Promontory in the Ocean of Ttime

by Johnny Superfecta

In short, while I was yet a boy,
I fell in love with Laura Lily...

And she was flatter'd, worshipp'd, bored; Her steps were watch'd, her dress was noted; Her poodle-dog was quite adored,
Her sayings were extremely quoted.
She laugh'd, and every heart was glad,
As if the taxes were abolish'd;
She frown'd, and every look was sad,
As if the Opera were demolished.

Winthrop Mackworth Praed, "The Belle of the Ball Room" (1831)

June 20, 1961 (Relic)

The body of Louise McCallum (whose grand-niece would grow up to be the spitting image of her) lay on the dirt floor of her barn. Lachlan Luthor, a drifter who had just made the leap from petty crime to capital murder, was fleeing the scene--successfully, as it would turn out. The end for him was years away, and would come at the hands of his son Lionel, in a towering inferno. Jor-El of Krypton was fleeing in a different direction, down which he would meet Hiram Kent in an encounter with heavy implications for the future. All this, and more, revolved around Louise, had been set in motion by her. She was the nexus, not because of anything extraordinary she'd done or said, but by her mere existence--she was just that sort of person.

Smallville went into an extended period of mourning the next day; if the town had a favorite daughter, she was it.

May 15, 2005 (Spirit)

Lana Lang sat on the couch in the apartment over the Talon, moodily eyeing the switched-off television set and drumming her fingers on her knee. Three rented videos were stacked on the coffee table: Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black, and The Devil's Own. It was the night of the Smallville High senior prom, and she was staying home, alone. As she had told Chloe in the hall the day before, showing up on the arm of fired coach Jason Teague would be uncomfortable, to say the least. Things were getting more than a little weird with him, anyway; skipping the big night entirely seemed like her best move. And yes, maybe it was, but then there was Clark--the look on his face earlier when he told her that while possessed by Dawn Stiles she had asked him to the prom...well, that was something for her to think about, wasn't it?

Back and forth she went--she'd been feeling wishy-washy about the decision not to go ever since she made it, and was by this point quite annoyed at her inability to stop dithering. But even now it wasn't too late--if she leapt off the couch at once, she could still get there in time for the last half of prom night. There was a serviceable dress hanging in the closet; Chloe was going without a date, so why shouldn't she? And if Clark happened to be there...then so much the better. What had earlier seemed a sensible, mature idea, blowing off something so insignificant as a high-school prom, now seemed misguided, perhaps tragically so. Mrs. Kent (although now that she thought about it, it would've had to have been Dawn 'as' Mrs. Kent) had accused her of feeling like she was above it all after spending a summer in Paris, and Lana had denied it, but really, the prom and much of what went on in Smallville did seem trivial to her after her time abroad. But there was only one senior prom, after all, and it was supposed to be one of those memories you carry around all your life. Why should she cheat herself out of it? She was really wavering, now; in her mind, the decision balanced on a razor's edge.

Yes, she would go. Lana stood up, believing herself to have decided the issue. She began moving toward the bathroom, running over in the front of her mind what she had to do to get ready, while in the back of it she was still counting the pros and cons of attending, and then she slowed down for a couple of steps before stopping altogether. "No," she said, and returned to her seat. Such a lot of trouble to get all dressed up, and for what, really? Another rite of passage? She'd had enough of them, after all she'd seen and done--no, she'd rather just relax with a good movie or three, thank you. This had been a long enough day as it was; just that afternoon she'd electrocuted poor Billy Durden in the boys' locker room while possessed by a vengeful ghost--and sadly, this wasn't a particularly unusual occurrence in her life. Anyway, Clark most likely wouldn't even be there, or so Chloe had led her to believe, and oh, by the way, there was the unresolved matter of the malevolent and prom-obsessed Dawn-spirit still at large that would almost certainly be wreaking havoc all night long--and did Lana need any more of that? She did not--meteor-freak lunacy was something to be avoided, where possible, which it rarely was in this town. Now satisfied that she'd made the right decision, she pulled Meet Joe Black out of its case and stuck it into the VCR, then turned on the television. She fast-forwarded through the FBI warning and the previews, and soon she was caught up in the story--she'd already seen this one, but she found Pitt irresistible in it; so inscrutable and mysterious. As the evening wore on, the prom and her dilemma over whether to go or not were forgotten, and when Chloe asked her later if she regretted not being there, she answered, "Not for a second."

And she never did regret it, because she never knew that things would've been different if she'd gone.

Chloe stood in the girls' washroom at school, examining herself critically in the mirror--not too bad, given the events of the last half-hour. Fixing her makeup had taken some time; evidently Dawn had gone on a crying jag after winning her precious tiara, and Dawn/Clark smacking her in the face had left some redness. On top of this, she'd had to clean (as best she could) black globs of heating oil off of her nice new shoes--thanks again, Dawn, sorry your idea about burning down the school didn't pan out for you. Actually, though, she really did have Dawn to thank for her finding out another interesting tidbit about Clark: meteor rocks made him sick. Which was weird, because she'd been running on the assumption that his abilities came from the rocks, like every other superhuman in Smallville. Well, she could mull over that apparent contradiction later; now it was time for part two of the prom, in which the unlikely queen returns triumphantly after a brief but nasty bout of ghostly possession--and what's that, you say? Probable no-show Clark Kent did turn up after all, and when pressed for a reason, claimed it was to see one Chloe Sullivan? Interesting; very interesting.

