"The most popular name for it? They call it the Dust Storm Devil." - Clark Kent


"They're monster hunters," Clark said as he opened the door to his living room.

His parents both looked up from the tv and turned on the couch toward him.

"Clark-" his dad said.

"-what are you talking about?" his mother concluded.

"The Summers sisters, and their friends Willow and Xander, not to mention all these girls in the house who rolled in a few hours ago, they're monster hunters. Actually, if I've got to be specific, they're Slayers."

Clark saw his father's eyes widen.

"Yep, just like in your story, dad."

His father's brow furrowed. "What does that mean? What is a Slayer?"

"And more importantly," his mother added, "how do you know this?"

Clark scratched an ear. "I may have been...you know, creeping around and listening in on them."

His mother snorted. "Okay, well I guess you'd better tell us everything you found out."

Clark nodded and walked over to the sofa. His parents slid to either side and he plopped himself down between them. "Basically what I have so far is that Buffy is a Slayer, some kind of mystical monster killer. So are a bunch of these girls her 'organization' is helping. But Buffy definitely seems like the head honcho. She gives the orders around there and trains all the others. Dawn and Xander don't appear to be Slayers, but also learn to fight monsters. The other one, Willow...this is gonna sound out there, but apparently she's a witch."

His father scoffed. "Of course she is. Vampires, Slayers, and now Witches. As if Smallville didn't have enough problems with just the meteor mutants. Now we're one evil carousel ride away from being that town in 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. Clark, I want you to stay away from these girls as best you can, alright?"

Clark turned to look at his father. "Well...uh, maybe?"

"Maybe? What do you mean by 'maybe'?"

"Well, it's just...are we sure that's the best idea?"

"Clark, you just told me these girls hunt and kill monsters for a living. I'm not going to risk what will happen, what they'll try to do if the find out about you."

"I don't see how that's different from how I have to treat everyone else. Besides, they might have valuable information about this vampire that came into town and others that might come by. If anything, I need to get close-"

"-Clark, this is not like everyone else! With other people you have the...the natural defense of disbelief. Most people don't really think there are aliens living among us. Something strange happens, they're quick to find some way to rationalize it. These people are different Clark, they'll be looking for that kind of thing, odd events or behaviors."

"I can stay hidden, dad. I've had seventeen years of practice."

"Not enough to stay hidden from Pete, or even from Marsh Waeland."

Clark flinched. "That was...he's a detective. He's supposed to, you know...detect."

"He's not a detective-"

"-detective adjacent-"

"-and furthermore government agents are specifically the kinds of people we need to most fear will ever find out about you!"

Clark opened his mouth to retort, but then his jaw clamped shut. "Alright then. You've made your point."

Clark got up.

"Clark, where are you going, I'm still speaking to you!"

Clark was already at the stairs and climbing. He didn't like using super-speed in confined spaces like indoors. Mistakes could easily cause damage. But damn if he didn't feel the power trying to push on him, like the pressure of water that must exist behind the nozzle of a hose before it's opened.

"I'm going to take a shower," Clark said, "I've been laying in the grass for hours."

Clark's father rose. "Clark-"

Martha Kent's hand closed around her husband's wrist. He looked down and his face was red from the heat of an inner fire, but when he looked into her eyes he relented. He sank back down.

Martha continued to stare at him.

"What?" He couldn't meet her eyes.

"Jonathan," she said. One word.

Jonathan sighed. "I know. I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you need to say that to."

He nodded. Then he leaned forward, his head falling into his hands. He rubbed his face and ran a hand through his hair. "He just needs to be more careful."

"No one in the world is more careful, Jonathan. But things happen. You know that."

Jonathan stared at the tv, registering nothing from the buzzing screen.

"And mistakes happen. It's exhausting, lying all the time. Especially lately, I know you noticed. Ever since this Vampire thing he's been on edge, paranoid, jumping at every shadow. Clark's used to monsters of a kind, something about this is bothering him in a way he hasn't spoken about yet, if he realizes it himself."

"I'm his father...I'm supposed to protect him. From evil. From monsters."

They were silent until Martha heard the rush of water from the shower upstairs. She leaned in close to her husband to whisper. You could never be sure when Clark was listening, but she prayed he wasn't now.

