"I don't understand," Lex muttered. "You can go to the left and to the right, you can go down, you can go up. . . it's as if once your body is able to ignore gravity, it's unable to recognize and obey gravity again."

If Clark concentrated, he could make his feet touch the ground. It was once he stopped concentrating that was the problem; then he had the annoying tendency to float again.

It was a good thing Lex had cured him of his fear of heights, because right now he was floating approximately twenty feet off the ground.

"Um, Lex," Clark said, glancing at the horizon. "It's getting kinda late, and my parents are expecting me home for dinner."

Lex checked his watch and frowned. "You'd better go home, then."

"What?" Clark waved his arms. "Um, hello? They're going to notice."

"They might have some ideas," Lex pointed out. "After all, they've had to deal with your powers before. The strength, the speed, the heat vision--"

"Okay, okay, I get it," Clark said. "It's just--they're gonna freak out. And--someone's going to see me."

"That's true," Lex mused. "Do you think you can concentrate long enough to get into the car?"

"I think so." Clark made himself drop several feet at a time, unsteadily, until his feet touched the ground. But he could feel that he wasn't actually resting on the ground; his legs and ankles had none of the tension they usually did when they had to support the weight of his body. He had to make sure each foot landed on the ground on the way to the car.

Lex got in on the driver's side and started the engine. Clark got into the passenger's side, put on the seatbelt, then sighed with relief and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.

The engine purred, but they didn't seem to be going anywhere. That was strange.

"Clark."

Clark opened his eyes. "What?"

"I think you're pulling the car up."

"What--oh." Clark realized that the seatbelt had locked and was now straining against his chest. A glance out the window proved that the car was, in fact, floating several inches off the ground. Clark groaned and slumped back.

"Can you put us back on the ground?" Lex asked carefully, as if Clark was a dangerous animal that might spook.

Clark tried not to sigh too dramatically. "Yeah."

It took a few minutes--controlling his body when he was inside a car was very different from controlling his body when it was just him--but eventually Clark managed to lower the car back to the ground. Lex winced at the bump.

"Sorry," Clark said. Stupid alien body. Why couldn't anything ever go right for him?

"Do you think you'll be all right for the ride home?" Lex asked.

Clark suddenly had visions of the Porsche taking off mid-way to the Kent farm. "Um. No. Maybe not."

"Hmm." Lex switched off the engine. "You know, we didn't check to see if your superspeed worked during flight."

Yes! That was it! Clark could move faster than the eye could see; if his superspeed worked in the air, he could just fly home and be inside the house before anyone noticed! He eagerly unbuckled his seatbelt and almost tipped the car scrambling out.

"Clark," Lex called, "wait--"

Clark sprang into the air with giddy ease. Once he was at what he felt was an appropriate height--not too low that anyone would easily see or recognize him, not too high that he might miss landmarks--he tried accelerating.

And discovered that his superspeed worked just as well in the air as on land.

Also, that he wasn't in Kansas anymore.

---

Clark had seen the mountains before, but never like this. He supposed that it was probably a good thing, since the mountains from above didn't really convey the same majesty they did from the ground. They just looked kind of like large, bumpy wrinkles in the landscape, like when he rumpled the bedcovers and smoothed them down again.

Oh God, where was he? Clark tried to remember the last geography class he'd taken. It'd been a really long time ago. Public schools aren't so hot on geography. Mountains, mountains. . . okay, what direction had he been facing when he'd taken off? Where had the sun been? Which way was his parents' house from Chandler's field?

Clark thought he'd better land--well, touch ground--and see where he was. Not that he recognized any landmarks, but if he could find a city--

His cell phone started ringing just as he jerkily sank to the surface. Clark hoped it wasn't his parents. "Hello?"

"Clark, where are you?"

It was Lex. Clark wasn't sure if that was better or worse than his parents calling. And was he roaming? His parents paid his cellphone bill, they'd be so pissed. "Um. I think I'm in Colorado."

"Colorado? How--never mind. Do you think you can make your way back?"

