Chapter 17 – As Normal as it gets
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…
Author's Note: Thanks again to everyone who's left me feedback on the story so far. Here's one last chapter before we get into the beginning of the school year and the first episode of the Smallville series. Enjoy!
-== Chapter Seventeen – As Normal as it gets ==-
Xander stared blankly at the astrophysics book that he was supposed to be reading, the book whose pages he hadn’t turned in almost a full minute. To say that his mind was elsewhere would have been an understatement. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that school started in the morning. It was like he was starting over with an almost completely clean slate. He even had a new name. The prospect of a new school, with all that it entailed, was exciting and abjectly terrifying. So far the reactions he’d garnered, even from Clark’s closest friends, had been mixed. He and Chloe had clicked, he and Pete most certainly had not. The other boy had been cool and standoffish toward Xander so far… not that anyone else had really seemed to notice.
With a loud sigh of disgust, Xander stood up and tossed the book gently into the seat he’d just vacated, drawing a look from his brother. “Sorry,” he said with a frown. “I just can’t seem to focus on this today.”
“What’s wrong, Xan?” the younger boy pressed. “It’s like your mind’s been somewhere else all day and that’s just not like you.”
“Just can’t stop worrying about tomorrow,” the Aesir admitted. “It’s almost funny. I wasn’t this nervous the first time I started high school, back in Sunnydale. You’d think the second time would be easier.”
“You’ll be fine,” Clark reassured gently, setting aside his own book. You’ve already got a couple friends and you’ll fit right in…”
“Yeah, as long as I’m careful not to slip up and say the wrong thing or accidentally use my powers or mention too much about Sunnydale…” he sighed again. “How do you do it, Clark? How do you keep from giving your secrets away?”
“It’s not that hard, Xan,” the Kryptonian answered after a moment. “People tend to see what they want to see most of the time. As long as you’re careful, most folks won’t even realize you’ve got a secret to keep.”
“And the rest of them? The ones that figure out that I’m hiding something?” he asked.
“You’re already off the hook with the only person at Smallville High that could figure it out,” Clark pointed out. “Chloe was the only one who stood a chance and you already told her your big secret. Compared to her, the rest of the school is a cakewalk.”
Xander could hear the lingering bitterness over his revelations to Chloe in his brother’s voice and decided to change the subject. “Well, I’ve got a ton of nervous energy at any rate. You got any ideas on how to burn it off?”
The other teen looked thoughtful for a moment before a wide grin spread over his face. “We could go for a run,” he suggested.
“A run? I can’t run nearly as fast as you and we both could run at my top speed for days without tiring,” the Thunder God pointed out.
“Have you tried really running, pushing yourself as hard as you can yet?” Clark asked. “I mean, since you got your powers?”
“Only once,” the Aesir admitted, “and I’m not sure if I really pushed as hard as I could or not…I was kind of preoccupied with what was going on at the time.”
“I bet you can run faster than you think,” Clark said simply. “You may not be as fast as I am, but I’d be willing to bet you could outrun even the fastest athletes on earth.” He stood up with a smile. “Besides, you’ll never know until you really try.”
Xander gave his brother’s words some thought. If Clark was right, running would probably attract a lot less attention than flying was likely to. Not to mention that it would give him a way to get around quickly without the gauntlets and hammer. “Alright,” the older teen agreed after a moment. “Let’s give it a shot.”
Clark’s smile widened at his brother’s agreement. “I’ll go let mom know,” he said quickly.
The young God couldn’t help but chuckle at his brother’s enthusiasm as the teen headed out of the barn at a normal jog. As he followed behind, he found himself wondering at how easy it had been to start thinking of Clark as a brother and how quickly he’d come to think of his aunt and uncle as mom and dad. They were certainly far more worthy of the title than the people who’d actually raised him.
By the time the Aesir made his way out of the barn, Clark was already jogging back toward him from the house. “So how does your super-speed work anyway, Clark?” he asked. “I’ve kind of been wondering about it for a while now…”
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” the Kryptonian answered after a moment. “It’s sort of like the entire world slows down to a crawl while I keep moving at normal speed. At first I couldn’t keep it going very long at a time,” he grinned, “but the more I used it the easier it got.”
Clark’s description instantly reminded Xander of his own momentary experiences during tense situations. “Really? I mean, I’ve had that happen a few times. It just feels like suddenly everyone else is moving in slow motion.”
“That’s exactly what it’s like, so maybe you can move faster than you think,” the teen pointed out. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.” Clark chuckled. “Besides, there were a few moments during that fight with the demons when I saw you move the way I can…ever since then I’ve been wondering if you could run that fast too.”
“Alright, so what do I do?” the Thunder God asked.
“Let’s start by just running. Sprint down the driveway and then go left, away from town,” Clark suggested. “Just concentrate on pushing harder, moving faster. No matter how fast you’re already moving, focus on speeding up. I’ll follow behind a bit and keep pace with you.”
With a nod, Xander took off at a sprint down the drive. He realized quickly that Clark was right. He could run faster than this, so he pushed harder, grinning as he picked up speed. Within moments, he was pounding along the road much faster than any human being could run. He was easily running at speeds more commonly associated with sports cars. The world, however, was still moving normally around him.
