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by P L Nunn




Lana was dead and somehow it didn't seem to hurt as much as it should have.

It was more than the distraction of dealing with what passed for small town law. He'd been out of custody as soon as his lawyers were able to get to Smallville from Metropolis and started spewing terms like false arrest and unlawful confinement without probable cause. Which they didn't have. They had the fragments of a body, almost obliterated by the force of the explosion. They had the statements of several Talon employees, who claimed Lana had expressed fear for her life. They had resentment towards the Luthor name that had started before Lex had ever hit their radar

It wasn't the destruction wrought along the path of the river when Reeves Dam had ruptured. Or the frantic efforts to clean up evidence of LexCorp involvement in the wreckage - - to salvage what could be salvaged of the project, before the local law or state agencies could get in and start shuffling through the rubble. Or even the knowledge that the alien entity was still out there.

No, none of those distractions should have been enough to dull the pain. He did feel regret, but it wasn't all consuming and it was overshadowed by anger and walled in by frustration. On the ride back home from the sheriff's office, in between phone calls trying to get information and give out orders, in between the odd, hollow knowledge that Clark hadn't followed him out of the dam, - - he thought maybe it was because, that like Helen and to a lesser degree, Victoria before her, once betrayed, she ceased to have a hold on his heart.

It was frightening almost, how easy it was to sit aside emotions that had shaped a good deal of his life for the better part of a year, and simply look upon her death as something that needed retaliation. Someone had done this to her - - and she had been his - - and he would see it avenged.

But there were so many more pressing needs that screamed for his attention now. There were reports coming in, via his own resources and the local radio of some sort of massive disturbance that had taken place at the textile mill twenty miles out of town. Something inexplicable and tremendous that had the newscasters buzzing. Lex could only assume the alien biological had a hand in it and sent what forces he didn't already have scattered in damage control out to investigate. Almost it would better to let it get some distance, let it get the hell out of Smallville before he sent concentrated forces after it, because the last thing he needed was a public confrontation with the thing.

But destruction on a massive scope was out of character for this creature. And that was a concern. It had killed randomly, taken hosts as needed, but it had always been almost furtive in its brutalities. Human fatalities in small number to sate whatever its needs were. Not destruction of property. Not on the scale of what had happened at the dam and not what reports were saying had occurred at the textile mill. This was a new and alarming attribute - - if it were even the same creature at all. And if it weren't - - well, honestly, could the day get any worse?

There were casualties on his hands that he hadn't intended. People caught in that flood of water - - his personal in the facility. Likely every project Ares test subject if the dam had flooded - - terrible, terrible waste. James Darren and Dr. Whiley who'd been a sacrifice to facilitate his own survival. But better one death than the both of them. And better him than Whiley because he could deal with this. He would deal with this. And then there was Clark . . .


He didn't know for certain. But he knew the destructive power of that entity and Clark hadn't followed him out. And the boy in whom the thing had hosted had been so far gone - - it might have sought out another. Victim or host, it didn't leave survivors and he felt a pang of cold nausea, an unexpected surge of regret - - but that was easy to attribute to stress and an overlong, over burdened day. The phone rang again and he listened to the first report of state involvement in this fiasco.

He'd been in custody five hours and things were falling to pieces.

It would have been nice to find someone to blame. To lay some of the responsibility at someone else's feet. But blame, no matter how ego soothing, wasn't going to solve problems. He knew what the cause of this was - - arrogance. His own, first and foremost, for underestimating something beyond human comprehension. Close behind that, impatience. Again his own, for pushing and pushing to get the project functional - - to create something the equal to whatever the stars could throw at them. And fear - - because when They did come back - - or something like Them - - or like this crazed creature that he'd set loose on Smallville - - he needed something between them and him, because there was hardly a night that passed that he didn't dream of Zod.

So, the blame was his, no matter how nice it might be to pass some of it on. Lana wasn't responsible, nor Clark, or even his father - - though God knew Lionel had had more of a hand in the rest of the calamity this day had produced than any other. Lex just wasn't sure of all the details. He wasn't sure of quite a lot of things - - but he was trying to get a handle on it.

He should get someone looking into the explosion that had - - the explosion behind the Talon, while the Smallville police were spread thin. James could have taken care of that for him - - James could have taken care of quite a bit of what Lex was trying to juggle now, if he hadn't ended up fodder for an angry, alien-inhabited ten year old. Good assistants - - competent, trustworthy ones - - were damned hard to find.

The crunch of gravel under the tires and he looked up. They were at the mansion already, eleven miles of farmland between here and Smallville proper passing unnoticed. Lex was out of the car before the driver cut the ignition, stalking towards the house - - and stopping in his tracks at the portico, staring with some surprise at the gaping hole of his front door. The hinges were ripped right off the frame and the big doors themselves were lying haphazardly in the front foyer, stained glass inserts shattered and scattered across the marble floor.

The first thing that crossed his mind was that the police had already been here, searching his house for evidence in Lana's murder. He didn't recall hearing mention of a warrant for a search of his house, but granted, he'd been distracted by other things while he'd been at the station and if they'd gotten a warrant, they weren't obligated to share the knowledge with him. If they'd bashed in his doors and searched his premises with out one, he'd own them before this was over.

