After Clark left, Lana almost dreaded her visits to the Kent farm to care for her horses. She started going later and later in the evening, trying to avoid any contact with the Kents themselves; Martha, whose pale face she would sometimes see peering out from behind the kitchen curtains, and Jonathan, who would put on a facade of false cheer but was unable to hide the sorrow in his eyes. Martha, like Lana, waited for Clark to come home. Jonathan doubted he would.
Lana would ride sometimes. She'd put the saddle on Donatello and take off across the fields like she'd always done when she needed to get away and think. Now it was harder for her to concentrate. Her thoughts refused to leave the track they were on, and they repeated themselves in time to Donny's canter - "He's gone, he's gone, he's gone...."
She'd spur her mount on faster, trying to escape those words, feeling her heart beat increasing as she galloped recklessly across the Kents' back pasture until she reached the fence-line where Donatello would skid to a stop. There Lana would collapse over the saddle horn, chest aching, and alone she would start to cry. The long walk back was torture. She knew Clark wouldn't be there waiting for her. He used to be, before, standing against the fence smiling as she guided Donny through the gate.
His place at the fencepost was empty.
The horses whuffled at her hands as she fed them carrots, their soft muzzles questing like curious fingers. A nip and a squeal followed a small shoving match, and Lana scolded them both for being greedy. She allowed herself a sad smile. Jonathan took good care of them, and charged Lana a pittance for board, but she considered moving them to another place. As she stood in the paddock her back was to the small barn where Clark's loft window was shut and locked. She could feel its presence in an itchy feeling between her shoulder blades. During the first couple of weeks Lana would frequently turn and look up at the window, hoping against hope that as she watched it would open, a light would come on, and Clark would lean out to call her up for a visit.
The window remained closed, and the loft dark. Lana glanced up at it with a sigh.
She found a matchbook lying on the floor when she got home from the barn. No one in the Sullivan home smoked, but Chloe frequently burned candles, especially lately when she always seemed to be holed up in her room working on something. Since Clark left Chloe had become very cold. At first Lana thought she was doing her own method of grieving, but as time passed Lana realized that Chloe didn't seem to care about what had happened to Clark. She said nothing against him, thought, and wasn't in any way angry or short with Lana either. Instead she was simply indifferent. It was as if Clark had never existed.
Maybe he hadn't, Lana thought to herself as she turned the matchbook over in her fingers. Maybe this was all just a bad dream, and when she woke up she would still be the head cheerleader and busy making plans to go with Whitney to Homecoming. School would start in a couple of weeks. Maybe she would wake up then.
Such thoughts brought with them visions of Clark from times past, when he was afraid of her and tripped over his own feet every time she got near him. She recalled his nervous stammer, and his shy, downcast eyes. Lana had always overlooked him before, making the assumption, like many people did, that Clark was boring. He was a geek, a loner, grotesquely shy with little or no personality at all. To learn differently was an eye opening experience, and one which had made Lana reevaluate her perceptions. It had made her fall in love with him.
She closed her eyes, then opened them again. The matchbook lay in her palm and she started to set it down on the hall table when the cover caught her attention. On it was written the name and address of a dance club, a dance club in Metropolis. Chloe didn't go to clubs, as far as Lana knew. Her partying was restricted to the occasional Smallvillian rave, where she would spend more time people watching than dancing, as if such Bohemian activities were beneath her. Of course Chloe was spending much more time away from home these days. If she wasn't in her room she was gone. Maybe she had taken up clubbing. Was she drowning her sorrows in something she shouldn't?
Or was there something else drawing Chloe to Metropolis.
Lana's hand snapped shut around the matchbook, and instead of putting it on the table for Chloe, she pocketed it. Her boots thudded on the stair carpet as she quickly jogged down to the landing and snatched up her truck keys once again.
Lana wasn't exactly dressed for clubbing. Jeans, paddock shoes, and a white shirt grunged with horse slobber weren't exactly fashion chic. Nor, she thought as she checked her make-up in her rear view mirror, was having hay in one's hair considered particularly attractive. Still, with a spritz of perfume and some lipstick, she considered herself passable. It occurred to her to wonder why she even bothered. If Clark was there he wouldn't care if she smelled like horse and had hay in her hair. If Clark wasn't there maybe her stench would keep creeps from hitting on her.