"Yeah," Clark said, looking around. "I just need to figure out where I am first."

"I thought you said you were in Colorado."

"Colorado's a big state!" Clark argued. "I could be near Colorado Springs," though this didn't look anything like Colorado Springs; he'd been there before, that one time White had been in town, "or Denver or--whatever else is in Colorado! I was going to--"

"Do you want me to pick you up?" Lex asked impatiently.

"No!" Jeez, Lex always acted like he could fix everything for Clark. And okay, he probably could fix--well, a lot of things--but that didn't mean Clark couldn't do anything for himself! Besides, if Lex came to pick him up Clark would have to wait forever, and he'd miss dinner and his parents were going to hit the ceiling anyway once they found out he was in Colorado again. "It's okay. I move faster than your plane, anyway."

"Yes, but you might overshoot and end up in Missouri next."

Shoot. Lex had a point. But still. "I can handle it," Clark said. "I mean, how am I going to get used to flying if I don't practice?"

"All right," Lex agreed. "I see your point. Just--call me if you have any problems, okay?"

"I will," Clark promised.

"What should I tell your parents if you're not home for dinner?"

"Um. I'll call them." Clark winced. The roaming charges were gonna be big.

"I'll take care of the roaming charges, Clark."

How did Lex do that? "It's okay, Lex," Clark said hastily.

"Don't be ridiculous, Clark. Billionaire and all that, remember?"

"Okay, okay." Clark wasn't that dumb.

"Remember to call me," Lex said, "and don't let anyone see you."

Clark rolled his eyes. "I know, Lex."

Lex hung up.

After shoving his phone back into his pocket, Clark realized that he had, in fact, touched ground. And he was sticking. He jumped up and down excitedly, grinning like a five-year old. He'd found gravity! Or maybe gravity had found him. Maybe he'd just been trying too hard earlier. Figures.

Right! So. Back to Kansas. Which was harder than it sounded, since Clark wasn't too sure where Kansas was. Well, no, he knew that Kansas was east of Colorado, but east was pretty broad, and he wasn't sure of his exact location.

He needed a map. He needed to go somewhere he could find a map.

And he could control his flight now, so this should be easy!

Up, up, and away! Clark thought as he took off.

---

It had seemed like a very good at the time. Drifting aimlessly several hundred feet above the ground looking for a rest stop/truck stop/town/city had been very boring and also, to use one of Lex's words, inefficient. So Clark had tried speeding up. But there's something funny about speeding up when you're in the air, as Clark hadn't quite learned the first time he'd done this: you go faster. Something about how the ground seemed to be moving really slowly while you were in the plane, but the plane was actually going hundreds of miles per hour. Lex would probably be able to explain it.

Clark was over the ocean.

It was actually kind of cool. Clark had never seen the ocean. The ocean was one of those things he knew about intellectually--you saw them on maps in textbooks, after all--but you didn't realize how big it actually was until you saw it. Now he was dangling above blue-green waters that just rolled on and on and on.

He didn't think he'd ever really grasped the word "forever" until this moment.

Clark craned his neck this way and that. Jeez, which ocean was he over? Clark knew there was more than one ocean. Oh God, he might be on the other side of the planet or something. He should have asked Lex to pick him up. He should never have experimented with flying. He--he--

He was still over the ocean.

Maybe if he went higher? If he went higher he'd be able to see more, and surely he'd be able to tell which continent was which by their shapes. All the continents had very distinctive shapes. Except for South America and Africa, which Clark had always felt was a sign of something.

So he pointed himself head up and toes down and flew higher, bulleting through cool and misty clouds. His breath started to fog, and he could feel the air pressure changing as he got higher. It didn't bother him, though.

Could he fly into space with no ill effects? Could Clark explore space all by himself, with no shuttle and no space suit? Could he fly all the way to the moon? All the way to wherever Krypton used to be? The thought clutched Clark's stomach with a cold hand. He really, really wasn't normal. Could never be, no matter how hard he tried.

Lex would probably think it was cool.