"He's beyond us, Jonathan. He has been for a while now." She gripped her husband's wrist as she clenched her teeth. "We can't protect him. I don't think there's anyone in the world that can protect Clark. I don't think anyone's that strong. That's not what he needs from us."

"What then? What does he need from us?"

"Our love, I think...and our support."

The corner of Jonathan's mouth twitched. "You think?"

Martha smirked and shrugged. "Well, what can I say. We're raising an alien. I don't know that there's a handbook."


Chaos.

Chaos upon waking.

Dawn peeled her eyes open at the sound of something ceramic shattering to a billion pieces somewhere downstairs.

She groaned and flipped the cover over her head. She tried to return to her lovely dream starring young Alec Baldwin in his sailor uniform from The Hunt for Red October, but some things were too beautiful to last.

She rolled out of bed and started pushups as soon as she hit the floor. She glanced up at her clock as she did. The morning run started in five minutes.

The order in which they placed dictated the order in which they got to use the bathrooms.

Dawn jumped up and bent over her vanity to stare in the mirror.

Ready? This is it! So what if all your competitors have superhuman speed? You're not gonna let that stop you. You're Dawn Summers, you're gonna show those newbies that good old grit and determination is more important than super powers!

Dawn jumped up and jogged out the door to take her place. She'd made the decision the year past when she'd told Buffy she wanted in. In on all of her sister's world, even the horror bits. That meant learning to fight monsters.

She would never be a Slayer, but she could be one of the new Watchers, and damn if she'd let the new Watchers become like the old ones, distant and cold, uninvolved in the fights of their Slayers.

No, Dawn thought as she took her place by some 20 other girls outside the house, she was going to be in it with the Slayers, mixing it up and supporting them. Powers be damned.

Naturally she lost the race, and collapsed onto the grass heaving and thankful she hadn't eaten anything.

A shadow fell over her and she didn't need to look up to know it was Buffy.

"That was your best time yet, Dawnie."

Dawn wheezed some more. "...damn...right...it...was…"

"You know you'll never actually be able to beat a Slayer in a foot race right?"

"I know...but aim for the stars right?"

Buffy snorted. "Get up and get ready for school."

"Yeah, I'm going."

Buffy walked away. "Pack an umbrella! They say it might rain today!"

Dawn continued laying face down in the grass. "I'll be right up...any second now."

The wait for the bathroom turned out not to be so bad, since the house had several. It was still a pain but nothing compared to the special hell it had been when they'd been roaming the country or even back at the old place in Sunnydale.

Dawn finished her breakfast amid the ruckus of the 20 new Slayers yammering over each other. They were some of the rawest recruits and Dawn didn't yet have any friends among them.

But Dawn brightened at the thought of the new friends she might have at school as she slipped on her shoes and backpack, said her goodbyes to her family and headed out the door.

She passed by Willow who was spilling out an arc of golden sand in front of the door that was obviously magical as indicated by its glitteryness. The arc was surrounded by several glyphs that seemed familiar to Dawn.

"Hey, this is that spell you put up around the Magic Box those years ago. You used it to detect Glory right? You said it's alert us if anything 'hellgodishly powerful came near' or something?"

Willow smirked. "Yup. Like I told Buffy, if someone's hiding all the supernatural events in Smallville, we're talking some heavy duty mojo. Can't hurt to cover the bases."

"I guess not." Dawn hugged WIllow goodbye and left. Today she would hopefully find the new Slayer and maybe even see if anyone at school knew more about this "ghost".

Legs still burning, she made the long walk to her bus stop under the relentless sun and found Clark already there as well, leaning against a long split rail fence.

"Hey, Clark!"

Clark turned and smiled at her.

Ugh, Dawn thought, there's trouble. It was the kind of smile that could make people go all melty in the knee area if they weren't careful.

"Why is it so hot out?"

"I'm sorry Miss Summers, I'll get someone right on that."

Daw stuck her tongue out at him and leaned against the fence herself, wiping sweat from her brow with a sleeve. Her hair was going to feel damp and gross now for hours.

"It'll get cooler soon," Clark said. "Maybe it'll get too cold for you to handle, Miss L.A. Maybe you'll be begging for the heat to come back."

"We can't all have your weird mutant powers of temperature-ignoring, Clark."

"Sure you can. Just jump in vat of super cold radioactive acid or something. Isn't that how it always works in comics?"

