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Stranded

by P L Nunn

 

Part two

 

Light. Wavering and orange, surrounded by darkness. For a while, it was hard to fathom the significance. From the way it was flickering, the way the world rocked under him, he thought he might be flying, or lying on his back on the deck of a boat staring at the orange light of - - of what? The sun in eclipse? A dream beacon? Something more sinister that heralded all encompassing destruction? Lex dreamed of destruction quite a lot and rebelled against it. If it were dreams assaulting him now, there would be scotch by the bedside that he could use to dull them. And if that didn't work there were pills. It had been ages since he'd had a decent night's sleep.

But he wasn't dreaming. He was too cold to be dreaming and he ached too much. Maybe the pills were a good idea after all.

The light was fascinating though and he lay, snared by it, until realization slowly started sinking in that it was less mystical than his sleep fuddled mind fancied it to be. That it was nothing more than fire. And not the grandiose one he'd drowsed off in front of a hundred times before at home, but a small, messy one that shot out occasional wispy embers, and leaked charred wood around the edges.

He stared, trying to focus past the dancing light to the shadows beyond. But they shifted and melted with the movement of the light. Nothing man made. A cave. He was in a cave. Which baffled him, until other things crept back, jumbled recollections that slowly pricked understanding.

Endless pristine snow, graced by a structure of ice so incredible it had almost been dreamlike. Exquisite and crystalline and alien.

Deadly.

He remembered the place and what had happened there.

A sudden burst of fear-laced adrenaline lent him the strength to lurch up. Sudden pain ate through his senses, blossoming out from his shoulder, throbbing and deep like the center of everything he is had shifted there. It flared behind his eyes, too bright to comprehend anything past it for long moments.

He shuddered convulsively, clutching his good hand to the source of hurt. Gradually the bright flare of agony receded enough to allow thought not centered around animal reaction to pain. But too many images flooded his mind for any single one to hold coherency. It was hard to focus clearly on any of them. The long flight, turbulence that had threatened to toss them rudely out of the air. The trek through merciless tundra, snow and ice and glacier. That place. That incredible alien structure. Poisonous beauty, just like - - Clark.

Clark.

Clark images flashed through his head. Wide eyes, brimming with emotion, smiling at him, lancing through him with hatred, pleading. Beautiful mouth spouting lies and lies and lies cloaked in the treacherous mask of an honest boy. Man. Monster.

It was hard to absorb the utter enormity of it - - the reconciliation of Clark with the monster. But he knew it was true. It fit too perfectly not to be true. He should have known years ago, but like a man afraid to know the prognosis that will reveal the nature of his death, he'd pretended ignorance. He'd felt like a fool when she'd finally spelled it out for him, blinded by all the tedious exploration of trees to notice the whole of the forest.

The harbinger of destruction, so much more dangerous than the obvious threat of the ones that had come before, the ones that hadn't bothered to hide their true nature in the cloak of normalcy. So much more dangerous because Clark engendered love. Clark would have brought the world down around them - - all of cowering humanity - - and Lex had to believe it was true, because the alternative was too terrible to bear.

There was cloth under his hand, that wasn't his coat. He knew the difference, even dulled by disorientation and pain, between the feel of silk blended wool and cheap polyester.

He curled the fingers of his right hand in the jacket. Worn red windbreaker, more familiar than half of his own clothing, because he'd seen it worn so often. Because the sight of a red windbreaker clinging to broad shoulders might very well have been burned into his memory forever.

He picked it up, staring stupidly for a moment, before it occurred to him to wonder how he came to be in possession of Clark's jacket. He remembers Clark in his arms weak and so beautiful in false earnestness, downed by whatever alien power Lex had been predestined to use against him. He remembers the world tumbling down and strangely enough not feeling the panic one might expect at impending doom. Rather a certain melancholy that though he'd fulfilled his duty, his destiny, the quest for it was over.

He swung his gaze to the fire, panic beginning to well. Where was he? And who brought him here? And most important of all, what had happened to the alien fortress and to Clark?

