By Christy2 <email@example.com>
Rated: PG 13
Submitted: February 2001
Summary: A "what if" story about Clark's early life in Smallville, where his closest friend is Lois Lane. Just as Clark is sorting through the emotional turmoil of adolescence and the problems facing his family, his life suddenly becomes more complicated by a man seeking revenge, as well as some unusual skills which Clark himself seems to be developing.
This is my first L&C fanfic, but I hope you'll enjoy it. The premises are slightly different than in the real Superman universe since I don't believe in Clark/Lana relationships.<g> I made Lois grow up in Smallville.
I want to think everyone on Zoomway's boards who helped and motivated me while I was writing, and those who left feedback on the listserv. Everyone was such a big help; I never would have finished without them!
If you want to send (greatly appreciated)feedback, e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
PROLOGUE: Late May, 1966
Jonathan and Martha Kent were on their way to their home in Smallville, Kansas, when Martha suddenly grabbed her husband's arm, motioning for him to pull their pickup truck over.
"What is it?" Jonathan asked, following his wife's gaze across Shuster's Field.
"I don't know. I saw something fly across the sky. Maybe it's a meteorite!" Martha pushed her door open and ran to the fence. Jonathan put the truck into park and followed her, slightly less enthusiastically. He glanced up at the darkening sky. The sun had already set, and twilight was fading quickly into night. He still had chores to do at the house, and he wasn't really in the mood to go dashing over the countryside. But Martha was already running through the field towards the woods. He smiled slightly and followed her.
The young couple entered the woods where it was even darker than in the open field. "What is it exactly that we're looking for?" he asked, examining the field anxiously.
"I don't know, something out of the ordinary." They walked through the trees, scanning their surroundings.
"How about that for out of the ordinary?" Jonathan asked, pointing to the left of him. Several small trees had been knocked over. Martha hurried past him, stepping carefully over the fallen trunks.
"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed, pointing towards the clearing which they had come upon. A trail of dirt and grass had been upturned, leaving a long path across the ground. The two followed it, both of them now curious.
"What is it?" Martha asked, stopping when they came to an object in the mud. Jonathan kneeled in front of it, with Martha looking over his shoulder. He ran his hands along the smooth sides of the… thing that they had discovered. Without warning, the top half of it suddenly popped up. Martha gasped, putting her hand over her mouth. Jonathan sat back on his heels, looking up at his wife. She reached down and lifted the small child from the dark blue blankets of the craft.
The child gurgled with delight and, reaching up, placed one small hand in Martha's hair. Martha looked at Jonathan with pleading eyes. It hadn't been too long before that night that the couple had realized that they couldn't have children. And now, as if in answer to their prayers, a child had literally fallen from the sky for them.
"Oh boy," Jonathan said after several moments. The dark- haired, fair-skinned child that Martha now held in her arms stopped giggling and looked over at Jonathan with a solemn expression. However, after several moments, he smiled again and stuck his tongue out from between his lips.
"We have to keep him," Martha said, holding the small boy close to her.
Early September, 1978
Clark and his father were leading two of the horses in from the field to the barn. The sky overhead was growing increasingly dark with anticipation for the upcoming storm. The wind whipped Clark's longish dark hair around his face while the horses pranced, excited by the spooky sounds the wind made while blowing over the field.
Clark spoke soothingly to the colt that he held by the halter. Jonathan had promised that by the time the colt was old enough to be trained, Clark could have the responsibility of taking care of him, so Clark was extra careful with the young horse. They were nearly to the barn when Clark heard his mother screaming from the front porch. Clark snapped his head towards her, noticing Jonathan doing the same from the corner of his eye. Martha was too far away to be heard clearly, but she pointed towards the barn. Jonathan and Clark looked in the direction she pointed.
"Oh my God!" Clark yelled in fright. An immense dark funnel in the sky was making its destructive path towards the Kents' farm.
"Let go of the horses!" Jonathan yelled. "The cellar!"
Clark let go of his colt and followed his father towards the cellar they had behind their house, where Martha already stood, holding the door open. The family dove underground, and moments later they could feel the ground shaking around them. Clark fell to the floor with his hands over his ears, trying to block out the never-ending roar of the tornado. Then, just as quickly as it started, the horrible sounds stopped. Timidly, Clark timidly stood up, while Jonathan unbolted the door and pushed it open. Clark followed him, anxious to see the aftermath of the storm.
The fields were demolished, flattened or sucked away. Rubble that had fallen from the tornado lay strewn about on the ground. The horse that Jonathan had been leading galloped around in fright, but Clark couldn't see his colt anywhere. He looked up at his father and then at his mother, his lower lip trembling. He leaned back into his mother's embrace, staring at the destruction around him. Then he turned around, and wrapped his arms tightly around his mother, just now beginning to be afraid of what had happened, and what was to come.
3 Months Later
Clark watched, determined not to start crying again, as the girl loaded his colt onto her horse trailer. They had found the horse deep in the woods the day after the tornado, and now Clark was losing him again. He knew that the young horse would have a good home. The girl had said she wanted to train him to ride instead of using him as a workhorse. And he was glad that his parents were getting a good price for the horse. But he just couldn't help but feel discouraged as he watched yet another piece of his past and future leave his life. His mother stood behind Clark and gave him an encouraging squeeze on his shoulder, as if to say everything would be all right. But for some reason, Clark didn't think it would be.
The girl talked with his father for a few minutes before climbing into the cab of her truck and pulling out of their driveway with a friendly wave. Clark let out the long breath that he had been holding as his father accompanied the remaining two members of the Kent family to the door of the barn. Clark gave Jonathan a small smile, trying to convince his father and himself that he was okay.
"Well, hello," Martha said, and Clark looked up.
Standing a few yards in front of Clark was a boy a few years older than he was. The boy had shaggy blond hair, wore baggy tan pants and a loose black shirt, and carried a small backpack.
"I'm Tuck," the boy said abruptly in a strong southern accent. He moved his backpack to his other shoulder and stared back at the Kents. There was a short pause before Jonathan spoke.
"Well, what can we do for you, Tuck?" he asked kindly.
"Got any work that needs done?" Tuck asked in the same short tone. Jonathan exchanged a glance with Martha over Clark's head. "'Cause I can work for you if you need something, if you let me stay at your house for a while."
Clark scrutinized the teenager. He wasn't sure what he wanted his parents to say. It wasn't very fair of the boy to just drop in on them right now, when they were having problems. But then, Clark thought it might be fun to have someone live with them. It would be like having a big brother. And maybe Tuck could help his father start the farm up again. He smiled hesitantly at Tuck when their eyes met, but Tuck only raised an eyebrow at Clark.
"Well, I suppose if you need somewhere to stay, we could use the help for a while," Jonathan said slowly. Clark smiled up at his father. He was hoping his father would approve. Inheriting a friend helped ease the pain of losing his horse.
A NEW BEGINNING Late August, 1983
Clark Kent stood beside the pond, leaning against the huge willow tree. He waited for the crunch of footsteps as he did every night. The moon made the pond sparkle, and he glumly kicked dirt out into the water, making small splashes and ripples spread outward. Lois wasn't coming. Yet again, she hadn't showed up. Clark kept coming, late night after late night, hoping that she might be there to meet him. But she was never there. He turned around and walked back onto the path that led to his small Kansas farmhouse. He shut his eyes tight, unwilling to let the tears fall that desperately needed to. He swiped his hands across his eyes once, wiping away the moisture, and then jogged back to his house.
He slid in through the kitchen door silently, and made his way to his room. He passed his parents' room, pausing for a second to hear their rhythmic breathing, then continued on down the hallway. He passed Tuck's room, and unconsciously quickened his steps. Clark had spent his most recent years growing up with Tuck, who was the Kents' stablehand. Tuck, at twenty, was only three years older than Clark, but Clark still felt uneasy around him. Tuck had shown on too many occasions that he couldn't be trusted.
Clark slid into his room quietly, slipped out of his boots, and sunk into bed. He was tired, yes, but the real reason he wanted to get to sleep was for morning to come. Morning held no surprises, it was the same day after day. Night was when Clark had to worry.
Lois Lane and her sister Lucy walked down the busy Metropolitan sidewalk towards their hotel. Lois' knee-length skirt swished back and forth as the two girls hurried through the crowds of people.
"I'm going to miss this when we leave," Lois said sadly, stopping to look around at the scenery: tall buildings, lots of cars crowding the streets, people everywhere you looked. To Lois, it was heaven.
"So am I," Lucy said, pulling Lois to the side so her sister could have a better view, then pointed across the street. "Look at that guy!"
Lois rolled her eyes and started walking again until she saw a building across the street with a huge globe in front of it. "Hey, isn't that…"
"The Daily Planet building," Lucy supplied. "You know, the big newspaper."
"Of course I know what it is," Lois said. She had always loved writing, and her dream was to be an author of romance novels. However, standing right in front of the building that produced the best newspaper in the world, she thought that maybe she could have a career as a journalist.
"Come on," Lucy said, pulling Lois' arm and breaking her out of her daydream. "Daddy said we needed to be back at the hotel by 6:00, and it's already 6:10." Lois threw one last longing glance at the Daily Planet building, then followed her sister.
Sunlight was already streaming into Clark's bedroom window when he woke up the next morning. The clock on his bedside said it was already 11:30. Clark sighed and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Instead of feeling refreshed, he felt even more discouraged. If it was already 11:30, than that meant that no one else was awake yet, and Clark would have to yet again take care of the morning chores. He pulled on his boots and grabbed a flannel coat out of his closet. He walked down the hallway, careful not to disturb anyone. He walked down the stairs and through the empty kitchen. He wistfully remembered the mornings when his mother had had pancakes and eggs ready for him when he woke up. He pushed those memories away and stepped out the door.
The afternoon sun was beginning to disappear behind dark clouds that hung to the east of the Kents' ranch. Clark made his way through the yard, overgrown with weeds, and into the barn. Their old workhorse kicked his stall door impatiently as Clark came in, and he quickly threw a pad of hay into the stall. He then picked up a tin can of corn and threw its contents around in the dirt outside the barn for the few chickens that were left. After letting the horse out in its field, Clark came back into the barn and sat down on a bale of dusty hay.
The barn used to be filled with several different cows, a couple horses, a mule, and some goats. But now, all that was left of that was their old and tired workhorse, who they kept around only because they were afraid to sell it. Cobwebs hung down from the ceiling, and dust covered nearly everything in the large barn. Clark remembered how this barn had once been his father's pride and joy, but after they had lost all their crops five years before in a tornado, and the bank had stopped funding them, his father had practically let the barn, and the farm, go to waste.
Clark picked up a rusted rake and began to clean out the horse's stall, wondering why life has taken such a devastating nose dive. His parents didn't even try to put things back together; they had both fallen into a depression after what they'd worked for had suddenly disappeared.
Clark remembered the night of the tornado well. He had been helping his father bring in the livestock because the forecast had called for a bad thunderstorm that night. They had been about halfway to the barn from the field when they saw the funnel in the sky, about a mile away. Martha had screamed from the front porch. The three ran for the cellar, barely making it before the wind began to pick up at a terrifying pace. They huddled together underneath the ground as the tornado went right over their heads.
When they finally made their way out of the cellar, the land was in ruins. The crops had been completely blown away or flattened, and the roof had been torn off the barn. Amazingly, the tornado hadn't bothered the house, and Clark wondered what would have happened to them if the house had been picked up or blown away. The only animals that were left after the tornado were the horse and the mule, and the Kents' had sold the mule a few months later.
Around that time, Tuck had wandered to their house. He had been fifteen and looking for work, and since Jonathan needed help around the farm, he agreed to let him stay. The deal they made was work in exchange for food and a room. After settling in, however, Tuck began to drink, and he was always causing trouble and never helping. The Kents, however, didn't have the heart to tell him he had to leave.
Clark was torn from his thoughts as he felt icy hands on his bare neck. He jumped and turned around, and saw Tuck standing behind him.
"Oh, good morning, Tuck," Clark said nervously, inconspicuously moving away from Tuck across the horse's stall.
"Mornin', Clark," Tuck answered, taking a swig out of the bottle in his hand. Clark made a face, but quickly masked it by coughing. Tuck was drinking again, as he had nearly every day for the past two or three years, and it made Clark sick. It seemed like the man was always walking around with a can or bottle in his hand.
"What're ya doin' there?" Tuck asked, leaning against the stall door.
"I'm uh… I'm cleaning the stall," Clark answered, hoping that Tuck hadn't heard the nervousness in his voice. Tuck had been known to get angry very easily.
"I coulda told ya that, whatdya think I am, dumb? I'm wonderin' why you don't get your pa to do it. You gotta take care of your pa, Clark, make sure he keeps hisself busy, huh?"
"Uh-huh," Clark answered, trying to scope out an escape route. Tuck was standing in the doorway to the stall, and if Clark tried to get past him, he knew he wouldn't make it.
Tuck took another drink of his liquor, and then threw it at Clark's feet. Clark obediently picked it up with his rake and put it in the wheelbarrow to be thrown away.
"Your pa's a lazy guy, ain't he, Clark? He don't never do anything no more, I might as well be runnin' this farm."
Clark held his breath and counted to ten in his head. He knew Tuck was just trying to get to him, so that Clark would get mad. Tuck had played this game with Clark as long as he'd known him. Tuck would work Clark up until Clark yelled back, and then… Clark shuddered to think of what had happened the first few times that had happened. Clark had ended refusing to leave the house for quite some time, because of the gruesome marks on his face. The only reason Tuck hung around was because he had no where else to go, and Clark's parents had no one else to help farm.
"Your pa and ma both, huh? Your ma's still asleep at the house, the lazy woman. You're the only one that works around here, same as me. But I don't know how you do it, you're always runnin' out in the middle of the night, and don't get no sleep. Where you always goin', anyway? Bet you go out and drink, huh? You a big boy now, and you think you wanna drink."
Clark shut his eyes tight and Tuck laughed, as he opened another bottle of beer. "You want some of this Clark?" Tuck walked into the stall, and the waft of alcohol filled Clark's nostrils.
"Stay away from me, Tuck," Clark said in a low, threatening voice.
"You think you are a big boy, dontcha?" Tuck said nastily. Clark darted around him towards the door, and then he felt the glass bottle make contact with his head. Shards of glass fell all around him, and the liquor drenched his head and back. Spots danced in front of his eyes for a moment. He gasped and ran faster for the barn exit, then out into the drizzling rain. He didn't stop until he was in the house. His mom was in the kitchen, half-heartedly going through the process of making some scrambled eggs. She turned off the stove, looked up, and began to ask him to get a plate for the eggs, before she saw his face.
"Clark, honey, what happened?" she asked softly, and pulled him towards her. She stroked his cheek, where blood was trickling down from the cuts. Clark was breathing heavily, and tears were welling up in his eyes. He sat down at the table and put his head down into his arms. Martha stroked his alcohol-soaked hair and his trembling shoulders.
"Was it Tuck, honey?" she asked, even more softly than before. Clark nodded, and Martha glared out at the barn. "I'm so sorry," she said, barely loud enough to be audible.
Lois and Lucy finally made it to their hotel room, after making a few more stops for sightseeing. They entered their hotel room, laughing at a joke Lucy had just made pertaining to the cute male that occupied the room next door to theirs. Sam Lane held up his hand for silence as they entered, and they immediately quieted down after sharing a few more die-hard giggles. Sam was on the phone, and he hung up a few minutes later. He looked apologetically at Lois and Lucy.
"I'm sorry, girls, but it looks like I've got to go meet a potential client for dinner."
Lois rolled her eyes, but she couldn't really complain. The only reason she and Lucy had been able to come to Metropolis in the first place was because their father had had business in the city.
"It's ok, Daddy," Lucy said.
"But how about this. I'll give you two some money, and then you can go catch some dinner and do a little sightseeing. What do you think about that?"
Lois smiled at her father. She knew he was trying his hardest to be a good father, even though he didn't have much experience, and she loved him for that.
"Thanks, Daddy," she said as she took the money.
Sam stood up and wrapped his lightweight jacket around his shoulders. "Well, then, I'll see you later. Don't be out too late," he stopped to check his watch, "and I'll be home by 10:00 at the latest."
He exited the room, and the two girls were quiet for nearly fifteen seconds before looking at each other with a grin. "What do you say we go see if the boy next door has a brother?" Lois asked, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Lucy nodded her agreement, and so they set off.
"Jonathan, we have to do something. We can't let that man continue to beat up on our son! What if… what if he loses his temper and… and Clark is killed! It will only take one time, and then…" Martha sunk down into the couch in their living room. It was later that afternoon, and after cleaning his glass wounds and washing his hair, Clark had gone back to sleep. The rain poured outside. Jonathan paced around the room.
"I know, Martha, I know. But Tuck's been with us for so long, how can we just all of the sudden tell him that he has to leave? There's no way he'll ever be able to survive on his own anywhere."
"You didn't see Clark's face when he came in. There was glass stuck to him, all over him. His face was bleeding, and he was crying!" She looked down at her hands and lowered her voice before continuing. "This isn't how a seventeen year old boy should live."
Jonathan sat down on the couch beside Martha and put his arm around her shoulder. "I know he's not being raised in the best of homes. But I'm trying my hardest to make him turn out right, and I know you are too. Things will get better, I promise. I even put in an application at the hardware store in town yesterday. Things are going to get better."
Martha sighed and looked up at her husband. "Oh Jonathan, I wish you were right. It's just been so long, I think I've lost hope."
Lois woke early the next morning, and immediately her mind projected the memories from the night before. She smiled sleepily and threw her arm out to the side, landing with a thump on Lucy's back, who was still asleep on her other side. Lucy muttered something about going to bed too late and getting up too early before turning onto her side, facing away from Lois. Lois sighed as she remembered the night before.
The two girls had gone out to a cafZ outside the hotel to get some dinner, and to their delight were joined by two young men, who afterwards treated them to a nearby ice cream parlor. Then the boys gave them an unnecessary but very much wanted tour of a part of Metropolis, and the night ended with Lois getting a quick kiss on the lips by the older of the two. It was too bad the Lanes had to return home that night. Lois groaned. Back to boring Smallville, and the boring farmhouse, and the boring school, and the boring…
Clark! To her embarrassment, Lois had completely forgotten about Clark. She hoped he still wasn't going out to that pond, or else he would be angry at her. She had been gone for nearly 2 weeks now… poor guy. Lois almost felt sorry for him sometimes. He always seemed so sad and depressed. But she still enjoyed being with him; he was a good friend and someone she could talk to. He was also quite attractive, Lois thought with an inward grin. She really did hope she hadn't hurt him by forgetting to tell him she would be gone.
Clark didn't wake up until much later that night. The rain was still pouring down against his window, and he lay in bed for several moments. He really didn't want to go out in the rain, but what if Lois showed up and Clark didn't? The more he thought about if, the surer he was that this would be the night that Lois met him at the pond. He knew it. So he slowly swung his legs over the bed, slipped on his boots, and pulled on a plaid jacket.
