by Valentine Michel Smith
Valentine Michel Smith
He just wanted to play football. He just wanted to be like the other kids at school - or those kids the other kids looked up to. Not that he craved the spotlight. He just wanted the attention of the doe-eyed girl across the way who must've had a penchant for football players. How else could you explain Lana and Whitney?
Clark watched them frequently through the telescope in the loft as they snuggled and shared kisses in the night porch light at Nell's. He attributed Lana's involvement with the quarterback to infatuation laced with a bit of status seeking. He attributed the quarterback's involvement with Lana to appreciation of those things highly desirable. Lana was that, to be sure. After all, what mere man could resist the charms of the most beautiful girl in school, particularly when they came bundled in a smart, quiet and tragic package?
The fact was, Clark knew he was really a better fit for Lana. Like Clark, she was adopted and didn't really know her parents. She was much too young when they died to recall much about them at all. All he needed was the proper method of approach. The neighbor thing definitely wasn't working.
Then it hit him: why not football?
Clark pumped himself up about asking his father for permission, excited about the increased opportunities football would provide. He'd instantly be part of a group, and given what he was capable of, he'd be a star player as a freshman. Finally, he'd find his place in the world of the social. He might even be able to give Fordman a run for his money for the boyfriend position.
Clark smiled at the very notion.
Then his father, Jonathan Kent the Stubborn, ruined the dream. All he had to do was John Hancock a piece of paper. "C'mon, Dad. You played football in high school."
"That was different, son."
"You know why."
"I figure I'll run at half-speed and I won't hit anybody." After a pause, Clark added words he felt implicit. "Dad, I can be careful," he affirmed and waited.
Jonathan drew breath, considered. "I know you can be careful." That wasn't really the point. How could he make the boy understand? "But what if there's an accident?"
Chloe couldn't believe her father did it, but somehow, Gabe Sullivan managed to crank the schmooze to "high" and pulled off a coup. He'd actually gotten the brand new head of LuthorCorp Plant No. 3 to give Chloe an interview for the Torch - a school paper of all things. Lex Luthor, child of Lionel Luthor, Metropolis royalty and one-time party boy was gonna spill for his gal Chip.
Clark settled into the stands, pretending to do homework as he watched Lana at cheerleading practice. He'd been in the stadium early enough to monitor the football team tryouts, discovering, as he suspected, no standouts. He also confirmed that Coach Walt was desperate for bodies, so desperate in fact, that Pete Ross would probably make the team.
"How do I look?"
Clark couldn't help himself. He served up a dazzling smile and responded, "Like a tackle dummy,"
The broad show of pearlies was genuine, because frankly Pete looked hella funny. Unfortunately, the laugh he got at his friend's expense (teeny Pete in shoulder pads and a big ass jersey) didn't make him feel any less badly. In fact, the sight of Pete decked out wanna-be style slammed the football fantasies Clark had been indulging in to the concrete and forcibly relegated them to some far-off patch of imagination. Clearly, he would be never be able to transform the chimera from imagined to real.
Clark hoped the trip to Loeb Bridge would help him make his peace with that. During prior visits, the water tended to soothe him. Today, he found himself replaying the breakfast conversation.
"Look...um...Clark, I know this's gotta be hard for you, but you gotta just hang in there like we promised."
"I'm sick of hanging in there. All I wanna do is go through high school without being a total loser."
It wasn't right. Pete didn't have even any natural ability where football was concerned. It wasn't fair. Pete was verbal man, not physical. Ok, forget "right" and "fair" - it straight sucked. Pete got girls - without football.
*Loser, loser, loser, loser, looooo-ser*.
Gabe dropped Chloe off at the LuthorCorp Plant. He kissed her tenderly on the forehead. "I may be corny, but I come through."
Chloe hugged her father. "Yes, yes you do. Wish me luck."
"Bit of advice?" Chloe watched her father attentively. "He's not what you'd expect."
Gabe nodded and winked at his daughter. He rubbed her arm reassuringly. "You'll do fine."
Chloe climbed out of the car and turned as Gabe drove away. She turned back and found Lex standing in front of her. She barely caught the jump before it happened. "Chloe Sullivan I presume?" Lex extended his hand.