He stepped over the threshold, shards of glass crunching under his shoes, heading for the study. He wasn't particularly concerned that they'd discovered any incriminating evidence connecting him with her death - - since to his knowledge, there was none, but he did worry that they'd confiscated his computer. They didn't have the capacity to break through the security on the vital files, but it would make his life easier if he had access to some of the things on that system now.

The house was quiet, and he wondered with some annoyance where his staff was, and his security in the aftermath of a police invasion. He was of a mind to let people go that should have been here cleaning up this manageable mess.

The doors to his study were open, and he strode through, expecting the clutter of a frantic police search and found instead his father, in the middle of his office, and Lex's whole body clenched in irritation.

"I thought I made it very clear, you weren't welcome here." He growled, in no mood to veil hostility in polite banter.

"Lex," There was something in the way Lionel stared at him that gave him pause and he took a second to look closer, past his irritation and the hundred things vying for attention in his head. His father was bruised around the face, a bandage at his temple that had soaked through with a spot of blood. His hands beneath the stained cuffs of his shirt were dirty and scraped. His face was ashen - - pale and strained and taut with something that might almost have been fear. But that was absurd, because Lionel Luthor didn't do fear. At least not on the outside.

"You're interrupting something and I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Now." Lionel's voice betrayed nothing. Crisp and authoritative like he had any say in anything that mattered anymore.

"I'm afraid you've got me confused with someone who jumps when you bark, dad. I don't care what you're doing. Get the hell out of my house." Lex held his voice steady with a concentrated effort, when really it would have been cathartic to scream.

"We're having a conversation." A familiar voice drawled, and he turned, surprised at the other presence, so still and quiet in the half shadows at the back of the room.

"Clark." He had a moment of strange, light-headed relief. One less death on his conscience. One less that mattered - - then he remembered the things Lana had said, remembered what she'd been running away from him to, and relief shifted gears into anger. He didn't want to see Clark, any more than he wanted to see his father.

"I honestly don't care what the two of you are doing, as long as you do it out of my presence and off my pro- -"

"Shut up." Lionel snapped, face twisted, a snarl crossing his lips, a shocking loss of control from a man who prided himself on his reputation as unflappable.

"I said to get out. This is no concern of yours, Lex." Lionel stalked towards him, actually laid hands on him in so startling a move that Lex allowed himself to be backed a few steps towards the doors. It occurred to him that Lionel wasn't so much angry as desperate. He could see a tiny sliver of it in the corner of his father's eye - - an odd, rarely seen hint of expression, lurking beneath the obvious temper. Too obvious. Something wasn't right.

He collided with a solid and unyielding something, that moved to lay an arm across his shoulder. Clark, who had been a dozen steps away two breaths ago. Lionel stared up in shock, fingers still tangled in Lex's lapel.

"You're just rude, old man," Clark said, lazy purr in his voice. Not Clark-like, certainly not like the Clark he'd last encountered, accusatory and on the cusp of murderous with grief.

Lex smacked his father's hands away from his coat, and tried to shrug off Clark. Only Clark wasn't cooperating. Clark leaned more heavily, bending over to peer at Lionel over Lex's shoulder.

"Is there something you care about, after all?" Clark asked, his hair brushing the side of Lex's head, so close that Lex could smell him. And the scent was wrong. Embarrassing as the admission was, he was familiar enough with Clark, with the smell of cheap soap and hay, the subtle smells of a man who worked a farm, the underlying something that was unique to Clark alone - - and it wasn't there.

A muted sort of panic sparked - - a vague niggling of suspicion.

"Get off me." He twisted, adding little elbow to the command to back Clark off. It was like he'd elbowed the wall, and Clark's hand shifted to his shoulder, fingers tightening. The room unexpectedly tilted, equilibrium, vision, the majority of cogent thought momentarily overwhelmed by the unexpected blitz of hot pain.

His knees gave out, and the pain followed him down, Clark's fingers still biting into his flesh. His father said something, but at the moment, it was just sound.

The pressure let up, the hand retreated and Lex could breathe and suffer a sort of indignant wrath that he was on his knees in his own house, incapable at the moment of making his body move to remedy the ignominy.

"Lex - - Please, be careful- -be polite." His father crouched down before him. And there it was, fear unmasked in Lionel Luthor's voice and Lex stared at him, eyes watering against his will, the muscles of his shoulder still screaming pain, his arm limp at his side.

"I don't need polite," Clark snarled, going from lazy amusement to seething anger like someone had flipped a switch. "I need him to come out from where ever he's hiding. And if he's too much of a coward, then you convince him, old man. Understand?"

"Completely," Lionel agreed, standing. "You have my word. I'll do what I can."

"Your word?" Clark laughed. "You think your word means anything to me? Pitiful, weak fleshsacks don't know the meaning of honor - - hee, but then, I've always felt a little deficit myself."

"What - - the hell - - are the two of you talking about?" Lex got his arm moving - - marginally - - and pushed himself up. He took a step or two away from Clark, because, well &endash; there was showing no fear and then there was such a thing as abject stupidity in the face of someone obviously not in their right mind. Had grief done this to Clark or was it something else?