She took a deep breath, and exited the room. She strode purposefully down the empty hallway.

Inside the gym, Clark stood next to Lois by the punch bowl, where they were idly chatting. Lois had taken being dressed up and marched off to a high-school prom by an evil spirit with only moderate outrage, and now seemed to be enjoying herself.

Lifehouse, the moderately well-known band Lex had paid a hefty sum to perform at a school in rural Kansas, started up another of their songs--a slow one. Clark, inclined to make the best of things now that he was here, said, "You know, since you got all dressed up and came to this thing with me tonight, you might as well get a dance out of it."

She smirked. "Chivalry noted, Smallville," she replied, and she might then have taken him up on it, but at that moment she spied her cousin's blonde head across the gym, over Clark's shoulder. "But that's another one of those things that isn't in the realm of possibility." She nodded in Chloe's direction and said, "Perhaps the prom queen might take pity on you." Clark turned, saw her, and smiled at Lois, who chucked him on the shoulder in a somewhat-condescending fashion. He walked over to Chloe.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her with evident concern. She had seemed okay in the basement a few minutes ago, but he was still worried. He'd knocked Chloe halfway across the boiler room into some pipes, while Dawn was controlling him--considering his strength, it was lucky she wasn't dead.

"Okay. You don't get to be prom queen by having a glass jaw." She was, in fact, suffering from a headache, but she had the amusing memory of a fey Clark telling her, 'The crown's mine, bitch!' to compensate her for it.

"Well, then..." He paused, the gravity of the moment weighing on him. Three years had elapsed since the infamous tornado-abbreviated Spring Formal--now they were both back here in the gym, all dressed up and facing each other.


"...may I have this dance?" and he offered her his hand.

She took it and said with a smile, "I thought you'd never ask," and out onto the dance floor they went. They danced close, while the band ran through "You and Me."

The Kents watched them, pleased, as they danced together themselves. Towards the end of the song, Jason Teague poked his head through the door. He took a long look around for Lana, and, not seeing her, his eye rested on Clark for a moment before he departed.

The song ended, and the band announced that they would be taking a break.

"We got all the way through a song," Clark said wryly. "I don't believe it."

"Yeah; no fire, flood, or funnel clouds," answered Chloe, adding 'or Lana,' in her head. "Maybe the universe owed us one."

"Yeah, maybe so." They walked across the room together. Some tables and chairs were set out at the side, and they sat down. Canned music had replaced the band for the time being, and for a moment they watched people they knew dance and mill about in front of them. The night wore on.

May 21-22, 2005 (Blank)

Clark had amnesia and Chloe was taking care of him--'Clark-sitting,' as he would later put it. They were inside the Talon, investigating--and upon Clark's finding a clue with his x-ray vision, Chloe picked up some coffee to go and they left, hot on the trail of the memory thief. Just as the glass door was closing, Lana came down the stairs and caught a glimpse of them through the window. She thought about going after them, but figured she'd only slow them down. She watched them cross the street and disappear from view.

The next day, Chloe and Clark were in the Torch office. He was fine now, though without recollection of the amnesiac period, and she was just wrapping up her account of what had happened, and how with a blank slate, he had made all the same choices but one.

"You trusted me," she finished, and fixed her gaze on him. Clark looked back at her calmly, conditioned to show nothing in situations like this. She knows, he thought. His mind raced with terrible speed. The odd remarks she'd made here and there over the past few weeks had indicated that his cover might be slipping, and he'd been trying to work out what to do about it. Not working as hard as he might have, though; he'd been hoping not to have to deal with it at all, the theory being that if you ignore a problem for long enough it will go away. It hadn't, evidently, and there was really nothing surprising about Chloe figuring it out, given how much time they spent together and how sharp she was--things were always going to unravel at some point. A touch of panic hit him--his thoughts became jumbled and he roiled, inwardly, while on the outside still appearing blandly puzzled by her cryptic statement. Deny everything, that was his instinct in this situation and others like it; deny, distract, misdirect and cover up--it's what his parents had programmed him to do, for his own protection. Pete found out, and that was okay for a while before it became too much for him--but Chloe was different from Pete.

She sat there, still looking at him--only a moment had passed. Then he relaxed a bit--he was suddenly sure that he could just let it pass; she wasn't going to force the issue. And perhaps she didn't really know anything at all, she was just fishing, working off of some vague suspicions--or maybe she was referring to something else entirely. Except she wasn't.

He nearly left it there, very nearly made an inane remark and wandered away. But things were slightly different this time; the balance was fractionally off--he was on the brink, and then over it.

"Chloe," he began.

June 11, 2005 (Larcenous)

Lana isn't herself, Chloe thought, when it comes to these alien widgets--she's completely non compos mentis on the subject, given what Clark said about their trip to China. So it isn't really such a bad thing to do, stealing the one she has hidden in a pipe outside her window over the Talon--it might even be doing her a favor. Clark would blow a gasket if he knew about this proposed cat-burglary, she knew, but she felt she could save everyone a lot of trouble if she could carry it off, Clark particularly, despite his reluctance to pull out all the stops to find these things, which was typical of him. Well, whatever--this job was tailor-made for her.