"Lex Luthor?" Chloe took his hand and shook it heartily. He smiled approvingly.
"Firm, but not too."
"I detect a skosh of astonishment," said Chloe flatly, channeling her former life as Metropolino when nonchalance in the face of emotional overload was a necessary survival strategy.
"No, no, not really." Lex leaned over and whispered into Chloe's ear. "I've heard things."
The comment forced blood to Chloe's face - and elsewhere. Lex clearly had skills. Or maybe it was the combination of the confidence Lex exuded, his apparent willingness to treat a high school freshman like an equal, the manly purr of a voice and the stylish attire. Lex was dressed in an amazing black suit under which he wore temptingly touchable gray sweater. Am liking the gray but...
Chloe blinked and made a mental note. No sense losing journalistic detachment for the sake of a simple crotch tingle, regardless of the enticement.
"Now that we've gotten that out of the way..." Lex slipped an arm around Chloe's waist in a gesture that Chloe felt stopped just shy of pedophilic (*amendment to note: well honed skills*) and directed her to a metallic blue Porsche. "If you don't mind, I'd like to conduct the interview in more hospitable surroundings."
Chloe didn't need to be asked a second time. She was standing in front of a crap factory. "No. Don't mind at all." Chloe grinned broadly and climbed into the passenger seat.
"The mansion's not far," Lex said. "Buckle up."
"Seatbelts save lives," chirped Chloe. She was very happy she was wearing the seatbelt when Lex backed the car down the driveway going forty miles an hour. And happier still as the heir apparent to the Luthor empire took the curves along Route 90 at speeds ranging from 60 to 80 mph.
Chloe inhaled and exhaled. Journalist, Chloe, journalist. A fast-driving former wild-child was not going to phase her. Chloe made herself comfortable. Go Speed Racer, go! Not difficult, not challenging. Just a matter of doing what need be done.
Chloe watched as Lex took in the new environs, his face betraying a mix of disdain and boredom. She scribbled a few notes, looking up only as his cell phone rang.
Neither of them saw the barbed wire in the road until it was too late.
Clark turned, alerted to the approaching vehicle by the scream of rubber on asphalt as the stranger behind the wheel downshifted desperately. He continued watching the driver fight for control of the Porsche and eventually lose the battle.
Then Clark saw Chloe.
He thought he might be able to stop the car, forgetting in that split second about momentum. Clark stretched out his arms and was knocked through the guardrail into the water below.
The Porsche followed shortly thereafter.
The car settled on the river bottom, its full mass coming to bear on its passenger side. For some reason, the air bags hadn't deployed.
Clark swam to the vehicle. He saw the driver was unconscious. Chloe was alert but struggling, gulping for air.
Clark righted the car and pried open the roof effortlessly. He tugged lightly at the driver's seat belt and watched as the steel mechanism yawned open. He afforded Chloe's seat belt similar treatment.
Clark managed to collect the vehicles' occupants without difficulty in spite of the abundance of jagged, twisted metal. A strong push up and instantly Clark flew to the surface, carrying both Chloe and the man to safety.
On the river's edge, Chloe gasped and wheezed.
The man wasn't breathing at all.
Clark administered CPR frantically while keeping an eye on Chloe. "Don't die on me."
The moment the man's chest lifted, Clark was gone.
Lex Luthor came to, uncertain what had happened and how he'd survived driving his precision sports car off a bridge.
A chill went through him. Where was the tall kid he'd seen on the bridge and what the hell had happened to Chloe Sullivan?
Chloe was making gurgling sounds, and while he was concerned about moving her, Clark was more concerned about how long it would take help to get to them. He elected to take matters into his own hands literally, scooping his friend into his arms and running to the hospital.
"Don't die on me." Clark's words came softly and were fraught with urgency.
The bright colors assaulted Clark as he stepped though the emergency room door. They seemed garish, out of place, wrong as he yelled, "I need a doctor! Somebody! Little help!" The words hung in the air, edged with a desperation that Clark hadn't anticipated. The desperation came from a place unknown to Clark, remaining unacknowledged, at least until recently.
Clark looked down, his eyes full.
Chloe was barely moving.
