So, first off, I'd just like to say that I didn't actually realise it had been seven months since I last updated. Extremely sorry about that. Really. You have no idea. But I'm back in the hang of writing this again, so expect less sporadic updates. You're all beautiful. :o)
Run – Forty-Sixth Chapter
Rory finished her coffee and followed Martha outside patiently as her mother said quickly, "Don't forget to hang out that washing I put on, and if you could do some of the cleaning that would be great, and I think your father said something about-"
"- a broken fencepost in the eastern paddock," Rory interrupted. Smiling, she reassured her, "Don't worry, Mom. I'll get it all done."
Martha smiled distractedly at her. "Of course, Rory," she said with relief. "Thank you."
Rory heard a noise that sounded distinctly like the truck and looked up, startled. "I thought Clark and Dad were going to be out all day," she said, staring off into the distance.
"They were," Martha said, surprised. "Why?"
Her question was answered when she, too, heard the truck coming up the driveway and turned around. It pulled up nearby and Clark and Jonathan got out, walking towards them.
"Aren't you two supposed to be at the game?" Martha asked, puzzled.
"Well," Jonathan hedged, "the tickets to the game were in my wallet."
"Which was stolen," Clark concluded briskly. "Some kid swiped it outside the medical building."
Martha touched Jonathan's shoulder, anxiously saying, "Oh, my God, you were robbed? Are you all right? Did he have a gun?"
"Yes, yes, and no, he had a very fast pair of sneakers," Jonathan answered all three questions. "I'm just gonna call the credit card company and report it stolen."
"Dad, wait," Clark stopped him before he could take more than a few steps. "This kid, he was as fast as I am."
"Really?" Rory asked, shocked. "We should definitely try to find out who he is."
Clark nodded in agreement. "Exactly. I thought maybe we could talk to Chloe, see if she can track down where he's been using your card."
Rory nodded and turned back to Jonathan, who looked hesitant. "Come on, Dad," she reasoned, "if we don't find anything by the end of the day, make the call. Besides," she added cheekily, "when have we ever failed to save the day?"
Jonathan grinned and shook his head good-naturedly. "All right, but I want you to be careful," he warned them. "We don't know anything about this kid."
Rory nodded and Clark said determinedly, "That's why we have to find out who he is."
Clark supersped away and Rory kissed her mother's cheek before following him.
Clark activated his superhearing and listened to the sounds inside the apartment he and Rory stood outside. Shower's running, he told her. Go for it.
Rory put her hand on the door and, closing her eyes, slid the door chain across with her telekinesis. She unlocked the deadbolt also and turned the knob. The door slid open smoothly without a sound, and Rory smiled at Clark.
They stepped inside, being careful not to make a sound. Rory noted that the bathroom door was open a little, but loud music was playing and steam was billowing out of the gap. She crept past the bathroom and entered the living area of the hotel room.
Judging by the furniture, it was a pretty classy place. However, the tasteful decor was somewhat diminished by the snack food and comic books lying around. Several still-folded shirts lay on the couch, and on the nightstand next to the bed there were several shoeboxes with new shoes nearby.
Clark walked past her to the bed, picking up a backpack with a lightning bolt on it. He opened it and emptied it onto the bed. Rory came up beside him and helped him sort through the many wallets and watches.
None of them looked anything like Jonathan's, however, and while Clark continued to look, Rory noticed a stack of what looked like ID cards, bound together with a rubber band.
Rory picked it up and, removing the band, began looking through them. Each one was from a different place – New York, California, Kansas – and each one had a different name on it. The only similarity was the picture.
She showed one to Clark, and he said mentally, That's him.
Rory nodded and put them down. Just as she pulled her hand back, a voice behind them said indignantly, "Dude."
The twins turned quickly to see the boy from the photos, his hair still wet and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
"You lost?" he asked challengingly. "You know, I guess you must be, because this is my room."
"Technically it's our dad's since you used his credit card to pay for it," Rory countered unashamedly.
"I didn't take anything from anybody," the kid said, straight-faced.
"You can save the innocent act," Clark said scornfully. "We had a friend trace all the charges you're trying to stick on him after you stole his wallet."
The kid's eyes glanced down at the bed, seeing all of his stuff spread over it, and became irate. "And you went through my backpack," he said furiously. "Man, that's an invasion of privacy, messing with my stuff."
Clark took offense at that. "Your stuff?" he asked incredulously. "You stole all of this."
There was a sudden burst of air and the kid was gone. Rory whirled around, looking for him, and saw him standing behind them, fully clothed with dry hair.
"Yeah?" he said boisterously. "Prove it."
"I saw you save my dad from that truck this morning," Clark told him.
He looked taken aback. "Man, nobody sees me when I'm doing my thing."
