Season 1, rewrite of "Leech"
Length: 4700 words
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Screencap from Oxoniensis.
"Ow." Clark Kent grunted as he tried to lift a fence rail. "Hey, Chloe, what brings you all the way out here?"
Chloe Sullivan leaned against the fence and studied him carefully. In the twilight, he looked as big and strong as ever, but his face was drawn with exhaustion. Odd, she thought. Pete had said he'd faceplanted during math class, too. Ordinarily Clark seemed to have limitless energy, but today he seemed drained, somehow.
"I needed to talk," she said quietly. "You have a minute?"
"I guess." He gave up trying to lift the rail, dropping it to the ground with another grunt. "I don't suppose you want to help me with this fence?"
"Are you kidding? Don't you remember my policy on physical labor?"
"Uh... avoid at all costs, right?"
"I need some help," he whined. "My arms hurt. My shoulders hurt. My back hurts. I'm one giant ache."
She frowned at the rail. It didn't all look that heavy. "You can't lift that by yourself?"
He rubbed at a red spot on his hand, looking rueful, then lifted his gaze and looked at her.
"I've been baling hay for the last two hours, Chlo. I can barely lift my own arms." He sighed, and rubbed at his hand some more. "So what's up?
Chloe took a deep breath, then jumped right in. "We're friends, right?"
He chuckled softly, and his green eyes were filled with unmistakable affection. "Yeah, last time I checked. Why?"
"Well, I've been doing a little research," she said carefully. "Remember how I told you Eric Summers saved my laptop?"
"Yeah," he said, and she was almost sure she saw bitterness in his eyes. "It was all over school today, too. Eric is a hero."
"Well," she went on, still very carefully, "I'm writing an article on Eric. In fact I just turned it in. It's going to run in the Ledger tomorrow."
He gave her his bright, flashing smile. "That's awesome, Chlo."
"Thanks. The thing is, I just... well..."
He reached out and patted her shoulder awkwardly. She smelled the masculine, musky scent of sweat on his skin, and suddenly it hit her-- he'd never smelled like sweat before. Ever.
"Here's the thing," she said, a little awkwardly. "Eric told me about how his powers suddenly happened right after the two of you were hit by lightning. And the more I talked to him, the more I realized that a lot of his abilities sounded really... familiar. Like the way he doesn't get tired any more, or the way he can get from one place to another in a flash..."
His hand dropped away from her shoulder, and the smile drained out of his eyes. His expression was suddenly very wary.
"It sounded a lot like someone else I know," she said cautiously, still tiptoeing around the subject in a way that wasn't at all like her. But this was a very sensitive subject, and she didn't want to scare Clark, or freak him out. "Someone who used to be able to do chores all afternoon, then pull an all-nighter with me at the Torch and still be perfectly awake the next day, even without caffeine. Someone who used to somehow be able to get from way out here on the outskirts of town to the school faster than the bus did, but who's now been late to school two mornings running."
He stared at her, expressionless. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," he said at last.
She sighed. "No, of course you don't. Clark..."
"I really need to get back to my chores now," he said, his voice sharp-edged with defensiveness.
"Okay," she said. "Look, Clark, none of this is going to be in my article, okay? I just wanted to let you know that if you need to... to talk, or anything... I'm here for you. I know this, uh, change has to be difficult for you, and I just wanted to let you know I'm here for you."
Some of the wariness melted away, and he looked at her with warmth.
"Thanks, Chlo. But I'm fine. Nothing's changed, honest."
She looked at the uncharacteristic weariness etched into his face, and wished for a moment she could do something to give him back whatever he'd lost to Eric. She'd always known there was something different about Clark, but having interviewed Eric, having begun to put the pieces of the puzzle together at last, she'd finally begun to realize the extent of his differences.
She couldn't imagine what it would be like to have those powers, and lose them. She thought he must ache with the loss, every instant of every day, and she wondered if he'd ever resign himself to losing whatever abilities he'd possessed.
He offered her a wry half-smile, and on a sudden impulse she stepped toward him and threw her arms around his neck. He hesitated, for just a moment, and then his arms went around her waist, and he bowed his head, pressing his face into her shoulder.
She could feel him trembling, whether with grief or exhaustion she wasn't sure. She stroked his dark, coarse hair, feeling how damp it was beneath her fingers.
Poor Clark, she thought. He was sweaty and tired and miserable, and there was nothing she could do to make him feel better.
A hug was all she had to offer.
"Clark, you should have seen it," Pete said, grinning as he waved the Smallville Ledger in the air. "Eric threw the guy like thirty feet."
