The flashing lights from the squad cars were giving Lex a headache. Actually, it seemed to Lex that he'd had nothing but headaches since the first accident earlier in the week. Now, not being able to get into the plant was an even bigger headache Lex could have done without. And the deputy guarding the entrance was made of stone.
"I own the plant, Officer. I think I have a right to see the damage." Lex said reasonably, and the deputy nodded.
"All things being even, Mr. Luthor, I'd say yeah, you need to be there. But, since we don't know if the perp is still inside, I'm not letting anyone in or out until I get an all clear from Sheriff Jones. I can radio him, but I know he's not going to be happy with the interruption."
Lex considered this. The new sheriff was stiff, unyielding and righteous to where even Clark seemed liberal. And unlike every sheriff in Smallville had done before him, Jones was not interested in playing soothe the local billionaire. "Radio him."
The deputy sighed and took out his radio. The conversation between the deputy and his boss was brief. "Sheriff Jones is on his way, Mr. Luthor. Brace yourself."
Lex didn't reply, but when the sheriff appeared, the young billionaire found himself standing straighter. Sheriff Jones was a tall man, probably the tallest Lex had ever seen, grim faced and silent. Walking out of the gloom, Jones seemed more of an extension of the space between the dark evening and the floodlit parking lot than a man. His tan uniform was in perfect order, creases razor sharp, not a button or loop was out of place, soldierly in his rigid compliance with the rules of his profession. Lex, in spite of himself, found that he was indeed intimidated.
"Mr. Luthor." Jones said, his voice a pleasant and deep baritone, generically authoritative. "Deputy Richardson tells me you want to get in and see the accident site."
"Has it been ruled an accident?" Lex asked, and Jones nodded.
"It has. The coroner is on the way to collect the body, and I've called the Kansas State Troopers to deliver the news to his family. You may enter the plant, Mr. Luthor, but I ask you not to disrupt anything. This is still a crime scene until I say otherwise. Two accidents of this nature are most irregular. I'm tempted to close the whole place down." Jones peered at Lex, skewering him to the ground with just the eye contact. "Couldn't help but notice all the meteor rock. I don't need to tell you what large quantities of it can do, genetic defects, mutations. Did some research before I took the job here to know what I'd be dealing with. I'd be careful with that if I were you." Jones looked down at the leather covered pad in his hand. "And that cannery equipment needs to be dismantled at once. If I get called out here again because of it, things will not go easily for you, Mr. Luthor." Jones snapped his book shut.
Lex bristled. "I don't think your jurisdiction extends to my operations here, Sheriff."
"When you are charged with negligence and murder, Mr. Luthor, you will be amazed at my jurisdiction." Jones' face had not changed it's composed, pleasant expression.
"Go on in, Mr. Luthor." Jones dismissed Lex simply by blinking. Lex felt his breath come easier as the Sheriff moved away, and walked into his plant, ready to determine how much damage needed to be controlled.
Clark and Dean stood outside the nine foot high cyclone fence around the Luthorcorp Plant and watched the activity.
"We have to get in there and get some readings off that equipment." Dean said, and Clark nodded, scanning the crowd. Dean, used to Sam's significant silences, looked at Clark. "What is it."
"Lex is always trying to harness the powers of the meteor rocks. They affect all kinds of things. What if they somehow are boosting whatever is causing these accidents to happen?" Clark turned to Dean. "It's just a guess."
"Good guess." Dean nodded, mulling this over. "Minerals and metals can definitely dampen or amplify the power of an entity. I hope Sam and Chloe find out some info at that bookstore. We should just wait here until the crowd dies down and then get in there and see what we can see."
Clark nodded, eyeing the platoon of emergency vehicles. "I don't want to get on the radar of that new sheriff, Dean. He's going to be here awhile. "
"Time I got." Dean looked over at the Luthorcorp plant again. "Just want to stop this thing before someone else gets killed."
"So, Chloe." Sam asked, glancing over at her shyly. "How long do you know Clark?"
"Oh, wow." Chloe smiled widely. "Forever. My dad used to work for Luthorcorp and when they transferred him here, Clark was my first friend." She was driving on Main street, and then pointed to the bookstore, which was brightly lit and open for business. "There it is." She pulled the car over and parked. "Why did you want to know that? About me and Clark?"
"Um, just curious. You guys are a pretty efficient team." Sam replied, and Chloe eyed him suspiciously. "No, really. That's all. "
"Uh–huh." Chloe smirked. "Look, Sam, if we are going to be working together, even for a few days, you need to know right now that Smallville is unlike any other place you and your brother have ever been. We know about the weird things here. People expect it."
