Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are property of 20th Century Fox, Joss Whedon, and Mutant Enemy. Smallville is property of Millar and Gough, Inc. and the WB/CW. I own nothing nor do I profit from this story.
Xander coughed and covered his eyes. He hated this newest assignment. He should be back with his girls in Nairobi, enjoying the lush luxury that the council house there provided. Was it so much to ask to be able to slay vampires from the comfort of a mansion complete with wrap around balcony and hanging violets. Yeah, he didn’t think so either. Of course, as much as being in Cairo sucked, it was still better than living in his parents’ basement.
He coughed again and stumbled forward in the sand. Strong arms wrapped around his waist and prevented him from falling. Shaking his bangs out of his eye, Xander turned back to his rescuer. “Thanks, Vi.”
She grinned back at him, a slight flush spreading across her cheeks and almost as bright as her hair. “No problem, boss.”
Most men would feel it an insult to their masculine pride to be rescued by reed thin girls on a regular basis. Xander had told his pride to take a hike back in sophomore year when Buffy had saved him from becoming a Scooby snack for the Master. Besides, he’d seen Vi take down Fyral demons, Turok-khan, and on one memorable occasion a demon-possessed lion.
Slayers were built tough and his girls in Africa were the toughest of the bunch, not that he was going to tell Faith or Kennedy that. He really liked his kidneys where they were.
“So,” the red-head asked, “What exactly are we looking for again?”
He sighed. “The laibon really didn’t give much details.”
“Yeah, go to the ‘Valley of the Kings’ would have gone over a lot better if it had come with things like maps or detailed instructions.”
“Exactly. That’s why I didn’t bother bringing the junior slayers with me. It’s one thing to have a Sunnydale alumna tracking down the big, scaly and mysterious. It’s still a little hairy with the newbies.”
Vi arched her eyebrow at him as she walked deeper into the sand. “You know, it’s been almost four years since Sunnydale imploded, I think the other girls are going to realize that they’ve got about as much field experience as I do. Way more than that Kendra girl Giles’ diaries mention.”
Xander nodded. “Okay, well, that’s true but if I’m taking a road trip it’s going to be with my favorite slayer.”
“Behind Buffy and Faith.”
“Faith tried to kill me.” Xander defended.
“She also let you sleep with her or manhandled you, depending on your perspective,” She added, shrugging her shoulders and working her way to the front of the pyramid in front of them.
Xander coughed again and this time it had nothing to do with the sand assaulting his sinuses. Vi had grown up a lot in the four years since Sunnydale had imploded (the on good thing Spike had ever managed to do, in his opinion) but he still saw her as the quiet and shy girl with the rainbow knit cap and the tendency to avert her eyes. Hearing her mention sex even causally caused a double take. Hearing her talk about sex and him in the same sentence was on the same level as hearing Dawn say it. Just no.
Recovering before she could take joy in the break in his stride, Xander struggled his way over to the front. To Xander, it looked pretty much like the other three sides of the pyramid, except for the rectangular cut in the front barely six feet high and narrow enough to make him wish he hadn’t had the extra helping of bacon that morning. Grumbling, he reached behind his back for his sword and looked at Vi, “Why are the entrances to mystical tunnels always so tiny?”
“Maybe because the PTB know that only slayers will be coming in to save the day and we don’t even have a height requirement.”
“Well there could have been some consideration for the beefy Watchers that have their backs. I’d like to go somewhere and not have to slouch down to do it.”
“Stop being such a baby,” She admonished, passing through the doorway, “It’s not so…whoa.”
Xander stepped through the doorway too and echoed the sentiment originally made famous by Keanu Reeves. “Whoa.”
He never should have been worried about the confines of the pyramid. The doorway opened into a massive antechamber. Holding up his flashlight, Xander could make marveled at the way the walls towered over him and glinted a dust gold in the sparse light. The room itself was empty, which really crushed his elementary school fantasies of exploring ancient tombs and uncovering buried treasure. He and Willow had actually only played treasure hunters a few times. She was insistent on looking up the historical facts to go along with the game and even at ten (maybe especially at ten Xander hadn’t been much of a research guy. Still, lack of book smarts or not, Xander was sure there should be spices and mummies and lots of shiny gold.
“Well, that’s kind of disappointing.”
“You know there are usually grave robbers, right? These pyramids have been here for thousands of years. If thieves hadn’t picked them clean then that British invasion that came along with King Tut would have done it.”
“Point.” Xander admitted, used to the familiar rhythm of being corrected by a redhead too smart for her own good. “Still, we found this temple using a spell the maasai shaman provided. I don’t think the average person or even demon was going to be able to find this place.”
“Which sort of begs the question about why someone might be here now.” Vi held her flashlight up to the walls too, running her hand over the intricate carvings she found there. “Did you get a look at these?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Yeah, hieroglyphics, that’s real interesting. I can sell those.”
“You weren’t thinking of taking back a little treasure with you once we took care of everything, were you?”
“No. Tombs are of the bad. You open an ancient burial ground and the next thing you know you have the funny syphilis.”
Vi giggled. “Still?”
“I might have been looking forward to something shiny and gold and small just to prove I’d been in an actual pyramid.”
“And the curse that comes with grave robbing would have given you an extra dose of syphilis.” Vi added, shaking her head. That did it. He definitely missed timid, never questioned him Vi. “Still, did you get a good look at these things?”
“They’re hieroglyphics. That’s not too weird to find in a pyramid, you know?”
“Did you try reading them?”
“Wrong Watcher. Giles is good with the glottal stops and the whatever else. I mostly stab things.”
“That’s why we’re lucky to have Percival straight out of the council and ready for the fun of the huge library in slayer central back home. And me.” She added, grin widening.
“You read hieroglyphics?”
“Not exactly, but it wouldn’t be too bad to have an educated slayer around no matter how much Buffy and Faith insist that us and books are nonmixy things.”
“I know enough about some African languages and dialects. A little for ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘where’s the vampire,’ but I know enough to also know that hieroglyphics never looked like this.” She said, pointing to one of the illuminated symbols. To Xander it looked a lot more like a diamond wrapped around a figure 8, than some ancient falcon or jackal or something. Then again, his knowledge of hieroglyphics was limited to movies starring The Rock.
“So they’re not supposed to be diamond-y?” He asked, reaching up toward the figure.
She shook her head and moved the flashlight a little to the left. It illuminated a few more sigils, including something that Xander swore looked more like a lower back tattoo than an ancient pictograph. Huh, pictograph. Maybe he had paid attention to Giles once in a while.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
“We’re on the right track because this temple clearly isn’t Egyptian.”
“Exactly. I bet that means our demon is around here somewhere.”
Xander leaned against the wall, letting his hand rest to the side of the snazzy-looking figure 8. “Lead on Daphne.”
“I thought we established that I was much more the Velma.”
“Well Daphne is a redhead.”
“Does that make you Fred?”
Xnader brought his left hand to his chest and staggered for a second. “Ouch. Neckerchiefs are evil. I’m the Shaggy, definitely the Shaggy.”
“Or the Scooby considering the way you packed down breakfast,” She added reaching over to poke him in the stomach.
Xander jumped quickly to avoid her, sliding against the wall. His hand grazed over the figure 8 and there was a loud clicking noise. “Oh crap.”
The wall in front of them shook, and Xander grabbed Vi close to his chest when a chunk of debris fell from the ceiling and landed where she’d been standing.
“Thanks for the save.” She said, breathless.
“No thanks yet.” He said, feeling his footing slip and sway as the rattling continued and the wall in front of them slid out revealing a dark chasm in front of them. Finally, the shaking stopped and Xander released Vi, grabbing for his flashlight at the same time. “Gee, Velma, do you want to go investigate the creepy dark cavern.”
“Jinkies, a monster might step out and eat us.”
“Here’s hoping,” Xander replied, stepping into the narrow chasm, his flashlight in one hand and his broad sword in the other. “I hate Cairo.”
Vi ducked under the doorway and followed him, a dagger gripped tightly to her side. “But you did find the supercool secret passage in the pyramid, so the vacation is not without its perks.”
“Right, I…” Xander frowned, holding up the flashlight in front of him. “Oh double crap.”