He tiptoed silently out of the house and within a matter of moments the pouring rain drenched him. He ran through the backyard and into their field that once held rows and rows of different crops. Now it was just brown mud, with a few flattened weeds poking out here and there. He made his way into the woods, where the rain was barely able to seep through the heavy canopy of trees. He shook the water off his head, then continued running through the woods, his boots sinking into the soft mud. He finally came to the clearing that held the pond, but his heart sank when he saw Lois wasn't there.
Who am I kidding? he thought. Of course she's not here. Why would she want to see me? He stood in the pouring rain for a few minutes, his face up to the sky and his eyes closed. He could barely tell when his tears mixed with the rain that fell down his face. He didn't return to the house until much later.
The Lanes returned to their house in Smallville late that night. Lois stumbled out of their Dodge and waited for her father to unpack the bags from the trunk, barely able to keep her eyes open. When she finally made it into the house, loaded with her bags, she saw that it was already past 1:00. She walked into their dark living room and found her mother, asleep in the recliner, with their small TV on mute.
"Mom," she whispered, causing Ellen to stir and then slowly open her eyes. "We're home," Lois said. Her mother closed her eyes again.
"All right," she said, her voice thick with sleep. Lois stood there for a few more moments.
"Mother, why don't you go get in your bed to sleep?"
"I'm fine here. Go on to bed."
Lois stood there silently for a long time, watching her mother. She knew she and her father weren't on good terms at the moment, and Lois had thought if her mother had gotten a couple weeks to herself, then she would be more relaxed and refreshed when the rest of the family got home. It appeared that that wasn't the case.
Lois jumped when Lucy touched her arm from behind. They shared a silent look, then they both walked to their room.
"I thought that maybe she would be happy to see us, you know?" Lois said as she sat her suitcase down beside the bed and pulled out her toothbrush.
"Well, wait'll she sees what we brought her," Lucy said mischievously, holding up the bag of hotel soaps they had collected to bring home. "You know she'll be thrilled."
Lois smiled slightly, then walked into the bathroom that joined their room. "But really, Lucy. She didn't change a bit."
Lucy shrugged and joined her in the bathroom. "It's her loss. If she doesn't want to rebuild our family…" She trailed off. "But you're right. You'd think she would at least want to give it a try."
Lois stopped her brushing for a minute to talk through toothpaste. "Well, maybe we would get back together if anything in this world actually went right."
"Clark? Clark, honey, wake up." Clark opened his eyes slowly and saw his mother standing over his bed.
"Hi, Mom," he said softly, then cleared his throat.
"How are you feeling? It's almost amazing how much better your face looks. You can barely see the scratches…" she trailed off, running her hand slowly down his cheek.
Clark sat up and ran a hand through his hair. It was still damp from the night before.
"I'm feeling fine Mom, much better." He looked at his clock and saw it was already 1:00. "Have the animals been fed?" he asked.
Martha smiled. "Yes, Tuck is out taking care of chores and your dad went into town." She stared at him for a second. "It's really… amazing. There's hardly any scratches left on your face except for where that deep gash was. And even it's just a little line."
Clark shrugged. They were silent for a moment.
"Clark, I don't really know how to say this. I know that Tuck is abusive to you, and your father and I haven't been the best…"
"Mom, don't," Clark said sharply. His tone softened, and he put a hand on his mother's. "I'm fine. And you and Dad are the only parents I would ever want. You're doing your best, and that's all anyone can do." He stood up then and walked slowly out of the room and down the stairs.
Martha stood silently, lost in her thoughts. She knew Clark was just trying to be nice, but he had always been so wonderful. He was a gift to their family, and if he hadn't been there, she knew both her and Jonathan might have just given up on their lives long ago. She silently thanked God for sending Clark into their life: he really was a gift from above. Then she slowly followed Clark down into the kitchen.
Martha found him sitting at the kitchen table, silently drinking a cup of buttermilk. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Buttermilk's the cure for what ails you, that's what your father used to say." She smiled at him, but when he didn't respond, she patted his shoulder and walked to the refrigerator. "How about I fix us some pancakes? I know we haven't had any in a long time, and that's mostly my fault."
Clark smiled half-heartedly up at her. "Sure Mom, that'd be great." His attention then turned back to the window, where he was watching Tuck out in the yard, sweeping the sidewalk to the barn. Clark realized that the man really wasn't so bad when he wasn't drunk, but when he was…
Martha noticed the direction of Clark's vision and followed it out the window. He was watching Tuck. She squeezed his shoulder silently as she passed him, and glared out at Tuck. As she mixed the batter for the pancakes, she wished life could be normal like it once was.
It was midnight, and Clark was walking slowly down the trail through the woods. He didn't truly think Lois would be there; he was going more out of habit than anything else. But as he made his way into the clearing, what he saw made his heart leap. Her silhouette against the sparkling pond made him stop and watch her for a moment. She sat on one of the large rocks that bordered the pond, and she was staring out across the water. Her dark hair fell past her shoulders, and she had one leg crossed over the other one.
"Lois," he breathed. She turned her head, and Clark could see her dark, sparkling eyes. His knees threatened to buckle on him, and he put a hand against the willow tree to steady himself. Lois stood up and walked over to him.
"Hi, Clark," she said softly, staring down at the ground.
"Why haven't you been here?" Clark asked, then wished he could take it back. It was rude, and if he weren't careful, he would make her not want to come back. And Clark couldn't stand that.
"I've been busy. We just got back from a trip to Metropolis. Daddy liked it there a lot. So did I." She turned around and walked back to the edge of the pond.
Clark didn't quite know what to do. All this time he had waited for her to meet him here, and now that she had, he didn't know what to say. So, he just tried to make conversation. "Metropolis… wow. That's… that's a pretty big city, huh?"
"Yeah, it's great. It's so much more exciting than being here in Smallville." Clark nodded, awkwardly standing beside her.
Lois sat down on the rock again. Clark lowered himself onto the ground across from her. They sat silently for a moment.
"So, how have you been?" Lois finally asked.
"Pretty good, I guess," Clark answered. Lois didn't know about Tuck, so Clark couldn't tell her about the day before. "You?"
"Good," she answered. That sat silently again, before Clark took Lois' hand and looked shyly up at her.
"Would you like me to tell you your future?" he asked, turning her hand over so her palm faced up. Lois laughed lightly.
"Sure." Clark pretended to study her hand intently for several moments before tracing his finger along the top of her palm.
"Let's see… you're going to have a long life, and lots of kids." He looked up at her again, looking for her reaction, and when he saw none except for a smile, looked back down at her hand. "And you're going to have a… well, I can't tell if it says adventurous life or… big house."
Lois laughed and pushed his head back softly with her other hand. "I think you need to get your eyes checked. That or your palm reading skills."
Clark laughed too, then held her hand between both of his and looked up into her dark eyes. "It also says that you'll find your true love sitting right in front of you."
Lois was silent for a moment as they looked at each other. Then she stood up, gently pulling her hand from between Clark's.
"Clark, I… it's late. We should be getting home." Clark sat back on his knees, dumbstruck. What had just happened? He hadn't meant to say that. It had just slipped out. But… he thought Lois loved him, like he loved her. As she started to walk off into the woods, Clark jumped up and followed her.
"Lois… I… I'm sorry. If I did anything…" he started.
Lois looked over at him and gave him a half-smile. "You didn't do anything, Clark. It's just late." Clark followed her until she turned to go to her house.
"Goodnight, Clark. I'll see you later."
"Goodnight, Lois," Clark said as he watched her retreating back. Then, inaudibly, he mouthed, "I love you."
He made his way back to the house, but he was wide-awake, so he decided to sit in the barn for a while and think. He walked up to the horse's stall and made a clicking noise with his tongue. The horse jumped slightly, waking up, then turned slowly around to stick his head over the door. Clark rubbed the chestnut's wide forehead and sighed.
"I wish she could love me too," he said, barely over a whisper.
"I know where you go these nights now."
Clark jumped and turned around. Tuck stood in the doorway of the barn, his figure casting a long shadow through the aisle. He carried a can of beer, from which he took a long swig, then threw it against the horse's stall beside Clark. The horse jumped back in surprise.
Clark was frozen in place. As Tuck walked slowly closer to him, Clark noticed he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering.
"You go out to see that girl, Lois, huh? Why didn't you tell me Clark? I could have given you some advice, ya know? Kinda a guy to guy thing." Tuck was getting closer and closer to Clark, and Clark couldn't move. He couldn't remember ever being so scared. He was alone with a dangerous, drunk man in the middle of the night in a barn.
"Tuck, please…" Clark said, his voice coming out almost in a squeak.
"Whatsa matter, Clark? I just wanna talk to you about Lois." Clark started to move away, but Tuck was in front of him in a flash, and suddenly had his vice-like grip around Clark's wrist.
"Please don't do anything, Tuck," Clark begged, his whole body trembling.
"Whadya think I'm gonna do, Clark?"
"I don't know — please let me go." His voice was shaking.
Tuck grabbed his other wrist and held them both up before pushing Clark back against the wall of the barn. "Listen, Clark. I just wanna talk to you." Clark could feel tears running down his cheeks that he couldn't stop. Tuck leaned his face so close to Clark's that their noses almost touched. The sharp smell of alcohol hit Clark's nostrils, and he coughed. He turned his face away from Tuck and closed his eyes.
"Look at me, Clark. Open your eyes. Ya need to listen to what I gotta tell you." Clark shook his head and desperately tried to wrestle free of Tuck's grasp, but the older man was much stronger than Clark.
"You think Lois wants you for your personality or looks, huh? That's not what she wants at all." Tuck moved closer to Clark, until his whole body was holding Clark against the wall.
"No, no, no, please no," Clark was murmuring through his tears.
"She don't want you at all. She just wants what you come with." Tuck moved his hips up against Clark, and Clark gasped and twisted his body away from Tuck. Tuck got a better hold on Clark's wrists again and slammed him back up against the wall. The air rushed out of Clark in a WOOSH of air.
Clark tried to cover his ears as Tuck continued talking, but he couldn't. He was saying terrible things, things that Clark wouldn't have ever thought. Then he grabbed Clark's chin and made him look at his face. "You wanna know how I know all this? All those nights she didn't meet you, I know where she was. I know all this stuff…" Tuck moved his face closer to Clark's until their noses touched. "I know all this stuff because she told me."
In a rush, Clark wrenched his hand away from Tuck. "No!" he yelled, swung back, and hit Tuck across the face. Tuck flew back against the wall all the way across the room and hit his head, then crumpled to the ground. Clark was frozen again, still trembling. How had he done that? How had he just sent Tuck, a two hundred pound man, flying across the room? Everything grew silent again, and Clark backed up against the wall, horrified. Questions were running through his mind, but he didn't have answers for any of them.
"Mom!" he screamed through the night. "Dad!" He slipped down the wall and onto the barn floor.
Martha woke with a start. "Jonathan!" she whispered fervently, nudging her husband's shoulder.
"What?" he said, his voice heavy with sleep.
"Did you hear that?" Martha asked. She sat up and slid out of bed, slipping on her robe.
"Martha, what is it?" Jonathan asked. Martha didn't answer him as she ran out of the room, but when she came back, Jonathan could see the look of fear on her face.
"Something's happened to Clark. He's not in his room." She paused for a moment, catching her breath. "Neither is Tuck."
This made Jonathan jump up, and together they ran out of their house and onto the porch. "Where could they be?" Martha asked, her eyes darting around the yard.
"Check the barn," Jonathan said, and they both flew across the yard and through the wide barn doors. The first thing Martha saw was Clark curled up in a ball against the wall, his shoulders shaking.
"Clark!" she exclaimed and ran over to him. She kneeled down beside him, Jonathan right beside her. "Clark," she repeated, softly. "Clark, honey, look at me." She gently pried his arms away from him, and the moonlight that shone in through the doors illuminated his tear-stained face. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Martha's back, burrowing his face into her shoulder. She rubbed his back soothingly.
"Martha," Jonathan called from the other side of the barn. Martha and Clark both looked over to him. He was standing above Tuck's crumpled figure.
"I… I don't… I didn't…" Clark stammered, a whole new batch of tears threatening to spill out of his eyes.
"Clark, just tell us what happened," Martha said gently, still holding him.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then pulled himself out of Martha's grasp. He leaned back against the barn wall, his eyes closed.
"I was out with Lois," he said, then let that sink in. His parents hadn't known he went out to see her every night. Neither of them said anything.
"Then, I came back here. He… Tuck… he attacked me. He was holding me against the wall, and he was drunk. And he was telling me all these things…" A tear slipped out from underneath his tightly shut eyelids, but he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
"And then… I punched him. And somehow, he ended up all the way across the barn."
Clark opened his eyes and looked for his parents' reaction. The two elder Kents looked at each other for a few moments, letting all of this sink in. Jonathan was finally the first to speak.
"Son, are you sure you didn't pull him over here? Or maybe he walked over here before he collapsed?"
"Dad… no. I hit him, with my bare fist, and he flew across the room."
"I don't understand this," Jonathan said, running a hand through his hair. He bent down beside Tuck and felt for his pulse. "He's alive, just unconscious."
Clark let out a sigh of relief. If he had killed someone, even in self-defense, he could never have lived with the guilt.
"Why were you out with Lois?" Martha asked, standing up.
"I just went to see her. We met in the woods beside the pond. We just talked."
Martha took a deep breath, and then softly said, "Can you tell us what Tuck said?"
Clark shut his eyes again. "No."
Once Clark was back in his bed, he couldn't go to sleep. His father had taken Tuck to the emergency room, and Clark felt awful, because he knew his parents didn't have extra money to use for a hospital visit. Martha had stayed with Clark beside his bed, saying she would wait for him to go to sleep, and he finally pretended he had gone to sleep, because he needed time alone to think. His mind raced, all his thoughts on that night. First, there was Lois. But then he pushed her out of his mind. He would save those thoughts for later. He couldn't deal with them right now. His more immediate concern was how, how, HOW had he sent Tuck flying twenty feet through the air. And then when he thought of what Tuck had said… He shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around him, even though he wasn't cold.
He didn't have answers for any of the questions that bounced back and forth through his head. He just wished that everything could be normal again. Finally, his mind settled long enough for him to fall asleep. And then it started up again in his dreams.
School started in Smallville a week later. Clark felt the anxiety that comes with the first day of school as he woke up, making sure it was early enough to have enough time to get ready. After getting dressed, he walked out across the hallway to the bathroom. The door was locked. He raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open before he could and Tuck stepped out. He gave Clark the same sneer that had been pasted on his face since the week before, then continued out into the hallway, after making sure to push Clark backwards out of his way. Clark shook his head slightly, sighed, and then continued on into the bathroom.
He was pleasantly surprised to find his parents both awake and busy as he entered the kitchen, especially since, after looking at the clock, he found it was only 6:10 in the morning. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, Clark thought that maybe things would start looking up.
He supposed that his parents had decided that it was better to leave things as they were, for the time being anyway. They hadn't spoken anymore to Clark about the incident in the barn, and ever since Jonathan had brought Tuck back from the hospital, Tuck had stayed up in his room, coming down only for meals. There had been no more signs of Clark's inhuman strength, and Clark had come to blame it on a serious adrenaline rush.
Clark also hadn't seen Lois since that night, but he had only been out to the pond once in the past week. He supposed he could have gone out more, but as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, what Tuck had said had had an effect on Clark. He knew, in his heart, that it wasn't true, but his mind couldn't help but thinking that Lois was taking advantage of him. He pushed these negative thoughts out of his mind as fast as they came, but he knew they were there, and he felt the fear that ate away at him, that maybe Lois didn't love him.
Martha seemed excited as she sat Clark down at the table and served him a big platter of assorted breakfast foods.
"Special occasion?" Clark asked mildly. Martha poured him a glass of orange juice, and then, with her own breakfast, sat across from him.
"It's your first day of school! Of course it's a special occasion."
"It depends on your point of view I guess," Clark said with a smile as he nibbled at his toast. The whole mood of the morning and his and his mom's friendly conversation was enough to make him cheerful. He didn't feel quite as on edge as he'd felt lately.
At that moment Jonathan walked in from outside. Clark could smell the country perfume of horses, hay, and the general outdoor scent as he passed him.
"Mornin' son," Jonathan said as he pulled his jacket off and laid it across the back of one of the chairs.
"Morning," Clark replied. Jonathan left the kitchen, only to stick his head back through the door.
"I'll give you a ride to school on my way to town if you'd like," he offered, and Clark nodded.
"Sure." Jonathan nodded and then turned around. Clark finished his breakfast a few minutes later, then went upstairs to get ready.
Lois stepped off the bus and stopped for a second, soaking in the atmosphere. It was her second year at Smallville High School, and she was looking forward to not being on the bottom of the food chain. She spotted one of her friends, Wendy, and trotted over to her.
"Hey Lois!" Wendy said enthusiastically, brushing her long bangs out of her eyes.
"Hey," Lois replied, glancing around at her surroundings. They were standing outside the door of the school. Lois nodded her head towards the door and they walked in, comparing schedules. They found they had first period Advanced Literature together, so they made their way to the classroom, Lois inconspicuously looking around for a tall, dark, and handsome senior whom she hadn't seen for a week. But, after no sign of Clark, she followed Wendy into the classroom and sat at a desk near the back. She greeted other friends that she hadn't seen over the summer and they chatted lightly until the PA system crackled on. She listened to the announcements and jotted down a few notes about when the yearbook and newspaper staff would start meeting while the principal droned on in an over-zealous voice.
Lois spotted a note on the blackboard written in big white chalk letters. It read: ANNUAL SMALLVILLE HIGH SCHOOL KICK-OFF COUNTRY DANCE-SEPTEMBER 12.
She grinned as she remembered her experience from last year. She had gone with her boyfriend, with whom she'd had a very short-term relationship. She had dumped him when she found out that he really liked her friend Beth more than her, and was just using her. Typical guy. She thought about who she'd like to go with this year. The first person that came to her mind was Clark. He really wasn't a typical guy, she concluded after thinking about it for a moment. He was caring and patient, unlike any other boy Lois had known. But she didn't know if she really wanted to be more than friends with him, because if something happened between them, then their close friendship would be ruined. Not like Clark would go to the dance with her anyway… he was a senior, after all. However, she really wouldn't mind going with him, even if it was just as friends…
"Hello? Earth to Lois." Lois jerked her head up and realized she had been daydreaming. She grinned sheepishly, which quickly turned to a blush when she saw who was trying to get her attention. Troy Wilson, the most popular boy in her class, was standing beside her. She had long since developed a crush on him, like most of the girls. His soft, golden hair. His bright blue eyes. His cute little dimples. Lois had to keep herself from sighing.
"Hi Troy," she said, scooting over to leave him enough room to pull a chair up beside her desk.
"So, uh, how was your summer?" he asked, spinning a pencil around in between his fingers. Nervousness? Lois thought vaguely.
"It was great, we just got back from Metropolis."
"Oh. You have relatives there or something?"
"No, we were just visiting."
"Oh." Troy cleared his throat and looked down at the desk. "So, uh, you got a date to the dance yet?"
Lois nearly choked. She started coughing and Troy looked at her worriedly.
