By Elle Roberts <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2003
Summary: In this prequel to the episode "Tempus, Anyone?", alt-Clark's life history, and what has shaped him into the man Lois meets, are examined.
Author's note (unabridged version):
1. Apologies for the unabridged version of author's notes — I promise, they are usually sort and sweet. If you read nothing else, please read bullet point 3.
2. I'd like to get the obligatory "This is my first fanfic" out of the way. I have been lurking now for several months and am continually amazed at the quality of work this group produces. My only hope is I can become part of such a wonderful online community. Already, when I posted this on the boards in February 2003, I was amazed at the wonderful feedback and support. I'd especially like to thank Avia and everyone who commented on FE, especially those who recommended changes!
3. This takes place in the alternate universe from Tempus, Anyone? and is the story that was never supposed to be written. During the summer of 2002, after stumbling upon Lois and Clark for the second time in my life, I began fiddling with a couple of my own ideas. One of the first pieces I started to write dealt with alt-Clark after he became alt-Superman. However, a problem I came across while writing him was that he kept turning into the Clark we've all come to know and love from the series. While that Clark is wonderful, it wasn't alt-Clark as I perceived or wanted him to be. Thus, I began filling in my version of his history, some of which is most likely not canon with the series, in order to give him his own personality. After a while, my notes on his history seemed to form what I thought would make a good prologue to the original story. I slowly came to realize, though, that the following piece is a story in and of itself.
3. If the reader finds that he or she prefers to think of Lana as a selfish brat with few, if any, redeeming qualities, this story will most likely not be well- received. I attempted to create her in such a way as to explain why alt-Clark would have married her if Lois hadn't interfered. I just couldn't entirely buy the "he's lonely and will cling to anything" line I felt the series was attempting to use. I wanted to give him higher standards and humanize Lana — to a point, of course, otherwise Clark never would have jumped ship so fast when Lois appeared on the scene.
4. I mean no harm to the proper owners of any or the borrowed characters or concepts. Suing me for copyright infringement will probably result in getting my student loans and not much else.
His parents were dead.
It had been sudden. From the conversations he had overhead, they had both died almost instantly. Although he knew that already, it had been a strange sort of relief to know that any suffering on their part had been brief. They had felt almost no pain, no suffering. People spoke of that as if it somehow made everything a little better.
For the first few nights, Clark had lain in bed and wondered what their last thought had been. Had they realized they were going to die? Did they worry what was going to happen to him? Did they wonder why he hadn't been there? Had they known that he should have been able to save them?
Clark and his parents had known for almost as long as Clark had been alive that he was unique. He had never suffered the common childhood maladies that his friends had or the common bumps and bruises associated with a childhood as active as his. Once he had learned to read, his mother had commented that he seemed a natural speed-reader, especially when she had noticed that at the age of seven, he could read faster than either of his parents. His ability to process information quickly did not end at books either — in school, if he wasn't careful, he was always the first done with assignments, the first to master a given task.
It had only been in the past month that Clark noticed his array of abilities seemed to be expanding. When a game of tag on the playground after school had ended with his classmates accusing him of cheating because no one could catch him, Clark had come home early to sprint through his family's fields. Despite the hard December ground that normally slowed him, Clark had been running faster than he ever had in his life. Terrified, he had gone immediately to his father.
As was common in the aftermath of the fall harvest, his father could be found in the barn, tinkering with anything that appeared even remotely broken.
His father had looked up at him, giving him a smile. "I didn't except to see you home so soon. I thought today was your weekly game of tag."
"I left early."
His father's brow had furrowed. "You didn't walk, did you, Clark? I know it's still warmer than usual, but you still shouldn't walk all the way home by yourself."
"No, Mike had to leave early. Mrs. Smith gave me a ride home."
"That's good." His father looked at Clark again and put down his tools. "What's wrong, son?"
Clark remembered swallowing, unsure of what to say. "Well, I'm running really fast. Faster than I've ever run before."
His father nodded. "That's not unusual. The older you get, the faster you get." He paused, glancing at Clark. "How fast is fast?"
They had gone to one of the nearby fields and his father had measured out one hundred meters. His father stood with his watch in hand as Clark readied himself to sprint.
Eight seconds later, Clark touched the other side of the fence.
That night, Clark had lay in bed worrying about what this newest ability meant. Would he have to stop playing games with his friends so they wouldn't know his secret? Or would he be able to hide this newest ability with some practice, as he had with the others?
His thoughts were interrupted when he realized he could hear his parents talking in the kitchen as if he were there, standing next to them.
"Martha, I've never seen anything like it. He's always been fast …"
Just as quickly as the skill had appeared, his father's voice had again faded to a low murmur. At first, he heard his mother's soft voice respond in the same muted tone.
"… but he's going to be scared. He's just a boy …"
Quiet, nonsensical noise again.
"… I just worry about him at school. If people saw how fast …" his father's voice boomed suddenly.
"… control it. He's done it before. It will just …"
The silence was longer this time.
"…as long as we're here for him," his mother's voice had come into focus one last time before he had fallen asleep.
That was just the problem, though. They weren't here anymore.
A week ago, his parents had decided to pay the Dixons an after-dinner visit. Clark, who was not overly fond of either of the Dixon boys, had begged to be left at the house with the plea of homework. After some persuasion, his parents had agreed, extracting a promise that he had to finish his homework before watching television or playing with toys and that they would be back by nine to tuck him in. Thrilled at the prospect of being home alone, Clark had readily agreed to the terms and set out doing homework at the kitchen table before they had even left.
It had been 8:30 when Clark's new hearing ability had kicked in for the first time since he had inadvertently listened to his parents' kitchen conversation. The sound that reached his ears was not pleasant: wheels skidding across ice. Moments later, he was out the door and pushing himself to use his newfound speed.
Looking back, Clark wasn't quite sure how he had gotten to his parents. At times, it seemed as if he had been running so fast he was flying. The day a month ago in the field was nothing to what he now found himself doing. His speed was nothing, though, as he had arrived only to see his father's truck slide off the road into a tree, which responded to the blow by falling across the cab of the truck.
