The Boys On The Bus
by HYPERFocused

As boring as this cross country bus trip was bound to be, Ryan Atwood was glad to be on it. Sandy and Kirsten had offered him a plane ticket, but Ryan hated flying. Hated the canned air, and the perky flight attendants who tried to warn them what they should do in the event of a water landing. Hated the scratchy seats, screaming babies, and plastic food. If he had his way, he'd never set foot on a plane again. But if Seth wanted to come home by plane, Ryan would too. He was never going to leave Seth again.

Lack of travel was one of the few things about his life in Chino that he'd never complained about. Theresa had wanted to see the world. Europe, and maybe someday a trip to the African veldt. She'd loved that Ray Bradbury story, the one where the virtual reality lions had eaten the kids' parents. "There are worse things that could happen to your mother and her boyfriend," she'd told him, laughing. He'd been a bit creeped out by her reaction.

He interpreted the story differently, thinking about what horrors children of privilege could be when they got everything they wanted. He'd been pleased and relieved to see Seth was nothing like that. Julie Cooper, on the other hand, he could fully believe would have been just such a child.

Maybe that wasn't entirely true. Seth liked getting what he wanted. He'd taken pretty drastic action when he thought he was losing the one thing that was most important to him. Ryan was glad he rated above skateboards and comic books in Seth's life, but wasn't entirely comfortable knowing Seth had risked his own safety because of him. Hell, he'd worried everyone half to death, thinking he was out on the ocean all alone on that flimsy thing one could barely call a boat.

As it turned out, Seth hadn't gotten very far before he thought better of his lack of provisions, and turned back towards shore. But he still hadn't gone home. Instead, he'd called Sandy and Kirsten from the airport, and said he was going to "go see Nana, before she leaves me too."

Ryan felt awful when Sandy had called to tell him Seth had run away, and only marginally better knowing Seth was physically safe again. He should be with his family, not staying with his dying grandmother because he couldn't stand to be in the same state as Ryan if Ryan wasn't home with him. And home for Ryan was Newport, now.

Things were awkward in Chino. Going back hadn't been the best idea. Theresa's mother was hostile, and didn't want him around. And Theresa herself could tell he was only there out of duty. He would have done better just sending her his earnings from the Crab Shack, and making sure he was there when she had to go to the doctor, or needed something from him. "Go get him," she'd told him. "I know you'll be here for me when I need you." Ryan had apologized, thanked her, and hopped on the bus to bring him home.

Ryan didn't know why he was talking to this guy, the one who'd gotten on the bus in some fakely quaint small town outside of Denver. He seemed nice enough for a jock type (and blame Seth for that particular qualifier). Tall, broad shouldered, with blond curls, he reminded Ryan of both Seth, and Luke at once. Truly an odd combination. Ryan shrugged when he asked if he could sit next to him.

Still, a few moments conversation proved he was clearly a lot more normal than that guy in the "Smallville Crows" t-shirt. The shirt was so retro Ryan wanted to offer to buy it off him for Seth. Besides, the guy looked like he could use the money for bus fare or a sandwich. Ryan wondered if he was for real. He had been muttering something like "Not the sunspots again, damn it." Ryan had no idea what that meant, but he hoped it wasn't a sign the guy was 'not all there'. Clark seemed nice enough, though. He'd noticed the bag full of comic books Ryan was idly flipping through -- he hoped it would make a good peace offering for Seth-- and asked if there were any Warrior Angels in there. "Lex- my boyf - my friend collects them," he'd said, after he'd introduced himself.

Clark was an even dorkier name than Seth, Ryan thought uncharitably. The guy was weird, too. He'd gotten on the bus a few stops after Ryan, without any baggage at all. Not even a backpack. And he'd asked Ryan where he was, like he'd suddenly found himself thousands of miles away with no idea how he got there.. It never failed; bus trips were always full of wack jobs.

There was something about the anonymity of traveling that made it easier to talk. Ryan knew he'd never see this guy again. Bright Abbott had a certain appeal, and a friendly and open nature. "I know it's a weird name," he'd told Ryan apologetically. "It's a family thing."

"That's not so weird," Ryan had had to admit. "There's a girl back in Newport named Summer." It didn't take long at all before he knew Bright's whole story. He'd just graduated high school, had no idea what to do with his life, and was going out to New York to see if being with his best friend Ephram could help clear things up. Ryan was sure Bright felt the same way about his friend as Ryan did about Seth.