"Maybe you're not the only one who can move like that," Rory said, snatching up the ID cards and reading names from them, "Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, whatever your real name is."
"It's Bart," he said smugly. "Not that it matters, because I'll be a thousand miles away before you can even blink."
"Well, I don't know about that," Rory smirked.
"We can blink pretty fast," Clark said complacently.
Bart's eyes flicked between them. "Who are you guys, anyway?" he asked.
Clark didn't answer his question, instead saying, "We're gonna get Dad's wallet, and then we're all going to sit down and have a nice, long talk."
There was another burst of air and all of the things on the bed were gone, along with the backpack. Rory turned once again and saw Bart, wearing the backpack, standing on the other side of the coffee table. He held the ID cards in his hand.
"Sorry, dudes," he said coldly. "I'm not big on the chit-chat. Smell ya later."
Rory jumped into superspeed a split-second before Bart did, but he was faster than she was and beat her to the door.
They sped out of the building and onto the street. Rory knew that Clark was right behind her, but was too busy concentrating on building up as much speed as possible to talk to him.
They sped through a park, towards a lake, and Rory stretched out her hand, trying to grab him. She put in a short burst and her fingers brushed over his jacket just as he made a giant leap, towards the lake. He landed on top of the water and continued running over it.
Shocked, Rory stopped and watched in awe as a red blur ran away at blinding speed. Clark stood next to her, the same expression on his face.
Rory broke the silence with a single question. "Do you think we can do that?"
Clark and Rory supersped inside and saw Jonathan setting the dining table.
"Hey, Dad," Rory said, bounding forward, "we found the kid who stole your wallet, but we lost him down at the docks."
"He just took off across the water," Clark said incredulously. "I knew he was fast, but that fast? I-"
"Uh..." Jonathan interrupted, nodding his head in their direction but looking past them.
They turned around and saw Bart, sitting at the kitchen table with a plate full of food in front of him and a glass of milk.
"Hey, guys," he said cheerfully. He took a drink of milk and asked innocently, "What took you so long?"
Rory looked at Clark despairingly; he just raised his eyebrows at her.
"Dude, I didn't think anybody could move like that except me!" Bart exclaimed as they entered the barn. "Because, hey, I'm the fastest man alive, right?"
Rory just shook her head and Bart finished, "Yeah."
He gave Clark a friendly slap on the back. Rory could feel the annoyance rolling off her brother, but apparently Bart was impervious, seeing as he just kept talking.
"You were right on my butt, man! Although I gotta say, Rory was a lot faster than you, Clark," he said honestly. "You know, I've always wondered if there was anybody else out there like me, and it turns out to be you guys, Jimmy and Jane Crack Corn fresh from the farm."
Clark finally stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the loft. "What kind of story did you spin to con Dad out of a free meal and a bed on the couch?" he asked coldly.
"No story, Clark, just the truth," Bart said openly.
"And what's that?" Clark asked suspiciously.
"All right," Bart sighed. "Well, a couple of years ago, there was like this accident, right? There was this huge flash of light, and my body went into overdrive."
"And this happened in Smallville," Rory assumed.
"No," Bart said, surprised. "Man, this is my first time here, and – no offense – hopefully my last."
Rory and Clark looked at each, taken aback. Rory started walking up the stairs backwards, the boys following her.
"We've never met anyone with powers like yours that wasn't from around here," Rory told Bart.
"Yeah, well, maybe you should get out more," Bart grinned. "So how'd you get so fast? An accident, or..."
"We were kinda born this way," Clark said cryptically. Changing subjects quickly, he asked, "Why are you living on the streets, Bart? What happened to your parents?"
Bart shrugged and said humourlessly, "Their son got zapped into a human lightning bolt. That's what happened. I mean, they made this big deal that everything was gonna be okay and that..."
Rory glanced at Clark before looking down, trying not to show her pity on her face. Bart was a tough kid; he didn't want or need her sympathy.
"I don't know, man," Bart went on tiredly, "you should've seen the way they looked at me, you know? I could tell that nothing was gonna be the same."
"So you ran away?" Clark assumed.
"I..." Bart seemed lost for words as he walked up the final set of stairs to the loft. "I just didn't fit in. But, man, I guess you don't have that problem." He waved a hand at the loft.
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Rory contradicted him, following him into the loft.
"We ran away once, too," Clark added.
"Why'd you come back, then?" Bart laughed. "Mow the lawn? Milk the cows? Dude, you guys should be out there with me, tearing it up."
"You mean stealing everything in sight," Clark corrected disapprovingly.
"It's not like I ever really hurt anybody," Bart pointed out, taking a seat on the couch. "I mean, I usually just swipe a little bling from the stiff upper crust whenever I need some cash. I'm what you'd call a have-not, Clark. I take from the haves."