Clark halted and turned himself around. The ocean was still under him. But now, off to the right, he could see land. It looked like United States coastline, which was good.

He was really, really far away from Kansas now, which was bad.

Clark sighed and pointed himself at the landmass. Even though it felt like he was using only a fraction of the speed he'd ordinarily have employed on the ground, land still approached frighteningly fast, and before long he could make out mountains and broad freeways and some buildings--Clark halted himself. There was no way he could be mistaken for a plane. A bird, maybe, but definitely not a plane.

From his vantage point, Clark was now drifting above what those vague memories of geography class told him was a bay. A really, really big bay, with several bridges spanning it. Clark looked around for somewhere to land, but city sprawled away in all directions, as far as he could see. If he went north or south enough he'd probably find somewhere deserted enough where no one would be around to notice a boy falling out of the sky, but Clark was really sick of flying around. It'd been a really long day and he wanted to go home. And maybe have some pie.

There was, for some reason, an island in the middle of the bay, with two ends of a bridge sticking out of it like hands on a clock. Clark decided to head there. As he got closer he saw that it had buildings, but it was also thickly forested enough in some areas that he could probably hide in the trees and make a phone call. If he made it really fast probably nobody would see him--

"--ow." That was more out of reflex than anything else, since knocking over that tree hadn't really hurt him. He hoped nobody noticed.

He'd left a dent in the ground, too. Oops.

Clark stood, brushed himself off, put the tree back as best as he could, and then fished out his phone, which had miraculously survived unscathed. He hit speed-dial 2 for home.

It picked up after the first ring. "Hello?"

"Hi, Mom," Clark said.

"Clark? Clark! Where have you been? We've been trying to reach you for the past half hour!"

"Sorry, sorry," Clark said, holding up one hand in a placating gesture even though his mom couldn't see him. "I--I ended up in Colorado, and--"

"Colorado? Again? How?"

"I can fly."

Dead silence. This was not going well.

"Mom?" Clark tried again.

"You can fly?"

"Well, yeah," Clark said. "I--I was trying it out today, and I tried superspeeding and I ended up in Colorado. So I was looking for a way to get back home and, um, I think I'm in California now."

"California?"

Clark had a feeling his mother was trying to calculate the price of a plane or bus ticket from California and failing. "Mom! Mom. It's okay. I'll ask Lex to pick me up."

There was a slight pause. "Lex?"

"Yeah."

"But how are you going to explain to him how you ended up in California?"

Oh. Oh, this was not how he wanted to break the news to his parents. Why couldn't Clark keep his dumb alien mouth shut?

"Um. Well, Lex doesn't really ask questions anymore--"

"Clark, he's going to want to know how you ended up on the other side of the country!"

"I ran away from home?" Clark tried.

"Clark."

Clark swallowed. Now or never, and there was no never. "He knows, Mom."

The silence this time was different. Worse. It was the silence of parental horror and disappointment and anger.

"He's not--he's not bad, Mom," Clark tried to explain. "He hasn't done anything--he won't. He would have by now."

"Clark," his mother said in a tight voice, "we will discuss this when you get home."

On the other hand, staying in California seemed like a really good idea.

"Okay," he said. This was such a very, very bad day.

"You'll probably get home late," she said, "so your father and I won't wait up for you." She sounded very calm. Almost serene, in fact. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Clark wanted to die. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow, Mom."

She hung up. Clark felt like the lowest life form on Earth. Miserably, he hit speed-dial 3.

The phone rang twice before Lex picked up. "Clark," Lex said, without preamble. "You home yet?"

"Um. No. I think I'm in California."

There was a slight, but discernible pause. This was getting really old. "California? Are you sure?"

"Um, yeah."

"Landmarks?"

"Well, I'm on this really tiny island in the middle of this great big, um, bay. With bridges. Near this really, really huge city." Clark peered northward through the trees and saw what looked like a towering, brilliant orange bridge. "And I think that's the Golden Gate Bridge over there."

"San Francisco," Lex said. He sounded amused. "Or, more accurately, you're in the middle of the San Francisco Bay."

