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Chapter 6 illustration

Stranded

 

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.

 


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 wasn't 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 registered. 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 didn't want to think about what Clark would do to protect the secret he'd 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.

 


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.


Part Four

Lex's arm shook. It wasn't even the one hanging limply from his side and screaming bloody murder, but he couldn't quite seem to stop it from quivering. Trembling uncontrollably, unforgivably, from the simple act of holding up a gun. An embarrassing act of weakness that he ground his teeth and locked his elbow trying to hide, until Clark finally stormed out, eyes flashing and cheeks flushed. Beautiful. The thought came unbidden and unwelcome. But Clark always had looked good when his emotions ran high. Like a demi-god down from high, slumming in the mid-western boondocks.

And wasn't that an appropriate metaphor? Lex laughed, hysteria tinged and lowered the gun with gasp of pain. He laid it on the cold stone floor, between his knee and the low burning fire and tried to get his breathing under control.

His head hurt, but thought came easier than it had before, when he'd first woken here. Confused images and lurid recollections no longer slid in and jumbled rational thinking. He remembered everything, detail so clear it was painful.

Two days to get here, via air and ice and miserable cold. He'd never been much for the bitter cold. Never one for sweltering heat either. He liked his extremes in other areas. He'd left his expedition a mile to the south, after they'd pin-pointed the location of the fortress and traveled to uncover those final revelations alone, though. He'd had to go alone, like a man stepping into the light to connect his with own private divinity. No one else had belonged there. No one but Clark.

Clark who's eyes shone with such sanctimonious anger, who's hands shook with honest indignation - - so perfectly human - - so perfectly that self righteous boy, that good hearted boy, that endearingly virtuous boy that had drawn Lex in like a flame calling to a moth.

He recalled the fortress, dwelled purposefully on the sheer alien majesty of it, structures so exquisitely crafted that no human hand could have wrought them. He placed Clark in the center to reinforce the fact that he belonged there, that he was not human - - not the person Lex had believed him to be, because otherwise, the façade was so convincing, the act so immaculate down to the pout and the honest-seeming frustration, that part of Lex wanted to doubt. Wanted to believe very, very badly the things Clark claimed.

But Lex knew better than to believe the urgings of his heart. His heart had never yet failed to betray him and blind trust always led to betrayal and pain. Always. Just because Clark lay at the center didn't mean the circle of conspiracy and secrets that Lex had fought to unravel was any less staggering. It didn't mean the threat was any less. It simply meant it wore a familiar face. And that made it all the more dangerous, because Clark made you want to believe and want to trust, even when he was holding the bloody dagger he'd used to stab you in the back.

Thinking of stabbings, reminded him of the throbbing ache in his left shoulder. He eased the jacket off and stretched his sweater enough to bare skin. A strip of torn red cloth had been wound under his arm and across the injury, but it was relatively free of blood. He pushed it aside with his thumb and winced at the wound underneath. Too large to be a bullet hole, tender and inflamed around the edges, but crusted and dark as if it had been seared within the body of the wound. His skin was stained with dried blood. The cloth of his sweater was stiff with it. The red bandage looked suspiciously as if it might have been torn from the lining of a cheap red jacket.

Lex swallowed, trying not to think about Clark dealing with him when he'd been unconscious, trying not to think about Clark taking the time to bind a wound and the reasons why. He shuddered and recovered the injury, pulling his coat back into place. He looked about the cave, feeling the crawling edges of desperation seeping back up.

The gun was a ridiculously false comfort. He'd hit Clark - - he was almost certain he'd hit Clark and Clark hadn't flinched. Shocking to see in the flesh what he'd only ever imagined in theory.

He saw a glint of something other than dull rock or windblown debris against the wall where Clark had been sitting. He put the gun in his pocket and pushed himself up with an effort and a groan of a pain. It was a crystal shard, longer than his hand and cleanly faceted. Very much like the shards that had studded the pedestal in Clark's fortress. If Clark had saved this one out of all of them, then it undoubtedly held value to him. And if it held value to Clark, Lex wanted it.

Lex slipped it into his coat pocket and it clinked against something solid. Since the gun was in the other pocket - -

God. All the time he'd been staggering out in the snow he'd had the means to contact his team in his pocket. He'd been a fool not to remember his phone. He dug it out and flipped it open and it glowed a soft comforting blue in the dim light of the cave. It was a sat-phone and could reliably pick up a signal from anywhere in the world - - except apparently in the depths of a cave with tons of rock obscuring the signal.

