Angels and Demons
Set after AtS S3 Birthday, as an alternative to Provider, and after Smallville S1 Jitters.
Thanks are owed to the actors and creative teams on both shows, without whom my story wouldnt exist; to FayJay for setting my thoughts along this track with her story, Hell Money; to Yahtzee, FayJay, Executrix and members of the Smallville Fanfiction Workshop for skilful beta assistance and advice on the American language all remaining infelicities are my own. One chapter title comes from Burnt Norton by TS Eliot, while inspiration in the final section was derived from Parable of the Old Men and the Young by Wilfred Owen, as set by Benjamin Britten in the War Requiem (6 September 2002).
Leaving Rikkis, night air cool after the heat of the bar, slim blond on his arm lips nuzzling against his neck, teeth nipping gently, then unexpected sharp pain that went on and on graffiti-covered wall opposite receding, knees buckling, white noise filling his ears
Tearing sensation, someone crying out (him?), hot sticky wetness on the hand against his neck closing his eyes, slumping down against the wall sound of fists connecting with flesh, clanging of metal (trash cans?).
Some people never learn. Deep voice he didnt recognise, punctuated with heavy punches.
Opening his eyes again. The blond careening against him.
But then youre not people are you?
Then suddenly pressure disappearing nothing but dust? Sneezing, shaking dust off his clothes.
Names Angel, his rescuer had said, handing him a business card. Taking it automatically. Pulling out his cell phone, dialling.
Enriques need picking up
Angel silhouetted against the distant LA streetlights, walking away without a backward glance, black leather coat flapping. Leaving him on his knees in an alley, erection (useless now) pressing uncomfortably against his jeans.
First Impressions LA
My first thought when I opened my eyes was that he must be an angel.
Lex Luthor grimaced and clicked off the tape player. It wasnt just the sound of his own voice, several years of recording memos whilst driving had almost inured him to thathed have to work harder on that section of his memoirs.
Lex thought back to that moment when hed opened his eyes, to that face against the steel-grey sky, his own personal angelbut for some reason he couldnt see it clearly any more. Wide grey-green eyes kept changing to a deep chocolate brown, soft fawn cloth to smooth black leather, innocent concern to world-weary sarcasm.
Must be an angelthat was the key. He remembered now: Clark hadnt been the first angel to rescue him.
He opened the third desk drawer down, riffled through a business card organiser embossed in silver with 2001 AE, drew out the card. He turned it over and over in his hands, the stained glass behind his desk painting the white rectangle alternately red and violet.
It was the tackiest corporate logo hed ever seen, more like a vulture than an angel. No web address. On the off-chance, he tapped Angel Investigations and Los Angeles into his favourite search engine. The logo looked even more hideous at twenty by fifteen on his flat-screen monitor. He clicked on a link at random. Angel Investigations combines extensive expertise in all types of supernatural phenomenon with the latest scientific research methods, read the blurb. Our staff are fully qualified in demonology, magic and multi-dimensional physics. Web design clearly not one of their skills however, for the case that was pressing on his mind, an intriguing combination.
Lex bounded up from his desk, tapped his fingers on top of one of the rosewood cabinets that lined the library wall. Hed definitely investigated Angel at the timeNow, where would the file have been archived? He retrieved a thick folder with a sigh of triumph after a search of only minute or two. Several sheets of Wolfram & Hart headed paper had been stapled to the front cover of the file. He scanned them rapidly. Highly confidential profile prepared for Mr A. Luthor. Subject: Angel. Alternative identities: Angel Jones, Angelus, Liam Fergus Walsh. Born: 1726, Galway, Ireland
A few minutes later, Lex tapped a number into the phone on his desk, pressed speakerphone and slid the volume up to near max, leaned back in his chair.
Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless! Smiled at the trite words and the bright feminine tones. Faint sounds in the background a baby crying?
Cut the connection. Hed get Andrea to call and make an appointment with their director. Some things were better handled in person, and after that fiasco with his father at the plant, he needed to get out of Smallville. He fancied another visit to Rikkis his last encounter there had ended much too abruptly.
Lex was unaccountably disappointed that Angel wasnt the director of the eponymous agency. In fact, it would be difficult to find anyone less like the rescuer he remembered than Wesley Wyndham-Price. The slight man on the other side of the heavy oak desk, complete with ill-fitting jacket and earnest look through wire-framed glasses, would clearly be more at home in a library than an alley brawl. His over-precise enunciation reminded Lex of the masters in all those English public schools hed attended, though this accent was overlaid with a faint California twang probably acquired from that out-of-work model hed got working as some kind of secretary.
So how can we help you, Mr Luthor?
Lex decided to give Wyndham-Price a chance to rehearse his demonology credentials. What do you know about demons that appear human?
There are several possibilities. Wyndham-Price took a sip of his coffee, grimaced, then leaned back in his leather chair, tapping a fountain pen against the back of his hand, clearly organising his thoughts. Several demons can take on human appearance for a time Wraithers are the most common in North America but their true form usually re-appears after a few weeks
This seems to be a permanent look. Lex picked up his own coffee, took a mouthful and forced himself to swallow the foul-tasting liquid. Christ knows, after last nights rediscovery of a selection of LAs more risqué distractions, he could do with a little caffeine in the system.
Of course, vampires can
Well, hes certainly not a vampire. Lex smiled to himself; anyone less like a creature of the night was hard to imagine. I even tested extra garlic on his pizza, he quipped.
Glamours a simple form of perception-changing spell can deceive viewers. But again thats usually not permanent. Wyndham-Price was in his element now, running down his mental list, ticking off options with the pen against the fingers of his left hand. Part demons with human heritage can sometimes pass as human but express various demonic powers. And, of course, we would need to consider demon possession
Lex zoned out, letting the words flow over him. Distinct lack of Californian sunlight pleasantly soothing for his tired eyes, unfamiliar sickly sweet smell that he couldnt quite pin down (boiled milk?)He dragged his attention back to the matter in hand with some difficulty. (Dozing off would be bad for the Luthor image.) He hadnt got all day to spend in this airless office drinking stewed filter coffee and listening to Wyndham-Prices seemingly interminable babble. The man clearly knew his stuff. I want to hire you to investigate an acquaintance of mine. He opened his briefcase and extracted several bulging manila files.
It took almost nine minutes for Wyndham-Price to ask the question that Lex had been anticipating. May I ask What are your motivations for this investigation? This uh being seems to have no malign intentyou even say that hes saved your life?
Twice, actually. Lex briefly looked the other man straight in the eye, then slid his eyes down to the papers spread across the desk in a way that suggested he was about to reveal something he was slightly ashamed about. (He was proud of that look, honed from years of practice in dealing with his father.) My family has had enough dealings with a certain LA law firm Im sure you know the one to which Im referring that when something supernatural saves my life, I worry that years downstream, its gonna to demand my first-born son as a reward
Why, congratulations, Mr Luthor, Wyndham-Price said dryly. The gossip columns havent caught on to the fact that youre considering starting a family.
More immediately, Im concerned about this. Lex extracted some clippings from the Smallville Ledger and the Metropolis Inquisitor from his briefcase and pushed them across the desk.
Body of woman found in warehouse, Wyndham-Price read out. Identified as twenty-three year old Miss Terri Hampshire, from Smallville, Kansas, who had been missing for five days. A police spokeswoman said that the death was being treated as "suspicious", and expressed concern about two other missing women He put down the clipping. How is this relevant, Mr Luthor?
Miss Hampshire worked as a secretary at the LuthorCorp fertiliser plant I manage. Mrs Johnson works part time as an assistant chef at Luthor Manor. Miss Atkins is the daughter of one of my security team.
Youre suggesting that Kent is behind these disappearances? That hes targeting people in your employment?
Im concerned about the welfare of the people that I employ. Lex took care to avoid confirming or denying Wyndham-Prices conclusion. Naturally, Im determined to explore all avenues to ensure their safety.
It would hardly be standard form, Wyndham-Price said. Usually the objects of such retribution would be closer to the target relatives, friends, loved ones.
Lex smiled. Best not to admit how few people would fall into those categories. Lets just say I dont wish it to come to that. He opened his chequebook. Now, shall we discuss your fee?
When they re-emerged from Wyndham-Prices office, deal done, the secretary-cum-model was chatting animatedly to a skinny, dark-haired woman who hadnt been around earlier. Another man was slouching with his back to them on the other side of the Art Deco foyer. Looked like Angel Investigations really needed his business.
I cant believe he doesnt remember me! exclaimed the secretary.
Wyndham-Price coughed. Mr Luthor, may I introduce Cordelia Chase, our office administrator Winifred Burkle
Call me Fred
One of our researchers. And this is
The man turned round. Angels large hands and black leather coat looked incongruous against the powder-blue-wrapped infant he was cradling to his shoulder. (Scratch one perfectly serviceable fantasy.)
Weve met, said Lex.
Angel placed the baby in a crib that Lex hadnt noticed earlier, nestled behind the foyer counter, then held out his hand. Lex pressed itno colder than some of his fathers business associates.
I never got to thank you in person for saving my life, Lex said, with a warmth that was at least 50% genuine.
Its kind of a hobby of mine.
Measured dose of pleasantries dispensed, Lex stumbled down the steps outside the Hyperion. He screwed up his eyes against the midday sun as he scanned the parked cars for the waiting LuthorCorp limo, delved in his pocket for his sunglasses. Apart from the whole sunlight issue, there was one major difference between his two angelic rescuers. This Angel had cashed the cheque hed sent, the accompanying comps slip (hed found a photocopy in the file) scrawled simply, Thanks LL.
Mr Luthor wants us to investigate him. Wesley placed several poster-sized photographs on the table in the foyer. Clark Kent, resident of Smallville, Kansas. He settled down on one of the sofas and rapidly filled in the others on the details without, however, mentioning his hunch that the supercilious Mr Luthor, if not exactly lying, might well be leaving something important out.
Fred picked up a three-quarter shot, held it up to the light. He sure doesnt look like any kind of regular demon.
Gotta go with you on that, said Cordelia. Most demons dont have a complexion that looks like something out of an Ivory soap commercial.
Ill have you know, my shade of green is considered very attractive in refined circles, Lorne retorted, straightening the lapels of his tomato-red jacket and smoothing down the hair behind his horns as he jogged down the staircase to join them.
And then theres usually the whole slime thing. Bit of a give-away.
Slime isnt that major a component of your average demons ambienceAnd you should know, cupcake.
I can assure you, Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok clan, absolutely no slime! Cordelia exclaimed, real anguish poorly hidden behind her bluster. She picked up a couple of the photographs, studied them. Are you sure you said he was only fifteen? Cuz he sure looks
Hot, supplied Fred.
Well, I was going to say fifteen-going-on-twenty But not gonna disagree.
Wesley changed the subject hastily before matters got further out of hand. I reviewed all the options with Mr Luthor earlier. This is certainly no ordinary demon that were dealing with.
What do we know about this Mr Luthor? asked Fred. Why is he investigating this person? Wesley smiled to himself. Trust Freds endearingly scatty approach to come up with the real question.
His fathers, like, the fifth richest man in America, gushed Cordelia. Close contact with money tended to bring out a side of her that usually (thankfully) lay dormant. What more do we need to know?
At least hell be paying the bill then, said Angel. I assume you negotiated favourable terms, Wes? Wesley didnt dignify the remark with an answer. Angel glanced towards the crib in the corner. College fund, you know?
I met them at a ski lodge in Aspen. Cordelias face was wistful. Of course that was before the IRS pretty much made snow at Christmas, like, a Hellmouth freaky thing, she added. Im surprised he didnt remember me, I thought Id made quite an impression.
There may be a reason for that, said Angel. That vamp he was making out with the other year? It was male. You might be better off checking out David Nabitt. Angel didnt sound enthralled by the prospect.
So his motivations for investigating Kent might be mixed, said Wesley. They all stared down at the photographs spread across the table.
Eww. Cordelia wrinkled up her nose. Dont even go there. (Interesting. Wesley would have thought that the girl might have acquired a rather more enlightened attitude, given the amount of time she spent consuming the gossip columns though usually, he had to admit, only during the offices slack periods.)
Angel drew himself up to his full height, crossed his arms over his chest, looked Wesley straight in the eye. Do his motivations matter? he asked.
To an extent Angel was right, Wesley thought. A discreet investigation seemed unlikely to do any harm, even if the fears that Luthor had expressed about the teenager seemed likely to be unfounded. And the size of fee that the young man had mentioned with an almost obscene casualnessWell, it would certainly alleviate Wesleys sleepless nights over how to pay the Hyperions three-figure monthly electricity charge.
The case is supernatural, Angel continued, Luthor can pay the billwhere do we start?
Mr Luthor left us several files of data, said Wesley, and a sample of some kind of meteorite for us to analyse. He opened a slim polystyrene-lined case and removed a small metal container.
Whats with the protective container? asked Fred. I thought it was just a rock sample.
I suppose its just a safety precaution. Mr Luthor said that the rock emits a novel type of radiation that debilitates Kent, but has no short-term effect on humans or animals.
Key word: short term, said Cordelia. What does he mean "no short-term effect on humans"?
Ill just take Connor upstairs, said Angel. He retreated rapidly, his son in his arms.
Actually short term is two words, said Wesley, trying to prise off the lid. Mr Luthor has given us a very comprehensive report, detailing the effects of long-term exposures in laboratory testsThere
The lid popped off, cannoning a clear plastic container onto the table. It immediately rolled off onto the floor, and Lorne stooped to pick it up. He straightened, put one hand to his head. Ouch. I think Im getting a migraine right between the horns. I just knew mixing Baileys and tequila last night was a mistake.
Fred retrieved the sample. No effect on humans, but it seems to affect demons.
Cordelia picked it up. I dont feel anything.
Fred looked confused for a moment, then her face cleared. Oh, I see what you mean.
Angel reappeared, taking the stairs two at a time. Cordelia turned towards the vampire and lobbed the container vaguely in his direction. Catch!
