Xander was the first to discourage Clark from showing up at his door very often, but this time there were no recrimination on his lips when he opened the door. One look at Clark and all Xander could do was usher the shattered young man into the apartment.
Clark was cold, shocky, badly dressed (as in his clothes were less than accurately placed rather than his choice of clothing items. Xander had no right to comment on Clarks sartorial choices and he knew it), and had just run from Smallville to Sunnydale. Again.
“Spike, water, and start something warm and sweet,” Xander called to his housemate/lover/vampire/whatever as he guided Clark to the couch. As soon as the cushions touched the back of Clark’s legs, the boy collapsed with a crunch that left Xander a touch worried about the structural stability of the frame.
“What the hell is it this time?” Spike snapped, coming out of the bathroom where he’d just finally gotten the last of the night’s demon out of his hair. But a glare from Xander and a look at Clark sent the vampire scampering as ordered.
“Clark?” Xander said softly, kneeling at Clark’s side. “Talk to me, cuz. Are you alright?”
Clark blinked, his head shifted, and as Spike stepped up to Xander’s shoulder, the young man seemed to finally take in where he was. Xander shoved the water into Clark’s hand, guiding him to take sips when the boy’s hand started shaking.
“Hot chocolate’s coming, pet,” Spike said, heading back to the kitchen.
Blinking furiously, Clark looked after him. “Got any of those little marshmallows?”
Xander laughed, unable to hide his relief. “Spike loves it that way too. No worries. I stocked up yesterday.”
Clark nodded and sunk back into the couch.
“Drink the water first,” Xander encouraged, nudging Clark’s hand. “And when you’re ready… I’d really like to know….” He stopped, not sure what to ask.
“Tonight really, really sucked,” Clark said. He chugged the last of the water, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The buttons on his shirt, misaligned with their holes and half undone by the speed of his trip, gapped. The dim light of the living room showed something red on his chest.
“Clark?” Xander couldn’t restrain the worried tone and he pulled the shirt completely open. What could make his cousin bleed when a car going sixty off a bridge just bruised him?
But the red wasn’t blood. Xander knew that smell well. It was paint. A red ‘S’ painted on Clark’s chest.
Clark ignored and Xander stared until Spike came back with hot chocolate (and little marshmallows) to break the stalemate.
“Small towns,” Spike said with a snort. “What tradition’s got kids painting themselves?”
Shivering, Clark didn’t respond. But he did take a mug from Spike and guzzle it down faster than the hot temperature should have allowed. Only once he’d drained the cup did he speak. “I’d really love a shower about now.” He rubbed a fist over his chest, his shoulders getting tighter by the second.
“Come on,” Xander said, offering Clark as hand up. “You can borrow some sweats when you get out.” And explain. Because I do not like the look of this.
“I’m fine,” Clark muttered as he stumbled along beside Xander into the bathroom. “Lex found me.” His strides got a bit stronger as he went on, so Xander was beginning to think it might be okay to leave the boy alone in the shower. “Pain went away when the necklace fell off.”
Xander paused in the doorway, but Clark kept going, starting to shed clothing as soon as his boots hit bathroom tile.
“What necklace?” Xander asked.
Shocky or not, Clark closed the door then, leaving Xander outside with nothing but questions and worrisome speculation. He quickly pulled together something that should fit Clark and left it outside the bathroom door. Then he went back to the living room and grabbed his phone.
“Kent residence.” The phone was picked up almost the second it started ringing.
“Aunt Martha, it’s Xander.”
“Hey, Xander.” She sounded welcoming, but also distracted. Worried.
“Look, I don’t know what happened tonight, but Clark’s fine. He showed up here and I threw him in the shower. If you and Uncle Jonathan say it’s okay, I’d really like to let him rest here and come back in the morning. He’s… Well, he’s fine, but it looks like it was a bad night.”
It took him far to long to realize his babbling was going into shocky silence instead of a welcoming ear. “Aunt Martha?”
“What did you just say to her?” Jonathan snapped into the phone after another moment of silence.
Shit. From that panicked tone it was clear Clark never mentioned swinging out to Sunnydale on the occasional evening.
“Look, freak out about your son’s speed another time. He just showed up on my doorstep in shock. Someone painted a red ‘S’ on his chest—”
“—and said he’d been exposed to Lana’s necklace tonight.”
“You want to explain that?” Xander snapped. “I don’t understand Smallville’s quaint customs as well as I should.”
There was a slight shuffling sound as the phone was handed off again. Aunt Martha sounded surprisingly calm when she spoke. “Smallville High has a nasty tradition for the homecoming game. A freshman is hung in Reilly field as a scarecrow, in his boxers, painted with a red ‘S’ by the football team.” Her tone got very dark on the next words. “It’s good luck.”
Spike, listening in from over his shoulder, snorted and drawled, “Teenagers.”
“No comment,” Xander said. “Well, Lana’s necklace aside, I don’t think that was enough to upset him this badly.”