Finally, her eyes fluttered. "Cl-Clark?" The words came as part exhalation. Had Clark not been holding her, he wouldn't've heard her at all.
Clark smiled weakly. "Chloe..."
Unexpectedly, Chloe's mass seemed to change and she stopped moving.
Chloe sagged, leaden, in Clark's arms. "Chloe?" Clark's eyes widened as terror seized him. "Chloe...?"
Clark felt his legs waver. Thankfully, a gurney appeared just as the room began to spin.
Fighting to remain conscious, Clark focused on the white coat that materialized before him as Chloe was removed from his faltering grip. "What happened?" asked the doctor.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." Clark's legs wobbled. He grabbed for the doctor as the room went from bright to dim, then dark.
"Clark?" Clark looked up to see his father leaning over him. "Son, you all right?"
Clark sat up, leaning on his elbows. "Yeah. I'm ok."
"Who's the maniac who was driving that car?"
Lex stepped hesitantly into the room. "I made some inquiries and was able to track you down," he said to Clark to explain his sudden emergence. "I was waiting for the proper moment. I don't know that this is it." He turned to Jonathan. "The maniac in question would be me, Lex Luthor."
"I'm Jonathan Kent. This is my son."
Lex turned back to Clark. He regarded this kid with a mix of awe and admiration. "Thanks for saving my life."
Clark climbed from the bed. "I'm sure you would've done the same thing." Jonathan reached for his son, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder to lead him out of the room.
"You have quite an extraordinary boy there, Mr. Kent." Jonathan nodded slowly, swallowing the building anger. "If there's any way I can repay you -"
The words came before Jonathan could stop them. "Drive slower." He pushed clear of Lex Luthor as he led Clark into the hall.
"Dad, how's Chloe?"
Jonathan lowered his head. He tried to hide his face from Clark, but Clark could see the tears forming.
"Son, I - "
"No..." Clark wrenched free of his father grip and launched himself down the hall.
Clark stopped at the nurses' station. He steeled himself, and smiled in spite of the pain that weighted him. "I came in a while ago," he began, "with a blonde." The words "car accident" caught in his throat.
"Car accident? She's probably down in trauma - "
Clark didn't wait for the nurse to finish or direct him. He headed in the general direction she indicated, following the signs.
The first two trauma rooms were empty. "Slow night," Clark spoke aloud. The last room had a team in full swing, circling the table, maneuvering with such precision he stood in veneration.
The dance slowed and Clark stumbled back.
Chloe lay pale and motionless.
Clark saw Gabe and Judy Sullivan sitting on a bench down the hall.
They clung to each other.
Perpetual motion machine.
Clark tripped over his own feet as he turned. His hand rose involuntarily to his mouth. He watched as the doctor looked at the clock. "I'm gonna call it. Time of death - 7:00 p.m."
When the doctor stepped out of Trauma 3 mere seconds later to inform the Sullivans that their only daughter had succumbed to internal injuries sustained in the automobile accident, he stepped into an otherwise empty hall.
Clark stood in the alley, leaning against the side of the building. He felt alternatingly hot and cold; his stomach twitched, pitching lunch higher until he couldn't hold it back anymore.
Clark Kent, would be Smallville High School football star, hurled.
Clark had trouble sleeping that night. When he finally drifted off, he found himself hovering over Smallville, over the familiar landscape of farms and silos, over livestock and crops and scarecrows. He saw the Sullivan house, and flew through Chloe's window.
Clark paused, floating over Chloe's bed. She slept deeply as he watched her, a small grin rising to his lips.
Without warning, Chloe opened her eyes.
She stared at him accusatorially. "It's all your fault."
Clark frowned. What was she talking about?
Clark looked up. Lex stood by the window, beaming. He waved to Clark, his hand dark and slick with...
"Clark!" The sound of his mother's voice broke the dream's hold, and Clark crashed down onto the bed, splintering it.
Pete found Clark in the loft. Clark's eyes were still moist. Great. How was he supposed to keep it together when nothing-gets-me-going-but-Lana -Lang Kent was sitting there apparently taking a break from bawling like a baby?
Pete's eyes watered. Fuck it. They were talking about Chloe, weren't they? The tears fell liberally as Clark and Pete embraced.