Dawn snorted and put a hand to her brow to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun and stare down the road.

"Say, Clark. Can I ask you something?"

Clark shrugged.

"Do you know anything about this 'ghost' people are talking about?"

Clark turned to her. Dawn wasn't sure, but it seemed to her he'd grown suddenly tense.

"Who told you about the ghost?"

"Oh, you know, I just hear things."

Clark shook his head. "It's nothing. Obviously ghosts don't exist. It's a hoax. It's one of those...what do you call 'em? Cryptids. Like the Mothman or the Jersey Devil or Bigfoot. Someone maybe sees something strange, or some kids play a prank, and someone tells a story. There's not a whole lot to do in a town this small, so pretty soon everyone's got their own story of the local whatever."

Dawn nodded. That was what a Normal like Clark would say. Dawn happened to know that the Mothman was definitely real, though the Council records of the Jersey Devil were a little sketchier.

"That sounds kinda cool," Dawn said. "I mean, back in L.A. I didn't really have anything like that, a local myth everyone knew. Can you...maybe tell me more about it?"

She thought she saw Clark frown for a split second, but if he had his face returned to warm in an instant.

"Why do you want to know?"

Dawn shrugged. "No real reason, just...you know, I like that kind of stuff. Local folklore and mythologies."

"Well," he said, "I never really paid attention to the specifics. You'd have to ask someone else...speak to Chloe. She keeps track of all the odd things in Smallville. She can tell you more, if you really want to know."

A swirl of dust on the horizon caught Dawn's eye. She could just barely make out the shape of the bus coming towards them.

Clark had a rueful grin on his face. "What I can tell you, is not everyone in town calls it a ghost."

Dawn quirked an eyebrow. "Really? What else do people think it is?"

"The most popular name for it? They call it the Dust Storm Devil."

Dawn felt a crawling sensation up her spine.

And suddenly I find myself really hoping it is just a rural legend.

As it turned out, Chloe did know quite a bit about the Devil.

"Stories about it have been around for a while," she told Dawn during lunch. "I'd say at least a decade. "

Odd, Dawn thought. Ten years isn't so long for a folk tale. If it really is something supernatural, it could be a relapsing recurring thing.

"What kinda stories?"

Chloe smirked and Dawn thought she saw an enthusiastic glint bordering on mania in her new friend's eye.

"Well, the stories are kinda everywhere. If you hear people tell it, it's either the ghost of a kid who died in the meteor shower, or some kind of native land spirit that tramples crops because it's angry about the Luthorcorp plant, or it's a fire breathing demonwith a horse's head a man's torso and bird legs."

Dawn's eyes widened. "Wha...a horse's...and a bird…"

Oh boy. If this did turn out to be a real demon and not some tall tale, Dawn was not looking forward to the research she would need to do to separate fact from fiction.

"That's pretty crazy, Chloe. I mean, there must be like some common points."

Chloe's grin stretched even wider. "If we're both still single come prom, you're taking me. There are some common points. Those who call it the Ghost call it that because of the way it disappears in the blink of an eye. They claim to see a shape in the distance, then suddenly it's gone.

"It gets the name Dust Storm Devil because people say they'll see sudden dust clouds kicked up in a long trail on the horizon as if something was running across the prairies crazy fast. Some even say they see a person-shaped silhouette at the head of the dust cloud.

"Those that say it's a native spirit say they sometimes see the cornfields parting from a distance as if a strong quick wind was moving through them in a way that's totally unnatural."

Dawn frowned. "Hm, that's interesting for sure, but-"

"-ladies, how goes the lunch?"

Dawn looked up and smiled as Pete and Clark joined them.

"I was just telling Dawn about our local Bigfoot."

Pete quirked an eyebrow. He turned to Clark with a strange expression Dawn couldn't quite read.

Clark just shrugged and dug into the mashed potatoes on his tray.

Pete looked back at Dawn and studied her like he was trying to judge if she was worthy of some great secret.

"Do you know something, Pete? Oh my god you totally do." Dawn leaned forward and actually batted her eyelashes a little. "Will you tell me, pwease?"

Pete smirked, then he leaned in closer and his voice got lower. "You mean the Perro Rojo?"

Dawn blinked. "The what?"

