Smallville: Infinite Possibilities - Episode Seven: Resurgent
by Henry Jones Jr
"Visitors have been coming to earth for many, many years, and for just as long, the Kawatche have opened their homes for them. It is one of our purposes." Joseph Willowbrook, tribal leader of the Kawatche, removed a yellowed newspaper from a strongbox sitting on his desk. "The last Kryptonian who stayed with me called himself 'Joe,' back in 1961. I remember he had a small problem with his landing and the military took notice."
The year sparked in Clark Kent's mind. "The same year the Smallville Dam and Morley reservoir were created."
"Yes." Joseph sat beside Clark on the sofa in the den, handing him the newspaper. "Joe's excursion to our planet was not the most quiet visit."
Clark looked at the hand-drawn picture printed in the old newspaper. He wasn't surprised by the familiarity of the features of the man called Joe. He'd learned, utilizing the library in the caves, that Kryptonians had practiced gene-manipulation. Clark's physical appearance matched the Kryptonian ideal of beauty, which alternately stroked his ego and freaked him out. Being a descendant from a Nazi-like ideation of an Aryan Nation was creepy.
It didn't bother Joseph, though little seemed to faze him. Kryptonians of age in the ruling caste had visited the stronghold on earth for generations and the Kawatche people had been there to greet them. While everything Kryptonian was new to Clark, it was old hat for Joseph.
Clark had gotten to know the elderly Native American over the past few weeks, enough to go with his instincts and trust Joseph with the truth. He'd made his peace with Jeremiah, too, over what happened with Kyla. Kyla herself had been banished to Wichita, her bracelet sent to her in the mail, with the promise that she'd be watched, so her wolf-self had better behave.
Clark hadn't confirmed with Jeremiah or Kyla that he was Naman. He didn't believe it, anyway. It was an argument he kept coming back to in his talks with Joseph. "Why do you think I'm the Naman of your prophecies, if there have been other Kryptonians here before me?"
"The answer to that lies with Lilamelo," Joseph replied.
"I don't believe in destiny, you know," Clark said. "If there was such a thing, it wouldn't matter what you did, the end result would be the same. Imagine what the world would be like if that were the case."
"But you don't agree."
Joseph stroked his thumb against his tribal ring. "Prophecies are not meant to be fact, but rather guideposts on the path of life. The Prophecy of Naman gives direction, nothing more. It is you who decides whether to accept destiny, or reject it."
"The destiny to become protector of the world," Clark said skeptically.
"You have great power, Clark," Joseph said, his weathered face sagacious. "It is your responsibility to use it wisely."
If it was Clark's responsibility to use his powers wisely, his first wizened responsibility was to use his power of persuasion to get Lex out of the KentCorp sub-basement.
Clark smiled at his own bad humor. He understood what Joseph had meant about with great power comes great responsibility. He also thought that Joseph had read one too many Spider-Man comics. Clark may have had extraordinary abilities, but that didn't mean he had to use them. He wasn't a policeman or a fireman, or another type of rescue worker. He was a seventeen-year-old high school Sophomore whose main goal was to find someone who meant more than a roll in the hay.
"Knock-knock. Can I come in?" Clark poked his head through the hole in the HVAC room floor in the KentCorp plant.
Lex Luthor looked up at him and smiled brightly. With his tuft of orange-red hair sticking straight up, he sat surrounded by pages of handwritten notes, on the nest of blankets in the corner of the sub-basement room. "Hi. You can always come in wherever I live."
Clark was getting better at ignoring the way Lex's overly honest responses made him feel squishy inside. He climbed down the ladder and glanced at the mess, as he shed his coat. "What are you doing?"
"Fixing my notes on plant and animal mutations." Lex scratched his cheek. No scars marred his skin from where he'd been clawed by Kyla in wolf-form. "Mr. Rickman returned them out of order."
"I thought you said everything was fine with the stuff Rickman gave back?"
Clark caught himself before he started arguing over semantics. He knew Rickman would have copied everything he'd stolen, anyway. "Are you at a stopping point? There are some new apartment listings we should check out." He unfolded the classifieds section of The Smallville Ledger that he'd stuck in his jeans pocket that morning.
Lex stacked papers, clearing a spot for Clark in the nest of blankets. "I don't think I should leave."
"Lex, we've been over this," Clark said, not unkindly. "I know you're afraid, but you really can't stay here any longer."
"Dad says Luthors aren't afraid of anything," Lex said quietly.
"So be a Luthor and take this last step," Clark urged, sitting beside Lex. "You've earned enough money for security deposits and stuff. And you know we'll leave a new note posted with your address."
Clark understood how difficult it had to be for Lex. Research had provided answers to Lex's reluctance to move. Abandoned children clung to the familiar, even as adults. Lex's insistence that he stay put, despite knowing his parents were dead, had hindered Joseph and any other adult from taking him in.
But Lex needed to join the real world now, especially since he was "alive" again. Clark pulled out his last card. "It's illegal, you know, to falsify an address. We may have used the farm in order for you to get an ID, but you don't actually live there. The sooner you get a true address, the better. You don't want to got to jail, do you?"
"No." Worry creased Lex's brow. "You told me it was okay to use your address."
"It is, but only temporarily." Clark smoothed down Lex's hair.
Lex sighed. "Okay."
Clark handed Lex the classifieds. He had decided apartments were the way to go, in locating suitable housing for Lex. Minimal upkeep was needed when living in an apartment and Lex didn't require a lot of space. Lex hadn't voiced any opinion on type of housing, other than staying in the sub-basement or moving in with the Kents, neither of which was an option.
"I circled the new ones," Clark said, pointing at the red-marked ads. "We can see the ones I also starred anytime today."
Lex studied the newspaper. "Are they different than the last ones we saw?"
"Probably not, other than rent and location."
Lex dug through the bedding and located a pencil. "These two aren't on the pipe routes." He licked the pencil tip and crossed off the ads.
"You might want to think about changing your mode of transportation," Clark said.
"No," Lex said firmly. "I like my board, thank you."
Clark opened his mouth to argue and closed it again. Was it really his business how Lex got around? Housing was one thing, for legal reasons and, Clark had to admit, because he felt a little guilty that his arrival on earth caused Lex to become "lost." But otherwise, Clark's responsibility ended there.
"The Talon building doesn't have direct access, either," Lex said, pencil poised to cross it off.
"There's a manhole behind the building, in the alley," Clark said. "You've used it in the past."
Lex licked the pencil tip and put a question mark on the newspaper. He read a few more ads, crossed off one more, and then handed Clark the classifieds.
"Are you ready to go, then?" Clark said.
Lex looked around the room slowly and then met Clark's inquiring gaze. "Yes."
Clark heard the answer to more than the question that he'd asked and he smiled in encouragement. "You'll like having an apartment, Lex. I promise."
Lex stuck the pencil behind his ear, got up, and went to put his outdoor gear on.
Clark rose, put his own coat on, and waited by the ladder. Lex joined him shortly, wearing his heavy canvas coveralls, a rust-colored stain at the collar and cuffs, and his yellow fireman's boots on his feet. The pencil stuck out from beneath the edge of his new neon-orange winter hat, with a pom-pom and a local union patch on it. Graphite smudged his lips. "Are we taking your truck?"
"Yes." Clark cupped Lex's jaw and rubbed his thumb against the mark. Lex's mouth parted, his hot breath gusting against Clark's skin. He stared at Clark with wide-eyed intensity.
Clark stared, mesmerized by the stroke of his thumb across the pink expanse of Lex's lower lip. Lex's chapped lip caught against the pad of Clark's thumb. The scar bisecting his mouth felt smoothed with age, as Clark brushed over Lex's upper lip. He wondered how Lex got it, why it remained while other scars healed, what it would feel like pressed against his own lips-
Clark dropped his hand swiftly at the turn of his thoughts. "Ready?" he asked gruffly.
Lex lowered his lashes and a flush spread over his cheeks. He paused a moment before answering shyly, "Yes."
Clark heard the answer to more than the question that he'd asked, and he fled up the ladder at only a slightly faster-than-human speed.
Apartments in Smallville included several blocks of Section-8 housing on the outside of town, a subdivision of complexes and duplexes, and portions of houses divided and rented out. Of the ones available, Lex hadn't made any noises that he liked them or not. Clark would have to choose for him if he didn't give some sign of approval soon.
Lex stood beside the truck, looking warily at the front windows of the Talon. People bundled in winter coats wandered between shops and their vehicles. The chilly March air felt great to Clark, but reddened human noses, cheeks, and ears.
"Come on." Clark put his hand against Lex's lower back and urged him towards the door. At their other stops, Lex had attempted to blend into the woodwork in the presence of the landladies. The apartment listed for rent above the popular coffeeshop might not be the best location for Lex, but it had to be looked at, at least.
The Talon wasn't too crowded for a Sunday afternoon. The patrons did stop and stare at Lex, until Clark's sharp look turned their heads again. A very pink and perky Lana Lang stood behind the service counter near the back of the shop and greeted them with a cheery smile. "Hi, Clark. And you're Lex, right?"
"Yes." Lex ducked his chin and pressed closer to Clark. "Hello, Miss Lang."
"You can call me by my first name, Lex," Lana said kindly. "So, what can I get you guys?"
"Actually, I talked to Nell earlier and she said we could stop by and see the apartment upstairs," Clark said.
"Ah." Lana gestured at a waitress. "Nell went home already, but I can show it to you."
"Thanks," Clark said, plucking Lex's hat off and smoothing down his staticky hair.
Lex glanced up at Clark, smiled faintly, and then looked nervously around. Clark stuffed the hat in his coat pocket, joining the pencil he'd taken earlier.
Lana finished speaking with the waitress and moved from behind the counter. She removed the stretchy band she wore on her wrist, on which several keys dangled like charms. "All right, guys. Follow me."
With Clark's nudging, Lex proceeded behind Lana past a few tables and up a curved staircase along the wall. Near the corner of the L-shaped balcony, Lana unlocked a thick wood door. "There is a private entrance into the apartment from the alley," Lana said. "This door is kept locked usually, to keep people from the Talon coming in or the person living in the apartment from entering the Talon after hours."
Sunlight streamed from multiple skylights into the spacious, empty apartment. Their footsteps echoed on the whitewashed hardwood floors. False wooden posts divided the beige brick walls, hiding conduit pipes. The unfinished ceiling looked industrial, with its HVAC vents, copper piping, black PVC, and track lights.
The open apartment was L-shaped like the Talon balcony, with walls around the bathroom and storage closets on the east side. The private door was at the south end of the apartment and stepped outside onto a metal staircase leading down to the alley. A fixed hardwood, island counter separated the kitchen area, around the corner of the L, from the Talon-entry door. Across from the kitchen, two tall windows framed in black steel looked out onto the alley.
The apartment extended the length of the Talon building and another tall window was set in the north wall, overlooking Main Street. The place had been renovated for renting, with new outlets and ports for cable television and DSL lines. The furnace and water heater, they were informed, were in the basement.
"Rent includes basic utilities," Lana said, as Lex looked around. Clark stood with her by the island counter. "Things like cable and phone are the tenant's responsibility."
"How loud does it get in here?" Clark asked.
"Not very," Lana said. "Unless it's, like, Karaoke night or something, you can't hear anything."
Clark wasn't sure the apartment would be that quiet, especially without insulation between the walls.
"Hey, can I ask you something guy-related?" Lana said suddenly.
Clark looked curiously at her. "Sure."
Lana glanced in Lex's direction and lowered her voice. "If a guy starts going out a lot with his friends, but won't say which friends or where he's going, should I be worried?"
Clark leaned against the counter, as Lex disappeared into the bathroom. "Problems with the boyfriend?"
Lana's forehead wrinkled. "I don't know. He's been kind of mean lately. He's always snapping at me and doesn't seem to want to go out, except with his friends."
Clark could care less about Fordman's behavior, or anything about him at all, really. Lana was his friend, though, and that meant putting up with it. "And he's never been this way before?"
"No, not that I can recall," Lana said. She tapped the keys on the counter. "Oh, wait, yes he has, back when we first started going out. But that was because he didn't get accepted to the football summer camp at Metropolis University."
"Maybe he didn't get accepted to something else," Clark suggested.
"Could you maybe talk to him for me?"
"Whitney and I aren't the best of friends, Lana," Clark said.
Lana turned Bambi-eyes on him. He would swear they even glistened. "Please?"
"Fine." Clark was such a wuss. "But I don't guarantee he'll tell me anything."
Her thankful smile made him feel less like a pushover and more like a hero. Maybe he could, at least, have a few words with Fordman about treating his girlfriend better.
"So, do you think Lex is interested in the apartment?" Lana asked, changing the subject.
Clark frowned and looked towards the bathroom. Lex was still in there. "I don't know. He's not very sociable, so he might not like living above the Talon. Hey, Lex?"
"Yes?" Lex called back.
Clark headed over to the bathroom and paused in the doorway. Lex was kneeling on the floor, ass in the air, examining the foot of the clawed bathtub. "What are you doing?"
"I think Mom has a tub like this." Lex knelt up and looked over his shoulder at Clark, wearing a small frown. "I can't remember exactly."
"I'm sure, if you think so, it's the same." Clark offered him a hand up. "So, how do you like this place?"
"Do you think you could live here?" Clark asked.
Lex glanced at the tub and shoved his hands in his pockets. "If I said yes, would you still visit me?"
