World of Perpetual Wednesday, World without Superman

by LastScorpion

Thank you to amchau and celli for betas, and to medie for daring me to write it!

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

This fic was spawned by a Wednesday100 drabble. See That's right, it's all medie's fault. Thanks to amchau & celli for betas!

World of Perpetual Wednesday, World Without Superman By LastScorpion

"Superman, I'm not sure this is a good idea."

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

"But what happens then?"

"I have the Recall Device. Once I've averted the apocalypse that destroyed Krypton, I will trigger it and return here. I know what I'm doing, Doctor."

"Well, averting apocalypses is a good thing, but that Recall Device has never been tried over the sort of distance we're talking about here. I can't guarantee it will work."

"Saving a whole planet is worth a certain amount of risk, Doctor."

Dr. Dawn Summers, world-renowned interdimensional expert and theoretical physics prodigy, sighed heavily. Even the lovely, soft, spring air wafting in through the open lab window from the peaceful Devonshire countryside couldn't relieve the horrible headache she was getting. This was such a bad idea.

She sighed again. "Fine," she said and went behind the console to finish the necessary adjustments to the mechanism. It wasn't that she mistrusted Dr. Swann's calculations about the exact time and place of Krypton's immolation. She was certain the addressing protocols would work. She had no doubt that she could set Superman right down on the planet Krypton, approximately one solar month (precisely 2,592,000 seconds) before the beginning of its final cataclysm.

It just seemed like a stupid thing to do.

Superman was gratified that the doctor agreed with his plan. Years ago, when he was in the guise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered college freshman, this same Dawn Summers had turned him down flat for a date. She'd had some excuse about her sister being in town for only a short while. He had actually rescued her and the sister from a big monster in the Metropolis Museum that night. Perhaps he was being petty, but it still pleased him that she deferred so readily to Superman's judgment.

"Ready?" Dr. Summers asked.

"Ready!" Superman declared.

In his secret lab located deep below Metropolis, Lex Luthor put the final fiendish touches on his latest magnificent contraption designed to kill Superman. This one was better than all its predecessors, because this device, which he was provisionally calling the Luthinator, would alter time, space, and the fabric of reality itself such that Superman would have never been!

Luthor laughed evilly. Gad, he was a genius!

Reclusive billionaire Alexander Luthor carefully dusted his treasures. This might be the last time he ever saw them. If the worst should happen (worse than being alone for ten years?) then he wanted whoever his trustees sent in to investigate his disappearance to find the penthouse apartment, located high in the New York skyline, clean and neat. Every single "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" collectible was sparkling and in its proper place.

Ever since he was six, Mama had been telling him he had to prepare himself. He was the last of the Luthors, she said, the last there would ever be. She always reminded him he had no brother or sister, no aunt, uncle or cousin.

Father died when Alexander was nine; the helicopter taking him back to Metropolis crashed. Alexander survived only because he was hospitalized in Smallville suffering from the effects of a freak meteorite strike. It was the first time in years that Father had traveled any distance without Alexander. What an amazing coincidence that the helicopter should have crashed that particular day!

Mama had left Alexander when he was sixteen, and Pam, the last person in all the world who cared about him at all, had left when he was twenty-one. He was the last of the Luthors indeed, and had been for nearly ten years.

Alexander meticulously put away his cleaning supplies and made his way into the laboratory. No one knew he could do this. No one knew he had studied every branch of science and history. No one knew that he had technical expertise of this caliber. No one knew anything about him at all.

The apparatus was beautiful, but relatively untried. Alexander was his own test subject. He wasn't precisely sure what would happen, even if it worked perfectly, but he was sure of one thing.

He was so tired of being alone.

Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer (well, technically, just a vampire slayer now) patrolled the dark streets of Sunnydale in silence. Eight years earlier, she and her cohorts had blocked up the mouth of Hell. They'd meticulously researched the spell the Master had botched in 1937, and duplicated his error to wedge the First Evil into the Hellmouth. Ever since then, the streets of Sunnydale had been mostly quiet. Four kills was a big night, these days, just as it had been when she first came to the 'Dale. With any luck, the situation would last sixty years, just as it had before, and she'd be long-dead by the time the First Evil broke loose to directly wreak its will upon the world again.

Slayers and Watchers had dispersed to the far corners of the globe. There were always evils to fight. She stayed here, keeping watch over the Hellmouth, guarding the First Evil, and killing the vampires and demons attracted by its dim, filtered miasma.

She did her job alone. She did it well.

Buffy always saved the ruins of New Sunnydale High School for the last stop of the night. Here the evil vibe was strongest, and it was usually her best hope of an encounter. She lived for killing evil things. She didn't have much of anything else to live for, anymore.

Tonight there was something. She could feel the electricity in the air, taste the ozone from a block away. She ran, and as she ran she saw three bright flashes, one after the other. The first two were actinic violet in color; the last was a pure bright green. Buffy smiled the only smile she had left, the killer's smile, and gripped her sword. Something was happening. Thank God.

"I knew this was a bad idea," Dawn grumbled as she hauled herself to her feet. She brushed her hands off on her labcoat and looked around. "Well, better the Hellmouth you know...." she mused as she started picking her way through the wreckage. "Oh, come now, Doctor," she fumed to herself in a fake deep voice, "I know exactly what I'm doing. You must feel honored to help me save the people of Krypton, for I am Superman!"

"Superman, hmm?" An elegantly saturnine bald man in a sharp white double-breasted suit slipped out from behind a crumbling pillar and blocked her path. He pursed his lips and shook his head at her a little. "Tsk, tsk. I was going for a world entirely without Superman." The man's hands were gloved in black leather; he poked fastidiously at a ruined bit of concrete. "He doesn't seem to have done this place much good, though, has he?" Pale blue eyes bored into hers. He was obviously trying to intimidate her. It might have worked, too, except she'd grown up in this madhouse.

"Try your tricks on some one else, Baldy," she spat. Rubble's a fine source of stakes, and no Sunnydale girl goes anywhere without a cross - Dawn had armed herself before she even made it upright. She was almost ticked off enough to try and take a stab at the guy, regardless of species, when somebody off to the side distracted her and the impeccably dressed young megalomaniac by coughing politely.

"Excuse me?" It was another bald man, this one dressed all in soft black, with touches of lavender at the throat and wrists. He was gesturing behind him at what Dawn instantly recognized as two vampires. "Um, please? There are...."

The man in black was grabbed. Dawn abandoned the gloved man in white and took her stake and cross to the vampires. For such a diffident, ineffectual-sounding fellow, the second bald man was putting up a heck of a fight. The vampire didn't have a solid grip, and it was having a lot of trouble moving its prospective victim into a good position for biting.

The vampire didn't seem to take Dawn seriously as an opponent. That was a good thing, because Dawn was a little out of practice at the slaying. She kept the cross bare in her left hand and struck with the stake. The man in black was surprisingly effective at getting in the vampire's way and staying out of hers. If there hadn't been another vampire and the Superman-hater in the mix, Dawn would have been confident of success.

While she was fighting, Dawn could hear the other man apparently shooting at the other vampire. Then she could hear him swearing as he discovered that guns don't really work on vampires. Then she could hear him fighting hand-to-hand with it. It sounded like he was pretty good; at least she didn't hear him dying yet. She hated that sound.

Then Dawn heard something extremely welcome: the unmistakable swish-poof of a sword whipping through a vampire's neck, followed by a weary, familiar voice saying, "Put the gun away, bud; they're no use against vampires."

Dawn planted her pointy piece of wood in her opponent's heart with a satisfied, "Hah!" then turned and smiled. "Buffy!" she exclaimed.

Oddly enough, so did the man in black.

After all these years, Buffy still found it hard to believe that people would roam around the wreckage of the school in the middle of the night. Okay, crazed cultists of various flavors made a certain amount of sense, and horny teenagers would go pretty much anywhere to escape the prying eyes of their families, but the three people she found fighting vampires tonight didn't fit the profile. Two of them were men, about her own age, and the other one was a dark-haired younger woman in a white labcoat. Mad scientist, then, that would make sense -- with the flashes of light and all. Anyhow, first things first. Buffy killed the vampire that was attacking the guy with the gun; then she went over to kill the one that the other man and the scientist-woman were fighting. Much to her surprise, it was dust before she got there. Even more surprising, the woman looked just like Dawn. She was Dawn.

"Buffy!" the woman -- Dawn -- said.

Buffy did something she never did. She passed out.

The dark-haired woman in the labcoat (could she be the Slayer's kid sister, Dawn?) saved Alexander from the vampire that was attacking him. Then she turned to the blonde, the Slayer, and greeted her. "Buffy!" the woman said.

"Buffy," Alexander breathed. She looked smaller than he expected, terribly thin and tired and worn down with years of fighting. She was the loveliest sight he'd ever seen.

Buffy fainted and fell to the ground.

Dawn was at her side in an instant, and Alexander was right behind. The other man, the one with the gun, looked disinterested and started reloading. Alexander noticed out of the corner of his eye that the man was using a revolver, which seemed uncharacteristically old-fashioned (didn't really go with the gentleman's outfit), even as he focused most of his attention on the Slayer.

"Is she hurt?" he asked.

