Xander’s gut didn’t usually twinge when walking down the street during daylight hours, but when it did he wasn’t inclined to ignore it just because the sun was up. He kept right on walking but scanned the area carefully.
Clark caught on quickly. “What’s up?”
“Don’t know yet,” Xander said softly. “Anything look off to you?”
“Ummm… no, it’s pretty quiet this time of day. Everything’s closed, but thats… wait.” Clark stopped next to the antique shop. “Something’s wrong.”
Clark nodded, looking quite puzzled.
“Don’t try to explain it, just go with it.” Xander slipped his cousin his cell phone. “You watch the front door. I’ll look around back. Call it in if you see anything.”
Xander left Clark biting his lip and looking around uncomfortably. Pulling a stake once he stepped into the alley was probably a useless move, but Xander felt better with the wood grain pressing against his calluses.
Everything looked normal for a Smallville alley, quiet and mostly clean, until Xander spotted the rear door open, the frame splintered around the lock.
“Shit,” he hissed. That was the only sound he allowed himself as he moved toward the door. Crouching low, he peered inside. Nothing jumped out at him. Nothing reacted. But the sound of fervent sobs met his ears. Which could be a trick, but….
Xander slipped inside, pausing next to the door, out of the frame where he wouldn’t be silhouetted by the light. “Hello?” he called softly. “Is everything alright?” He followed that up by moving left around a desk, staying low in case of attack.
The sobbing got louder. Xander slunk through the storage room and peered into the sales floor. The source of the noise was easy to find in the middle of the wreckage of the merchandise. She appeared to be a young girl, maybe Clark’s age. She was hunched over the body of an older woman and around them both, intermixed with broken bits of furniture and glass, was a fair bit of dust or ash.
Xander was very familiar with that type of dust.
“Go away,” she sobbed. “Go away like everyone else,” she added more softly.
Xander moved closer, fairly confident the Sunnydale aspects were dead and gone on the broken bench beside the body. “Hey there, it’s okay.” He didn’t even get to touch her before her arm lashed out. A moment later, his back met the door.
“Ouch,” Xander groaned. That throw had been Buffy strong easily. Levering himself up along the wood of the door, which he fortunately had not gone through, he popped the blind open and waved at Clark, who was already on the phone. Smart kid.
Xander popped the lock and cracked the door. “You know a girl who lives here?”
“Tina,” Clark replied immediately. “Is she okay?”
Shaking his head, Xander waved Clark in. “I think whoever was meeting Lyle was here. Or at least I hope it was him. I don’t like the idea of more vampires in Smallville.
He hadn’t taken a step forward before Tina was at Xander’s throat. “You know what that was?” She shook him, pulling him fully off his feet. “It killed my mother.”
“Hey, calm down,” Xander snapped, hands over hers as little good as it would do.
“Tina, Tina,” Clark said. It got him a smack that should have sent him across the room. Somehow it barely moved him a few feet. Xander wasn’t jealous though. Nope. Not at all.
Xander was also very good at denying his jealousy. Lots and lots and lots of practice.
“Vampire,” Xander said. “It was a vampire. I can tell from the dust. Did it drink from your mother?”
Tina shuddered and hunched in on herself. “No. Yes. Some. I tried to stop it. I tried…” She threw herself on her mother’s corpse with loud sob.
Fuck. Xander was not looking forward to stalking the cemetery to stake the girl’s mother.
“Cops?” Xander asked Clark softly. Clark nodded. “Right. Attempted robbery gone wrong last night.” Clark nodded. Xander knelt next to Tina. “Tina, look, the sheriff isn’t going to want to hear about vampires. Tell them it was a robbery gone wrong and that he got away. It’s going to be okay.”
“She’s gone,” Tina shrieked. “She’s gone. It can’t be okay. It’ll never be okay. She’s gone and no one will ever….”
Clark was even smarter than Xander realized. Shortly after the cops arrived and shuffled everyone out of the store, Tina included, Martha showed up. A female figure to cry on was just what the girl needed and she latched onto Martha’s motherly figure with a grip that Xander thought should have made poor Martha wince, if not go black and blue. But maybe she was used to such grips, having raised Clark, because she didn’t flinch in the slightest.
Xander stuck with the “Had a bad feeling, saw the broken door, called the cops” line no matter how hard they pushed him. Fortunately, he had practice not showing how much his bruises hurt, because he was pretty sure Tina had cracked a rib.
Clark just looked like a pathetic puppy dog and somehow no one bothered him much. He trailed after his mother and looked sad at Tina. No one but Xander noticed the hard look in those green eyes as Mrs. Greer was carried out in a body bag. The look was all too familiar. Xander had worn it from time to time since Jesse exploded in his arms.