Cordy! Careful! exclaimed Wesley. That might be valuable.
Cool colour, said Angel. The powder glistened under the foyer spotlights. Goes well with your complexion, Lorne, he added, holding the pot up towards Lornes face.
Lorne flinched away, rubbing his forehead. Do that again, and Im gonna need a trip to the little boys room.
Not all demons, just Lorne, Cordelia said.
Thats a bit of an over-generalisation, said Wesley. You only have a small fraction of demon implanted by the Powers, it might only manifest itself in certain ways relating to the visions. Wesley sighed. The demonstration had only rubbed in the fact that they still knew worryingly little about the repercussions of Cordelias partial demonisation. And vampires are a somewhat different case. He glanced across at Angel, slightly uncomfortable about rehearsing the Councils teachings about vampires in front of one of their kind. Strictly, a vampire can be thought of as a human infected with a demon entity that endows the body with life force after physical death.
Im guessing the Deathwok clan dont usually make a habit of passing as human? said Angel.
Not without nearly as much make-up as Liz Taylor. The horns tend to kinda give it away.
Cordelias hypothesis is worth looking into though, said Fred. I can test the meteorite sample against a panel of different demons you could help, Lorne? cross-check the databases for those that might be able to assume human form.
Okay, said Wesley. Fred, you focus on analysing the meteorite rock. He retrieved a stack of files from his office and extracted a thick spiral-bound volume. You might like to start by reading the report Mr Luthor provided.
Activity and toxicology profiles of meteorite sample from Smallville, Kansas. S. Hamilton, PhD, Cadmus Laboratories, Metropolis, Fred read from the title page. She flicked to the end. Wow. Its like three hundred and twenty-four pages of printouts, she added happily. This could take a while
Mr Luthors certainly been thorough, said Cordelia.
Angel, will you and Lorne be able to cover our existing case load and look after Connor?
Sure thing, Wes.
Cordy, give Gunn a call. Wesley removed three tickets from his jacket pocket, held one out to Cordelia. The three of us are going to Smallville.
Ooh, business class! Cordelias face lit up. Im liking this case already.
Driving back from Metropolis airport in the rush hour had been a mistake. An hour and a half of cruising the interstate at over a hundred miles an hour, cocooned in Radiohead and leather and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of silver-grey metal, had been insufficient to erase Lexs lingering annoyance at being forced to crawl through the city traffic like any ordinary mortal. On impulse, he pulled up outside the Beanery, killed the engine, then the sound system. Leaned forward, chest pressed against the leather-encased steering wheel, forehead resting against the cool of the windshield. Breathed out one long breath. Let his head adjust to the silence. Then carefully peeled off his driving gloves, climbed out of the car, shrugged on his jacket.
Shivered, goose bumps on his arms that would be raising hairs if there were any left to raise. Sensation inexplicable yet undeniable that Something was watching him. He turned round slowly, scanned the flat roofs of the shops on the far side of the street. For just a moment he was sure that there had been something there, darker shape against the stars (so unnaturally, dangerously bright here, outside the city).
Lex shrugged. Whatever it was, it had disappeared. He pushed open the door of the coffee bar, filled his lungs with the smoke-laden overwarm air, systematically scanned the tables in the half-empty café.
Clark, he said.
Hey Lex! The teenager grinned up at him, shaking his absurdly long hair away from his eyes.
He gestured towards the counter. Care for another cappuccino?
Sure, thanksactually, I was on the latte. Clark joined him at the counter. So uncovered any more info on those disappearances?
With Clark at his side, sporting his trademark puppy not yet grown into his paws slouch, Lex felt just a touch uncomfortable about having led the LA agency to suspect he might be behind this latest round of Smallville weirdness.
Thought it was you that had the inside track, Clark. Wasnt it you who found Miss Hampshires body?
Just a touch uncomfortable. After all, the transcripts of Clarks routine questioning files from the Smallville Sheriffs Office cost pitifully little to obtain revealed that he had clear alibis covering two out of the three disappearances.
Yeah. Clarks mobile face screwed up in an expression of extreme distaste, and he made an obvious attempt to change the subject. Missed you last night, where were you?
Lex put a note down on the counter, picked up his cappuccino. Had to be in Metropolis on business. He slid the latte towards Clark. Lets sit down, I need a break traffic in Metropolis is like hell on earth.
Much later that night, Lex sat cross-legged on the chilly concrete floor of what was beginning to feel like his personal chapel the blue-grey Porsche at the centre of the circle of spotlights its bizarre altarpiece. Didnt need to stare at the car, knew every detail by heart. Did it anyway. Traced over the neat hole in the windshield, the roof peeled back like some extremely expensive sardine can.
Asked himself Wyndham-Prices question over and over. He just wasnt sure he knew the answer.
First Impressions Smallville
Smallville was such a dump. Cordelia had spent the day sitting in the local information section of the library, poring over a microfiche reader scanning back copies of the Smallville Ledger. She yawned, rubbed her eyes. (Whod have thought that cows kept on lowing, or whatever it was they did, after midnight? And the PTB should just ban the whole dawn chorus thing.) Her investigation into the mysterious fifteen year old was going precisely nowhere. From the accidental death rate around here, anyone wouldve thought Smallville had its own private Hellmouthbut there was nothing to link any of the reports to Clark Kent.
She poked a peephole in the dusty venetian blind with her ballpoint for the umpteenth time that day. Below the window, sagging green-and-white striped awnings dripped sullenly onto trestle tables. The monochrome branches of the birch trees scattered around the edge of the market square sported garish orange lanterns left-over Christmas decorations? Jesus, someone should tell this town to catch up to the pace of 21st century America, it was the middle of January for chrissakes! At least the mornings incessant drizzle-cum-sleet seemed to have stopped. Finally. Cordelia checked her watch. Nearly two hours before school was out and she needed to show her face in the towns single coffee bar to accidentally bump into some school kid or other. She dug through the pile of case notes that Wesley had dumped on herChloe Sullivan: friend of Clark Kent, reporter on the school newspaper and, according to Lex Luthor, local know-it-all extraordinaire. Cordelia decided to award herself what was left of the afternoon off and check out the rest of the town. Surely even Hicksville must have one or two boutiques worth visiting?
A little over an hour later, shed changed her mind. The dilapidated hulk of a disused cinema dominated the single Main Street, and all the cutesy wooden signs in the world couldnt disguise that the merchandise on display was all last seasons. If this town were any more dead, theyd be holding its funeral.
Even walking as slowly as she could, given the chill in the air, shed reached the outskirts of the town now, a huge showroom for agricultural machinery the last business on Main Street. Nothing beyond here but warehouses, by the looks of it. The afternoon light was already beginning to fade, and the bruise-coloured tint to the clouds suggested that Smallville had yet more rain to throw at her. Cordelia stopped, sleeking down her skirt in the showroom window. She chuckled to herself her slate-grey city attire looked incongruous superimposed over the yellow-and-black lines of the tractor displayed in the window.
She froze mid-thought. She was sure that shed seen something else reflected at the edge of the glass, something dark, moving rapidly. She wheeled round, but there was nothing, the street was completely deserted. Get a grip, Cordy, she muttered to herself. Probably just a crow or something. She shouldered her handbag and walked back in the direction of the town centre, her pace more rapid now. Only ten or fifteen minutes to walk, she estimated. Should beat the rain, and at least the coffee bar will be heated.
Sometimes Cordelia thought that her senses had become sharper after her little birthday gift from the Powers though it might just be a side effect of getting rid of the incessant headaches. But she was almost sure that she could hear something else, besides the clickety-clack of her heels on the sidewalk. A quick pattering noise, almost as if someone were following herbut on tiptoes? She scanned the street again. Nothing. Whoever her stalker might be, they were certainly quick. Inhumanly quick. She shivered, abruptly recalling those three missing women. Jeez, Cordy. Great timing. Lex Luthors theory that Kent might be behind the disappearances sounded more plausible here, in the half-light, when those deep shadows could cover anythingor anyone.
She mentally reviewed the contents of her handbag. Neither the cross-cum-stake nor the bottle of holy water, as much fixtures of her purse these days as her lip-gloss and powder compact, seemed likely to be much use here unless Smallville vampires were somehow exempt from the whole no-sunlight-no-reflections clause and shed never tried the little pepper-spray canister shed picked up suspiciously cheap a few months back at the Pasadena flea-market. Well, she could hardly carry a sword into a public library without attracting attention, could she? Not in a town like Smallville, anyway. (In LA, people would just put it down to a shoot for a mens deodorant ad.) She could always just hit an attacker over the head with her laptop, she supposed the damn thing was heavy enough.
She fumbled out her cell phone from her jacket pocket, as she half-walked, half-jogged along, cold-numbed fingers clumsy on the keypad. Come on Answer me, damn you! Wheres a hero when you need one?
Wesley wasnt sure that hed ever feel anything below his waist again.
Hed been sitting in a hired truck on Hickory Lane since well before dawn, watching what must be the most boring family in all of America as they went about their daily business. So far, the entries in his log revealed that between 06.35 and 07.05, Kent had helped unidentified blond male, forties (assumed to be Kent, Sr; refer photographs 37) move their herd for unspecified purpose (assumed to be milking), then at 07.29 hed dashed out of the farms sunflower-yellow front porch, navy-and-red backpack slung over his arm, still eating a thick slice of toast, just in time to catch what looked like a school bus (07.31). On-the-spot surveillance of Smallville High School had seemed unwise Wesley had no wish to be incarcerated in Smallville jail, accused of paedophila so hed watched the entirely non-demonic comings and goings of the two elder Kents for the rest of the day. His hastily acquired red-and-white plaid shirt itched, he couldnt put on the trucks heater for fear of flattening the battery, and his flask of hot tea had run out several hours ago.
Still, it was the duty of a manager to take the least pleasant assignments, and sitting here was certainly less dangerous than their usual round of case-work. He wondered how the other two were getting on. Gunn had seemed his usual ebullient self, joking that even in the plaid shirt, hed still stand out a mile in Whitesville, but he imagined that Cordelia had been cursing him all day. Smallville was hardly her scene, her eyes had glazed over the moment the Luthor limo had come to rest outside the Fairview Inn. (It didnt help that the hotel was on the edge of town, and backed onto what appeared to be a cowshed.) For Wesley, the flat countryside, with its dark soil and huge open fields, had initially brought back pleasant memories of the Fens, where hed spent his university days cutting chapel on Sundays, riding his rickety bike down single-track lanes and across drainage ditches for fifty miles at a time, with nothing but a flask of tea, some tinned-salmon sandwiches and Friths grimoire for company. Somehow, though, hed forgotten about the glacial winter winds, and those weeks when the rain never seemed to stop.
The porch door opened, and Mrs Kent (he thought it was her, the light was a little poor by now) unloaded a bag of trash. Just about summed up the day, Wesley thought. There was nothing to be found here. Kent was just a normal school kid. Luthor just had control issues. And too much money. Wesley wanted to start the truck, drive round to Luthor Manor and tell Luthors immaculately tailored person well, something but he reminded himself of the Hyperions electricity bill, Connors college fund damn it, his own health plan. He let the ignition keys fall from his hand. He could cope with half an hour more.
He suddenly realised that the odd tingling sensation in his right thigh, which hed put down to incipient hypothermia, was actually his cell phone ringing. Belatedly, he recalled that hed set it to vibrate that morning, to avoid drawing attention to his location. He extracted the phone, the movement sending waves of cramps down his right side. Damn. Too late. He was trying to remember how to reset the phone to a normal ringing tone when it started to vibrate again.
Hello? Wesley? Theres something, like, really weird about that meteorite rock! Freds words bubbled out like a freshly opened bottle of Evian. Theyre getting high frequency nucleoside substitutions in the Ames Salmonella assay plus severe chromosomal aberrations in Chinese hamster ovary cells.
Fred, slow down. Wesley grabbed his notebook from the passenger seat, rubbed his hands together in a futile attempt to kick-start his circulation again. His fingers were almost too numb to hold the pen. Whats this about Chinese hamsters?
The meteorite is highly mutagenic after long-term exposure, Fred spelled out patiently. But the really weird thing is at 25 milligrams daily, it causes overgrowth in 70% of the invertebrate species they tested.
You mean giant earthworms, that kind of thing? Interesting, but hardly relevant to the investigation. What about humans?
In adult humans Dr Hamilton hes the author of the report speculates meteorite exposure might cause cancer they didnt test that, of course well, leastways if they did, it didnt make it to the report, I guess.
Even all Mr Luthors millions couldnt buy approval to make those types of test, surely. Privately, Wesley wondered whether he was just being naive. He sighed. Luthors money had made a difference to whether Angel Investigations had taken his case, after all.
And those poor babies Theyre coming out acephalic or bicephalic or just all kind of googly
What? Well, I think I got the googly part, but
No headed or two headed Freds voice wavered, and Wesley guessed that she was choking back tears. Mice and kittens and lambs. It had photographs To think of Connor maybe coming out all googly
Connors ok, isnt he?
Oh, yes, Connors fine. The sparkle was back in her voice. Angel put the sample into some 15th century lead casket that was lying around in one of the kitchen cupboards, I think it had Weetabix in it, and shut it in the top of the weapons cabinet. The meteorite sample, not the Weetabix, I mean. We found an old ice-cream tub for the Weetabix
Did you get a chance to investigate the rocks effect on other demons? asked Wesley, attempting to steer the conversation back to the case before hypothermia took over. I mean, before Angel confiscated your sample?
Well, Lorne could only come up with seven different demon species this morning he said most of his friends dont really start to feel human till mid-afternoon. She lowered her voice. I think its, you know, a drinking thing, not a demon thingBut there was nothing.
