Runaway Trains at 3 A.M.

by Christina K
Copyright 2002

With thanks to Perri, Dee, Lizbet, Tina and the Horsechicks for betaing, editing, bouncing of ideas, and giggling.

Spoilers through "Wrecked" for BtVS, and "Jitters" for Smallville. Dawn and Clark belong to a slew of production companies and themselves; the story is my own, and may not be re-posted without permission.

"Stupid piece of junk. Give me my Almond Joy!"

Dawn kicked the candy machine twice, thumped it with the heel of her hand, then narrowed her eyes in frustration, braced herself, and body-slammed it, hard. Nothing. Nada. Not a twinge. What was the point of being a supernatural energy blob, if she couldn't even make the stupid vending machine cough up her candy? She could see the Almond Joy dangling just off the edge of the dispenser row, taunting her. Sure, if she felt like feeding the machine more money she could get it easily, but it was the *principle* of the thing.

Okay, so, maybe not. It was more like the really evil mood she'd been in since the bus had broken down in Denver in the middle of the night. She couldn't ream out the six-foot-plus driver, the other passengers from her bus were just as pissed off (and mostly asleep in the lobby), and everyone else in the downtown bus station was kinda scary. Three more *hours* she was going to be stuck here, the snack bar was closed, and she couldn't even get a candy bar? What could she have ever done as a green glowy Key to deserve this?

Everyone was *so* lucky she couldn't melt people's brains with her thoughts. The linoleum would be _covered_ in goo, if she could.

"Let me get that for you, sweetheart. Pretty thing like you shouldn't be hurting herself just to get a little snack."

Dawn turned, and immediately made a face that Buffy would've recognized from the time the Slayer had come home covered in viscous grey slime and smelling like a bottle of nail polish remover gone bad. The guy trying to invade her personal space looked like a bad cross between a greasy TV-movie pimp and one of the more-fashion-impaired vamps from home. "Uh, no. Thanks. I'm cool."

"No, I insist, I can get this for you. What's your name, sweetheart?" Pimp-Boy got a little too close, then stumbled back in surprise when she elbowed him in the gut. His face darkened. "Hey. That wasn't very appreciative."

"I don't like being crowded, okay? And I said I had it." Dawn could hear her voice rising, and for once there wasn't anyone there to tell her to be quiet. Too bad, since the quaver in her voice had a lot to do with that--- no one else seemed to be within screeching distance, and Pimp-Boy was between her and the break room door. She planted her feet like Buffy would, bending her knees and putting up her fists. "Now back off, will you?"

The creep smiled unpleasantly, stepping closer, leaning in again, and she backed away from his breath. "I don't think so, honey. I think you ought to reconsider your attitude. Little girl like you--- you really think you can look out for yourself?"

"I did okay a second ago. And I've never needed anyone before." All right, big fib, but that was in Sunnydale, which didn't count. She'd kicked a demon in the crotch once, she could *definitely* handle this guy.

If he would just move away a little, give her room to punch or kick or *something*....

"All I'm asking is for you to be a little nicer, and maybe I'll get you what you want--- breakfast, maybe something else?"

"Eww! Like I'd have sex with you for a candy bar? Or scrambled eggs? That's *beyond* skeezy. I think you've discovered a whole new state of pervdom. Thanks for sharing your discovery, but *go away*."

Pimp-boy was getting madder, and Dawn was just starting to get scared. He was still between her and the door, and sure, someone would hear her yelling eventually --- they always did, and this was still a public place --- but not before he hurt her, and that was going to suck. "You gotta real mouth on you, chickie---"

"Leave her alone."

They both stopped dancing around for position, and Dawn peered around Pimp-boy to see a guy about her age standing in front of the Coke machine immediately behind the skeez. When did he show up?

"Stay outta this, kid. I'm just having a talk with my girl---"

"I am _not_ his girl. Get Security! He's trying to pick me up, and that's gotta be a felony even if we aren't in California, I'm sure of it!"

"Kid, if you leave now, nobody has to get hurt." Total lie. Which Pimp-boy proved in the next second when he tried to hit the guy, throwing a full-on punch at his jaw.

And that was when it got weird, because the skeez staggered back from the impact of his own punch, cursing and holding his hand, and the kid didn't even move. Dawn blinked, looking at Pimp-boy for a second before glancing back at the guy who'd come to her rescue. He shrugged helplessly at her and smiled ruefully.

Pretty eyes, she noted, and gave him a brilliant smile back.

"Gonna get you for that, you little---" Pimp-boy wasn't giving up; he rushed toward the younger guy, snarling and going for his solar plexus with both fists. The kid caught one fist in each of his hands without even trying, and just held them out and away from him while the guy struggled. Wow. Not even *breathing* hard, and he had Pimp-boy totally dealt with. Dawn fought hard not to giggle. After about a minute of this, Pimp-boy lost whatever grip on his temper he'd had and tried to head-butt the guy in the stomach.

"Owww...." The skeez toppled over, moaning, flailed at his head with his hands, then slumped down against the Coke machine, his eyes rolling back in his head. Dawn squeaked in surprise and glee, then skipped back a step so he wouldn't touch her shoes when he slid to the floor.

"Wow. I didn't mean for--- that's never happened." Boy Scout Guy was looking all worried and guilty now that the bad guy was unconscious, which was mega-sweet but *so* not practical. She could totally believe that no one had had ever knocked themselves out on him before. "We should probably get him a doctor---"

"Are you kidding me? For him? Sleazy dude? No way." She flipped her hair over her shoulder and marched to the door of the breakroom, waving to a security guard and motioning him over, talking to her rescuer the whole time. "The best he should get is being handcuffed to the plumbing in here. Which is just ick, by the way. You *really* don't want to use the restrooms in this station."

"Um, sure... Are you okay?" He was giving her this concerned look like he thought she might be traumatized, and Dawn snorted.

"Me? Yeah, right. I was more scared the time lame-o Harmony kidnapped me and chained me to a wall. This guy *so* should have met up with _her_ in a bus station. That'd teach him to mess with teenage girls."

Whatever Rescue Guy was going to say to that got lost as she explained the situation to the security guard, (telling him the skeez had tripped on the polished floor, and thus completely leaving Boy Scout Guy out of it). He hauled Pimp-boy away after determining that Dawn's bus didn't leave for another threehours and that she'd file a complaint before she left. She turned back to her rescuer in triumph, before she was hit with an attack of post-rescue awkwardness. Being grateful was always *so* embarassing, and he was *extremely* cute.... Cuter than Kevin, even, and then there was the whole obvious superhero thing, which made it that teeny bit harder to seem cool when she said thank-you....

All of the weird melted completely away when she saw that he was minutely examining the floor in between his shoes, his shoulders hunched up nearly to his ears. And that those ears were tipped with red, bright enough to match the shirt under his denim jacket.

"So. Are you just going to stand there all night, or are you going to help me get my candy bar?"

"What?" Big green eyes shot up in shock, and he unhunched his shoulders enough for her to see that he was really tall. As tall as Giles, almost. Hair as black as Xander's, cheekbones like Spike's, shoulders like Riley's--- if she'd gone down a checklist and made a guy up out of her favorite guys, this is what he'd look like. Only not as shy. And possibly, way better-dressed.

"Candy bar, machine, tilt? You can do that, right? I figure it's got to go with the whole superhero thing. You know, lifting large objects, helping starving travelers...." He gaped at her, and she got a good look at a lot of white teeth. "Hello? It's not like I'd be _stealing_ it, I already paid for it, the stupid machine just won't give me my Almond Joy---"

"I'm not--- um, I mean, what are you talking about?" He tried to laugh, nervous and breathy, and the blush spread up to his eyebrows. Jeez, he was even more edgy than Wesley used to be, back in the day. "I'm not a super-whatever-you're-thinking---"

"Oh, *please*. Skeez-o-man knocked himself unconscious on your abs. And it's not like you're wearing a bullet-proof vest or something, it'd completely show through that shirt." If he turned much redder, he was going to have an heart attack or pass out. And then she'd have to give him CPR... Focus, Dawn. "Plus you didn't even have to duck when he tried to hit you, all you did was hang onto his hands without *even* trying. And he probably broke a couple bones on your jaw. Total it up and you're *not* of the norm."

"I... I just.... " He was looking at the floor again, and trying to shrug his way into disappearing inside his jacket, which was just _so_ sad. Clearly, this guy had issues about the hero-thing. Still, he'd saved her, whether or not she'd needed it, and who was she to mock anyone else's abnormal-ness?

"Did I remember to say thank you?" When he looked up again, some of the red fading out of his face and ears, and his eyes actually focusing on hers, she gave him her very best smile and added in her begging voice, "And that I'm really really hungry, and I want my Almond Joy?" He rolled his eyes and actually laughed at that, and she bounced on her toes. "Cool. So, thanks. That was really... neat."

"Uh, you're welcome. Sure. Uh, I'll just---" He motioned to the candy machine and she scooted out of the way. He shot her one hesitant look, then his jaw clenched and he placed both hands on the machine, tilting it towards him and back with one quick, snappy motion that looked way too easy for as heavy as she knew the machine was. Three or four candy bars fell out of their slots, and Dawn chortled happily as she crouched down to retrieve the loot.

"We should pay for those." Boy Scout Guy sounded worried, and Dawn grimaced in response.

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, I only meant to get your bar--- never mind, I'll pay for it, it's my fault...."

Which would be so not fair, even though she didn't want to pay for them, but it was pretty clear that her new friend was a straighter arrow than Riley, even. "We'll split it. You tilted it for me, so I'll pay too. And you can have half."

"Thanks." He aimed another one of those bewildered-but-amused looks at her, and she handed him a Crunch bar as they walked back out into the lobby. "Uh, I'm Clark."

"I'm Dawn."


"Hey. Do you like M&Ms?"

"Yeah, thanks.... Want half a Hershey's?"




Clark was attempting to project cool, which wasn't the easiest thing to do under the circumstances. Nobody ever looked cool sitting in a traffic-cone orange bowl seat, even if they weren't too tall and too clumsy to comfortably manage normal chairs. Add in trying to maintain some semblance of calm while talking to a cute girl who'd just decided you were a superhero, when you weren't feeling particularly heroic at all, and cool was as far away as the North Pole.

Actually, given the way the last couple weeks had gone, he was just happy she didn't think he was a hopeless dork. Although as nervous as he felt right now, that was only a matter of time.

"So, how long have you been a superhero?"

"Could you keep it down?" he hissed at Dawn, glancing around them anxiously. "I'm not a superhero. I can just... do stuff."

"Oh, you totally are. Trust me, I know about this kinda thing. Rescuing people in bus stations automatically puts you on the list. Plus, you got us chocolate!"

She gave a little bounce and poured more M&M's into her hand, throwing one up in the air and catching it in her mouth. "Don't be so jumpy, Clark. Nobody's paying attention anyway," she added, lowering her voice slightly and gesturing at the sleeping and grumpy-looking passengers in the next row of chairs over. "Plus, they'd never take it seriously even if they were. It's not like anyone would *believe* me if I told them what you did. They're just gonna think that guy was stoned when he wakes up and spills the details."

"Yeah?" Clark shifted nervously in his chair. "So... how do you know so much about this? How come *you* take it seriously?"

"'Cuz my sister's a superhero too." Clark's eyes widened as he chewed on his Crunch bar, and Dawn nodded nonchalantly at his reaction. "Oh, yeah. Six years running, fighting bad guys and killing monsters. I'm pretty much used to the whole super-strength and invincibility riff. Can you do any other cool stuff?"

Clark was still stuck back on 'killing monsters,' but he managed to blink and answer as he broke off a piece of the Crunch bar and offered it to her. "Umm, I can run really fast," he said cautiously, watching for her reaction. "And sometimes I can see things that are really far away." He decided to leave out the part about the X-ray vision, for now; you never knew how a girl would take that kind of information.

