Disclaimer: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is owned by UPN and/or Mutant Enemy and/or Fox and/or Joss Whedon. "Smallville" is owned by DC Comics and/or the WB and/or Millar & Gough and/or Tollin & Robbins. "Superman" was invented by Shuster & Siegel. I don't own any of the characters. I'm just fooling around. Please don't sue.

Acknowledgements: This would never have been written except that Amchau and Meowmie beta-read the previous one and said, "But! It's not finished!" ButterflyKiki seemed to agree with them. Thank you so much to Celli for beta-reading it!

Twelve Minutes to Twelve Hours

A Sequel to "World of Perpetual Wednesday, World Without Superman"

By LastScorpion

Splash of green light, and the world changed. She *loved* that color, pure green energy of dimensions slipping by, had ever since the first time she saw it, in the basement Independent Research Lab at Met. U. Junior Year.

She'd never steered it with her own blood before, traveled the universes on her own power like that. It was almost unspeakably cool.

Not to mention? Pinpoint accuracy. She popped into her own lab just in time to see her own self (well, her own self from five days ago) entering with an apple and a clipboard. Absolutely dead on the money.

"Good morning," Dawn greeted her counterpart.

The other Dawn Summers looked up. She looked startled, but not all *that* startled. She didn't even drop her apple, just stopped chewing for a moment and swallowed fast. Then she exclaimed, "Oh, my God! I *knew* this would happen! Well, not really knew, but I always *thought* this might happen! You're me from another dimension! Where are you from? This is so cool!"

Dawn had to laugh at her earlier self's reaction. "Sorry," she said. "I know it's cool -- seeing *you* is cool! But I'm really just you from about four or five days in the future. Well, not *the* future so much as *a* future."

The other Dawn's enthusiasm was undimmed. "That's so cool!" she repeated. "But -- why are you here? Did something go horribly wrong?"

"Well, *yeah*," Dawn told her other self.

The other Dawn exhibited no surprise. She sat down at her desk, offering her visitor the other chair, and took out a spiral notebook and a pencil. "Shoot," she said.

Dawn smiled.

Dawn smiled back.

***

Dawn vanished in a flash of pure, green energy, leaving Buffy all alone with a basement full of equipment she didn't understand.

"Goodbye," Buffy said.

She kept telling herself that wasn't *her* sister. Her sister was gone already, five years ago. She'd *done* her crying for Dawn; she didn't need to cry any more. Even so, tears kept threatening as she geared up and headed out.

Twelve minutes to twelve hours, that's what that version of Dawn had said. Buffy owed it to her, and to Lex and Alexander, to patrol the Hellmouth tonight. If anyone came back, she didn't want them to have to face any monsters or anything alone.

Even though she was pretty sure no one was coming back, she still owed it to them.

***

The two Dawns liked their tea the same way; they finished each other's thoughts and sentences; they understood each other's plans and schematics like no one else ever had. Naturally, they both found the same things funny.

"Superman is Clark Kent?" Dawn's laugh was heartfelt and contagious. Before they knew it, they were both laughing like fools. The giggle-fit gradually died down to grins and near-telepathic eye-rolls.

"Superman is Clark Kent," Dawn confirmed. I did a bunch of research in the World-Without-Superman dimension. Also, there were two versions of Lex Luthor....

"The senator from Kansas?" the other interrupted.

"Yes! But these guys were -- one was a criminal mastermind, okay? And the other was a total recluse. Both richer than Croesus, and they'd both made their own transdimensional portals!"

"So how come Senator Luthor isn't a mad scientist?"

Dawn smiled. "Who knows? There's so much stuff that can turn out different, every time. That Buffy's Dawn was killed by the Gorevanor...."

"Because there was no Superman," Dawn finished. "Well, that could be one of the big differences. Clark Kent and Lex Luthor have been friends forever, haven't they?"

"In our world, yeah. But the hermit version of Luthor had never met him, and the crook and him only exchange Christmas cards. Lex still said Clark was his 'dearest friend', though. Neither of them was exactly 'How to Make Friends and Influence People' material; maybe our world's Clark was more persistent or something, a better friend, maybe that's the difference. Anyhow, the important part, is...."

"Don't let Clark use the Stable Steerable Transdimensional Portal."

"Exactly. Do you think you'll have any trouble stopping him?"

