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Thread: Episode 18 - "Scorched" (PG)

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    Episode 18 - "Scorched" (PG)

    Title: Scorched
    Written by: Zannie

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Gina Wilson walked quietly through the main hall at Smallville High School. As always, she watched the other students mingling around her, reflecting on the irony of how she could see so many details of their lives but not know them at all.

    She and her twin brother had started attending the school in the fall, when their parents had relocated the family to Kansas. She’d been in Smallville for almost a year now, but didn’t have any real friends. Excelled at her classes, competently participated on the debate team and the yearbook staff, and constantly observed everyone around her with detailed precision.

    It wouldn’t surprise Gina if she knew more about the students at this school than did the most dedicated gossip. Cool, rational scrutiny would always supply more information than selfish curiosity or emotional attachment.

    That was what no one seemed to understand, particularly the immature high school students who surrounded her: logic and objectivity would get a person farther than muddling through a series of sloppy feelings ever would.

    It wasn’t that Gina didn’t have feelings. She just chose not to indulge them. She wasn’t by nature an emotional person, and she didn’t allow such things to clutter up her life.

    Gina sidestepped an embracing couple—the guy had his girlfriend backed up against a locker, and they were fumbling at each other, absorbed in the usual teenage vacuum kiss. Gina rolled her eyes. She knew for a fact that the guy, Mike, had snuck off with someone else while his girlfriend was out of town last weekend. Typical.

    It just proved her point. These messy, feeling-induced machinations had little to offer her.
    Her brother Kevin would disagree. He had jumped right into high school life. Was on the football team and was dating a cheerleader—all the predictable, popular clichés. He used to call Gina a frozen robot, and, had she allowed herself to indulge in such petty insults, she would have called him something much worse.

    Pulling open her locker, Gina glanced to her right and noticed Clark Kent talking to Chloe Sullivan.

    They were good friends, she knew, but something strange had happened between them recently. Gina wasn’t sure what it was, but she had noticed that they had almost imperceptibly withdrawn from each other.

    It probably had something to do with the death of Jason Teague, which Gina had heard about like everyone else in the town. Chloe had been dating him, so maybe it was just grief that was making her pull back from Clark.

    Gina furrowed her forehead. This didn’t quite fit, however, since she’d been noticing the trend even before Jason had died.

    She watched them now out of the corner of her eye, hoping to hear something substantial that might fill in the gaps of her knowledge. Listened as they spoke.

    “You’re really going with Lucas?” Clark asked, his face open and friendly as it always was, but vague disbelief reflected in his eyes.

    “Yes,” Chloe said defensively. “Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I have anyone else to take me.” Her face looked briefly sad, and Gina immediately knew why.

    Evidently, Clark did too. Because he reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. Neither said anything, but Gina could see that this was a wordless give and take of comfort.

    It didn’t last long, and Gina noticed the tiny, subtle signs that defensive walls had been reconstructed between them. Clark’s shoulders stiffened. Chloe tightened her lips. They watched each other with the intimate knowledge of old friends, but also with a hint of wariness.

    Gina just didn’t know enough about them to determine where that wariness came from.
    “Well, be careful,” Clark said at last, slinging his backpack over one broad shoulder.

    Chloe’s brow lowered. “Careful with what?”

    “With Lucas,” Clark explained, looking slightly impatient. “We don’t know that much about him, but seeing who his father is . . .”

    Rolling her eyes, Chloe snapped, “That’s ridiculous. You can’t judge people by who their father is.”

    Clark’s face closed off momentarily. “I know,” he muttered. “But it matters. Because sometimes people end up becoming just like their parents.”

    Gina knew instinctively that they were no longer talking about Lucas Luthor. She had observed enough to realize that they were now talking about Lex, whom both of them were connected to.

    Interesting. From what she’d understood, Lex and Clark had been friends for a few years, and Chloe and Lex had only gotten close last year before his father’s trial. But it appeared now that Clark was starting to distance himself from Lex—doubtlessly because of the moral ambiguity that had always defined the young billionaire. Chloe, on the other hand, was perhaps aligning herself with Lex more and more.

    Gina smiled with mild pleasure. This little scenario was turning out to be far more interesting than she’d anticipated. She would have to pay more attention and discover how it played out.

    She never did anything with any of the information she uncovered. That was hardly the point of her observations. But knowledge was power, and it was the only power that meant anything in this little high school world she was living in.

    Which meant Gina would keep collecting all the information she could find—and hold it to her heart like a treasure.

    About to follow the two of them down the hall to see if she could overhear anything else, Gina was jerked to a stop by a hand on her upper arm.

    “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that eavesdropping is rude?” The friendly, male voice came from over her shoulder, and Gina sighed as she realized who it was.

    Shrugging, she responded dryly, “If people have conversations in public areas, they can hardly complain if someone happens to overhear them.”

    Her twin brother Kevin—with her same dark hair and green eyes—grinned good-naturedly. “You’re a freak, did you know that? I can’t figure out how you always seem to know so much about everything, but never talk to anyone. If you were a blackmailer, we could be millionaires by now.”

    Gina elevated her eyebrows slightly. “I could be a millionaire,” she corrected quietly. “You would continue to be as penniless as you are now.”

    He snorted. “Freak,” he muttered under his breath.

    She smiled. Then her face sobered as she asked him, “Is it still happening?”

    Kevin made a face. “Yeah. A few times today. I tried it on Marti Jenson. I guess she was happy about just being asked to the Prom.” He snickered and added, “But she sure did look stupid squealing and doing cartwheels down the hall.”

    So that explained it. Gina had heard strange rumblings about cartwheels but hadn’t been able to piece out the exact story. And, of course, she hadn’t been willing to directly ask anyone about it. She shook her head and looked disapprovingly at her brother.

    As expected, he completely ignored her. “And you should have seen old Meyers freak out in Chemistry class. He started screaming that we were all slackers who didn’t deserve to graduate.”

    “Should I try to find him?” Gina asked patiently, wishing her brother weren’t quite so careless with their newly found powers.

    Kevin shrugged. “If you want. But it would be a shame to miss out on such entertainment. Last I saw, Meyers was telling off the principal in the middle of the teacher’s lounge. We could hear his screaming through the door.”

    “I’ll find him and cool him down,” Gina said in resignation, hoping their Chemistry teacher hadn’t yet left for the day.

    She and her brother hadn’t been able to figure out how or why it was happening. But Kevin had somehow gained the ability to heat up people’s emotions with a touch. Exaggerate whatever a person was feeling. Sometimes the extreme emotions would fade away on their own, but sometimes they wouldn’t. Gina, however, was able to dampen the emotions with a touch of her own.

    Heat them up, then cool them down. For the last two weeks since they’d discovered these abilities, Kevin had come up with some crazy plans for using them. It had been all Gina could do to rein him in.

    So far, he’d kept his fun fairly limited and innocuous, and Gina had been able to go around behind him and fix the little flames he ignited. But she was getting worried now. She knew the signs. Kevin was starting to get bored.

    And nothing good could ever come of that.

    “How do you suppose this happened?” Kevin asked, the amusement on his face transforming to a baffled question.

    She shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe we’ve had these powers for years but have never known to use them before.”

    “Maybe,” Kevin agreed. “Or maybe we just got them a couple of weeks ago when we first found out about them.” After a moment, he grinned at her, revealing the two long creases in his cheeks. ‘But we might as well have some fun while we can. Who knows when they’ll go away?”

    Eyeing him coldly, she said, “No. You need to stop. You can’t just go around firing up people’s emotions for your own amusement.”

    “Why not? It’s what they’re feeling anyway—I just make it stronger.” He looked nonchalant and unconcerned as he added, “Besides, you can cool them off if it gets out of hand. It’s nothing but harmless fun.”

    She was sure he knew better than to actually believe this, but he just didn’t care. Kevin had always only wanted to enjoy himself, and he now had a way of doing so that no one else possessed. Of course it would go to his head.

    The whole thing made her very nervous.

    Putting a hand on his arm, she said seriously, “This isn’t a game, Kevin. These are people’s lives. We need to be responsible with this gift.”

    He laughed out loud. “You always were a bore. Why should we be responsible? School’s almost over for us. Summer’s nearly here. No more homework or good behavior.”

    He grinned again and started to walk away from her. Added, “Let’s see what kind of fires I can start.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “It’s not just that he’s a Luthor,” Clark insisted, taking a few steps to catch up to Chloe after they’d been separated by the crowd of students leaving the high school. “You know I wouldn’t hold that against him.”

    He studied her face anxiously. He wasn’t sure why things had gotten so jumpy between them lately. It was like Chloe was changing—turning into someone he didn’t know. But she was his friend and, no matter what she was going through, he was going to be there for her.

    Chloe sighed. “I know, Clark. But there’s nothing to worry about. Lucas is a nice guy, and it’s not like we’re dating. He’s taking me to the Prom. That’s all. Totally casual.” She smiled at him shakily. “You know I couldn’t get serious with anyone yet. Not after Jason.”

    Clark’s throat ached as her voice wobbled on the last word. It had been a month now since Jason had died, and Chloe seemed to be handling it pretty well. She’d been mature and reasonable about the whole thing—had seemed committed to moving on and not dwelling on what could never be.

