Pairings/Characters: (these chapters): Clark/Bruce (Clark does not appear in Ch. 1), Alfred Pennyworth, Ollie/Chloe (Chloe does not appear in Ch. 3, Ollie does not appear in Ch. 11-14), Martha Kent, Sam Cook, Alma Henderson, Rosa Marinetti, Clark/Lex, Bruce/Lex, Jenny Mallow, Lex Luthor, Adele Simmons, Tom Wilson, Cora Mallow
Continuity: Smallville & Batman Begins/The Dark Knight
Genres: Angst, Challenge, Drama, Mystery
Warnings: (Ch. 16: Violence)
Summary: An exhausted Clark and Bruce vacation in Smallville, where Clark’s sudden obsession over memories of his first love, Lex, causes insecurities to rise in Bruce. Meanwhile, an old enemy is preparing the way for a re-appearance for a final confrontation with the World’s Finest.
Beta: The fantastic me_ya_ri! :)
Artist: The marvelous ctbn60! :) Art can be found here on LJ and A03.
Author's Note: Originally written for tmelange's proposed A Dark Knight In Smallville fanzine.
All chapters can be found here.
Professor Alvar Montez
"The Condition Of Man"
Clark stomped across the fields, his eyes glowing red.
Damn Bruce, anyway! Insecurity, they name is Bruce Wayne.
He didn’t use super-speed but walked fast, his anger boiling. He would have flung more words at his jealous lover, but a part of him had shown common sense. Harsh words said in the heat of anger could never be taken back.
He was still furious, though. How dare Bruce…Bruce…
He realized that he was back at the ruins. Chagrined, he nevertheless stayed. He was not going to avoid the site just because of Bruce’s accusations.
He has some nerve, accusing me of pining after Lex. Just because I’ve been thinking back to those days lately doesn’t mean I don’t love him, the big dummy!
Clark sighed as he stood in the burnt-out rubble, imagining the library as it once was, warm and welcoming and with Lex smiling when he first saw him. Clark smiled, remembering those happy times as the fire crackled in the fireplace and a snack would materialize for them both, always Clark’s favorites.
And when you and I admitted our feelings fore each other, there were make-out sessions on the couch and then real lovemaking on the rug in front of the fire.
Clark’s heart broke a little as the images of him and Lex in a passionate embrace shimmered in his mind’s eye. Lex had been a patient teacher, and Clark had eagerly absorbed every lesson. He wiped away a tear.
I’m sorry, Lex.
The wind blew in through the gaps in the walls, swirling around as it whispered, He’s coming.
Clark frowned. Was he hearing things?
I must have widened my field of hearing accidentally and picked up someone in town.
He kicked at a large rock, watching it skid across the blackened floor. He suddenly felt tired and welcomed his old friend, guilt.
If he was honest with himself, he could understand why Bruce was upset. He did seem to be obsessing over Lex, which puzzled him. He and Bruce had come back here to Smallville many times, and those occasions had been years after his break-up with Lex. Why was this visit so different?
Maybe I’m just tired. Bruce isn’t the only one to have been run ragged lately. He rubbed his face. People think I can re-charge and be ready to go, but while my body is re-vitalized, I need rest for the mental part of the equation.
He needed less sleep then a human, but he still needed it. He needed to dream and rest, which he had figured out with Bruce’s help. Since so much of his heritage was guesswork, he had welcomed any assistance that he could get. The A.I. simulation of Jor-El was invaluable, but there were gaps in its programming, he had discovered. Help in the form of the Batman helped fell those gaps.
Maybe all this running around and crushing responsibility is making me yearn for simpler times.
Even with the preponderance of meteor mutants in Smallville, things had been simpler then. He had enjoyed a fairly normal life, even through his high school years, as crazy as things got.
He morosely kicked at another stone. His obsession with Lex could merely be a response to his clash with him, smashing more 33.1 facilities while Lex’s security forces had fought back, to no avail. He was always conflicted going up against Lex but he thought Bruce had understood why.