"About a year ago Adriano Domingo and his brother snuck out at night to go dive into the quarry lake. The story goes the moon was bright that night, but a sudden storm rolled in and clouds blotted out the moonlight. The Domingo brothers kept daring each other to jump into the darkness.

"Eventually, Adriano's brother jumped in. He went down and down, Adriano heard the splash, then...silence. He called out to his brother again and again, but his brother didn't answer.

"Fearing the worst, Adriano ran down to the lake, and what he saw there haunts him to this very day."

Dawn leaned in closer, eyes wide. "What did he see?"

Pete's looked to one side, then to the other. He looked back at Dawn. "What Adriano saw, crouched over his brother's unconscious body, was an enormous, black, hound! With a body made of shadows, and eyes that glowed bright red in the darkness like blazing coals.

"Adriano knew then what it was. It was a Hellhound that had come to snatch his brother's soul away! Luckily, Adriano quickly cried out 'Madre de Dios!' and the thing vanished into the night in an instant."

Pete leaned back and shrugged. "That's the story he tells anyway."

Dawn felt a chill roll up her spine. Buffy had told Dawn about the Hellhounds Buffy herself had faced. Dawn had nightmares for a week after. "Wait...so what happened to his brother?"

"Apparently in the dark he misjudged his jump and hit his head on something on the way down and conked out. It was pretty nasty. He had to get mad stitches."

Dawn bit her lower lip. "Hold on...so, if the brother fell unconscious into the water...wouldn't he have died if the...Perro Rojo or whatever hadn't dragged him out?"

Chloe smirked and jumped back in. "Well that's one of the interesting things. We were talking about common points earlier? Well here they are. Almost all the stories agree that whatever it is, it moves really, really fast. No one agrees on what it looks like but most stories say it has a human or at least humanoid shape. I know Sarah McAnally's grandmother says it's a faerie and leaves a bowl of cream outside her door for it every morning. Mr. Schroeder uses it like a boogeyman, he told his kids it's the Erlkonig and if they're not home by dark it'll come and drag them to Hell-"

"- that's a seriously whacked thing to tell a child."

Chloe shrugged. "Some people even think it's an alien that came down in the meteor shower and has been living here secretly all this time."

Clark laughed. It was his first contribution to the conversation.

Chloe turned to glare at him.

"What? C'mon, Chloe. That one was just funny."

Chloe turned back to Dawn. "You'll have to forgive Clark. He's our resident Agent Scully."

"First of all, who wouldn't want to be Scully? She's the best-"

"-Clark, you can't pretend weird things aren't happening after all you've seen-"

"- second, just because weird things sometimes happen doesn't mean the explanation is always weird. Someone's gotta keep us honest or next thing we're all on the gas and no one's on the brakes. I just like to make sure we consider all the angles."

"Whatever, Clark. We already know what you think about the ghost-"

"-that it's all malarkey, possibly even hogwash-"

"-fine. Let's see what more sensible heads have to say." Chloe turned slightly and waved.

Dawn saw her catch the attention of a slender girl with straight dark hair and a narrow, elven face. The girl smiled at them and walked over with a tray of her own and sat next to Chloe.

"Hey guys." The girl and Clark exchanged an awkward smile and quickly broke eye contact. She reached a hand out to Dawn. "Hey, you must be Dawn Summers."

Dawn shook it with a smile of her own. "Which must make you Lana Lang. The one member of this little crew I haven't met yet."

"That's me. Have they been talking about me behind my back?"

"Of course, they've told me all about your secret deviousness and general scandal-ry."

Lana gasped and let her mouth hang open. "The fools! Only one recourse now. Everybody here must be silenced."

Dawn snorted and spooned some sour apple jello into her mouth. From her peripheral she noticed Clark had been gazing at Lana pretty much the whole time, but whenever Lana would turn towards him he would turn away.

Interesting.

Dawn and Lana did the intro thing and then Dawn let her presence fade and watched the four old friends discuss this and that. She made some notes. Of the four, Clark and Lana were definitely the more reserved. Chloe and Pete did most of the talking and led the conversations. Dawn was also pretty sure there was some weird triangle action with Lana,Chloe, and Clark, and that also maybe Pete was involved somehow.

Great, Dawn thought, more drama for this mama.

Lana seemed nice, if a little self-involved. She had a tendency to steer conversations toward how they related to her own problems.