It had taken a lot of courage for Lana just to start this journey, and even more to step out of the truck into the parking lot of Club Metro. Perhaps it was her faith in Chloe's research ability, and maybe a little jealousy that drove her, because she found herself almost positive Clark would be at this club. Why Chloe hadn't revealed it, Lana didn't know. Who knew what was going on in Chloe's head these days. She wasn't confiding in Lana that was for sure, and even Pete had asked about her so obviously she wasn't doing much talking to him either. Was it because of a clandestine relationship with Clark?
Lana felt her face grow hot. Was that what was going on? Had Chloe somehow managed to sneak Clark away from her right under her nose?
"You're being paranoid, Lang. Clark loves you, he said so."
Then why did he leave me?
Doubts made Lana want to turn around and run away, to go back to Smallville and try to forget about everything. Smallville, however, was where the memories lay. It would be better if she moved to Metropolis, like Nell wanted her to do. When Nell and Dean came back from their honeymoon, maybe Lana would give her a call. There was still time to get registered for school in the city.
She paused halfway across the parking lot, staring at the door to the club where people stood in line waiting to get inside. Most were couples who hung on to each other possessively, some making out as they stood in line, others laughing and talking with each other. Other people were in same sex groups, each one of them hoping to leave paired off with someone new. Lana felt very alone.
Clark is in there, I know he's in there. I can feel it.
Lana's fingers tightened around her purse. She strode up to the back of the line and stood there. Nobody paid her the slightest bit of attention until she got to the door. A man sat on a stool there, taking the cover charge and checking I.D.s. Lana cursed herself for not thinking there was a chance she might not be let in because of her age and again wrestled with the idea of turning back. The club did serve alcohol, she could smell it, and saw more than one person stumble from the exit clutching a beverage in their hand. If Chloe and Clark could get in, she should be able to, or at least that was her thought. That they might have fake I.D.s hadn't occurred to her.
The guy on the stool looked at her like she was a thing rather than a person. Lana tried to appear confident, older, but felt like she was failing miserably. She wasn't asked for her identification. Instead the man grinned, nodded, and said, "Close enough."
"Thank you," Lana stammered, and squeezed quickly into the club before he could change his mind.
It was the height of summer in Kansas. It was sweltering in Smallville. Metropolis was no better. Even with the air conditioning cranked up to full blast, the mass of human bodies, most of which were heated up by dancing, sexual arousal, or alcohol, made the interior of the club nearly as hot as the parking lot outside. It was packed with people. Every table was full and there was a unending line of bodies wedged shoulder to shoulder up at the bar. The dance floor was an undulating wave of heads bobbing up and down, an ocean of humanity.
The noise was deafening too. Techno dance music blared from overhead speakers, people sang and shouted, shrieking laughter when someone in their party made a funny comment or told a ribald joke. Lana couldn't help but wince as she struggled through the crowd searching for an observation point of some sort. She gave up saying, "excuse me" and simply shoved her way past people. It was shove or be crushed.
Finally she found a place to the right of the bar that was relatively free of people. It was beside the pay phone that marked the entrance to the bathrooms. Lana stood on one side, while on the other side, between the phone and men's room door, stood a young couple. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they were doing. She was pressed up against the wall with one leg raised around his hip. He was making a very noisy exploration of her mouth with his tongue while one hand made its way up her leather mini skirt. Lana tried not to look, but she could hear their panting and moaning even above the loud music. She felt very vulnerable. She wanted to go home.
She held her ground, and kept her eyes on the dance floor and the surrounding areas, searching the crowd for a familiar face, and hoping that familiar face wouldn't be Chloe. Chloe had said she was working on the Torch, getting things ready for the opening edition. Chloe didn't always tell the whole truth these days either.