The dark-haired woman was running practiced hands over the Slayer's body. "No blood, no broken bones, no bumps," she stated. Alexander handed her his jacket, and she competently folded it and tucked it under the woman's head, protecting her from the jagged rubble. "Thanks," Dawn said, without looking at him. The man in white had finished reloading his weapon and was scanning the area. Alexander thought it might be important that nobody leave the group, but he didn't get up the nerve to say anything about it before Buffy regained consciousness.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Dawn asked tenderly. The tone nearly brought tears to Alexander's eyes.

"You're... Who are you?" the Slayer asked hoarsely. Without warning she suddenly poked Dawn hard in the stomach.

"Ow! I'm not the First, Buffy, if that's what you're thinking. I'm me. I'm Dawn, but...." Dawn looked speculatively around her. Alexander watched her draw conclusions from available data, and then he saw her set her jaw resolutely. "I guess I'm Dawn from a different dimension."

The Slayer's eyes took everything in for a second; then she blinked and sat up. "From a different dimension," she repeated.

"Yeah." Dawn sat back on her heels, heedless of the debris. "I think that must be it. Like what Anya used to talk about, you know? World of Perpetual Wednesday, World Without Shrimp? Stuff like that?"

Buffy took a deep breath and stood up. Dawn stood up, too. Alexander stooped and got his coat back.

"Okay. What about these guys?" Buffy asked Dawn, raising her chin and gesturing. "They come with you?"

"No," Dawn answered. "I don't know them. They just showed up here."

Alexander hastened to introduce himself. Where were his manners? "I'm Alexander Luthor," he said, offering his hand. "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance. Um. Buffy and Dawn Summers, I presume?"

Neither of the women shook his hand. He let it drop. The other man was looking at him with an unpleasant, speculating look on his face. Alexander couldn't quite bring himself to meet anyone's eyes.

"All right," Buffy declared. "I'm Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer." She nodded at the dark-haired woman. "We'll assume, for the sake of argument, that you're Dawn Summers from a different dimension." Alexander could see the Slayer's jaw work for a moment; then she addressed him. "You're Alexander Luthor, from yet another dimension?" Alexander nodded. Buffy stepped up to the man in white. "And you are?" she challenged.

Well, well. The Luthinator hadn't turned out exactly as planned, but there was no denying that this was interesting. The blonde, Buffy, would be very interesting, Lex suspected, if she got a little rest and a chance to get cleaned up. He smiled at her -- the Luthor smile.

"I'm Lex Luthor."

Buffy gestured over her shoulder to the milksop in black. "So you're him, but from still another dimension?"

Lex contemplated the other man, who dropped his eyes to the ground and looked uncomfortable. Lex laughed suggestively, and the other man squirmed, just a little. That was interesting, as well. "That seems extremely unlikely," Lex said, disdainfully.

"Then where are you from, and what are you doing in my town?" the blonde demanded.

Lex glared at her. She didn't back down even a tiny bit. Oh, she might be very interesting indeed. Suddenly the whole situation just absolutely tickled him. He roared with laughter, visibly startling the so-called Alexander Luthor and the woman named Dawn, and draped an arm over his opponent's thin shoulder.

"I like you, Buffy," Lex declared. "You have your guns, and you stick to them. I think we're going to be great friends."

Buffy shrugged his arm off and put a few feet of distance between them, with no visible effort. "Whatever," she said. "Let's head back to the house and figure this out. If you-all are from different dimensions, I'm guessing there's something I need to fix."

Apparently, this Buffy mostly didn't drive either. The group walked back to 1630 Revello Drive, and the house was just where Dawn remembered it. Buffy didn't seem to want to talk. She walked fast, out ahead of the others; Dawn and the men had to scurry to keep up, despite their longer legs.

The house was a little different. The rosebushes and the hedges were gone; the yard was just plain grass, trimmed short and green with spring. It looked like the house had been painted recently, plain white with white trim. Dull, Dawn thought, but she didn't say anything about it.

Buffy unlocked the door. She didn't invite them in -- at least that hadn't changed. The inside of the house was barer than Dawn remembered. Only the oldest and most-mended of the Summers family furniture seemed to be there. None of Joyce's old art pieces remained, and there weren't any framed pictures on the walls. Alexander was looking around as if he also thought the house should look different. Lex just looked bored.

Dawn followed Buffy into the kitchen where she was getting herself a glass of water from the faucet. She noticed that the stove was the one that Buffy had replaced in her own world three years ago when the oven and two of the burners wouldn't light anymore. "Do you live here alone?" Dawn asked.

"Sometimes Willow stays here when she's between girlfriends. Sometimes Xander stays here when he's between jobs. He's been really good lately, though. On the wagon for eight months so far, this time."

Alexander had trailed them into the kitchen and was listening avidly. Lex wandered around the living room and eventually turned on the computer, which Dawn remembered Willow giving to Buffy years before.

"What do you hear from Giles?" Dawn asked.

Buffy gulped down the rest of her water and washed the glass before answering. "Giles died. It'll be two years in August."

"Oh, I'm so sorry! What got him?"

"Well, you know he was always an alcoholic. His liver finally gave out."

Dawn hadn't ever thought Giles was an alcoholic. Maybe this world was different that way, too. On the other hand, when Willow went magic-mad nine years before, Buffy had claimed Willow'd always had an addictive personality. Maybe it was just easier for her sister to think that way, rather than that people could change so drastically and so much for the worse in a heartbeat.

"What about your Dawn?"

"Dead. A Gorevanor Demon got her five years ago in Kansas."

Dawn nodded. That was what she'd figured.

Buffy was still talking, in a low voice. "I killed it, of course. Maybe saved the world; I don't know. But I was too slow, and she died before it did."

"Okay, that makes sense," Dawn said. "In my world, I was working on a Stable Steerable Transdimensional Portal. It was experimental, but it totally worked. Superman came to me and insisted that I send him through space and time so he could avert the apocalypse that destroyed his native planet, Krypton."

Lex came into the kitchen and paid attention at the mention of Superman. Apparently he was obsessed. Buffy looked at Dawn like she'd lost her mind.

"Superman?" she scoffed. "What kind of a name is Superman?"

"You never heard of him," Alexander guessed. Everybody looked at him when he spoke, and he dropped his eyes and blushed.

"Well, this is interesting," Lex put in. "My Luthinator shifted me to a world without Superman, rather than just destroying him. Or did it? What is the nature of reality?"

Dawn rolled her eyes at the histrionic philosophizing and turned to Buffy to explain. "In my world, and probably in these two guys' worlds, there was another superhero, not just Slayers. He was a guy who was the last survivor of a destroyed planet, who was sent to Earth when he was a baby, and he went around in a garish spandex costume saving people, and they called him Superman."

Buffy sat down on a tall stool. "That would be kind of handy."

"I guess. For instance, in my world, Buffy and I found and fought the Gorevanor Demon, but Superman joined in the fight before I'd taken more than a couple of slashes, and it died and I survived."

Buffy sighed. "That would be very handy. So, because he saved his own planet, there was never any reason to send him here as a baby, and so there was never a Superman on Earth?"

"I don't know. He was supposed to trigger a Recall Device, which should have brought our own, grown-up Superman back regardless."

"If Jor-El foresaw the cataclysm far enough in advance to fabricate a spacecraft for his progeny, he may very well have attempted to warn his government, whatever that would have been," Lex speculated. He looked like he might have put a lot of thought into this theory. "If Superman blundered into a delicate political situation of any kind, he could very well have gotten himself arrested, incarcerated, or even executed before the end of his world. He may have involved or implicated Jor-El as well, which might have led to the planet being destroyed with Superman still on it, and Jor-El in no position to be able to preserve his son's life."

"And Superman wouldn't be able to fight as effectively there," Alexander added hesitantly. "His strength comes from the Earth's yellow sun."

Buffy looked at him. "So, Alexander. Dawn was transdimensionalling Superman to another planet and time; Lex was playing with his Luthinator, looking for a world without Superman. What were you doing?"

"I, I, I was.... An experiment, an experimental device for dimensional travel, as well. It was the first real test." Alexander gazed at Buffy for a second, then dropped his head again to look at the battered linoleum. "I must have messed it up accidentally."

"Huh. Okay. Well, it sounds like you guys all need to put your heads together and come up with a transdimensional thingie to get this Superman back. Probably too much to do tonight, and I have to be at work at 9:30 in the morning. There's two spare beds and the couch -- Dawn, the extra sheets and towels are still in the big cupboard in the bathroom. Don't make too much noise. Good night."

Buffy walked up the stairs, leaving the dimensional travelers together.

"Okay," Dawn said, "first things first." She sat down at Buffy's old computer. "Let's find out exactly what we're dealing with, here."

Alexander opened up a folding chair and sat next to her. Lex continued to wander around the living room, dining room, and kitchen, picking things up and putting them down, investigating the place.

"Where do we start?" Alexander asked.

"Well, it would help if we knew Superman's secret identity."

Alexander had an idea about that, but before he could gather his nerve to speak up about it, Lex was suddenly there next to Dawn, with an intimate hand on her shoulder.

"Find out what happened to me in this dimension. Alexander Joseph Luthor."

"Might as well," Dawn said. She searched. "Here we go. Alexander J. 'Lex' Luthor. Son of Lionel and Lillian Luthor. Born 1980. Hmm! That's the year before Buffy! Died October 2001. Drove off a bridge just outside Smallville, Kansas."

"I haven't been to Smallville since I was nine," Alexander whispered, nervously running his hand over his bald head.