He hadn't been fast enough.
Clark couldn't quite remember, but he was fairly sure he had screamed as the large oak crushed the cab.
Terrified by the sight in front of him, Clark had been unable to move at first. He kept expecting and hoping to see his parents get out of the truck shaken but alive.
The reality before him slowly sank into his consciousness.
The wind kicked up in response.
He had walked towards the truck then, stopping when he was five feet away. A black hand grasped his heart and squeezed as the scene before him finally clicked into place. No one could have survived that.
It was a sudden impulse, but Clark couldn't be alone anymore. He ran back to the house, the blackness of the accident nipping at his heels. Stopping in the kitchen, he had picked up the phone and dialed the first number that came to mind. After three rings, the other end picked up.
"Mr. Irig, it's Clark -"
"What's wrong, son?" Mr. Irig's calm voice cut through the panic clouding Clark's mind.
"My parents. They were in an accident."
"Do you need me and Mrs. Irig to come over?"
Scant minutes after Clark had hung up the phone and gone outside to wait, the Irigs had pulled up in front of the Kent residence, gathered Clark and driven to Jonathan Kent's truck. As Mr. Irig pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, no one said anything.
Mr. Irig broke the silence that had descended upon seeing the crushed truck. "I'll go over and see if they're …" He paused. "…I'll go see if they're all right."
Mr. Irig had opened the door and slowly walked over to the truck. Watching her husband, Mrs. Irig had pulled Clark protectively to her side and began gently stroking his hair. At one point, Clark had sworn she was about to say something, her hand having paused on his head and a small sigh escaping her lips, but instead she had simply hugged him closer and continued the gentle movements through his hair.
As Mr. Irig walked back to his own truck, the expression on his normally stoic face was troubled. Climbing back into the truck, he had struggled to find the right words.
"Clark, well, why don't we go back to your house and call some people. I don't think there's much of anything we can do."
Clark was old enough to put together all the pieces, finally able to comprehend the one thought that had been in the back of his mind since he saw the accident. "They're dead."
He found himself drawn into Mrs. Irig's full embrace at this admission. Her tears fell onto his head as she hugged him to her chest. Mr. Irig's expression tightened and he looked down at his hands. "I just don't know how anyone could have survived that. But let's go call people who know about this sort of thing. With modern medicine the way it is today, you just never know."
Clark did, though. They were dead, because he wasn't fast enough.
As Clark walked back into the Kent house with the Irigs, he felt an emptiness begin to settle into his chest. Suddenly, he wanted to be anywhere but here, trapped in this house that was filled with memories and the scents he had come to associate with his parents.
Mr. Irig had gone to the phone while Mrs. Irig had busied herself with Clark's well-being.
"Why don't you sit down and let me make you some hot chocolate, Clark?"
Clark had mutely nodded at Mrs. Irig's suggestion and gone to sit on the living room couch in front of the television he had forgotten to turn off. The only thing Clark remembered about the hot chocolate was that it tasted nothing like his mother's.
By the next afternoon, Clark was fairly sure every resident in Smallville had braved the icy conditions in order to express their sympathy. He numbly accepted their words and after a while, merely went through the motions of what was expected of him: always polite, always respectful, always doing exactly what he had been taught.
All day, the same thought kept crowding the back of his mind: His parents were dead. And the thing no one knew when giving their condolences was that he should have been able to save them.
If he had gone with them or had the television volume turned softer, he would have been able to do something more than watch as they died. He had all these fascinating abilities, yet he couldn't even save his own parents.
He was terrified what would happen to him now. No one had questioned the circumstances of the accident or how he knew what had happened, and he suspected that no one would. He was safe for now, but for how long? Could he ever trust anyone to understand how different he was? Or, knowing of his abilities, would they take him away as his parents had always feared? Was he destined to be locked away in some laboratory now, nothing more than some test subject?
These thoughts swirled through his head much as the people came and went, expressing their sympathy without fully understanding the depth of his grief. The only people who would have understood were dead.
Eventually the well wishers slowed to a trickle. Clark looked at the clock in disbelief as Sheriff Harris and his family left. It was already nine o'clock. For nearly twelve hours, people had been stopping in to express their sorrow at the Kents' untimely passing. Mrs. Irig, who hadn't left the house since yesterday evening, now aimlessly puttered around the rooms as Clark sat on the couch, unsure of what to do, caught between needing to do something and wanting to do nothing more than curling up and escaping from this world. If only he could fly away.
By 9:30, Mrs. Irig had run out of things to keep her busy, and she focused on Clark.
"Clark, why don't you try and go to bed?" She paused and took a breath that sound more like a sigh. "We have to be in town early tomorrow to start on the funeral arrangements. If you don't want to come, though, that's perfectly understandable. But if you could at least give me some idea as to what you think they would have wanted, it would be a great help."
"I'll come," Clark's voice was resolute, powerful and so unlike a child's that Mrs. Irig found herself speechless for a moment.
"Well, then, you should definitely go and get some sleep. Do you want water or warm milk before you turn in?" Unsure of what Martha and Jonathan's routine with the boy had been, she continued. "Anything that might help you sleep?"
"No thank you, Mrs. Irig. I'll be fine. And thank you for being here today. I appreciated it. I know how busy you are at your farm," Clark said in that same adult voice as he got up from the couch. "Good night, Mrs. Irig."
"Clark, Mrs. Irig, ma'am, good morning."
Clark noticed that Mrs. Irig, who abhorred being called ma'am, seemed ready to correct the young Edward Frederick. Mr. Frederick, however, had merely continued to talk, not giving Mrs. Irig the chance to remind him that she was, as Clark had so often heard her say, "not a grandmother yet, so don't try and put me there."
"Clark, I am so sorry about what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Kent. They were such nice people and well, so young," the young man greeted them as they stepped into the parlor of the Frederick Funeral Home.
Mr. Frederick, who looked exactly like his recently deceased father, the original owner of the funeral home, shook Clark's hand in a practiced manner.