Clark's grin spread wider - - only it wasn't Clark's grin, it was twisted and wide and cruel and that just wasn't Clark. Not even at his worst. He followed Lex's retreat and Lex wished of a sudden for a gun - - felt that instinctual need to protect himself, which again, was just not something Clark usually triggered. Rage, frustration, curiosity, obsession - - maybe other things, yes, but not fear.

"I know you," Clark canted his head, nostrils flaring, a flash of something animalistic in his eyes. "You gave me grief. Hunted me. Tried to cage me, didn't you? Didn't work out so well, huh?"

Dark stirring of suspicion, of dread, curling in his belly and Lex took another step back. His father put a hand out between Clark and him.

"God." Lex said softly and Clark laughed, his chest vibrating with it.

"I'll find him. I'll tell him," Lionel said. "You tell me where and I'll send him to you. My son has nothing to do with this."

"I think he does." And Lionel was flying backwards, hitting the end of the couch fifteen feet across the floor without Lex ever seeing Clark's hand move.

"I think you need incentive, to get your point across."

Lionel was trying to get himself up, but his legs were splaying, strengthless, so he sprawled there, staring, giving Lex the look he'd used to spear him with as a child, when he'd been on the edge of doing something embarrassing in mixed company and Lionel would give unmistakable silent warning with a glare. Be good, Lex, or else. It used to intimidate him when he was eight. It pissed him off now.

"What do you want him to do for you, Clark?" he asked, if it were still Clark. He could hope that Lana's death had caused some break with sanity - - and the strength? Well, Clark never ceased to amaze - - Clark with his secrets and his hidden wellspring of talent. Lex also knew wishful thinking when it reared up and slapped him in the face, and he edged towards the gun, half a room away, tucked in its box on the bookshelf.

"He's going to deliver a message," Clark was in front of him again - - just there, like an apparition flickering from one spot to the other, beyond human ken - - grinning down like a madman. "Because if he doesn't, I'm going to start sending him pieces of you, a little at a time. And if you're lucky, maybe there might be something left by the time they get off their asses and do something about it. Maybe."

It was the absolute promise of the threat, the cold eagerness in black rimmed green eyes at the prospect of carrying it out, that sold Lex on the terrible truth - - that Clark hadn't followed him out of that dam unscathed - - that Clark hadn't followed him out at all, but rather something that wore Clark's body. And for some unfathomable reason, it was treating with his father.

He didn't see the hand this time either. Barely had time to feel the impact of the blow before the world collapsed inwards, walls falling in, heavy and dark and smothering him in darkness.

He came to in a dark place. Lay perfectly still for a moment, digesting the dull pain behind his eyes, gathering scattered wits and listening to the huge swell of silence that only large, forgotten spaces seemed to possess. Something chirped, a distant forlorn sound of crickets warbling in the darkness and Lex shuddered, spurred to action and rolled to his knees, feeling warped wooden floor under his hands and layers of dust. There was a wall at his back and he pressed against it, staring into shadows that his eyes only slowly adjusted to.

A large space indeed. Tall slanted ceiling with rafters and lofts swallowed by darkness. The musty smell of old grain or corn permeated the air, competing with the dust. An abandoned granary? There were a dozen relics scattered about the county, victims of economy or modernization.

Something skittered nearby that was larger than a cricket and more furtive and he thought rats, and pushed himself up the wall, staring into the recesses of the shadow kissed floor, alarmed. Then berated himself, because he dealt with the prospect of worse things on a daily basis, but rats in the darkness sent chills up his spine.

A worse thing had brought him here. It occurred to him that here was a very bad place to be. He slipped his hand into his pocket, feeling for his phone, but it wasn't there. He pressed his lips, peering into the depths of the building for life larger than a rodent. If it was there, he couldn't detect it. There was a door though. A gaping warehouse sized portal, doors long off their hinges that offered a tantalizing glimpse outside.

He started walking and his footsteps echoed on the floor. You'd think the dust might have muffled the sound more than it did. He was halfway there when something shifted in the shadows above, in one of the lofts where leftover bags of soiled grain or corn lay.

"Where are you going, Lex?" It was Clark's voice, but the way it said his name was a drawn out, sibilant hiss. Not any pronunciation that Clark had ever used. But then, this wasn't Clark at all anymore and that knowledge was an unexpected stab of remorse. He shut his eyes for a heartbeat, and considered whether he could reach that door before the thing wearing Clark's body reached him. Probably not.

"What do you want?" he asked it instead.

How long had it been since he'd fled the dam? How long since Clark had been taken? Maybe seven hours - - nine at the outside. The longest they knew of a host body surviving was twenty-four and they'd never had reports of any host being quite so - - chatty. So focused. It had never had an agenda that they'd been able to comprehend before this. Never been anything but a leech that drained life and energy to support itself. But then, they'd only ever been able to track it down after the host body had deteriorated to the point where friends and relatives reported the apparent sickness. Perhaps there were a few hours of perfect cognizance before the corrosion of the body and mind began?