Amongst other things, Clark had told her--at her insistent prompting--every last detail about what had happened out East, even those he thought were trivial--and obviously Jason or Lana had come away from China with the stone; Lex was absent at the critical moment. She recalled the conversation of a couple days ago:

"Why do you want to know all this stuff, anyway? You really don't want to get sucked into searching for these things, trust me. "

"Clark, they were left here for you, if I understand what you've told me--making at least a slight effort to retrieve them before everyone else isn't too much for you, is it?"

He could be funny about some things. She'd run over the details of the curious 'burglary' at the Talon and the recent behavior of the principals, and...well, she wasn't Poirot, but she'd sifted through the facts and looked at the personalities involved and she'd come up with the idea, correctly as it would turn out, that Lana had run a clever little scam and still had the shiny little chunk of alien matter--so score one for her "little grey cells." Chloe used the Talon as the likely starting point for her search, and knowing that the alien substance was unlike anything else in the vicinity, or anywhere else for that matter, she had pinpointed it by rigging up a scanner that would--

--a police car rolled by just then, disturbing her reverie, and she flattened herself against the wall. It was one in the morning, and she was in the alley beside the Talon. Get a move on, Chloe, she thought--people loitering in alleys in the dead of night are what Smallville's finest are paid to investigate. She went to work.

Seven hours later, she wore a tired but triumphant grin as she handed the artifact to a flabbergasted Clark, in his loft. He, somewhat glumly it seemed to her (and he could've been more generous with the praise, for pete's sake), took it away with him to the caves where he joined it with the other one. Within a safe located in a lawyer's office in Metropolis, the third one began to glow. Clark felt an awful whine in his head that he had felt before, and sped off in that direction. Ninety minutes later, he was standing in an Arctic snow field.

Somewhere in space, a cluster of meteors, at the heart of which was a black ship, drifted through the void.

June 13, 2005 (Forever)

"If Brendan wants high school, we'll give him high school." That was what Chloe had said to Lana when she cooked up this plan to win their freedom from this ridiculous duplicate Smallville High. And the plan had ticked along nicely to this point; Chloe turned on the charm in the Torch office to distract their captor while Lana snuck up behind him and bashed him in the head--crude, but effective. Now he lay on the floor, and they made for the exit--then Chloe stopped and said, "Wait, Lana." Clark wasn't going to come to their rescue if they got this wrong--he was gone, and this might be their only chance to escape from this pathetic-but-dangerous meteor freak. As she turned to look at him, Brendan was already starting to stir. Chloe grimly moved over to the wall, braced herself against it and heaved, toppling a tall shelving unit laden with various heavy objects. It crashed down onto Brendan, who screamed and then fell silent. "Now, let's get the hell out of here," she said to a stunned Lana. They hurried through the halls until they found the way out.

Late that evening, the two of them were drinking coffee at the Talon. Chloe remarked that Lana had seemed more relaxed over the past couple days. Lana agreed, adding that it felt as if a terrible weight had been lifted off her back, so to speak. Chloe smiled.

"Have you heard from Clark?" asked Lana.

"No..." Chloe took a sip and continued confidently, "He'll be back, I'm sure. He's just missing end-of-the-year busywork at school right now."

"I guess. What he missed today was a prime chance to rescue us from mortal danger. We'd better not make a habit of saving ourselves or he'll start to feel redundant."

Chloe snorted. "Yeah, this was a real step forward for us. Remember when we were dating the two Ian Randalls and Clark had to stop them from dumping us over the side of the dam?" They both laughed; a winner's laugh.

June 16, 2005 (Commencement)

Morning at the Talon--it wasn't open yet, but Lex was inside, talking to the proprietress. "A big day for you, graduation--are you excited?"

"I am, actually. It's an achievement, I guess, getting through high school, though I think a bigger one is merely staying alive for four years in Smallville."

Lana walked back to the counter and then behind it, to attend to the coffee machines--Lex moved to follow, but his first step landed squarely on a pastry that had fallen as they were brought in, earlier. It spurted red jelly over the floor.

"Messy," he said. "Toss me the paper towel, would you, Lana? I'll clean this up for you."

The graduation ceremony was proceeding, outside the school. Clark's absence had been plausibly explained to the principal by his parents, and since he'd been doing well enough to forego any final exams, he graduated in absentia. Lana received her diploma, then Chloe. Lex sat in the back, watching and waiting--like many other audience members, he was filming the event, but his camera was in a van across the street, and took in the perimeter as well as the stage. The ceremony soon ended; caps were flung, hugs were exchanged. Gabe Sullivan, Lois, and Nell were there, looking proud, and the Kents were in attendance as well. Lex got up and walked over to Chloe. He separated her from the pack, and quietly said, "Congratulations."

"Why thank you, Lex. It's nice of you to come--er, to see Lana and me?"

"Of course; we're all friends, aren't we? What a pity Clark couldn't be here, though."

"It is, isn't it?"

Jason walked down the street in a grubby part of Metropolis--he was headed for a small bank at the end of the block, where he planned to empty a safe-deposit box and then rendezvous with his mother at a caf across town. He was afraid for her--it was too dangerous for them in this city.

"Heads up!" he heard someone above call, and he glanced up to see an object hurtling toward him--there was no time to react. A half-cup of tepid coffee splashed over his shirt as a cup, dropped by a workman, hit him in the shoulder. "Gah!" he cried, disgusted.

