Monday, November 29, 2004

Chapter 14: Routines II

Checking her clipboard before her morning rounds, Nurse’s assistant Mary Kelly kept her head down—hoping to avoid eye contact with the on-call nurse’s coordinator. This morning Kelly wasn’t late, but that wouldn’t matter to Ms. Chapen, who had decided to dislike Kelly from their first meeting. Even as returned the clipboard to it’s stand, Kelly noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ms. Chapen was pulling the watch strapped tightly at her wrist around to check the time. There seemed to be nothing that delighted Ms. Chapen more than starting the day by writing Kelly up; and, on mornings like today, when that was denied her—a sour look quickly appeared on her face and stayed there most of the morning until Chapen found some miniscule, irrelevant detail on which she could satisfy that urge. Kelly nodded politely to coordinator, collected several sponge bathing kits, loaded them onto the lower shelf of candy striper’s cart, and turned toward the first room on her list.
“Ms. Kelly, you will need to make an appointment this afternoon with my secretary for your performance review.”
Kelly did not need to turn to recognize the sarcastic smile dripping off Chapen’s lips as she spoke. Chapen had intentionally waited until Kelly’s supervisor left to attend a conference—knowing that without her supervisor’s rebuttal Kelly could be fired on the basis of Chapen’s third, staged-negative review. Nodding to the inevitable, Kelly turned back to the first door tapping lightly.
After Martha and Jonathon assured Clark that they thought Lex’s offer for Clark to stay at the Luthor Castle while he recuperated was for best, he quickly turned to thank Lex; but was interrupted. Pulling a candy striper’s cart behind her as she backed through the door, a petite, dwarf-like nurse in an ill-fitting, oddly-angled uniform entered the room.
“Mr. & Mrs. Kent, they should be serving lunch in the cafeteria right now. Why don’t you take Mr. Kent’s visitors to get a snack, while I clean up some of these cuts and scratches.” Kelly’s broad gesture included Lana, Lex, and the recently arrived Chloe, who immediately started to protest.
“But, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, yet.” She had barely finished her comment when Lex noticed Clark’s clenching his fist in vexation at Chloe’s relentless curiosity. Catching her attention with a quick shake of his chin, Lex inclined his head to indicate the second shelf of the cart and smothered a laugh at Chloe’s quick blush as she noticed the sponge bath kits.
“But, I haven’t had lunch either, so it’s hard to choose.”
Clark studied their faces torn between relief from the pressure of their unasked questions and confusion at the blushes or smothered chuckles of his friends and the knowing glances of his parents as they filed out. Lex was last to leave, pausing to to give Clark some advice.
“Just relax and imagine that you’re at a spa,” Lex suggested patting Clark’s shoulder, as he crossed around behind the gurney. Blotchy plum circles rose on Clark’s cheeks as he understood Lex’s allusion.
“I don’t need that,” he protested, “really, I can do…” Kelly’s soft, tolerant smile interrupted Clark as she shook her head.
“I’m sorry. It’s hospital policy when for patients staying over-night. But your friend, Mr. Luthor, is absolutely right.” She favored Lex with a rich, warm smile that stopped him in his exit. “Just close your eyes and relax. It’s not any different or more personal than getting a shave and a haircut at the barber’s.”
Pushing her hands out toward Lex, Kelly waved him off with another warm smile, “Go on, now. We’ll be done in a few minutes.”
Nodding, Lex stepped out the door closing it behind him. But, instead of following the Kents, Lana, and Chloe to the cafeteria—Lex stood at the door contemplating Kelly’s smile. It was completely innocuous, warm, and generous; without even the slightest the traces of coyness, self-interest, or greed. He had rarely received this rare type of smile after his mother died… even from Martha whose smiles were often tinged with concern - and though she tried to mute it – distrust. Glancing back through the window, Lex watched Kelly fill basin and return. True to her suggestion of a shave and a haircut, Kelly started with a shampoo, working his hair exactly as if he were in the hospital solely to have a shampoo. As Clark slowly relaxed under her ministrations, Lex looked past the details of her oddly cantilevered uniform to study her face. His eyes traced the minute direction changes of her eyes as she paid close attention to her task—stroking his forehead with a damp washcloth. Reading the compassion in her eyes, he noted how her glance continually moved between Clark’s face and his breathing, checking for any signs of discomfort as she went.
Folding the washcloth over her fingertips, Kelly squeezed the antiseptic soap into the cloth and gently dabbed it at the corner of the scrape on his forehead. While her fingers glided in slow-careful circles over the torn skin, Lex watched her eyes map the patches of raw, open skin – wincing as her fingers ran across the patches – even though Clark showed no outward signs of pain. As she drew the washcloth down to Clark’s eyebrows and the bridge of his nose, Lex noticed their glances meet and Clark quickly shut his eyes turning his head slightly away. Although her eyes widened in concern; Lex was surprised to note that Kelly didn’t press Clark to respond or explain what was wrong—even when a steady stream of slow, quiet tears welled at the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek.
Lex wanted to go in and check on his friend, but hesitated because it would be obvious that he had been watching. Instead, he studied her as she quickly and gently continued, moving over Clark’s shoulders and limbs with quiet dispatch. Then, after emptying the basin, she simply sat by Clark’s side. Taking his palm in one hand, she stroked his arm with the other until Clark finally turned back, opened his eyes, and stared at her forcing on an almost numb, half-smile of thanks.
After nodding in response, Kelly patted his forearm, retrieved the washcloth, and wiped away the last traces of tears from his cheeks. Then, she tucked the bathing kit away on the third shelf of the rolling cart, favored him the same warm, genuine smile she had afforded Lex, and moved the cart toward the door. Lex moved away as she reached for the door, but could still hear Clark’s request as she opened the door.
“Please don’t tell my mom or dad.”
“Don’t worry, Clark… I won’t, everyone gets embarrassed the first time.” She answered—intentionally misinterpreting his worry—then closed the door behind her and walked straight to Lex.
“You saw?” Kelly asked without accusation, but assuring him that she was aware of his observation. Bemused by her bluntness, Lex simply nodded.
“He looks to be a strong boy, but…” she paused, lowering her voice, “Right now, he seems very fragile… down deep.”
She paused to study Lex—trying to decide whether the many rumors about him were true. The force of her candid, probing gaze startled him when they locked eyes: rarely if ever, did anyone look him directly in his eyes to size him up. More often than not, their first glance went to his car, clothes, or baldness- and their eyes never really strayed to look him directly in the eye. Only the Kents looked at him differently; and, on that comparison, Lex immediately knew that he had to find out more about this nurse. At the same time, perhaps reading his surprise and interest, she made a decision. Pulling something from the cart, she pressed it into his hand, and continued cryptically—“I don’t think you should leave him alone very long until you’re certain that he’s better.”
Recognizing the thrust of her concern, Lex looked back through the window at Clark, whose eyes had closed again. Something had happened to suppress Clark’s natural resilience; Lex was certain of that, but wondered how Kelly had discerned the fact in a single glance. When he turned back to acknowledge her comment, she was already moving on to the next hospital room and turning to back her cart through the door. But, catching his eye before the door closed, she nodded and waved him into Clark’s room. Looking down at the roll that she had pressed into his hand, Lex smiled when he saw that it was a hand-quilted, cloth chessboard bound by a thin, tasseled, kitchen curtain-tie cloth a small, cloth, draw-string bag hanging from one tasseled end.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Chapter 13: Routines-1