Something had changed. There were no outward signs. No dead black eyes - - the precursor to death. And maybe that was a good thing. Perhaps whatever balance had shifted, might signal a change in the thing's habits - -might mean a chance for the survival of the host. And wild speculation that it was, it still offered hope and Lex found that ominous as his world view had become, there were still some things that demanded optimism.

"What do I want?" It jumped, a fast plummet that made the boards under Clark's boots rattle when he landed, two feet in front of Lex.

Lex flinched, he couldn't help it, but squashed the urge to back up.

"So many things. It's a whole new world, and I like it."

"You're not - - Clark?" He had to ask. There was always the possibility. Clark had lost his mind on occasion before.

"Now that's a loaded question. Closer than you think. Not close at all. You had me in a lab. I don't like labs."

"I can understand that." He had it talking. He had an actual dialogue with something they'd assumed had the mentality of a rabid beast. "I don't care for them much myself. But necessity demands certain sacrifices and you were an enigma. You didn't communicate with us before. What's changed?"

Clark - - It - - canted his head, face all shadows, teeth white in the darkness as he grinned and a dozen images flashed though Lex's head of abandoned hosts, ravaged husks left in the wake of this thing and he thought with sudden surety that there were lengths he'd go, to see Clark not among them.

"I finally got a taste of something I liked." Clark held out his arms, dark shirt, dark pants, body blotting out the rectangle of freedom beyond the doorway. "Looks good, huh?"

It looked very good. It would look better with the proper mentality dwelling behind those eyes.

"We don't have to be at odds. I don't know what deal you have with my father, but I assure you, my resources are considerably vaster. Whatever it is you want, something can be arranged."

"Do you know what I enjoy, Lex?"

"Tell me." He'd offer it anything, if he could get it in a room, in a position where it could be taken again.

"The feel of warm flesh sliding through my fingers. Slick. Hot. Still quivering with that last bit of life. You people are so soft, so easy to rupture. So squishy on the inside." It stepped close, hands sliding up Lex's arms, oh so familiar face leaning in close to his ear. "The scent of your fear gets me off, the white around the eyes look when you know you're about to die. Giving you a chance to run and chasing you down and ripping out your guts. Now that's entertainment. Can you arrange that for me, Lex?"

"What are you?" Lex whispered, clenching his fists to keep his hands from shaking. The thing didn't want to bargain. It wanted to play.

"You know, I can't remember what I was, before they got to me, those fuckers in their labs - - just like you - - but I can tell you what I am now. Your worst nightmare."

The hands tightened, then hurled him backwards. His shoulder glanced off a wooden support beam, with the terrible, grinding agony of separation, and he hit the floor, sliding the last few yards until the wall brought him up short. The shoulder screamed bloody hell, bones out of alignment, muscle and tendon torn. Pain that he was hardly able to properly appreciate, before it was on him again, a knee in his gut that drove the air out of his lungs, hands biting into the good shoulder and the injured one with equal force.

He screamed. And it laughed and grabbed him by the injured arm and tossed him again, like a malicious child with a rival's toy.

He hit the remains of the stairs leading up to the loft and consciousness flickered, sucked away by impact and pain.

Came back with it perched on his hips, Clark's not inconsiderable weight baring him back into the step edges. He thought his back might break, if it bore down upon him. But he didn't have the breath to protest, and doubted it would care if he did.

"Something's not right. You people break so easily." It lifted the arm at the end of the disjointed shoulder and he whimpered at the scraping of bone against the wrong side of the socket.

'Let me fix it." It offered, in Clark's voice, with Clark's face and Lex cried out, then screamed incoherently, clawing at it with his good hand in desperation, as it slowly, deliberately shifted the ball over the ridge and back into place.

"So's that better?"

He hardly heard it, head full of residual pain, light headed with it. It caught his ankle, and dragged him down the stairs, his head knocking against each step on the way down, every blow, igniting little surges of bright white in the center of spinning vision.

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Five steps down and it dragged him out onto the floor and he rolled onto his side, nausea making his stomach lurch. He got to his knees before it came up, and it watched him vomit up the contents of his stomach on the warped, wooden floor. Waited politely enough for him to finish, before it dragged him up, pulled him close with a grip on his elbows and snarled into his face.

"Any more bargains you wanna make?"

It hit him, a casual slap that sent him to the floor like strings had been cut, blood welling in his mouth.

"When you use him up," Lex gasped. "You'll need another host."

And the thing in Clark crouched down, wiping its' thumb across Lex's lip, collecting a smear of fresh blood.

"You're offering?" It wiped the blood off on Lex's shirt and lifted a dark brow.

"No. No. But I can provide host bodies, better than human. Stronger - -"

It threw back its' head and laughed, caught Lex's collar and pulled him up between its' knees. "You stupid fuck. I don't need a host body. I've got my own. Get it? The only thing you have that I want - - you can only give once. Wanna share now?"

Something integral had changed, but he didn't understand what, or how. Had the thing been evolving all this time, going through host after host until it reached the point where it was able to make a permanent jump - - or was it something about Clark?