"You ok?" he asked, touching her arm lightly. She nodded, her eyes watering. Troy Wilson had just asked HER to the dance! She was nearly ready to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming when he repeated his question, in a slightly more forward form.
"You wanna go to the dance with me?"
Lois nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Troy smiled. "Great," he said, getting up and walking back to his seat. As she relaxed, she was a bit surprised at her lack of self- control.
"Hey Clark," a voice sang into Clark's ear. He turned around and smiled pleasantly at the girl behind him.
"Hi, Lana," he answered. She immediately broke into a long spiel about her summer, and Clark tuned her out, smiling and nodding at the appropriate times, as he looked through the crowded hallway. It was the end of the day, and for school, it had been relatively fun. The perky spirits of everybody helped him relax a little, and he was actually mildly disappointed that it was time to go home. But he hoped maybe the mood that had been present in his parents' personalities that morning had lasted throughout the day. Clark heard Lois' voice and turned around, expecting to find her nearby. He scanned the hallway, looking for her. He frowned slightly; that was weird. He was sure he had heard her talking, but he couldn't see her anywhere.
"Clark! Are you listening?" Lana asked, pulling his shoulder.
"Um, yeah. Something about a boat," he answered. He returned to his search and finally found Lois turning a corner, coming towards him. She was talking with a group of friends. "Um, will you excuse me for a moment, Lana?" he asked, and before getting her permission, he walked towards Lois and pulled her away slightly from the rest of her group. He took a deep breath. This was it. He was going to ask her to the dance.
"Lois, um, you know the dance on Friday?" He was a little shocked to see her face fall when he said that, and he wasn't sure whether to continue or not. He swallowed the lump of nervousness in his throat and continued. "Uh, do you want to go with me?" She turned her head away from him.
"I can't, Clark." Clark looked at her, confused, and waited for her to continue. "I'm going with someone else." He felt the color drain from his face. She… was going with someone… else. At first he was hurt, but hurt quickly gave way to anger.
"Ok," he said coolly and walked back over to Lana. "Do you want to go to the dance with me?" he asked her defiantly, keeping an eye on Lois. Lois looked crestfallen, which was the total opposite of Lana.
"I'd love to!" Lana said excitedly, slipping her arm through Clark's. "Now, we have to match. I have this great purple dress…" As his anger subsided for the moment, Clark wondered what he had gotten himself into.
Lois rode the bus home in silence, staring out the window. Her mind was a mix of emotions. Somewhere, in some tiny crevice in the back of her mind, she felt guilty hurting Clark like that, but, for the moment, she felt more anger than guilt. Clark had asked Lana Lang, one of the most popular cheerleaders in the whole school, to the dance right in front of her! Sure, she HAD just turned him down, but still… the nerve! She was glad that Troy had already asked her; she sure didn't want to go anywhere with that Kent guy.
Lois arrived home and stormed up the path to her house, slamming the door as she walked into the kitchen. Lucy, who had arrived home earlier from the junior high school, was sitting at the kitchen table reading through the newspaper. When Lois stomped in with a scowl on her face, Lucy grinned and made a hissing noise to demonstrate Lois' anger. Lois ignored her and made her way up to her room. She lay in bed for a long time, and much to her dismay, she started to silently cry. She didn't like to admit to anyone, even herself, that she had been hurt.
Clark walked into the crowded gymnasium four days later with Lana clinging to his arm. He wore the classic country garb: a plaid shirt, blue jeans, and boots, as most of the other young men wore. And like most of the other girls, Lana wore a simple dress that was purple with tiny pink flowers covering it. The two were perfectly normal together, but Clark felt strangely awkward. He had known Lana for most of his life, growing up around her, and he normally felt at least slightly comfortable with her. Tonight, however, he was anxious, looking for Lois, even though he kept telling himself he was definitely NOT looking for Lois.
Actually, he wasn't angry at Lois anymore, and if she had wanted to make up, he would have, because he missed her. And he would have been glad to shed Lana onto some other hopeful male. She chattered on and on constantly, and Clark's rational mind told him that he wouldn't last the night.
While sitting out after a few group dances, Clark finally saw Lois for the first time. She had the same defiant look on her face that Clark guessed was on his. She was with Troy Wilson. Clark knew him because they both were on the football team. Clark didn't know him too well, but he had heard vague rumors that he didn't have very good luck with girls, in spite of his popularity. Clark didn't know any details, though.
"Clark, come on. It's a slow dance," Lana said, pulling him back towards the dance floor. He sighed inwardly. If he could handle everything else, he was sure he could handle Lana Lang.
Lois was having fun in spite of herself. Troy was actually a pretty nice guy. He was friendly, funny, and a good dancer. Lois still kept her eye on Clark though, making sure he was seeing how much fun she was having, and paying close attention to how he acted around Lana. By his expressions and actions, Lois could tell that he wasn't enjoying himself nearly as much as she was. So it was with a smug smile of satisfaction that Lois walked past Clark, holding Troy's hand. Troy was leading her out the door of the gymnasium and into the hallways of the school.
"Where are we going?" Lois asked. She wasn't worried, just curious.
"You'll see," Troy said with a mysterious smile. Lois smiled back, but she was starting to wonder exactly where Troy was taking her. He pushed open double doors that led into a darkened hallway, the overhead lights dimmed.
"Troy…" Lois started. Troy made a 'Shhhh' noise.
"They'll hear us," he said softly. Lois didn't like the direction this seemed to be going in, and she stopped.
"Let's go back to the gym," she said firmly, starting to turn around. But Troy clutched her hand more tightly.
"Not yet," he said. Lois could feel her heart starting to beat faster. She knew exactly what Troy wanted to do, and what he was going to do, and she frantically began to think of escape routes. He was a lot bigger and stronger than she was, and she knew no type of self-defense. He was in charge here, and she couldn't do anything but follow. And during all this, the same thought kept going over and over in her mind. Clark would never have done this.
Clark and Lana were dancing to the last slow dance of the night. Clark had his head resting on Lana's, and as much as he tried to concentrate on her, his thoughts kept straying to Lois. He had seen her leave with Troy, and she had seemed happy enough. Clark knew there was pretty much only one reason why they would leave early, and unwanted visions of the two together were filling Clark's head. In spite of those, Clark thought he could almost hear Lois.
In fact, the more he concentrated on it, the more sure he was that he COULD hear her. But he hadn't seen her come back into the gym, and he'd been watching for her. Something very strange was going on. He lifted his head from Lana's and concentrated on the sound of Lois' voice. He could tell it was her, but he couldn't understand what she was saying. It reminded him of when two people behind him would whisper: he could hear them, but he couldn't make out what they said.
And that's when he realized that Lois was in distress. He had no idea HOW he could hear her, or why, but he could, and there was a reason for it. She needed him. For a moment, he thought that perhaps they had formed some type of mental link, but he quickly dismissed that idea. Things like that only happened in the movies.
Luckily, the song was going off, so Clark moved away from Lana. "I'll be back later," he said quickly, walking out the door into the hallway. He moved away from the loud country music that blasted out of the gym into the eerie silence of the empty hall. The farther away from the gym, the better he could make out Lois' voice. And she was definitely in distress. Clark picked up his pace and jogged through the hall, following the direction of her voice. He didn't know how this was happening, but at the moment, he didn't care. All his previous thoughts about Lois were long gone; he cared only for her safety.
He pushed his way through two double doors that led to the freshman hallway. Now, he could hear another voice too. A man's. He could feel fear building up inside him as he cautiously made his way through the hallway, now slowed down to a walk. He was afraid of what he would find when he arrived at the scene of… whatever was going on. The door of one of the dark classrooms was ajar, and Clark could hear the voices coming from inside.
With a start, he realized that Lois was crying. He moved his head silently around the corner of the door to see and plan what he was going to do. He was unprepared for the scene that lay in front of him. Troy had Lois pinned down against one of the desks. He was kissing her neck and unbuttoning her dress at the same time, without passion, only desire. Lois was crying and kept telling him to stop. Clark recoiled in shock. He had never imagined…
He burst into the room in a flash of rage and grabbed Troy's shoulder, pulling him up. Troy looked confused for a moment, and then he recognized Clark in the near-pitch black of the room. He reeled back and punched Clark across the face. Before Clark even realized what was happening, he felt the fist slam against his jaw, and a small trickle of blood began to trail out of the corner of his mouth. He prepared to send a blow back at Troy, but he hesitated, remembering what had happened to Tuck. Troy used his hesitation against him and kicked Clark in the stomach. The air was knocked out of Clark and he doubled over in pain, clutching his stomach. But when he looked up, he could see Lois sitting on the desk, buttoning her dress up with trembling fingers and giving Troy a dauntless look even though he was making his way back toward her. This gave Clark a new burst of energy, and forgetting his pain, he jumped up and tackled Troy to the ground. He lay on top of him, holding him down.
"Go get help!" he yelled at Lois, but she had already run out the door. Moments later, she arrived with a few teachers who had served as chaperones. Clark stood up slowly and backed away from the action. He walked over to Lois, who was standing in the hallway. She wrapped her arms around him. He held her tightly, almost afraid to let her go. He could feel her trembling against him.
"Thank you," she murmured into his shoulder. "Thank you so much. You shouldn't have helped me, after how I treated you this past week. I'm so sorry for how I acted."
"Me too," Clark said, running his hand slowly through her hair. He didn't know how it had happened, but he thanked whatever forces had made it possible for him to hear Lois that night.
"Oh honey!" Ellen Lane ran through the hallway, her hair across one side of her head, and her house slippers poking out from under her long trench coat. Lois raised her head from Clark's shoulder and let herself fall into her mother's outstretched arms.
"I got here as fast as I could…" She stopped mid-sentence as she eyed Clark suspiciously. "Is this the boy…?"
"No, mom," Lois said at the same time that Clark shook his head and held out his hands innocently. "He's the one that stopped Troy." Her mother nodded, as if remembering.
"I'm so sorry, Lois," Ellen said. Lois nuzzled her head against her shoulder.
"I'm ok, Mom," Lois said reassuringly. She was incredibly relieved to see her mom arrive, even though Ellen must have been asleep. It was already close to midnight. "Where's Daddy?" Lois asked, and then regretted it when she felt her mom tense. Her mood had changed when she answered.
"He's at work," Ellen said flatly. "He's not even around for his family."
"Mom, he had no idea this was going to happen…" She was interrupted by a man who gently touched her shoulder.
"Miss, if we could just check you out over here…" He directed Lois to a group of paramedics that had been called to the scene. Lois looked back over her shoulder and saw that Clark had left. She felt like she hadn't thanked him enough.
Clark hurried out the doors of the school into the cool fall night. His head was a swirl of emotions, and he needed to calm his mind down. He felt slightly guilty for leaving Lois, but he knew she was in good care now that her mother had arrived.
He was surprised at how much anger and hate he had felt when he saw Troy in the dark classroom. His head kept playing the scene over and over, and he wished it would go away, leave him alone. He felt horrible that he had shown such contempt to Lois the past week. He vowed that he wouldn't hurt her again. In the mean time, he had other things to think about.
He looked up and saw that he was already at his farmhouse. The walk had seemed shorter than it normally took. He walked through the backdoor and found the house dark and still. Everyone was already asleep, but he really needed to talk to his parents. He sauntered up the stairs and stopped outside their door. He stood there for a long time, contemplating if he should or shouldn't wake them. He could hear their breathing, slow and regular, so he decided it could wait until morning. But he was wide-awake, so he changed into more comfortable clothes and walked out into the night. He made his way to the huge oak tree in the middle of their backyard. He slowly climbed up the ladder that led into his old treehouse and sat for an unknown length of time.
Clark woke up the next morning with a sore neck and covered with dew. He opened his eyes slowly to find himself sitting up against the wall of his treehouse. He groaned inwardly at his sore muscles and he stood up as well as he could, even though he had long since grown too tall to stand up straight. He jumped down the short distance from the wooden floor to the ground and jogged up to the house. It was very early; the sun hadn't risen and the fog still hung low over the ground. Clark made a detour on his way to the house to take care of the horse, and then made his way into the kitchen. It was silent and dark, as it had been the night before, and Clark slid into a chair behind the kitchen table. He sat for a moment, listening to nothing but the slow ticking of the clock. With a sigh, he stood up and washed some dishes that had been left in the sink the night before.
The lights flicked on over his head, and he turned around to see his mom standing in the doorway. He smiled quickly at her and turned back to the sink.
"I didn't hear you come in last night. Was it late?"
Clark nodded, and tried to decide where he should start. He heard his mom put a pot of coffee on to boil. Finally, after his mom had sat down with her cup of coffee, he turned around and sat across from her at the table. He took a deep breath.
"Something… weird is happening," he said. Martha watched him, slowly sipping from the hot mug.
"Like what?" she asked. Clark filled her in on the events of the night before. Martha was very sympathetic and worried about Lois, and Clark was once again reminded of how thankful he should be to have such loving parents.
"But the weird thing is… I could hear her," Clark said slowly. Martha looked at him blankly. "What I mean is, I could hear her from the cafeteria. She should have been way too far away for me to hear her. But I could. And it… it's worrying me I guess. I don't think it's normal. Is it?"
"I don't really understand…" Martha said slowly, not knowing how to answer. No, it wasn't normal. And that other day, Clark had thrown Tuck across the barn…
"Clark, has anything else… unusual happened?" she asked.
"I don't think so," he answered after thinking for a while. "Not that I can remember."
Martha remembered the evening seventeen years ago clearly. It seemed like it hadn't been nearly that long. She and Jonathan had been a new couple, having only been married a few years. They had been driving home — Martha couldn't remember where they had been coming from. They had seen the streak of light across the sky, and thinking it was a meteorite, had gone to investigate. That's when they had found the small spaceship that carried their son.
Clark Jerome Kent had grown up in a normal home, surrounded by normal things, and he had shown no signs of being of any species but human. Therefore, Martha and Jonathan had decided that Clark needn't know he was not from Earth. It would only leave too many questions unanswered, and they didn't want him to grow up knowing he was different from everyone else. However, Martha and Jonathan had been waiting for the day when something happened to their boy that was inhuman. Maybe this was what they had been waiting for. Martha took a deep breath. How could she possibly tell her son that he was an alien?
Lois woke the morning after the dance to the angry voices of her parents from downstairs. She rolled over and pulled the blanket over her head. Why did they always have to fight? She lay in her bed, listening to the voices that were continually growing louder and more violent. She felt a tear slip down her cheek, but wiped it away quickly. Her parents hadn't been getting along very well lately: her father was more interested in his job than his family, and her mom drank far more alcohol than was normal. Ellen said she drank it to wash away the pain, but Lois wondered if she knew what it was really doing to her.
Lois jumped as the front door slammed. She cringed, then rolled out of bed. She made a bet with herself as to which parent had left, and figured she would put her money on her mom. She was probably going to "wash away the pain," Lois thought harshly.
"Well, son, this is… I'm not sure how to explain this," Jonathan said slowly. Martha had explained to him what was happening with Clark, and now all three were sitting in the living room. It was barely 7:00 in the morning, but Clark was wide-awake. He didn't understand what was going on; he hadn't thought his parents would take this so seriously. They sat across from him solemnly, and Clark was afraid to know what they were going to tell him. Was he dying? He didn't know what to think.
"Explain… what?" Clark asked.
"You know you're adopted," Martha said, and at Clark's nod, gave a quick glance at Jonathan. "We… don't know who your parents are. We found you."
Clark waited for her to continue. He knew all this already; his parents had explained it to him long ago. He didn't like where this conversation was going, though.
Martha shifted nervously on the couch, and Clark subconsciously soaked in his parents' mood. He could feel the sweat on his clenched fists, and he tapped his foot restlessly.
"I wish you would tell me what was going on," he said, then laughed nervously, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
"We found you in a spaceship," Jonathan said in one breath. Clark looked at them blankly, trying to absorb this new information, but his mind couldn't comprehend it.
"Wha… what?" he asked, then laughed harshly. "What are you talking about?"
"You were in a spaceship, over in Shuster's field," Martha said as Clark stood up and walked across the room. "We thought you were a meteorite…"
Clark cut her off. "This is crazy!" he said, his voice high. He walked back to them. "You can't be serious."
Jonathan nodded solemnly. "We hadn't planned on telling you. We thought that maybe nothing would ever come of it. But, it looks like maybe there's something…"
"So… so I'm an alien. That CAN'T be!" He sat back down in the chair and watched his parents silently.
"Ok, where's the punchline?" he asked. This was a nightmare, and it was going wildly out of control. He didn't want to believe them, but somehow, he knew they were serious. He just couldn't take that for an answer. He was normal. He was human.
"We… we're not joking, Clark," Martha said gently.
"You are! You're lying!" He jumped up and ran to the backdoor. He felt hysterical; his mind was out of control. He stomped into the kitchen and grabbed his father's car keys from their hook on the wall.
"Clark, wait!" His parents were running towards him. "We need to find out what's happening…"
"I hate you!" he exploded. "I hate you for doing this to me!" He ran out the door and jumped into Jonathan's pickup truck. He turned the key in the ignition and slammed the car into reverse, zooming out the driveway. He was out of sight by the time the elder Kents got to the end of the driveway.
Tuck watched the Kent family from his upstairs bedroom window. He narrowed his eyes at the pickup truck that soon vanished from his view.
Clark sat cross-legged at the edge of the cliff, looking out into the valley. The sun was just beginning to rise, and he watched the brilliant oranges, pinks, and yellows as the great ball of fire rose over the horizon. For the first time in his whole life, he realized this wasn't his sun. And this wasn't his hill. That farm he'd lived on his whole life? Wasn't his. And those weren't his parents. He felt like an outsider, unwanted, on this planet of people to which he didn't belong. It was a deep feeling of loneliness like he had never felt before. It was like starving, but never being able to satisfy the hunger.
His anger had faded away with the rising of the sun, and he felt terrible for yelling at his parents. No, they weren't his parents. They were just… people. But people that had always been kind to him. They had taken him in, knowing that he was not even of the Earth, and they had taken care of him, even though they had been going through hard times. Now he felt guilty, too. They had had no reason to let him stay with them, but they had. And they cared for him. He knew they didn't love him; it must be hard to love an alien, but they did care for him. And that was more than he deserved.
He wanted to go back and apologize to them, but he couldn't. Not yet, anyway. He couldn't grasp the full picture that was now painted for him. This would change his life forever. All the problems that he had had before were laughable. Imagine, just a week earlier, he had felt depressed because Lois hadn't wanted to go to a dance with him! Now he knew she wasn't even the same species as him. And who knew what happened now? Maybe the people on his… home planet died at a young age. Maybe he would grow another head. How was there any possible way to know? He had a thousand questions, and no answers. Maybe his parents, his real parents, were going to come back for him. Or maybe they were already here. It would probably be best if he went with them. After all, he didn't belong on Earth.
He stood up mechanically and walked closer to the edge of the cliff. He looked down at the steep drop, and he felt the crazy urge to jump. The valley beneath him was spinning madly, and the colors all seemed to meld together into one. His mind was fogging up. He couldn't think straight, or even breathe.