Slamming the phone on to the table, Eldritch grabbed her hair-band and twisted it tightly around the short, sandy-blond ponytail pulled snugly to the nape of her neck.
“Luthor may be a mega-billionaire,” she grumbled, “but he’ll have to learn that my time is as valuable to me as his time is to him – maybe more so – because, I can’t afford to waste my time.”
In the two seconds that it took her to reach the door to her exercise room, Eldritch had pushed through several stretching exercises, downed the last sip of espresso, chalked her hands, and thrust them into her climbing gloves. After a quick glance around the well-stocked gym, she sauntered over to the automated climbing-wall and punched in her code for an extended session – 30 minutes longer than her regular routine for the additional time spent waiting on hold.
Over the two-hour warm-up, Eldritch reviewed Kent’s file trying to determine the weakness she could exploit – his Achilles heel. The notes on the police ledger were very suggestive when she did further research after accepting Lionel’s offer. By and large, though, the reports were accompanied by very little factual support and more often than not accompanied by bizarre theories and beyond the pale explanations for events that might have been explained if the police force of Smallville weren’t so intent on maintaining the town’s reputation for weird events. The conclusion she finally came to was that either Clark was an innocent farm-boy that someone on the police-force had a long-running grudge against, or that Kent was guilty of a number of crimes that the Smallville police were either too inept or too corrupt to expose. On review, it was Kent’s association with the troubled Luthor heir swayed her to believe the latter- that Kent was a petty criminal, at the very least, trying to exploit Luthor’s wealth and possible connections. It’s the only thing that makes sense, she thought to herself as she jumped from the climbing wall and slapped the chalk off of her hands.
It’s not as if they have anything else in common. Yanking a pair of sparing gloves from the wall as she passed, Eldritch pushed her fists into the sparring gloves, pulled the laces tight with her teeth, and secured them under velcro strips. Can’t tell if he has a stash somewhere, but there’s plenty of evidence of exploitation: expensive gifts… The force of her first punch creased the thick-leather punching bag. And parties… Her second punch rocked the bag back around to meet her fist with the third punch. The partnership with Kent’s girlfriend… With punch after punch, she set-up a drum-rolling series of blows striking strategic targets with pin-point precision. Expensive medical experts… The room echoed each percussive strike as she continued. Flown in… Catching the bag in her free hand, she spun it to set up one final blow. To treat Kent’s family and friends.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Chapter 12: Decisions

Lex’s thoughts quickly traced the obvious physical and medical threat the meteors would pose for Clark to the deeper emotional scars (that he knew of simply being and knowing himself to be different as Clark must have). And then, in a split instance of intuition, his thoughts went beyond the obvious dangers to the underlying metaphysical wounds Clark must have suffered growing up with knowledge of the meteor’s effects, watching friends and classmates warped by the meteors turn on the people they once cared about, and wondering if and when he would be changed. Lex felt he finally understood why Clark always seemed so desperate to claim that he was normal, and finally, how it must have felt whenever something cropped up to remind him that he wasn’t normal.

When Lex and Jonathon finally locked eyes, Jonathon caught a brief glimpse of what he had only guessed – the depth of understanding that rested beneath the surface of the two boy’s friendship. Lex understood Clark in a way that Jonathon – whose only youthful constraints were the common restrictions that most farming families placed on their teenage sons – never could. In that brief glimpse, Jonathon saw only a hint of Lex’s own unspoken wounds coming to the surface as he considered Clark’s early life. In that instant – despite the many fears and reservations he still held — that Lex could not escape the shadow of his father, Jonathon knew with absolute clarity that Lex was the only one who might have a chance to turn around the impending decline Jor-El had warned of… Lex was the only one who could prevent Clark’s death.

... ....

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Chapter 11: Impact

It was the last thing that Lex had expected to discuss. At the same time, it was an event (like the day he first met Clark) that he simply couldn’t escape. “Quite a bit, actually. What do you want to know?”

“Just tell me what you know.”

Shrugging, Lex described that morning in sparse detail beginning with the helicopter ride, wandering the fields, finding Jeremy Creek (Smallville High’s homecoming scarecrow for that year), and seeing the meteor strike. Slowing as his memories and description dwelled on the eerie shockwaves of energy, dirt, debris, and corn chaff thrown toward him as he ran – Lex finished his narration describing how it felt when the churning ashes and smoke carried him into the air tossing him from gust to gust until his consciousness seeped away. As thoughts returned to the present, he was stunned by the awareness that as he delivered his narrative, Jonathon had come to sit beside him gripping his shoulder in sympathy as he might have his own son’s. As Lex regained composure, Jonathon nodded and dropped his hand but stayed seated by Lex.

“Then you don’t remember how you reached the hospital?” waiting until Lex shook his head in denial before continuing, “We drove you.”

“You were out in the meteor shower?” Lex asked curiously, Clark had never mentioned this.

“It happened on the same day that we were bringing Clark home. During the meteor storm, we were caught between impacts with one landing just yards from the truck. The truck flipped. Clark’s carrier opened somehow. When I came to, he was outside the truck without a stitch of clothing left on him… in the middle of burning cornstalks and earth.”

Jonathon stopped to gauge Lex’s reaction, infinitely glad that he and Martha had carefully discussed the exact wording they should use – avoiding anything that would trigger Lex’s suspicion. Every word had accurately described some of that day’s events – without giving away the fact that Clark’s carrier had been a space ship or that Clark, then barely a toddler, had rescued them from the overturned truck by pulling the truck’s doors off their hinges. If it worked, Lex’s response would be an almost obvious question.

“Did it? Of course, it did, or you wouldn’t be telling me this. I’m sorry,” Lex fumbled with the unexpected thought of all his questions answered.. “What did it do? I mean how did it affect him?” I’m right., Lex thought to himself, Clark is different, but how different?

Smiling to soften his next comment, Jonathon reached out brushing the side of Lex’s forehead as if pushing a hair back into place as he said, “What you lost on the outside — Clark lost on the inside: the chance to live a normal childhood and, for a child growing up in the “Meteor Capital of the World”, he lost something particularly important: immunity to meteors…” Pressing the meteor into Lex’s hand, “You can see what a small piece of the meteor does to someone who was shielded from the impact when the truck flipped.”

As the stone left Jonathon’s hand, the rivulet of blood simultaneously stemmed it’s flow into a single drop that fell to his shirt — leaving no other trace. “Can you imagine its effects on someone who wasn’t shielded?” Jonathon asked quietly.

Chapter 10: Outcasts

"Clark's not..." Lex's protest died on his lips as he remembered his second night in Smallville. That night, finding Clark bound to a post like a scarecrow, stripped down to his boxers, with a red letter S spray-painted on his chest by the football team had been his first warning that the small-town’s idyllic, homespun charm might be hiding some dangerous secrets.

He had wanted to get Clark to the hospital then, but having been the recipient of numerous cruel pranks by classmates, Lex well-understood why Clark grabbed his clothes and quickly left. After one casual mention later on to prod Clark into acting on his feelings for Lana, he never discussed that night again to spare his friend’s feelings.

Nodding, mostly to himself, but also acknowledging Jonathon's point, Lex answered thoughtfully, "I suppose that I have become so accustomed to seeing him with Chloe, Lana, and Pete...it makes easier to forget something like homecoming."

From Jonathon’s uncomfortable shifting, Lex realized that he had confirmed something Jonathon had suspected, but had never really known for certain. “He didn’t tell you?”

"No, Lex, Clark doesn't tell us everything." pausing to
massage the muscles at the back of his neck, Jonathon took a long, deep breath, forcing himself to stay composed as he plunged in, "In fact, that’s why I need to ask for your help. Dr. Mead said that in addition to anxiety attacks, Clark is suffering from exhaustion and dehydration as if he hasn't slept or drank anything in days -- and probably hasn't eaten much in that time either by the looks of it."

Pausing to work his jaw, Jonathon tried to ease the tension headache he felt coming on. ‘I know I have to do this,’ he thought to himself, Clark is starting to show signs of everything that Jor-el said he might. But, despite his growing acceptance of the medical dangers Jor-el had described, Jonathon's long habit of secrecy regarding all things Clark was at war with what he was about to do -- and the pounding headache only mirrored that battle.

Rubbing his temples, to ease the pressure, Jonathon continued. "Lex, He's making himself sick over something that he is afraid to discuss with us for some reason. I don't know why he feels he can’t talk with us, but he obviously can’t. If he doesn’t feel that he can open up with us, I don’t know if there is anyone he will share his confidences with; but, if I’m right about what I just saw in his eyes- you may be the only one who has a chance."

Stunned and touched by Jonathon's trust, Lex stared at his hands until he was certain that his expression would only show the guarded concern he felt for Clark, instead of the triumph he felt at finally winning Jonathon's trust.

Attempting to appear as if he weren't at all eager to pry into Clark's business, with forced hesitation, Lex slowly answered, "I can arrange my schedule to be available whenever Clark feels ready to talk and I can stop by the farm as much as possible to help keep his spirits up. But," Lex shrugged as if not sanguine about his chance of success.

"No, Lex, I don't know if that would be enough either. Martha and I know you must have more than enough work on your hands as it is, but is there anyway that Clark could stay with you when they release him from the hospital? Dr. Mead has ordered bed rest for several weeks at least. Frankly, we're both afraid that if he comes home with us, knowing how much there is to do, he won’t be able to rest."