    But it still had to hurt. And Clark wondered how much she was hurting that she didn’t tell him about. Knew she hadn’t told him about a lot of things.

    Chloe used to tell him everything.

    Now she was watching him, with a sharp scrutiny that made Clark feel almost guilty. “It’s not nearly as exciting as you and Lana,” she remarked, clearly changing the subject with purposeful ease. “Living out your fairy tale romance at the Prom. Just thinking about you two makes me feel like I’ve eaten too many sweets.” She held a hand over her belly to emphasize her point.

    She was teasing, and her lips were turning up a little. Clark relaxed as they seamlessly shifted back into their natural interaction. “It’s not really a fairy tale.” He thought about Lana and how complicated everything was. Telling Lana the truth would simplify it immeasurably, make all of these invisible barriers between them disappear.

    But Clark just wasn’t sure if he was ready to do that yet. He gave Chloe a half-smile and tried to stifle his concerns. “But we’ve both been looking forward to the Prom for a long time, so I’m going all out to make it the perfect evening.”

    Chloe chuckled. “I’m sure you are. At least you guys can have your one moment.” She gave him a slanting look. “Is there trouble in paradise?” she asked casually.

    Clark stiffened automatically. “Not really,” he hedged. He didn’t really want to hide things from Chloe, but his relationship with Lana felt so private—so intimate—making it strange to share with even a close friend. Besides, there were things involved that Chloe just couldn’t know about. “We’re getting pretty serious, I think,” he continued, honestly but as vaguely as possible. “But there’s something that’s kind of getting in the way.”

    “What’s that?” she asked, concern and interest on her face. “Is there something wrong that you haven’t told me about?”

    He shook his head roughly, hoping she’d understand that it wasn’t something he could talk about with her.

    She appeared briefly hurt by his refusal to open up to her, but she immediately schooled her expression. “Did you hear about the cartwheel incident?” she asked, once again
    changing the subject when things got too tense, when feelings got too tricky.

    It had been a long time since they’d had a really genuine, open discussion. Clark wondered if they’d ever have one again.

    “Yeah,” Clark replied, falling into the distraction with practiced effortlessness. “It was crazy. What was she thinking?” He swallowed and tried to stifle a grin. “Especially since she was wearing a skirt.”

    Chloe choked on a bubble of laughter. “Poor thing. She was so humiliated afterwards that she hid in the bathroom for the rest of the day. I tried to talk her out of the stall, but she wouldn’t come out.” They were standing in the schoolyard, glancing around at the students milling around them. “And then Mr. Meyers blew up in Chemistry class. He had a total meltdown.”

    Clark wrinkled his forehead as he thought about it. “There’s been a lot of that going on this week. People are acting wacky.”

    “Must be the heat.” Chloe wiped her damp neck with her hand. “It always gets feelings boiling up.”

    Clark saw Lana descending the school steps, looking sweet and pretty in jeans and a pale blue cotton top. His heart lurched in the familiar way, the way it always did when he saw her from a distance.

    Like an image out of his dreams.

    “I wish things would start boiling between me and Lana,” he murmured thoughtlessly.

    Chloe’s eyebrows shot up. “Clark Kent,” she pronounced, a gleeful light igniting in her eyes.

    “Not like that,” he responded hurriedly, feeling himself flush with embarrassment. “I just meant I wish we could get past this holding pattern we seem to be stuck in.”

    Chloe didn’t respond. Her eyes darted between Clark’s face and Lana’s approaching figure.

    Clark sighed. “I know we’re meant to be together. We just need a push forward.”

    Smiling and shaking her head, Chloe said, “Doesn’t everyone?”

    Clark wasn’t sure what she meant by that. It had sounded like there was something deeper underlying the words.

    Trying to figure Chloe out was giving him a headache. He decided that things would be fine between them, as long as they didn’t discuss anything that went too deep.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex stood behind his desk and stared at his brother blankly. “You are actually going to attend a high school Prom?”

    Grinning, Lucas lounged back in a low leather chair, evidently unconcerned that Lex was looming over him. “Sure. Why not?”

    “You would do well to remember,” Lex began, after tightening his lips into a thin line. “That
    Chloe is in high school.” He met his brother’s eyes evenly. “Don’t treat her in your usual fashion.”

    Lucas gave an amused snort. “My usual fashion? Is that one of your clever, stinging barbs? They don’t work on me—remember?” He smiled easily, clearly not offended by Lex’s unflattering assumptions. “It’s not serious. I’m just taking her to the Prom.”

    Lex wasn’t reassured. In fact, he didn’t like this idea at all. “Don’t try anything. I mean it,” he warned, an edge of danger coloring his voice.

    Narrowing his eyes, Lucas eyed him suspiciously. “What’s your concern about this, anyway? Have I accidentally trespassed on what’s yours? Marking your territory?”

    Lex had to stifle a flare of anger at the implications of Lucas’s words. “Get your mind out of the gutter,” he said coldly. “Chloe is my friend, and she’s eighteen years old. Both reasons why I don’t want you taking advantage of her.”

    Lucas curled up his lips. “I’ll be the perfect gentleman. Chloe’s gorgeous—I’ll admit it—but she’d be too complicated for my taste.” He shifted in his chair, looking completely comfortable and at home. “So you can stop with the big brother act. I’ll behave myself.”

    “You’d better.” Satisfied that he’d made his point clear, Lex relaxed and met Lucas’s eyes. “It’s not an act, you know. I am your brother.”

    Something serious flickered momentarily in Lucas’s eyes, but his lips quirked irrepressibly. “Much to my dismay, I’m well aware of that. But I was actually saying you could stop acting like Chloe’s big brother.”

    Lex thought about this for a moment, the comment taking him off guard. He didn’t really feel like Chloe’s big brother. He felt surprisingly protective of her, but that was mostly because of all the ways he’d hurt her—or was responsible for her being hurt—in the last year. She was his friend, and she was like him in more ways than he’d ever imagined, but she didn’t really feel to him like family.

    Of course, that might be because he’d never had good experiences with family.

    Until now. Infected with some of Lucas’s good spirits, Lex said dryly, “I thought you suspected me of harboring secret romantic feelings for her. Now you’re saying that I’m acting like her brother?”

    For one delightful moment, Lucas looked nonplused. Completely at a loss for words. Then, “Hmm. Maybe it’s both. That would really make you a sicko, wouldn’t it?”

    Despite himself, Lex burst into surprised laughter.

    Lucas laughed too, and the two men locked gazes with an unexpectedly deep connection. “I know she’s your friend,” Lucas said at last, his voice milder and almost gentle. “And God knows you have few enough of those. You have nothing to worry about.”

    Lex nodded, surprised and gratified by the reassurance. And what it signified about Lucas’s attitude toward him.

    “So,” Lucas continued, straightening in his chair and grinning again. “Big brother duty is over. You no longer have to take an interest in my nefarious doings.”

    Shaking his head, Lex said, “I am interested in your doings, Lucas. You’re the only family I have now . . . “ His voice trailed off, and he could see that both of their minds had immediately closed around the question that was Lionel Luthor. Their father. Whom Lex had decided to let die. “In fact,” Lex added, focusing once more on what he’d been planning to say, “I wouldn’t mind if you decided to hang around more often.”

    Lucas made a face. “Why would I? Smallville is hardly the kind of cesspool of depravity that I prefer in my place of residence. What would I be hanging around for?”

    Now that the moment was upon him, Lex felt unexpectedly nervous. He shrugged ruefully and murmured, “LuthorCorp. It’s not always exciting, but it’s known its share of depravity. And it’s the family business.” He met Lucas’s gaze evenly. “You’re family.”

    The amusement disappeared from Lucas’s face. “Is that an offer?”

    Lex nodded and swallowed, his heart drumming. He was more anxious about this proposition than he’d been about anything for a long time. “If you’re interested. As you said, I don’t have much in the way of friendship in my life, I don’t have any worthwhile family but you, and I like having you around. Whatever responsibilities you are interested in, I’m sure we could work something out.”

    Lucas stood up and walked over to Lex. Put a hand on his shoulder. “Thanks,” he said briefly. The look in his eyes made it clear that the gratitude was sincere. “But I’ve told you before. Business just isn’t for me. Being stuck with those kinds of responsibilities sounds like hell.”

    His stomach clenching in disappointment, Lex kept his face expressionless. “Think about it. There’s no need to decide now. I’m sure we could come up with responsibilities that wouldn’t be quite so hellish for you.”

    Waiting tensely for Lucas’s response, Lex wondered how he’d come to this. Praying that his brother would stick around so Lex wouldn’t feel quite so alone. It was bizarre, really.

    Surreal. Absolutely incomprehensible.

    Lex had been alone most of his life, but maybe he didn’t have to be.

    Lucas’s face changed. “All right,” he agreed. “I’ll think about it.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “I’ll take you to dinner beforehand. I’ve got it all planned out,” Clark said sheepishly, sitting with Lana in a far corner of the Talon. “I’ve hired a limo.”

    Lana gave a surprised giggle of pleasure. “Really? That’s so sweet, Clark. I’m really excited.”

    “Me too.” Clark didn’t tell her how much it had cost and how difficult it had been to come up with the money. Lex had offered to let Clark borrow his car and driver, but Clark had refused.