He cursed softly at the dead signal and cast a wary glance at the mouth of the cave. He needed to get outside to make the call. But if Clark were out there, Clark might take issue with the calling of the cavalry. He held no illusions about his ability to keep Clark from taking his only means of communication if Clark wanted. He held no illusions at all about Clark anymore.

It was the sort of dark outside that only occurred in the dead of snow covered winter, or out in the arctic where the overpowering white of the snow and ice covered land reflected the minimal light of stars and moon and cast everything in a sort of twilight.

It had stopped snowing but the wind up here was still frigid and brittle. Lex shivered, hunching his shoulders in a futile effort to stave off the cold. He crept outside the mouth of the cave, boots crunching in soft snow. It took him a few moments to locate Clark, a dark silhouette standing on an outcropping, motionless and silent, thinking god knew what, if the face of the loss of his fortress.

Lex flipped the phone open again, waiting for a signal to come up. And there was nothing. Just dead air and the faint hum of static. Chilling in a way that the arctic air wasn't, because this phone damn well should have been operational, now that there was nothing between it and a comprehensive orbiting satellite system, but thin air.

He leaned against the frozen rock outside the cave, barely able to keep hold of the phone his hands trembled so badly. He had a team out there somewhere, waiting for word from him. Maybe already looking for him, since he'd been gone - - how long? He had no idea. How long would they search before the harshness of the artic environment forced them to give up? Even if they found him - -he'd held the only weapon of use against Clark - - even if it had apparently only had a temporary effect - - and that was gone, swallowed by the fortress when it had come down.

He swallowed again, dry mouthed and dreadfully thirsty. Cast one more hopeful glance at a phone that refused to pick up a signal before shoving it back into his pocket. He might slip away, while Clark stood, staring at endless moonlit snow, but Clark had been dead right in at least one thing; he'd die out there, without the means to protect himself from the elements and everything he knew would die with him.

It had been a miscalculation to follow in the footsteps of his father and his father's contemporaries in Veritos and hoard the information he'd uncovered. But it was as if the true mysteries surrounding Clark incited secrecy. He'd been on the outside of this enigma for years and had been driven to protect it from public knowledge since almost day one. Why? Because he'd sensed it had to with Clark and instinctually moved to protect that innocent eyed boy? Had Clark counted on that from the beginning? Never truly the innocent? Always the manipulator, lying in wait?

Little wonder he'd gotten along so well with Lionel these last few years.

Lex pressed his lips and slipped back inside the cave. He staggered over the outside edges of a stack of wood, just inside the mouth. Caught his balance with a hand against the wall and stared down, momentarily baffled by the simple presence of stacked firewood.

The fire. The wood laid out to fuel it and keep this small space warm enough to protect against the bitter cold outside. Clearly Clark didn't require protection against the elements, which meant he'd gone to the trouble of gathering it for Lex's benefit. Had taken the time and effort to bind Lex's wound, to bring him here not once, but twice.

Two days ago when Clark still had a reason to keep up pretenses, Lex could have understood - - would have thought it odd for Clark not to go out of his way to help even a bitter enemy if life and limb were on the line - - but now? What reason, when Clark's purposes would most surely be better served it Lex were dead? It made his head swim trying to comprehend, but then maybe that was the edges of hypothermia mixed with diminishing fever muddling his thoughts.

He picked up a chunk of wood, and took it with him back to the fire, laying it atop the dwindling flames as he eased himself down. He shucked off the glove on his right hand with the help of his teeth, and held his naked palm out to the warmth of the fire.

Milton Fine, Clark had claimed. Lex didn't believe it. Clark simply knew which of his buttons to push to tweak the most emotion. Milton Fine, whatever he'd truly been, alien or alien construct, was a sore point with Lex. The idea that he'd be gullible enough to let himself be used by the creature twice was ludicrous. That he'd been used at all - - vulnerable, naïve, powerless , manipulated by the hands of people he should have been able to trust - - made him shudder and shy away from the more inward path his mind tried to follow.

He clenched his fist and stared into the fire until it swam in his vision. Shut his eyes and the world still swayed.

Dehydration. He was familiar with the feeling. He'd had a pack with supplies when he'd trekked across the icy landscape between base camp and the alien spires of the Fortress, but he'd shed it, along with his winter gear when he'd entered the structure and found the temperatures oddly mild compared with the 30 below environment outside it.