A seed of doubt gnawed at him as he pushed himself harder, lengthening his stride and squeezing out still greater speeds. Maybe he couldn’t do it. Maybe those scattered moments of altered perception were products of his imagination, of the stress of life and death situations. Suddenly, he shoved those thoughts aside, recalling the first lesson he’d learned when trying to fly. He decided that he could do it and willed himself to move faster.
It happened almost instantly. The world slowed to a crawl around him even as he pushed himself to run faster. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that only he and Clark seemed to still be moving. He could do it! He could run the way Clark could, could move as fast as his brother did. Unfortunately, that excited realization broke his concentration, causing the moment to slip past as Xander watched the world speed back up again.
For his part, Clark watched as Xander tore off down the road much faster than a normal person could. He wanted to chuckle as he followed behind, ticking of mile markers along the Kansas highway. A rough count of nearly 30 seconds between the markers put Xander’s normal running speed at almost 120 miles an hour and they still hadn’t broken into super-speed yet. Suddenly, Xander blurred, exploding into super-speed and Clark followed with a triumphant grin. The burst lasted for just a couple of seconds before Xander slowed back to normal and abruptly stopped.
“You did it!” Clark practically shouted with excitement as he stopped next to the older boy.
“I did?” That’s really what it’s like?” the exhilaration in Xander’s voice was unmistakable.
“Yeah, one second you were running along and the next you blurred off even faster than you were already running. I had to use my super-speed to keep up,” the Kryptonian confirmed happily. “Why’d you stop?”
“I got excited and my concentration slipped,” the Aesir said with a laugh.
“But you can do it! That’s the important part,” the younger boy pointed out. “Now the rest of it is just practice and getting used to it.”
For a brief moment, the two brothers stood there grinning wildly at each other before taking off down the road again. Over the next half and hour, the two moved steadily away from Smallville as Xander worked at achieving and maintaining super-speed. It came in short bursts at first, with each subsequent burst lasting a bit longer, until he could finally turn it on and off at will. The two boys finally slid to a stop on the outskirts of Hub city more than 420 miles from where they started.
“I think I’ve got the hang of it now,” Xander said as his brother appeared beside him with a whoosh of displaced air.
“You held that last burst of speed for almost ten minutes without faltering,” Clark said with a smile as he glanced at a road sign. “Think you can hold it all the way back?”
“Guess we’ll find out. Race you back?” the Aesir offered before blurring into super-speed from a standstill.
Clark smiled after the other boy for a moment before racing off after him. He easily caught up to Xander and ran alongside him for several minutes. Then with a smug wave, he accelerated and rocketed past his brother.
As Clark really opened up and began putting distance between them, Xander pushed harder, fighting to keep up. It was no use, though; the younger boy was simply faster than he was. Actually, he was a lot faster. That didn’t stop the Thunder God from pushing as hard as he could and even managing to speed up somewhat. In the end, Clark beat him back to the farm with minutes to spare.
Xander stopped to find Clark leaning against the white picket fence that separated the front yard of the house from the rest of the farm. “What took you so long?” he asked with a grin.
“Yeah, well, when you learn to fly, I’m so gonna remember that question,” Xander groused good-naturedly, grinning at his brother’s shudder. Clark was definitely going to have to get over his fear of heights before he was ever going to get off the ground consciously.
“Well, look on the bright side, Xan,” Clark said, clapping the shorter boy on the shoulder. “At least now we know how fast you can really move if you need to.”
As the two boys entered the kitchen together, Martha looked at them from near the stove where she was busily fixing dinner. “Oh, you’re back!” she exclaimed with a surprised smile. “How was the run?”
“Not bad,” the eldest of the Kent boys answered in his usual, understated way, despite the broad grin he was sporting.
“Did you go far?” she asked, turning back to her cooking.
“We just ran out to Hub City and back,” Clark answered calmly, as though it were nothing out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, he and Xander were struggling to keep a straight face behind their mother’s back.
Martha’s eyes went wide and her jaw dropped open as she spun to face the boys. “Clark, that’s more than 400 miles each way!” she exclaimed.
“Yeah, it turns out that I can do the super-speed thing too,” Xander admitted with a chuckle. “I’m not as fast as Clark, but certainly fast enough.” He shot a grin at his younger brother, “It was just a matter of Clark teaching me how to do it, really.”
Martha frowned slightly as she considered the implications, “So far, you two have remarkably similar abilities,” she said thoughtfully. “Is it possible that Clark’s actually from another dimension, like the Aesir, Xander?”
Xander considered the question. “I don’t know…I guess it’s possible, but that begs the question of why the meteor rocks affect him and why he needed a spaceship. The next time I seen any of my Olympian or Asgardian cousins, I’ll ask about it. Maybe they know something.”
Clark nodded as Martha turned back to her cooking once again. “That’s not a bad idea,” he said with grin. “Even if I’m not actually from another dimension, maybe they know something about where I am from.”