"I was there," Lex interjected. "I remember that crash. Clark Kent saved my life. He saved me about four times that year...."

Alexander swallowed. "Clark Kent saved you? The reporter for the Daily Planet?"

"Yes. We were friends, oddly enough. Lionel summoned me back to Metropolis later, but Clark and I were friends all that year -- he was my best friend. He still sends me a card every Christmas. What happened to Lionel Luthor in this reality?"

Alexander's notion was becoming more and more certain. He still didn't speak, though.

"Hmm," Dawn said. "Here we go. Lionel Luthor was killed, also in Smallville, Kansas, in a tornado the next year."

"He was killed in a helicopter crash in 1989," Alexander whispered.

The other two looked at him, and he dropped his eyes. Lex returned his attention to the computer, and Dawn followed a moment later.

"What happened to LuthorCorp?"

"It was inherited by an illegitimate son, Lucas Dunleavy, who turned up a few months after Lionel died. He ran it into the ground within four years -- pretty impressive, actually, how fast he made it go broke. His body was discovered in an alley in Las Vegas last fall, shot in the back of the head."

"Dunleavy," Alexander breathed. "Mother had a nurse named Dunleavy."

"Rachel Dunleavy? Did time in an insane asylum?" Dawn asked.

"She died in a car crash when I was six. I think -- I think there was a little child in the car with her, who also died."

Lex chuckled. "Sounds like your mother was considerably more ruthless than mine."

"What are you implying, Lex?" Alexander tried to glare at the other version of himself, but he didn't have the experience or the rage. Lex chuckled again as Alexander's gaze slid back to the floor.

"That's a problem," Dawn stated.

"How so?" Lex challenged her.

Dawn heaved a sigh. "There are certain shortcuts that I can use since we're right here at a mystical convergence, i.e. the Hellmouth, but we still need a lot of raw materials in order to fabricate a dimensional transporter. It sure looks like Buffy still doesn't have any money. You guys -- the Lex Luthor in my world is a wealthy industrialist and a politician. He's the junior senator from Kansas, if I recall correctly. Anyway, he's rich. You guys aren't, 'cause you're dead, and your bastard late half-brother ran through the money you should have inherited, so we can't even pull that long-lost-heir thing. If we have to earn the money to build the transdimensional gate, this could take forever."

"Stealing's faster than earning," Lex purred. Dawn glared at him. She was a lot better at it than Alexander was. "Relax. If I made it all the way to that bridge in Smallville in this world, I probably -- do you mind?"

Dawn obligingly shifted over, and Lex entered some data. After a short while, he snickered in triumph. "There."

"What is it?" Dawn asked.

Lex laughed again. "I used to embezzle money from my father's company in order to fund my own little researches. Oh, don't look so shocked. He expected it; if I hadn't, he would have thought badly of me. This is a numbered Swiss account, and it matches one I used to have when I was young. It wouldn't have made it into any probates -- too well hidden. I should be able to tap it for funds in the morning."

Now Dawn laughed. Alexander felt slightly shocked. He knew, of course, about her adolescent petty thievery and disobedience, but he'd somehow assumed that she'd have more respect for law and order now. "That's great! With three of us, and the money to buy parts, and the energy of the Hellmouth to manipulate, we should be in business in no time!"

Alexander wished he could be as optimistic.

"Not so fast, there, Missy," Lex laughed. Dawn had the enthusiasm that made a good research scientist, and she was well within the bounds of his physical type. (Lex let himself take a two-second in-brain vacation involving both the Summers sisters, a beach, and an assortment of exotic oils. Mmmm.) It was quite cute the way she just assumed that he'd fall right in with her plans. "As always in business, one must ask the question: What's in it for me?"

She turned big indignant eyes on him from about six inches away (they were still seated shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the obsolete computer) and squawked, "What's in it for you? Hello? In the wrong dimension! Why on Earth wouldn't you want to help build the thing that will get you home?"

Lex leaned back and casually crossed his ankles. Dawn had to move or let him brush against her -- oh, she moved. Still, cute and amusing. "What you overlook, my dear Miss Summers...."

"Dr. Summers," she growled.

"Is that, unlike you and young Mr. Shelley over there, I choose to be in this dimension. A world without Superman, and with a numbered Swiss account? I like this world, Miss Summers. I see no reason to leave it."

"You want to stay in a world where you died," she scoffed.

"You have to admit, it's the perfect alibi, should the occasion ever arise to need one."

Dr. Summers looked daggers at him. She reminded him of his second and fourth wives.

Percy Dovetonsils coughed hesitantly, and interrupted the budding flirtation. "About that, um, you said that Clark Kent saved you when you wrecked your car. What happened to Clark Kent in this world?"

It was a good question. Lex turned his attention away from the lovely physicist and back to the piece of crap currently passing for a computer in front of him. Strangely, he could find no evidence of Clark Kent in Smallville. Stupid inadequate machine. Lex was about to hurl the keyboard across the room when Dawn Summers distracted him with a soft hand on his arm.

"Let me drive. I know its idiosyncrasies."

Now that his mind had hold of the question of Clark's fate, he couldn't rest until he knew. He got up and started roaming the dreary little suburban living room again. "Do you know what happened to him yet?" he asked impatiently.

"He doesn't seem to be here," the girl said calmly.

Maybe Clark's friends would know something. "Look up Pete Ross," Lex demanded.

Keys clicked. "Died a couple of weeks after you did, according to the Smallville Ledger's obituaries." She rummaged around a moment longer. "Hmm. The Smallville High School's paper, the Torch, doesn't believe the official story on his death. Okay, Lowell County Coroner's Office. Eww. That doesn't look like natural causes. Looks to me like they had other types of demons in Kansas besides the Gorevanor."

"I've lived in Kansas most of my life; I never met any...." Lex broke off when he saw the photos from Pete Ross's autopsy report. It seemed both horrifying and somehow familiar. "There was a deer, and.... Look in those newspapers again. Weren't there others like this?"

Dawn rummaged through decades-old newspaper records for a while. "Okay. Got 'em. Looks like a deer out by the highway, like you said, and -- hmm -- one other high school boy. That was a day or two before Pete Ross's body was found outside a burning building. Melville's Nursery? A dead girl was found inside, too, burned to death."

"What about Lana Lang?"

"Died just a few days after you did, Lex. Ledger says natural causes, Torch implies all sorts of mysterious.... Eww! Coroner's report. I'd say giant bugs."

"Giant bugs?"

"Trust me."

Lex swallowed. "Chloe Sullivan?"

"She's the one who's writing all these stories challenging the official reports. Hmm. Smallville Ledger, Girl Missing. Police report says runaway. They don't seem to have looked for her very hard."

"Cover up," Lex breathed.

"What about Clark's family?" the so-called Alexander Luthor asked.

Lex looked sharply at him. This time the wimp's eyes didn't slide away.

Dawn hunted and pecked at the computer some more. "Martha Kent died of an apparent heart attack that winter. She was in town volunteering with some sort of Meals-on-Wheels-type program. Jonathan Kent lost his farm soon after, and stuck a shotgun in his mouth. Suicide. Huh. So far that's the only Medical Examiner's Report that I, myself, don't find unconvincing."

Lex ran a hand over his head. Alexander was watching him, just watching. "What?" Lex barked at the other version of himself.

"All dead," Alexander replied softly. "Everyone you knew, right?" A tiny bitter smile flickered across his face. "I know what that's like." Alexander stopped looking at Lex and gazed off into the distance with a thoughtful look on his face. "Clark Kent," he mused. "I never met him, but I've read everything he's written. Daily Planet, and other smaller newspapers before, all the way back to Smallville. I've read everything Chloe Sullivan wrote, too. It's all on-line. I don't get out much," he admitted.

Lex and Dawn looked at Alexander expectantly, wondering where he was going with this. He looked back at them, more confident than he'd seemed so far.

"Clark Kent is Superman," he said softly.

"Clark Kent is Superman?" Dawn repeated. "Clark Kent? I knew him in college - he.... Actually, you could be right."

"Nonsense!" Lex declared. "I'm the only one here who knows Clark Kent more than just in passing, and I'm the only one here who's been engaged in a life-and-death struggle with that cursed alien for the past four years! Clark Kent is not Superman. It's absolutely impossible!! End of discussion!"

"Superman helped Buffy and me kill the Gorevanor, probably saved my life. Clark was the one who knew what I was doing that night," Dawn mused. "Plus, they do look an awful lot alike."

"If you correlate the newspaper articles written by Kent and Lane with the actions of Superman, it becomes obvious that there is a special connection -- many people have commented on that," Alexander stated pedantically. "However, further investigation, unclouded by the obvious charisma generated by either Superman or, to a somewhat lesser extent perhaps, by Clark Kent, makes it clear that the two are, in fact, the same individual."

Lex was muttering something under his breath. Dawn thought he looked a little wild. Then he shook his head. "No! I don't believe it! Of all the people I've ever met, the one I'm sure is not an alien invader is Clark Kent!"

"But the records indicate...." Alexander persisted.

"No! I'm not listening to any more of this poppycock! Clark Kent is not an alien! He's a good man, the best I know, and I'm not listening to this!" Lex towered over the more mild-mannered version of himself, crowding his personal space, fists clenched. Alexander ducked his head and hunched his shoulders, and Lex seemed satisfied by this display of submissive behavior. He turned to Dawn, took a deep breath, and smiled resolutely. "So. It's getting late. Where do I sleep?"