He pulled on the glove and pushed himself to his feet again. Harder this time, limbs stiff from cold and the wound in his shoulder making the whole of his body ache. There was snow outside, though, that he could use to quench his thirst.

He needed to think straight to deal with this. To clear the haze in his head caused by injury and weakness. He'd come here with a clear purpose, unfaltering trajectory towards a destiny that had been building before he'd been born. But he'd lost his upper hand and until he found a way to regain it - - and he would, if he could only get back to civilization - - he'd need his wits to deal with Clark. If he could just keep his head, he could manage this situation - - manage Clark. He'd used to be able to do that - - talk his way out of Clark's bad graces - - harder nowadays with Clark so set against him - - with Clark so poisoned by Lana's hatred and Lionel's manipulations - - Clark used to be so much more willing to believe - - in Lex. In the validity of Lex's motives. Clark used to have faith in him and the betrayal still loomed, raw and ugly.

He swayed against the wall, a spell of dizziness stealing balance, thoughts reeling, cold hard fact slipping sideways in the face of unwieldy emotion. What Clark used to be had no bearing if it had all been lies.

Lex took a breath, pushing himself off the wall with a grimace of determination , willing balance and clear headedness. He didn't need to go far, there was snow and ice everywhere. The top layer was probably more pure than anything he'd ever consumed out of a bottle.

He meant to crouch, but his knees hit snow and the cold ate through the material of his pants. He ignored it, the new primal goal of quenching his thirst driving him past surface discomforts.

The snow was so cold it made his teeth ache, and it melted in his mouth too slow for true satisfaction, but it eased the need.

Clark loomed over him in the darkness, sudden, shocking presence that made Lex's heart flutter in panic. He felt like some feral child at Clark's feet, crouched in an alley, digging for scraps. He hated the feeling, the anxiety that spurred him when Clark stood there above him, unflinching and impervious in a cold that Lex felt to his bones and couldn't stop shaking from. It was intolerable - - this wasn't how it was supposed to end. He felt a sting at the back of his eyes, reaction to the cold, because it damned sure wasn't anything else.

I'll get you something to melt it in inside, " Clark said, flat voiced, flat eyed in the darkness.

"You don't need to get me anything. There are supplies with my expedition. You can take me there." His own voice cracked, wavered a little at the end in desperation and he despised himself for it.

Clark swallowed, eyes shifting with that uncomfortable look he usually wore when he was contemplating a lie. What was the point of pretense now? What was the point in the façade of humanity at all - - but Clark hadn't let it slip since the confrontation.

"They're not out there," Clark said, setting his jaw like he'd come to some unhappy decision that he was bound and determined to see though.

"What did you do?" Lex felt a chill colder than the arctic air pass over him. He fought for his feet, needing the advantage of not being on his knees at the feet of his enemy. It was a struggle, everything cold and stiff and aching.

"I didn't do anything." Clark said angrily. Slices of smooth, golden skin showed through the tears in his t-shirt. Two rips and one hole singed around the edges where a bullet had ripped through. "If you had somebody out there waiting for you - - they're not there anymore."

"There's no way in hell they would have left," Lex snarled at him, scenarios dancing through his head of Clark cleaning up witnesses to the location of the fortress. Of Clark systemically obliterating everyone who had a clue about the truth of his origins.

"Why am I still alive?" he asked, beating the tremor out of his voice. He wouldn't go out with a fucking whimper.

Clark threw out his arms, practically growling in irritation. Lex flinched minutely at the sudden, violent movement, but he didn't think Clark noticed.

"Because unlike you, I'm not a murderer," Clark spat venomously. "And I didn't do anything to your Goddamned expedition. They're just not there - - nothing's there that should be - - for a long way - -" Clark trailed off, looking spooked. He paced out into the snow, shoulders hunched, fists clenched, staring out into the twilit darkness.

"I can't hear anything," Clark said softly, but Lex doubted he was speaking to him. "I should be able to hear - -"

"How?" Lex had to ask. He couldn't stop himself.

Clark half turned, gave him a look, but didn't answer.

"How can you not be cold?" Lex had to ask that one too, freezing as he was. He couldn't feel his ears or his nose. His feet, even though winter insulated boots and thermal socks were going numb.

Clark turned back to look out at the distant silhouettes of mountains. Lex thought he was going to ignore that question as well, but eventually he spoke.

"I think - - the planet I came from was really cold."

Lex drew a breath, stomach fluttering at the fantastic simplicity of that quiet admission.