"I know how difficult all of this must be for you, Clark. I want to try and make this as simple as possible for you."
"Thank you, Mr. Frederick," Clark replied, unsure how, exactly, the process of losing one's parents could be made simpler.
Mrs. Irig and Mr. Frederick began discussing everything that needed to be done as they walked back to the business office. Clark followed a couple of steps behind, looking around at the faux living room.
Clark had always hated funeral homes. They were depressing places, made even more so, he thought, by a failed attempt to seem comforting. A living room in which no one actually lived, Clark reasoned, seemed an appropriate place to mourn death.
He remembered when his family had gone to Wichita last year after his grandmother had died. Clark had never been especially close to his grandmother but had been familiar enough with her to be horrified to see the old woman displayed in the casket, looking peaceful, almost as if sleeping. At least, everything seemed eerily normal until he had glanced down at her hands. The hands that Clark had remembered as soft, delicate and warm, had looked like horrible Halloween decorations. They had been shriveled appendages and a dull, pasty color that could almost be described as beige if one was feeling generous. There had been no hint of life within them — no softness to be viewed but only a certain hardness that made death seem plastic.
He had nightmares of those hands coming for him on and off for two weeks after the funeral. Even worse, he could never quite erase that final view of his grandmother from his memories and found that the once comforting thought of her hands gently stroking his cheek as he fell asleep was now the stuff of nightmares.
He didn't want to carry the same pictures of his parents in his head.
"I want their coffins to be closed," Clark said as they walked into Mr. Frederick's office.
The two adults turned to look at him, their conversation about a date for the service forgotten.
"Of course, Clark. Though I already decided it would be in the best interest of everyone involved for both the caskets to be closed," Mr. Frederick explained kindly.
Clark nodded, just old enough to understand the unstated. He again saw the tree crashing into the cab of the truck in his mind. They had been crushed. They couldn't be put on display even if he had wanted it. Somehow, that realization disturbed almost as much as the thought of seeing them dressed up as dolls of death.
As everyone sat, Mr. Frederick opened a file on his desk and picked up a pen.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kent were well liked, so I might recommend an evening viewing so that everyone could stop by," Mr. Fredrick began. "The earliest date that would be available is Thursday."
Clark felt his eyes began to water as Mr. Frederick continued to explain the merits of a viewing. Mom had promised him last week she would make pot roast Thursday to celebrate his recent report card.
"Clark, would Thursday be ok with you?" Mrs. Irig asked.
"Yes, Thursday will be fine," Clark replied mutely. "Can the service be Saturday?"
Mr. Frederick gave Clark an approving smile. "I think you're reading my mind, Clark. I talked to Minister Grant this morning, and he said Saturday at 11 am would be best. Afterwards, if the weather is permitting, we'll travel to the graveyard for the burial. Do you want it to be a public or private ceremony?"
Clark's immediate impulse was to say private but stopped himself as he pictured Minister Grant, the Irigs and a couple of men from the graveyard surrounding him and two coffins. It would be much easier to open it to everyone and hope he could blend into the crowd.
Mrs. Irig and Mr. Frederick then began discussing other matters to attend to, asking Clark to weigh in when necessary as he drifted in and out of the conversation. The caskets would be pale blue with silver handrails for both. The gravestone would be a joint one, of course, as no one could picture Martha and Jonathan wanting it any other way. The time for the visitation, well that was a hard one, but perhaps 6 to 9 would be best — it would be late enough that most people had finished dinner but would start an hour before the weekly Bible study, meaning people would be able to do both. More and more decisions were made until Clark wasn't sure what else he could possibly agree to. By 11 am, Clark was exhausted and he thought that even Mr. Frederick looked a little rough around the edges.
As they stepped out of the funeral home, Mrs. Irig gave Clark a tired smile. "I don't know about you, but I need some ice cream. Actually, after this morning, I think I deserve a banana split. And, if I remember correctly, you're not entirely adverse to ice cream either."
Clark found himself smiling. "That sounds good. But what about lunch?"
Mrs. Irig placed an arm around Clark's shoulders as she began to escort him over to the ice cream parlor. "Clark, there are times in life when a banana split needs to be lunch."
That night, Clark lay in bed, listening to the dull drone of the television from downstairs. He was drifting into a sleep born of emotional exhaustion when he realized everything had suddenly become much louder. After a moment of panic at all the noise, he heard Mrs. Irig's voice filter through the rest. She was on the phone and, despite his best efforts to ignore it, he could hear every word spoken not just by her, but also by Mr. Irig, the person at the other end of the line.
"Wayne, I'm worried about him."
"We all are. It's just going to take time."
"Oh, I know that. I just … something seems wrong. Not just what happened with his parents but I can't help but wonder …" Mrs. Irig trailed off and Clark could even make out her small sigh as she tried to find the words.
"What?" Mr. Irig asked after a moment.
"I'm not even sure I can put it into words, but maybe he is just dealing with it in his own way. He has always been a mature boy and so polite. Martha and Jonathan were always so proud of him and they loved him so much. I can't even imagine what …"
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, Clark's hearing faded out again. Not sure exactly how his abilities worked, he found himself average again and left wondering what Mrs. Irig had been about to say. Probably something about how hard it must be to lose both parents so tragically. Clark had heard that phrase uttered more times in the last few days than he cared to count.
No one could really understand the hardest part of all, though. He should have been able to save them. He had these gifts, and they had been useless.
He should have been fast enough.
The wind blew Clark's hair every possible way as he exited the nondescript building. He pulled his jacket closer to his body, a habit borne out of necessity for normalcy. No one could ever know his secret.
It had been near impossible, especially at the beginning, to deal with his developing gifts and the need for privacy in combination with his parents' deaths. In the first few months, he had been desperate to tell someone about his talents. The shock of losing his parents and suddenly having no one to support him had been almost too much. Even several years later, Clark still preferred to ignore thinking about that part of his life. It was simply too painful.