Chloe was watching Clark closely enough that she could see him wince. Pete, on the other hand, was oblivious. Pete was always oblivious. He'd been the one to provide her with most of the data that had helped her solve the mystery-- Clark suddenly couldn't run a couple of laps in gym class without panting and gasping for breath, Clark acted like he'd never had a cramp in his leg before, Clark had fallen asleep in math class-- but he hadn't put the clues together into any sort of coherent whole.
Which was, she supposed, why she was the investigative journalist, and he wasn't.
"Yes," she said brightly. "Not only did he recover my laptop, but I got my first professional byline."
Clark winced again, and she wondered if on some level, he wished he'd gotten that sort of recognition and publicity. She'd already figured out that he'd worked extremely hard to keep his abilities secret, and she imagined he wouldn't have wanted to be in the paper, at least consciously.
Even so, deep down, it must bug him that Eric was getting recognized as a hero after only a couple of days, whereas he himself had had these powers for-- how long? who knew?-- and everyone still just thought of him as a dorky farm kid.
"That's great, Chlo," Clark said, and about her byline, at least, he sounded genuinely enthusiastic.
"Come on, Clark!" Pete said. "How can you not think this is cool?" He poked Clark in the ribs. "Jealous?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "The guy stopped a purse-snatcher. It's not that big a deal."
Chloe felt someone tap her from behind. She turned and saw Eric Summers standing there. He was, she thought, a cutie. He'd been something of a dork himself up until two days ago, shy and awkward and withdrawn, but he'd taken his glasses off, and walked with much more confidence now. In fact, he was all but swaggering.
"Hey," he said, smiling at her. "Thanks for getting that story in the paper."
She smiled back, because yeah, he'd apparently somehow gotten Clark's powers, but it wasn't like he'd stolen them. She was pretty sure he'd just gotten them accidentally, as a result of the lightning strike, and if he was going to use them for good, just like Clark always had, she couldn't bring herself to resent the guy that much.
"Thanks for saving my computer. It's my life." She rolled her eyes and laughed at herself. "Okay, how pathetic did that just sound?"
Eric grinned at her. It was an expression she'd never seen on his face before. Always before, he'd seemed sullen, hiding behind walls, but now he looked like he was bursting with confidence. "So," he said, "who came up with Superboy?"
She slid an apologetic glance toward Clark. "I did."
"Really?" More grinning. Was she crazy, or was he actually flirting with her? He'd hardly ever looked at a girl before, as far as she'd ever noticed, but now he was staring right into her eyes. "I like that."
She was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, because he hardly seemed like the same person he'd been before. "Uh, thanks," she mumbled.
"I thought it was kind of lame," Clark interjected. She could hear that edge of bitterness in his voice, and understood it. She remembered him clinging to her last night, shaking all over, and a wave of sympathy rocked her. But Pete only rolled his eyes.
"Clark's just jealous," he informed Eric.
But Eric had lost his interest in the conversation. He'd spotted Holly, the blonde, beautiful girl everyone knew he had a crush on, and he'd turned away from them, and headed eagerly across the hall.
Clark watched him go. "I hope all this attention doesn't go to his head," he said, very softly, and Chloe understood that he was talking to her, not Pete. "He really needs to be careful."
Chloe saw a jock approaching-- Whitney Fordman, star quarterback of the football team. "Ross," he said, in his habitual slightly aggressive tone. "I'm getting a pick-up game together in the gym. You and Kent versus me and Brent. What do you say?"
Ross slid an apologetic look in Clark's direction. "Clark doesn't really play."
Chloe saw Clark's eyes light up. "No, I play," he said, sounding almost eager.
Pete looked at him oddly. "Since when?"
"Since now," Clark said with a shrug.
Whitney grinned. "Great. Bring it on."
Chloe didn't care about sports, but she was happy enough to sit in the gym with Holly, Brent's girlfriend, and Lana, Whitney's girlfriend, and cheer on Clark and Pete. It wasn't a bad way to spend an hour, for sure. Clark wore a white t-shirt that was pulled tight across his pecs and shoulders, and every time he went up in the air to grab the ball, a little sliver of his flat belly was exposed.
Basketball was kind of fun, after all.
She watched Clark grinning as he played, watched his wide, happy smile when he was knocked to the ground and clobbered his elbow, and she reflected that she'd never seen him smile so much. Clark was a basically cheerful guy, but there was always a certain gravity to him. You couldn't be around him without sensing that the weight of the world rested on his shoulders somehow.
But today, chasing cheerfully after an orange ball and trying to toss it through a little hoop, he looked like all that weight was gone from his shoulders. He looked as carefree as she'd ever seen him.
