He wandered the house as if he was the ghost. The familiar lines and edges seemed somehow strange and different as if he had stepped into a different world where everything had changed but not in a way he could actually see, no matter how hard he tried.
He wondered if his Dad was doing the same thing in a true restless spirit fashion. Maybe he had come home unseen and was watching him, leaning at the kitchen table like he used to, sitting in his chair watching the TV, invisibly walking the lines of the farm. He would watch for any flicker of movement but even his speed and senses were not enough to catch a glimpse of anything more solid that a feeling he was there and watching.
He'd got him there in time. He kept telling himself that as if it made a difference, if a few seconds might have tipped the balance. He'd heard Mom say "Your dad's not well, Clark," and he'd come and they'd got there in time. They were there with him, and it seemed like it would be one of those times where they had a scare in the past and maybe some things would change, and things might have to be different. Maybe they'd even have to sell the farm but he'd be there.
Because getting them to the hospital was as good as saving a life. His mom had said that, told him that over and over again because she was no stranger to hospital vigils and he'd nodded and agreed. She'd said they could do so many amazing things now with the drugs and he looked stabilized.
And he'd told him he loved him and that not to worry; he'd make sure everything would be taken care of. They'd even joked and laughed and he'd held onto his hand while his mom held the other, trying not to look worried that he seemed tired and pale.
Rest, he'd said. And he didn't feel ready to tell his dad that in such a mature voice, but he had anyway.
And then somewhere, somehow the world had tilted on its axis. And there were ten seconds of blank amazement when there seemed to be no changes in the monitors but his dad coughed a bit and then just looked at him.
And his eyes were scared.
He was shooed out of the room and had to watch as hospital staff ran in, a seemingly endless stream of them with urgency in every movement, a carefully schooled look of concern rather than panic or fear on their faces. He could hear their voices. He could see what they did and how hard they worked and he could do nothing.
No feat of strength, no speed, no superpower could save his dad. Nothing he could do. All the answers he came up with were not quick enough, not possible and there was too little chance.
His mom had held his hand so tightly even he could feel the pressure. He had looked at her, hating the fact he had to be the strong one because this was her love, her life she was losing. He could see her mouthing the words, Pleasepleaseplease...
As if she knew there was nothing she could do but beg.
And around him and inside of him, he felt his world change. Pressures rewrote him, rebuilt him and time stretched into an eternity. He felt different and strange. He could step out of this, he could wake up anytime. The time drifted on as he fought and fought and every moment he kept thinking, It's okay. There will be a miracle. He doesn't deserve to die.
But he knew, like he'd always known, that miracles didn't always happen because you were good and kind and decent. God only knew Jonathan Kent had been all of those even with his faults. He'd taken in a lost child and made him a son. He'd fought over and over for their family and at the end of things, it came down to an inexplicable stroke of fate. Not something to do with his existing heart problems but something random, different, unstoppable and unpreventable.
Clark knew now that the 'cardiogenic shock' that was written on the death certificate that he'd stared at as if willing to it to hold all the answers to his soundless 'why?' really meant that the doctors didn't know why it had happened, what had caused it but sometimes the human heart just did that. For no reason. Sometimes it happened as a result of other things, but in his dad's case it hadn't. It had just... stopped working.
If his dad hadn't have been in the ER when it happened, then he would never have got him on the ventilator, but he knew there and then it was over. He knew his dad's heart stopping ten times meant that even if he lived, he most likely would never come out of a vegetative state. He knew when he looked at him that he wasn't there anymore and it was wrong to pray for a miracle to bring his dad back to a living hell.
So he'd gone home because someone had to. The cows needed feeding, people needed to be told. And he'd cried where no one would see him and found himself beyond making deals and wanting it to be over, but at the same time always hoping. Always needing there to be some hope.
He told the cows he needed his dad because the words had to be spoken aloud or not be real. He told the chickens that he wanted him back. He had a shower and cried all the way through it because somehow it was less shameful to really cry when the water was coming down and washing his tears away. The farm was empty in a way it never had been before, even when he had been alone, and he tried to do things that would make his dad proud and lessen the burden on his mother.
He phoned people and let them know. He knew his voice was cracking when he did so, but he didn't care. How could he care then?
The night felt like months. Somewhere, he'd started to shake and burn as if he had flu. He knew he didn't, but his body was twisting with the shock and pain of change more profound than anything that he had experienced before. And all the time, he was waiting for the phone to ring to say, "It's over," or, "There's been a miracle, Clark." Neither came. In the end he went back in the following day and had to be worried about his mom more than his dad. He couldn't bear to lose them both and it looked like as the final dregs of his dad's life ebbed away hers was trying to follow.