"But I don't know for sure," Clark murmured. There was something hazy, almost dazed in his voice. "I never - - it never occurred to me to ask. Kara would have known. Kara - -" he trailed off, the haze melting into something more akin to grief. He curled his arms around his mid-section, hunching further over like a man hit in the gut. Trembling. Lex could see it now. Trembling like the cold was affecting him after all.

It struck Lex, a wavering moment of weakness, drawn to the surface by Clark's pain. It was the rare occasion that he relished Clark's suffering and only then when he was the author of it and even then, satisfaction had always been tempered by underlying regret. Victory over Clark had never meant the same thing as victory over the rest of the world. Even now - -

Clark straightened, hands dropping to his sides, fingers flexing. He turned, face set and stalked towards Lex, and Lex had the sudden fear that he'd given up the pretense of meaning no harm and decided to finish off the last threat to his anonymity. But all Clark did was brush past, into the cave. Came back out a moment later shrugging into his red jacket, before Lex had convinced his body to move, one way or another. Clark narrowed his eyes and focused his gaze around the area of Lex's pockets, then looked back up at Lex narrowly, as if he knew damned well Lex had taken the crystal. Lex lifted his head, wanting to hear confirmation of that ability as well.

"Problem?" Lex asked, as calmly and coolly as a man might whose teeth were chattering unrepentantly.

Clark bared his teeth a little, upset - - oh, damned upset.

"It's going to be cold," Clark said abruptly.

"What - -?"

Clark reached for him, faster than Lex could convince his body to dodge. Implacable fingers gripped his good arm and he growled, baring his own teeth and trying to twist away. "Get your hands off - -"

Clark shook him hard enough to rattle teeth, yanked him close, clutching both arms with that punishing grip and said. "You don't know how bad I just want to leave you here. But I can't do that, because it would be plain murder and I'd have to live with myself after."

"Son of a - -" Lex started, breathlessly, in no mood for Clark's claims of moral high ground when he knew it was all fabrication.

"Fine," Clark snapped and let him go. For all of a heartbeat - - half a heartbeat until the world upended with a solid impact to Lex's gut and he had a split second to realize he was staring down at snowy earth and the back of Clark's legs, Clark's big hand tight across the back of his, before everything went blurry with the sudden sensation of movement.

Not just any movement - - but sudden, sickening acceleration, worse than the stomach lurching feeling of plummeting out of the air in a nose diving jet, or the surreal haze of sailing off solid earth and out over murky brown water.

He couldn't breath, he couldn't think, couldn't see past the rush of wind. His stomach rebelled. His head did, beaten down by velocity so terrible it sapped consciousness.

He came back, clutching for awareness, clutching at the solidity that was the only thing keeping the world from reeling out from under him. He pressed his face into warmth, precious, addictive warmth and tried to breath. Smelled the too familiar scent of a boy/man he'd never been able to shed from his mind and reason flooded back.

Clark had stopped, eased Lex down from across his shoulder and stood, absently allowing himself to used as a prop at the edge of something vaster than the arctic snow.

Lex pushed himself away, needing to separate himself from that comforting scent, needing to stand on his own two feet and gain control back of his own body. His face was numb, his head was, his vision glassy as if ice had formed over his eyes. He blinked rapidly, not sure that hadn't happened, and clotting wetness spiked his lashes.

"There was a town here - - a harbor with fishing boats." Clark said staring out over choppy, dark water. There were bits of flotsam - - ice - - marring the surface here and there and further out, obscured by fog, what might have been a distant isle or looming iceberg. God. Where were they?

"Greenland," Clark said dully, as if Lex had voiced the question out loud. "That's Baffin Bay. There should be - - something along this coast - - but there's not. I looked. Further south than this - - and still - - I don't understand what's happened."

Lex didn't understand quite a lot, not least among the clamoring lot of confusion, how they'd gotten from deep in the northern reaches of this frozen continent to the southern coast. It had seemed like forever, yet he knew it hadn't been nearly so long.

Clark was fucking with his head, using unknown alien powers to warp his perceptions. Maybe he'd been doing it for years. But he could play along. Playing along seemed vital to his survival. To the survival of the very world perhaps.

"It's a huge coastline - - maybe you're mistaken."

Clark wasn't listening to him. God knew what Clark was hearing, head cocked again, familiar expression of concentration on his face. Clark thinned his lips, turned his attention back to Lex.

"I have to go really fast over water. You can go over the shoulder again, or I can carry you in my arms. It'd probably be easier on you that way."

