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by P L Nunn


Part one


The quiet was like void, muffled and huge and not quite real. Comforting in a way, after the din of destruction.

Clark lay there, limbs wide flung and stared up at endless pale sky. Powder blue and cloud free for as far as the eye could see. It was easy to drift, staring at featureless firmament and not think about recent where's and why's. It was easy to lie in a comfortable cocoon of soft white and pretend he was alone in a world without terrible complications, pain and disappointment. He was tired and he longed for that place.

He rolled his head to the left and saw endless white. Snow that went on forever, past even his ability to see the end. He beetled his brows, recalling crystalline shadow and filtered light. Recalling pain and weakness and the world tumbling down.

He remembered why and sat up with a gasp of dismay. There was nothing but flat, snow-covered tundra, a line of mountains far distant to what might be the south. He wasn't entirely sure, in so featureless a place, all sense of direction scattered.

There was nothing of the fortress, nothing of the chasms and towers of ice that had formed it. Not even scattered debris. And there ought to be because the thing had been big and damned determined in its existence. It had not apparently been so determined to see to his, with age-old conspiracies and convoluted purposes that went beyond what a man raised with honest intentions could comprehend.

There was a spot of black half buried in snow ten feet beyond his right foot and he remembered he hadn't been alone when the world had started its collapse. He scrambled over, brushing snow away, hesitating for a second because there was no heartbeat. No sign of life at all and though Clark had seen a lot of things and could do so much more than a human man, dead things scared him a little.

The fragility of human life was a constant reminder that he wasn't.

He swallowed, and grasped an arm, pulling Lex over. Snow clung to pale, pale skin. Lips were blue tinged, as were the fragile lids of closed eyes. One arm was buried completely in the snow only the out flung tips of gloved fingers protruding like little black leather sprouts. A shard of crystal protruded from his shoulder, facets stained with blood. It was the size of one of the damned control crystals, a good four inches of it sticking out of black wool, at least that much sunk into cold flesh.

Clark stared down, breathing hard, Lex's stagnant weight against his knees. He felt the sting of wetness at the corner of his eyes and a knot in his throat. Lex had bent over him at the end, whispering contradictory things. Things about love and resolution and regret that hadn't meant a damn thing when the world was coming down.

Lex had brought the world down hoping for Clark's end and succeeding in his own.

I love you like a brother . . . he'd whispered, hoarse with passion, like some emotional dam had burst.

But he'd gone for the jugular anyway, stubborn, obsessive bastard that he was. Steadfast. Misguided.

Clark shut his eyes against the sting and wondered if Lex had been right. Wondered if all of this might have been prevented if there'd been more truth between them than lies. He'd wondered it before. It was human nature - - and Kryptonian apparently - - to consider the road not taken and mourn it.

He mourned opportunity lost. He mourned Lex no matter that friendship hadn't been an issue with them for years. Crazy Edward Teague, whose beliefs had been no less twisted, Clark thought, than Lex's, had sought Lex's death. Chloe had suggested it in Chloe's reasonable, rational way- - that final means of securing Clark's own safety and Clark's own autonomy. Lana had wanted it outright for reasons that didn't all have to do with Clark's welfare.

All of them so afraid of what Lex was capable of - - or what Lex's existence meant in relationship to Clark's own because some ridiculous half-baked prophecy made dire claims. Because Lex had become no less a zealot that the ill-fated members of Veritos.

And none of them, not Chloe and not Lana and certainly none of those wealthy scions of age-old secret societies, understood him in the least. To think that he'd take a life to protect a secret he hated - - was unthinkable. To think he'd take the life of someone he'd - - of someone who'd mattered to him once up on a time made him vaguely nauseous. He hadn't wanted this. He hadn't wanted any of this.

Clark pressed his hand to Lex's cold cheek. Leaned down and rested his forehead against the side of his head and murmured. "It's okay. I love you too." Loved.

That last barely came out a whisper past the lump in his throat. He couldn't quite comprehend the lack of life before him. Or he could comprehend it so thoroughly he felt bleak inside. It was not supposed to be like this. No matter what Lex had become - - he was supposed to be here. There. Anywhere but dead at Clark's knees.