    After the awkward tension that continued to grow between the two of them, Clark felt uncomfortable accepting personal favors from Lex. He supposed they were still friends, but he wondered if either of them actually felt like a friend should.

    “I’ve been dreaming of this for years,” Lana added in a wispy voice, propping her chin up on her hands. “I can’t believe I’m going to Prom. With you.”

    They sat gazing at each other foolishly, while the evening crowd buzzed around them in the Talon, completely unnoticed.

    Such sappy moments were few and far between, with the way their relationship kept running up against roadblocks. So Clark intended to enjoy it for as long as he could. No matter how cheesy it was to be excited about going to the Prom.

    But after a few minutes, something distracted Lana across the room. “What . . .” she began, rising a little as if she wanted to see something that was beyond her view.

    Clark turned to look, just as he heard someone screaming. His senses immediately primed and ready, he scanned the room until he saw a young man he recognized, but didn’t know personally, throwing a heavy chair against the wall. “Hey,” Clark said, automatically moving to stop the outburst of violence.

    He hadn’t even taken one step before the watching crowd closed around the angry student. When Clark could see again, the chair-thrower was sitting on the floor, subdued and confused.

    Since the strange crisis seemed to have been diverted, Clark sank back into his chair across from Lana. “That was strange.”

    “Yeah,” Lana agreed. “I guess he got mad about something. But I think he needs to take a few anger-management classes. Someone could have gotten hurt.”

    Clark glanced back over his shoulder and saw the crowd disperse, idly noticing the Wilson twins having an animated discussion as they made their way across the coffee shop.

    Clark liked Kevin Wilson, but thought his twin sister was rather creepy. Catching Kevin’s eye, Clark waved a greeting.

    Kevin said a few last words to his sister, and then came over to join Clark and Lana.

    “Hey,” Clark said. “Do you know what that was all about?”

    Evidently hiding a grin, Kevin responded, “I don’t know. Apparently he’d gotten decaf instead of regular coffee. And that must be an unforgivable offense to a mind such as his.”

    Lana giggled at the clever wording, but Clark drew his brows together. “He got so mad over coffee?” he breathed. “He must have serious problems. Someone could have been hurt.” It didn’t escape him that he was echoing Lana’s sentiments from earlier. It gave him a kind of warm comfort that they thought so much alike.

    “Nah.” Kevin shrugged dismissively. “He just took his rage out on the innocent chair.”

    Clark was about to object, but Kevin had turned toward Lana. He peered at her intently for
    a moment. Then said, “You have a little bug on your neck.”

    Lana froze—she hated bugs—and Kevin reached over to place his palm over the pulse in her throat.

    It was a very strange way to rid Lana’s neck of a bug, and Clark eyed him suspiciously. “Hey,” he objected, when Kevin didn’t immediately remove his hand.

    “There. I got it.” Kevin finally drew back his hand. Grinned at Clark. “You don’t want your girl crawling with bugs, do you?”

    Before Clark could decide how to respond, Kevin got up and strolled away.

    Clark scowled at his retreating back. “What was he up to? Does he have a thing for you?” he asked Lana.

    Lana looked confused. “I don’t think so. He’s never paid any attention to me before.”

    Turning to look back at Lana, Clark muttered darkly, “I bet he’s got a secret crush on you. I didn’t see any bug.”

    “I don’t think there was a bug,” Lana replied, her voice rising in annoyance. “He was just pretending there was so he could touch me. How dare he!”

    Clark blinked.

    Lana’s eyes were shooting daggers at Kevin across the room. “He’s rude and arrogant and obnoxious and revolting!” The intensity and volume of her voice was still rising, and she was clenching her little fists on the edge of the table.

    “I’m not sure he was that bad,” Clark began, feeling off-stride and nervous by Lana’s quickly growing wrath. He’d been annoyed himself, but he wasn’t sure the incident warranted all this.

    “Not that bad!” Lana shrieked, jumping to her feet.

    The entire room silenced, as everyone in the Talon turned in surprise to watch Lana—the second angry outburst in less than ten minutes.

    “How dare you condescend to me!” Lana screamed shrilly, glaring down at Clark. “I’m not an idiot or a ditz like everyone seems to think. Just because I’m pretty doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

    Clark was appalled and embarrassed by her temper-fit, so he stood up and moved forward to try to calm Lana down.

    Just then, Chloe came hurrying over. “Lana,” she gasped, staring at her friend, looking just as shocked as Clark was. “What on earth is wrong? Why are you screaming?”

    “Clark thinks I’m stupid!” Lana sobbed.

    Chloe shot a questioning look at Clark, who shrugged helplessly. Then Chloe put an arm on Lana’s shoulders. “No one thinks you’re stupid,” she soothed, as if she were talking to a ranting child. “Why are you so worked up?”

    “Why?” Lana wailed. “Why? I’m sick of everyone acting like I’m just a pretty face. I’m a whole person! A whole person!”

    His cheeks burning with mortification—for Lana and for himself—Clark tried to take Lana’s arm to lead her out of the coffee shop. “Maybe we can discuss this somewhere else,” he suggested softly.

    Lana yanked her arm away from him, picked up her half-filled, oversized mug of coffee, and threw the warm liquid at Clark’s face. “No!” she raged. “We’ll talk about it here! I’m sick of secrets. I won’t let you keep secrets from me anymore.”

    Wiping the coffee out of his eyes, Clark felt his heart drop. His belly drop. He’d hoped they’d gotten passed this whole obsession with secrets. But clearly they hadn’t.
    Could they ever? Would they ever overcome this one secret he kept from her?

    And for a moment, in the middle of Lana’s bizarre tantrum, Clark was hit with reality like a wave. He and Lana would never overcome his secret until he came out and shared it with her.

    But that was something he’d have to deal with later because the scene before him was quickly spiraling out of control. Lana had started to slam the table repeatedly with her empty mug, and Chloe was trying to take it out of her hand—getting shoved away for her efforts.

    Before Clark could figure out what to do, strange, quiet Gina Wilson pushed through the crowd surrounding the excitement. “Is she all right?” she asked calmly, studying Lana as a scientist might study an unusual specimen. “Does she have a fever?”

    This seemed like a bizarre question to Clark, but before he could answer it, Gina reached over to check for herself. She put her hand on Lana’s perspiring neck, and then jerked it away. “She’s hot,” Gina said matter-of-factly. “I think she does have a fever.”

    Clark brushed away this irrelevant information and moved over to take Lana in his arms. She’d stopped screaming and was standing before him trembling.

    She didn’t resist his embrace, and Clark held her close for a minute. Then Lana drew back, her eyes clear and bewildered. “What happened?” she asked. “Why did I just do that?”

    Clark held her by the shoulders and watched her warily. “You tell us. You just exploded.”

    Lana’s face crumpled. “I know. I remember doing it.” She stared at Clark, completely baffled and her face turning a blazing shade of red. “I just have no idea why.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “Is she all right?” Chloe asked later that evening, talking into the phone she was holding up to her ear. She was sprawled out on her bed in a stretchy T-shirt and cotton pajama bottoms. Clark had called just as Chloe was about to finish reading her homework.

    “Yeah,” Clark replied. “She’s acting perfectly normal now. Really embarrassed, of course. She says that all of a sudden she came over all hot, like she was burning up. And that she couldn’t help having the tantrum.”

    Chloe wrinkled her nose. “This is getting weird. I’m starting to think it’s not just the weather.”

    “What do you suppose it could be?”

    “Maybe a drug?” Chloe suggested, thinking quickly. “Maybe someone is trying to drug people in town. Lana had just been drinking coffee, hadn’t she? Maybe the coffee supply is drugged.” Her mind was whirring, trying to connect all of the different eruptions of emotion she’d seen or heard about over the last week.

    Clark snorted. “Then you would be sky high with emotions. It can’t be the coffee. But maybe it is some sort of drug. Let’s figure out everything we know about who’s been affected and see if we can find a connection.”

    “I’ll get to work on it,” Chloe told him. “Tell Lana I’m glad she’s feeling better. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

    After hanging up, Chloe slouched back against her pillows. Stared at her history book, which she should be reading. Stared at the empty pad of a paper on the nightstand, which she could be filling up with facts about the emotionally infected people.

    Instead she just lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling.

    Clark had seemed like his old self during their conversation just now. It had been like they needed each other, had some sort of genuine bond between them.

    It was a rare thing now. Most of the time she felt like Clark wasn’t sure what to do with her. She wasn’t sure what had sparked the change. Maybe Jason’s death. Maybe they were just growing apart.

    But sometimes Clark would watch her like he didn’t really know who she was.

    It hurt—more than she’d expected. She’d always had Clark as a friend, and even though she knew that they were still officially friends, their relationship just felt a little off. Like she couldn’t be truly comfortable, truly open, truly herself.

    She wondered if she would be able to be that way with any man . . . now that Jason was gone.

    Taking a few minutes to indulge in grief, Chloe let herself cry a little at the thought of what she’d lost with Jason. It had all been so new, so promising, so sweet. Who knew how it would have turned out?

    And now she’d never know.

    She felt deeply alone. More alone than she’d ever felt before. She still had friends—still had Clark and Lana in her life—but was feeling more and more removed from them, as if she were slowly drifting away from where they were.

    Wiping her eyes, she made herself stop brooding. Her life was fine—not perfect, but generally good. She had nothing really to complain about. She even had a date for the Prom.