"Of course I would." Clark clapped his hand on Lex's shoulder and squeezed in reassurance. "In fact, I bet all of your friends will want to come over often."
Lex's face brightened. "I'd like that. Pastor Beyer always says he wants to 'drop by,' but he's old and can't climb a ladder, so I didn't tell him where I lived."
Clark chuckled, curved his hand around the back of Lex's neck, and guided him out of the bathroom. "I'd wondered why you didn't have anyone else over."
"I've asked, but only you and Kyle said yes." Lex winced and tugged at Clark's wrist behind his neck. "Ow. You're hurting me."
Clark removed his hand immediately, clenched his fists, and muttered with a growling edge, "Sorry." He'd bet Kyle said yes, the molesting bastard. (Though logic told Clark the others probably didn't dare ride Lex's board.)
"Well, what do you think of the apartment?" Lana asked Lex.
Lex dropped his chin and scuffed his toe on the floor. "It's nice."
"It is a very nice place, isn't it?" Lana said.
"Yes." Lex smiled shyly at her. "My mom has a tub like the one in the bathroom."
"It's a beautiful antique tub." Lana sighed wistfully. "Can you imagine sinking into a hot bubble bath in there?"
"Lana," Clark interrupted her before she floated off. "I think Lex would like to rent the apartment, right?"
"Yes," Lex agreed with a nod.
Lana's bubbles popped and she became all business. "Great! I'll call Nell and we'll get the ball rolling."
The Smallville High boys' locker room smelled pungently of sweaty male. Clark inhaled deeply and subtly adjusted his crotch. He strode through gay heaven, casting surreptitious glances at naked classmates, dripping from their recent showers, threadbare school towels hanging precariously around their hips. From the muscular football players to the lanky nerds and every teenager in between, Clark had one horny thought about them all: yum.
Whitney Fordman stood beside his open gym locker, damp blonde hair spiked from a toweling. Droplets of water sprinkled his bare shoulders and dotted his chest and abdomen. Black boxer-briefs clung to his solid thighs and molded to his ass. Clark leaned a shoulder against the faded red lockers beside him, crossed one ankle casually over the other, and folded his arms. He smirked at Whitney's glare after giving him a subtle once-over.
"What do you want, Kent?" Whitney said, slapping his towel over the door of his locker. Clark was impressed that he didn't rush to cover up, knowing that Clark was gay.
"You tied to a scarecrow post, minus the briefs," Clark said offhandedly. Two other students changed clothes down the row, but his voice was too low for them to overhear. "And I'd use edible paint."
Sadly, Whitney didn't rise to the bait by speech or by cock. "I don't have time for this, Kent. I have class in five minutes."
Clark uncrossed his arms and straightened. "I wanted to know if you're sleeping around on Lana."
"What?" Whitney grabbed his jeans and stepped into them. "I'm not sleeping around. Did Lana put you up to this?"
"I volunteered after listening to her go on and on about your PMSing ass and ditching her to go out with 'friends'," Clark somewhat lied.
"And you think I'm going to spill my guts to you, just like that?" Whitney scoffed.
"I really don't care about your problems, Fordman," Clark said, "but I do care about Lana, and you're hurting her. Give me a good reason not to hurt you in return."
"Christ, it's got nothing to do with her." Whitney snatched his shirt from his locker and pulled it over his head. He tucked it in roughly. "I didn't get the football scholarship I needed and now I'm stuck in this godforsaken town forever."
"That's it?" Clark made a disbelieving face.
Whitney's eyes shot daggers at him. "You may find it dumb, you rich asshole, but most of us rely on scholarships to go to college."
"Can't you get another one? Or financial aid?" Clark said.
Whitney jammed his feet in his sneakers. "No. I needed the football ride. My grades and test scores aren't good enough to qualify for others, and Dad apparently makes too much money for any decent financial aid. Those government bastards don't take into account that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills to pay from Dad's bypass surgery last summer."
"That kind of sucks," Clark said, actually feeling sympathetic towards Whitney. "Hey, KentCorp gives scholarships. I can give you a recommendation-"
"Forget it," Whitney cut him off. "I'm not taking pity money from you."
"So, you'd owe me one, then." Clark shrugged. "I don't care if you accept or not, just stop being a jerk to Lana."
The school bell rang, signaling the end of fifth period. Clark looked at Whitney. "Scholarships are listed on the KentCorp website. Let me know if you want that recommendation."
"Up yours, Kent."
Clark smirked, leaned closer, and purred, "Sorry to disappoint, but I'm strictly a top."
Balancing a full lunch tray on each hand, Clark sidled sideways through the Torch office door. "Orders up!"
The school newspaper office had gained two used metal desks to replace the computer carrels in the center of the room. Butted against one another, Chloe Sullivan sat at her desk, typing at the computer, as usual. The old computer carrels lined the space under the partially opened windows letting in the fresh April air. Justin Gaines, the Junior editorialist who'd recently returned to Smallville High, perched on one of the empty carrels, his bright red gym-shoe-clad feet on the chair. Pete Ross and his girlfriend, Jodi Melville, sat together by the teacher's desk, which was pushed against the wall to one side of the office.
Clark set the trays down on the desk across from Chloe and doled out lunch. "Let's see, we have a small fries for the small fry."
Pete gave him the bird before taking the French fries from him.
"Jodi gets the Jonathan and Martha Kent-approved diet of a salad and a strawberry milkshake," Clark said, handing the shy blonde her lunch. He didn't know how his parents did it, but Jodi was no longer eating whole farm animals or fresh roadkill. Her weight stabilized in between where she'd been and her original weight, making her into a curvaceous beauty that Pete couldn't keep his hands off of.
"Justin-" Clark passed a bag of chips and a Mountain Dew, after twisting off the cap, to the lanky, curly-haired brunet.
"My humble and most gracious thanks," Justin said with a reverent bow. He fumbled with the chips - his hands had been crippled in an auto accident - but managed to open the bag.
Clark liked Justin immediately upon meeting him. He fit right into the Office of Misfit Toys, with his self-effacing wit and wry sense of humor. His editorials were pitch perfect sartorial commentary and he wasn't afraid to go after anyone or anything. He was cute, too, in a nerdy way. Clark would fuck him if Justin didn't have eyes strictly for Chloe.
"Chloe, your M&Ms." Clark set the candy on a familiar open binder before taking a seat across from her. He stuck the empty tray beneath the second, still full one. "What are you doing with Lex's notes?"
"Updating my files," Chloe replied. Having secrets himself, Clark hadn't read through Lex's entire human-mutation binder, not wanting to violate someone's privacy like that. Chloe, naturally, had no compunctions.
"Any particular reason why?" Clark asked.
"Lex and I are trying to figure out why some mutants go psycho and others don't." Chloe made a face. "We have to come up with something else to call them. 'Mutant' sounds really derogatory."
"Especially since you found out you're friends with a bunch of them," Pete said, slinging an arm around Jodi's shoulders.
"'Meteorite-affected' would be best," Clark said, digging into his own hearty lunch.
"MAs for short." Chloe nodded in agreement and typed something into the computer. "Hopefully, this new program will pinpoint some causes for the MAs' violent or criminal behavior."
"Probably for the same reasons anyone else goes bad," Clark said. "Money, power, or passion."
"Yeah, only it'd be more of a temptation for the MAs," Pete said.
"How do you mean?" Jodi asked in her shy voice.
"Think about it," Pete said. "You can change your appearance to look like anyone else. What's to stop you from robbing a bank if you think you're never going to be caught?"
"Bulletproof bad guys," Chloe caught on. "How do you stop them?"
"Mind readers cheating on a test," Pete said. "Invisible people sneaking into the girls' locker room."
Justin held up his hand. "I volunteer for that mutation."
With eerie accuracy, Chloe threw an M&M over her shoulder and smacked Justin between the eyes. He caught it in his lap and then held it up to the light. "Is it true what they say about the green ones?"
"So what you're saying, Pete," Clark continued the topic of conversation, "is that absolute power corrupts absolutely."
"Positively," Pete said with a grin. Jodi giggled. "Look at what happened to Eric Summers."
"'With great power comes great responsibility'," Chloe quoted. "Uncle Ben said that."
"He also makes quite the rice," Justin put in.
Dj vu hit Clark between the eyes like a green M&M. Hadn't he had this same conversation with Joseph last month?
"How do you get these superpowers, anyway?" Justin asked.
"For one thing, you had to be in Smallville during the meteorite shower," Chloe said. "Then, you needed to be in direct contact with a meteor rock for fifteen minutes for a mutation to occur. Usually, no two mutations are alike and not everyone is affected. You'd have to talk to Lex if you want to know more."
"Speaking of your boyfriend," Pete began. Clark's gaze jerked to Pete. "He was in today's Daily Planet."
"You have a boyfriend?" Justin asked Chloe.
"No. Lex is just a friend," Chloe replied. "Besides, he's gay."
Clark's gaze jerked to Chloe now. "What makes you say that?"
"Good gaydar," Chloe said blithely. "That, and he didn't get flustered when he accidentally grabbed my boob."
A low growl rumbled in the room. All eyes turned to Clark.
"My stomach. I'm still hungry," Clark said quickly and stuffed three-quarters of a hotdog into his mouth.
"Why would Luthor be grabbing anything of yours, anyway?" Pete said.
"I'm quite grabbable, thank you very much." Chloe plumped her breasts in emphasis. "But really, we were dumpster diving. I dropped my cell on the steps to his apartment and it fell in the Talon's trash dumpster under the stairs."
"Don't they have lids?" Jodi said tentatively.
"Yeah, but it was open, because I'm lucky like that," Chloe said. "Lex helped me out and got a handful."
"Why were you there in the first place?" Clark said waspishly
Chloe looked at him strangely. "Uh, because we're friends. You gave me his address almost three weeks ago."
"Is that strange?" Justin queried, glancing between Clark and Chloe.
"Luthor was a 'ghost' up until Clark moved to Smallville," Pete said. "No one knew if he was a real person or not, then Clark goes and makes friends with him and now he's being written up in the Daily Planet as KentCorp's new mad scientist."
"He's not a mad scientist," Clark defended, "only a little eccentric."
"So, you're saying if I want fame and fortune, I should befriend Clark." Justin threw his arms wide and looked at Clark worshipfully. "Clark, buddy, pal."
Clark rolled his eyes and went back to his lunch. Hunger had obviously made him touchy about Lex.
"What else did the article say?" Chloe asked Pete.
Pete shrugged. "Not much. Just that Luthor worked here in Smallville, specializing in organic science."
Chloe's computer chimed, indicating she had email. She turned her attention to the computer and clicked the mouse. "Hey, I got an email from my contact at the Sheriff's Department."
"What's it say?" Clark asked.
Chloe's eyes flicked back and forth as she read. "Wall of Weird alert. There was a robbery this morning at the Smallville Retirement Center. The eye-witness reports state that the thieves could walk through walls." She made a few clicks with the mouse. "I'll send him a list of possible MAs that can do that, but Clark-"
"Why don't I go check it out after school?" Clark finished for her.
"Need any backup?" Pete asked, even as he shook his head no, leaning back so Jodi wouldn't see him.
Clark hid his smirk. "No, Pete. I don't think I'll need protection from a bunch of little old ladies and gents."
Located northeast of downtown, the Smallville Retirement Center provided assisted living for over a hundred seniors. Two wings branched from the main three-story brick building. The grounds encompassed Lemaris Pond and several acres of wooded property. Gardens of flowers grew under the windows and decorated the edges of the circular driveway.
Inside, the Retirement Center was more like a hotel rather than an institution. Patterned carpets lined the soft ivory hallways. Artwork hung on the walls. The large dining room with tables set for eight opened at four for dinner. Community rooms held comfy couches, grouped for talking, reading, doing needlepoint, or watching television. Vicious games of cards and equally vicious games of chess, took place at numerous card tables.
Clark sat at the edge of one of the couches, surrounded by women of indeterminate age with blue, purple, and pink-tinted gray hair, thinking he should've brought Pete for backup. Getting people to talk about weird occurrences, such as thieves who walked through walls, was usually difficult. Not so at the Retirement Center. Since he'd arrived and showed his Torch press badge, he'd been bombarded by seniors eager to share their stories, whether they'd been witnesses to the crimes or not.
"Four of them."
"I thought there were two."
"Three, Thelma," Gertrude said with exasperation. "There were three masked men."
"They could've been women," Janet pointed out.
"No breasts," Alice said, touching her own matronly bosom.
"That one looked a little plump up front," Thelma said.
"And only one of them spoke," Janet agreed with a nod to Thelma.
"They all spoke to me," Wilma piped in.
"Those were the voices in your head, Wilma," Gertrude stated. "You weren't in the same wing they robbed."
"Oh." Wilma fingered the pearls around her neck. "I could have sworn I heard them."
"When they walked through the walls, how did it look?" Clark asked. "Did they suddenly appear in the room from nowhere, or did they phase through the walls?"
"Two of them walked right through it, like the wall wasn't there," Alice said. "No hesitation."
"Scared the devil out of me," Thelma put in. "I thought it was the ghost of my dear, dead husband, Jefferson, come back."
"Your husband's name was George, dear," Janet said, patting Thelma's hand.
"Hmm. Jefferson must've been the dog," Thelma said.
"I had a dog," Wilma said. "His name was Cornelius."
"No, you had a cat," Gertrude corrected. "And her name was Pansy."