He backed up very slowly. He backed up until his hands touched a tree, and he clung on to the trunk, as if it would hold him up. He was scared. He was so scared he had almost flung himself over a cliff. He turned around and dug his fingernails into the bark. His dark hair was damp with perspiration and it clung to his forehead. He took deep breaths, trying to calm his rapid heartbeat. He felt the tears fall down his face, but this time, he didn't try to stop them. He slid to the ground, holding on to the tree as if it were the only steadfastness in his life, which was spinning wildly out of control.
Tuck lay in his bed for what seemed like an eternity until he was sure that all three Kents had left. Jonathan and Martha had gone out in search of Clark a while ago, but Tuck had to be certain they were gone before he left his room. He had been on his way downstairs for breakfast when he had heard the angry voice of Clark. He had overheard… something, but he wasn't exactly sure what that something was yet. And what he had heard, he couldn't believe. Clark? An alien? This thought triggered a memory stored away in the crevices of Tuck's mind. A few years earlier, Tuck had stumbled upon something in the Kents' shed, which had made no sense at the time. But with this newfound information, Tuck felt the need to investigate more thoroughly the object in the shed.
He slipped out of the house quickly, and jogged to the barn. He hadn't been outside much in the past few weeks, and the strange feeling of the wind over his still bruised face brought back the painful memories of that night. If this whole thing about Clark being an alien turned out to be true… well, Tuck couldn't think of a more perfect revenge.
He opened the door to the old shed, and the rusted hinges groaned in response. Tuck walked to the center of the room and lifted up the old dust covered rug. He ran the toe of his boot over the ground until it hit the large iron ring. He grinned devilishly. Just like he remembered. He kneeled down on one knee and grasped the ring with both hands. He heaved upwards, and in spite of the protesting moan the hinges let out, the door lifted up. Tuck half smiled to himself. There it was, untouched over all these seventeen years. Tuck reached down inside the hole and ran his fingers over the dust covered S that adorned the front of the small spacecraft. Revenge would be sweet.
"Princess?" Sam Lane said as he knocked on Lois' door. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Lois' voice answered from the other side. Sam pushed open the door and stepped onto the plush pink carpet of Lois' and Lucy's room. Lois was sprawled out on her bed, her pencil poised over a sheet of notebook paper and her schoolbooks spread open around her. Sam sat on the corner of her mattress, clasping his hands in his lap. Lois looked up thoughtfully at him.
"Do you think this last sentence makes sense?" she asked him, handing him the piece of paper.
"What's this? My Lois doing her homework on a Saturday?" He chuckled as he took the paper and began to read. Lois knew he was being especially cheerful to her because of the events of the night before, and his lack of participation in them, but it still made her feel… special. Loved.
"It's actually an entry for the school paper. I felt like I needed to… you know, expound on why girls should always be certain that the boy they're with is… worthy." She paused for a moment, as if thinking, then continued, "And I have a personal experience to include now." Sam looked at her with sympathy, and he opened his mouth to speak, but Lois began talking first. "Finish reading." She didn't want to deal with sympathy right now. After all, nothing had really happened to her. However, if Clark hadn't shown up… Lois shuddered at the thought.
Sam put the paper back down on her bed. "That's really good, Princess. You're so talented in writing; you're talented in everything. I'm so proud of you — you and Lucy both…" he trailed off. Lois lifted her eyebrow at him and poked his hand with her pencil.
"Are you ok, Daddy?" she asked with humor in her voice. Her father wasn't one to just flush out compliments. He looked down at her with a new sense of determination.
"How would you feel about being an intern for a reporter at the Daily Planet?"
"Is that the truck?" Martha asked, looking out the passenger side window of the borrowed car. After Clark had run, or driven, away, Jonathan had run over to their closest neighbor's house and asked for the use of their small car. He hadn't had time to give them a reason, but luckily trust builds a strong bond between Smallville residents.
"Looks like it," Jonathan muttered. Their old pickup was parked under a grove of apple trees. A boy in near hysterics had obviously tried to hide it. He parked the car beside the truck and the two climbed out quickly.
"Reckon he went up to Heaven's Hill," Jonathan said, eyeing the gravel path that led upwards to the top of one of the highest hills in Smallville. It wasn't too uncommon for Clark to go up there and sit for hours on end, so that was the obvious place for him to go.
"Oh my," Martha said softly. What if Clark had… taken drastic measures? He had been terribly upset, and Martha couldn't blame him, but… he was probably standing at the edge of the highest hill around.
"Come on," Jonathan said, sensing Martha's anxiety and pulling her towards the path. The climb wasn't too difficult, but the incline did take its toll on the older couple, and by the time they could see the top, they were panting.
"Almost there," Martha said with a new persistence.
"Yup," Jonathan agreed. When they were finally able to see the flat top of the hill, Jonathan lightly touched Martha's arm and put one finger on his lips, then pointed towards a tree near the edge. Martha crept up behind a picnic table and watched Clark silently. He sat with his back against the tree. He was staring out to no particular point, and two fingers constantly twirled a long piece of grass in between them. Martha looked at Jonathan for his consent, and, at his nod, she stood up straight and walked towards her son.
"Clark, sweetie…" she started. Clark jerked his head up at her, taken by surprise. He jumped up, and Martha was almost afraid that he was going to run away from them, but then he ran to her, and she wrapped her arms around him. She felt Jonathan's presence behind her, then saw his hand Clark's shoulder.
"I'm really sorry," Clark said into Martha's shoulder.
"It's ok, honey, we're just so glad that you're ok," she said, looking up at Jonathan. This was going to be a very rough time for all of them.
"Now, Clark, if you're sure you're ready to see this…" Jonathan said, stopping outside of the door of the shed. He didn't want to upset Clark anymore than he already was, but Jonathan also didn't want Clark to think his father didn't trust in him.
Clark nodded slowly, feeling the same apprehension he had felt earlier that morning while he had waited in suspense for what his parents had had to tell him. However, he thought bitterly, there was probably nothing more surprising than finding out you're an alien. He had a feeling that whatever his father was so apprehensive about telling him couldn't possibly be any worse than what he'd already learned. He felt matured in a way he had never before, as if he had already seen the worst life had to throw at him. He hoped this was the case, anyway.
"Ok, then," Jonathan said, opening the shed door. The inside was dark, the only dim light coming from the dust covered window. Jonathan pulled the chain to turn on the light, but the bulb only flickered for a split second before sparking and burning out. Jonathan made an indefinable noise, but he motioned for Clark and Martha to follow him in. He walked to the window and heaved it open. Light immediately flooded the shed and made it appear less like a cave to Clark.
"Martha," Jonathan said shortly as he surveyed the room. Leading from the door to the center of the room were very definable, very recent footprints on the dust and dirt coated floor. Clark glanced from one parent's horrified look to the other. What was happening now?
Jonathan kneeled down beside the iron ring and pulled the door up.
"Ohmygod," Martha said in one breath.
"It's gone," Jonathan said slowly.
"What? What's gone?" Clark asked, wishing they would explain to him. They seemed to keep him in the dark too long, too often.
Jonathan took a slow breath, "The ship. The space ship that we found you in. It's…"
"Gone," Martha finished.
"Well, who took it? Who else knows?" Clark demanded.
Martha and Jonathan shared a worried glance.
Lois lay on her bed, unmoving for an indefinable amount of time after her father left her room. He had told her that the client he had met with during their stay in Metropolis was offering him a job. It was at a place called Star Labs, and he would be able to study robots and cyborgs, something that had always been his dream. He said that she could come with him, and Lucy could stay in Smallville with their mother.
He was asking her to leave her home, and move to Metropolis, which was quite a contrast from Smallville. He was asking her to leave her life, and everything she'd come to know. But what a glamorous life would be in her future! Sam had arranged with a Perry White, who was the editor of the Daily Planet, that if Lois was truly interested in journalism, and would be willing to put her heart and soul into it, then he could make an intern out of her. There was a reporter who was willing to take her on until she graduated from high school, when she could go to the Metropolis School of Journalism. It was her dream, and there was now a very large possibility that it could be her reality.
She would give anything to go with her father. At least that's what her first thoughts had been. Besides leaving Nowheresville, she could get away from the school that she had just been horribly humiliated in the night before. And she could become a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the world!
Yes, it would be wonderful. But, there were some things in Smallville that she would hate to leave. Her mother, her sister, Clark… Could she just drop everything and run to the big city? And leave them all behind? She wasn't sure. She had questioned at first why her mother and Lucy couldn't come with them, but Sam had said that Ellen had already made it clear that she didn't want to move to the city. And one of the girls had to stay with her, to take care of her. Sam had thought that Lois would appreciate the move more than Lucy, especially since he had already made plans for her. And Clark… she didn't know what to think about him. She liked to think that he had saved her life the night before and she certainly knew that he cared for her. And she cared for him. But he was just a guy… right? She would meet plenty of guys in Metropolis, who would be much more upbeat than the hicks in Smallville. But she didn't, and had never, thought of Clark as a hick. He had always been kind and gentle, and he had never, ever pushed her into a situation in which she was uncomfortable. She loved him. But she doubted whether she could ever have a future with him. In spite of her attempts to push these thoughts out of her head, she knew that he would be going nowhere in life. He was in his last year in high school, and she doubted quite seriously that he would be going to college. His family was destitute and she had made the assumption that he suffered from personal problems. He was destined to be a farmer for the rest of his life. But Lois had the chance to change her life forever.
She could see the papers now. An article on the front page of the Daily Planet, with a byline of Lois Lane. Or maybe she would be married by the time she had a front page story, and her name would be different. She grinned mischievously at the thought.
"This isn't a dream, is it?" she asked herself, flopping onto her back on the bed.
"Swear to God it's real," Tuck said as he leaned on the counter of the local newspaper, pointing to the ship that he had carried to the receptionist in the lobby. She eyed the ship warily.
"Tuck," he answered.
"Mr. Tuck, I don't know about this. We don't run a Dirt Digger here, just a paper." She ran her hand over the ship.
"Got it from the Kents. I reckon they're hidin' an alien." The receptionist narrowed her eyes at him.
"You," she pointed at him, then at the door, "get outta here, and take your spaceship. You leave the Kents alone. They don't need this mess." Tuck shrugged his shoulders and picked up the ship. It was surprisingly light, in spite of its bulk. He didn't really need it in the paper; that was just going to be an added glory. He would hit the kid where it hurt. He placed the ship carefully in the back of the pickup truck and headed towards Smallville High School.
Sunday passed very slowly, with the whole Kent household on edge. Clark stayed in his room for most of the day, thinking over the weekend's events. He had now gotten over the initial surprise of finding out that he was not of earthly origin. He was still feeling the loneliness that he had felt the day before, but it was more like a gentle hum in his head instead of an electrifying fear. And he found, after a day of contemplation, that he didn't feel any different. He still felt like Clark Kent, instead of the alien that he was.
'Alien' had now become like a curse word in his mind, and he mentally kicked himself whenever he referred to himself as one. He still felt, looked, and thought like a human. The only difference now was that he had the information that he was indeed not. Not for the first time, he thought what his peers would think when they knew that he wasn't like them. Especially Lois. His parents had been terribly afraid of letting anyone else know, and that was why they had been brooding all day over the fact that the spaceship was gone. Clark, however, didn't think anything really bad would happen. They would probably treat him differently than they had before. Would they be afraid? He hoped not. He decided that the safest way to protect his friends, and himself, would be to just not tell them. But could he live a lie his whole life? Clark had figured that Lois would have come by his house sometime during the weekend to talk about Friday, but now he was glad she hadn't. He was too much of a wreck. He wondered if she would come to school the next day. She must have been terribly embarrassed, and it would be hard, even if Troy wouldn't be there.
Clark heard the heavy, slow footsteps of his father coming up the stairs. He turned over onto his side on the bed and pulled the blanket up around him. "Dad?" he called.
Jonathan turned his head around the corner of Clark's room. Clark could see the lines of worry on his father's face. "What is it, Clark?" he said wearily.
Clark raised himself from his pillow. "Ok, I know that it would be weird if anyone found out about… you know, me, but how can it be so horrible that you and Mom have been stressing over it all day long?" he asked slowly, carefully trying to choose the best words. His father sighed deeply and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Clark, if anyone, like… the government, found out about you, do you think they would just leave you alone? No, they would capture you and take you away to some lab, somewhere, and study you. You would live in a cage forever, if they didn't kill you right away so they could dissect you!"
Clark stared at him. This thought had never crossed his mind. Images of himself, strapped to a table in a white room with sharp metal objects probing into him filled his head.
"Why would they do that?" he asked in a strangled voice. Jonathan took on a gentler tone.
"The majority of the people in the world don't like people that are different. But being different is what makes you special. And don't you worry about anything — we won't let anything happen to you. All right?"
Clark nodded, falling back onto his pillow. Jonathan rubbed his back for a few seconds before standing up. "Are you going to feel up to going to school tomorrow?" he asked before leaving. Clark nodded. Jonathan turned out the light and shut the door. Clark, however, didn't fall asleep until much later, and when he did, his dreams only filled his mind with terror.
Clark woke the next morning, feeling as if he hadn't slept at all. He groaned and turned over away from the window, thinking that he could tell his father that he did indeed feel too bad to go to school. But then he thought that if Lois did come to school, he needed to be there for her, if she liked it or not. So he slowly made his way off his bed, pulled on a T-shirt and jeans, and left the room, giving the bed one final, longing glance.
His father had offered to give him another ride to school since he again had to go into town, and Clark graciously accepted. It was better than walking, which was how he got to the building most mornings. So as he stepped out of the truck and onto the school grounds, he felt more cheerful than most mornings. But as he neared the building, he began to feel nervous. What if someone could tell that he was different than he had been the last time they saw him? He scolded himself for thinking that. He wasn't different, at least not on the outside… He climbed the steps and entered the hallway. A few girls turned to look at him, then they turned and giggled, their faces away from him. Clark frowned. What was that about?
A girl that he didn't know very well walked up beside him. "Hey, space-boy," she said, then laughed as she turned back to her boyfriend. Clark stopped walking and stared back at her, wide-eyed. How did she, a girl Clark didn't even know, know about him?
As he started walking, more slowly this time, he noticed that people were indeed looking at him with amusement. They knew. They all knew. Now he was going to be put into a secret lab somewhere and be dissected. He saw Lois at her locker and sighed gratefully. He walked up beside her and she turned to look at him. He thought he could almost see the laughter in her eyes as well.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Why's everyone looking at me funny?"
"You haven't been to the cafeteria, have you?" she asked, her amusement now gone as she saw how upset he was.
"No…" Clark said slowly.
Lois closed her locker and linked her arm through his, guiding him to the cafeteria. He was so worried he didn't even notice her gesture. He could see a mass of people crowding around the doors, trying to get inside. Lois pushed her way through, pulling Clark behind her. They broke through the mass of people and what Clark saw nearly made him faint. There was a huge poster of him, almost covering an entire wall. It had his school picture from the last year blown up, but it had been edited so that he now had two very long antennas sticking out. It was made to look as if he were driving a spaceship. At the top, the poster read 'CLARK KENT, TEENAGE ALIEN'. Then at the bottom, it said, 'WE HAVE PROOF.' Clark could almost feel the earth collapse beneath him, and his legs threatened to turn into jelly. He backed up through the crowd very slowly at first, then he turned around and ran through the hallways and out of the building. He stopped running when he got to the parking lot and sat down, leaning against someone's car. He heard footsteps running towards him.
"Clark?" It was Lois. He groaned, not wanting to talk to anyone at the moment.
"Where are you?" she asked. He stood up and caught her eye for a split second before turning away. "That's a bunch of garbage," she said fiercely, but she got no response from Clark. She cleared her throat. "Do you know who did that?"
"I'm not sure," he said glumly. There was a long silence, and Lois moved one step closer to Clark.
"The principal was trying to take it down. So it's probably gone by now." She reached out and took his hand. "Let's go back inside. You can't just let them win."
"You're right," he agreed and followed her back up to the school building. Just as they walked through the door, Clark was pushed from the side and he slammed into the wall. He looked up in a daze. There was a group of guys standing a few feet away.
"Hey, alien-freak, watch where you're going," one of them said, and they all laughed. They walked away, and Lois ran over to Clark. He had turned white.
Alien-freak. The words kept replaying themselves in his head. That's what he was. A freak. It had suddenly all become so simple, everything had been put into black and white. He was a freak. He didn't belong among the humans. He felt tears prick the back of his eyes, but he wiped at them fiercely. He was such a baby. If that's what aliens called their young.
"Lois, I better go," he said, shaking free of her. She would think he was a freak, too, if she knew the truth. She would never talk to him. He had to get out of there before he gave himself away.
He almost said home, but caught himself in time. It wasn't his home. "The house."
"What? You can't just leave…" she trailed off as he ran out of the school. He ran as fast as he could through the parking lot, then down the road. It seemed like the trees and surrounding landscape were just a blur. All he could feel were his feet pounding on the pavement, faster than they'd ever before.
Funny, he thought vaguely. My feet are beating faster than my heart.
Lois stared after Clark. Where was he going? She knew the poster had upset him, but was it really THAT bad? And then that group of guys had pushed him, but come on! He was acting pretty pathetic in her opinion. She watched a few authoritative figures march past her angrily, one of them carrying the poster. She heard the bell ring signaling that school was now starting, but the whole of the student body was still milling around in the hallway. All because of the poster. She began to understand why Clark had been so upset. But she wished he hadn't left because, besides this whole alien thing, she needed to talk to him about her moving to Metropolis.
"Lois," she heard her friend, Wendy, calling her. "I heard what happened on Friday. I'm so sorry." Lois suddenly found herself enveloped in a hug.
"I'm fine, really. Nothing happened." She almost said that Clark had saved her in time, but bringing him up would probably only result in Wendy saying something about the poster, and Lois was just about sick of everyone being so rude. Didn't they understand that Clark had feelings too? He was a normal human being, just like everyone else!
"Hey, Jon," the hardware store owner called out as Jonathan entered through the door.
"Hey, Hank," Jonathan greeted.
"So'd ya get my message?" Hank asked, coming around the counter and walking over to pack flashlights on a shelf.
Jonathan nodded and helped him stack the boxes.
"I'd be happy to give ya a job as a clerk, but frankly, I been wondering why you stopped farming."
"Well, after the tornado flattened all our crops, I just didn't have the heart to start over. I'm getting older, so I figured I should try to find a safer job. Especially since I got that back injury when I was repairing the barn. My body just don't work like it used to."
"I understand, and if you'd like, I'll start you out working 4 days a week for about 4 hours a day. How's that sound?"
"It sounds great. I can't think you enough for this, Hank."
"Don't mention it. I'm getting too old to work as much as I do, too. I wouldn't mind a little help around here. I have the high school boys, but they're not too reliable. They always have a date to make and have to cancel their hours."
"I know how it is. I have one of them."
"Well, I'll make you up a schedule and call you when I have it made."
"Thanks again," Jonathan said as he left. He headed down the sidewalk towards the grocery store, greeting familiar faces cheerfully as he passed. Things were starting to look up.