You mean its only Lorne that the meteorite affectsand Kent, of course. Now thats strange
Right! I couldnt find anything in any of your reference books about demonic reactions to electromagnetic radiation which is odd when you think about it, cos youd have thought it would be a really important area But we dont have the equipment to do a proper bandwidth analysis here youd need a broad-spectrum, high-sensitivity spectroscope, one of those big old chunky ones they used to have in my old UCLA lab, but theyre like thousands of dollars, not the kind of thing you can patch up with an empty Fairy liquid bottle and a few bits of string and, anyway, there wouldnt be anywhere suitable to put them in the Hyperion Fred interrupted herself. Sorry, Wesley.
Its ok. Its only natural that you would miss all that.
According to the report, its this ultra-high-frequency electromagnetic wave thats emitted in pulses its kind of really erratic, but the report couldnt trace any pattern, so I reanalysed some of their data, tried all sorts of cross-correlations with data I downloaded from the NCDC meteorological satellites and the Galileo Project and a couple of other places I ran across, and then it was just staring me in the face, theres this clear negative correlation with sunspot activity the correlation coefficients totally off the scale. I cant think why Dr Hamilton missed it, though, its just so obvious
Wesley felt totally lost. Um, Fred, thats very interesting, but what do you think the implications might be?
If the meteorite effects are linked with the cycles of this Earths sun
Youre saying that the meteorite affects Lorne because hes from a non-Earth dimension, so Kent is likely to originate from a different dimension? Ah, I see We could start looking for evidence of previous portal activity in Smallville, I suppose.
Not necessarily, its, like, a solar effect, not a dimensional one, it would just have to be somewhere with a different type of sun
Youre saying Kent could be from a different solar system?
Fred sighed contentedly. Id say that was the most likely hypothesis, yesThough of course we cant entirely rule out the other dimension thing, she said, a note of worry creeping back into her voice. Best to be on the safe side where there might be portals just waiting to jump out on you.
Hi there. Cordelia breathed out. Shed never been so happy to hear Gunns voicewell, apart from the last four thousand or so times hed saved her skin.
You sure took your time to answer! she said.
Hows it going, Cordy? Gunn enquired. Lemme guess, bored with library duty already. Books never were your strong suit more with the sandals, if I know our Cordelia.
Tempted though Cordelia was to remind him of the not-one-but-four prestigious schools whod accepted her (she still carried the Duke acceptance letter in her wallet), perhaps now wasnt the time. Get that big axe of yours over here! she said.
Sure thing keep your hair on.
Youre a fine one to talk! And Ive got a perfect right to be frazzled think Ive just picked myself up a stalker. Visions of ending up Miss Disappearo Gal Number Four really not appealing right now. It would be ironic, in a B-movie sort of way, to be saved from near-death experience by direct intervention from the PTB themselves, only to be murdered by Psycho Farm Kid in Smallville, of all places.
Where are you? Im guessing, not the library? Unless your stalker guy is heavily into back issues of the Farmers Almanac, or something.
Corner of Main Street and She peered into the gloom, searching for the street sign. Ellisons, heading into town.
Cordelia could hear rustling in the background, Gunn unfolding a street plan, she hoped if he was unwrapping a take-out, shed kill him. If Psycho Farm Kid didnt kill her first, of course.
Ellisons? he queried. Im not finding an Ellisons. Sure youve got the name right?
Thats what the sign says, and Im standing right by it. Come on, Gunn, not got all day. Might be on the north-west end of town? I dunno, arent you supposed to be the one with the map? Seems like the closest Hicksville gets to a commercial district.
OK, got it! Just a coupla blocks from here. Hold tight, be with you in five.
Gliding silently, seeking the deepest shadows. Hunt beginning. Victim chosen, separated from the pack. (Heavy footsteps resounding, volume so loud it edges into pain. Thunder of breaths. Rapid patter of heartbeat.) Oozing between dark crannies, body squashed up against the surface. (Scent of sweat overwhelming, sweet.)
Every move narrowing the distance, closer, closer.
Soon it would be close enough.
Missing women mystery police foiled.
No, too Inquisitor. Chloe Sullivan scratched out the line, her notepad rested on a convenient lamp post.
Concern for missing women heightens.
Too dull. At this rate, shed never get this weeks lead article finished. Since Clark had gone all Mr Virtuous on her, shed had to settle for milking her other contact on the story her father. Dad had hardly seemed to recall Terri Hampshire at all (shed only been in what he still insisted on calling his typing pool for, like, eighteen months). Hed finally come up with a colourless eulogy, almost word-for-word identical to the one hed given the Ledger, all efficiency and dedication to LuthorCorp, as if the womans personality had drained out of her the moment shed walked though the plant gates. Damn it, she could have written better herself in a tenth the time, without ever having even met the woman.
Chloe stuffed the notepad back into her bag, and pushed open the door of the Beanery her thought processes clearly required a major injection of caffeine. As usual on a Friday, at this early hour, the place was nearly empty everyone was at either sports practice or one of the after-school clubs. In fact, apart from the waitress, who was taking advantage of the lull to stack cups on top of the Gaggia machine, there was just one other customer, a young woman whose charcoal suit, iMac and digital camera all screamed Metropolis.
Thoughts of her article were instantly submerged. A stranger. In Smallville? A good reporter always seizes the moment there must be a story here somewhere. At the very least, Chloe thought, shed get some practice in interviewing techniques with someone who wasnt either best friend or blood relative.
The woman got up and headed for the counter. She ordered a cappuccino, eyed the pastries on the stand but didnt order one, then wandered across to examine the rack of newspapers. When she picked up last weeks copy of the Torch, Chloe decided it was time to make her move. She approached the counter, picked up a couple of straws of sugar that she didnt want, and opened with a casual, Good call on the cakes. They dont usually bring out the fresh ones till the crowds arrive. (Nice move. Make her think youre a total sugar freak. Very cool.) But the woman turned towards her anyway, and her smile looked more friendly than condescending. Chloe Sullivan. Editor of the Torch uh, that paper youre holding. You dont look to be from around here? Im guessing Metropolis? Friend of Lex Luthors? (Youre babbling Chloe, give the woman chance to get a word in.)
Wrong on both counts, the woman said. Actually, Im from LA, and Ive never had the privilege of meeting Mr Luthor. There was a slight downwards flicker in the womans eyes as she repeated his name. Kelly Gray, she added.
So, what brings you to Smallville? Chloe asked. I dont suppose youre interested in the barn sale tomorrow.
I work for the LA Times.
Wow! Youre a real reporter! At Kellys broad smile, Chloe realised she must have actually said the words aloud. (First rule of interviewing, never blurt out the first thing that enters your head.)
Its not like were an endangered species or anything.
Of course not. Chloe attempted to calm down, regain control of the conversation. We just dont get that many around here except for the Ledger office, I suppose, but that hardly counts.
From the stuff I picked up in the Ledger back issues this morning, Im surprised youre not besieged with usThis is one weird town.
Chloe rolled her eyes. Tell me about it.
Can I get you anything? Kelly added.
Thanks. Ill go for an espresso.
A few minutes later, Chloe was actually settling down at a table opposite a real live reporter, on a real live paper the LA Times circulation was almost as high as the Daily Planets. She put on her most professional look and started, So, where did you study journalism, Kelly?
Huh? Kelly coughed, as if her cappuccino had gone down the wrong way.
I said, which school did you study journalism at? Chloe repeated. Im hoping to get onto the Met U courseUniversity of Metropolis, that is they claim almost eighty percent of their journalism graduates get jobs in the media industry within six months, though theyre a bit cagey about publishing the actual breakdownwhich of course could mean that theyre counting all those people who just get to lick envelopes and proof the small ads
I, uh, didnt go to any college, Kelly admitted, as soon as Chloe paused for breath. Got accepted by a few, but She sighed. Family problems, you know how it is?
How come the reporter job, then? (Way to go, Chloe, piss off the first proper journalist you meet.) If you dont mind my asking? she added hastily.
Luck really. Got a job as an office junior, then just worked my way up. You wanna know my secret? Chloe nodded. Kelly leaned across the table and whispered earnestly, Always make terrible coffee. That way theyll be forced to give you something more interesting to do.
A hand on her shoulder interrupted Chloes fit of giggles. You guys sound to be having far too much fun for a Friday afternoon. Mind if I join you? (Damn you, Clark. I never thought youd be unwelcome, but )
Sure, she said. Kelly, this is Clark Kent. Clark, Kelly Gray, of the LA Times. Clarks surprise she expected; bizarrely, however, Kelly looked almost equally startled. Frightened, even.
Very deliberately, she turned back to Kelly. So, you never said why the trip to our humble town?
Actually, Im investigating the disappearances of three women from around here, explained Kelly. My editor has this theory they might be linked with a serial killer in LA a few years back.
Well, youve certainly come to the right place then. You know Clark was the one who found Terri Hampshires body?
Chloe pleaded Clark.
Cla-ark she mimicked. (If you must interrupt you could at least be some use.)
You know Deputy Watts warned me not to pass on any details, especially not to... His voice trailed off, then he added in a whisper, You know especially not to reporters.
Details? repeated Kelly. You mean theres some information the police arent releasing?
I really shouldnt
Friends hardly count, do they, Kelly? Clark was so cute when he was desperate, but Chloe wasnt about to let him off easily now. Its not like youve taken some solemn oath or anything.
Well be really discreet, promised Kelly.
Clark sighed. He must know he could never be a match for two determined female reporters. When I found the body, it was all wrapped up in something.
Like a sheet? Kelly questioned.
Not really But the weirdest thing Clark stopped; he almost looked as if he was about to throw up. The body, it was sort of He paused again, glanced round the empty Beanery, lowered his voice. All sort of dried up.
Air sour here in the human territory, grating against the spiracles, ground frigid beneath the pads. Shed be glad to get this hunt over.
Prey very close now, multiple images all coming into focus. (Bigger than the other ones, juicy looking, outer carapace dark.) She reared up on her hind legs, forelegs beating the air for balance. Only maybe twelve lengths away.
Leaving the shadows behind, caution unnecessary now, she skittered towards it. Ten lengths, eight, six
Wesley was surrounded by a sea of cows.
They streamed across the road ahead of him, while the more curious ones detoured round the back of his truck like an eddy current. Wesley amused himself between bouts of drumming on the steering wheel in classifying their various shades of brown, from Assam just the way the Fitzwilliam Museum café used to serve it, through rich tea biscuit, to the speckled foam of Cordelias favourite mocha cappuccino.
A quick glance at his watch informed him that hed been stuck here, just half a mile down the lane from the Kents farm, for almost five minutes now. He slid across to the passenger side, wound down the window, stuck his head out. Still no end visible.
Cordelia could well have been over-reacting, Wesley reassured himself. Her source of information hadnt exactly been reliable. There was probably no immediate danger. After all, if the worst came to the worst, Gunn could handle himself in a fight, couldnt he?
Four lengths, three, two
In one bound she was on top of her prey, mandibles buried between its segments. Doubled up, fluid bubbling from a deep rent in her abdomenthis one had sharp claws! She bent, nipped at it, waited a few breaths. All struggles ceased.
She wrapped its limbs haphazardly with loops of her toughest, thickest silk, wincing as the movements lanced fire through her gut, then dragged the package slowly, painfully back into the darkness.
Wesley slewed to a stop opposite the coffee bar, beeped the horn. Thank God, he breathed, as a grey-suited Cordelia emerged at a jog trot. She looked irate. At least she hadnt taken it into her head to try to rescue Gunn alone and unarmed it was impossible to fault the girls bravery, particularly when members of her family were threatened, but sometimes her actions were distinctly lacking in what one might term forward planning.
She clambered into the truck beside him, slammed the door. Jeez, Wes, what kept you!
I uh got caught in traffic.
Well, get going already! Not loving the idea of explaining to Angel and Fred that we let Gunn turn into monster munchies just cuz you got stuck in traffic.
Where did you last see him?
Standing right here, of course! But he was heading back thataway. Cordelia gestured in the direction that hed come from. Nearly forty minutes ago now, she added more quietly. No answer on his cell and, unlike some people we know, that actually means something.
Wesley attempted to make a rapid U-turn in a vehicle half as wide again as anything hed ever driven before. He guessed that at least some of her anger stemmed from guilt at having been the one to send Gunn into danger.
Anyhow, what traffic? Cordelia added, as the truck lurched over the kerb. Closest thing to rush hour this place gets is probably, like, milking time.
Taking Kents report at face value, it was an atypical demon that they were dealing with, Wesley thought, as they pulled up at the intersection with Ellison. He couldnt recall encountering one that wrapped and mummified its victims preservation for later use in a rejuvenation ceremony, perhaps? Hed have to ask Fred to cross-reference Destrys Compendium of Dark Magicks against the demon population local to Kansas. Wesley handed his companion a hunting knife, surreptitiously wiping it on his jeans to remove crumbs of cheddar from the blade, and retrieved the broadsword from the back of the truck. Of more immediate relevance, the time-honoured hack-and-slash routine appeared to be highly effective across a wide range of demon species.
A few minutes later, he was squatting in a side alley, examining what looked to be a scarf, half-hidden behind a couple of trash cans. Hed just got to his feet, fighting the urge to vomit the scrap of yellow cloth proving to be the fly-blown corpse of a ginger tomcat, the stench at close quarters as putrid as a feoral demon when an anguished cry erupted from Cordelias direction. He found her cradling an axeGunns axe, hed know that home-made weapon anywhere. He wiped the sticky green-yellow fluid from its blade with his sleeve (never going to wear that wretched shirt again, anyway), uncovered a jagged notch.
Doesnt look to be any blood, she said. Gunnll be finebound to be! She looked up at him, eyes brimming with unshed tears, daring him to contradict her. Probably just dropped it.
Yet another disaster chalked up to the name of Wyndham-Price. (Father would be so proud.) Wesley tried to pull himself together practicality, not sentimentality, was the best course for rescuing Gunn. Pointed down at the drips of slime that decorated the sidewalk. Gunn obviously injured his attacker. (If he was a really good boy and ate up all his brussels and didnt step on any cracks, then Gunn would be unharmed, just around the next corner.)