Vi sidled up next to him and a matching frown tugged at the corners of her lips. “Really? It’s one vampire standing next to an empty altar. How hard can that be?”
Just then, the vamp in question looked over from the table and glared at them. Xander gulped. He’d met a lot of vampires from the Bleached Menace to old Batface to even that creepy hoofed nachos guy that had chased Faith all the way from Florida. He’d never seen one with red eyes. And he’d definitely never met one that moved faster than even a slayer could see.
One second the vampire or whatever he was stood in front of the stone table, the next second he had his hand around Xander’s throat and was applying pressure. Gulping out for air, he wheezed out, “Vi, a little help here.”
She nodded and elbowed the thing in its solar plexus. It staggered back about half an inch. It wasn’t the grand rescue that Xander was planning on, but it did distract the thing long enough that he loosened his grip and he was able to push free. Xander back up just as the not-quite-vamp sun around and started circling Vi.
She matched his pace, her dagger held high and waited for the first move. Xander stopped, waited and steadied himself for the right moment. The bait and switch was a routine he and Vi had perfected over the years. All demons got far to focused on the slayer but never seemed to think of the Watcher as a threat. So much the better for him.
“So,” Vi said, stalling for time as Xander positioned his blade behind the creature’s back. “Looking for anything in particular. Please tell me that there wasn’t an apocalypse behind that altar because it’s just February and a little early for end of the world drama.”
The thing frowned but its eyes never stopped glowing, even from behind him, Xander could see as the unnatural red light from his retinas illuminated the room, casting Vi in an eerie hellish glow. It spoke quickly, a terse collection of syllables that vaguely reminded Xander of the re-ensouling spell for Angel. But he was pretty sure that whatever the thing had said wasn’t Romanian. Actually, based on the circumstances, he bet that the language wasn’t human.
The thing blurred again and Vi managed to deflect his blow, stumbling to the side before the thing managed to catch her. She stumbled but shook her head when Xander made his way toward her. He nodded, stilled himself, and eased himself into a dark corner. Let the freaking thing see the dark. Of course since most vamps and demons were nocturnal…
The thing surged forward again and Vi spun quicker than Xander could completely follow. He heard the thing bellow and when the combatants’ movement stopped. Xander didn’t even wait but instead surged forward, trusting hearing honed by years on the Savannah to guide his blow. It was a desperate jab forward, no finesse, now swing, just a violent stab. But it hit home. The thing howled and batted Xander away. He flew through the air, landing in a heap on top of Vi. He groaned, pushing himself to his hands and knees and fumbling through his pockets for the spare dagger he kept there.
From the corner of his eye, he could make out the thing as it stumbled, yanked out the sword and bent it in half at the hilt. Screaming in pain and staring down at his blood in much the same dazed way Xander had seen rescued co-eds stumble out of the Bronze’s back alley. Apparently, the thing never bled.
Xander climbed unsteadily to his feet. Vi wasn’t moving and he was trying to stay on his feet long enough to get them out of there. Struggling not to show weakness, Xander pulled his spare dagger to his side and glared at the thing. “We have a draw. I’ll stab you again and this time it’s going to bleed a hell of a lot more. Leave.”
Xander was pretty sure the thing didn’t speak English but the good thing about big sharp blades is that holding them up menacingly always translated. The thing glared at him a little longer, eyes blazing and strange curses flowing from his lips. Then he blurred and was simply gone.
Turning back around, he kneeled on the floor and lifted Vi up gently. “Come on, Vi. Four years and counting is a good record, don’t let a vamp with a bad need for Visine win.” For a few interminable seconds, the redheaded slayer barely breathed, but she managed to rouse herself, opening her eyes and staring at him.
“I’m sorry. I think we need to redefine that divide and conquer thing we have going on.”
She laughed weakly. “It works well with regular vamps.” She rolled over in his arms trying to gather her legs under her. “Gosh darn it!”
Xander couldn’t stifle the smile, even at twenty-one and with more in-field combat than most silver star winners, Vi talked like a Martha Stewart special. “Worse than you thought?”
“I think my ankle’s sprained. You’re going to have to drag me back to town.”
“Good thing you’re not heavy,” Xander deadpanned, picking her up in his arms and carrying her out of the inner chamber nuptial style.
“It’s your cooking. Besides, we’d need to stop in Cairo either way. There’s a coven we need to see about travel arrangements.”
“Where are we going? I thought getting back to the girls and making sure the not vamp doesn’t make it as far as Nairobi would be of the good.”
“It would be, but I think I know where this guy is going and it’s not so good.”
“And where would he be going?” Xander asked, feeling his feet sink into the sand outside the pyramid.
“Kansas?” Xander had been a lot of places but he was going to rank hanging out in cornfield capital of the Midwest about as high as going back to the flaming crater that was Sunnydale.
“Yup, Kansas.” Vi answered before she passed out.
Chloe sat on the floor of the loft, leaning up against the old steamer trunk her computer was perched on and cursing what passed for an internet connection up in the barn. Okay, granted that she was in a barn to begin with, it was amazing that she was getting any kind of signal but with the slow pace and intermittent signal, she certainly would have been better off with a couple of tin cans held together with a string.
“Clark, did you guys ever think of getting a real connection in here.”
Clark stopped his pacing from in front of the loft’s main window. “We’re lucky we even have electricity out here.” He sighed and turned around to face her. “So are you almost done?”
“It’s only been fifteen minutes.”
“How long could it possibly take?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. Her best friend had a lot of good qualities but patience wasn’t one of them. She figured it had something to do with superspeed. If you could do everything in the blink of an eye, you probably found waiting for even twenty minutes interminable. “Computers don’t run on Clark-time. Besides, this is a little complicated.” Clacking in a few more command codes into the lab top, she looked up at him. “Do you have the cameras set up where you want them?”
“Yeah, there are a few hidden in the rafters of the loft, one by the workbench and quite a few scattered throughout the house, not in my mom’s room, but we don’t have anything in there that’s…um…suspicious.”
“You shouldn’t be keeping anything suspicious in any part of the house. Jeez.”
“I’m sorry, like I was around when you thought it would be a good idea to let Lana into my house.”
“Well she did basically invite herself and I figured with your penchant for pulling out the amazing saves, having her in the same house as you would cut down on the travel time.”
He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anyone attract stalkers like she does. Still,” he said, sighing and running a hand through his overly long hair, “I don’t feel quite right about setting up all this spy-vs.-spy stuff.”
“Well since she snuck into your barn and started stealing your stuff first, I figured a little home surveillance isn’t completely out of order.”
“Still, it shouldn’t have had to come to this.”
Chloe shook her head and finished entering the code. “I’m sorry by all means feel free to tell her everything, like I want to set up a little NSA action in my spare time.”
King of non-committal stances as always, Clark sighed again. “You know I can’t tell her anything either.”
“Hence plan A with the making sure we’re one step ahead of her, which isn’t that hard, it’s not like she was too discrete with all of her spying.”
“Well not everyone is adept at breaking and entering as others.”
“To be fair it is an acquired skill and I have a lot of practice at this. Any way,” Chloe said with a final clack of her keys, “We should be up and running. Consider yourself Big Brother.”
Standing up, Chloe arched her arms over her head and stretched. “There would go phase 1. If we can move on to phase 2, then we might actually be done with everything in time for me to have a decent cup of coffee at The Talon.”
Clark frowned. “You know you do live there.”
“Figure of speech. I’d just like to not spend the rest of the in a dusty barn.”
“Oh, like you don’t prefer hanging out at my apartment.”
“It’s Lois’s apartment.”
“But I have a great spot on the couch and Oliver did buy her that really sweet plasma for Christmas. Why don’t I have a billionaire boyfriend again?”
“Well if Ollie ever comes back to town, maybe you can sweet talk him.”
“Funny, real funny. I mean seriously, Lois gets the fairy tale romance with Ollie, minus the part where he runs off to Malta or wherever, and Lana ends up with her own mansion.” She bit at the corners of her lips and waited for Clark’s reaction. His glower just deepened. “Sorry to bring that up.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s the reason you’re even over here today.”