At last the end of the game ended. She and the girls got up and headed across the gym, to where the guys were shaking hands.
"Good game," Pete was saying as he shook hands. "Good game, man." As he and Clark stepped toward Chloe, she saw him aim a curious look at Clark. "Why you grinning? We lost."
Clark grinned wider than before.
"I know," he said. "Pretty cool, huh?"
Watching Brent get chased around the parking lot, Chloe reflected the next day, could have been amusing. Brent was an ass, and he'd bullied more than his fair share of geeks, including Eric. Seeing the tables turned might have been fun, if she hadn't already known that Eric's strength was far, far beyond that of ordinary guys.
Brent dove under a truck, and the assembled crowd of students gasped as Eric tilted up the truck like it weighed nothing, then tossed it to the side, the way regular people tossed away a crumpled-up ball of paper. It rolled four times. Chloe gulped.
If Eric could pick up a truck that easily, what might he do to Brent?
Someone brushed past her, and she realized it was Clark, heading straight for the altercation. She tried to grab his arm, but he brushed her off and headed straight for Eric. She watched him, and saw that his cheerful, carefree demeanor was gone. He looked as if the weight of the world was back on his shoulders.
She saw him grab the other guy's arm. "Eric,' he said. "You can't do this!"
"Watch me," Eric snarled, shaking off Clark's hand. He no longer looked amiable, or even sullen. He looked pissed as hell. Chloe wondered what had happened to make him so angry.
"I'm serious!" Clark grabbed him again, clearly trying to force Eric to listen to him somehow. "I'm serious! You could kill someone. You don't want that on your conscience, believe me. You've just got to calm down, okay? Calm down!"
"You're not my father, Clark. Now shut up and get out of my way!"
He gave Clark a contemptuous shove, and Clark flew through the air, landing with a sickening crunch on top of a car. He lay still for a moment, stunned, then stirred and rolled over, groaning.
Chloe raced to him. Nearby, she saw Holly, running to Brent. Holly dropped down protectively beside Brent and glared up at Eric.
"Get away from us, you freak!"
"How much longer is it going to hurt like this?"
Clark sounded distinctly whiny, and Chloe didn't blame him. Eric had informed her proudly that since he got his new abilities, he couldn't be hurt. So she guessed Clark wasn't used to pain.
The doctor smiled. "Oh, you'll be fine in a couple weeks."
"A couple weeks?" Clark repeated plaintively. She patted his shoulder, very gently, in reassurance.
The doctor said cheerfully, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Clark stared incredulously as the doctor disappeared out the door, then turned to Chloe and blinked at her. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Is he kidding me?"
"You'll survive this, Clark." She smiled. "And the up side to it is you can probably get out of chores for at least a week. Maybe more."
He tilted his head, as if he hadn't thought of that, and smiled a little. She grinned back at him, and squeezed his hand.
"My parents will be here soon to take care of the paperwork," he said. "They're going to flip out."
"I guess they're not used to seeing you all--" She waved at the bandages on his ribs.
"No," he admitted. "They're not."
She was grateful they were getting past the pretense, past the nothing's-changed-I'm-the-same-guy-I-always-was. It was nice that he respected her enough not to go on pretending. It was nice that he trusted her not to tell anyone, especially considering she was a reporter.
He struggled painfully to his feet and began awkwardly trying to button his shirt. "I'll help," she said, and fastened his buttons. She looked up at him to find him watching her with an oddly intent expression. Disconcerted by the look in his eyes, she blurted, "I wish you hadn't gotten in Eric's way."
"He's my responsibility," he said softly.
"No, he's not." She finished buttoning the shirt and stared up into his eyes. "He's responsible for his own choices. His own actions."
He shrugged a big shoulder, then winced at the movement. "I guess maybe. But he just-- well, he just suddenly got these powers, Chloe. Think about how it would be to just suddenly develop something like that, with no time to adjust. I think maybe it would go to most people's heads."
"I guess it might. Still, what he does is not your fault, Clark."
"Maybe," he said softly, and she could almost see his shoulders bend beneath the weight of the world. "But I think Spiderman's got it wrong, Chlo. With great power or without, I still feel like I have that responsibility. I need to talk to him."
"I don't think he's in the mood for talking."
"Somehow or other, Chlo, I need to make him see reason."
She didn't want to drive him to Eric's house. She thought he ought to go home, take some painkillers, and sleep. But Clark was insistent. Somehow he felt that Eric was his responsibility, and he wasn't going to go home to rest until he got Eric calmed down.
But as they drove up to Eric's house, they saw it was already too late.