"Right." Sam nodded. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because not everything in Smallville that's weird is bad. Look, there's Mrs. Stevens." Chloe pointed to a very slender older woman who was standing in the doorway of the bookstore, chatting with some customers. "Come on." Chloe got out of the car and walked toward the bookstore. Sam unfolded himself from her car, missing the Impala terribly. Dean was right. Older cars did have more leg room.
"Hello, Chloe." Betty Stevens smiled. "It's been a long time since you've been by. How's school?"
"Fine, Mrs. Stevens. I wanted to you meet my friend, Sam. He's visiting from California." Chloe lied smoothly, and Sam was amazed as the untruth slid past Mrs. Stevens without so much as a suspicious glance. Instead, her smile grew more welcoming, and friendly.
"Well, Sam. Nice to meet you. I just made some tea. Why don't you both come in, browse around and have some tea with me. It's been so long since I've seen Chloe." Mrs. Stevens voice was very cultured and soft. "I hope you don't mind sharing your visit with me a little."
"No, not at all." Sam replied, smiling down at the woman. For her age, which had to be close to seventy, Betty Stevens was more than what would be called well preserved. It was downright uncanny. Sam allowed her to take his arm and walked in with her to the store, while Mrs. Stevens chatted with Chloe about Met U and the events of "Dark Thursday", something that Dean and Sam missed simply by virtue of their work. Mrs. Stevens was asking Chloe something in a low voice that Sam nearly missed, except for the word, "Clark." Chloe blushed, and smiled, and had barely begun to reply when she felt Sam's eyes on her.
"Clark is fine, Mrs. Stevens. He sends his best. He said Amanda and Tom bought the old Baker place." Chloe's response had changed, that much Sam could tell, but the mention of Clark's neighbors made Mrs. Stevens tense slightly.
"I'm happy for them." She smiled at Sam again. "Now, Sam, I made oolong, but I have something more hearty. My husband loved Irish tea, and I always keep some. Would you prefer that?"
"Whatever you have is fine, Mrs. Stevens. Interesting choice of books you have here. I don't think I've seen such well stocked new age bookshops even in California." Sam scanned a row of books. "Astral projection, Out of body experiences. Wow." Sam accepted the tea with a smile. "Thanks."
"It became a hobby after my husband died." Betty Stevens said a little sadly. "A hobby that grew to an obsession and now, here I am. I've poured my heart and soul into this place." She looked around. "I even sold the house and live upstairs. I'm not young anymore."
Chloe was reading a blue flyer. "I didn't know you gave classes too." She looked up at Mrs. Stevens and handed the flyer to Sam. "How interesting that must be for you."
"I love it." Betty Stevens admitted. "So wonderful to see people opening up their minds to new experiences. Want to see the classroom? I'm so proud of it." She looked almost YOUNG, Sam thought, as she led them to the class space, an intimate, relaxing room, the floor covered in pillows, the air scented pleasantly with incense. "Guided meditation classes are full, especially since Dark Thursday. I'm sorry there are so many people suffering." She dropped an orange scarf over a large burgundy leather book and Sam wondered if that had been accidental. Chloe had obviously noticed the gesture too, because she immediately picked up the scarf again.
"I love this shade of orange." Chloe said, rubbing the silk scarf against her cheek. Sam peered down at the book, but couldn't make out the title.
"Well dear, you must have it then." Mrs. Stevens said. "Although I don't see you in orange much." She peered at Chloe critically, and Sam quietly took out his camera phone and snapped two pictures of the book. By coincidence, the phone rang, and Sam answered, glad to have an excuse for holding the phone in the first place.
"Sammy, how's it going?" Dean asked, and Sam nodded.
"Well, I'm good." He replied neutrally. "Just here with my friend Chloe visiting with her friend Betty Stevens."
"You find anything out? It looks like something big has gone down over here. We're still outside the plant waiting for the 5-0 to go away. Oh, right." Dean looked over at Clark. "She's right there." He chuckled. "Is she hot?" Dean looked over at Clark, who was trying to mask his amusement at the question by seeming to disapprove, but failed miserably.
"No, I wouldn't say that, but a very, very nice woman. Can I call you back, MOM?" Sam asked, hoping Dean's laughter would not be heard by the two women on this end of the line with him and hung up without saying goodbye, just in case.