Pete was the jokester, always quick and able to read the flow of things. He reminded Dawn of Xander.

Chloe was sharp and to the point, always looking for hidden truths, always trying to cut to the heart of them with the subtlety of a bone saw.

Clark...Clark was something strange. Dawn sometimes got the sense that he was deliberately obfuscating a point, finding skillful ways to avoid saying anything while still speaking. He didn't seem to be lying, but Dawn couldn't shake this feeling, like every time he spoke, she was only getting half the story, and the rest was hidden somewhere just outside the frame.

It was a deeply familiar feeling, sitting here on the outside. Watching the laughter of a group of tight knit friends who were right in front of her, but seemed miles away.

Clark looked up at her at Dawn froze. Just for a second she thought she saw something in the boy's eye. The glint of insight.

He saw something just now, about me. Something in my eyes was exposed and he understood it.

But the shine was gone in an instant, replaced by the usual warmth. Had she imagined it?

Clark grinned at her. "I see you start with your desert."

Dawn's spoon loudly scraped the bottom of her empty plastic jello cup. "Some people say you should save the best for last, but that's silly to me. What if you get struck by lightning or stabbed to death in an alley? You'll have missed out on the best parts of life."

Chloe snorted, but Lana stared at her with wide eyes.

"Unfortunately for you," Clark said, "you've neither been struck by lightning nor stabbed. Now you have to make it through the...I think it's supposed to be meatloaf, and you don't even have your jello to look forward too."

"You're right, Clark. I don't have my jello to look forward to." Dawn held up a translucent plastic cup filled with green jello, the foil lid firmly sealed over the top. "I have Pete's."

Pete blinked and looked down at his tray. "Hey!"

The table had a laugh at Pete's expense and Pete even let her keep her prize, which she just began eating immediately anyway in disregard of Clark's advice.

"Oh," Chloe said, "that reminds me. We were talking about the ghost."

Dawn noticed Lana become very still.

"As I was saying, Dawn, lots of different stories have it as either helpful or harmful. When Billy Thornsten fell asleep in his fishing cabin with a lit cigarette in his hand and set it on fire, he swears that right before he passed out from smoke inhalation, something shadowy in the shape of a person with glowing red eyes broke through a flaming wall and pulled him out of the cabin. On the other hand, Joe Uelsmann said that he saw a black shape run past his field a few nights before his herd hand an outbreak of mad cow disease."

Dawn crossed her arms in thought. "Hm. Well, what do you think it is? Is it of the good or of the bad?"

Chloe shrugged. "Why not both. I personally think it might actually be an alien. Why should we expect an alien to follow our logic? Maybe it has it's own reasons for sometimes protecting and sometimes destroying."

"I don't even think it exists," Clark said.

"Ditto," Pete added.

Dawn turned to Lana. "What about you?"

Lana gave a tight, thin smile. "Oh...I'm not sure you want to ask me about that...I have some complicated feelings about it."

Dawn sat up, intrigued. "Well, if you're not comfortable...but I think I'd like your opinion if you're feeling share-y."

Lana bit her lip, looked around to make sure no one else was watching. She turned to Chloe. "How much did you tell her...about…"

Chloe shrugged. "She knows, I gave her the scoop on meteor mutants yesterday."

Lana nodded and turned to Dawn.

"I should be dead," Lana said.

The total certainty in her voice sent chills down Dawn's spine.

"I've had so many thing happen to me," Lana said. "Not just attacks, but accidents. Times when I should have died, but...something always happens. I can't explain it, and I can't say anything specifically I've ever seen happen. But there's a rational limit to luck. Something, or someone has been protecting me, I'm sure of it. And not just me."

Lana turned to look at Chloe, who hugged her arms around her stomach and seemed to be remembering something.

"We all have something like that," Lana continued. "The people at this table, probably everyone in the school and in town. A time when something terrible should have happened, but was stopped somehow, in a way that didn't really make any sense. A fire goes out suddenly. A car crash victim wakes up yards from the wreck without a scratch, A collapsing beam suddenly veers off course…"

Dawn glanced at Chloe. The girl met her eyes and shrugged, but it didn't quite manage to come off as nonchalant. "I never really thought about it like that before in those terms...but she's right. I can remember things like that happening to me too."

