Chapter 16 – Approaching Normal
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, or any of the Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize it, I don’t own it. This work may not be sold or used for profit in any way shape or form for that very reason. Please don’t sue me because I don’t have anything worth taking…
-== Chapter Sixteen – Approaching Normal ==-
As Xander carried her back home from Saunders Gorge, Chloe couldn’t stop thinking about what Xander had told her, about what he was and what he could do. She couldn’t explain it rationally, but somehow, deep down inside, she knew he’d told her nothing less than the whole truth. A truth that led her to one inescapable conclusion, despite the fact that he had never come right out and admitted it; Xander Harris was a genuine, living, breathing God. The implications were staggering.
His very existence, combined with the implied existence of the others like him, called into question every major religious ideology in practice on the entire planet. It would be the news story of the millennia…not that she could ever tell it. She had the sinking feeling that being friends with Xander and keeping his secret would inevitably result in sitting on more than one story that could completely make her career. Somehow though, she didn’t doubt for a moment that it would be worth it.
As they settled onto the ground in her backyard, she finally spoke, “Aren’t you afraid that someone might see you flying like that?”
“Not really,” he said with a grin. “I usually take off and land so quick that no one would see more than a blur.”
“How fast can you fly anyway? I kind of doubt you were going your top speed while carrying me,” she asked curiously. It was about the only question she hadn’t asked him about his powers.
“Pretty fast,” he said simply. “I could go from here to Metropolis in a couple minutes and maintain that speed forever if I had to.”
“Wow,” she replied, shocked by the revelation. “That is fast.”
“Yeah,” the Aesir replied with a grin. “So, I know that everything I told you was pretty freak-worthy…are we okay?”
“Okay? We’re way more than okay,” she answered with a bright smile as Xander finally set her gently back on her feet. “Thank you for trusting me with your secret.”
Xander smiled back, “I know it’s not going to be an easy secret to keep, Chloe, but I really do trust you.” He wasn’t particularly surprised to find that he really meant that either. After all, if he couldn’t trust his friends, who could he trust?
“So where are you headed now?” she asked before stepping back away from him. After that moment in the gorge they’d been careful to avoid any repeats. That sort of sexual tension this early in their friendship was just too risky.
“I have one last session with the school counselor before classes start,” the Thunder God admitted with a sigh. “She’s trying to push me into picking up a couple of extra-curricular activities. I think she believes that if I stay busier, I’ll keep out of trouble.”
“You could help out at the Torch,” she offered instantly. “I could always use another reporter…plus you’d even get academic credits in journalism.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I mean, I’ve never exactly tried that kind of writing…or any kind of writing actually.”
“I guarantee that your articles couldn’t possibly be any worse than some of the others I’ve had to edit,” the blonde reassured him. “Besides, Pete and Clark write for it as well, so it’s not like you won’t know people…”
“I haven’t actually gotten to meet Pete yet, but okay, I’m sold,” the Aesir said with a grin. “Besides, I’m well known in Sunnydale for my coffee and donut fetching skills, which are bound to come in handy at some point.”
Chloe couldn’t help but laugh. “You want to ride to school with me? It’s a bit less conspicuous than flying…” she offered.
He glanced at his watch, “Sure. I’ve got plenty of time before my appointment, so no need for me to rush.”
“You know, I might be able to scare up a key to the roof access door for you…” she mused aloud. “If you think you might be flying in and out a lot.”
Xander grinned. “Roof access definitely wouldn’t suck. It would certainly make flying to and from school less noticeable. Honestly though, I plan on just riding the bus like a normal student most of the time.”
Chloe nearly choked trying to suppress a chuckle as they headed to her car, stopping only long enough for her to grab her things. “Clark is as normal as they come and he never manages to catch the bus. In fact, if he moved any slower, he’d be immobile,” she explained in answer to Xander’s questioning look. The loud bark of laughter that her statement brought from the other teen surprised her.
