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.


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