Lana pulled some of her long hair behind an ear. "I've never seen it, these shapes or these glowing eyes or whatever that people keep talking about. I don't know what it is or anything...all I know is, in Smallville, when people scream for help, help usually comes."

Dawn looked out the giant window at the blue sky. There was grey on the horizon, a dark mass gathering in the distance.

Storm's rolling in.

Dawn turned to Pete. "What about you? Have any moments like that?"

Pete stared at her, then looked to Clark for some reason, but Clark was pushing some corn around on his tray. Pete turned back to her. "Maybe."

Dawn turned to Clark. "And you, Clark?"

Clark looked up at her and grinned bashfully. Dawn felt the sudden inappropriate urge to make him whitewash a picket fence.

"Well, I'm just kinda lucky," Clark said, "I'm almost never in any danger."

Not long after, the lunch bell rang, and they all got up and started making their way to classes. Clark walked with Dawn after the others had gone their own ways."

"What Lana said," he started, "proves this thing doesn't exist."

Dawn frowned. "How so?"

Clark didn't look at her, and he walked a bit faster, so she was stuck looking at the back of his head.

"If there really was someone out there protecting people, there wouldn't be so many terrible things happening."

Dawn adjusted her backpack as she followed after Clark. For some reason, she really wanted to see the face he had at that moment.


Pete followed Clark into his house.

"Mom," Clark said, "I need you to cover for Pete with his parents."

Martha Kent glanced up from leaks she was dicing.

Clark bounded toward the kitchen counter. He reached out for the keys to the truck that lay there, stopped with fingers outstretched nearly touching them.

He turned to her. "You guys don't need the truck today right?

"Why?"

Clark pointed out the window over the kitchen sink.

Martha looked out at the slate sky.

"Storm's here," Clark said. "So that means Supersonic Practice."

Martha frowned. "Well...be careful."

"Always."

Clark snatched up the keys and flew out the door.

Pete ran right behind him and whooped as he rushed around to the passenger side and Clark popped the driver's door open and hopped in.

Clark started the car.

"Wait! Binoculars?"

"Check under the car seat."

Pete bent down and reached under the seat. Sure enough, they were still there.

The two set off, Clark took the opportunity to tell Pete what he'd learned about Dawn's family.

"Wow, so they're like...some secret tribe of Amazons or something?"

"Pretty much."

"That's crazy hot."

"I'm sure I'll see the appeal once they're less of a threat to my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."

"Why? They hunt monsters, doesn't that put you guys on the same side?"

"Maybe…my dad said some stuff. These guys, I don't know them. They don't know me. But it's not hard to imagine what kind of wrong conclusion a group of monster hunters might jump to if they ran into an alien living secretly amid humans."

"Well, I guess. What are you going to do then?"

Clark shrugged. "No clue. My dad wants me to steer clear…maybe he's right."

"That might get hard, what with you both chasing after vampires."

Clark turned to look out his window. "Yeah, I guess it could be."

Pete stared at his best friend. He knew that look. "What'cha thinkin', Clark?"

"Nothing."

"Clark."

"We shouldn't stay out too long. This one's gonna be a doozy. I swear I can smell it."

Pete stared at his friend's profile. Clark kept his eyes firmly on the road.

Pete turned away and looked at the black clouds. Times like these were hard, times when he was reminded that the friend he had known almost his whole life had become a far away existence as soon as the truth was revealed.

When the monsters and the maniacs came calling, when disaster struck, where could Pete Ross be? Where everyone else always was, waiting around for Clark Kent to solve the problem.

When it was important, when it really mattered, the life and death stuff, Pete couldn't do anything. No one could, no one but Clark.

But maybe now…

Pete realized what was on his friend's mind.

Pete coughed to clear his throat. "You know...maybe you won't have to do anything."

Pete saw Clark's grip stiffen. "Oh?"

"Yeah. I mean...these guys are like, professional monster hunters, right? Maybe, for once, a problem around here doesn't need to be your problem. Maybe they'll take care of it."

Clark smirked. "Let the adults handle it?"

"These ones aren't like poor Dep. Waeland or the other cops. They're pros, specialists."

"Pete, Pete, Pete, haven't you ever seen a movie? Adults are useless." Clark still smiled, but his fingers tightened on the steering wheel so much Pete was sure he'd bend it out of shape.