He'd sent her home and sat with his dad, receiving the touching comfort of nurses and doctors who knew there was nothing that could be done and didn't want to tell them. He could see it on every face and concerned look as they did all they could and more. To the point where he had said, "I know what's going to happen. I know where it's going." So they wouldn't sugar coat any news.
Clark considered the hour he spent alone as his father's blood pressure steadily dropped despite everything to be one of the worst of his life. Every beep of the monitor could be the last, every breath could falter and fade and half of him wanted it to spare his mom more pain, and the other half clung to every sound with an intensity that was terrifying. One by one, vital processes and organs were failing and closing down and he had made a quick shuddering phone call home to his mom, his voice sensible and calm as he said that it wasn't going to be long.
She got there in time and there were long serious talks. There were decisions made, and then suddenly somehow there was no miracle to wait for.
His dad died while he held his hand and told him he loved him. And even though he expected it, even though he was prepared, he'd never felt such a pain.
So he drifted now. Devastation, for all it conjured images of cities laid waste and disasters of world proportion, seemed too small a word. It didn't matter that his Dad had sorted out life insurance and they wouldn't have to worry financially anymore. They both agreed they would rather have lived in poverty and had him there with them, though Clark was silently thankful his mom didn't have money troubles on top of everything. Money seemed like nothing after that loss. It was less solid than the weight of emotion inside of him that pressed like a tumor into the pit of his stomach every moment he breathed.
His mom cried and that was the worst thing. He could feel how much it hurt her. Jonathan had been her life, her love. For all Clark knew he had lost his father, that was a different kind of pain. He'd lost people before, but this was terrifyingly different. This was his dad who was so much a part of him that he felt broken into uneven jagged pieces by him not being there.
He couldn't do anything to make it better. He could do the farm chores; he could take on the task of sorting out the vast inexplicable paperwork that surrounded a death. He could make sure his mom ate, and slept, and talked with her friends. He could get the funeral arranged. He could do all that and he did even though it didn't feel right that it was him being so responsible and in control. That position felt raw and new around him even though he had been responsible in the past. It was the gap above him that filled him with insecurity. The gap that meant there was no one to turn to any more. Not in the same way.
But in the end when she cried, he couldn't make it better and that killed him inside. There was no solution and sometimes he knew himself that the pain was so great it felt like there would be no end to it. He felt it too, and wondered how much worse it would be if it were the person you had decided was the One. And been sure with a rare and beautiful certainty and then to lose them. It was a thought he kept returning to with an aching hurt inside. To start with, he paid little attention to himself and all to her, if only because sympathy from his own friends would have broken him then.
And they carried on. He carried on going to college and running the farm until they worked out what they would do. Maybe they would move or leave, and only a few weeks before that would have seemed impossible, but now it felt like his roots had been tugged free and he lay withering on the surface of the land that had been his home. His mom tried to keep herself busy and he'd known she was strong, but he had been amazed. Amazed that she hadn't lost her sight that the world was still a beautiful place, and that other people needed help as well. When another neighbor died only a few weeks after, she was there helping, inviting the relatives around, generally dealing with the fact rather than avoiding it. But she still cried and there was still nothing he could do except hold her and feel that nothing he could ever do would be enough.
She didn't shrink from talking about him and both of them muddled their tenses and it would jolt him every now on then when he would call out, "Dad's put the keys for the tractor somewhere," as if he had just popped out for the afternoon and might be back soon. It wasn't that they didn't know. They both knew, but habits where still there.
One night he accidentally set the table for three out of habit and stared at the extra place and then felt the grief burst over him, unstoppable. Over such a small thing, but he came to realize that he was made up of small things rather than big ideals. Small moments of laughter, memories of private jokes, of how his Mom and Dad had been together. His own private relationship with his Dad. The moments that the two of them shared that no one else would ever know about and he was worried suddenly that somehow he would forget how he sounded, how he looked, the way he would have laughed. So he would plunge himself into memories, like thrusting a hand into fire and kryptonite and let it hurt.