The Thunder God shrugged noncommittally. He hadn’t seen any of his divine relatives since the night he had threatened Wolfram and Hart and he had no idea when they might turn up again. Even worse, if half of the stories from Classical Greek Mythology were accurate, there were no guarantees they would help, even if they could. It would all depend on who he asked and what kind of mood they were in at the time.
“Xander, why don’t you run out to the lower range and let Jonathan know dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes? Clark, you can set the table,” Martha instructed, interrupting the conversation.
“Sure thing, mom,” Xander said in response. He still felt a little awkward actually calling his aunt and uncle mom and dad, even though that’s how he thought of them. He was fairly certain that it was just a matter of getting used to actually saying it though.
He walked outside and, with a broad grin, super-sped out to where his adopted father was working.
* * * * *
Jonathan smiled when he felt the familiar rush of air that usually marked Clark’s arrival. He didn’t turn to look before asking, “Clark, can you lend me a hand here? Something’s jammed up against the tractor’s axle and I can’t get a hold on it without jacking it up…”
“Sure,” Xander replied with a grin, drawing a startled glance from the farmer.
“Xander,” the elder Kent said, surprised. “Did you fly down here? I thought we talked about that…”
“Didn’t fly,” the teen said, taking a firm grip on the tractor body with one hand and lifting it up to chest level. “I’m not even wearing the gauntlets and my hammer is still on my dresser in necklace form. Clark taught me how to run like he does.”
They had indeed had a long talk about the gauntlets and hammer just yesterday. After a couple of very close calls with being seen flying to and from the school to help Chloe finish the first issue of the Torch for this school year, Xander had agreed that he needed to be more careful. Since he still couldn’t fly without the gauntlets and hammer, he’d decided to stop wearing the gauntlets non-stop. It wasn’t as if he actually needed them for anything other flying most of the time anyway.
“Oh,” Jonathan said, taken aback by the casual way Xander said it. “So you have super-speed too?”
“Yep,” the Aesir replied simply. “Clark’s faster than me though, not that it would necessarily be noticeable except on a distance run.” He chuckled at the look on Jonathan’s face.
Jonathan shook his head and slid part way under the tractor, grabbing the piece of debris that had bounced up and gotten wedged against the axle. It was a large chunk of hard stone pulled free easily enough now that it wasn’t pinned in place by the tractor’s weight. The farmer tossed it aside before getting out from beneath the elevated vehicle. “Thanks Xander,” he said as he stood up. “You can put it down now.”
“Okay,” the Thunder God lowered it gently back down. “Dinner’s going to be ready in about twenty minutes…you need a hand with anything else?” Glancing down, Xander noticed a glint of metal from the ground.
“No, I was headed back to up to the barn when the axle jammed,” the farmer answered as he climbed back onto the tractor. When he glanced at his adopted son, he noticed the teen staring intently at the rock he’d dislodged. “What is it?” he asked the Aesir curiously.
Picking up the lump of stone, Xander looked closer. There, embedded in the stone, he found a small, curved edge of metal. It was mostly tarnished brown but it gleamed brightly where it had rubbed against the metallic axle. “I’m not sure,” the Aesir admitted. “There’s something metal inside this rock. It looks man-made too.” He handed it over to Jonathan and pointed at the metallic object.
“What is that?” the older man muttered aloud. “It looks like copper or maybe brass? Could be an old tractor fitting,” he offered handing it back to the teen.
“I think I’ll take it up to the barn and dig it out,” Xander said simply. “Just to be sure that’s all it is.” He stared down at it, trying to ignore the weird feeling he had that whatever it was, it was important. It seemed odd that an almost softball sized rock bounced up and got lodged like that. For it to have something embedded in it as well stretched the limits of what Xander could believe was a coincidence.
“You want to ride up with me?” Jonathan asked, looking at the teen with a smile.
The automatic ‘no’ that sprang to Xander’s lips died there unspoken as he glanced up and saw the look in his Dad’s eyes. “Sure,” he said with a grin, stepping up onto one of the step rails and grabbing hold of the tractor for balance. It wasn’t like he really needed to hurry back up to the barn anyway, whatever was in that rock wasn’t going anywhere.
* * * * *
The evening meal at the Kent house passed as it almost always did, though the slow trickle of passing time seemed to accelerate into a rushing torrent as the remainder of the evening passed. The boys related the details of their afternoon run, much to their father’s consternation.
“You ran all the way to Hub city and back in under an hour?” Jonathan asked, clearly as shocked as Martha had been when they told her. “That’s almost 900 miles!”
“I could probably do it in closer to 40 or 45 minutes now that I know how to do the super-speed thing consistently and Clark could probably do it in less than 30,” Xander said before noticing the look on his parent’s faces, “but I’m guessing that’s not really the point…”
Jonathan shook his head resignedly. “I know that it’s only natural for you boys to want to test your abilities and push the limits of your powers. Just promise me that you’ll be careful not to push too hard and hurt yourselves.”
“We promise, dad,” Clark said without hesitating. Xander immediately nodded his agreement as well.
“And for heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone see you using your abilities,” the farmer added with a pointed look at Xander.
“I’ll do my best,” he said simply.
“I know you will,” Jonathan said with a smile. “Now why don’t you boys demonstrate some of that speed and clean up the kitchen for your mother?”