Chapter 1: Freefall

Lionel Luthor. He had a confidence and swagger that enabled him to command the attention of an entire room. Or in this case, a group of Smallville High econ students on a field trip to Luthorcorp headquarters. As he finished up his speech, Alicia Baker couldn't help but be mesmerized with the way he was able to seem so impressive yet so personable all at once. She thought if only she had that ability, then maybe she wouldn't be so alone. Maybe she wouldn't be so scared of people finding out that she was a freak. If she could get people to respond to her the way that Lionel Luthor did, maybe they wouldn't even care if she was a freak.

While Alicia listened intently, two students in the group were not nearly as impressed with Lionel Luthor as she was. Chloe Sullivan and Clark Kent knew what Lionel Luthor was truly capable of. What appeared to everyone else as charisma and charm, they saw as just a small taste of his manipulative prowess. Yet they had to sit and endure Lionel's presentation for the sake of their econ grade.

Or at least that was what Clark thought while Chloe continually shot Clark snide remarks about Lionel's speech under her breath. Throughout the presentation, Clark alternated between wanting to vomit at Lionel's statements and keeping himself from busting a gut laughing at Chloe's sarcastic jokes. 'God,' he thought to himself, 'without Chloe here this field trip would have been pure torture.'

Despite the fact that Lionel was the person she and Clark most loathed, Chloe was oddly glad for his presence. Lionel's speech gave Chloe a rare opportunity to inject some normalcy into her and Clark's strained friendship. For once, she could be her snarky self around Clark while simultaneously putting some distance between herself and the most shameful decision of her young life… her deal with Lionel to investigate Clark Kent.

As Chloe struggled to extricate herself from her deal with the devil, she desperately tried to repair her friendship with Clark. A friendship she had almost destroyed because of wounded pride and jealousy. Jealousy that Clark had picked Lana Lang over her yet again. Although Clark had openly forgiven her for her lapse in judgment, Chloe desperately wanted to gain back his trust. Short of compromising her integrity, she would do whatever it took to return to that place she once held in his life. The place of confidant and best friend… even if it meant that she had to presently give up on winning his heart. Chloe was relieved that at least Pete was still there for Clark. To an extent, Pete was there for her too, though she could sense that she was slowly becoming the odd woman out in their triangle of friendship.

The class began clapping as Lionel ended his speech. He then sauntered over to Clark and Chloe and greeted them with a smug grin.

"Ms. Sullivan. Mr. Kent. Well, it's nice to see you both looking to the future."

Lionel was met with a pair of unamused stares. They quickly turned to escape as Lionel took his leave.

"What do you say we make a break for the fire escape?" said Chloe, trying to lighten their sour mood.

"I could crawl down all 39 stories if this field trip didn't count towards our final grade," Clark responded gloomily.

Attempting to get a smile out of Clark as they lined up to enter the elevator, Chloe snarked, "Welcome to the Lionel Luthor exhibit! Next floor: victims, sycophants, and hatchet men!"

Clark nearly snorted out in laughter, which brought a triumphant smile to Chloe's face. Unfortunately Mrs. Smith, their econ teacher, didn't find Chloe's mockery of the tour nearly as amusing.

As Chloe stepped into the elevator, Mrs. Smith said to Chloe and Clark, "How about I split up this little fan club? Mr. Kent, take the next car."

As the elevator doors began to close, Chloe pouted and waved to Clark sadly. Clark waved back, disappointed.

Clark suddenly noticed Alicia step up beside him to wait for the next elevator car. As he looked back at her, he realized that they were the only two people waiting for the next car. Always the chivalrous farm boy, he went ahead and pressed the elevator button for the both of them.

Clark also quickly became aware of what Pete would have surely called Alicia's "smokin' hot good looks and bangin' bod." For her part, Alicia took in Clark's tall and sturdy build, green eyes, and chiseled yet delicate face. Their sudden proximity made her slightly nervous yet excited. As they stood waiting, Clark and Alicia exchanged quick glances which were followed by embarrassed yet barely noticeable smiles.

Looking at her light brown eyes framed by her long straight blond hair, Clark remembered that Alicia had a reputation for being an aloof snob. What he saw in her eyes, however, was a hint of shyness and insecurity. That hint gave him the courage to try to make conversation, perhaps even be clever. For a moment, Alicia managed to break Lana Lang's stranglehold on Clark Kent's romantic thoughts. If Lana wanted to keep her distance from him, then he resolved not live his own life on the sidelines.