July 18-19, 2005 (Carom)

A hot summer evening, and Chloe was at home. The AC was out, and she was sweaty and irritated. And worried, about Clark. His parents were worried too, of course, though perhaps all of them should be used to this--it was the third summer in a row that he'd disappeared. She was sorely tempted to follow him to wherever he'd gone; a month ago she'd stood back and watched him vanish in a flash of light down in the caves, after sticking a metal octagon into a slot--an octagon she had taken with her afterwards. Curiosity and worry were gnawing at her, but the possibility of being shot into another dimension where her human body would be instantly torn apart gave her pause.

There was a knock at the Sullivans' door; Chloe wearily answered it. Then she broke into a huge grin and flung herself at him.

"You're back!"

The next afternoon Clark was in the Kent barn, working at normal speed while he let his mind wander. The Kents had brought in a couple of hired hands in his absence, but there was still a long backlog of chores to be done. He absent-mindedly heard a car pull up by the house; the door opened and closed softly, as if someone were deliberately taking pains to be quiet about it--now he paid closer attention. He heard the individual take a few steps, presumably up to the house, pause for a moment, and then begin moving toward the barn. Clark could generally identify people he knew well by the sound of their footsteps; Chloe strode lightly and somewhat erratically, prone to varying her pace or gait at any moment. This person had longer legs and was striding with metronomic regularity toward the barn doors. Here we go, he thought.

"Hello, Lex," he said, a fraction of a second before that man appeared in the doorway. Lex looked a bit rattled; the element of surprise was usually his. He recovered quickly.

"Hello, Clark." He put on a friendly smile. "It's good to see you. You've been away for a while, and no one seemed to know where you were. Or if they did, they weren't inclined to tell me. I was quite worried."

"Everything's fine. I'm sorry if you were worried." he said, stressing the 'if' very slightly. He placed the iron bar he was holding down on a battered-looking table.

"Well, wherever it is you've been, I'm glad you're safe and sound--you are, aren't you?" Clark nodded. Lex came in past the doorway and sat down on a bench. He took off his jacket and undid a couple of shirt buttons--the barn was quite warm. He then continued, "It's been a hectic month out at the mansion. My father's been on a tear; some project he'd been working on was apparently shot out from under him, something 'of unimaginable importance.'" Lex uttered that last phrase in a credible imitation of his father's voice, then shook his head at the man's fondness for dramatics. "At first he was convinced that I had sandbagged him, but of late he's been strongly insinuating that you, Clark, were behind his turn of ill fortune." He looked at Clark guilelessly.

Clark hoisted himself up onto the table and sat. "Your father--well, you know better than anyone that he never says what he really means, don't you?" Deflecting Lex's probing statements was old hat for him by now.

Lex waited a moment before answering. "Indeed I do, Clark. I suspect the source of his agitation is to do with those 'alien' artifacts--you know the ones I mean, don't you?"

Clark responded offhandedly, "Yes, I think so--the 'artifacts' that you, and he, and the Teagues, and that sixteenth-century witch who sometimes possesses Lana, have all been running around after all year?"

Lex bridled a little at that, then regained his composure and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Mm-hm, the very same. I take it from your tone that you don't think it's been time and effort well spent?"

"I know you can't resist trying to solve a mystery, or outdo your father, but..." He trailed off.

"Yes." The Kents' dog Shelby barked, out in the laneway; Lex cocked his head, and continued, "It occurs to me that you should be very careful of my father--"

"More so than usual?" Clark broke in.

Lex smiled. "Yes, even more so than usual. And you should watch out for Jason Teague. He too is very dangerous--doubly so since his mother's death, I would imagine." The front page of yesterday's Inquisitor had screamed, 'SOCIALITE SLAIN IN SUBTERRANEAN SLAUGHTERHOUSE!' with that paper's usual sense of decorum. She, along with her bodyguard, had been stabbed to death in a parking garage as she walked to her limousine.

Clark was genuinely surprised at this. "Mrs. Teague's dead?"

"Yes, she is, Clark."

"Oh." He processed that, then asked, "So, how's Lana? I haven't seen her, yet."

"She's fine--I talk to her at the Talon, or elsewhere, now and again. How do things stand, between the two of you, Clark? You know, when I arranged for that band to play at your prom, it was in no small part with you two in mind--I thought you might've gone together, or--"

"No, it didn't turn out that way. Lana and I really are just friends, now. Good friends."

"That's nice. One needs all the good friends one can get." Lex returned the conversation to a previous topic. "Clark, about those 'artifacts' you know where any of them, are? It really is important to me." He stood up, suddenly, and scanned Clark's face, watching closely.

"You need to stop obsessing over them, Lex." Clark said, turning away.

"Why? Why should I do that?" Lex strode over to him and spun him around, gripping him by the shoulders; Clark allowed himself to be turned. "Tell me, Clark. If you're still my friend, tell me where those stones are."

A long moment passed. Then he responded forcefully. "If you're still my friend, then you'll knock it off with this manipulative bullshit. Now, I've got work to do, Lex. Don't you?" He took a step back. Lex, thwarted, looked angry for a moment, then his face became a mask of indifference. He shrugged, and walked away.