It let him slide down, his face against hard stomach, and it wasn't even breathing hard, just calm slow inhalations that were out of tandem with Lex's harsh gasps. Then the breathing did hitch a little, and the thing's hand slid around to the back of his neck, pushing him lower and he felt the bulge in the black jeans.

He braced a hand on the floor between its' legs, trying to stop the decent, but it was like fighting gravity and it pressed his face against the rough weave of denim and the hardness underneath.

"Maybe there is something - -" It mused, as if this were an unexpected development that needed exploring.

It unfastened the jeans with one hand, pulled out an uncut cock as long and thick and perfect as you might expect, considering the rest of the body in question, and God, God, God, it was ironic to the point of hysteria that this was being forced on him now, because once upon a time, it wouldn't have been such a terrible thing, getting into Clark's trousers.

It ignored his efforts to push away, just forced him down with one hand on the back of his head, and the head of the cock butted up against his clenched teeth like the tip of a Billy club, hard and unforgiving, and likely to break teeth if he didn't open up and accept it.

It shoved past his teeth when he relented, and sank into his mouth without consideration for comfort or breathing. The hand on the back of his head pressed his face into dark pubes and the head of the cock lodged somewhere halfway down his throat. Gag reflex cut in with a vengeance.

His fingers scraped for purchase against hard thighs and found none. He was suffocating, light headed from it, until the pressure let up and it pulled back far enough for him to gather air, the tip of its' penis - - Of Clark's penis - - resting on his tongue, before it was shoved back in.

It was brutal, with no finesse. It just clutched his head and skull fucked him into oblivion. And beyond the wet sounds and his own muffled gasps, he heard it humming and moaning above him, getting off on this little rape as much as it had the beating.

It tensed, fingers biting into the thin skin of his skull, but instead of coming, which would have been a relief - - and Lex would gladly swallow everything it had to offer to end this - - it seemed to get harder.

The soft skin stretched around the cock grew hard and slick like glass, angles developing where there had been none before. It sliced into his tongue, and the roof of his mouth, and blood welled, sliding down his throat and choking him. And when it did come, it was like getting hit in the throat with a fist.

He was graying out, from suffocation or shock before he could register the acrid taste of the come. It was hard to tell it apart from the coppery warmth of the blood, anyway.

When it had spilled as much as it was going to, it pulled out and shoved him away, and Lex lolled, fading, on the floor next to his own vomit, and spatters of blood and semen. And maybe it was his vision, distorted by shock and pain, but its face seemed hard, angular, with facets like a cut gemstone. Even the hair glinted, all its former softness turned to strands of glass or steel.

Surreal. Except for the voice. The familiar resonance of Clark's tones . . .

"Well, guess there is a use for you after all. . ."

He managed to turn his head so he wouldn't choke on his own blood, and blacked out.

Lex came to in the same spot he'd fainted. The same position, with the same bad taste in his mouth. The bleeding had stopped, but he could feel the lacerations with his tongue.

He lay for a moment, taking stock. And sure enough, he felt as if he'd been recently batted about by an alien entity possessed of inhuman strength. He was stiff, and sore, and it felt like someone had sprinkled sand between the joint of the shoulder that had been dislocated, and then excruciatingly reset, but he could move. Could even move that arm, though exaggerated motion seemed pointless masochism.

Some time must have passed, because the inky blackness of the shadows had faded to a lesser grey. He could make out details that he hadn't before, and the light beyond the doors was the wan twilight between true night and morning.

There was no sign of Cla - - of the entity. But it liked its' games, so he rose warily, listening for tell tale sounds. There was nothing but the chirp of crickets, the occasional rustle of tiny things skittering in the shadows.

Against the wall, in the corner under the loft, he saw a collection of old tools. A shovel with a long wooden handle and a rusted, time worn, flat-tipped metal blade. The weight was heavy in his hands. Crude, but formidable. Hosts could be incapacitated and killed - - even if the thing itself seemed invincible. Maybe with just a bit of luck - - and he deserved a little luck, because he'd had fucking bad day - - he could surprise it.

Or, on the other hand, simply slip out and escape it. Track down his father and find out just what the hell he knew about this thing and its' agenda, because Lionel seemed to be more in the loop than he was, and he'd been tracking the damned thing for the last few months.

He moved towards the door.

"Lex." And there it was, planted between him and the threshold. Ten steps maybe to the outside and he had to get around the thing to reach it. He felt sick and tightened his hand on the shovel.

"It doesn't look like they took me seriously." It lamented, standing there with thumbs casually hooked in the pockets of its' jeans. "It doesn't look like they give a fuck what happens to you, huh? Guess I have to start making good on my promise and take you apart."

It canted its' head, noting the shovel and the lips twitched up in a grin.

"Go ahead," it encouraged softly and the smile was beautiful, a lovely lie. "I like a little challenge."

Lex didn't hesitate. Was past hesitation - - and he spun, swinging it in both hands with everything he had. It cracked up against the side of Clark's head with a solid thunk of metal against flesh and bone, the resulting vibration reverberating all the way down the handle into Lex's arms with painful intensity. It hurt. His hands went halfway numb and the shovel hit the floor.