Continuing to stare at his hands until he felt that he had maintained the scene long enough to leave the right impression, Lex slowly cast his eyes up to meet Jonathon’s as he continued, “Clark is certainly welcome to stay with me until he recovers, but it should be his decisi… Mr. Kent!”

As his eyes moved upward, Lex’s glance immediately caught the small drop of blood welling up at the corner of Jonathon’s lip – forming a thin dark rivulet that dropped into widening oxblood spots on his collar.

“What?” Following the direction of Lex’s gaze, Jonathon carefully wiped the side of his mouth – smearing blood across his fingertips. Jonathon suppressed a grin as he stared at his fingers. It’s working. Picking his words carefully to match the revelation that he and Martha had carefully planned during the drive to the hospital, Jonathon continued, “Don’t worry, Lex. I wasn’t sure if the meteor would be big enough to show you this, but I hoped it would be.”

It was close enough to the truth that Lex could tell Jonathon meant what he said, but Lex could not pin down what Jonathon meant when he said it.

“You hoped?”

From the usually blunt-speaking Kent, such an obscure statement riveted Lex’s attention as nothing else might have as he admitted, “I don’t understand.”

“No, Lex, I don’t expect you to; but, to help Clark, you need to know something that I’m not certain he’s able to admit yet – even to you.” Jonathon paused catching Lex’s glance, “I’m sorry if this stirs up painful memories; but, how much do you remember of the day of the meteor shower?”

Chapter 9: Revelations

In the moment it took for Clark to release Lex's hand, Lex had read it all in Clarks eyes, and looking up, realized that Jonathon had as well. Blindsided by the realization that Jonathon would see through whatever excuse that he made to stay, Lex was speechless for several seconds as he cast about for the correct response.

"Lex?" Jonathon asked, beating him to the punch, "before you go, could I speak with you for a moment?"

"Certainly, Mr. Kent," Lex answered smoothly, avoiding Clark's glance as he followed Jonathon out the door. Well here it comes.

"Let's take a walk?" Jonathon invited, forestalling Lex as he tried to test the waters.

Leaving the hospital, the two men walked in almost-companionable silence for several minutes while Lex wondered what Jonathon had in mind and how long it would take for him to discuss it. As they neared Smallville's mainstreet, he noticed Jonathon react to something he had apparently been looking for as they walked. When he found it, Jonathon gestured them toward a park bench where he knelt to pick up a small stone before they sat down.

Rolling the stone idly in his hands, Jonathon tested his senses for even the slightest indication that the meteor rock’s energy was interacting with the Jor-El’s residual energy. It was only Jonathon’s hunch that the green meteor energy could cause some physical effect to show Lex. It had certainly caused devastating physical transformations in other Smallville citizens, but as Martha had pointed out, there was no way of predicting how the energy Jor-El had charged Jonathon with would react. It was a risk; Jonathon and Martha both knew that even though neither had the heart to mention what the green meteor key had done to space ship. It was a risk; but, after discussing Jor-El’s lecture, both he and Martha had agreed that they needed to do something to stave off Lex’s potential questions if he was to be Clark’s confidant.

"Lex, did you know that it took me almost two years to realize how alike you and Clark are?" Glancing up to catch Lex’s reaction, Jonathon broke out laughing at the bizarre look of absolute astonishment on Lex’s face. Nothing Jonathon could have said would have astonished him more. Although they were well-matched as friends, Lex recognized few similarities between he and Clark: in sophistication, experience, manner, personality… in every almost every aspect that came to Lex’s mind – they were polar opposites.

“No, I’m serious. You may not see it; but, where it counts, when it counts – Lex, both you and Clark do whatever needs to be done to protect the people you care about. That sets you apart, but there are other similarities, as well.” Jonathon paused looking down at the stone rolling between his fingers. If you are going to, now’s the time to work. Delaying just a moment longer, he mentally searched for any trace of Jor-El’s power trying to draw it closer and closer to the surface where it could trigger some effect from the meteor.

"You both have an innate understanding and respect for each other's privacy even though you would both feel more comfortable knowing each others truths;" Jonathon paused to be certain he had Lex's full attention when he continued "both of your lives were changed by the meteor shower..." Gotcha he thought smugly as Lex's head snapped up, but his voice softened as he continued "and both of you understand what it is to be an outcast!"

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Chapter 8: Reunion

As if sensing Jonathon’s thoughts, Lex looked up and shifted nervously, then pushed away from the wall. Does he think I’m responsible for this? Just when I was getting him to accept me- to trust me? One step forward… forty-five back.
Oh well, never delay the inevitable! He steeled himself as he turned to face whatever ire, Clark’s father had in store… So, he was totally un-prepared when the Kents reached him and Jonathon grabbed Lex’s shoulder pulling him into a parental hug between he and Martha… pounding Lex lightly on the back as he did.
“We can’t thank you enough Lex… I should have known you would be able to find him and bring him home. Thank you.” Squeezing the startled Lex on his shoulder again, Jonathon broke from the hug and walked past him into Clark’s hospital room., Martha lingered for a moment to straighten Lex’s collar and jacket, tousled from Jonathon’s hug, and kiss him on the cheek before following Jonathon into the hospital room.

Lex almost staggered in surprise as the Kents entered Clark's hospital room. Even though his relationship with the Kents had improved over the last three years, Lex had not expected to be greeted with their warmth and gratitude once they discovered that he was taking Clark to the hospital. In the past, any mention of medical treatment had drawn suspiscious almost fearful looks from Clarks parents and protests from Clark... even though the whole family at one time or other had been treated for different reasons.
Usually Lex blew off the thought, attributing it to their financial hardships and the family's unwillingness to go further into debt unless absolutely necessary. But there were times, recently, that he wondered if there wasn't something more to it -- something else that might explain their strong reactions. But, then like tonight, they seemed glad I brought him here? Yet another enigma.
Well, I'll figure them out, he assured himself as he glanced into Clark's sick room, but it looks like won't be tonight. Lex was certain that if they hospital didn't hold Clark over for observation, the Kent's would take their son home. So, that's it then. there isn't really any point in staying. Is there? Lex asked himself. Any questions he might have asked wouldn't be answered now and the length of time he spent with Clark and Lana was sufficient to satisfy his duties to a sick friend.
Without intending to, he interrupted everyone as he stepped into the room, uncomfortably taking center stage as he walked over to Clark's hospital bed and leaned on the rail nonchalantly.
"Well, my friend, now that we have you installed here under the watchful care of your friends and loved ones; I suppose its time for me to take my leave." As he spoke, Lex reached over and shook Clark's hand before leaving, but stopped when he recognized that Clark wasn't releasing his hand.
Instead, Clark held it until Lex looked at him. When Lex glanced up, into his friends eyes, he saw the same pain and confusion that he had before. The impression of something vital being smothered was there, too. But, foremost before those was fear -- fear of Lex leaving. Clark couldn't say it without hurting those he cared about, but it was clear in his eyes that he was afraid of being left alone with them.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Chapter 7: Treatment

Dr. Mead met Jonathon and Martha as they ran through the doorway.

“Ms. Kent, Mr. Kent, Clark is fine. It appears to have been an anxiety attack. But, Mr. Luthor was wise to bring your son in despite that; the symptoms are very close and could have as easily indicated a heart attack. If you would… ” She smiled warmly inviting them into her office “I’d like to speak with you for a few moments before we go in to see him. Miss Lang and Mr. Luthor are keeping him company for the moment.”

“Of course,” Jonathon answered, trying to appear calm as years of worries spun through his mind. Have they found Clark out, he wondered. Were there blood tests? Xrays? Anything other evidence of his origins? Everything that they worried about felt as if it were becoming manifest in such a short span of time.

“Mr. Kent?”

“Jonathon?” Martha nudged him sharply to draw his attention back to the present.

“I’m sorry. I know that you’re worried about Clark. But we’ll go to see him in just a few moments? I would simply like to get some questions out of the way first.” The Doctor smiled encouragingly.

“Shoot.”

“Okay, have you noticed whether Clark has been sleeping well lately? Or eating well?”

The Kents looked at each other in utter confusion, not expecting this line of questioning by any means.

“I really don’t know;” Jonathon answered, “He’s been coming home on time, but if he’s stayed up to study… or look at the stars… I don’t know. He hasn’t been sleeping in though.”