He unsheathed his sword, Cordelia hefted the axe, and they both turned wordlessly to follow the trail. That proved simple enough for two or three blocks along New Street, the fluid glowing luminous green as it caught the flashlight beam. Wesley was quietly thanking whatever power was responsible for Smallville weather (certainly not one of the more pleasant deities) that the threatened rain shower had yet to materialise, when, without warning, the trail disappeared. They were left standing by a factory building, its crumbling brick fascia and rusty iron-framed windows, largely empty of glass, speaking of decades of disuse. A wooden placard announced Creightons Cannery You Grow It, We Can It! in paint so faded that the original colours could hardly be discerned. True to form, New Street looked to be one of the oldest in the district.
Cordelia voiced their joint thought. Now what?
Wesley played the flashlight over the brickwork, taking care to avoid the windows in case the demon was inside. Nothing obvious, but then would the fluid be so visible against that stained and uneven surface?
It might have entered through the roof? he whispered. The corrugated iron was clearly in need of repair.
Sure, but how do we follow it? It may have escaped your notice, butnot quite got this levitation-on-demand thing working out yet.
They tiptoed along the front wall, rounded the corner into an alley. A side door stood slightly ajar, its heavy padlock hanging loose. A sign emblazoned with a skull and crossbones warned potential trespassers that the building was structurally unsound. Wesley examined the lockit had been sheared cleanly in two.
Jesus, breathed Cordelia. Really not wanting to meet the demon whose teeth can do that to solid steel. Nevertheless, she placed her right foot against the door Wesley had to stifle a laugh at the sight of the strappy gold-and-silver sandal, encasing those perfectly manicured, bronze-painted toenails, striking such a macho pose.
One two three!
At first Wesley blinked because he could see nothing inside the factory.
Then Wesley blinked because his brain couldnt process what his eyes were telling him.
An immense dark shape, glowing faintly green as the flashlight caught it, running rapidly up an arrangement of chainsthe rusting remains of a conveyer belt between the factory levels?
Something white that reflected the light, climbing after the dark shapelike a Jackie Chan movie in fast forward. Something must be wrong with his vision, Wesley thoughthe could have sworn it had beena man? In a white tee-shirt?
The white shape whatever it was emerged first. Swarmed down the conveyer belt, too rapid for the eye to follow. Stopped for a second at the bottom it was one-handedly carrying a bulky bundle, wrapped snugly in coils of rope. It deposited its cargo carefully next to a huge metal vat in the far corner, snapped the ropes in a single burst, and disappeared back up the conveyer belt.
Charles! exclaimed Cordelia. She took a couple of steps forwardand several things happened in rapid succession.
There was a sharp crack, and shards of planks rained down on their heads.
Something landed heavily just in front of Cordelia.
Something else landed heavily just in front of Wesley.
When the sawdust settled, Wesley found himself face to face withClark Kent?
It was unclear how long the two might have stared at each other the apparently uninjured teenager clenching and unclenching his fists if they hadnt been interrupted by a scream from Cordelia. Both wheeled round to discover she was facinga spider? The size of well a truck?
Get saying your prayers, you great ugly lump! Cordelia yelled, and took a swipe at its side. The axe just bounced off.
Wesley leapt forward, slashed at the things eyes with the broadsword that always worked in the movies. What the movies failed to point out was that this spider had more eyes than he could readily count extinguishing one or two merely caused the thing to hiss, holding its ground.
Run, Cordy! he shouted, hacking at the nearest leg. His efforts had about as much effect as they might have on a steel girder. Ill try to hold it off!
Dont bemore ofan assthan comesnaturally! she grunted between axe strokes. Theres no wayyoure stopping thison your own!
As if in agreement, the creature reared up above their heads, swaying in a fashion that would probably have looked menacingif it hadnt been so bloody menacing when it simply stood still. Wesley took a deep breath, pushed up his glasses and wiped the dust from his forehead. (Hed always thought that when you were about to die, your past life flashed before your eyes, or perhaps even your futurebut he seemed doomed to leave this world worrying about the fact that the Hyperions electricity bill would never get paid now.)
Cordelia, get out of here. Thats an order.
Grimly, Wesley raised his sword again
only to watch as Kent punched the beast so hard it reeled back several yards, then picked it up by one foreleg and hurled it against the wall. The thud resounded round and round the empty space of the cannery.
And here was I thinking vampire slayers were always girls, said Cordelia. You think the Councils finally caught up to the Equal Opportunities Act?
They are. Wesley watched breathlessly as the spider picked itself up, scuttled up the wall, one leg dragging, and disappeared through a hole into the upper level. He felt little inclination to try and track it tonight.
Instead, he turned towards the teenager standing frozen in the flashlight beam, splinters still clinging to his hair. Thank you for saving our lives. Wesley held out his hand. You must be Clark Kent. Wesley Wyndham-Price.
The boy looked at Wesley as if he were facing a firing squad. He backed away slowly, then bolted, leaving only a rush of air like the passage of an intercity train.
If Cordelia had realised she was going to be spending so much of her time in hospitals, shed have made sure her parents had invested serious money in her health plan. Between assorted vampire attacks, the odd impaling, some serious Vocah mojo and, lately, enough CAT scans, investigative biopsies and cognitive function tests to make her hair fall out, she was sure she must be a health insurers nightmare. This time, shed only needed treatment for a minor abrasion on her forehead thank the Powers it hadnt needed stitches, another scar would have killed her acting career like a dose of herpes. (Get real kiddo, what acting career? You havent had so much as a hint of an audition for months now, not even for a soap flakes commercial.)
Actually, an investment in whatever company published Cosmo or Elle might have been even more in line, given how many hours shed spent wearing out their pages sitting in hospital corridors and anonymous waiting rooms, or by miscellaneous bedsides. That girl with the sliver of glass embedded in her neck, who just went on bleeding and bleeding. Wesley, when hed kept on popping his stitches after hed taken that zombie cops bullet. And now, of course, all those routine check-ups on Connors not-so-routine babyhood. At least neither Angel nor Lorne made a habit of hanging out in A&E.
She couldnt remember sitting by Gunns bedside before.
Smallville Medical Center was little different from St Matthews Hospital back in LA. Ghastly orange plastic chairs check. All-pervading smell of polish and industrial-strength disinfectant check. Mixture of boredom and panic, hope and fear check. Well, actually, shed rollercoastered through so many emotions so rapidly over the past hours that she felt disconnected, as if shed used up her ability to feel anything besides numb.
Shed monitored progress, as evening wore into night, through Wesleys face. The droop of failure in his mouth when Gunns prostrate and sweating body didnt respond to the paramedics resuscitation. The hope transparent in his eyes when the A&E team had hooked him up to a drip. The way the colour had drained from his cheeks when theyd talked about airlifting Gunn to the Tox Unit at the Metropolis University Hospital. The determined set to his chin as hed signed the financial liability form as Gunns employer. The worry lines round his eyes dissolving when Gunn had been pronounced out of immediate danger.
And now, well after midnight, his quiet little chuckle as Gunn opened his eyes.
And suddenly she realised, as the tears trickled down her face, that she hadnt used up her ability to feel after all. Hey, Charles, she said. Youre
Not dead, said Gunn.
Yeah. She reached across and gripped his hand. I guess thats about the long and short of it.
So whats new? Charles Gunn dont kill easy.
Getting cocky already? said Wesley. You should have seen yourself a few hours ago.
What happened? Last I know, some fuckin great Shelobs pouncin on my back.
Shelob?Oh, I get it! she said. Hadnt pegged you as a Tolkien fan?
Hey, you saying black guys dont read?
Its just yknow, hobbits and elves and stuff? Next thing we know youll be liking She cast around for the most improbable thing possible. Ballet!
Now theres something you just aint ever gonna see! His laugh rapidly turned into a choking cough.
Sshh. Easy there. Cordelia held a glass of water to his lips. Laughing strictly off the menu till youve been conscious, like, at least twenty minutes.
So which of you guys do I owe my hide to this time?
Cordelia and Wesley looked at each other. Actually neither of us.
The Still Point in the Turning World
Once Lex had dreamed about angels.
Back then, hed had a picture of an angel above his bed. It was an original. A hand-painted, full-length portrait of the Warrior Angel. A strange visitor from another planet sent to Earth to protect the weakhow had that woman put it? To help the hopeless.
In his dreams, Lex was the angel. The warrior. The hero.
In the picture, Warrior Angels bald head stared straight at you, like some First World War recruiting poster, his fist stilled forever in the act of smashing through a wall, KER-POW!!! in 48 point Helvetica overlaid on the brickwork.
Lex smiled. His ambitions were rather more literate now.
The poster had been a gift from his mother. His twelfth birthday. Lex remembered ripping off the Japanese tissue paper, lavender threaded with silver, then gazing in silent awe at the contents. Grinning when hed noticed that this Warrior Angels eyes were steel blue, not brown like in the comic. His mother had hugged him tight against the bump theyd promised would soon be his little brother, Pammie had chuckled, and even his father had smiled.
His thirteenth birthday had been different, of course. First baby brother, then mother had died, Pamela took her newly acquired LuthorCorp stock to the Mediterranean, and his father never smiled that way again.
He sighed, glanced across at the clock on his desk. 2.43 am. If he let his thoughts rattle along that particular track now, hed never get any sleep.
Lex had never dreamed of being the damsel in distress.
Into the Woods
Clark had lived this day a thousand times before.
It was almost a shock that the sky beyond the window was that egg-shell blue usually reserved for Mondays or test days, not Saturdays, that the sun was shining and the sparrows were fighting over peanuts at the bird-feeder hanging by the front porch. A perfect January morning.
In his dreams thered always been thunder and lightningor at least torrential rain.
Last night it had rained. Afterwards hed run and run, water plastering the hair against his brow, dripping into his eyes, streaming down the back of his shirt. He wasnt quite sure where hed got to geography had never been his strongest subject. Wanted to feel tired but couldnt. Wanted to feel cold but couldnt.
Crashing through the cannery floor. Must have been fifty feet, maybe more. (Any normal person would have been injured.) Landing in front of that man with the silly name and the English accent. Whod somehow recognised him. And (oh shit) that woman. Kelly. The journalist.
Didnt matter how far he ran, he still remembered.
Stopping outside the mansion on the way back, the rain by then just an intermittent drizzle. Light flooding from the stained-glass windows in the south wing. The library. Lex must have still been working.
Whats up, Clark? His mother materialised behind him in the kitchen, ruffled his hair. Youve hardly touched your cereal. Is everything all right at school?
Im ok, Mom. He forced a smile, pushed away the cereal bowl. (If only hed just got a detention like any normal fifteen year old.) Guess I must justve grown out of liking honey loops.
Kent men dont grow out of liking honey loops theyre still Jons favourite. You havent fallen out with Chloe again, have you?
No! He started to refill his glass from the jug of orange juice on the kitchen table. Nothings wrong.
We interrupt our breakfast show to bring you breaking news His mother reached across and turned up the radio. Concern for teenager Gary Loeb, missing since last night, heightens after his satchel was found abandoned this morning.
Orange stain spreading across the blue-and-white chequered cloth. (His fault. All his fault.)
A ripped corduroy jacket identified as belonging to the teenager was discovered in the early hours of this morning, leading police to focus from the first on the possibility of abduction. Gary was last seen leaving Smallville High chess club at approximately seven fifteen yesterday. Anyone with information about the teenagers movements is urged to come forward immediately. Police suspect that thirteen-year-old Gary may be the latest in a series of disappearances of Smallville residents. The body of twenty-three year old Terri Hamp Clark racked the volume back down, as the bulletin reiterated facts they both knew by heart.
Oh God! his mother breathed. She sank down into a chair, pressed her hand over her mouth. Doug and Judy Loeb must be frantic!Wasnt Gary in the astronomy club with you?
Clark nodded. (He always sat in the back row, his blond head bowed. Clark had thought he wasnt very interested in the club lectures, then realised he was just very shy. Hed invited him over to the Fortress once, to play with the telescope, but Garyd never come.)
He gestured towards the juice running over the table. Ill just get something to
Standing at the sink, he stared out across the yard, passing the dishcloth from hand to hand, its damp coolness somehow calming. (Mom, I rescued someone in front of a journalist from LA.) The sparrows had disappeared, one of the barn tabbies must be on patrol. (Mom, two people found out my secret yesterday.) When he looked down again, the cloth was in pale-blue shreds. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans.
Mom he started. Its a spider. A giant spider. Like, the size of the Ford tractor.
What do you mean? Whats
All the disappearances. He turned round to face her, his back still pressed against the sink. I fought it last night. At the old cannery.
You killed it? Oh Clark, thats great.
No! It escaped. I cant get too close to it, I feel faint, yknow, like I did around Earl? Think it must be full of meteorite. And I cant track it. Its really really fast, and it doesnt seem to show up on my X-ray vision. Think its because arachnids have a chitin exoskeleton, theres no calcification, so its not as dense as mammalian bone. His mothers bemused stare stopped his babbling. Sorry, Mom, Mrs Hendersons really into spiders. When we did them in biology last term she brought in this tank crawling with harvesters from her garden, got us to dissect them.
So what exactly happened then, last night?
I I just rescued someone.
Oh? The look of hope on her face was unbearable.
Not Gary. Didnt recognise him. I dont think hes from round here.
Is he ok?
I think so. I, uh, didnt really hang around to find out.
Thats not like you, Clark, his mother chided. Hadnt you better go and check up at the hospital?
Im sure hell be fine, Mom. He could hear the whining note in his voice, knew his mother could hear it too. There were some friends of his there.
Clark crossed back to the table opposite her, fingered his backpack slung over the chair. Lookis it ok if I dont come with you to the market this morning? I need to try and find the spider again. Hopefully stop it this time. Before it gets anyone else.
Course its ok, Clark. Its not like weve got a lot for the stall today, just those winter lettuces. Ill explain to Jonathan. Just She tilted her head back to look him in the face. Be careful.
