'Look, Clark, we've done all we can from Smallville. If you have any idea at all where your son might have gone, you need to tell us now. Metropolis is a big place, if that's where he's gone he could easily be lost and hungry. It's been nearly a week – generally we start to lose hope about now.'
'Pete, I've told you everything. You know it's a tricky situation to say the least. Will me running after him really be of any help?' Clark spread his hands in a questioning shrug.
'I think it will be an enormous help. You know the way he thinks, what sort of places he might be drawn to. Going there might trigger a memory of something Sean said, or someplace he's mentioned.'
Clark let out a frustrated sigh.
Pete flicked over a page in his blue manila folder. 'Buddy, I know how difficult this is for you. Lana's gone, and you've got a four-year-old to think of. But, as your friend, I have to be honest. You need to get your act together. This can't go on any longer.'
''What do you mean, "get my act together"? My son has run away from home, Lana may as well have disappeared into an abyss, judging from the total lack of contact I've had from her. She didn't even return my calls, Pete. I left a message on her answering machine, 'hey honey I've lost the kids'. No response. She's off with her new beau in LA. Worst of all, I'm still not even sure of why she left. And Martha keeps asking when she's coming back. I have no answers for anyone.' An almost-hysterical laugh escaped his lips, and he rubbed his eyes wearily.
Pete placed a hand on his shoulder sympathetically. 'It's rough, you can't deny it, but this apathy doesn't suit you, Clark. You used to be so full of life, you would've been down to Metropolis quick as a flash, notepad in hand, finding clues and solving the mystery. You would have had the job done by now. This inaction isn't you.'
Clark Kent shook his head wanly, eyes downcast. 'I just don't know where to start. It's a mess. This is not how I had envisaged my life.'
'And when I got caught shoplifting from Hobb's at fifteen, I never though I'd end up as sheriff, yet here I am. You can't plan life; you've just got to make the most of what it throws at you. And hey, it's not so bad. You've got a beautiful daughter who still believes her dad can save the world.' Pete smiled reassuringly, glancing towards the garden, where Martha was enjoying the summer afternoon with her collection of dolls. "Perhaps it's time you stop worrying, and do what you know you need to."
The old wooden deckchair groaned slightly as Clark shifted his weight, leaning forward over the small outdoor table, reaching for his mug. He took a moment to savour the warmth of his coffee.
'I'm not apathetic, by the way.'
Pete snickered. "You? You've hardly left the farm in years. "
'That doesn't mean I don't care. It just means my priorities have changed. We're not twenty anymore. We can't just up and leave when it suits us, you know that. We've both got families to think of.'
'That's my point.' Pete tapped his badge, as if asserting his legally recognised authority. 'Your little family looks to me like it's falling apart. You need to pack your plaid shirts, get in your car, and take that little girl of yours to find her brother. Don't worry about Lana. Don't worry about the farm. Those things can wait. Worry about where Sean is.' He emphasized his words by gently thumping the table.
Clark felt about twelve years old again, a boy being reprimanded for forgetting to muck out the barn. He did not like it. He was a grown man – a father, and, for however much longer, a husband of sorts. A lifetime of secrets was not without consequences, and now it was time to face them.
Despite his protests, he was resigned to his fate. 'Do you have any leads in Metropolis? It's been sixteen years since I was last there. I wouldn't know where to start.' His blue eyes flickered with uncertainty.
Pete smiled, please with himself. 'You said that Sean had little to no money with him, so I've been looking into likely charities and shelters. If he's been to any of them, he hasn't used his real name, but I'll continue to check YMCA, hostels, Luthorcorp, all the big ones."
Clark blanched, 'Luthorcorp?'
The sheriff looked at him tentatively, as if trying to understand something. 'Yes.' He flicked through his file book again. 'They've just opened a new programme, "Help Our Boys" or something equally pretentious. It's all publicity, if you ask me. The CEO hasn't lifted a finger to aid the less fortunate for years."
Pete genuinely cared about people, no matter what their background, something Clark had always admired about him. That, and his uncanny ability to tell him exactly what he didn't want to hear.
"I know I need to go there. I want to go, to make sure he's safe, but to be perfectly honest, Pete, I don't think he wants me to find him. We had a difficult conversation just before he left."
The other man gave him a knowing look. Pete was his oldest friend, and had always been aware that Lana wasn't Sean's biological mother. "I see." He made a note in his file.
"Don't write that in the blue book."
Pete looked up. "Don't worry, there's nothing about all that. Just a note to other officers looking into it that Sean may be very emotional right now. I take it he wasn't happy?"
Clark shook his head. "That would be an understatement. I didn't even fully know what I was going to say, it just all came tumbling out. I told him I couldn't tell him everything just yet. I felt terrible, but I don't think it's a great idea to go digging all of that up right now. There's too much going on. Obviously, Sean disagreed." He smiled, wanly. "In true Kent style, he's stubborn as an ox when he wants to be."
"They say you always get the children you deserve." Sheriff Ross chuckled. "Which is why yours are so good."
The old friends lapsed into a comfortable silence.
Then, "Do you think Rachel would accept my resignation on such short notice?"
Rachel Sullivan was the principal of Smallville high, a stern but good-natured woman who Clark counted among his friends.
Pete Ross looked shocked. "Whoa whoa whoa. Resignation?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably. "Well, who knows how long I'll be gone? It's become apparent lately that I need to focus on my family."
The sheriff grimaced. "Ask for compassionate leave. You don't want to lose your healthcare benefits. What if Sean catches something on the streets?" As always, he was thinking of the practical things.
"I guess you're right." He didn't want to mention that neither of his children had ever so much as been to the dentist.
"If I were you, I'd tell her the whole situation. Sean is a student there, and you don't want an unexplained absence like this on his record when he applies for colleges. Besides, quitting is a terrible idea in this job market. Ask her for a fortnight off, and we'll see how we go."
Clark drained the last of his coffee, glancing around the yard to check on Martha. "I suppose I better get the car ready for a long trip."
Chuckling, Pete pushed back his chair slightly. "I hope Martha doesn't get car sick."