Ah, but then, there’s the Bruce-ian insecurities.
Clark picked up a chunk of rubble and casually chucked it across the room. It probably should seem odd that a billionaire with the world at his feet should be insecure about anything, but Clark knew better.
He’s never really gotten past that terrible moment in Crime Alley when his parents were gunned down before his eyes. He went from safe and secure to the earth opening up beneath his feet, and he’s been trying to avoid the abyss ever since.
Clark felt guilty at the way that he’d been avoiding Bruce’s feelings.
What kind of a partner am I?
He looked sadly at the ruins of his first lover’s home and wondered if his relationship with his current lover was just as much rubble.
Back in the loft, Bruce could not stop shaking. He sat on the well-worn couch and stared out at the fields as he wrapped his arms around himself.
You idiot! Why did you throw those suspicions in Clark’s face? You’re a detective, detect! You should have found out for sure before lobbing bombs.
Bruce ran a shaking hand through his hair. He was still angry but also afraid.
What if I drive him away with my jealousy?
He had always been possessive, as if afraid that everyone he loved would leave him. He didn’t need a psychiatrist to figure out why, but neither could he control what he felt.
All the ninja training in the world won’t change that, I guess.
He was angry at himself as well as at Clark. He had handled everything badly, even if he had been right.
Clark’s thinking more and more about those days with Lex. If he was happy with me, he wouldn’t be so eager to revisit the past.
Bruce wiped at his eyes, wondering how he could have been so stupid.
</i>Two years is a good run, right </i>
He felt utterly miserable and exhausted.
Clark walked back slowly to the barn, his shoulders hunched against the wind. The leaves were swirling around as the wind gusted up, a smell of rain tickling his nose. He looked up, scanning the horizon. There were no tornadoes forming, thank goodness, though he might welcome the work-out.
He reached the barn a lot quicker than he would have liked, dreading the conversation to come, but it couldn’t be helped. Squaring his shoulders, he entered the barn.
It was quiet but his knew that Bruce was still here. He could hear his heartbeat, and its speed indicated agitation, which was not a surprise.
He went up the stairs and when he reached the top, Bruce looked up from his seat on the couch.
My god, he looks like a lost little boy.
Bruce gazed at Clark, feeling uncomfortably naked to that green-eyed gaze. Sympathy shone in those eyes.
Maybe anger is better.
“I’m sorry,” Clark said quietly.
Bruce took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, too.” It broke his heart to see how tentatively Clark approached him. “I shouldn’t let my stupidity rule my mouth.” His rueful tone made Clark smile slightly.
“Guilty here, too.” Clark sat next to his partner on the couch. “I should have told you that I was visiting the ruins every day.”
Bruce shrugged. “You have a right to do what you want and go where you want. You don’t need to check in with me.”
Clark took Bruce’s hand. “If I’m not telling you something as simple as I’m visiting the ruins, then you have a right to be concerned.”
Bruce smiled a little shyly, then his eyes gleamed as he leaned forward. “Tell me about the ruins. Make me understand.”
Clark’s smile was like a balm to Bruce’s aching soul. “It’s…strange.”
“I feel…drawn to them, somehow.”
“Drawn to them?” Bruce felt a frisson of fear curl through him.
“Just that I feel compelled, almost, to go there.”
Bruce bit his lip. “Like mind control?”
Clark looked startled. “I don’t think so. I know what being mind-controlled feels like, “ he added wryly.
Bruce had to chuckle at that, remembering the “If it’s Tuesday, Superman must be mind-controlled” mantra. It really was not as bad as that, but sometimes it seemed like it. Villains figured the best way to defeat the Man of Steel was to control him. Oddly enough, Lex had never attempted it.
I guess we can consider ourselves lucky.
“I don’t know why I’m so drawn to the place. I know that the castle is the setting for a lot of happy memories, but it’s also where it all began to unravel. Lex had this secret room with pictures of me, a piece of his crumpled Porsche from where he hit me, and all sorts of things, like a steel rod that was twisted by me with finger indentations. All of it scared me when I saw it, and I got angry. If only I’d told Lex the truth…”
Bruce grasped Clark’s hand. “It was your Secret to tell.”
