We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise
And then, if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies.
It was the closest to flying he had ever come and more wonderful than he could have imagined. High up in the clear, morning sky, underneath a hot air balloon, Ryan stood midway between heaven and earth.
He felt the pressure inside his head ease as the balloon, nudged by the wind, glided westward across the Kansas countryside.
This was better than an airdrome.
Inside the basket next to Clark, he felt calm and peaceful for the first time since entering the hospital. There, he'd tried to block out the thoughts of everyone around him as he'd done at Summerholt, but the constant barrage of emotions from the personnel on the floor soon overwhelmed him. It was like hearing dozens of voices from various radio stations talking louder and louder, with no way to turn the volume down.
The administrator at the main station had been tired and stressed. Her ex-husband was late with his child support payment and she wondered how she was going to pay her credit card bills. The lab technician walking down the hallway was brooding about his girlfriend and their latest spat. He was ready to settle down; she wasn't so sure it was a good idea. The nurse checking the patient next door was worried about the latest round of budget cuts and how many staff members it would affect, herself included.
No matter where Ryan went, it was a never-ending soap opera, except that he was tired of being at the center of it all. Knowing too much about the people around him was a burden he longed to get rid of. But shutting it off was not as easy as flipping a switch. No matter how hard he tried, things still bled through, like water seeping through the cracks in a wall. The only exception was Clark. With Clark, it was like tuning into a blank screen--no static, no voices, no sounds, only silence. It was startling but restful; he could let his guard down. For once, no one was lying to him, scaring him or figuring out ways to take advantage of his ability.
He shivered slightly in the cool breeze and felt Clark's fingers tighten slightly on his shoulder.
"Hey, buddy. You okay?"
He nodded back. The last thing he wanted was for Clark to worry. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with me."
Together, they stood side by side, enjoying the view. If Clark was at all nervous about being so high off the ground, he didn't show it.
Ryan looked up and studied his profile. Clark was the big brother he'd always wanted--strong, caring and protective. Just like the Kents and even Lex.
He let out a small sigh. Lex had surprised him big time. As much as he distrusted Clark's friend at first, he had to admit there were depths to Lex he'd never considered. That the polite coolness he saw on the surface didn't mean Lex was distant or uncaring underneath.
Not like Dr. Garner. After a few days with the researcher, he'd realized he was at the mercy of yet another person as calculating and ruthless as his stepfather had been. Only the data from the daily tests had any meaning for the doctor. Once those tests were done, Ryan knew he would be discarded like a broken test tube. He'd spent many nights locked away in a little room, crying himself to sleep. No one had looked for him. No one had cared. No one had remembered. No one, except for Clark.
After his desperate call, he lay on his bed, woozy from the shot he'd been given, when Clark burst through the door of his room like an avenging angel, carelessly shoving the orderly aside as though he were a doll. For a brief moment Ryan thought he was dreaming. Then things got blurry; he remembered feeling the cold rush of air against his skin and before he knew it, he was at the front steps of a large castle. He had thought it a huge mistake on Clark's part, bringing him to Lex, but before he could say anything, Clark was banging on the door, confident of his friend's help.
And Lex had justified that confidence, immediately dropping everything to help him. The concern he'd shown had been real and sincere. His actions even more so. Ryan would never again think of Lex as cold. He was every bit as intense and fierce as the fire inside a boiler.
Although he'd never met the man, Ryan felt sorry for Mayor Tate.
Even though there was still a darkness to Lex, he also saw kindness and generosity. There'd be no end to the things Lex and Clark could accomplish together. If Clark kept an eye on Lex, if Lex didn't stray onto the wrong path, if they stayed friends. Ryan hoped they would.
Gripping the edge of the basket, he peered at the ground below. The countryside was divided into square shaped patches like an irregular green and yellow quilt bordered by long brown lines filled with passing cars and trucks. Here and there, bright ribbons of blue meandered across the pastures.
And beyond that, if he squinted, he thought he could make out the Metropolis skyline off in the distance.
He'd never gotten a chance to see the city, not while he was imprisoned in the institute. Not that it mattered any more. He'd never really belonged anywhere after his mother had died. He'd only been shuttled back and forth on a long, nightmarish ride with his stepparents. He'd hoped that his new life with his aunt would be as happy as his brief stay with Clark's parents, but even that had not worked out. His abilities had frightened her deeply, unlike the Kents who had been the only ones ever to say he was gifted. Not cursed.
He wished with all his heart, things had turned out differently, but he wasn't bitter or afraid. From the moment Dr. Burton had stepped into his room, he knew it was time to leave it all behind.
Ryan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was truly and finally free.
No one could hurt him any more. Standing closer to Clark, he allowed himself to be enfolded in the strong arms one last time.
Here, high in the sky, he'd gotten his final wish--his one perfect moment.
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