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Stranded

by P L Nunn

 

Part three

 

The numb was permeating and Clark couldn't shake it off. Born of apprehension and dread that had built and built and built while he ran the breadth of Greenland, across the floating glacial landmasses that dotted the channels between it and the northern edges of north America and found - - nothing. No outposts, no towns where towns ought to be. And there ought to have been cities even along the frigid arctic coasts. Qaanaaq. Resolute. Dozens more once he'd reached Canadian soil, even in the northernmost provinces. He'd passed those rugged outposts before. He couldn't have gotten that off track and even if he had, he should have been able to zero in on them from the sounds of human life. Just like he'd been able to zero back in on Lex and retrace his steps to the mountainside he'd left him on.

He might have run all the way home, another twenty five hundred miles or so wouldn't have taken him much longer than it had to navigate the ice channels, but he'd had a life depending on him that he'd already ventured close to fifteen hundred miles away from and he feared he might not be able to find his way back. He feared other things as well, things he didn't let himself dwell on - - things like if towns and people he'd damned well known existed on cold northern soil had simply disappeared, what might he find at home.

Just as well he'd come back when he did, or he'd have found Lex frozen solid on the side of the mountain in the middle of a storm that held no mercy for warm living things. He had another hole in his shirt for his trouble, where one of Lex's bullets at hit.

It pissed him off, Lex's determination after - - what- - a day or two of knowing the truth or whatever portion of the truth he thought he'd uncovered? - - to wholeheartedly engage in Clark's destruction. He'd tried to kill him. Twice. And as much as Clark had come to expect the worst from Lex - - Lex had never come after Clark personally - - at least not where it involved bodily harm.

He fed the fire and sat afterwards turning the crystal he'd pulled out of Lex in his hands. Now that he'd cleaned it of blood, it was clear as ice, hard as diamond and completely inert. If it was one of the control crystals, it was completely dormant now.

He swallowed and laid it carefully down next to Lex's gun. Head against the rock behind him, he shut his eyes. His sense of time was a little skewed, but he thought it couldn't have been more than a day since he'd confronted Lex in the fortress. Couldn't have been much more than that or he'd have felt it. Besides, out in the elements, Lex wouldn't have survived more than a few hours, if that.

Which meant the world back home had gone on without him. Which meant, even if he'd been inclined to chase her down, Lana would be long gone. She had the means now to put distance between herself and unwanted confrontation. And Chloe, thanks to Lex, might still be in custody, though if she were given a call, she'd probably use it wisely and contact Oliver. If one billionaire had the resources to get her arrested, another one might be able to pull enough strings to get her out on bail and see to her defense. God knew Clark's only options would have been less than legal and the last thing Chloe needed was to be was broken out of federal custody and on the run from the law.

His girlfriend had broken up with him. His best friend was in jail because of the lengths she'd gone to help him. His worst enemy knew his secret and life as he knew it was pretty much over because of it. He banged his head a few times against the rock and figured staying up here - - wherever here was - - might not be so bad an option after all.

With nobody but Lex for company. Wouldn't that make for a comfortable situation? He laughed again bitterly and glared at Lex. But Lex was easier to hate when he was conscious and smoothly spitting poison. Unconscious he just looked soft and vulnerable and Clark had always had a weakness for vulnerable things.

He flexed his jaw and looked away, at the jagged pale opening of the cave mouth. Not as bright as it had been. Evening was coming on and the storm still howled outside. He ought to get more wood for the fire while it was still light enough to see what he was doing. But he felt a sort of exhaustion that was more spirit than body and it was an effort to force himself up and back outside.

He wanted to just take off and make the long trip home and to hell with Lex. He needed to assure himself that though the cold north was devoid of life, the phenomenon hadn't extended home. He also wanted for none of this to have happened. To be normal. To have that idyllic life with Lana. And none of that was going to happen.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow when it was light and the sun did its best to warm the morning, he'd sweep Lex up whether he'd regained consciousness or not, and attempt the trip. Probably easier if Lex wasn't awake. More pleasant, certainly.