Im always careful, Mom. (Yeah, right.)
He was halfway through the porch door when his mother added, Its not your fault, Clark. About Gary. You did what you could. You cant be responsible for everything.
But it was his fault. Everything was his fault.
What he remembered most clearly from last night was just standing there while two people nearly got killed. While the spider escaped.
If I didnt know better, Cordelia said, as she strode into his hotel room, Id say that looked like a radio? A really old-fashioned one.
That might just be because it is a really old-fashioned radio. I picked it up at the general stores in town this morning.
Wesley surveyed his hardware purchases the clunky second-hand radio, a television antenna, now partially dismembered, a pocket compass, a variety of different connector leads and a mini electrical toolkit. He had to admit, they did look rather out of place spread across the rose-pink chenille bedcover, beneath the obligatory gilt-framed reproduction of Monets Wild Poppies.
You made it past that places door? She sank into the rooms single armchair, a garish concoction in pink velour. I got put off by the window displays. Can you believe it, they actually had a whole display of thermal underwear! I mean, how "The Waltons" can you get?
Really? I hadnt noticed. Wesley hastily kicked the evidence of one of his other purchases under the bed. The store-owner had assured him that the navy-blue capilene long-johns on special offer were the best buy for repelling the Kansas winter chill, but hed probably rather endure the weather than the full force of Cordelias sarcasm.
So, you gonna tell me what theyre all for, or are we gonna play twenty questions? Unless youre just planning on fixing things up so you can listen to the World Service?
You disillusion me, said Wesley. I didnt think anyone in this cultural wasteland listened to the BBC World Service.
They dont. Got stranded in Delhi airport one timeon the way back from the Seychelles, you moron and it was the only damn thing my walkman would pick up.
Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I didnt acquire all this with the World Service in mind. I went back to the cannery first thing this morningI took the tranquilliser gun, in case you were worrying
I wasnt, she said, then added at his mock hurt expression, Well, youre obviously back in one piece arent you?
To see if our friend was still hiding out there.
Which friend, the one with eight legs or the one with two?
The, uh, spider. Wesley wasnt entirely sure which of the two he was most afraid of encountering again. He thought on balance he might settle for the arachnid.
A few rusty cans, lots of packing cases lined with 1970s copies of the Ledger, fascinating reading Wesley broke off when he noticed Cordelia tapping her foot with increasing vigour. No, nothing really. Plenty of green slime, but no evidence that the creature had its lair in the cannery. Hence the radio.
Can I say a big "Huh?", she said. Really failing to see the "hence" part here.
Its one of Freds more ingenious little ideas
His explanation was interrupted by a quiet knock at the door. Cordelia leaped to her feet. Im onto it!
Its probably the pot of coffee I ordered forty minutes ago.
Not unless coffee round here comes with a side order of super-strength. Cordelia was backing slowly away from the door, reaching down to the bed, her hand seeking the tranquilliser gun. Weve got an office full of colleagues back in LA, she announced, grasping the television antenna and brandishing it in their visitors face. Big strong colleagues, with big shiny broadswords. So dont even think that if you attacked us youd get away with it, not even for a minute!
Come in, Mr Kent, said Wesley. Dont mind my associate, suspicion tends to be an occupational hazard in our line of work. He hissed at Cordelia, Dont worry, if he were coming to eliminate us, do you really think hed knock?
Despite his reassuring words, as the dark-haired teenager brushed past Cordelia, Wesley could feel the hairs at the back of his neck lifting, the way they had the first time hed come face to face with a vampire it felt like lifetimes ago now. That incredible degree of strength and speed in the body of an untrained adolescenthis actions had the potential to be both violent and unpredictable. (Faiths insane babble as shed slashed his chest with the glass splinter. The blankness behind her eyes as shed ignited the aerosol can in front of his face.) Who could tell what his reaction might be to his abilities being uncovered by two strangers?
In the confines of the hotel room the boy looked even taller, despite his hunched stance. His creamy skin seemed very pale in daylightunnaturally pale for someone whod grown up on a farm. (If Freds theory was right and Kent was from a different solar system, he would certainly embody an interesting argument for the supremacy of the humanoid form.) He stayed close to the door, hands stuffed deep in his jeans pockets, apparently engrossed by the floral pattern of the carpet.
Eventually he looked up at Wesley, his eyes like a lake under a winter sky.
Clark, he said, prosaically enough. No-one except Principal Kwan ever calls me Mr Kent, and then only when Im in trouble. He extracted an oversized hand from his pocket, held it out. Youre Mr Wyndham-Price.
Wesley shook it. (Body temperature felt normal.) Wesley. He gestured towards Cordelia, who was still clutching the antenna. And this is my colleague, Cordelia Chase. Id offer you coffee, he added, trying to inject an air of normality into the conversation, But room service at the Fairview appears to be somewhat lacking in the service aspect.
That figures. He turned to Cordelia, his face puzzled. I thought you were called Kelly?
Huh?Oh! I get it. Yknow, that was just an alias.
So Youre not a journalist from LA, then? The relief in his voice was obvious.
No! Yes! Well, big yes to LA, big no to journalism. Im gonna be the one making the news, not just writing it up. She dropped the antenna onto the glass-topped dressing table, where it landed next to the soldering iron with an audible clunk. (There goes the security deposit on the room.)
Clark flashed a tentative half smile. Didnt look like a great weapon, anyway.
So um How did you find us? asked Wesley.
His expression iced over again. Theres only two hotels in Smallville, and the other ones closed in winter.
An uneasy silence descended. Wesleys sense of honour was busily demanding that he explain at least some part of what they were really doing in Smallville. Honesty was always the best policy, and all that. (After all, the boy had saved their lives.) His sense of self-preservation was suggesting equally volubly that the less Clark knew about Angel Investigations current case, the more predictable his actions were likely to be. Cordelia was scrutinising Clark, from his shaggy crew-cut down to his greying store-brand trainers, as if she were evaluating him for some kind of a job. Clark just stood motionless, hands hanging loosely by his side, emotions flowing across his face like autumn leaves in a stream.
Hows your friend? he asked eventually.
Gunn will be fine, replied Wesley. Theyve just kept him in the hospital today for observation.
Ill bet hes climbing the walls right about now, said Cordelia. I mean, like, in a boredom sorta way, not a spider sorta waythough yknow, that might come in really handy.
Clark smiled, a real smile that melted all the raw angles of his face. Clearly being under twenty-one and raised (if not born) in the States was essential to deciphering Cordelias more bizarre cultural references. (Sometimes with Cordelia Wesley got the distinct impression that he was the one from a different planet.)
Can you believe this man? said Cordelia, turning to Clark. (Obviously hed got the job.) Hes fluent in five languages so ancient theyre only spoken by people in museums
Seven actually, said Wesley. I picked up Coptic and Demotic when I was studying Egyptian
He can list the mating habits of five thousand demons
You know thats essential for determining their likelihood of exhibiting aggressive behaviour.
But he doesnt know that Spiderman got his powers from being bitten by a spider? Wesley couldnt tell whether her incredulity was real or faked. Clark snorted with laughter, quickly put his hand to his mouth.
You should get some preview tickets to the movie, she continued. Virginia must have some contacts, surely? Take Fred, shed love it!
Uh-hmm. Fascinating as my social life might be, perhaps we ought to Wesleys words tailed off as he couldnt quite put his question into words.
Yeah, if youre not here to kill uswhy are you here? enquired Cordelia. Not that it isnt nice to meet you or anything, she added hastily.
And not that we arent grateful for your saving our lives yesterday, Wesley added.
That was kind of it, really, said Clark. Youre gonna go after that spider, and youre gonna get yourself killed. I cant let that happen. Not again.
Clark wondered what on earth he was doing here.
Hed planned just to warn them off trying to go after the spider. (And maybe enquire after the guy whod been knocked out, to satisfy his mother.) But the two were about as easily put off as Chloe when shed got her terrier teeth into a story.
So now here he was squashed into the back seat of a truck, behind Cordelia (or Kelly, or whatever her real name was), whod slid in behind the wheel, her pastel pink sweatshirt, jeans and cowboy boots making her look far younger than yesterdays business suit. Wesley was by her side in the passenger seat, still fiddling with the random bits of electrical equipment hed been taking apart in the hotel earlier he claimed theyd somehow enable them to track the spider.
Clark just couldnt figure them out. The axe and the sword yesterday. (He supposed it must be a sword hed never seen anything bigger than a fencing foil outside a museum before.) The casual reference to demons, as if they were something that not only existed outside of Grimms Fairy Tales, but tended to cause them trouble on a day-to-day basis. (Perhaps hed misheard?) The way they hadnt quite explained what it was they were doing in Smallville.
And what was that about vampire slayers? He was certain he hadnt misheard that one.
Clark decided a head-on approach might be best. So why are you doing this? he asked. I mean Im stronger and faster than most people After last night, there didnt seem to be much point in hiding the obvious. But youre just normal kinda folks.
Wesley, normal? exclaimed Cordelia. Were talking some kind of alternate universe here, right?
I took a solemn oath when I joinedwhen I was twenty-one to fight against evil. Even though things didnt quite work out
You mean when you and the Council
Im still bound by that mission. And Cordelia Well
Watch who youre calling abnormal, buster.
Cordelias quite an extraordinary woman. She blushed, and Wesley looked down at all the electrical stuff spread across the seat. Right, he said briskly, plugging one of the tangle of leads into the trucks cigarette lighter. If Ive understood Freds instructions, this should all work now. That girls a positive demon with electronics.
You gonna explain what it does again? asked Cordelia. Cuz I think I lost you right around square zero last time.
A demonstration might be simplest. Hold this. Wesley handed Cordelia the television antenna. Clark suppressed a grin at how silly shed looked threatening him with it earlier.
Wesley fished around in his jacket pocket, pulled out a small metal container and started to unscrew the lid. I scraped up this sample in the cannery this morning.
A loud static sound suddenly erupted from the radio cradled on Wesleys knee, setting Clarks teeth on edge and making his head ache. It took him a moment to realise it wasnt just the noise.
It really does affect you, doesnt it? said Cordelia, her tone mixing sympathy and curiosity in equal measures.
Oh, Im sorry. Wesley replaced the lid, and the static noise disappeared. Id forgotten about that.
Im ok. Clark rubbed his temple. So thats meteor rock, right? (How could they possibly know it made him sick?)
Actually its fluid exuded by the creature, said Wesley. But, yes, were hypothesising it contains a high concentration of meteorite. Apparently, the rock emits ultra-high-frequency radiation, a little above the range picked up by a standard television aerial. He grimaced. Thats "antenna" in your peculiar mutation of the English language. Fred suggested re-spacing the bars on the antenna and putting an extra capacitor across the radios tuning circuit. Wesley smiled proudly. Looks like it worked.
So, youre thinking track down giant-mutato-spider using all this stuff? asked Cordelia. We just turn it on, drive around and follow the static noise? Thatll be nice and conspicuous. Not to mentionheadachy.
Fred suggested we take three or four sets of readings around the most probable area. She e-mailed me a program to analyse the results. Hopefully, we can pinpoint the spiders current location assuming its stationary of course.
All the disappearances have been evening or night-time, said Clark. Its probably holed up somewhere during the day.
That was our hypothesis, said Wesley. He turned back to Cordelia. And the radios ancient enough to have a proper signal strength monitor thats the main reason I bought this particular model so we can just turn the volume right down and look at the dial.
My head is buying you jelly doughnuts in advance, said Cordelia. With extra sugar sprinkles just the way you like them. So, where do we start?
Wesley unfolded a Smallville town plan. Were at the end of Main Street now? Looks like here will do. Cordelia, if you could just hang that thing out of the window. Clark He handed Clark the plan and a little hikers compass. If you could jot down our current grid reference and compass bearing, and then record the readings I give you. Five replicates should be plenty, I think.
You want me to write on the back of the plan?
Cordelia reached down and retrieved a thick black notebook from the floor of the truck. Here, why dont you use this, she said.
Wesley grabbed the notebook from her, turned back to Clark. The back of the planll be fine. He stuffed the book into the trucks glove compartment.
Sure, he said, extracting a ballpoint from his pocket.
An hour and a half later, theyd progressed from the commercial end of Main Street, to Saunderson Avenue, right behind Franks auto repair place, and now to Reilly Lane, a mile or so up from the LuthorCorp plant.
Cordelia was clearly getting restless. Whoever thought demon-hunting could be quite so yawn-inducing? she said. Not to mention the fact Im getting a serious case of antenna-holders elbow here. Cant we just get to the slash-and-kill part already? She shook out her right arm and sighed heavily. Wheres a vision when you need one?
You have visions? Clark exclaimed. Like of the future and stuff? (Gravestones spiralling out around him, mile after mile, friend after friend. Rain drenching him, dry papery feel of Cassandras hand. Alone, all alone.)
My very own personal hotline to the PTB.
The uh P-T-B?
The Powers That Be, she said, as if that explained everything. Yknow, the good guysLeastways, I hope theyre the good guys. Id hate to have got all demony, like, for the wrong side.
Most human religions through the ages have taught that there is an immutable moral code that transcends time and space, said Wesley. An absolute sense of good and evil, right and wrong. The Powers could be thought of as a twenty-first century manifestation of that ancient concept. Not exactly good as such, but embodying the concept of goodness.
Gee thanks, Wes. That really made me feel better.
Anyway, what did you mean, "got all demony"? Now Clark was really confused Cordelias round brown eyes, chestnut hair and hundred-megawatt smile didnt fit into his concept of a demon. Perhaps theyd only been using the word figuratively earlier? After all, Wesleys demon-with-electronics girlfriend wasnt an actual demon, was she?
I thought demons had, you know, scales, or something? he added.
Oh Godscales? Hadnt thought of that one! She rooted around in her handbag, produced a compact and examined her face minutely in the mirror. Not even Lex Luthor himself could pay me enough to She broke off. Not that I know Mr Luthor or anything.