August 15, 2005 (Mortal)

The plan was drawn up and ready to go. A little convoluted, but it had to be, to cover every eventuality. And the overseers at Belle Reve really ought to pay their guards more--they were appallingly vulnerable to bribery. He paused in his reflections because that thought had resounded in the dark, damaged recesses of his mind, raising the faintest of echoes. A series of murky images floated up to him: Belle Reve--bribed guard--Van McNulty--meteor rock--Clark; but it was all so ephemeral that as soon as he moved his head it was lost, not to return.

Lex blinked and refocused--he took a sip of whisky and ran through the plan again in his head, as he reclined in his study. There had been a familiar nagging voice hectoring him while he was plotting, saying, "This will be going too far--this will be unforgiveable." He didn't hear that voice so often anymore, and ignoring it now was easy because he really had to know, it was time to quit tiptoeing around the issue now because it was eating away at him, there were times when he could think of nothing else. He had tried to be a good friend, trusting, supportive, and what had it gotten him? Lies, because he wasn't to be trusted with the truth. And insanity was trying the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results--it was time to try something else. (They don't trust you, so you do something like this to find out what they won't tell you, which will make them trust you even less, which will make you do something even worse...) He grunted, and shook his head. It was an impossible situation, which he could no longer stand--he had done well to hold it together for this long.

He wondered speculatively if his ever-delicate sanity was at stake over this; that would make it a case of self-preservation, and perfectly justifiable. Yes, justifiable--he had every right to know, because it concerned him in so many ways. Once he had proof, just a scintilla of something that couldn't be dissembled away, he could confront him with it, maybe bluff a little that he knew more, knew enough that it made no sense not to tell him everything (or he could force him to spill the rest of it, he thought, once he had something, he could use it as a weapon and extract the rest from him--no, he pushed that thought back down whence it came, for now, for now). And he was doing Clark a favor, really; things would be much better for everyone afterwards--once he knew them, he could help Clark and the Kents protect their secrets...

No, no; good arguments all, but ultimately unconvincing. Lex grimaced. It was a lie--no amount of tortured logic could conceal that this was going much too far; however many times Clark had lied to him, there was no justification to do this to someone he still considered his best friend, as sad a statement as that might be. There would be no coming back from it, if he found out. And what would it do to Lex himself? Something he had said to Clark about "...the darkness creeping out around the corners." came back to him--if he took this step... He weakly kicked out at a footstool in frustration. To hell with all of them, he thought miserably, and slammed shut the computer.

September 14, 2005 (Hidden)

At dawn of that day, a disturbed young man, an acquaintance of Chloe's from Smallville High named Gabriel, had seized control of an underground missile silo with the intention of obliterating the town. After doing so, he had called to warn her--at once she tracked down Clark at home, where he was enjoying a quiet family breakfast.

"Sorry to drop by so early," she said as she knocked on the door while coming through it, "but I just got a worrying phone call, if it's not a prank." She laid it out for them. In town, above the Talon, Lana slept, though the beam of sunlight that had just fallen across her face would soon awaken her.

Clark and Chloe conferred, and came up with a hasty plan wherein Chloe would lure Gabriel out of the silo with a phone call feigning distress and an inability to get out of town. She did, and he came. When Clark stepped into view demanding that he give up and tell them where the silo was, Gabriel calmly drew a pistol and shot him in the chest. He was momentarily nonplussed at the gunshot's ineffectiveness, but he put it down to a bullet proof vest and then shot him again, in the head this time.

Then he slowly lowered the gun, dumbstruck--it seemed to him that the meteor freaks must have cottoned on to his plan to kill all of them with a single stroke, for here was one in front of him, quite bulletproof and continuing to demand to be told where the missile was. Eventually, he did tell; the realities of a nuclear blast were beginning to come home to him as he stood out in the open at the side of the road, getting browbeaten by Chloe and Clark as the clock ticked down beneath a farmer's field. And later on, he would become just one more Belle Reve patient with a peculiar story to tell about Clark Kent.

Later, Lana came by the Kent house, to where Clark and Chloe had returned and were just then sitting down to a well-earned midday meal. "Am I to understand that the two of you saved this corner of Kansas from destruction, in between breakfast and lunch today?" she asked, entering the kitchen.

"Hey, Lana," Clark said, a little nervously. "Um, if you're hungry..." He gestured at the table.

"The police and military must not be covering this up with their usual efficiency--how'd you hear about it?" Chloe asked as Lana sat down.

"Lex called me with the news. And on behalf of a grateful county, I thank you both." Lana buttered a piece of toast and began munching on it.

"Uh, thanks. Yeah, we just--"

Chloe jumped in. "We just tricked a computer geek into coming out of his warren and played 'good cop, bad cop' with him, and he crumbled like bad concrete. Easiest nuclear-apocalypse-staving-off ever."

"Well, you should've called me--you could've both been good cops and I could've been the bad cop." Lana smacked her fist into her palm threateningly. "Hey, you've got a hole in your shirt, Clark." She pointed at a small hole in his white T-shirt.

"Oh. Yeah, I think, uh, moths..."

"Could you pass the juice?" Chloe did so, amused; Lana poured a glassful. "So, my move to Met U is off till tomorrow, then--remember Clark, I still need your help with that."