He quickly grabbed the items he needed from the shelves and headed to the checkout line. He unloaded the contents of his shopping cart onto the scanner when something on the magazine rack made him take a double look. And when he did, he was afraid that his heart would stop beating. There was Clark on the front page of the Dirt Digger. The same picture that was hanging in a frame in his living room. Except it had been edited. Clark now had antenna sticking out from under his mussed black hair, and he appeared to be driving a spaceship. The same spaceship that he arrived to earth in. Jonathan quickly grabbed the paper and lay it face down with his other items.
This was what he had feared would happen ever since he and Martha had first found Clark. That something would happen to their boy. And now something was happening. Someone had found out, and now it was on the front page of a newspaper that was sent all over the country.
He exited the store and jumped in the pickup where he immediately pulled the newspaper out from the bags. He quickly scanned the article on the inside cover. It explained that Clark Kent was actually an alien, with a load of phony facts to back that statement up. Except for the one that said they had the spaceship that he arrived in, which was true. Jonathan gave a silent prayer, thankful that the article hadn't been put into a REAL magazine or newspaper, but still… even this was too much publicity.
Jonathan sped home, needing to get there and show his family what was now happening. But as he pulled onto the long and normally deserted road that his house was located on, he could tell something was wrong. Right before he came to the lane that led to his driveway, he saw several large, black sedans parked on the side of the road. This made him slightly nervous because there was normally no one anywhere around, and especially not in a mass like this. He turned down the lane and into his driveway. He couldn't see anyone outside, but he knew that meant nothing. He would never forgive himself if they had done something to Martha. Thank God that Clark was still at school…
Clark's memories of his run home from school were hazy, as it passed so quickly. As he zoomed, for lack of a better word, towards his front porch, he tried to slow himself down before he hurt himself, but found that it was a rather difficult thing to do. He managed to do so without much disaster, but he had been forced to trip himself over the first step of the porch. He stood up shakily, holding onto the railing. He could hear his heart thudding wildly in his chest, and he gulped in air. It was such a strange feeling: for a few moments, it had actually felt as if he hadn't even been touching the ground.
"Mom," he called as he stepped into the house. There was a silence before Martha stepped into the kitchen to find Clark leaning against the counter, his face red and his hair wind swept.
"What are you doing here so early?" she asked, feeling a small flicker of anger. If Clark was skipping school…
"I'm a freak," he said flatly, his face emotionless.
"Where'd you get that idea? You are not a freak, Clark, and if anyone says otherwise…"
Clark cut her off. "There was a poster at school. Someone had edited my picture to make me look like an alien." He had been trying to keep his attitude impassive, but his voice cracked as he continued. "Everyone was looking at me weird and calling me 'alien' and 'space boy' and… 'freak'. And they think it's just a scam. What would they think if they knew the truth?"
Martha put her arms around Clark, because he looked in dire need of a hug. "So you came home? Why don't we go back to school and if anyone says anything to you, you tell them your mother will never let them forget it."
"M-om," Clark sighed, "this isn't a joke."
"I know, honey. But they'll get over it. Kids do. They'll never know-"
"But what if they find out? I won't be welcome anywhere."
"They WON'T find out. Don't worry."
Clark broke away from her. "I'm not going back to school."
"You can't run away from your problems," Martha protested.
"Watch me," Clark said stonily, walking into the living room, then pounding up the stairs. Martha rolled her eyes at him. He was so stubborn. She intended to follow him up the stairs, but there was a knock at the front door. She sighed and walked through the living room to the door. She opened the door to find two men in suits standing on her porch.
"Yes?" she asked, as pleasantly as possible. She had a hunch that these were salesmen, but that idea quickly dissolved as they pushed brusquely past her into the hallway. She narrowed her eyes at them as they looked around.
"What ARE you doing?" she asked, the annoyance now clearly evident in your voice.
"Are you Mrs. Kent?" the smaller man asked.
"Yes…" she answered slowly.
"We've come to talk to your son. Is he here?"
Martha folded her arms across her chest. What was this? "No, he's at school."
"Well, then, we'll wait for him to get home."
"You most certainly will not. I don't know who you are, or what you want, but you will not stay in my house any longer. Now, please…" She motioned towards the door.
"Mrs. Kent, this is quite important. I'm Henry Richards, and this is my colleague, Mr. Norman. We're from the National Inquiry."
Martha interrupted him with a snort of disapproval. A tabloid reporter. She wasn't sure why they were here, but she wasn't going to allow them to stay any longer.
"I really don't care who you are, and my husband will be home any moment, so if you don't leave, he'll make you leave." Richards smiled and spoke as if he were explaining something to a child. "Mrs. Kent, we have an offer for your son. I understand you aren't financially secure." This earned a disapproving look from Martha. "And we are prepared to pay your son a rather large amount of money to use his story."
"What story?" Martha asked, clearly confused.
"Don't play dumb, Ma'am. You know exactly what I'm talking about. The Clark Kent alien story."
"That's it. Get out of here." Martha opened the door and was prepared to push them out when a voice came from behind them.
"Wait, Mom. How much money?" Three heads swiveled around to see Clark standing at the bottom of the stairs. His face showed weariness, sadness, anger, but most of all, defeat.
Clark sat on the couch, beside his mother and across from the two men. Martha continuously fixed Clark with her disappointed glare, but he ignored her; instead, he waited for the men to explain what they wanted. After the introductions, Clark had instructed them to all sit in the living room, and Martha grudgingly brought the men iced tea.
"What is it exactly that you want?" Clark asked. He kept his voice as flat and emotionless as he could. His previous thoughts and worries had been pushed out of his mind.
"All we want is your approval to use your story. After the Dirt Digger made that front page article-"
Clark cut him off. "What article? What are you talking about?"
Someone cleared his throat loudly from the hallway, and Clark looked up to see Jonathan leaning against the doorframe, grimly holding up the newspaper that he had brought home. "What is that?" Clark asked his father. Jonathan came to sit beside Clark and Martha, showing them the paper. Clark thought he could feel his face flush as he read the article about him. It was a bunch of trash, saying how he had come here to lead an alien invasion. He laughed harshly.
"What is this?" he asked, not really expecting an answer.
"That's exactly what we'd like to know," Richards said excitedly, leaning forward with his hand folded together in front of him.
"Who are these people?" Jonathan asked Martha.
Martha explained the situation to him softly.
"I'm still not sure what you want," Clark said slowly. He needed to think about what he said before he said it, or he might get himself into trouble. "This is all a bunch of trash."
"Ah, the joys of working for a paper like the Inquiry. All you need to do is give us permission to use you so you can't sue us, maybe feed us some information, we write an exclusive interview with you, and that's it."
"Why would I do that?" Clark asked.
"Because you need the money. We're prepared to pay quite a large sum for your consent. Think of it as… an easy and sure way to win the lottery."
"How much money?" Clark asked.
"Well, I can't be sure, but… how does $10,000 sound?"
Clark sucked in his breath quickly. Ten thousand dollars! He could pay for the house to be fixed. He could get his parents back on their feet. They could buy a newer car. After all, their pickup truck was older than Clark.
Then Clark remembered how he had, vainly but maybe out of curiosity, sent in his applications to the Metropolis School of Journalism and Wichita U., two large, and expensive, colleges. He knew he wouldn't get accepted, but with this money, he might be able to pay to go to the community college for a few years.
Clark looked over at his parents and could see the surprise and shock on their faces too. Frankly, he didn't see why he shouldn't do this; after all, the rumors were already flying around if his picture was on the cover of a newspaper. All he would be doing would be feeding the fire, not starting it.
Jonathan finally cleared his throat. "We really need to discuss this, but I believe our answer will still be 'no'," he said, glancing at Martha, but deliberately diverting his eyes from Clark's face.
"Dad!" Clark protested, but Jonathan stood up and directed the men to the door.
"Here's our card," Richards said cheerfully to Clark, handing him a small business card. "Get in touch with us soon with your decision." Clark nodded slowly, still in shock. Then he nodded more surely.
"Yeah, ok, I'll call you," he said decidedly.
"Good! Then we'll await your call." Clark nodded again.
Martha closed the door behind her and then twirled around to face Clark. "Clark Jer-" she started before Clark interrupted her.
"Don't. This is my decision." He turned and thudded up the stairs, taking them two at a time, before he reached his bedroom. He jumped onto his bed. He didn't know what to think. His brain was blank as he tried to understand all this new information. He could have a lot of money. More than he had ever hoped for. All he had to do was sell his life. He felt like he was dealing with the devil. Riches for his soul. But no, this wasn't like that. Not really. He was just giving them permission to write a phony story about him that no one would believe anyway. And those words kept repeating in his mind. "…how does $10,000 sound?"
If he didn't take the money, wouldn't they write about him anyway? They must have known that the Kents couldn't afford an attorney to actually sue them, so what were they trying to pull? Clark certainly didn't trust the reporters, but what other choice did he have than take the money? His life was going nowhere fast, and he doubted seriously that he would ever be more than a farmer. Unless, that little voice in his head nagged, your real people come back to get you. Which raised another question. What would Clark tell the reporters? He couldn't tell them the truth of what he really was, of course; he had to make something up. The easy part, however, would be that he needed to make it sound like it was pretend, so they wouldn't suspect he was really an alien. He doubted rather seriously that the National Inquiry reporters actually believed that he was an alien, or they probably would have decided not to mess with him. They just wanted a scoop.
He still needed to think it over more, when he wasn't so wound up, and think it through rationally, but he felt that he had already decided what he would do. Take the money, give them their story, and say goodbye to his life. Or maybe find the truth in it.
Lois came home from school to the sound of her parents yelling.
"Big surprise," she muttered as she dropped her book bag with a clunk in the foyer. She wasn't in the mood to deal with her parents right now, so she went around the living room that they currently inhabited and stormed up the stairs. For a moment, the thought crossed her mind that she was glad that her mother wasn't coming with her and her father to Metropolis, but she pushed it away quickly. That wasn't fair. She knew her parents wanted to separate. The fighting wasn't healthy for anyone. But moving away seemed so… permanent. When they moved, she knew her family would most likely never get back together.
On top of all this, her day at school had been horrible. Everyone had finally settled down enough to start classes twenty minutes after Clark had left. And Lois still felt horrible for just letting the poor guy just run away. She wondered how he was feeling now. She knew he must have been horribly embarrassed, and everyone would probably make cracks about it for a long time until something else happened and they could pick on someone else. That was just how it was in high school. Lois just wished that Clark hadn't had to get so hurt.
"Lois?" She looked up to see Lucy standing in the doorway, her eyes red from crying. At first sight, Lois felt annoyed with her sister. She just needed to grow up. This was how life was. Lois had already decided that she wouldn't humor her parents by being depressed.
But when Lucy came to her bed and sat down, leaning her head against Lois, she felt her heart go out to her younger sister. This was one of the rare moments when the two sisters could just find comfort in each other, and Lois treasured this because it happened so infrequently. And after she moved… would she ever feel close to her sister again? "I don't want to stay here with Mom," Lucy said quietly. "I don't want you to leave. Please don't go."
"Lucy, I don't want to leave you here. Or Mom. But, this is the opportunity of a lifetime! And it's not like I'll never see you again or anything. We just gotta be strong. You gotta be strong for you and Mom both. Anyway, you don't want to leave your home and your friends and everything do you?"
"Do you?" Lucy countered.
"No… but I'm trying to look at the big picture. I'll be starting my career! The thing I want to do for the rest of my life. What's more important than getting a jumpstart on the rest or your life?"
Lucy pulled away from her. "I don't know — your friends? Your family?" she asked in a harshly sarcastic tone. "Fine. Go off and leave everyone else. You just want to be able to say that you're better than the rest of us." She stood up and stormed towards the door.
"Lucy! That's not true. You know it." Her sister ignored her, and Lois was left sitting on her bed with a terrible feeling of guilt.
That night, Clark again found himself in his tree house. He sat with his arms crossed and resting on the windowsill, his chin having found a place to rest in the crook of his elbow. He looked out over the fields. The moon gave the normally brown and dead grass of the fields a turquoise shine, seemingly filling them with life. Clark could almost remember what his life had been like before the tornado. He could remember sitting in this same position, looking out over the fields that really were alive. Through his younger eyes, he could see his father out planting seeds, and every once in a while, he would turn to wave at the tree house. Clark could imagine his nine year old sized hand poking out through the window, waving back with so much energy and innocence. The horses were out in the pasture, the mare and her colt. A dozen chickens pecked the ground near the barn for any food that might have been left. The sunlight streamed through the leaves of the tree that held the tree house.
Suddenly, Clark was given a forceful yank back into reality. There was a figure out in the field. No, more than one figure. He squinted to see better, wishing he had a pair of binoculars handy. Then suddenly, it was like he had been pulled a hundred yards closer. For a split second, he had a magnified view of the people. Then he leapt back in fright, away from the windowsill, his eyes wide with shock. He lost his balance as, instead of finding the floor, one of his feet found the hole which he climbed into and out of the tree house. He fell through the hole, unable to find anything to hold on to, and landed on his back on the hard, dirt-packed ground. Then he waited for the pain.
And waited. Was he in shock? Had he fainted? Was he dead? Was that why he felt no pain? He cracked his eyes open slowly. He found himself lying on his back, looking up through the hole in the tree house. Just where he thought he was. So he wasn't dead. He groaned. Everything would have been a lot less complicated if he had died.
He rose very slowly, waiting for the shocking pain that should have been coursing through his body. But it didn't come. He climbed to his feet, holding onto the ladder for support. Maybe he really had died. That was the only reasonable explanation.
"Maybe I'm already in Hell," he muttered to himself. "Or maybe I'd rather be there." That was when he remembered the figures out in the field. For that split second, he had gotten a close up view of the people, which still boggled his mind. But he had seen them. Tuck and the two guys that had been at his house.
"Of course!" he whispered to himself. Tuck was the one that had set this up. He knew about Clark. Clark didn't know whether to be glad that he had figured out who was behind this, or even more upset. Tuck was dangerous; Clark already knew that. Having him know his secret, well… he had already seen what had happened in this short time. He put his head in his hands, then looked up into the clear night sky.
"Kill me now," he begged the stars.
Clark didn't return to school the next day, nor the next. On his third day of absence, Lois was beginning to worry. That added to everything else that was going on in her life was almost enough to make her go insane. She had a feeling that the rumors and gossip that she was now hearing around the school were worse than they would have been if Clark had showed up. Everyone was saying that Clark was really an alien, and he wasn't attending school because he was preparing an invasion.
All the kids at the school were so naive. Didn't they understand what they were doing to Clark? Could they even comprehend what he was going through?
And this wasn't even her biggest concern. She was moving in only two weeks, and she was still a little tentative on her decision to leave Smallville. It seemed like there were so many things she had left undone. She felt like a quitter since she was just running away from everything. From the hard life to the perfect life. But it wouldn't be perfect, because after much thought, she realized that she would probably be alone most of the time, especially when she first moved there. Her father would be busy with his new job, and she wouldn't know anyone in that huge city. She hoped for her sake that this Mr. White would let her start her internship right away. At least she would meet people.
She was in her room on that Thursday, trying to decide what she wanted to take with her to Metropolis. She would only be able to take a few things, besides the necessities, on the plane with her, and then her mom would ship the rest of her things in boxes through the mail. Her father was currently in Metropolis, looking for an apartment. This would be another huge change for Lois. She had lived in this huge, old farmhouse her whole life, and she would be moving into a small and modern apartment.
This wasn't to say that she really didn't want to go anymore. She was still brimming with excitement at the prospect of getting to live in a big and busy city. She was just having second, and third, and fourth, thoughts about leaving. Before he had left, her father had notified the school that Lois would be leaving. And she had told all her friends at school as well. It had been hard to tell them that she was moving because, since no one hardly ever moved into Smallville, she had known most of her classmates her whole life. But she knew that the hardest was yet to come. She needed to go see Clark and, besides telling him that she would be moving, she needed to see why he had been avoiding school lately. It seemed easy enough as she thought about it, but when she started to stand up to go to his house, she sat back down abruptly. It wasn't easy. He was one of the most complicated humans she had ever known. He normally tried to wear such a brave mask to hide his emotions, but Lois knew on the inside he was hurting. She didn't know any details about his home life because, whenever she tried to talk about it, he withdrew himself and wouldn't talk anymore. But she had heard rumors from her parents and various other sources that Clark had it pretty rough. She wondered what he would do when he found she was moving. I'm being too egotistical, she then realized. Clark wasn't that infatuated with her. He might be gloomy for a little while, but he would move on, probably faster than she would.
This was another reason why it was so hard to tell him. Their relationship was undefined. Lois didn't know exactly how Clark thought of her. He'd said a few bold things every once in a while, but they had never gone any farther than flirtatious talk. This was mostly her fault, Lois realized. She had always shied away when Clark tried to do… well, anything. Her fear of being involved in a real relationship had multiplied a hundred times after the incident with Troy, as much as she told herself that Clark wasn't like that. Lois considered Clark as a dear friend, but she wasn't sure what else.
Still, she had to tell him. She couldn't just leave without Clark knowing. And she was worried about where he had been the past few days. So she reluctantly left her bedroom, rummaged through her mother's purse to find the car keys, and headed out the door.
Clark was out in the barn that afternoon. He had buried himself in doing house and yard work ever since the night he had seen Tuck with the newspapermen in the field. He still hadn't called them back, and he also hadn't seen Tuck since then. Clark wondered where he was, but then decided that it was probably better that Tuck was staying away from the Kents. Except for the fact that Clark couldn't keep track of his activities.
Clark still hadn't decided fully what he wanted to do about the newspaper. The $10,000 still shined like a neon sign in his head, but it seemed too good to be true. There had to be some sort of catch that Clark wasn't seeing, and he intended to find it if there was one. And the bigger, more important reason that Clark was reluctant to give himself up was because, after having enough time to think about it, he realized that he could still continue his life. If he didn't give newspapers information to feed on, they would eventually leave him alone and everyone would forget about him.
This idea had been sparked by the thought of Lois. If people found out that he was really an alien, then Lois wouldn't ever talk to him again. That was what Clark was most afraid of. He didn't want to lose Lois. Even though they had only been close for hardly over a year, which wasn't very long by Smallville standards, Clark felt that he really and truly loved her. Even if they were of different species.
He remembered the first time they had met, at a newspaper meeting at the high school. Lois had been a freshman, and Clark a junior. Saying they hadn't exactly hit it off was a rather large understatement. Well, actually, for the first few weeks they had practically ignored each other, because Clark was older than Lois and he already had friends on the staff. But then the editor had the idea to pair up a less experienced staff member with one that had experience to get some human interest stories. That was when they had started to not get along. Lois felt that she didn't need Clark's help, and Clark felt that if Lois felt that she didn't need his help, he certainly wasn't going to offer it.
Clark was able to smile ruefully back upon the memory now, but at the time, it hadn't been a joking matter. Luckily, things settled down between the two after working together for a while, and their relationship became one of friendship, until finally Clark was beginning to think that perhaps there was something more than friendship. After all, it had been Lois' idea to meet at the pond on those summer nights.
