A rapid's grade is not fixed, since it may vary greatly depending on the water depth and speed of flow. Although some rapids may be easier at high flows because features are covered or "washed-out," high water usually makes rapids more difficult and dangerous. At flood stage, even rapids which are usually easy can contain lethal and unpredictable hazards.
Clark cleaned the stains off his tuxedo as best he could, straightened his hair and steeled himself to return to the Prom. Even though his strength had returned almost immediately, the exposure to kryptonite would leave him feeling nauseous for hours to come. Dancing was dead last on his list of things to do, but too many people might wonder why he'd disappeared so suddenly.
Besides, he needed to check up on Chloe. He, or actually Dawn using his body, had hit her pretty hard – she'd been unconscious when he'd returned to his body. But by the time he'd dealt with the fire and the rest of the mess that Dawn had created, Chloe had disappeared. He hoped that meant she was okay.
And he really hoped that people would stop taking over his body – three times in one year was more than enough!
The band was playing a slow song but the dance floor was nearly empty. Most of the students were standing in clumps around the food tables, gossiping. Clark listened in.
"I always knew she was faking…"
"I can't believe I voted for her!"
"What on earth did she mean about Dawn deserving it more?"
"She's not even that pretty."
Clark clenched his fists, wanting to defend Chloe against the gossip. But all his powers were useless in this kind of battle.
Lois walked towards him, holding out a glass of punch. "You Smallville kids sure know how to throw a party."
Clark tossed back his drink. "Have you seen Chloe? After everything that happened, I wanted to check up on her."
Lois shrugged then started to tease Clark. "How on earth did you miss that it wasn't me? I wouldn't be caught dead in this dress. And the corsage! A little close to the boob, don't you think?"
Clark blushed and wondered what to do next. Somewhat reluctantly, he extended his hand, inviting her to dance.
"As much fun as that sounds, there's someone I think you want to talk with more."
Clark turned around and smiled at the sight of Chloe. The voices around them buzzed loudly with gossip, and Chloe stiffened before giving everyone a defiant grin. Clark admired her bravery and stepped forward, pulling her onto the dance floor as the band struck up a new tune.
"I love this song." Chloe started softly singing along.
"I know. It's the same song they were playing at the Spring Formal. It always makes me think of you."
Chloe smiled and leaned into his chest. "That's nice." She closed her eyes and resumed singing. She had a nice voice. Everything about her was nice.
When the song ended, Chloe sighed with pleasure then pulled him to the food table. Clark glared at the gossipers there and they scattered away, leaving them in privacy.
"That was fun, Clark. We should do it again someday – hopefully when no one's life is in danger."
"Anytime, Chloe. Anytime. But…"
"Uh oh, here it comes." Chloe's voice was teasing.
"Seriously though. You know how much you mean to me."
"I think you're awesome, I always have. You're my best friend in the whole world."
"But you don't feel 'that way' about me. I know that Clark. I always thought you might grow into me. I never thought I might grow out of you."
"That's just it. I'm afraid I'm stringing you along, keeping you in my back pocket somehow. And you deserve more. You deserve to be here with a boyfriend of your own on your arm."
"Pphhht," Chloe made a dismissive sound. "As if anyone here is worthy of me."
Clark smiled. "Well, there's Phil over there…" Phil was the captain of the basketball team and resembled a bean pole with acne.
Chloe slapped his shoulder and replied indignantly. They exchanged grins and proceeded to give each other dating tips that had them both bent over with laughter.
"I wonder what they're all saying." Chloe gestured to the groups still gossiping around them.
"You really don't want to know, believe me." Clark glowered at a particularly obnoxious cluster.
Chloe smiled secretively, "I'm sure it's not as bad as you think, Clark. It's not as though it's humanly possible to actually hear what anyone's saying from across the room."
Clark gave her a sharp look and gestured for her to follow him outside. The stars overhead twinkled gently in the chilled air.
"What did you mean by that? You've been saying a lot of weird things lately."
"It was nothing, Clark. Just a joke that I guess wasn't very funny."
"Well excuse me if I fail to see the humour in calling someone a freak when a girl has just died. You should know better, Chloe, especially after Alicia."
"I wasn't accusing you of anything," said Chloe defensively. "It just slipped out."
"You know, Chloe. There are times when you're my best friend in the world, and then something like this happens and I start wondering if you're just looking for more material for your Wall of Weird. I hate having to walk on tip-toe around you."