    Which reminded her that Lucas hadn’t yet called her with details about their arrangements for going together. It was only two days away now, and, if he was going to ditch her,
    Chloe wanted to know about it as soon as possible.

    She wasn’t sure how to get in touch with Lucas, but she figured that Lex must know. So she dialed him up unthinkingly. Heard the phone ring twice before someone picked up.

    “Luthor,” Lex said tersely.

    “Hey, Lex,” Chloe greeted him, suddenly nervous about having called him up at midnight on a Wednesday evening. “I hope I’m not bothering you.”

    “Chloe,” Lex said, his tone growing almost imperceptibly warmer as he recognized her voice. “I’m glad you called. You’re not a bother at all.” He paused. Then asked, “Are you all right?”

    “Yeah,” Chloe began, the emotion rising once more in her throat at the obvious concern in Lex’s voice. It was nice that someone hadn’t forgotten that her loss had been a deep one. “I’m fine.”

    But she knew she didn’t sound fine. Her voice had cracked on every word, and tears had started to burn once more in her eyes.

    “Do you need someone to talk to?” Lex inquired, his voice more textured than was typical.

    She sniffed and shook her head harshly to dispel the overflow of emotion. “No, really, I’m fine. I didn’t call to cry on your shoulder.”

    “You can, you know,” he said, after a long pause. “You don’t get over things like this in a few short weeks. I know. And, while I’m not skilled at providing comfort, I can certainly listen if . . .”

    “No,” she interrupted, something clenching in her stomach at the thought of turning to Lex for comfort over something this intimate. “I’m okay. Just momentarily pathetic.” She swallowed hard and regained her composure. Managed to say lightly, “Thanks for the offer, though.”

    “Any time.” There was another long pause. Then Lex remarked casually, “I hear Lucas is escorting you to the Prom.”

    “Yeah.” Chloe smiled for real, relieved at the shift in subject. “He got suckered into it. That’s actually why I was calling.”

    Lex’s voice was questioning as he murmured, “It was?”

    “I don’t know how to get in touch with Lucas, and we haven’t yet worked out the details of our date. So I thought I’d call you to ask how I can reach him.”

    His voice sounded a little strange when he replied, “Of course.”

    Chloe wrinkled her forehead, wondering why Lex was suddenly being so standoffish. “Well, how should I reach him?”

    “He doesn’t make it easy,” Lex remarked, sounding cool and natural again. “But he’s stopping by to see me tomorrow morning. I’ll tell him he needs to call you up.”

    “Okay,” Chloe agreed. She hesitated for a moment, but eventually continued, “You don’t think he’s trying to get out of this, do you? It was a somewhat spontaneous offer, and I guess I’d understand if he changed his mind about going to a high school prom with me.”

    She’d understand, but she’d be as mad as hell.

    There was a smile in Lex’s voice when he answered, “No. He’s still planning to go. Make sure you tell me if he doesn’t behave himself.”

    Chloe chuckled and felt better than she had all evening. “I’m a big girl, Lex. I can take care of myself.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “You need to stop,” Gina demanded, getting right in her brother’s face and snapping out each word like a weapon. “Someone is going to get hurt.”

    They were walking back to their house from the Talon. Usually, they didn’t go home together, since Gina preferred earlier nights than Kevin did. But she had stubbornly waited around until Kevin decided to leave, just in case he proceeded to have any more “fun.”

    Kevin sneered. “How did I end up being related to someone so boring and unadventurous? We’ve got this power that no one else has. It’d be a shame to waste it.” He looked past her, off to the dark horizon. “Think of all the feelings that people suppress and keep hidden away. I now have the key to unlocking them.”

    Gina clenched her jaw, feeling unexpectedly angry. But she made herself relax, took a few deep breaths. People just didn’t think clearly when they were infuriated, and she needed to think clearly now. “Those emotions are often hidden away for good reason. A civilized society requires that people restrain some of their passions. Otherwise, chaos would ensue.”

    He shrugged and grinned again. “Who needs to be civilized? Chaos is much more fun.”

    “But people could get . . .”

    “Stop telling me people will get hurt,” Kevin snarled. “Has anyone been hurt yet? Some guy threw a chair against a wall, and everyone else just yelled and turned cartwheels. No harm in any of that.”

    Gina exhaled deeply, racking her brain for a logical appeal that would actually convince
    Kevin of the danger in what he was doing. “Well, at least don’t do it at the Prom. We don’t want things to get out of control. It could be dangerous with so many people crowded in one place and with so many emotions bubbling under the surface.”

    Kevin chuckled. “I know. I can’t wait.” He held up a hand as she was about to object. “No, don’t say it. If anything gets out of hand, you’ll be there to cool it down.”

    Gina pressed her lips together. “I wasn’t planning to go.”

    Grinning mischievously, he murmured, “Even better.”

    Sighing, Gina gave up for the moment. They returned to their house in silence, and Gina mentally rehearsed the amount of money she presently had in her checking account.

    She’d have to go buy a prom dress tomorrow.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    Friday evening, Lana went over to Chloe’s house to get dressed for the Prom. Lana had suggested it, and Chloe had readily agreed.

    It was like they were both desperately seeking some way to be normal, to be like any other pair of friends. Even though both of them knew it wasn’t really the case.

    They wanted to be friends—just weren’t sure they really were anymore.

    Lana wasn’t sure what to make of Chloe. She cared about Chloe and wanted very much to be there for her, to protect her. All year, she’d had this idea that Chloe was gradually moving away from her. She’d watched as Chloe had grown closer to Lex, which seemed to draw her even further away.

    For so long, Lana had thought she’d known Chloe—reporter, ambitious, clever, resourceful, secretly in love with Clark. Now . . . everything had changed. Chloe had changed. Lana wanted to snatch her back to who she used to be. Had no idea how.

    So she’d suggested they get dressed for Prom together, as a superficial attempt at bonding.

    As Lana finished applying her makeup, she glanced at Chloe through the mirror. Caught a fleeting expression of sorrow.

    Her chest tightened as she remembered that less than a month ago Chloe had lost Jason.

    Turning to face her friend, Lana asked lightly, “So, are you happy about going tonight with Lucas?”

    Chloe shrugged and gave a half-smile. She had fixed her hair in a surprisingly elegant up-do, but hadn’t done her makeup yet or put on her dress. “Sure. I like Lucas. He’s good-looking and amusing. And he’s way better than any of the other losers who asked me.”

    “Good,” Lana said, feeling stupid but not knowing anything else to say.

    Chloe gave her an understanding smile. “It’s not the same as going with someone really important, though.”

    Feeling awkward and fighting a heavy feeling in her belly, Lana turned back to the mirror to finish carefully applying her pink lipstick. Desperately searching for a lighter subject, Lana offered, “I’ll do your makeup for you.” When Chloe looked like she might object, Lana added, “Please? With that dress, we should fix you up like an ice princess. A lot of shimmer.” Lana got up and gestured Chloe into her seat in front of the mirror.

    Chloe curled her lip and resignedly sat down where Lana had indicated. “Not too much shimmer,” she directed, presenting her face to Lana. “I prefer subtlety in all things.”

    Lana looked skeptical as she picked up Chloe’s base makeup. Lana had never been interested in subtlety.

    “Did you and Clark find out anything new about what’s making everyone crazy?” Lana asked, partially to bring up an innocuous subject and partially because she was interested in whatever had caused her to humiliate herself in public.

    Chloe made a face, which nearly caused Lana to smear mascara over her cheekbone. “No, not really. We can’t find any real connection between the victims, and everyone seems to have recovered fairly quickly. There just doesn’t seem to be any real motive behind it.”
    Lana thought hard. “Maybe there isn’t a real motive.”

    Rolling her eyes, Chloe groaned, “If that’s the case, then we’ll never figure this out. Clark is leaning toward some kind of drug or toxin—we’ve seen those a lot around here. He’s probably right. We’ll just keep our eyes open and try to find similarities between the incidents.”

    It wasn’t long before Chloe’s face was done to the approval of both of them. Lana had adeptly worked with the makeup they had between them, tempering her enthusiasm with the shimmery shadow and powder at Chloe’s insistence. Swiping on the last bit of gloss,

    Lana studied Chloe’s face in satisfaction.

    “I look really good,” Chloe said, almost as if she were surprised. “Thanks, Lana.”

    Lana smiled, and the two of them locked eyes in the mirror. “You’re welcome. You look fantastic.” Lana studied her own reflection briefly. Thought she looked pretty good herself. “We better put on our dresses. The guys will be here pretty soon.”

    They got dressed—Lana in pink, Chloe in silvery-white—and had a bit of girlish giddiness as they waited for their dates to arrive.

    Lana was working on some last minute touches to her appearance—a bracelet she spontaneously decided to wear, another coat of lipstick—while Chloe sat quietly by the window. “You and Clark,” Chloe began softly. Then stopped as if she weren’t sure what she’d been going to say.

    “Yes?” Lana prompted, turning around to stare at Chloe, who was looking more mature, elegant, and distant than Lana had ever seen her. “What about us?”

    Chloe smiled. “I’m really happy for the two of you. I know it’s ancient history now, but Clark came between us before. And I wanted to make sure you knew that I’m so happy you two are working it out.”