"Everything alright, Sam?" Chloe asked. "Your mother?" She looked at him significantly and Sam realized she somehow knew he had been talking to Dean.
"Oh she's fine." There was a vindictive pleasure in calling Dean she, Sam thought, laughing to himself. "Just wondering how I am."
"How nice." Mrs. Stevens said, "It's wonderful to see young people close to their families." She smiled at Sam. "Well, I've given Chloe a gift. Can't let you leave without something. Anything you want. I don't have grandchildren to spoil, so my young friends and customers reap the benefits."
"That's really not necessary." Sam began, but Betty Stevens eyed him, and handed him a small dream catcher. "Thanks."
"You look like you haven't been sleeping. Dark circles under your eyes." She smiled, and it seemed to Sam that all at once she looked every day of her age. "You are too young to have troubles keep you up at night." She closed her hands around his. "Keep it with you to banish those bad dreams."
Sam looked down at the dream catcher and wondered if being rid of those bad dreams was a good idea. "Thanks, Mrs. Stevens."
She smiled. "Now, kids, if you'll excuse this old woman, I need to get some rest. I'm not as young as I used to be and I need to get off my feet for awhile."
"Of course." Chloe clutched at the orange scarf and hugged Mrs. Stevens. "See you soon."
"Yes, don't be such a stranger. We Metropolis Blondes need to stick together." Betty caressed Chloe's cheek, and then turned to Sam. "I hope you have a wonderful visit. Kansas is such a pretty state."
"I will." Sam held up the dream catcher. "This is very nice."
"A Kiwatchee friend of mine makes them for the shop. Lovely lady, shaman of her tribe." Betty touched the deerskin circle. "I have one for my room. Best sleep I've had in years."
Sam and Chloe left, and walked slowly to Chloe's car. Chloe was reading the blue flyer again.
"What is it?" Sam asked, and Chloe looked up at him, frowning.
"What time was it when Clark suggested we split up? Do you remember?" Chloe asked, tapping the paper against her chin. "Was it around eight thirty?"
Sam looked at his watch. "It's nearly ten now, so yeah. Clark and Dean are outside the factory right now, waiting for the cops to clear out."
"Sam." Chloe moved along side of him and pointed to a time on the store's class schedule. "At eight thirty, Betty Stevens was in the middle of her guided hypnosis class."
Sam blinked, processing the information, trying to avoid the implication that Clark had somehow KNOWN. "I got two pictures of that book she tried cover with that scarf you have. We should see if we can blow them up. If we can pinpoint the title, I can find out more online."
"The Kansas A&M library is open 24 hours at midterms. I bet we might have better luck there, plus they have a whole section of Kiwatchee lore. If Betty Stevens is friends with the Kiwatchee shaman…" Chloe said, and Sam looked at her in amazement.
"We might have a lead." Sam smiled down at his companion. "Wow. Let's get some coffee and get started."
"Clark, how come you're still here in Smallville, really?" Dean asked, lowering the radio. Clark was leaning on the roof of the car, watching the activity at the Luthorcorp plant die down. "You're a big guy, probably played football in high school…"
Clark laughed. "Are you psychic? Yeah, I did play football in school, quarterback, one season. It was great, and I was offered a full ride to Met U, but life sort of got in the way, I guess."
Dean nodded. "Life does that, doesn't it?" Clark nodded, and rolled his eyes.
"You can say that again. My father died last year, and I stayed around after that to help run the farm. I've been picking up classes at Kansas A&M, but I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life yet. There are expectations." Clark shrugged, thinking not only of Jonathan Kent but of Jor-El and the now bleak and empty Arctic Fortress. "Can't live up to all of them, so…"
"I know the feeling. Sam and I just lost our father a few weeks ago. It sucks. You get to where you do feel like you have to pick up where they left off. You have brothers and sisters, Clark?" Dean asked, and Clark shook his head. "You get all responsible for them. What's it like being an only child?"
"Like?" Clark shook his head. "Well…I don't know. I've always had my friends around, and they're like family. There have been definitely times where it would have been nice to have a brother or sister, I guess."
"Friends." Dean took this in. "Can't say I've had many of those. Oh, here we go." Dean watched as the last squad car pulled off the Luthorcorp property. "It's go time."