Chloe exploded, "That's so unfair! In case you didn't notice, I took down the Wall of Weird after Alicia died." Chloe leaned into Clark and started poking him in the chest, "You treat me like your personal search engine, yet I'm never supposed to notice how you go about stopping all those meteor freaks." Poke. "I've even stopped asking things like how you get around so fast when you need to save someone." Poke. "I played dumb when you saved us in the lab from all that falling debris right in front of my eyes." Poke. "I've listened to your endless lame excuses and don’t even roll my eyes anymore. I've covered for you with Lana and Lois and Lex, and you're too… too blind to see what's going on around you!" With that she placed both hands on his chest and pushed as hard as she could.
Clark didn't budge. "And you're too 'smart' to have the common sense to know when you're not needed. I don't know what you think you saw…"
Chloe interrupted derisively, "Don't try that with me, Clark. Your precious Alicia told me, or showed me actually. Remember when you caught her car in mid-air? Didn't you wonder why a teleporter would worry about a car accident?"
Clark struggled to regain control of his temper. "We've been through this before, again and again. Back off, Chloe. Back off."
Chloe took him literally. She gave him one last glare and stalked away.
Living in Smallville meant getting used to the inexplicable happening on a near daily basis. So Lex hardly batted an eye when he got a call asking for his help with Clark. For the second time this year, Clark had lost his memory. Lex could sympathize.
By the time Lex reached the library, Chloe and Clark had already arrived. Clark's eyes had an unfocused and vulnerable look that roused Lex's protective instincts, while simultaneously making him wonder if he could exploit the situation.
"I can't believe I'm friends with a billionaire," said Clark, staring around at the décor.
Lex smirked. "Funny, you never seemed that impressed before."
Clark made an aborted attempt at a handshake and asked, "Mr. Luthor?"
Whatever Lex had been expecting, it wasn't this. Clark seemed so awkward and out of place – in a completely different way than usual. He'd never appreciated before just how much their abrupt meeting on the Loeb Bridge had cut through the normal social barriers between two such different people.
He gave Clark his most reassuring smile. "Lex. I'm guessing you don't remember but we kind of dropped the formalities the day I ran you off the bridge." Clark managed to look even more bewildered than before.
Chloe laughed nervously from Clark's side. "You see how it is, Lex. I found him like this and I couldn't just leave him even if…" Chloe's voice trailed off and she shrugged.
"So you're looking into what happened?"
"Yeah," replied Chloe. "And I was hoping you still had your contact at the Summerholt Institute."
"Chloe mentioned that they'd done some experiments on you," added Clark.
"Yeah", said Chloe. "We were guessing that the guy that did this to Clark was undergoing some sort of treatment to have his memory wiped."
Lex paused a moment to process this. "Probably not too far of a leap giving their unnerving advancements in the field. Look, I'll make a few calls – see what I can find." He turned away when an idea struck. "Chloe, if you don't mind, I'd like to have a word with Clark."
Chloe looked protectively back at Clark. "Well, I promised his parents I would get him home…"
Lex's responded smoothly, "Well, I think I can manage that." Meanwhile, his instincts shrieked, She's worried – she knows something!
Clark was oblivious to the currents in the room. He replied, "It's all right, Chloe. You could use a break from chaperone duty. I'll be okay."
Lex gave Chloe a disarming look, and she reluctantly left. Lex then continued, "Clark, I think I might know something that might jog your memory."
Clark was interested, so after making a few phone calls, Lex led the way to the garage. He enjoyed seeing Clark's awed reaction to his car collection, and tossed him the keys to an older Lexus. They got in and quickly confirmed what Lex had suspected – despite the damage to Clark's autobiographical memory, his procedural memory was largely intact. That meant Clark could still drive the car, much as he could still walk.
It was a ten minute drive to the Kawatche Caves and Lex used the time to do some further tests. Clark could still read. He still knew a fair bit of history and geography, and was adept at math. He could even quote Thucydides, though he did not remember that Lex had been the one to introduce him to the Greek classics. Lex was intrigued by the selective amnesia and part of his mind wondered at how it had happened and the potential applications, such as treatment for PTST. The rest of his mind worried that the damage to Clark might be permanent unless they took extraordinary measures.
They arrived at the cave entrance and Lex handed out flashlights. Clark led them in, gaping around in awe. "I found these caves?"
"And ever since then, the two of us have been working together, trying to solve its mysteries. That's just between you and me." Lex felt a little guilty at the deception, but figured it was justified in the circumstances. He didn't know what had become of the three Stones of Knowledge that had so nearly been his, but he did know the Teagues were still looking. They'd already killed at least one person, Bridget Crosby, in their quest. They might well go after Clark next if he remained vulnerable.