    Lana was touched and felt silly tears spring up in her eyes. Taken off guard, she said honestly, “I hope we’re working it out.”

    Chloe’s expression changed slightly, now conveying faint concern. “Is anything wrong between you guys? Things seem to be going so well. I thought this was the pinnacle of your fairy tale romance.”

    Lana had thought it would be too. Was even now hoping that somehow getting into that limo with Clark, both of them dressed up and excited, might level the barriers that were constantly rising between them. “Everything’s fine,” Lana told her, forcing out a smile she hoped was natural. “Relationships are never like fairy tales.”

    Chloe nodded as if she understood. “I know. Nothing’s perfect. But it always felt like there was some sort of force pulling the two of you together.” She looked a little embarrassed and glanced away out the window. “It sounds stupid, I suppose, but the two of you always felt inevitable to me.”

    Lana briefly wondered what that must have been like for Chloe. To be in love with someone who you knew was destined for someone else. She felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for how much it must have hurt Chloe in the past. “Me too,” she admitted. “That’s why it’s always so confusing when things keep coming between me and Clark.”

    Chloe smiled wistfully and stood up, as a limo—too sleek and expensive to be the one Clark had hired—pulled in front of the house. “You know what to do about whatever comes between you, don’t you?”

    “What?” Lana breathed, as if Chloe might have the answer she was looking for.

    “Life’s too short to waste time walking in circles.” Chloe picked up her little glittery bag, checked her hair and makeup, and walked toward the door: taller than she should have been, radiant in the glow of the overhead light, miles and miles away from Lana now. “If anything comes between you, knock it down.”

    As Chloe left the room to go down and meet Lucas, Lana felt like someone had punched her in the gut.

    Chloe was right. Was so incredibly right. There was only one thing that was really standing between her and Clark now. One thing that they’d never been able to overcome.

    One unknown quantity. One secret.

    Lana glanced out the window and saw Lucas’s limo pull away from the house. Then she saw another set of headlights replace it. Saw Clark—handsome in a black tux—get out and head up to the front door.

    He had a corsage of white roses for her when she glided down the stairs. Lana smiled as he put it on.

    No pictures for them before they left a home that wasn’t even hers. No parental reminders to be careful and stay safe.

    The two simply left the empty house, Lana locking up behind her as Chloe had asked.

    It didn’t matter. None of it mattered.

    All that mattered was that Lana was going to her senior Prom with Clark Kent. They were together—Lana loved him—and there was only one thing standing in their way.

    But no more. Tonight things would change.

    By the end of the evening, Lana was going to make Clark tell her his secret.

    Lana would take Chloe’s advice. Tonight. She would knock this one thing down.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    Chloe entered the school gym beside Lucas and was somewhat dazzled by the sight before her. Blankets of fairy lights were draped along the ceiling, and colored spotlights painted different parts of the gym contrasting shades of white and blue or red and gold. Glitter had been strewn generously over the tables, and arrangements of pearlescent balloons graced various corners.

    “Whoa!” she breathed, her hand tucked into Lucas’s bent arm. “They went all out, didn’t they?”

    Lucas’s lips twitched. “Yeah,” he agreed. Then he gave her a slanting look. “I can’t believe I’m actually spending a Friday evening in a spruced-up gym. At a high school prom.”

    “You have a problem with that?” Chloe teased, feeling relaxed and amused, despite the unusual situation and the fact that she didn’t know Lucas very well.

    “Certainly not.” After they’d made their way fully into the gym, Lucas led her over to where there was a gap in the crowd. “You look gorgeous enough to make me forget the
    incongruity.”

    Chloe chuckled, knowing she didn’t have to take him seriously and thus able to enjoy the flirtation. “That’s what you said earlier.” She carefully wiped her damp forehead with her fingers. “It’s burning up in here. You’d think they’d turn on the air conditioning a little more.”

    She was hoping she wouldn’t start perspiring through her dress, when something diverted her to the right of them. “It’s obviously way too hot in here. Look at the ice sculpture. It’s melted so much you can’t even tell what it was supposed to be.” Whatever the sculpted object had originally been was a secret now, but the dripping enigma was still lit from above by a light that alternated between flashes of fiery orange and icy blue.

    Lucas looked overly warm too—but he gave her a rakish grin and kept up the banter. “How appropriate then. Isn’t the theme of this glorious affair Fire and Ice?”

    “Yeah,” Chloe acknowledge. She scanned the mingling and dancing crowds of her classmates—students she’d seen nearly every day for the last four years—then glanced back at the ice sculpture melting in the heat in the room from the accumulated bodies. “I guess it is appropriate,” she murmured.

    Just as Lucas was going to respond, they were nearly trampled by another couple, who could barely keep their hands off of each other. Lucas stared after them as they very publicly embraced against the wall. With a quirk of his mouth, he drawled, “They’re certainly not wasting any time.”

    Chloe looked away from the couple—recognized the guy from her history class—and made a face. “Rather clichéd, don’t you think?”

    After another moment, Lucas asked if she wanted to dance. Since they were at the Prom and it seemed the appropriate thing to do, Chloe agreed.

    The music had just shifted to a slow song, so he swung her into his arms as they walked onto the dance floor. Chloe smiled up at him, glad she had gotten herself an attractive and enjoyable date. “So what are your plans exactly?”

    Lucas squinted at her, one hand politely positioned in the middle of her back. “I thought we’d dance. And then maybe go get some punch, since it’s sweltering in here. At least, those were my immediate plans.”

    Chloe chuckled appreciatively. “I meant longer term than that. Are you planning to hang around Smallville much longer?”

    He cocked his head to one side. “I’m not sure. I don’t think so, but Lex did offer me a position at LuthorCorp as incentive to keep me around.”

    Eyes widening, Chloe’s felt a surprised jump in her chest. “Really? Are you going to take it?”

    A warmth flooded her belly as she thought about how nice that would be for Lex—to have a real family member around. Lex must feel so alone sometimes, especially after everything that happened with his father.

    “I don’t know,” Lucas admitted, rocking them both with the slow rhythm of the music. “I’m not sure I want to.”

    She met his eyes. “Well, I for one hope you do.”

    She wasn’t sure if he understood that she hoped he would stick around for Lex, and not for herself. She liked Lucas, and she enjoyed his company, but she couldn’t imagine their friendship getting any more serious than this light flirtation.

    About to make another comment, she stopped when she saw Clark and Lana step onto the dance floor. They both looked young and attractive. They both looked happy and
    connected. They looked perfect. Like the King and Queen of the Prom.

    Irony—which was never far from Chloe’s nature—quirked up her lips as she watched them. This was their night. Clark and Lana might succeed at achieving one of those ideal high school moments that had always escaped her.

    She wasn’t expecting one of those moments. What did she have? Friends who didn’t seem to know her. A dead boyfriend. And a date with the unstable brother of the local billionaire. Only Chloe Sullivan could put together such a random climax to her high school experience.
    Chloe chuckled under her breath, since the only other option would be to cry.

    An angry squeal broke into her amused, ironic reverie. She turned with everyone else toward the sound.

    Chloe blinked as she saw an outraged Charlene Barron yanking on the carefully coiffed hair of Marti Jenson—she of cartwheel fame. “He was my boyfriend,” Charlene shrieked, pulling Marti’s hair so hard it broke free of its pins and spilled over Marti’s shoulders in a messy pile. “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

    “Well, he loves me,” Marti screamed back, slapping Charlene hard across the cheek. “So get over it.”

    Charlene ranted incomprehensibly and grabbed at the front of Marti’s dress. With another squeal, the two dropped to the floor, wrestling in a sloppy tangle of fancy clothes and thrashing arms and legs.

    Once the stunned stupor finally passed, a few people stepped in to pull the girls apart. The entire gym was talking at once, laughter and gossip nearly drowning out the loud music.

    Chloe tried to stifle a giggle, but it spilled over when she turned and saw Lucas. He was almost doubled over with laughter, gasping out his hilarity, which intensified as Marti and Charlene were led out of the gym with torn dresses and shambled hair.

    “We shouldn’t laugh,” Chloe said, attempting to pull herself together. “What do you suppose has gotten into everyone?” It was more of the same—she was sure of it.

    Something intensifying people’s emotions.

    If she only knew what that was.

    Lucas wheezed with his amusement and took an unconscious step back. Right into a football player that Chloe recognized as Kevin Wilson.

    “Sorry,” Lucas grunted to Kevin without even turning around. Then he stepped forward again and swung Chloe into another dance. “We were dancing, I believe, before that delicious catfight. Talk about hot. This Prom is far more exciting than I was expecting.”

    “Who knows what might happen next?” Chloe murmured, trying to keep her voice dry.

    But suddenly something had changed. She was so distracted that it took a moment for her to figure out what it was. But when Lucas put both arms around her—low on her waist—she realized what it was.

    Lucas was holding her way too close.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lana had talked about their relationship all through dinner. About honesty and trust. About where they might be going as a couple.

    At times, Clark had felt like he might strangle on his tightening collar. At other times he thought he might melt with adoration.

    He felt torn in two. This moment—the Prom—seemed like a turning point. A crossroads. A climax in both of their lives. He was tired of keeping secrets from Lana. Realized that their relationship would never work if it continued this way.

    He wanted this to work. No matter how hard it was, how difficult it became to move forward. This was Lana. His first love. His only love.