Xander simply found the idea of Clark as normal or slow utterly ridiculous. Clearly, his cousin had done a far better job of keeping his secret than Xander realized. “Sorry,” he said in response to Chloe’s questioning stare. “It just hadn’t occurred to me that Clark’s tendency to sleep in was going to carry over to the school year. He’s lived on a farm his whole life and can’t mange to get up before seven.” He only wished he could tell her what was really so funny.
* * * * *
Xander landed softly on the ground behind the Kent barn, a spot that was sufficiently obscured from view to make it ideal for slipping on and off the farm unnoticed. It was mid-afternoon and clearly Clark hadn’t come back, since Jonathan was hard at work unloading feed bags from the back of his truck. Dropping the necklace sized Mjolnir around his neck, The Aesir immediately jogged through the barn to help.
“Here,” he said as he approached. “I can get those, it’s about time I started earning my keep around here anyway.” The teen easily slung four of the hundred pound bags over one arm and was about to scoop up the remaining three before his uncle stopped him.
“You can leave the rest,” the farmer said with a smile. “I’ll use them to feed the herd this evening anyway.”
“Sure thing, Uncle Jonathan,” the teen replied as he headed back into the barn and stacked his load up with the rest. “What else can I help with?” he asked a moment later.
“Well, there’s the downed tree in the south range that needs to be hauled up here so I can cut it into firewood and the railing in the barn needs mending,” he gave Xander a pointed grin. “Since both of those were your messes…”
“I’ll take care of them,” the Thunder God said with a grin. “Anything else I can take care of?”
“Not for now…but we’ll talk about splitting up some of Clark’s chores between the two of you when he gets back tonight. Now how’d your session with the counselor go?” Jonathan asked.
“It went,” he replied with a shrug. “She’s pretty adamant about me picking up some extra-curricular activities and ‘connecting with the school.’ Chloe said that I could help out at the Torch for one…and I was thinking of maybe going out for the track team or the swim team.”
“Sports? I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Xander…” his uncle began automatically.
“Just, hear me out before you say no, please?” the Aesir asked, holding up a hand. “You’re right, most sports would be a really bad idea, because I could hurt someone and my strength would give me an unfair advantage. But I’ll only do running events in Track, where my strength won’t help. I mean, I can’t run any faster than a normal person.” He started to pause, but rushed on when his uncle appeared ready to interrupt. “Since I don’t have super-speed like Clark’s, I also don’t think I can swim faster than a normal person.”
“Even if you don’t have super-speed, how long could you sprint, Xander?” his uncle asked, pointedly. “You do have an advantage, one that’s not fair to the other athletes, because with your stamina you could run as fast as you can almost indefinitely without slowing down. The same goes for swimming. Letting you compete like that just wouldn’t be fair.” Jonathan smiled sympathetically, “I’m sorry Xander, the answer has to be no.”
“That’s alright,” the teen answered with a grin. “I just hadn’t given that part enough thought. Besides with my grades from last year, I probably wouldn’t be eligible anyway.” He chuckled, “If the Torch isn’t enough to make the counselor happy, I’m sure I’ll find something else I can do.”
Jonathan sighed to himself. At least dissuading Xander was easier than Clark. His son wanted so desperately to play football that it was hard to say no year after year. “Maybe I could speak to the counselor, explain that we’d rather you not get too involved in extra-curricular activities so that you help here on the farm too.”
“If the Torch isn’t enough to get her off my back, that might not hurt, but there’s no need to worry about it right now,” Xander grinned. “I’d best start working, that tree isn’t going to move itself.”
* * * * *
Lucius Payne strolled casually through the doors of One LuthorCorp Plaza, totally ignoring the questioning looks of the security guards. They didn't actually challenge him as he walked to the express elevator without as much as a word. The metal doors slid open in response to his approach as if by magic, much the same way the external doors had. It was as though the building itself were welcoming him, which was not so far from the truth.
Lucius had been head of security for LuthorCorp when they had built the headquarters at One LuthorCorp Plaza. He had personally seen to every aspect of building security, from the bullet-proof glass in the windows of the executive levels to the magickal wards that guarded against everything from external surveillance to demonic invasion. Of course, security had been much tighter when he was in charge. If LuthorCorp guards had failed to challenge a suspicious arrival in his day, they’d have been summarily discharged and blacklisted at the very least. Now, however, it was no longer his concern.