"You don't grow fangs or anything, do you?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in sudden suspicion. Before he could even process that, she relaxed, taking the chocolate from him. "Wait, never mind. I can see your reflection in that mirror over there. False alarm."


"Hey, it was a reasonable question," she said, looking insulted. "You don't even want to know what the *last* guy I went out with was like. A girl has to be careful. But you never answered my first question. How long have you been like this?"

Clark shrugged uneasily, and stared down at the M&M packet before taking a few out of the bag. "Kind of always... I mean, I never got hurt or sick or anything, growing up. It's been getting worse this last year, but I've never really been... normal."


He glanced at her sideways, looking for any of the reactions he'd always expected to see when he finally told someone about this--- envy, fear, suspicion, disbelief, nosiness, even fascination or wonder. It was kind of deflating that this complete stranger was taking the biggest secret of his life in stride. Dawn's attitude reminded him of Lex or Chloe that way: seen it all, done it all, impressed by none of it. He wasn't sure whether he was disappointed or relieved.

Except, she *had* been impressed, for a minute there, when he'd stopped that guy from bothering her... but it had only been for a minute. He couldn't believe he'd been that obvious, and somewhere underneath the nerves he was freaking out, but he'd never expected her to call him on the strength thing straight out like that. Most people wouldn't have caught it, and they would never have asked him about it. It was just too strange for them to handle. His dad would have a cow if he knew that Clark had gotten caught being different so easily.

Then again, Dawn didn't seem inclined to tell anyone; she was coping with the whole 'secret' part with the same unnerving ease as the rest of it. Maybe her sister really *was* a superhero.

"I can do other weird stuff, sometimes... How'd your sister get to be a superhero?"

Dawn rolled her eyes and flipped her hair over her shoulder before stealing part of the Hershey bar from his arm rest. "She got chosen by some mystic powers when she was my age. The last girl they'd picked died, and they just went on to their next selection. They've got a system. Kind of like Miss America. 'If you can not fulfill your duties as the protector of humanity, the runner-up will be called to kick ass and take names and save the world.'" She ducked her head and her long chocolate-brown hair fell into her face like a veil, shielding her expression from him. Her voice sounded odd, half-bitter and half-proud. "She's really good at it."


"Yeah." Dawn straightened and brushed her hair out of her face, a look of would-be boredom in her eyes, but Clark thought she mostly looked unhappy. "It's a pain, really. And I don't mean only for me, having a sister who's always getting in trouble and getting all the attention. She has the worst time keeping a boyfriend or doing anything non-heroic because she's got this sacred mission going. It's a total time-suck."

"Sounds rough." Clark shook his head and stretched his legs out to prop them on the empty seat opposite him, then let them drop. "Is that why you ran away?"

Dawn glared at him. "Who says I ran away?" He cocked his head at her and raised his eyebrows, and she huffed. "Okay, so what if I did? It's not like they're even going to notice I'm gone. And I did *not* run away 'cause Buffy's a superhero. That would be _lame_. I ran away because everyone I know has gone crazy, and I don't want to put up with it anymore."

"Crazy how?"

"Oh, just... everything." She waved a hand dismissively. "One of my friends is trying to do rehab by herself, and she broke up with her girlfriend, so she's massively bummed. Tara was totally cool, and she still visits us, but I don't see her as much now and that bites --- and two of my other friends are getting married and don't have time for anything else --- and Giles went back to England, of all places, which is beyond stupid. And Buffy's got this post-traumatic-stress from some stuff that happened last spring, so she's freaking about everything when she can even remember to deal, and Spike is just... *Spike*." She made a frustrated noise and bit off more of the Almond Joy, blue eyes snapping with fury.

Clark wasn't following even half of this, but it all sounded pretty intense, and he was kind of afraid of what she'd do if he tried to interrupt her. Dawn made Chloe's rants seem like a freshman debate team practice.

"And school is moronic, and my dad's _still_ not back from Spain, and I just realized, hey! I can have a life somewhere else! Somewhere way cooler than stupid Sunnydale with its monster crime rate and criminal monsters, and... and...."

Dawn seemed to notice his fascinated attention for the first time and trailed off, turning bright pink and ducking her head again. "And, uhh... um. Anyway." She shrugged again. "I'm going to New York City. Or maybe Gotham. Somewhere big. Where they have lots of stuff to do, and see, and none of it has a thing to do with destiny or fate or dead things."

"Hunh." There wasn't really a lot he could say to that, and Clark felt like there should be. Telling her to go home would be hypocritical to the nth degree, but it was still what came out of his mouth first. "You don't think they might be worried about you?"

Dawn snorted and didn't look up from dividing the last of the M&M's between them. "No. They don't know I'm gone yet. I'm not stupid, you know. I'm supposed to be on a campout with some friends for a week. I just cancelled at the last second, and told them I was sick so no one would miss me until I was supposed to be back. By the time they figure out the truth, I'll be gone long enough that they can't come get me right away. I'm not having them take me back until I'm done having fun." She looked up at him shrewdly, and popped a piece of candy in her mouth. "'Sides. I'm not the only one worrying someone; you're doing the same thing. You *so* can't talk, Mr. Boy Scout."

He opened his mouth to protest, then slumped back in the seat, studying the tips of his shoes again. "It wasn't... I'm not running away. Exactly."

Dawn nodded sympathetically, clearly not buying a word. "Right. So, your parents are just taking a nap over there behind the luggage counter. Not."

"No, I mean..." Clark ran a hand through his hair, frustrated, then closed his eyes as he let his hand drop. "I just needed a break. A lot of... stuff, happened... and...." He squeezed his eyes shut harder, trying to block out the images, but couldn't. He shuddered, crossing his arms reflexively. The smell of smoke was in his imagination, he knew that, he *knew* that, but....

"Clark? Hey, I didn't mean to... Are you all right?"

He nodded, licked his lips, and leaned his head back on the hard edge of the bowl chair. "I'm okay."

"Liar." Dawn's voice sounded sharp but concerned. "Just breathe, okay? I don't know how long you can hold your breath, but that hyperventilating is pretty scary."

"Mmm." He let out a breath real fast, took another one, and then slowly released it. He still didn't open his eyes, too embarassed to face Dawn's expression.

"Bad scene, hunh."

"Yeah," he sighed and swallowed hard. "It was just--- I tried, I really did, to save everybody and *still* people got hurt, and Pete's still in the hospital, and I can't even tell him it's my fault, and..." He jerked his shoulders in an attempt to shrug, but he was too tense for it to work. "I didn't want them to worry. I've been calling them. My parents know I'm okay, honest. And it's not like I can get hurt or anything, so...."

"You *know* it wasn't your fault. Whatever it was."

"It was my fault." Clark opened his eyes and turned his head toward her, met her sardonic gaze with his own. "I wasn't fast enough. I didn't think of everything, and it's... All this stuff in Smallville, it's always partly my fault, and... it's complicated."

He shook his head and glanced away. "And then all these reporters from Metropolis showed up and started asking questions, and half of them were calling me 'hero' like you did, and the other ones wanted to know all the details of how I did what I did, and everything else about me, and I just... I couldn't take it. I had to get away." Clark scuffed at the linoleum, feeling really, really tired. "Forget it. You had to be there."

"No, I get it."

"You think so?" He rolled his head toward Dawn listlessly and raised his eyebrows again, studying her. She reminded him a little of Lana; mostly that was the straight dark hair, although she was definitely as pretty as Lana. But the confidence, the know-it-all air--- that reminded him of Chloe, a little bit, and so did the freckles. Chloe was never this matter-of-fact, though. Not about weird stuff. Dawn seemed a lot older than him, in some ways, and he wondered what grade she was in at school, or if she was just smart and cynical for her age, like Lex.

"Buffy does this too. Thinks that just because she's the Chosen One, she can stop all the bad things from ever happening. Bzzzzt! Sorry, you're *completely* incorrect." She raised one eyebrow at him and smirked a little. "Nobody's *that* invincible. I mean, how could it be your fault unless you knew what was going to happen, and didn't even try to stop it? You're not psychic." Dawn frowned, scrunching up her forehead. "You're *not* psychic, right?"

"Not as far as I know." Clark blinked at her, a little confused.

"See? And you tried. So stop blaming yourself, it's boring and stupid."

"Oh, thank you very much."

"No, *really*, I mean, c'mon, Clark." Dawn shook her head and blew out her breath in a sigh. "Look. Buffy's junior year, a lot of bad stuff happened, and she ran away too. She was gone for the whole summer." She glanced down at the last of the candy, and picked out a piece of Almond Joy for him, putting it in his hand. "I really missed her. But I kind of got it, later, why she had to bail... It was just all this overwhelming crap that made her think stuff she didn't even *do* was her fault, and that we were better off without her. She was wrong. Way wrong."

"I don't think that." Clark straightened a bit, then paused, thinking of the meteorite shower, and some of its effects on Smallville. "Much."

"Uh-hunh." Dawn rolled her eyes again, and Clark glared at her; he was getting a little too familiar with that expression. "Look, getting away from it all for a little while --- that's cool. That's not so bad. But thinking it's your fault that you couldn't help everybody--- I don't know what happened, but think about it. How many people didn't even have the guts to try and help?"

Clark opened his mouth, then shut it slowly. "Yeah, okay, but... I have to. I can do all these things that no one else can, and I---"

"Did anybody tell you that you *had* to? I mean, did some funky British guys show up and tell you that you had a Destiny?"

He blinked. "That... would be a no."

"There you go," Dawn said with a definite air of satisfaction, and a beaming smile. "That's *so* cool. You decided to help people and be a hero all by yourself. That's like, automatic good guy status. Even if you screw it up. And it means it can't ever be all your fault if you can't pull it off."

Clark stared at her a moment longer, then grinned. "You realize you're making no sense, right?"

"It's three-thirty in the morning here, that's two-thirty in California, I've slept maybe eight hours in the last three days on that bus, I'm tired, I'm wired, and I'm still right, even if it doesn't make sense. Just accept it, Clark. I know everything. Eat your candy."

"Yes, O Omniscent and Crazy one. Hearing and obeying." His grin widened as Dawn started giggling and let him have the last of the Crunch bar.



"Awww...!" Dawn pouted as the screen displayed GAME OVER in large green letters, then let go of the joystick and crossed her arms, redirecting the pout towards Clark. "Are you sure you weren't using super-speed? Because I thought I totally had your guy when he walked into the treasure chamber."

"I swear, I didn't move any faster than normal. Well, normal for you, not for me." Clark grinned and tapped CK into the champions list. "I just have really good coordination on games like these."

"Maybe I should've said no super-speed *and* no super-coordination."

"Maybe you just should've blindfolded me, so I had to play by the sound of the beeps and yells. And possibly the swords thwacking."

"Ooo, I like that idea. I have some more quarters, we could find something to put over your eyes---" Dawn danced backward at Clark's glare, and tried to look innocent. "Come on, give me a chance to beat you again when you've got a handicap. That ought to be a new experience for you. And isn't that what you wanted when you left home, new experiences?"

"It wouldn't be all that new," Clark muttered, not meeting her eyes, and sticking his hands in his pockets.

Uh-oh. Impending moodiness. Not to be confused with broodiness; Dawn had seen enough of that around Angel (and Riley's more pastel version), to know what a good deep brood looked like. Moody didn't involve curses or vampires or weird sex stuff. Clark probably wasn't old enough for that yet--- but he'd have to be careful that he didn't go there when he got older. Anything less than a full brood could usually be cured by either ice cream or a vidfest, but since neither was available, she'd have to think of something else.

"Wouldn't you think they'd have more to do around here? They don't even have a TV to watch. At least at an airport, we'd be able to zone out on CNN." She grabbed his arm and tugged him back toward the main lobby. "C'mon. Maybe if we look hard enough we can find one in some corner."