“Gee thanks.” Chloe said, keeping the bitterness mostly out of her voice. She loved her best friend, really she did, but it seemed that they’d been in crisis mode for over a year now and that most of their hanging out time revolved around the latest Phantom Zone escapee, whatever Lex was trying to pull, or the classic and perennial favorite meteor mutant. Oh and the Lana moping. She’d had a bit of a respite from that for the last few months (at least evil alien crime lords were good for something) but it seemed back in full force now.
Clark blushed a little and sat down on the sofa. “Not that I wouldn’t want to hang out with you normally even though I have a bunch of chores I haven’t gotten to and stuff.”
“It’s okay. I’ve gotten used to be your tech support.”
“Well, at least you were dating. I mean, my hottest date on a Saturday night as been Shelby.”
“You know how wrong that sounds out of context?” Chloe said, arching an eyebrow out him and smirking at the unintended implication of what Clark and the old golden retriever would be up to.
“You know what I mean.” He shifted a little and pulled the lab top closer to him, giving the surveillance feed the once over. “I’m really sorry about Jimmy.”
She shrugged. “It wasn’t all about you. My life was weird before I got into the secret keeping biz. I was tracking down meteor mutants in freshman year and Jimmy wants to be a hardcore investigator but his instincts aren’t quite right.”
Clark chuckled. “Egyptians, right?”
Chloe laughed back thinking of poor Jimmy and his close-but-so-not-right theory on Kryptonian technology and certain evil bald billionaires. “Still, having a billionaire for a boyfriend has to have some perks.”
“Jet setting never seemed your style, Chlo.”
“It’s not.” She said, shrugging, “But I occasionally have bouts of superficiality and you should see all the pretty sparkly things Lois got for Christmas.”
“Jimmy did get you some really nice bubble bath.”
“And you got me an engraved fountain pen. I really am rolling in the riches now,” She deadpanned. “So,” she added, holding out her hand, “Do you have the rest of the stuff?”
Clark pulled out the box from underneath the sofa and laid it on the steamer trunk next to her lab top. He flipped the lid so she could take inventory: one Kryptonian crystal willed to him in a round about way by his biological father, the key to his ship (which was now more or less the key to the Kawatchee caves and she had no earthly idea how that even worked), and three lead boxes, firmly shut. Chloe didn’t need to lift the lid to know that the other three boxes contained the Kent family supply of Kryptonite.
“I don’t know how I feel about this.”
“Would you like to keep your obviously alien artifacts in the middle of your room for Lana to sneak across? Because that seems like such a good plan.”
“Yeah, but not having any green K around, that could be kind of dangerous.”
“And having to explain to certain brunette super sleuths why you have your own collection of radioactive rocks is such an easy thing to do.”
“Still, if anything happens…” Clark started, looking down at the floor.
He didn’t need to elaborate. Normally, Clark was a great guy and the most heroic person she’d ever met. However, he was also prone to having his head screwed around with and that made him dangerous, like last week when he’d been hopped up on red kryptonite and abducted Lana in the first place which had led to this current predicament of getting rid of all the evidence. Not having the Kryptonite around as a “just in case” was almost as dangerous as having Lana or Lex come across it first.
“It’ll only be a few days. Lana’s already cased the barn and the house at least once. It’s just until her curiosity dies down. Besides, this is Smallville. It’s not like you can’t just pick up a meteor rock in any field or at a local souvenir stand.”
“Home sweet home.” He deadpanned, glaring at the lead boxes. “So, you can shut down the computer now that we know it works and we can head over to the caves. I can hide the stuff there for at least a while.”
“No problem,” she answered, and then the world flashed.
The Council had resources all over the world that even the First and Caleb hadn’t been able to destroy. Roger Wyndham-Pryce, Watcher Emeritus and all around jerk, had been in charge of the Council’s finances for decades and he’d been able to secure the society’s wealth in literally hundreds of secret accounts all across the world. It had been nice to have that kind of money to rely on and use when they’d had to flee Sunnydale and set off immediately on rounding up the newly chosen. It definitely beat the Hell out of the old school days with dozens of potentials forced to sleep on sleeping bags in his apartment floor and relying on the paltry pooled income of him, Giles, and Anya.
Another great advantage of the Council is that it had been able to maintain its contacts with various covens and shaman clans over the world. Since the allies hadn’t been officially linked to the Council but only sometime partners in the demon fighting biz, the First hadn’t hit them first. Maybe eradicating places like the Devon Coven and the cabal of witches they were staying with now in Cairo had been on its list of things to do after unleashing Hell on earth.
Hah, take that incorporeal badness.
Xander sat on a collection of plush, hand woven rugs on the far corner of the room. Vi was sitting next to him, her ankle tightly wrapped in fresh bandages, a small bruise still raised over her right temple. The coven had given her some herbs and various potions to help increase her already rapid healing, but she’d still be sore for at least the next day or so.
At least she wasn’t dead.
Xander shivered and put an arm around his slayer’s shoulders. Sometimes as a watcher he got too complacent. He and Vi and the girls had developed a system for dealing with vamps, demons, and all the other nasties the Dark Continent had to offer, and they were really good at it. Sometimes it was easy to forget the cardinal rule of slaying, a dictum drilled into the heads of the Scooby Council by Buffy herself since day one: all the enemy needed was one good day.
Considering the other whatever the hell it was was off somewhere pulling his favorite sword out of its stomach, it was safe to say that the bad day had been mutual.
“How you feeling?” He asked, looking down at her.
“Better. Still a little swoony, but I was always a little prone to fainting. I’ve definitely had worse. Not even close to a Turok-khan.”
“You are so lying.”
She frowned. “How’d you know?”
“I, too, have had the fun pain of being thrown around by those cave vamps. This guy was definitely stronger.” The three witches, attired in dark flowing robes glared back at him, and he realized that he’d spoken to loudly. “Is this really going to work?”
“That your way of saying that you’d rather take a jet back to the States?”
“I’ve never been fond of teleportation spells. They take a lot out of the spellcaster for one thing,” Xander said, thinking of Willow’s constant nosebleeds when dealing with Glory. “Plus, that whole poof ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ bit gives me a major wiggins. There’s always the chance that you might not come back or, I dunno, that you could only half way come out. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much attached to my arms.”
“There a good coven. They work with Althanea all the time and they already patched me up almost as good as Willow could do. There’s no need to worry. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Famous last words, and wasn’t this going to be a simple vamp staking.”
“Technically the laibon was nice and vague, but our luck couldn’t get worse.”
Xander shook his head, shaggy bangs falling into his eye. You would think a Sunnydale alumna would know enough not to jinx herself like that. “So we just sit here quietly and when they’re done with the ‘cumbai ya’ bit we’ll be in Kansas.”
She nodded. “That’s the idea.”
“So we’re not going to need a pair of ruby slippers or anything, right? Because my manly pride will only take so many blows.”
“Nope,” She answered giggling and looking towards the witches. “In about twenty seconds, we should be where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.”
“That’s Oklahoma.” Off her arched eyebrow he added, “Oh the joys of forced high school drama. I also do a mean Oedipus Rex, yes I realize the irony.”
Vi was about to answer when there was bright flash from across the room and he was temporarily blinded by deep golden light. When he could finally see again, he expected to be in hay stack or something. He was disappointed to find that he was still perched atop a Persian rug.
Of course on the plus side, his arms were still attached.
“Vi?” He called out, Watcherly panic prompting him to check for his slayer.
A gentle hand gripped his shoulder. “I’m fine. I guess that didn’t go the way I’d planned.”
“Well my Arabic’s a little rusty, how’s yours?”
“Why didn’t I pay attention to all those Berlitz tapes Giles kept mailing us?” Xnader asked, standing up and offering an arm to help pull Vi to her feet. She took his arm and pulled her weight up, leaning heavily on his shoulder and on her left side. Turning to the triad of witches, Xander saw that the three of them were also standing and had backed away from the center of the circle. Standing where their small cauldron had been were a girl with shoulder length blond hair who was a few inches shorter than Vi and a guy who looked like he could crush Xander with one hand.
That was always a plus.
“I think that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Chloe had been through a lot of things in her life: ghost possessions, alien invasions, meteor showers, and teleportation on at least two occasions. She’d never been much of a fan of it. It was disorienting to say the least and it usually ended with her catching hypothermia in the Arctic. At least the humidity that assaulted her this time around was refreshing in comparison.