"Like my dad?" Clark asked belligerently, trying to convince Bart that what he did was wrong.
"Oh Clark," Rory sighed, shaking her head. "I seem to remember somebody who stole something very expensive from a very rich man."
"That was to help a friend," Clark said defensively.
Bart rolled his eyes. "Look, man, don't even sweat it, okay?" Bart brushed him off. "They don't charge you if your card's stolen."
"Oh, and that makes it all right," Clark said, frustrated beyond belief. Rory shook her head, a small smile playing over her face.
Bart stood suddenly, looking aggravated. "Look, man, my friends down in Suicide Slums, they shortchanged me," he said heatedly. "So I had to boost your dad's card in order to get a room. I don't like spending the night on the streets, okay? Stuff happens there."
Rory and Clark glanced at each other, worried, as Bart explained with a mumble, "When I'm asleep, I'm just as slow as everybody else."
Clark looked concerned and Rory looked down, feeling her stomach drop away as she tried not to think of what had happened to Bart. For a moment, she thought of Sam and Dean, lying in a dirty old motel room, fast asleep, and the dangers they fought routinely creeping closer and closer...
She pushed the thoughts away and forced herself to return to the here and now, breathing deeply to calm her heart down and listened to what was happening.
"I can always take care of myself, you know," Bart said haughtily.
"Yeah, you've done a great job so far," Clark said sarcastically. Rory rolled her eyes again at the testosterone soaking the atmosphere.
Bart's face darkened, and Rory readied herself to break them up. But then he laughed and said dismissively, "You know what, man? Enough about poor little street urchin, all right? Let's take a closer look at the mysterious Kent twins."
Bart superspeed around the room and returned to his original spot, holding several items. He held up a book and said in mock despair, "One or both of you likes to study Native American mythology." He dropped the book and held up two notebooks.
"Clark seems to have scrawled the name 'Lana' all over his notebooks, while Rory's are a little more varied-" he flipped it open, showing numerous (very bad) scribbling and the name 'Sam' written several times.
He dropped both notebooks as Rory blushed, and held up a red-and-gold pompom. "Rory does, or used to cheerlead," he said, glancing over her appreciatively, "and somebody has one of the most boring hobby known to man. Rock collecting."
Rory snickered and said dismissively, "We don't collect roc-"
Bart opened a small lead box, revealing a chunk of kryptonite. Rory gasped as the pain hit her like a physical force and she staggered away, bumping into Clark.
"Dude, are you okay?" Bart asked, sounding concerned. Rory's vision blurred for a long moment before returning.
"Put that away," Clark gasped. "We're allergic."
Bart shut the box and Rory leant on Clark, catching her breath as the pain drained slowly from her body.
"Man, I've heard of people sneezing around dogs and cats and stuff," Bart said, shaking his head, "but never getting all weak in the knees over a rock."
"It's a long story," Clark replied carefully.
"Which is one I am sure I would love to hear..." Bart said, mock derision in his tone, as he rolled up his sleeves, "after we get back."
"Get back from where?" Clark asked, suspicious.
"Anywhere we want," Bart tempted. "I mean, dude, we are two superpowered studs here!"
Rory coughed pointedly and Bart tipped her a wink, adding, "And I don't think I need to say anything further about you, sweetheart."
Rory grinned and fluttered her eyelashes at him.
"Why else did you think I came here to Smellyville looking for you?" Bart said, enjoying himself immensely. "Let's go crank it up, go have some fun!"
Clark tried to hide his smile but didn't quite succeed.
"You ever seen Florida?" Bart said coaxingly. With a grin on his face, he supersped out of the loft.
Clark and Rory looked at each other. Clark shook his head in disbelief, while Rory's grin only grew wider. The smile on Clark's face grew into a grin as he supersped after Bart, with Rory in hot pursuit.
Later that night
Tonight was the Grand Re-Opening of Smallville's favourite coffee shop, the Talon. It seemed like most of the town was squeezed into the small room, talking, laughing and drinking great coffee. Nobody noticed when three more people joined them, even if their conversation did sound a bit weird.
"Dude, that girl in the black bikini was totally checking you out," Bart said positively as Rory giggled and Clark rolled his eyes.
"No, she wasn't," Clark denied, blushing a little.
"Look, the girl was eyeing you like you were a sno-cone, dude," Bart said matter-of-factly.
"He's right, you know," Rory added. "You should've got her number."
"I can't just walk up to a girl on the beach and get her phone number," Clark said, sounding scandalised.
"Yeah, well, lucky for you…" Rory said, grinning uncontrollably.
"I can," Bart finished cheerfully, slapping a piece of paper against Clark's chest. "She says to call you next time you're in Miami," he added flirtily, grinning just as hard as Rory.