"I think it's kind of what you see is what you get, Dawn." Clark 's mouth twitched as he named off 'tourist attractions' as they passed them. "Vending machines. People in chairs. Windows. Ticket counter. Information counter. Luggage counter---"

"Stairwell!" Dawn pounced on the firedoor, letting go of his hand and gesturing grandly up the stairs. "After you, monsieur. Hardware, housewares, bedding, and hopefully televisions and VCRs. Going up?"

"Sure, why not."

The first landing they came to had a door, but when Dawn tried the doorknob it was locked. She peeked in the window and shrugged, unimpressed. "Offices. Boring. But I'll bet they have a TV."

"And rules about passengers being up here, too."

"Hey, there wasn't a sign," she protested, turning and starting up the next set of stairs. "If this really was a keep out or die section, they'd have put a nice big sign on the fire door. We are *totally* innocent bored customers just searching for a television set, which they haven't provided for us. And I'm pretty sure that's against the Geneva Convention." If Spike were here, he'd be bitching about missing Passions, at the very least.... Dawn pushed uncomfortable thoughts of the vampire aside, and grinned at Clark. "And if they keep us prisoner without the bare necessities of life, they can't blame us for trying to escape, can they?"

Clark snorted back a laugh as they hit the top of the staircase and another firedoor. Dawn pushed it open, flinching a moment as cold air hit her, then skipped out onto the well-lit concrete deck of an open parking garage. "Ooo. Much better. Which way are the mountains supposed to be?"

"That way, I think." Clark jerked his chin to the right, and Dawn walked over to the edge of the deck, squinting into the darkened distance between high rises and skyscrapers. "There's too much city light right here to see them, though. Or any stars," he added wistfully, glancing upward as he joined her, leaning against the waist-high concrete ledge surrounding the deck.

"It's still pretty. All the Christmas lights on the apartment buildings, and the red and green ones on those trees... plus, there's actual *snow* here. I still can't get over that."

He flashed her an amused smile and leaned back against the ledge, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's December. Strangely, you do get snow in December in the normal parts of the country."

She whapped him on the arm without looking at him, but not hard. "California's normal. Sunnydale isn't, but California is. And you still get it in some places. We used to drive up to the mountains when my family lived in L.A. after New Year's, just so Buffy and I could have at least one snowball fight a year."

"Meanwhile I'm shoveling the drive five days out of seven after Halloween. There really is no justice." Clark shook his head, then squinted at her quizzically. "Sunnydale isn't normal?"

"Long, boring story. Dimensional portals and demon worlds and it's just a year-long convention center for Bad Things." Which was a lot more than she'd ever been able to explain to anyone else about the place. It was pretty cool, being able to talk to someone her own age about it. You just didn't, in Sunnydale; unless you were one of the Scooby Gang, the badness didn't exist. She'd wanted to talk about it with Melinda or Lisa a couple times, but they never had, even though she *knew* they suspected something was wrong. It was just too hard to start that conversation. "Let's say that if it's appeared in the Midnight Star, it's happened in Sunnydale."

"Sounds like Smallville."

"Get out. Some place in *Kansas* is evil?"

"No, honest, it is," he insisted earnestly. Dawn had noticed that he did a *lot* of things earnestly. "Well, it's not evil, exactly, but... there's a lot of weirdness."


"Umm... Mutant bug people, for one."

"Really?" Dawn turned away from the skyscape to blink at him in surprise. "We get those too."

Now it was Clark's turn to blink. "Yeah? That's... wild. Did they hurt anyone?"

"Nah. Well, Xander got grabbed and almost had to mate with this praying-mantis lady, but Buffy and Giles got there and saved him first."

Clark nodded, eyes wide. "That's good."

"So, did anyone get grabbed by your bug woman?"

"Bug guy. And yeah, but we got her away from him before anything happened. Well, except for her getting cocooned for a little while."

Dawn frowned. "You know, there should be a dating service for these insect types, so they wouldn't have to kidnap people for dates."

"I actually think I might have seen that on-line," he said very seriously.

"Did not."

"I did, I swear." Clark nodded thoughtfully, his expression totally deadpan and his voice so innocent that, for one bizarre second, Dawn believed him. "It was, um, Right in between the want ads for the mayfly vacation tours and the bee swarming schedules."

"Larva love? Yuuuck. You're sick, Clark."

"Thanks." He ducked his head and smiled somewhat bashfully, and she snickered, then hoisted herself on top of the ledge. Clark's smile dissolved into a look of alarm. "What are you doing?"

"What's it look like?"

"Like you're risking a messy death at three stories. Cut it out."

"It's completely safe." She balanced on one leg to show him, holding her arms out from her sides. "This ledge is really wide, and it's not even slick. C'mon, jump up. The view's cool."

"Noooo." Sometime in the last minute or so, Clark's body language had gone completely rigid, and Dawn tilted her head, examining the look on his face.

"Are you scared of heights?"

"No." His lips were pressed together tight, and he wasn't meeting her eyes.

"You are, aren't you?" She held one leg out and did a rounds d'jambes, then squinted at him as she brought her foot back down. "Why? I mean, it's not like you'd probably even get hurt if you fell---"

"I'm *not* scared of heights. They just... make me nervous." He swallowed hard. "I have some bad associations with them, okay? I used to get sick around this one place --- I don't like feeling out of control. I can't---"

"Come up here. There is nothing to be scared of. You can totally handle this."

"Uh-unh." He shook his head violently, and Dawn narrowed her eyes.

"Come *up* here."

"No. Way."

"I might fa-all," she sang, lifting one foot and swinging it around in an arabesque behind her. Clark's eyes got huge, and he vaulted onto the ledge in one move, almost too fast for her to see, grabbing her arms before he steadied himself and let go. "*Much* better."

"Oh, God."

"Breathe, Clark." He wasn't; she reached out and took his hand, squeezing it. "See? I'm fine. You're fine. And it's pretty up here."

He clenched his jaw and glared at her, hanging onto her hand really tight before he looked around. His shoulders relaxed, and then the cords in his neck, and then his whole expression. "Whoa."

"Cool, hunh?"

"Yeah," he whispered. The skyscrapers around them were half-lit up, some of them hung with gold and red electric streamers; down the block, an office park was draped in bright gold, green, red, blue and silver icicles. Most of the balconies of the apartments around them had some kind of seasonal decoration--- a few lined in blinking bulbs, another with candles in the windows, and one with an electric-blue menorah. Down below them, a huge paper poinsettia hung from one of the streetlights, a bow from the next one, a candy cane from the next.

In Sunnydale, Willow would be putting her menorah up in Mom's room, and maybe getting a Yule log. Buffy might have put up the lights by now, knowing Dawn would only get in the way like she always did. Anya had probably talked Xander into some kind of decoration for the Magic Shop. Something super-tacky and overdone, that would have everyone laughing for weeks.

Dawn yanked her thoughts away from home. She'd go back before Christmas. She would. Just not yet, she wasn't ready to deal with them, or any of it. Another Christmas without Dad. As well as Christmas without Tara, without Giles... without Mom....

"Better?" she asked Clark, giving his hand another squeeze.

"Kinda. Yeah." He looked up at the sky solemnly, then back down at her, the tiniest bit of a smile showing around the edges of his mouth. "It's--- I can handle it, as long as I have someone to hang onto, I think."

"Then consider me a volunteer for hand-holding duty, okay?" Ohmigod, had she just said that? He must think she was a *total* geek.... But he wasn't laughing at her, he was smiling, and he wasn't letting go of her hand, either. Breathe, Dawn. "I mean, you know, if you need it."

"Thanks." He tightened his fingers on hers for a second, and she hoped that he'd think her cheeks were red because of the cold. It was so weird. Half the time, he was this complete doof, as bad as Xander, and the other half of the time.... Not thinking about that. Just standing there on the ledge, looking at the skyscrapers and the cool scenery with the cool guy who she could actually talk to about the weirdness that was her life.

She looked away from him and pretended to look at the lights, but couldn't help the smile that snuck up on her in spite of herself. "No problem."



Since leaving home, Clark had: spent the night sleeping under a park bench in Wichita; washed beer glasses in a theme restaurant in Dodge City; hitched a ride with a guy whom he seriously suspected of having recently escaped from La Junta State Prison; and gotten completely lost in the Garden of the Gods. He was currently the furthest away from home that he'd ever been, and having a better time than in the previous four days combined.


The floors at the 20th Street Greyhound Bus Station were waxed at 4 A.M. It was probably a convenient time for it, since the first buses of the day departed at 6:15, and the likelihood of anyone accidentally slipping, tripping or falling on the freshly cleaned floor at that time of night was pretty low. Most customers would have left by midnight, when the last bus of the night headed out, and there would only have been a skeleton crew left inside the station.


Still. That didn't take into account *deliberate* sliding from the reservations counter to the luggage counter in sock feet.

"Do it again!"

It was important to get a good running start from a point by the chairs next to the west wall, running just fast enough to get up a good speed without any bus station employees noticing anything... *weird*, and then slam on the brakes just as they reached the dividing wall between the waxed hallway and the unwaxed main lobby. The resulting momentum could carry them at least sixty feet, fast enough that Clark felt a breeze through his hair as they whizzed across the slick floor. Making sure he had a good grip on Dawn's hand, not too tight and not too loose, was the tricky part. Too tight and she could get whipped into the wall, which had happened the first time, fortunately without her getting hurt. Too loose and she got left behind, and pouted at him when he reached the other side of the lobby without her.

They were starting to get really good at this. Even if they had ended up in a upside-down pile against the bottom of the luggage counter this time.

"Again!" Dawn was already on her feet, holding out a hand to help him up, her face flushed and giggles escaping her every other second.


Clark glanced up guiltily, recognizing the cough of authority even before he met the eyes of the bus station security guard. He scrambled hastily to his feet, grabbing the luggage counter when his feet almost slipped out from under him again. "Um. Hello, sir."

"Yeah, hello. Nice to meet you." The guard crossed beefy arms and raised an exasperated eyebrow. "Can't you kids do something else? Like sleep? Or maybe just hang out? You're gonna hurt yourselves, pulling stunts like this. And you could wake up the other passengers," he added, gesturing over to some of the adults sleeping in the lobby chairs.

"We're not sleepy," Dawn answered. Not snottily, Clark noted--- just matter-of-fact, as if she really didn't know that they were definitely doing stuff they shouldn't be. Well, not that there was a sign against it, as she'd pointed out earlier. But they'd still *known* that someone was going to come over and ask them to stop. Eventually.

But it had been fun while it lasted.

"And we're stuck here, and you don't even have a television. Or any food, other than the snack machines. And it was probably all that chocolate that wound us up in the first place." She sighed long-sufferingly, as if the guard were imposing unfair expectations on her and she was trying very, very hard to be reasonable. "I guess we could go get some more... That'll keep us busy for five minutes. Maybe."

The guard pinched the bridge of his nose, grimacing with his eyes closed. "Uh, no. Look... why don't you go to the 7-11 across the street, get something to eat over there? Maybe work off some of the sugar-high _outside_ the station?"

Dawn's delighted smile was only a tiny bit smug. "You'd let us leave and come back? I thought we had to stay inside the station. That's what you said an hour and a half ago."

"Yeah, well, that was then. Now, I'm thinking I'll let you leave and come back, if you just go *away* for a while."

"We're sorry to be so much trouble, sir." Clark could feel another blush working its way up his neck, and stuck his hands in his pockets, shrugging apologetically. Dawn was rolling her eyes at him, but he ignored that without too much difficulty. "We're just a little... bored."

"Yeah, yeah, I get that, whatever. Just--- don't come back 'til you're calmer, okay? I know you're not trying to bust up the place, but people are trying to sleep, and the floor doesn't need any more polishing. Got it?"