"We're really a couple of manly men," sniffed Pete.
"The manliest of manly men," sniffed Clark, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
"I'm ok. You ok?"
"I'm ok..." Pete hesitated before continuing. "Hell nah, I'm not ok!" Pete threw himself down on the couch. "This morning, I'm listening to her tell me she thinks the bus is getting attacked. She's laughing at my GREAT plan to avoid becoming this year's scarecrow, this afternoon, she's gonna interview Lex Luthor for the Torch... Now, she's just..."
Pete pushed himself back up and walked to the window. He fought new tears. "Dammit, Clark, what happened?"
"I dunno. I really, really dunno."
"There's gotta be an investigation. I mean, it's not like Lex Luthor dumped his car into the river and walked away. I took a look at the skid marks - not an expert - but based on the length (driver's ed.) - he was waaay over the speed limit. He was talking some buuuull-shit about 'barbed wire' in the road. Fine asshole, but checkit - if you had both hands on the wheel and were obeying the speed limit, you might've been able to avoid it. Or at least not drive your car - with my friend in it - off a fucking bridge."
"Pete..." Clark eyes were full. "It may be my fault."
"You - ?
Clark, man, quit buggin'. How could it possibly be your fault? You weren't driving the car. You saw the accident and pulled them both out of the river. You got Chloe to the hospital."
*The car might've landed different if it hadn't hit me. If I hadn't tried to stop it.*
"I... -" Clark wanted to tell Pete the truth, that he tried to stop the car and failed, that he was hit by the car and survived, that he was able to pull both Lex and Chloe to safety and only to lose the battle to save Chloe after getting her to the hospital in a matter of minutes, that apparently, even freaks had their limits. And sometimes just made things worse. Instead he said only, "I don't know I'm gonna do without her."
"Brotha," Pete rose to leave, "you and me both."
Pete hugged Clark again and headed down the loft stairs.
Clark watched him leave, the loneliness escalating with each of Pete's steps.
When Pete Ross was gone, Clark fought and failed. Guilt devoured him.
Clark stood on the Sullivan porch. He didn't know what he was going to say or how he was going to say it. He'd let his best friend down, perhaps making a fatal error in the process. His "gifts" were currently not feeling like anything of the kind.
He hadn't shared the truth with his parents. How could he tell them was hit by Lex's car? That he'd been dumb enough to try to stop it before the impact? That he might show up as a "contributing factor" on the official accident report that was probably in the process of being generated as he stood there.
Clark turned. He couldn't do this. Not now.
"Clark?" Gabe Sullivan's voice rose from inside. He pushed the screen door open. "How long you been standing out there?"
"You're not chilly?"
Clark shook his head. "No." He forgot his jacket - and the temperature had plunged. Not that he had noticed.
"Come on in."
"Clark, good to see you," said Judy Sullivan. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, I'm ok. Really."
Mrs. Sullivan cast a motherly glance Clark's way. "Not even cider? Nice and hot - little bit of cinnamon?"
"Cider sounds good. Thank you."
"I'll be right back," Mrs. Sullivan promised.
Clark settled into the couch. Gabe slapped him heartily on the knee. "God, it's good to see you, Clark."
Clark wondered if he'd feel the same way if he knew everything about the accident. Would Gabe Sullivan still be as kind to him if he knew Clark survived a collision that should of killed him and effected an impossible rescue? What if he knew about him? How many friendships would survive the truth of who he was? Or knowing what he was capable of?
Clark's mind turned to why he was able to do the things he was able to do - and why, in a moment when it seemed of paramount importance that he succeed, he had failed utterly. It was a first, and he didn't like the bitter taste of it.
"What're you thinking about?"
Clark blinked and hesitated. The words did not come easily. "I keep wishing Chloe would just walk up the driveway and through that door," he said quietly. "I never appreciated how much she meant to me until now. The thought of never seeing her again..."
Gabe tilted his head, knowingly. His eyes began to water.
Oh no! That wasn't supposed to happen. *C'mon, Kent, swing this thing back around*. "You know," Clark began, "I remember the first time I met her. It was eight grade. She had just transferred from Metropolis, and I was assigned to show her around."