It was funny in a sick way, Clark thought, that the summer seemed to have taken place years ago, when Clark had been much younger and much less intelligent than he was now. If only things had happened differently. If only his powers hadn't started showing up. If only his parents hadn't told him the truth. If only Tuck hadn't been in earshot. If only he had never come to earth to begin with. But he didn't have the heart for 'if only's' because they only dug deeper the hole that Clark was slowly burying himself in. He had already stopped going to school. What measures would he take next? Besides, would he have really rather not have known the truth about himself? No, he decided. It was better for him to know. He would get through this somehow, he and his loved ones. They would all work their way through this, and eventually, if they were lucky, they could continue on with life. If Clark wasn't captured and taken to a lab and cut open and experimented upon. He shuddered involuntarily. The thought sickened him. He could picture himself lying there, in a bright room, his skin pale from no sunlight, metal objects being sharpened… He tore his mind away from the image. He couldn't think that way. Not until there was no hope left.
He forced himself back to reality in order to stop his thoughts. This was why he had buried himself in work, so he wouldn't have time to think about… anything. He grabbed a broom and the ladder, and walked out the barn door into the bright sunlight. He propped the ladder against the side of the barn and then climbed up to the top, broom in tow. He was going to give his best shot at making the farm look decent, he thought fiercely as he brushed away dirt and cobwebs from the barn wall with the broom, precariously balancing himself on the ladder. He could feel the warm rays of sunlight beating down on his T-shirted back as he brushed down dirt and cobwebs from the wall, and he wondered why the day had to be so beautiful in spite of his mood.
Clark had been so intent on not thinking about anything that he was caught off-guard when someone called his name from the ground. He jumped in surprise and the ladder lurched perilously underneath him, but he caught himself before he fell backwards. He clung onto the ladder for a few moments before he twirled his head around to send a glare towards whomever had startled him. But he found himself in a much more precarious position when he saw Lois standing on the ground, looking up at him.
"Lois!" he exclaimed, clambering down the ladder. Once he landed safely in the dirt, he looked himself over. His boots were mud-covered, much like the bottom half of his jeans. A fine layer of sandy colored dirt covered the other half. Cobwebs and other unidentifiable matter clung to his dark T- shirt. He could only imagine what his face and hair looked like.
Lois, on the other hand, was the apotheosis of a woman. She looked neat and petite, as always. Her long dark hair fell past her shoulders and rested on her mid-back. She wore dark blue jeans and a tight sweater that perfectly accented her… her…
Clark flushed and yanked his gaze up towards her face quickly. I still feel human, he thought ruefully as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other nervously.
"What are you doing here?" he asked bluntly. He felt a bit perturbed with her for coming to his house without any warning. He always felt very self-conscious to let anyone see how he lived, and, when he hadn't even had any time to prepare himself for her arrival, it made him feel trapped. Lois had never been to his house before; she didn't know anything about his home life. She didn't know about any of his problems, about Tuck.
"I… I… was worried. You haven't been at school, so I thought I would come and check on you," Lois answered, sounding as uneasy as Clark felt.
"I haven't been feeling very well," Clark lied.
"I just wanted to make sure that it wasn't about the poster because, Clark, it's worse since you haven't been there and…"
"It's not about the poster. Believe me."
Lois studied him quizzically for a moment, and Clark ran a hand through his hair self-consciously.
"What?" he asked.
"If you're not feeling well, why are you outside working?" Lois asked slowly.
"Is it really any of your business?" Clark snapped and turned away. Seconds later, he turned back to Lois. "I'm sorry, I don't know where that came from. There's just a lot of pent up stress and… and anger, and I had to let it out some way. I'm really sorry, Lois."
"It's ok," Lois answered, more carefully. There was a long pause, before she continued. "Look, Clark, the real reason I came here was to tell you that I'm moving. To Metropolis," she said quickly.
Clark could almost feel the color drain from his face as the earth opened up at his feet. He placed a hand on the barn wall for balance. He couldn't have really just heard her say that, could he have? She was just joking. Right? He looked at her with pleading eyes, but she refused to meet his gaze.
"Right, well, we're leaving in two weeks, and I just thought you should know before we left because I didn't know if you would be back at school or not." Clark finally caught her eye as she finished talking. He thought he could almost see tears. He hoped she didn't see any in his eyes.
"You're… moving? Forever?" he asked in a daze.
"Yes, I'm moving," Lois said, almost impatiently.
"But… why?" Clark asked.
"My dad got a new job there, in Metropolis, and he got me a job working at the Daily Planet. Can you believe that? From lowly sophomore staff member to intern at the biggest newspaper in the world. And I'm going to go to the Metropolis School of Journalism when I graduate from high school…" As she trailed off, Clark looked away from her again. He felt another emotion well up in him, one that he didn't feel too often. Jealousy.
He hoped Lois realized how lucky she was. The Metropolis School of Journalism, one of the most prestigious, and expensive, journalism schools in the United States. His dream, or what his dream had once been. Now his dream was to stay alive long enough to graduate from Smallville Community College.
"That's… amazing," Clark said wistfully; then he met Lois' eye again. They were silent again. "Do you have to go?"
"I want to go. Don't you know what this means? I'll be a reporter at the Daily Planet!"
"Yes, Lois, I understand what it means," he said, taking two steps closer to her. "I just… I don't know if I'll be able to stand it if you leave."
"Clark, I wish there was some way… ," Lois said, her gaze never wavering from Clark's.
"Lois…" Clark said huskily, stepping closer still until there were barely inches between their noses. Clark reached up with his dirt-covered hand to cradle Lois' head. He leaned closer, watching her, hoping she couldn't hear his heavy thudding heart.
He fluttered his eyes closed as he brushed his lips across hers.
"Clark, don't give me a reason to stay," Lois breathed against his cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as he softly kissed her forehead. He slowly pulled away, still holding her cheek in his palm. "You're really going to go?" he asked softly, his voice now barely above a whisper.
Lois nodded, then moments later, Clark found himself engulfed in a hug. Lois had her arms wrapped around his back, and Clark did the same. They stayed that way for some time, neither saying anything. Clark thought he felt Lois shiver underneath him a few times, and he wondered what she had to be scared about.
Clark was up late again that night, wandering around the yard. The reason for his restless behavior was that he couldn't sleep, couldn't get his mind calmed down enough for him to sleep. After Lois had left, he had decided that he would call the newspapermen. He would give them their story and take their money. After all, hadn't he just earlier that day decided that Lois was his only steadfastness? And now… she was leaving. Leaving him. The tight clenching in his throat returned as he remembered the day's events. For the most part, he had gone through the day in a haze, not letting any emotions leak out from the heavily guarded wall that he had mentally built around himself.
In the direct opposite way of thinking, his other reason for being up was that he was so wired. He had been afraid to eat or drink anything in fear that the electric sizzling that had settled on his lips after their kiss would disappear. It hadn't been the longest or deepest kiss that Clark had ever shared, but it had been the only one that had ever left him feeling as if he were walking on air. The only one that had ever kept him up at night. The only one that left him wishing the girl wasn't going to be moving before the month was over. The lump in his throat threatened to rise again.
As he walked towards the barn, he heard his radio that he'd failed to turn off earlier playing loud, staticky rock music that was barely getting a reception. He sighed heavily as he walked inside and turned the 'on-off' knob on the radio. As the station slowly died, Clark could hear quieter, muffled voices coming from… somewhere. He had the sudden urge to yell "Hello?", but he fought it as he crept back towards the door. He stopped again when he returned outside and listened for the voices again. There, he could hear them coming from the side of the building. He moved stealthily along the outside of the barn until he came to a corner, where he waited. He picked up the tail end of a sentence, recognizing Tuck's low, cold voice.
"-subtle approach?" Tuck was saying in his normal hiss. His other companion, or companions, spoke in tones so low Clark couldn't hear. There was a long moment of silence, and Clark wasn't even sure that the men were still there. He poked his head around the corner quickly, and stole a quick glance at the small huddle. The same men he had seen the other night! Tuck and the two newspapermen. He pulled his head back quickly around the corner and flattened himself against the wall. Why were they hanging around his house like this? Especially having mysterious conversations with Tuck in the middle of the night! He turned quickly and walked back the way he had come. He didn't know why they were there, but it was making him nervous.
"Clark!" an over-zealous voice called from behind him. He froze in place before he composed himself and turned around, hoping he looked collected. The three men stood in a line. They had large smiles plastered on their faces, except for Tuck. He looked at Clark with his normal scowl. Clark slowly crossed his arms across his chest and gave them a "Well?" look.
The head guy held out his hand for Clark to shake. What was his name? Robinson? Some 'R' name. Richards? Yeah, that was it. Clark suspiciously took his hand and shook it quickly before pulling his hand back.
"What are you doing out this late at night on a school night, Clark?"
"Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing. What ARE you doing here, on my property, this late?" Clark countered. As if the moonlight had unmasked the men's true intentions, Clark could see through their genial personalities straight to their true intentions in a way he couldn't have before.
"Well, we were staying in Smallville, and our plane leaves for DC tomorrow, so we thought we'd come and see you for your answer. I thought it would be a shame for us to be right here in your town without getting your consent for the story." He flashed his brilliantly white teeth towards Clark.
"Well, then." Clark paused, remembering his previous thoughts. Hadn't he been so ready to take the men up on their offer? Now that he was here with them, however, he wasn't sure that was a good idea. These men didn't seem like the kind who should know about Clark. Even though Clark didn't know too much about himself to begin with.
"Yes?" Richards prodded.
"Well… I think that… the answer's no," Clark said slowly, tensely. As soon as he said it, he wondered nervously if he should have disagreed with them. He waited for the men's reactions, but there barely were none.
"Really?" Richards said, looking down at his fingernails. Then his mood and tone both changed drastically. He looked back up at Clark, his eyes flashing dangerously. "I'm sorry to hear that. It would have been so much easier if you came willingly."
Before Clark could understand what was going on, the man's henchman had seized both of his arms and twisted them behind his back. Clark struggled against him, but he was stronger than his outer appearance might have suggested. Richards walked up towards Clark, stopping when he was only about a foot away.
"My name is Marcus Hayes. I work for Bureau 39. It's a government agency that was designed for the sole purpose of tracking down dangerous aliens. And with Tuck's proof of your ship and documents written in your language, we have reason to believe that you are indeed a dangerous alien. And we can't just let you run around freely, wrecking havoc, now can we? So we're going to go back to our… hideout, if you will, and ask you a few questions."
"What are you talking about?" Clark asked, finally tired of listening to the man go on and on. He couldn't believe he had been double crossed like that.
"I'm not even going to humor you by answering that. You know exactly what I'm talking about, alien." Clark writhed in the man's grasp, trying to work himself free of the steel-like hold on his arms. But when he looked up again, he saw Hayes approaching him, holding something in between his fingers.
"Now, if you would just stop thrashing about…" Hayes said as he held up a needle for Clark to see. Clark gasped and pulled as far away as he could, but his captor wouldn't allow him to go any farther. "We can't have you making too much commotion on the jet home, or the pilot would get angry," Hayes said as he positioned the needle on Clark's shoulder. Clark shut his eyes tightly, but then opened them again moments later when he felt nothing. No pain, no drowsiness.
Clark saw quite an amazing sight when he looked down at Hayes. The man was trying without luck to force the needle down into Clark's shoulder. Hayes hesitated as he pulled the needle back, trying to figure out what was wrong, and Clark used that hesitation as his moment for escape. He jerked his arm up and elbowed the man with the power of a sledgehammer in the nose. He let go of him, but Clark wasn't sure how long it would be before he recovered enough, so he looked up at Hayes.
He was looking at Clark with an unsure look in his eyes, as if he didn't know whether to run or stay and fight. Clark narrowed his eyes at him before he lifted his leg and kneed Hayes in the groin. Hayes fell backwards, groaning, and he dropped the needle. Two down, one to go, Clark thought as he looked around for Tuck.
"You're not going to get rid of me as easily as you did them," Tuck snarled into Clark's ear. Before Clark realized what was happening, Tuck brought his knee up hard against Clark's back. There was complete silence for a moment, before Tuck let go of Clark and fell to the earth, clutching his shin. Clark froze for a second, gazing around him at the three large, grown men, moaning on the ground, before he took off. Not questioning his fate, he ran towards his house. He stopped on the front porch, holding onto the rail and gasping for breath. He wasn't really out of breath, he was just… scared. Scared nearly to death, actually, he thought. He continuously watched the barn, waiting for the men to come and catch him. He willed himself to go inside the house, but he couldn't. There was no sound except his own raspy breathing in the night air, and that spooked Clark even more.
He was afraid of the men, yes, but, even more, he was afraid of what was happening to him, to his body. He had fallen out of the tree house the night before and walked away unharmed. Tuck had just kneed him in the back, and only ended up on the ground. The needle hadn't been able to penetrate through his skin. Clark shivered involuntarily. It was like he was caught in a bad horror movie, whose plot only seemed to worsen with each scene.
He began to feel curious when there was no pursuit. He hadn't hurt them THAT bad, had he? And if he had, what would he do now? Just leave them there? He watched the barn with growing anticipation. They weren't chasing him; maybe they were concocting a larger plan. He took one slow step back towards the barn, then another. He felt almost possessed as he walked back towards the barn. He had never noticed how ominous the barn looked at night, looming above the farm. He imagined shadows shifting into shapes ready to reach out for him. The night was silent without a breeze blowing. He couldn't stop his teeth from chattering in anxiety.
Suddenly, seemingly from no where, a solitary gunshot rang out. Clark jumped, shouted, and spun in one movement. He ran back towards the house, his feet seeming to barely touch the earth. He heard another shot, and a bullet whizzed past his head. Oh God, they're shooting at me! he thought frantically. He flew up the steps onto his porch and slammed into the door, turning the knob in the same moment.
"It's locked!" he squeaked, his voice choked. He gave it a few more tries before looking over his shoulder. One of the men was running towards him, but in the dark Clark couldn't see who it was. However, there was definitely a gun that was pointed at him. He paused for one moment before taking off from the porch, running down the driveway. He feared for his parents' safety, but then figured that at the moment they were safer than he was. He ran past the truck, wishing that he had the key. But he didn't, and there was certainly no way he would try to get into the house to get it. Anyway, he was confident he could outrun the men for as long as they chased him.
He didn't know what urged him to go to Lois' house, but the next thing he knew, there he was, standing in her yard. Leaning on his knees in a baseball player stance and gasping for breath, he looked behind him for any signs of pursuit. He must have left the men in the dust, because he could hear no footsteps, and certainly didn't see anyone on his trail. He turned his attention back to Lois' house. Why HAD he come here? He surely couldn't just go barging in her front door at 1:00 in the morning. That was too absurd to even think of.
However, her house was only a one-story, and Clark didn't think it would take him too long to find her room. But wouldn't that be invading her privacy to do that? Anytime, but especially when she was asleep? And what would he tell her when or if he found her? All those rumors you've been hearing about me, they're true. I'm really an alien and am now being pursued by a secret government agency. So I was wondering if I could bunk here tonight. Yeah, right. Even with all these thoughts of transgression, Clark still found himself creeping silently around Lois' house, peeking in all the windows, until he found her room. Lois was asleep, as she should be, and despite all that was now happening, Clark again felt that tightness in his throat at the thought of her leaving him. He faltered for a moment before he brought his hand up in a fist and rapped on her window. He cringed at the loud sound his knocking made in the silent night, but continuously repeated his movements until Lois finally began to move restlessly in her bed. Finally, she sat up, her hair flipped over onto one side of her head and her eyes blinking sleepily. She looked about for a moment before finally pinpointing the sound to her window.
She stood up from her bed and, as if it were completely normal to have someone come to her window in the middle of the night, she walked over to her window and opened it.
"Clark?" she said slowly, confused. It must have been a dream. Why else would Clark be at her window so late at night? There was no other explanation. However, Clark's continuous furtive glances around him made Lois think otherwise.
"Can I come in?" Clark asked in a loud whisper. Lois stepped back.
"Um, I guess," she answered, her voice echoing loudly in the otherwise still house. She watched in growing confusion as Clark gripped the windowsill and pulled himself up and through her window. This was crazy.
"Clark, what's going on?" He looked like a spooked horse, standing in the middle of her room, shaking involuntarily and breathing as if he had just run a mile. She tugged nervously at the T-shirt that she was sleeping in, pulling it down as far as she could.
"I can't tell you, or at least I don't have time to right now. But there are some really bad guys after me, Lois, and I was scared and I wasn't thinking so I came here. And… I don't know what to do now."
"Wait a second, who's after you? I don't understand."
"Men from the government. They're chasing me, and they have guns. This is too much… I don't think I can take it." He sat down on the edge of Lois' bed, but Lois stood, rooted to her spot. It was official. Clark Kent had gone insane.
"Clark, um, maybe you need to get some sleep. I don't think-"
"They're really after me, Lois. I'm not imagining, or dreaming. And there might be a reason for them to be, but I can't tell you it right now."
Lois had never seen Clark so wound up; he was normally so reserved and quiet. For a fleeting moment, Lois wondered if Clark was on drugs. But that was stupid. There was a bigger chance that Lois herself was. This seemed like a perfectly normal occurrence in an insane person's life. But Lois wasn't insane. Or at least, she didn't think she was insane. Which brought up another issue: do people that are insane realize that they're insane, or do they think they're normal?
"What am I thinking?" Lois said out loud, realizing how demented her thoughts were becoming.
"What?" Clark asked, now confused. He was beginning to calm down, now that he thought he was safe. They wouldn't find him here, because they would never think to look. Unless they had been following him the entire time and were just waiting for the perfect time to strike. In which case he didn't want Lois to be around. He stood up again, heading back towards the window.
"I have to leave now. Thank you for letting me in."
"But… wait! Clark? Are you going to tell me what's happening?"
"I'll tell you later. But I have to leave now, because it's too dangerous for you if I stay here." At Lois' flashing eyes, Clark realized that that was perhaps not the best choice of words.
"Too dangerous for me? Now look, Clark. I may be a girl, but I'm certainly not afraid. I'll help you with whatever it is you need help with."
"But see, you can't help, because you don't know what's going on!" Clark protested, leaning his head out the window to glance around.
"But I want to know," Lois said as Clark brought his head back inside the room.
"But I can't tell you." He hesitated for a moment before reaching over and giving Lois a quick peck on the lips. "Just in case I don't see you again."
"Clark!" Lois cried as he clambered out the window. "Why wouldn't I see you again?"
He just shrugged, then turned and ran back into the night. Lois watched him run off, then closed the window. She walked slowly back to her bed and lay down. That had to have been the most thoroughly confusing conversation she had ever had ever taken part in during her whole life. In the same way, no one had ever invoked so much curiosity in Lois in such a short time. She longed to know what was going on, hoping for her own sake that Clark wasn't in fact just going insane.
And the way he had kissed her, and then said, "Just in case I don't see you again." He had sounded too serious, and… final. Lois pulled the blanket up around her. Was Clark really in danger? If he was, and she just lay there sleeping, she would never forgive herself. She stood again and looked around for her clothes. No way would Kent do this alone, whatever it was.