As time wore on and his powers established themselves, though, and as his parents' deaths became more and more the reality and farther from the surreal dream it had initially seemed, Clark found his desire to let anyone else in on his secret less appealing. No one, Clark felt, would ever be as understanding, as patient, as nonjudgmental as his parents had been. Telling anyone else would merely result in disappointment. It was not as if there were not people he knew he could trust with the secret. The Irigs especially had helped to minimize the awkwardness of a parentless adolescence. Never once had they tried to replace his parents; rather, they had merely been there as a support structure when needed. Yet even then, the relationship was always somewhat distant and formal. Clark knew they were hardly to blame for it. After all, how close could any two people be to someone who concealed his true identify?
Despite his secrecy, Clark had not been without his fair share of close calls. At no point had he been in more peril than when a power first began to manifest itself. Though his control had improved as he matured, the introductory phase was always rife with danger.
His hearing had been the first ability, closely followed by x-ray vision. He had discovered his enhanced vision during a game of touch football when Patrick Dixon suddenly became a skeleton carrying a football. It had taken almost two months, but eventually Clark had gained some semblance of control over his radiological eyes. Before then, however, Clark almost let it slip on three different occasions that he had seen something that should have been out of sight for him.
Other powers had followed, each with their own spectacular introduction. His laser vision manifested itself during a science class when they were attempting to discover the boiling point of a chemical that's name had since escaped Clark's memory. Frustrated by his seeming inability to figure out the logistics of the experiment, he had ended up speeding the process along significantly and became the first member of the class to finish. Mr. Miller had attributed the sudden increase in heat to a faulty Bunsen burner. Clark had spent the next two weeks avoiding looking directly at any other person until he felt safe in knowing he would not suddenly light someone's nose on fire.
The idea to wear glasses had actually come about after an incident that Clark had feared would be his undoing. Angry one day after a comment Johnny Dixon made, Clark found his heat vision burning the insides of his sunglasses. His first thought was that someone had seen, and he had remained quiet, waiting for the questions to begin. Or maybe, he remembered thinking bitterly, they would all simply run away, afraid of the poor, strange orphan. He had been lucky, though, as no one noticed. Walking home afterwards, he had made sure to dispose of the sunglasses and explained to Mrs. Irig he had lost them.
The sunglasses had warned him of his slip, but also made him realize that perhaps some type of deterrent could be of help. A rough idea in his mind, he had insisted his eyesight was worsening. Since his parents had both worn glasses, no one thought anything of his claim. After throwing the test, Clark had begun wearing glasses, and he was happy to realize that his hypothesis was right: they served as a necessary reminder to control his expanding abilities.
When the capacity to fly had kicked in at 18, Clark had begun to wonder if he would ever stop developing these powers. Even more, he feared that perhaps changes would begin occurring that would make his differences obvious to the outside world. Luckily, nothing of the kind had happened.
In the first couple of years after his gravity-defying talent kicked in, Clark had been positive his time as a "normal" person was over. Upon realizing he would occasionally begin levitating in his sleep, he had become extremely cautious, afraid of someone walking in to find him floating. During his first year at college, he had almost never slept except for when his roommate went home. Clark still silently thanked the member of the university's housing system who had placed him with someone who was gone Friday through Sunday. If Clark hadn't been able to sleep without fear of being caught two nights a week, he was positive he would have had to drop out of school due to fatigue.
Eventually, Clark had become more comfortable with the ability to fly. The fear of being caught, though, grounded him in all cases except for when it was necessary. Or when he had to help.
Clark turned and smiled at Lana Lang, his girlfriend of over four years. She was walking across the communications quad towards him, the ridiculous red hat she had purchased in New York City over winter break perched upon her head. He took a couple steps towards her before dropping a kiss on her lips. Pulling away she gave him a smile.
"I thought you had your radio show," Clark queried.
Lana made a small noise of frustration. "Something or other is completely screwy with some part of the radio station's technology today. John and Mel are working on it right now, but as a result, my show is cancelled. Walk me to my car?"
Clark nodded, knowing his planned study group could start without him. "Of course," he replied as Lana slipped her hand into his.
As the two left the main part of the campus in the direction of the student parking lots, Clark looked down at Lana and once again debated telling her about his abnormalities. If anyone should know, it was Lana, the only person he completely trusted since his parents had died twelve years ago.
Clark couldn't quite bring himself to drop two bombshells on her, though. Last night, he had decided to turn down the offer from the Smallville Post and travel internationally for a while. He knew her reaction would be far from positive, though whether it would be anger or sadness he couldn't say.
Their senior year had been peppered with long talks about the future, and both felt their one certainty was that they wanted the other one as a part of their lives. They had planned on getting jobs as close together as possible, hoping to build their resumes to a point where they could eventually move to a big market together. She had already accepted a position as a roving reporter for a station in Wichita, in order to be close to him, over one in San Jose, CA. And as far as she knew, he had accepted the job with the Smallville Post. Telling her he had decided, on his own, to throw a wrench into their plans would no doubt be ugly. Clark was sure, though, that after talking, she would understand his need to see the world had nothing to do with her and that he still wanted her as a part of his life.
Clark knew Lana would want to know why he wanted to change their plans. The short answer was that he didn't know. He couldn't quite explain why he felt the need to escape and leave Lana. After all, Lana had given him a connection to the rest of humanity he hadn't felt since his parents had died. While she wasn't perfect, she had been there for him, never judging, but loving and accepting him for who he was. He stopped and corrected himself. Lana had accepted him for who she thought he was.
He knew the excuse of telling her about traveling being enough of a shock was an easy out. He knew it, and yet he had no plans to change it. With his parents gone, he alone knew how different he was behind what Lana teased was her "all-American boyfriend." As far as everyone was concerned, Clark Kent was average. If Lana knew, that would all change. Right now, Clark Kent was safe from discovery by admission.
Realizing he hadn't heard a word she had said, Clark focused back in on Lana as she discussed how she was going to rearrange her show for the rest of semester since she had it all planned out before today.
Yes, it was better this way.