He tore up another tree by the roots and systematically splintered it into campfire-sized chunks outside the cave mouth. He stacked the wood on the inside to keep it out of the snow and added a few good-sized pieces to the fire.

Sparks drifted up lazily, winking out of existence before they could settle back to earth. He sat against the wall again, trying not to think about the all reasons why a continent, even a cold frozen one, might be devoid of life.

Maybe an hour of deliberate non-contemplation later, Lex stirred.

A low groan, the sort of sound a man made when he woke to pain instead of comfort, and Lex's body tensed and curled around the center of hurt, good hand instinctually pressing against the wound in his shoulder. He laid there for a few precious moments, facing the fire, a mind that had been none too clear the first time he'd woken up, no doubt trying to make sense of the situation. Then his heart rate sped up and his breathing went harsh and uneven.

He sat up, hissing in pain, right hand pressed hard to wounded left shoulder. Clark said nothing, brooding in his shadows while Lex tried to orient. It took a few moments for Lex to find him, and when he did, he stared, wide eyes aghast, like he was looking at an atrocity or the destruction of mankind.

Clark ground his teeth, anger boiling so close to the surface he could taste it on his tongue.

"Sorry to disappoint you," he said sullenly. "But it didn't work. I'm still here."

He wasn't even sure what 'it' was to begin with - - what that mythical safety net was that Veritos had hidden all those years and Lex had uncovered. Damn Jor-el anyway, and his unending manipulations and power games. Damn Lex and his crazy obsessive need for the same. Neither one had much of a care for the casualties they'd left in the wake of their goals.

"I can see . . . that." Lex was trying to hide the unease - - the fear, but Clark knew him well enough to recognize spooked when he saw it. And he could hear the rapid rush of pulse and the patter of a heart thudding in the throes of a quiet panic. But Lex had been groomed to hide those things from all the but the most discriminating of observers and he forcibly moved his hand down from his shoulder, masking what weakness he could.

"Killing you wasn't necessarily the goal . . ."

"No?" Clark leaned forward with a flare of anger. "So you'd have settled for my free will? That's damned comforting."

Lex's eyes flicked down to the floor at Clark's side, where the crystal shard and the gun lay. He swallowed, the faint sheen of perspiration on his pale skin - - a good sign that the dry fever of earlier had broken.

"Give me my gun," he asked, voice breaking a little, a shiver passing over his shoulders.

It wasn't like it would be a threat to Clark if he did have it and sliding it over like it meant less than nothing back in Lex's possession gave Clark some bit of satisfaction.

Lex's eyes widened as the gun came to rest against his leg, maybe realizing Clark's gesture for what it was. He picked it up regardless, awkwardly checking the clip with only one fully mobile hand. He snapped it back into place and lifted it with his right arm to aim at Clark.

Clark sighed, a twitching ache starting in behind his left eye. Nerves. Even he got tension headaches on occasion. "I'm not going to hurt you, Lex."

"And I'm supposed to believe you when every other word you've ever spoken to me has been a lie?" Lex's arm was none too steady, but his eyes were saner than they'd been outside in the storm the first time Lex had shot him. Cold and determined, like they'd been back in the fortress.

"I'm not the one who came after you." Clark snapped, then took a breath, trying to calm temper.

"You don't understand . . ." Clark was tired and he'd played out this conversation in his head a hundred times.

"I understand perfectly," Lex said coldly and started laying out facts. "You're not human. You came down with the first Smallville meteor shower and have been hiding among us ever since, biding your time.

"Biding my time for what?" Clark flung out his hands in exasperation.

"Invasion?" Lex suggested with something close to a snarl. "Extermination of the native species to make room for new tenets? You tell me?"

"God, you watch too much Twilight Zone. When have I ever done anything to suggest to you I'm an alien invader in training? Is it the organic farming? Because that seems like a damned poor place to plot the downfall of mankind."