The pen in Clarks hand snapped in two. (Well, that would certainly explain how two strangers from LA knew so much about the meteor rocks. Knew that they made him sick.)
Only met him, like, that once in Aspenskiing, yknow
Smears of bright red ink across his palm, like the blood he could no longer shed. (Why someone from LA might be undercover in the Beanery, chatting to Chloe. His best friend. Maybe the tall black guy Gunn, that was his name had been at the football practice, talking to his other best friend?)
Couple of years ago nowsure he wouldnt even remember little ol me
That black notebookWesley almost snatching it out of Cordelias hands, then hiding it away. If the two were working for Lex, could that contain their notes? X-raying the book would be wrong but then so was paying people to investigate your friends.
Clark leaned against the front seat, focused on, then through, the glove box door. Angel Investigations, he read from the notebooks title page. Wyndham-Price. Casebook 11. 6 November 2001 to . So they were private investigators.
Hed trusted Lex. Thought he was a friend. Perhaps it was his destiny to be alone.
He focused further down, through page after page filled with neat handwriting, to where the ribbon nestled against the books spine. Ignored the slight headache hed never tried to use his X-ray vision this precisely before. It was a lot more difficult than seeing skeletons through barn walls. (Or girls in locker rooms.)
Telephone conversation (WB, 16.22), he read. Meteorite highly mutagenic. Overgrowth invertebrates. That would explain the spider. Humans: cancer? Demons: affects only the word was double underlined, Lorne.
Lorne? That didnt seem to make any sense, so he skipped down to the last comment on the page, where the words were in capitals, treble underlined.
Conclusion: Kent from a different solar system.
Score one for Cordelias great big mouth.
Well, it couldnt have been so bad, could it? Clark hadnt gone all psycho and killed them both, after all. (Though if looks could kill, Wesleys would have dispatched her, quick as a vampire breaking her neck.) And Clark was still here, wasnt he?
Wherever here was.
Blackhurst Plantation, just off route twelve, according to the map. Current location of giant-mutato-spider, if Fred was to be believed. After all their hours of flogging round Smallville like some out-take from The X-Files, Wesleys program had come up with a big fat nothing. Theyd sat around eating stale sandwiches at the little coffee bar shed visited yesterday afternoon, the anything-but-comfortable silence broken only by Wesleys incessant cell-phone conversations with Fred, who was reanalysing all their readings against local topographical data whatever that was on the Cray supercomputers at UCLA. Apparently, she still had friends there, not that shed ever mentioned them before. (But then she hadnt bothered mentioning her parents, till theyd turned up on the Hyperions doorstep one day looking for their daughter.) Clark had sifted through the resulting hot-spot line-up, sullenly yet efficiently, and eliminated all but one as known meteor strikes.
And so here they were.
At least the trees werent that closely spaced. The springy moss underfoot was almost pleasant to walk over, like an Axminster carpet, though she dreaded what its dampness might doing to the soft Italian leather of her boots. (Shed just have to find an excuse to get Angel to buy her another pair he certainly owed her for all those hours of baby-sitting, not to mention the lessons in nappy-changing.) Everything here was green, only the shade varied the grass-hued moss, the spearmint-coloured flat leaves which Wesley (ever the know-it-all) had said were liverworts, the dingy grey-green lichen plastering the trunks of the conifers, the Fairy-liquid green duckweed floating in the little streams that criss-crossed the whole plantation. Even the light felt green and thick, filtered through all those pine needles in the canopy far above their heads. Like walking on the bottom of the ocean.
And almost as silent.
Clark hadnt said an unnecessary word since her little goof, and Wesley had gone into full demon hunter mode, dart gun at the ready, the moment theyd abandoned the truck back in the clearing, where the dirt track had petered out. The silence was really beginning to get to her. Well, that and the giant-mutato-spider-just-waiting-to-drop-on-their-heads-from-the-next-treetop scenario.
Another stream loomed up, this time rather wider than the ones theyd negotiated earlier. First Wesley, then Clark cleared it easily. (Men shouldnt be allowed to be over six feet tall, it gave them too much of an unfair advantage.) Cordelia stalled on the near bank. Another, slimier, weed was fighting a winning battle against the duckweed, and an unappealing scum coated the water. She shoved the sword she was carrying down into the middle of the stream, then started to swing across, using it for balance.
Really, Cordelia! exclaimed Wesley. Thats a seventeenth-century Arcadian broadsword, not a walking stick.
Momentarily distracted, her hand wobbled against the sword, and she lost her balance. She was plummeting towards the water, which smelled even less appealing at close range, when suddenly she was pressed into someones arms nose squashed against soft blue-checked cotton, faint acidic tang of manure mingled with the scent of washing powder.
Its ok, said Clark. Ive got you.
Thanks. (Six-foot-tall men did have their uses.) He released her abruptly, as if remembering all of a sudden that they werent supposed to be friends. She retrieved the sword, which had fallen against the bank. Chill out, Wes. It was notched already, remember?
The trees were closer now, on the far bank, the air murky, stale smelling. The others kept getting ahead as she ducked under branches, progress hampered by the sword. (Didnt they make an easy-carry collapsible version?) Knee-high ferns replaced the moss underfoot, trailing brambles clutched at her ankles, while abundant tresses of lichen decorated the conifer branches, pale against their black.
Hey guys, maybe we should keep together? Shed seen all those horror movies where the monster picked off the hunters one at a time, and it always started with the last one in line.
Clark turned and waited for her, as she crawled out from the latest little obstacle course. You said you had visions? Fromwhat did you call them? The Powers? (At least hes talking again. Must be a good sign.)
Yeah, honest-to-goodness visions of people in trouble, beamed directly to my head courtesy of the celestial TV channel called the PTB. She grinned up at him. Hopefully, now, without the little sideline in do-it-yourself trepanation. (Shed once looked up a hundred-and-one synonyms for splitting headache, when it became obvious they were going to be a major feature of her life.) And, like, dying in agony.
So what dyou do with them?
Whaddyamean, what do I do with them? She clambered to her feet, wiping bits of fern, twigs and soil from her jeans. (Yet another pair for the homeless shelter.)
What do you do with the visions you get?
Well, duh! Try to help people of course. She brushed a piece of lichen out of her hair. Thats kind of our mission. To help the hopeless.
You mean like you tried to help me?
She glanced away, then down at her hands, not sure what to answer.
You call it "helping" to investigate innocent people? Clark continued, his voice a mix of barely controlled anger and heartfelt anguish. Thats moral, according to your Powers?
Uh, not trying to under-sell your pain, or anything, but She gestured at the sticky grey threads that coated her hands.
All three looked up. Around them on all sides, the trees dripped with a woolly grey fluff, like the lint from her washer-dryer. It reduced the mid-afternoon brightness to a gloomy twilight. She shivered. Not lichen. Spiders web.
Looks like were getting closer, whispered Wesley, hefting the dart gun. I just knew Fred would have found the right location. That girls
Lemme guessa demon with computers? she interrupted. Can we get to the point here? Way to go, monster to kill you remember the drill?
Sorry. They set off again, bunched together now, close enough to touch. Wesley was slightly ahead, gingerly pushing aside brambles, thinner branches and the occasional trailing cords of spiders silk from their path with his dart gun. Cordelia scanned and rescanned the trees that flanked them on either side, but the swathes of web, like thick smog, obscured all details. She shivered again. (Lets get this over already.) The sword felt heavy in her hand, clumsy she wished she could remember the precise moves from Angels sword-fighting lessons. (Did you thrust and then twist, or twist and then thrust?) But then Gunns axe had been about as much use as an egg-whisk yesterday.
Let me explain, Clark. Wesleys whisper resounded in the still air. Its not quite what you might think. The two men squeezed under the trunk of a fallen pine, a thick coat of spider silk draping it like a dust-cover. We run a detective agency in LA
Oh, its exactly what I think.
A supernatural detective agency. Wesley reached back to help Clark to his feet, but the teenager recoiled. Our client
Lex, breathed Clark. Cordelia had never heard anyone put as much bitterness into a single syllable before.
I couldnt possibly comment on their name.
I really did meet Lex Luthor in Aspen once, said Cordelia, scrambling after them. Yknow he wears this cute little black fur skull-cap on the slopes? She thought Clarks mouth might have creased up at the corners a little before settling back to a grim line, but it was hard to tell in the gloom.
Cordelia! Wesley half-turned to face her, beads of perspiration decorating his forehead and upper lip. Now whos getting away from the point?
He gestured at the sheet of silk in front of them, and she ripped through it delicately with the tip of the sword. (If this spiders web got any denser, theyd be, well, trapped.)
Our client hired us to investigate uh the disappearances in Smallville. Wesley pushed aside the thick grey-white veil, cautiously stepped through. They were worried that you might be behind them.
Clark laughed. And you believed them?
Not exactly, said Wesley, his voice muffled by the web. But not everybody who makes a habit of turning up at disaster scenes is the hero. Clark didnt respond, and Wesley continued in the same harsh whisper, Their worries are clearly groundless. All that remains is to tell them so.
Clark still hung back. Why should I believe you?
I guess youll just have to trust us, said Cordelia.
Trust you. Yeah right.
Look, said Wesley. NoI mean, look!
Dimly, through the curtain of silk, Cordelia saw his shadowed form sinking down, firing upwards.
Oh, you mean She pushed through behind him.
High above their heads a huge black shape loomed through the grey-white clouds of silk. Wesley hastily reloaded the tranquilliser gun, fired another dart. Clark disappeared, climbing upwards, the rush of air in his wake tearing the web around them into tatters. A shaft of sunlight, blinding bright after the murky near-darkness, illuminated the little clearing where they stood.
Got it that time, I hope. Wesley threw aside the gun it must be empty snatched the sword from her hand.
From high above their heads came a scream. Watch out!
Wesley pushed her sharply away sideways, then lost his own balance and began to fall backwards. Cordelia watched as the dark shape highlighted now with horrifying clarity in the sunlight broke loose, plummeted straight down
Out of the Woods?
Why was it always him who ended up covered in demon slime?
Wesley could cope with the fact that his life had been saved more times than he could count, by vampires, by demons, by assorted school-children, and sometimes just through sheer luckwell, most days he could cope anyway. But if he ever came face to face with the Powers thats the question he would put to them.
Today had been one of the sheer luck days. Hed just happened to land on his back between a fallen tree trunk and a large boulder. The arm hed put out to ward off the ten-tonne specimen of Argiope aurantia just happened to still be clutching Cordelias broadsword. The sword just happened to connect cleanly with the softer underbelly of the creature. Wesley had opened his eyes when it became clear that he wasnt dead to total darkness. After a moment during which his brain ran through increasingly alarming possibilities at that ultra-high speed reserved for times of complete helplessness (nightfallunderground lairoptic-nerve damagehell dimension), the darkness receded rapidly, as if he were travelling backwards at 90 mph out of a tunnel. When his eyes refocused, a figure was standing above him, bright primary colours haloed in sunlight.
Clark held out his hand.
Cordelias agonised expression had rapidly subsided into mild concern when hed emerged, without so much as a sprained wrist, coated from head to foot in sticky green-yellow fluid. By the time the paramedics had arrived and the Deputy had finished taking their statements rather a long time, Smallville being more punctilious about crime-scene procedures than LA concern had evolved into disdain. Shed even refused point-blank to walk through the hotel foyer with him in that state.
So now their truck was pulling up outside the sunflower-yellow farmhouse for the second timethis time to use the Kents washing machine. (If Cordelias pleading skills had as much effect on defaulting clients, then Connors college fund would soon stretch to Ivy League.) Cordelia hadnt let him ride in the cab ostensibly in case of damage to the seats, though Wesley thought the musty odour might have unduly influenced her decision. Anyway, Clark couldnt get within ten feet of him without meteorite-induced nausea and migraine. At least he thought it was meteorite induced. While Clark appeared to believe that accidentally dropping a ten-tonne weight onto someones head was the moral equivalent of taking money to investigate an innocent teenager Wesley wasnt so sure their current truce extended to distant politeness and no further.
Wesley unlatched the tailgate and jumped out into the yard. In the half-light he couldnt tell whether he owed his soft landing to hay or cow manure, but he was too exhausted to care.
Stand still, yelled Cordelia, then something hit his back. It took a moment to realise it was water icy-cold water. He turned to find that she was hosing him down from a tap outside the barn. Its ok, she said. These boots were ruined anyway.
A few minutes later, Wesley was dousing his head under the tap. Solzhenitsyn considered spraying prisoners with cold water a classic torture method, he reflected in an attempt to distract himself from the shivers that had taken over where his mid-section used to be. He doubted that California-raised Cordelia had any idea what she was doing. Clark probably did, though hed probably suffered enough al fresco showers himself that the spectacle evoked little sympathy. (Did aliens even feel extremes of temperature?)
Leave my family alone!
Wesley shot upright, barely avoiding cracking his forehead against the pipework, to see someone pointing a rifle at his chest. Blinking the water out of his eyes, he reached into his soggy jacket pocket and replaced his glasses.
Get away from my son! She emphasised her words by prodding his chest with the rifle.
Wesley edged away till his back hit the barn wall. He wished he hadnt left the tranquilliser gun in the truck. (After surviving not one, but two attacks by an oversized arachnid in as many days, it would be ironic to perish at the hands of an irate Kansas housewife.)
Mrs Kent, he started. His voice sounded steadier than he felt. Perhaps I might
Get off my property! Now!
Its ok, Mom. Clark reached out for the weapon. Theyre cool, I think. He didnt sound completely convinced.
Mrs Kents grip on the rifle didnt waver. This man sat outside the farm with a camera yesterday for nearly ten hours.
Great undercover work, Wes!
If youd just give me a moment to explain, Mrs Kent?
Mrs Kent ignored both interruptions. Is he she prodded Wesley in the chest again the reason you were so upset this morning, Clark?
Hes just killed that giant spider, said Clark. It was holed up out in Blackhurst Plantation.