"You're giving me a choice?"

Clark shrugged, taut shoulders under red cotton, face straining after impassiveness and failing. The worry got though, the anger did. And fear. God, he was so damned convincing.

"You can run over water? Fly?" She'd been able to fly. Kara.

Clark swallowed, a moment of what might have been embarrassment flashing through his eyes. "Run."

So he wasn't capable of what his cousin was. Was it a male female difference in powers or was she simply more advanced than Clark? And claims of the device being designed solely for human use aside, if she'd had those advantages, why the fuck hadn't she even made the effort to lift a hand and deal with Clark herself? What had Clark done to make her change her tune so completely? If it hadn't been Kara at all - - but no, he refused to allow doubt to cloud his judgment.

He nodded, aware of Clark's impatience, aware that choice of position was the only choice he had at the moment. Clark stepped forward, hesitated for one awkward moment, then swept Lex up with no more effort than Lex might have used to pick up a set of keys.

Clark took a breath and then he was moving, faster than coherent thought could follow and the only thing that kept Lex's neck from snapping from the rapid motion was Clark's big hand, pressing his face hard against Clark's shoulder.


Part Five

Lex didn't have time to go stiff in his arms. Clark didn't allow him the chance. Clark just accelerated, gaining that essential speed needed to defy the grasping embrace of water. He'd never run this fast carrying a human passenger. Never had the need. What these speeds might do to a man, he wasn't sure. In the face of his driving need to get home, he found he didn't quite care. Lex had brought this on himself, when he'd chosen the path he had.

It didn't take long to cross the bay, a few minutes at top speed, and he only slowly marginally once he'd reached solid ground, but didn't stop. Couldn't stop. The rugged terrain of Nunavat passed in a blur as he sped along the vast shores of Hudson's Bay. Down into Manitoba, a straight shot towards home and he felt Lex jerking in his arms. Ineffectual protest that he might well have escaped his attention.

Reluctantly, Clark slowed, came to a gradual stop somewhere around the area that Winnipeg ought to have been. He'd been to Winnipeg before, on one of those jaunts when he'd been testing the limits of his speed. A beautiful city on the shores of a like-named lake.

Lex gasped against him, drawing in breath like a man starving for oxygen. It occurred to Clark, belatedly that he very well might not have been able to properly breath at the speeds Clark had been traveling. He let Lex down, and his legs immediately folded up under him, dropping him to his knees on ground lightly covered by frost.

Clark stood there, while Lex's gasps migrated into dry heaves, and stared at the land south of the lake. Flat for miles, and oddly - - razed, only the most scraggly of young trees and weeds gracing the earth.

Something broke the surface not far off, an odd shaped lump covered with frost-browned moss, vines twining forth at frozen angles, grasping at nothing. He squinted and saw them for what they were, twisted lengths of rebar protruding from a chunk of weathered concrete. He drew breath and looked deeper. The dirt under his feet was thin, a clean layer of accumulated earth covering denser material. And below that - - bones.

Acres and acres of the bones of a city. Riddled layers of decimation. Rubble compacted deep and dense, with only the occasional pocket of space below.

He staggered towards that one protruding monument to what lay below, fear lancing through him like kryptonite poison in his blood. This had been a large city, bustling with vitality - - with life. Gone. And he hadn't a clue how or why.

The blood rushed in his ears, obscuring the desolate whistle of wind, obscuring coherent thought save for the driving instinct to go home. To find what was his and protect it against whatever had taken this place.

He spun, enough presence of mind to remember Lex, who was pale and still looked vaguely nauseous, but had gained his feet and had his phone out - - was scowling at it like it had short sold him. He had no idea whatsoever what it was he trod upon.

Lex looked up, in the midst of trying to shake obedience into the cell, caught the hind end of Clark's approach and had just enough time for panic to flash through his eyes before Clark caught him up and ran. The phone tumbled, lost in their wake. Clark was half a hundred miles away before it hit the ground.

It was a straight shot through the northern half of the US to Metropolis. Land that should have been teaming with life - - with towns, cities, sprawling metropolitan areas - - highways crawling with traffic, skies criss crossed with planes. Minneapolis, Sioux City, Omaha - - no sign of any of them to the casual supersonic observer. It wasn't until he passed into Kansas, where Topeka should have stood and slowed, that he saw the first real sign that a city had indeed thrived on this land. The bones broke through the earth there, iron and concrete and mountains of rubble that looked like nothing so much as those horrible black and white photographs of Hiroshima after the bomb. Acres and acres of it, dead and still, the air acrid with the scent of rusting iron, with decay and mold.