Good. Gabe was engrossed in the story. Clark could see a faint glimmer in his eyes. Not from tears, but the little light Mr. Sullivan would get whenever the former Metropolis resident shared stories about his daughter. Ok...right track.
"The first thing she wanted to know was where she could buy a copy of The Planet so she could 'keep in touch with civilization'. When she found out I lived on a far, she insisted I invite her over to experience it firsthand. I think she thought I was Amish."
From the corner of his eye, Clark noted the vignette was having the desired effect. A tiny smile traveled across Gabe Sullivan's lips.
"When I brought her up to the loft, she just...kissed me...right outta the blue. She said, 'I know you've been thinking about that all day, so I figured we'd just get it out of the way and be friends.'
It was my first kiss."
Mrs. Sullivan handed Clark a mug and sat on the edge of her husband's chair. "It's good your first kiss was with someone you cared about."
Clark nodded in agreement. Cared about... The cider warmed him and made him miss Chloe that much more. Damn, wasn't it just last week they'd shared cider and conversation on his porch?
Clark sat wordlessly in the Sullivan living room, as Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan went about making preparations for the burial of their only child.
He stayed until he couldn't stand it any longer. He placed the mug on a coaster on the coffee table and headed out into the night. He almost plowed Lex over.
"Is everything all right? Clark?"
"No, Lex, everything is not 'all right'. One of my best friends is dead." He stopped short of saying "And you're here without a scratch on you," but the words were dangerously close to being articulated.
"I didn't get the chance to know Chloe," said Lex, his voice edged with genuine regret.
"My sense is I would've liked her."
Clark stared at Lex, his hostility intensifying. It might've been unfair and unwarranted, but Lex had been driving awfully fast. Frankly, based on that alone, Clark didn't want to take the time to consider who stood as true target of the emotional response. He brushed by Lex and headed toward the roadway.
Lex started into the Sullivan house, then turned back to say something to Clark.
Clark was nowhere to be seen.
When his mother insisted on buying him a suit, Clark protested. He thought it a waste of money.
"You never know when you might need it. Job interview."
"Manhattan outing," chimed in Jonathan.
"Funeral." Clark joked.
"Clark," Jonathan admonished.
"What?" He was a teenager; he had no expectation of attending a funeral. Especially not the funeral of one of his contemporaries. Certainly not the funeral of a best friend.
Clark had never been to a funeral before. Yet, here he was, less than a month later, at Chloe Sullivan's graveside service with a tune stuck in his head:
*Lying in my bed
I hear the clock tick
and think of you
Turning in circles
confusion is nothing new
Flashback to warm nights
all those left behind
a suitcase of memories
Sometimes you picture me
I'm walking too far ahead
You're calling to me to me
I can't hear what you've said
And you say go slow
I fall behind
the second hand unwinds
If you're lost
you can look
and you will find me
time after time
If you fall
I will catch you
I'll be waiting
Time after time
time after time*
It rained the day they buried Chloe Sullivan.
Clark stood by Pete, but relinquished cover of umbrella, choosing to walk off alone.
He found the rain a blessing.
It hid tears, no matter what their number.
Clark missed a couple of days of school. He couldn't handle the cruel reality of the loss. It became clearer to him what he and Chloe had transcended friendship. The finality of death also made it patently obvious he'd never see her again.
The pain was almost more than he could take.
If Clark Kent seemed to be moving backward in terms of social evolution, Pete seemed to be moving full-throttle forward. Even with football, classes, and taking over Chloe's duties at The Torch, Pete found the time to convince Clark that being out in the world was better than withdrawing from it.
Clark met up with Pete in the school hallway. They stood awkwardly for a moment. Clark looked exhausted. Pete absorbed the vision of his friend. They were both having a difficult time, and each handled it in his own way.
"Have you heard anything else about the accident?" Clark asked.
"Just that Smallville Sheriff's Department doesn't have the resources to conduct the kind of investigation necessary," Pete responded. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." Clark strode ahead. "I'll catch up with you later."
"I hate it when you do that."
"Shut me out. It's like one minute you're here, the next, you're gone." Pete halted briefly. He swallowed hard. "Clark, you're not outgrowing me as a friend, are you?"