Dawn stared at the two Luthors for a moment, then decided it was getting late. "I'll show you. Come on upstairs, and I'll grab you some sheets." She got him squared away in one of the bedrooms, the one that had been Buffy's when Joyce had still been alive, and wished him a good night.

On the way downstairs, Dawn pricked her left palm with the fingernail of her right ring-finger, which she kept long and sharp for just such a purpose, and surreptitiously marked the banister and the wall. Now if Lex went downstairs while she was sleeping, the energy flow would awaken her. Dawn Summers was a student of more than just physics.

Alexander was sitting hunched in the corner of the threadbare sofa. His shoes and jacket were off. He had his knees drawn up almost to his chin, and his arms were wrapped around them. When Dawn came downstairs into the living room, he turned a pathetically grateful look on her.

"You okay?" Dawn asked.

Alexander nodded, but he still looked pretty upset.

Dawn went over and sat on the old armchair near the couch. "I really do think you're right about Superman and Clark."

Alexander silently nodded again. Dawn felt sorry for him.

"He always seemed like such a great guy. I had a real crush on him freshman year at Met. U., but it never went anywhere. He asked me out one time, but I couldn't make it that week, and then he spent the next two years avoiding me, which he had a total talent for. I went off to England after junior year, and he graduated and eventually ended up at the Planet, and I haven't talked to him since, really, except I guess I did when Superman came to me with this stupid plan."

Alexander was gazing at her with sad gray eyes. "I've never met him. Lex seems to be..." Alexander broke off and took a deep, shuddery breath, then continued, "really attached to him. Like family, or something, but I never even met him in my world."

"I guess you don't have a lot of friends, huh?" Dawn asked gently.

Alexander licked his lips nervously. "No," he whispered. "I don't know anybody. Mama, um. Mother passed away when I was sixteen, and Pam when I was twenty-one. There's the cleaning crew, but they only come in twice a week, and they're usually different every time. My lawyer. I talk to my lawyer once or twice a year, but..." Another deep nervous sigh. "Lex said, he said that Clark Kent sent him Christmas cards. Nobody... And I don't get out much. At all. I don't get out at all, actually."

"That's no way to live," Dawn told him.

"I know," he breathed, eyes locked on hers.

Dawn patted him on the arm, and he flinched. Jeepers. "It really is getting pretty late, and things usually look better after a good night's sleep, or so people keep telling me. Let's get you to bed."

Alexander chivalrously offered to sleep on the couch, but Dawn insisted he take the other bedroom. She didn't trust him to not invite vampires into the house during the night if they just asked him politely.

Alexander felt somewhat overwhelmed. It wasn't just the alternate universe, or the life-and-death battle with real vampires. Dawn Summers, a character from his favorite fictional television program, had just shown him upstairs to bed, in the room that he knew as hers, that had been the storage room at the Summers house for the first five years they'd lived in Sunnydale. She was a beautiful woman; he was disconcerted whenever he looked at her. Looking at any of the others was even more disorienting -- Buffy was amazing, incredible, and she seemed so sad and worn-out. It broke his heart every time he looked at her or thought of her or -- God! This had been the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Not even taking into account that there was another version of him -- an obvious criminal! -- this was by far the stupidest thing he'd ever done!

Also he had no pajamas, and he couldn't decide what to do about that. He finally decided to try to sleep in his clothes, removed his shoes, socks and jacket, and tossed and turned on the scratchy sheets until the sun was almost up.

As soon as it was light enough to see without the risk of disturbing anyone by turning on a light, Alexander gave up on the notion of sleeping. Pam had always told him that an educated gentleman should never go anywhere without a notebook, so he could document any interesting or enlightening thoughts that might occur to him. Alexander always, therefore, carried a notebook, but he never wrote anything in it. Now he got it and a gold pen his dear Mother had given him from his jacket pocket, moved to the dimly morning-lit window, and began to write.

Lex stripped, hung his clothing neatly in the tiny closet, and stretched out in the white-framed bed. The linens were cheap poly-cotton blend, scratchy and a little annoying, but he ignored that as an unimportant distraction. There were several pressing matters at hand, and he turned his impressive intellect to the task.

First things first. The money. He cast his thoughts back in time, to when he was young and heedless and his father was still alive. His formidable memory came through for him again -- he remembered all the secret account numbers, all the passwords. He knew where he could call to get the access he needed to get his money into his hands. Excellent.

What then, though?

Oddly enough, his first impulse was not to take over the world. For many years that had been (mostly) a means to an end. The world needed a counter to Superman. Perhaps the alien had been sent to Earth as a harmless baby; perhaps he started in life as an innocent refugee. However, Lex was certain that whoever or whatever had sent that pathetic infant had possessed a full measure of both power and ambition. No one who could successfully send a spacecraft so far could be ignorant of the effect that Earth's yellow sun would have on a Kryptonian child. Jor-El had had the technology and the drive to save the life of his own flesh-and-blood, his own heir. Common sense dictated that he'd sent his progeny to a planet that he could easily rule. Superman was destined to rule the Earth from the moment his father set his spaceship on its way. Lex had no doubt of that; nothing else made the slightest sense.

However, if his pale AU twin was correct, then Superman was also Clark Kent. Lex still thought the idea was ridiculous, but he also knew that even ridiculous ideas need to be examined. What would happen if a destined Alien Overlord had been raised from a baby by Martha and Jonathan Kent?

No! It was insane. Clark Kent was no alien!

The Kent charm. The Savior of Smallville. That goddam evasive smile.


Lex got up and got dressed again. He had to check this out.

Dawn had found that the Summers basement was still well-supplied with old clothes. There wasn't any jewelry anymore, and Joyce's two good suits, that Dawn remembered packing up and taking to England with her when she was twenty-one (two years dead in this universe, apparently) were missing, but everything that had no monetary value was still there. She'd grown up to Joyce's size; she found and put on a nightgown, then gathered several outfits of Joyce's and this-universe-Dawn's old clothes and started a load of laundry.

She'd just settled herself back down on the sofa, ready to catch a few hours of sleep, when the passing of extradimensional energy tweaked at her blood. She looked up and locked eyes with Lex Luthor, just coming down the stairs.

"Lex," she greeted him, not particularly surprised. "I thought you were going to get some sleep."

"I need to know," he said quietly.

Dawn nodded, got up, and turned the computer back on.

Buffy woke up an hour and ten minutes before her alarm was set to go off, just as she always did. She got washed and brushed and combed. She braided her hair and twisted it into a practical knot, then put on her ugly polyester uniform and sensible black shoes. The thick, unattractive belt with its heavy flashlight and radio was the last touch, and she was ready to head downstairs.

Buffy was surprised to see the alternate universe Dawn and the white-suited version of Alexander Luthor at the computer. She'd actually forgotten how weird things were being again. Oh, well.

"Hi, guys," she said. The other Dawn was wearing one of Mom's old nightgowns. It was shocking how much that hurt, but fortunately the pain didn't last too long.

"Buffy!" the alternate-dimension Dawn exclaimed. "How are you?" She wrinkled her forehead in a disturbingly familiar way. "I thought you said you had to work at 9:30. Why are you up already?"

Buffy shrugged and went into the kitchen. There were still a few teabags and most of a canister of quick oatmeal in the cupboard. She took out the least battered of her old saucepans, filled it from the tap, and set it on the one stove burner that still worked.

The other-world Dawn came in. "Can I help?" she asked.

Buffy gave her a bright smile. "No, thanks. There's not much to my breakfast cooking. You guys okay with oatmeal and tea? I hope so, 'cause that's all there is."

"That'd be great; thank you," the woman replied.

Lex Luthor slid into the kitchen from the front room. He looked tired and kind of depressed.

"Lex?" Buffy asked. "You okay with tea and oatmeal for breakfast?"

He looked at her. She liked his eyes; her heart sped up a little under his focused attention, and whoa! How long was it since that had happened?

"Oatmeal and tea would be fine. Thank you," he said. He ran both hands over his head and turned to Dawn. "I still can't believe it was him! What the hell have I done?"

Buffy put teabags in cups and measured oatmeal into bowls. Not-Dawn reassured Lex that everything would probably work out okay, and said she was going downstairs to get the laundry out of the dryer. Buffy sat next to Lex at the counter to wait for the water to boil.

"Who and the what now?" she asked him.

He turned a startled gaze on her, and oh yes she did like his eyes. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"You can't believe who was him, and what the hell have you done?"

"Ah." Lex sighed. "Superman, my enemy, is secretly Clark Kent, my dearest friend."

"Secret identity."

"So it would seem."

The water boiled; Buffy poured some over everything. She handed Lex a cup, a bowl, and a spoon. "You probably want to let that oatmeal soak a while. This isn't the recommended way to cook it, but it works if you give it long enough."

Buffy jumped a little at the once-familiar sound of the basement door slamming, and somebody else's sister called out, "I'm going to take a shower and get dressed! I'll be right back down!"

"Okay!" Buffy answered. She barely kept herself from adding, "Don't be late for school!"

That hurt, too.

When Alexander heard the shower running, he decided it was probably okay for him to get up. After all, other people were awake and making noise now. He wouldn't be disturbing anybody. Besides, he'd finished what he'd been writing, and for the past twenty minutes he'd been stuck with nothing to do but wonder when it was that his life had gone irretrievably wrong, which was both depressing and pointless. Making the bed wasn't nearly enough distraction for him.

