Clark jumped, and didn't fall. Not right away; he had time enough to stare at the earth below, a stubbled patchwork of moonlit grey and gold, to make out his own footprints. To him, they were bright, speckled-edge impressions deeper at the toe than the heel, good basins for the rain that had started in earnest after three solid hours of bruised sky spitting. Raindrops were mostly quivering spheres until they hit the ground, which he noted about the same time he hit the ground.
A dazzling flare of green stars arranged themselves in constellations, and Clark found them rather pretty until they started to cast fire on his skin. He held his nose and eyes closed tight against the dust, willing the sharp throb on the back of his head to fade. It took a second- a second any other time he could use to puzzle out at least six impossible things- for him to realize he'd fallen because he believed he should. He flew in his dreams, people can't fly Lex, and in tornados, but dreams were gossamer, and tornadoes gave wings to barn roofs and pick-up trucks.
Grass-green galaxies swirled, dusting his thoughts to simple things: pain-hurt kryptonite-move didn't fall-flew, and digging one elbow into the pebbled dirt, he managed to force himself onto his side. Oceans filled his head, sloshing from side to side, and just as he rested his head on an unbroken stone to sleep, it occurred to him that a blanket of winter rain should be cold.
When Clark woke, the rain had stopped, and the skies had parted to reveal thick black night through bushy outcroppings of clouds. A red-spangled ache still throbbed in the back of his head, but it ebbed away when he saw the ladders: silver ladders, black ladders, propped up against cumulus swells. His eyelids sticky from sleeping in the fields, it took effort for Clark to squeeze his eyes closed, then force them open again.
The ladders remained, ascending to heaven, descending to earth, bearing the weight of a multitude as they crossed each rung. Long black trenchcoats, silvery-blue dress shirts, grey sweaters, the angels marched up to heaven and down to Kansas wearing a midnight rainbow on their backs but each the same face: pale and narrow, with squint-slashed eyes, and full-bloom, scar-cut mouths.
A new rush of pain cradled the back of his head as Clark struggled onto one elbow. He felt a sticky weight tangling his hair, and when he touched the spot where the pain was whitest, he drew back fingers smeared with cinder-dark blood. The sour boiling in his stomach had subsided, hollowing him out to a vague sense of nausea. Slowly, carefully, he looked over his shoulder. His stone pillow lay in two pieces; on each slice, a layer of thick, igneous shell surrounded a green, crystalline heart. Clark clutched the uneven ground to abandon his field-bed, burying quartermoons of soft, black soil beneath his fingernails. When a cold hand fell on his cheek, he jerked his head to look up.
Lex narrowed his eyes, riverwater washing the color from his face and cleansing the teardrop cut on his cheek. "I could have sworn I hit you."
Reasonably, reasonably Clark leaned away from the cold brush of fingers, home-sick again with unknown quantities and properties of Krypton's remains coursing his veins. It was a memory, a dream, a hallucination- at that moment, he would have been grateful for a hallucination; down the rabbit hole and into Sheol, hallucinations become sacramental comfort- and when he swayed, he felt another cold prod against his shoulder.
The Uzi's stock rested lightly in Lex's grip, and Lex cut a spot from the darkness with his chill-edged smile. With snake-charmer's hands, he waved the weapon, framing Clark's face with a gesture, tipping his chin up with the barrel. "You can learn a lot from someone you hate."
Panic thinned Clark's breath, and wrapped a steady, constricting whip around his heart. He had to get up, he had to get home- maybe he could fly, ha ha- and as he heaved himself to his feet, another palm slipped into his hand. The White King, no, just Lex, somehow glowing with bright yellow sunlight while the rest of the world slumbered in night, helped Clark to his feet. He looked like a watercolor southern lawyer, and he smiled so curiously that Clark barely noticed the pain when Lex clasped his arm with a black leather hand.
"The truth is," another Lex whispered, just behind Clark's right ear, sincere and lying, or sincere, not lying, Clark couldn't tell, though he felt a desert breath heating his skin that made it seem more honest than not, "I'd do anything to protect my friends." A little more truth this time, because that Lex brushed away the leather-hand burning its imprint on his arm.