In front of her were three robed figures, whose dress reminded her of the burkas worn by Middle Eastern women, but she couldn’t tell their sex. All she could make out were there eyes which to her seemed like huge black pools, unnaturally dilated. Farther in the background, she could make out two other people sitting down on the floor, but since she was behind the Great Wall of Clark she couldn’t make much of anything else out.
Her friend had (gently) pushed her behind him, the second they’d materialized in the middle of Aladdin’s magical mystery hangout. She could read the tension in his stance as his jacket pulled tightly over his squared shoulders. That couldn’t be good. He had a tendency to rush in and attack before he knew the whole situation, which, as always, left her as the voice of reason in this situation.
Putting her hand on the top his shoulder, she gave it a gentle squeeze. “Whoa, calm down.”
He twisted his neck so that he could see her over his shoulder. “Calm down! Do you know how we got here, wherever here is?”
“No, but going on the offensive right away probably isn’t going to endear us to those of the scary eyes and minimal English skills. Besides,” she added, stepping to his side, preparing herself to face whatever with him shoulder to shoulder, “I think we can at least assumed that we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“You’ve been waiting to say that one for a long time, haven’t you?”
“First time I ever got teleported to that popsicle you call a Fortress.” Taking a deep breath, Chloe stuck out her hand and offered it to the nearest of their summoners. “Chloe Sullivan, Daily Planet. How can I help you today?”
“Chloe!” A voice squealed from across the room and Chloe stood on her tiptoes to look over the shoulders of the hooded cavalcade in front of her. A familiar shock of bright red hair and a wide smile that matched her own greeted her.
“Vi, oh my god.” Pushing herself gently through the welcoming committee, Chloe ran over and gave her cousin a huge hug. “Vi, what are you doing here? Where is here by the way? And why are you limping?”
“I guess that twenty question reporter instinct thing never goes away,” the redhead added, giving her another hug.
Chloe noted that she’d never felt a tighter squeeze outside of Clark Kent’s embrace. Her cousin was strong and not just adding steroids to your morning Wheaties strong either. “Not really. So feel free to actually start explaining at any point.”
“Well, it’s sort of a long story.”
“It would have to be what with the instant teleportation to Morocco.”
“Cairo, actually,” A guy who reminded Chloe a little of a pirate replied. Okay, so he didn’t exactly look like Johnny Depp or anything but he was working the eyepatch, and he was cute in that broad-shouldered, shaggy-haired all-American guy way, in other words, her type, minus the super powers. Offering his hand for a shake, he added. “My name’s Xander Harris and I work with Vi.”
“Keeps an eye on me is more like it.” Vi said, winking at him.
“Just the one though, but it’s amazing how easy it is to be the one-eyed guy in the kingdom of the blind.” Chloe let her mouth hang open. Well that was a new level in self-deprecating humor. Sensing her discomfort, Xander added, “Sorry about the humor. I sort of let the sarcasm fly fast and furious and it’s been almost four years since I lost it. I often encourage the girls to go for the creative with the eye jokes. Pirate comments are a little too easy, you know?”
“Um, sure.” She said shakily. It wasn’t often she found herself at a loss for words. It was shaping up to be a strange day, even by her standards. “So, why are we in Cairo again?”
“That’s exactly what I’d like to know.” Clark added, coming up next to her and glaring at where Chloe and Xander’s hands were still clasped. Right so now he’d be jealous and over protective. Of course, he’d never really cared much for Jimmy either.
Dropping her hand, Chloe gestured with her chin toward her friend. “Guys, this is my friend Clark Kent and Clark this is my cousin Vi Sullivan and her associate Xander, right.”
Xander nodded. “That would be me. So, would you guys like to grab some coffee? The trio over there have a pretty nice kitchen and most of it contains herbs and not just newt’s eyes. Turkish roast?”
“That’ll work, but if you can Irish up the coffee, I think at least I’d appreciate it.” She said glancing up at Clark. “One of us doesn’t exactly mix well with controlled substances.” Which was pretty much true, anything from paint thinner to scotch wouldn’t have an affect on him. A few little red rocks, however, well that was another story.
“Deal.” Vi said, leaning on Xander and leading their way through the low-hanging doorway. “We’ve kind of had a rough day ourselves.”
Xander took another sip of the touch of scotch they’d found hidden in the upper cupboard of the kitchen. He suspected it wasn’t the usual type of drink to be found in a coven house, but maybe Giles or the Devon coven had been sending out rations on the sly. When times got really rough, Giles and even Spike tended to take a swig here or there. Liquid courage at its finest. Not that Xander could see himself carrying around a hip flask anymore than he could see himself bleaching his hair.
The other guy, who reminded him far too much of Angel for his taste, was drinking a glass of water. Xander wouldn’t have recommended that himself. His first time in Africa, he’d made the mistake of drinking water straight from the tap and hadn’t been able to move for three days straight. All the superfun parasites that Africa had to offer were surely an acquired taste. Of course with the way that guy was glaring at him, maybe he deserved it.
True to her word, Chloe had guzzled down no less than three cups of coffee in the first five minutes of sitting down. Now she and Vi had both switched to a small cup of the more Irish variety of brew. Slayers didn’t usually drink on duty, but he wanted her to have something to help ease off the pain of her injuries. Besides, none of them would be going back out to that pyramid tonight.
“So let me get this straight,” Chloe said, glancing down over the notes she’d taken. Apparently Vi was kidding about the other girl being a reporter. Xander hadn’t ever heard of the Daily Planet, but his slayer assured him that it was the third biggest paper in the U.S. behind the New York Times and the Washington Post. Chloe had pulled out a pen and a mini-notepad the second they’d sat down at the table. “You and Xander work for a secret organization that kills vampires and other mystical evils.”
“You know, you’re taking this pretty well.” He added. “People usually go through this denial phase and the phase where they want to have us committed.” Clark and Chloe both flinched at the mention of any asylum time and Xander got the feeling there was a story there, maybe for both of them. “Sorry, I mean usually people aren’t inclined to believe us.”
Chloe shrugged, intelligent eyes glittering back at him. “It’s only a step up from ghost possessions and evil witches intent on ruling the world.”
“Are you sure you don’t live on a Hellmouth?” Xander asked, eyebrow arched.
“A what?” Clark asked, furrowing his brows and Xander had to stifle a snicker at how much he reminded him of Dead Boy.
“It’s a term for a mystical convergence where demons and all the Big Bads come out to play. There’s one in Cleveland.” Vi supplied.
“That explains a lot.” Chloe replied. “Sunnydale, California was one of those Hellmouth things too, wasn’t it?”
Xander blinked. The girl was sharp. “What makes you say that?”
“My cousin takes off from Boston and writes back to her parents that she’s won some sort of scholarship exchange with Sunnydale High and I don’t get curious, please.” Chloe added and Clark grinned a bit when she said it. It was the first nonthreatening facial expression he’d seen the other guy make. “I did a double check on the town when we first heard Vi’d moved there. The murder rate in that town was sky high not to mention the ridiculous ratio of churches to citizens. Oh, and then five months later the whole town implodes. I’ve only seen one small town as weird.”
“Smallville.” Vi agreed.
“Really?” Xander asked.
Chloe nodded. “Vi and I stayed in touch when she moved via e-mail. She never gave me the full disclosure on vampires, witches, and First Evils, oh my, but she did have some random research questions for me from time to time, a personal favorite was about what types of silverware were most likely to contain actual silver.”
“Huh?” Xander asked looking at his slayer.
“I was stocking up the kitchen at Slayer Central with utensils but I thought I’d find a brand that wasn’t too expensive but could be useful in case of wereleopard attack.”
“Resourceful, I like it.” He added, pride coloring his voice. Of course, the Council would have paid if they’d asked for the antique kind but he had to respect his slayer for finding a discount deal. Keeping Giles ulcer-free was of the good.
“And Chloe sort of knew I had an interest in things that were out of the ordinary you know. In high school, especially, she sent me all these articles from her school newspaper about the local weirdness. There were a few incidents in particular that she wanted help with since I told her part of my scholarship was for, um, languages.”