December 24, 2005 (Lexmas)

The ambulance sped through the snow-dusted streets of Grandville with Lex in the back, near death, shot by street criminals. As his body struggled to hang onto life, he dreamt, or possibly did something else--who knows what?

At any rate, he woke in the hospital to find Lionel by his bedside and a sewn-up wound in his lower chest. The Luthors had a fraught conversation like so many others down the years, and then after his father had gone, Lex phoned the 'investigator' Griff and told him his services wouldn't be required after all. Then he slowly got to his feet and edged over to the window. He looked out at the swirling snow, then down at the empty street. As ever, he thought bitterly, I'm betwixt and between, never able to be utterly ruthless, or entirely decent. And worse yet, now I'm in danger of becoming a cliche: the wicked man who reforms after a strange dream on Christmas Eve. How pathetic.

"Tell me, spirit," he muttered, "will Tiny Tim live?"

February 11-12, 2006 (Reckoning)

Clark sat in the loft, thinking--the radio was on, but he wasn't hearing it. Someone came into the barn and began climbing the stairs; he glanced up and saw Lana approaching. "Hi," she said. "I dressed warmly, like you suggested. Why so mysterious--what did you have in mind?" Clark looked at her, and his mind went blank, for a moment--he had been lost in deep thought.

"I thought we might go skating, at the lake," he said, after a moment. "It's frozen over."

"Hey, up there!" Chloe called from down below. "I've got a thermos full of cocoa and two pairs of girls' skates--yours are in the car, Clark."

Lana's face lit up. "Ooh, ice skating--let's go!" She hugged him.

In the car, Chloe drove. She took the turns carefully, but on one of them, close to the lake, the car hit a patch of ice and they slid for a moment, nearly going off the road into a field before they regained traction. In the back, Lana quoted cheerily from a poem she remembered from school, "'I think I know enough of hate to know that for destruction, ice is also great, and would suffice.'" Clark glanced quizzically at her while Chloe snarled "Unhelpful!" as she glared at the treacherous surface. "Frost." said Lana, turning towards him. "It's a little more than that," he replied, gesturing at the snowdrifts on either side of them. She giggled.

The next evening, the Talon was full of people--Kent campaign workers and well-wishers. A minute ago, they had been noisy and excited; now, they were silent and glum, because this wasn't to be a victory party, after all. The television blared, "And I repeat, we're declaring that industrialist Lex Luthor has defeated his opponent by a narrow margin, and will serve in the Kansas State Senate, barring a recount." Someone switched it off.

Clark was with his parents, and told his dad he was proud of him regardless. Chloe was nearby--she thought of something she wanted to say to Lana, and looked around for her, fruitlessly, as Lana had slipped away into a corner and was dialing the victor's private line. "Congratulations, Lex," she said when he picked up.

"Thank you, Lana--it's nice of you to call." He sounded a little drunk.

"It doesn't sound like there's much of a victory party going on where you are." There wasn't any background noise on Lex's end.

"I'm unwinding at the mansion. Once the polls closed, I sent my campaign team away--they're blowing off steam somewhere else, I'm sure."

"You're all alone on your big night? How awful."

"Well, come by and join me, then." Lana was inclined to do so--it might look bad, though, leaving the dejected throng here to go and celebrate with the winner; bandwagon-jumping at its worst. But Lex was her friend, and she hadn't minded who won, not really.

"Why not? I'm on my way, Lex." As she said Lex's name, Jonathan Kent was passing by--he turned and drew up next to her, looking cheerful given the circumstances. He gestured for her to hand him the phone, and she said, "Lex, hang on a minute--Mr. Kent would like to talk to you," and passed it off to him.

"Lex? I just wanted to congratulate you--you ran a fine campaign."

A pause on the other end, then, "Thank you, Mr. Kent." He sounded slightly surprised, and why not--it had been two years, at least, since Jonathan Kent had had anything at all pleasant to say to him.

"Listen, I'm not going to dispute the result and demand a recount--you beat me fair and square. Good luck to you in the State Assembly, son--I mean that." They said goodbye and ended the call. Jonathan handed the phone back to Lana.

"You'd have been a good Senator, Mr. Kent--that was very gracious of you."

"Thank you, Lana. I'll tell you a secret," he said, leaning in conspiratorially, "I'm not really sorry to have lost. Let Lex have the state house--I'm more convinced than ever that I belong on the farm." He winked, then assumed a more serious expression as he went to console and thank his supporters. Lana said her goodbyes, and left. On the road, as she drove to the mansion, a school bus full of rowdy Smallville High teens passed her, cheering and waving, and she waved back at them and honked her horn.

Lex was enjoying another in a series of celebratory glasses of brandy when Lana came into the study. He rose to greet her.

"Lana. I'm glad you came."

"So am I." She went over to him and touched his arm. "Are you all right, Lex? You don't seem that happy, for an election-winner."

"Trust me, Lana, I'm over the moon." He turned suddenly and dashed his glass and what remained of its contents into the fireplace, causing a burst of flame. Lana jumped, and said, "Lex, what--"

"For good luck," he said mildly. "Sorry to have startled you."