There were cop cars everywhere, their lights blinking. Chloe gaped as she saw a car half through the roof of the Summers' house. A car had been flipped over in front of the house, and the mailbox and picket fence smashed into splinters.
Apparently Eric had continued his rampage.
Clark opened the door and jumped out before she'd brought the car to a complete halt. She turned off the engine and followed him toward Eric's dad.
Mr. Summers looked up as he approached. "Clark, what are you doing here?"
"I was worried about Eric," Clark said. "After what happened at school today, I thought... well, I just wanted to talk to him."
Mr. Summers looked more sour than usual. "It's a police problem now," he said bitterly. "Damn kid's out of control. Look what he's done to the house."
Chloe looked up at the car in the roof, and shuddered. "Do you have any idea where he went?" she asked.
"He talked about getting rid of it," Mr. Summers answered. "He said that there was only one place he could do that. Whatever the hell that means."
"Thank you, sir," Clark said with his customary politeness, and the two of them went back to the car. Chloe sat down in the driver's seat and looked at him.
"Do you think he went back to where it all started?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah," he said. "I think he's gone to the dam. Let's head over there."
"But Clark..." She sighed. "I don't think you can talk him down, okay? I think it's gone past that. Look at what he did to their house. Look at what he did to you. If you try to talk to him again, this time he might not stop at cracking a few ribs. He might kill you."
He frowned into the darkness, considering the problem. At last he said something totally unexpected, almost random.
"I need a meteor rock."
She gaped. "A what? Clark... this isn't the time to do your geology homework..."
"It's hard to explain," he said, "but I need a meteor rock. Problem is, they're not all that easy to find..."
She quirked an eyebrow. "We all collected one the other day, remember? I suppose they're all still in Mr. Summers' room at school."
"And the school is on the way to the dam," he said. "Okay, Chlo, let's get rolling."
She hit the accelerator, and they took off with a squeal of tires.
They spotted Eric standing on the railing at the top of the dam as they drove up. They scrambled out of the car together, and Clark yelled at the top of his voice.
"Eric! Eric, don't!"
Eric looked around at them, a strange smile on his face.
And then he spread his arms wide and let himself fall.
Chloe screamed, because even if he was durable, surely he couldn't survive a fall of that distance. Clark put his arms around her, and she hid her face in his chest, imagining Eric's broken body at the bottom of the dam, all his bones shattered, his flesh crushed to a bloody pulp. If only we'd been a few seconds sooner...
He held her for a moment, then let go of her and raced for the path down to the river. She ran behind him, hearing him grunt in pain with every step. But despite his obvious pain, he didn't slow down.
At the bottom of the dam, he ran toward it, shouting Eric's name.
But then, to her utter shock, she heard Eric's voice, cold and angry.
"You should have let me go the first time, Clark. It would have been better than living like this."
She skidded to a halt as she saw Eric standing there, perfectly healthy. He didn't have so much as a scrape.
Clark didn't seem nearly as shocked as she was. He asked, very gently, "Eric, why did you jump off the dam?"
"I was testing myself to see if I had any limits." Eric spread his arms. "Apparently I don't."
"Eric," Chloe said, following Clark's lead and speaking gently, as if to a frightened child. "Talk to us. We know you're scared."
"Scared?" Eric laughed bitterly. "What do I have to be scared of? What could possibly scare me? I'm invulnerable. Nothing can hurt me. Nothing at all."
Despite the words, he sounded hurt, so hurt she ached to help him somehow. Clark must have felt the same impulse, because he said, "Look, you can adjust to these abilities, Eric. You've just got to give yourself some time."
Eric looked at him, contemptuous and cold, like a god staring down upon a mere mortal. "How would you know, Clark?"
Clark shrugged. "I--I'm just saying you you can't expect yourself to adjust instantly. It takes time, I'm sure. But in time..."
"Sure," Eric said, his voice dripping with venom. "So in time, my parents won't be scared of me. The girl of my dreams won't think I'm a freak. The cops won't be after me."
"I can help," Clark offered.
"I don't want your help." Eric's lip twisted, showing his teeth in a snarl. "If they're going to treat me like a criminal, then I'll fucking well give them something to be scared about."
"That's not the answer," Chloe said gently, extending a hand to him.
"There is no answer!" he cried, and she could hear the anguish and despair in his voice. "I'm not like anyone else-- I'm different-- I'm a freak--"
Chloe remembered Holly's voice, dripping with contempt: Get away from us, you freak. Sympathy coiled in her chest. She could imagine what Eric was going through, and how frightened he must be.