"Pete, I could never outgrow you - other than vertically."
"It's amazing how far that Kent charm can get you."
"I'll check in after class."
Pete nodded, rapped Clark heartily on the arm, and took his leave.
The shiny red truck with the racing stripe and the big blue bow caught Clark's attention straight away.
"Hey Mom, whose truck?"
"Yours. It's a gift from Lex Luthor." Martha thrust a card toward her son. She was trying to let him make his own decisions, but she wasn't a huge fan of pricey gift as thank you.
Clark knitted his brow. "Dear Clark," he began, reading the monogrammed stationery his mother had given him, "Drive safely. Always in your debt. The maniac in the Porsche." Clark turned to his mother. "Where're the keys?"
"In the ignition."
"Hello. Hello?" Clark made his way down the empty hallway. His footsteps echoed as he approached the sound of... He wasn't quite sure what.
The mansion and the fencing lesson were not exactly what Clark had imagined. But so much of what he imagined was clearly subject to change. Clark wondered what other surprises life had in store for him - and almost discovered too quickly as he narrowly avoided skewering by foil.
"Clark?" Lex's face betrayed shock. He didn't reveal emotions often or easily. Clark had clearly caught him with his guard down. It wouldn't happen again. "I didn't see you."
"I buzzed, but no one answered."
Lex pulled the foil from the wall. "How'd you get through the gate?"
"I kinda squeezed through the bars. If this is a bad time -"
"- Oh no. I think Heikia has sufficiently kicked my ass for the day." Lex tossed his face guard to his fencing instructor.
"This's a great place," Clark said. He hadn't gone there to be impressed, yet, he found himself admiring Lex's home.
"Yeah? If you're dead and in the market for something to haunt."
"I meant it's roomy." Clark shrugged. Ok, so it wasn't the most graceful of interactional clean-ups.
"It's the Luthor ancestral home. Or so my father claims. He had it shipped over from Scotland stone-by-stone."
"Yeah, I remember. The trucks rolled through town for weeks, but no one every moved in." *A little more detached, a little less "golly gee."*
"My father had no intention of living here. He's never even stepped through the front door."
"Then why ship it over?"
"Because he could." Lex smiled and led Clark to the upstairs den. "How's the ride?" he asked as he removed his fencing attire.
Clark rediscovered his equilibrium. He spoke in an even, almost hard tone. "That's why I'm here."
"What's the matter? You don't like it?"
"No, it's not that. I can't keep it."
"Clark, you saved my life."
And Chloe died.
"I think it's the least I can do. You don't like me, do you? It's all right. I've been bald since I was nine. I'm used to people judging me."
"It's nothing personal."
"I'd better go. Thanks for the truck."
Clark handed Lex the keys. "Polite even in contempt."
Clark considered refuting the assessment, but realizing the veracity of it, merely turned and headed for the door.
"Clark?" Clark spun to face Lex. "Do you believe a man can fly?"
"Sure. In a plane."
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about soaring through the clouds with nothing but air beneath you."
The dream flitted briefly to the forefront of Clark's thinking. He stomped the recollection. "People can't fly Lex."
"I did. After the accident, when my heart stopped. It was the most exhilarating two minutes of my life. I flew over Smallville, and for the first time, I didn't see a dead end. I saw a new beginning.
Thanks to you, I have a second chance. We have a future, Clark. And I don't want anything to stand in the way of our friendship."
Clark stared blankly at the Lionel Luthor's progeny.
It wasn't until Clark was gone that Lex pondered whether Phelan's reach extended as far away as Smallville. He was going to need help with the accident. The Sullivans wouldn't be a problem. But the Sherriff's department and criminal charges, well, that was something else entirely.
Vehicular manslaughter wouldn't look good on his presidential curriculum vitae.
Clark wasn't in the best of moods when he returned to the Kent farm. He missed Chloe. He missed the sight of her, the snark of her - even when she locked and loaded and fixed him as her target. His muscles ached, fatigued not by exertion, but by loss. It probably didn't help that rather than run, he walked the entire distance from the Luthor estate home.
It took him hours.