He got his socks and shoes back on, and decided not to wear the coat just yet. Hesitantly, carrying his jacket, he proceeded down the stairs. He paused for a moment on the landing to listen. Voices in the kitchen let him know that he was the last one up instead of one of the first two; he hoped he hadn't kept the others waiting for anything.

Buffy and Lex were drinking tea and eating oatmeal in the kitchen. They both looked sad.

"Good morning," he said politely.

"Hi, Alexander," Buffy said. Lex just looked at him and sighed. Buffy started to get up, saying, "Do you want some tea and oatmeal? That water's almost still boiling...."

He waved his hands at her in a way that he hoped didn't look as stupid and ineffectual as he thought it did. "Please! Don't get up! I, I know how to make tea! I'll just...." Buffy sat back down, and he was able to stop blithering. It didn't take him a moment to find a clean cup and bowl. The tea and oatmeal containers were still out on the counter; he turned the flame back on under the pot, and the water was almost boiling again by the time he found a spoon. All this time, Lex and Buffy hadn't said anything. He knew they'd been talking before he came in.

Clean and shiny, Dawn bounded into the kitchen. She was wearing different clothes than she had been the previous day. "Hi, Alexander!" she greeted him. It seemed somehow incongruous for anybody to be cheerful here this morning. "How did you sleep?" she asked, efficiently assembling food and drink for herself and him while he stood dumfounded. Alexander shook his head a little.

"Um. I didn't. Not really."

"Neither did Lex and I. We've pretty much confirmed that you were right about Clark Kent, though."

Alexander nodded and stirred his tea to cool it. The oatmeal didn't look very promising.

Buffy must have noticed the way he was eyeing his breakfast. As she got up to wash her dishes, she touched him briefly on the shoulder and said, "Just give it a little time to soak up the water, and it'll be fine."

His eyes followed her to the sink. That fleeting contact had left his heart hammering. He licked his lips, then dropped his gaze to his teacup and said, "I wrote down all I could remember about my machine."

"Ooh!" Dawn exclaimed. "Gimme!" She extended her hands, and Alexander automatically handed over his notebook. She opened it and became absorbed in the pages immediately.

"We all know how to build a dimensional transport device. That's how we ended up here," Lex said dryly.

"True, true," Dawn said without looking up. "But I didn't have a chance to bring any notes or sketches. Did you?"

"No," Lex admitted. He got up, leaving his dirty dishes where they were. "I'm going out. There are some things I need to do, people I need to speak with, in order to get my money here. Don't worry. You've convinced me of the necessity for your plan, Dr. Summers. I will be back."

"Great," Dawn commented, still lost in Alexander's notes. She waved vaguely.

"See ya later, Lex," Buffy added. Lex smiled at her in an unnecessarily friendly way before stalking magnificently out of the kitchen. Alexander heard the front door slam behind him.

"This design is really elegant," Dawn said, finally looking up. "It's way smaller than what I had. Of course, you have no way to steer, but we're right on the Hellmouth here, and I should be able to do it with magic alone."

"Magic?" Buffy asked. She looked concerned. "I hope you're being careful."

"I am," Dawn assured her. "My own device didn't even use magic -- I built it in England, and I wanted to make it techno only, so other people could use it, if it worked. The magic will work here, though, easier than a purely mechano-electrical device would, plus, unlike Alexander here," -- Dawn favored him with a blinding grin, and his heart, which had finally been slowing back to normal, started racing again -- "I don't have total recall of my schematics. This is a thing of beauty, Alex."

Alexander could feel the tips of his ears getting hot. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Well, I might as well get going, too," Buffy announced. "Shift starts in forty-five minutes, and it's a half-hour walk."

"You're a police officer?" Alexander guessed.

Buffy snorted. "Security Guard. At the mall. Speaking of which, I couldn't help but notice, you need some clothing? Employee discount."

Alexander felt embarrassed. "I don't have any cash with me."

"Mmm!" Dawn called around a mouthful of oatmeal. She took a velcro wallet out of her jeans pocket and waved some bills in his direction. "Here. I've got some money. Lex is your size; get him something, too -- this won't buy much fancy or even much, but you'll at least have a change of clothes. I'll stick around, maybe get on the phone to some supply places, see what I can do towards the doohickey here."

"It's a plan, then," Buffy said brightly. She took the money from Dawn and handed it to Alexander. "Come on."

Alexander went with her.

"So in your own world you're a billionaire? What's that like?" Buffy asked as they walked to the mall through the sunny, incongruously normal-looking streets.

"Well, it's all inherited wealth," Alexander explained. "I own stock, a controlling interest in LuthorCorp. The day-to-day running of the business is all left to the board. The trustees of Mother's estate are extremely reliable men, and LuthorCorp is a well-established, reliable company."

"Uh huh," Buffy replied, obviously not caring at all about LuthorCorp. "But what's it like to be able to, you know, afford stuff?"

"I never really thought about it," Alexander replied. He liked this version of Buffy. She wasn't particularly stressed at the moment, and the unimportant chitchat and the morning sunshine lent her thin, tired face a semblance of youth and happiness.

"Must be nice," she mused ruefully, a distant look on her face. Alexander's heart broke again. He'd thought he was done with that when Pam finally passed away. Unfortunately, it appeared that his heart was just as fragile as it had always been.

"You save the world," he pointed out. "What's that like?"

She smiled at him. He didn't know how he managed to keep walking. She had the most wonderful smile he'd ever seen. "Thought you said you'd seen me on TV," she joked.

"Hmmm? Oh! Yes, yes, I have. It's...." She had the prettiest eyes, and she was smiling again. Lex took a deep breath. "Yes. I've seen all the way up to when you and your friends collapsed the Hellmouth, trapping the First Evil inside just as the Master was trapped there when you first came to Sunnydale."

Oh, dear. The smile left her face; the light left her eyes. She stopped looking at him, and turned her attention to her path. "That was quite a battle," she said quietly.

"I'm, I'm sorry for your losses. Anya and, and...."

"Spike." She didn't look at him when she said her vampire lover's name. Then she took a resolute little breath and straightened her back. She put a smile on, but Alexander could see now that it wasn't a genuine smile. "That was a long time ago. Lotta water under that bridge. So, what does Alexander Luthor do on a typical day?"

"Um. Nothing, really. I read the papers, and sometimes I have something I'm researching. For the last year or so, I've been tinkering with my dimensional machine. Do my exercises. A little housework; I order my food and cook my meals...."

"A billionaire does his own cooking and housework?" Now the smile looked more genuine. Alexander felt a tremendous sensation of relief.

"Yes, well, Mother would never have a cook in the house, not after I was about four years old. And she stopped allowing us to have a maid when I was eight. A cleaning crew comes in twice a week, for the dusting and vacuuming and windows, but I do my own laundry and dishes, little things like that. I end up dusting and vacuuming quite a bit, too, actually; they never seem to get it just how I.... Um." Lex realized he was babbling and monopolizing the conversation. "Have you saved the world any more times after trapping the First Evil?"

"Well, you heard already about the Gorevanor, when I lost Dawn." The smile was gone again, and she was blinking a lot. Oh, dear. Maybe it was better to just go ahead and monopolize the conversation when everything you could think of to ask the other person about herself just led to tragic memories. Buffy was still talking, though. "Most of the other big prophesied apocalypses have been someplace else, recently. That one was in Kansas, in fact, and the prophecy was all screwed up -- the dates and places were wrong, and it was just chance that I was even there when the damn thing rose. Nothing but bad luck."

"Good luck for the world," Alexander ventured.


They walked in silence for a while.

"There was a thing; I guess you'd call it a big alien invasion. That was pretty near-catastrophic. Last year. We lost Kennedy, and Chao-Ahn, and four other Slayers. Riley died, and about forty other Secret Government Monster Squad guys. They were the ones who called me, us, called in the Slayers."

"Riley Finn's organization? They asked for your help?"

"Well, yeah. It was big. There were a lot of these monstery guys, with a spaceship, and they had big honking weapons. No resistance to magic, though. Good thing Riley did call, though Sam, that's Mrs. Riley Finn, well, Widow Finn now I guess -- she was mad. Said that we had no business using magic; Willow had no business doing magic. But these things...."

"What were they called?" Alexander interrupted.

"I don't know. I was never there when they were trying to talk to them. If they even tried. If they even would have answered. Almost three thousand people died, human beings. In Arizona. There was a huge cover-up. Nobody knows it was aliens, except the government, and the Watchers, and the people who were there doing the fighting." Buffy was blinking again. Alexander wanted to do something to make her feel better, but he didn't have the first idea of what that could possibly be.

"I think, um. Was it last May? Because I think that I saw a story about Superman fighting off a ship full of Breemn; they're mostly space pirates."

"Sounds like. It was May. Of course."

"He fought them in the upper atmosphere. They didn't stay long. No one on Earth was even hurt, except...." Lex mentally reviewed all the news articles he'd read last May and June.

"Except?" Buffy prompted.

"I think maybe Superman himself was hurt. There wasn't anything about that in the news -- he was just a fast bright blur in the TV news footage. It might even have just been stock footage. Clark Kent's byline didn't appear for quite a while after that. Around a month, I think. And the ordinary, regular crime rate in Metropolis went up considerably. I think he must have been hurt."