“And, eating?”

“Well, I really don’t know, sometimes he eats dinner at home other times with his friends… I really haven’t paid attention. Why?”

“Clark appears to be exhausted and dehydrated. In addition to the anxiety attacks, I’m fairly certain he hasn’t been eating or sleeping enough and wondered how long this may have been going on.”

“Dr. Mead, we’ve tried to give Clark his space lately.” Jonathon answered, figuring that the summer’s town gossip of Clark running away to Metropolis had probably made it to the Doctor. “... and tried to let him settle back into as normal a routine as possible.”

Dr. Mead nodded sadly, “that’s certainly understandable, Mr. Kent. However, this may be a health issue that we need to address in the future, and you should be aware that Clark needs to get as much rest as possible and back onto a normal diet quickly. Normally, I would have the nutritionist suggest something, but…” the doctor shrugged, suggesting she did not consider it a necessity yet, “Let’s go see Clark.”

As soon as they turned down the hallway, Jonathon spotted Clark’s room. More precisely, he spotted Lex leaning against the wall outside Clark’s door, one foot propped up behind his knee, in an almost classic western-gun-fighter pose – clearly anticipating their arrival with some nervousness. Waiting for an attack, Lex? Jonathon wondered.

Well not without reason, he admitted to himself. He almost felt a twinge of guilty regret for his distrustful attitude toward Lex over the past three years. Knowing that he had largely and unfairly condemned Lex for his lineage and for the natural curiosity that to be expected after Clark saved Lex’s life only served to increase Jonathon’s ambivalence about his earlier suspicion and hostility toward Lex. But, never quite able to forget that Lex’s father was Lionel Luthor, Jonathon assuaged his guilt. If Lionel had discovered their adopted son’s secret, Clark would have never known a moment’s peace.

He understood and sympathized with Lex on a number of levels, but it had taken almost three years for him to fully accept Lex as a separate entity form his father… to accept Lex’s friendship with his son… and to accept the threat Lex’s continuing struggle for independence from his father meant for his son. Despite what he knew were Lex’s best intentions (to shield Clark from his father’s interest), Lex’s own fascination and friendship with Clark made him an almost irresistible target for Lionel.

Regardless of this threat, Jonathon couldn’t really fault Lex for his curiosity about Clark. Had their places been reversed… had Jonathon been the young angry man behind the wheel of a performance sports car racing away from his father’s banishment of him – from the sophistications of Metropolis to the boonies of Smallville-- who in a moment of ire and distraction nearly came to tragic consequences when one of the tire's blew and sent the car careening ... running head long into Clark and over the side of a bridge... Jonathon knew that he would have been just as stubbornly insistent on discovering the truth that Clark and the Kents fought to hide. They had lied to Lex saying that he had narrowly missed Clark who then dove in after the Lex and the car to pull him out after the impact ripped the roof from the car.

But, if Jonathon were Lex, who was and had the resources to discover that the roof could not have been torn off from the car - to discover that Clark and his family were lying even though the alternate possibilities were impossible… Jonathon knew in his heart that he would have continued his hunt for the truth. He couldn’t fault Lex for the insatiable curiosity or for his insistence on discovering the truth… even though it could spell doom for Clark if his secrets were discovered.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Chapter 6: Onslaught

Laying Clark down gently, Lex turned his face to the side, lowered the back of the lounger to elevate his feet, checked for Clark’s vitals, then pulled out his cell-phone and handed it to Lana.

“The Kents are on speed dial... #3.” Lex instructed as took off his jacket and spread it over his friend. Pouring some of the mouton into one of the napkins, Lex folded it and laid it across Clark's forehead.

Watching Lex as she dialed, Lana held her breath as the phone began to ring.

...

"I'll get it..." Chloe called as raced to the phone. Martha had finally given in to the suggestion that she get some rest – leaving Chloe downstairs to finish dinner preparations.

"Hello? Ms. Kent?"

Hearing Lana's voice, Chloe ground her teeth -- certain that her suspicions were about to be confirmed. Lana had run off to be with Clark... Why am I not surprised?

"Ms. Kent?, It's Lana."

"Oh, Hi Lana. Did you get everything straightened out at the Talon?" Chloe asked icily.

"Chloe, please don't do this right now. I need to talk to Clark's Mom. It's serious!"

"Oh of course it is; everything between you and Clark is serious," too caught up in her own injured pride to hear the plaintive note in Lana's voice, Chloe continued "but nothing he has with me could be serious... Is that it?"

Over the phone, Chloe could here Lana speaking with another voice that sounded decidedly male (probably Clark!) – telling someone that she wasn't letting Lana speak with Ms. Kent. Oh, go ahead Lana... tell on me... how mature. In the background, she heard him ask for the phone and got ready to blast Clark for running off without telling anyone.

"Chloe, indulge your school-yard jealousies later, and put Mr. Kent on the phone." Even over the phone Lex sounded uncompromising and in command.

And, if Chloe weren't already feeling stung... she might have listened. But, like so many other times, when Chloe indulged in emotional tangents- she went full out, asking snidely "What are you? Their best man? Like I haven't noticed that you are always pushing them together..."

But, before she could continue, Jonathon's hand closed on hers from behind, twisting the phone out of her grasp.

"Hello?" he answered, glaring at Chloe, who looked back half-sheepishly, half-defiantly. Jonathon's attention to her was quickly lost though as he clamped his hand over the phone and called out, gladly at first. "Martha, Martha. It's Lex, he's..."

Then, his voice broke as he realized what Lex was saying, "Is he?"

The bleakness of his voice shocked Chloe- instantly causing her to regret everything she had said to Lana and Lex. There was not a single good question that she could think of, which would follow "is he?" in that anguished tone.

From the foot of the stairs, Martha watched Jonathon go pale and grip the table for support as he answered something Lex must have asked, "No, that's not necessary, we can be there in a ten minutes. ... Lex, thank you." Martha was at his shoulder by the time the phone reached the hook.

"Is he?"

Taking her gently by the shoulders, Jonathon seemed to need steadying himself before he spoke, "Lex is taking Clark to the hospital. Clark collapsed, and Lex isn't certain, but thinks it may be from a heart attack" he paused as Martha's cried out of alarm "...He also thinks it may not be the first time that Clark has collapsed today."

"Oh, Jonathon, what if?" Jonathon hushed her, pulling him against his chest as he looked over her shoulder at Chloe.

"Chloe, there's another set of keys in the hanging plant by the back door, would you please lock everything up? We need to get there as soon as possible."

Chloe nodded numbly as they hurried out the door. She couldn't believe it: Clark can't be... He can't be.

...

He can't be, Martha thought as she gripped Jonathon's hand. He can't be having a heart attack... he's too young, too healthy. He’s not…

"Jonathon, he can't be can he? Not with his... strong… constitution... not with his ‘parentage’ Jonathon?” His silence terrified Martha. "Jonathon...? What did Jor-El say?"



Lex grimly snapped the phone shut and glanced back at Lana, “stay with him. I will…”

“A heart attack? Lex, are you sure… He’s…”

“No, I’m not, but several symptoms are… there.”

“Symptoms…” Lana asked as she stared at Clark trying to discern the symptoms Lex mentioned. Turning back, she was stunned to see Lex gone, and couldn’t help thinking “Well, Clark’s rubbed off on him.”

Scooching onto the lounger, by Clark’s hip, Lana picked up the napkin to gently wipe the perspiration from his forehead.

As she did, he roused slightly in response and startled her by murmuring, “Emily…” in a voice heavy with sadness. Darting back as if she had been stung, Lana dropped the cloth.

“Emily?” She asked, “Clark, who’s Emily?”

Not fully conscious of it, he answered her, “Jacob’s mother…” but the answer only confused her as she tried to remember a family in Smallville having an Emily and a Jacob. There wasn’t one.

“Jacob, Ben, Savannah, Sarah, Cheryl, George…” Clark continued – his voice becoming heavier and sadder with each name until his voice broke into sob-like breaths. Lana was mystified.

“Clark?” She asked, “Who are they?” Lana asked hoping to understand.

Clark was hardly conscious, just barely waking from his collapse, but his face distorted at her question and his reactions intensified. Sweat covered his forehead; he started to shake; and his breathing shortened into gasps.

“Damn it, Lana, what do you think you are doing?” Lex demanded as pushed past her. Quickly glancing over Clark, Lex grabbed his friend by the shoulders and pressed him back into the lounge chair to slow his shaking.