“Lex had a right to be curious, but not to force you to reveal what you wanted kept private.”
“I didn’t trust him enough,” Clark said, guilt dripping from every word.
“Maybe with good reason.” Bruce squeezed his lover’s hand.
“But…” Clark looked at Bruce. “I wasn’t a good friend.”
“You had more than just yourself to protect.”
Clark bit his loip, looking so young and vulnerable in that moment that Bruce’s heart sent out to him.
“But even if Lex had proved trustworthy, there was Lionel to consider.”
“I know about Lionel.”
“I know you do, but Lex comes with that baggage. He once told me that he could never keep a secret form Lionel. Even if it took years, Lionel would have found out.”
“Lex would have protected me from his father.”
Bruce silently agreed. It was Lex’s lot in life to do battle with his father, and he never shirked that responsibility “But you couldn’t take that risk,” Bruce said softly.
“No.” Clark’s voice was broken.
Swallowing, Bruce fought down his jealousy. He knew that he was being foolish, but he could not help it. Yet jealousy from him was not what Clark needed. He needed a cool head and warm heart.
“Take me to the ruins.”
WHEN THE WIND WHISTLES THROUGH THE RUINS…
Through the ruins,
You know that it’s time,
To look over
Sir Alec Marchess
The ruins of the Luthor castle were painful for Bruce to look at. They were too similar to the Manor ruins after the fire set by Ra’s Al-Ghul.
He looked at the rubble, the portions of walls still standing, looking like some bombed-out structure from a past war. Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass window, the rainbow of colors somehow melancholy instead of cheerful.
Motes of dust and pollen swirled around in the beams of light, Bruce noting the ruined books scattered around and the pool table littered with rubble and books. He could just imagine Clark and Lex playing pool. He was good at it himself, and he knew that Lex was too…
Rock music blared down the hall, but it was relatively quiet here in the library of the fraternity house. The bookcases held books from past generations, some of them useful for current students. Despite the frat house’s well-deserved reputation for hard partying, studying did go on here.
But at this moment, people were relaxing, and Bruce was enjoying his game with Lex. Lex took his next shot and successfully rolled the ball into the side pocket. Smirking, he shot two more balls into their intended pockets. He brushed past Bruce, his tight buttocks shown off to perfection in his gray slacks.
Bruce’s eyes glittered. Two could play at this game. He deliberately chose a shot that required him to bed over right in front of Lex, his jeans well-worn and snug. He smiled as he heard Lex’s hitch of breath behind him. He took a shot, knocking a ball into the corner pocket. Standing up, he caressed his cue stick with his thumb.
“Looks like I get another shot.”
“You sure do,” Lex murmured.
Bruce smirked again as he aimed for the eight ball, bending over.
Or maybe Lex is behind the eight ball.
A robin flew by, startling Bruce out of his reverie. He looked around for Clark.
His lover was standing by the fireplace, gazing into the hearth. Bruce wondered what he saw in there, but suspected it was much as he had seen.
Memories are powerful things. They help make us who we are. If I never remembered Crime Alley, I would be a far different person.
There were times that he was tempted to ask Zatanna if there was a spell to erase a certain memory, but then would he be Batman anymore?
<>Besides, I’m not keen on messing with my memories. The only good thing I remember about that night is Jim Gordon, comforting me at the station. I don’t want to lose that. I’ve felt connected to him since the beginning because of that night.</i>
Bruce hobbled over to where Clark stood, careful of the treacherous rubble that could trip him up. He leaned heavily on his crutch, putting his hand on Clark’s arm.
“Clark?” he asked softly.
Clark’s faraway look faded as he returned to reality. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Bruce squeezed his arm. “It’s okay. I was remembering, too.”
Clark looked directly at him. “I know. You knew him, too.”
Bruce nodded. “Some very good memories, in fact.”
