because you don’t love me.

Because you didn’t think I loved you.

Because you’ve moved on.

Because I’m not worthy.

Because you’re a coward.

The latter was untrue; she knew that. The rest … she finally looked at him.

He was smoking, and staring up at the few stars and a half moon visible through the glare of Metropolis’ city lights. His profile was so achingly familiar. She still didn’t know what to make of his hair.

He finally turned to face her, at last, and flicked the cigarette away. It leaked a thin trail of smoke from a patch of bare ground.

“Because.” He paused, trying to find words for something that he’d had difficulty explaining even to himself. “I’ve changed, Buffy.”

She nodded. “I know.”

“Since Sunnydale. I’m not the man I was then.”

“Dying tends to change you,” Buffy stepped closer to him. She brushed her thumb along one of his cheekbones, wished she dared to kiss him. Something in his eyes warned her that would be a bad idea.

“It does.” He agreed. “Living changes you more.”

“Spike -- what I said, in the Hellmouth? About loving you? I meant it.” Buffy cupped the side of his face in her hand. “It’s still true.”

“And what does that mean, Buffy?” He pulled away from her grasp. “Do we hide our relationship from your friends? Or defy them? How long until the hatred for what I am and who I was bubbles over again and someone tries to kill me? I associate with you and I have to watch my back from the good guys and the bad guys both. Just paint a big target on my duster.”

He shrugged and added, “I guess I have my pride to think about, too.”

“You’re saying I’m not worth putting up with a little crap from the Scoobies?” Buffy said, indignant and wounded. “Besides, you saved the world. They have to be nice to you.”

His face was stricken. “No! That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just … Buffy, I want to be valued. As me. I’ve earned it, I think.”

Now he looked away, and his voice broke. “And I was also so very scared you’d reject me. I won’t be your dog again, Buffy. I won‘t follow around after you groveling for attention. And I don‘t need to prove myself to anyone anymore, either, least of all you -- or myself. I won‘t have things go back to the way they were. It hurts too much.”

Buffy looked up at him, at this vampire who’d become so much more than anyone had ever expected or dreamed that he could be. Once, in what felt like another lifetime, he’d told her that she made him feel like a man. Now he was standing solidly on his own two feet, repudiating his hero worship of her. But not his love. He still loved her.

He said quietly, “I could not bear it if I were to follow you and not …”

He trailed off, and shrugged, and said uncomfortably, “Well. Buffy, I will always love you -- love you for what you are, for who you are, love you heart and soul. But I’m not sure if you can give back to me what I want from you. And it’s not fair to either of us if you can’t. I can be a hero on my own just fine.”

She smiled at him, but it was a smile that threatened to turn into tears. There was a hot burning in the back of her eyes. “Spike. I love you. I love you like you want me to. It’s true. You want to be my equal? You‘ve got it.”

He tilted his head sideways, listening to her words and looking her in the eyes.

“I don’t know if I can believe that,” he breathed, finally.

She reached up and draped her arms around his neck and stepped boldly into the circle of his arms. His hands descended to her hips, pulling her closer. She gazed up at him and he looked down at her. He said in a hoarse whisper, “God, don’t let me wake up and find this is a bloody dream.”

“It’s a dream, all right,” Buffy didn’t move to kiss him -- they were still too fragile, too new, for that. Instead she just rested her cheek against his cool shoulder. “A really good one. Spike, I love you.”

He was shaking. She realized he was crying. She’d made him cry. She leaned back, looked up at him, and saw that he had an enormous grin on his face. “Buffy,” he breathed. It said everything, in two syllables. Yes, he’d stay. Yes, they belonged to each other. Yes, she loved him.

+++++

“I wish I had more time to get to know you all,” Clark said, quietly. “But I need to get home. My Lois has got to be frantic.”

He surveyed them -- good people, he thought. They were heroes, all of them, in their own ways.

Bill stood next to this word’s Lois. He had high hopes that something might happen between them. Lois was letting her guard down around Bill -- she’d even smiled at him twice while Willow sent up the elements of the magic spell that would send him home. Bill clearly worshipped the ground she walked on. He’d do anything she asked -- Clark knew that feeling well. If Lois asked Bill to be a hero he’d try for her. He hoped she would ask.

<<Hey, Bill, remember she’s worth it even when you want to strangle her with your bare hands,>> Clark sent, telepathically, at the other Kryptonian.