Pete let it drop, and they drove way out to the abandoned field they used on the edge of town.

The thunder had already started and the wind had picked up. Just about perfect.

Pete took his place on a tall hill nearby and his friend ran out to the middle of the grassy field, so far out he was just a dot on the horizon until Pete put the binoculars to his eyes.

He watched Clark bend down to a runner's start and snorted. His friend was being theatrical.

Suddenly, Clark was gone from Pete's sight, and Pete heard a sound like a giant car engine misfiring, but would probably be mistaken for thunder by anyone nearby.

Clark became a streak across the horizon, a trail of grass, dirt and vapor spiraling out behind him.

There a moment, going the next, gone in the third.

That sound was why Pete was up on the hill. Too close and the sonic booms could do serious damage to his hearing.

Pete swiveled to look at the post his friend had marked for the turn and almost missed it. Clark shot past it. Pete couldn't quite see, but he could imagine his friend's frantic attempts to stop his own momentum.

Pete's binoculars caught up with Clark just in time for his friend to trip and go skipping across the ground like a stone across a pond. Pete snickered as Clark bounced out of sight.

Still more work to do on turns over the speed of sound. The next two hours were spent like that, with Clark running around through a series of marked posts at different speeds and trying to control the turns and the stops. Pete shuddered to think that if his friend so much as brushed someone at those speeds...splatter paint.

Or even much lower. Really anything over forty miles an hour and Clark would basically kill anyone he touched.

If speed were all there was too it, that would certainly be the case, but his friend's powers were the result of something far stranger. Clark had explained to Pete his theory once, though Pete had only partially understood it.

"You see," Clark had said, "it's not running the way you run. You run by pushing yourself off the ground and the counter force of the ground pushing back on you moves you forward. We know that's not what happens to me because the force I'd need to exert on the ground to move as fast as I do would crater the ground with each step. Not to mention I'd go flying through the air like a grasshopper every step I took, instead of running cleanly on the ground the way I do.

"It must be something else, something not related to the mechanical force of muscles, and I also don't shoot fire or anything out of my butt like a jet. It has to be some kind of force that acts directly on my body and propels me, like a projectile being launched by a magnetic field from a rail gun. That's why I always stay on the ground even when I go over hills, or why I can turn or stop on a dime against my own momentum. This same force is probably responsible for my strength and durability too."

Apparently it was difficult, Clark had once described it as "trying to move your arms and legs using only your abs", but not impossible for Clark to extend this force to things he touched.

This let him do things like touch and move objects and people at tremendous speeds without just obliterating them, or lifting objects that should have been impossible due to his relative size without them breaking under their own weight.

But again, it was hard, and needed a lot of practice.

Pete winced as Clark accidentally decapitated a practice scarecrow while trying to move it at high speed. Still, he was getting better. At least half the scarecrows had survived this time.

Finally, Clark made his way back and collapsed in front of Pete panting and gasping.

"So," Pete said, crouching over his prone friend, "want me to drive?"

Clark made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a groan, and Pete laughed. He helped his friend up and half carried him to the passenger side of the truck.

Clark got in. "When I get home just drop me on the doorstep. I don't have the energy to make it to my bed."

Pete snorted as he got into the driver's seat and fiddled with the various settings until he was satisfied.

Lighting flashed as they drove to Clark's house.

Clark levered the passenger seat back and closed his eyes, taking several long breaths as Pete drove. Pete thought his friend had fallen asleep until he heard him mutter something.

"Hm? What's that?"

"Is it wrong?" Clark asked.

"What?"

"Is it wrong that I want to? I want to just leave it to someone else."

Pete looked at his friend, hunched forward and small like bullets wouldn't bounce right off his skin.

Pete tried to imagine it, to be responsible for the lives of everyone around him, to know that people would live or die based on his actions and decisions.

"Nah," Pete said. "I don't think it's wrong."


"This," Buffy said, arms stretched to either side to indicate the whole cemetery, "is basically gonna be your home away from home. I suggest getting real comfortable-ish with graveyards."

Twenty Slayer recruits and Dawn stood in file with rapt attention. Buffy remembered when that kind of attention terrified her. Now? Another day on the job.

"So, here's the deal for the day. Two groups of ten. Slayers vs Vampires. You'll be split into doubles, and I'll be assigning Dawn to a pod randomly to simulate a helpless citizen-"

"-hey!"