"Yes, sir. Sorry. Again."

"Yeah, yeah... go."

Five minutes later, Clark watched the hot dogs turn slowly on the metal spit as he shook his head, half in wonder, half in embarrassment. "This is definitely your fault. I've never gotten thrown out of anywhere before."

Dawn jumped up on the counter next to the microwave, shoved a burrito inside of it, and closed the door, hitting the defrost button before leaning back on her hands, heels drumming on the cabinets below her. "Really? Never? Hunh. See, you're experiencing more firsts. It's a good thing you're hanging out with me... Burrito?"

"Hot dogs. Two." He handed his money over to the cashier and waited while the woman helped the next customer. He wanted more--- he'd have been happy with five or maybe six hot dogs, his outsize appetite probably due to the floor-sliding maneuvers --- but he didn't have enough money for that. Not if he wanted to call home before he left Denver. And he did. He really, really did.

His mom had practically begged him to come home the last three times he'd called, and his father had promised they wouldn't be mad if he would just turn around and head back to Smallville. He couldn't, though. He just couldn't. Not yet.

"Xander says the hot dogs are made with rat guts."

Clark frowned. "They are not. Pig guts, maybe, but not rat." At least, the ones at home weren't. And who was Xander, anyway? His frown deepened at the continued guilelessness in Dawn's eyes as she smirked at him.

"Are you sure? How do you know where that hot dog's been? Or *what* it's been?"

"How do you know that burrito wasn't made with tofutti and plastic?"

"It's the same kind of burrito they have in *all* the 7-11's." She cocked her head thoughtfully. "Although, that doesn't mean you're wrong, really...."

"Another mystery worth solving." He smiled his thanks at the clerk as she brought his hot dogs over to him, then turned to the large condiment jugs next to Dawn and slathered one with ketchup, the other with mustard and relish. He took a bite out of the first and sighed in relief, the empty feeling in his stomach lightening nearly immediately. "But not now," he added through a mouthful of meat and hot dog bun.

"Nope. Doesn't matter if it's recycled bug people, I'm so hungry I don't care." The microwave dinged, and Dawn hit the button, fishing her burrito out of the machine. "Have you ever been to Las Vegas?" she asked, unwrapping her food with careful fingers. "I stopped there--- I think it was yesterday--- and there was this all-you-can-eat buffet at Circus Circus, for, like, four dollars. I ate like a *pig*. Stuffed myself until I thought I was going to explode or yak. And it wasn't even that good, I just hadn't had anything since I left California."

"Pigs don't actually eat like pigs," Clark pointed out in his sanest and most-knowledgeable voice. "That's a myth."

Dawn narrowed her eyes at him and he fought to keep a straight face. He widened his eyes, and the little frown lines appeared in between her eyes. "They don't," she repeated skeptically.

"Nope. They're very clean. And reasonable. Compared to people, they only eat... oh... a third as much, proportionally speaking. Weight-wise."



"You're lying again, aren't you?"

"Maybe." He grinned around his next bite of food, and swallowed back a smile as Dawn snorted at him. "But you can't tell about which part, can you?"

"So? Like I want to, Mister Farm-Boy? As far as I'm concerned, the hamburger at the supermarket is grown in the plastic, and Lunchables grow on trees, like in the Oz books." She poked him in the side with her foot and took another bite of her burrito.

"I always liked those. I kept waiting for a twister to take me there, when I was little. I thought it was actually possible I could wake up and there'd be winged monkeys outside my window." It shouldn't have been impossible. It made more sense than how he'd *actually* arrived in Smallville, anyway.

Dawn snickered, then nodded her head ruefully. "I looked for a closet that would take me to Narnia for *years*. When I was twelve, Giles --- one of my sister's teachers --- had us over to his house for tea and cookies, and he was English, y'know? And even though I was way too old to believe in it, I kept wanting to check out his closets, just in case. 'Cause lots weirder things had happened before *that*. And if there was a chance, just a little one... well...." The most wistful expression he'd seen since he'd met her flickered across Dawn's face; then she shrugged her shoulders and wouldn't meet his eyes. "Too bad the cool stuff in books isn't the stuff that's true."

"Yeah." If he had to be from anywhere, why couldn't he be from Oz, instead of outer space? At least that might have meant there was a way back to somewhere where everything in his life made sense.

"Do you want a Slurpee?"

"I don't have enough money..."

"My treat, for the slippy-sliding. Grape or Cherry?"


"Bleah. Okay. Guess you didn't get super taste-buds, along with everything else...."

"What's wrong with blue?"

"It's *blue*."

"I like blue."






"Medium's good. Or small. Thanks."

"No problem. Doof."

"Adrenaline junkie."


Giggling at the Slurpee machine resulted in a good bit of the ice getting spilled, but fortunately Clark's reflexes kept it from getting *too* messy.



"Are you sure you've done this before?"

"Yes. And hush. You're making me lose my concentration." Dawn squinted at the padlock and slowly moved the makeshift pick around in the keyhole, and felt the little 'click' as it loosened. Spike would've been proud. Grinning triumphantly, she unlocked the chain on the gate, and swung it open to the outer corridors of Coors Field. "See? Told you."

"You know, I still think this is a really, really bad idea...."

"Clark. Please." She put as much pleading and determination into her voice as she could, trying to keep her new friend from chickening out. After she'd seen the stadium from the 7-11 and gotten the idea, it had taken twenty minutes of threats and begging to get him *this* far, doing something that was blatantly illegal but completely harmless, and she wasn't about to let it go to waste. "We already worked this out. If any security guard comes *close* to seeing us, you'll pick me up and run. We are *not* going to get caught."

"It's not that--- well, okay, it's a little that. But I just... this feels kind of wrong...."

"And again I remind you, that we're not going to *hurt* anything. Or steal anything." Not unless there was a souvenir lying around which she could pocket while Clark's back was turned, anyway. "We're just going to look around. We'd pay to get in if it was open! Our timing is just bad, what with it being winter and all. That's it. We'll put this back *just* like it was when we came in, and they'll never know we were here."

She put the chain back on the gate, and the padlock in place so no one would notice what they'd done. In the light of the streetlights and the half-moon, she could see the worry-lines on Clark's face, and the way he was gnawing at his lower lip. Dawn patted his arm reassuringly, then tugged him towards the stone steps leading up to the stadium. "Will you just *trust* me? And keep your voice down."

"... know I'm *so* gonna regret this...." She heard him mutter under his breath as they sneaked up the steps to the main concourse.

The baseball field was silent, except for a slight breeze ruffling the pennants over the boxes, and their footsteps echoing as they walked around the lower levels. Four blocks away from the bus station, on the edge of the industrial district and near the railroad yards, and they could have been in abandoned city for all the activity they could hear or sense. All of the snack bars were locked up tight, although emergency lights illuminated the staircases climbing to the upper decks, and left regular pools of light around the circular stadium's outer corridors. The place was enormous and eerie, deserted in the way that only empty but still-used buildings were: waiting for the crowds to show up on a moment's notice. So you got the feeling (if you'd grown up in Sunnydale) that they might already be there, invisible and soundless, just waiting for you to turn the right corner.

"This must be pretty cool when it's open," Clark said in a low voice. He pointed to the far seats past the outfield, and a small strip of trees directly below them. "There's fountains right over there, in that landscaped area, that shoot up when the home team hits a home run. I've seen it on TV when the Rockies play the Metropolis Tornadoes."

"Neat." Dawn jumped up and tagged a low-strung Rockies pennant with her fingertips, giggling. "I went to Dodger Stadium in L.A., once. Years and years ago, with my dad. Buffy was doing some skating thing with my mom, so he took me out, just the two of us." She looked away. That was probably the last time the two of them had done anything alone together, a couple years before the divorce. Except that it had never even happened, really. Sometimes she wondered if her dad remembered those things; he knew he had a second daughter, remembered her name--- but if he didn't need to remember stuff they'd done together, and if she didn't mention it to him, was she the only one who knew it had happened?

She hadn't had the nerve to check that, not since she'd found out the truth about herself. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Would it be better if Hank Summers remembered, and stayed in Spain because he didn't care about her any more? Or if he didn't remember and her fake memories were the only proof that he might have--- once upon a time that wasn't real?

"My dad tries to take me to one game a year in Metropolis, if we've got the time. And the money. We didn't go this year, we were so busy...." Clark's voice trailed off into a subdued tone. He reached out for the railing on the staircase leading to the second level, and turned his face away from her. "Our farm isn't doing well right now, so we couldn't hire any extra help this fall. Usually I help out enough to make up for it."

Dawn hurried to catch up with his quicker steps, beating him to the top of the stairs. "But they didn't need you to do stuff right now, right?"

"No...." Clark shook his head, smiling crookedly at her in the light from the EXIT sign. "Dad was even talking about taking a trip to see my grandparents over Christmas, before the fire. Then everything got kinda... crazy. I don't know if we're still going to go." He shrugged lightly, his voice kind of tense. "I'm probably going to be grounded for life to my bedroom and nowhere else when I get home."

She nodded soberly and opened her mouth to agree when she heard the static crackle of a walkie-talkie coming down the concourse, and her eyes widened. Clark's eyes got huge enough to swallow half his face, and it would've been funny if she could've moved. "What do we do?" she squeaked breathlessly, flapping her arms in momentary panic. "He's almost here!"

"What do we do?! What--- I thought---" Clark looked mad, and shocked, and then his face got all calm. Right before he grabbed her and pulled her down and behind a stone pillar on the other side of the staircase, really fast. She swallowed another squeak, mortified, and then used every Sunnydale hiding-don't-find-me skill she had to remain still, her body pushed next to Clark's to share the tiny space between the metal stairs and the ceiling support.

"... yeah, the east concourse is clear... No, I don't see anything." A flashlight beam played on the wall just past them; Dawn was mentally composing her totally humble apology to Buffy along with her plea for bail money, when it left their hiding spot and continued on, along with the security guard. "Nah. Think it was pigeons again. Damn birds. I'm going to do a sweep over to the other side, then down to concourse one. Meet you on the north walk."

His footsteps receded in the distance, and after thirty seconds, Dawn let out the breath she was holding and relaxed into bonelessness against Clark. "Whoooooa. Close one."

"Close one? Close?! Is that all you're going to say?" Clark demanded in a furious whisper. "We could've been caught *right there*, and you were asking me what to do, Miss Oh-We-Won't-Get-Caught, and you are out of your *mind*, Dawn, I can't believe I let you talk me into this---"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, jeez, will you *breathe*? You *are* going to get us caught if you keep spazzing out!" she hissed back.

Clark glared at her murderously, which was actually almost impressive--- except that she'd been glared at by Spike and various nasty things that had wanted to eat her, so it was way off from being really scary. Still, on Clark, she was pretty sure that look was a big indicator of Massively Pissed-Off. "We should leave. *Now*," he whispered, getting to his feet and brushing off the seat of his jeans and the back of his jacket with quick jerky motions. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever done---"

"Clark. Calmness. Cool head. Consideration." She sounded like Giles, which almost made her giggle before she took a deep breath of her own, brain working overtime in order to salvage the situation. "He's going downstairs. So we'll go up, and stay there for a while. They'll miss us completely."

At Clark's gape of disbelief, Dawn smiled, feeling her nerves steady. "Please? C'mon. We won't get caught now. Honest. And... I'm sorry I freaked on you. I got rattled. It won't happen again, I swear. And if we get caught I'll tell them it was all my fault and I made you come with me and you just didn't want me to get hurt."

Clark snorted, but she could see his mouth twitching in the uncertain light, before he rolled his eyes. "Like they'd really buy that? Even if it *is* the truth. Mostly." He sighed, then gestured at the staircase rising to the upper decks. "Lead the way, O Crazy One."