“Like I don’t get credit from picking up Sumerian from Dawn or a little bit of Greek and Latin. Anyway,” Vi continued, taking a sip of her coffee. “Chloe sent me two pictures that I’ve kept saved to my e-mail account ever since. I mean, you know we’ve seen pretty much every language out there and a whole bunch no one’s ever even heard of before, but this stuff…I’ve never seen anything close to it, even going back through what was left of the Watcher’s Council records in England.”
Clark’s grin turned into a glare. “Chloe, what exactly did you send her?”
The blond picked nervously at the handle of her coffee mug. “I sent her the picture from your barn. I was going to write it off as a frat prank but then Dr. Swann started stalking you and I figured the symbols had to actually mean something. I hadn’t found anything on my own and I figured Vi might be able to help out.”
“She said twice.”
Vi’s face flushed. “Well she did send me a second picture of something burned into a field.”
“I didn’t know. I’d gotten a copy of the picture from The Ledger the summer I spent bonding with Lex’s security team and my Uncle Sam. I was curious and you were gone and I figured it had something to do with why you were gone. I mean, if there was the barn scorching the spring before and then mysterious symbols burned a year after. Not rocket science there.”
“You been sending your cousin anything else on me? There’s got to be a reason we’re here now, right?”
Chloe slammed down her mug. “Are you implying something?”
“I don’t know. Big secret mysterious organization dedicated to hunting things down and you’ve been sending them inside info from the Wall of Weird.”
“Do you even know how paranoid that sounds?”
“Well people have been sneaking around my property lately and stealing my things. It tends to make a guy edgy.”
Xnader looked at Vi and the other girl just shook her head as confused as he was. Great, looked like it was up to him as the resident adult---and wasn’t that a funny thought---to calm the other kid down. Maybe the teleportation had gotten to him. Or maybe the water was making him do the wacky. “Clark, calm down. I didn’t know that Vi had been contacting Chloe either. Technically, the Scooby Council is supposed to be a hush-hush organization with the secret identity thing going on a la Warrior Angel, you know? Of course, Buffy’s never been one for the low profile but I doubt you’re sitting on anything as big secret society lurking in the shadows for millennia.”
Apparently the secret identity route was not the way to go with this kid. Clark pushed up from the table. Or he would have pushed up from the table. He must have been really upset because when he applied pressure to the table it just shattered. Until that moment Xander hadn’t even known that wood could shatter. Vi’s quick reflexes kept her mug from shattering to the ground, the rest of their glasses weren’t so lucky.
“Okay then. I’m thinking share time should be more of a two-way street now,” Xander said, looking up at Clark.
The other guy looked really mad and Xander really liked the fully functioning use of his arms. Maybe he’d skip the fisticuffs and sic Vi on him or better yet the coven. He was pretty sure the sisters wouldn’t be happy with the mess Clark’d managed to make.
Chloe ran a hand through her hair and glared up at Clark. “Sit down!”
Xander was impressed, her expression was fierce enough to make the other guy take a deep swallow and sit down on the edge of his chair farthest away from her. He could definitely like this girl. She was smart as Wills and as fierce as Buffy or Faith (but he hoped less violent). “Are you sure all the red K is out of your system? Because you’re acting a little crazy even by your standards. We’re both invested in secret keeping, which by the way I’ve done even from both of my cousins, and you throw a temper tantrum, real smooth.”
“Other cousin?” Vi asked, frowning. “I didn’t know you and Lucy kept in touch that much.”
“I’ve been living with Lois since Met U closed down. She works for The Inquisitor.”
Xander’s eyes lit up. Now that was a paper he knew. “Really? They have the best articles. I loved the expose they had on Elvis and that Florida nursing home.”
Vi frowned. “You know they make that stuff up, right?”
“Not all of it. Most of their intel on Dracula is pretty accurate. No one makes me their bug-eating butt monkey.” He grumbled to himself, blushing when he realized the other three were staring at him. “Long story. Guy’s an ass.”
“He’s real?” Clark asked, some of his anger dissipating.
“Look who’s talking,” Chloe mumbled, smiling sweetly when Clark looked at her.
“Well as much fun as lover’s quarrels are---”
“Hey!” Two voices echoed at the same time. “We are not dating.”
Xander forced back a grin. That was certainly good to know. There was an extra point for Chloe right there---she apparently had better significant other taste than either Buffy or Wills. “Either way,” he continued, “I think we should get to the point, cause if you’re some kind of demon, you’re going to have to make an appointment to be slayed at a later date. She’s got a sprained ankle and I’ve had my ass handed to me once today. Does tomorrow work for you?”
“I’m not a demon,” Clark groused, crossing his hands over his chest.
“Well you certainly aren’t all green and scaly,” Vi said, musing over the options. “If you’re a vamp, you can always wait until sunrise. Dustings are so much more fun when I don’t have to do them.”
“I’m not a vampire either.”
“Werewolf? Warlock? Evil preacher whose made a deal with the source of all evil, which is only a good idea in theory, help us out here.” Xander added.
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Oh just go ahead and do the telling to go along with the showing, Clark.”
“I’manalien.” He mumbled faster than Xander could process.
“I’manalien.” Clark answered again.
“What’s a ‘manalien?’” Xander asked, genuinely confused.
“Oh for the love of god.” Chloe exclaimed. “And he’s your Watcher?”
“It’s more of a partnership,” Vi said shrugging. “Besides, I don’t know what a ‘manalien’ is either.”
Chloe shook her head and giggled. “Think E.T. but taller and without the glowing heart.”
“He’s an alien?” Xander asked, staring back at Clark. He could feel his own eyes growing wide. That was so unbelievably cool. Way better than vampires, not as cool as being able to party with Brazilian supermodels like some South American based slayers and Watchers he could name, but still really awesome.
Clark squared his chin and glowered straight at him. “Yes. Are you happy now?”
Unable to curb stupid impulses, Xander reached out a hesitant finger and poked him on the shoulder. It felt like trying to press into steel. “Wow. You don’t have like antenna or anything, do you?”
“Do you?” He asked back and Xander swore he saw Clark’s eyes take on a reddish glow.
“Xander,” Vi hissed, distracting him from Clark’s eyes. “That’s not cool.”
“Like you weren’t thinking it.”
“And who’s the responsible adult around here again?” Chloe deadpanned.
“I’m twenty-six, not a hundred, besides this is so cool. The only other alien I ever met, well sort of, tried to eat crazy people.” Three pairs of eyes just stared blankly back at him. “There are a lot of days I wish the Sunnydale crew were around.”
“That was certainly unexpected,” Vi added. “Honestly, I didn’t see that one coming. The best I ever came up with Chloe was that it was some sort of proto-Egyptian. There aren’t any demon languages that even come close, not that a lot of those are ever written down.”
“That makes sense. What with all the time they waste murdering and eating people,” Chloe answered.
“But the symbols, they’re yours.” Vi said, looking at Clark.
“Not mine exactly, but yeah they’re from where I came from.”
“So, out of curiosity’s sake, what did the symbols stand for?” Vi asked.
“‘Hope’ on the barn and ‘crusade’ in the field.” Off of Vi’s frown, he added, “Before you worry that whole conquering thing never happened. It was wishful thinking on my biological father’s part.”
“My dad just wanted me to pay rent and eventually leave the basement. Plus, buy the extra Wild Turkey at Christmas.” Xander said, shaking his head. “I don’t go home much.”
“Well, okay then,” Chloe said, taking everything in. “Secret vampire slaying society meet the only Kryptonian on the planet and vice-versa.”
“Kryptonian?” Xander asked.
“Would you prefer Vulcan?” Clark riposted, arms still crossed over his chest.
“Nope, that works for me, but I got to tell you, I don’t think you’re the only one here.”
“See, when I said the only one on the planet, you could kind of extend that to the entire universe. Clark’s planet sort of blew up.” Chloe said, placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
Ouch. That had to suck, and despite all reason Xander still sometimes missed Sunnydale. At least he could visit the big smoky crater where his home used to be, you know, if he ever felt like it. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Clark said, shrugging. “It’s not like I remember it or anything.”
“What did you mean by you don’t think he’s the only one?” Chloe asked, fixing her intense gaze back on him. Xander felt his stomach flip-flop.
“We had a run in today. We’re actually based in Nairobi.” Vi said.
Chloe nodded. “I remember.”