Everyone who came and went to the bathroom or the bar found Lana's gaze on them. Nobody paid her much attention, save one young man who was easily put off by her telling him she was waiting for her boyfriend. In a sense it wasn't a lie. Hadn't she and Clark decided they were official? When he left he'd told her he loved her. So yes, she was waiting for her boyfriend.
Her boyfriend wasn't making his presence known, however. Lana looked at her watch. She'd only been there for a half hour, a realization that made her want to cry. Listening to the giggles of the girl on the other side of the phone as her boyfriend copped another feel, Lana was overwhelmed with disgust. What was she doing here anyway? Clark had left her. Clark was possibly carrying on with Chloe in the meantime. What did Lana thing she would accomplish even if she did find him?
She tried to drown out the noises next to her by turning her attention to the snippets of conversation going on up at the bar.
"Hey yourself, Rip. What can I do you for?"
"J.B. Haven't seen you lately."
"Had some time off."
"Kal! Toss me another will ya?"
"Saw you with Heather the other night, ya score?"
"Ah, now Rip you know I don't kiss and tell."
"Screw you, man. I know you did."
"Not that kind of boy, Rip."
"Kal, you lying bastard."
"Here Bobby, toss this back."
"Thanks buddy. Damn, Kal, you drink as much as you pour. You get charged for that?"
"Nah. Boss knows. Have to make sure I get the mix right."
"Where'd you learn to bartend? I ain't never seen a kid know what you know."
"Read a book once. I have a photographic memory."
Lana's head jerked up and over. The voice hadn't seemed familiar. It was lower, and colored with a cocky air Clark didn't possess, a self confidence he had only dreamed of having. But Clark had a photographic memory, he'd told Lana that little secret once. Nobody else knew how he aced tests like he did. Lana had once been privy to Clark and Lex playing a game as they sat drinking coffee and dunking biscotti at the Talon. It had given her a new respect for both as she'd listen to them try to out do each other with quotations from Shakespeare. Lana knew a lot of Shakespeare, and she knew Lex had a phenomenal memory when it came to classic literature, but neither of them had been able to top Clark.
Someone moved away from the bar, opening up a gap. Lana practically launched herself out of her little corner in order to fill that gap, squeezing in between two large guys who reminded her of some of Whitney's football buddies. There were two bartenders, one at either end. The one closest to Lana was a young woman, but the other....
He poured himself a shot of Tequila and tossed it back with a grin. The recessed light above his head caught a facet of the ring on his finger, sparking crimson, and Lana realized she had seen him before. He'd come on shift when she'd taken her spot by the phone, walking out of the mens room right past her, going unrecognized. She had been looking for Clark, frumpy, flannel-clad Clark, or perhaps Clark as she'd last seen him, dressed in a leather jacket. This was neither. He was clad in a black silk shirt, the top buttons undone to reveal a decent amount of chest, the sleeves rolled up to show the well muscled length of his bare arms. His jeans were tight. He wore stylish black boots.
But it was more than the clothes that had made Lana pass over him. His whole demeanor had changed, and with it his physical appearance from his head to his feet. Instead of his carefully combed look, his hair sported unruly curls that were much longer and shaggier than Lana remembered. Sideburns, and a faint shadow of stubble accented prominent cheekbones. He'd lost weight, gained breadth, and as cut as he'd been before, he was even more so now. He'd gone from prey to predator with the sinewy strength of a Jaguar. Lana had never been afraid of Clark, although something about him had always made her wary. This was a Clark to fear. He was dangerous....
And very, very sexy.
"Kal!" The man standing to Lana's left spoke, making her jump. "Toss me a brew!"
Clark made a brief comment to the woman he was serving, then reached behind him for a can of beer. Casually he tossed it over his shoulder to the man, who jostled Lana as he reached out to catch it. He splattered her a little bit as he opened the can and the beer foamed up and out onto the bar.
"Hey, Rip, watch what you're do...."
Lana stared into his eyes. He had seen her, and fell silent, ignoring the people still talking to him. Just before she bolted, he mouthed her name.