    Clark wasn’t giving up on this—which meant he had to tell her the truth.

    As they moved through the motions of the slow dance, his stomach twisted with sickening nervousness. He wished he could talk to his parents about this choice before he did anything, but the need to tell Lana the truth was becoming increasingly urgent. This decision had been a long time coming, and he knew his parents trusted his judgment. He wasn’t being as spontaneous as he felt.

    Clark’s eyes scanned over Lana. She was wearing a rich pink gown with fitted bodice and wide skirt. She looked like a princess in a story. The object of all of his romantic fantasies.
    And he could have her—she was his.

    He just had to bend on this one thing.

    They danced silently, neither saying anything after the crazy fight between the two girls across the room had erupted. Lana’s body felt tense under his arm. Almost as tense as he was. They were both waiting, both expecting something to happen.

    Trying to work up enough nerve to move into what he knew he had to do, Clark glanced around at the other couples in the middle of the gym. His eyes fell on Chloe and Lucas, who were dancing much more closely than Clark would have expected. In fact, Lucas appeared to be practically rubbing against her.

    Clark couldn’t see Chloe’s face. He wondered if she liked it. He wouldn’t have thought she would, but she didn’t seem to be pulling away.

    He moved his eyes away from the pair, telling himself it was none of his business.

    But everywhere he looked now he saw couples embracing. In fact, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of public displays of affection. Some of this was expected, was unavoidable given that it was high school.

    But this much . . . this much was almost embarrassing.

    The chaperones were working overtime, trying to rein in the hormones. Occasionally, they actually had to forcefully pull couples apart.

    A loud fight broke out across the room—this time between two guys—and loud voices started cheering on the combatants.

    Suddenly, things snapped together in Clark’s mind. If he hadn’t been so worried about his own problems, he would have realized it much sooner. This must have something to do with the drug or toxin that had been getting people riled up this week. Whatever it was, it must just intensify whatever emotions a person was feeling.

    He wondered if someone had spiked the punch bowl—not with alcohol but with this strange drug.

    “Hey,” he heard Lana say sharply. “Are you still with me?”

    “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “I’m just worried about what’s going on here. Something is definitely wrong.”

    Lana looked resigned. “You’re right, of course. And I suppose it’s too much to expect that we’d have one night when you weren’t on duty.” Her voice held a faint note of bitterness.

    “I have to be on duty,” Clark mumbled, before he could think about the wisdom of his words.

    Lana tightened her face. “Why?” she demanded, her hand clenching on his shoulder.

    Clark opened his mouth. Nothing came out. But this was the time. She was asking, and he really wanted to tell her. So he tried again. Opened his mouth. Said, “All right. But we can’t discuss it in the middle of the gym.”

    The Prom was gradually disintegrating into chaos—not many people were even dancing anymore. Most were clustered together, talking anxiously. And those who weren’t were either screaming, fighting, or doing some very urgent making out. A few people were running around, trying to reestablish order, and Clark knew he should be helping them.
    But nothing really dangerous was happening now—except for the two fistfights he could see from his position—and he had something more important to do. He wasn’t sure what his abilities could do about the craziness anyway. If people started to get hurt, he would step in. Until then, he could only focus on one thing.

    Telling Lana his secret.

    He led her out of the riotous gym, carefully avoiding the wild cheering session that was going on next to the refreshment tables.

    They found an empty classroom, after trying several that were either locked or already occupied by amorous couples.

    Lana looked at him stonily. “I know there’s something different about you,” she said, her voice clear and strong. “I feel like I’ve known for a while now, but I guess I’ve been trying to ignore it. It’s like I can almost put my finger on it, but can’t quite do it.” She met his eyes evenly. Lana’s eyes. Lana’s voice. Lana’s spirit. Compelling him. Demanding. “But I care about you, Clark, and you can trust me. So tell me what it is.”

    He was burning up, like a flame or a furnace. But he knew this was the right thing to do.

    Clark took a deep breath and spoke: “You’re right. I am different. I . . . I’m not even from this planet.”

    So Clark told her. Told her everything, in the quiet classroom while the Prom raged on unchecked. Lana listened silently, occasionally making little noises of surprise or distress.
    Clark didn’t stop until all of it was out. He told Lana all of his secrets.

    It was the most brutally freeing experience of his life.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Chloe dragged Lucas into the hall, wondering where Clark was. Things were out of control, and Clark was usually right in the thick of fixing these kinds of disasters. She couldn’t find him, but she moved into the hall to escape the insanity in the gym.

    Only to confront more insanity in her companion. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she demanded, putting her hands on her hips. “You’ve been groping me like a drunk on a bus.”
    Lucas’s hands were still out of control, and they were once again all over her. And now so were his lips. “You look irresistible tonight,” he mumbled over her jaw.

    She pushed him away. “Stop. I don’t care how irresistible you suddenly find me. I’m not going to sleep with you. This isn’t that kind of date.”

    He now was leaning into her, and her back was against the wall—his body was hot, hard and insistent. “Why not?” he said huskily, his lips traveling down to the hollow of her neck. “You like me, don’t you?”

    “Sure, but . . .” Chloe’s face was blazing red, and she felt more annoyed than threatened. He wasn’t using force. Was just for some reason trying to seduce her.

    “I’m attractive, aren’t I?” Now his fingers had found the dip below the small of her back.

    “Yes, but . . .” This was almost ridiculous. She’d never seen a man more wild with desire—and the fact that it was for her was utterly laughable.

    “So what’s the problem?” He raised his face and gave her a smoldering look.

    She rolled her eyes. “This was just a friendly date to the Prom. I’m not interested in anything serious with you.”

    “Me either,” Lucas agreed, trailing his fingers down her arm. “This isn’t love. Just one amazing night.”

    Chloe actually snorted and swatted his hand away. “No. I’m not interested in that with you.”

    His hands were once more sliding all over her, now touching her in places that made her eyes widen. “Please?” he murmured beseechingly.

    “No,” she insisted, beginning to feel desperate although she wasn’t afraid at all. Lucas wasn’t dangerous. He was just totally caught up in the one thing he was feeling. Desire. For her. One silly, tiny part of herself almost preened that he was so hot and wild for plain old Chloe Sullivan.

    But her common sense told her the explanation for his behavior. He too must have been infected by whatever was affecting people’s emotions.

    This realization helped. She could work with it. Change what Lucas was feeling.

    She gave him a hard shove, and he took two steps backward. She said unpleasantly, “I thought Lex told you to behave yourself.”

    It worked. Lucas scowled nastily and slammed his fist into a locker, letting out a long stream of profanity at the inevitable pain that resulted. Several of the choice expletives were reserved for Lex. When he became more coherent, he concluded, “Why would I give a damn about what Lex told me? He’s arrogant and selfish and thinks he can control everything.”

    Chloe didn’t wait around to hear what else he’d say about Lex. Instead, she took advantage of his distraction and made a run for the women’s restroom.

    “Wait,” Lucas called out after her. She could hear his heavy footfalls in the hall behind her. “Don’t run. It will be so good, Chloe. Wait.”

    She made it to the restroom before he caught up to her. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, she held the door shut as he tried to push in after her.

    He yelled through the door for another minute about how sorry he was and how gorgeous she was. But then she felt the pressure against the door give way and silence take the place of his impassioned exclamations.

    After another minute, she heard a discreet knock on the door. “Can I come in?” It was a female voice.

    Chloe cracked the door and peeked out. Lucas wasn’t in sight, but she recognized Gina Wilson, in a quiet black dress, standing in front of the door.

    Chloe released the door and took a couple of steps back.

    “Are you all right?” Gina asked her cautiously, stepping into the restroom and letting the door swing shut behind her.

    Without thinking, Chloe screamed loudly, deliciously venting her frustration over the insane situation surrounding her. “No!” she declared passionately, rubbing her hands violently over her face. “The whole world’s gone crazy!”

    Gina sighed. Reached out to put one hand on Chloe’s neck. “I know. Sorry,” she said, looking completely exhausted. “He’s totally out of control. I have to do something.”

    Chloe wasn’t sure if she was talking about Lucas or someone else. In fact, she had no idea what Gina was talking about.

    But suddenly she didn’t care. Didn’t care about anything.

    Without speaking again, Chloe turned on her heel and left the bathroom: all of her anger, frustration, confusion, excitement, grief—all of it—deliciously frozen.

    Chloe felt free. Could think clearly. Objectively. Could see things sharply, no murky emotions obscuring her view.

    She almost bumped into Lucas in the hallway. “Chloe,” he said urgently, taking her arm lightly. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened. I went crazy or something, but you know I never would have hurt you.”

    “It’s okay,” she said coolly, calmly shaking off his grip and barely looking at his damp, attractive face. “It wasn’t your fault. There’s some sort of emotional infection going around.”

    “But I was groping you, even though you told me to stop,” Lucas insisted, more earnest than she’d ever seen him. “You should be furious with me.”

    She shrugged. “No big deal.” Meant it.

    Lucas was clearly baffled. “So . . . we’re okay?”

    Chloe had walked into the gym, where the riotous confusion seemed to have calmed down.
    People were still clustered around awkwardly, but she didn’t see any more fights. And no one was screaming anymore.