"Wouldn't surprise me. Those things were tough."

"He's supposed to be invincible, invulnerable."

"Nobody is."

They were almost at the mall. Lex could see the big building coming up.

"Does this Superman have a partner or a sidekick, or anybody like that?" Buffy suddenly asked.

"No, I don't think so. I never heard of one."

"Well, it could be secret. Like a Watcher."

"I guess that's so. I never heard of anyone close enough to him, though. Clark Kent has parents, but they're elderly. His partner, Lois Lane, might be something of that sort, but looking back over the things they've both written, the times, the places, I don't really think so. She seems to be rescued by Superman frequently, but nothing I've read indicates that she knows who he really is, which would seem to be a prerequisite for helping him in his, um, mission."

"Yeah. You know, you know who he is."

Lex just looked at her. They'd gotten to the mall, now, and she'd walked him to the entrance to Sears. Alexander had never been in a Sears before.

"Well, you do. And you're a billionaire, and I'd have to say you're pretty hot in the mad-science department. A hero needs help, and he doesn't even have Slayers to call on, does he?"

"No," Alexander breathed.

"Think about it. When you get back. A guy has to do what he can, doesn't he?" She put her hand on his arm, and Alexander almost hyperventilated. He'd been physically touched more times in the last twenty-four hours than he had in the last two years. "Just think about it. Stuff happens for a reason, you know? See you later, back at the house."

They separated, and Alexander went in search of clothing.

"Have fun shopping," Buffy called as she left. "Have them call me if they give you any trouble about the discount, and be sure to be home before dark!"

Alexander nodded and waved to her, and she headed to the Security Office to clock in. It was nice that the Chief of Security here, Tom Albert, had been in her class back at old Sunnydale High School. He cut her a lot of slack in terms of punctuality and absenteeism, because he remembered Graduation Day, and pretty much knew she was a Slayer. Before this job, every apocalypse had meant a new bout of unemployment. She was determined not to abuse his goodwill.

It was a funny thing, Buffy thought as she roamed the mall, intimidating boys twice her size and glaring knowingly at the teenage girls in the cosmetics departments. In the olden days, she never used to worry. Sometimes she'd fret, or pout, or mope, but the heavy-duty genuine broody worrying was something newish.

When exactly did that happen? She twisted a big guy's arm behind his back and frog-marched him out of GNC, where he'd been boosting herbal bodybuilding supplements. She turned him over to Tom and headed back out to the mall again.

Was it when Dawn died? When Giles died? When she found Xander dead-drunk, face-down in the alley out back of the Fish Tank, with four vampires taking turns? When she finally had to face the fact that it wasn't the magic, or the dark-magic, or the Tara-losing grief; it was just that Willow saw the world mostly in terms of what it could do for her personally? God, Willow. She should call, or better yet go visit, just to make sure she was keeping occupied with her latest spell-research or computer project or whatever. Or whoever. Whatever.

Would Dawn, her own bright Dawn, have turned out just as bad if she'd lived long enough?

Buffy worried through the lunch line at Panda Express, worried as she gave a choking guy in the Food Court the Heimlich Maneuver, worried as she threw out the uneaten two-thirds of her plate of chicken chow mein.

What about this Dawn, this otherworldly Dawn, staying in her house right now? One of the two Alexander J. Luthors she had been saddled with was definitely a shady operator, maybe even a criminal mastermind; the other was a total wuss. Shouldn't that mean that this Dawn should be the opposite or something of her own Dawn? So far, she seemed pretty much the same. Did she have a Buffy at home? Would that Buffy be worried, maybe going out of her mind?

Buffy felt her traditional two-hours-'til-end-of-shift headache starting as she took a lost, crying kid back to the Security Office, listened to Tom make the announcement, waited with the kid 'til her mother showed up. She looked okay; the kid recognized her enthusiastically; Buffy went over to GameKeeper to see if any nerds were trying to swipe dice.

Was there a world where she'd managed to save Jonathan? She thought that almost every time she checked this store. It was annoying. He'd had his chances and made his choices, and why was it her fault that they'd gone bad on him?

Nothing to do about it now, Buffy. Leave it be. 'Cause that was always so easy to do.

She clocked out and said good-night to Tom. She needed a goal or a plan or a list; she'd work on that while she walked home. One: Call Willow and Check Up on Her. Two: Help the new Dawn and the two bald guys get back to their own dimensions -- they sure didn't belong here. Three: Save Lex Luthor from the big shark demon and its vampire minions that were trying to kill him a block from her house. Actually, that should probably move up to number one.

Buffy ran.

Everything had gone exactly as planned, up to a point.

There had been no problem retrieving his money. Lex realized the money technically had belonged to the father of a different version of himself, rather than being his own money. However, those men were dead, and he knew the access codes -- that made it his money, in all the ways that mattered.

There had been no unexpected difficulties in getting his hands on the currency. It was a great deal of money for a cash transaction, but Lex's memory had served him well. The broker in this dimension was exactly analogous to the broker in his own dimension; even the fees (well, bribes might be the more accurate term) had been the same. Lex was relieved he hadn't had to use his sidearm as part of the financial transaction; that lacked a certain finesse.

His biggest miscalculation had been with regard to this new element, the Hellmouth. His business had taken a very reasonable amount of time, in his opinion, but it hadn't left him long enough to get back to the Summers house before dark. Apparently, in Sunnydale, that could be a fatal mistake.

Lex knew how to carry himself. A Luthor never appears to be a target. Although, having met Alexander, Lionel's aphorisms didn't seem to apply to all Luthors everywhere. He knew that he didn't move or look like easy prey carrying an extremely large quantity of cash.

However, given that he was being accosted by three vampires and a walking, man-sized shark, it was entirely possible that they'd smelled it on him.

First things first. A Luthor doesn't surrender. A Luthor doesn't lose. A Luthor's intellect is his greatest asset. Try to talk your way out of trouble first. Never let them know you're afraid, even though they're faster than you are, and you're already surrounded.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" Lex asked insouciantly.

The shark-man certainly had him beat for evil smiles, but Lex didn't let them see that he'd noticed that. The vampires were circling him, and he felt for the sharpened wooden peg he'd tucked into his waistband before he left the Summers house that morning. They had plenty; he was sure they'd never miss it.

Now the vampires were chuckling, and the land shark's toothy grin was even wider than before. "You can hand over the money," it said, in a falsely jolly tone.

"My money or my life, is that it?" Lex challenged.

"Not or," was the reply.

Lex whipped out his stake and lunged for a vampire. It was quicker than he expected; it knocked the wood from his hand.

The lunge had gained him a little maneuvering room, though, and he used the split-second he had to draw his gun. It didn't do him any immediate good.

Another of the vampires had him by the right shoulder; it was leaning in toward his neck. He used its own grip as a pivot-point, putting the vampire's body between him and the shark, and making the vampire's biting angle impossible. Unfortunately, the shark-man was coming in low on the vampire's other side. Lex couldn't break the vampire's hold; even if he got loose of it, he probably couldn't outrun them.

His twists and turns just brought his torso straight into the shark's jaws. It bit him in the left ribcage area; he took the opportunity to put his left hand against its head and empty his revolver into its brain. He'd discovered the previous evening that Kryptonite bullets didn't work on vampires, but they made an extremely satisfactory mess of the land shark's cranium.

Unfortunately, a shark's jaws don't unlock when it dies.

It had been years since Lex had felt this sensation, but you don't forget how it feels when the blood is leaving your body too fast. The shark-man's body was heavy. Lex couldn't even pretend to dodge the vampires anymore, and he was afraid he'd dropped his gun. He wasn't too shocky to feel the bite to his throat, but his vision was shaky enough that he wasn't sure of what happened next.

Suddenly he was on his back on the sidewalk. There was dust all around, and Buffy Summers was hammering at the shark's jaw hinge with something. He could feel the cold of the sidewalk, and the heat of his own blood running from the wounds in his neck and side.

He laughed weakly. "That's a rush I'd forgotten about."

"Sudden blood loss?" Buffy finally pulverized the joint, and the teeth hurt more coming out than they had going in.

"Being rescued from monsters," Lex breathed, and blacked out.

"Dawn!" came an urgent cry from outside. It had been two years since she'd heard that in her own world; it had undoubtedly been longer still since this world's Buffy had uttered it. Dr. Summers instantly dropped her pencil and Alexander's notebook, rushed to the front door, and got the crossbow that was stowed in the exact same place as one always was at home. She loaded it fast, flung open the door, and checked the situation out. Practice makes perfect.

"What's going on?" Alexander asked from the kitchen.

"Check under the sink for the big first aid kit, and come with me!" Dawn commanded.

Dawn spotted Buffy about a block away, kneeling over Lex's body and some sort of big dead monster. "We're coming!" Dawn yelled. She heard Alexander slam shut the cupboard door. He had it. Good. Dawn hurried out into the familiar evil Sunnydale night, Alexander Luthor tagging right along behind.

Lex was unconscious in a big shiny puddle of blood. The thing that had bitten him was lying there thoroughly dead, and there was vampire dust all around.

"Patch up his neck," Buffy said. Okay, one of the things that had bitten him was lying there thoroughly dead. Buffy had taken off her blue polyester security guard shirt and was using it to bind up the really huge bite on Lex's side. Dawn heard Alexander gasp. She didn't know whether it was at the sight of the dead monster, or the puddle of blood, or her sister-analog in her undershirt. They were all about equally worth rolling her eyes about, so she did, not missing a beat on her bandaging-vampire-bite task.