She bounced on her toes and gave him a one-armed hug out of relief. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, you won't regret this, really you won't---"

"I'll believe that *after* we're back at the bus station in thirty minutes. With neither one of us in handcuffs."



"You hitchhiked from Smallville to Colorado Springs?" Dawn frowned up at the stars, and tilted her head back, never looking away from the sky. "That wasn't very smart. *Anything* could have happened to you."

"I didn't take any money with me when I left home. I earned a little later, doing odd jobs, but how else was I supposed to get out of town?" Clark shrugged, and turned back to the inky black above them. "It's not like anyone could hurt me or anything. Most of the people I met on the road were real nice." He adjusted his legs so they draped over the seat in front of him, and fidgeted back into his seat, wishing again that public seating was made for those at least six feet tall. The top bleachers of Coors Field offered an unobstructed view of the purplish foothills, the glittering downtown Denver skyscape, and the stars, but they weren't built for comfort.

"*Most* of them were nice?"

"Okay, there was this one guy. But I handled it."

He'd jumped out of the creep's car in the middle of Colorado Springs, torn between punching the guy through the windshield and running. Running had seemed the smarter option at the time, but now he wondered if he should have turned the guy over to the police. The creep who'd been coming on to Dawn in the bus station had reminded him of the one who'd picked him up a day earlier, and half of his reaction to that situation had been because of remembered embarrassment and confusion from before. "Not that you're wrong about hitchhiking, but it's not like I'm a normal kid. One of the few up sides to being a freak--- I don't have to be afraid of normal things." His voice dropped. "Just abnormal ones."

Clark could see Dawn turn her head towards him out of the corner of his eye, but he kept his gaze fixed on the constellations. After a second she turned back to the sky and pointed at a bright star in the eastern sky. "What's that one?"

"Venus. It's always just south of the moon, this time of year, when it's this close to sunrise."

"And that?"

"Jupiter. They had a conjunction a few months ago, they're still near each other." He took her hand, moving it a few degrees up and took the left. "And that's Mars, that fuzzy one there. If we had a telescope, you could see the ice caps." A streak of light went shooting past Dawn's fingertip, and Clark caught his breath. "Did you see that?"

"Shooting star," Dawn whispered.

"Meteor," Clark corrected softly, letting go of her hand. "Probably burned up in atmosphere. Most of them do."

"That's not very romantic."

"There's nothing romantic about them. They're just rocks from outer space." He noticed her shiver, and turned to face her. "Are you cold?"

"Duh, Clark. My breath's doing the steamy thing, of course I'm cold. Not that I want to go back inside yet," Dawn added hastily.

"Here." He slipped out of his jacket and tucked it around her, even while she shook her head in protest.

"I don't need---"

"Yes you do. I'm the one that doesn't need it." He pulled the fleece up to cover her neck. "I never do, I'm always warm enough."

"Thanks." She smiled at him gratefully, and he felt himself start to blush. When she wasn't bouncing around like a hyperactive version of Chloe (who always acted like she'd had five mocha lattes per hour, any hour of the day), Dawn was... really good company. Maybe because she just accepted everything about him as if it were normal; it made him want to push the boundaries, find out how much she could hear without freaking out. Which maybe wasn't the best idea in the world.

He shrugged and leaned back in his seat again, avoiding her eyes. "You're welcome."

They watched the sky for another couple minutes in silence, then Dawn huddled down into the jackets and turned to him again. "So, you never said where you were headed. When your bus leaves."

"I didn't?"


"I bought a ticket for California. Los Angeles, it's the last stop. "

"The end of the line," Dawn giggled, and he couldn't help but grin.

"We're switching places, aren't we?"

"Almost. Except there's no way I'm stopping at Smallville--- no offense to your hometown."

"None taken--- not after what I've told you about it."

"No kidding." She curled a leg underneath her and rearranged his jacket around her shoulders. "Where in California were you going after L.A.?"

"I don't know, exactly." Clark tilted his head back again, trying to remember what his plan had been when he'd bought the ticket. "I just... When I left Smallville, I just wanted to get *away*. I thought the Pacific Ocean was about as far away as I could get."

Dawn snorted. "So if you could walk on water, you'd be going to Japan?"

He grinned and shook his head. "No... I imagined I'd turn right when I hit the water. Maybe head for the Arctic Circle."

"The Arctic Circle," Dawn repeated in a flat, considering tone that was one step away from calling him crazy. "Yeah, that's a great vacation spot this time of year. Visit Santa and the elves. Get a job taking care of the reindeer."

"Why not? I have experience with animals, I could get them hitched up to the sleigh...."

"I don't think that would work. I heard the elves have a union. They'd throw you back out in a snowdrift. Tell you to come back when you can show references from the Easter Bunny, or maybe the Tooth Fairy."

Clark's snort of derision turned into a chortle, and for a few seconds they had to stifle their laughter, wary of attracting the attention of the security guards again. After they'd calmed down a bit, he slouched down with a sigh. "Yeah, I guess that's out of the question. About as likely as the rest of my life." Which would mean he'd get there and instead of a polar bear or a nice iceberg, there *would* be a workshop with little men making toys. Maybe he'd stop at Alaska instead of pushing his luck.

Dawn nudged him with her shoulder, and raised her eyebrows when he turned his head toward her. "What if you went in some other direction?" She fidgeted inside her jacket cocoon and dropped her eyes. "I mean... what if you went with me to New York?" He blinked, sitting up straighter as Dawn's voice became more rushed. "Look, I don't want to go home. And you don't want to go home. And I've had more fun with you than I have in the last two days, and... if you came along, I wouldn't have to worry about creeps bothering me. Not that I can't take care of myself. I don't *need* you. But ..." She bit her lips, her eyes pleading. "It would be so much cooler, Clark. Like a real adventure. We could go to Atlantic City, and you could still see the ocean, just a different one, and hit the arcades there, and the boardwalk...."

He opened his mouth, closed it, and frowned. "I.... What about my ticket?"

"You could exchange it when the ticket counter opens. And I could pay the penalty, I have lots of money with me, it wouldn't cost you anything extra, honest." Dawn gave a little bounce, her smile widening. "C'mon, Clark. Say you will. You *know* you want to."

He studied her for a second, then turned back to the sky, stretching out across the seat and thinking hard. "I don't know...."

"I swear I won't get you in trouble again. I'll be good, I won't come up with anything crazy for the rest of the trip." At his sideways look, she rolled her eyes. "Okay, not *too* crazy."

Clark took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, staring at the horizon for a long second. "It's not that I don't want to---"

"Never mind." Dawn's voice sharpened; he glanced at her and saw that she was examining a scuff mark on her jeans, her hair veiling her face. "It was a stupid idea. Forget it. Go to California, see the ocean, go to Los Angeles, get eaten by monsters, whatever. Do what you want."

"Dawn, I'd love to travel with you." Okay, that sounded a little stronger than he'd meant it, but Dawn was looking up at him again and her face was surprised, not hurt. "But, I think if I turn around and go east... I'll end up back in Smallville. Even if I don't mean to."


He grabbed her hand suddenly, struck by inspiration. "Why don't you come with me, instead? Come to Los Angeles, show me Hollywood and Disneyland. It's not the same as the East Coast, but it's not Sunnydale. We could have a lot of fun there."

Dawn grimaced. "I wish. But it would never work."

"Why? Why wouldn't it work?"

"'Cause it's too close to Sunnydale, for one. And because my sister's ex-boyfriend runs a detective agency in L.A., for another." She slumped into her seat, her voice bleak. "They'd find me in a day, tops. And that'd be the end of my vacation. Buffy would drag me back to the Hellmouth by my hair."

"Oh." He slowly slid back down into his seat and tucked his chin into his collar. "Rats."

"And damn." Dawn leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed. "Maybe south? To Mexico?"

"I don't speak Spanish. Although I could try to pick it up." He put his arm around her, determinedly not thinking about what he was doing. "But I don't think they'd ever let us across the border, probably."

"Me neither. And I could get us tacos and beer at the restaurants, maybe, but that would be it. So that's out."

"Yeah." He tucked his head on top of hers, closing his eyes. "There's always the Arctic Circle."

"Ask the elves to take pity on us?"

"Or the eskimos."

"I think they're all Inuits these days."

"Whoever. We could tell them that we don't fit in anywhere else, and that we were hoping they'd give us an igloo."

"Sounds nice," she whispered. His shoulder was getting wet. Clark kept his gaze on the sky, knowing she'd hate it if he saw her cry.

"Yeah. It does."

It was so stupid to be disappointed and homesick now, three days after she'd escaped Sunnydale. She shouldn't feel like this, damnit. Spike would disown her--- not that it mattered. But she was tougher than this. She shouldn't be so upset because Clark was going in one direction and she was going in another.

Except that it reminded her of everyone else she was missing, even if they didn't know that she was gone, and couldn't be missing her yet. Anya had to have noticed the money missing from the Magic Box by now, and if she'd figure out who took it, she was probably calling down hexes on Dawn right this second. Xander would have a total cow, completely sure she couldn't take care of herself for one minute on her own. Willow would want to do a tracing spell, which was *such* a bad idea. Buffy....

Dawn swallowed hard and sat up, dashing the tears away from her eyes with a quick brush of her hand, hoping Clark wouldn't call her on it. He didn't, proving again that doof or not, he was essentially a really cool person. She sniffed and settled back in her seat, turning back to look at the sky. "Maybe there've got an extra seat or two on the Space Shuttle. If we can't go underground, we should head up. Get off the planet. There's got to be something out there besides the truth and little grey aliens."

She turned her head to look at Clark, and was surprised at the pensive expression on his face. "What?"

"I..." The hesitant look in his eyes was immediately replaced by a stubborn blankness. "Nothing."

"No, something." She snaked a hand out of the coats to poke him in the side. "What? What were you thinking a second ago?"

"Can I tell you something?" he asked abruptly, his voice really intense and quiet. Almost a whisper, but not quite. The kind of voice you used for important stuff, confessions and bad dreams and junk no one would believe. "Something you can't tell anyone else?"

She frowned, then rolled her eyes. "Um, no. Because I suck at keeping secrets, and you've already weirded me out *so* much." She sighed at the wounded way he jerked his head down. "Clark... of course you can tell me. That was sarcasm, okay? In case you weren't sure, I'm fine with all this. It's been kind of a relief, to have someone my age to talk about this crap with tonight, you know." She reached out and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. "All of Buffy's friends are so much older than me... they always think I'm a little kid, that I can't handle freakiness. But it's--- it's *normal* for me."

He finally looked up at her, still looking a little scared, and Dawn grinned. "I'll bet you another hot dog that whatever you tell me, I can top it. Really. Go for it. I *dare* you to try and shock me."

Clark narrowed his eyes, then the challenge faded away and he just looked nervous again. "I'm an.... mmhmhm," he mumbled to his shoes, avoiding looking at her.

"You're a what?"

"I'm... I'm from...." He set his jaw and looked her full in the face. "I live in Kansas. But I'm from outer space."

Dawn blinked and tilted her head. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Clark looked like he was holding his breath, and Dawn wondered if he'd ever told *anyone* about this before.

"How'd you get here?"

"Spaceship. A little one. My dad has it in our storm cellar." Clark was still watching her, but he seemed to be relaxing a little. "There was a meteor shower, about twelve years ago, Smallville's kind of famous for it---"

"Wait, I heard about that. It blew up parts of the town, and a couple people got killed---" She shut her mouth with a snap at the look on Clark's face; he ducked his head down and pretended to be looking at a string unravelling from the edge of his sweater.

"Yeah. That one. I kind of flew under the radar. Nobody picked up on it. My parents found me just after." He rubbed his thumb along his leg, not looking at her. "That's why I'm different. I think. I'm not totally sure. I don't... I don't know anything about my family. My planet. Whatever."