Clark ran his flashlight over the walls and focussed on the symbol of two looped lines. Lex asked casually, "Mean anything to you?"
Clark responded immediately, "Water." He paused and frowned. "Reflection, fluidity, changing…"
Lex nodded and they moved on to other symbols. Lex tried to tamp down his excitement as he learned more about the caves in a few minutes than he had in the previous three years. But for all he revealed, Clark's personal memories remained locked away. They neared the end of the cave and Lex frowned. "Well, we tried. Sorry it didn't work."
Clark looked puzzled and looked around. "But there should be another opening around here." He shone the flashlight on the final marking, a complex one with many glyphs surrounding an octagonal indentation. He slowly reached out to touch one of the symbols, which then glowed faintly red. Clark snatched back his hand and looked searchingly at Lex.
Lex admitted, "It's never done that before. At least not while I've been here. Be careful, Clark."
Clark took a deep breath and reached up again. The first symbol he touched glowed red, the second blue and the third yellow. Then the colours merged to form a harsh white light that spread through the cave. Clark stiffened and for a moment, his eyes glowed an unearthly blue. The light pulsed for a few more seconds then faded. Clark slumped to the ground and rubbed at his temples. "I don't know why I'm so tired all of a sudden."
Lex touched the symbols the way Clark had, but there was no response. He then brushed his hand around the octagonal indentation. "I guess we're missing some part of the equation." He turned towards Clark. "Is anything coming back?"
Clark shook his head wearily. "Look, I'd better be going home. I don't want my parents to worry."
Lex dropped Clark off and returned to the caves to explore further. He was almost surprised by his lack of anger at having caught Clark out in a lie – school project indeed! But when it came to the caves, he could appreciate Clark's reticence. Here hid one of the world's great mysteries, and Lex was aware of his tendency to press hard when it came to uncovering secrets. He worried that he might have gone too far this time, using his friend's disability for his own benefit. And the caves were dangerous. Lex felt a stab of fear remembering when Dr. Walden had been driven insane after an incident in the cave. He would never forgive himself if something similar had happened to his friend.
He spent a long time examining the symbol of a two-headed monster, remembering what he'd learned about the legend of Naman and Segeeth. They were friends who become enemies, destined to fight through the ages. He remembered Lionel's deathbed warnings and worried: was he Segeeth? How could he break the cycle of doubts and lies that pulled him away from Clark?
Getting your memory back wasn't everything it was cracked up to be. Clark wondered if he'd been happier not knowing all the facts that had weighed him down for the last years. Discovering that you were an alien was a profound shock. Discovering that your arrival on earth was responsible for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths was a tragedy. Discovering that your bio-dad expected you to rule the world was something almost indescribable. And losing most of your friends because of the secrets – that was in many ways the worst thing of all.
But at least there was the comfort of his old routine. Clark was just finishing off his chores when Lex pulled into the Kent Farm. Lex called to him, "Clark... I was just looking for you. Congratulations. I heard you got full retrieval."
Clark smiled, but it was a faint shadow of his normal grin. "Everything. Everything except the last 24 hours."
"Well, you didn't miss much, but I wanted to come in person to see the old Clark back." Lex smiled briefly and turned to leave.
Clark wondered why Lex had come all this way only to leave right away. He asked, "Lex... Chloe said she left me at the mansion because you wanted to talk. What is it you wanted to talk about?"
Lex took a deep breath. "I took you to the caves. We talked about what the symbols meant. And you said there was a hidden room, but we couldn't get in."
Clark gave a grunt in response, feeling as if Lex had struck him. He flashed back to the anger and fear he'd felt when he first walked into Lex's hidden room. Lex just couldn't resist the urge to poke away at his secrets.
Lex continued, "I thought it might help you remember."
"And you thought might learn something while you were at it." Clark tried to keep his tone neutral, but failed.
Lex rubbed his hand along his scalp. "Look Clark. I really was trying to help. And yes, I learned that you've been lying to me for years." Clark's face tightened in anger and Lex added, "I don't blame you. My father was obsessed by the caves and who knows how far he would have gone if he'd thought you knew something. But Clark, he's dead now."
"And I should trust you?"
"At least as much as I should trust you. Damn it, Clark. When have I ever done anything that makes you think I'd betray you? I fought with my own father to keep you safe."