She ran because there was nothing there. She had seen no trace of her Clark in his eyes, only this stranger who knew her by name but couldn't possibly know her heart. It was hard for her not to cry as she struggled to get through the crowd. They hindered her progress, made her escape difficult. She pushed at them, and pried frantically at the hand that wrapped itself around her elbow to draw her to a stop somewhere near the edge of the dance floor. Strobe lights flickered overhead. The pounding music made her head hurt, or was that the pounding of her heart?
"What are you doing here?" Clark demanded.
"Let me go!"
He gave her a little shake. She'd forgotten how strong he was. "Lana! Answer me! What are you doing here?"
"Please...." Lana had to shout over the music. Somehow Clark hadn't raised his voice, but she heard him perfectly. "I was looking for you."
"How did you know I was here?"
"Chloe. Chloe had a matchbook."
Clark's lips pursed, and his face clouded with what was very obviously anger. Lana realized she'd probably misinterpreted what was going on between Clark and Chloe, because he didn't look very pleased at all. Evidently Chloe wasn't making herself known to him.
"She's been spying on me," Clark growled. "I wondered what she was doing. Did you put her up to it?"
"No! No. I swear. I didn't even know until today. I found the matchbook. Clark, please...."
"Kal. Call me Kal," he snapped.
Frantically, Lana nodded. His fingers were digging painfully into her arm and he was holding her so that she was having a hard time keeping her feet on the ground. "You're hurting me."
He immediately let her go, but his angry expression didn't change. "Go home, Lana."
"Come with me."
Lana started crying.
"Oh, Jesus Christ."
Clark took her arm again, but this time more gently, and led her through the crowd. Lana noted that they parted for him, letting him pass easily. Many whistled and catcalled to him, making comments about Lana, some of which made her cringe and blush. Clark ignored them. He guided her around the bar and into an small office where he shut the door.
Lana caught the box of Kleenex he threw at her. Her ears rang as her hearing adjusted to the quiet of the office room. Outside the music was only a muffled thumping, and the voices of the crowd sounded like the squawking of a flock of chickens. Lana thought that when she found Clark she would be mad at him. She was wrong. It was breaking her heart all over again. She remembered how it had ached the first time, as she stood in the deserted barnyard and watched Clark drive away. Seeing him again, like this, only threw salt on the wounds. He was within her grasp, but she could not hold him.
He waited until her tears subsided before speaking again. When he did his voice was more like his own, softer, kinder.
"You shouldn't have come here alone, Lana. That was stupid. You could get hurt."
"I wasn't thinking about me."
"Obviously. Obviously you don't know the statistics for rape, murder and kidnapping in Metropolis. I want you to pull yourself together, get in your car, and don't stop until you get home. Do you understand?"
"I want you to come home with me," Lana pleaded. "Please. Your parents are miserable. I'm miserable. Chloe - Chloe isn't herself." She sniffed. "And you heard about Lex I'm sure."
"I wouldn't worry about Lex." Clark said quietly. "But Lionel should. His little scheme failed, or so my sources tell me. Lex is probably on his way home as we speak."
There was a long silence. Lana felt his eyes on her and looked up at him.
"I'm not going back, Lana. Don't ask me again," he said. "I have a job, an apartment, a new life."
"What about school?"
He shrugged, and leaned back against the desk, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'll get my GED next year. No big deal, should be a breeze."
"What about us?" Lana whispered.
"You're better off without me. You'll be...." Stopping abruptly, Clark scowled, and in a gesture he'd never had before, idly twisted the ring on his finger around and around.
Lana felt a small surge of annoyance. "What? Safe? From what, Cluh-Kal? What happened back at the farm? Why have you run away? I don't understand."
To her utter astonishment, he mocked her, raising his voice into a whine. "I don't understand." He pushed off from the desk and advanced on her, his expression cold. "Of course you don't understand, nobody does, and that's the way it has to be, so get the hell over it."
"This isn't you."
Clark snorted. "I've heard that before. I've also heard you bitch at me about being more open. Well here I am." Spreading his arms, he stood before her like a priest offering penance to the cross. "Here's the real me, take it or leave it. Preferably leave it. Go home Lana."