“Come on, Clark, Wake up.” Lex insisted, “Open your eyes.” He repeated in a firm litany- until Clark groaned and opened his eyes.

The sight of Lex looming in his field of vision, eyes filled with concern, startled Clark, who had only moments before been certain that his struggling breath and racing heart were indicators of his impending death. Staring up in confusion, Clark felt as if his mind was dividing into three disconnected segments. One segment was trying to slow his breathing and heart. The second was trying to hear what Lex was saying over the seemingly endless newscast that continued to play through his thoughts. And, the last segment seemed intent on observing the scene in a slow-motion fugue as if expanding his perception of the last moments of his life before they ran out.

Looking in his friend’s eyes, Lex realized immediately that while Clark was clearly trying to, he wouldn’t be able to focus enough to get his breathing and heart rate under control. He needed something to capture Clark’s full attention… Of Course.

“Lana,” gestured her closer.

Trying to interpret the perceptions of each segment, Clark was able to sparsely pick out some of the words passing between his friends: “Why?” he heard Lana ask, but the words he could pick from Lex’s reply was barely decipherable, “damage… he… focus… calm… distract… control. Mystified Clark watched as Lana reached out to brush strands of sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead, then settled beside him leaning into him. Clark’s gaze froze on her lips as they descended toward his.

Lex’s smile turned into a grin as he heard Clark catch his breath, holding it as Lana’s lips lightly brushed his. Trust Clark to be Clark. That may not have slowed his heart rate, but it’s a start. It was a start. Clark’s shaking immediately stilled as if he were afraid that some small movement would send Lana fluttering away like a small finch teased down from a branch. Lex watched in bemusement as Lana’s kiss had the desired effect: Clark’s breathing normalized; and, even from the side, Lex could see that Clark’s complete focus was on Lana.

Lana kiss lingered several moments until she was certain of its effects; then, blushing under Clark’s gaze, she leaned back locking eyes with Clark and asked, “Clark, we… I want to take you to the hospital. Okay?”

Unwilling, at that moment, to end the sweetness of that momentary kiss – Clark was robbed of his usual protests and hesitation so simply nodded.

Hiding his grin, Lex came to the other side of the lounge chair, helped Clark stand, and gestured for Lana to support Clark from the other side. Lana’s support was hardly needed, as Lex could easily support his friend’s weight, but he was loathe to cut short Clark’s tenuous grasp on peace. When they finally reached the humvee and settled Clark in the back seat, Lana closed the door between them turning to ask Lex, “How did you know?”

Lex favored her with an intentionally patronizing glance before answering, “How could you not?”



Thursday, November 04, 2004

Inner Demons: Chapter 5 (Apprehensions)

Thumbing through the dossier, Lionel smiled in a broad predatory way, that Ms. Endicott likened to a shark’s maw closing on it’s prey.

“You have been very thorough, Eldritch. May I call you Eldritch? I’m certain you’ll understand the reasons for my concern: ,” Lionel gestured to the file, “Of late, this young man has been an unfortunate favorite of my son, who only recently— I am sorry to say – has returned to the straight and narrow himself. I would hate to see him lured back into unsavory habits.”

Endicott’s inner alarms were jangling like wild, but she couldn’t pinpoint anything that Lionel said which didn’t have the ring of common sense. Certainly, the elitist businessman would not want to deal with more of the embarrassing incidents that had been covered over during his son’s teen years. And, the young Mr. Kent had turned up on the Smallville police blotter enough times this year to be suspicious. Perhaps, Mr. Luthor blamed the boy for his son’s recent break. It wouldn’t be the first time she had seen parents blame something like that on their children running with the wrong group of friends.

Rationalizing away her apprehensions, Endicott quickly came to a decision: “Okay, Mr. Luthor. I’ll take the job.”


Lex scrubbed his palms over his eyes as he listened to Lana, realizing just how much of Clark’s life he had ignored on his return to Smallville. He had heard, of course, that Ms. Kent had had a miscarriage after a car accident. But, when he returned from the island he had been so obsessed with regaining what he had lost that he had totally ignored Clark’s losses.

“Christ, Lana. Could I have been more of an idiot? I completely missed it.”

Piece by piece, comments, glances, and half-finished conversations from the past months began to fall into place.

“Lex, you’ve had enough to deal with. Clark knows that. Everyone does.” Lana put her hand on his shoulder consolingly.

He nodded and patted her hand, thanking her; “I know, but somehow it doesn’t make it any better does it?”

“No, I guess not. Can I see him now?”

“I’m sorry, Lana. Of course! Just give me a moment to let Clark know we’re coming down.” Lana’s hand closed over his as he reach across the console.

“Lex,” Lana blushed slightly as she spoke, “If you wouldn’t
mind, could I have a few minutes alone with Clark?”

Smiling to soften his response, Lex shook his head, “Normally, would be completely in favor of alone time for the two of you, but gesturing with his chin toward the monitor, “I’m not sure he’s up to it.”

As Lana turned back to the monitor, to watch Clark, Lex spoke softly into the intercom, “Clark?”

Despite Lex’s quiet tone, the on-screen image jumped at the sound, as Clark knocked over the wine glass he was refilling with shaking hands. Lana was instantly absorbed, watching Clark as he walked to the intercom, leaned against the wall with his forehead resting on the crook of his arm, and finally, hesitantly punched the intercom’s blue button – asking, “Is she here?”

To Lana, Clark’s voice created the impression of an intense inner fragility, and the gentle tone of Lex’s response only served to confirm this impression: “Yes, would you like more time?”

Clark’s voice dropped to barely above a whisper, sounding plaintive and anxious (almost child-like to Lana), “I don’t think time will help me figure out what to say to her…”

Hurt that he was still trying to keep things from her until she noticed the increasingly apprehensive tone of his voice, Lana stared at the monitor in bewilderment: “Is she still angry?”

Lana glanced over her shoulder, quickly shaking her head to assure Lex that she wasn’t… despite her earlier outburst. However, he was already answering: “I doubt she was ever angry, Clark, only worried.”

Lex didn’t say it, but Lana could almost hear his unspoken ending “we all were”, and wasn’t really surprised that Clark seemed to have heard it, too. But his answer suggested that he clearly had: “I’m sorry, Lex.”

Lex shook his head with bemusement, saying “We’ll be right down,” then reached to turn the monitors off as he stepped from behind the desk and held his hand out to her expectantly.

Smiling at his gallantry, Lana initially extended her hand to take his arm until she realized that she still held his wallet and blushed. Coming around the console, Lex paused for a moment to share a long glance at the picture in his wallet before taking it back. Clearing his throat, Lex closed his wallet, then wrapped her hand over his arm, and asked, “shall we go?”


How can I explain that to Lana, Mom, Dad… or even to Lex? How do tell them that... Ever-present in his background thoughts, the news report ran like a swift undercurrent pulling him back into a deepening well of anxiety that was becoming harder and harder to pull himself out of each time: “Moments after the bank opened, Sarah Hamilton, a teller and the burglary’s first victim, triggered a silent alarm signal beneath her counter. The burglars…”

Closing his eyes, Clark tried to stay focused on the fact that Lex and Lana were on their way to the pool-house. But, the more he tried to think about what he would say to Lana -- about what he needed to explain -- the more he was drawn back in to the knowledge that nineteen people had been murdered, and he was responsible for their deaths.

As Clark fought to stay at the surface... to just hang-on until Lana and Lex arrived, his struggle became increasingly
physical: it was suddenly harder to breath; his lungs tightened at every breath; he had to gulp air to compensate; the added effort of breathing quickened his heart until his heartbeat pounded in his ears, and stabbing pains expanded throughout his chest. Feeling lightheaded, Clark gratefully reached for the wall's support; without it, he would have been on his knees.

Curious thoughts came to Clark's mind as he tried to stay on his feet: This is worse than this morning. Am I having a heart attack? Can I have one? He knew his physiology was alien but now wondered how alien it was. It certainly felt like his heartbeat was racing out of control. Well, how about that. Clark chuckled grimly at the irony as a wave of dizziness swept over him and he felt his knees begin to fold. I think I am.


As they stepped out onto the patio, Lana felt the muscles in Lex’s forearm tighten beneath her fingertips.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” he answered uncertainly, nodding toward the table, where he had settled Clark… “I suppose that I expected to see Clark waiting for us.”