Clark felt his temper rise. "You fought with your own father to gain control of LuthorCorp. And in the process, you brought me to the attention of the FBI and who knows what else. Secrets don't seem to stay very secret around you."
"For God's sake, Clark, you're only 18 years old. What kind of secrets could you possibly have that warrant your level of paranoia? This whole Veritas thing is a rich man's folly. Why do you take it so personally? What's it got to do with you?"
Clark was silent, staring down Lex. His eyes were accusatory and his body language radiated anger.
Lex continued more softly, "Look, Clark, I'm not stupid. I know you're strong and fast and almost invulnerable – most of the time at least. And I want to trust you because I know you try to help people. But these lies… They just make everything worse. I know, Clark. I know."
Clark muttered, "You don't know jack."
Lex snorted. "You'd be surprised, Clark. But if it makes you more comfortable, I'll rephrase. I suspect that you've been roped into the Veritas project by Dr. Swann. I suspect he gave you the first stone, and meant to give you the second except he was killed. And I strongly suspect you pocketed the third stone while I was busy climbing up that damned hill in China. What I don't understand is why."
"But I thought you had it!" Clark stared into Lex's eyes and saw that here at least, Lex was telling the truth. And Lex would never be able to trust him again until he could see for himself that Clark was also telling the truth. As dad would say, time to fish or cut bait.
Clark weighed his options. Pete had found out the secret, and Pete had wound up leaving town. He'd kept Lana from the secret, yet she too had wound up leaving town. Chloe had found out and they still weren't talking to each other, though apparently she'd helped out when he lost his memory. And then there were all the others too. So many people, such different reactions. Was it safe to tell Lex? Would it even help? Or was it too late?
Clark took a deep breath and asked Lex to wait while he went into the loft to retrieve something. Then he asked Lex to drive them to the Kawatche Caves. The drive there was silent as Clark tried to control his nerves. He'd had to tell so many lies over the past four years that it had started to become a habit. Opening up was a huge risk.
Clark flinched away from the memory of how the vial of his blood had been used in at least two LuthorCorp projects that he knew of. What would Lex do with access to the source? He refused to use me as a lab rat that time with the chemical leak, he reminded himself. He used himself instead. He's a good guy. Except when… Clark shivered at the memory of Lex's evil side holding a kryptonite ring up to his face. No worse than my Kryptonian side nearly killing him when I ripped that door off his airplane.
Clark led them through the caves to the portal access. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the octagonal disk. "I didn't steal it from you, Lex. It's been through a bunch of different hands but it keeps finding its way back to me. Because it's mine. I've got a lot of secrets, Lex. And no matter what you think, I have a right to keep them. But given everything that's gone on…" With that, he tapped in the entry sequence and a door opened to the hidden chamber.
Lex led the way in and immediately headed towards the crystal nestled in an indentation in the central dais. But instead of seizing it, his hand stroked along the part of the indentation meant for the other two stones. "Just the one," he murmured.
"Yeah. And if I don't have it, and you don't have it…"
"Jason." Lex's voice was flat. "He played me for a fool. You've both played me for a fool." He turned his back on Clark.
Clark pleaded, "Lex! That isn't it."
Lex turned his head and glared contemptuously, before stalking out of the chamber. Once again, Clark was left alone.
May 4, 2005 (Ageless[ii])
Lex was escorted into the Teague's Metropolis penthouse and looked around with some amusement. The décor was impeccable and meant to impress. If he was not mistaken, those were two Dégas originals in the foyer, and a large fortune in post-Impressionist paintings decorated the living room. A shame really – the Teague family spent a lot of time socializing at gallery openings and the like, but had little appreciation for art itself. They just used it as a means to display their wealth and power. But Lex had lived with the master at that game.
After several minutes, Genevieve Teague entered the room. Although in her mid-fifties, Genevieve was a beautiful woman and always would be thanks to her exquisite bone structure. But Lex liked to believe he would never have been attracted to her. She reminded him of a cobra – sleekly coiled until she was ready to strike.
Lex greeted her, "Genevieve. You know, I'm not accustomed to being summoned like a lapdog." It had been convenient though given his suspicions about Jason.
"Don't be silly, Lex. I'd never allow you on my lap." Genevieve's tone was cultured, teasing even. But there was an underlying steeliness that reminded Lex not to underestimate her.
Lex laughed politely at the barb. "So, why am I here, if not for the – um – pleasure of your company?"
Genevieve poured herself a drink and gazed at him over the glass. "You just returned from China with a lost element. And I would like you to return it to me."