Everyone said they were doing really well. They still laughed. They still teased each other even though there would be a surge of guilt that made them both question why they were laughing when the world should stop and acknowledge their loss. They knew in the end the world hadn't ended and had to go on whether they wanted it to or not. It didn't feel like it on the bad days. On the bad days, it was hard to remember why he was still here. Clark knew, possibly better than most, that there was something after death. He had come across spirits and ghosts in his Smallville childhood. Even so... It felt that a huge part of him had gone with his dad. Sometimes when he closed his eyes and listened to the world just... living around him, he could feel the edges of that loss, giving it a shape of absence inside of him. He felt disorientated, that he stood between both worlds now, and he knew the more people he loved who died, the more he would feel that way. He wondered how he could stand it. The thought of losing his mom right now and being cast loose into the world wasn't merely uncomfortable, but horrifying. But the moment he thought that, he would think that he couldn't let his mom go through this sort of pain again.
His greatest fear was that maybe he never would join them. That somehow because he wasn't normal, he would never follow that tugging pull from this world to the next and find his dad there waiting, his mom, and that in the end he would be alone. He'd thought the vision from Cassandra had been about not saving everyone. Now he wondered whether it was not a fear of death but a fear of not dying. Suddenly that seemed all too plausible. The thought of being the one left alone, left behind filled his nightmares where he saw himself lose everyone. Where he saw his dad in his dreams and held him tight, knowing and hoping at the same time, just for those few moments that he was there again.
Chloe and Lana had been great. Pete been calling to talk and make him laugh ever since he had come down for the funeral. Chloe came home from college so she could see him on the weekends. Lana dropped in.
Lex had suspended hostilities. Lex hadn't pushed him, prodded at him to talk like Chloe did. Lex seemed to understand that grief was not a question of being strong because when you were entwined in each other's lives, and that person was that much to you, that much a part of who you were, grief wasn't something you could control. It was as natural and visceral as breathing. He could be walking, thinking of work or college things or see something from the corner of his eyes and instantly without any choice he was at the mercy of that loss and emptiness. He would get frustrated with himself, and in some ways, the most ferocious battle he fought over those months was with himself trying to regain control of his emotions.
And yet he went to Lex because, out of everyone, Lex knew what it felt like to lose a parent to whom he had been incredibly close. He kept thinking that he'd had his dad over a decade longer than Lex had lost his Mom. He didn't know if that made things worse or better.
His dad dying had given him a gift of perspective. Suddenly all of the things he had believed were earth shattering were very trivial. His judgments and wounded pain were pathetic scratches next to the gaping wound inside. Nothing was more important than the bonds he had. They were more real in the immediacy of grief than eating or living.
So he let everything go. Every petty hurt or slight because they really were stupid things to hold to him when all they did was separate him even more. And that was unbearable.
So here he was sitting in the castle, near the fire and Lex was talking in a low voice about his mother and he seemed grateful for the opportunity to do it. As if he'd never been allowed his grief and that stunned Clark into silence. He realized then, over the sting of cognac in his throat and the fire light flickering, that Lex had been living his worst nightmare with the added torturous refinement of seeing what he craved most forever slipping through his fingers. Tantalus, always dying of thirst and hunger and seeing all he needed forever beyond his reach.
Clark had his mom in a way Lex would never have his dad. He had friends where Lex had...
Him. And they had been drifting apart, because of mistakes and pride and stupidity over things that could be let go because they were nothing compared to real loss.
He watched the firelight gleam over Lex's eyes, too bright not to have filled with his own pain, and saw Lex turn away to hide his reaction with the same motion he had used countless times over the past few months. Turning to one side to look for something he appeared to have lost to cover the emptiness he had found inside. Clark recognized that now. Recognized that habit and it made him sit up and nearly reach forward to give him back something.
Habit stopped him and he wondered why. He had never shared his secret deliberately before and somehow compared to the weight of what he had been sharing it seemed as substantial as a feather. There was a brief war inside. His dad had wanted to keep the secret to protect him. Should he do it to be true to his memory or...
He dad would not have wanted him to follow him blindly. He could tell Lex and Lex could betray him -- and that seemed a frighteningly small thing in his mind now. He could kill him, torture him, test him...
So what? One of his unfolding new ambitions was not to be alone. Maybe he'd rejoin them late, but he was going to make sure there was a way.
Lex's blue eyes were on him again, watching him with the same sort of pain he saw in his own eyes when he looked in the mirror and wondered why the world couldn't see the pain on him. He knew why now. It was something that had to be recognized, not observed. He recognized it in Lex and everything between them was cast in a different light, and the shadows cast were not so terribly inexplicable or monstrous.
He put down his glass and leaned forward and saw the fear and resignation in Lex's eyes that he was leaving and that it might be the last time.
Possible death or friendship and... more.
No real down side then.
"Lex, there's something I really want to tell you..."