"I do remember they looked briefly green when they walked through the wall," Alice said. "The same color of Fiona's nightlight."
"Fiona has a nightlight?" Gertrude cackled.
"Almost everyone here has one, Gertie," Janet said, looking over the top of her glasses. "Including you."
"Hmph." Gertrude crossed her arms under her ample sweatshirt-covered chest.
"You said only two of them walked through the wall," Clark said. "What about the third one?"
"He came through the door, like a normal person," Alice said. "If normal people take your belongings."
"Will we get our names in the paper?" Thelma asked. "Make sure you spell my name right. C-H-A-L-M-E-R-S."
"Got it." Clark rose. "Thank you, ladies."
"You're welcome, young man," Janet said. "Come see us anytime."
"I was in the newspaper, once," Wilma said. "When I played baseball for the Metropolis Mudhens."
"You did not play for the Mudhens," Gertrude said.
"I did, too," Wilma insisted. "It was the height of World War II and women were paid to play baseball..."
Clark made his escape, Wilma's story fading into the background. He glanced at his notepad, reading over the accounts of what happened earlier in the day. From what he could piece together, without reviewing the Sheriff's report, three or four men around his height, wearing ski masks, went from room to room, robbing the seniors of cash and jewelry. Two of them walked through the walls as if they weren't there, while the third carried the loot bag and came to the door. A faint green glow was an aspect several of the more reliable witnesses mentioned, and Clark wagered it connected the thieves directly with a kryptonite mutation.
"Excuse me, young man," a woman called from the room as he passed. Clark paused and looked through the open doorway. "Help an old woman out, would you?"
"Sure." Clark entered, sticking his notepad and pen in his coat pocket. The elderly woman sat in a chair close to the single bed, wearing a pale green housecoat, long silver hair tied in a complicated bun atop her head. Her eyes were clouded over, the entire iris and pupil covered by a misty gray haze.
"Hand me that book over there, on the night table," she said, gesturing towards the head of the bed.
Clark picked up the thick, wide book, with the title in Braille and brought it to her. She smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Kent."
Clark blinked. How did she know who he was? She may have heard his name through the other seniors, but she was blind. "I'm sorry. Have we met?"
"Not formally," she said. "My name is Cassandra Carver. Please, have a seat. I have much to share with you."
Clark sat tentatively on the edge of the bed. "Oh? Like what?"
"There were three men involved in the robbery. At least, this time, there were," Cassandra said. "Smallville High connects them."
"How do you know that?" Clark didn't think she made a good eyewitness, considering she was blind, but he'd humored everyone else. "Did you recognize them? Did they steal something of yours?"
"No. They weren't in this part of the building," Cassandra said.
"Then, how do you know how many there were? Or where they go to school?"
Cassandra smiled again. "I take it you haven't heard of me."
"Should I have?" Clark asked.
"I'm one of your... MAs, is it?" Cassandra laughed lightly. "That's very politically correct of you."
Clark blinked, dumbfounded. They'd made up the abbreviation less than three hours ago. How did she know about it? "Are you a mind-reader?"
"No, no. Nothing as simple as that," Cassandra said. "I have the unfortunate gift of foresight."
"Unfortunate?" Clark parroted, making a note to see if she was in Lex's binder later. "Wouldn't being able to tell the future be helpful?"
"Only to those who will listen," Cassandra replied. She held out her hand. "I think you would be one of them."
Clark hesitated in taking her hand. His father taught him that the future was what you made of it by living in the present. Still, what if something happened that he might have prevented had he known about it?
Cassandra didn't press, simply sitting there with her hand extended. Clark hesitated a moment longer, then accepted it. Cassandra closed her eyes and Clark noted that his large paw seemed to engulf her wrinkled-
A jolt slammed through Clark's body, like he'd been hit by lightning again, and his body jerked. He closed his eyes at the sudden pain, teeth clenched to hold back a scream. The pain left as quickly as it hit. But when he opened his eyes, he was no longer sitting on the bed at the Retirement Center, holding Cassandra's hand.
Lightning flashed, thunder clapping immediately afterward. A heavy rain pelted from the dark sky. He knelt on the muddy ground, water soaking through his clothing. Lightning flashed again, illuminating stones thrusting from the earth.
Clark sucked in a harsh breath. Headstones surrounded him, no matter which way he turned. They spiraled outward from his position, rising from the ground as far as he could see. Another flash of lightning and the accompanying thunderclap drowned out his cry of protest at the names he saw on the grave-markers. Jonathan Kent. Martha Kent. Pete Ross. Chloe Sullivan. Lana Lang. William and Anne Clark. His family, his friends. Past loves and lovers. John Thomas Stevens. Mike Jorgson. Chris Kilpatrick. Names of classmates, names of townsfolk, names he recognized from Lex's binder. Tom Boyd, Christina Underwood, Marge Milsap, Patience Livingston.
The roar of the storm raged in Clark's ears as he threw his head back and screamed. "NO!" It couldn't be true. He must be hallucinating. Something had forced him into a nightmare.
Slumping, Clark stared at his hands. Raindrops hit his open palms, splashing red like drops of blood. Horrified, he watched it puddle and spread around him. It stained his hands and the cuffs of his coat sleeves.
"It's your fault."
Clark's head jerked up at the smooth, baritone voice. A man stood beside him in a sharp black suit, not getting wet. His shoulders and head were hidden by shadows. "It's your fault," he repeated.
"What is?" Clark said roughly.
"The death of the world."
Clark cried out at the pain stabbing his chest, feeling it was the truth. He grabbed the man's legs, clutching him desperately. "I didn't mean to do it!"
The man stepped easily out of his hold and walked away. His bare feet made no ripples in the puddles of blood.
"Come back! Why didn't you help me?! Why didn't you stop me?!" Clark screamed after him. "Segeeeetttt!"
Lightning cracked, spearing from the sky, and stabbed through the center Clark's chest. Clark's body spasmed sharply and-
-he tumbled off the side of the bed, Cassandra's hand falling from his grip.
Clark hit the floor with a thud, but didn't move. His body trembled, his breath coming in quick gulps, heart hammering under his breast. He stared at Cassandra with terror and confusion.
Cassandra pressed her hand against her heart. She looked unerringly at him with her deadened eyes. "The balance rests in your hands."
Cassandra had passed out after her prophetic words, giving Clark the opportunity to flee, barely stopping to tell someone about her unconscious state. He needed to find Lex and ask him about Cassandra's abilities. He was shaken by what he'd seen. That couldn't be his future, could it?
The road from the Smallville Retirement Center lead right through downtown, and Clark saw Lex's apartment light shining through the window. Clark parked his truck outside the Talon, gripped the steering wheel, and took a few slow breaths. Bursting into the Talon like a madman would be suicide for his reputation. He could go around the building, rather than cut through the coffeeshop, but this way it forced him to calm down.
Opening his eyes, Clark lifted his fingers from around the steering wheel. It looked like there was blood under his fingernails.
Clark got out of the truck and strode quickly into the Talon. The weekday evening crowd consisted primarily of Smallville High students hanging out with friends and avoiding home and homework. Clark pasted on a fake smile and returned greetings. He aimed for the counter and the swinging door behind it.
"Hi, Clark." Lana's greeting stopped him in his path. She sat on a stool by the door beside a fellow cheerleader, Alicia Baker, papers spread on the counter in front of them. Clark knew Alicia from school, having sat beside her in Computers class since he arrived at Smallville High back in October. She was a lot like Lana: friendly, perky, and just plain nice. She gave Clark a smile over the rim of her coffee cup, biting lightly at the Styrofoam lip.
"Are you heading up to see Lex?" Lana asked.
"Um, yeah," Clark said. "Why?"
Lana hopped from the stool and scooted around the counter, where a soup pot sat on a coffee hotplate. "He came down earlier to ask if I could heat up his soup, but then he never came back for it."
"Why didn't you ask me?" Alicia said. "I would've popped it up to him."
"I forgot about it until I saw Clark," Lana apologized, passing Clark a covered pot. "If you come by tomorrow morning at around six, I'll let you run his muffins up to him."
"Uh, Lana, I don't think Lex would like that too much," Clark said warningly.
"Why not?" Lana looked quizzically at him. "He seems to enjoy having company."
"Well, he knows you," Clark tried to be tactful in front of Alicia. "He's pretty shy otherwise. I don't want him to feel uncomfortable."
Alicia tilted her head slightly. "Lex has never been uncomfortable around me before. Why would he be now?"
Clark shook his head. "Never mind." Another secret pal of Lex's revealed. Maybe he should've been called Casper, the Friendly Ghost. "See you."
"Bye," Lana said. Alicia waved her fingers.
Clark pushed through the swinging door, cut through the back room, to the door that led to the alley. The metal stairs clinked under his feet as he climbed to the second floor. He knocked and opened the door without invitation. "Lex, it's me."
"Hi, Clark." Lex was kneeling on the floor by the south windows, planks of wood and tools scattered around him. His overall strap hung off his shoulder and sawdust sprinkled him everywhere. His eyes widened slightly when he saw the pot. "Oh, I forgot my soup."
"Lana asked me to bring it up." Clark carried the pot into the kitchen and set it on the stove. "Why didn't you make it yourself?"
"I don't know how." Lex came into the kitchen area and retrieved a bowl from the cabinets hanging above the stove, sink, and short countertop. "Would you like some soup?"
"Sure." Clark shed his coat and hung it on the coat rack. In the weeks Lex had been living in the apartment, furniture had begun cluttering the empty space. Some of it Clark had shopped for with Lex, like the pale wood bedroom set, set up by the window that faced Main Street. He'd also helped purchase a table and six chairs, kitchenware, and the necessary bathroom and cleaning supplies.
But, by and by, things began appearing that he hadn't had a hand in. Ivory curtains framed the windows. The coat rack stood by the door to the Talon. A colorful throw rug covered the floor between the bedroom and the living area. Cushions padded each chair and a duck-shaped napkin holder sat in the center of the table, flanked by tacky fake meteorite salt and peppershakers. A narrow bookshelf fitted between a post and the corner to the kitchen. A sunflower key rack hung by the door leading to the alley.
Lex carried two bowls to the table, set up in the middle of the room between the kitchen and one of the walled off closets, directly beneath a skylight. He plucked two spoons from the front pocket of his overalls and handed one to Clark. Taking a seat beside Clark, he dug into the soup, slurping softly.
Clark hadn't thought about things like how Lex had fed himself before, while living in the sub-basement of the KentCorp plant. Obviously, he hadn't starved. Clark remembered seeing an orange price-stickered sandwich the first time he visited Lex's place. The same stickers they used in the plant cafeteria. Duh.
Clark hid his moron thoughts with a spoonful of soup. He nodded towards the construction by the window. "What are you building?"
"A garden trough," Lex replied. "I'm going to hang it over the rail outside. I'll have to brace it at the bottom, too, so it doesn't fall from the weight of the dirt."
"That's right, it's almost time for spring planting," Clark said.
"Yes." Lex clinked his spoon against the side of the bowl. "I will need to check on my garden by the plant. I hope everything survived the winter."
"Especially after it had gotten trampled on."
"Yes." Sadness turned down the corners of Lex's mouth. Clark mentally smacked himself for his insensitivity and tried to fix it.
"But if it weren't for that, you wouldn't be working for my parents," Clark said. "Would you have wanted to prevent that from happening?"
"No," Lex said, still sounding forlorn.
"I'm sorry, Lex," Clark said, putting his hand on Lex's bare arm. "We can't change the past, we can only learn from it for the future." Which reminded Clark uneasily, "Speaking of the future, I met someone named Cassandra Carver today."
"Miss Carver?" Lex looked interested. "She wasn't affected by the kryptonite. Her abilities are natural, from birth."
"She said she was an MA," Clark said.
"What's an MA?"
"It's what we renamed those affected by the kryptonite," Clark explained. "We're calling them 'meteorite-affected' now, or MAs. It's more... nicer, than mutant."
"But mutant is accurate," Lex said. "It's an adjective of mutation, which means a sudden change, as in form or nature."
"True," Clark said. "But we're calling them MAs anyway. You should do the same."
"Okay," Lex agreed, though he still sounded confused by it.
"Tell me more about Cassandra Carver," Clark said, bring the subject back around. "Does she have visions of the future?"
"Yes." Lex continued eating.
"Do her visions come true?"
Clark soul felt cold suddenly. "All of them?"
"No," Lex said. "Those that listen have the ability to change what she sees."
"Did you see your future?"
"Yes." Lex licked his soupy lips. "Miss Carver prophesized mine."
"What was it?" Clark said. "If you don't mind telling me."
"I don't mind," Lex said. "She told me: 'Like a phoenix, the name Luthor will rise from the ashes and set fire to the world'."
Clark waited for more. "That's it?"
Clark frowned. "But what did you see?"
Lex tilted his head. "I don't understand."
"In the vision, what did you see? Did you see a phoenix? The world on fire?"
"I don't understand," Lex repeated in confusion.
Suspicion balled in Clark's stomach. "When you took Cassandra's hand, you saw the vision, right? Like you were in a dream?"
"No." Lex's reddish brows furrowed. "She closed her eyes for twelve-point-three-seven seconds and then told me: 'Like a phoenix, the name Luthor will rise from the ashes and set fire to the world'."
"And that's it?"
"Oh." Clark slumped in his chair. "Why can't I ever be normal?"