“I’m glad.” Clark’s eyes were sad. “Lex needed times to make happy memories.”
Bruce couldn’t argue with that. He doubted that Lex had enjoyed many happy times in his life. He well knew that great wealth did not make a person automatically happy.
The wind blew through the gaping spaces in the walls and Bruce shivered.
Something wicked this way comes.
“You’re cold,” Clark said in concern, gripping Bruce’s arm.
“It’s just the wind,” Bruce shrugged, but his skin was prickling.
“We’d better get back to the house.”
Bruce did not object, allowing Clark to help him out of the ruins. Another gust of wind caused him to pause and he looked around with a frown. “Did you hear something?”
Clark shook his head, still totally focused on Bruce.
“I could have sworn…oh, well, it was just the wind.” Bruce shrugged.
They left the ruins, the wind swirling around.
Back at the farmhouse they were surprised to see a lemon-yellow Corvette parked in the driveway.
“That’s Chloe’s car, isn’t it?” Bruce asked.
Concerned, both men exited the truck and headed toward the house.
Chloe came out on the porch. “Hi, guys!”
“What’s up?” Clark asked, “Alien invasion?”
She laughed. “No, I just needed to check some of the historical records for an article I’m writing.”
“You need to actually come to Smallville?” Bruce asked as he reached the porch, Clark at his elbow. “The records aren’t on-line?”
Chloe and Clark exchanged knowing grins. “This is Smallville,” said Chloe, as if that explained everything. She and Clark laughed at Bruce’s puzzlement.
They went inside and Bruce gratefully sank down on the couch. He was dismayed at how tired such a short journey had made him.
“I can make some turkey sandwiches if you guys are interested,” Chloe offered.
“Sounds good, Chloe,” Clark said and she nodded, heading for the kitchen. At Bruce’s inquisitive look, he explained, “Smallville doesn’t have its historical records on-line. Only some of those in the library are digitized, but the Historical Society is all on paper.”
“Ah, of course.” Bruce leaned back against the couch. “So Chloe’s staying with us?”
”Not if you two lovebirds would rather I stay at Mrs. Krebs’ boarding house,” Chloe called from the kitchen.
“Not much lovebirding going on,” Clark called back with a laugh.
“Great. Why don’t you broadcast our love life on the nearest radio station?” Bruce groused.
Clark’s eyes sparkled. “That would be over in Granville. Mostly weather reports and discussions of the corn market.”
Bruce rolled his eyes as Clark laughed again, but he was happy to hear it. He hated fighting with Clark.
“Come and get it!” Chloe called cheerfully.
Bruce hobbled into the kitchen with Clark’s help, greeted by the sight of a smiling Chloe and the plates of turkey sandwiches, chips, and pickles. Lemonade sparkled in tall glasses.
“Looks great, Chloe.” Clark held out Bruce’s chair, the billionaire gratefully sitting down. Clark took his own seat as Chloe sat down.
“So, what’s this article about?” Clark asked.
“About Hepzibah Collins.”
”Hepzibah?” Bruce asked.
Chloe grinned. “A rather famous resident of Smallville back in the 19th century.”
“Ah.” Bruce thoughtfully chewed his sandwich. “Her name sounds 17th century.”
“True.” Chloe crunched noisily on a chip. “She was an advocate for the women of the village. She would have been an activist in the 17th century, for goodness’ sake, but there was no Smallville then.”
“So she pushed for women’s rights?” Bruce asked, taking a bite of his pickle.
“Yeah. She knew Susan B. Anthony and the others suffragettes of the time.”
“You would have made a great suffragette, Chloe,” said Clark.
Chloe grinned. “Lois, too.” Both men groaned and she laughed.
They chatted of town goings-on, Chloe and Clark relaying news of friends and acquaintances, and Bruce listening to the travails of Myrtle Campbell and the rocky romance between Sarah Susskind and Albert Crandall.
Small towns were like families and constituted the good and bad of that situation, which could be boiled down to the good: everyone knowing you, and the bad: everyone knowing you. Faults and foibles were well-known to every citizen, but your triumphs were warmly celebrated.