And the thing stood there, an amused little twist on Clark's lips, a glint of something deadly in his eyes, the odd shimmer of something faceted and crystalline passing over the side of its' face where the shovel had hit. "I'll give you till twenty - - oh, what the hell, count of fifty. Better get moving."


He ran. There was no choice, other than passively submitting to his own destruction, and Lex never passively submitted to anything. There was overgrown brush outside, knee high grass and weeds that bled into a sparse wood populated by young trees. He had no idea where this was. Had no way to tell in the near dark, pelting into uncultivated land with no road in sight.

Bramble caught at his coat, snagged in fine wool. Whip thin branches and strands of thorny vines tore at his hands. He rebounded off a tree with the bad shoulder and cursed under his breath, gritting his teeth to hold back the pain. He hated the woods. Hated more being hunted in them.

And that's what this was. A hunt. A game. The thing had said as much, when it had been rattling off its little list of sadistic pleasures. Maybe that was what it had been created for. The hunt. A battlefield reaper more brutal than anything Lex had aimed to create in his labs. There was a difference between creating to defend and creating to kill.

Something crashed ahead of him, to the left. A tree splintered and toppled, bearing down into the underbrush. Lex changed course, heart thudding.

There was a road. He saw it past a stretch of unkempt grasses, beyond a sagging border of barbed wire fencing. There was wood on the other side, a large, unencouraging stretch of lack-of-civilization. Not a building or a set of headlights in sight.

He was starting to hate this fucking county.

Out of the woods and into the field bordering the road and something hit his back. Weight that bore him down into sharp, half dead grass, pressing him down into the earth.

"No! Goddamnit - - wait - -" his voice broke, he was breathless and he hurt and the terrible certainty that he was going to die out here, ate up his ability to persuade.

The collar of his coat was yanked back, tearing it off his shoulders, wrenching his arms behind him in efforts to get it off. He struggled, and a hand on the back of his head shoved his face into trampled grass, while fingers raked down his back, tearing through the fine material of his shirt and into skin.

He gasped in shock, inhaling dirt and grass, the sting of cold air touching the rising heat of torn flesh.

"Fifty." Clark's voice whispered in his ear, a hot whisper of breath. Then rose and hauled Lex half up, dragging him back into the fringe of wood like an animal that wanted to consume prey under cover instead of out in the open.

He was flung down, his gouged back hitting dirt and rock. He arched from the impact, trying to curl to protect himself, but the thing was on him before he could bring limbs up, hands like solid rock biting into his flesh.

Vision was swimming, going in and out of focus, but he could see the distortion of the face. Hard angles, like what he'd imagined he'd seen before he'd passed out. No hallucination then, but some new aspect the thing had taken on. The whole of its body was like rock, heavier than it had been when it wore a fleshy shell. It drove the breath out of him. He heard the distinct, muffled sound of bone cracking, a lower rib maybe - - it was hard to separate pains.

It straddled him, leaning down close to his face and whispered. "I don't think anybody's coming. The Kryptonian welched out. And your daddy put on such a show of caring." The breath was hot against his ear. "Wonder if they'll come collect the pieces when I'm finished? Or maybe they'll just leave you to rot?"

It was hard to hear the words past the throbbing beat of blood in his ears. Hard to see against the crimson veil of pain that obscured his vision.

Fingers that were no longer flesh and blood drove into his flesh, sinking with wet suckling sounds into his shoulder. Digging into meat and muscle, slow and languid, like it was a sexual act. He tried to scream and it came out gasping and ragged, devoid of the breath to give it justice. Pain tore through him like a fire-heated poker plunged into his body, waves of it radiating out, sizzling nerve endings on the rush outward.

He struggled - - it was instinctive to fight against extinction instead of curl up in a fetal ball and accept it - - but the strength - - any real semblance of strength - - had fled his limbs before this, while the thing had toyed with him. And the flaring reminders of that were still imprinted fresh on his mind, on his body, just not so strikingly vivid as the stone fingers in his shoulder.

It pulled the hand out with the moist, suckling sound of gouged flesh trying to hold on to the thing that had pierced it. The hand glistened red, and Lex stared with pain-hazed horror as bloody fingertips went into the wide mouth, into moist recesses that had not taken on the characteristics of the outer body.

The blood was sucked off, one finger at a time, slowly savored. The eyes within the faceted mask narrowed a little, a vague speculation, a faint quirk of curiosity. It ripped his shirt, popping buttons to bare the wounds - - five, finger shaped punctures that throbbed with leaking blood.

The hands slid to his arms, pressing down needlessly, as if there were a threat of him throwing it off and fleeing. The hard mouth clamped down upon ravaged flesh- - devouring and Lex found the elusive breath to scream.

"What is this taste?" The face looked down at him, having separated itself from his body during some indefinable period of grayness and he blinked up, shuddering with the slow creep of cold. The onset of shock, some detached portion of his mind supplied.

The hard angles, the crystalline planes were fading and what was beneath was oh so much more terrifying because of the familiarity. The mouth, full and twisted in a parody of another grin was smeared with his blood.

"The hint of something familiar. Something potent. Aftertaste. What's been in your body, to leave such a flavor, huh?"