"Son?" Jonathan Kent switched off the wood chipper and removed the safety goggles. He wished he'd spoken up sooner. He'd never seen Clark in this kind of funk.
Clark was absolutely not up to a father/son rah-rah moment. "Dad, can we talk later? Really, I can't. Not now." Clark mounted the stairs.
"Clark, I know you're upset, but it's normal."
Clark stomped back down the flight of steps. "Normal?" He switched on the wood chipper. "How 'bout this? Is this normal?" Clark jammed his hand into the chipper, as far as he could. Jonathan raced over to extricate him as the gears and blades whined and sputtered.
What the elder Kent saw astounded him.
Clark's sleeve had been eaten away, but Clark's arm... Clark's arm was neither bruised nor scratched. How was that possible?
"I didn't dive in after Lex's car! It hit me at 60 miles an hour. Does that sound 'normal' to you? I'd give anything to be normal."
Clark shifted wearily and took the banister in hand. He went up the stairs quietly.
Martha stood across the yard. She caught Jonathan's eye and motioned. Jonathan nodded knowingly. The two had put the conversation off more than once, and it seemed there was no more avoiding the issue - especially if the last few days were any indication. Jonathan wondered: was there anything sadder than 6'3" and 210 pounds of mope? If there was, he'd yet to see it.
It broke Jonathan's heart.
Clark didn't hear Jonathan climb the steps to the loft. Had he, he might've witnessed his father concerned and fearful, bracing himself and putting on his "serious parent" face. "It's time, son."
"Time for what?"
"The truth." Jonathan settled into a chair across from Clark and turned it to face him. He held a chamois in one hand. "I want you to take a look at something." He offered the object to Clark. "I think it's from your parent, your real parents."
Clark took the rectangular piece of metal from his father and stared at the markings. "What's it say?"
"I've tried to decipher it for years, but it's not written in any language known to man."
"What'd you mean?"
"Your real parents weren't exactly from around...here."
"Where're they from?"
Jonathan cast a glance past the telescope and into the sky beyond.
Clark followed his gaze, puzzled. He snorted. "So what're you trying to tell me, Dad? That I'm from another planet?"
Jonathan said nothing.
Clark took that as a "yes." What kind of joke was his father pulling? "I suppose," he said, suppressing laughter, "you stashed my spaceship in the attic."
Jonathan Kent didn't miss a beat. "Actually," he responded, "it's in the storm cellar."
His father appeared to be serious. But Clark thought it was some new "cheer the kid up" strategy. Fine, if his father had gone through the trouble to set up a lame joke, the least he could do was provide the audience.
Clark followed his father down into the storm cellar and stood back as he removed the tarp. "This is how you came into our world, son." The ship looked real. "It was the day of the meteor shower."
Clark drew back, confused. "This is a joke, right?"
His father said nothing, confirming Clark's fear - so not a joke.
"Why didn't you tell me about this before?" The words came out angrier than he'd meant.
"We wanted to protect you."
"Protect me - from what? You should've told me." And with that, Clark was gone.
Was it possible for a brain to flip? Over? *Left is right... Right is left... I'm not even...* Clark couldn't speak the words. He couldn't think the thought. ...not even... human.
Lex hadn't been on a horse in ages. He wasn't quite sure what prompted the urge tonight, but, before he knew it, he was riding Lucifer away from the grounds and into town. He wasn't sure how he wound up at the graveyard, and quickly discovered he wasn't alone.
"It's me. Clark."
"Clark? What're you doing creeping around the woods?"
"You'd never believe me if I told you."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you."
Clark turned to leave. As he moved, Lex noticed the light gave him the appearance of wings. It was just the statue behind him, but... "Clark, wait. I just wasn't expecting to see anyone out here. I actually brought flowers for... The headstone won't be up for a few months, until the ground settles."
Lex paused, studying him. "Are you ok?"
"I'm hanging out in a graveyard . Does this strike you as 'ok' behavior?"
"Hey, I'm here too."
"Good point." Clark sniffed. The fresh dampness of his eyes indicated he'd been crying.
"Can you keep a secret?"
"I'm the Fort Knox of secrets."
"I got lost. I wanted to find my way here, but I took a wrong turn. And astonishingly, I wound up right where I was supposed to be."
