A/N: Well, this is it. The last chapter. I'd like to send out some thank you's here:
Thank you to Karri for being there when I was really stuck. You rock, girlfriend! (Although I suspect she was just trying to help me get through this so I could get back to work on "Heart" ;-)
Karri, I promise I'll start working on that right away.
Thank you to Deanine for taking on the tremendous responsibility of being my muse and editor. This story would not be half what it turned out to be without her insight.
Thank you to Mega-Sponge for absorbing all my bad grammar and run-on sentences.
And most especially I'd like to thank all you who reviewed this story and all those who took the time to contact me personally with their thoughts and encouragement. Your feedback was appreciated more than you know.
"Where the Wild Things Are" is the property of Maurice Sendak and is not an original work of this author.
* Is an inner thought*.
Jonathan held the well-worn book in his hands, absently running his fingers over the cover which had become soft with age and handling. He gazed at his son and rested his weary head on the back of the rocker that Martha had dragged in shortly after their reading marathon started. The old chair had once been a fixture in this room, but he'd removed it years ago when Clark complained he wanted the extra space. Jonathan ran his hands over the smooth, worn wood and smiled. It felt good to sit there again at his son's bedside. "If only the circumstances were different," he sighed as he gazed at his boy.
For almost two days Jonathan and Martha had been reading and talking to Clark, with very few breaks taken in between. Still, Clark seemed to be a little better. His breathing was a little deeper than before and his skin had a bit more color. Martha had been keeping a close watch on Clark's wounds and found that, while they weren't completely healed, they were improving. In the deeper cuts on his chest, she could see where the tissue was beginning to knit together, and the leg wound had lost its vibrant red color and was now only slightly pink around the edges. If only Clark would show some sign of waking up, then they could both breathe easier.
Martha came in quietly and sat down next to Clark. She ran a loving hand over her baby's forehead, soothing back the errant ebony locks that had always had a mind of their own. She smiled at the memory of so many years spent trying to tame Clark's hair.
"What?" Jonathan asked gently. He could see the smile from where she sat on the other side of the bed and wondered at it.
His wife shook her head slightly. "Nothing," she said in a hoarse whisper. The long hours of talking had taken their toll. "You'll think it's silly." She sent an almost shy look toward her husband.
"I won't. Tell me." Now he smiled.
"I was thinking about Clark's hair," she admitted. "Thinking about how hard it is to keep it neat."
"Ah, yes," Jonathan said wisely. "Hairzilla."
Martha stared at her husband for a moment then burst into laughter. "Jonathan!" She tried to sound indignant, but failed. "Where did you ever come up with that?"
Jonathan's laughter joined hers. "I didn't. Clark did. When he was about thirteen. That's what we've called it since."
"Thirteen? Why haven't I heard about this before?"
He shrugged, grinning wickedly. "It's a guy thing. You know how we guys are always giving things nicknames. You know, like . . . "
Martha's eyes widened with an unspoken threat. "And this is where the conversation stops, Jonathan Kent," she interrupted, laughing.
Jonathan laughed, too, and held up his hands in defeat. "Of course. Of course. Just making conversation." He knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as the words left his mouth. Martha's smile faded and she turned again to their son.
"Are we doing the right thing, Jonathan?" she asked as she studied her son's pale face. "Is this really the best we can do?"
Warm arms enfolded her from behind and Jonathan's hand covered hers where it rested on Clark's.
"Yes," he answered. "It is. Now, I was about to start another book. Wanna hang around?"
"Do you want me to read it? You've been here all night."
Jonathan hid a smile. His wife could barely speak, much less read. "No. I'm good." He sat back down in the rocker and picked up the book . He held it up for her to see. "I thought it was time to bring in the big guns."
"Oh, Jonathan! Where did you find that? I was looking for it earlier."
"Promise you won't tell Clark?" Her husband's eyes glinted with suppressed amusement.
"Promise." *I can't wait to heart this* she thought.
"Under his mattress."
Martha didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both. "I guess our baby isn't as grown up as he'd like us to believe."
"I think he comes by it naturally. I keep finding "Little House on the Prairie Books" in the living room." Martha blushed prettily and Jonathan grinned at her. "Don't worry. Both your secrets are safe with me. Now, shall we?" He opened the book and began to read.
"I want to go home," Clark prayed. A single tear worked its way down his cheek. "Please, God, help me find my way home."
He was so tired. He'd been walking for days and his spirit was failing. He'd followed his parents' voices while they talked or read, and rested when they stopped. But the never-ending darkness was sapping his strength and he didn't know how much longer he could go on.
Clark closed his eyes and pictured his mom and dad. He loved them so much. People sometimes asked him if he wondered about his real parents and, although, he'd answer that he sometimes thought about who they were, what he really wanted to tell them was that Jonathan and Martha Kent were his real parents. They were the only parents he'd ever known. Sometimes, in his dreams, he saw other faces, other people that he thought might be his mother and father. But he was never sure if it was really them, or his imagination. He would probably never know. Still, he was content with what he had. Of all the people in Smallville who could have found him, he was glad it was the Kent's. And it nearly killed him to think what they must be going through right now.
"They must be worried sick," he told the darkness. "It's not like they can call a doctor or an ambulance like normal people. They have to be going out of their minds. I know I've been here a while and I know how Mom and Dad worry about me when something happens. So you have to let me go. Don't you see? I have to go home. Now."
Clark waited but there was no answer from the dark. He began to get angry. "I said I want to go home!" Tears of rage began to race down his cheeks. "I don't want to be here anymore! Do you hear me?" Exhaustion left him as he shouted into the blackness. "Show me how to get out of here!"