Bruce had seen first-hand how proud Smallville’s citizens were of one of their own, Jonathan and Martha’s son, becoming a successful Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the prestigious Daily Planet. He was a well-liked native son, and memories abounded of the perpetually cheerful Clark Kent.
Small towns also knew everybody’s business. It still amazed Bruce that the Kents had managed to keep the world’s biggest secret in one of the word’s smallest towns. It was nothing short of a miracle.
It was worlds apart from what he had known growing up in Gotham. He loved Gotham as much as Clark loved Smallville, something they shared yet their backgrounds were so different.
He still worried that they were too different.
“Oh, do you remember when Lex helped out trick-or-treating his first year here?” asked Chloe.
“Do I? He observed the ritual like he was Margaret Mead in the South Pacific.”
They both laughed, and Bruce wondered how difficult it must have been for Lex to try and fit in here. A small town never considered you truly a native unless you were born here. A man could live in Smallville thirty years and still be considered a newcomer. It was just the way of things, and especially hard when you were a rich man whom the hard-working citizens considered more of a parasite than someone to fawn over. He had enjoyed the advantage of being the owner of the fertilizer plant with numerous jobs depending on Luthor largesse, but that could also be a disadvantage.
Bruce finished his sandwich, his head whirling. Maybe he needed another nap.
You’re getting soft, Wayne. Where’s your drive, your ambition? He drank his lemonade. It’s Clark, damnit, wrapping me in all this domesticity.
“The kids want to put on a carnival next month,” Chloe said. “Jenny Mallow wants to do some trapeze stunts.”
”Is she trained for the trapeze?” Clark asked.
“No, but she’s a good gymnast. We just don’t have anyone to teach her some of the basics. The trapeze set is no high-wire, but she needs some guidance.”
“Bruce can teach her.”
“What?” Bruce paused in bringing his glass to his lips.
“You can teach Jenny some moves.” Clark calmly ate his sandwich.
“And how do I explain my high-wire knowledge?”
“Like you explain everything else: your little seven-year sojourn from Gotham brought you to a lot of different places. You studied under some of the finest acrobats in Europe for a lark.”
“A lark, huh?”
“Yeah, a lark.”
“You’ll do a great job, Bruce,” said Chloe.
“I’ve never worked with kids!”
“So, now you’ll learn,” said Clark.
“Whatta ya think, Chloe? Do you think we can beat Bruce at Monopoly?”
“I bet we can.”
”Ha, get ready to go down, peasants.”
After lunch they setup the board in the living room on the coffee table, Bruce sitting on the couch while Chloe and Clark sat on the floor.
While they played, Bruce felt himself relaxing after the tension of the day. Maybe he was silly to worry. Clark loved him and he never gave up someone he loved, right?
He smirked as he moved the top hat to Park Place and put up a big hotel.
THE FULL BLOOM OF YOUTH
Dr. Bill Cosmos
Bruce looked at Jenny Mallow, a slender little redhead with endless energy. She was twelve years old, a little on the thin side because she was a gymnast, but her freckled face was lively, her green eyes missing nothing. Dressed in a Kelly-green gymnast leotard, she looked at her prospective teacher coolly while she popped gum.
Bruce looked back at her just as coolly. No false smiles for him! This girl was sharp, and treating her like a child would get him nowhere. He crossed his arms as he sat on the lawn chair that Clark had provided.
“You look all banged up. How are you going to teach me how to fly?”
“I’ll teach you the principles. Clark will demonstrate some of the techniques if necessary.”
“Clark?” She scoffed. “He didn’t study under the big shots in Europe, you did.”
“And I taught him.”
She rolled her eyes as she tossed her ponytail back. “Clark’s not an acrobat! He’s not exactly graceful.”
You’ve never seen him fly, Bruce smirked but he said haughtily, “You’re not looking at things like an acrobat. Clark isn’t the model of the ideal acrobat, but a good teacher can bring out what is good in him for the trapeze. You’ve got to see beyond the obvious.”