The glint of the ring caught her attention when he spread his arms, drawing her eye to the red gemstone. It was, she noted, one of the class rings made from the red meteorite crystal. Lana stared at it for a long moment, then she looked back into his face.
"I'll go," she said softly. "Okay, I'll go but...." Hesitantly she took a step toward him. "On one condition."
"You aren't in a position to be making conditions, Lana." Clark said smugly, lowering his arms.
Lana forced her voice lower to hide her nervousness. "Humor me, it's the least you can do."
"All right, give. What do you want?"
There was a slight hesitation before his lip curled upward in a very Lex-like smirk. Lana licked her lips as he moved closer, and took his arms to lever herself up on her tiptoes. Their mismatched heights made it awkward, but somehow they always managed. Clark bent to her, and kissed her.
It wasn't a passionless, perfunctory kiss, just as Lana had hoped. It was filled with every bit of love and desire she knew he held for her, and she returned it in kind, wrapping one arm around his neck to pull herself up closer to him. She felt his tongue penetrate her mouth and sucked on it, moaning a little at the sensation it created within her own mouth. The warmth of his body enveloped her. She could taste the alcohol on his breath and smell the musky flavor of the cologne he wore. She was overwhelmed by him, completely and utterly.
His hands fell to her hips. One cupped the swell of her butt before moving up to caress the small of her back. Lana thought of the couple making out next to the phone and moved her hand downward. She had never touched any boy, not even Whitney, like she was touching Clark. The "maleness" of him startled her, as did the fact he was very definitely interested in pursuing their kiss further. Her Clark had always exhibited much more control over his passions, over his sex. This Clark was much less inhibited. Lana found her own body responding, and as their lips parted just long enough for them to draw breath, she whispered, "touch me."
He did. His hand eased between her legs and rubbed at her through her jeans, intensifying the feeling of excitement coursing through her. Sex with him, however, was not her purpose, although the prospect suddenly seemed very desirable to her. A vision of him having her across the cluttered desk made her shudder.
Instead her hand followed his, guiding it to the place where it felt the best. She moaned into his mouth, ducking her head and grinding against him. He was getting a little flustered. His breathing was becoming irregular, and he squirmed against her as if needing her touch again. Lana obliged, scraping her nails over the bulge in his jeans. He made a sound low in his throat, half moan, half whimper. She flickered her tongue across his lips when her hand returned to cover his.
"Lana...." he gasped. "Don't...."
Her fingers wrapped themselves around his. She felt body warmed metal, and the unnatural heat of the red crystal.
Lana pushed him off, and jerked the ring away from his finger. Without turning back or saying a word, she ran, clawing open the door to admit a burst of noise from the club beyond. Like a gymnast she vaulted over the bar, much to the surprise of the people standing around it, and trailing a shimmer of broken glass, she dove into the crowd. Behind her she heard Clark shout her name, but she ducked and weaved through the crush of bodies toward the exit.
She burst free of the club almost like a cork escaping from a bottle of champaign, and like said cork her momentum carried her far, into the parking lot. Her truck was in sight but she went past it. Her boots were meant for riding, not running, yet run was what she did, out of the club parking lot and down the sidewalk into the city. Her destination - a bridge over the broad expanse of the river which traveled through the heart of the city. It was nearby, the bridge. Lana had driven past it on the way to the club, noting how beautiful the water had looked as it sparkled with light reflected from the surrounding skyscrapers. She'd thought it was romantic.
Playing coffee-house manager didn't give one much opportunity for exercise, and it had been a long time since Lana bounced around on the cheerleading squad. By the time she reached the bridge she was panting, and clutching her side where a sharp pain had begun. She had run halfway across before she noticed she was not alone.
Clark was waiting for her.
Her breath caught in a small scream. How had he gotten ahead of her? Her hair whipped around her face as she searched for a car, or the motorcycle he'd taken with him from Smallville. There were no vehicles parked on the bridge. In fact there was very little traffic. It was very late and there was no one else around. Clark's voice echoed across the bridge as he held out a hand.