Clark shuddered and straightened, wiping at the wetness on his cheeks. He wrapped his fingers around the crystal shard and gently pulled it out. It came with a soft, suckling sound that made him wince. The bottom half blood covered and the wound it left behind slowly oozing red. He wiped it off in the snow and stuck it in his jacket pocket, not knowing if it was one of the live ones. Things like that shouldn't be left lying about. Or left protruding from the bodies of one-time friends.

He didn't know what to do with Lex. A little angry voice inside him said leave him there, frozen in the arctic being no less an ignoble burial than the one Lex had given Lionel - - but even as he thought it, Clark realized he couldn't do it. He couldn't leave Lex there cold and alone, because Lex had spent too many years that way when he was alive.

A splash of red against white snow snagged his attention. He drew his brow, staring down at the widening patch of it in the snow under Lex's shoulder.

Blood. It seeped out to moisten the black wool of Lex's long coat. Clark stared at it, morbidly curious, at the flow of blood and wondered - - did dead men bleed?

His breath caught, snared by sudden tremulous hope. He pulled Lex up, listless limbs that didn't have the stiffness of frozen meat and listened again, ear close to Lex's chest because even though he could hear a whisper a hundred miles away, it filled a need.

Thump. And after an indescribably painful wait - - thump. He hadn't heard it before, because he hadn't listened long enough and the pulse of life was so slow it was almost nonexistent.

"Oh God," Clark whispered. He scrambled up, scooping Lex up with him. If he was anywhere near where the fortress had stood, there was a town a few hundred miles to the south across the mountains - - weeks hike for a human, but seconds for him.

He ran, cradling Lex's head against his shoulder, terrified and gibbering with hope at the same time. Lex was alive. Lex was going to make his life hell because Lex knew and Lex was on a mission. Clark would have to leave home and family and friends, because none of them would be safe in the line of fire between him and forces Lex was going to bring to bear. They might not be safe anyway, by the simple grace of association.

He reached the ridge line, bounding leaps across crevices and chasms and stood looking over the southerly side of a damned treacherous range, seeking out a beacon of civilization. Listened for the tell tale sounds that would lead him towards people that could help Lex. But all he could hear was the whistle of wind.

Was this the same mountain range at all, or had the fortress in its dying breath flung them a good distance elsewhere? It was more than capable of creating wormholes between great distances that he knew painfully well.

He ran again on the south side of the range, covering hundreds and hundreds of miles seeking some hint of human life, but it eluded him. Lex was bleeding more profusely and Lex's heartbeat was growing more sluggish. Clark carting him around at supersonic speeds wasn't helping. He needed to stop losing blood and he needed enough warmth to bring him out of the hibernative state he'd fallen into. If Clark waited much longer, he'd never come out of it.

Clark spied a cave on the side of the mountain. Deep and sheltered from the wind and snow. Narrow entry way that led into a dark interior that reached maybe twenty feet. The floor was relatively flat and it was dry inside. Good enough.

He deposited Lex inside, carefully like he was fine china and zipped back out for fuel to feed a fire. A winter barren tree fell prey to his need. He ripped it out of the ground and dragged it back to the mouth of the cave. Hastily he splintered it and dumped an armful on the floor. He didn't bother with twigs for kindling, having the means to ignite the greenest of wood. A blast of heat vision started the fire and Clark scrambled around in the orange light of it to see to Lex's wound.

He lifted Lex up enough to get the arm on the injured side out of the jacket and pushed up the black sweater and the white thermal shirt beneath to reveal the wound. It was high on the shoulder, just below the ridge of clavicle and nasty. Deep and gaping and still leaking blood. He could try and staunch the flow with wads of cloth, but he had the feeling it would take more than that.

There was another way. Cauterize it with heat. He'd gotten precise enough with the heat vision that he thought he could do it without making matters worse. Just carefully sear the copiously bleeding capillaries and the outside edges of jagged wound.

He held his breath and did it. And blood flow stopped. Clark sat there on his heels, as close to sweating as he ever came, clenching his fists to keep his hands from shaking. He tore strips from the inner lining of his jacket and used them to bind the injury. A wad across the actual wound and a few strips around the shoulder to hold it in place.

Carefully, he worked Lex's arm back into his shirt sleeves, back into his coat, buttoned him up and shifted him a little closer to the fire. The body tended to lose a lot of heat through the head, he knew that from health Ed as opposed to personal experience, and Lex didn't even have the natural protection of hair. Clark used his red jacket to pillow Lex's head, bringing a fold around to cover all but his face before adding more wood to the fire.