“Oh, well,” Lana said almost breezily “I’d imagine that he’s looking for something to clean up the spilt wine.”

“Of course, he would!” Lex answered starting to relax, but something was nagging at the back of his thoughts. She’s right, he would not simply leave it, “but… there were enough napkins on the table earlier to clean up a small spill like that.”
Glancing down at Lana, he let her see the concern in his eyes as he picked up speed. As the walkway curled around the side of the pool-house giving them a glimpse of Clark, where he still leaned by the intercom, Lex's concern became alarm.

Lana stopped to stare at Clark, “why is he still standing there?”

“He’s not!” Lex answered, breaking into a run.

Confused, Lana ran to catch up with Lex – only beginning to understand when she noticed Clark’s legs start to fold. She winced as Clark’s knees cracked against the cement with a jarring sound before Lex could reach him and he started to tilt forward. In a last minute save, Lex only narrowly managed to pull Clark away before his forehead struck the jagged stone wall.

Using the wall as leverage, Lex turned Clark around, lifted his friend onto his shoulder, and carried him across the pool deck to one of the loungers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Inner Demons:Chapter 4 (Inward)

Practically jumping from her car, Lana raced up the broad stone stairs to the expansive doors – grabbing for the decoratively engraved door handles, as they swung open before her.

Skidding to a halt, Lana fumed at the figure in the doorway, “Lex, damn it. Why didn’t you call us?,” but the angry outburst, which had been building up every minute of the ride from the Kents farm, died on her lips as she noticed Lex’s bloodless complexion and bleak expression.

“Lex, is he…” She paused— afraid of the answer.

Stepping back from the door with a sweeping gesture to invite Lana in, Lex answered, “He says that he hasn’t been hurt."

Lana wanted to relax, somehow though Lex’s answer seemed too carefully phrased not to virtually scream with an unspoken “but…”

“You don’t believe him?” That was somehow worse. Why would Clark lie about being hurt?

Instead of answering her, Lex led the way down the hall, past his office and into a security office.

“Lex?” Confusion tinged Lana’s voice as she stared at the bank of security monitors.

Moving to one of the desk, Lex flipped through a security manual, found the code that he was looking for, then keyed it in, as he answered Lana, “I don’t know…”

In the center of the consol, the largest monitor lit up with images of the pool-house. Punching keys, Lex continued, “He may not have a physical injury.” He found the one he wanted and zoomed in, “But…"

Lana’s gasp finished his sentence more effectively than anything he could have said.
“What happened? How? How long has he been like this?”

Raising a hand to forestall her other questions, Lex shook his head answering, “I don’t know. He was like this when I found him… just minutes before you called.”

Lex’s answer seemed honest enough, but Lana had the nagging feeling that there was more…“Okay, Lex, what aren’t you telling me?”

Somberly, Lex stared at Lana for several moments as if he was staring into her soul and judging her. Judging what – she didn’t know, but she could almost feel his appraisal of her and tried not to shift anxiously under his gaze. Finally, he seemed to steel himself as if coming to a decision, and reached into a back pocket. Pulling out his wallet, Lex opened it and handed it to Lana. Curiously, she glanced at the picture inside then up to the monitor, "Is this?"

Lex stared silently at the picture; but his stillness answered her as well as he might have. As she compared the two images, tears welled up, overflowed, and streaked down Lana’s cheeks.


Jonathon tried not to speed, but it was difficult not to urge the truck faster and faster as his thoughts dwelled on Clark. Someone found him. He’s going to be all-right.

Jor-El had said, “until he returns under his own power.” That means there’s a chance: there’s a good chance he can come home. He will! I know he will. We just have to... I just have to…

A thousand dreadful thoughts swirled through Jonathon’s mind… convince him to… to expose his secrets… to whom? To someone, who can be trusted? Or, to someone, who’ll betray him at the first opportunity? Worse than that, according to Jor-El, if I don’t, Clark will die slowly and painfully— destroyed by his own emotions.

But, can we trust Jor-El? Or, is this his way of forcing Clark to take up his destiny. By forcing Clark to expose his secrets, does Jor-El hope to make Clark fight a world that won’t accept him? Fight and possibly rule a world that hates and fears him?

The thoughts plagued him until he finally reached the dirt road leading home.

Inner Demons: Chapter 3 (Discovery)

The woods were slowly fading into the abandoned farm plains that marked the outskirts of Smallville when Lex realized with amusement that he was enjoying the scenic view. If he hadn't been curbing his normal tendency to challenge the speed limit, for Clark's sake, he probably wouldn't have noticed how comfortable the back roads were becoming for him. It struck him as an almost alien thought that he was truly beginning to feel at home in Smallville, largely due to Clark's influence.

Casting a concerned glance at Clark, Lex suddenly realized that the blood had drained from his friend's face. Clark was tightly clenching one fist in the other and seemed to almost vibrate with anxiety and tension - reminding Lex strongly of a harp string close to snapping.

"Clark" he exclaimed with concern, as he pulled over.

"What?" Clark's surprise at Lex's outburst echoed in Clark's voice.

“What’s wrong? You’re as pale as a ghost." Lex asked in rapid succession.

Grimacing, Clark hesitated several minutes before answering,"Lex, I'm sorry. It's just..." He finished his stumbling response by gesturing to the radio.

"... the eighteenth and nineteenth victims of the armed robbery at Metropolis central savings and loan died on the," the radio droned on through the news-break, driving home to Lex how careless he had been. What an utterly ridiculous mistake, he thought as he switched the radio to an easy listening-all music station. There probably couldn't have been a worse time for Clark to hear the gruesome play-by-plays of the latest crime spree in Metropolis.

"No, Clark, I'm sorry. But why didn't you change channels or shut it off?" Lex immediately regretted the question.

"Never mind." Lex knew why Clark hadn't shut the radio off, even though it was clearly disturbing to him. Courtesy and was as inherent in Clark composition as his compassion and integrity. He didn't turn it off -- because Lex was listening to it.

"We're only five minutes out..." Lex finished.


The newscast, however, remained with Clark well after Lex switched stations.

“The fifteenth and sixteenth victims of a brutal robbery at Metropolis Central Savings and Loan died Thursday morning after emergency surgery failed to save the lives of mother and child…”

It was the same report, he had listened to this morning barely half an hour before Lex showed up, and he remembered every word of it.

“Wednesday morning, Ms. Emily Parish and her son, Jacob, walked through the doors of the doors of the savings and loan to open a ‘free-start savings account for kids’ with the wages of Jacob’s first job – walking the pets of elderly neighbors. What happened after the Ms. Parish, her son, and ten other individuals walked into the savings and loan is still unsubstantiated; however, sources within the police department have stated that the following events are known. Moments after opening, Sarah Hamilton, a teller and the burglary’s first victim triggered a silent alarm signal beneath her counter. The burglars apparently surprised seven of the bank customers shooting them down, where they stood in line, with an A.K. 47 semi-automatic sub-machine gun. At some point, a shoot out occurred between a security guard, Ben Jacobs, and one of the robbers, both of whom died before police arrived. It’s also believed that there were at least two other individuals involved, who forced the remaining tellers and bank staff into one of the vaults, where they too were gunned down. Further information and developments will be announced on the 10:00 and Noon broadcasts of WNFO – your station for information.”

“The eighth and ninth victims of the brutal robbery at Metropolis Central Savings and Loan died…” the story cycled through Clark’s thoughts over and over, “The fifteenth and sixteenth victims of...” Like a CD player set on loop, no sooner than one cycle of the newscast end than another began.


Pushing the car’s engine well past the speed limit, Lana fumed, “He found Clark. Lex found Clark. But, when? When did Lex find him, and why didn’t he call? Would he have, if she hadn’t called him first? And, why would Clark go along with that?”

Everything that she knew of Clark told her that he wouldn’t – at least— not under anything like normal circumstances. She was certain to her core that Clark would never knowingly let his parents worry, if he could do anything to help it. It just wasn’t in Clarks nature. Clark was somehow closer to his adopted parents than any of the other Smallville students ever seemed to be with their natural parents.

In some ways, that alone had set him apart from most of his classmates, many of whom were always ready to share a complaint over the minor miseries that their parents imposed on them – curfews, chores, budgets. But, Clark never even heaved a sigh of exasperation over his parents. Lana suspected that he might have found more friends, over the years, if he had occasionally indulged in a good mope. She never mentioned it though, for another of the differences between Clark and the rest of Smallville’s brood: Clark seemed unable to bear the thought of his parent’s disapproval.