“She’s got no relatives, not here, not anywhere as best I can tell. We’ll call Children’s Services and get her shipped off—”
“Nonsense. We’ll take her in, at least until the investigation is done.”
“I don’t know if we can do that, Mrs. Kent. Tina should be in a foster home. Children’s Services—”
“Children’s Services will take forever to get down from Metropolis and take Tina away from Smallville. She needs to be here, surrounded by familiar people right now. And we were approved as foster parents back when we took in Clark, before the adoption was finalized.” Martha stood strong and firm in Deputy Miller’s Face.
“I—” Miller’s cell rang and he answered. They went back and forth for a few minutes. Then, “No, Mrs. Kent has offered to take her in… That’s right, Martha Kent. Her husband is… Right… No, their son is a wonderful young man. I’m sure they’d do very well by Miss Greer. All right. Thank you.” He hung up and glared at Martha. “She’s yours for the night. Someone will be down tomorrow to check on things and give final approval.”
“Thank you, Ethan.” Martha managed a magnanimous pat on the shoulder before she shuffled her metaphorical ducklings off to the truck.
Tina cornered Xander in the barn before dinner. “Tell me everything about those… things.”
Much to Xander’s surprise, it was Clark who stepped in and started talking. He shared everything Xander had explained, the good and bad, the loss and the success.
“Well,” Tina said at the end. “Well, I guess it’s just as well they’ll be sending me to Metropolis. But I doubt I’ll need to stay there long.”
Xander frowned. “And why would you say that? I know you’re grieving—”
Tina glared at him. “Because I am going to kill every vampire in Metropolis. And then Wichita. And Topeka. And—”
“Tina, no.” Xander put his hands on her shoulders. “I know you’re upset but—”
She threw him across the barn with a scream of rage.
“Tina,” Clark squeaked. Xander barely heard it through the desperate attempts to re-inflate his lungs. More crashes and bellows, all decidedly male, echoed through the air until Xander succeeded in sitting up.
“What the hell?” Xander stared at the two Clarks grappling in the middle of the barn. “How…? Tina, stop. Please.” Ah, fuck, everything hurt. He really hoped she hadn’t broken that rib she’d cracked earlier.
One Clark pushed the other away and the two stood, glaring at each other, panting.
“Just how strong are you?” one Clark asked.
“I could ask you the same,” the other Clark said. “Meteors or demons?”
“Did you or did you not listen to Clark’s explanation of all things mystical and wacky in the world?” Xander said, stumbling to his feet and approaching the Clark that was clearly Tina. Somehow. “Meteors or demons? We’re not entirely sure about Clark, but I’m betting you’re meteor affected. You don’t twinge on my gut like the magical types I’ve met.”
Clark melted back into Tina.
Xander grinned. “Cool.”
She looked shyly up at him through her eyelashes. “Really?”
“Totally. Look, I get the desire for vengeance. I’ve been living it long enough. But going solo, even with your strength and your party trick, you’re not going to last all that long. Remember what Clark told you about slayers?”
“Well even they don’t last all that long normally. Not without a lot of help. But if you give me a chance, I might be able to get you some help.”
Tina frowned, wrapping her arms around herself. She looked so small in that moment, smaller even than Buffy when Xander first met her. Then she looked up at him with a serious, angry expression that had more shades of Darla than Buffy. Xander felt like Angelus was sneaking up behind him.
“I’ll give you until Children’s Services takes me. Once I’m in Metropolis, all bets are off.”
Xander nodded. “Deal.”
“Xander?I did not expect to hear from you this summer. Ah, how is your trip?”
“Going great. But that’s not why I’m calling. Umm, you know, it seems like there are a lot of watchers running around and not all that many slayers. Is it possible there are a few who are decent people like you but—well, there’s this girl and she needs help, and I think a watcher would be perfect, but not the kind who believe in the Cruciamentum.”
“Xander, I’m not quite sure what all you’re babbling about.”
Xander took a deep breath and tried again. “Giles, I met a girl who just lost her mother. She’s as strong as a slayer and desperate for revenge. She got the vamp who killed her mother, but she’s not going to stop there.”
“Strong as a slayer?”
“With a few other party tricks too. There’s something about this town, not magic but something else. She’s strong, fast, and can look like anyone she wants to.”
“And you want a watcher for her?”
“She’s got no one, Giles. Her mother’s dead and they’re going to put her in foster care. She’ll run away and end up dead in no time. Or worse. But a decent guardian… Giles, I don’t want another Faith.”
Giles cleared his throat, and Xander knew the old man was wiping down his glasses, even without being there to see it. “Well, there might be a few who’d suit. I was contacted by a few of my fellows after it got around what I did to Buffy’s Cruciamentum. Tell me about this girl. I should pick carefully. Not all watchers suit their slayers. Oh, and where are you?”
“Smallville. It’s a little farming town outside Metropolis.”