    She didn’t care anyway. All of this was silly, immature, trivial. Utterly meaningless to her.

    What was she doing here anyway? As if any of this high school absurdity mattered.

    Chloe turned around and walked back into the hall.

    Lucas was still breathless at her side. “Are you leaving?”

    She looked at him blankly. Had forgotten he even existed. “Yes.”

    “I’ll take you home.”

    “No.” She studied him coldly. “I don’t want you.”

    Lucas looked painfully guilty. “I’m so sorry, Chloe. What can I do to make it up to you?”

    “Don’t be sorry,” she said impersonally. Why wouldn’t he leave? He was like a gnat, still buzzing around her. “It means nothing to me.”

    He stood in front of her, blocking her way so she couldn’t keep walking down the hall. “Chloe, what do you want me to do?”

    She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. Brushed him away. “Just leave.”

    Chloe knew Lucas all of a sudden. Saw his nature clearly—was no longer blinded by his connections to Lex or her own insecurity. He wasn’t bad-hearted, but he was basically self-interested. He liked her—liked Lex—well enough . . . but not as much as he liked himself.

    Lucas wouldn’t keep humbling himself before a woman he had no serious feelings for, so she knew she wouldn’t get another apology. And he would never tell Lex what had happened here, which was just as well. And Lucas wouldn’t settle in Smallville or join Lex at LuthorCorp, no matter how much Lex wanted him to.

    Chloe saw it all with pristine vision: knew without doubt that Lucas would leave town tonight and escape any ties that tried to bind him.

    Chloe understood all of it with rational disinterest. “Go, Lucas. It’s all right. No guilt or confusion between us.” She raised her eyebrows. Met his eyes. “We can’t be other than we are.”

    Lucas nodded in agreement. In resignation. In understanding.

    A tiny part of Chloe ached for Lex—for the way she knew Lucas’s departure would hurt him, after he’d asked his brother to stay—but the little, crying voice was so tiny that Chloe could barely hear it.

    Lucas cupped her cheek with his hand, in a gesture of gratitude and farewell, but for some reason the touch didn’t move Chloe at all.

    She didn’t smile. Didn’t speak. Just watched as Lucas disappeared around a corner of the hall. Stood frozen, thinking clearly, logically working through what her next step should be.
    But her reflections were interrupted by Lana, who came barging toward the women’s restroom. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

    “Are you all right?” Chloe asked, not particularly concerned by Lana’s distress but vaguely curious.

    Lana shook her head. Spoke but was almost incoherent. “So hard. It’s so hard. Thought the truth would fix everything, but I think it just showed me what I’ve always known.”
    However garbled the words were, Chloe was able to decipher them. She had no emotions to cloud her judgment now, so the pieces fell easily into place. Clark had told Lana the truth—whatever his secret was. Lana was naturally upset about it and was now questioning their relationship.

    It should have mattered to Chloe—she’d been waiting for years for Clark to tell her his secret, for Clark to trust her.

    But stark reality was concrete, right in front of her eyes. Clark didn’t trust her. He trusted Lana. Not Chloe.

    It was fine. Didn’t rip her apart like it should have. She had changed. They all had
    changed. She wasn’t going to waste her time with these friends who didn’t even know her. Who understood nothing about her.

    All of this—all of it—was beneath her. And she was going to leave it behind.

    She smiled at Lana frigidly. “You’d better hurry. They’re going to crown the King and Queen of the Prom soon. That will be you and Clark.” Her tone was clipped and ironic as she added, “Time for your fairy tale ending.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark gave Lana a few minutes to pull herself together. He wasn’t really disappointed or surprised by her reaction. She’d choked out a few words, saying that she still cared for him and had known his secret would be something like this.

    And then she had tried to hide her tears, saying she needed a few minutes to herself.

    Of course she did. Clark did too. He felt unsettled and drained and faintly depressed.
    This was what he’d been waiting for—what he’d been building up to from the first moment he’d laid eyes on Lana’s exquisite face—so why did it feel so anti-climactic?

    He slouched against the wall of the empty room they’d found for a few minutes, but then
    shook himself off and went to find Lana. Things were still kind of crazy at the school, so he needed to make sure she was all right. Then—he supposed—he should see if he could do anything about the chaos.

    Clark found Lana eventually, when she came out of the bathroom with red eyes and newly applied makeup.

    They walked back into the gym together, and Clark realized that he hadn’t been needed at all. Whatever had been affecting people had apparently dissipated.

    In fact, the entire room seemed to reflect the way Clark himself felt. It was like the aftermath of an explosion. Everyone looked exhausted, disoriented, as if they were trying as hard as they could to pretend things were normal—when they were as far away from normal as was possible.

    Clark stood beside Lana near the back of the crowd, which had now clustered around the platform. He draped an arm around her waist. He’d thought telling her would change things, but there still seemed to be this impossible gulf between them. And something told him that it might be even wider now.

    If the truth couldn’t build a bridge across it, how were they supposed to ever clear it? Or were they?

    Maybe that was the point.

    He couldn’t think about it now. He’d have hours, days, weeks to follow, in which he could try to figure out who he was and how he was supposed to fit into the world. What his future would look like with Lana.

    Now . . . now he was at his senior Prom. And he was with Lana, who was supposed to be the love of his life.

    He did love her. Ached for her. Wanted to hold onto her tightly enough that she wouldn’t ever get away from him. She was small, lovely, perfect, fragile beside him.

    She glanced up with a brave, resolved face and gave him a trembling smile. “Did you think I’d hate you or be scared away once I knew the truth?”

    He shook his head. He wasn’t sure what he’d thought would happen, but he had expected something. Not this . . . numb blankness.

    The crowd was quieting to hear the announcement of the Prom Queen and King. Clark tried to focus on the words, tried to work up some kind of excitement. This was high school. His world. It mattered to both of them.

    Or it was supposed to.

    He heard Lana’s name announced as the Queen. He wasn’t surprised. Felt her shake a little under his arm as her name was called out.

    Then Clark waited. When he’d started high school four years ago, he’d been a clumsy, shy outsider. Had a hopeless crush on the unattainable object of everyone’s daydreams.
    Now he was different. He listened. Heard his name.

    Now he was King of the Prom.

    The scene—blazing colors, flickering lights, well dressed fellow students, melting ice sculpture—all blurred into a haze of shine and shade. It did feel like a dream. Only it didn’t really feel like a good one.

    He and Lana made their bow to the cheering crowd, were crowned with cheesy pomp and
    circumstance, and then stood stiffly in front of one another in the middle of the dance floor.

    She looked at him, and the dazed confusion on her face had suddenly shifted into a deep ache of sorrow. “Clark,” she whispered, as if she knew it too. “What is happening to us?”

    He understood what she was asking. The same thing he was asking. In a way neither of them could ever have predicted, speaking the truth had made their situation crystal clear.

    But clarity wasn’t what either of them wanted.

    So he stalled. Saved the rest of this conversation for another day. Did what he had to do to get both of them through the remainder of the evening. To preserve the rest of their perfect moment.

    He smiled at her. Loved her. Knew she would never really be his. Murmured, “We’re going to dance.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Gina watched Clark and Lana dance and slumped against a wall in the far corner.

    She’d done what she could. Kevin had heated up a ridiculous number of people, but he’d finally gotten bored and left the Prom. Gina had rushed around, trying to fix the fires he’d started. Cooled people down with urgent efficiency.

    Now she was drained and felt mildly nauseous, but she was satisfied that she had restored everything to normal.

    No one had really gotten hurt—it was mostly just chaos and a couple of scrapes and bruises.

    But Kevin was getting worse. She couldn’t believe he’d gotten so out of control. It was shocking really, something Gina hadn’t felt in a really long time. And it wasn’t just shock she was feeling.

    She was terrified. Not the vague nervousness she often experienced. And not the physical panic she’d felt as her body had responded to danger a few weeks ago—when Kevin hadn’t been able to swerved to miss that stalled truck in the road and their car had crashed into the back of the trailer.

    This was a different kind of fear. A heavy kind—settled low in her gut. She didn’t know what Kevin would do next. She couldn’t predict it, which meant she might not be able to stop it.

    She had to do something. Had to somehow rein Kevin in.

    But she wouldn’t be able to do it alone.

    She didn’t like people, seldom talked to anyone but her brother. But both her reason and her fear were speaking to her—telling her she had to ask someone for help.

    Gina knew who to ask. She’d watched him for a year—knew he was always acting like a hero, coming to save the day. He was good, and reasonable, and he’d listen to her.

    It didn’t matter that he was King of the Prom or that at the moment he looked like his heart had just broken.

    Something had to be done about Kevin, so Gina would ask Clark Kent for help.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex hung up the phone, feeling a sickening weight in his stomach.

    Lucas. Had said no. Had said sorry, but he was leaving town tonight. Nothing personal, his brother had said, but he didn’t want to be tied down by things like obligations and responsibilities. He’d come to visit though. Would show up when Lex least expected it.

    That had been the extent of their conversation.

    Lex really shouldn’t be so disappointed.

    He’d known Lucas wasn’t entirely reliable. He liked him—was glad to have a family member who wouldn’t be classified as an enemy. He knew Lucas’s nature, knew it was a long shot that he’d ever settle down as Lex’s business partner. Be a real brother.