“But some Maasai shamans had a vision of something big going down in an ancient temple in Cairo and we came to investigate. We got there and we figured it was vamp business as usual and then I ended up almost getting killed and twisting my ankle and Xander had to stab the guy to get him to leave.”
“Kryptonians don’t bleed.” Clark said.
“Depends on what’s doing the stabbing,” Chloe reminded him. “Was it a normal blade?”
“It was a broad sword, but it was an antique from the Council, blessed for the Crusades or something. I wanted Excalibur but Giles wouldn’t trust me with it. Faith gets all the best weapons.”
“Excalibur’s real?” Clark asked, his eyes growing as wide as Xander’s had been earlier.
“You learn new things everyday,” Chloe said, shrugging, obviously well adjusted to hearing strange revelations on a daily basis. “See, that explains it. Mystical weapon and that means that it could hurt you or someone like you.”
Clark nodded, processing the thought. “Could work out, but still another Kryptonian, what are the odds of that?”
“Ask that one to Zod.” Chloe added and Xander and Vi just nodded along, neither one understanding the reference.
“Oh crap!” Clark said, pushing up from what was left of the table, this time delicately enough to leave the splinters of wood intact. “An escapee.”
“Is anyone else lost here?” Xander asked, looking at everyone else in the room.
“Long story short?” Chloe asked.
“Yes, please it’s late and I’m tired.” Vi added.
“Clark sort of let a bunch of intergalactic criminals out of jail. It wasn’t his fault but we’ve sort of been tracking them down ever since. Your shamans might have picked up on one of the criminals.”
“That would explain a lot,” Vi added, picking up on her cousin’s wavelength. “Whatever’s in that pyramid, I think it’s Kryptonian. That’s why we tried to teleport to Kansas to see you, Chlo. We found some more of those weird not-quite-heiroglyphics and you were the only person I knew who had experience with them.”
“Funny, looks like you got the directions crossed.” Chloe said, grinning a little at her cousin.
“My Arabic’s rusty, but it looked like it worked out okay, considering he’ll probably go back to the pyramid. He was looking for something hidden and Xander and I were able to stop him today but he’ll be back and soon. With Clark here, I’m sure we’ll be able to round him up, no problem.” Vi started struggling to her feet. Xander jumped to his own and wrapped his arm around his slayer.
“Do you need me to help you to your room?”
Vi shook her head. “It’s just a sprain. I’ll be healed by morning, you know that, so let me hobble on in piece.”
“That tough act only stays cute for so long, Red.” Xander added, wrapping his arms tighter around her shoulders and starting with her to the door. No sooner had he turned around than Clark was standing in front of them. Xander blinked uneasily. He was as fast as the other one and it brought back bad memories of his slayer in trouble.
“I’ll take her. I want to get some sleep to and it’ll be easier for me to carry her.”
Based on the number he’d done on the table, Xander bet it would be easier for Clark to also carry a baby elephant, a solid gold statue, and a small jet plane. “I’ve got her.” Translation: she’s my responsibility.
Clark held out his arms. “Just let me take her. I sort of feel bad about everything already, um, especially with your friends’ table.”
Vi patted his shoulder and looked up at him. “It’ll be alright. Besides, someone has to clean up the coffee mugs.” She said, winking.
“Oh sure, take advantage of the carpenter. I’m not fixing the table, just so you know.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” She said, leaning into Clark’s grasp. “Don’t be up too late. Nothing’s as much fun as tracking down evil aliens in the middle of the desert.”
“We so need overtime for this.”
Chloe was already hunched over the mess that had been the coffee table when Xander returned from the pantry, a dustpan and a broom gripped in his hand. “How’s clean-up going?”
“Fun, I often like spending my Saturday nights picking up splinters.”
“Technically it’s more of a Sunday morning thing now.” He said, bending down and carefully sweeping the glass into the pan. “Shouldn’t the guy with the superspeed and the invulnerable constitution be cleaning this up?”
“Sorry about that.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. You’re not the one who obliterated the table.”
She sighed, “I know. Usually he’s not like that. He’s just been having a really bad set of weeks.”
Xander arched an eyebrow at her. “So the property damage is all about the pent-up frustration?”
She shook her head. “It’s a laundry list of bad things: wedding frustration, too many responsibilities, and having his head screwed with one too many times. Add in being teleported half way across the world and being thrown in a room with a bunch of people trained to hunt down not human things and…”
“I can see how the pressure might be getting to him. I have a few girls that take it a little too rough on the punching bags and one in particular who’s just as soon beat a vamp to a bloody pulp than stake it.” He finished sweeping up the glass and moved onto the smaller splinters. “Wedding, huh? Are you the lucky girl?”
She blinked. Surely he didn’t think… “No, his ex-girlfriend is about to marry his former best friend. It’s a mess.”
“You don’t even know the half of it. He was engaged to her first, but it didn’t last.”
“So does she…” Xander said, trailing off.
“Know that he’s not exactly a local boy.” Chloe shook her head. “No, only his mom, me, and another friend of ours in Wichita know. No one else has ever been allowed to know. So you can guess how freaked he was that you and Vi might have even suspected it.”
“Still didn’t give him a right to jump to conclusions on you and practically take your head off.”
She shrugged. “Our relationship’s not been the best lately either. It wasn’t exactly his fault, but he said some pretty mean and publicly humiliating things to me a few weeks ago in front of most of Smallville high society, and yes that’s totally an oxymoron, and then a few days ago my boyfriend broke up with me and Clark was a big part of that.”
“So you and he are…” Xander trailed off again and Chloe found it equal parts annoying and cute.
“Never, except for about five seconds for a freshmen year dance.”
“At least you got that far. The first slayer I ever worked with, the head girl Buffy, I had the biggest crush on her but she never felt the same way. I tried asking her to my sophomore year dance and instead ended up with fodder for a country western song.”
“Oh the music of pain.”
“Exactly. Still,” Xander said, giving her a thoughtful look, chocolate brown eye boring into hers, “I know how hard it is. I mean, the Buffster never needed me to cover for her in quite the same way but girlfriends aren’t ever big on it when you put your best female friend first.”
“The loyal sidekick gig definitely has a down side,” She agreed, picking up one side of one of the biggest shards and waiting for Xander to pick up the other end. The Watcher stood up, scraped the sawdust off of his legs, and grabbed the other end. Together they managed to drag it to the back corner of the kitchen.
“It’ll hold until tomorrow when we can put it in the dumpster out back.” Xander said, leaning against the wall and letting himself slide to the dusty floor. “So besides hanging around with Kansas’s only extraterrestrial, what else do you do with your spare time?”
Chloe smirked down at him and slid down onto the floor to mirror his position. She was really glad she’d put on jeans in the last minute instead of going straight to the farm in her Daily Planet ware. She didn’t think that a low-cut blouse and an a-line skirt would fare too well in Africa. “Technically we think there’s also a Martian running around Smallville too.”
“You lead a strange yet interesting life.”
“Right back at you. So,” she added, letting her smirk grow, “Vi’s mentioned you a few times in her e-mails. The two of you aren’t enjoying more than just the Slayer-Watcher relationship, are you?”
“Nope. That’s more Faith and Robin’s and Willow and Kennedy’s things. I’ve known Vi since she was still a high school kid. She’s my best slayer and I rely on her a bunch more than any of the other girls, but…” He shrugged, “You know.”
“I know what?”
“It’d be like dating my little sister or something. I’ve known her since she fainted at the sight of her first vamp and from when she wore rainbow colored socks and berets.”
“She still wears those. I sent her a multi-colored scarf for Christmas last year.”
“We live in Kenya.”
“Mount Kilimanjaro much?”
“Have you dated anyone lately?” Chloe asked, feeling her cheeks flush. It wasn’t like her to be this forward, but it had been a pretty shitty few weeks for her too. She missed Jimmy already and she was still all kinds of confused about how she felt about Clark. What he’d said to her while he was high on the red K, the way he’d taunted her about still wanting him, hit closer to her heart than she wanted to admit even to his non-intoxicated self. Especially not to Clark’s “normal” self. Xander was a nice guy and he understood about the weird, the bizarre, and duty that meant putting the rest of your life on hold.