Clark shushed him furiously, looking around to check if anybody was listening to them. They weren't. "I can't just run back down to Miami!" he hissed at Bart.
"Why not?" Bart asked bluntly, not bothering to lower his voice as Clark had.
Clark glanced around once again. "Because it's-"
"Too much fun?" Rory interrupted playfully. "Come on, Clark, nobody's gonna die from it."
Bart nodded solemnly before suddenly disappearing. Clark and Rory, used to this after spending several hours with him, simply turned around. As always, there he was – only this time, he'd taken a cookie from the display and had already eaten a large chunk of it.
"What are you doing?" Rory asked him, abruptly turning serious.
"I'm eating a cookie," he said observantly, around a mouthful of said cookie. "I'm starving."
Rory grabbed it out of his hand, scowling, as Clark said disapprovingly, "You can't just take whatever you want here. Our mom runs the place."
Rory tossed it onto the bench as Bart said, glaring at them, "Look, guys." He gestured to the line of people waiting to be served. "There's a line," he said, once again displaying a talent in stating the obvious. "I don't do lines."
"What's up, K1 and K2?" asked a familiar voice with a laughing tone. Rory turned and smiled instantly when she saw Chloe standing there. "I thought you'd still be in
Metropolis playing detective," she joked, flashing them a smile.
"We thought we'd leave it up to the authorities," Clark replied, directing his answer at Bart.
"Never would've caught him anyway," Bart shot back.
Chloe glanced at Bart, then looked at Rory and raised her eyebrows.
"Chloe, this is our friend Bart," Rory introduced them. "He's from…"
"The future," Bart interrupted.
Playing along, Chloe said, pretending to be intrigued, "Really?"
"Yeah," Bart confirmed. Stepping towards her, he said charmingly, "I ran all the way back in time to tell you we're still in love a hundred years from now."
Chloe let out a delighted laugh, and Rory said, grinning once again, "Well, that certainly was… original."
Clark, on the other hand, said warningly, "Bart…"
Bart ignored both of them, instead asking Chloe, "What's your favourite kind of flower, Chloe?"
"Uh, tulips," Chloe said, surprised at the change in subject.
She grinned at Clark, and Bart disappeared. Rory automatically turned around and frowned when she couldn't find the boy – his clothing was hardly inconspicuous.
When she turned back, however, he was there once again, offering Chloe a lovely orange tulip.
Chloe was looking at him in astonishment. "How did you do that?" she asked, truly stunned.
"Magic," he said with a charismatic smile, giving her the flower.
"Wow," Chloe said, staring at the flower. She looked back up at Bart and smiled again.
"You want to see some more?" Bart offered temptingly.
Someone behind them called out, "Clark, Rory. Over here."
Rory recognised her mother's voice instantly, but before she left the drama unfolding before her, she gave Chloe a meaningful look, the kind that said try-not-to-get-in-over-your-head. Chloe just rolled her eyes in return.
As she walked towards her mother, she just heard Clark tell Bart to "knock it off" before he followed her.
She didn't laugh, though, until she heard him stuffing the piece of paper with the girl in the black bikini's number on it into his shirt pocket.
Martha just smiled, used to their odd behaviour, and said, "Your dad called." Looking past them at Bart, she asked, "Is that the boy who mugged him?"
"Yeah," Clark confirmed. "His name's Bart Allen."
"Why is he here?" Martha asked, trying not to sound suspicious.
"I think he's lonely," Rory said, trying to pluck her mother's heartstrings, "wants to be our friend."
"Good," she said firmly. "Maybe you can talk some sense into him."
"I'm trying," Clark joked, laughing when Rory hit him in the arm.
Martha smiled at them and, remembering something, said suddenly, "Oh, um, Lex is looking for you, sweetheart. He asked if you'd stop by the mansion. He said it's important."
Clark glanced at Rory, who had become absorbed in her shoes and no longer seemed to be paying attention. "Both of us?" he asked.
"He didn't specify," Martha replied, watching Rory's face too.
Clark hesitated before asking her mentally, Do you want to come?
Rory looked at him. No, she answered finally. I don't think I do.
Clark nodded. You don't have to talk to him ever, if that's what you want, he said. I can tell him that you don't want to see him anymore.
Rory shook her head. It's a small town, Clark, she said. And I can take it. Just – she hesitated, and he knew she was thinking of Sam. Just not right now, she finished.
Clark nodded once again and said, this time aloud, "Can you take care of Bart?"
Rory looked over at where they'd left him with Chloe and couldn't see him. She searched the crowded room in an instant and found them sitting at a table, talking cheerfully.
"I don't think he'll notice we're gone," she said playfully. "Besides, I, uh, I've got some homework I should really be doing."