Clark sighed. "I really hate to ask you this, but can you come pick me up?"

"Sure, Clark." To his credit, he didn't say "I told you so." "It'll take me a few hours to get there, though."

"That's fine," Clark assured him. "I'll just--hang out, or something."

"Meet me at the San Francisco airport at, say. . . ten o' clock?"

Clark glanced at his watch. That was a little more than three hours from now. "Okay."

"You might as well do some sightseeing. Just stay out of the Tenderloin. And the Castro."

"Okay," Clark said, confused. Wasn't tenderloin a kind of steak?

"All right, then. Ten o' clock."

Lex hung up. Clark tucked the phone back in his pocket for what felt like the billionth time.

Sightseeing, huh? Well, he might as well. After all, how many chances did a boy from Smallville get to see San Francisco?

Besides, he had no idea where the airport was.

---

There were bars and clubs and trendy little stores and sex shops. Everywhere. Clark was very, very sure they were sex shops because the window displays were quite explicit and they had neon signs that blared things like LUBE 4 LESS.

There were rainbow flags everywhere.

Clark really, really wanted to find that homeless guy who'd told Clark that lots of guys "like him" liked to hang out here and, well, yell at him a lot. And maybe take back his change. What the heck did he mean by "like him," anyway?!

He should go back to the cable car stop. He should find that BART thing and go to the airport and wait for Lex.

God, and he'd thought Metropolis was big? It was nothing compared to San Francisco. He'd wandered around in the Financial District for a while, surrounded by towering skyscrapers, before finally obtaining directions to the airport. But hey, it was still early, so why didn't he do some sightseeing first? Lex had suggested it.

The problem had been finding direction-givers who weren't tourists. The first few people Clark asked had given him apologetic "Sorry, I'm not from around here"'s. Then a guy sitting on a blanket had suggested taking the Muni thing and getting off at Market and 17th St. and now here he was, $1.25 poorer and in the heart of--of--had that one guy been looking at his butt?

Clark felt his face burn all the way to his ears. Okay, he really needed to get back to the cable car stop.

Man, there were so many people here. Clark saw one girl with maybe sixteen piercings on her face, and another guy with green hair, and he'd never seen such short shorts on guys in his life--

Clark ran into a trash can. Way to not draw attention to himself.

"Hey."

Clark tried not to jump out of his flannel. Or float. Fortunately, both feet remained firmly stuck to the ground.

"Sorry man, didn't mean to scare you," said the speaker. He was around Lex's age or a little older. His t-shirt was very tight. "Are you lost?"

"Um. Yeah," said Clark, trying not to stare at the guy's nipples. They were right there. "I'm, uh, looking for the BART?"

The guy Clark a once-over that looked and felt very familiar. "Leaving already? The night's barely started."

Clark cleared his throat and tried not to squeak. "I, um, need to get to the airport. I'm meeting someone," he added unnecessarily.

The guy raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, BART's probably the easiest," he agreed. "There isn't a BART stop near here, though. I can take you to the Muni--"

"No, no, I'm fine," Clark said hastily. "You can just give me directions, and I'll just--I'll just go."

"Hey, chill, it's okay." The guy seemed very amused. "You're really not from around here, are you?"

"Um, no," Clark mumbled.

The stranger laughed, and Clark felt a little bit better. He wasn't so bad. Clark had always thought people in cities were really unfriendly. "I can tell," he said. "Okay, I was heading to the Muni stop anyway, so you can just come with me, okay?"

A hand landed on Clark's shoulder. "It's all right," said a smooth, familiar voice. "I'll take it from here."

Clark was sure he was grinning like a complete idiot. "Lex!" he exclaimed, turning around. He was so relieved that he actually hugged Lex, which was ordinarily reserved for back-from-the-dead experiences (which, unfortunately, happened more often than either of them would like), but he figured this was a good enough occasion as any.

"Lex," said the stranger. "Small world. You know this guy?"