"Let's do this." Clark nodded, closing the passenger side door with a gentle firmness Dean appreciated. Sam needed to learn to close the door that way. Easier on the paint. They made their way silently up and over the fence and to the plant itself, staying in the shadows. It was probably one of the more public and heaviest guarded placed Dean had ever had the experience of breaking into. Looking to his companion, who had somehow taken over this mission, Dean was stunned to see that Clark was neither afraid or being all that careful about being seen. There was a gust of wind, and Dean lowered his face against the dust and gravel it kicked up
around him. He heard a the small tinkle sound of glass breaking and then Clark's voice.
"Look, there's no camera or light on over that door." Dean looked up and shook his head. Just moments before, that light HAD been on. There was no mistaking that.
"Wow, that's the kind of luck I want playing cards." Dean said, and Clark nodded nonchalantly.
"Must have been that breeze." Clark noted, and Dean shrugged.
"I need 'breezes' like that on on every job." Dean replied and Clark nodded. "You seem to know this place pretty well, Clark."
"Chloe and I have had reason to break in to Luthorcorp before." Dean couldn't see Clark's face, but his voice was amused. They made it to the door, and again, Clark pushed through a door that Dean would have first checked the lock on. "Um, look at that…it was open."
"Lucky break." Dean looked at the door, and turned his flashlight on. "We may not have been the only uninvited people here Clark. Check it out. This door isn't just open. The lock is busted."
"Hmm." Clark nodded and moved past the door rather quickly. "Come on. We'd better not waste too much more time."
Chloe sat down with a large leather bound book, and opened it, her tongue just ever so slightly sticking out of the corner of her mouth. "I called Clark's friend, Dr. Willowbrook. He's the head of the Native Studies department here. He said he'd meet us here in a few minutes." She told Sam, who had seated himself across from her, one seat over, the laptop open. Just as Chloe'd promised, the Kansas A&M library was indeed open, and sparsely populated, too. A sleepy looking librarian had been conned into letting Chloe take the book she had, a portfolio of preserved news clippings from the date of the original accident. Sam suppressed the urge to kiss her – if only for the fact that she had a mind like a hunter – and eyes like Jess. Thinking of Jess, Sam cleared his throat and looked at the girl across from him now.
"Great. Hey, Chloe," Sam began, wondering how he would ask if Clark's mother had been killed in a strange way on Clark's 6month birthday, or if Chloe's had. The idea that Clark was different had not left his mind, and Chloe's nearly intuitive ability to see several steps ahead in a situation raised new questions. "this is going to sound crazy, but Clark…are his parents alive?"
Chloe looked up. "Sam, I can appreciate you being interested in Clark. I mean, he's gorgeous. But he's into girls." She smiled ruefully.
"No. I mean, NO." Sam said hurriedly. "It's not that. My mother died when I was a baby, 6 months old, in a house fire, and I wondered if…"
"Clark had a similar situation going on?" Chloe tapped her chin with a pencil and then shook her head. "He was adopted when he was three years old, after the first meteor shower here. His adoptive parents found him in a field, naked and quite content. They searched for his real family, but no one ever claimed him." Chloe mentally edited Clark's life to fill Sam in. "Like I said, there's no way to really know how badly the meteors have affected people here. Some, like Clark's adoptive mother, Martha, are perfectly normal. Others could do strange things, super strength, mental powers. It's really like living in the town that Ripley's Believe It or Not never discovered." Chloe rolled her eyes. "The things in this town could fill seventeen museums, and I don't think we'd still know for sure how it all happened."
Sam nodded. Suddenly, the idea of Clark being an angel seemed more plausible. Alone, three years old, in a cornfield, on the day of a cataclysm was fairly significant. However, it wasn't getting the research into the deaths at the Luthorcorp plant done, either. Chloe had looked back down at the book and sighed. "Look at Mrs. Stevens here. She was so young." Chloe pointed to a news photo of Mrs. Stevens, who was probably about 29 or so, a tall and elegant figure. Again, Sam noticed the large wraparound sunglasses she was wearing.
"Like a movie star." Sam frowned. "Did you notice that she looked much younger when we first got to the store, and by the end of or visit, she was looking, well, older?" Sam looked up at Chloe, who seemed to consider that for a moment.
"Actually, I just chalked that off to her being tired, but now that you mention it, it was kind of dramatic." Chloe nodded, looking back down at the picture of young Betty Stevens. "What are you thinking caused that?"
"I'm not sure yet. I'm going to look some things up and see what I come up with." Sam took out his father's journal, and started leafing through it. "Something about her interest in out of body experiences and astral projection made me wonder."
"Well, when you find it, let me know." Chloe said amicably, sipping at her coffee. "When Dr. Willowbrook gets here, I'll talk to him about Betty and the shaman."