Clark returned to his house a few hours later. He had been wandering around the open countryside, being sure not to go too near any sort of civilization. He was exhausted as he climbed up the steps of his porch, then groaned as he remembered the door was locked. He had waited for a long while out of sight, making sure there were no signs of the men, before allowing himself to walk towards his house. So he stood on the porch, leaning his head against the cool metal frame of the door with his eyes closed. After a few moments, he sat down by the door, leaning up against the house. Minutes later, he stood himself up slowly. He hadn't even tried to see if the door was unlocked.
He placed his hand on the knob, and to his surprise, it turned and the door swung open. He leaned back suspiciously. Only hours earlier, the door had been locked. Now it wasn't. He had a feeling that his parents hadn't been out of bed since he had last been there. Gruesome images of his parents lying on the ground in the living room, or the kitchen, torn up… He shook the nightmarish images out of his mind, but he was still afraid to go in the door that was now hanging open. He took a step back. The men were inside his house, waiting for him. That was the only explanation. They already had his parents, and they were just waiting for him so they could kill him too.
"Clark?" Clark jumped back in surprise as someone called his name from the dark hallway beyond the door. His mother's head poked out from inside.
"Mom!" Clark exclaimed, throwing his arms around her. "I thought you were dead! I thought they had gotten you. Are you all right?" His mother faltered at his show of concern, and Clark pulled away from her, confused. But when he saw the expression on her face, he gasped and receded to the railing of the porch. It was a look he had never thought he would see on his mother's face. Contempt. Disgrace. Pity.
"I'm sorry, Clark," she said off-handily as two large men came up behind her. "Jonathan and I realized we didn't want to have you around any longer." At this, the two muscle men descended on Clark.
"Mom?" Clark asked, confused. "I don't understand… What's going on?"
"They're taking you away, Alien. We decided we wanted the money more than we wanted you."
The two men grabbed Clark's arms and picked him up off the ground. He fought them in vain. "Why are you doing this, Mom!" he cried, tears now falling from his eyes. "I'm your son! Let me go!" Martha walked up to him and gave him a quick, mocking kiss on the cheek.
"I would never want a freak for a son. Take him away." The men carried him off the porch, with him kicking and screaming. He got farther and farther from the house, but all he could see and hear was Martha's flagitious laughter. It was engulfing him, so much that he couldn't even hear himself.
"No!" he cried. He sat up so quickly that he knocked his head against the wall of the house. He looked around confused. He was lying on the porch, under a sky gray with anticipation of the rising sun.
"Oh," he said to himself. It had just been a dream. He had been asleep the whole time. And yet it seemed so real. He could still hear Martha's laughter, fading away until it was a hum, reminding him of what could happen. His eyes were heavy with sleep, and he reached his hands up to rub them. He could feel the dry tears on his cheeks. He supposed that his worst nightmare would be to have even his parents exclude him. He shuddered at the thought. He heard the screen door creak open, and he looked over as Jonathan stepped out.
"Clark? What are you doing?" Jonathan asked, suddenly concerned. To his surprise, Clark suddenly flung his arms around Jonathan's shoulders, holding him tight. "What's the matter, son?"
"Where do I begin?" Clark asked, a hint of dark humor in his voice. "How about with where you've been all night."
"I cannot believe you let a teenage boy escape! You're ten times his size!" Marcus Hayes raged. "And you had a perfect shot at his head, and you missed! I could not have been teamed up with a sorrier person."
"As I recall, Your Holiness," Harold Brown, Hayes' associate retorted sarcastically, "the kid brought you to your knees as well."
Hayes backhanded the man across his face, sending him reeling. "Don't argue with me, Brown. I didn't come here to fight with you. Or a fifteen year old-"
"Seventeen year old," Tuck corrected lazily.
Hayes gave him a sharp look. "I don't care how old he is. What I'm saying is this: you had better have him back here within the next twenty-four hours. I'm not going to go back to DC without the kid. And for your sake," he turned to Tuck, "you had better hope all this alien crap is true. If it's not, well… I'd hate to be in your position."
Tuck fumed silently, watching the back of the men's heads as they walked away. It had to be true.
It was Friday afternoon, and Lois was stuck in her room. It wasn't right. She stared daggers through the door that her father had just exited through. She had been restricted to her room for the remainder of the day just because she had been trying to help her friend! So what if it had been the middle of the night? So what if her friend was a guy? She couldn't believe that her parents didn't trust her to take care of herself.
She lay back on her bed, closing her eyes. She was extremely exhausted, having gotten only a few hours of sleep the night before. After Clark had made his exit through her window, she had followed him. She couldn't see which direction he had gone, because he was already out of her sight by the time she got outside. So she had gone to his house and waited on his porch for him to get there. A long period of time passed while she sat on the railing, and Clark never showed up. At one point, she thought she heard voices from the side of his house, but upon investigation, had come up with nothing. She had finally gone home, too tired to stay out anymore. When she arrived home, her father was waiting for her, sitting on her bed. He believed she was out running around with boys. She tried to tell him that she was above that, and she had just been trying to help a friend, but of course Sam didn't believe her. So here she sat: in her room. And she still didn't know if Clark was ok. It was all so frustrating.
She turned over and looked at her calendar. Twelve days. Only twelve days before she left Smallville forever, and she was sitting cooped up in her room, doing nothing constructive. "I don't think so," Lois said, sitting up. And for the second time in the last twenty-four hours, she opened her window and crept out.
Clark watched from inside the doorway as his father drove away. It was his first day at his new job, and Clark felt guilty now. He had just piled a truckload of problems on his dad's shoulders. Jonathan had wanted to stay home, fearing for both Clark's and Martha's safety. But Clark and Martha had both pushed him out the door. The job was important for the family. And the way Clark saw it, if they ever got through the Bureau 39 problem, then Jonathan needed the job. And if they didn't, well… it wouldn't make any difference whether Jonathan was there or not. He was definitely safer in town, in public, than at home anyway.
Martha pulled Clark away from the door and sat him down at the kitchen table. Clark couldn't help but look at his mother in a new light after the dream he had had. He realized again how lucky he was to have parents who cared for him. They cared for him more than any aliens had when they had sent him away from his home.
Clark was stuck. What could he do now? He was skipping another day of school, but somehow that didn't seem important anymore. As far as he knew, there were still men chasing him, even though he hadn't seen or heard from them since the night before. Maybe they were planning something else for him. The thought sent chills through him.
"Why didn't you come and tell us what was happening, Clark? Don't you know your father and I would have done anything in our power to help you?"
"Yeah, I know that Mom. It's just… I guess I didn't want to get you involved. I can handle it myself."
Martha sat silent for a moment. "Well, what do we do now? I have to say, this is bigger than anything else I've been involved in my whole life. These men, the way you describe them, they're dangerous. How can we beat them?"
"I don't know. All this thinking is making my brain hurt," Clark said, and stifled a yawn. He was still tired; his restless sleep on the porch had done hardly anything for him. He wanted to just go lie down on his bed and sleep, but it would leave his mother defenseless if he left her alone.
Martha noticed the yawn too. "Why don't you go rest for a while. I'll hold down the fort."
"Mom, I can't leave you alone…"
"You underestimate me, Clark. I'm a big girl, you know," Martha cut in, a hint of mischievousness in her voice.
"I know. Ok." Clark gave in. He stumbled through the living room and was asleep almost before his head hit his pillow.
Harold Brown fumbled with loading the gun under Hayes' piercing gaze.
"I hope you'll be a bit more confident handling that later," Hayes commented dryly.
"Look, Marc, I've never killed anyone before. I don't know if I'll be able to-"
"You had better hope and pray that you'll be able to," Hayes broke in. "Or else you'll be in a heck of a lot more trouble than you're in now."
Tuck sauntered down the trail towards the two men. "He gets off work at 6:00. It's now 4:15," he reported, sitting on a rock. He threw the bag of hamburgers towards them. "There's your lunch."
As the men ate, Hayes' mind was racing. Plenty of time to follow through with their plan. And this time, he would be sure it worked. He had no choice.
Clark sat up with a start, breathing heavily. It was the same dream, but this time it had been followed by a glimpse into the labs that he would be studied in. The walls had been dripping with a red liquid, and huge knives lay on the table beside a body. It had been utterly terrifying. And the scream, the one that finally woke him from his nightmare — it was blood curdling. Someone had screamed his name, a woman's voice, but one he couldn't depict. It was a scream of anguish. Torment. But here he was, in his own bed, warm and safe… No, he wasn't safe. There were still men after him. He glanced at his clock. It was already almost 5:00 in the afternoon. He groaned as he stretched. He had been asleep nearly the whole day. He stood up, and realized he was wearing the same clothes that he had the day and night before. He changed into more comfortable sweat pants and a T-shirt before opening the door and padding down the hall.
He stopped at the head of the stairs. He felt a sudden and strong feeling that something was wrong, but then it was gone. He held his breath, waiting for the feeling to return. The house was too quiet. That's where the feeling had come from. There was no sound of his mom humming, no sound of the broom sweeping across the linoleum, no sound of dishes clashing together in the sink. But then the clock in the living room struck five times, breaking Clark out of his reverie, and he let out a breath.
You're being paranoid, Clark scolded himself. His mom was just outside, or reading, or taking a nap. He continued down the stairs.
Lois was forced to walk to Clark's house, because she couldn't very well take the car without being seen. This proved another reason why Lois was looking forward to going to Metropolis: She wouldn't have to walk a mile just to move between houses.
She continuously looked behind her shoulder, afraid that her parents would be following her. She laughed to herself at her paranoia, but she did quicken her pace a bit.
Arriving at the end of Clark's driveway, she found that their truck was gone. She hoped Clark was home, or else the whole trip would have been a waste. She trotted up the driveway, but when she arrived at his porch, she found that his front door was wide open. Uncertain whether to knock or go in, she hesitated. For a moment. Then for more than a moment. She felt nervous, and she figured that that was partly due to the fact that she had never really gone to Clark's house and just knocked on the door. She checked her watch. It was 4:30. What if his family ate dinner now? She would be intruding, and he might be mad. Or, what if… Clark walked around the house naked or something weird like that? She smiled at the thought, and then mentally hit herself. This wasn't the time or the place.
Suddenly, breaking through her thoughts was a crash from inside the house. Her attempts to ignore her curiosity proved futile as she poked her head through the door.
"Oh my God," she breathed, stepping back outside and flattening herself against the wall. There were men inside the kitchen. Two men in black suits, and Clark's mother. As far as Lois could tell with her limited view, the men were attacking Mrs. Kent. Where were Clark and Mr. Kent? She tried to calm her quickly beating heart. What could she do? Shakily, she stepped off the porch and ran back down the driveway.
Clark realized he was still tired, even after sleeping all day long, as he tripped over the bottom step on the stairs. He smiled to himself. He had heard somewhere that the more sleep people got, the more tired they felt. He could believe it as he rubbed his eyes sleepily.
"Mom," he called out into the silent house. She wasn't taking a nap, he noted as he passed through the living room. He heard a scuffling sound coming from the kitchen. "Mom?" he called again, slightly quickening his pace. He suddenly wished for the old days. His parents would both be in the kitchen by this time, preparing dinner together and stopping every few moments to show their affection for each other. Then he would walk inside, mud-covered from head to toe after playing football with his friends. His mother would scold him lightly and send him to the bathroom to wash up for dinner.
But these weren't the old days, and the house was still quiet. Out of nowhere, he suddenly felt something push into the small of his back. He whirled around with a yelp of surprise, and was met by a sickening smile from Marcus Hayes. Clark's eyes traveled downwards, and saw the small handgun that was now being aimed at his chest. He stood frozen in fear, and again his eyes met Hayes.
"Wha… what…?" Clark stuttered. Hayes stepped closer to him and shoved the barrel of the gun into Clark's chest. Clark backed up against the wall, shaking uncontrollably.
"You, my dear boy, are going to make me a lot of money," Hayes said cheerfully. "I was going to capture you, but you yourself ruined that plan. There's too much of a chance that you could get away. Therefore, I'm just going to kill you now. An alien's corpse is better than no alien at all." He put his finger on the trigger. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind in a matter of the two seconds that they stood there, facing each other. Clark didn't want to die. He had at one point thought that it would be easier to just give up, but he now realized that he really did have a lot to live for. His family — how would they survive without his help? He had Lois, and all his other friends. His future -he didn't want to just lose everything. But now here he was in his living room with a gun shoved into his ribs. He didn't want to die. Not now. Not like this.
"No, wait!" Clark stammered through chattering teeth. "I'll do whatever you want. I swear. Please, don't."
"Interesting offer, but, no, I don't think so." Hayes pulled the trigger. The next several seconds seemed to pass in slow motion. The bullet hit Clark under his ribs. He cried out, falling to the ground and clutching his chest. Simultaneously with Clark's cry came a muffled scream of anguish from the kitchen. Hayes stepped over Clark's body with an air of disdain and walked over to where Harold and Tuck were holding Martha. Hayes smiled at her contemptuously before smashing the butt of the gun across her face. She fell to the ground in a heap, and the men let her lie.
Clark lay in a daze for several long moments. He was dead. That much was obvious; he had just been shot. But then why was he still lying on the floor? Still feeling the pressure of the bullet in his chest? Still hearing the shot, over and over? He felt no pain, so that must mean he was dead. Of course, he had never been dead before, so he didn't know what it was like. He would, however, have pictured something a bit more heavenly.
But then he heard a less than celestial sound coming from the kitchen. It was the same voice, the same scream that had awoken him from his slumber only minutes before. He shuddered and turned his head over. Let him leave earth now, before he had to hear his mother scream like that again.
She was crying now; he could hear her even from his position on the floor. He wondered if he was an angel, here to take care of his mother. Or maybe he would not be allowed to leave earth since he wasn't human. He placed his arms on either side of him and pushed himself up into a sitting position with a slight groan. As he sat up, the bullet fell to the floor underneath him. He looked at it for a moment, puzzled; then he reached down and picked it up between his two fingers, holding it up to his eyes for better inspection. He then slowly looked down at his chest. There was a hole in his shirt, but as he moved the fabric away, he found that his smooth skin was still that: smooth. Unharmed.
He wasn't sure what was going on, but something was. He crawled towards the kitchen on his hands and knees. His mother was on the floor, like him. She was sitting with her legs curled up underneath her, her head in her hands, and a mixture of moaning and crying was escaping her lips. The men were nowhere to be seen. "Mom?" Clark asked, his voice slightly hoarse. At first, Martha didn't look up, and Clark was afraid that he really was dead, and no one could see him. But then slowly Martha lifted her head from her hands. A large purple welt on her cheek obscured her features, but nothing could hide the wishful look, which was quickly replaced by a look of astonishment.
"Are you all right?" Clark asked again, dragging himself closer to where his mother sat.
"I… Clark? You're not… I mean, I saw you…" Martha attempted to make sense of the hundreds of thoughts that were racing through her mind.
"I think I'm all right. I mean, I'm not sure, but I feel… fine," Clark said slowly.
Martha came to one of the same conclusions that Clark had. He must be dead, and not even know it. "Oh, honey," she started, but she had no idea what to say. What could she possibly say to her son, who had just been murdered?
"Where'd the men go? We need to get away from them," Clark said, looking towards the door.
"I don't know — they were gone when I looked up again. But Clark, let me… let me look at the wound," she said gently. Clark lifted up the T-shirt to just above his ribs. "Where'd you… I mean, where'd it…" Martha choked, unable to say the words. Where did the bullet hit you? Where'd you get shot? They all sounded so final, so… dead. Clark however, understood her. He placed his fingers on the approximate point of contact. "But honey, there's no mark there," Martha said softly.
"I know. It's really weird," Clark answered, letting his shirt fall back down. He glanced around his kitchen from his view on the floor. He still felt in a state of shock, like his mind was cloudy. It was like someone had poured thick gravy in the part of his brain that did the logical thinking, and he had to wade through slowly to get anywhere.
"We should call Dad?" Clark said, his tone a question rather than a statement. He started to stand, and had to hold onto the table for support. His body was shaky, protesting against his movements. He reached out a hand to help his mother. He pulled it back to him, however, when he heard several pairs of heavy footsteps on the porch. Before he could comprehend what was happening, two more bullets were flying towards him. They hit him in roughly the same place. His body jerked in shock, but this time he stood standing, watching in wonder as the bullets fell to the kitchen floor beside him. He stared at the ground for several moments before looking back up at the men, placing a hand over the spot that the bullets had hit. The men looked back at him with as much if not more amazement as Clark himself felt.
"What the…" Hayes said in bewilderment as he stepped into the kitchen. Brown followed close behind him, carrying a large black bag that he presently dropped onto the floor. After a few long moments of complete silence in the kitchen, Clark advanced towards the men. This… invulnerability, or whatever it was, suddenly gave him a new sense of power. They couldn't hurt him. He could do whatever he wanted, and they couldn't do anything about it. The intensity of the feeling almost scared him. Along with the power came a deep rage. These men were ruining his life. But now, they were powerless against him. Clark grabbed Hayes with both hands by the collar and slammed him back against the wall.
Everything was suddenly crystal clear. All he had to do was get rid of these men that were ruining his life. And he had the means to do so. Nothing else mattered.
"Hey Clark," a voice drawled from behind him. He hesitated for a moment before dropping Hayes and turning around. Then he stepped forward with a gasp.
"Tuck, no!" Clark pleaded. Tuck was standing farther back into the kitchen, with one strong arm wrapped around Martha's neck, the other holding a gun to her temple. Her eyes were closed tightly, and she trembled in his grasp. Clark had never doubted that Tuck was an evil man, but could anyone really be this evil, to kill a woman point blank right in front of her son?
"Let's make a deal, Clark. You go with the men, I won't blow your mama's head off." Clark didn't have to hesitate.
"All right. I will." He backed himself up until the men each grabbed one of his arms.
"Clark!" Martha cried out, but dared not try to free herself from Tuck's grasp. The two men pulled Clark towards the door. He watched his mother sorrowfully, allowing himself to be dragged.
"Please Tuck, keep your promise," he pleaded. He was being pulled backwards out the door. Suddenly, he heard wheels crunch on the gravel. He couldn't see who it was, but he already knew. It was his father. And they would kill him too.
But if it was his father, why did Hayes and Brown suddenly tense? Their grip on his arms got tighter, for a few seconds, before they suddenly let go of him. What?
Then they were pushing him back into his house. He stumbled inside, caught off guard, but caught his balance quickly as he saw that Tuck still held the gun leisurely against his mother. He swallowed quickly, nervously, not wanting to set Tuck off, then turned around to see what was going on. Hayes and Brown were standing inside the door and staring out through the screen, but Clark couldn't see over them at what was going on.
Hayes whispered very softly into Brown's ear, and Clark struggled to hear what they were saying.
"We should leave, try to make it to the woods. We can't just stand here and let them take us!"
"But what about the kid? Do we leave him? He'll just tell them what happened."
Clark caught himself leaning forward to hear them, but straightened up quickly when they turned around.
"We're out of here. If you EVER tell anyone about us, who we are, where to find us, you can be sure that you will never be able to live your life without being followed, or watched. We'll be back someday, and we'll be sure you don't get away then."
With that, they ran out the door.