Lex resisted the urge to snort. "Nice try, Genevieve, but no. It was Jason who brought the stone back home."
"Jason's incapable of such subterfuge. Unfortunately, he inherited his intelligence from my husband's side of the family."
"Yes, I never thought you married well." Lex couldn't resist the urge to taunt her. Genevieve had married for the money and connections, and had used that to amass great power. But her husband had proved a failure on the political scene and the two had long since split up.
"You, on the other hand, received your genes from a far more cunning source."
Lex decided to cut short the bantering. "You know, there were other treasure seekers in China, Genevieve."
"Ha. A farm boy, an ex-cheerleader, and Lex Luthor. Who else should I think ended up with the prize?"
"Think what you will, Genevieve. Even if I had it, I'd never turn it over to you."
Genevieve's voice was still teasing but her body language was meant to be intimidating. "You know, Lex. If you don't have it, one of your friends must. I don't think either one of us want me to go after them myself."
Lex's eyes hardened. "You be careful, Genevieve. I regard a threat to my friends as a threat to me."
"Interpret it any way you like. I want that stone, Lex. You can see yourself out."
Clark answered the phone on the second ring. "Hello, Kent Farm here."
"Clark, be careful." Lex's voice was tense.
Clark was thrown off guard. "I thought you were mad at me."
"I am. But you need to look out. Genevieve Teague is after the stones. She might go after you to threaten me."
"So Lana's in trouble too, then." Before Lex could respond, Clark hung up the phone and started running. His super hearing kicked in, picking up the sound of Lex cursing somewhere on the outskirts of Metropolis. He then heard Lex trying to phone Lana, but no one answered.
Clark tried to filter his super hearing on Lana's voice, but after a year's practice at tuning her out, he could no longer do so. He arrived at the Talon, and looked around for her to no avail. He noticed there seemed to be more out-of-towners than normal seated around the café, and wondered if Lana was under surveillance. Or was he was just being paranoid? No, all his instincts told him trouble was afoot.
Clark left the Talon and tried to focus his hearing on Chloe instead. Despite the argument between them, he knew Chloe would drop everything to help him track down their mutual friend. This time, his attempt to focus was successful – doubly so. Chloe and Lana were together at Chloe's apartment, discussing what to pack for the rapidly upcoming expedition. Clark again started running.
Even as he arrived at the building, Clark could see he was too late. Two strange men were speeding away in an unmarked car, and Clark could see flames glowing on the third floor where the Sullivan apartment was located. The fire was spreading quickly and Clark hadn't a moment to waste.
For Clark, the world shifted into slow motion as he reacted to the emergency. He jumped and landed on a third floor balcony. He entered the apartment and was temporarily blinded by clouds of smoke. Startled into taking a deep breath, he could practically taste the gasoline that soaked the room. All around, he could hear the frames roaring with voracious intensity. There were a series of loud thumps as furniture started to collapse, and a whoosh as some curtains took fire.
But one important sound was missing. Clark adjusted his vision to compensate for the smoke and tried to locate the fire detector – it was disabled. So too was the fire alarm in the corridor outside the apartment – the arsonists had been thorough. Clark zoomed down to the second floor to pull the fire alarm there. Shouts rang out as people responded to the danger.
Clark returned to the fire and tried to supress it by forming a vortex to deprive it of oxygen. It had worked in Lex's study a few months back, but here there were too many walls and too much flammable material. The fire continued to grow with amazing speed, now spilling down the corridor and into the nearest apartments.
A scream broke into Clark's concentration. He looked around to see a woman who had tried to reach the fire escape, only to have the fire close in on her. The woman's eyes, at first wild with fear, glazed over as she collapsed from the smoke. Clark sprinted towards her and slung her over his shoulder. He whisked her to safety and hastily smothered the flames that were licking at her body. The woman's clothes and hair were singed, and her breathing was compromised but she would live.
Clark then switched to his X-ray vision. The Sullivan apartment was right next to the fire but fortunately Lana and Chloe were already moving down the fire escape. Nobody else was in immediate danger.
The fire department had just arrived so Clark left them to take care of the situation. When Lana and Chloe stumbled out of the building, he ran forward and gave both girls a hug. He closed his eyes and gave thanks that he had been warned in time.
"We need to talk to Lex," he said. "He'll know what to do."