"All right," Clark said, not believing her for a moment. "I'll, uh, call you when I'm done at Lex's."
Rory nodded and they both left, waving to Martha as they went.
Rory punched in the numbers and listened to the phone ring, several times, in her ear. It went to voicemail, just as she'd thought it would, and she sighed as she listened to the message.
When the beep came, she didn't hang up, as she had the last three times. Instead, she said, faux-cheerfully, "Hey, uh, I was just calling to check in on you. You know," she laughed nervously, "make sure you're still alive, and all that."
She hesitated for a moment, before adding in a rush, "Oh, this is Rory, by the way-"
The phone clicked and a voice said, sounding out of breath, "Hey Rory!"
Relief washed through her and she almost sighed, "Hi."
"Sorry," he said. "Dean was sleeping on my phone."
"Oh," she said eloquently. "So you haven't found anything just yet?"
"Actually, we think we've found signs of a vampire nest somewhere around here," he said casually. "We just don't know where it is yet-"
"Did you just say vampires?" she interrupted.
"Yeah," he said. "It's okay, though, they're fairly easy to kill – just have to cut off their heads and they're done for."
"You told me vampires weren't real!" she said accusatorily.
There was a slight pause, then he said, surprised, "When did I say that?"
"When we first met!"
"You were telling me about supernatural things, and I asked about vampires, and you said, in this really patronising tone, There's no such thing as vampires," she mimicked.
"Oh," he said, remembering. "That was before we found out about them."
Rory slid off her bed and hunched down next to her bed. "And cutting their heads off is the only thing that kills them?" she whispered.
"Rory," Sam said disbelievingly, "there are no vampires in Smallville. Dean and I would've seen the signs."
"And what are the signs?"
"Rory," he sighed.
"Vampires are my biggest fear, okay?" she whined furiously. "I hate vampires."
"Even when you thought they weren't real?"
"Yes! And they are real, and they could eat me in seconds! So how can I kill them?" she asked frantically.
Sam laughed and said, "Well, I suppose, you being you, you could probably just burn them to death… I mean, if you cremate somebody pre-death, there's not much of a chance of them coming back."
She sighed. "Okay then," she said, standing up and climbing back onto the bed. "I feel better now."
He couldn't stop smiling, and, in fact, hadn't been able to since he'd answered the phone. "So how are you?" he asked.
"Good," she said, smiling herself. "We met this kid called Bart. He runs faster than I do."
"Really?" Sam asked, shocked. "Wow."
"Yeah," she agreed. "But he does have a tendency to, ah, steal things he really shouldn't."
"Dean and I have a tendency to do that too, you know," he pointed out, lying back on the bed.
"Hmm." She took a moment to consider this new realisation. "This is true."
"How's Clark?" he asked.
"Good, good," she said absently. "He's talking to Lex at the moment."
"Why didn't you go?" he asked, truly curious.
"I needed to check you hadn't been devoured by werewolves or something," she teased.
"Werewolves are actually quite rare, these days," he said, falling into scholar mode. "We haven't seen one since we were kids."
She laughed and said, "God, I love how weird my life is."
He laughed too and they enjoyed a moment of companionable silence.
"How are things back in Smallville?" he asked.
"Good," she said. "Everything's normal."
"Normal, or Smallville-normal?" he joked.
She laughed again, feeling the worry that usually sat in the pit of her stomach slowly leech out of her. "Smallville-normal," she replied, "what with Bart's arrival and all."
"It's not every day you meet a kid who can run faster than a bullet," he pointed out solemnly.
She smiled, but inside her, worry had returned at the word 'kid'. "No, it's not," she agreed.
Done now, Rors, said the voice in her head. His tone became suddenly irritated as he said, Change of plans; Bart's here. I'll meet ya back home.
Okay, she replied. "I'm sorry," she told Sam. "I gotta go, I've got work to do."
"That's okay," Sam replied, still smiling. "I'll talk to you another time."
"Okay," she said, unable to control her smile, despite the worry. "Bye."
She hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment, thinking about how incredibly tangled her love life had gotten in the past year.
Before she could get too depressed about it, though, she was shaking her head and going to her desk to create some proof that she had, in fact, been working the whole time.
Thank god for superspeed.
Clark walked into Lex's study, escorted by a security guard (for once). Lex dismissed the man and asked Clark casually, "Rory decide not to come?"
Clark nodded. "She's got homework," he explained.
Lex nodded and led Clark over to a new decoration that stood in the middle of the room – if it could be called that. A large glass box sat on top of a steel pedestal. As he drew closer, Clark saw what was inside.
It was an old, perhaps even ancient page that was covered in foreign writing and a drawing of a knight riding on a white horse. A light shone directly on it from above.