His voice echoed around him, swirling up and away into the blackness, then came back as a quiet whisper. He yelled again. A cry of pure frustration, containing all the rage and loneliness that consumed him, emanated from his throat. The scream howled around him like a demon given voice. Like a raging tornado it tried to pull him into the inky blackness, away from home, away from the sound of his father's voice. Clark closed his arms around himself, trying to ward off the maelstrom he'd created. Then the wind faded away, leaving only the dreaded silence in its wake. Clark collapsed to his knees and buried his face in his hands. "I just want to go home," he whispered brokenly. "I want to go home."
A sound began to filter through the nothing, then. It took Clark a moment to realize it was his father's voice. A sob hitched in his chest and he began to rock himself back and forth. "I'm sorry, Dad," he moaned miserably. "I can't find my way. I've tried but I can't find my way. Help me. Please somebody help me."
"'The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another . . . '"
"It's not working, Dad," Clark sobbed as he rocked himself. "Don't you see? The whole reading thing isn't working."
"'...his mother called him "Wild Thing!" and Max said "I'll eat you up!" so he was sent to bed without eating anything. That very night in Max's room a forest grew . . . '"
The receding anger boiled up again in Clark's gut. "It's not working!"
"'...and grew . . . '"
"Don't you hear me?"
"'...and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around . . . '"
"IT'S NOT WORKING!" He lurched to his feet and screamed at his father, shaking his fists at the sound of Jonathan's voice. "IT'S NOT . . . " Clark stopped and took a deep breath. Then he took another. He shut his eyes, felt his eyelashes touch his bottom lids, opened them and then shut them again to be sure.
There was a light ahead and it was growing brighter.
"'...and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.'"
Martha smiled at the familiar words as her hand continued to smooth the hair on Clark's brow. *It almost feels like Clark has really been away that long* she thought sadly. A sudden movement under her fingers caused her to pull her hand away and gasp.
Jonathan stopped reading. "Martha? What is it? What's wrong?" Worry was clear in his voice.
"I think . . . I think he moved," Martha breathed, afraid to say it lest it prove to be her imagination.
"Are you sure?"
"I don't know. Keep reading. Let's see if it happens again."
Jonathan gave his wife a long look then focused his eyes back on the pages in front of him.
"'And when he came to the place where the wild things are . . . '"
This book had been Clark's absolute favorite. It was, in fact, the first book they'd ever read to him, Martha having read it the first night they'd found him.
"'...they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws . . . '"
As he grew, he'd asked for them to read it over and over again at bedtime. Clark would roar when the wild things roared, and he'd bare pretend claws. Jonathan smiled at the memory, and hoped that if anything could strike a chord in his son, if anything could reach the faraway place where he lingered, it would be this book.
"'...till Max said "BE STILL!" and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.'"
As he read, Jonathan recalled how Clark would practice long hours, trying to hypnotize things by staring at them. He'd tried it with his parents and with his friends. He'd given himself a headache on more than one occasion trying Max's 'magic trick'. Once Jonathan even caught him trying to hypnotize the cows.
"I want to be king of all wild things, Daddy," Clark had told him then.
Jonathan had laughed. "Haven't you looked in the mirror lately?" he teased. "You already are."
"'And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!'"
There it was again! Martha felt it for certain this time! Under her fingers, the muscles in Clark's face were twitching, ever so slightly. She pulled her hand away from his face and took his hand in hers. "Come on, Clark," she said softly over Jonathan's voice. "Come on, baby. It's time to come home now."
Beneath pale lids, Clark's eyes began to move. It looked to Martha like he was watching something, or dreaming. "Come on, honey. Wake up for us." In the background, Jonathan continued to read, glancing occasionally at his wife's face for any sign that Clark was responding. He heard her quiet voice encouraging Clark to open his eyes, to wake up. Without realizing he was doing it, he moved to the other side of the bed and sat down, taking Clark's other hand in his own. The book lay forgotten on the floor but Jonathan continued, the words memorized.
"'Now stop!" Max said and send the wild things off to bed without their supper. And Max the king of wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.'"
Clark's fingers twitched against Jonathan's hand.
"'Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.'"
As Jonathan spoke, as Sendak's beloved words poured from his memory, he silently echoed his wife's encouraging words.
"Come on, Clark. It's time for you and Max to both come home now."
It seemed to Jonathan and Martha that Clark's entire being was joined in the struggle to regain consciousness. His body, which had lain motionless for so long, now lay almost rigid with energy. His hands moved against theirs, his eyes moved incessantly as if trying to remember how to open. Still, Jonathan kept up his litany.
"'But the wild things cried, "Oh, please don't go - we'll eat you up - we love you so!" And Max said, "No!'"
Clark could hear his parent's voices; he could see the way getting clearer. Small shafts of brighter light broke away from the center, almost like the sun breaking through the storm clouds that frequently haunted the Kansas spring.
*I'm coming!* he yelled toward the light as he fought against the impenetrable ties that held him. It almost seemed as if this dark place didn't want him to leave.
"'The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye . . . "
And then it was gone. The malevolent bonds that had been holding him to the clinging, suffocating blackness were gone and Clark slumped to the floor, gasping for breath. All around him was the bright gray that told him his eyes were closed and the sun was shining. He could feel his parents hands holding his. He could smell them, hear them breathe as they spoke.
"'...and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day . . . '"
"Come on, Clark!" Martha held a hand against Clark's face and rubbed her thumb along his cheekbone. "Wake up, honey." She could see his eyes moving slower and a stab of fear shot through her. What if they'd failed? What if it had meant nothing?
"...and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him . . . '"
Clark rested, gathering his feeble strength. The fight against the darkness had taken every ounce of energy he'd had but he'd won. The black void that had trapped him was nowhere to be seen.
"'...and it was still hot.'"
All he had to do was open his eyes and he'd be home. Clark took a deep breath, and steeled his weary body for the greatest task he'd ever faced.