Clark decided to go for it and joked, "Elevators… too much demand, not enough supply."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Clark could imagine Pete as Jimmeny Cricket, sitting on his shoulder and saying, "Way to sound like a total dork, you Big Dumb Alien. Real smooth. Real smooth."

Alicia bit back a disbelieving laugh as she thought to herself, 'I can't believe he actually said that! Quite dorky, yet sweet and cute… at least he tried.'

Seeing Alicia's attempt to keep herself from laughing at him, Clark desperately wanted to crawl into a hole. But all he could manage was a mortified grin while he slowly looked away towards the elevator doors.

The elevator doors opened they both stepped in. Distracted by Alicia's beautiful presence and his recent attempt to scam a pick up line from Alan Greenspan, Clark forgot to press the elevator button and instead couldn't help but exchanged sheepish glances with Alicia. Suddenly realizing that the elevator wasn't going anywhere, Clark pressed the lobby button and reflexively sneaked another peek at Alicia, whom he caught already staring at him. Both teenagers looked away with goofy grins on their faces while the doors closed.

Suddenly, the elevator's emergency buzzers went off. Clark pressed the lobby button again. For a second nothing happened, but then they felt a sudden jolt and the elevator began to plummet.

Dread. That was a word that Lana never would have associated with the Talon before. But now her sanctuary was infested by someone who had become a constant source of fear, threats, and distrust whenever she encountered him. Worst yet, she had invited this cancer into her life… into her home. Why had she made such a rash decision? Why had she let Adam nestle himself into her existence? Deep down, she knew the answer: Clark Kent.

Ever since Clark returned from Metropolis he had pushed her away, claiming to protect her from the supposed ugliness and dangers posed by his secrets. She could see that those secrets weighed heavily on him and that they had changed him. Lana missed the Clark who reserved his most radiant smile just for her. She would give almost anything to see Clark smile again and see him emerge from his constant brooding. Couldn't he see that all she wanted to do was to help him carry his burdens?

So she stayed in his orbit, hoping that he would eventually let her in. But he kept shutting her out. He had made her fall completely in love with him and now he was rejecting her. Then Clark's greatest fear finally came to pass. Lana had stayed in his orbit a little too long and ended up getting literally trampled by his secrets. In an act of utter frustration and self-preservation, she gave Clark a taste of his own medicine. She told him to stay away. Being constantly shunned by the man she loved was slowly killing her, much like a cancerous limb. She needed to cut that limb off. She needed to learn how to live without Clark Kent.

But Lana hadn't expected the depth of the void his absence would leave in her life. Clark was the one constant that Lana could always depend on. Without him, she had to literally and figuratively learn how to walk again. That's when Adam made his move. In the guise of friendship, he preyed on Lana's loneliness and her yearning for a relationship that didn't hold any secrets or lies. Eventually, Lana learned that she was far from done with secrets and lies. The only difference was that now she was dealing with a potential enemy instead of a friend. She now wished she was stuck with the latter.

Lana was determined to finally take her fate into her own hands. She would cleanse her life of people she couldn't trust and find a way to bring back those who had her best interests at heart. Although Clark himself was a vault of secrets, Lana still instinctively trusted that he wanted to do what was best for her. The only problem she saw was getting Clark to place his trust in her.

As she walked up the Talon staircase towards Adam's apartment, Lana stopped kidding herself and admitted that she was still in love with Clark Kent. She resolved that she would do whatever was necessary to keep him in her life. It didn't matter whether she came back into his life as a friend or as something more. As long as she got back the person who had been her rock. And she silently yearned that he would let her be his rock in return.

But finding out whether Adam was a threat to her and her friends took top priority for the time being. Lana steeled herself as she unlocked and opened the apartment door.

"Adam?" she called out in an effort to make sure she was alone.

Satisfied that Adam wasn't home, she quickly busied herself searching for clues as to his motives for being in Smallville. After a moment of searching, she found exactly what she was looking for. It was a journal taped to the underside of one of Adam's bookshelves.