She could imagine how heavily the weight of the world must rest on his shoulders, when he had never been properly prepared to carry it.
And then Clark was moving toward him, holding out the meteor rock, but Clark, big and strong though he was, stood no chance against Eric. Eric grabbed him by the front of his shirt, spun him around, and threw him against a chain link fence enclosing the power station at the foot of the dam. The fence broke under the strain, and Clark slammed through it, slamming into the ground with a pained grunt. Chloe could only imagine how much it hurt him.
She ran forward and tried to pull Eric back, but it was like trying to hold back a raging Clydesdale. Eric brushed her off as if she were a fly, and then advanced on Clark again.
"Eric!" Clark yelled. She saw him scrabbling desperately in the dirt, trying to find the meteor rock-- though why it mattered, she had no clue. He found it and grasped it tightly in his fist. "This isn't the answer."
Eric stopped, glaring down at him. "Come on, Clark," he said, his voice filled with cold anger. Chloe had the feeling that he was taking out all the frustrations of the day on Clark-- on a guy who'd done nothing but tried to help him. "If you had the power to do whatever you want, what would you do?"
Clark struggled painfully to his feet. "I'd stop people like you," he answered.
"Nothing on this earth can stop me," Eric snapped. He grabbed Clark and shoved him back against the generator.
"You're wrong," Clark gasped, struggling to get free, but failing.
"We'll see about that," Eric answered. Chloe saw him reach to the side, rip out a live wire, and slam it toward Clark. She ran toward them, with no clear idea of what she could possibly do to stop Clark from being electrocuted. All she knew was that she had to try.
But Clark shoved the meteor rock against Eric's chest, and then caught hold of the hand holding the live wire.
Chloe gasped, expecting them both to be killed. But instead an emerald light glowed around them. Their bodies jerked as if caught in some enormous force.
Slowly, Eric slumped to the ground.
"Cold," he whispered. "So cold."
Clark flung the meteor rock away and got to his feet, and Chloe stared at him, seeing that the scrapes and cuts he'd gotten in his altercation with Eric just faded away.
She swallowed hard, then got out her cell phone and called the police.
They stood together, watching the still form of Eric Summers being loaded into an ambulance. Mr. Summers stood next to the ambulance, looking sorrowful. She felt a shudder run through Clark, and stepped a little closer, sliding an arm around his waist. He put an arm around her, too.
"What do you think's going to happen to them now?" he asked her softly.
"I'm not sure," Chloe answered honestly. "They've always had problems, Clark. Everyone always knew Eric didn't get along with his parents. And he was so withdrawn all the time. So... so disconnected. It's not your fault, you know. He had problems before..."
"Maybe he did," Clark said harshly. "But it was getting those abilities that were the catalyst for all this, Chlo."
"And yet you don't throw cars around," she said, very gently.
He sighed. "That's because Eric didn't get my two strongest gifts. My mom and dad."
She nodded. "I guess our parents make a difference," she admitted. "But maybe... maybe to some degree, it's you. Maybe, even if you'd been adopted by Mr. Summers, or Lionel Luthor, or Jack the Ripper, you might still be the exact same person you are now."
"Maybe." He shrugged. "I don't know."
"I do know," she said, very softly. "You're a hero, Clark. With powers, or without. I don't think anything could ever change that."
He looked down at her and smiled a little.
"My parents would have a cow if they knew you knew my secret," he told her. "Especially after the Superboy article."
"I'll never tell a soul, Clark. You know that."
"Yes," he said, repeating her own words back to her with a smile. "I do know. But my parents-- well, they worry."
"Don't tell them until you want to," she advised. "I'll never let on that I know, Clark. You can trust me."
"I know I can." He watched the ambulance pulling away, its lights flashing, and sighed. "Come on, Chlo. Let's go home."
"I guess you don't need a ride," she said. "But I'll give you one anyway. We just need to climb up to the car. Too bad it's such a long way up the path..."
"That's no problem," he said, and swept her up in his arms. She squealed with surprise as the world blurred around them. When her vision cleared, they were standing next to her car.
"Wow," she said, impressed.
He smiled, almost shyly, as he lowered her feet to the ground. "It's kind of cool," he said. "Sometimes. But other times, it's almost like..."
He was silent for a long moment, and she offered, "A burden?"
"Yeah," he said softly. "A weight."
"I know," she answered. "I could tell it felt that way, I mean, although I can't begin to imagine what it really feels like to you. But if it helps, Clark, I think you carry it better than anyone else could."
He looked at her, and then smiled, very slightly.
"Thanks," he said, very softly. "That does help."
Together, they got into the car and drove toward home.