Lex smiled slightly. Clark considered.
The ride back to the mansion had been uneventful. The entry into the house would prove another tale entirely.
"Lex..." Phelan's voice rose like a parent about to scold. He tapped his watch crystal with a finger. "What time did we set our rendezvous?"
Lex looked the veteran detective squarely in the eye. "Did we set a time?"
"Enjoy it while you can, Lex. Things will not always go your way. And I hope to Christ I'm there when the tide shifts. Who knows? I may be able to help things along..."
"Do you have something to tell me - or did you drive three hours just to make grade school threats?"
"The investigation into the accident is officially closed."
"Kudos to you and yours."
"But you might be interested in this... It's a computer model detailing precisely what happened."
Lex leaned in to get a look. "Uh uh." Phelan stayed him with his forearm. "This's above and beyond. Requires supplemental -"
Lex shook his head in a barely perceptible gesture of contempt. He flicked open a check register, scribbling the necessary information without blinking. "That should cover it."
Phelan accepted the paper from Lex and eyed the document. "Now, _that's_ what I'm talking about." The cop turned his attention to the computer. "As for the accident... It looks like someone hit the front end of the car and went into the windshield."
Phelan cast a glance toward Lex. "I don't remember anything about a pedestrian fatality."
"Because there weren't any. What about the possibility of a manslaughter charge?"
"'Possibility of'? For anybody else, it would've been a done deal. You got another 'Get out of Jail Free' card, courtesy Papa Lionel." Phelan snorted derisively. "You might want to be more careful, Lex. Smallville is not Metropolis. Things are a lot harder to hide."
Lex shrugged and smiled enigmatically. "Guess it all depends on the kinds of things."
"Clark! Have you heard?"
"The investigation into the accident. Done."
"Done? Really?" Clark tried not to look visibly relieved. "What'd they say?"
"Accident - driver not 'culpable'."
"Lex Luthor - that bastard - is off scot-free."
"What'd you mean?"
"No charges. It's like nothing ever happened. 'Cept Chloe is DEAD."
Pete stormed down the hall. To his surprise, Clark felt a mix of conflicting emotions. He was glad one part of the ordeal was over, but if Lex was blameless, had Chloe's death been his fault? The good news was he hadn't been discovered; the bad news was he'd come close.
Clark felt the queer mingling of guilt and relief and wondered how many times he'd be able to dodge bullets.
If there had been someone else his father could've sent with the produce order to Lex Luthor's, Clark would've made certain it happened. As it was, Earl had gotten a job with LuthorCorp in Metropolis which meant Clark was stuck with virtually all Earl's work on the farm - in addition to his own. That included the deliveries.
"Clark, come in." Lex seemed genuinely happy to see him. "How's school?"
"Fine," Clark said, "Produce order."
"Right. I could tell from the ... produce..."
Lex studied Clark. He hadn't really noticed until now, but Clark was a beautiful young man. His eyes were abundantly green, a peculiar shade but no less aesthetically pleasing. His dark hair was thick and long, near curls along the edges, and he seemed impossibly tall for a high school freshman. His was an eerie beauty, over laden with a mystery and unlike anything Lex had ever seen.
There no doubt there was something different about Clark Kent. The difference piqued Lex's profuse curiosity. How precisely had Clark not only walked away from an accident that killed Chloe Sullivan completely uninjured, but also managing to play hero?
Add to that the social ineptness that Lex found rather endearing, and Clark Kent was beyond resisting - and worthy of possession. Or control. For Lex, the two were synonymous. Besides, what better way to get to know the mystery that was Clark Kent?
Lex mentally gauged the likelihood of succeeding with his new initiative. It probably wouldn't be that difficult to convince Clark that a Luthor knew best. He was after all, just a small town boy.
"I've started a scholarship in Chloe Sullivan's name for Metropolis University. It's designed to go to the high school senior who shows exceptional promise in the area of journalism."
Clark was dumbfounded. "Lex, I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything, Clark. It was the right thing to do, considering the circumstances." Lex stepped dangerously close to Clark and spoke gently.
"It may not feel like it right now, Clark, but we have a destiny. Our friendship will be the stuff of legends."
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