Interest flickered in those green eyes. “Okay, let’s see what ya got.”
“No, let’s see what you’ve got.” He tapped his cane impatiently on the ground. He had switched his crutch for the cane for this meeting. He wanted the image of a demanding instructor, like for ballet or some other rigorous discipline.
Jenny’s eyes glittered with respect. “Okay. What do I do first?”
Bruce looked at the rigging set up here on the fairgrounds. It was not as high as a regular trapeze set-up, and there was a net stretched out underneath. This wasn’t the Flying Graysons, after all.
“Get up there and let me see you swing on the bar.”
She scrambled up the spikes and grabbed the bar as soon as she reached the platform. Bruce intently watched as Jenny swung back-and-forth, showing good balance.
“Can you flip to the next bar?”
“Sure.” Jenny let go of the bar and spun, stretching out her limbs and grabbing the second bar and swinging to the opposite platform.
“Mmm, the technique is passable.”
“Passable!” Bruce had to hide his smile at her outrage. “Boy, you need an eye doctor.”
Bruce stood and began walking away.
“Hey, where ya goin’?”
“I don’t teach students who don’t show me respect.”
Jenny scowled as Bruce continued walking away, then she called, “All right; I’ll be better!”
Bruce stopped, then turned around. “All right then. Warm up and I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Good move,” Chloe smirked as she and Clark walked over to Bruce. “Jenny’s a bright kid but a little too fond of her gift for sarcasm and arrogance.”
“She’ll probably be a great acrobat, then.”
“You don’t think a cheerful, sunny girl can be a great acrobat?” Clark asked with a smile.
“The grouchy are the best artists and athletes.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Seems to me that the cheerful can be successful,” Chloe said.
“Successful, sure, but not one of the greats!” Bruce gestured theatrically as Chloe giggled and Clark laughed.
“Better get back to your student before she mutinies,” Chloe advised.
“I like a challenge.” Bruce’s eyes gleamed as he hobbled back to the trapeze area.
“This was a brilliant idea of yours, Chloe.”
“Thanks. Knowing Bruce, once he was rested enough he would start getting restless but his injuries would still keep him from returning to Gotham. Playing acrobatic impresario to Jenny the diva will keep him occupied.”
“He’ll learn whether he’s good with kids.”
”She’s a handful, all right, and needs a firm hand like Bruce’s.” Chloe looked at Clark. “Are you interested in starting a family?”
“Maybe someday,” Clark said wistfully. “But with our crazy lives, it’s unlikely, at least for now. Besides, Bruce really doesn’t know if he’d be good with kids.”
“He might be, you know. I have a feeling that he’d be best with a bright child like Jenny who can keep him on his toes.”
“Someone sarcastic and cynical like him?”
She laughed. “Maybe, but he seems attracted to sunny personalities, too.”
Clark smiled as he watched Bruce verbally spar with spitfire Jenny. “Maybe you’re right.” He bit his lip. “Lex and I talked about having kids once. He was determined to be a better father than Lionel had been.”
“That wouldn’t be hard.”
Clark silently acknowledged Chloe’s barb. “He didn’t want to become his father.” He sighed.
Chloe diplomatically refrained from saying that now Lex was worse than his father had ever been.
Clark suddenly smiled sheepishly. “Guess I was caught up in the ‘good ol’ days’.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Our past makes us who we are.”
It’s probably no more apropos than with the World’s Finest.
Clark looked thoughtful. “You’re probably right.”
“Hey, I know I am.” Chloe’s sparkling smile evoked a similar one from Clark.
Chloe and Clark grabbed some chairs and sat, catching up on things in town while Bruce ran Jenny through her paces.
The wind gusted and scattered fallen leaves as the sun shone down warmly, Clark basking in its rays like a cat. Chloe always loved seeing him re-charge, his skin glowing with good health and the power that the sun bestowed upon him.
She was more than happy with her life with Ollie, but her friendship with Clark was special to her. They had been through so much together, and she had been only the second of Clark’s friends to learn about his Secret. That had created a bond between them that would always be unbreakable.