"Lana, give me the ring."
She clutched it to her chest. "No. No! I know this is it. I know what this does to you. I won't let you have it."
His jaw clenched. Here was anger, real anger, apart from the ring and its affects. "GIVE ME THE GODDAMN RING!!!"
Lana shook her head, and bolted for the edge of the bridge. With help from a lamp post she climbed up on the railing, and held the ring over the dark water below. Clark seemed surprised at her. He glared at her, his gaze smoldering with anger and - Lana noted - more than a little pain.
"I love you," she said, and dropped the ring.
Clark surged forward. He moved so fast Lana was unable to track him, his body nothing but a black blur against the tarmac. First he was there, yards from her, and then he was right beside her, making a desperate grab for the ring as it fell from her fingers. His sudden presence frightened her, making her start and scream, and she felt her boots slipping on the concrete railing. Her fingernails made a horrible screeching sound against the metal lamp post as she tried to hang on to it, but her hand was too small and her balance too compromised. Screaming a second time, Lana fell.
There was a jerk, and a bump. Lana opened closed eyes to find herself dangling from the leather strap of her purse by one hand. Her purse itself was clutched in Clark's hands and his pale and very frightened face hovered above the railing. Below a barge was just nosing its way from under the bridge, and if Lana fell, she would be instantly killed when she hit the steel deck. Instinctively she kicked her feet.
"Don't move! The seam is giving. Stay still!"
Lana grabbed the thin leather with her other hand. One side came loose. She screamed, and clutched madly at the leather strap, which now was attached to her purse by only some weak stitching on one side. Sobbing, Lana glanced down at the barge, praying for it to hurry through. She might survive a fall into the water.
"Hold on!" Clark reached down, grabbing hold of the strap just as it broke. Lana's purse fell to the deck of the barge. The barge was not even halfway through. The heat from its big, black bulk rose from below to encompass her. She could feel her sweating hands slip on the leather.
Suddenly Clark's hand was around her wrists, and he was pulling her up and over the bridge railing, encompassing her in his arms. The barge let out a blast from its horn as Lana clung, shivering, to Clark's shirt and he held onto her tightly. Lana felt him shudder. His breath was soft against her hair, his voice was as she always remembered it. He was her Clark again.
She tightened her grip on him and buried her face in his chest. "Come home," she whispered. "Please come home."
"Clark's back," Lana said quietly.
She was sitting at the kitchen table eating a waffle. She'd been up all night. So had Chloe apparently, given her disheveled appearance as she clattered down the stairs into the kitchen for her own breakfast.
The statement brought Chloe up short. She stared at Lana as if she'd suddenly grown another head, and her mouth opened and closed a second as she gathered herself. Lana's presence, and statement, took her completely off guard. It took a while, but a wavering smile appeared as she went to the freezer.
"Oh, that's cool."
Lana licked maple syrup from her fork. "Lex is back too."
Chloe nearly dropped the waffles.
Standing, Lana picked up her empty plate and fork and put them in the dishwasher. She smiled at Chloe. "Isn't that good news?"
"Yuh-yeah...." Chloe put two waffles into the toaster. "Great news. I may have to change my lead stories for the first edition."
"I'll put in a good word for you when I go talk to Lex tomorrow. I'm going to ask him about putting in an apartment at the Talon."
There was a minute hesitation as Chloe pulled down a plate and the syrup from the cupboard. "Lana," she said quietly. "You don't have to move out."
"I think it's for the best, Chloe. I don't want there to be any more misunderstandings between us."
Chloe pursed her lips, saying nothing for a long time. Her waffles popped up, and she carefully applied butter and syrup. "Neither do I," she said finally. She looked up at Lana and spoke very softly. "Give Clark my regards, will you?"
"Sure," Lana replied casually. "And give mine to Lionel."
Their eyes met. Chloe's narrowed.
Reaching into her pocket, Lana threw the matchbook down on the counter. "Clark knows you're spying on him, Chloe," she said.
Neither of them spoke.
Lana turned on her heel, and walked out of the room without a look back.
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