He knew what it was like to put your life on hold waiting for someone else. He’d only mentioned Buffy’s name a few times, but she could tell by his tone that he’d waited for her for a very long time. Sounded like in some ways he was still waiting. That gave her a hell of a lot less hope for her and Clark.
Although she bet Xander Harris had never had to compete with his own version of Lana Lang. There couldn’t be that many preternaturally pretty brunettes running around.
Xander shook his head. “I’m a little busy running after demons and playing super cool den father to a room full of super powered teen-age girls. It doesn’t leave much room for a social life.”
“Not to mention all the secrets you have to keep. Not exactly easy to make small talk on a first date when you have to avoid talking about the latest meteor mutant or vamp attack.”
“Exactly. Besides, I’d like my potential dates not to think I’m crazy.” He said, running a hand through his shaggy bangs. “Although I did have a nice thing going with a half-chaos demon for a few months last summer, except for the antlers, she was really nice.”
Chloe arched an eyebrow at him. “You dated a demon?”
“Two actually. Three if you count the fact that Faith and I had a thing for about five minutes and slayers have a very tiny trace of demon essence in them.”
“No stone throwing here. You have a crush on an alien.”
“Maybe a little.” She conceded. “Is it still that obvious?”
“To me and Vi sure. To him? Well is he just that clueless around you or is a Clark-thing?”
“You know that myth about advanced alien intelligence?”
“Might have heard a thing or two.”
“Totally a myth. I’ve never met a more clueless guy in my life and you all aren’t exactly brilliant to begin with.”
“Hey! I’d be offended if that mostly wasn’t true, but I’ve been known to have a few good ideas in my time. Usually they involve a wrecking ball or breaking into military instillations, but I can be clever.”
“Cool.” She said, leaning back against the wall. “Still, it’s such a no go. He’s hopelessly devoted to the ex, which is pretty sad considering she’s about two weeks away from marrying the father of her child. Besides, I know she’s one of my best friends and all, but she has her share of annoying habits.”
“Let me guess: self-involved and overly serious.”
“Plus serious stalker vibes.”
“Superheroes have a type, who knew?” Xander said. “Well if it makes you feel any better, I’ve never cared for the self-important types. Give me a down-to-earth girl with a wicked tongue and some sarcasm any day.”
“At least a realist chick. All that epic romance and tortured soul stuff is so not for the Xand-man.”
“That’s nice to know,” Chloe said, laying her hand in his and smiling brightly when he gave it a squeeze. “I’ve always had a thing for the guys with the doe eyes…erm, eye, and floppy hair.”
“Do you have everything you need?” Xander asked, gripping his dagger closer to his side. It had been given to him in a special ceremony after he and Vi had managed to rescue the chief laibon’s star pupil from the clutches of an Thanatos demon. A very reluctant Clark had let him slice a section of his palm just to make sure that it would work. Maybe it was a little petty of him to enjoy watching the larger man wince, but he’d been the one to spend an hour cleaning up after Clark’s temper tantrum.
Besides, anybody who strung Chloe along like that could use a quick reminder that he wasn’t that invulnerable.
Vi was with them, still limping a little but mostly recovered from the night before. She had the matching dagger to his, blood still freshly crusted on it, grasped in her right hand. “Yup, all daggered out and ready to go.”
Chloe nodded as well, innocuous looking grey box held against her chest. The witches had accidentally brought anything the two had been near with them, which included Chloe’s lab top (and boy had Chloe been enthusiastic to see it back. He usually only saw that level of excitement when friends returned from the dead.), a few of Clark’s very special things which still gave Xander a giddy little thrill, and three lead boxes.
This morning, Xander had made the mistake of opening the boxes out of curiosity. He’d been pretty disappointed to see just a few dull green rocks, especially after Chloe had showed him the Kryptonian crystals. Of course, Clark had chosen that minute to walk into the summoning room. The rocks had flared green and Clark had doubled over in pain before Chloe had leapt across the room and slammed the box shut.
He’d apologized a lot after that, but he was still pretty sure that Clark wasn’t thrilled with him. He’d probably still be upset too. From the way Clark had been writhing around, Xander was willing to bet that it hurt a lot more than just having your eye poked out.
The alien in question was standing a few feet behind Chloe, eyeing the Kryptonite box warily. He frowned up at the pyramid’s entrance. “Are you serious? That can’t be more than six feet high.”
“We don’t think it is. Makes it a challenge not to hit your head,” Xander said.
“I can’t believe the Kryptonians would build something that they’d have to bend down even to get into.”
“Maybe your people weren’t always freakishly tall,” Xander added. Not that 6’3 was that tall; Riley’d been larger than that. Still, it made him feel a little self-conscious. Not that there was anything wrong with being 5’10. Sometimes he missed Spike, not that he’d ever admit it. The vamp had always made him feel taller, so did hanging around Buffy.
“Cute.” Clark said.
“Boys, are Vi and I going to have to separate you?” Chloe said, clucking her tongue. “Remember that Vi could probably kick both your butts and I do know how to open a box.” She glared up at both of them and Xander was very glad in that moment that Vi was the Sullivan with superstrength.
“Yes, Chloe.” He and Clark both gulped out at the same time. So, he wasn’t the only one intimidated by the fiery blond. Interesting.
“Ladies first,” Vi said, stepping up to the entrance.
Xander started forward and blinked when realized that Clark had beaten him to the front of the doorway. He was never going to get used to that speed thing. “Xander, you want to join me?”
He nodded and pulled out his flashlight, frowning when he realized that Clark didn’t have anything to see with. “Would you like a flashlight? I think we’ve got a spare.”
“I can see fine.”
“Multiple spectra,” he corrected, making himself stand a little bit taller.
“Well my flashlight comes with a strobe option.”
“Boys, today.” Chloe prodded.
“After you, Mr. I Can See through Anything.” Xander said, beckoning with his (super cool) flashlight to the pyramid’s entrance.
Clark ducked under the threshold and Xander followed through, hearing the shuffling of sneakers as Chloe and his slayer followed in behind them. The pyramid looked as vast and intimidating as it had the day before and Xander surged forward, going to the same spot in the wall where he’d accidentally triggered the trap door. Holding up his flashlight high, he illuminated the wall for Clark and Chloe to read better.
Chloe let out a low whistle and ran her hand over the collection of symbols. “It looks just like the caves back in Smallville.”
Clark frowned and shook his head. “It’s not the same. I mean, it’s Kryptonian, but the other cave tells mostly about the legend of Numan. This is a different story, older, um, like instructions.”
“For what?” Vi asked.
“It’s for the Fortress isn’t it?” Chloe asked.
“Fortress?” Xander yelped, his voice cracking a little. “No one ever mentioned a Fortress.”
“Well it doesn’t have any weapons in it. At least I don’t think it does,” Clark defended, shuffling his feet a little.
“That’s a relief,” Xander deadpanned, wincing a little when Chloe elbowed him in the ribs.
“Yeah, Chlo, it’s for the Fortress. Son of a bitch.”
Xander arched an eyebrow at Vi and she just shook her head. He had a distinct feeling that Clark didn’t swear much.
“What?” Chloe prodded, her tone constant and gentle.
“The stones, they came from three different places—China and Mexico and from here. I never thought about it much since Lex got to the one in Egypt first, but this must be where he found it.” Clark frowned and looked up at the figure 8.
“That I recognize.” Vi said. “It’s on your crystal thing.”
Clark nodded. “It’s the symbol of my house.”
“Wow and the symbol of the Harris clan is an empty beer bottle.” Xander said. “Yours is much cooler. By the way, if you just press it a little, that’ll open up the secret panel.”
“Let’s do it.” Clark said, touching against the panel and stepping through the opened chasm. Xander and the girls followed and just like yesterday they found the not-vamp, erm, Kryptonian at the weird table. Kind of dumb to come back to the scene of the crime. Of course they’d trooped right back in so maybe intelligence was in short supply these days.
“Hey, fancy running into you here in the deep dark cave. Would you like to do the whole come quietly thing? Because, I gotta tell you we have new things to try out in the sharp and pointy department.” Off of Clark and Chloe’s look he added, “What? Like you never taunt the bad guy.”
Clark shook his head.
“Oh you are just no fun.” Xander said turning back to the other Kryptonian. “So back to our game: you can choose door number one with the fun of being whisked off to jail-y goodness or you can choose door number two where we just turn you into a pin cushion.”