“Speaking of families, Ollie and I are considering starting one.”
Clark was watching Jenny perform a flip to catch the bar when Chloe spoke. Startled, he looked at her with a big smile.
“You are? That’s great!” He hugged her and she laughed. As they parted, Clark peppered her with question. “When? Soon or in the future? Do you hope for a boy or a girl?”
“Whoa, there, big fella!” Chloe laughed. “We’ve set our sights on a boy.” Once again Clark was startled. “We’re going to adopt.”
“Oh!” Clark blushed slightly. “I’m sorry, I thought…”
“I know. Most people do.” Chloe squeezed his arm. “But adoption worked well for you.”
“Oh, yes!” Clark’s eyes sparkled.
Chloe laughed again. Martha and Jonathan Kent had been the perfect couple to raise Clark. Little wonder that Jor-El and Lara had chosen them.
“You and Ollie will be great parents, Chloe.”
“Thanks.” She nearly laughed as Bruce harangued Jenny. He was going to be such a good teacher for her. “The boy we’re considering is a real sweetheart. He grew up on an Indian reservation in Arizona, but he’s not Native American. He’s the son of a Forest Service Ranger who was killed defending the tribe’s Chief, so they adopted him.”
“Wow, that’s an interesting history.”
“He’s really quite adorable.” She looked around but they were alone. “He’s a very skilled archer, too.”
Clark laughed. “Really?”
“Yep. Strong Bow was his mentor and taught him. Ollie’s really excited about teaching him more things.”
“That sounds great, Chloe. I’m so happy for you guys.”
“Well, we’re still undergoing review. There’s no guarantee.”
“You’ll be allowed to adopt him.”
Chloe was pleased by Clark’s confidence. “Thanks. And of course you’ll be the godfather.”
“No, no, slow down! It’s about about the timing!” Bruce shouted.
Clark and Chloe exchanged a smile.
He walked through the wilting cornfields, the sky a slate-gray. Not a bird or other animal could be seen. It was if he was the last living thing on Earth.
He felt a ravening thirst as he stumbled along, rusty long black coat flapping in the breeze, tattered and worn. His lips were parched as the skin on his head crackled. He kept walking and walking, for an hour, for a day, for a year. He could not be sure.
“I’m coming, Lex. You were right. I’m coming.”
Lex continued walking, trying to ignore the voice. He pushed through the corn, noting the withered ears, dry to the touch and completely inedible.
Corn, corn, everywhere, and not a kernel to eat.
He broke out into a clearing, stopping as he saw Clark hanging naked on a cross, a necklace with Green Kryptonite glowing around his neck, blood running down his chest and thighs from a crudely-cut ‘S’ on his chest. The cuts were ugly and livid, a hideous carving from living flesh. His head was hanging, dark hair falling into his eyes.
“He died for your sins, Lex. And you have many sins.”
Lex stared at the perfectly-formed body so viciously scarred. His chest ached as he dispassionately viewed the scene. It began to rain, the blood washing down the body and pooling at the foot of the cross, soaking into the parched ground.
The rain fell down Lex’s face, and if tears were mixed with it, only he knew.
Lex abruptly awoke, his eyes unblinking as he stared at the raindrops streaking his penthouse bedroom window as lightning streaked jagged across the dark sky.
O’er hill and dale
As timid souls
Feel the coming
In their bones.
Lady Anna Devane
"The Coming Tide"
The wind swept over the Kansas prairie, people preparing for winter while in the full glory of autumn. Clark took down the screens and checked the caulking to make sure no drafts would find their way inside the house. He checked the barn and was satisfied that there were no major holes in the walls. He would chop wood to provide fuel for the fireplace and the pot-bellied stove in the loft.
Bruce helped with the screens and Chloe kept the two of them fortified with hot, savory beef stew. She went into town after lunch to visit the Historical Society and Clark drove Bruce to the fairgrounds where Jenny was impatiently waiting for him. While still in the car, Bruce smirked. “She’s eager for learning.”
