“Hey, Clark.” Xander knocked on the railing of the stairway just below Clark’s barn loft. “Can I come up?”
The younger man was staring out the door at the stars above and a small shrug was his only response.
Taking that as an invite up, Xander took a perch on the dusty couch. And waited.
Half an hour later, nothing had changed. Clark was still sulking for Olympics. Xander’d had enough.
“You seem a bit down this evening.”
Clark let out a soft snort.
“I can’t help but wonder if it has something with the new dent in the hood of the truck.” Martha had provided a very solid distraction most of the afternoon, but Xander still caught sight of Clark hefting a few too many heavy feed bags and moving a bit too fast, and catching himself on the truck when he tripped. Xander hadn’t caught anything odd about the last one until just before dinner, and he’d made the mistake of commenting on the perfectly hand shaped dent.
While Xander considered, Clark shrank into himself, seeming to halve his bulk in an instant.
“You know, being different isn’t that big a deal,” Xander said, keeping his tone light and off handed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Clark spat out in a tone that was both defensive and very bitter.
Xander couldn’t resist a chuckle, which netted him a pointed glare from over Clark’s shoulder.
“Come on, Clark. I’ve told you about life in Sunnydale. You really think anything you’re capable of is going to shock me?”
“I don’t… know what you’re talking about….” Clark half turned, but was still hunched in on himself.
“I knew you were a bit different when you knocked me over the day I arrived.”
Clark’s jaw dropped. “But you said… I… Your friend….”
“I said you didn’t hit any harder than Buffy. You know, the vampire slayer? Mystical destiny, added strength, and all that jazz.”
“Oh god.” Clark buried his head in his hands. “I could have hurt you.” The words were muffled and pained.
Xander moved, sitting behind Clark and putting his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Clark, I’ve fought demons, been slammed into headstones and crypts by vampires, and dated a cheerleader. You can’t do anything to me that someone else hasn’t done before.”
“That’s… not entirely comforting.” A hint of a smile touched Clark’s lips as he raised his head.
“I know.” Xander smirked. “Trust me, doesn’t help completely on my end either. But really, being different? Not that big a deal.”
A shudder ran through Clark. “How would you know? You said you’re the normal one.”
“Well, if you count normal as being possessed by a hyena at fifteen, knowing how to field strip an M16 at sixteen, and having a tendency to attract women who want to kill me, then yeah, I’m normal. But I also know two vampire slayers and a witch, my mentor is an ex-warlock, and I live my life hiding half of everything I do from everyone but my closest friends.” Ah, that last one got a serious reaction from Clark.
“Do you know why you’re different?”
Clark shook his head.
“I understand if you don’t want to talk about it—”
“It’s not that,” Clark protested urgently. “It’s just… I’m not allowed. Never. Mom and Dad are always so firm about that.”
“And I went and pointed it out with the truck.” Xander kicked himself for saying anything. “Clark, I don’t care.” He tightened his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “I don’t care if you’re one of Chloe’s meteor mutants, or part demon, or something else entirely. You’re my cousin. That’s the only part that matters.”
Something released, and Clark both unfolded and melted, leaning into Xander’s side. “I try to keep control, keep it it all hidden. Sometimes it’s so hard.”
“You really don’t care?”
Xander pressed a kiss to Clark’s nearest temple and wrapped his arm around the younger boy’s shoulder. “Not in the slightest.”
Silence reigned for a few before Clark spoke again. “Sometimes I think the hardest part is not knowing why.”
When he paused for several breaths, Xander nudged him with a questioning noise. Aunt Martha and Uncle Jonathan were good people, and had done right by Clark in most ways, but the poor kid needed someone other than a parent to be honest with. Desperately. He was scared shitless, and that was no way to live.
“I used to think maybe I was human, just a bit special. You know? There are stories about people doing amazing things under the right circumstances. Kids saving their parents trapped under cars… stuff like that.”
“Not a bad theory,” Xander agreed.
“But I’m not limited to the right circumstances.” Clark sighted. “Chloe’s stuff… I could be a meteor mutant… But I always got the impression I came to Smallville after the shower.”
“You could ask your parents.”
Clark muttered something too quietly for Xander to make sense of.
“Wanna say that again?”
“Don’t want them to wonder why I’m asking…” The words were still quiet, but the sentiment was clear. “They’ve always tried to make me feel normal.”
“Yeah, I can understand.” And Xander could. But normal… what was normal? “Though I’m not sure there is such a thing.”
“Hmm?” This time it was Clark’s turn to frown.
“Well, even the ‘normal’ kids at Sunnydale high had their own issues. The lead jock turned out to be gay. The head cheerleader fell for the wrong guy. The school geek tried to commit suicide. And I’m not even getting into the hellmouthy stuff like the girl who was so ignored by classmates and family she actually became invisible.”
“That last one… that really happened?”
“My sophomore year. I’ll tell you the full story some other time, but Buffy found her nest up in the attic. I don’t think her parents even noticed she was missing.”
“That’s… really sad.”
“It was. Your parents would certainly notice you were missing.”
“Yeah. But… the rest of that? That was all… normal?”
“For a certain definition of normal. No teenager is truly normal. It’s an unobtainable dream foisted upon us by the modern media.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s true. A bit of normality is nice, and this farm is very ‘normal’, but don’t expect everything to be perfectly normal, even for your non mutant friends.”
Stiffening up again a little, Clark hissed out, “But what if I’m not a mutant?”
Xander shrugged, letting Clark feel the movement. “There’s a few other options, none of them bad.”
“Not bad? What if I’m part demon? Or a full demon? You’re from Sunnydale. You fight demons.” Clark’s breath sped up, his shoulders tightened more, and he pulled away a little.
“I fight the nasty demons. Not all demons are nasty.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. Just because we call them demons, and various faiths have used that same word to talk about evil beings, doesn’t mean everything we call a demon is evil,” Xander said pointedly, searching desperately for a different word, something with a better connotation.. “They’re beings that are from other dimensions, some sentient, some basically animals. Like… Like… Like aliens come from other planets.” Xander smiled and got a hint of a smile in return.
“There we go. Think of demons like aliens. Some are like Wookies and Ewoks, and some are like Alien and Predator. The good and the bad, all lumped under one name because they’re not from around here and human beings are lazy. Each type should be judged by their own characteristics, not by the fact that we call them demons.”
“So… I could be part demon….”
“And still be the sweet, guilty, conscientious boy that Jonathan and Martha Kent raised. Honestly, I think if you were part something on the evil end of the spectrum it’d be noticeable by now, instead of such a mama’s boy.”
Clark let out a protesting yelp and shoved Xander just hard enough to knock the older boy onto his side.. He flopped over onto the floor with a playful yelp and the two broke into laughter.
“Nothing wrong with being a mama’s boy,” Xander assured once he could breath again. “I’d be a mama’s boy if Aunt Martha’d raised me. Lots of hugs and all the pie I could eat.”
“You’d like that.” Oh it was good to see Clark really grinning again. The laughter had broken something in his mood, for the better.
Still, Xander couldn’t stay completely cheerful as he said, “Oh, very much so.”
“Aunt Jessica…,” Clark said softly, gently.
Xander forced a smile. “She’s a good woman, and I love her, but as a mother there are a lot of ways she could improve.”
Clark offered a hand and pulled Xander into a hug. “I’m sorry.”
Gods, and he meant it. It amazed Xander just how empathetic this mysterious, adopted cousin of his was. “Thanks.”