He listened to the thud of Lex's heart. It was faster. Not the steady patter of a healthy pulse, but then Lex had lost a lot of blood and Lex was still half frozen. He shut his eyes for a second, not sure if the prickling around the edges of numb feeling he had was relief or shock.

Lex would destroy him once he was back in his element, because Lex wouldn't want to hear explanations and even if he did, he wouldn't believe them. Lex was hording more than fanatical belief, he was hording years of hurt that Clark had been too blind or too stubborn or too hurt himself to see. Funny how five minutes of excruciatingly painful, utterly honest confrontation could clear up ages of misconception. On his part anyway. God knew what Lex was going to convince himself of.

It didn't matter right now. What mattered now was life and warmth. Clark shifted, settling behind Lex, adding his warmth to Lex's unprotected back. It might not be the smartest move or the one most geared towards self-preservation, but he wouldn't let Lex die. In that he was adamant. If he could just get him warm enough for a steady heartbeat, he'd risk venturing out and seeking the closest route to civilization, because carting an injured man across a thousand miles of the most inhospitable land on the globe just didn't seem like a good idea without a damned good notion of where he was heading.

He thought, as he lay there, wrapped around the man who'd tried to kill him - - to control him - - that the difference was minimal. And maybe the maybe the fortress had displaced them, because he damn well should have been able to find that town. He'd picked up the signs of it the first time he'd been transported there, when he'd been desperate to get Chloe out of the cold and into hospitable warmth. He hadn't even known what to look for then and he'd found it. It stood to reason he hadn't found it this time because the damned AI in what might have been its final moments, had decided to engage in one more cruel trick. No matter what Kara said, if his biological father had held a scrap of resemblance to the cold-blooded artificial intelligence he'd left in his wake, the man would have seriously been on Clark's shit list.

The whole damn thing made no sense. He'd been trying to wrap his mind around alien reasoning for months now - - all the Veritos bullshit and the entirely contradictory words vs. deeds of a long dead father who'd supposedly sent him here to protect/rule/be subservient to the people of earth. God. If the fortress was gone, and the AI with it, it would be a blessing. What a relief it would be not to be manipulated by the shadows of the past. He had enough trouble with living problems.

His mind drifted to Lana and her devastating 'dear John'. Another part of his life torn away and Clark hated change. He rebelled against it with all his will and still it washed over him. She'd said it was for his own good - - for the good of the world - - but he didn't believe that. He didn't believe she believed it. She was as much of a coward as him, and she was running, which was within her rights, because she'd been hurt terribly from the pain association with him ultimately brought. It didn't make it any easier to swallow. Being abandoned hurt. He wondered if this was how Lex felt when she'd left him. Maybe they were kindred souls in that respect.

He laughed, a hollow and helpless sound that turned into something more pitiful on the last note. Pressed his face into Lex's shoulder, tightened his arms around him and gritted his teeth, trying to push back the sensation of floating adrift.

He must have drowsed, because when he blinked into sharper awareness the fire had dwindled. But Lex was warm in his arms, and his heartbeat had regained a normal rhythm. He was still out though, body entirely lax, and skin still a little too pale save for spots of color high on his cheeks and his nose and ears, that were probably the result of wind chaff.

Clark untangled himself and added the last of the wood to the fire. If they're here long enough to warrant it, he'll rip up another tree for fuel. But hopefully he could find a town or even a small mountain village to drop Lex off in, and then head home himself to try and figure out a course of action before Lex could make his own way back to civilization and start destroying Clark's life.

Lex was warm enough with a steady enough pulse that Clark figured it would be safe leaving him long enough to go out and find nearest civilazation. He left his jacket pillowed under Lex's head and headed out.

The snow as coming down faster, the wind whipping tiny, crystalline flakes about like they had a life of their own. There was a storm brewing, Clark could smell it in the air and see it in the dark weight of clouds rolling across grey sky. He bounded across the neighboring valley and up to the highest peak on the next set of ridgelines where the world was spread out below him. He stood there, boots crunching on brittle snow and strained his senses for sign of - - anything.

And found nothing. Nothing but the howl of wind and the slow groan of glaciers to the north. He shivered, not from cold, but from a little curl of unease that started to sprout in the pit of his gut.

South. He'd run south until the ice starts to melt and sooner or later he was bound to come across something.




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