When he stepped out of the elevator in Lionel’s reception area, he couldn’t help but smirk at the spineless worm at the reception desk. The man, if you could call him that, quailed at former security head’s very presence. Lucius had no patience for the likes of Dominic Santori or his ilk. He absolutely despised the sort of weak-willed cretins that Lionel typically preferred to employ as his personal assistants. It was one of the many reasons he was no longer the company’s head of security. Now, he was merely on retainer as a special security consultant, handling those rare jobs that more mundane people could not.
It had been the most beneficial arrangement possible, giving Lucius the freedom to aggressively pursue his own interests while still keeping one of the most powerful sorcerers in the mid-west on LuthorCorp’s payroll.
Lucius gave Dominic a long look, daring the man to challenge his presence as he strolled casually to the door of Lionel’s inner office. The worm seemed to bristle under the stare, leaving the sorcerer wondering if Lionel’s most recent pet might actually be growing a spine. It was a decided risk in keeping such worthless beings around. They inevitably forgot themselves in time, coming to believe they possessed some intrinsic value that made them irreplaceable. Shortly thereafter, they were typically sacrificed to their own ambitious natures. If Dominic was finally reaching that stage, then clearly his usefulness to Lionel was quickly coming to an end. It would be a mere matter of months, if not weeks, before someone else took his place. It was a thought that brought a cold smile to Lucius’ lips as he entered Lionel’s office.
“Ahh, Lucius,” the billionaire greeted with false warmth. “How are you, my old friend?”
“I am well,” he replied in kind, before choosing to dispense with the pretense of civility that he and Lionel affected. “What is it you need of me, Lionel?”
“I saw something intriguing last night,” Lionel stated simply. “You heard about the freak weather incident that affected Wolfram and Hart?”
“I did,” the sorcerer answered, “what of it?”
“I sat here and watched as what appeared to be a young man blasted the hole they reported with a bolt of lightning, flew in through it and then left a few minutes later, unharmed,” the head of LuthorCorp explained concisely.
Now that did surprise him. Lucius knew of no more than a handful of different magicians in the world with the skill and power to accomplish such a feat. Except that none of them could have done such a thing right under his nose like that, not without his noticing them. “How young did the man seem to be?” he asked.
“A teenager perhaps, younger than Lex at least,” came the reply.
The sorcerer frowned. No human that age could have breached the magickal protections employed by the Wolf, Ram and Hart. And yet, any being with the ability to wield that kind of power would never have bothered to conceal their true form. What purpose would such a deception serve? It was an interesting conundrum. Even more interesting, however, were Lionel’s intentions in this.
“That is intriguing,” Lucius admitted with a cool smirk, wondering just how close to the chest his old friend and occasional adversary meant to play his hand. “But I don’t see how it of any particular concern. Wolfram and Hart are certainly no allies of yours and have already seen the wisdom of leaving me to my own pursuits.”
“That’s just it, Lucius,” Lionel said with a smirk of his own. “I…we, need to know who this new player is. Where his loyalties lie. He could be a valuable ally or he could be an enemy that poses a threat to our entire arrangement.”
Lucius considered Lionel’s words. There was some truth there, but not all of it. It was enough, however, for the sorcerer to fill in the blanks well enough. He’d been one of Lionel’s closest associates since their days together in the Suicide Slums and there was only one person that the elder Luthor ever really looked out for, and that was himself. Lionel meant to try and manipulate this newcomer to his own advantage; that much was obvious. What was less obvious, though, was that Lionel had only the vaguest inkling of how dangerous the game he meant to play could become. Beings with that kind of power had an unfortunate tendency to smite their foes first and ask questions never.
“I’ll find your information for you, Lionel,” he agreed after a moment’s consideration. It would be interesting to see if the billionaire could survive this game.