"That's the whole point of a plant, Clark. To blend in, take our measure before you strike."

Lex had answers for everything. A determined man could twist the truth into whatever shape best fit his beliefs and Lex was beyond determined.

"Strike?" Clark cried in frustration. "There's no invasion planned. You want the truth? Here's the truth. I wasn't born here. But my home planet is gone. A handful of people survived and most of them are dead now. And even if I was inclined, an invasion force of one doesn't seem that threatening."

"Depends on the one."

Clark wanted to yank at his hair or break something or shake Lex until his teeth rattled, but he had the feeling the latter two would probably only support Lex's theories.

"I wasn't born here - - I've admitted that. But I live here. This is my home and I've never known another. Get it? And since it's the only one I've got and there's no place else to go, If I were bent on destroying it, I'd sort of be screwing myself over, wouldn't I?"

"You're a ticking bomb, Clark. What if you're primed to explode and destroy life as we know it and don't even realize it? Your own cousin claimed that. Your own flesh and blood."

"Kara? When - -?" Things started to fall into place. Lex had been following breadcrumbs, but that's all that he'd had. Then all of a sudden he'd gained information that he couldn't have known unless someone on the inside had told him. But that someone hadn't been Kara. Not even close.

Clark laughed hollowly, feeling sick and helpless.

"That wasn't Kara." He said dully. "It was Brianiac - - Milten Fine. You ought to remember him. You remember how much effort he went to the last time to wipe out humanity. I'm not the threat, Lex."

"The lies slide off your tongue like honey, Clark."

"Fuck you Lex." Clark shot to his feet in agitation, because sitting there not moving was making him crazy.

Lex aimed the gun at him warningly, white knuckled and startled at what had probably been a too fast movement. And Clark didn't care. The frustration and anger and fear were a compact knot in his gut that felt like it was growing by the second.

"Oh for God's sake, if I wanted you dead, I could have just left you out in the snow." Clark glared down.

He took a breath. Another, trying to control the urge to rip the gun out of Lex's hands and crumple it into a ball shaped piece of metal.

"Kara's gone," he said softly, feeling the ache of that, along with the rest. "He did something to her and he used you. Again."

Lex bared his teeth, grimacing with the effort to keep the gun up. He hissed finally, and doubled over, pressing the hand clenched around the gun against his wounded shoulder.

"You lie," he gasped, glaring up through eyes tearing with pain. "You lie so convincingly. I used to want to believe you - - just for the sake of believing you. I ignored obvious truths because they were about you. But everything pointed to this. The cave drawings - - Veritos prophecy - - we're both destined to play our parts - -"

There was that word again. Destiny. Clark hated it with a passion. That little knot of emotion in his belly exploded in a film of red that obscured his vision.

"Bullshit!!" He roared. "I'm so sick of prophecy and predictions and people long dead trying to control my life. We make our own Goddamned destiny - -its not scribbled for us on some cave wall or handed down by our fathers because they think they have the right to tell us what we're going to be. You want to be destiny's bitch, go for it. Do what you have to do. But I'm through with anybody deciding my future but me."

He had to get out of the cave, out of Lex's presence. He stalked outside tromping through ice-crusted snow. The storm had blown itself out with the onset of night and the sky up here was painfully clear. Inky velvet dotted with a thousand thousand points of light.

His hands were shaking, but it had nothing to do with the cold. He shoved them under his armpits to control it, but all that did was push what was left of the knot in his belly up to his throat.

He wanted his world back the way it had been. He wanted his life back. He wanted Lana not so desperately hurt that fleeing him was better than facing him outright and admitting her fears. He wanted Chloe and Kara safe. He wanted Lex ignorant of all the things that threatened Clark's happiness. The fortress - - the fortress could stay gone. It had caused him too much pain. The things it and the coldly logical ghost of his father had lost him were too great for what he had gained.

He wanted to go home.

 

 

 

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