What did it matter if Ryan gave up a little of his usual stoic silence to talk to him, or that other guy? It was kind of nice to have someone new to talk to, someone who didn't matter. At least he'd have something to do for the next ninety-six hours, or however long the trip was supposed to be. After all, even he couldn't brood forever. And sometimes it was good to have a sounding board. God knew, he had a lot to think about. Maybe an outside perspective would help.


The thing about Bright Abbott was, he loved to talk to people, and they liked talking to him. It was something he shared with his mother, a trait that helped make her a good mayor, but had mostly just gotten him in trouble for talking in class.

It didn't matter who it was, he found something in common with everybody. Little kids in his father's waiting room liked him because he could always locate that last animal in the Highlights hidden picture page. When he had that job as a bagger, old women at the grocery store told him he reminded them of their grandsons. And now, random brooding guys on the bus to New York were telling him their life stories as well

Okay, maybe not their life stories, but certainly the reason they were heading across the country. This one, Ryan, was traveling from California all the way to New York, to bring back the guy who was maybe his brother, maybe his boyfriend. He had an ex girlfriend who might be carrying his baby, but it was more likely her abusive fiance's; a drunk mother who'd kicked him out of the house, and until a few weeks ago, he'd lived in his court appointed lawyer's pool house. It was all very 90210. Bright didn't quite get why he laughed when Bright offered him a bagel, though.

The other guy, the one with the "Crows" T-shirt, who'd been sitting across from Ryan, hadn't said all that much. He had that sort of closed-off air that meant he probably had a lot to hide. Bright wondered what that might be, and vowed to eke it out of him. Clearly, it was going to be an interesting ride.


An hour outside of Denver, and it was starting to get dark. Clark was bored. He hated riding the bus to school, and the prospect of seven more hours on this rusty death trap had him cursing the sun that he usually worshipped.

He wished he could call Lex, and have him send the jet, or even come pick him up in one of his sports cars. Seven hours in close proximity to Lex and leather wouldn't be a bad way to spend the day. Or the night.

But things were weird between them now. Lionel had given him the key to Lex's 'secret room'. Clark had been shocked to find such evidence of Lex's lies. As much as Clark hated to believe it, his parents had been right all along. Lex only pretended to care about Clark. Really, he just wanted to know how Clark ticked. Sure, he'd said it was all about himself, and he had no intention of ever harming Clark. But the large chunk of kryptonite displayed like a museum artifact made that difficult for Clark to believe.

The larger than life sized picture of himself didn't make him feel all that good either. It exposed him in a way that felt worse than the mockups of the bridge crash, or the smashed bullets. Lex could complain all he wanted about Clark and his trust issues, and the things he didn't tell Lex. Seeing his life laid out like a really good science fair exhibit made Clark glad he'd held things so close to the chest. He just wished he'd done the same with his heart.

Still, he missed Lex like crazy. If they were still speaking, he'd call Lex and say "Hey, Lex, can you help me out? I went for a run this morning, and ended up on the California coast. Want me to bring you some seashells?" Yeah, that'd go over well. Lex had questions enough already. Knowing Clark's powers could be intermittent would just make things worse.

God, he hated it when his father was right. He couldn't trust Lex as far as he could throw him. And right now, that wasn't far at all. He didn't know if it was the sunspots this time, or if Jor El was trying something new to get him to submit. Either way, it was damn annoying.

Even more annoying right now was the guy looking at him. Tall, with blond curly hair, he looked like the kind of jock who would be first to pick that year's scarecrow. Obviously he found something interesting about Clark, but Clark didn't know what. He just hoped the guy would leave him alone. He wasn't in the mood to play friendly farm boy, and entertain this jerk.

As he expected, his luck had run out. Without even asking, Jocko planted himself next to Clark. "I'm bright," he said. Clark had his doubts, but he didn't say anything. "No, I mean, that's my name. Well, really it's Harold, but my middle name is Brighton, and wouldn't you rather be called 'Bright' than 'Harold?"

"I wouldn't know. My name is Clark."

"Oh, dude. I'm so sorry. Family name? Or did your parents saddle you with that on purpose?"

"Yeah, it was my mother's maiden name. I suppose it could be worse."

"So where are you going? I'm going to New York to surprise my friend Ephram. He's at Juilliard for the summer. Playing piano. He's like, really talented."

"He's not going to mind you just showing up?" Clark tried to deflect the question of where he was going, because he might have to answer where he'd been - and why he had no baggage besides his school backpack. Usually, it was easy to do. People tended to like talking about themselves, and it took the pressure off of him.

"I hope not. We were getting pretty tight before he left."