"I purchased this from a private collector in St. Petersburg," Lex told him as he studied it. "Convincing him to part with it required quite a few glasses of vodka and a small fortune," he said humorously, "but it was worth it."
Clark smiled at the tale and said, "It's very nice."
Lex didn't miss the almost patronising tone in his voice, but merely said, "Take a closer look at the border design."
Clark stepped closer to the pedestal and looked, just as he was told.
"See the embedded glyphs, similar to the Kawatche symbols found in the cave," Lex informed him quietly. Despite the phrasing, it was not a question. "And no-one's spent more time down there than you… and Rory."
The last bit sounded like an afterthought, but Clark knew that it wasn't. Years of practice allowed him to hide his shock at the Kryptonian symbols, and what they said.
Lex walked around to Clark's other side and asked, sounding innocent, "Any idea what they mean?"
"No," Clark said, just as innocently. Putting on a confused, slightly vacant expression, he said, "But I thought you weren't interested in this stuff anymore."
"Oh, I'm still interested, Clark, just not obsessed," Lex replied in a friendly tone. "Which is why I'm not keeping this from you. I'd like it if we could work on this mystery together."
A smile, and his role had been played to perfection – the martyred friend, accepting that he had done wrong and make up once again.
"I'd like that," Clark replied, smiling in return. Despite the amiable demeanour of both men, the atmosphere was tense. But Lex was a useful ally, in regular, day-to-day life as well as in the hunt for the secrets of Krypton.
And right now, keeping his friendship meant acting innocent and ignorant. "So what is it?" Clark asked, turning back to the frame.
"It's the last surviving page from a 17th century manuscript," Lex explained. He walked away from the pedestal and sat down at his desk.
Continuing his exposition speech, Lex announced, "It depicts the Grand Prince Danskov's victory over his mortal enemy Mamava at the Battle of Kulacova. Legend has it that this was the only object adorning the walls of Rasputin's chamber while he studied at the Verkhoture Monastery."
As Lex spoke, Clark followed the instruction hidden in the Kryptonian message and used his x-ray vision to look through the page. Underneath the manuscript was a second, hidden layer. It appeared to be a map of some kind, with more Kryptonian symbols on it.
"He believed this page would reveal a path to unimaginable power," Lex continued, apparently forgetting that what he was describing was a legend. "Rasputin would stare at it for days at a time, attempting to penetrate its secrets."
"It's incredible," Clark said with feeling. He reached out to take it off its pedestal, hoping to look at the back.
"Don't," Lex warned. Clark stopped as Lex elaborated, "I've had state-of-the-art security installed to protect it. I'm keeping it at the mansion for a few days before it goes into the vault at LuthorCorp."
Clark looked from the page to Lex anxiously. He needed to get a better look at that map, preferably a long one. Before he could do something about it, though, Lex's watch started beeping.
He glanced at it, then said, disappointment clear in his voice, "I'm sorry, Clark, I have an appointment. Why don't you swing by tomorrow and we'll, uh, roll up our sleeves?"
Lex stood up and put his jacket on.
Trying to hide his unease, Clark said with a smile, "Yeah."
He turned to leave, but Lex added casually, "Oh, and see if you can tempt Rory away from the books."
Clark stopped as Lex said, still nonchalant, "I'd like to see what she thinks."
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, Clark nodded tersely and left as quickly as possible.
Done now, Rors, he notified his sister. He was moment away from suggesting they meet back at the Talon when there was a burst of wind.
Irritated, he said, Change of plans; Bart's here. I'll meetcha back home.
Okay, she said, at the same time as Bart said excitedly, "Dude, you know Lex Luthor?"
Clark turned around and said, making his exasperation clear, "What are you doing here?"
"Well, Chloe shot me down," he said, sounding a little too casual, "but, you know, her loss. Man, this place is awesome!"
Clark rolled his eyes as Bart said, gesturing to a room further down the hall, "I mean, have you seen all the cool stuff?"
Feeling a little panicky now, Clark asked, "You were just in there?"
"Yeah, I just took a quick spin," Bart said flippantly. Noticing Clark's expression, he said reassuringly, "Don't worry about it man, he won't have a clue."
Clark glanced around before stepping closer and whispering furiously, "You gotta get out of here."
Turning at his name, Clark saw Lex standing there, a puzzled look on his face.
"Who are you talking to?" he inquired.
Clark turned back to Bart and saw that Bart was gone. He sighed and faced Lex once again, completely lost for words.
Clark made sure he opened the door loudly when he came home. A moment later, Rory was in the kitchen too. "Anything special happen?" she asked brightly.
"Hey, Clark," Jonathan called from the lounge room.
"I saw something at Lex's," Clark said, coming further into the house so he could talk to both of them. "It was a page from an old manuscript and it had Kryptonian writing on it."