Lex looked at him quizzically. "I don't understand."
"It's nothing." Clark sighed. "Chalk it up to me being from outerspace."
Clark stared at the faded blue and purple Kawatche pictograph on the cave wall. Naman and Seget, two heads springing from the same body, destined to be the balance between good and evil. He'd screamed for Seget during Cassandra's vision. "The balance rests in your hands."
Clark looked at his hands. They were big, blocky, and uncalloused, with fingerprints of alien design. Dense bone hid beneath the skin, surrounded by cords of muscle and sinew. An invisible symbiote, Kryah, covered them, a secret layer of protection and power. He could kill with a flick of his finger or cradle life in his palm. "The balance rests in your hands."
Clark shoved his hands in his pockets and headed out of the caves. He'd been having nightmares for days about what he'd seen in Cassandra's vision. Seget, in the vision, had said it was Clark's fault and he was driving himself insane trying to understand how and why. If he figured that out, maybe he could change it.
Clark drove home, wondering if he could talk to Joseph about the vision, since it seemed to be tied up with the Kawatche prophecy. Joseph had told him that prophesies were guideposts on the path of life, but what if the path leads to the death of the world?
Clark turned into his driveway and parked behind his mother's car. Not waiting until he got inside, he dug out his phone and called Joseph. He beat an anxious staccato on the steering wheel as the line rang. "Come on, answer the phone, Joseph."
A car pulled into the driveway behind him just as Joseph's answering machine picked up. Clark let the recording cycle through and left a brief message. "Hi, Joseph, it's Clark. Call me when you get a chance. Bye." He disconnected and climbed out of the cab.
The man who emerged from the car had bug eyes and a squirrelly look about him. He wore a blazer, dress shirt, and jeans, and carried a green file folder in his hand. "Can I help you?" Clark asked, as the man walked up to him.
"Are your parents around, Mr. Kent?" the man said. "I have some business to discuss with them."
"They're probably in the greenhouse," Clark said warily. Something about the guy shouted in warning at Clark that whatever he wanted wasn't going to be good. "Follow me."
Lights shone through the greenhouse windows and the scent of fresh dirt greeted Clark's nose. Rows of newly turned soil waited spring planting. Jonathan and Martha Kent stood in front of a dry-erase map of the greenhouse, the squares labeled in conjunction with the rows. They turned when they heard Clark and the guy approach.
"Mom, Dad, someone's here to see you," Clark said.
"Sam Phelan." Phelan stuck out his hand. "I'm with Metropolis PD."
"What can we do for you, Officer?" Jonathan said cautiously, as he shook Phelan's hand. Martha glanced questioningly at Clark, who shrugged subtly.
"Detective," Phelan corrected. "I'm here in the interest of Robert Rickman."
Clark stiffened, and his parents exchanged quick looks. Another person under Rickman's control didn't bode well for them.
"It seems he's concerned about the safety and welfare of his employees' children." Phelan handed the file folder to Jonathan. "Many of them attend Smallville High with Clark."
Jonathan opened the file, sharing it with Martha, and his jaw tightened. "Where did you get this?"
"I'm an officer of the law, Mr. Kent," Phelan said. "It's my duty to investigate allegations of illegal activities."
Martha's eyes spat fire. "Clark hasn't done anything."
"Well, now, I don't know that for sure," Phelan drawled. "Mr. Rickman wants reassurance that those who work at his Grandville plant feel secure, knowing that their children aren't in danger from Clark's predilections for sexual assault."
Clark's heart stopped.
"Mr. Rickman might be mistaken, though," Phelan went on. "Heads of corporations tend to be cutthroat when their livelihoods are threatened."
Jonathan grabbed Martha's elbow, when she took a hostile step forward. "And what exactly would alleviate this threat?" Jonathan said tightly.
"Perhaps the guarantee that KentCorp won't produce pesticides in competition with Rickman Industries," Phelan said.
"That's blackmail," Martha spat.
"Now, that would be illegal, Mrs. Kent," Phelan said. "Think of it more like a suggestion."
"I think a better suggestion would be that you leave," Jonathan stated.
Phelan smiled smarmily and gestured to the file. "You can keep that. I have plenty of copies. Have a good night."
The greenhouse door echoed hollowly as it closed behind Phelan. Jonathan handed Martha the file, moved to where Clark stood frozen, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Son...?"
"What does he know?" Clark whispered, staring at the green file folder.
"I don't think-"
"WHAT DOES HE KNOW?!"
Her mouth pinched, Martha passed him the file. Clark shrugged off Jonathan's hand and opened it. The floor disappeared beneath his feet. The file contained pages of court orders, police reports, photographs, and charging information; his juvenile record complete in glorious copier tones.
"This is supposed to be sealed," he rasped in horror. "No one's supposed to find out."
"If he's in collusion with Rickman, that explains how he got it, son," Jonathan said, taking the file from Clark's slack grip. "The important thing is not to panic."
"Not to panic?" Clark laughed shrilly. "That's my life in your hands and Rickman has a copy of it."
"It'll be okay, Clark." Jonathan said, keeping his tone level. He exchanged a glance with Martha. "We won't produce pesticides, like he wants. You'll be safe, then."
"How can I be safe? How long before the information 'accidentally' leaks out, by Rickman or that slime Phelan?" Clark clenched his hands into fists as rage and helplessness swept over him. "How long before the Sheriff comes to arrest me because I looked at someone wrong?"
"It's not what they want," Martha said. "They won't hold sway over us if what's in that file becomes public knowledge."
"Do I have your guarantee on that?" Clark said bitterly.
"Life doesn't come with guarantees, Clark," Jonathan said. "We can only do our best to ensure certain things do or don't happen."
"Excuse me if I don't feel relieved." Clark turned on his heel and stormed out of the greenhouse.
The cold air bit through his clothing as he let his feet take him away from the Kent farm and that damning file. Overhead, the dark clouds obscured the stars and the scent of rain carried on the wind. Fallow fields gave way to the road, and Clark followed it without destination.
Clark didn't listen when Ian told him to stop.
He and Ian were making out on Ian's bed, door shut, forgotten magazines scattered on the floor. Clark had been aching for hours, wanting to touch Ian. He'd known Ian was gay when he'd been invited over, and had gotten sick and tired of waiting for Ian to make a move. Finally, he'd snapped, "Are you going to kiss me or not?"
The redhead looked startled. "Why would I want to--"
Irritated, Clark cut Ian off with the kiss he'd wanted. Ian didn't take long to reciprocate, thank goodness. Clark was horny and hot, more so than usual because he'd waited so long. He pushed Ian down on the bed, knocking their magazines onto the ground with a sweep of his arm. Ian surged against him as he settled on top of the lean boy.
Clark rubbed his erection against Ian's groin, their jeans separating them. He kissed Ian forcefully, hands clamped onto Ian's shoulders for purchase. He tasted something metallic in their kiss and he dove in hungrily, tongue sweeping the inner contours of Ian's mouth, searching for more.
Ian tugged hard at Clark's hair, turning his face away. "Ow. You bit my lip."
"Sorry," Clark mumbled, mouthing roughly down Ian's jaw. His teeth left red scrapes on the pale skin.
"Ow, Clark! Stop biting!" Ian tried to push him back.
Clark clenched tighter onto Ian's shoulders, refusing to budge. He ground his hips against Ian's, panting harshly near Ian's ear. He wanted to come so badly.
"Get off!" Ian hit Clark and struggled under him. Clark moaned and humped harder. It felt so good.
"Stop it, you're hurting me," Ian said in a teary voice.
Clark's fingers dug into Ian's shoulders as his balls drew up. Ian cried out. White lightning started at the base of Clark's cock and erupted in his briefs. He spasmed against Ian, losing himself in the fiery blaze of orgasm.
He slumped, spent, atop of Ian, as the last aftershocks went through him. Ian shook beneath him. He didn't realize anything was wrong until he lifted his head. Ian's shaking wasn't from pleasure; he was sobbing.
Worriedly, Clark pushed up to his knees. "Ian, what's wrong?" He reached out to touch Ian.
"Don't touch me!" Ian scrambled off the bed, his arm hanging at an odd angle, threw open the door and ran out of the room.
"Ian?" Clark called after him softly, concerned and confused.
Ian McMurphy had been the first, but he hadn't been the last, the summer Clark hit puberty. Three boys had ended up in the hospital with fractured bones and muscle tears caused by Clark's hormonal lack of control, which had caused the Metropolis PD to come knocking on the Kent's summer-home door. It had been a horrible, humiliating period of Clark's life that no one but the people directly involved knew about, since he'd been in Metropolis when the incidents occurred. In Metropolis, he'd been just another delinquent on house arrest. Those in the city could care less about agricultural giants.
Then came the sex dolls, and learning control, and figuring out puberty had caused him to become mean and violent without regular sexual release. His parents - the greatest two individuals on earth, by far - had suffered broken furniture and broken bones with love and understanding, and had taught him how to function with an alien libido in a human world.
But for all his caution, his future was threatened by the resurgence of his delinquent past. What was he going to do? Clark kicked a stone and watched it soar into the distance. He'd have to trust his parents once again to help him and hope they were right that his record wouldn't get out. Otherwise, he may as well lock himself in the county jail, because it was only a matter of time before someone claimed he'd looked at them wrong.
"Clark Kent, what are you doing all the way out here?" Alicia Baker called, as he passed her driveway. She stood on the front porch of a small two-storey house, a colorful blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The porch light cast a glow around her blonde hair.
"Hey, Alicia." Clark crossed the winter-dead grass and stopped at the bottom of the porch steps. "I'm just out for a walk."
"Aren't you cold?" Alicia asked.
"Nah." Clark tucked his hands in his winter coat pockets and rocked on his heels. "Did you finish whatever you were working on with Lana?"
"New cheer routine," Alicia supplied. "The state cheerleading competition is coming up and we wanted to give them something to wow the judges."
"I'm sure it'll be great," Clark said.
Alicia motioned towards the house. "Would you like to come in? Get warmed up?"
"I'd better not," Clark said. "My parents are probably waiting on me for dinner."
"In that case, how about tomorrow?" Alicia said. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind forgetting dinner if you had a date."
"Are you asking me out?" Clark felt a grin tug at his lips.
Alicia ducked her head and gave him a coy look from beneath her lashes. "Depends on if you're accepting."
"I think my calendar is clear," Clark said. "Pick you up at seven?"
"I'll be waiting," Alicia said. She went inside the house, smiled through the window, and turned off the porch light.
Clark shook his head as he turned and headed for home. Alicia had reminded him of the role he played if he wanted to keep his secrets hidden. In light of the blackmail, it was doubly important for him to go on and live his life like normal. Who knew how long he had until normal became iron bars and prison food?
The trouble with dating girls was that Clark felt guilty for leading them on. Girls had a tendency to think a date led to a relationship and with Clark that would never happen. If he hadn't had needed to stay in the closet, especially since his juvenile record had surfaced, he'd have skipped the whole teenaged ritual and spend the weekends getting laid in Metropolis.
But he had to publicly date, and so, to alleviate his guilt, he became a one-man matchmaking service. With every girl he went out with, he used his investigative skills to subtly set them up with someone that would make a great boyfriend. Amber, Katie, Melissa, and Mandy were all quite happy with their Clark-made matches. He had to hope that Alicia would feel the same.
"I think I see two seats at the counter," Clark said, rising on his toes to look over the crowd at the Talon. The coffeeshop was full to capacity on a Friday night. Couples and friends with nothing else to do packed the popular hangout.
Clark took Alicia's hand and wove through the tables to the back of the Talon. He nodded at people who hailed, making sure he was seen. Two stools were open on one side of the busy counter. Lana greeted them with a harried smile as she balanced several cups of coffee on a tray and ventured out onto the serving floor. "Be right back."
"No hurry," Clark said. He draped his lightweight jacket on the stool and sat on it. The weather had broken, spring blooming with a fifty-degree temperature. The farm hands had stopped by the house earlier to check on the equipment, as planting would begin soon.
"Ooh, those blueberry muffins look good." Alicia pointed to the glass-covered serving dish further down the counter. "Mrs. Dithers makes the best muffins in Smallville."
"She makes pretty good donuts, too," Clark said. "I'm partial to her clairs. Lex practically inhales anything chocolate."
"Sorry about that." Lana blew a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, as she reappeared behind the counter. Several more strands had escaped her braid. She had the tray tucked under her arm and pulled a pad of paper and a pencil from her waist-apron pocket. "What can I get for you two?"
"I'll have an iced coffee and one of those blueberry muffins." Alicia grinned boldly at Clark. "With two forks."
"Just a boring black coffee for me," Clark told Lana.
"Got it." Lana jotted on her pad, dodged another waitress, and went to fill their order. The noise-level in the Talon raised a notch. Clark glanced over his shoulder. What looked like the entire Smallville High baseball team entered the coffeeshop and, behind them, Whitney Fordman came in and joined Wade Mahaney and his friends at a corner table.
"It's pretty loud in here," Alicia commented. "I wouldn't mind if we went somewhere more quiet."
Clark ignored her hint. "There aren't too many other places to go in Smallville, unless you want to hang at the Sweetshop with the Junior High crowd."
"We could go to your house," Alicia said, shifting as close to him as the stool would allow.
"We could." Clark flashed her a slick smile. "But what would people say about us?"
She walked her fingers up his arm, leaned even closer, and nearly purred, "Nothing that wasn't true."