"Unfortunately," said Lex. Clark suddenly realized that he was hugging Lex Luthor in public and let go. Not that it mattered much in this neighborhood, it seemed. "Clark, I thought I told you to stay out of the Castro?"

"This is the Castro?"

The other guy started laughing. Lex just sighed. "Clark, you're standing on Castro Street."

"Oh." Clark felt really, really stupid and attempted to change the subject. "I'm so glad to see you! How'd you find me?"

"Trade secret," Lex responded.

Clark gave him the look that said, "you better not have done anything evil, because I would be very disappointed in you." It usually worked.

This time, though, Lex remained steadfast. "I can't reveal all my secrets."

Clark tried pouting at him instead.

Lex cracked a grin. "Give it up, Clark."

"So," the stranger broke in, "are you gonna introduce me or what?"

"Sorry," Lex and Clark said at the same time.

"Clark," Lex said, "This is Ben. Ben, this is Clark Kent."

"Wait, how do you guys know each other?" Clark asked.

"That's not important," said Ben, winking.

Clark suddenly had the very deep desire to strangle Ben, and he wasn't sure why. Lex looked kind of like he wished Ben hadn't said that, either.

"Come on," Lex said, "the limo's waiting."

Ben whistled. "This kid gets the royal treatment, doesn't he?"

Lex sniffed. "Did you really think I was going to navigate this nightmare of a city myself?"

The limo was waiting just around the corner. Clark slid in with a sigh of relief. Once the doors closed the noise of the city was cut off, leaving only the plush hum of the car itself. The resulting effect was almost like ringing, but it was only the sound of sudden silence.

"So," said Lex, "how was San Francisco?"

"Big," Clark admitted.

Lex produced a bottle of milk from the mini-fridge and handed it to Clark, who gulped it down gratefully. "Overwhelming?"

"A little, yeah." Clark wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "I don't think I'll ever get used to something like that."

"You're still destined for greatness, Clark," Lex said seriously.

"I don't want to."

"Doesn't matter." Lex took Clark's mostly-finished bottle and put it on the floor. "You're destined for something beyond Smallville."

Clark had never been able to find an adequate response to that. Smallville was comfortable. Familiar, despite the occasional meteor mutant. Why would he ever want to leave that relatively peaceful existence, especially when his own body kept springing unpleasant surprises on him? But he knew, unhappily, that he couldn't spend the rest of his life there. Not when he had these powers--these "gifts." Smallville was too. . . small for him.

Now, though, he wasn't sure he could spend the rest of his life in someplace like Metropolis or San Francisco, either. So where was there a place for an alien who could see through walls, fly, and bend steel with his hands?

Lex reached out and took Clark's hand. Clark looked up and realized that Lex was grinning at him, full of rueful awe and wonder. "You can fly, Clark."

"Yeah," Clark said. "Kinda noticed."

"What does it feel like?"

"It's--it's pretty incredible." Clark told Lex about being above the mountains and the ocean, how you could feel every breeze and see every passing bird, how free you felt. He didn't tell Lex about the cold thoughts that had chilled his guts, about how alone you felt at the same time, how he'd realized that he could fly away, into space, and never come back. Some thoughts were still too big for him.

"God, Clark," and Clark didn't like the way Lex sounded, like he was having those same cold thoughts, "you're amazing."

"I'm not," Clark mumbled. "I mean--I just--I just keep getting more and more different."

"Different isn't bad."

"But I don't want to be different," Clark protested. "I just--I want to be normal."

Lex tugged Clark closer, and Clark immediately settled into Lex's side so that Lex could put an arm around his shoulder. "Clark," Lex said, "I know. I know. But you are different. You can't change that, no matter how much you may want to." He squeezed Clark's shoulder. "You just have to learn to use it to your advantage."

Clark didn't want to talk about it anymore. He'd had a very long day, and he didn't want to discuss whatever grandiose ideas Lex had of destiny. So he closed his eyes and leaned. "I'm tired." He wasn't physically tired--Clark couldn't quite remember how that felt--but he was still exhausted.

"We're going home," Lex said, and Clark fell asleep to Lex gently petting his hair.



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