"So," Clark was walking just slightly ahead of Dean, looking around as they went. The corridors in this section of the plant were eerily deserted. "You mentioned an urban legend about an industrial accident?"
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "The idea is, someone gets caught in a piece of machinery. In cities where there are subways, they even will say the person gets caught between the train and the track."
"Ouch." Clark said, puzzling out how something like that could even happen in the first place.
"Thing is, they aren't dead. The story goes they live long enough to say goodbye to their loved ones. Then someone throws the switch and the machinery moves."
"And the victim is dead." Clark nodded. "Except the last accident happened and the victim was alone. His wife was home in Granville."
"Yeah." Dean shrugged. His phone rang, echoing down the empty hallway.
"Sammy? What's up?"
"I'm at the library at the local college with Chloe. What about you?" Sam's voice seemed far away. "All well?"
"Oh, you know, Clark and I are just doing a little breaking and entering while you and Chloe are playing co-eds. Nothing important or illegal or anything." Dean looked over at Clark, who seemed to be studying a wall very intently. "Find anything?"
"Well, it's coming. Thought you might like to know that Betty Stevens teaches meditation and guided astral projection." Sam said, and Dean nodded. "She's tight with the local Native American shaman, and the folklore professor here is on his way."
"Don't tease me, Sammy. What's on your mind?" Dean asked.
"I'll know for sure when the folklore professor gets here, but I'm thinking Betty Stevens soul is somehow not leaving her body during these astral projection sessions. I think she's getting it back."
"Okay, I'm officially freaked out." Dean replied, getting Clark's attention. "Be on the lookout for a woman's soul."
Clark frowned again. "That's great. How am I supposed to see a soul?"
Dean shook his head agreement. "Okay. And Sam?"
"Hurry up, huh?" Dean hung up and looked at Clark. "Have any idea where this old cannery equipment would be?"
"I'm guessing over this way." Clark gestured down the hall. "According to the blueprints. Let's go."
Sam hung up his phone just as an older man walked toward them, looking more than a little tired. Sam nodded in the older man's direction, and Chloe rose, suddenly in professional reporter mode.
"Professor Willowbrook? I'm Chloe Sullivan." Chloe held out a hand, and the professor took it.
"How is my friend Clark? I haven't seen him in a while?" Professor Willowbrook smiled.
"He's just fine. This is Sam Winchester." Chloe gestured to Sam, who had risen politely when the older man approached. "He's working with me on the project I told you about on the phone."
"Nice to meet you, Sam." Professor Willowbrook shook Sam's hand warmly. "You wanted to know about the Kiwatchee legends about souls?" He scratched his head. "Not much to ask this late at night."
"I'm sorry, Professor Willowbrook, but if you point us in the right direction, we won't keep you long." Sam said, and the Professor nodded.
"I think I can do that. Why does this particularly have to do with Betty Stevens?"
Professor Willowbrook asked. "She and Miriam have become quite close. Betty's had it hard."
"I know." Chloe said. "I don't want to seem nosy, either. I just wanted to ask about any legends about souls, where they go, what becomes of them…"
"In the Kiwatchee belief?" The Professor nodded, and then looked at Sam. "In that case, it's simple. We believe the body and soul are one, unless something divides them. They can exist without the other, but it's an odd half life. The soul can become attached to a place, a trauma. Areas where our people were massacred are still haunted by souls."
"Of the slaughtered." Sam said, and the older man shook his head.
"Of the witnesses. Of the ones who returned to find women and children dead. Solider and Kiwatchee warrior alike walk those places. And they are angry. The bodies are long dead, but the souls cannot let go."
"But the souls were there, even before it's body died?" Chloe frowned. "That just seems odd."
"The soulless bodies live normally. They eat, sleep, do all the things you or I would do." Professor Willowbrook told them. "You can tell them by the flatness in their eyes. They aren't worse or better for losing their soul, either. But, they're less alive."
"Is Betty Stevens one of these soulless ones?" Sam asked, and Professor Willowbrook cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"What do you think?" He smiled sadly. "There are those that are built strongly and can withstand any hardship or heartache without losing their soul. Others are not so lucky. When Clay died, Betty's soul left her body and never came back. Sometimes a person's soul will be restored if they come to terms with their heartache. Like yours." He looked at Sam sympathetically. The professor looked at his watch. "I'd best go. My daughter gets concerned if I'm late."
Chloe took his hand. "I just want you to know, Dr. Willowbrook, that we don't mean Betty Stevens any harm…"
"I know, dear girl. She's been trying to get her soul back for years." He sighed. "I'd best be going. Good night."