"Alicia Baker, I'm not that type of boy," Clark feigned modesty. He caught her fingers, squeezed lightly, and became serious. "I don't want to lead you on, either. This is just a date. I like you, but I'm not really looking for a girlfriend."
Alicia brushed it off, though Clark saw hurt in her eyes. "Maybe you'll change your mind."
Clark smiled, but didn't answer. He released her hand as Lana returned.
"One iced coffee and a blueberry muffin, two forks," Lana said, dishing the order. "And one boring black coffee."
"Thanks, Lana," Clark said, picking up his cup. He gestured with his head towards the front of the Talon. "Whitney's here."
"He is?" Lana rose on her toes and craned her neck to see over the crowd. "He didn't tell me he was coming tonight."
"Probably because you're working, Lana," Alicia said, stabbing into the muffin with more vehemence than required.
"I should still go say hi and see if he wants anything." Lana seemed reluctant to do so, however.
Clark's brows lifted. "Trouble in paradise still?"
Lana sighed. "I know you talked to him last month and told me it was nothing, but he's still closed off and moody."
"Graduation's close," Clark said, prompting her in the right direction. "He might be worried about the future."
"I don't know." Lana appeared to gather her resolve, tucked the tray under her arm like a shield, and made her way towards Whitney.
"But you do," Alicia said, seemingly non-sequitor.
"What?" Clark said quizzically, looking at her.
"You know why Whitney's acting like a jerk," Alicia said. "Why don't you tell her?"
"It's not my business," Clark said, narrowing his eyes slightly. "I also take my confidences seriously."
"Even if it's hurting the other person?" Alicia said.
"People keep secrets for a reason," Clark told her. "But you already know that."
Alicia's eyes widened at his innuendo-laden tone. "What do you mean?"
Clark cursed silently. He hadn't wanted to let on that he knew she was a mutant. "I'm being the jerk now. Sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. Just that you keep secrets for your friends, too."
Alicia didn't appear convinced. Luckily, Clark was saved by the timely arrival of Alicia's boyfriend-to-be.
"Christ, Kent, could you pick a more crowded place to meet?" Cyrus Krup elbowed between Clark and the person on the other side of him and dropped a spiral notebook on the counter. Headphones around his neck, Cyrus pushed the gray sweatshirt hood off, his blue-tipped blonde hair spiked messily, like he'd recently spilled out of bed. He looked past Clark at Alicia and smiled faintly. "Hey."
"Hi," Alicia said. She scrunched her nose thoughtfully. "Aren't you in my English class?"
"Yeah," Cyrus replied. "I sit a few rows behind you."
"Cyrus, Alicia. Alicia, Cyrus," Clark introduced. He tapped the notebook with his finger. "Show me what you got."
"The calculations are phenomenal." Cyrus flipped open the notebook to a page filled with penciled advanced mathematics. "Here's the distance it would've been from earth and here's how long it would've taken for us to see the star extinguish."
"Could it prove that's where the meteorites came from?"
"If this wasn't an expanding universe," Cyrus said. "Otherwise, they'd have to be pulled in by something."
"You're studying the meteor rocks?" Alicia said, peering at the notebook.
"Clark had a theory that the meteorites are part of a destroyed planet," Cyrus said. "The distance they'd have to travel calculated the date the star extinguished fits with the date they hit Smallville in 1989."
"A destroyed planet?" Alicia looked somewhat pained. "You don't think people lived there?"
Cyrus blinked several times. "Like aliens?"
Alicia colored. "It's possible. Other planets could've developed sentient species like earth did."
"Yes, yes they could have. In fact, I'm sure of it." Cyrus flipped back several pages in his notebook. "I've calculated the probability of an alien race being similar to humans, as well as the probability that they'd be able to communicate with us."
Clark slipped off the stool, grabbing his jacket as he did so. "I'm going to the bathroom."
"Okay," Alicia said, not even glancing at him, as Cyrus showed her the notebook page.
Clark hid his smirk. Two alien enthusiasts match-made by an alien. He was so good.
"Oh, excuse me." An older woman bumped into him as he turned to leave. She appeared out-of-place and discomfited by the teenagers in the Talon. Clark bet she was someone's mother.
"Can I help you find someone?" Clark asked politely.
She looked relieved. "Yes, please. I'm looking for Alexander Luthor. The phone book said this was his address, but..."
"He lives upstairs. Come on, I'll take you."
Clark led her past the counter, through the swinging door, into the back room. He hoped Lex had gone home after dinner, but he hadn't said when he'd left the Kent farm. Clark glanced at the woman as they made their way to the alley door. She was tall, with short red hair and a stern face that had softened around the edges with age. Her clothing pegged her as someone from the city.
"Are you selling something?" Clark asked, his politeness replaced by protectiveness. "If so, I can tell you now: Lex isn't interested."
"No. No, I'm not." She appraised him with a single look. "You know Lex very well."
It wasn't a question. Clark answered anyway. "Yes, I do. And he's not overly fond of strangers."
"I'm not a stranger, Mr...?"
"Kent. Clark Kent." Clark opened the alley door and they went outside and up the metal steps to Lex's apartment. The woman seemed to grow nervous as they stopped on the small landing outside the door. If she wasn't a stranger, she sure wasn't acting like a friend of Lex's, either. Clark vowed not to leave, as he opened the door after a quick knock.
Lex knelt on the floor in front of the window, painting the newly built garden box. Sky blue paint smudged his cheek and marked above his left eye like eyeshadow. His hands and forearms hadn't fared any better. His bright smile of greeting faded when he saw Clark wasn't alone. He set his paintbrush across the open paint can and got quickly to his feet. Bare shoulders hunched, he shoved his paint-spattered hands in the open sides of his overalls and danced awkwardly in place, obviously unsure of what to do with the invasion of his home.
Clark's protective instincts flared higher. The woman had lied. Lex wouldn't look ready to bolt in front of someone he knew. "Lex, this woman was looking for you," he said, providing a barrier for Lex to hide behind. He felt Lex press against his shoulder, half a step behind him. "She didn't give her name."
The woman appeared stunned, one hand on the closed door, the other pressed to her chest. "Alexander?"
"My name is Lex," Lex corrected quietly. "Who are you?"
"It's been a long time. Of course you won't recognize me," she said in a wavering tone. "I was your nanny, Alexander- Lex. My name is Pamela. Pamela Jenkins."
Clark felt two hands grab hold of the back of his shirt. "Are you going to take me home?" Lex said uncertainly.
Tears spilled suddenly from Pamela's eyes and she covered her mouth with a sob. She looked like she was about to fall down.
Clark turned and gave Lex his jacket with a reassuring look and then went to Pamela. He escorted her to one of the table chairs. "Lex, go get the Kleenex."
"Okay." Lex scuttled past the table, heading for the bedroom area, bare feet slapping on the hardwood floor. He hung Clark's jacket on the coat rack as he passed it.
Clark fetched a glass of water from the kitchen and set it down in front of Pamela. He took the seat beside her. Lex returned with the Kleenex and gave it to Clark. Bits of tissue fluff clung to his hands where he'd wiped off the paint as best as possible. Clark held the box out to Pamela. "Here."
"Oh." Pamela took several tissues and mopped her face. "I'm sorry. It's just... I thought Alexander was dead."
"A lot of other people did, too, until recently," Clark said, Lex hovering behind his chair. "We corrected the mistake with the Department of Health."
"So I read in the Daily Planet." Pamela sniffed and blew her nose. She looked at Lex with puffy, red eyes. "I didn't believe it, at first. I had to come and see for myself."
"Were you really Lex's nanny?" Clark said.
"Yes, from the time he was born." Pamela smiled wobbly at Lex. "You were so little, and now look at you, all grown up. How old are you?"
"Twenty-two," Lex replied timidly. "My birthday was last month."
"I know." Pamela's eyes watered again. "Your mother and I used to throw you such big birthday parties."
"I remember. Dad says they were a frivolous waste of time and money to celebrate one less year you'll be alive."
Pamela laughed and dabbed her tears. "Yes, that sounds like Lionel. Lillian would make sure the party was extra big just to spite him."
Lex sank onto the edge of the chair at the head of the table, next to Clark. He stared down at his paint-dried hands, resting in his lap. One strap of his overalls fell off his shoulder. "Mom and Dad are really dead, aren't they?"
Clark's heart seized as Pamela answered sorrowfully, "Yes, they are. I'm so sorry, Alexander."
Lex didn't say anything. Clark reached out and laid his hand on Lex's shoulder, and he felt Lex tremble under his palm. Moving before he knew it, Clark went down on one knee beside Lex's chair and drew him into an embrace. Lex sat stiffly for a moment, before he curled into Clark, pressing his face against Clark's neck, his hands clutching at Clark's shirt. Clark could feel hot tears dripping onto his skin and he rubbed one hand up and down Lex's shaking back.
Clark glanced at Pamela, whose own tears flowed freely down her cheeks. "Thank you for taking care of him," she said.
"He did pretty good at taking care of himself." Clark didn't mean to sound accusatory. At least, not that much.
Pamela's lips compressed against a sob, as she nodded in agreement. She pressed the Kleenex against her nose and then cleared her throat. "Excuse me, may I use the restroom?"
"It's over there." Clark gestured with a tilt of his head. Pamela stood and disappeared behind Clark. He heard the bathroom door close.
Lex sucked in a shaky breath, hiccoughing softly. Clark clicked his tongue and stroked the back of Lex's head. "You okay?"
"Yes." Lex sniffed rather messily. Clark had to stretch for the Kleenex. He pulled a tissue from the box and offered it to Lex.
"Hmm." Clark released Lex, but didn't fully let go. He studied Lex's tear-streaked face. Lex blew his nose. "Do you remember Ms. Jenkins?"
Lex nodded. "Yes. Some. I remember things we did together, but not what she looked like." He slumped in his chair. "I kept hoping that the newspapers made a mistake, that my parents weren't dead, they were only really, really late coming to find me."
Clark rubbed his hand up and down Lex's bare arm. "I'm sorry."
"Why?" Lex said.
"Because they're dead and I can't do anything about it. Because you're hurting." Clark brushed his thumb against a teardrop, wiping it across the sky blue smudge of paint on Lex's cheek. "Because I care about you."
A pink flush stole up Lex's neck and spread over his face. He lowered his damp eyelashes. "I care about you, too."
Clark's throat tightened and his hand trembled as he brushed away one last tear.
The bathroom door opened, and Clark nearly fell on his ass when he jerked back from Lex. He rose quickly and braced himself on Lex's chair, hands tight over the edge without cracking the wood. Lex glanced questioningly at him and blew his nose again.
Pamela came out, her eyes puffy but the tear-streaks gone. She'd put herself back together in the bathroom. Her smile was soft and motherly, her stride sure, as she returned to the table. "Now, Ale- Lex," she began as she sat down again, in Clark's abandoned chair. "It's been a very long time. I want to know everything that you've been up to since I last saw you, especially what you've done to your beautiful hair."
Lex smoothed a hand over his bare scalp, fingers catching on the vibrant red-orange tuft on the top-left side of his head. "My hair fell out in the kryp- meteorite shower."
"Oh, Lex, I'm sorry," Pamela said, hesitating when she reached to touch Lex's arm, resting on the table. "You must miss it."
Pamela looked off put by Lex's short answer. Clark was used to Lex's bluntness and helped to soften the response. "He's been nearly bald for thirteen years, Ms. Jenkins."
"I see." Pamela found her smile again. "Well, you look quite handsome nonetheless, Lex."
Lex ducked his chin and Clark got to see his ears turn red. He brushed his hands over the front of his overalls and fixed the strap in self-consciousness. "I'm not dressed for company. Mom would be mad."
"I think she'd forgive you," Pamela said, catching Lex's hand this time. "And remember, I've seen you running around the house in nothing but a diaper, if I could convince you to keep it on."
Clark's lips twitched at the image. Lex wiggled on the chair. "I'm too old for diapers."
"Yes, you are." Pamela's gaze softened and she touched Lex's cheek lightly. "I'm looking forward to getting to know the adult you've become."
Alicia and Cyrus were sitting in the same places Clark had left them hours ago. He stopped near them with a smirk on his face, as Lex escorted Pamela through the Talon out to her car. Lana perched on a stool at the far end of the counter, reading a book in the nearly empty coffeeshop. Nell Potter counted receipts at one of the tables.
"Hey, guys," Clark said. "Miss me?"
"Oh, hi, Clark," Alicia said. "I thought you'd left."
"Nah. I went upstairs to Lex's," Clark replied. He glanced at his watch. "It's almost one. Don't you have a curfew?"
"Yes." Alicia slid off the stool and put on her jacket. Cyrus got out his wallet and put some money on the counter.
"Cyrus, do you want a ride?" Clark asked.
"That'd be great," Cyrus said. He stepped closer to Clark and lowered his voice. "Sorry about stealing your date."
Clark clapped a hand on Cyrus's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. She wasn't really my type, anyway." Besides, Clark's mission had been accomplished: people at school will be talking about the girl that dumped Clark over for another guy.
Lex came back inside, goosebumps raised on his bare skin. His bare feet padded silently on the tile floor, as he walked up to Clark, Alicia and Cyrus. "Are you leaving, too?" he asked Clark.
"Yeah. It's getting late." Clark dug his truck keys from his jeans pocket. "I'll come over tomorrow and help you put up the garden box."