* * * * *
Xander was sitting in the loft of the barn that evening when Clark finally came home. He was busily zipping through every astronomy book that the Smallville Public Library had let him check out along with Clark’s own collection. When the young alien came up into the loft he was shocked by how fast his cousin was flipping the pages.
“Hey Clark,” the Aesir greeted when he glanced up from the book he’d just finished devouring. “You doing alright?” he asked, seeing the younger boy’s stunned expression.
“I’m okay,” the Kryptonian replied. “Can you actually read that fast?”
“Yep,” Xander said with a smile. “Apparently all Aesir have a perfect memory, so I can just glance at a page and my brain digests the information almost instantly. It’s pretty useful really.”
“I’d say, but why astronomy?” Clark asked with a puzzled look.
“Seemed smarter than jumping straight to astrophysics? I figure a strong grounding in both is a pretty good place to start looking for your home planet,” he said with a shrug.
“You’re serious?” the younger teen questioned.
“Unless you have any better suggestions?” the Thunder God asked, raising an eyebrow. “I doubt that the answers are just going to come to us and even as fast as I can go through the material, it’s going to take time. At least this way we’re doing something to find the answers you’ve been wanting for so long.”
Clark considered Xander’s words for a moment. He couldn’t really argue with the point his cousin made. “Alright,” he conceded. “Do you really think we can figure it out?”
“I don’t have a clue,” the older teen admitted with a grin. “But if we start looking for answers, then sooner or later we’re bound to either find them, or figure out we’re asking the wrong questions and come up with a better plan.” He chuckled as he picked up another book, “So what about you? Your super-speed apply to reading?”
“I don’t know… I’ve never tried it,” Clark said with a half-grin.
“Well, grab a book you haven’t read before and give it a go,” the Aesir suggested. “You just might surprise yourself.” He watched as his cousin skeptically picked up an advanced astronomy book and began reading. He grinned, seeing Clark’s eyes gradually begin to move faster and faster over the pages, gathering speed as the boy read. A slow grin spread over the young alien’s face as he read ever faster until he was turning pages as quickly as Xander had been earlier.
Xander chuckled and scooped up another book. It appeared their ability to speed read was just one more thing that he and Clark had in common now.
* * * * *
When Clark and Xander came into the house together for dinner that night, it was like an almost palpable weight lifted from the Kent family. Everyone, including Xander, avoided bringing up the topic of where Clark had spent most of his day. The closest anyone came to addressing it, was to ask if Clark was okay.
Which, he assured everyone, he was. His talk with Xander had helped him really put everything into perspective. He wasn’t actually happy about the things that had happened or about what he was, but he would deal.
Family dinners at the Kent house were not an uncommon event. In fact, quite the opposite was true. The occasions when the family didn’t gather around the table and share their evening meal, complete with all of the talk and laughter one would expect of a real family were far more uncommon. After everything that had happened during the last couple of days, the mood around the table was far lighter than one might have expected.
As the meal was drawing to a close, Jonathan spoke up. “Xander,” he said with a proud smile, “there’s something your aunt and I need to talk to you about.”
Almost instantly, the teen’s heart fell. Despite, or perhaps even because of, what his cousin had let slip that morning, Xander couldn’t help but feel like nothing good could possibly come of such a conversation. Still, he forced a neutral expression onto his face and gave his uncle his full attention.
Jonathan noticed the slightly wary smile on Xander’s face and wished once more that things had gone differently in his nephew’s life. No one should feel like they have to be so cautious around their own family. “We should have talked to you about this sooner, but we wanted it to be a surprise,” he began with an ever widening grin. “Your aunt and I want to adopt you, Xander. We already had Jim Taylor prepare all the papers, all that’s left is to file the petition and go before Judge Ross to get her approval.” He paused, shooting a quick glance at Martha and Clark before he continued. “If it’s okay with you, we’ll file the papers in the morning and by the time school starts, you’ll legally be our son.”
The Aesir’s jaw fell open in shock. He’d expected them to change their mind or for the process to at least be more difficult and complicated. He certainly hadn’t expected them to not only be willing to go through with it, but to manage to have it done by the start of school. Then another thing filtered through his brain. His uncle said, ‘If it’s okay…’ They were giving him a choice. Despite the fact that he was a minor and they were his legal guardians, they were giving him a choice.