Lex found himself back in the Teague penthouse mere hours after he had left. He struggled to contain his anger but it was hard. If Clark hadn't arrived when he did, who knows how many lives would have been lost in the fire. As it was, the Sullivans had been burned out of their home. Gabe was furious – blaming a Smallville mutant for the attack – and had vowed to leave Smallville immediately and never set foot in it again. He and Chloe had argued vehemently when she refused to leave with him. Chloe had been left at the Kent Farm, literally sobbing on Martha's shoulder.
As for Lana, she'd returned to her apartment only to find it ransacked. Someone had obviously been searching for one of the stones. Lex could only wonder at what Genevieve had been thinking.
Lex thought back to his arrival in Smallville earlier that night. Clark had been waiting at the mansion with Chloe, Gabe and Lana, and had quickly explained the situation. Lex had ushered them into the library and called for comfort food, but there was little comfort to be had. The fight between the Sullivans had been devastating to witness. It was hard to watch a family fall apart but Lex had felt singularly incapable of doing anything to stop it.
Then after Clark had left with Chloe, Lana had nearly collapsed. She had been frightened, confused and angry, not to mention guilty at getting Chloe involved in the situation. Jason had finally arrived and had tried to deny his family's involvement, which turned Lana's anger into fury. The two had fought bitterly before Jason convinced Lana that he at least was innocent. Lex had also been convinced and had earned Lana's gratitude by inviting them both to stay the night in one of the guest rooms. He'd also declined Lana's tearful offer to back out of the rafting trip. Soon Lana would no longer be Genevieve's main target.
After keeping him waiting, Genevieve finally entered the room. Lex held up a bottle of wine that had been sitting on the bar. "It's a 1961 Bordeaux." He gave a snort. "I am honored."
"Well, I assume your visit means I have cause to celebrate."
"Don't all my visits deserve to be celebrated, Genevieve?"
"Some more than others."
Lex snorted again and poured out two glasses of wine. He handed one glass to Genevieve and savoured the aroma of the other. "Mmmm."
Genevieve demanded, "Do you have something for me?"
"I most certainly do." He raised his glass and offered a toast, "To the resolution of our problem."
Genevieve took a small sip in response. "Mmm..."
Lex lowered his glass and practically purred in satisfaction. "Friendship – it's an interesting phenomenon, isn't it? The lengths we go to... to protect our friends. No limits."
"What are you…?" Genevieve's voice cut off as she suddenly struggled for breath. She collapsed to the floor.
Lex was grim. "The wine you've just drunk will kill you in a matter of minutes. I'm told that the pain will be excruciating. How about a trade? You give me the stone that you stole from Bridgette Crosby, and I give you... the antidote."
Genevieve gazed up at him desperately.
Lex added, "One more thing – you go near my friends, and anything that happens to them happens to you. Is that understood?"
Genevieve nodded frantically and Lex continued, "The stone, Genevieve. Where is it?"
Lex left minutes later with the stone tucked into his breast pocket. He took no joy in his victory, if it could be called such. But how else could you deal with someone as relentless as Genevieve Teague? How could he keep his friends safe?
They were beautiful creatures, glistening like jewels in the afternoon sky. Each was the size of a whale, but far more stream-lined – designed for the sky instead of the sea. Their enormous wing spans allowed them to glide and ride thermals to dizzying heights. He longed to join their play but felt chained to the Earth.
One of the dragons went into a deep dive then swooped down along the ground with a booming roar. The people around him scattered in fear but Clark smiled instead – the dragon only meant to help. It was telling him to let go. To join them, he only had to… Only had to…
"Clark, wake up! Come on, we're going to be late!"
Clark reluctantly opened his eyes to see Chloe looking down at him. She gave his shoulders a shake and added, "I thought you farmboys always got up with the sun. But your mom let you sleep in – it's almost noon!" Chloe seemed faintly scandalized.
Clark stretched and looked out the window of the loft where he'd been sleeping. Chloe was exaggerating, but the sun was well up in the sky. "Yeah, Lex and I were up late trying to figure out what to do about the Teagues. He still wants to declare all-out war, but I don't know if that'll help. Lionel sure managed to do enough damage even after we got him arrested last year."
"So there's still no way to link them to the fire?"
"Afraid not. The police said something last night about the 'signature' being familiar, but they don't have any leads. And everybody ran out of the Talon when they heard about the fire, so there were no witnesses to that break in either. But Lex has Mrs. Teague under surveillance at least." Clark wanted to disapprove of the invasion of privacy, but couldn't think of anything better.
"And Jason? I know Lana was having her doubts about him, but they seem pretty close again."
"Yeah, she insists he's not involved, and not even Lex can prove otherwise. So… He's still coming on the trip, unless you put your foot down.