He staggered to his feet, almost failing from pain and weakness and the cloying dizziness that refused to clear from his head. Spots danced at the edges of his vision, worrisome and distracting. He clutched his left arm to his side, the weight of it hanging, sending tearing agony through his shoulder.

The way out was easy, the cave all dark shadows save for the brilliant white at the ragged mouth. He careened of a ridge of rock, balance no less damaged than his wavering vision on the way. There was snow on the floor near the entrance, blown in from outside. Still blowing in as he stepped outside and into the path of harsh wind and falling snow.

It was hard to make out landscape features, but he saw rocky crags and a visible down slope. He shielded his face with his good hand and stumbled a few yards out, trying to orient himself. Trying to see the remnants of Clark's fortress. He needed to know if it was destroyed or still clinging to whatever alien life it possessed. He needed to pinpoint where it had stood so they can find it and shift through the rubble. Even in ruins, the technology, the knowledge they might gain might change the face of the world.

He staggered through snow, trying to see through the howling white of blown snow. His coat whipped around him and he clutched the lapel tight at his throat in an effort to close out the cold. But it's not enough. His ears were burning. The skin on his face was numb. But the need to find that fortress drove him, as surely as it had driven him from Smallville to this desolate place.

But it was so cold and his head his throbbed in time with his shoulder. His legs no longer seemed to want to pick up his feet high enough to wade through snow that topped his calves.

His knees give out and he dropped onto snow-padded ground, hunching over, shuddering violently. Inconsistent things flashed through his head. His father, laughing at him, berating him as a fool for pursuing this, reaching out to touch his face with poisonous fingers, dead eyes staring up, still mocking. His mother, standing at the end of a long, long hall, silently watching with pain-filled eyes. But never moving closer. Never moving closer. Clark staring at him with accusation and hurt, Clark walking in through the delivery entrance with a crate overflowing with organic vegetables smiling like he was happy to be there, Clark shoving him against a wall spitting blame like it was his inalienable right. Inalienable. Alienable. Alien.

Lex laughed/sobbed, rocking in the snow. Fuck them all. He'd done what needed doing. He'd solved the riddle, followed the clues, lived up to age-old prophecy and saved the world from a terrible fate. Even if he died out here, no one the wiser, it would be worth the sacrifice. No monumental deed had ever been accomplished without forfeit, even with the best back up plan in the world. He knew this. He lived by this.

And he wasn't his father. He didn't need his name blazoned across history - - as long as he'd enabled history to march on. God, he was so cold.

Lex. He heard his name, weedy on the wind. The product of imagination, perhaps, or his own personal demons laughing at him, chiding that heroic death is all fine and good, but really a monument wouldn't be too much to ask, would it? A modest one would be enough - - something elegant and tasteful - - where the people that mattered might come to contemplate how wrong they'd been to ever doubt him.

The people that mattered - -? Who mattered? Lana was in an irreversible vegetative state. His father was deaddeaddead! Mother a ghost in his memory. Clark . . . Clark. Images flashed through his head again, precious, cherished lies- - Clark hadn't ever been what he'd claimed. Had been more. So much more.

He doubled in pain, wetness freezing on his face.

Lex. Louder this time like it wasn't even coming from inside his head, and he blinked up through swirling white to see a flash of color.

Blue.

He gaped, not understanding. Ghost or hallucination, standing with bare arms and wind whipped hair in the midst of what surely had to be the beginnings of a blizzard. Or was it something more solid?

God. His stomach lurched, his heart thudding with the dizzy realization of failure.

Clark. Alive and well and miraculously unphased by the cold. Or not so miraculously for something not human. Alien. Alien. Alien.

After everything Lex had gone through, all the sacrifices all the soul-wrenching deeds done for the sake of protecting humanity - - to have failed so completely to eradicate the threat, to see Clark standing there, so perfectly vibrant and alive - - the earth crumbled out from under him all over again. Dizzy plummet into desperation.