It was babble, insane like everything else this thing spouted and the analytical portion of his brain just wasn't operating up to par. He couldn't begin to decipher it now, when all he could register was the pain and the eroding wash of weakness as blood left his body.

"Don't tell me, it'll take the fun out," Fingers that were flesh and blood now - - or not - - gripped his listing head and squeezed his jaw until he focused on the face. The grin was spread wide, white and blinding, and absurd laughter spilled out from around it. "I'll figure it out on my - -"

Then it canted its' head, intent and listening, like an animal scenting danger - - or a predator prey.

It half rose, staring into the distance. The curl of a snarl touched its' lips and it launched off of him so quickly his sluggish brain couldn't follow. Gone. Just gone.

And Lex lay there, the earth reeling under him like the deck of a boat, waiting for it to sweep back down, relentless in its idea of amusement. But it didn't. Nothing moved but the gentle sway of grasses as the breeze picked up. The crickets started their chorus again. And it occurred to Lex that he should get himself up and take advantage of the opportunity.

As inspired as that thought was, he couldn't make himself move. His head was too light and his limbs achingly heavy. Blood loss. It was an effort to move his hand to his shoulder and press his palm to the wounds. Blood flowed copiously. It soaked his shirt and slithered down his skin, hot at the origin, cooling as it seeped outwards. It felt - - clammy and terrible. He gritted his teeth against the pain and pressed his hand down, trying to stem it.

Get up, Lex. Get up. He demanded of himself. Get to the road at least where somebody might come by and see you. You'll die here in the underbrush otherwise, no one the wiser and that's not the way you want to go.

He rolled to his side. Got a knee under himself and staggered to his feet. The world lurched, a narrow, spinning vortex, the black at the edges threatening to close in. It was a drunken path through tall grasses mixed with wild oats towards the road. The sagging barbed wire of a long abandoned fence stymied him. It should be nothing to climb over or lift a strand and duck through, but his one arm wasn't working anymore and it was imperative - - vital to survival that he keep the other one clamped over the wounds - - he needed that blood - -

He sank down next to a weathered fence, close to fainting. The road was right there - - a goal almost achieved. But there was the fence and a ditch and weeds obscuring him from it. He sobbed, defeated by such a simple thing as barbed wire and weakness.

Pieces of thoughts flittered in and out of his mind and he couldn't hold on to them. The Project - - he'd been so close. A matter of days if this thing - - this parasitic alien monster hadn't ripped success away from him. He could have had the resources to stop it - - easily - - if he'd had that all-important blood - - which was a conundrum. Get the peptides to fuel the army to take down the enemy - - but the peptides were in the blood which was in the enemy to begin with - - the problem was inherent.

He laughed, staring up at the vast Kansas sky. What a fucking enormous oversight - - it really hadn't seemed such a deterrent before. He could almost hear his father's voice chiding him for that overconfidence. Condescending, as he told him she didn't love him.

She had been so pure, and trusting, and she'd believed in him and he'd needed that. God, he'd needed that so badly and if he'd lost Clark, then he gained Lana, and by extension regained Clark - - and if he'd known, deep down that he was her escape from the pain Clark so carelessly, so unwittingly gave, then she was his from the same hurt. So it worked out really.

It should have damned well worked out. He wasn't sure where he'd gone wrong. Or what he'd done or why he hadn't been fucking good enough. She'd been a nice girl. Not the sort of girl that would betray you - - only she had. And maybe he'd turned her into that woman by mere association.

They'd showed him photos of what was left of her, trying to shake his calm. They hadn't been able to. He'd been too angry, too collected, too focused on partitioning emotion off from reason - - -

He shuddered, grief finally slipping past his barriers. She shouldn't be dead. Clark shouldn't be lost to a thing that Lex had brought into Smallville, a thing he'd thought he could control and failed . . . and failed . . . and failed.

He curled onto his side, dizzy, faint, hand so slick with blood, that it seemed pointless to try and stop the flow. He didn't have the strength to keep trying.

He remembered the look in Clark's eyes. The accusation. And he hated that the last thing Clark might have thought, before that thing took his body, was that Lex had killed her. He didn't want to die with Clark believing that.

Oh - - but maybe Clark had gone first and there was no help for it. The thing left no survivors after all - - maybe Clark had perished the moment it had jumped into him.

Lex pressed his face into damp earth and shivered. Cold. Unnaturally cold. Blood loss would do that. A great deal of blood loss. His body shutting down.

He tasted salt in his mouth and thought blood. Internal bleeding to top off the rest. But no - - not blood. Tears. Slipping out against his will, because Luthor's didn't cry - - but maybe - - just maybe, the situation warranted it. Only he didn't know who they were for and perhaps it was best not to explore the question.

"God. Lex?"

He'd lost time somewhere because there were hands on him, turning him, peeling back the clammy edge of his shirt. It was leaning over him, scowling.

He panicked, some last bit of adrenalin loaning him the strength to throw up a blood-coated hand to ward it off, to try and roll away. It caught his arms, firm grasp, but not hurtful. More than enough to pin him down.