"And sometimes a New Watcher."

A peal of thunder rang out and several of the trainees looked up.

Buffy smirked. "What? You think I ever got out of a patrol because of a little rain-athon? Guess again. 'Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop us from killin' monsters', that's us but way snazzier dressers...it's not all bad news though. The five doubles with the best performance tonight will be going on the first field trip to Metropolis."

That got their attention. If only Giles had tried to motivate her with visits to the shopping capital of the western hemisphere she would have become Super Slayer in no time.

"Well then, let's begin."


The rain poured down. Not in a few slow drops, but all at once in a dark cataract of blackness.

The "Vampire" Katie Baek rolled on the ground. She heard the thud of her opponent's blunt stake right behind her.

She threw her hands back onto the grass and pushed herself to her feet. Her heightened reflexes screamed at her and she cartwheeled aside as he opponent tried to sweep her legs.

She kept flipping away to get some distance. She came up panting, heart hammering, eyes straining to see through the veil of night and rain.

She grunted in frustration and felt hot tears behind her eyes. No, that wasn't her anymore.

She glanced to the side and saw Buffy there, pacing, watching. Before Buffy and the others, Katie had been a withered violet. Too meek to protect herself or her little brother from their mother's wrath.

But now she had power and purpose, Buffy had given it to her and shown her how to use it. When she was strong as Buffy was, she would go back and rescue her brother.

She couldn't let Buffy down here. She couldn't let her brother down. She couldn't let herself down.

A flash of lightning illuminated the two Slayers that moved to flank her. Her partner was grumbling to one side, having already been eliminated. Katie risked a quick look over her shoulder. The iron fence marking the cemetery's border was only ten yards away. She remembered something Buffy had said.

"You're not competing, and a vamp isn't gonna bow or have honor or anything. In the real world, fights get dirty fast. Get there first. Win, whatever it takes.

Whatever it takes.

Thunder clapped.

Katie turned and ran. Her new speed devoured the distance in a moment and Katie got that soaring feeling she always got. Such incredible power.

She couldn't sense the pursuit, her taking off had startled her opponents apparently, Katie wished she'd planned that but it was luck. She specifically noted Buffy not saying anything about having to stay in the area, though no one else had tried to run.

One leap took her clean over the fence. She rolled into her landing as she heard Buffy snapping at the other two.

"Fair? You think vamps fight fair? It's innocent blood on your hands if you let her escape."

Katie sprinted across the field, wind and rain blowing in her face. Nothing but open grassland here. She couldn't run forever.

Another flash of lightning.

There, to the side she saw one of the town's many corn fields. Katie rushed for it, rand into it.

Ah!

Something cut her. Many somethings.

The corn stalks sliced every part of her exposed flesh with almost hungry efficiency.

Damn! Who knew corn stalks had such sharp leaves? It's like getting a thousand paper cuts.

Katie charged on. Let her pursuers follower her into this forest of green knives. She dared them.

She shot through more corn stalks when a sudden shadow materialized in front of her. Another person

Crap!

She tried to stop. Too late. Too much momentum. She slammed into them.

They both went rolling.

"Gah!" Katie cried out as she rolled off crushed corn stalks. Her thousand little wounds all burned at once. Katie hissed.

Corn fields. Never again.

"Hey," Katie called to the prone figure. "Hey you okay?"

She heard a masculine groan. "Ow."

"Sorry! Ohmigosh I'm so sorry! I was just...running, and I...are you okay?"

In the darkness she could see the man sit up. "Yeah, I'm alright. You really shouldn't be running at night you know, especially through corn fields."

Katie sighed in relief and then chuckled. "Yeah, you're right. My bad."

Katie started to get up but the sparring and the intense flight had drained her

Maybe I'll just sit like this for a few minutes. With a Norm here the match is off. I wonder if I won this one.

She heard the rustle of stalks and looked up to see the shadow had gotten on his hands and knees and crawled closer to her.

The man took a deep breath and sighed in rapture. "Can you smell that?"

Katie felt a strange crawling on her skin. She started to get up.

"You're bleeding."

Lightning flashed.

Katie saw his face.

She died screaming.

Her blood glistened on the red blades of the corn stalks. The rain washed it down into the mud where it began to seep into the earth, there to feed the fields.