Why hadn't it worked? The oh so coveted device that generations of men before him had taken such care to conceal and protect until it might be used in the final endgame. It had taken Clark down, had brought the fortress down on their heads and Lex had thought 'control' had been a misinterpretation of 'destruction' and he'd been okay with that.

What goddamned use had it been if Clark was standing right here? A ruse? A trick to lure those that ventured too close to the secret to their demise? Had he been played?

He tried to gain his feet, but his legs were too weak, or too cold to take commands issued by his brain. Something hard inside his coat pocket bounced against his thigh. He recalled through the haze of panic what it was, and reached around with his good hand to grasp the grip of a gun.

He wrenched it out, aimed it unsteadily with his right arm. The right hand was not his dominant one so his aim would be off. Would it even matter? He'd used to own flattened bullets that had mysteriously littered the floor around various places that Clark Kent had been shot at. He didn't have them anymore - - because once upon a time Clark's good will had been more important than pursuing a curiosity that ate at Lex's soul.

He laughed, hysterical and bitter and tried to get a bead on Clark.

"Lex. Lex, what are you doing?" Clark's voice was weak in the wind, but Lex recognized the tone. Annoyed, frustrated on the verge of angry. He knew all of Clark's tones, all of his nuisances and yet he knew nothing.

"Stay away," Lex warned, though that's not what he wanted. If he could put a bullet in Clark's brain, maybe that would do the trick. Maybe he could scrape together success from the ashes of failure after all. He'd done it before. But Clark's figure was wavering, doubling in Lex's failing vision and his arm was shaking so badly he could barely hold it up.

He squeezed the trigger. Again and had no idea if he'd hit anything or not. But it didn't matter because Clark was just there, right up in Lex's face, one knee in the snow, wrenching the gun out of Lex's hand like he was taking a toy from a toddler.

It was too fast and he couldn't think past the shock. Someone was chanting, no no no over and over and he thought it just might be him. He didn't know what Clark had done with the gun. He needed the gun - - he needed something to combat the threat with - - to deny the crushing blow of defeat.

"God, Lex, you're burning up." Clark was too close and Clark had an arm around his back keeping him from twisting away, and Clark was wrong because Lex was freezing.

Clark pulled him up, effortless, like Lex had no say in the matter. Maybe he didn't, because it was difficult to think and equilibrium was all fucked up now that he was on his feet. But Clark's arm was like a steel band and even though he wanted to shove it off, he hadn't the strength to do more than sag into the grip.

Clark took most of his weight, Lex's feet useless and numb under him. He half carried him through clinging white back into the darkness of the cave where the fire still flickered. Let go of him once inside and Lex just crumpled, all his strength eaten up by the cold and the angry ache at his shoulder.

He curled on the ground near the fire, shivering, but the heat barely registers. The ground was tilting under him again, the world spinning wildly and he felt the need to vomit, but pushed it back. He clenched his jaw, shutting his eyes against the wavering light and the glimpse of Clark moving restlessly in the shadows.

Clark had him and he doesn't want to think about what Clark will do to protect the secret he's kept so many years. He'd only had a brief time to contemplate all the things Clark had done - - all the lies, all the little tells that Lex had known - - goddamned well had known were there and refused to acknowledge for what they truly were. Clark would go to lengths to protect himself. Stupid not to.

What lengths? Why was he even alive still? Unless Clark needed to know how far the information had spread. And what would Clark - - no Kal-el, Kara had said his real name, his Kryptonian name was Kal-el - - how far would Kal-el go to eradicate that knowledge?

It burned, like the ache in his shoulder, the extent of his own blindness. The excuses - - the lengths he'd been willing to go to make himself overlook the obvious, the things he'd glossed blithely over because of how deeply Clark had wormed his way under his skin. He hated feeling the fool - - the mark - - the victim. He hated that sinking lost feeling of betrayal, because he damned well ought to be hardened against it.

There was another sinking sensation that was more physical than intellectual and harder to fight against. It drew him under and he sank reluctantly into unstable darkness again.

 

 

 

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