"Clark Kent?" Dawn made a scornful sound. "No. I'll take a couple of parts out and stash them, just in case he gets carried away and tries to use it all by himself, but I'm pretty sure I can handle Clark."

"I know. Guess I'll be heading back then."

"Back? I was wondering how you were going to handle the duplication. If we were going to rig up a fake birth certificate, and be twins, or something."

"I'm going back. That Buffy's all alone. Her Dawn's dead; her Giles is dead; her Xander's a drunk, and Willow's...."

"Occupied with stuff. And girls."

"I guess that's always the same."

"Much like the age of her girlfriends."

Dawn and Dawn traded identical eye-rolls, then chuckled.

"Well," Dawn said, getting up from the spare office chair, "I should be going. I'm taking this trip on blood-magic, and I'm not a hundred percent sure it'll work if the blood dries out too much."

"Oooh! Key-ish!" the other Dawn exclaimed. "Can I see the doodad?"

Two identical shiny brown heads bent over the enchanted, wire-wrapped crystal with its bloodstained point. They discussed its construction for a moment; then the Dawn who hadn't been dimension-skipping suddenly said, "Oh!" and opened up a desk drawer.

"Good idea!" the other Dawn exclaimed, as the first one brought out some little wax-lined vials.

"I have this idea for a transdimensional communications device...." one Dawn began.

"I know!" the other answered. They both laughed, and busied themselves with vials and sharp fingernails. Each woman gave the other a sample of her blood.

"Whoever comes up with a workable communicator first, call!" the Dawn who was staying declared.

"Absolutely! Good luck with Superman!" Dawn stabbed her finger with the pointed crystal, and disappeared in a flash of green light.

***

They'd all been gone for nearly seven hours. Buffy had been checking her watch. It was almost two in the morning. If it were an ordinary night, she'd be heading home by now. She kept checking her watch and watching the skies.

To keep warm, and avoid going completely insane, she patrolled, just short little casts radially outward from the Hellmouth. She'd go ten minutes out and ten minutes back, and she only found one vampire in all that time.

Sometimes it just all seemed useless. Sometimes she didn't know what it seemed like. Did she really remember a time, another life, when she'd cried to Giles that she didn't see the point in her sacred duty if those were the choices, if everything just got stripped away? Everything did get stripped away. No matter what the choices were, everything always got stripped away. When there was nothing left, when you thought there was nothing left to lose, there was always something else. And what remained was always just her, her and her duty.

Hank had a song he used to listen to, a boring song, repetitive enough that she still remembered it even though she hadn't seen her father in more than ten years, and hadn't had any word from him in at least seven. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose; nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free." Maybe that's why he left them all behind. Maybe nothing was what he needed to be free. Maybe they had a lot in common. Maybe she'd never, never know.

"Want, take, have," had been Faith's motto. She'd lived with gusto, and redeemed herself for her sins, and died like a Slayer should die -- fighting hard. A new Slayer had been Called at Faith's death, the first one after the big problem with the First Evil, keeping the total number worldwide at thirteen. Buffy often felt like a leftover, a remnant, outside the norm of normal life, and outside the norm for Slayers. She'd died twice; the third time would be the charm, she reckoned. Mystical texts and traditions, according to Wesley's and Willow's researches, dictated a dozen Slayers under the new power structure that they'd established with that big Axe Spell. When Buffy died the second time, no one was Called. She wasn't a real Slayer. She didn't have a Watcher. She didn't wander the world, battling evil in all its forms, fighting prophesied catastrophes at the Council's direction. She just kept a lid on the Hellmouth, killed a few vamps and demons, watched over the First Evil. When she fought an Apocalypse, it was in an ad hoc manner. No one planned for her. No one researched on her behalf.

Sometimes Buffy felt like her motto would be, "Want, get, lose." Whenever she thought there was nothing left to lose, somehow there was more to be lost. It had gotten to the point where she was almost afraid to want anything. She'd lost Dawn once *already*, and now she'd gone again, and Buffy wanted her to come back so much -- way more than she should; she knew it. And if she did come back, then what? Wouldn't she just be something to lose again?

The Luthors, too, both of them. How long had it been since she'd let herself want a boy? She hadn't had a "steady" since Spike, which was a freaky, scary thought. She'd stopped casually sleeping around, not because of any great and terrible thing that happened, but just gradually, because it got so dreary. It was eventually just not worth it to try to connect with some guy, when it could never be anything more than physical; she couldn't share her secrets or even her thoughts with guys she picked up in bars. Even on a purely physical level, the vast majority of them were just disappointing. Things were disappointing enough without all that trouble. Not picking up boys led to not ogling boys and almost not thinking about boys.