"We've got to get him inside. Shouldn't we get him inside?" Alexander said nervously.

"Yes. We will," Dawn reassured him. She finished with the neck-wound, and stood up to better watch Buffy's back as she cinched the shirt tight across the big shark-bite. Stupid land sharks. A pedestrian was approaching. Two blocks away he walked through the circle of brightness shed by a streetlight, and Dawn saw that it was a vampire in full game face. She shot him through the heart, and he puffed away to nothing. "Are you done yet?" she asked Buffy calmly.

"Almost. Yeah. That's all I can do."

Without being told, Alexander picked Lex up.

"Thanks," Buffy said. She got a stake out from her waistband, and she and Dawn guarded their way back to the house.

Alexander put the body of his double carefully on the battered Summers family sofa. Buffy and Dawn shouldered him out of the way and started in again with the first aid kit. He noticed, as he backed away from the scene, that they worked together well; he would have thought they were each other's sisters, instead of being from different universes.

They were busy; they didn't need him; he couldn't help.

Alexander went back into the kitchen and washed the blood off his hands. (Would it really be identical to his own blood? Shouldn't there have been some sort of reaction? What would happen if Lex died? Would he and Dawn be able to return to their own worlds without him? Did he even want to return to his own world?)

He shook his head, dispelling useless unwanted thoughts. Then he turned the fire back on and went back to a task at which he was nearly competent, cooking. There had been eleven dollars left over after he'd bought a minimal sufficiency of clothing for himself and Lex. It had been enough for chicken, onions, carrots and potatoes, and he'd managed to put together what he considered a reasonable dish from the reduced-price ingredients he'd been able to purchase.

He'd felt almost proud of himself. It had been nice.

Alexander was grateful that he'd remembered to turn off the stove before running out to the street. He'd have felt really bad if the stew were ruined.

The Summers kitchen didn't seem to have much food in it; eleven dollars didn't seem like a big deal to him, but maybe it was. After all, it had been enough.

Jeeze! He was blithering inside his own head!

Alexander started listening to the women in the living room instead.

"I'd expect a big thing like that to bleed more," Dawn said.

"Me, too. It was before," Buffy answered.

"Yeah. I saw the puddle. That shirt's ruined. Yours, too."

"Nah. Well, his is. But Security Guard polyester? The blood comes right out with Tide and cold water."

"Why haven't we been wearing that all these years then?"

"Gee, I don't know. 'Cause it's butt-ugly?" Both girls laughed. "This looks damn good for a big honking monster-bite," Buffy continued. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I think so, Brain. Again with the more kinds of demons in Kansas than a person might think?"


"Or it could be the Mad Science. He did build a transdimensional transport thingie; the guy's gotta have a big brain behind that sleazy zillion-dollar suit."

"Which is completely thrashed," Buffy added.

"Uh huh. There. All patched up. And it's totally stopped bleeding. Did you get all the loose shark teeth out?"

"Yup. Should we make a unique and fashionable necklace?"

It sounded like Dawn was re-packing the first aid kit. "So. What looks human, but heals like that?" she asked.

"Well, Slayers. But Lex is a boy."

Dawn and Buffy came into the kitchen. Dawn put the big white box back into the cupboard under the sink, and Alexander turned off the flame again.

"The stew's finished," he told them. "What did you mean about more kinds of demons in Kansas?"

"Have you ever noticed any sort of accelerated healing, Alexander? Do you recover from injuries extraordinarily fast? Were any of your ancestors non-humans?" Dawn asked him.

"Um. I don't think so. Except for the meteorite swarm in 1989, which I barely survived, I can't remember ever being injured."

Buffy was washing her hands at the kitchen sink. She turned and looked at him searchingly. The thin white tank top that she'd been wearing under her uniform shirt was a little sweaty from her long day at work, and doubtless also from the exertion of the fight. It clung to her, and Alexander could almost see -- he jerked his eyes back up to her face. His ears felt hot. She was laughing at him a little, and she smelled wonderful.

"Where'd you get the scar on your lip?" she asked. Her low, amused voice went right through him; he was afraid he'd hyperventilate and pass out.

Another low, amused voice came from the living room couch. "Fell off a polo pony at the age of five?" Lex suggested.

Alexander whipped his head around and stared. He was surprised his counterpart was conscious. "Y-yes, actually, I'd forgotten," he answered numbly. "Father thought I should play polo. He was trying to teach me, well, he was trying to have me taught to ride a horse. It was too big for me, and I fell. I never did really learn to play."

"I did." Lex coughed, and then groaned. "It feels like I was hit by a truck."

"Ever been hit by a truck, Lex?" Buffy challenged through the doorway.

"Yes, and I survived that, too."

"So, are Luthors a type of humanoid Midwestern demon?" Dawn asked. "You seem to be healing up a lot faster than a regular human-being."

"When you were looking up Smallville last night on the computer, didn't you notice the high incidence of monsters and mutants? You were reading Chloe Sullivan's articles; you must have seen it," Lex replied.

"You're a mutant?"

"I think I must be. It's been like this since 1989. Alexander, are you sure you don't share this quality?"

Alexander, made reckless by embarrassment and frustration, annoyed by all the implications about demons and mutants, said, "Let's see."

He drove a kitchen knife through his right hand.

Okay, so she probably shouldn't have been teasing the guy, but who knew she'd make him nuts enough to put a knife through his hand? Buffy grabbed Alexander by the wrist and got his hand over the sink. She put pressure on the blood vessels there (cleaning up blood had gotten way old years ago) and gave the knife handle a straight, hard pull. Just as she'd known it would, it bled like a sonofagun.

Alexander was looking at her, not at the blood. He didn't look particularly pale or faint, so good for him.

The blood stopped. That was fast. The knife-wound didn't look too bad -- it certainly didn't look like it had gone all the way through his hand just minutes ago.

"Huh," Buffy said. She washed Alexander's hand with soap and warm water, ignoring his little gasp when her manipulations brought his arm into contact with her chest, then got the first aid kit out yet again and stuck a couple bandages on him.

"So. I'm like that, too," Alexander said quietly.

"Yes, and you're an idiot," Buffy replied.

While all the blood and drama had been going on at the sink, Dawn, the other-world Dawn, had served Lex and herself with bowls of chicken stew. The two of them were watching Buffy and Alexander like you'd watch a play.

"What?" Buffy demanded.

"Nothing," Dawn smirked. God, it was easy to forget that this girl wasn't really her sister. Well, her own Dawn hadn't technically been really her sister either, but Buffy didn't like to think about that.

Lex was sitting propped against the old couch cushions. He looked pale, but he was sniggering, and eating stew, so he'd be okay. Dawn, seated in the beat-up old armchair next to the couch, was sniggering, too. Idiots.

Somebody handed her a warm bowl of stew. It was Alexander. Looked like he was okay, too. He had awfully pretty eyes. Buffy went to sit at the dining room table, and Alexander joined her with a bowl of his own.

"This is good," Buffy told him after her second spoonful. He was sort of staring at her again, but she didn't mind. "So," she asked the group as a whole, "do we have a plan for tomorrow?"

"Bandages and boxers," Lex complained as Alexander helped him into bed. "The sleepwear of men who are always being attacked by monsters. Now this place really does remind me of Smallville."

Alexander settled himself in the room's one chair. He looked uncomfortable. "How long did you live in Smallville after the accident?"

"Oh, I wasn't there right after the meteorites. Dad had me moved from Smallville Medical Center back to Met General as soon as he could. No, he sent me to manage his crap factory there when I was twenty-one. He thought he'd teach me a lesson. It didn't work out exactly as he'd anticipated." Lex chuckled, which hurt and made him cough. Alexander looked concerned and got up from his chair. He was still dressed in the jeans and t-shirt that he'd picked out for himself at Sears earlier. Lex thought he looked a lot younger than he ought to. At least it wasn't plaid flannel. The image made him laugh and cough again, still a bad idea with the ribs.

Alexander asked, "Should I get Buffy or Dawn? Do you need a doctor? Is there...."

Lex cut him off. "I'm fine. Why don't you get undressed and lie down. There's plenty of room for two."

Alexander looked supremely uncomfortable. "I was going to sleep on the sofa downstairs."

Lex allowed his scornful disbelief to show on his face. Alexander started squirming before he even said anything. This kid was easy. "You don't think they're going to let you sleep on the couch, do you?"

"Why not?" Alexander challenged.

"They don't trust you. You're too damn needy. They think you'd invite vampires in -- that's what they have to do here, isn't it? Vampires can only enter a dwelling place if they're invited?"

"Well, yes. Or if the owner, or the human resident, is already dead. But I'd never do that! I know better!"

"Really?" Lex drawled, allowing his eyes to close. He was tired. Dawn had assured him that blood-stained, slightly bitten money wouldn't excite any comment among the suppliers she customarily employed. He'd looked over the parts list that she'd made from Alexander's drawing and her own memory. It was good. She was rather impressive, especially considering her youth.

"Really!" Alexander insisted.

Lex sighed. "So if a poor, harmless-looking person, an old lady perhaps, came to the door in the night, begging to come in and use the phone?"