Familiar red eyes glared back at him one second. The next second he was laying flat on his side with Clark covering him. Well that certainly brought up awkward Brokeback thoughts. He was really hoping to hold onto his dignity a little bit today. “Gee thanks.”
Clark jumped to his feet and held out his hand for him. “Next time I can let the other guy fry you.”
“Point taken.” Xander riposted, shaking his head when he realized that Clark had already zipped away.
Vi was already trying to keep pace with the Kryptonian, her dagger flashing out faster than Xander could follow but she still hadn’t been able to stab through him. Clark had already blurred into the picture and aimed a sharp upper cut at the other alien. Unfortunately, the guy ducked the move and backhanded Clark, sending him flying back into the wall behind Xander. Vi took the moment’s distraction and slammed the dagger into the alien’s ribs. He howled in pain and swatted at her, sending her flying back to where Xander and Clark were.
Xander dove forward, stretching out his arms and catching his slayer.
She shook her head and looked up at him, her expression a little dazed. “Thanks, Xand.”
“No problem.” Setting her to his side, Xander made his way over to Clark and held out his hand. “Give me the crystal and go find the shady spot.”
“You’re quoting Ghostbusters to me now?”
“Just the sequel and you could use more pop culture in your life. Give me the crystal because I have an idea and it’s going to hurt.”
“Vi,” Xander barked out, turning to his slayer. “Get him out of here.”
“Are you crazy? You want me and him to leave the two mortals alone with the superpowered alien.”
The Kryptonian screamed again, finally able to dig the dagger out of his chest. He squared his shoulders and his eyes started to flare and incandescent orange. Xander shook his head. “Screw it. Chloe! Open the box!” She bit her lip, hesitating and he yelled again, barely able to shove Vi out of the way of another burst of heat vision. “Damn it, Chloe! We’ve got Clark covered. Open the box!”
The Kryptonian’s eyes flared again and even from across the cave, Xander could feel the heat rippling through the air. He grabbed Vi and rolled to his side, but was relieved to feel the heat snap off suddenly.
Rushing to his feet, he looked up and found Chloe standing over the Kryptonian, the brightly glowing stone held tightly against his chest. Even from ten feet across the expanse, Clark was curled into a ball on his side, a mess of horrible black veins working their way across his face.
Xander felt like an ass.
Quickly, he and Vi rushed over to Clark’s side. Xander shoved his hands into the pockets of the other man’s red jacket and pulled out the crystal. “Vi, please get him out of here now.”
Vi nodded, listening to her Watcher for once, grabbed Clark up and swung him over her shoulder and rushed back out into the main chamber. Xander was heartened by the fact that the farther Clark got from the Kryptonite, the healthier his complexion became and the less labored his breathing grew.
Xander walked back up to Chloe, who still had the Kryptonite pressed up against the Kryptonian’s chest. His skin was so green it was almost black and his veins writhed as if the blood flowing through them was boiling. It probably was. He held up the crystal and frowned when it didn’t work.
“Is this stupid thing broken?”
“It’s supposed to work on Phantoms but on solid beings I think it’s mostly just decoration.”
“Just great. As much as I’d like to stay standing in the middle of Cairo for the next decade or so, I think we’ve got to find a way to get the spirit free.”
“Do you have a problem with that? We let him go and what will he do? If he finds the Fortress I think it’s pretty fair to say he will figure out where the weapons are and how to use them. Not that he’s going to need them with laser beam eyes.”
Chloe gulped and handed him the rock. “Would you, I’ve never killed anyone before, not on purpose.”
“I’ve slain my fair share of things.” He admitted, not that he was looking forward to it. Vamps dusted and demons usually oozed out green goo other unpleasant things. This guy looked pretty much human, minus the veins and the preternaturally piercing green eyes. Sweet aside, Xander wasn’t a murderer.
Still he was a Watcher first and it was all about duty, just like with Giles and Ben or with all the risks Wesley had taken with Faith’s life. It was all in the line of duty. He took the rock in his grasp and handed the crystal to Chloe. “When I do this, hold it up and be ready.”
She nodded. “Just do it.”
He closed his eyes and slammed the rock full force into the Kryptonian’s chest. Usually when he staked something he could already feel the chest collapsing into dust. Instead, he felt the bone crunch and twist under the blow and he watched as deep black blood bubbled and hissed out of the wounded. The Kryptonian blinked and his eyes dulled. A few seconds later, the crystal in Chloe’s hand flared gold and something flowed out of the rapidly cooling body and into it. It reminded Xander the most of the spirit that had possessed him when they’d brought back Buffy.
The body shuddered one more time and stilled while the crystal became a dull white.
“Chloe, where’s the box?”
Swallowing hard, Chloe handed him the lead container and he slammed the rock down into it.
“That was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.” Chloe said, her hands shaking as she said it.
“I’ve seen worse.” He said, closing his eyes and forcing himself not to think about a long ago tower and the broken body of a best friend. “Thanks for helping me out on this one.”
“No problem.” She shook her head. “Clark wouldn’t have done it this way.”
“Probably not. I don’t think Vi would have either, but we’re not the superheroes here.”
“I think sidekicks should apply for overtime and a raise.”
“So what’s 25% of nothing?”
“That’s about what I figured.” Xander said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and leaning down to give her a kiss on her forehead. She looked up at him for a second, surprised, and he stepped back, more self-conscious than he’d been since the days of good old Sunnydale High. “Sorry, I, that’s was a little much. I mean, what with the killing and the alien fighting and the we just met and the…”
Chloe stretched up on her tip toes and returned the kiss. It was much better than the half chaos demon that was for damn sure.
“You look cute. I don’t know why you were so reluctant to come to this shindig.”
“It’s a word,” Chloe defended. “I just need to get you hooked on ‘Firefly’ and get some extra culture in you.”
“I have tons of culture,” the brunette defended.
Chloe smoothed back his bangs from his hair and shook her head. “I don’t care how many episodes of South Park you watch and how large your collection of comic books.”
“They’re graphic novels.” Xander argued, straightening his tie. “It’s totally different because that makes them collectibles and worth money.”
“Right,” Chloe sing-songed. “Are you ready for the most boring wedding ever?”
“You know I don’t usually stick around for the full ceremony. That’s where the demon fighting breaks out and Uncle Rory makes for the unlimited bar.”
“Uh-huh. At least my plus-one has a sense of humor.” She said, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “Just no Daddy Warbucks/ Dr. Evil jokes, okay. I want to stay friends with Lana.”
“What about Mr. Burns?”
She tented her fingers and grinned back up at him, “Excellent.”
“Hah. So will Clark be there too?”
“Jealous?” She sing-songed again, looking far too content for her own good.
“Uh, no, but I figured since Vi and I were both in the States for this massive, unbelievably expensive coronation with what had better be excellent food and no fancy French snails, then your broody friend would keep his word and let my slayer be his plus-one.”
“He mopes,” Chloe said, grabbing her purse and heading for the front door of her apartment.
“Oh, a brood is a brood. Trust me. I have tons of experience with this. I’ve met the King of the Brood and Clark is making a fine campaign for crowned prince.”
“Does that make you court jester?”
She rolled her eyes and opened the door wide for him. “Yes, he’s going and yes he agreed to bring Vi along with him. Maybe she can keep him perked up; she has such a cheery personality. “
“Well she did bring her rainbow dress all the way from Nairobi. It’ll even be brighter than the violet and pink deal you’ve got going on.”
“I like my dress.”
“You do not.” He said, grabbing the bow and giving it a quick yank.
She glared up at him as she locked the door behind them. “You know Clark’s only going to the wedding and taking Vi with him because I threatened him. He’s scared of me. Do you really wanna mess with me too?”
“No more bow jokes, then?”
“It’s up to you,” She added, giving him a crooked smirk that reminded Xander a little of Vi, must have been a Sullivan thing. “But I’ve heard a rumor from a dear cousin of mine that you really like your arms to remain attached.”
He leaned down and gave her a kiss. “Got me there Katie Couric.”
“What did I say about arms?”
“Yes ma’am.” He said, following her down the stairs and enjoying the view of her swishing hips that thankfully the bow didn’t block out.