She felt old. Slayers weren't supposed to get old.

That was ten minutes -- time to turn back towards the wreckage of the High School. No flash of light yet. She checked her watch again; it was 3:11 am. She sighed, absent-mindedly twirled her sword, and then headed back to search the Hellmouth again.

***

Alexander's double from the future said, "Go. Gather up all the ready cash you have in the apartment. Leave everything else behind, and I'll give you your chance."

Alexander didn't know what to think. It was a brand new occurrence, completely unexpected; he had no plan for this. He had to make a decision all at once, from scratch. So he did.

The apartment had three separate hiding places, dating back to when Alexander's Mother had been alive. She'd always been just a little bit nervous about money; there were hidden supplies of cash, gold and gemstones. "In case of emergency," she'd always said.

She'd been dead for fifteen years. The money had never been of any use in their emergencies.

Alexander gathered it all, and hurried back to his visitor.

"Jab yourself in the finger with the sharp end of the crystal," the other instructed, handing Alexander a little rock-and-wire assembly.

Alexander nervously accepted the magic crystal from his doppelganger. The other man looked and sounded just like him, but he carried himself with more confidence than Alexander had ever felt. He was dressed in clothes that Alexander had never owned, would never have worn. Alexander didn't know why he should trust him, but he did.

Alexander summoned all his nerve and stabbed himself in the finger. Wait, was there blood on that point already? Alexander felt a little faint, but resolutely followed through with the action.

There was a blinding flash of green light.

Then suddenly he was outside, in pitch darkness, and cold. He took a step and stumbled. The ground was covered with wreckage. As his eyes gradually became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out some scorched lumber and broken concrete and steel, stark in the unfamiliar dim light of the distant stars.

"Where am I?" Alexander wondered aloud.

"In a bad place," came the answer.

Alexander whipped around, barely able to keep his footing on the jagged rubble. There were three figures behind him -- how did they get so close? Why hadn't he heard them? They surged forward at him; he jerked back and fell. It hurt, but (Pam had always said it was important to look on the bright side) it made his attackers miss him.

From this close, even in the dark, he could tell they were vampires. Real vampires!

Alexander rolled and scrambled. Somehow, he managed to regain his feet. He really wished he'd thought this through a little better -- he should have brought a cross, or at least a stake. He got his back against a shattered chunk of concrete and yelled for help.

A girl's voice said, "Oh, *there* you guys are. I've been looking all over for you!" The vampires turned around in obvious dismay. Starlight glittered off a sword's edge. Almost faster than Alexander could see, the vampires were all beheaded, and puffed away into dust.

"Wow," he breathed.

"Hey, Alexander!" the Slayer (for it must be she) greeted him. "Glad to see you again!"

***

"Hey, Supes. What a surprise. Come on in," Dawn greeted the Man of Steel.

Superman looked a little surprised at her casual acceptance of his presence outside her open window. After all, Dr. Summers's laboratory was on the third floor, and he wasn't often seen in England. He quickly composed himself, however, and floated in.

"Dr. Summers. My sources in the scientific community inform me that you have succeeded in building a device with which one may travel to different times and worlds."

Dawn negligently waved her half-eaten apple in his direction and said, "Uh huh. Have a seat?"

Superman adjusted his cape and perched tentatively on the office chair she indicated to him.

"With your assistance, Dr. Summers, and with your remarkable invention, I can save my home planet."

Dawn gave him a skeptical look she'd learned from Spike.

"The planet Krypton was destroyed by an extraordinary cataclysm nearly twenty-five years ago. The respected astronomer, Virgil Swann, has supplied me with the following coordinates." Superman deposited several sheets of paper on Dawn's desk. She wondered where the heck the pockets were on that outfit. "You will use them and your device to send me back in time and space, so that I can save my people and my planet."

Dawn just looked at him for a minute. As soon as he started fidgeting a tiny bit, she could see it. "Oh my God. You really *are* Clark Kent."

Superman drew himself up even taller in his chair, and his voice was a good half-octave lower when he replied, "No, I'm not."

Dawn rolled her eyes at him. "Right. Nice outfit, Clark. Also? No way are you using my SSTP to go back in time to Krypton."