Bill’s eyes widened. Woops. He’d forgotten to mention that gift to Bill.

<<Ah, yeah, you’ve got some telepathic powers. You can talk to other Kryptonians.>> Clark explained, briefly. <<You’ve got some empathy with humans, too. >>

Bill responded with amusement, to Clark‘s relief, and not shock or horror, <<Any other surprises I should know about?>>

<<Not that I can think of,>> Clark said. He’d warned him about Kryptonite and about New Krypton -- they had never shown up in this world. Clark wasn’t sure if they didn’t exist, if they’d been unable to find Bill, or if they’d come and gone after judging him wanting as a leader. <<I’m sure Lois will have plenty of surprises for you, though.>>

<<She’s … something.>>

<<That she is.>> Clark agreed.

“You ready to go home?” Willow asked.

“Yeah. I‘m ready to go home.”

He glanced at Buffy and Spike. The two were standing as close together as they could without actually touching. Buffy said, “My sister wanted to be here, but she had finals. Giles had to go back to Cleveland; something about a problem with a research assistant at Slayer Central.”

He nodded. “Tell them I said goodbye.”

“I will. And -- thank you.” Willow said, gravely.

Willow started chanting at that moment. She had a ruby colored orb in one hand and a fistful of herbs in the other. She called out to forces he couldn’t identify or name, and power swirled around them. She summoned the magic; his hair crackled and stood on end.

He was going home. To Lois. To the Daily Planet. To his world, where justice was simple and human. No vampires, no monsters, no shades of grey when dealing with bad guys.

Willow swore, suddenly, intensely, and dropped the herbs and grabbed the orb in both hands. “Something‘s wrong!”

Spike said something vile. Lois said a four letter word. Bill just stared. Reality crumbled around not just him, but all of them. He was spinning, tumbling, falling through the air and his powers didn’t exist …

With a thump, he landed on the floor of the apartment he shared with Lois. Buffy landed on top of him. Spike bounced off the couch. Bill crashed into a wall, causing far much more damage to the wall than to Bill. Willow landed on the floor by the window.

Lois swore vigorously.

Wait. He was hearing Lois swearing in … stereo?

Buffy scrambled off him. He sat up, then smirked as he took in the appearance of his Lois. She was wearing a white robe with a cowl -- she looked like a diminutive druid. Cute.

“Clark, oh, thank God!” She tackled him. Kissed him. She smelled like some sort of stinky incense and smoke. She felt wonderful in his arms; he’d missed her so very much.

She swore at him, “Damnit, I’ve been trying for days to get this thing to work right -- Rayne said it should work but I just couldn’t get it right.”

Willow sat up, shook her head, glanced between the two Loises. The Lois from Buffy’s world had fallen silent, but was standing up now with her fists balled. She looked ready to fight.

“You were trying to do magic …?” Willow asked.

Clark grinned. He was sure she was. He wasn’t the slightest bit surprised that Lois had someone figured out what had happened to him and had tried to get him home herself. He also wasn’t surprised that she’d apparently fouled it up.

“Yeah. It finally worked. Who the hell are you people? Who’s *she*?” Lois demanded. The ‘she’ was the other Lois.

“It didn’t work,” Willow said, sounding remarkably unperturbed given the circumstances. “All it did was foul up *my* spell. It upset the balances and it brought *all* of us here instead of just Clark.”

“Oh. Whoops.” Lois said, sounding not nearly as contrite as Clark thought she should. She stared at the other Lois. “Who the hell’s she? Please tell me she’s not another clone. And *him*, too.”

The him, too, was aimed at Bill.

“Lois,” Clark still had her in his arms. “They’re from another dimension. And now we need to figure out a way to get them back.”

Willow held the orb in her hand up to the light. It was cracked; Clark could see that across the room.

Buffy said, “Uh-oh. It’s broken, isn’t it?”

Willow sighed. “It’s broken. It looks like we’re going to be here for awhile.”

Clark said, “I promise I’ll help you guys get home. Your world needs you as much as mine needs me.”

“Clark,” Lois said, drawing his attention back to her. “When you disappeared, I thought I’d lost you.”

He buried his face in his Lois’ hair, wrapped his arms around her, and just held her. He was home, home with his Lois. He would deal with the rest later. For now, it was enough to know he was home.

+++++

To be continued in a sequel. :)

 

The End

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