“No,” Martha agreed. “You keep him tonight. We’ve got the farmer’s market in the morning, but…”
“Yeah, he says the run only takes twenty minutes now instead of the thirty it took this time last year.” He could almost see the expression of shock and frozen panic on Martha’s face at those words. Jonathan would have turned red. “I’ll get him up early enough to have breakfast with you. But first—”
“Let him rest. And let us know if you get anymore details. He… He seems to come to you with more than we’d realized.”
“Smaller age difference,” Xander suggested. “And a good head for things that aren’t ‘normal’.”
“Did he come over….”
“After Uncle Jonathan’s big reveal in the storm cellar? Yeah, he did. But don’t worry, I—”
“I know you won’t say anything. Thank you, Xander. You’re a better friend to Clark, to all of us, than I could have hoped.”
A lump of emotion formed in his throat. “Thank you.” After the freak-out when they learned he knew Clark wasn’t normal, he hadn’t expected such trust. He might have tried to choke out more, but the shower turned off.
“Hot water probably ran out,” Spike commented. He should know having used most of the supply not long ago. Probably all of it, really.
“I gotta go. I’ll call you tomorrow. But… be gentle with him when he gets home. Whatever happened—”
“Was something different. We’ll be careful. Thank you, Xander.”
She hung up the phone before he could reply.
“You didn’t mention the mysterious Lex,” Spike commented as Xander hung up the phone.
He wasn’t quite sure why he hadn’t. Maybe it was Clark’s story to tell. Or Xander wanted more details before he tried to pass them along.
Clark came out of the bedroom in Xander’s sweats, his hair still dripping but his eyes much clearer.
“Your water heater is way too small.”
“Nah, that’s your timing,” Spike said. “Spent the last hour trying to get demon gunk out of me hair. You’re lucky it got warm again.” The vampire shivered dramatically and plastered himself to Xander’s back.
Sighing, Xander walked over, then guided Clark back to the couch, all with Spike clinging to him like a limpet. Appallingly, he was getting used to doing things while Spike clung to him. When he tried to complain, the vampire just muttered about the delightful, sunny warmth and clung just tight enough to not set off the chip but make it impossible to lever him off.
“You ready to talk about tonight?” Xander asked, sitting on Spike in order to sit on the couch next to Clark.
The younger man laughed a little at the sight. Then he shuddered. “Don’t suppose I could have some more hot chocolate first?”
Xander was hesitant waking Clark the next morning, far too early. Not because he feared the alien would hurt him, but because Clark had had a shitty night and needed the rest. Xander couldn’t begin to imagine what would have happened if Lex hadn’t found Clark in that field. Lana’s necklace was small, but enough exposure might still kill Clark, and half the youth of Smallville would have died at the dance.
“Hey there,” Xander said softly as Clark’s eyes opened.
Clark groaned and threw and arm over his eyes. “Any chance I can sleep in?”
“Wish I could let you. But your Mom mentioned the farmer’s market.”
“Shit.” Clark clambered out of bed. “I can’t believe you told Mom and Dad I was here.”
“Was I supposed to let them worry all night?”
“They wouldn’t have noticed.”
Xander stopped and stared. “Are you telling me you’ve been sneaking in late and staying out at night?”
Clark half grinned. “Once or twice.” Before Xander could protest, Clark continued. “Not really, but they expected me to be out late with the dance and all.”
Frowning, Xander said, “I don’t like the sound of that. If they didn’t notice… if Lex hadn’t found you… do you really think those jocks would have come back? Even if Jeremy hadn’t shown up.”
Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Clark sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Neither do I,” Xander admitted. “I just… I don’t like you getting hurt. And last night….”
“Yeah, that sucked.”
“Yes, it sucked,” Spike said sleepily from the doorway. “Yes, it could have been bad. But it wasn’t. Clark needs to run home before his parents freak further and Xander needs to come back to bed because it’s way too early for city boys to be up.”
“Spike,” Xander protested. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the apparent stability of their falling into bed, and showing it off even to his cousin weirded him out a bit.
“He’s right,” Clark said. “You need to stop tying yourself into knots. If this is how you react to difficult events, how do you stay sane with all those apocalypses?”
“He does better when he’s in the thick of things,” Spike said. “Needs to be able to help.”
“You help,” Clark said firmly, punching Xander gently in the shoulder. “You help a lot.”
“See,” Spike said, switching from draping himself over the doorway to clinging to Xander. “You did good. Now let the kid go and come back to bed. It’s Saturday and you should be sleeping in.”
Clark looked at the two of them thoughtfully. “So when did this change?” His voice was playful as he grinned at them. Xander didn’t know what to say, not having a clue, but Spike apparently had all the answers.
“He threatened to destroy me and promised I’d be dead before he left me behind.”
Xander frowned, and Clark frowned, and they both looked at Spike who just smiled sleepily over Xander’s shoulder.
“And that was a good thing?” Clark asked.
“Very good. S’a vampire thing, kid.”
Xander had to agree, though he wasn’t going to say it aloud right now. Seems he needed to have a talk with his fangless leech.