Clark Kent landed silently in the narrow alleyway. As he took off his black knit cap and ran a hand through his hair, he again questioned how he had managed to not be severely punished for his youthful actions in regards to love. Unzipping his black leather jacket to reveal a white button-down, he couldn't help but wonder if it was the universe's way of finally giving him a break. Pulling his glasses out of his pocket, he slipped them on before he stepped out of the alley in hopes of blending in with the crowd as well as he had with the overcast sky.
It had been three years since he had last stepped foot in Shanghai. His time in Shanghai had been his last stop during his post-college travels as he had attempted to escape demons he had never known existed in Smallville. He had never thought of his childhood home as a place as sadness, but once he was thousands of miles away, his reasons for leaving became clear. He needed to start a life completely removed from that of Clark Kent, orphan.
In the process of his rebirth, he had almost lost the one person in the world who loved him out of something other than pity or need. When he had broken the news to Lana of his need to see the world, she had responded by ending the relationship. Despite his need to have her in his life, he hadn't been able to reconcile that with giving up his desire to escape the Midwest to see what the rest of the world had to offer a young man from Kansas. The rest of their senior year had been spent carefully avoiding each other. The few times their paths had crossed for longer than a polite hello, the hurt and anger over their last conversation as a couple made things tense very quickly.
Clark had been to more places than he cared to count when she had finally forgiven him. He was living in Cairo when Lana's letter had made it to his post office box. Finding a letter addressed in her handwriting had been a bombshell in the meager life Clark had created for himself since graduation. He had never expected to hear from her again.
*October 20, 1990
I'm sure this letter comes as something as a surprise to you, mostly because the fact I'm writing it comes as somewhat of a shocker to me. That's not a very good opening, is it? You've always been much better with the pen than me, but give me a chance and don't judge me too harshly.
Last May, I realized I didn't want to cut off all contact with you. It's taken me a while since then to track you down — if you're ever looking for a job, the Federal Witness Protection program should have you place people. I can't believe how much you've moved around. I hope you're finding or at least beginning to find whatever it is you're so desperately looking for.
I had hoped after you left that you would come back to me, begging for forgiveness, even if I was the one to say the words that ended the relationship. It took me until this past New Year's to realize that wasn't likely to happen. I told you to leave me alone. You're the type of guy who would take that to heart, no matter how much you wanted to see me. Between January and May, I guess you could say I was trying to figure things out, though I'll admit much of it was my own attempt to prove to myself I didn't really need you. In March, I began dating a man I had met two months earlier. I tell you this only because the time I spent with him was what made me realize how much I miss you.
You told me during our senior year that you were traveling for yourself and that it did not reflect upon our relationship or your love for me. While I still don't entirely believe that, I also understand now that for the first time since I've known you, you are finally putting what you want first. I suppose I'd become spoiled by the fact you are so selfless. When I broke up with you, I wanted to push you away because I was furious that you didn't seem to care how your sudden change in plans would affect me. It never occurred to me that I had done the same: I never stopped to think why you were doing this.
I still don't entirely understand this need of yours to leave everything behind so completely and set out alone. But then, part of what attracted me to you initially was the fact that you always have been a little distant from everyone. You were always set apart from the normal circus of high school and then college. For as all-American as you appear, I know that your childhood changed you more than you care to let on to most people.
I can't say it doesn't hurt that you don't want me in this part of your life. I do want you to know, though, that I can finally say I support your decision because I care about you.
What this letter comes down to is that I love you. I'm willing to wait for you, if you still want me. If I have blown my chance with you, please tell me so I can move on. Realize, though, that I want to be with you, regardless of what that means.
You know where you can reach me when you're ready.
I love you,
After first reading her letter, Clark had been tempted to tell her it was over. His love for her cancelled out any plans of retribution, though. It was one paragraph in particular that had made him decide to try and work things out with her. Without knowing, she had destroyed one more fear of his: that if she knew his secret, she would no longer want to be with him. Rather, Clark began to think that maybe Lana would be able to love him, "regardless of what that means."
They had corresponded over the next year and a half as he had continued his travels. Ironically enough, it had been while he was in Shanghai that he knew he was ready to return to the States.
The Smallville Post had again offered him a position, but he had declined, knowing that, after traveling, he longed to be in an urban environment. During one of his last nights in Shanghai, he had found himself wondering if he would have left the farming community and traveled the world if the accident had never happened. He wasn't sure. Though some part of him seemed to know that his need to see the world had little to do with his parents' deaths and more to do with his feelings of solitude due to his powers, Clark knew the year he was ten played a huge role in who he had become and the decisions he had made. Had they been alive, Clark did admit, Smallville would not have become little more than a place of his past. Had they been alive, though, many things would no doubt be different.
Ambitious after his overseas experiences, Clark had sent resumes to all of the major dailies — the Chicago Tribune, Daily Planet and New York Times, to name his A-List — but received responses from just two: the Metropolis Star and the Washington Post. While the Star had an investigative position available — his choice assignment — Clark couldn't overlook the prestige of the Post. He had accepted, somewhat reluctantly, an international correspondent position in East Asia and found himself once again thousands of miles away from Lana. When he had told her of his choice, she had put up minimum argument, knowing as well as he that a position with the Washington Post would do much more for a career than one, even if more high- profile, at the Metropolis Star. And so again she had waited, this time working as a weekend anchor in Kansas City, as they continued correspondence in lieu of a normal relationship.
Just as Clark had begun to wonder about reapplying to various papers in hopes of landing a job stateside — determined to take whatever was offered to him this time, even if less prestigious — the Daily Planet had contacted him in regards to a recent opening on their city beat staff. Through the grapevine, he learned that he was to take the place of the reporter the Daily Planet had lost in the Congo the year before. From the Planet's East Asia correspondent, he also learned that the paper's editor-in- chief had thrown a fit when the Planet's brass had decided to give up the search for the woman and find a replacement. Knowing this, he had almost turned the Planet down, afraid of what reception he would receive from Perry White. In the end, though, his desire to be with Lana again, not to mention the chance to work with the top paper in the business, had won out.
