The fields lay brown in front of him, cornstalk outcroppings blunted by the blade. The dirt packed around each is faded, winter-weary dull.
They talked of snow's approach on the radio this morning and by the smell in the air, Clark doubts they will be wrong about that this time.
He heads for the loft, his fortress, and waits. It seems a better idea than being out in the open where just anyone might find him.
Stairs he's helped repair numerous times over the years protest with each step, and he tries to make as little noise as possible while approaching the open window.
No need to keep it shut. Wind that would have others bending forward in an instinctive act of self-preservation seems to him different only in pitch--an old man moaning.
Youth's earliest memories find him, ones of his father's blond hair sticking out from under his cap, his reddening nose a contrast to the snow they walked through. They had gone into the woods, two adventurers exploring.
Although Clark can remember thinking of it differently at the time.
The same place where he'd once huddled in terror and waited for his mother to come and bring him home was welcoming him back, deceptive in a layer of sugary white, but not fooling Clark for a minute. His dad seemed fooled, though, looking around and smiling at the frozen scene, gesturing for Clark to stay quiet.
Odd white lumps reached out at him from the ground with every tentative step, and he had wanted to run away, but that would've meant leaving his father alone in the snow. He'd stilled then, shivering only for a moment at the uncertainty that crept down his spine, and reluctantly fell back into stride.
The crunch of snow beneath him was loud, louder than it should've been. Everything had been amplified. Even his father had seemed larger to him than ever before, yet there was no comfort in that thought as he felt slight and insignificant in comparison. He'd expected at any moment for the wind he hardly felt to make its presence known and sweep him away.
His own shadow loomed in front of him, and suddenly it felt as though someone had switched on a thermostat inside his chest and turned it all the way up. Breathing became an effort. Words wouldn't make it past his throat.
When Clark wouldn't stop fidgeting in his uncomfortable layers, his dad had swung him up on top of his shoulders, and Clark had finally felt the fear slip away from him, emboldened by the connection they made. Seconds later he turned his head, eyes tracing the path they'd formed, unable to see any danger in those footprints. The warmth that suffused him was no longer stifling, the strange shapes from his new perspective no longer ominous.
Clark stares out at the land below him now and hard as he tries, he can't call forth any more images from that late afternoon with any distinction. His dad would've proudly recalled every detail and his mother would probably have been able to fill him in on how excited he'd been when they arrived home.
Wet boots tossed thoughtlessly onto the carpet were a given, as were cocoa and cinnamon rolls. He'd always liked the store-bought ones best, unraveling them the way he couldn't with homemade. Those were the random details his memory stored. He wondered what those of his mother would be.
Had she seen anything lingering to reveal how frightened he'd been? After all, she'd always known better than anyone about the scared boy inside him.
He lets out a puff of foggy breath and watches it evaporate, thinking how his father had, without a word, lifted him out of that crippling place for a little while. He hasn't felt that empowered since he flew.
But that is a memory that will drive him past being any good to anyone if he indulges it. He isn't supposed to do those things, much less enjoy them. It costs too much.
Slight creak in the steps and Clark can tell from its volume just who has come to see him.
He is right and wonders if the ability could get him a job in a carnival. Running away to join the circus. That's one option he's never considered.
"Hey," he answers tiredly. He's grateful Lex has come by, if not exactly glad. Being found was inevitable but with Lex, so are questions.
"Your mom was pretty sure you'd be here. She said it'll be time to go in a few minutes."
No more time to get lost in yesterday. Propriety sucks. "Just tell her I'll meet her there later."
"Clark," Lex says quickly, a reprimand, something Clark identifies as impatience or maybe disbelief. Then he's coming closer and Clark thinks he should've known better than to try and pull anything dismissive. It brings out Lex's inner pit bull.
"I can't do it. Not in front of all those people. I don't know why this all has to be so theatrical." Clark knows he's making excuses but maybe he can convince Lex to stay here. That is, as long as Lex can just keep his mouth shut and simply look at him. He thinks that isn't too much to ask. Lex has never seemed to mind conditions before.
"I don't know what to tell you, except that it's theatrical enough without adding your dramatics."
Not a trace of sympathy there and Clark knows he's ruined his chance of enticing Lex to stay with him and just skip the whole event.
"Your mother needs you. She told me you've hardly spoken to her all day. I'll be honest, Clark. I just don't get that."
Which is not quite true because Clark knows Lex was hardly on speaking terms with his father when his mother died. He is tempted to say what he's thinking but doesn't dare. He's not beyond insulting Lex from time to time but there's no way he deserves that.
"She'll get through this fine without me." She's proven over the years that she doesn't need Clark when the tests have come. He's told her before how tough she is and he has always believed it.
The idea of being around long enough to see a flicker of doubt in her eyes now is unthinkable.
Lex is standing next to him looking disappointed. Clark would almost prefer anger. At least then there might be some equal footing as he is pretty damn angry himself.
"No one's that strong, Clark. Don't kid yourself."
"She's way stronger than me. You don't even know everything I've put her through." Clark knows that's no one's fault but his own and hopes Lex doesn't ask him to be more specific--clings to hope Lex will let all of this go and be his ally instead of his mother's.
"Maybe I don't. And maybe this is your turn to make it up to her."
Clark has never had to guide his mother through anything and wants to laugh but shrugs helplessly instead. "How? How do I make this up to her?"
"Hold her hand and stand with her. Listen to everyone say what a shame it is, how sorry they are, and just get each other through it. It's more than my dad ever did for me."
Lex's hand is on his arm, sure and protective, and Clark is convinced it needs to stay there. "Why don't I get a ride with you?"
"No." Lex's answer is firm as his hand slides away almost guiltily. "I'll bring you home if you want."
Clark sighs and stands straight and Lex's hands are suddenly busy, fixing Clark's tie and brushing the dirt from his lapels. He then pulls Clark in for a hug and Clark falls into it like the day was made for nothing else.
Lex is letting him go too soon but then takes Clark by the shoulders, studying him, and Clark knows there is no other place he will ever want to be this badly.
"Let her strength be yours," Lex says. Clark nods, realizing this is the only choice he has.
They start down the steps, Lex leading the way, and Clark turns to look behind them for a glimpse out the window.
The snow is just starting to fall.
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