Chloe shook her head. "He doesn't set off my weirdar, Clark. And he doesn't strike me as the type for subterfuge."
Clark nodded and then cleared his throat awkwardly. "Ummm, speaking of your weirdar, I never said it before and I should have. I'm sorry, Chloe. I shouldn't have lost my temper at Prom like that. But…" His voice trailed off.
Chloe gave him a quick hug. "I kind of guessed when you invited me into your home. And I'm sorry too. I'd rehearsed telling you that I knew a hundred times and it never went like that."
Clark hugged her back. "I hated arguing with you. I couldn't believe the things I was saying even when I was saying them."
"It happens that way sometimes – friends argue and say things they don't mean. Or worse, they blurt out all the things that have been bugging them for years in the worst possible way. But they get through it."
"What if they don't?" asked Clark, thinking of Lex.
"Then try harder," quipped Chloe.
"Now you're starting to sound like my dad!"
Chloe laughed. "Oh no, not that!" She continued in a more serious tone, "I love you, you know. Just like an adopted-mutant-almost-brother."
Clark sobered. "No Chloe, I'm not a mutant." He paused and added softly, "I'm not human at all. Does that change things?"
Chloe smiled with delight. "How could it? That's amazing, Clark! So, alien?"
Clark smiled back gratefully. "Yeah. Or as I prefer to put it, intergalactic traveller."
Chloe beamed. "You… doofus. Here I've been looking forward to meeting an alien for my entire life, and now – I find myself distinctly underwhelmed. You're not at least hiding a few tentacles, are you?"
"Sorry to disappoint, Chloe – not a tentacle in sight. But I do sometimes float in my sleep."
Chloe sighed happily. "That is so cool." She glanced down at her watch and gave a dismayed yelp. "Yikes, it's getting late. Hurry up and get dressed!"
Clark smiled as she practically ran back to the farm house. She was recovering slowly from the dual shock of the fire and her father's desertion. Clark could understand why Mr. Sullivan had wanted to leave town – how many times had he felt the same? But he couldn't understand how a father could be so stubborn as to refuse to come back for his daughter's graduation day.
Fortunately his parents had stepped into the breach, welcoming Chloe like a long-lost daughter. The house was crowded but had never felt more like home. Clark almost regretted that they'd be leaving tomorrow to start the trip. Almost. Clark grinned as he remembered the last practice session with Karyn on the Met U whitewater course. It had been exhilarating. All of Karyn's lessons had suddenly clicked into place, and he'd found himself pivoting and edging and flipping his way around the course with the best of them. Even Karyn had been impressed.
A shout from his father brought him back to matters at hand. He quickly dressed into his Sunday best and started struggling with the tie. Why did he always find them so elusive? His hands just felt too big for the task. He sighed and decided to leave the tie until later – no doubt bossy Lois would oblige.
By the time he entered the kitchen, everyone else had already started eating, with Shelby watching hopefully from the floor for a dropped morsel. A chorus of voices welcomed him and started teasing him about skipping out on his chores. Lois handed him a muffin and mocked his outfit. Chloe loyally intervened on his behalf and the two started bickering about her clothes instead. Martha then joined in – she'd helped rebuild Chloe's wardrobe as best she could, and had done a stunning job on the graduation dress. Jonathan made a small comment and suddenly became the focus of all eyes. Martha told him to change his shirt to match up with the rest of their sartorial splendour. Grinning, Jonathan obeyed.
Clark filled his plate and joined in the banter. He'd never felt more grateful towards his adopted parents, taking in three strays (four counting Shelby) and forging them into a family. He owed everything to them and all they wanted in return was for him to be happy. He vowed once again to be worthy of their trust.
Lex looked around the board room and reviewed the emergency protocols yet again. His senior management team looked both eager and nervous – eager at the chance to prove themselves in his upcoming absence, nervous at the danger of events spiralling out of control.
"Remember, I'm off on vacation for three weeks. I'll be briefly checking in each night but I really don't want to hear about business problems – I want to enjoy myself. So use your judgement. Handle anything you know you can handle, put off anything that can safely be delayed. But don't make the mistake of trying to bury something that actually does need my attention."
In most companies, the CEO could readily take a vacation by delegating his duties. But with LuthorCorp, Lionel had centralized power so much that the lower level managers had forgotten how to actually run the business. Even now, Lex wasn't sure who could be trusted to display good judgement and who was merely good at office politics. And yet Lex couldn't simply clean house as he was sometimes tempted – the company was simply too complex. It would be a long, slow process to ensure that the proper checks and balance were put in place.