"I wouldn't invite her! I'd ask where she wanted me to call."

"Oh, sir, please, my son, his English is so bad! Please, just let me talk to him," Lex pleaded in a falsetto. He went on in his normal voice. "What if a young, pretty woman comes rushing up onto the doorstep, banging desperately on the door, and her evil abusive boyfriend is right behind her? Or a young teenager shows up crying? Or...."

"Fine!" Alexander interrupted. "You've made your point. I'll sleep in the chair."

Lex snorted. "Come to bed, boy. Don't worry; I'm a wounded man. Your virtue is perfectly safe."

He could hear Alexander huffily changing his clothes, and presently the other side of the bed dipped as the other Luthor got in. Alexander was careful not to touch Lex in any way.

Funny. Ow.

It only took three days to build the doohickey. Buffy was surprised; she'd always thought freaky mad-science projects took longer than that. It turned out Lex was hell on wheels in the parts and procurement department. Alexander's finicky precise fabrication skills were uncanny, and really useful. Dawn's intuitive grasp of the barriers between worlds and her skill with blood-magic meant she could cobble together a mystical blood-based steering gizmo almost as easily as Xander could shingle a house.

Buffy jokingly threatened to enter them all in "Junkyard Wars."

On the third evening after the work had begun, Buffy came home from work as usual. She heard Dawn racing up the stairs from the basement.

"Buffy!" she greeted her sister. "You gotta come down to and look at this! It's finished! Ahead of schedule and under budget! We're ready to go!"

The pang in Buffy's heart wasn't entirely unexpected. She knew she'd let herself get too close to these visitors from other worlds. She'd known it was dumb to let herself do that, especially to let herself see this Dawn as her own sister. She'd known, but she'd done it anyway, and now she'd pay the price in heartache.

"Uh huh," Buffy said. "Can I just go upstairs and get changed first?"

Dawn looked disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm. "Sure. Of course," she said.

Buffy went up to her room, washed her face, and changed into her slaying clothes. She had a feeling she'd need to kill something before morning.

Alexander thought that Buffy looked sad again when she came downstairs to their makeshift basement laboratory, sadder than she'd looked for days. Dawn didn't seem to notice (or she was bravely giving that impression on purpose), but he thought perhaps Lex did. He knew Lex had left the remaining money, some hundred and forty thousand dollars, on their bed that morning for Buffy to find after they were gone. It was a nice gesture. Alexander wished he'd had the wherewithal to make it.

"This is it!" Dawn declared, waving her hands excitedly over the apparatus. She named all the parts, and briefly explained the separate functions. Alexander expected Buffy to roll her eyes, or for them to glaze over with boredom, but instead they were suspiciously bright. He thought he knew just how she felt.

Dawn's exposition finally came to an end. "So this is it. This is the latest, the greatest, the Steerable Transdimensional Luthinator, Hellmouth Version," she declared. Lex, dramatically improved from his injuries, smirked proudly at the name she gave it. Alexander felt like his stomach was full of lead.

This was it.

He was going back. He had to.

"Okay," Dawn went on, mostly for Buffy's benefit, since Lex and Alexander both knew all this. "I'm steering this thing to set each one of us down before we twiddled with the dimensions, temporally speaking. I know exactly when mine was, and I'm steering us with my own blood, so my interaction will be precisely timed. You guys, not so much. I'm building in enough slop; I'm sure my fudge factors will do. You're going to have to look sharp, though; you could have anywhere from twelve minutes to twelve hours before the streams diverge. Now, based on the fact that you two guys have been in close contact for all these days with absolutely no deterioration of either of you, you should be fine...."

Lex interrupted, "However, since the original Lex Luthor from this universe died ten years ago, the situations are not exactly analogous. We know this, Dawn."

"But Buffy doesn't," Dawn persisted. "I've made each of us a thingie that'll substitute for a Recall Device." With a flourish, she drew a white cloth off of a white dish, displaying three little objects. They each consisted of a sharp, pointed quartz crystal wrapped intricately with various kinds of wire. Deliberately, she stabbed her left palm once with the sharp point of each crystal. She handed one to each of the Luthors, and kept the last one for herself. "There," she said. "If you find that you need to or want to return here, then you just stab your hand with the bloody point of the doodad here. The spell's already on it; you don't even need to say anything. Caution: I'm not a hundred percent sure it'll work after the blood dries, so let's hurry right along. Alexander, you're first up."

"What?" Alexander asked. He wasn't ready yet; he didn't know for sure if he could do it, leave these people who touched him and talked to him, and okay, yes, Clark Kent in his own world probably needed help and Alexander had apparently these super-healing powers that would make him a valuable sidekick, but oh, his own world had no Buffy. "Can't it wait until...?"

Dawn and Lex just looked at him. It was Buffy who stepped up. She put her hand on his shoulder. He stopped babbling and just froze, eyes locked on hers. She was smiling at him. He thought his heart might stop.

"It's okay, Alexander. You can do it. Believe me, your world needs you. Fortune favors the brave." Buffy leaned up and kissed him. Alexander had never been kissed before, not really kissed, kissed on the lips. She leaned back from him. He blinked at her and then smiled.

"I love you, you know. That's why I came," he told her. He hadn't thought it would turn out like this.

"I know," she said.

Alexander walked calmly into the device.

"Ready?" Dawn asked.

"Yes," he replied.

There was a bright green flash.

Alexander found himself in his own sterile penthouse apartment. There before him, facing the other way, was a thin bald man dressed in black. He was dusting some "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" knickknacks.

The man turned away from the shelves. Alexander knew he was going to go put away his cleaning supplies, then go into the other room and activate his interdimensional transporter.

"Excuse me," Alexander said gently.

The other man started violently and dropped his dust cloth. "Who, who, who are you?" he choked out.

"I'm Alexander J. Luthor," Alexander said. "I'm you, with four days' more life-experience."

"The device," the other man whispered.

"Yes," Alexander told him. "It worked. I met Buffy Summers. She's...." Alexander stopped and just breathed for a moment, looking at the floor. Then he met his counterpart's eyes. "She's wonderful," he said. Alexander swallowed hard and made a decision. "Go," he told the other man. "Gather up all the ready cash you have in the apartment. Leave everything else behind, and I'll give you your chance." The other's gray-blue eyes widened, startled; then he fled. He was back in a flash.

Alexander gave the crystal to his other self. "Jab yourself in the finger with the sharp end of the crystal," he instructed.

There was a flash of green light.

"Right," Alexander told himself. He was alone again, but maybe not for long. He went to look up Clark Kent's e-mail address on the Daily Planet website.

"I suppose I'm next up," Lex said, smirking. He wouldn't have thought the boy had it in him. On the other hand....

Lex grabbed Buffy and swept her into a full dip. He kissed her thoroughly, just so she'd be able to tell the difference.

"Wow," she said quietly, when he put her back on her feet.

Lex smiled at her, and gave the little sister a wink. "See you around, ladies."

He made sure to have his hand on his pistol when he walked into the transport chamber.

"Ready, Lex?" Dawn asked. He could hear the smile in her voice.

"Go," he told her.

The world was momentarily flooded with bright, green light.

Lex found himself in the dank dimness of his underground lair, deep beneath Metropolis. He saw himself no great distance ahead, working on what he privately now termed The Luthinator Mark I. He realized two things.

One: From behind, that white suit really made his ass look big.

Two: This was the second time he'd shot a man in the back to protect Clark Kent.

Lex chuckled softly to himself as he aimed and fired.

"I guess it's your turn," Buffy said quietly.

Dawn had been resolutely not thinking about how much she didn't want this Buffy to have to go back to being alone again. It was okay, though. This was going to work out.

"I have the Recall Device," she reassured the Slayer. "Once I've warned myself to not let Superman use the Steerable Transdimensional Portal, and told her that he's really just Clark, I'll trigger it and return here. Give me twelve minutes to twelve hours, and I'll be right back at the Hellmouth. There's nothing to worry about. I'll be back."

Buffy smiled at her. "Oh, yeah, 'cause nothing ever goes wrong with stuff like that."

Dawn started to protest that she knew what she was doing, but Buffy cut her off with a little laugh and a big hug. "It's okay, Dawn, it really is," Buffy told her. "I'm just so glad I got a chance to see you again, and to tell you goodbye."

Dawn hugged her back, harder than before. Both women had tears in their eyes.

Dawn triggered the Portal, with a fifteen-second delay.

She stepped into the chamber.

"Goodbye, Buffy," Dawn said. "I'll be back!"

There was a flash of green light.

"Goodbye," Buffy said.

Twelve Minutes to Twelve Hours
A Sequel to "World of Perpetual Wednesday, World Without Superman" By LastScorpion

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

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

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

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

"Good morning," Dawn greeted her counterpart.

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn smiled.

Dawn smiled back.

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

"Goodbye," Buffy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The senator from Kansas?" the other interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Occupied with stuff. And girls."

"I guess that's always the same."

"Much like the age of her girlfriends."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a blinding flash of green light.

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

"Where am I?" Alexander wondered aloud.

"In a bad place," came the answer.

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

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

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

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

"Wow," he breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Key," Alexander interjected.

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

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

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

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

"Spare? Where's...?"

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

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

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

"How'd you die?"

Alexander silently nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You're beautiful," he breathed.

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

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

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

"Hey, Dawn!" she yelled.

*Alphonse de Lamartine, 1820

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