He looked up, staring her full in the face, his entire body tense, waiting for her reaction. "Do you believe me?"

Dawn stared back at him, momentarily speechless. Did she? Then again... why not? Was it any stranger than anything else she knew for a fact was true? Demons and vampires and Slayers and gods and Hellmouths and why should being an alien make Clark any crazier than she was?

"Yeah. Yeah, Clark. I believe you." She smiled slightly and shrugged. "That's pretty cool. Different, too. You're the first alien I've ever met. Neat."

"Really?" Clark looked so relieved that her grin widened in response.

"Yeah. But you still owe me a hot dog. Because my weirdness tops yours, easy."

He blinked, then looked outraged as he straightened in his seat, green eyes disbelieving. "No way."

"*So* way. Heh. You're an alien. Woo." She twirled a finger in the air, smiling triumphantly. "*I'm* not even real."

Clark folded his arms and cocked an eyebrow at her. "Uh-hunh. You just don't want to buy me a hot dog."

"I'm not, I swear! Well, I'm sort of real. I'm real *now*. Kind of."

"You're crazy. You're really, truly, deeply crazy. And I have to say I admire that, but---"

"I am *not* crazy. I'm a Key. I used to be this energy-force thing, until some monks turned me into a girl and sent me to Buffy, so she'd protect me. It kind of sucks, because I have all these memories of being five and ten and thirteen, and none of it really happened."

"You have to be making this up," Clark protested, unfolding his arms and turning to face her in his seat, his voice incredibly patient. "That's not even possible. I mean, theoretically, it's just barely possible, but the high-level physics involved in turning energy into living matter is beyond current science right now, and even then, you couldn't make it *stay* alive---"

"Like space ships between worlds and guys who can run a hundred miles an hour are impossible?" Dawn flipped her hair over her shoulder and folded her arms. "Why is your life more real than mine, hunh? I believe you're an alien. Why can't you believe I'm not real?"

Clark stared at her for a long minute, his mouth hanging slightly open. Then he closed it and swallowed, his face going through a million expressions in a minute and ending up on amazement. "You really do believe me."


He studied her face, then sighed, his mouth quirking a little. "Thanks." Then his expression got deeply thoughtful. "You're really... You aren't.... You didn't used to be--- human?" At her nod, he leaned his head on his hand, watching her carefully. "Do you remember it? What it was like?"

"No. Not really." She looked away. "Sometimes, I have these dreams... about this emerald light, and stars...." She shrugged, then turned her eyes back to the sky. "I don't know if they're real or not, though. Or just what I imagine it was like."

"Wow." He cocked his head at her for a second, squinting his eyes hard, then suddenly slid back into his seat. "Whoa. I can't tell the difference when I look at you, except...."

"What?" Dawn tensed and turned to him, afraid of what he was going to say.

"I... can see stuff sometimes, like I said. Bones inside people, muscles and stuff..." He shook his head. "You've got all that, you look human, but there's this --- light." Dawn froze, hardly daring to breathe. "It's kind of pretty, really. I don't know what it is, but it's all through you. With most people I can just see lights in their brains, chemicals and stuff I guess--- but with you, it's all over."

"Really? You can see it?"

"Yeah." Clark's smile was shy and not at all freaked out. Which was good, because Dawn was doing enough freaking for both of them. "It's real. You're different, too."

Which wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, and what use was it? It didn't make her tougher or stronger or braver or anything. It didn't give her magic. It didn't keep her safe. "Yeah. Different."

"Hey." Clark reached out and took her hand this time, and she let him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said---"

"No. It's okay." She shrugged, leaning back, body stiff with cold and anger. "It's not your fault. I just... If I'm going to be different, can't it be in a superhero way?" She closed her eyes. "I'm sick of only being different enough that people want to hurt me, or grab me, or use me against Buffy. I want to be the one to save the day sometimes. Or even just be the one who doesn't get hurt."

She held up her right arm, then let it drop onto her armrest. "I got my arm broken five weeks ago --- it healed really fast, but I'd rather it never got broken at all--- and I couldn't stop the guy who did it, because I'm useless! I'm this ultra-special Key, I'm really valuable, but it just means I'm a *thing*. A prize. A hostage. I want to go somewhere where *no one* knows me, or knows about the Key thing, or Buffy's deal, or monsters or saving the world...." She opened her eyes and glared through her tears, then violently brushed them away with the heel of her hand. "But outside of Sunnydale, I'm just a fifteen- year-old who gets picked on by scumbags in bus stations. I *hate* my life."

Clark was looking at her with total sympathy, and that kept her from crying any harder. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah. I wish I had your life."

"No, you don't," he said definitely. "At least you know who you are. You've got people who know about you. I don't know anything and I can't tell anyone about it. None of my friends know, just my parents...." He sighed and turned back to look at the stars. "And they'd freak if they knew I'd told you."

"At least they still love you. At least you have two parents," she whispered. "My mom..." She shook her head, and Clark tightened his hand on hers again, almost enough to hurt. "I wish she were here."

"Your sister loves you, though. Doesn't she?"

She couldn't speak for a second, then she nodded. "More than anything." It was the one thing she didn't doubt. Buffy might be in the middle of losing her mind, she might be screwing up --- again --- but she loved Dawn.

Buffy would *so* lose it when she realized Dawn had run away.

The second after she thought that, everything she'd been avoiding thinking about for two days crashed into her. How it had felt when Buffy ran away two years ago. What it had been like when Buffy had been dead; what she'd said to Dawn, at the top of Glory's tower. How glad she'd been to have her back.

How Buffy was going to blame herself for this, too, even though it really hadn't been about her at all. Well, a little bit. But mostly it was about Dawn, and feeling alone and helpless and hating it, and just once wanting to be the one that left first. And how incredibly mean that was.

"I'm a terrible sister."

"I'm a terrible son." Clark threaded his fingers through hers. "Join the club."

"You're so not. At least your parents know you can take care of yourself. They know you're not dead in a ditch."

"You didn't even want Buffy to know you were gone, and I bet you didn't want her to worry." Which was true, she realized. Well, partly true, at least. Maybe she wasn't a completely terrible person. Clark turned and looked at her in the starlight, and for just a second, she wanted to lean against him and cry. "If you call her right now, she won't have time to get upset before you tell her you're on your way back."

Dawn considered this. "She's so going to kill me."

"Are superheroes allowed to do that?"

"No. But I'll bet she makes an exception this time. I'm always the exception." She yawned and stopped fighting the impulse to lean against him, and put her head down on his arm. "She might not still be mad at me, by the time I get home. At least not mad enough to kill me."

"Probably ground you, though."

"Oh, yeah." She closed her eyes. "Still... maybe I'll get time off for good behavior, since I turned myself in. That always counts on TV."

"Uh-hunh. We can dream, anyway." He sighed. "I think I passed up my last chance to make a deal yesterday. But now, thinking about it, about where I do want to be...." Clark was really quiet for a second, and his voice was hoarse. "I can't stop thinking about my room and the farm and my mom and dad. It's the only home I've ever had. I don't... I don't *want* anything else."

"I don't know what I want. Not yet. But I don't think I'm going to find it out here." Dawn opened her eyes again, and stared up at the stars. "We should go. In a minute. But first... which one are you from?"

"I don't know." Clark sounded incredibly wistful, and Dawn turned her head to look at him and smiled.

"Pick one. Any one."

"But it wouldn't be the real one."

"So? Who's going to say it isn't yours? I want to be able to point to your star, and say I know a guy who used to live around there."

He grinned suddenly and she smiled back at him, and they had stifle their giggles again, before Clark picked out a star on the horizon, just over the mountains. Maybe if she followed that star home, she'd end up in Sunnydale. It'd worked for the Wise Men, why couldn't it work for her?



There was half an hour left until sunrise when Lex walked into the 20th Avenue bus station, which was exactly the sort of place he usually made an effort to never know existed. Typical of Clark, to get him into a run-down urban hole like this without even trying. If it hadn't been for genuine worry --- and the opportunity to earn both the Kents' gratitude and Jonathan Kent's annoyance --- he never would have bothered searching for him, not when it lead to low-class stops like this. Clark might be fifteen but he wasn't stupid; if he'd felt the need to flee his depressingly rural hometown after a stressful week, Lex would have just put it down to heretofore unseen evidence of sanity.

Except that Clark hadn't left a note, hadn't planned his trip, hadn't taken any money with him or done any of a million other smart things that any normal runaway would do. Which was his friend all over, in a way that made Lex want to shake him as much as it made him laugh: impulse control wasn't exactly Clark's middle name. Then again, if it had been, Lex would be dead. It was annoying how hard Clark made it to be mad at him, sometimes.

Like now.

"Look, why don't I call first? It's later in Smallville, and you can think of what you're going to tell your sister while I talk to my parents."

Clark had his back to Lex, his hand on the receiver of a payphone in front of the ticket counter as he spoke to a girl about his own age, or possibly a little younger. She was glaring at Clark half-heartedly, shifting her weight from foot to foot, a defiant look in her eyes that Lex was pretty sure Clark was ignoring, judging by the patient tone of his voice. "You can listen to them yell at me and ground me for the rest of my natural life when I tell them I'm coming home, and get up the nerve to turn yourself in."

"I don't need to get up my nerve. I'm fine."


"I am! I'm going to call her! Right now, okay?" The other teen reached for the phone, then let her hand drop away as she crossed her arms. "Except, um, it is pretty early there; she might not be awake yet. If I wake her up, she'll be mad...."

"You could call someone else...." Clark lifted the receiver and held it out to her.

"No! I mean, no. That would make it worse, if I called one of the Scoobies before I called her. I just--- I have to---" She made a frustrated sound, then grabbed the receiver and hung it up. "What am I going to say? How am I going to explain this?"

"Look, just watch me, and then do what I do. Or, well, not. It kind of depends on how this goes." Clark lifted the receiver again and Lex decided that was his cue.

"You know something, Clark? You are the most *pathetic* fugitive I have ever seen."

Clark whirled around, the receiver slipping through his hands as his eyes widened in shock and growing relief. "Lex? Lex! How did you--- what are you-- Uh... Hi!"

"Hi. Lousy job of running away, Kent." He shook his head mock-sadly as Clark's sheepishness became more pronounced. "Did you call your parents from *every* truck stop you passed, or just the ones where you could beg enough change for the phone?"

"I didn't want them to worry..."

"I don't think you gave them time for that. Between the phone calls, and the way you make new friends in every city you stop in, I've had investigators less than six hours behind you since you left Wichita. Word to the wise, Clark: you are not cut out for a life of crime. Don't even think about it as a career choice. You suck at the getaway." He turned to Clark's newest friend, who had been watching this exchange with fascinated blue eyes, and smiled charmingly. "I don't think we've been introduced. Lex Luthor."

"Dawn Summers. Hi. You're friends with Clark?" The girl cocked her head questioningly, glancing at a steadily reddening Clark, then back to Lex. "How did you find him so fast?"

"It wasn't hard. With the judicious application of monetary compensation and a certain knowledge of telephone databases, you can find anyone in the continental U.S."

"You hacked the phone system and bribed some guys," she translated, smirking.

He grinned back at her. "If you want to put it like that."