June 1, 2006 (Vessel)

Late into the night, and Clark was in the Fortress, pleading with the representation of Jor-El that dwelt there. "There has to be a way!" he cried. "Human life is fragile, my son," was the response. He was desperate to undo what had happened late that afternoon: the death of Lana Lang in a fall from the roof of the LuthorCorp tower. Lex was devastated and blamed himself--perhaps with cause. He hadn't said much else--like what the hell they were even doing up there, Clark thought bitterly. It was a last-ditch effort, coming here, but Kryptonian technology had few, if any, limits, from what he'd seen to date--if there was a way to restore her to life, it was here.

Several things had gone wrong simultaneously, atop the building--the sudden gust of wind and the blinding flash of reflected sunlight in the pilot's eyes first among them, and maybe no one was to blame after all. After the accident, the police had cordoned off the street around the point of impact, and a man had approached the perimeter, taken a long look at the scene, and then hurried away. The figure had been wearing a cap pulled low, but Clark had seen him for a split-second as he turned away. Subconsciously he had noticed something familiar about the man--his profile, his gait, something---but it had never really registered; his mind was elsewhere.

Jor-El was now delivering stern warnings against tampering with the fates of humans; Clark, sensing there might actually be some remedy to be grasped at, begged for all he was worth--and he won out, in the end, or perhaps his biological father was always going to allow himself to be convinced, as part of another test, or lesson. From a bank of crystals, one emerged: one that could achieve the desired result by rolling back time itself, it was explained, undoing the event entirely. And the crystal was unique, of course--it could only be used once and could never be replaced, and at that, Clark hesitated; desperate and grief-stricken as he was, he paused to think. What if something worse were to happen, in the future? It almost certainly would, at some point, the world being what it was--and there'd be no way to undo that catastrophe, whatever it happened to be. His imagination fired, and he began to envision blasted cities, mass graves, the deaths of the other people he loved...

But he stopped himself--that was no way to live, holding back in fear of the unknown. That was cold, Kryptonian logic, to run the numbers and work out the risks and rewards. Lana was dead, and he'd just have to save her and prevent terrible things from happening in the future, wouldn't he--what else were his abilities for? No one else had to die in her place, necessarily; Jor-El had been clear on that point. He reached out for the crystal, decisively.

Midday. "All right, McFly--do you want to start with how or why?" Chloe had just pulled Clark into a quiet corner of the Planet basement, after he'd demonstrated to her satisfaction that he was, in fact, repeating that day over again. He laid out the facts of the case for her.

"Unbelievable," she said thoughtfully. "Well, not literally; I do believe you. So I guess there's a crystal for everything at the Fortress--is there one that gets ink out of suede?" She pointed to a fresh stain.

"Come on, Clark, what is this? Did you have a psychic flash? A bad dream? Or did they deliver you a copy of tomorrow's Planet, by mistake?" Lex was amused and disdainful, looking across his desk at Clark.

"Look, I know you think this is stupid. Call it a personal favor to me, then. Your plans with Lana today...stick to cars. Take the limousine; drive your Porsche. Just stay off the roof and out of the helicopter. Please."

The pleading quality in Clark's voice convinced Lex. "Oh, fine. As a personal favor to you...fine. All right. Terra firma it is."

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise," Lex answered exasperatedly. Clark, he thought, what is it this time? "Well," he continued as an idea occurred to him, "if you insist on interfering in my plans, Kent, there will be a price to pay." He thumped his fist on the desk mock-angrily.

In the Planet's basement, Chloe wrapped up her final task of the day, while Clark leaned against her desk, placidly watching the newsroom go about its business, content that he'd done what was needed--Lana was safe, he could trust Lex to keep his word.

Chloe banged on the keyboard angrily. "The system's been screwy all day--IT say they're baffled, that bunch of useless...Clark, you've already seen what happened, the first time today--did I manage to sort this out? Tell me 'no' so we can get the hell out of here." He turned and shrugged, with a smile. She scowled, took a breath to calm down, then tried again. After a bit more time and effort, her work was completed and filed.

"Finally--there. Done. Let's go," she said. She stood up, directly into a shaft of bright late-afternoon sunlight breaking into the basement from a window near the ceiling. She blinked, disoriented for a second; a few motes of dust were visible drifting around her head. Clark looked at her and, on a whim, moved close and kissed her. A moment passed; then someone whistled from across the room, and someone else tittered, and Chloe broke the embrace. "Clark! I work here, remember?" She poked him in the stomach, then grabbed her things and they moved toward the stairs, and then up to the street, leaving the building by a side door.

"Have a good evening, Mr. Luthor; miss." They nodded at the guard as they walked past, then Lex and Lana exited through the revolving front door of the LuthorCorp building. They crossed the street and walked south for half a block until they were in a paved area with benches and planters that abutted the sidewalk; a sort of park in which office workers ate their lunches on pleasant days.

"Ah, the magic hour--Metropolis looks lovely," Lex said. "Even delivery trucks and hot-dog carts can be pretty when bathed in golden light."

"It would all be even lovelier from above, I imagine," Lana teased, trying to sound sarcastic, but she wasn't all that disappointed that Lex had changed their plans at the last minute--they could dine just as well in Metropolis.

"Maybe, maybe, but high places can be perilous, or so I'm led to believe." He looked at his watch. "Should be along any moment." They watched some nearby pigeons squabble over a crust. "My money's on the brown one--which one do you like?"