He walked away, and Sam and Chloe stared at each other in shock. "Like yours?" Chloe asked, and Sam shrugged, shaking his head. "Oh no. Not so fast, question boy. What's going on?"
"Chloe, we really don't have time for this." Sam said uncomfortably, but Chloe shook her head.
"Why would Professor Willowbrook say that to you, Sam?" Chloe asked, more gently this time. She reached across the table and took his hand. Sam looked down at his hand in her smaller one and closed his eyes. Dean had mentioned how great having a sister like Chloe would be. Sam wondered what having a girlfriend like Chloe would be like, but dismissed the thought. It seemed to him that Clark might not like it much.
"My girlfriend was killed last year. I found her body and it was very traumatic." Sam said, not looking at Chloe's face, but by her sharp intake of breath, he knew her eyes had filled with tears for him. "I felt like I was dying for a long time…I wonder if my soul took a break from me for a while." He laughed bitterly. "I guess that sounds crazy."
"Whoa, no it doesn't." Chloe rose. "We have to go. Sam…it really happened. And she's been the witness for the other death, and possibly tonight too…"
"And she got it back, for a little while…it's why she looked so young…" Sam pushed the lid of his laptop shut and got up. "Come on. We have to get out to the plant before it happens again."
Dean and Clark arrived at a large door at the end of the corridor, and Clark nodded. "This is where the old Ross Cannery Foundation is, just beyond this door." The door itself was massive, battleship grey and impenetrable. For Dean. Clark, on the other hand, could have opened the door easily, but with Dean right there, it was the same as being powerless.
"That door is serious overkill." Dean shook his head. "We'd need a tank to get through it."
"Or the key." Clark pushed on the door. He looked down at the handle and then eyed the door again. "This door is lined with lead."
"Lots of old factories used lead paint on things." Dean said, looking around for something to break the door down with. "Supposed to help the color last longer or something."
"Hmmm" Clark nodded. He'd tried to look through the wall, too, but Lex had been planning ahead, because the whole room was lined with lead. "People also use lead to shield against radioactivity."
"Yeah, they do. You think there's nuclear crap behind there?" Dean frowned. "Christ."
"I don't know. Lex likes to play with the local meteor rock, and they emit a radioactive energy field."
"Okay. I don't want any "Silkwood" craziness going on…" Dean told Clark. He took out a gun and fired it at the door, blasting away a section of the lock with one shot. The door creaked away from the frame. "Ready?"
"Yeah." Clark nodded, holding his breath. It only took the door to open a crack for him to know why the lead was there. He'd been right. Lex was experimenting with Kryptonite again.
Clark's world narrowed and then widened sharply as Dean swung the door open. There was a gust of cool air, and the sickly green glow of the Kryptonite diffused and vanished.
"Clark, you okay?" Dean asked, staring at the antique machine. "Holy crap. Get a look at this bad boy..."
"I'm here." Clark made his way into the room. The Kryptonite in the room was refined, and while it affected him, it wasn't completely incapacitating either. He walked over to Dean and studied the machines from a distance. "I can't believe this."
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "They've been modified. See there?" Dean pointed to some controls and latches. "Someone's been trying to make this equipment safer."
Clark nodded, the knowledge of the Kryptonite in the room making him wonder about Dean's assessment of the equipment. The oddest part of all was that Clark didn't feel sick, he felt NORMAL. Clark turned and walked to the nearest workstation and opened a red loose leaf binder titled "Maintenance Log.", while Dean walked around the press, scanning it with a little handheld machine, it's red lights blinking.
"This whole machine is crawling with activity. Wow." Dean looked up. "Something is fixing this…"
"Hey, Joe…" A man in glasses appeared from the opposite side of the machine, and both Clark and Dean looked at each other in surprise. "Joe! Where the hell have you been? You know they've been looking for you since Louise was killed!" Clark rose and walked a little closer.
"You're Clay Stevens, right?" He asked, and the man with the glasses nodded, tapping the machine with a wrench. A dull thud echoed through the room, and Dean found himself riveted to the floor. He could feel a prickling chill going up his spine. There was another spirit in the room, and Dean found that he couldn't turn to see if it was right behind him or not. He actually didn't have to. Dean could feel it, the icy cold waves that poured off it.
"I am. Don't get too close to this sunovabith, Joe. Drifter or no, I'd hate to have to clean you out of the gears." The ghost of Clay Stevens laughed. "Damn bith of a job that would be, right?"