"But what are you doing *here*?" Clark cut in, recovering from his surprise and rejoining the conversation. "I mean, not that I'm not really glad to see you--- and, um, if you could help me out in paying off the change to my bus ticket, I'd really appreciate it. I'll pay you back as soon as I can --- but I know how busy you are, Lex. You could've just sent someone---"

Lex glared at him. "And have you give them the slip again? I don't think so. Besides, I wanted to kick your ass in person. What were you *thinking*? Do you have any idea how nuts your parents are going? As well as your friends. It was everything I could do to keep Chloe Sullivan from stowing away on the jet. If you were going to run away, the least you could've done was take some money with you, or talked to me first about hiding out somewhere for a while---"

Clark ducked his head in his trademark gesture of embarassment, flushing red again, but it was Dawn who leapt in to defend him, taking a furious step forward and scowling. "It wouldn't have been running away if he told anybody about it, and you don't even know *why* he did it, so you should just stop yelling him! He's had a really long night and hasn't had any sleep so he can't defend himself, and who says he's going back with you *anyway*, and did you say you have a jet? A real jet?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Hunh. Cool." Evidently the Luthor name hadn't clicked with her, or she wouldn't have been asking. She considered the possession of the jet for a second, then shrugged and went back to glaring. Evidently she was going to work out some of her own issues on him, in lieu of whoever *she* was running away from. "Whatever. That's still no excuse for yelling at him! Why should he want to go home if you're going to be like that? And you're not his dad, so you should just wait until he's already been grounded before you give him a hard time, and what would you know about running away, you---"

"Dawn. Dawn! Thank you, I can handle this!" Clark hadn't raised his voice very much but there was a definite warning in there, which amazingly (and much to Lex's amusement) the irate girl immediately responded to. She shot him one last sullen look before tossing her dark head and affecting a studied nonchalance as if she hadn't been ranting like a harpy two seconds before.

"Your way with women continues to floor me, Kent. How do you do it?" What had Clark done, to get her on his side so fast? Probably just been Clark. Possibly saved her life. With Clark, it was hard to tell which would have more impact on the female of the species.

"Shut up, Lex," Clark muttered back to him. He waited a second, eyeing Dawn for signs of another explosion; when she remained silent and glaring, he sighed and turned back to Lex. "So, um... did you already tell my folks where I am?"

"No, I thought I'd leave that to you."

Clark grimaced. "Thanks. So much."

Lex clapped him on the shoulder. "What are friends for? And forget about the bus ticket, you're going back on the jet. Might as well get one last thrill before you're under indefinite house arrest." Clark's expression darkened, and Lex's gaze sharpened on his face. "You *are* going back, aren't you? I'm not going to force you to, but I believe that was what I overheard you talking about a few minutes ago. If you're not, you could hide out at one of my family's places in Metropolis until you're ready to deal---"

"Oh. No. I mean, I don't think..." His friend sighed heavily, not meeting his eyes. "Are the reporters gone?"

That had him narrowing his eyes, watching Clark closely. "Most of them." The kid was the world's lousiest liar, but the best keeper of secrets Lex had ever met. The trick was getting him to talk, then sifting out what he said from what he very carefully *didn't* say. "Why do I get the feeling your taking off had something to do with them?"

"It's nothing." Big, glaringly obvious lie. Lex let his expression remain dubious, and Clark caved. Clearly this had been bugging him. "It's just... One of them found out I was adopted. And she was talking about doing a background story on me, maybe finding out who my real parents were..."

"And you didn't like the idea."

"I don't---" Clark pushed a hand through his hair, shaking his head vehemently. "The Kents are my family, Lex. I don't *want* to know who my other parents are. I don't want anyone making me leave my mom and dad---"

"So you freaked out and left first?"

"That does sound kind of stupid, when you put it like that."

"I've heard worse." Everything was scary and world-shatteringly important when you were fifteen; even he'd had to go through that. At least Clark had a place to go back to where he'd feel safe, afterwards.

"It was just the last straw, kind of ..."

"If you don't want to deal with it, you don't have to. I can explain to your folks." And make a few enquiries about which reporter needed to be reassigned to Tierra del Fuego. If anyone was going to find out about Clark's background--- and possibly what the hell he was hiding from everyone --- it wasn't going to be some stringer for Newsweek. Lex had first dibs on finding out the truth, he'd been here first.

"No, I definitely want to go home. Just... not looking forward to facing them, is all."

"Clark, get real. They're *your* parents. Adopted or not. They adore you. The worst you're going to get is a grounding. I think your dad was even talking about skipping the lecture if you'd just show up soon." He managed to keep the envy out of his voice as he said this, remembering Lionel's reaction to his own excursion from boarding school at sixteen. Then again, Clark hadn't actually left the country....

"He was kidding. There's always a lecture." Clark rolled his eyes in resignation, and straightened. "Right. I can do this. Pick up the phone. Call them. Tell them I'm coming home. Get chewed out and grounded and deal." He turned to the now more-subdued Dawn suddenly, his expression troubled. "You know, if you want... you could come back with me, if you really don't want to go back to Sunnydale yet. I know my mom wouldn't mind---"

Lex wasn't so sure about that, but Dawn didn't have a chance to do more than bite her lip, indecision written plain on her face, before an acid voice broke into their conversation.

"Right. Not a chance. Road trip's over, Niblet. Get your things and get in the car."


Spike had to give her credit, Dawn didn't even look surprised; she just turned around to give him her best offended glare. "Why would I be going *anywhere* with you? And how long have you been following me? And who said you could?"

"In order: because you're busted, 'bit; ever since Los Angeles; and I don't need anyone's bleeding permission to make sure you don't get killed in the glorious heartland of America. You've had your fun, now it's time to face the funeral march. Let's go." He'd been willing to let her hang about with the kid --- he was too much of a puppy to try anything--- but the new guy was too old and too cocky; she couldn't handle both of them. So it was definitely time to go.

If only she'd listen, for once in her stubborn-as-all-hell existence.

"I won't!" Bleeding lovely. She had to have learned that look from her mum, all she needed was an axe to make it perfect.

Spike glowered at her threateningly enough to have the pup she'd been palling about with take a step forward to defend her. The other bloke just looked entertained, which didn't do a damn thing for his attitude. He held up a hand to stop the kid without turning his gaze away from Dawn. "You won't? Fine. Then we'll leave your pack and I'll throw you over my shoulder before I stuff you in the trunk of the DeSoto! I am not kidding around here, three days on the soddin' highway without a decent rest stop anywhere haven't exactly been a good time for me, Niblet. I let you run far enough to satisfy anyone---"

Dawn's face turned blotchy with rage, the way it did when she was over-the-edge upset, and Spike braced himself for the sonic-range shrieking that was about to commence. "Let me? *Let* me! Who do you think you are, my father? You don't get to *let* me do anything---"

"No, 'cause if I was your father, you'd bloody well have been back in Sunnydale before you crossed the state line. Hell, I'd've locked you in the attic before you could try this stunt---"

"I did just *fine* on my own, I don't need you to watch over me, and it's not as if you really care what happens to me---"

"What the hell are you talking about, I don't care what happens to you? Do you think I took this trip for my health? 'Cause I didn't, 'bit, I haven't had a decent meal since Death Valley and that moronic tourist trap out in the desert---"

"Fine, then turn around and go home and pretend you didn't find me, it's not like they'll notice---"

"Too late for that. Anya knows, and if I don't drag you back in the next day and a half, she'll sic the worst of her old pals after us for the money you stole out of the Magic Box."

"I didn't steal it! I just borrowed it! I was going to give it back!"

"You think that's going to matter to Demon Girl? Don't be stupid. Buffy doesn't know you're missing yet. Get in the damn car, stop being such a drama queen, and we can get back before she knows you ditched your campout." Spike glared at the kid, who was watching the two of them argue like he was at a tennis match, and his pal, who had a hand over his mouth, probably hiding a smirk.

"Why do *you* care?" Dawn's lip was quivering, her big eyes filling up with tears. Anyone who wasn't a monster would've felt sorry for her. Fortunately he didn't have that problem. "You act like you're my older brother or something, but it's all a lie, a big fake lie, why don't you just *stop*!" She stamped her foot, and Spike took a step back in surprise and unexpected hurt.

"Here now! What the hell did I do---"

"You're only doing this to get points with Buffy! If it weren't for her, you'd have let me keep going until I reached New York City!"

Spike stilled, took a slow breath. Why the hell should he care what she said. Even if she did have it all wrong, why should he bother arguing it? "That's not true, and you know it. Stop being a git."

"Isn't it?" She sniffed, turning away from him and letting her hair hang in her face like she did when she was too hurt to look at anyone. "I guess it's not your fault, really. And it's not Buffy's. It's just the way it is. She likes a guy. She boinks a guy. Then they get all weird and leave and it's never the same, ever..."

"What?" That was not a squeak. William the Bloody did not squeak. Certainly not because of anything some brat teenage Key would ever say. "What are you on about? I didn't--- Buffy and me, we haven't---"

Dawn's eyes nearly rolled back into her head with derision. "Oh, please. Talk about *lame*. I heard you and Buffy arguing about what the two of you did. Before Thanksgiving? In the house you wrecked? With the boinking?"

"Ummm..." The bald guy was definitely smothering chuckles, while the kid was just standing there riveted by the little domestic theatre Dawn was staging. Bloody, bloody hell. Why *had* he followed the chit this far? Why didn't he ambush her and drag her back when he had the chance in Las Vegas? "That's not exactly.... what did she tell you about it?"

"She didn't tell me *anything*," Dawn snorted. "She never does. But I know what I heard. Boink, boink, boink. Boink! You two were boinking! And she's all freaked and weird now, and that's going to make you weird, and then you're going to *leave*, and it's not fair that every guy Buffy loves has to go away, just like Dad left Mom, just like Angel---"

"HEY! No comparing me to spineless Pouf-Boy! I am *not* him, damnit! And I'm not your deadbeat paternal waste-of-space, neither!" Christ, he needed a cigarette. He dug into the pockets of his duster for the pack and his lighter, too furious to think straight. "I hung around when she didn't like me, wouldn't give me the time of day, hated my guts --- then I stayed after she was... gone, all this summer--- looked after you, after what happened back in May, you all torn up and me a sodding mess..... Kept your bloody secrets about the shoplifting and the sneaking out, and this is the thanks I get?"

He finally got the cigarettes out and lit one with fast, angry gestures and took a drag, inhaling hard enough to choke if he'd been human. "You really think I'm going to take off in some friggin' black helicopter like Captain Cardboard? Do you think I don't love her enough to stick around until she figures out what the hell she wants?"

Dawn sniffed, staring at the floor, scuffing the tiles with one toe. "I..."

"And as for you, missy, maybe I *should* have let you get yourself kidnapped and your throat slit and your body left in a ditch! Maybe you'd listen to me for once if there wasn't anyone there to look out for you! All the sense of a bloody pea-hen, you have, going off with this tall goof of a scarecrow---" He gestured with the cigarette at the kid, who glared at him and crossed his arms; Spike sneered at the posturing and turned back to Dawn. "--when you know damn-all about him and what he's like, just skip off to break into a stadium with him when you don't know if he'll watch your back---"

"You broke into a stadium? Which one?" The bald guy asked, raising an eyebrow at the boy.

"Umm... sort of... Coors Field, it's just down the block...." The kid was blushing again, but Dawn was studying Spike carefully.

"You followed us?"

"Damn straight I followed you, why do you think the guards let you alone? Gave them a good bit of a chase, convinced them you weren't there, and do you even say thank you? Hell no. And after all this, it's go away, Spike, I don't need your help?" He snarled. "Fine, then. Be like that. But you are *bloody* well coming back to Sunnydale with me, because I'm not going to let you scare your sister to death -- again -- because you've got 'issues'! You're stuck with me, 'bit. I told her I'd look out for you and I'm going to, even if she never looks at me again. You *don't* get to die on my watch, and that's all there is to it."

He took another drag off his cigarette and gave her his most ferocious screw- you-don't-care-what-you-think scowl. Dawn met his eyes solemnly, the fury burned out of her, and then she slowly nodded.


"Okay?" He rolled his eyes. "Is this what it takes to get you to listen to sense? I have to throw a tantrum to match yours every time you get a glitch in what you laughingly call your brain? 'Cause if it is, next time I'm just knocking you out."