From there, things had at last fallen into place. Clark had found that any resentment Perry White had towards "the replacement" was kept under tight wraps in the first weeks of his employment. Eventually, Perry had begun to warm to Clark, made apparent, Clark thought, by the fact he started to receive choice assignments from the editor. Most important to him, though, was showing Lana daily how much he appreciated her. Lana had managed to get a transfer from St. Louis, where she had moved six months into Clark's time as a Post reporter, to the station's Metropolis branch about a month after Clark had arrived in the city. After her patience for so many years of having a boyfriend who resembled Don Quixote chasing the impossible dream, Clark wanted to make her happy.
And now, here he was in Shanghai, determined to pick out a ring that would suit Lana's unique tastes.
All he had to do was propose and tell her about the entire Clark Kent.
Piece of cake.
Lana Lang was running late.
To make things worse, she had just smeared eyeliner in her attempt to get ready at record speed. She was now trying to find the quickest way to make the best out of a line that extended far below her eyelid without removing her make-up and starting over.
She swore when she heard Clark's familiar knock.
Glancing in the mirror again and accepting that she had done everything within her power, she threw on her robe before going to let Clark in, all the while hoping that wherever they were going for dinner had dark lighting. As soon as the door opened, Lana began to explain, not even waiting to kiss the reporter hello.
"Clark, I'm sorry. I know we have reservations, and I really thought I'd be able to leave work on time today but, of course, I couldn't because of Cindy. I swear, that woman doesn't understand that people have lives outside of the newsroom. I think Ralph's suggestion was right. We need to hook her up with someone."
Clark gave her a brief kiss. "The reservation isn't until 8."
"You said 7:30 when we talked last night." Lana paused. "You told me the wrong time on purpose. You knew I'd be running late."
Clark gave her a small smile. "Guilty as charged."
"Give me ten minutes."
Twenty minutes later, Clark was hailing a cab as Lana joined him on the sidewalk.
"What's the occasion?"
"Hmm?" Clark replied, intent on his duties of finding a ride to the restaurant.
"Don't give me that, Clark. What's going on?"
Clark glanced at her. "You know I've wanted to try this restaurant since it opened."
"There are tons of restaurants in town we want to try, most of them much cheaper than where we are going tonight. I ask again. What is going on?"
Just then, a taxi pulled up. Clark opened the door for Lana and helped her into the cab, the conversation forgotten as Clark gave the driver directions.
An hour and a half later, Lana finished her last bite of dessert. She had been deflected from finding out Clark's ulterior motives five times between leaving her apartment and the arrival of dessert. Putting her fork down, she gave Clark a charming smile.
"That was wonderful, Clark. And making sure they had non- chocolate desserts was so sweet."
Clark reached around the items on the table to take Lana's hand. "All part of making you happy."
Right then, the server arrived with their check. Clark gave the man his credit card without stopping to glance at their tab.
Lana's eyebrow immediately rose as she gave him a strange look.
"What? Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but you're never that thoughtless about money," Lana stated. "What's going on?"
"Lana, stop being so suspicious and just enjoy it," Clark responded.
"I didn't say I wasn't enjoying it. I just don't like surprises. I want to know what's going on. Is everything ok? The Planet didn't transfer you, did they?" Lana's face fell. "That's it, isn't? You're getting transferred to another international location."
"I'm not going anywhere. All I am doing is having dinner with my girlfriend and for once, I am going to enjoy it without wondering what it will do to my savings account."
As Clark turned on the lights in Lana's apartment, Lana went into the kitchen to make two cups of tea.
Sitting down in her living room straight out of Southern Living, Clark cleared his throat.
"I hope you enjoyed tonight, Lana."
Lana's voice floated in from the kitchen over the sound of water pouring into her teakettle. "Of course I have, Clark. Dinner was wonderful. Regardless of your motives for this evening — and I'm still not convinced this was merely some whim of yours — I'm glad we went."
"Good." Clark replied.
The two fell into the comfortable silence as Lana finished making tea. Handing Clark a teacup, she sat down next to him and blew on the stemming liquid.
Clark, though, took a tentative sip of the herbal tea. "Lana, I'm always going to feel bad about what I put you through when I was traveling." Clark put up his hand as Lana opened her mouth. "I know you've forgiven me and maybe that time apart was what we needed, but it will never change the fact that I hurt you. I hope I'm never stupid enough to do anything to hurt you like that again.
"That said, I'm glad you've given me another chance. You've proven your trust in me, and it just makes me love you all the more. I only wish I could say I've shown my trust in you." Clark took a large, nervous gulp of the still- steaming drink. Lana's eyes widened in response as Clark plowed ahead. "And I need to change that. It's time I show you just how much you mean to me, that I trust you completely."
And with that, Clark proceeded to tell Lana something much different than the proposal she had been expecting.
Forty-five minutes later, things were more or less on track as far as Clark was concerned. Lana, however, was still somewhere between skepticism, amazement and confusion. Mostly however, she wondered how the evening had ended up taking such a bizarre twist.
"And you've never told anyone this?"
Clark nodded. "No one. You're the only living person to know other than myself."
"Clark, no one can know about you. You'd be institutionalized."
"I know that, Lana. It could be disastrous if the wrong people found out. It's part of the reason I haven't told you this before now. But I also didn't think I could keep you in the dark any longer. We would never be able to move forward with our relationship if you didn't know about this," Clark explained.
With that, Clark took a deep breath and dropped down onto one knee as he took the box from his pocket and opened it. "Lana Lang, will you marry me?"
"This secret has been the one thing that has kept me from proposing for a while now. It's no longer between us because I can't wait anymore. Please, Lana, marry me."
After a long silence, the words out of Lana's mouth were not what Clark expected.
"I don't know. Clark, you just dropped two bombshells on me in an hour. I can't process all of this. I can't take in in one night something that you've had a lifetime to deal with. And then, you propose marriage on top of it? Clark, I have given you all the time you need to find yourself or whatever it was you were doing when you were traveling the world. So now, you're ready for marriage and you just assume I'll come along too, because I was ready to get married when we graduated college?
"Clark, things have changed. A lot. I've always loved you because of how selfless you are. And right now, I need you to put what you want on the backburner, because I need time."