"Okay." Lex tucked his hands in the sides of his overalls.
"'Night, then" Clark said.
"Bye," Lex responded. "Bye, Alicia. Bye, Cyrus."
"Bye, Lex," Alicia and Cyrus said almost simultaneously. They looked at each other and then laughed. Clark rolled his eyes and headed for the door, calling out goodnights to Lana and Nell.
On the ride to Alicia's, Cyrus and Alicia held a quiet, truncated conversation about how they both knew Lex. Clark could fill in the gaps about their kryptonite-caused abilities they were keeping from each other. It was amusing.
After dropping them both off, Clark started for home. He mulled over Pamela's re-introduction into Lex's life. She seemed like a nice woman and had obviously cared for Lex a lot when he was a child. Clark would investigate her, anyway. Her appearance now was justified by reading about Lex Luthor "returning to life" in the newspaper, but Lex was also pulling a very decent salary as a KentCorp scientist. He'd hate for her to be only looking for a handout and hurt Lex that way.
Red and blue flashing lights caught Clark's attention as he turned onto Hickory Lane. His gut tightened when he realized they were coming from the Kent farm. Pressing his foot on the gas, he sped up the road and practically fishtailed into his driveway. Two squad cars and the Sheriff's SUV were parked in front of the house. Lights blazed from every window and a Sheriff's Deputy was stationed at the back door.
"Deputy Gregg, my parents-" Clark panicked as he got to the porch.
"Are fine," Deputy Gordon Gregg reassured him, opening the door. "They're inside."
Clark hurried into the house. Jonathan and Martha sat at the kitchen table with the Chief Deputy Sheriff Nancy Adams. He could hear two more deputies clomping around upstairs. "Mom, Dad-"
"Clark, it's all right." Martha rose immediately and met him with a hug. "We're fine."
"What happened?" Clark asked, willing his heart to calm.
"This house was burgled, Mr. Kent," Sheriff Adams said, giving him a shrewd look. "You mind telling me where you've been the last four hours?"
Clark blinked a couple times. "Uh, at the Talon."
"I'll need the names of some people who can verify that," Sheriff Adams said.
Clark looked at his mother and father. "Okay. Why?"
"Just procedure, Mr. Kent," the Sheriff replied. She looked at her notepad. "Now, is it true that you sleep out in the barn?"
"Yeah," Clark said.
"I'll have a Deputy escort you over there to make sure nothing of yours has been stolen."
One of the other Deputies came downstairs, holding a small zip lock evidence bag. Sheriff Adams rose from her seat at the kitchen table. "What do you got, Hank?"
"It was a torn piece of black material," Deputy Hank Rotson told her, as he passed her the bag with what looked like fine black powder inside it. "But when I tried to pick it up, it disintegrated."
"Hmm." Sheriff Adams examined the contents of the evidence bag and then stuck it in her pocket. "Deputy, please escort young Clark here out to the barn. I want him to check if anything has been stolen."
"Yes, ma'am." Deputy Rotson touched the brim of his hat. "Come on, Clark."
"Sure." Clark followed the Deputy outside. He knew Hank Rotson from the investigation of the bank robbery by Tina Greer, when he and Pete had gone to try and see the security tapes. "Any ideas on who would rob us, sir?"
"Well, you folks are the richest family in this area," Deputy Rotson drawled. "It was only a matter of time before some lowlife hit you."
"The burglar's probably pissed off," Clark said. "My parents' lab equipment and the formulas on their computer are the only things of value on the farm. My mom doesn't even have any real expensive jewelry."
"You're lucky, then," Deputy Rotson said, as they climbed the steps to the barn loft. The Sheriff stayed by the loft rail. "Go ahead and check around. Let me know if anything is out of place or missing."
Clark found nothing wrong with his room, which wasn't surprising. Unless the burglar knew the Kents personally, he or she wouldn't have known Clark slept in the barn.
They returned to the house, where Sheriff Adams was finishing up with Clark's parents. Another Deputy waited for her by the foot of the stairs. "Anything, Hank?" she asked.
"His room wasn't hit," Deputy Rotson replied.
"Very well." Sheriff Adams eyed Clark. "I'll take those names of people who can confirm you were at the Talon."
Clark gave her Lana and Alicia's names, as well as Lex's and Pamela's, since he'd split the hours between upstairs and down at the Talon. Pamela was staying at the Smallville Inn for the weekend.
"I reckon that's it for now," Sheriff Adams said, closing her notepad with a snap of her wrist. "Martha, Jonathan, you be sure to let us know if you find anything else missing, other than what you've told us."
"We will," Jonathan said.
"Goodnight, then. Deputies." Sheriff Adams left, along with Deputy Rotson and the other one. Clark watched out the back door window as the squad car lights were shut off and the vehicles backed down the driveway.
"What happened?" Clark asked, as soon as they were gone.
"We came back to the house around midnight to find a minor mess down here," Martha began. She and Jonathan were still seated at the table. "We thought maybe you'd come home with a guest and things got a little heated in here while you were getting a snack."
"I wouldn't," Clark said, rubbing the back of his neck. His parents knew that he had sex, but it was still awkward when they brought it up.
"We figured that out once we went upstairs," Martha said. "Our bedroom and the office were torn apart."
"We knew we'd been robbed when we saw the contents of your mother's purse dumped on the bed," Jonathan picked up the story. "Whoever it was took her wallet and a few computer CDs."
"They also stole a lot of files from the office," Martha said.
"Anything valuable?" Clark said, taking off his jacket. He draped it on the stair banister.
"Nothing that can't be replaced or would be useful to them." Martha and Jonathan exchanged worried looks. "Except your juvenile file is gone, too."
The world jerked to a halt and Clark stumbled backwards. He collapsed onto the steps, the blood draining from his face. He saw his parents' lips moving, but couldn't hear them over the rushing sound in his ears. His juvenile file was stolen.
A hand touched his shoulder and he jerked away. His mind was a black hole of shock, his body numb. Instinct took over and he shot to his feet, shoved someone out of the way, and bolted. The back door splintered and glass exploded as he burst through it at high speed.
The metal vibrated under his feet, but the door was locked, barring his entry. He cried out raggedly, without words, breaths hitching spastically in his chest. His fingers sank into the brick on either side of the doorway and he stood with his head bowed, trembling like a racehorse.
The light went on above his head, the door opened with a protest of the hinges and Clark lifted his eyes. Lex stood on the other side of the threshold, unbuttoned overalls hanging precariously from his hips, sky blue handprints smudging the pale skin of his waist. Worry clouded his paint-free features, and reached out and touched Clark's damp face. "Clark, why are you crying?"
Clark's mouth opened and closed several times without sound emerging. Lex stepped forward, and the light caught the red of his hair, curled wetly like a baby's against his scalp. Coherent thought returned with terrifying foresight. He shouldn't be here. He couldn't be here.
He yanked his fingers from the wall, turned, and leapt over the metal rail. Landing in the alley, he ran without direction, feet pounding on the earth. Memories surged and swept back again, chasing him like the tide.
"He should be locked up before he can molest other children!"
"...we're placing you under arrest for sexually aggravated battery..."
"You little faggot! Queers like you are all pedophilic rapists!"
"...registered sex offender with the State of Kansas and the nationwide Sex Offender List..."
"There's a place in hell for filth like you."
The ground disappeared suddenly, snatching Clark mid-stride, and he found himself plummeting for miles. The rush of air past his ears blocked all sound. Freedom coursed through veins and he stretched out his arms, wanting to catch the feeling and hold it tight. The bottom of the canyon sped closer, and he closed his eyes, and soared.
The impact of his body hitting the canyon floor jolted him back to earth. He lay unmoving on the indented ground for a long time, envisioning his bleak future now that his record was definitely public knowledge. Finally, he pushed himself to his feet and looked around. The fading twilight illuminated red rocks and sand. Cacti and brown brush littered the silent canyon. The cliff face behind him rose up as far as he could see with normal vision. He would have to climb up in order to return home.
Instead of doing that, he sat on a rock nearby, cradled his face in his hands, and wished that he hadn't survived the fall.
Clark took his time going home, staying overnight at a dingy motel in Northern New Mexico. He turned tricks for free at a nearby truck stop, trying futilely to escape in the rhythm of sex. Dread tasted like rancid come in the back of his throat.
A new back door had been installed on the house. His parents were sitting at the kitchen table, the setting sun shining through the windows, highlighting his mother's hair with gold. A purple-blue bruise decorated the curve of her jaw. Clark knew he'd caused it the moment he set eyes on her and guilt mixed with his anxiety.
Clark sank into his chair at the table and buried his face in his folded arms. His father laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Clark muttered an apology into the curve of his elbow. "Sorry I hurt you, Mom."
"It's all right, Clark," Martha reassured immediately. She reached across the table and stroked her fingers through his hair. "We'll get through this."
"Lex stopped by this morning, worried about you," Martha said. "You should give him a call."
"No." Clark lifted his head and looked past Martha out the kitchen window. The golden glare of the sun didn't burn his eyes. "I can't call him, I can't see him, I can't have anything to do with him anymore."
"Honey, I don't think you need to go that far."
"You know exactly what Lex is like, Mom," Clark said. "If he were your son, would you want him around a registered sex offender?"
"Clark, what happened in the past wasn't your fault," Jonathan said, rubbing Clark's shoulder lightly. "You know how to control yourself now."
"Other people won't see it that way," Clark said resentfully. "They'll label me as a molester and a pervert, and see anything I do as a threat. I should pack my bags and move to the arctic."
"Hiding isn't a solution, Clark," Jonathan said. "When life hands you lemons, you file suit under the Lemon Law."
Clark half-laughed, half-groaned. Martha shook her head, giving Jonathan an exasperated glance. "What your father means is that we won't let you be slandered or unduly harassed by the Sheriff's Department. We'll do whatever we can to protect you, using your grandfather's legal expertise if necessary."
"Thanks, but I don't think it'll help once word gets out about me." Clark sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Did the Sheriff find any clues as to who robbed us?"
"No." Martha and Jonathan exchanged looks that made Clark tense. "We've been talking about it most of the day," Martha continued, "and we're wondering if this is a coincidence."
"What is it?" Clark said apprehensively.
"Yesterday, we discussed formulating a pesticide-based fertilizer with Lex, as our new project," Martha said.
Clark stared incredulously at his mom. "After Phelan told us specifically not to do anything with pesticides?!"
"We didn't think he'd find out," Martha said. "Besides, it was only in the brainstorming stage."
"Jesus, Mom! Don't you even care about what happens to me?"
"Watch your tongue," Jonathan snapped. "We both care very much what happens to you, but we hardly thought that Phelan or another of Rickman's goons would be listening to our conversations."
Clark vanished and returned in a whoosh of air, ruffling the napkins on the table. "I didn't see any out-of-place electronics in the greenhouse with my x-ray vision. Besides, why would Phelan have the file taken if he had another copy?"
"As a warning, perhaps," Martha said. "We don't know if it's the answer, Clark. It just seemed like too much of a coincidence."
Clark smiled bitterly. "I'll guess we'll find out, huh?"
Clark ignored the thirteen messages from Chloe, one from Pete, one from Whitney, and an unsure one from Lex using voice mail for the first time. He returned the call from Joseph Willowbrook, though, and found himself ensconced in Joseph's study, watching the swirl of water as he slowly stirred his tea. The spoon clinked rhythmically against the teacup.
"You seem distracted," Joseph said, sipping his own herbal brew. "If today is not a good day..."
"No, it's fine." Clark set his spoon aside, picked up the small cup, and held it between his hands. He could see the tea leaves dark on the bottom through the pale tea. He didn't need to be a diviner to know what they read about his future. "Go on, you were saying?"
"The vision you shared," Joseph continued their conversation, "it could be interpreted in many ways."
"Ways that end in everyone's death," Clark muttered.
"This, we do not know for a fact, Clark," Joseph said. He shifted in his seat beside Clark on the couch, balancing the cup on the arm. "Death in dreams is symbolic of change."
"But it wasn't a dream," Clark said. "Cassandra said she had the ability to see the future. My future, where I caused the death of the world."
"A future that you have changed simply by knowing it," Joseph said. "Knowing what may happen, it is you who decides whether that future will come to pass."
"How do I know what to do?" Clark asked, putting down his untouched tea. "How can I escape a fate if I don't know what caused it to occur?" For that matter, how could he escape a fate he did know how occurred?
"Believe in yourself, Naman," Joseph said. "It would not be prophesized that you are to be protector of the world by killing it."
"Maybe it's the world that needs protecting from me," Clark said, looking at his broad hands. Hands with the strength of ten men. Hands that had hurt and violated people.
"I am certain that Seget would not let that happen."
"How could he stop me?" Clark continued to stare at his hands. Hands that had the power to destroy everything, and may have already had done so once his past came to light. Alien hands. "Or what if he tries and fails?"
"Everyone has the power to do good or evil, Clark," Joseph said, holding out his own weathered hands. "Even these old bones. It is our choices that determine our path in life. How we act and react, or not act at all, shapes our futures. Ms. Carver was right in that aspect: the balance rests in your hands."
Monday morning, Clark parked the truck in the school lot, sat, and watched as students walked into the building. He'd tried, and failed, to convince his parents to transfer him to a boarding school in Europe. His dad's pearls of wisdom, to face the future head on and that which didn't kill him would only make him stronger, didn't take into account the viciousness of high school. Rumors spread hottest and fastest behind the glass school doors and, if Rickman or Phelan followed through with the threat of exposure, Clark was toast, the burned, inedible kind.