Oh. The rifle wobbled slightly. Did you find
No, said Clark.
We found three bodies, Mrs Kent, Wesley said, as gently as he could through a jaw tight-clenched to prevent his teeth chattering. The Sheriffs Office is dealing with them.
Her shoulders sagged. Suddenly she looked ten years older, and much smaller. Clark took the rifle from her unresisting hands, laid it on the ground. She buried her head against her sons shoulder, and he crushed her in his arms.
Im sorry, she said briskly, after a moment or two. She paused, then added, Come on in, you must be getting cold.
They followed her into the cosy-looking kitchenat least the first glance had looked cosy, before the temperature difference and the water still dripping from his hair reduced Wesleys glasses to opacity. After a few seconds of awkward silence, he introduced the two of them.
Ill go put some coffee on. Mrs Kent disappeared round a corner, then poked her head back round. Clark, why dont you offer your guests some apple-and-cinnamon pie?
Home-made? asked Wesley, silently blessing the fact that rural Kansas manners appeared to require edible atonement for poking a rifle in ones chest.
Grown on the premises, she said, with obvious pride. Kent organic produce. Well, the apples at least, I dont know if you can get organic cinnamon.
Yummy! exclaimed Cordelia. Extra wormy goodness! At least she had the courtesy to wait till Mrs Kent had retreated again.
Dont mind Cordelia, Wesley said to Clarks back, as he followed his mother. She probably thinks apples grow in little apple-sauce tins. He rubbed his glasses on his sweater, surreptitiously tried to straighten the frame, which appeared to be the one casualty of the earlier action.
A moment later, Clark reappeared. Mom says why dont you use the shower? Shes going to try and find you some dry clothes.
In the bathroom, Wesley stripped off his sodden clothes with a sigh of relief the musty smell still clung to them, and the long-johns were beginning to chafe. He wished to God hed never bought the wretched things hed been sweating all day, and now they hoarded the icy tap-water in all the wrong places. He wrapped a towel round his waist, bundled them up and dumped them in the wastebin.
Clark pushed the door open with a perfunctory knock, and bent to retrieve the odiferous heap from the floor. He gestured towards the bin. Do you want us to wash these too?
If I never saw them again Id be overjoyed.
Clark fished out the navy-blue long-johns, shot him a quizzical look from under dark eyelashes.
Pleasedont tell Cordelia.
Ill keep your secret if you keep mine, Clark said with a surprising earnestness. He hung some clothes on the back of the bathroom door. Mom said these might fit you.
Mrs Kent clearly had a sense of humour. The blue jeans and red-and-white plaid arrayed on the hanger were identical to his outfit of yesterday.
Somewhat revived by gallons of near-scalding water, Wesley retraced his steps downstairs, the borrowed shirt uncomfortably tight across his chest demon slaying was certainly developing his pectoral muscles. (Though he could have sworn that the Mr Kent, Sr, he recalled from yesterday had been broader across the chest.) At the kitchen table, Clark and Cordelia were engaged in a quick-fire game of anecdote trumps, in between mouthfuls of apple pie.
We had this guy who froze his dates into human popsicles
I dated a senior who tried to sacrifice me to a giant snake
I kissed a girl who could change shape
My boyfriend made the swim team, he nearly turned fish
Our coach immolated himself in the locker-room
Our principal got eaten by wild dogs. Rumour had it they were ex-students
Their chatter tailed off as soon as they saw him Wesley felt like a headmaster checking up on library period.
And yknow, the weirdest thing? Cordelia stage-whispered in the general direction of her companions ear. I ended up smooching Wes!
Clark ducked his head in an attempt to hide his grin. (Looked like those two had found common ground, at least.)
Have some apple pie, she said aloud, licking her fingers. Nothing like some good ol demon slaying to whet the appetite. She flushed, and added hastily, For food, yknow, not in a Faith kinda way.
Faith? said Clark. Is she another one at this "help the hopeless" detective agency of yours?
God no, said Cordelia. Vampire slayer, big on the attitude and the grunge dress sense light on the teamwork. Not to mentioncomplete psycho. Wesley was glad that she felt able to be so blasé about their experiences with the girl though he feared it said more about their experiences since then.
Ask Wes, she continued. He was her watcher.
Wesley shuddered. (If youd been a better watcher, I might have been a more positive role model.)
I just dont get all this vampire slayer, watcher stuff, said Clark. He was obviously fascinated despite himself. I mean vampires? Werent they invented by Bram Stoker?
Wesley pulled up a chair next to Cordelia. Stoker is often inaccurately credited with originating the vampire myth, he explained. He merely rewrote Le Fanu, who was himself drawing from centuries-old Germanic legends. But real vampires have walked this earth since before
Cordelia tapped him on the shoulder, ostentatiously mimed putting her hand over her mouth.
I brought the coffee, said Mrs Kent. She set a tray down on the kitchen table, unloaded blue-striped mugs, milk jug, sugar bowl. There were tear tracks down her cheeks that she hadnt bothered to cover with make-up. Your fatherll be back in a few minutes, Clark. Do you want to take it into the barn?
Clark just couldnt figure out what he was supposed to be feeling.
His initial blind shock had rapidly given way to sheer terror, and then to bitter anger. (What right had they to investigate him?) But then his conscience busily nagged him about all those people hed helped Chloe to investigate for her Wall of Weird not all of them had turned out to be Evil Mutants in the end, either.
Anyway, it was hard to stay angry with someone who looked as ridiculous as Wesley had earlier manure on his suit-pant hems, greenish slime streaking his glasses and water streaming down from his hair, which was far curlier when wet. And his accent it was like something out of those black-and-white Sherlock Holmes movies from the Forties that his Mom put on sometimes when his Dad was away. But hed never seen anyone stand up to Mom when she was in that mood. Not Dad, not Principal Kwan, not even Lex
And Cordelia it was even harder to stay angry with her. She had Chloes streetwise edge, her smartness, her sheer toughness mixed, he thought, with Lanas instinctive empathy, her emotional bravery. Lanas translucent beauty, too. Well, almost. He didnt think anyone could be quite as beautiful as Lana.
Hed had trouble stifling his laughter at Cordelias horrified look when his mother had suggested taking their coffees to the barn. Now, curled up on the couch opposite, she reminded him of the first time hed invited Chloe to the Fortress, way back in eighth grade when shed just moved from Metropolis staring around her, eyes wide, like she expected rats to run over her toes, or bats to fly out of the woodwork. When hed switched on the lights hed almost expected her to be surprised, was ready with his tale of how Dad had connected up the barn when theyd installed the new milking machines in the shed next door. But electric light must be so natural to city-folk that neither of them had even noticed.
So Clark started slowly, desperately trying to get everything straight in his head, Vampires really exist? He supposed it wasnt really any more unlikely than shape-shifting teenagers or fire-setting football coaches or, for that matter, invulnerable aliens with junior-sized spaceships lurking in their parents storm cellar. (Had they somehow uncovered his ship?)
Just like in the movies, said Cordelia. Though they never say how much their breath smells. Or how damn cold they are to sit next to.
You sit next to them? said Clark.
We work forI mean with, a vampire, said Wesley. Angel. He has a soul He turned to Cordelia on the couch beside him. And how do you know what their breath smells like?
Oh you know, she said, studying her ankles. In this light it was hard to tell whether or not she was blushing. Vamp snack-bar experience gratis with every Sunnydale graduation certificateand, ugh, how could I forget, like, Darla. She pulled a face. I dont suppose dental-care plans were the norm when she was alive the first time I mean.
Weve got the meteor rocks, said Clark. Whats Sunnydales excuse?
Hellmouth under the school library, said Cordelia.
Hellmouth? That went well beyond Wall-of-Weird terrain and into the truly freaky.
La Boca del Infierno. Wesley got maximum mileage from the rolled r.
Cordelia mock-yawned. Thats just the Spanish for what I said.
Its a portal to one of the major hell dimensions. The mystical energy draws evil creatures of all kinds from all over the world.
Kinda like a health spa for evil weirdos, added Cordelia. Highest death rate in the country.
Well, actually the highest per-capita mortality rate was recorded by the CDC in Whitechapel, Missouri. The Council investigated thought there might be a nest of fledgling Suvolte demons but apparently it was something to do with unstable mercury mine-workings leaching Cordelia kicked his ankle. Sorry, you were saying Vampires
You said you work with a vampire? That might explain why they both seemed so totally unfazed by an alien. (After that day back in the fall, that day when he should have died, hed had nightmares for weeks where Chloe, or Lana, or Lex had run away screaming when hed told them the truth.)
Not just any vampire, said Cordelia. Angels a champion. Like Sir Galahad only with a leather overcoat instead of all that armour-and-white-charger-y stuff. She turned to Wesley. Though yknow, some armour might come in really handy the next time the Hyperion gets raided by Lilliputian demons.
Lilliad, corrected Wesley.
Lilliputian, Lilliad Whats the difference
I suppose you could just stomp on Lilliputian demons, said Clark.
Huh? said Cordelia. Oh, I see what you mean. She spooned some sugar into her coffee mug and took a sip. Angel, Buffy theyre both champions.
Buffy? Clark was having trouble keeping track of all these names. Is he another vampire?
Hell no! She went to high school with methough, come to think of it, so did Harmony
Buffys a vampire slayer, said Wesley. He looked a little uncomfortable, and Clark guessed that whatever this Council they kept mentioning was, theyd sworn him to secrecy. In every generation, one young girl is chosen to fight against
The vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness, yadda yadda yadda. Just cuz the Council made you all recite that whole spiel three times before breakfast doesnt mean you have to inflict it on us verbatim!
Thats not verbatim, I left out the bit about Wesley wilted under Cordelias stare. I suppose its hardly important right now.
Clark wondered what Chloe would make of their story. Visions from supernatural powers, champions ranged against the forces of darkness, all neat and black-and-white, like the stuff his Mom used to read to him at bedtime when he was a kid. But if the two were delusional, it seemed like a pretty consistent sort of delusion.
And, if everything they said were true
Why does it have to be a young girl? he asked.
Thats just what I was saying last night, said Cordelia.
Since the dawn of time, since the First Slayer, it has always been a young girl who is chosen to be a vessel of the Powers, said Wesley. Her purity and innocence form a symbolic antithesis to the corruption, the evil of this world.
Purity? said Cordelia. Innocence? Can I say a big "Faith" here?
I did say it was symbolic.
And here was I thinking that the old men in the Council got their rocks off watching teenage virgins in skimpy tops getting all hot and sweaty. How wrong could I be?
Hold on a moment, Im getting confused here, said Clark. I thought you said there was only one?
One in every generation? said Cordelia. The Powers mustve lost count. No, we get treated to the old good copbad cop routine.
Im guessing Buffys the good cop? (Perhaps their world wasnt so black and white after all.)
Yeah, whatever you might say about Buffys dress sense, or that snotty little sister of hers, or her taste in men
I thought you liked Angel said Wesley.
Course I do but not in that way. Cordelia screwed up her nose, took another big slurp of coffee. You gotta hand it to Buffy, she saved the world more often than she retouched her roots mark of a true champion.
Cordelia could probably out-bitch cheerleader-from-hell Felice in a head-to-head, but Clark thought there was a real, if reluctant, admiration underlying her words.
Buffys a dyed blonde? Wesley sounded incredulous. I thought she was natural.
Call yourself a watcher? No wonder the Council sacked you!
Scratch that bit about Cordelias instinctive empathy, thought Clark, as the smile slowly seeped off Wesleys face.
Wesley stood up, turned away to face the shelves next to the hatch. The silence stretched out. After a while, he squatted to examine the leather-bound set on the bottom shelf, pulled out a book. "Pictorial History of the World in Twelve Volumes", he read out from the title page, his voice light. He made a show of counting the volumes. So what happened to volumes eleven and twelve? he enquired.
Clark joined Wesley by the bookshelves. Ive had one every Christmas from my Grandpa Clark since I first learned to read. He flicked to the last page of the book, where the full set were listed. Looks like the Industrial Revolution is the treat in store for next year. Grandpa always says, just because his daughter married a farmer, doesnt mean his grandchildren have to be illiterate.
You do know that these are collectors items? Wesley dusted off the jacket with his sleeve and carefully slotted the book back into place on the shelf. You really shouldnt keep them out here, it must be damp in winter.
Yeah, thats what Lex said when he first saw them. He hung his head. (Lex had probably just come round to the Fortress to spy on his so-called friend.)
Wesley straightened up, picked up one of the sets of darts that littered the top shelf, plucked one out of the cork and offered it to Clark. (Was he that easy to read?)
Hey, youre not gonna throw those things over my head are you? Cordelia put her mug down on the trunk and scrambled out of their way.
Dont you trust us, Cordy? said Wesley. The Council didnt fire me for having a poor aim, you know.
Clark threw first. (Take that Lex.)
Four. (At least he hadnt split the dartboard, like that time when Sean had called him a faggot because he wouldnt try out for the football team. After that, Dad had lined the back of the board with a steel plate from a broken-down hay-baler.)
Wesley flicked his dart into the bulls eye with a deceptively casual air. He handed Clark the third dart. Lesson number one, never let your emotions rule you during combat.
Clark took a deep breath, let all the thoughts drain out of his mind, aimed for the treble twenty. Yes! he said.
Well done. Wesley walked over and retrieved the darts. He stared down at the tip of one of them, shrugged and picked up another dart from the shelf. Best of three? he offered.
Clark nodded. So the watchers teach the slayers, right?
Wesleys second dart missed the bulls-eye centre, lodging in the outer ring. (Sounded like the guy needed to listen to his own lectures.) He grimaced. Thats the theory.
Like anyone could teach Faith anything, said Cordelia. That girl was a walking one-finger-salute-to-the-American-Dream before you ever left the mother country, Wes.
Clark launched his final dart. It landed just outside another treble twenty. Unlucky, he lied.
This time, Wesleys aim was perfect. Clark held out his hand and Wesley shook it. He collapsed back down onto the couch, picked up his coffee mug and drained it.