After two of the longest weeks of Clark's life, he finally heard from Lana. She had left a message on his answering machine while he had been on a late-night stake out with Eduardo. One thing Lana had been adamant about was that he would not work too closely with any of the women on the Daily Planet's staff, especially after-hour assignments.
"Hi Clark, it's Lana. I'm finally ready to talk. Come by my place at seven tomorrow night."
And at 6:55 the next evening, he was patiently waiting outside her building, knowing better than to knock on her door before the appointed time.
Clark was nervous. Her tirade two weeks ago before showing him the door still stung. While he could understand her anger, he couldn't understand why knowing about his powers would change whether or not she would want to marry him. She had been the one to write, years ago, that she would love him regardless of what that meant. Having the ability to fly didn't change the person Lana had come to know over the years.
While Clark had learned his parents' deaths would cling to who he had become whether he lived in Smallville or Shanghai, it was when he knew he didn't quite understand the whole situation and needed advice that he found his grief at their untimely deaths the most acute. Even now, he still remembered the day he first discovered that he had the ability to be much faster than any human. His father had simply helped him, calm and patient. His father had supported Clark without leveling judgment or criticism.
And even though he wasn't positive, he had a feeling his mother would have been an extremely useful resource to have when discussing the matters of the heart and how to relate to women.
Shaking off the sudden melancholy that always surrounded the what-ifs, Clark did his best to pull his thoughts back to the present and ease his frayed nerves. Since receiving Lana's note this morning, he had felt the butterflies in his stomach steadily increase until he felt they would consume him.
Had this finally pushed Lana over the edge? He couldn't have not told her — the potential of her waking one night to find him floating had convinced him of the necessity of her need to know before marriage.
He was torn. One side of him felt that if he had told her sooner, the impact upon Lana and their relationship would have been lessened. Just as important was the fact that before two weeks ago, Clark felt he hadn't been ready to tell her.
Even knowing his actions were necessary, he was terrified of how this could change his future. He couldn't lose Lana. She was the first and only person since he was ten that he even remotely considered family.
Knocking on her door at 7:01, he took a deep breath and swallowed. Moments later, a breath-taking Lana Lang opened her door.
Clark looked appraisingly at his girlfriend. "Lana, you look wonderful."
"Well, the outfit wasn't complete until my favorite accessory arrived," she commented smoothly, reverting to one of their old college jokes and instantly putting Clark at ease. "Come in."
Lana stepped aside to let Clark enter her apartment. Her table was set for two and a cluster of white candles were lit in the centerpiece, giving the room romantic lighting.
"Go ahead and take a seat at the table, Clark. I'm just putting the finishing touches on dinner."
"Can I help with anything?"
"That's sweet, Clark, but your strong suit has never been the kitchen. You can make oatmeal and microwaveable meals as well as anyone I know, but that's about it other than calling for take out. It's still amazing to me you survived on your own for so long," Lana said in a playful tone.
"I could at least get drinks."
"Already taken care of. Sit down and relax," Lana commented, the annoyance in her voice clear. "You don't always have to help. Let someone else handle it. Sometimes I really think you should have gone into law enforcement or something since you always need to get involved."
Ten minutes later, dinner was on the table and Lana was finally seated.
Putting her napkin on her lap, Lana spoke. "I know pot roast has never been a favorite of yours, though why alludes me, but it's always been served for special occasions at the Lang household." Lana took a sip of wine. "I remember that the month I got into college, my Dad got a promotion and Mom was named president of the PTA. We had pot roast three times in two weeks. And then I found out about — Clark?"
Clark's wine glass had stopped halfway between his mouth and the table as he continued to listen to Lana. Swallowing, he ventured to ask, "Special occasions?"
Lana blushed. "Yes, I will marry you."
As Clark registered what she had said, she extended her left hand across the table. Clark fumbled in his jacket pockets for the ring, finding for the first time in his life how clumsy excitement was capable of making a person. Grasping the square box, he extracted it and a moment later, the ring sat on Lana's long finger, the diamond catching the reflections of the candle flames.
Lana gazed at the ring. "I love it, Clark. It's perfect. It's so … me. Only you would know how much I wouldn't want the plain old traditional ring," she sighed, a sign that Clark had succeeded with the pretty blonde. "It's … it's as much a testament to my taste as it is to what a wonderful, thoughtful man you are."
Taking her eyes away from the ring, she leaned towards Clark and gave him a long, sweet kiss. Just as Clark found himself deepening the embrace, Lana pulled back.
"It can wait."
"Do you know how long it takes to make pot roast?"
Realizing Lana's culinary efforts were not about to be put to the wayside for an immediate celebration, Clark leaned back in his chair and picked his fork up again.
When the table had been cleared — with Clark allowed to help — the two moved to Lana's couch with decaffeinated tea and cr¸me brulee from a local restaurant that Lana adored. The price, of course, was usually excuse enough for Lana to avoid the restaurant's city-renowned desserts and the calories they entailed. It was yet one more sign of how special Lana wanted to make the evening.
Though the tea was still warmer than Lana preferred, Clark watched as she took a sip. "I know you like coffee, Clark, but don't you worry about all the adverse side effects of caffeine?"
Clark couldn't help but smile as he realized he could be truthful with Lana. "Not really. It doesn't affect me."
"Don't be silly, Clark. I know some people claim —"
"No, Lana," Clark stopped her gently. "Caffeine doesn't affect me. Nothing does. I can eat whatever I want and don't have to worry about any of the side effects."
Lana nodded slowly. "Oh. I should have figured. You're invulnerable to everything else, why not cholesterol too?"
"Lana — " Clark began, recognizing the approaching storm within her tone.
"Clark, it's just a lot to get used to," Lana placed her cup on the table, a sign Clark had long ago realized meant she was about to discuss something that had been bothering her. It also usually meant he wasn't going to like it. "I mean, you start floating in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they're going to come for you. They'll destroy this life we've built. They'll take away everything from us. You can't let that happen."