Hmm, that made things a bit different. Maybe he wasn't a narrow minded jock asshole after all. "You guys are -- together?" Clark asked Bright. What could it hurt? If the guy was offended, he could just move to another seat. And even with his powers diminished, Clark was pretty sure he could take him if Bright reacted violently.

"Well no, he's in New York, and I'm in - where are we now? - Colorado."

Clark sighed. Either this guy was dumb as dirt, or he was being deliberately obtuse. "No, I meant it kind of sounded like you were more than friends."

"Oh, yeah. At least that's what I'm hoping. I've been dropping hints for awhile now, but we haven't really discussed it."

"That's cool. So why now? Why go all the way to New York?" Clark really was curious. True, it wasn't the same situation as he was in - nothing could be - but maybe he could learn something just the same.

"I've graduated, and there's really nothing left to lose. I didn't want to wait til he came back home. Besides, it's a really small town, and his father's pretty famous. It could get awkward."

Clark bet whoever Ephram's father was, he had nothing on Lionel Luthor. "I know how that goes. I live in Smallville."

"That's what we call Everwood sometimes." Bright laughed.

"No, really. Smallville, Kansas, home of the Crows." Clark pointed to his t-shirt. "It's a few hours from Metropolis."

"Dude, I've been there! Went to a Sharks game with my best friend, Colin." He sighed, and Clark wondered why. "Hey, wait a minute. Smallville? You know a guy named Wayne Forrester? No, wait. Wyatt. Something like that. Blond, but not like me. More like that guy over there with the wrist cuff" Bright pointed over at Ryan, who seemed engrossed in his reading. "Colin met him at a basketball conference a couple years ago. Before..."

"Whitney Fordman?" Clark was surprised. Sometimes it was a really small universe. He and Whitney had been together for a little while, until it became clear that Whitney couldn't handle it, and he went off to the military. They really hadn't been meant to be. When it came down to it, there was no one for Clark but Lex.

"That's it! How is he? I wonder if he knows about Colin?" Bright's smile deflated.

Clark didn't want to just blurt it out, but didn't see any other choice. "Whitney joined the Marines, and was reported missing in action. I'm sorry. Did you know him well?"

"No, I actually never met him. But Colin said he was a cool guy. So was Colin."

"What happened to him?" It was obvious something had. "We were off roading, and there was an accident. He was in a coma, and then he had surgery. But things went wrong, and he had to go under again, and he didn't make it. It was my fault. The accident, I mean."

"That's awful!. But I'm sure it wasn't your fault." Bright shook his head, and Clark felt bad for him. He understood guilt better than anyone.

"I don't know. I just know if I had it to do over again, I'd do a lot of things differently." Somewhat subdued, Bright pulled out his CD player, and switched it on. Clark could hear Beyonce coming out rather tinnily through the earphones. Damn, now he would have to go back to thinking about his own messed up life.

Ryan felt the vibration of the cell phone Sandy and Kirsten had bought him, and insisted he take on the trip. "We'll call you every few hours just to make sure you're all right," Kirsten had said. She hadn't liked the idea of him being on the bus all that time. "You don't know what kind of people you'll run into," she'd said.

"Honey, how do you think I traveled when I was in college?" Sandy countered. "He'll be fine. Besides, bus travel broadens the mind, and it'll give him time to think about things." Ryan was kind of counting on that. He'd been running on almost pure instinct for so long, he needed the anonymity of the road to figure things out.

And really, the fact that he'd never see any of these people again helped. Rarely talkative, he found himself opening up more than usual. Bright especially had a way of getting people to tell him things about themselves. Ryan watched as he made his way down the rows, planting himself next to people and introducing himself. It made him think of Seth, or at least what Seth would have been like if his confidence had never been teased away.

Seth had gained a lot of confidence in the year since Ryan had known him. He wondered how much of it had been because of him, and how much of it was Seth's newfound appeal to girls. Ryan hadn't understood why Seth was ever unpopular. True, he wasn't a water polo playing macho jerk, but he had a lot to offer. He was funny, smart, and good-looking, albeit unconventionally. Maybe that was the problem. Newport was all about convention.

When Ryan thought about it further, it seemed like it was Seth's confidence that drove him to attempt his trip to Tahiti, which was weird, because it was also his fear that drove him away. Ryan was pretty sure the Seth who'd shown him the Summer Breeze that first weekend in Newport would never have actually taken it very far. The one who had shunned him on his last day was a different story. Ryan hoped Seth just needed time to nurse his wounds, and not an opportunity to do himself real harm. Ryan didn't know what he would do if he couldn't bring Seth home, safe and sound.