Ripping the journal from its housing, Lana perused its contents. What she saw made her stomach curdle. The journal contained detailed accounts and observations of Lana's and Clark's daily activities. Adam had been spying on them. But why? Trying to make sense of what she was reading, Lana was suddenly startled by Adam's voice.

"Lana, what are you doing?" he said coolly.

Lana's mounting anger gave a glint to her hazel eyes and accented her delicate facial features. She angrily whipped her long raven hair around to face him.

With a mix of disgust and rage in her eyes she responded, "Adam, what is this?"

She began reading some of his entries out loud to him, but failed to elicit any reaction from him.

Instead, he replied, "Those are private. Give it back to me," as held out his hand for the journal.

Clutching the journal in her hands, she responded, "You've been spying on me. And you've been spying on Clark."

Her accusations merely managed to put a threatening smirk on his face as he said, "Look who's talking."

"No, you threatened me," she glared at him, "and now I find out you've been keeping tabs on me? I want you to leave."

She made a move to leave but Adam blocked her exit, grabbing the journal that Lana firmly had in her hands. It was clear that he wasn't going to let her leave with it. Having found out all that she needed to, she let go of the journal and side-stepped him as she marched towards the door.

"I guess you haven't checked tenant laws," Adam called out to her, "It's not that easy to evict someone. I'm not going anywhere."

Lana gave him one last steely look before she walked out and shut the door. As she traveled down the steps, all she could think about was warning Clark and finding a way to get rid of Adam as fast as possible.

The elevator plunged downwards with increasing speed.

"Oh my god!" said Alicia in a hushed scream.

Clark had to think fast. If he didn't do something soon, there was no way Alicia would survive the impact when the elevator hit bottom. Immediately, he decided that protecting his secret wasn't worth risking an innocent life.

Clark quickly looked up at the protective bubble containing the elevator security camera. He concentrated on it with his heat vision, frying the camera with beams of invisible concentrated heat from his eyes. He hoped it would be enough to conceal what he was about to do next.

Alicia looked on in startled amazement as she saw sparks fly from the camera housing, wondering what had just happened.

Clark then turned to the opposite side of the elevator car and used his x-ray vision to identify a vertical guide rail that was just outside the car. Wasting no time, he punched through the metal wall of the elevator car and grabbed the guide rail, closing his hand around the metal column in order to slow their descent.

As the elevator came to a stop, Alicia couldn't believe that she had just seen a boy punch through a steel elevator car.

In near-complete shock, she looked at Clark and said, "What did you just do?"

Clark looked back at Alicia, still holding on to the guide rail with his arm through the wall. At that moment Clark's body position, combined with the worry etched in his face, reminded Alicia of a boy who just got caught with his hand in a cookie jar.

"Please," he pleaded, "don't tell anyone about this."

For a moment Alicia just stood there, taking in their situation. She was suddenly startled out of her trance by banging and shouting outside the elevator door.

"Hello, is there anybody in there?" said the voice on the other side.

"This is Luthorcorp security. Remain calm. If anybody's in there, we're working to get you out! Hang on!"

A terrified look entered Clark's eyes as the security personnel began to crack the elevator doors apart with a crow bar.

Alicia sensed Clark's desperation. She was astounded that Clark would risk revealing his abilities just to save her. It was the first time that someone had ever stuck their neck out to help her. Knowing what she had to do, Alicia approached Clark and tentatively wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Clark could only give her a bewildered look as he wondered what was going on.

Before he knew it, a smoky green glow engulfed the teens and they disappeared into thin air, leaving the elevator to continue its free fall. A split second later, they materialized on the ground floor elevator lobby. They could hear the elevator as it crashed into the sub-basement levels. Alicia looked around anxiously, making sure that no one had seen them re-materialize.

It was Clark's turn to be dumbfounded. Had Alicia just teleported them out of the elevator?

He finally asked her, "What did you just do?"

Alicia couldn't believe that she had just revealed her ability to an almost complete stranger.

"You didn't want to get caught," she replied, still in shock, "and I wanted to help so I uh…"

She gave up trying to explain and leaned close to Clark, with her brown eyes begging for understanding.

"Clark, now you know my secret. You can't tell anybody," she implored, "please?"

Before he could reply, they were both surrounded by concerned classmates and teachers. Yet Clark never broke eye contact with Alicia. For the first time, he saw a reflection of himself in someone else— a reflection of someone who felt alone and isolated because she was truly different.