Lex took a deep breath and forced himself to let go. "That's it, gentlemen, ladies. I'll see you in June." He shook hands and headed out.
Karyn was waiting for him in the garage. She ran through the checklist and itinerary with him one last time and gave an excited farewell. She was driving straight to Lee's Ferry in the van she was using to transport the kayaks. Lex had a few stops to make along the way.
It took Lex just over an hour to reach Smallville – not exactly a record but far faster than his chauffeur would have made it. Despite all the chiding he had received over the years, Lex still did like to drive fast. The car he was driving, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, might look like an SUV but it definitely performed like a sports car – a sports car with legroom and room for luggage that is.
Lex arrived at Smallville High just before the ceremony began. He stood at the back until Martha noticed him and waved him to the seat next to her. Somewhat grudgingly, Jonathan made way for him and then surprised Lex by starting up a conversation. Jonathan had originally been reluctant about the trip, but had warmed to the idea when he saw how engaged Clark and the girls were by the kayaking lessons. Lex got the impression that the elder Kents were now wishing they too could spare the time to join the expedition.
"Hush," admonished Martha. "It's starting."
The ceremony was simple but surprisingly moving for Lex. Lionel had never attended any of his graduations, most of which had been stiff, formal events. This one was different. He had met, at least briefly, most of the students at various events over the past years, and could appreciate the effort they'd put into graduating – especially given the astonishing destruction they'd all faced over the past few years. And it was good to see the townspeople greet each name with a cheer.
"Clark Kent," intoned the announcer. Clark stepped forward, grinning widely. Lex supressed the urge to laugh – the graduation cap definitely did not suit Clark's face. Lex joined the Kents in their applause while Lois gave a loud whistle. It was over too quickly.
Later, Clark stood with Chloe and Lana while Martha shot a seemingly endless series of graduation photos. Lois kept everyone laughing with her quips.
Lex walked over to Jonathan. "Chloe seems to be recovering nicely. I was worried after the fire." He repressed the urge to offer the Kents some money to help with replacing Chloe's possessions.
Jonathan nodded proudly and then turned to Lex. "Is it safe?"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Will the trip be safe? Clark tried to explain what's going on with that Teague woman but it didn't make much sense to either of us. But he did say that you said she was more dangerous than Lionel, which means I don't want her in the same state as my family."
Lex wondered how much Clark had actually shared with Jonathan – certainly not everything, or Jonathan would never be acting so cordially towards him. He equivocated. "Genevieve Teague is definitely a dangerous woman. But she loves her son. I don't think she'll attack while he's with Lana."
"So you're using Jason as a shield?" Jonathan gave a grimace of distaste.
Only because Clark vetoed more direct action, thought Lex. Aloud, he explained, "And I have her under surveillance. She can't make a move without me hearing about it."
Clark came up behind them. "Yeah, dad. And if she does come after us, we'll be able to see her coming for miles. It's safer that way."
Because Clark doesn't have to worry about collateral damage, Lex thought. He could see the same thought occur to Jonathan, who then shot him a wary glance. Lex gave his most innocuous look in reply. He saw Clark stifle a grin.
Suddenly Lex felt a healthy amount of his anger at Clark dissolve. Yes Clark was a liar. But at least he seemed to lie to everyone – even his nearest and dearest – to varying degrees. It wasn't a matter of distrust per se – it must just be a coping mechanism, a way to avoid awkward questions and arguments and, yes, potentially dangerous exposure. Lex could respect that.
Too bad Clark was such a bad liar – it offended Lex's sense of comme il faut. Maybe he should give him lessons.
[i] Spirit in all its crack glory takes place pretty much unchanged – 'Martha' lip-syncing to La La, 'what would the senior prom be without a body-snatching prom queen?', 'the crown is mine, bitch', all the good stuff. But there's no hint of Clark still moping after Lana. And the band is Remy Zero, playing Perfect Memory amongst their other hits.
[ii] Don't worry, no exploding babies here! The high school gang spend all their spare time this week training for the upcoming kayak expedition. But Lex has a stone to recover, taking over the role of Lionel in canon Ageless.
[iii] In the week between chapters, Clark, Chloe and Lana were trapped in the fake high school as in canon!Forever. But Genevieve does NOT attack Lex to recover the stone, since Lex has her under close surveillance. Genevieve also does not attack Lana and thus the second meteor shower is not triggered.