"You can do this," Clark told himself. He wiped his clammy hands on his jeans. A glance in the rearview mirror revealed the stark dread in his eyes. The urge to flee was overwhelming.
Clark grabbed his backpack, got out of the truck, and headed into the building before he gave in and took off. Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette mockingly accompanied his footsteps. He kept his head held high and his stride confident, though, when all he really wanted to do was hide in shame.
No one seemed to be staring at him, however, other than the usual group of girls that giggled when he walked past. No graffiti desecrated his locker, no one bumped rudely into him, and the scattered conversations he heard centered on the wild party that happened Saturday night. Maybe he was in the clear. Maybe the theft of his file was meant as a warning as his parents' had postulated, or so he hoped.
Still uneasy, Clark opened his locker, shoved his backpack and jacket inside, and grabbed his books for his morning classes. He slammed the locker shut and jumped out of his skin when Chloe popped up out of nowhere. "Why didn't you call me? I left you a bazillion messages," she demanded.
"I was busy," Clark said warily.
"I'm sure you were," Chloe said, whipping out of pad of paper and a pen. "Did the thieves hit you hard? Did they leave any evidence? Do you think it's the same ones that burgled the Retirement Center?"
Clark's hands tightened on his books. "How do you know about that?"
"Well, it wasn't because someone named Clark Kent called and told me," Chloe replied caustically. "I had to read about it in the weekend police blotter in the Ledger."
"So, you haven't heard anything else?" Clark asked cautiously.
"Should I have? Did they leave something out of the blotter? Were you there? Did someone get hurt? Did the thieves walk through the walls? Was a formula to blow up the world stolen?"
A genuine laugh bubbled from Clark's chest. "Formula to blow up the world?"
"Hey, your parents are scientists." Chloe poked him in the chest with her pen. "They could've been working on some top secret government project."
"My parents work with cow shit for a living," Clark said.
Chloe's eyes twinkled. "Maybe they're redefining the meaning of 'landmines'."
Clark groaned. "That was terrible."
"I try." Chloe waved her hand. "Stop getting me off the subject. Tell me about the burglary."
"There isn't much to tell," Clark said. At least, not much that he was going to share with her. "No one was in the house when the thief or thieves hit. They took money, some jewelry, and a bunch of papers from the office for some reason."
"Probably looking for that landmine formula," Chloe said with a cheeky grin. She became serious again. "It's got to be the same guys who burgled the Retirement Center. It would make sense: old people tend to be rich, so they hit the Center first, then they hit the richest family in the area: yours."
Clark hadn't thought of that possibility. Rickman or Phelan might not be involved at all with the theft of his juvenile file. Which made it that much worse, eliminating the hope that his record would not become public. His life was officially over.
The bell rang, signaling first hour would begin in five minutes. Chloe put away her notepad and pen. "I want a full story at lunch. I'll call Lex then, too. I talked to him over the weekend about MAs who could walk through walls and he said he'd do some investigating. Maybe he'll give us some leads as to who burgled your house."
"Lex shouldn't get involved in this," Clark said, for more reasons than one.
"Too late. Later." Chloe was swept up by the wave of students heading to class before Clark could protest further.
Clark rubbed the back of his neck and contemplated ditching. What was the use of going to class when his world was ending?
"Kent." Clark turned at his name to find Whitney Fordman had come up behind him. Dark circles ringed Whitney's eyes and his shoulders were hunched, hands tucked into his pockets, as if he were trying to hide. He looked like Clark felt. "We need to talk. Now."
"The bell's about to ring."
"It's important," Whitney stressed, darting nervous glances at the people passing them.
Despite not wanting to spend his last moments of freedom in the presence of Whitney, Clark's curiosity got the better of him. "We'll go to the Torch office."
"Sullivan won't be there?" Whitney said.
"No. She went to class. The office should be empty until fifth period."
Whitney nodded in agreement and fell into step beside Clark, as they made their way down the school halls. They reached the Torch office as the bell rang. Clark closed both hallway doors of the corner room and drew the blinds shut. He tossed his finger-damaged books on the desk pushed against the wall and leaned against it with his arms folded.
Whitney fiddled with a stapler on Chloe's desk. He looked uncomfortable. "What's so urgent?" Clark asked bluntly.
Whitney set down the stapler and faced Clark. "I have your criminal file."
Clark blanched. "You..."
"If you want it back, you'll help me." Whitney dragged a hand through his hair. "Fuck, you have to help me, Kent."
"What do you want?" Clark said tightly, suppressing the desire to rip Whitney into pieces. Another part of his mind was churning in disbelief. Fordman was the burglar?
"To use your money, or name, or whatever, to get me out of this mess I'm in." Whitney blew out a harsh breath. "Wade Mahaney and his bros dragged me with them when they robbed your house."
"'Dragged you with them'," Clark repeated skeptically. "Burglary isn't something you bring someone along with just for kicks."
"Yeah, well, I guess they thought I'd be into it," Whitney said. "We've been hanging out off and on for a while and I haven't been exactly quiet about my pathetic future as a Fordman Hardware employee, since I didn't get the scholarship."
"So, what, you thought stealing would be a way to pay for college?"
"I didn't even know that's what was going on until we were at your place," Whitney defended. "Then, they shoved a bag in my hand, Bowman inked the other two for some reason, and then they walked through the front door."
Clark straightened at attention. "Did they walk through the walls, too?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Never mind. Tell me what happened next," Clark said.
Whitney looked annoyed, but continued. "Bowman and I followed Mahaney and Wallsmith around your house, picking up things they pointed out. And dude, this is where it gets weird: Mahaney found a lock box in the room set up as an office, stuck his finger through the key lock, and after a few seconds, the lock just disintegrated. He had me open it up and dump the contents in the bag I had. I ended up taking the lock box, too."
"We left," Whitney said. "Bowman drove. Wallsmith complained about having a headache from concentrating on not falling through the back seat. Then, suddenly, he was naked, and so was Mahaney. All their clothes just fell apart. They must've known it would happen, because they had extra clothes in a bag on the floor."
"Did they explain to you why it happened, or how they could walk through the door and walls?" Clark said.
"It's the ink, apparently," Whitney replied. "They tattoo themselves with it, and they can walk through walls, or make things disintegrate or whatever, but it only lasts a short time and whatever they touch for too long falls apart. That's why they had me and Bowman holding the bags, so the money and stuff wouldn't turn into powder."
Clark remembered Deputy Rotson with an evidence bag of black powder that had been a piece of material until he'd touched it.
"Kent, this is not something I want to be involved with," Whitney said, dragging his hand through his hair again. "My dad will string me up by my balls if he found out I was stealing, and that tattoo ink shit is freaky. They were fucking jumping in front of semis on Saturday night, for fun. You have to help me."
"Give me my juvenile file and I will."
"It's at Mahaney's. I stuffed it under the couch when I saw what it was," Whitney said, sounding relieved. "What's the plan?"
"We're going to go get that file, then we're going to the Sheriff and turn Mahaney in," Clark said, jotting a note to Chloe.
"How is that going to keep me out of trouble?"
Clark taped the note to Chloe's computer monitor. It read: Fordman undercover. "By putting the blame on Chloe."
Clark and Whitney ditched school and drove out to Davenport's Auto Shop. Wade Mahaney and Scott Bowman both worked at Davenport's and lived in an old garage in the salvage yard behind the repair shop. According to Whitney, their friend, Derek Wallsmith, bummed around the garage when he wasn't working at the Save-Mart.
"They should be at work," Whitney said, as he and Clark hopped the chain link fence surrounding the salvage yard. Rusted cars and trucks towered over the dirt roads that mazed between the vehicular columns. Scavenged and discarded parts piled at the bases of the columns like offerings. Heavy machinery rumbled in another part of the yard, followed by the scream of a car as it was crushed.
Whitney led the way to a whitewashed building faded by age. Rust bled from bolts tacking old signs to the walls, advertising Mobil oil, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and Blackjack gum. They crept in through a weathered back door. Beams of sunlight pierced through the grimy windows in a futile effort to light the room.
The old garage had been converted into a living space. Neon beer signs illuminated the room. Ratty couches and chairs angled in front of a television perched on a milk crate, an X-Box at its base. Sheets draped over rope strung back and forth across the room, divided the sleeping area from the rest of the open garage. Oil drums and a large wood plank made a desk, covered in papers, empty beer bottles, and computer equipment. A fifties style refrigerator and a stove were tucked into a corner, a rickety card table and chairs set up near it. What looked like a dentist chair was half-hidden behind a curtain, a swivel light hanging over the chair like a vulture. Another curtain rose behind it, blocking off an area with a water heater and a furnace that was visible over the top.
Whitney headed right for the couch shoved against one wall. Clark saw several items the seniors from the Retirement Center had said were stolen on the desk. He walked over and spotted paperwork belonging to his parents littering the desktop surface. He gathered them together, the information contained in the papers more valuable than any money or jewels that had been stolen.
"Got it," Whitney said, climbing off his knees. He held a green file in his hands.
"Help me find a bag or something to stuff this in," Clark said, gathering papers rapidly.
Whitney started looking. "Let's make this quick."
"What's the hurry, Fordman?" Clark's gaze jerked up and Whitney spun around. Wade and Scott stood by the dentist chair, wearing grease-stained overalls and incensed expressions. Wade continued speaking, "You just got here."
"Well, now, we're leaving," Whitney said, taking a step backwards.
"I don't think so," Wade said, circling the room. Scott stayed where he was, blocking the exit in the front of the garage. "I was quite unhappy to see you two on the surveillance monitors. I don't appreciate uninvited guests."
Clark tracked him with an icy stare. "Seems you had no problem when you were the uninvited one."
"I was invited by opportunity." Wade smiled slickly. The neon blue light shined off his cigarette-rotted teeth. He stopped within arm's reach of Clark.
"More like greed," Whitney said with a snort.
Wade shot him a dark look. "Apparently I was wrong about you, Fordman. I thought you didn't want to be one of the high school has-beens, stuck working minimum wage at your dad's hardware store all your life."
"Better that, than spending my life behind bars."
"It's too late for that, bro," Wade said. "You sing, and we'll take you down right with us."
Whitney glanced not-too-subtly at Clark, tapping the file against the side of his thigh. "So you think."
Wade barked in laughter, jerking a thumb at Clark. "You think your buddy Kent here's gonna save your ass?"
Whitney didn't answer. Clark was getting tired of the posturing. Whitney had the file in his hands. Clark would thump Wade and Scott, and then they'd be gone.
"Too bad Kent here isn't in any position to help." Wade thrust his arm out and Clark's hand came up automatically to catch his fist. But Wade's fist passed right through Clark's hand like it wasn't there.
Spikes of pain flared in his hand and dizziness struck. Clark staggered and watched as Wade's hand slid into his chest. A cry of torment exploded in his throat as what felt like thousands of blades churned his insides. His knees gave out instantly and his shoulder hit the wood of the work desk, cracking it, as he collapsed to the floor.
Wade's hand came free when Clark fell. He crouched and he smiled maliciously as he ran the tip of his finger along Clark's face, from temple to jaw, the digit sinking beneath Clark's skin. Clark felt like he was being burned from the inside.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" Wade said conversationally, as Clark writhed on the dirty floor. "When I'm inked, my touch can cause steel to disintegrate."
"What are you doing?!" Whitney shouted. "Get away from me!" Bangs and crashes echoed in the garage.
Wade thrust his hand into Clark's chest again. Clark gurgled in pain, his eyes rolling wildly, blood boiling in his veins. Kryptonite, a whimpering voice supplied in his head, before a white shroud of agony clouded his mind.
"Stop! Or I'll break these!" a new voice commanded, the threat echoing off the cement walls.
"He's got the ink!" Scott exclaimed.
The pain lessened abruptly. Clark gasped for breath through his mouth, clutching his chest. Beneath his ribcage, his organs felt like they'd been burned to ash. Tears leaked from the corners of his tightly shut eyelids.
"Where did you come from?"
"Get away from him."
"I'm moving away. Just don't smash the ink."
"Shit, you've got good timing."
"Take Clark out of here."
Clark's arm was draped over a shoulder and another curved behind his back. He blinked open his eyes and saw a fuzzy head full of blonde hair. He made a toneless sound.
"Come on, Kent." Whitney grunted as he lifted Clark. Clark tried to help by getting his feet under him. His strength returned in jolting increments and he stumbled along with Whitney out of the garage.
The sunlight was blindingly bright, but Clark felt as though he'd stepped into a golden bath of healing warmth. His chest cleared and he sucked in a deep breath of crisp spring air. His nose wrinkled at the oily scent of the salvage yard.
"You okay, man?" Whitney asked, as Clark's steps steadied.
"Yeah." Clark kept his arm over Whitney's shoulder, feigning weakness still. He glanced behind them. "What happened?"
"Your pal Luthor popped up out of nowhere and saved our asses."
"Lex?" Clark stopped walking abruptly and tugged his arm free. A different kind of pain seized his chest. "Oh, god, we have to get him out of there."
"No need. Look." Whitney indicated with his chin towards the fence. Lex stood on the other side, leaning against the tail of Whitney's truck. He wore a fitted black v-neck shirt, with long sleeves, and his hands were tucked into the pockets of sharp black trousers. If it weren't for the bare feet and the red curl of hair, Clark would be worried that Wade's kryptonite touch had addled his brain.