It wasn't that he worried Seth would come to physical harm in New York, though frankly Seth's grandmother frightened him just a little. At the same time, she didn't seem the type to take Seth's shit, and maybe Seth needed that kind of reality in his life. Ryan wasn't sure what "The Nana" thought of him - he'd have to remember not to actually call her that --, but he assumed Sandy had told her to expect him.

He sighed. For all Sandy's insistence it wasn't up to him to rescue everyone he cared about, here he was going across the country to do just that. It was different this time, though. Marissa had needed him to save her from her own demons, and the things she did to deny them. Watching her downward spiral just made him depressed. It reminded him too much of his mother. Being back in Chino with Theresa wasn't any better. It felt like he was drowning in his own past. Neither of them wanted this baby. He was fairly sure it wasn't his. But he was damn sure not letting Eddie hurt her again. Going to Chino with her probably hadn't been the wisest idea, but he'd meant well. Sandy had promised he would look into other options for her, and Ryan knew he meant it. He didn't have to do it all alone. It felt good to know someone else had his back.

It didn't dawn on him until later, that despite the fact he was going to New York to bring Seth home, the person he was actually rescuing was himself.

The kid with the comic books was talking quietly on his cell phone. Clark wasn't eavesdropping on purpose, but he wasn't doing anything to tune it out, either. Enhanced hearing made bus rides very interesting. Lex would have gotten a kick out of it, but then Lex was an expert on listening devices already. Best not to think of that.

"Is she okay? Was anyone hurt? What the hell was she doing driving? Summer wasn't with her, was she? They aren't pressing charges, are they? Of course it was my fault. If I hadn't left..." Clark could hear the man on the other end of the line trying to convince Ryan that he had nothing to do with Marissa's drunk driving accident. He wondered who Marissa was, and why Ryan felt responsible for her behavior. And he wondered who Sandy was. He spoke like a father would have, but Ryan didn't call him dad. Besides, there was an awkwardness there that made Clark think otherwise.

"You can't save everyone, Ryan," the man went on. "You're just seventeen, you're supposed to be having fun, making your own mistakes and learning from them." Heh. That sounded familiar. If he didn't know better, Clark would have thought his dad had a long lost relative in California.

The bus lurched forward abruptly; causing Clark to brace himself on the seat in front of him. It was obvious the driver wasn't particularly skilled. For a moment Clark had a flash of another bus scene, the driver's heart attack causing it to careen into danger. Clark had saved a man on a bench, and his little dog. It had almost cost his father's life, and his own sense of safety had been compromised forever. He hadn't believed Phelan's warnings about Lex at the time. Now, he wondered if the man had been telling the truth after all.

Looking up, Clark noticed the deep holes his fingers had dug into the back of the seat. Apparently his powers were back. If he got off at the next stop, he could run home in time for dinner.

He'd thought the bus would be a good place to think, but he was wrong. Too many voices, and too many accidents waiting to happen. He really only came to one conclusion. Whatever happened between him and Lex had nothing to do with fate or destiny. They were going to have to work it out themselves, and that meant talking, and honesty. Something neither of them had displayed much of, he was ashamed to admit. Clark hoped they were capable of change.

"Hey, can I borrow your phone for a minute?" He asked Ryan. "I need to warn my folks I'm on my way." Ryan handed it to him. There was a picture on it of a kid with dark curly hair, and brown eyes. He looked really familiar, but Clark couldn't quite place him.

His mom picked up the phone on the second ring. "Clark, is that you? Where are you?" She sounded worried.

"I'm back in Kansas. I'll be home soon. Don't worry. Save me a slice of pie, okay?" It was her day to make cherry. Four hundred miles from home, and he could almost believe he smelled it already. This time, it wasn't a new power, just the power of wishful thinking.

He handed the phone back to Ryan. "Thanks, Ryan. Good luck in New York." He said goodbye to Bright, who stopped singing along to his CD for a moment, and gave him a thumbs up. Clark hopped off the bus at the next station. The pie was still warm when he got home.

Bright followed Clark off the bus at the next stop. They had twenty minutes for dinner, and then they'd be back on their way. He was going to offer to buy the guy a meal, but it looked like Clark had disappeared. Maybe they were closer to Smallville than Bright thought. Geology wasn't his strong suit.

Oh well, if Clark wasn't getting back on, maybe he'd see if Ryan wanted some company. He'd noticed the guy had a stack of comic books. Maybe Bright could learn a little something about them, and Ephram would be proud. There wasn't much Bright wanted more.


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