Clark was taken aback. Lana, one of the most determined people Clark had ever met, sounded as if she were pleading with him. Clark didn't think it would be a stretch to say she was begging him. Almost, though. There was something in her voice that was entirely too familiar, something that kept the beseeching tones within the acceptable range of Lana's personality. Clark went to grab her hand but stopped himself for a reason he couldn't quite explain. He knew it was somehow tied to the unease he felt growing in his stomach at the sound of her voice.
"Lana, what are you saying?" Clark queried, almost fearful of the answer.
"Clark, you have to stop using your powers."
The response was automatic. "I can't."
"It's not an option, Lana. It's part of my life."
"Then change that part."
"I can't. For one, it's the only way I can shave."
"You can do that in private and buy razors just to keep up appearances," Lana responded, her earlier distress waylaid by the cool voice Clark recognized as her coping voice. "I'm talking about in public or whenever it's not absolutely necessary. Like shaving. Shaving is necessary, because you know how I feel about beards."
"Lana, occasionally I use my powers to help people," Clark admitted.
"That's what the police, fire department and hospitals are there for," Lana replied.
"I can't just stop," Clark tried once again, knowing, though, that it would be futile.
"Clark, you have to. I know it will be hard, but what if someone finds out? It's not even an if, really, but more of a when. Someday someone is going to figure it out or you'll be seen, or worse, someone will catch you on tape and turn you into the freak of the junk shows circuit. I don't want to lose you. I love you too much.
"You told me two weeks ago you would do whatever it takes to prove to me that your love for me was real. This, Clark. This is what I need for you to prove yourself to me. Stop using your powers and make sure our life won't be destroyed by one little misstep on your part. Please, Clark, do this for me."
Glancing at the menu in front of him, Clark reflected that telling Lana had been the beginning of the end of their relationship. They never should have gone ahead with the engagement given how different they viewed Clark's abilities. After his admission, the relationship had slowly disintegrated, like petals falling from a rose. It was only with hindsight that he had been able to see how little of the relationship remained by the time they had ended things.
Yet at the end of the day, blaming his revelation to Lana for their downfall was an easy out. There had been so many other problems that Lana's knowing had simply sped up the inevitable downfall of the relationship. In many ways, his refusal to abide by her request not to become Superman a month ago had saved them both what would have been, in Clark's mind at least, an inevitable divorce.
There was something else, something Clark felt he could blame on no one but himself. Before his revelation, any love she had for him had been built on a myth and was a fallacy, because Lana loved a man different from the real one. Not that he could blame her, because he had been the one to hold off so long in telling her about his powers. Even now, Clark could not help but let his mind drift in the direction of what if: If he had told her earlier, would they have been destined for a life together? If he hadn't been so afraid of letting her see who he really was, would he still be alone?
It was easier this way, of course. Fantasize over the small what ifs, the ones that meant very little to him. It helped him avoid the more staggering questions that surrounded his solitary life. The thoughts that left him angry at what his life had become, what had been taken from him. The ones where he could not find an answer or merely pretend it did not matter. The big what ifs paralyzed him while the insignificant ones pushed him into the action of forgetting.
Focusing on the inconsequential, he could avoid the truth: that whether or not he and Lana had loved each other, they diverged on the most important issues. Lana could never understand his need to help, would never fully know the shock of seeing his parents die in front of him. She had always been cautious, always planned everything and hated unexpected surprises — traits that contradicted with Clark's new life. As for Clark, he could never provide the stability and quiet life Lana craved.
More than anything, the events of the past weeks reminded him of something he had strongly believed after the accident: he was alone in the world and always would be. Anyone who could or would have understood him, the whole Clark Kent, remained out of his reach in a place where even his infinite powers were useless. The people who would have loved him for all of him were gone. The only thing that had changed from when he was ten, though, was now he fully understood the scope of his solitude. His parents were not the only people taken from him. The only woman, who could have fully accepted Clark Kent, whether he waited ten days or ten years to tell her about his powers, was lost to him.
The waitress came up, interrupting his dark mood. Glancing at the menu one last time, he looked up at her, waiting for recognition to cross her face. Would she call him Clark or Superman? Would she ask for an autograph or a date? Or would she merely pretend to treat him as a normal customer, all the while pointing him out to every other patron and worker in the place? Or would she surprise him and do something unexpected, such as the woman last week who had flashed him while he was in the grocery store?
"What can I get you?"
"I'll have a banana split with double chocolate chip, strawberry and vanilla fudge ice creams with hot caramel sauce, whipped cream, nuts and an extra cherry."
"Sounds good," the girl remarked as she jotted down his order. She was about to turn away but stopped as her eyes widened. "Wow."
Clark racked his brain, trying to think of something humble to say.
"You know, I just realized how much you look like that new guy, what's his name, Superman, that's it, except your face is a little rounder than his. You kind of look like a cross between Superman and my boyfriend. He's a weightlifter, you know, so it's a huge compliment that you look like a cross between him and Superman because they're both real lookers," the waitress informed Clark before scurrying away to place his order.
He smiled. It was moments such as this that made him think that maybe life would not become the crazy house of paparazzi and eager onlookers he feared. He'd just have to hope that in real life, his face was too round or he wasn't tall enough to be Superman or Clark Kent. Perhaps he could still have some measure of privacy in his life.
Though, Clark rationalized, having privacy was a moot point when one was alone.
He would let camera crews follow him around forever without reprieve if that would bring them back. He would trade in his powers or be exposed to kryptonite for eternity if it meant that they could be with him, supporting him and loving him for who he was. It just wasn't fair he was denied a life he could share with them.
Clark glanced around the ice cream parlor, remembering another lunchtime almost twenty years ago. He had left Smallville to try and live a life at least partially free of remorse. Yet somehow the sadness followed him, reminding him that running away was useless.
What was the point of flight when flying away never vanquished the demons at the end of the day?
He should have been able to save them, his parents and Lois Lane. He should have been able to run like the wind. He should have come to Metropolis sooner.
He should have been fast enough.
… for now.
TBC in When the West Wind Moves