Clark and Chloe were standing across the street at the corner, waiting for the traffic signal to change. Chloe looked back, up and over her shoulder at the Daily Planet's globe gleaming in the sun, and felt a familiar thrill of pride. The light turned green, and Clark took her hand as they walked across.

"Oh, here they are." Lana waved to the approaching couple, who waved back. Then Clark seemed to sense something and turned, while Chloe kept moving forward. A man with a cap pulled low to obscure his face had slipped through a knot of people waiting for a bus and was approaching them quickly. Lex and Lana saw that he was holding a gun at his side, in his right hand; Clark didn't. He had caught a shadowed glimpse of the man's face, and looked at him thoughtfully for a moment before exclaiming, "You!" Lana yelled a warning just as the man shot Clark twice at point-blank range, at the same time as Lex was drawing his own small pistol from the shoulder holster he'd taken to wearing since his father had been killed.

The shots tore through Clark's chest--he was utterly bewildered for the second or so before he lost consciousness. One bullet nicked a rib and took a slight downward trajectory--it hit a drinking fountain and tumbled to the ground, a misshapen green lump. The other passed cleanly through and struck Chloe in the head, killing her instantly.

As the two of them were falling, the man moved to the side to get a clear view of Lex and Lana. He lifted his head slightly--it was enough for the wind blowing through the rows of office towers to catch the brim of his cap and tear it off. It flew wildly away and out into the street, and they recognized Jason Teague in spite of the beard and spectacles he now wore. His eyes rolled crazily behind clear glass lenses.

Lex's arm was drifting toward Teague to fire, but Teague fired first. Lex's gun dropped, and he fell to his knees, wounded. Jason advanced on him. "Bye bye, Senator," he said, with an awful smile. "Say hi to my mother." Lana dove for Lex's gun--Jason lunged forward and kicked her in the head, and she fell onto her back and lay senseless. He emptied the gun into Lex, firing seven more times before it clicked.

Teague paused, gazing at the stunned Lana, staring into her vacant eyes, then he stepped past her, aiming a kick at Lex's gun that sent it skittering across the plaza. He moved quickly toward the smaller street that ran along the north side of the park, and pulled another clip from his pocket. He reloaded the gun as he moved, perhaps thinking he might have to shoot his way to safety, then he slipped away around the corner and out of sight. Any people nearby had fled after the first shots--the immediate area seemed deserted.

After a minute, Lana struggled to her feet and looked at each of her maimed friends, aghast. Sirens could be heard, growing louder. She knelt next to Lex--his pulse was very weak, and he was surely losing too much blood to live. She couldn't stem the flow, couldn't even slow it down; there were too many wounds. He was blinking and trying to say something; she put her ear close to his lips but couldn't make it out; then he died. She looked toward her other friends, and gaped as Clark stirred and then rose slowly, his shirt drenched. He looked down at Chloe for a moment. Then he looked at Lana. Clark saw her, and the stricken Lex at her feet. Lana wiped away some tears, and started to say something to him, but he wasn't there anymore, and neither were Lex or Chloe.

August 10, 2025 (Absent)

I look up at the stage, and there's no need to wonder "Where are they now?" because there they are, the briefly-popular band called Lifehouse. Somewhat greyer and heavier than in their heyday, sure, but no one escapes the ravages of time, and happily, all of the original members are still alive. Lex paid an awful lot to get them here twenty years ago, he told me, but it didn't cost me too much more on top of the airfare to convince them to reunite here at Smallville High. Not that it matters; I have more money than I can ever spend, thanks to him. I just thought it would a nice touch, the same band twenty years later, although I didn't see them myself, the first time around. Everyone said they were all right, though.

Oh, there he is, across the gym. "Clark! Over here!" He must not have heard me, it's too noisy in here--I'll go over and say hi in a minute or two. I suppose Lois might've come with him but she's overseas--I read her piece yesterday about the rioting in Stalingrad. She shouldn't take such awful risks, but she always gets out unscathed--sometimes miraculously so.

It's been twenty years since I was last here at school, and it's been an awfully bumpy couple of decades, I will admit. Perhaps a long time ago someone hit me with that old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." - it might've been that time I went to China, come to think of it. Sometimes--I know this sounds conceited, but bear with me--I feel like a star. Literally a star; I just sit there, floating in space while things orbit around me. Funny, right? Things happen to me, or around me, and I watch them and try to keep my head down.

I used to think a lot about that stuff, used to have some funny ideas about life, and fate--I would wonder endlessly if things would've turned out differently if I'd made different decisions; zigged when I might have zagged, and so on. I don't bother about that stuff anymore; I came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. How could I ever have chosen any differently than I did?

"Hi, Lana--you look beautiful, as always," Clark says to me, having materialized at my side and looking quite dashing himself.

"Hello, Clark--thank you. I'm glad you could make it." We chat for a few minutes about this and that--he asks me how my daughter Lisa is, and I tell him that she's doing well at Met U. Some old classmates wander over--Paul Chan, Paige de Jong, Abigail Fine--and we say hi. "I like the decorations," Clark says to me--'Look to the Stars!' is the theme--a bit more nostalgia there, I did my homework. Then the band start up a new song, a slower one, they had a minor hit with it, I think, and I ask Clark to dance. He gets a funny look on his face and tries to decline, but he's just being a little bashful, surely, so I insist, and out onto the floor we go. And it's all very nice, though Clark looks like he's a million miles away.

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