“Are you sure?” he heard himself ask, sounding every bit as stunned as he felt. “After everything that happened, do you really want to adopt me?” He glanced from his uncle to Clark to his aunt watching as they each nodded their assent.
“You’re already a part of this family,” Martha said gently, unknowingly echoing words Clark had said earlier, “as far as we’re concerned adopting you is just a formality…but it’s up to you. If you don’t want us to, we won’t go through with it yet. We’ll wait until you’re ready.”
Xander glanced back at his uncle, to see the man nodding somberly. “We’ll be disappointed if you don’t want us to adopt you, Xander, but we’ll understand…” the older man offered, sincerely trying not to pressure the teen. He glanced back at Clark and saw a pleading expression in the other boy’s eyes.
Growing up Xander had built a wall around his heart to protect him from all of the hurtful things his family had done to him. Over the years, every negative experience, every disappointment he’d suffered at the hands of Tony and Jessica Harris, every indignity they had put him through had strengthened that wall. But in that moment, the look in Clark’s eyes caused that wall to falter and crack. Here…here was a family that wanted him. Parents who would love him unconditionally and who would watch out for him the way real parents should. All he had to do was accept it.
Tears of joy welled up in his eyes as he spoke, “I want this…I want you to adopt me.” What happened next vanished in a blur of happy hugs and reassurances. Xander, for the first time in his life, had a real home and a real family to go with it.
* * * * *
The few remaining days of his life as Xander Harris passed in a blur of activity. He and Clark split up the various farm chores between themselves, though Clark insisted on doing the lion’s share of the work because he could do it so much faster than his new brother. The boys also buried themselves in studying and searching for the clues they would need to find Clark’s home-world.
Xander began working out in the evenings rather than the mornings in the face of having actual daily chores to do, which also resulted in Clark beginning to work out with him. The younger boy’s motions were choppy and somewhat clumsy, but Xander continually reassured him that fluidity and grace would come with practice. The Aesir was well aware that it was only his heritage as a Warrior-God that had allowed him to pick it so quickly. Without that advantage, Clark would have to learn it like a normal person, slowly over many, many repetitions.
The Thunder God finally met Pete Ross a week later, on the day that they went before Judge Ross, Pete’s mother, to finalize the adoption process. Despite her long time association and friendship with the Kent family, she had insisted on meeting with them before approving the petition, if only to observe the formalities. She gave Xander a chance, in private, to voice any concerns he had about the adoption before assuring him that he couldn’t have been adopted by a better family. When they left the judge’s chambers, he was legally a member of the Kent family.
As they left the courthouse, the Aesir heard an unfamiliar male voice call out, “Clark!”
The Kent brothers turned in unison toward the voice, Clark in response to his name and Xander in curiosity. They found a dark-skinned boy, shorter than either of the Kent’s approaching them along the sidewalk.
“Pete!” Clark exclaimed happily before turning to his new brother. “Xander, I want you to meet Pete Ross, my best friend since kindergarten.” The enthusiasm in his voice was fairly unbridled as he turned back to Pete, “Pete, this is Xander. My new older brother… your mom just finalized the adoption.”
“Ah, so you’re the famous Pete Ross,” Xander said with a friendly smile as he offered the boy his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Clark and Chloe. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you too,” Pete replied with a slightly forced smile that most people would never have realized wasn’t entirely genuine. “I don’t think Clark or Chloe has quit talking about you since you got here.”
The slight emphasis on Chloe’s name, the friendly but slightly cool greeting, and the mildly forced quality to Pete’s smile immediately set off warning klaxons in Xander’s head. The other teen clearly felt threatened by the presence of someone new in the lives of his best friends. And worse, if he wasn’t mistaking that look or that tone, the very same one’s he’d used so often around Angel back in Sunnydale, he’d guess that Pete had a crush on Chloe. Who had a crush on Clark.
‘That settles it,’ Xander thought with a mental groan. ‘I’m definitely still in high school.’