Lois was beginning to think she wouldn't be able to make it into town. She was gasping for breath as she ran down the road, her lungs burning. She had never noticed how long the distance was into town. Of course, Clark lived even deeper into the country than Lois did, but still… She was very tempted to walk, but she couldn't. Something very bad was going on at the Kents' house, and the image of Clark hurt, or… or hurt really bad, propelled her forward.
A few cars went by, their occupants giving Lois strange looks, but she didn't slow down until the road led into town. Once there, she headed for the Sheriff's Office. She leaped up the steps onto the small porch and swung the door open. Bounding into the room, she stopped at the desk, gasping for breath. No one was in sight. She hung onto the edge of the desk, gasping for breath and wondering what to do now. Now that she had run what seemed like 10 miles to get into town. She spied the service bell on the counter and rang it impatiently over and over. Finally, a balding deputy who evidently seemed to have eaten a few too many donuts emerged from an office behind the desk.
"You rang?" he said, eyeing Lois suspiciously. Lois rolled her eyes at him, then leaned forward on the counter.
"I need the sheriff," she said impatiently.
"He's not here," the deputy replied flatly.
"Well where is he?" Lois demanded, surprised at the deputy's lack of interest. She had an emergency!
"What do you need?" the deputy asked, not answering Lois' question.
"The sheriff!" Lois exclaimed.
"Haven't we already been through this?"
Lois took a deep breath. "My friend and his family are in trouble." It was the deputy's turn to take a deep breath as he pulled out a notebook.
"Who's your friend, and what's the matter with him?"
"Clark Kent. And there's these-"
"Kent? I just saw Jonathan at the hardware store. He told me today was his first day at work."
So that's where Clark's dad was. Not at home with Clark and Mrs. Kent. They were there alone with those men. Chills went down Lois' spine. She silently prayed that nothing bad happen to them before continuing.
"OK, there's these men at their house. I saw them attacking Mrs. Kent. Please contact the sheriff," she finished, her tone nearly pleading. The deputy gave her a long look, as if to see if she was telling the truth, before slowly nodding.
"All right. Let me call his radio." Lois sighed with relief as the deputy picked up his radio and pushed a few buttons.
"Hey Rob, you might wanna head on over to the Kents. There's some kind of trouble over there." He attached the radio to his belt and then came around the counter, grabbing his jacket and hat. "Come on," he said to Lois. "We'll meet him over there, and pick up Jonathan on the way."
Lois followed him out the door and they drove a few blocks in the deputy's car to the hardware store. Lois jumped out of the car and ran into the store. Mr. Kent was behind the counter, checking out a customer.
"Mr. Kent!" Lois exclaimed as she ran up to the counter. Jonathan looked at her in surprise.
"Hi, Lois, what's wrong?" he asked, noticing her worried expression. He thanked the customer as he left, then turned back to Lois.
"Clark and Mrs. Kent are in trouble," she said in one quick breath.
"In trouble? How?" Jonathan asked, confused.
"There were some men in black suits inside your house," Lois replied, and Jonathan immediately leapt forward, grabbing his keys from behind the counter. "The sheriff is on his way there. The deputy's waiting outside for us."
Jonathan swung the CLOSED sign on the door and locked it, hurrying out behind Lois. A thousand horrible thoughts were running through his mind. He knew he shouldn't have ever left the house today, after what had happened to Clark the night before. Because he did, this is what happened. He jumped in the front seat of the deputy's car, praying they wouldn't be too late.
"Hold it right there, boys."
Clark watched through the screen door as the sheriff trained his gun on the two agents. They stopped running and turned around slowly, their hands at their sides. Clark watched the sheriff advance towards the men slowly, his gaze unwavering. The tension hung in the air, and Clark shivered involuntarily. Something was about to happen, he just didn't know what that something was.
Clark opened his kitchen door and stepped out onto the porch at the same time that Hayes and Brown both revealed their guns. They sheriff stopped in his tracks as the men directed their guns towards the sheriff. Clark watched the scene in his driveway with rising anxiety. What if the men killed the sheriff? Then there would be no stopping them from killing his mother and taking him away. Could he deflect the bullets from hitting the sheriff in time? And if he could, did he really want to test the theory that he was invulnerable? The bullets hadn't hurt him the other times he had been shot at, but what if his invulnerability stopped working, or maybe it had worn off? He figured that he would rather be dead then dissected, but then they would have no reason to leave his mother alive. And if he were killed, what would be stopping them from killing the sheriff anyway? There were too many complications, too many scenarios. All of them bad.
But as he watched Hayes place his finger on the trigger, in the same way he had watched it only a short time before when the gun had been, instead, pointed at him, there was no doubt in his mind what to do. "Duck!" he yelled to the sheriff as he leapt off the porch and tackled Hayes onto the ground. They wrestled on the gravel for a moment, Clark reaching for his gun. Clark heard Brown shoot his gun, and he froze, waiting for the bullet to hit him. He was going to die. But then he noticed that Hayes had stopped struggling with him. Instead, Clark saw that a tiny hole had appeared in Hayes' chest. A bullet hole. Blood quickly coated the man's shirt, and Clark jumped up off the ground, turning his head from the gruesome image. He looked over at Brown who was staring down at Hayes, who was lying still on the ground. He dropped his gun.
"I shot him," he murmured. Clark almost thought, because of the expression on Brown's face that he was going to cry, before the man suddenly smiled. "About time somebody did."
Clark snorted with disgust at the man. How could he be happy that he had just killed someone?
The sheriff put one hand on Clark's shoulder. "Thanks, Son," he said, pulling his handcuffs off his belt. He cuffed Brown's hands together behind his back and led him back to his car.
Clark watched the sheriff walk away with the surviving agent, still in a daze. He glanced back down at the body on the ground, but tore his eyes away quickly. What a terrible, horrible, awful day this had been.
"Oh my God!" he said suddenly. His mother was still inside with Tuck! "Sheriff!"
He ran back towards his house, deciding not to wait for the sheriff. There wasn't enough time. He swung open the door and came to a stop when he entered his kitchen. Martha was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs, and a very bored Tuck was sitting across from her, still holding the gun towards her.
"Clark!" Martha and Tuck said this simultaneously, Tuck in a somewhat less excited voice. Clark hesitated, unsure what to do. The uncertainties he had felt outside were now flooding back. Could he get in front of his mother in time? Would he get hurt? Would Tuck really shoot her?
"Tuck…" Clark started, stepping towards the man. Maybe he could talk him down.
"Calm down Clark. I don't really have no interest in killing Martha. But I also don't wanna spend all my life in jail neither. So here's the deal. You let me walk out the door right now, and I won't ever come back. And I won't never tell anyone about your secret either. Sounds good to me."
Clark paused for a moment. Out of the blue, he reflected that that was probably the most he'd ever heard Tuck say when he was sober. "The sheriff's outside. He won't let you leave. And how can you expect to get away clean, after all you've done?"
"I'm not really giving you a choice. You either convince the sheriff to let me leave, or I'll take your mom down before I go to jail."
Clark shut his eyes, trying to think clearly. How could he decide this? He, a seventeen year old boy, was being asked to decide whether to let a criminal walk free, or save his mother's life. The answer was inevitable to him, but did he have that kind of authority? Then again, he had been through so much in the past few days that he felt as if maybe he had the right to do whatever he deemed worthy. "How do I know you'll leave us alone?" Clark asked dumbly, trying to buy time. Think, think, think.
"You'll have to trust me," Tuck said, giving Clark a sardonic smile. Yeah right, Clark thought. Trust Tuck. When pigs fly. He looked to his mother. She returned his gaze, but gave no hint as to what she thought he should do.
"All right. Leave."
Tuck raised his eyebrows slightly, but then stood and stuffed his gun into his shirt pocket. He raised a hand to wave at Clark and Martha before walking into the living room, heading for the front door in the opposite direction of the sheriff. Martha and Clark stood still for a moment, until they heard the definite sound of the front door slamming. Then Clark turned and collapsed into Martha's arms.
"Was I right? Did I do the right thing?" Clark asked against his mother's shoulder.
"You did your best. It was the only option for you. I don't know if it was right, but I would have done the same thing," Martha said. Clark looked up and found tears running down his mother's cheeks. He gave her a half smile.
"Let's never, ever, ever do anything like that again," Clark said.
"All right," Martha replied, smiling softly.
Clark turned as he heard the sheriff walk in. He took a deep breath, preparing to explain everything that had just happened, but then the door opened again and Jonathan walked in, followed closely by Lois. Clark jumped up and ran to them, first enveloping his arms around Jonathan, then he turned to Lois. He looked down into her dark eyes, now so full of emotion. Clark wondered for a minute why Lois was here, then realized that she must have been the one that alerted the sheriff. He hesitated for a moment before wrapping his arms around her.
"Thank you," he murmured into her ear. He pulled back for a moment.
"I'm so glad you're ok. I was afraid something had happened to you when-" Lois started.
Clark cut her off. "I'm fine, don't worry." He figured that it would be better not to tell her that he had been shot, because that would have taken a lot of explaining. She slowly smiled at him, and he found himself grinning. Relief suddenly poured over him. He was ok. Everyone he cared about was ok. The men weren't a problem anymore. No one was after him. There were still a few technicalities he would have to deal with, but he knew that in the arms of the one he loved, surrounded by the people he loved, he was safe. He closed his eyes for a moment, basking in the incredible feeling of plain happiness that he hadn't felt in so long. He opened his eyes again to see Lois' soft, innocent face so close to his, and it was all he could do to not laugh out loud with delight.
He leaned forward slowly and softly closed his eyes. His lips met Lois', and he drew her closer to him, wrapping his arms more tightly around her neck. He smiled against her lips. This was why he was alive. Why his life, out of so many that were threatened, had been spared.
A low whistle made him pull back, and he turned his head to find his mother and father, and even the sheriff, smiling brightly at them. Clark was sure his face turned several shades of red in those few seconds, and he turned back to Lois, to find her smiling brightly up at him. She pulled him back towards her and again their lips met. Ignoring his parents' delighted laughter, Clark let himself fall into the rapture of the moment. At that moment, he realized he must have been the luckiest guy on Earth, even if he was an alien. He smiled at the thought. Things could have definitely been worse.
Clark didn't know exactly what he was expecting that Monday when he returned to school, but it certainly wasn't the looks of pity, humor, even fear that he saw in his peers' faces. He sighed as he followed Lois up the steps into the school. How much more of this was he going to have to take? Couldn't everybody just forget about the poster and the newspaper? No, he realized, answering his own question. It would take a while for them to do that.
He entered the building and was immediately engulfed in a wave of voices. The whispers about him coming from all the students were all loud and clear in his head. He feared all the voices would smother him. He desperately wanted to shake his head and make the voices leave, but he couldn't make a scene without causing only more ridicule for himself. Why did all these weird things have to happen to him? Unable to sleep the night before, he had made a list in his head of all the strange things that he had done in the past week or so. There was the invulnerability, of course. And the ability to see things up close, at least he had been able to that night in the tree house. Also, he had been able to hear some things that he didn't think he should have been able to. This was one of those moments.
"-look at him-"
"-I wouldn't dare show my face-"
"-he's so strange-"
It was all Clark could do to not jerk his head around and search for the origins of all these comments. He sped up and kept his head down, but suddenly the whispers all quieted down to the normal hum. He sighed in relief and lifted his head up again. He had almost been afraid that the ultra hearing might never quit.
"Hey Clark!" Clark looked over to finally see a friendly face, Brad, the quarterback on the football team.
"Hey Brad," Clark greeted. He was delighted when Lois stopped with him and put her arm around his waist. He responded by putting one arm around her shoulders. Brad gave him a sly look before continuing.
"Where were you on Friday? We needed you at the game," Brad said, referring to the football game at Smallville High. Clark laughed to himself. What had he been doing on Friday? Helping catch secret government agents? Dodging bullets?
"I'm sorry I missed it, I was… sick."
"I didn't expect you to show up anyway, since you hadn't been at school. Anyway, you just better not miss anymore." Brad spotted Lana and looked back to Clark with his sly look. "See you later."
Brad walked away, and Clark looked back down at Lois. They both smiled. The normalcy of the school was making Clark feel uncomfortable; he had gotten so used to being in strange situations that the familiar faces and normal high school gossip seemed extraordinary. He, at least, felt like he was coming out on top of everyone else. He had been through more in the past few weeks than most of the students would ever experience. So he would endure their remarks and long stares, and be able to secretly laugh at them. Besides, at least for a few more days, he would have help, he thought fondly, gazing down at Lois. It wouldn't be too bad, as long as she was with him.
Clark walked dejectedly down the road towards his house. He had managed to keep his spirits high enough at school, but now that he was alone, he felt the depression that he knew would come. Lois had left for Metropolis the day before. He already missed her terribly. There was a deep hole in his heart that he feared couldn't possibly be filled. He would never get to see Lois now. He could only see her when she came to Metropolis, which she had promised she would be doing on a fairly regular basis, but it wasn't enough for Clark. He longed to feel her small body pressed up against his just one more time. But he knew that if he had gotten the chance, he might not be able to let go.
She should have landed at the Metropolis National Airport late the night before, and she had promised she would call him after she settled in. His biggest fear was that she would get so caught up in the happenings of the big city that she would forget about him. It would probably happen in time, he knew. She would continue on with her new life, and he would be forced to continue on with his, no matter how bleak it looked from his current view. But he loved her, and he selfishly wished over and over that she had never left. He wondered if it was healthy for someone to feel as much love for someone as he did for Lois, but decided that nothing that felt so right could possibly be wrong.
Clark turned to walk up his driveway, but noticed mail in his mailbox and changed direction. He pulled the small stack of envelopes from the box and flipped through them as he walked back towards his house. To his surprise, one of the envelopes was addressed to him. Looking at the return label, he saw that it was from the Metropolis School of Journalism. He sighed as he half-heartedly flipped it over and tore it open. He had already received a 'Thanks-but-no-thanks' letter from Wichita U., and he knew it had to be only a matter of time before he received one from MSoJ as well. He pulled out the neatly folded letter and opened it. He scanned through the first paragraph, expecting the 'There-were-so-many-applicants-we- could-hardly-choose-but-you're-definetely-not-one-of-them' spell. Therefore, as he went back and read it again, and then again and again, he found himself lacking the required amount of air to survive.
"Oh my God…" he said slowly. Could this be true? Could something actually go right for Clark Kent? He couldn't believe it. But then he read it again, and a huge smile erupted on his face. The letter read that the Metropolis School of Journalism had accepted him. And he had received a half scholarship! With his application, he had submitted his series on family problems that he had written for the Smallville newspaper. The school had liked it very much.
"I made it," he said softly. Then suddenly he dropped his book bag and the remaining mail on the ground, and he jumped up in the air, shouting with exultation. He ran up to the house and burst into the kitchen. He thrust the paper into his mother's face, who was still trying to recover from Clark's surprise entrance.
"Read it!" he yelped, barely able to stand still. Martha scanned the letter quickly, and her face was nearly as bright as Clark's.
"Clark, this is wonderful! I didn't even know you applied!" Martha said, giving her son a big congratulatory hug.
Clark ran back outside to get the mail he had dropped and his book bag. As he stooped to pick up the letters that were strewn about the driveway, Clark realized that he couldn't go to college. For one thing, he had only received a part scholarship. How could he possibly afford to pay for even some of the cost required to attend college? It was such a far- fetched idea that Clark almost had to laugh cruelly at himself. And for another reason, Clark couldn't just leave his parents and move halfway across the country. How would his parents get along without him? And what if there was some emergency that his parents needed help with? Clark would never forgive himself if something happened to his parents because he had been selfish and left them for his own needs. It was a dream, and nothing more. Even now that he had the means to pursue it, he couldn't.
He angrily kicked at the gravel in his driveway, sending the tiny rocks flying through the air. Martha was standing at the front door as he stomped up the porch and pushed past her. Surprised by his sudden change in mood, Martha followed him into the living room where he had flopped despondently on the couch. She sat down on the arm of the couch and waited for him to explain his mood's sudden downfall.
"How am I supposed to go to college? We don't have enough money," Clark said bluntly. Martha sat for a moment, taken by surprise at the reason for Clark's drastic change in attitude.
"Clark," Martha said slowly, "didn't you know that we've been saving money for your college? We haven't been able to add much in the past few years, and we've been tempted to use some of it, but it's there. Your father and I have always wanted you to be able to fit in and have a normal life, and we wanted to make sure that there was nothing that would keep you from doing so."
Clark stared up at her for a few moments from his position on the couch. "Are you serious?" he blurted out after a moment.
Martha laughed lightly. "Yes, I'm serious." But Clark didn't make any move to return to celebrating.
"But how are you and Dad going to get along without me?" Clark asked slowly, trying not to sound conceited, but he was truly worried about that.
"The same way we did when you were too young to be any help. Clark, I don't want you to worry about us. Go with this, and don't ever think that it was the wrong thing to do. Your father and I will miss you when you're gone, but when you have the chance to have such a better life than we did, you need to take it. And I think that your father has decided to farm a little again. There's no need to ever worry."
Clark sat in silence for a long time. This seemed too good to be true, but he figured that he had earned it. It was like the calm after the storm. And he wanted so badly to do this. He wanted to go to the school and Metropolis more than anything else he had ever wanted. He slowly smiled, and looked at his mom again.
"Do you really think I can do this?" he asked.
"Of course I do. I wouldn't want anything else for you than your happiness," Martha answered sincerely.
Clark sat up and hugged his mother tightly. Now, instead of the gloomy life with no future he had imagined for himself, he saw a new beginning, one of bright and endless possibilities. He couldn't imagine anything better.
Late September, 1986
Clark Kent strode down the long stairway that led to the street. Through his new glasses, he spotted a dark haired young woman sitting on the stairwell and reading a book, oblivious to the sounds of the Metropolitan traffic and city noises in general. Clark sidled over and sat down next to her, slipping his arm over her shoulder and softly kissing her head.
"Hello, beautiful," he said when she looked up, giving her his most innocent look. Lois Lane smiled at him and closed her book, packing it into her purse before standing up and giving Clark a quick hug. Clark entwined his fingers around Lois' as she led him down the street toward the parking garage where her car was located.
"I made us a reservation at my uncle's cafe for lunch," Lois informed Clark as they strolled down the street hand-in-hand.
"Sounds yummy," Clark answered, giving Lois a goofy grin. She giggled and leaned forward to give him a quick kiss before continuing on their route.
"We don't have to hurry, but I do have to be at work by 4:00," Lois said. Clark checked his watch. He had planned to fly out to see his parents this evening, so it worked out well for him that Lois had to go to the Planet. But for three hours, they had the day to themselves.
At that moment Clark heard a distant cry for help. He closed his eyes for a moment, waiting for the wailing sounds of the ambulance. They followed quickly. He breathed a silent 'Thank you' before shutting out the sounds. He had subconsciously, and much against his will, managed to somehow train himself to listen for cries of help. And maybe, someday, he would try to help those who needed it. But right now, he thought, as he brought Lois' hand up and pressed his lips against it softly, right now, he was content walking down the street with the woman he loved. He wanted nothing more than to spend his life with her. And, he thought blissfully, he was finally being given the chance to do just that.
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