Wednesday, November 03, 2004

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?”


“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.”


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