    But the truth was that Lex wanted more. Wanted someone he could trust implicitly.

    Someone with whom he could share a real connection.

    He’d thought he’d had friends in the past, thought he’d had family. Thought of Clark. Thought of his father. None of it had worked out as he’d expected.

    Ignoring the ache that was growing in his throat, Lex coolly rose from his desk chair and walked out the door to the mansion, into the hot, humid night.

    He got into his Porsche and turned the engine on. Didn’t know where he was going, and didn’t really care. He wanted to drive, to go fast, to escape for the space of an evening.
    Pulling out of his driveway, he randomly wondered why Lucas had left the Prom so early. It wasn’t even eleven o’clock yet. Maybe he and Chloe hadn’t had a good time. Or maybe Lucas had just gotten bored.

    Lex shook his head, scattering those questions. Lucas was family, but he would now never be a significant part of his life. Lex might as well accept it and move on.

    After driving around on the back roads aimlessly for a while, Lex ended up near the caves. They had been important in so many ways, so much had happened here. Lex supposed it wasn’t surprising that he had ended up at this location tonight.

    He got out of the car. Slammed the door shut. Took a few steps and stood in the dark, looking down at the entrance to the caves.

    Didn’t plan to go in. Just stood there. Not thinking about Lucas. Not thinking about much of anything.

    Lex had always been alone. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, wouldn’t indulge in self-pity. This was his life, and it wasn’t a bad one.

    But he wouldn’t waste time looking for foolish things like love and bonding and family when clearly none of that was ever meant for him.

    There was liberty in isolation, and part of Lex almost gloried in it. It made everything so much simpler. Lucas’s departure was a disappointment, but it didn’t hurt as much as it should have. Maybe Lex had become numb, after everything that had happened.
    But he experienced an entirely new kind of freedom in the unchangeable truth of being alone.

    Except he wasn’t. There was someone with him now . . . suddenly standing beside him.
    He turned. Saw Chloe. Sucked in a breath at how hard and cold and shining she looked in the moonlight—dazzlingly brilliant like diamond or ice.

    Just as untouchable. And just as silent.

    “I thought you were at the Prom,” he said at last, wondering if she had even noticed his presence. She hadn’t turned to look at him. Hadn’t acknowledged him in any way. Was just staring down at the caves.

    “I was,” she said, her voice chill and unnatural. “I left.”

    “Is everything all right?” he asked automatically, studying her face, wondering what seemed to be missing from it. Her features were the familiar ones he’d seen hundreds of times before.

    “Of course,” she replied. She still hadn’t shifted her eyes from the entrance to the cave. “It’s quiet here and full of memories. I just came here to think through some things.”

    “So did I,” Lex admitted. He couldn’t watch her any more—he had the irrational idea that he’d be blinded or frozen by the icy glow she seemed to be radiating. Her dress was a silvery white color and shimmered in the pale cast of light. The cut and the fabric were sleek and flattering, and her fair hair shone as much as her dress.

    She held herself stiffly, almost regally. Like a snow queen out of one of those old fairy tales.
    Lex rolled his eyes at himself. She was just Chloe. Only quieter and less animated than she normally was.

    Then, for the first time, Chloe turned to look at him. Scanned him from his shiny shoes to the top of his smooth head. Her eyes narrowed. “You’ve heard from Lucas?”

    Lex swallowed, telling himself that this was just one of those things—that Lucas was little more than a stranger to him. “You heard about that, did you?”

    She nodded dispassionately. “He told me. I’m sure it hurt that he refused your offer.”

    He’d expected sympathy, or at least understanding. But she said the words in such a matter-of-fact way that Lex wondered if she even cared.

    She’d known this would hurt him, but for some reason his feelings didn’t matter to her.

    They’d been friends when last he’d checked. Lex wondered if something had changed that.
    But he shrugged off the strangeness of it. Who could ever predict how one person would react to another? The mood between them was cool and surreal, so he would just go with it. Being impersonal was much easier anyway. “I shouldn’t have expected anything else. Sometimes we put a false kind of hope in people who don’t really fit into our lives. We tend to be better off without them.”

    She nodded and met his eyes, and Lex saw something almost bitter there. “I know.” She exhaled slowly. “That’s what drove me here too.”

    He didn’t understand that, but didn’t ask what it meant. The air was thick and tense between them, and he knew instinctively that he wasn’t going to find pity or kindness in her. At least not tonight. At least not for him.

    Lex could almost taste the sudden chill in the air, as the heat of the day finally began to fade away.

    Not very long ago, Chloe had stood in his library—blazing like a flame as she’d told him that she would let his father die.

    One part of his mind was screaming at him that something was wrong with Chloe—she wasn’t now the same person who had spoken those words—but Lex couldn’t summon up enough energy to consider it at any length. It would likely be futile reflection.

    He stood there with her in silence. Neither now looking at the other.

    It was inevitable. Chloe was beside him, but they might as well have been standing by themselves. It didn’t surprise him this time—barely even hurt.

    It had only been a matter of time until Chloe withdrew from him too.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    For a few moments, Clark was pretty sure that Lana was crying in his arms, but he kept holding her, kept dancing, went through the expected motions in the spotlight.

    He was numb. Dazed. Burnt into ash. And he couldn’t quite figure out why. He’d have to figure it out eventually, but the song, their dance, wasn’t yet over.

    The gym was quiet and otherworldly, and Clark felt a little guilty for having ignored the chaos earlier because he’d been so wrapped up in Lana. One day, he’d have to get his priorities straight, but that day wasn’t tonight.

    He didn’t know what was going to happen when the song ended. Didn’t know what would happen when Lana slipped out of his arms.

    This was supposed to have been their happy ending, their perfect high school moment, the spark that would kindle the flame of their future.

    Clark loved Lana, and he’d told her the truth at long last.

    But, despite that, it felt like the slowly burning embers were about to burn out.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Chloe hadn’t expected Lex to be at the caves when she arrived, but she didn’t feel surprised, upset, or glad to see him.

    She still didn’t feel anything.

    She’d simply walked over to stand beside him, stared down at the same scene his eyes were focused on.

    They’d spoken, and his words had felt like little pings against the strangely hard surface of her heart.

    There was something coiled up inside him—some kind of powerful emotion that was waiting to be released. Betrayal, she thought, or grief. He wouldn’t let it go, though. He was controlled, composed, as cool as she was.

    It occurred to her then, with her crystal clear vision, that she matched him in some kind of inexplicable way. More so now than she’d ever done before. Not romantically, or like family, or even like friends as she’d understood them before. More like mirror images.

    This connection didn’t give her comfort, or frighten her, or excite her, or anything. Rather, it was just a blank piece of knowledge to add to other facts in her mind.

    “What am I doing here?” she asked, out of the blue—the question involuntary and irrational, which completely disoriented her. She hadn’t intended or expected to ask that.

    Lex turned to peer at her face. “I don’t know. You said you’d come here to think.”

    “Oh,” she murmured, turning away from him—for some reason bothered by his expression, the way he was holding his body. He was hurting. She’d known he would be after Lucas left. But why didn’t it seem to matter to her? “That’s right.”

    Lex took a step closer and reached up to cup her face with one hand, just like his brother had done less than an hour ago. “Chloe?” he asked softly, studying her expression
    intently. “Are you sure nothing is wrong?”

    Something was wrong. She should care. She should be crying, raging, something. It should matter that her Prom had turned into a scene from a dark comedy. And it should matter that Clark had told Lana his secret, but continued to lie to Chloe’s face. And it should matter that Lex was standing beside her, acting unconcerned and distant, but looking like he expected another blow.

    All of it should matter. But it didn’t.

    That tiny, desperate voice inside of her was screaming frantically for help, but Chloe’s voice was no more than a whisper when she leaned her cheek against Lex’s warm hand and pleaded, “Something’s wrong with me, Lex. Help me.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Gina waited until Clark and Lana’s dance was over, then she slipped between the dispersing crowd until she was able to come up behind Clark’s tall, broad figure.

    Her mouth was trembling a little as she lightly tapped him on the shoulder.

    Clark turned around, and his face looked shuttered and lost.

    “Sorry to bother you,” she whispered. “I know this is a terrible time.”

    He stared at her blankly, as if he didn’t quite understand what she was saying.

    But she was resolved, so she pressed on—yearning for her typical poise and cool composure. Couldn’t find it anymore. “I can’t control him on my own. He just won’t listen to me.” Gina swallowed hard. Continued, “He doesn’t mean any harm, but I’m scared now. And I think I need your help.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    TO BE CONTINUED IN EPISODE 19

  2. #2
    An Accused Heretic Senior Member Kit Merlot's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 18 - Scorched (PG)

    This was an excellent episode!

    She wasn’t going to waste her time with these friends who didn’t even know her. Who understood nothing about her.
    How I wish Chloe would actually do this. Her life would be twenty times better once she got out of Smallville
    KATHY

    "Don't quote me to me!" Detective Danny "Danno" WIlliams, Hawaii Five-0, episode 1.8 Mana'o

    "This could barely fill up Thumbelina!" SALIGIA by westwingwolf

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  3. #3
    NS Full Member TrinityR's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 18 - Scorched (PG)

    LOVE IT! Great episode, I could just sink into the atmosphere so great writing!
    I wish Chloe felt something romantically towards Lex though;]

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