"Yeah." Clark took a step back. "You've been working on it, haven't you? Trying to keep the accident from happening?"
"Damn thing. I find out who it is on the day shift that's ripping my modifications out, I'll fire their asss so fast they'll not know which end is up. " Clay Stevens tapped the machine again. "Another poor bastard got himself flattened tonight because of that jerk on days. "
"Easy, Clark." Dean whispered, almost inaudibly, and Clark nodded. "There's more than one…" A clattering scream echoed through the room, and the machine sprang to life.
"Damn piece of sht." Clay Stevens said, walking back from where he had come and then vanished. Clark went to go after Clay, but a wave of nausea made him stagger forward. The Kryptonite alloy on the presses began to glow, and the more Clark fought to free himself, the more tangled into the press he became. His arm vanished into the press, and a searing burst of pain flushed through him, throbbing with every rotation of the huge steel cylinders. Clark could no longer see his arm, and he tried to pull away, no longer caring if his left arm came away with him. Each pull seemed to somehow draw him closer in, and Clark wished to God that Lex had used enough Kryptonite in this little project to kill him outright. Because this was torture. He was faintly aware of Dean and the figure behind him, a figure Clark recognized immediately. "Mrs…Ste……vens….."
"Clark!" Dean screamed, struggling to free himself as Clark growled in pain, his feet slipping on the polished concrete floor. "I'll get help!" Dean turned, and found himself face to face with a glowing white specter, a black band obscuring half of it's face. It raised it's arm and pointed, the mouth opening and closing. "Holy sht!"
Dean heard footsteps, as Sam and Chloe burst into the room. Chloe screamed, running for the machine, looking for controls to shut the thing off, and Sam pushed Dean to the floor, facing the thing dead on.
"Betty, listen to me!! That's not Clay in the press! That's Clark, Clark Kent! You've got to let this go. You aren't going to get to Clay this way, I promise you! We can help you. Please!!" Sam cried, and the figure paused, it's shrill scream silenced. The press ground to a stop, and Sam could hear Chloe and now Dean fighting to free Clark from the machine as the soul of Betty Stevens resolved itself into more familiar lines, even going so far as to remove her huge wraparound sunglasses.
Sam. He heard her say, a horrified gasp. Am I dreaming? What are you doing here? CLAY!
"No." Sam began, when a man with glasses stepped out from the machine, adding his efforts to those of Chloe and Dean. Hearing his name, the man turned.
"Geez, Betty!" He said. "It's not a good time. Go, woman! Get help. This poor kid is going to lose his arm…" Clay Steven's ghost shouted, and the glowing soul of his widow seemed to retreat, her hand over her heart. "You, kid, come here and help us. If that shthead on days didn't dismantle it, I have a lever in here to raise the cylinder…." The top cylinder rose, and Clark fell backwards, clutching his mangled arm, nearly unconscious from the pain. Chloe made a rough sling of the orange scarf and held Clark cradled in her arms, tears of relief washing her face and his.
Dean and the ghostly Clay Stevens looked at each other, and Dean nodded toward Sam and the astral form beside his brother.
"Go say goodbye, man. She needs to let go. So do you. And I promise, this machine is gone, tonight." Dean told the ghost, who took off it's glasses and wiped them on his white shirt, looking over at where his wife's disembodied soul stood. The two spirits seemed to merge and then in bright flash, both were gone. All of the strange modifications Clay Stevens had made to the press disappeared, and the cylinder that had risen crashed to the floor away from where they all were. A small fragment of bone fell free of the machine, and Dean picked it up, pulverizing it between his fingers.
"Clark?" Sam and Dean both knelt beside their new friend. "You going to make it? We're going to get you to help." Sam said, and Clark nodded, unable to speak, the pain was still intense and pushing through him.
"Let's just get him out of here." Chloe said, suddenly in control of herself. The Winchester brothers helped lift Clark, and Dean looped Clark's good arm around Chloe's shoulders.
"You guys get him out of here. I have some work to do." He eyed the machine and grinned. "This is going to be fun."
Sam and Chloe helped Clark outside, where the stars were shining and a cool breeze gently blew the sweat dry on their flushed faces. Clark was quiet, his breathing even and it seemed to Sam that Clark was somehow healing. The color had returned to his face. They all sat against the cyclone fence, waiting for Dean in silence. Chloe had wrapped her arms around Clark tightly, whispering to him as if afraid that not speaking would give Clark a chance to slip away from her again.