"There won't be a next time."

"Sure, pet, tell me another. There's *always* gonna be a next time with you."

Dawn smiled guiltily and gave a tiny shrug. "Sorry?"

"Is that a question or an apology?"

"Apology." Her expression had melted back into seriousness. "I'm sorry, Spike. I know you're not like... the others. I do." She lunged forward and hugged him, shocking him into immobility, then just as suddenly disentangled herself and stepped away, trying to look blase'. "Thanks for coming after me."

"Yeah. Well," he muttered, avoiding her eyes and taking another drag off the cig, forcing his hand not to shake. "Don't make me do it again. You won't like what happens. Got it?"

"Got it." She looked back at the pup, all big-eyed and sad, and Spike restrained a groan. The kid was staring back at her with a drowned-kitten expression, and any second now they'd be into round two of the histrionics. Screw that.

"Right. So can we *go* already?"

The bald git coughed to (badly) cover up a chuckle, and stepped away from the kid. "Why don't we give them a chance to say their good-byes. I believe my driver has a ten-year-old scotch in the limo?"

"Scotch?" Spike sighed in defeat, and threw his cigarette on the floor, grinding it out with the heel of his boot. "Any chance he's got tequila?"

"A fairly good one, actually. Clark?" The pup's head came up, all innocence and so much freaking wholesomeness that Spike would be heaving if he spent another minute around him. "Take your time."

Spike glared at the git, then turned back to Dawn. "Five minutes. Make it snappy, Niblet. Daylight'll be burning pretty damn soon."

"Okay." Big blue eyes of assurance again, and why, why, *why* did he ever tell Buffy he'd protect her baby sis? Why didn't he see where that was going to lead? When the hell was he going to be off the hook? And why didn't the idea piss him off like it should have any more?

"Right. Cuervo time," he muttered under his breath, turning to follow the kid's watch dog to his limo. A *limo*. Some wankers had all the luck.

"Watching her give you a hard time---"

"Yeah?" he growled.

"Makes me grateful I only have to deal with Clark." The rich git flashed him a wicked smile, and Spike toyed with the idea of punching him in the nose, no matter how much it would hurt. Then again, he was sharing the booze.

"Laugh it up, rich boy. If Dawn spends much more time with him, yours won't be so easy to deal with either."


Dawn waited until Lex and Spike were out the door, then turned back to Clark with a shrug. "That was Spike."

"I guessed that." Clark's smile was doing the lurky thing again. Dawn restrained the urge to give him a whap and grinned back at him.

"He's a little...." She searched for a word, then gave up. Spike was pretty much undefinable, even if you'd known him for a while. "But he's okay, underneath."

"I could tell."


"He came looking for you, right?"

"Yeah," she agreed softly. "He did, didn't he."

"And he didn't kill you for telling the entire bus station that he had sex with your sister," Clark added with a straight face. Dawn didn't restrain the impulse to whap him that time, and got him a quick one on the head. "Ow! You're the one that said it, not me!"

"Oh, that didn't hurt. Big baby. And nobody but me gets to say it at all! It's weird enough that it's happening." She sighed, and leaned against him. It wasn't fair. She wanted to take him home with her. Why did he have to live in stupid Kansas, anyway? "Guess we have to go back now. No escape."

"Guess so. It's too bad." His arms went around her, and she lifted hers to circle him in return. "It would've been cool to see the eskimos."

"Yeah. Or the Space Shuttle."

"Mexico. The beaches, maybe."

"But not L.A. That would never have worked."

"Definitely not L.A." She could hear the smile in his voice and she closed her eyes, memorizing the warmth of the hug and the safe feeling settling along her spine. "Not until next time."

"Yeah. Next time."

Lex and Spike were actually outside in the limo for ten minutes, but Clark could tell that the blond man's patience was definitely gone by the time they got back. "One more minute," Dawn called to them, frantically writing down her e-mail address in the notebook she'd laid on Clark's back. "Almost done!"

"Make it march, Niblet. Haven't got all day," Spike called.

"You never even have *part* of the day," Dawn muttered, as she finished what she was writing with a flourish and ripped the page out of the book. Clark stood up and took the sheet from her, folding it carefully and tucking it into his breast pocket. Dawn already had his home address, phone number, and e-mail tucked into the outside pocket of her backpack.

There should have been something profound or significant he could say to Dawn right now, walking over to Lex to take the limo to the airport. Something about how he wouldn't forget her, or how much it meant to have her as his friend, even if it had been only for a little while. Something about her being special, even if she didn't feel like it sometimes, or about trusting her not to tell anyone what she knew about him. Nothing was coming to mind: for a guy who wanted to be a reporter, he was having a bad case of mental block.

"We're parked in back, Niblet. Out the other door. Say your last good-bye now."

Dawn turned to Clark and smiled brightly, lifting her shoulders in a rueful shrug. "Guess this is it."

"Yeah." He just stood there, feeling awkward and regretful until Spike cleared his throat, loudly. Dawn rolled her eyes and Clark managed to stick out his hand to her. "It's been great knowing you, Dawn. Merry Christmas."

She grabbed his hand and squeezed it, nodding in acknowledgement, probably as self-conscious as he was with Lex and Spike watching them. "You too. Happy New Year. Good luck back home."

"Ditto," he said dryly, and she laughed, dropping his hand and turning away.

It was really silly that saying good-bye hurt this much. He'd only known her a couple hours....

Spike glared at him as Dawn joined him at the opposite door, and Clark resisted the impulse to either make an incredibly rude gesture or give him an equally evil stare back. Dawn was almost through the door when she suddenly stopped and spun on her heel. "I forgot!"

"Dawn!" Spike threw his hands up in disgust as she ran back toward Clark, who remained frozen in surprise, a curious Lex leaning on the door going to the parking lot behind him.

"The pictures, the ones from the insta-photo-mat," she gabbled frantically, searching through her jacket pockets. "You should get half, I forgot to give 'em to you---"

"That's okay---"

"No, wait, I've got them!" She held up the strip of photos with a triumphant look, then carefully tore it in half, giving him the lower two pictures. "Are those okay? Do you want the other ones?"

"No, it's great." Him and Dawn in sunglasses, looking very Blues Brothers; him and Dawn laughing insanely, unable to come up with a final silly pose. He smiled gratefully at her, and she ducked her head a second, hiding behind her hair again. "Thanks, Dawn."

"Yeah." Her voice sounded strangled. "Oh, man. I'm going to regret this, I think."

"Wha---" He could've reacted faster, maybe. If he hadn't been so surprised. Then again, maybe not. He would've had to *want* to avoid her.

Dawn's lips tasted of raspberry lip gloss and cherry Slurpee, with just a hint of chocolate. It wasn't a long kiss, or a deep kiss; but it was warm and sweet and *exactly* what he hadn't been brave enough to do himself.

She pulled away almost as quickly as she'd yanked him in, smoothed his shirt, and backed up a step, blushing tomato-red as she met his eyes. "Bye," she squeaked, turning to run across the lobby.


She stopped and turned around, her face still red and her eyes scared. "Yeah?"

He stuck his hands in his jeans pockets and cleared his throat. Lex was snickering behind him and he could feel the tide of heat rising up to his hairline. "Uh. Thanks." He grinned. "And I still think you're crazy!"

Dawn's slow smile was only a little bit smug. "That's why you like me!" She flipped her hair over her shoulder one last time and sauntered back over to Spike, who was shooting Clark an even blacker look than before. Clark smiled at him extremely cheerfully in response.

"C'mon, let's go, what's the hold up, Peroxide-Man?"

"Awful full of yourself for someone who won't be leaving the house 'til she's thirty...."

Clark watched them until they turned the corner to the back parking lot, then turned back to Lex. Who was shaking his head in wonder.


"Not. One. Word."

"Oh, I have several words, but they won't be anything compared to the words your parents will have. Or, say, Lana...."

"You wouldn't."

"Why wouldn't I?"



DATE: 22 Dec 2001
Subject: Did you survive?

Hey, Clark!

We got back before anyone told Buffy I wasn't at the campout. Anya nearly ripped my head off, but Spike helped me pay back the money I took out of the cashbox. She *still* has me working weekends for free for the next six weeks, for 'mental cruelty' and not telling on me. How'd you make out? Extra chores? Do you have to sleep with the cows?

Spike's keeping me kind of grounded too--- he won't let me sneak out any more. It really sucks, because the tension here is kind of thick for a lot of reasons and I'd like to go to the Bronze (local club) when Buffy's on patrol, but he's made it pretty clear he'll kick my ass if I try. Not that I couldn't kick *his* ass (long story), but since his ass-kicking would include telling Buffy what I did, I've decided to be good. For now. Until I figure something out.

School's the same (I hate Algebra with the fiery passion of a thousand exploding Death Stars), Anya's insane (getting ready for a wedding) and Willow's kind of leveling out, which is good, 'cause she cooks when she feels guilty; now that she feels calmer we have about a million Channukah and Solstice (but not Christmas, she objects on principle) cookies and sweetrolls (maybe I'll send you some) around. I'm trying to get Buffy to mellow out and eat some, but it's an uphill battle. When she's really, really stressed, she forgets that food exists. Tara's been by and she's helping, making soup and stuff to fill her up. Xander won't let Buffy leave the Magic Shop or our house until she eats, sometimes. They don't know what's wrong (about the boinking), but they're watching out for her. Things are starting to look up.

I still miss my mom something horrible. And Giles. Last Christmas we were all together and we thought my mom was going to be okay, but now.... It's all different. Makes me wish we could be somewhere else for the holidays.

And I wish you could be here too. Or, well, somewhere. With snow! :} Too bad the elves lost our reservations for the Arctic Circle.

Thanks for hanging out with me in Denver. I don't know if I said it then, but it really helped me get my head on straight.

Wishing you the best of the Season (and as many blue Slurpees as you can drink),

Your friend Dawn


DATE: 23 Dec 2001
Subject: RE: Did you survive?

Hey, Dawn,

Yeah, they let me live. After a two and a half hour lecture on all the stuff that could've happened to me out there, and why I should always come to them first, and how worried they were about me, and...

Sorry, my eyes started glazing over there.

Seriously, they weren't as mad as I thought they'd be. Mostly I think they were scared, and they know I'm sorry I freaked them out. I am grounded until New Year's (my friend Pete's having a getting-out-of-the-hospital party and they decided I could go to that) but not beyond. I'm not sleeping with the cows (we don't have cows, Crazy One. Otherwise, maybe I would be). The chores didn't increase, but I'm completely without phone privileges for a month --- if you want to talk, it'll have to be after January 22. You are getting off *so* easy, you know that? Even if Spike is watching you like a hawk.

Pete and Chloe gave me a harder time than my parents did. Chloe chewed me out for being a dork, being an idiot, and being male, then made me promise that if I ran away again I'd take her with me. Pete just guilt-tripped me into doing most of his homework and taping the playoff games while he's in the hospital. Lex didn't join in the lectures but he's been teasing me about my "lack of planning skills" ever since we got back.

I'm glad your sister and your friends are dealing better, and I'm sorry your Christmas isn't as happy as it was last year. I wish you could be here too. You could go on the hayride I'm going to miss tomorrow (which sucks) and skate on the pond behind Lex's house (it's way too big for him, you have to come visit so you can see it). And you could see *snow* again, I know how you crave it. Since the elves didn't come through for us, I'm making the best of what I've got. And oh yeah, shoveling the driveway. Again.

I had a great time in Denver too. And you helped me when I was pretty confused. I'm really grateful. And glad we're friends.

Happy New Year (and a giant cherry Slurpee) and best wishes from Your friend



"One of the strange things about out-of-the-way places is that, while you almost never meet anyone there, anyone you do run into is somehow very liable to be friend material.." -- Spider Robinson

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