Clark took a seat next to him. So, any tips?
You have all the raw power you need
Well, duh, said Cordelia.
But your techniques a little, shall we say unpolished? You might find that if you learned a little karate or tae kwon do that youd be more effective not to mention less conspicuous.
Also very good for stress relief, added Cordelia.
You do karate? Clark didnt know why he was so surprised; shed been pretty handy with the axe yesterday, after all.
Sure thing well, tae kwon do. She sat down on the trunk, wrapped her arms round her knees. I figured if I was going to be demon lunch special every other week Id better learn to rescue myself, just in case Angels white charger had a flat tyre, or something.
Clark snorted with laughter at the image.
Besides, I cant just hang around looking decorative, however well suited I am for that role. Her face fell. Oh God, wheres my purse
You look fine, Cordy, said Wesley.
I just cant get used to it, she wailed. I mean, Im supposed to be an actress, and now I need to lather three times a day with deodorant gel to cover up any lingering odour of demon slime? (So that earlier got all demony comment had somehow been meant literally?)
Really, Cordelia, youre over-reacting, Wesley said. We need to complete the research, explore all possible avenues, but gradual physical transdemonification
Is almost unheard of. There hasnt been a case since the eighteenth Wesley broke off. There may well be no further manifestations, and if there are, your new aspects will almost certainly be related to the visions in some way.
You men just cant understand what its like to wake up every morning in a cold sweat wondering whether Im gonna have to change my hairstyle to cover up little red horns.
Well, at least you dont have to worry about waking up floating, said Clark.
Cordelia laughed. Wanna bet? she said. Good thing my bedsprings are pretty solid, otherwise Id be in deep water with my landlordNow theres a mental image that Im gonna wish I never dreamed up.
Im only fifteen, I should be worrying about, I dont know, why the geography teachers got such a downer on me Clark could hear the whining tone in his voice and decided to ignore it. Will I make the football squad next season
Where my gonna find shoes the exact shade of my Prom dress
And instead Im wondering when my next powers going to show up. Not to mention how many more people were going to die because he screwed up. He sighed, unballed his fists. Sometimes I just wish it would all stop.
Right with you on that one, said Cordelia. She grinned and added, Though men dont usually have quite the same problem with Prom dresses.
My friend Petes already on at me about who Im gonna ask to the Spring Formal he says its never too early to consider your options
A wise man, said Cordelia. A popular girl will have her dates organised at least two months in advance, whilst totally reserving her right to change her mind up to the day before
But it doesnt seem fair, when I dont know if Ill ever be able to settle down Clark paused, knowing he must be blushing again. You know have a family
Well, Angel and Darla managed it, and theyve been dead for, like, 650 years between them, said Cordelia. How hard can it be?
Cordelia! All that stuff Wesley leaned forward and hissed in her ear, We shouldnt
Trust goes both ways, Wes. Cordelia turned to Clark. Miracle childbucket-loads of prophecies, heavy on the crypticeveryone and their lawyer wants to kill him. You know, all the usual. Oh, and dont tell anyone.
All the usual? echoed Wesley. Much though I hate to agree with the proud father, Connor could hardly be called "usual". A child of prophecy, a unique birth he has a destiny.
Problem is, we just dont know what it is.
Clark could certainly empathise with that. An old lady she had visions too He took a deep breath. She told me once she said it was my destiny to help people.
And youre not sure whether or not shes right? said Wesley.
She never really explained what it meant.
Cant you just ask her again? said Cordelia. When its really important, sometimes the Powers give me another vision.
No, he said. (Buttery sunlight falling on pastel wool, scent of roses, sight stilled forever.) Sometimes Id give anything just to be normal.
You know, when I first got the visions, Id have done anything to get rid of them, said Cordelia. Kiss the warty demondont ask, long story offer up my hand-painted silk chiffon shawl thats dead-spit for a Laura Mina original till you get real close anything. Didnt care who got em as long as it wasnt me. She stood up, walked over to gaze out of the open hatch of the loft. Sometimes it feels like the gifts choose you you have to accept them, the Powers dont give you any choice, however hard you fight.
She turned back to face them, her slim figure silhouetted against the rising moon, like some mystical princess. And then you find, when the times right you choose the gifts. (You can fear the future, or you can embrace it.)
What gifts? Shes not offering you free gifts for your story is she, Clark? Chloe clattered up the stairs from the barn. (Impeccable timing, Chloe.) Dont tell her anything!
Clark leaped to his feet. Uh, calm down, Chloe.
But shes a fake! I called the LA Times and theyve got no records of a reporter called Kelly Gray.
Its ok, Chloe. Clark interposed himself between the two women at slightly more than human speed. Honest. We went through all that this morning.
You mean you knew she was a fake, and you didnt tell me? Chloe beat her fists against his chest in frustration. Some friend you are!
Its been rather a busy day, said Wesley.
It took almost ten minutes for Chloe to stop throwing accusations around the hay-loft (it would have taken longer, but Wesley seemed to have had a lot of practice at dealing with hysterical women) but now Chloe was happily ensconced on the couch with Cordelia, getting an exclusive interview for the Torch on the days events. From his position by the hatch, only occasional snippets of their conversation reached himClark could only pray that Cordelia was sticking to the story of how theyd found the three bodies in Blackhurst Plantation. (Chloe thank God didnt seem to have overheard anything very much when shed arrived.)
After several minutes just staring out at the stars in silence, Wesley gestured at the telescope. Youre interested in astronomy?
Its ok, you dont have to Clark looked down at his feet. I read your case notes.
Clark glanced over to the other two, still chattering away on the couch, lowered his voice to a whisper. How did you find out that?
Lets just say, I dont think you need worry about anyone else finding out by the same method.
Clark looked up at his companion, but Wesleys expression was as hard to read as Lexs could be sometimes. You wont tell anyone, will you?
Of course we wont, said Wesley. But I think you should. Youve got to trust your friends. Your real friends, whoever they are.
Clark laughed. My DadWell, lets just say he doesnt exactly share that view.
Part of becoming an adult is the realisation that fathers arent always right. Even the well-meaning ones. Buffy Wesley glanced back at Cordelia. She was more effective because she shared her secret with her friends. Shared the burden.
That wasnt what you said at the time, said Cordelia.
A wise man profits by his mistakesand I didnt think you were listening, Cordy.
Think I dont know that little guilty look of yours when youre about to say something you dont want me to overhear?
What? said Chloe. What didnt you want us to overhear? (Not again.)
Just talking Prom dates. Clark faked a sheepish grin for Chloes benefit as the two women joined them round the telescope, submerged himself with a sigh in the feminine babble. (Women, now they really were a different species.)
Later, as his friends old and new were leaving, he touched Wesleys shoulder. Piece of advice about small towns, he said. Never go for the special offers. Theyre always the stuff thats been hanging round for decades, cos no-one in their right mind would dream of buying it full price.
Lex wasnt surprised by the call from the security guard on the gate, despite the lateness of the hour. Hed promised Wyndham-Price a second instalment of his fee if he could solve the latest Smallville mystery so, after the news earlier that evening, hed half-expected the man to turn up, anxious to bank his earnings.
What did surprise him was how good Wyndham-Price looked in plaid it emphasised the muscles in his shoulders that his shapeless suit jacket had concealed.
I suppose youre here to file your progress report in person? Lex leaned back in his chair and prepared himself for a prolonged monologue.
Clark Kent isnt behind the killings, Mr Luthor. The disappearances were caused by a uh somewhat atypical specimen of Argiope aurantia the Common Garden Spider.
That figured with the remarks in the medical examiners reports that Lex had read.
I think youll find that it wont be bothering any more young women in your employment, Wyndham-Price added, with just an edge of sarcasm.
Lex expected something more, but there was nothing the mans face a studied blank. He decided to push it should be trivial to intimidate a man like Wyndham-Price. Youve gone to a lot of trouble to report something so simple, he said, allowing the sarcasm to bleed into his own tones. Might I suggest you use the telephone next time? He got up, walked round the desk, brought his face to within inches of the other mans. Or is there something else you wanted to tell me about Mr Kent, perhaps?
Wyndham-Price stood very still. As Im sure you know, Mr Luthor, one of my employees is a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old vampire who could snap my vertebral column in a secondI think youll find your little dominance games dont quite have the intended effect.
Lex stepped backwards. (It hardly mattered, the mans very silence spoke volumes about Kent.)
I came in person because I needed to return a few things to you. He fished in his shirt pocket, extracted an envelope and handed it to Lex.
Lex didnt need to open it the embossed LuthorCorp logo on the flap identified it as the one hed given to Wyndham-Price just a few days earlier. He drew out his letter-opener a scale model of Alexander the Greats sword in solid platinum, one of his fathers more useful gifts and opened it anyway. The advance cheque.
I dont understand, said Lex, though he was beginning to understand rather too well.
Its simple enough, Mr Luthor Im sure youll catch on. Angel Investigations cant take your money. Wyndham-Price placed his briefcase on the desk, took out a couple of tatty brown envelopes. Im afraid Dr Hamiltons report and the meteorite sample are back in the office. Ill arrange to have them couriered back to you tomorrow.
One of the envelopes had split open, and a photograph slipped out onto the desk. Lex picked it up.
He is rather remarkable, isnt he? said Wyndham-Price, his tone surprisingly understanding. Sympathetic, even.
Lex crumpled the photograph, let it fall. Might I suggest that this would be a good time for you to leave, Mr Wyndham-Price? he said.
Wyndham-Price snapped his briefcase shut, walked away from the desk without any sign of hurrying. At the library double doors, he turned back. If I may advise you, Mr Luthorthe next time someone saves your life and proves refractory to remuneration in cash give a large donation to disaster relief in Azerbaijan, or the Metropolis Sanctuary for Retired Donkeys, if you prefer.
Lex snatched up the miniature sword and hurled it after him. It embedded itself in the frame as the door swung shut. He went to the sideboard, poured himself a generous slug of whisky from the decanter, slumped into the desk chair, swirled the golden liquid round the crystal a few times, savouring the smoky aroma, then tossed it back. (He hated misjudging people.)
The chorus was belting out Dies irae, dies illa for the second time (the War Requiem had seemed the most appropriate choice from the paltry selection in the library) and Lex was trekking across for his fifth refill before he noticed the scrumpled paper on the floor. He bent and retrieved the photograph, then had to lean against the desk to steady himself as the sudden movement brought on a wave of nausea. He collapsed in his chair and smoothed out the photograph.
Clark was remarkable.
Hardly the most startling insight to arise from some fusion of twenty-year-old single malt, ancient funeral mass and the impassioned words of a poet whod died barely older than he was. Didnt make it any less true. Lacrimosa, keened the soprano, Lacrimosa. He smoothed out the shiny paper again and again, trying to obliterate the jagged fold that cut between the eyes.
His very own Warrior Angel.
Lex had left that poster in the master bedroom of his Metropolis flat, like some brightly painted totem pole. A talisman that his exile wouldnt last forever, that eventually hed pass all the trials his father ordained. That one day hed return in triumph to the city where he belonged, a hero once more.
Hed tried to be a hero that day at the plant, tried to sacrifice himself to save the kids. He remembered undoing the bullet-proof vest, facing the gun and the crazed man behind it with nothing in between but a layer or two of cloth and his fathers lies. If theres one thing that whole fuck-up should have taught him, it was that he just wasnt cut out to be a heroOh, and that nothing he could ever do would restore him to his fathers favour.
Clark had saved him that day, too. Boy was making quite a habit of it. (At this rate, Lex might even begin to think he was worth saving.)
Lex replaced the ruined photograph in its envelope, stuffed the whole lot back into his Angel Investigations file. Picked up their business card, tapped it against his other hand. Wyndham-Price might have a point. (Lazarus hadnt exactly turned round, winding sheets flapping, and asked Jesus for his certificate to practise in geriatric medicine.)
Lex closed his eyes. Chill fall sky, face of an angel, dripping with river water and smelling of clay. Rather appropriate for a resurrection, really.
Re-opened his eyes. Face still hung there, grey and watery, drowned and pale. And upside down.
In reflection in the glass-topped desk in front of him.
Lex raised his head slowly, to meet the eyes of the all-too-human teenager on the other side of the desk: he looked like a kicked puppy.
Clark, he said. He placed the card with its angel-cum-vulture symbol face up on the desk, turned it round to face away from him. Tried to remember what a genuine smile felt like.
If only Clark would forgive him, then perhaps some day Smallville would feel like home.
WOLFRAM & HART
(Special Projects Division)
FROM: Lilah Morgan
Lilah picked up her fountain pen and struck out the printed names in the new-look delete-your-own memo form, getting a particularly vicious little thrill from obliterating Gavin Park from the distribution list. Client referenceher secretary could look up the appropriate number from the files in the morning.
Lilah had cursed when shed been dumped the job of co-ordinating the surveillance of that nobody after hed entered their client lists last year. It was standard procedure, intended simply to provide background material in case of future contacts with the firm. Once a client always a client was one of Wolfram & Harts corporate mottos, but while Lilah sympathised with the sentiment, shed never felt the routine office task was a suitable use of her time. It hadnt been the most interesting job scanning all the reports the subject might have taken a few illegal substances, got into a few fights, broken a few state laws but Christ, the guy had never even practised any dark magic! (Unlike his father, now he was one of the Metropolis branchs most lucrative clients.)
Not interesting, that is, until this week, when hed been picked up contacting none other than her favourite LA agency. Sending a team to follow the three Angel Investigations operatives as they visited Hicksville, Kansas, where the subject currently resided, was just a routine precaution. But Lilah couldnt believe her luck when shed flicked through the reports the cell-phone transcripts were particularly juicy.
The Senior Partners were going to love this.
This time she wouldnt repeat any of the mistakes shed made with that other girl, what was her name, Bryony? Beverley? Something like that.
Maybe this time shed finally get the penthouse office suite she deserved.
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