It showed in so many subtle ways. Having visited the Kent’s farm frequently, Lana knew by comparison with the few remaining family farms that Clark was taking up the slack for the several laborers that many of the other farm owners were forced to hire. He never assumed his parents permission for even the slightest of diversions, and usually called as soon as he could. There was only one time that she knew of when Clark stayed away without calling, but even then, Lana had some explanation for his behavior.

This time, it was a mystery: Clark was in the Torch offices before lunch, laughing with Chloe about a suggestive typo… then disappeared, missing a lunchtime get-together and the classes afterward. Lana and Chloe had assumed from past experience that he had run home for some reason. But, Mrs. Kent called the Talon the next morning, asking Lana and Lex, who were reviewing the week’s receipts, if either one had seen Clark. Three days had passed since then.


Jor-El’s narration finally drew to a close, “if Kal-El is to survive this trial, he must be unburdened.”

Jonathon shifted uncomfortably from the position he had held throughout the Jor-El’s lecture. “How can we do that if we can’t find him?”

“You can not! There is only person who is capable of aiding Kal-El in this. The role you must take in this process is to persuade Kal-El that he is free to unburden himself to this person.”

“That’s impossible!” Jonathon protested, “If anyone finds out, you can not imagine the consequences.”

“I can not and need not imagine alternate consequences. The current consequences are clear and certain: Kal-El will shortly die if he is forced to languish by your fears.”

“Who is it? Who can save Clark?” Jonathon hoped for some reassurance. Maybe Lana or Pete, or even Dr. Swan.

“It is the person, who has found him and who is even now returning with him. If Kal-El is to survive, he must remain where he is until he returns under his own power.”

“Clark’s been found? By who? Where?” Jonathon asked, grabbing his coat off the ground. His questions, however, went unanswered as the cave walls darkened, and knowing Jor-El would remain intransigent, Jonathon turned and left.


Arriving at the manor, Lex parked Clark’s truck in an underground garage – noting as he did, the sound of Lana’s car in the near distance. For the moment, Clark seemed oblivious, which was just as well for the moment because— judging by the hard-pressed angry growl of the incoming vehicle— Lex suspected that he would need additional time with Lana.

“Clark, the exercise suits should be in the changing room. Try one on, if it doesn’t fit we can find something else. Do you remember where the patio is? Just past the changing rooms?”

Taking Clark’s silence as assent, Lex continued, “Good. There should be a tray of fruit, cheese, and crackers set out there, as well as some lounge chairs. If you need anything else, there’s an intercom panel by the door. The blue switch links directly to my office.”

Clark nodded, but glanced at him uncertainly, as if trying to decide what to say. After a moment, Lex realized what was bothering him.

“When Lana gets here, I’ll call you over the intercom before I bring her down. Okay? Until then, I have a few things to finish up, and I want to meet Vincent when he returns with the martin.”

Clark nodded, but was silent for several seconds chewing on his lip anxiously, before hesitantly starting, “Lex?”

“Yes?”

“I… uh… I know you’re busy, and I’ve already wasted your time, but would you mind…” Clark’s nervous anxiety got the better of him.
“What is it? I have plenty of time. Most of what I’m planning on is just to wrap things up for the weekend.” It wasn’t true, but at the moment, Lex was fairly glad that Clark had never needed to develop the self-defense of immediately knowing when someone was lying. For Lex, raised under the tutelage of Lionel Luthor, that skill was well in place by his tenth birthday.

“Well, if you’re sure…” Lex nodded encouragingly, so Clark continued, “would you mind hanging around when Lana gets here?” Clark finished with the air of a deadpan joke, “I think she’s probably upset with me…” but Lex could here dread in his voice instead of humor. Right now, Lana’s anger is the last thing that Clark needs.

“Certainly, Clark, I’ll be happy, too. Before I go though, let me get a small snack.” Quickly and deliberately, Lex set out two dishes and two wine glasses, scooped a few crisps, as well pieces of cheese and fruit on both plates, and poured the mouton '45 into each glass- almost to the rim. He suspected Clark probably wouldn’t have touched the bottle, in his absence, but now would finish at least one glass – if only out of courtesy.

“There we go, now I’ll leave you to get cleaned up and relaxed.”

Before Lex reached the pool-house door, Clark’s hand closed on his forearm again. Glancing up in surprise, Lex was looking directly into Clark’s pain-filled eyes when his friend spoke. The unexpected mixture of sincere gratitude, dread, and unspoken anxiety in Clark’s voice as he said “Thank you,” caught Lex off-guard— taking his thoughts back nearly a decade to another voice with the same mixture of emotions.

Smiling sadly at the memory, Lex closed his hand over Clark’s for a beat, nodded with understanding, then turned back to the mansion. While he walked back, Lex’s thoughts dwelled on the last time he could remember hearing that specific mixture of tones, and his concerns for Clark became more and more grave.

As Lex reached for the intricately engraved door knobs, he made a firm pledge to himself and to Clark: “Not this time.”


Inner Demons: Chapter 2 (Waiting)

“Sorry Clark! Neither option works. You have just two choices: we can try to get you back to the truck or I can call the helicopter… it’s your choice… Walk or be carried.”

“With your shield or on it?” Clark grimaced.

“Exactly,” Lex smiled with encouragement. Even grim humor is an improvement, “Well?”

“What then?”

“That’s up to you. What’s your decision?”

With a resigned sigh, Clark rolled back to his side – answering “walk.”

Watching Clark with curious concern as he climbed to his feet and staggered, Lex crouched to set his shoulder under Clark’s arm and steady his steps. Without comment, Clark accepted his friend’s assistance – occasionally leaning when the path became difficult. As he did, Lex realized Clark was much thinner and lighter than he had expected despite his greater height and shoulder span. Somehow, to Lex, Clark had always seemed to have a firmly-planted, rustic solidness to him-- like one of Lex's hired sparring partners or security guards. But, as his friend leaned more and more heavily on Lex's shoulder, Lex noticed that it was still relatively easy to bear Clark's weight. If he needed to, Lex realized, he could probably even carry Clark to the truck. Hopefully that won't be necessary.

"Lex," Clark's weak voice brought Lex back to the present. They had come to a stop at the edge of the road between their vehicles. Looking between the two cars, Clark heaved a sigh and began, “Thanks Lex, I guess I'll…" only to be forestalled by Lex.

"Hold on one moment." Flipping his cell phone open again, Lex punched the speed dial.

"Vince, look- Get the Asten Martin's GPS location and come pick it up. No... I've already arranged for a transportation back. ... No. An insurance adjustor won't be needed." Clark's chuckle still sounded scratchy and weak to Lex, but it had to be a good sign. Vince, my friend, you've just earned the night off. Then something occurred to Lex.

"Vince, have Jennie lay out two of my exercise suits in the pool-house, and have the kitchen set up a tray of asiago, some fresh fruit, falwasser crisps and the mouton '45. Then, give everyone the weekend off... I'll take care of the rest."

Lex knew that Vince would recognize his typical starter course for dates and have certain amenities prepared, like certain of Lex’s favorite meals readied for a swift, showy preparation and a spare bedroom - in case one of Lex’s “lady friends” decided to stay the night.

If he could make Clark’s decision to stay at the manor as simple and logical as possible, particularly when Clark seemed to want to keep his parents in the dark, he might finally have the chance to solve some long-unanswered questions.


“Jonathon Kent,” Jor-El’s voice boomed through the shadows of the Kawatche caverns “you have not been summoned and serve no purpose here.”

“Where is my son? I know that you can find him.” At that moment, nothing could have been louder in Jonathon’s ears than Jor-El’s silence. Swallowing his frustration, Jonathon tried
again, “He could be in danger?”

“Kal-el is in danger. Your presence will only increase this: you have become a crutch crippling Kal-el and inhibiting his confrontation with the realities of his existence.” Jor-El’s accusation stung Jonathon, more so, because his own concerns had dwelled on this possibility of late. Behind him the cavern wall lit with complex images as Jor-El’s flat voice began to narrate “As the people of Krypton evolved across eons, in addition to mental and physical prowess, they developed existential emotions: emotions that …”


Chloe gathered the celery stalks and knife from Clark’s mother, while Lana wrapped her arms around the crying woman’s shoulders.

