The Off Season

by Livia

Notes: AU, written after the Tempest cliffhanger. An answer to the Bradbury Challenge.

The Off Season
by Livia

It's been years, but it feels like a whole new life. Smallville runs slower than Metropolis, so it took longer to catch the rhythm. But Lex feels it now, familiar as his own pulse. Smallville is under his skin.

He's claimed this place as his own. He almost fits in.

In Metropolis, springtime is convertible season. Time for girls to start wearing miniskirts and flowery perfumes. Jasmine, magnolia and lavender, scents that evoke memories of watching the swans in Robinson Park with his mother.

In Smallville, spring is brilliant, gold and green, and smells of dust, cornsilk and musty hay. It tastes like fresh asparagus, like tomatoes straight from the vine with a little salt for flavor. Lex has seen Clark eat them like apples.

April is also the start of tornado season, which Lex hates with a banked rage. Clark always looks so fucking tired this time of year. He's never around, though it's no great mystery where he is and what he's doing. At least not to Lex. Article after article arrives in his inbox. He has them collected by a clipping service, sorted, scanned, and sent to an anonymous e-mail account.

Headlines like a litany: a family from Independence, trapped in their truck, escapes death by inches. A lost child somehow makes it into a long-unused storm cellar, emerging unharmed after the storm's passed by. Flood waters divert at the last moment. Driving her husband to the hospital, a Jewell County woman finds the roads ahead miraculously cleared of debris, as if by the hand of God.

His computer is password-protected and the articles encrypted, and they stay that way most of the time. Lex doesn't need to re-read them. He remembers each one, as vividly as he remembers the sound of the Porsche's tires blowing out, one after the other. The way it felt like the earth itself was skidding, instead of the car.

Most of the articles Lex collected are from small, local papers. A few of the snappier ones got picked up by the Associated Press. Not too many to be suspicious; not yet. Lex suspects it's only a matter of time before someone notices that this particular section of Tornado Alley seems to have a guardian angel. That summertime in Kansas is miracle season.

Tornado season is usually over by June, and that's when Lex starts ordering flowers and fruit again. When Clark has time. When Clark stops looking like he has better things to do.

There's a pattern to this, too. Every year Clark starts a little earlier, ranges a little farther. Stops a little later. This year he was absent three times during the last month of school. The usual senior-year restlessness, a person might assume. If that person didn't know.

There's still a lot Lex doesn't know. A lot he wonders about. For instance, how many times Clark has tried and failed to be a savior. How many times he's had to see dead faces staring up at him. How many times he's been not strong enough, not fast enough, too late.

He thinks of the scholarship he's arranged, that will carry Clark as far as Metropolis, and wonders if it'll be enough. He thinks of Clark delivering miracles like apples, sweet and cheap by the basketful, and wonders how many people he'll have to save before it makes up for not saving Lana Lang.

On the first of July, Lex puts in an order for daylilies, for his office. When Clark stops by the castle, Lex tells him to sit down. Put his feet up. He offers Clark a bottle of water, a peach, and a listening ear.

He has a meeting at five. He tries not to look at his watch. He tries to make Clark smile.

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