Mrs. Smith and Chloe approached Clark and Alicia.

"Are you two alright?" asked Mrs. Smith.

"Yeah, yeah, we're okay," Clark answered, "the elevator crashed just as we got out of the doors."

He then turned to Alicia for corroboration, "Sounded like the cables broke?"

She quickly nodded in affirmation, trying to hide the appreciative smile creeping up on her face.

"How did that happen?" interjected Chloe.

"I don't know Chloe," replied Clark, trying not to look her in the eye, afraid she might be able to tell that he was lying.

Chloe's concern for Clark, however, overshadowed her natural investigative instincts as she asked him, "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm okay," he said as he looked over at Alicia.

With a grateful smile on her face Alicia mouthed, "Thank you," before disappearing into the crowd.

Lex Luthor briskly walked into the Talon. An old movie house converted into a coffee shop, the Talon was one of Lex's pet side projects. Although he owned the building, Lex left the day to day management of the coffee shop to his business partner, Lana Lang. He had to admit that he was impressed with Lana's ability to turn the Talon into moderately successful business despite being just a high school student.

But tonight, Lex wasn't here on normal business. He was here to make sure that one of his friends remained safe. He advanced through the evening crowd and found Lana at the bar, prepping the espresso machine. As soon as he saw her, Lex knew something was wrong. Lana's normally cheery demeanor was replaced by an uneasy energy, although that was happening more and more these days. A lot had happened to Lana the past two years. Her ex-boyfriend's death, finding and then losing her biological father, Lex's own temporary bout with insanity, and last but not least a farm boy named Clark Kent.

Lex had watched Lana gradually evolve from an innocent and optimistic girl into a somewhat jaded and burdened young woman. He felt a little sad to witness Lana's loss of innocence. Yet despite all the obstacles, she soldiered on. Her innocence had been slowly replaced by a quiet determination. It was that determination that had convinced Lex to begin this joint venture with Lana in the first place. But he still didn't want her to lose her innocence completely.

He walked up to the bar. When Lana spotted him, she let out a sigh of relief.

"Thanks for coming Lex," she said, "I didn't know who else to turn to."

"It's alright Lana," he reassured her, "I trust you instincts. If you're nervous about Adam, I'm sure it's with good reason."

Lex had his own reasons to be nervous about Adam. He investigated Adam's background when Adam first moved into the apartment above the Talon. What he found was a picture perfect record. In fact, it was a little too perfect. Almost as if someone had doctored it up. Now, with the information that Lana had given him over the phone earlier, Lex had a nagging suspicion that Adam was a spy working for another Luthor.

"Is there anything concrete you can tell me?" he added.

"No not really," she stammered, "just the journal that I told you about and his attitude."

"Don't worry," he answered, "I'll take care of it."

As he turn around to leave Lana called out to him, "Lex, I looked into tenant laws and it can take up to six months to get him out. And I'm not willing to wait that long."

He moved towards her with the grace of a leopard ready to pounce. He gave her apredatorysmirkand said, "Believe me, there are definitely ways of getting rid of someone a lot faster than that."

And if Adam was doing what he suspected, Lex resolved that neither Adam nor Lionel Luthor would be safe from his wrath.

While she watched Lex walk out of the Talon, Lana had a stunned look on her face, not wanting to know what methods he would resort to in order to get rid of Adam.

Lionel Luthor stood at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He ran his hands against the metallic surface of the demolished elevator cab, tracing the edges of the gaping hole in its side. Then he stared at what used to be the elevator security camera, which now looked like a glob of molten plastic.

"Quite an intriguing puzzle," he said to himself.

"So how did you do it Clark Kent?"

Lionel had watched the security tapes. Before the elevator's camera inexplicably melted, it showed that Clark and another girl were in the elevator as it began to fall. According to the Luthorcorp security guards, neither of them got out when the elevator temporarily stopped before resuming its express trip to the sub-basement.

Clark had performed a disappearing act that would have made Houdini proud, and Lionel needed to find out how. But who could tell Lionel what he needed to know? He was too smart to approach Clark directly. That would only serve to raise the ire of Lex, and he didn't need Lex barking up his tree.

So Lionel would get his answers from the only other person who witnessed what happened in that elevator. He needed to get his hands on Ms. Alicia Baker.