“I just don’t understand what happened,” Martha cried, “I just don’t understand.” The three women huddled together miserably - having no option but to wait for news -- any news that would give them some clue to Clark’s whereabouts or some clue about what might have happened -- some clue to why there had been no news-- some clue to why Clark hadn’t called.

As Lana and Chloe guided Martha to the couch, Lana glanced over her head catching Chloe’s glance and mouthed the words “Clark’s cell.” Chloe nodded, then asked “Lana, could you check the car… I think I left the radio on and the battery might run down.”

“I’d be happy to,” Lana answered and hurried to the door quickly pulling out her cell-phone as soon as she was outside.


The responding cell phone’s ring startled both Clark and Lex. Though neither moved to answer it, Lex was immediately aware of Clark’s turmoil growing with each ring. His friend’s pallid complexion became greyer and greyer as he wrung his fists visibly struggling with his dread of answering and his perceived duty to answer. Pulling over, Lex took the decision out of his hands… literally… taking the phone out of Clark’s grey-knuckled grip, checking the number displayed, and answering.

“Lana, just hold on,” Lex quietly commanded, watching Clark’s panicked reaction with concern…“I’ve found Clark. He’s not hurt, but he’s not ready to see or deal with anyone yet - not even his parents. Wait, don't say anything to them yet.”

Lana’s explosive response was audible to Clark over the cell-phone without resort to super hearing, but Lex’s voice remained firmly-calm and infused with compassion as he answered, “Lana, come out to the manor and let’s talk. If you still want to see him, I can take you to him.”

Noticing Clark’s anxious glance, Lex ended the conversation, “Lana, I can’t argue and drive at the same time, come to the manor, and we can discuss it further… No… Don’t tell the Kents until you understand the understand the situation better. I’ll be at the manor in thirty minutes.”

Lex cut the connection then turned off the phone, watching Clark with concern as he explained, “I’ll talk to her while you get cleaned up, take a rest, and figure out what you want to say. It’s going to have to come sooner or later, and I know you well enough to know that you will only stew over it building up your anxieties it until it happens.”

Clark answered with a rueful nod, then turned away to stare out the window. Checking his watch, Lex turned on the radio and guided Clark’s 4x4 back out onto the highway… driving far more sedately than usual.


Lana hurriedly back in to the Kent farmhouse, grabbed her purse, made an excuse to Ms. Kent and the suspicious Chloe about needing to handle something at the coffee-house, and ran out. Hesitating until she reached the end of the farm road leading from the Kent’s home to the highway, Lana finally reached the paved road and gunned the motor.


Eldritch Endicott sighed irritably as Lionel Luthor interrupted her for the fifth time to 'savor' the revolting classic. Despite his proclamations of Ravel's Bolero and its aesthetic qualities, Eldritch was certain that he continuously played the composition solely to annoy her with its crass sexual overtones and endless repetition. Losing patience, she perched her fingers on the dossier folder, then with a sharp push launched it across the broad burlwood desk with enough force to center it between Lionel's perched elbows.

“The dossier you requested, Mr. Luthor. If you have any further questions, contact me in the usual manner.” Turning on her heel, Eldritch stalked out closing the door the before the measure ended.

Sliding his finger across one of the remotes under the edge of his desk, Lionel chuckled. Impatient and predictable, Ms. Endicott, but I like the approach. Running a thumb over another button, Lionel leaned into the intercom, “Marcus, call Rembrandt, tell him to fire Ms. Endicott without explanation, have her belongings packed and security waiting at the door in for her arrival in five minutes. Also, have security call me as she pulls into the parking lot and make reservations at O'claires for two at nine thirty.”

Inner Demons - Chapter 1 (Lost)

Lex turned and stopped-short at the scene of chaos before him. What must have once been a placid glade lay in shambles. Tree limbs broken askew, a tent half-shredded, and the debris of a ransacked campsite framed a prone and crumpled form that he only recognized from the all-too-familiar, farm-functional jeans and t-shirt.

Shouldering through the branches, Lex ran to his prone friend; quickly and thoroughly checked for wounds, breaks, and cuts. Then, after carefully rolling Clark over, Lex fell back on his heels in surprise.

Clark’s usually hale and healthy, farm-boy features were so sunken and almost skeletal that he seemed hardly recognizable (even though Lex had seen him just the previous earlier when Clark delivered the standing order of organic vegetables from the Kent’s farm). As Lex pulled out his cell phone and flipped open the cover, he suddenly realized that Clark was silently moving his lips.

“Don’t move, Clark. I can get your parents and a medical team here, in minutes, by helicopter.”

Clark’s fingers closed on Lex’s sleeve with surprising strength for his appearance – in place as he tried to speak. As he shook his head with clear desperation, Clark’s eyes practically begged Lex not to call.

The voice that finally escaped was a hollow, scratchy, barely human whisper that Lex had to bend close to hear: “Lex.” Clark struggled to force some breath into his words. Clark’s shallow whisper finally came out as a half-moan, “Lex, no.” Stunned, Lex stopped to stare into his friends half-shut eyes, but thinking back on how the Kent’s had addressed some of Clark’s past injuries he continued, “Okay, just your parents then.”

Clark shook his head again, and Lex couldn’t believe that his always-earnest friend, who seemed to share his closest confidences with only his parents, was insistent on shutting them out when he so obviously needed their help. Lex doubted that he could get Clark to explain, but if he could at least he would have a better idea of what was needed. In any event, he was almost certain that the medics would figure somewhere prominently. Pausing for a moment, he glanced around the camp finally spotting a punctured canteen, and asked, “Clark, do you think you can take some water?”

Clark weakly nodded and closed his eyes – satisfied for the moment that Lex wouldn’t call his parents. Clark’s eyes remained closed when Lex returned with the canteen, but he compliantly swallowed several sips of water that Lex slowly poured. Eventually, he turned his head away and pulled his arm up to cover his eyes. Obviously, Clark had no intention of talking… but his pale complexion, gauntness, and obvious weakness were too suggestive of a possibly dangerous injury for Lex to let him just lay as he was.

“Clark? What happened? Where are you hurt?” Lex asked insistently.
The lifeless tone of Clark’s voice when he at last answered concerned Lex more than anything else did. Even when Clark had been furious or accusing of Lex, his voice usually carried undertones of innocence, naiveté, hopeful denial, even betrayal or alienation. But now, while Clark’s answer had gained some strength and steadiness, it was still scratchy and had a hollowness that even physical injury should not explain.

“Lex… nothing happened. I’m not hurt…just…” Clark paused, clearly struggling to think of a story Lex would accept, then continued, “just go home, Lex… Please.” Unable to think of anything else to say, Clark simply dropped his arm and stared up anxiously.

In his friend’s eyes, Lex finally glimpsed meager traces of Clark’s former intensity. But even these seemed smothered by some oppressive and overwhelming influence. A sudden understanding rocked Lex, and he knew with absolute certainty that whatever was happening to Clark physically was merely symptomatic of a deeper aspect plaguing him on a far deeper, far more fragile level – in his mind or his soul. Coming to an immediate decision, Lex offered Clark an alternative.

Synopsis

After learning from a news report that one of the criminals that Clark partnered with during his self-exile had died in a violent shoot-out with the metropolis authorities after killing numerous hostages in a botched bank-robbery, Clark finds that he can not come to terms with the guilt he feels that he did not try to stop the criminal before returning to Smallville. Self-loathing plagues the increasingly depressed Clark until he is unable to sleep, eat, or bear the company of friends and family, who go on living their day-to-day lives oblivious of his perceived guilt in the matter. Several days later, Clark again chooses self-exile, but this time to the depths of the Smallville’s nearest forest to wrestle with the inner demons eating away at both him mentally and physically. Afraid to report Clark’s disappearance to the sheriff and unable to get any information from the illusive recording of Jor-El in the Kowachee caves; Martha and Jonathon Kent finally turn to Lex for help. Unbeknownst to Lex or the Kents, one of Lionel’s plants immediately report Clark’s arrival at Lex’s manner (in a wretched state), and Lionel sends some highly-paid and determined employees to retrieve Clark before Lex or the Kents can help him come to terms with his guilt. It’s up to Lex to find Clark, protect the physically and emotionally-wreaked Clark from Lionel’s henchmen, and confront his own inner demons as well as Clark’s … if he can resist the temptation to use Clark’s wretched state to his own advantage.