Lex's expression was one of worry and relief when Clark and Whitney neared. "Are you all right?" he asked Clark, trying to touch him through the fence.
"Yes," Clark said, twining his fingers with Lex's through the metal weave. "Thanks to you, I understand."
"If you two kiss, I'm going to hurl," Whitney said flatly.
Clark jerked his hand back and glared at Whitney. He forcibly ignored Lex's hurt look. "Do you still have the file?"
"Yeah. Here you go." Whitney pulled it from the back of his jeans and handed it to Clark. "A deal's a deal. I expect not to be locked up in the foreseeable future."
"I'll tell you what to say on the way to the Sheriff's office." Clark looked back in the direction of the garage. "We need to get out of here. I don't know what Lex did-"
"Clark!" Lex's yell came from behind Clark. He spun around and froze for an instant of panic when he saw Wade and Scott on the other side of the fence, with Lex.
"Shit!" Whitney exclaimed. Wade and Scott rushed Lex, sprinting around the side of the truck. Lex stumbled back and hit the fence. There was nowhere to escape.
Time seemed to slow down. The file tumbled heedlessly to the ground. Clark grabbed the fence and ripped it apart, bits of metal flung end over end in the air. Lex started to fall backwards as Scott shoved both hands into Lex's stomach and Wade's fingers pierced Lex's bare head. Clark roared, "NO!"
A red tidal wave of rage crashed over Clark. Baring his teeth in a primal snarl, he snared Lex by the collar and shoved him at Whitney. The two flew back several feet, crashing in a heap on the ground. Clark leapt forward, ready to strike Wade and Scott down.
He slammed into a wall of pain, as Wade and Scott attacked in return, and his vision turned black. He struggled against it, his insides boiling, fueling his agonized cries. He clawed at the air around him as fast as he could, dizziness rapidly overwhelming him. The edges of his mind burned. He howled torturously.
Everything went dark.
"It'll wear off in less than an hour and then they'll be solid again."
"And since you smashed their supply of ink, they won't be walking through walls or sticking their hands in people anytime soon."
Clark swam back to consciousness to the soothing baritones of conversation. Something shifted under his ankles and he realized that his feet were propped up. The ground was otherwise hard beneath his back and head. He cracked open an eye and saw Lex's concerned face peering down at him.
"You're awake," Lex said, shifting on his knees beside Clark, causing dust to kick up.
"Hmm." Clark closed his eye, mentally processing if everything still worked after the kryptonite-affected mutants' attack on him.
His eyes flew open and he sat up swiftly. "Are you okay? Where are they? I have to get you safe."
"I think we're in the clear, Kent," Whitney said.
They were still at the salvage yard, near the broken fence, Whitney's truck parked on the other side. Wade and Scott were nowhere to be seen. Neither Whitney nor Lex appeared injured. The green file lay on the dirt at Lex's side.
Whitney shifted Clark's feet off his lap. "You okay? Do we need to take you to the hospital?"
"No. I'm all right," Clark said, rubbing the grit from the back of his neck.
"Good," Whitney said. "Because I'm dying to ask you how you did it."
"Did what?" Whitney repeated incredulously. "First, you rip the fence apart with your bare hands. Then, you swung your arms around so fast that Bowman started to disintegrate. His entire right arm was gone from the shoulder down by the time you collapsed. He's going to need a prosthetic."
"Oh, uh..." Clark looked at Lex. Lex looked back. He looked really good in that black clingy shirt, outlining every single ridge of muscle... "Uh..."
"You told me not to tell anyone," he said.
"Damn, you've been infected, too," Whitney said abruptly. He dragged his hand through his hair. "This town is a nightmare. I have to get out of Smallville."
Clark was glad for Whitney's jumping to conclusions. "You know about the MAs?"
"MAs?" Whitney looked confused.
"Meteorite-affected," Clark explained. "Chloe's contribution to political correctness."
"Oh, yeah, I do," Whitney said. "Once, this guy, Byron, was stalking Lana. He kept leaving her poetry in the graveyard and stuff. Turns out he's a werewolf or something, only he can't be out during the day, not at night."
"Byron Moore," Lex murmured. "He was hit by a semi-truck last year."
"Anyway, Kent, I don't care what freak you've got on. I just want to get out of Smallville before I get infected, too," Whitney said. He pointed at the file. "Just not in shackles."
Clark cocked his head, eyeing Whitney. "You'd make a great prison bitch."
Whitney sneered, rose to his feet, and ducked through the broken fence.
Clark turned to Lex, worry creasing his brow. "You sure you're all right? They didn't hurt you, did they?"
"Some." Lex scratched the bridge of his nose. "I heal fast."
"I know you do." Thankfully, Clark thought, climbing to his feet. He picked up the file. Lex glanced curiously at it, but Clark couldn't tell if he'd read it or not. Hopefully, the answer was not. He tucked the file under his arm and offered Lex a hand up. "How did you know we were here?"
"I didn't, until I came to gather more information," Lex said.
"That's right. Chloe had you out looking for MAs with the ability to walk through walls." Clark would have to give her a piece of his mind later for endangering Lex. "How did you stumble upon these guys? Whitney said their ability came from the tattoo ink."
"It does." Lex ducked through the broken fence that Clark held open for him. "I saw them first at Loeb Bridge, jumping in front of KentCorp semi-trucks, on Saturday night. I followed them here and watched them until they went to sleep."
"Did you figure out how the ink worked?"
Clark stopped by the passenger door of the truck. Whitney gunned the engine. Clark ignored him. "How?"
"I hypothesize that it vibrates their molecules super fast. That's why their clothing fell apart when the ink wore off and why objects crumbled if they touched them too long." A furrow appeared between Lex's brows. "I don't know why they didn't disintegrate, though, when the ink wore off. I would run experiments to determine the answer, but I broke the ink bottles."
"Don't worry about it," Clark said. "You said Mahaney and Bowman would be solid again in under an hour, right?"
"Yes," Lex replied.
"Then it doesn't matter, because where they're going, the only tattoos they'll receive will declare them property of Bubba."
Chief Deputy Sheriff Nancy Adams didn't believe a word Whitney said. Luckily, Sheriff Ethan Miller pretended he did without verifying it with Chloe, sent Sheriff Adams off to get a search warrant for Davenport's Auto Shop and the salvage yard, and hinted strongly that the Smallville Medical Center needed volunteers until July and it would be nice if Whitney did his community a service by helping out. Whitney thankfully agreed.
"I expect the full story in my hands tomorrow morning," Chloe said over the phone.
Clark stood in front of a metal barrel behind the greenhouse at the Kent farm, watching as another page from his juvenile file caught fire. "You got it. See you tomorrow."
Clark disconnected and tucked the cell phone in his jeans pocket. The noonday sun shone brightly overhead, bringing springtime warmth. He hadn't returned to school after visiting the Sheriff's Department with Whitney. He'd come home, instead, and explained to his parents what had happened. They'd been relieved that it had been simply chance, not Phelan on Rickman's command, that the copy of his juvenile file had been stolen.
Behind the greenhouse, pale gray smoke rose from the rusted blue metal barrel and drifted into the sky. Yellow-orange flames flickered at the bottom of the barrel, greedily eating each piece of paper Clark fed it. A court order blackened and curled, the typed words of the sentence imposed disintegrating before his eyes. Burning the papers wouldn't make the past disappear, though.
The green file balanced on the edge of the barrel. Clark picked up the next page, a printed photograph. Ian McMurphy looked out at him with pained eyes, myriad black and purple bruises desecrating his bare torso, his arm in a cast. Guilt and anguish squeezed Clark's chest.
The backdoor of the greenhouse squeaked and Martha came up beside him. She looked at the photograph, laid her hand on his back, and rubbed in soothing circles. "It wasn't your fault, Clark."
Clark crumpled the picture and threw it into the fire. "Tell that to Ian. Tell that to Mark, Jos, and Quentin."
"Honey, you can't blame yourself for something that was out of your control," Martha said. "We know you'd never hurt anyone on purpose."
"Do you?" Clark turned and lightly touched the blue-green bruise on her jaw. "I attacked Kyle and Kyla. I attacked Mahaney and Bowman."
Martha captured Clark's hand and held it between both of hers. "There were extenuating circumstances. You were protecting Lex."
"Yeah." Clark exhaled heavily, tugged his hand free, and turned back to the fire. He picked up another paper from the file and dropped it in the barrel. "I seem to lose all restraint when it comes to him."
"It's understandable," Martha said. "He brings out the mama bear in me, and your father feels the same."
"No, you don't understand," Clark said bluntly. "I want him sexually, Mom."
Clark laughed bitterly, as he took another paper from the file. "Yeah, 'oh.' Your son is a filthy pervert. I belong on this list." He flicked the Sex Offender registry in his hand with his finger.
"Clark, that's not true."
"I want to pin him down, Mom. I want to bite him and bruise him and mark him as mine. I want to fuck his ass until he-"
"Clark!" Martha interrupted sharply. "That's enough."
"It's the truth you insist on denying," Clark sneered.
"No, it's not," Martha said, eyes flashing angrily. "You are not callous or cruel. If anything, you care too much for people."
Clark scoffed. "Right. I'm gay. I'll fuck any guy that stands still long enough."
"Stop using that word," Martha snapped. "I'm still your mother and will not hesitate to wash your mouth out with soap."
"Sorry," Clark said sullenly.
"You should be."
"It doesn't change the fact that I'm attracted to Lex."
"Clark, despite your crude language, there's nothing wrong with that," Martha said.
Clark looked incredulously at her. "Are we talking about the same Lex?"
"Lex is a darling young man, Clark," Martha said. "He's smart, handsome, and a truly good person."
"But he's... slow, or something," Clark floundered. Was his mother encouraging him to pursue Lex?
"I'll agree that he's immature, but that's something he'll grow out of by interacting regularly with people," Martha said. "I have nothing against your dating him. I trust you to act like a gentleman."
Clark gaped like a fish. "What about the list? What if someone thinks its improper and I'm arrested?"
"Don't let fear dictate your life, Clark." Martha took the Sex Offender registry from him, crumpled it up, and threw it in the fire. "As your father likes to say: every tomorrow is a clean slate to live anew."
The sky blue garden box hung from the rail outside of Lex's door. Stuck in the corner, an iridescent pinwheel spun in the breeze, a rainbow of color reflecting against the wood. Green buds tinted with hints of red, yellow, and blue poked from the dark soil in the box, tulips that would rise again every year with new petals.
Clark ran his finger along the wood and stopped the pinwheel with a touch. Lana, or perhaps Pamela, must've helped Lex put the garden box up, since Clark had failed to keep his promise of assistance. The curve of the pinwheel petal distorted his image, making him look monstrous. He set the pinwheel spinning again.
"Hi, Clark." Clark turned at the greeting and his stomach flipped. Lex stood in the opened doorway wearing charcoal trousers and a ribbed pearl gray crew-neck shirt that brought out the flecks of silver in his eyes. His bare toes curled over the doorjamb.
"New clothes?" Clark's voice cracked on the words.
"Yes." Lex rubbed a hand self-consciously over his shirt, causing his nipple to peak beneath the material. "Pamela took me shopping."
"That was-" Cruel, evil, sadistic. "-nice of her." Clark tugged the hem of his jacket down to hide the bulge of his groin. "Is she still here?"
"No. She went home."
"You didn't go with her?" Clark was surprised. "I thought maybe you would."
Lex scratched his head, causing the tuft of orange-red hair to fan like a cockatiel's feathers. "No. I like it here."
"But on Friday, you said she was like family to you," Clark said. "You're not lost anymore."
"I know," Lex said, a breathtaking smile blooming on his face.
Clark wanted to kiss him. It was extraordinarily hard to resist. He might just kill his mother for giving her blessing. He cleared his throat and kept his jacket closed in front of him. "I'm supposed to pick you up. Mom and Dad want to brainstorm new projects some more."
"Okay." Lex stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him.
The landing wasn't very big, and two grown men took up all the space. Clark tried to back up a step and bumped the rail. Lex squinted up at Clark. "Are you going to jump again?"
"What?" Clark remembered Friday night and glanced behind him. "Oh, no. I'll walk down the stairs like a normal human being."
He turned to do just that, and his foot slid off the edge of the landing. He saw it heading for the brace shoring up the garden box and shifted his balance in a quick second so as not to kick it. Only, he overcompensated, and the stairs were right there, and the law of gravity applied to aliens and humans alike.
Lex latched onto his shoulders, yanked him back, and prevented him from tumbling down the stairs. Clark found his footing and smiled sheepishly at Lex. "Thanks. Despite having superpowers, sometimes the world spins one way and I go the other, and, well..."
Lex took Clark's hand. "I'll help you keep balance, Clark."
Clark looked at their clasped hands. Lex's palm was warm against Clark's own, his fingers curled over the outer side. His grip was firm and reassuring.
Lex's expression was confident when Clark raised his gaze. "Are you ready?"
"You little faggot! Queers like you are all pedophilic rapists!"
"Come back! Why didn't you help me?! Why didn't you stop me?!"
"It is our choices that determine our path in life. How we act and react, or not act at all, shapes our futures."
"As your father likes to say: every tomorrow is a clean slate to live anew."
Clark squeezed Lex's hand and took the first step.