"Sam…" Clark croaked, struggling to sit up straighter. "You'd better go help Dean. Chloe'll get me to the hospital…"
"Yeah.." Sam nodded. "We'll come check on you when we're done." Sam stood, and helped Clark to his feet. Clark smiled at him, at first brightly and then as if he remembered, the smiled dropped to half power.
"Thank you, Sam. If not for you, I'd be dead right now." Clark said, offering his undamaged hand to shake Sam's with as Dean appeared from the plant door, wiping grease from his face and grinning proudly.
"Any time, Clark." Sam nodded, and shook Clark's offered hand. "You done?" Sam said, as Dean got closer to them. A distant wail of sirens could be heard in the quiet of the night, and Dean smiled proudly at his brother.
"Damn straight. That machine won't be crushing anything for a long, long time." Dean looked at the plant and then at his car and Chloe's red VW parked behind it. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Chloe's VW bug turned for the Smallville Medical Center, and Sam and Dean continued down Main Street to their hotel. Two paramedics were loading a covered body on a stretcher into the back of their ambulance outside of Betty Stevens bookstore.
"Wait." Sam said to Dean. "Pull over a second." When the Impala came to a stop, Sam got out.
"Excuse me." Sam stopped one of the paramedics. "What happened?"
The paramedic shook his head. "Dead. Heart attack. It looked quick. She had called my wife, her daughter and just said goodbye. That was it." The man looked at Sam. "Did you know Betty?"
"I just met her tonight. Went into the store with a friend earlier." Sam looked down at the stretcher. "I'm so sorry. She was a very nice lady."
"Yeah. A lot sad, but very nice. Funny thing. It was like she knew she was going to die tonight, you know?" The paramedic shook Sam's hand. "I'm Tom, by the way."
"Sam." Sam nodded. "What do you mean?"
"She and my wife haven't spoken in years. Family business, you know." Tom shrugged. "Out of the blue she calls, tells Amanda that she loves her, and that's it. Next thing I know, Amanda is calling me to come here and check things out. Odd, is all. But you know, the oddest part?" Tom reached back and rubbed his neck.
"What was that?" Sam asked, but he was pretty sure he knew what the other man was going to say.
"She was smiling. I've seen dead people smiling, and it isn't any real smile at all..but this? This was the prettiest thing I've ever seen. She died happy." Tom's partner came over from talking to the police officer there and helped lift the stretcher onto the ambulance. "Gotta go, man. Thanks for asking, huh?"
"Yeah, thank you." Sam stepped away as the ambulance doors closed and Tom hopped in and drove away, sirens off, toward the hospital. The police car followed as well and Sam walked back to the car, thinking over what he'd just heard. Betty Stevens had gotten her soul back, and could finally join her husband.
"Betty Stevens?" Dean asked, and Sam nodded, getting into the car in silence. They drove to their motel and without exchanging more than five words between them, went to sleep.
Morning came early, and the Winchesters found their way to the Kent farm to say goodbye. Clark Kent was outside, arm in a blue stabilizer, looking out at his fields.
"Hey, Kent!" Dean called. "How's your throwing arm?"
"Good. Mostly muscle and tendon damage. With physical therapy, I'll be as good as new in no time." Clark smiled. "You guys leaving already?" In truth, his arm was already almost 100, but Clark realized that even wanting to trust the Winchesters might be dangerous. Maybe in time, but not now.
"Yeah." Sam nodded. "I'm glad. Where's Chloe?" He looked up to the house.
"She's there. My mom is making breakfast. I was just wondering about how I was getting the chores done." Clark eyed the brothers. "Ever muck a horse stall?"
"Least we can do." Sam grinned.
"As long as we get breakfast before, and showers after." Dean added hopefully.
"Think we can arrange that." Clark nodded and led the brothers inside for breakfast.
The morning stretched to afternoon before the Winchesters were on the road, packed with food enough for two days and freshly washed clothes by Clark's mother, who issued invitations for the next time they were in town, and sisterly goodbye kisses from Chloe, who made them promise to keep her posted on their weird stories. Clark walked them to the car, and waved them goodbye as they headed down the driveway, his good arm around Chloe's shoulders.
"He's lucky to have her." Dean said, as Clark and Chloe grew small in his rearview.
"Yeah." Sam muttered, reading about the odd events of Dark Thursday in Metropolis. "They're a good team."
"Yeah." Dean put on his sunglasses, and turned up the radio. Next stop, Lawrence.