"You can't deny me the chance to save my people!"

"Sure I can. It's my doohickey."

"Why would you condemn an entire race of innocent people to an untimely death? How could you be so evil?"

"Evil?" Dawn scoffed. "Please! You don't know from evil, Blue-Boy. Let me tell you something, Clark. The Kryptonians were grown-ups, responsible for themselves. They knew what was happening...."

"How can you say that?" he squawked. Now he sounded more like Clark.

"Your original parents knew, right? They figured it out and sent you to safety, or so says Lois Lane. If they knew, other people should have known. Even if you went back there, they probably wouldn't let you help. Y'know, it's a hard and thankless job to help people who refuse to admit they're even in trouble. Also, it gets you killed a lot."

"And what does a physicist know about that?" Oh, he definitely sounded like Clark, now. Dawn smiled at him.

"More than you'd think. Would you like to have dinner with me?"

"What?"

"C'mon, Clark. I owe you dinner; I have ever since I missed that chance to go out with you freshman year."

Clark looked confused for a minute; then finally a smile crept over his face.

"There you are!" Dawn exclaimed, grinning back at him. "You probably want to change before we go out anywhere, though."

Clark shook his head, and the smile disappeared. "No! I have to save the planet Krypton!"

Dawn rolled her eyes at him and tossed her shiny brown hair. Clark's eyes followed her every move, and she laughed a little. "Tell you what, Fly-boy. Get dressed; have dinner with me, and you can *try* to talk me into it."

He didn't look convinced yet, so she trotted out her old pal, logic.

"It's a time-machine, Clark. It's not like you're in any hurry."

That got a laugh, and she knew she'd won.

***

Somehow Buffy'd missed the flash of light; maybe there wasn't one when you bamphed in with the magic Dawn's-blood recall thingie. Anyhow, there were some vamps, attacking Alexander, and then there were a bunch of big piles of dust, and Alexander getting up from the wreckage.

"Hey, Alexander!" Buffy greeted him. "Glad to see you again!"

"Buffy Summers," he breathed, and darted a nervous tongue out to touch his lip. "The Slayer."

Buffy was confused for a second, but then she noticed that Alexander was wearing the soft black suit with the lavender shirt, and she knew that this wasn't absolutely exactly the same guy she'd known for the past few days. She felt a sudden disappointment, but she told herself that was dumb. After all, this was the same guy she'd met, and they'd ended up getting along great -- it wasn't any worse than somebody losing four days of memory, really.

"You're..." Alexander started. He swallowed. "Are you okay?" he asked.

She gave him a nice sunny smile. "Yeah. I'm fine. Grab a stake, would you?" She gestured at the rubble, then unfastened the chain around her own neck and handed him her plain aluminum cross. "Cross, useful."

He took it and ducked his head. Even Slayer senses weren't enough to tell if he blushed, but it seemed likely. "Thank you," he whispered. "I'm sorry I didn't think. I should have brought something."

"Don't worry about it. There don't seem to be that many out tonight, and the sun'll be up in --" She checked her watch, "about two more hours."

Alexander stuck right to Buffy's side as she patrolled around the ruins of the school. Eventually the silence seemed to get to him, because he started talking. "You're really, you're Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? And this is the Hellmouth?"

"Hell Central. Right here. Buried beneath the scenic remains of Sunnydale High."

"The First Evil? It's still trapped? Here?"

"Yup," Buffy replied briefly. Speaking of, she gave him a little poke on the shoulder. He only looked startled for an instant. Work was going to be hell tomorrow. She wished she knew for sure whether anybody else was going to show up tonight. A couple hours sleep was sounding pretty damn good. She *was* getting old.

"Um, Buffy?" Alexander asked. He'd wordlessly followed her out of the wreckage and out onto the street on one of her ten-minute diversion hunts.

"Mmm?" she replied. Was that --? Nope. Just a cat.

"What's going on?" he asked mildly, and without giving her any sense that he felt he deserved an answer. She looked at him. He looked kinda lost.

"Right. 'Cause you're not really him -- the you that was here before." Alexander didn't look particularly confused, so she went on. "Okay, no guarantees for accuracy -- of all the people here, I'm the one that wasn't a big brain."

Alexander made some vague little "oh no, I'm sure you're as smart as anyone" noises, which she ignored.

"As far as I can tell, the story was this: in you guys' worlds there's a Champion of some sort called Superman. This Superman came to Dawn...."