"How old?" Rory asked.
"Seventeenth century, according to Lex," Clark answered.
Rory whistled and Jonathan questioned, "What did the symbols say?"
"It was the same message, repeated over and over," Clark explained. " 'Look deeper.' I used my x-ray vision and there was a map, hidden underneath."
"Can I see?" Rory asked. Clark brought up the picture in his mind and showed her, first the original manuscript, then the map underneath.
"A map to what?" Jonathan asked.
"I don't know," Clark replied. "Any ideas, Rory?"
Rory shook her head as she blinked out of the connection. "It feels kinda like it has something to do with Jor-El, though," she said hesitantly.
Clark nodded in agreement. "And what he sent us after when he was controlling us," he finished.
"I want both of you to leave this alone," Jonathan said, suddenly stern.
"But Dad-" they said plaintively, at the same time.
"Weren't you just telling me how you want to have a normal senior year?" he asked. "How does traipsing around the globe on Jor-El's crusade fit into that?"
"It doesn't," Clark said. "But hanging out with Bart reminded me that we're not normal, Dad."
"Not to mention the Winchesters," Rory agreed. "Maybe it's time we stopped running from who we really are."
"What you both are is seventeen years old," Jonathan pointed out.
Rory huffed and looked away from him.
"Dad, it doesn't matter how old we are," Clark tried to explain. "Whatever Jor-El sent us to find, I have a feeling it's very powerful and very dangerous."
"Especially if it falls into the wrong hands," Rory interjected, "and we're the only ones who can stop that from happening."
"How?" Jonathan queried. "By stealing that manuscript from Lex?"
"No," Clark said quickly. "He has no idea what he's got."
Rory didn't agree with that – Lex might be out of the loop, but he wasn't stupid. Maybe he didn't know exactly what he had, but he definitely had an idea.
"All I have to do is sneak back in there and get a better look," Clark finished.
"Clark, it's a bad idea," Jonathan said, torn.
"He could see you," Rory elaborated. "Surely he's got security systems. Not to mention the cameras the mansion already has."
Clark looked unsure for a moment, but then he lifted his chin and said, resolve firm, "I'll be in and out before he even knows I'm there."
Clark tore a piece of paper out of his notebook as Rory said, "You could at least take out the cameras before you just stroll in there to take a look around."
"That'll just look suspicious," Clark pointed out.
"And you, on tape, looking at the painting-"
"It's a risk we gotta take," Clark said, grabbing a pen.
Before Rory could continue the argument, there was a burst of air and Bart appeared.
"Dude!" he cried, looking excited. "Lex's place was sweet! I mean, that guy's got like twenty cars man! There's no way you get that rich playing it straight. Man, I have got to step it up a notch, because that is how I wanna live."
Can you take care of him? Clark asked Rory silently.
Rory glared at him and sighed like a true martyr.
"Something wrong?" Bart asked, looking from one to the other.
"No, everything's fine," Clark reassured him. "I've just got some stuff I need to take care of. Why don't you hang out with Rory?"
Bart shrugged. " 'Kay."
As Clark left, he heard Bart saying to her animatedly, "Hey, there's a midnight showing of Speed at the Mann's Chinese Theater. The best popcorn, and Keanu rules in that one. So do you wanna go?"
"Sure," he heard Rory reply, and then he was gone.
"Awesome," Bart beamed. Rory grinned in return and started heading down the stairs.
She turned around as Bart said, serious for once, "I just wanted to say that it's been really cool hanging out with someone like me, you know?"
Rory smiled and nodded.
"So, uh, I got you and Clark something, just to say thanks for everything," he said cheerfully, pulling his backpack off his back and unzipping it.
"You didn't have to do that," Rory admonished him half-heartedly.
He pulled out a package and handed it to her. "It's an MP3 player," he explained. "So you can store all your favourite tunes and listen to them wherever you go."
Rory laughed and grinned at him. "Thanks!" she exclaimed. "That's really nice of you, Bart, I mean, I know you…"
She trailed off as she realised something, and her forehead furrowed. "Where'd you get this?"
Bart shifted uneasily. "I got it for you, man, it doesn't matter," he said earnestly.
"You stole it," she assumed. "Look, Bart, I can understand you not wanting to stand in line, but you could at least pay for it when you speed by."
"The store's not gonna lose money," Bart defended himself. "They're insured!"
"That doesn't make it right, Bart," Rory said sternly. She tried to give it back to him as she said, "Take it back."
"Why?" he asked sullenly. "I'm not ashamed, or anything like that. I'm perfectly happy with the way I live, and I don't need you ordering me around."
"So what are you gonna do?" she asked challengingly. "Run away again? That won't help you escape your problems, Bart."