The spot pulsed like a brand, green-hot and thorned; it would leave a mark. That's what Pete would say, 'That's gonna leave a mark," and then he'd laugh and try to shoot Lex, the Lex who looked like a little boy when he was scared, who held up his hands in submission and asked, "Clark, what are you doing?" just before all the lights went out. And when the lights came on again, they came up in a spiral, white pinwheel illumination pierced with words only Clark could read. He stepped into the glow, gulping deep breaths of spring-rich air, willing himself to jump, to run- damning the sun for sleeping through this, jealously hoarding its rays until dawn. The pinwheel rotated slowly, casting Kryptonian shadows across his face, and just beyond the edges of the light, he heard Lex say, "I think it says 'the day is coming'."
The earth turned to fire, flames sweeping from Clark at the heart of the field, and across in a wave. It devoured the stubbled stalks and leapt to the meadows beyond. Roaring, gasping, the blaze leveled houses in the distance, ringing out like endless ripples on a pond, leaving nothing but ash and heat in its wake. The pinwheelturned, turned, leeching colors from nothing- red, yellow, blue, and a blast of wind screamed against Clark's skin.
The heavens opened to blood-rain and echoes, an echo, a voice- low and cultured, "Fear not, Kal-El; I am Jor-El, your father."
Clark knew Jor-El, from the inside out; he'd seen with his eyes the hazy ballad past, felt his heart when it soared, and shattered, he knew Jor-El, and the voice that took his name sounded more alien than ever. Swallowing at the knot in his throat, Clark raised a hand to shield his eyes from the wind and light, catching glimpses of faces out in the burned field- a shock of red hair falling away to leave a round head clean; a sickly green pallor that cast shadows beneath eyes staring into nothing, beneath a mouth whispering nothing to no one. Suddenly cold, Clark huddled against himself and shouted at the sky, "I told you I don't want your guidance! I want to create my own future!"
For a million miles, nothing but round moon faces surrounded Clark- angry, betrayed, admiring, laughing, worried, amused- so many faces Clark couldn't count them, but he felt each one. Silver threaded emotions glanced past him, momentary windows into a legion of souls, and then, the ground heaved beneath Clark's feet, like thunder rolling beneath the earth's skin. The voice rose again, clear and succinct.
"This is your future, Kal-El."
A cool hand crossed his brow, and in an instant, Clark skittered back and colliding with the headboard of his bed. Model airplanes cast shadows across his face, deeper shades of blue than the moonlight pouring in through his window. Heart beating fast, he started to brush the offending touch from his skin, but looked up just before he did. Embarrassment stung in his cheeks when he realized the hand belonged to his mother.
Martha held her old primrose print bathrobe closed at the neck, smiling softly. Brushing a lock of hair from Clark's forehead, she sat back and whispered, "You were talking in your sleep."
Looking just a little past his mother, he asked, "Did I say anything interesting?" Still tasting the smoke and blood from his dream, Clark rubbed the back of his head just to make sure that it was really unbroken. His hair felt dry as straw beneath his fingers, crinkled into a rat's nest from his pillow- his real pillow.
Pressing her lips together, as if to hold in words little boys shouldn't hear, Martha hesitated then shook her head. Darkness hid the lines mothering had etched into her face; but her voice held a worry-note, a quiet thrum that wavered on the sibilants. "You know you did everything you could to help Lex, honey. You did everything you possibly could."
The brand on Clark's arm seared to life, accusing fingerprints that crackled and smoked. Riverwater plugged his throat, and Clark whipped his head up in time to see Martha fade to grey, cracked grey, lines marbling across her worried face. A breeze, a cold, winter breeze swirled up, and erased her increment by increment. Pinned in place, drowning in his own lungs, Clark reached out for her and felt only silken cinders cross his palm.
The loft floor bounced a little under his weight when Clark fell, but the rough grind of old pine against his cheek made for a good alarm clock. Sweaty, and a little out of breath, Clark pondered a moment, then thunked his forehead against the floor experimentally. It didn't turn into a cloud, and he felt the reverberation in his ears; it worked well enough, since he had no one to pinch him.
He could hear his mother telling her version of the truth, and the wild, raucous squabble of Lex after Lex crying out in the back of his mind. It all came back at once, waking from a nightmare to remember his own distorted reality- Lana's in a hospital bed, and it's my fault; Lex is in an asylum, and it's my fault. Other people, more objective people, swore he was too hard on himself, but Clark decided, as he tugged a flannel over his t-shirt, that maybe he hadn't been hard enough.
Standing at the open loft doors, Clark looked into the fields below, below, a stubbled patchwork of moonlit grey and gold. With one, purposeful step, he jumped, and he didn't fall.
Not right away.
11. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12. And he dreamed, and beheld a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and beheld the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
-Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
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