"The Key," Alexander interjected.

"My sister," Buffy corrected him, with a Look. "Superman came to Dawn with a plan -- he wanted to use her time-and-space machine to go back and save his planet. They did a thing, to try to make it so that wouldn't, like, totally screw up the world, but of course *that* didn't work, so Dawn got dumped here at the Hellmouth, in *this* world. Where there is no Superman. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, Criminal Mastermind...."

Alexander dropped his stake and cross with a clatter. Buffy waited for him to pick them up. Then she resumed walking and talking. "Lex Luthor, another universe version of you, was working on another time-space dimension thingie to get rid of Superman. I guess he kept thwarting him or something. So he ended up here, too. And you...."

"I've also been working on a dimensional shifting device."

"Right. So I guess it was some big Concatenation of Circumstances, which happen here a lot. Two Al Luthors, one spare Dawn...."

"Spare? Where's...?"

"Dead. My Dawn and this world's Lex Luthor, both."

Alexander stumbled again. Buffy considered keeping to the sidewalks. She didn't want to miss Dawn if she showed, though, so she just slowed down in compromise.

"What did I, did he...?"

"How'd you die?"

Alexander silently nodded.

"Your car went off a bridge. In Kansas. My Dawn was killed by a demon. Kansas, too. It's apparently the Superman State, Kansas."

"That makes sense," Alexander ventured. "I have reason to believe that Superman's secret identity is...."

"Clark Kent, guy from Kansas. Works in Metropolis."

"Yes," Alexander confirmed quietly, looking even a little more deflated that his big news wasn't.

"So. You -- the other you -- and the *other* other you, and Dawnie -- the other Dawn, I mean -- you guys all put your heads together and built a dimensional thingie in my basement, and you all went on home, to try to fix it, in your worlds anyhow, so that Superman would exist. I don't know for sure what that does to this world here, where he doesn't. But Dawn can do magic, too, and she set you all up with little crystal-and-blood gizmos in case you needed to come back. So that's what I'm doing here on the Hellmouth all night, instead of getting some sleep like someone who's not a total nutjob. Waiting in case anybody comes back." Buffy felt tired and grumpy. It wasn't Alexander's fault, though, so she tried not to take it out on him. Also, it was finally hitting her that this night's work might very well mean the end of her world.

***

A world without Superman -- that was what he'd jumped into. Without looking ahead, heedlessly, on the word of someone he didn't know at all, Alexander had hazarded his life on the venture, and this was what he'd found. He found it hard to believe that he'd been so reckless, but it was oddly freeing.

"So, there's no Superman here?" he asked the woman at his side.

"Nope." She looked tired and thin. He thought the sky was brightening.

"The world's continued existence is ensured only by the Slayers and Watchers."

"Just like it has been forever, actually. Except we have more Slayers now and not as many Watchers."

"Because of the Mad Preacher Caleb's Massacre of the Watcher's Council."

Buffy looked at him dubiously. "If that's what you want to call it, yeah."

Alexander swallowed hard. God, she was beautiful! More so than he'd ever imagined. She treated him like a person, an acquaintance, even a friend? He was suddenly on fire to know everything his other self had ever said to her, done with her. "I could help you," he offered hesitantly.

She smiled at him! "I know," she said. "You're real smart, and you have all these Mad Scientist skills. Very handy, potentially, in the world-saveage line."

Alexander smiled back. Maybe this wasn't such a terrible mistake, after all.

Buffy stretched her arms over her head, then sheathed her sword. She stretched and turned, easing stiff neck and shoulders, and Alexander's mouth was suddenly dry with the gorgeousness of her movement. Oh. If he died in this new world tonight, it would still be worth the voyage, to see such loveliness.

She caught him staring, and gave him an endearing crooked grin. "What?" she asked.

"You're beautiful," he breathed.

Another smile, different from the others she'd gifted him with before. Alexander was almost dizzy from the variety of Buffy's loveliness. The sky brightened further, and he was lost in the play of glowing light across her face and hair. He was grateful that they were no longer walking, so that he might gaze at her without stumbling anymore.

"I say to the night: 'Pass more slowly', and the dawn will come to dispel the night," Alexander quoted* absently.

Buffy was looking past him, over his shoulder into the pit of the destroyed school. "Good call," she said, grinning, and waved.

"Hey, Dawn!" she yelled.

*Alphonse de Lamartine, 1820