"I'm not running away from anything," he shot back. "I'm running towards something, Rory. It's called a future. Can you say as much?"
With that and a final gust of air, he was gone. Rory stared at him, frozen, for a moment. Then she shook herself and went after him.
Moments later, having not actually paid attention to where he was leading her, she found herself in Lex's study with Clark. White lights were flashing and alarms were going off.
Clark stared at her, shocked. Putting himself together, he said just one word to her;
She obeyed without a second thought, disappearing with her own burst of displaced air. She ran past Lex and an anonymous security guard who were just coming through the door, and out of the mansion.
A moment later, she was back in the barn. It was like she'd never left, and if she tried, she could pretend she never had.
She turned and went outside, walking slowly back to the house.
As she drew closer, she could hear the phone ringing. She sprang up the stairs and, with very little effort, beat Jonathan to it. Grinning at him cheekily, she said, "Rory here."
It was funny how one word helped her forget the last minute, forget about Bart and Lex and the destiny Jor-El had laid out in front of her.
She turned away from Jonathan and walked up the stairs, a dreamy expression on her face. "Hey, Sam," she replied softly. "How are you?"
Later on, she found out from Clark that he'd come back home, to the barn, and found the MP3 player Bart had refused to take. Using it, he'd managed to find a guy called Hanison.
He'd found an unconscious Bart and a similarly handicapped Lex, along with Hanison and a minion. According to Clark, Bart took off with the manuscript after what he called a "scuffle".
He went to see Lex not long after that conversation. Rory still didn't quite feel up to it. When he came back, he was ecstatic; apparently, 'somebody' had deigned to return the manuscript.
Now they were up in the barn as Clark attempted to draw the map.
"That's not where that symbol goes," Rory said, pointing.
"They're my memories, I think I'd know," Clark protested.
"And that river doesn't look like a river," Rory criticised.
"I'd like to see you do better," Clark challenged, pushing the pen and paper over to her.
"Fine, I will," she said defiantly. She started drawing, focusing intently.
Clark peered over her shoulder and laughed. "What's that supposed to be?"
"It's the building in the fork of the river," she replied defensively.
"Looks more like a cow to me," Clark said innocently. Looking closer, he amended, "Sorry. A dead cow."
She smacked him on the upper arm, trying not to grin.
"He's right, you know," said another, cocky voice. "It does look like a dead cow."
"Cows are beautiful animals," Rory said primly.
"I think maybe you should try out that hero thing Clark's got going on," Bart snickered. "Art is not for you."
"Speaking of art…" Rory cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Technically speaking, that wasn't art," Bart said carelessly. "Besides, carrying around all that money would've just slowed me down."
"Sure, sure," Clark accepted, grinning at his friend's bravado.
"So, Bart, got any plans for that future of yours?" Rory asked, grinning at him.
"Don't know," he shrugged. "I mean, it's a big world. I figured I'd check it out, see if there's anyone else out there like us. Maybe start a club or league or something," he joked.
"Well, when you think about it, you might as well just stick around," Clark kidded.
"All the interesting people end up in Smallville sooner or later," Rory finished, a twinkle in her eye.
Bart smiled, a hint of regret in there. "You have a great life, guys," he said. "Really. But it's not mine. There's really nothing here for me in Smallville."
"There's us," Clark said hopefully.
His smile said that he wasn't convinced. "Thanks for being my friends," he said sincerely.
"And there's nothing we can do to change your mind?" Rory asked, just as hopeful as her brother.
"Tell you what," Bart said thoughtfully. Flashing his signature grin, he said cockily, "If you can catch me, I'll think about it."
In a flash, he was gone, and they were after him.
Pushing themselves like they'd never done before, Rory just a little ahead of Clark, all three could tell that the twins were gaining on Bart. Slowly, bit by bit, they caught up to him, until Rory was just a metre behind and Clark half a metre behind her.
But then Bart turned around, running backwards. He grinned at them, and waved cheerfully – and then he gained even more speed, his entire body becoming nothing but a blur of red.
And then he was gone.
The twins stopped, in the middle of a road, far from home. Clark looked at Rory, and Rory looked back at him, identical grins on their faces.
There was a moment's pause, then Rory suggested eagerly, "Race you home?"
Clark grinned and was gone.
A/N For the last seven months or so, I've been planning the ending, tweaking and fiddling until I have an ending that I am satisfied with. It's probably going to disappoint a lot of you. But I'm not good at happy endings. Yeah, that was a spoiler. But nobody reads these, so it's okay. ^_^ Thanks to everybody who reads this story, cause without you I'd probably have given up a long time ago. This extra-long chapter is for you. :o) (By extra long, I mean it's seven and a half thousand words. Not kidding.)
PS – more Winchesters in the next chapter. Including Jason. I promise.