“I can’t see why with you as her teacher.”
“Ha, ha.” Bruce got out of the car and hobbled under his own steam toward Jenny, who was waiting with arms crossed and a pout on her freckled face, which she quickly schooled into a neutral expression as Bruce approached.
He’s got her trained well, Clark thought with a chuckle. He waved and drove off to the Wilson farm.
Chloe talked with Adele Simmons, curator of the Smallville Historical Society. The brown-haired woman wore her hair pulled up, cats-eye glasses twinkling in the soft light of the room in the Society’s modest brick building. Adele towered over Chloe as they discussed the records of Hepzibah Collins. Dressed in a dark-green tailored suit, she was very business-like.
“Come this way.”
Adele led Chloe to a smaller room with shelves of old books. The room was temperature-controlled, so Chloe wore a blue sweater as she began sifting through the books that Adele had laid out on the table. She wore gloves as she handled the books as part of the preservation process. Adele left, confident that Chloe would treat the books with care. Chloe appreciated her trust.
The room was quiet as she carefully turned the pages, making notes in a notebook. She liked the old-fashioned research. Internet research was quick and convenient but was antiseptic. To get a sense of the times, one should smell the old acidic paper and feel how brittle the pages were to the touch, seeing the patina of age and the faded blue-ink scribblings in the margins.
As she gathered information, Chloe inexplicably thought of Tess.
Funny that I should think of her out of the blue. Chloe sighed. I miss her.
At first their relationship had been adversarial, because Tess’ computer skills rivaled hers. Chloe didn’t need a psychiatrist to figure out why. Tess had been encroaching on her territory, and not just the computer: she had been Ollie’s lover long before Chloe, and even more worrisome, she had known about Clark.
Though back in the day, who didn’t know about Clark? Pete, Alicia, Lionel, Tess, Ollie, me…Lex knew, even though he was never given confirmation.
But while they had started out on a rocky foot, eventually she and Tess had bonded over their concern for Clark and Ollie. They had spent countless hours in the Watchtower, eating ice cream and talking like some Justice League version of a slumber party.
Chloe smiled. Those had been good times as they had learned to trust one another. Her smile faded as she thought of Tess’ death.
Maybe you were always fated to end up badly, Tess. Maybe being born a Luthor put you behind the eight ball when it came to happiness.
Suddenly melancholy, Chloe shivered as she turned another page.
“Hey, Bessie,” Clark petted the cow’s nose as Bessie twitched her tail.
“She’s always glad to see you, Clark,” said Tom Wilson, a ruddy-faced man with work-hardened muscles and a shock of carrot-red hair. His jeans and red flannel shirt were well-worn.
“Always glad to see her, Tom.” Clark grinned as Bessie nuzzled his hand. “How’s Sally?”
“Right as rain.” Tom squinted at the horizon. “And it looks like we might be gettin’ some rain.”
Clark looked at the horizon and nodded. “The clouds do look ominous.” The wind gusted to underscore his words. Bessie lowed, Clark sensing her nervousness. He frowned. He hoped that a meteor mutant wasn’t on the loose. He checked Bruce and Jenny at the fairgrounds with his telescopic vision, but they were safe. He did the same for Chloe at the Historical Society but she was fine, too.
“Brewin’ up to be a big one,” Tom said as he lazily chewed a piece of Wrigley gum.
Clark agreed. Growing up in farm country attuned you to the nuances of the weather. His skin prickled as he anticipated the storm.
He resolved to keep an eye on his friends.
“Okay, keep that timing.” Bruce watched as Jenny did a flip and grabbed the bar. Still a little clumsy, but the girl had natural grace. He was careful not to offer too much praise, though. A girl like Jenny was already too enamored of her gifts. Better to keep her on her toes.
Jenny swung back to the platform. She frowned as the wind blew hard across the fairgrounds, scattering leaves and bits of paper.
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Bruce asked, checking his notes on his iPad.
“Someone said, ‘He’s coming.’