"Calm down. It's me. It's Clark." There was dirt on its' face, and its shirt was ripped, the jacket torn at the seam of one shoulder. Red shirt. Blue jacket. The thing had been wearing black. And it was claiming it was Clark. Which made no sense. No logical sense - - because it didn't leave survivors.

But there was worry in its eyes, warring with stubbornness, like it didn't know what emotion to settle on when dealing with him, and that was very much like Clark. And there was the smell of cheap soap, faint under the odor of sweat and dirt and fresh grass. Familiar smell.

Lex wondered if he were dead. It would be an easier explanation to accept. Even dead, he needed Clark to understand. It was important he know - - a priority over other priorities.

He clutched the arm of Clark's jacket, transferring dark smears of blood. "I didn't - - I swear to God, I didn't do it. You have to believe - -"

Clark's face hardened, but not the crystalline hardness of the thing, just simple human offense. Angry at him. Angry enough to leave him here, life draining away into the dirt, believing that one terrible thing that Lex hadn't done - - and why not, when he was responsible for so many others? Acceptable losses. The price of progress.

Clark's face blurred, and maybe it was dizziness or maybe it was tears and didn't even really care which. "I didn't - - Clark, I didn't - -" There should have been eloquent denials sliding off his tongue - - reasonable explanations and instead language defied him. Coherent thought was a lost cause and he was slipping away into sickening darkness. And Clark just stared at him, for maddening, maddening heartbeats, like he was waiting for him to change his story or break - - but he was already broken, wasn't he? Hard to fracture any further - -

"Okay." Clark said softly, grudgingly, as if he didn't like the word coming out of his mouth. But he said it again, affirmation, maybe, and got his arm under Lex's shoulders, and under his knees and swept him up. The world tilted, all concept of balance gone. When Clark moved, shifting him, the faintness rushed up and he pressed his face against the solidity of Clark's shoulder trying to ward it off, but it wasn't enough.

Not even Clark, miraculously alive and well could stop it from consuming him.

Hospital room. He knew it before he opened his eyes. The smell was unmistakable. Disinfectant and the stench of toxic, hospital food. The smell along triggered unpleasant memories and he lay for a while, swimming in the darkness of closed lids trying to separate past from present.

There was the soft blip of a monitor, the faint awareness of an IV in his arm, the pressure of a sensor clip on his finger. He cracked his eyes, fighting past grit, and stared up into a dim room.

He was surprisingly pain free, body enveloped in a sort of heavy euphoria that might be attributed to whatever was dripping into his veins from the bags suspended next to the bed. Morphine, maybe. He recalled from times past, that he rather liked morphine.

For a while, he simply savored the feeling, drifting in and out of half sleep. Then niggling little memories, crawling little reminders that there were urgent things he ought to be seeing to edged past the dulling properties of the drug.

How had he gotten here? He remembered - - pain, panic, fear - - Clark. No, not Clark. Not until the last - - and he couldn't wrap his mind around how that had been possible. Unless it were hallucination - - unless he'd just wanted it badly enough and his mind had catered to his wishes. Anyone could have picked him up off the side of the road - -

He shut his eyes, digging nails into his palms in an effort to clear his head. It didn't hurt enough. It didn't get past the morphine. He wanted the pain of a sudden. Needed the pain.


Lex started at the voice. At his father, sitting in the corner like a nightmare lurking in shadow. Lionel rose, haggard, still as bruised as Lex recalled from - - when? How long ago?

Lionel laid hands on him, and he shuddered, would have twisted away if his body was paying attention to his mind. But it wasn't - - lethargic, heavy, weak - - so he endured, hating the touch of dry fingers on his skin. Hating the oh so deceptive concern in his father's eyes.

"Lex, you're going to be all right. The blood loss was so severe, we were afraid - -" he trailed off, artfully shaken, fingers stroking little patterns on Lex's arm.

"Get your hands off." It was a pleasant surprise when his voice didn't crack. He met his father's gaze, fighting against the drug and the overwhelming weariness of near exsanguination to keep his eyes steady.

Slowly, Lionel pulled his hand away. "Son, I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry I wasn't able to resolve this sooner - - but you released the hounds, so to speak, with no impetus from me. You reap what you sow."

Lex let out a breath. "Spare me the pearls of wisdom and just get out." The morphine blunted the anger.

Lionel considered. "If that's what you want. I realize you've been through an ordeal. I'm not your enemy, son."

"God," he gasped - - came close to choking on the irony of that statement. "With friends like you, dad - -" he couldn't finish it without his voice breaking, so he snapped his mouth shut and closed his eyes, willing his father out of the room. He couldn't deal with him now. Couldn't deal with quite a few things with his head clogged and body cloaked in weakness. Later.

But, when he heard the door open, something occurred to him. Something he did need to know to keep the nightmares at bay.

"Clark?" he asked quietly. "Is he - -?" What? Alive, sane, not host to a murderous alien entity? Had he brought him here? And if so, how had he shed the thing inside him? The questions crowded his head and yet all he could come up with was - - "Is he okay?"

Lionel paused in the doorway, the bright efficiency of the working hospital behind him.

"Clark Kent is fine - - all things considered. I'll be sure to extend your concern. Get some rest, Lex. You'll probably need it."




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