"God - - God - -" Lex whispered close to Clark's ear, fingers fisting in Clark's jacket, voice echoing the horror Clark felt to the depths of his soul.

"Where - -?" Lex started, twisting to escape Clark's arms.

But Clark couldn't force sound out past the dread clotting his throat. 200 miles to Smallville. Metropolis was closer by half that.

He was there before he could think of reasons to postpone the inevitable. Reasons not to see the city he'd always dreamed of living in reduced to a wasteland of concrete and iron.

He slowed on the plains beyond, coming to a stop on splintered, weed riddled asphalt of what should have been highway 81 leading into Metropolis. A terrible numbness begin to seep across his flesh as he stared at the jagged edges of a city dark against a wan sunrise.

He let Lex down, and Lex staggered, off balance and it took him a second to focus on the sight that trapped Clark's gaze.

"Where the - - fuck- -?" Lex gasped after breath that had been torn from him that last stretch of distance. Lex wouldn't have any idea. Nothing in the minute or two Clark had lingered in Topeka would have sparked a visual clue. There hadn't been enough left of it.

Metropolis had faired better. Buildings still stood- - in one form or another - - dark and grisly remnants of great structures rising out of a haze the distant sun seemed reluctant to pierce. There were no sounds of traffic, no conglomerated pulse of life - - just eerie silence. Terrible silence.

Clark took a breath that bordered on a sob, as Lex stumbled a few steps across buckled, cracked pavement towards what had once been a gleaming city of light and dreams of the future.

Smallville. Home. It called to him, the need to see what had become of weathered wood and tin roofing when whatever had happened here - - whatever had happened across the span of two continents, had razed cities whole.

He left Lex where he stood - - having done his duty and brought Lex to the doorstep of what was left of civilization. What was left of Smallville - - what was left of the yellow farmhouse that was the only home Clark had ever known, needed to be discovered without the presence of the man who thought he was an abomination.

He turned and ran, following the route of the interstate, dodging the skeletal remains of cars worn down to the bare suggestion of frames.

He hit Smallville proper first. But the town was gone. Nothing but fine ground rubble where buildings used to be. Not even that in some places. There were pits here and there, where basements used to be, half filled with fallen debris, with windblown dirt and weeds and pools of stagnant water. His heart thudded in his chest, louder than the pervasive whistle of wind with no buildings to curb it.

Home he had to get home. Only home wasn't so easy to find, with the roads worn away or covered with dirt and dust and overgrown scrub grass and no landmarks to go by. He found it finally, by instinct alone - - found the place it should have been. But there was nothing but weed tangled flat earth. No suggestion a barn or outbuildings or a house had ever existed here. The only thing that remained was the root cellar and even that was half filled with dirt, the doors torn off or burned off.

He sank down, at the edge of that pit staring down into dark space, mind frozen as the enormity of his loss sank in. How long he knelt, knees in the dirt, he hardly knew, but the sun had moved high into the sky by the time the numb began to fade, and he reminded himself that his mother hadn't been here - - that Lana had fled days before. That only the cows and the horses and the chickens in the roost had graced this land when - - when whatever it was that had happened &endash; happened.

Everything his father had worked to build - - the grandfather he'd never known - - everything his mother had loved and nurtured - - everything Clark had grown up around, comfortable, familiar things that he'd thought would always be there for him - -a refuge from the world - - gone. The pain was this weird, distant thing. He was aware of its existence, but it lingered behind a film of dread calm.

Mom. He didn't know where Lana had gone - - but he knew where his mother had been.

He headed towards DC, not lingering at the places cities had stood, not wanting to see the staggering evidence of life snuffed out, holding onto the lingering hope that somehow - - some way, the place his mother had been had escaped the utter annihilation that had razed almost everything else he'd passed.

It hadn't. The Potomac still wound lazily along its path, but nothing remained of the city that had sat its shores. Even the trees that dotted the banks seemed too few and twisted with grief. The earth here wasn't as flat as it had been back home, and he saw through the layers of dirt and moss and weeds to the rubble beneath.

His hands started to shake, vision going blurry as he thought of his mother being here when the world had ended. He wondered, morbidly if she'd had the time to see it coming or if it had caught her unawares.

He almost wished for the latter, for stark fear not to have been the last emotion she felt. He wished - - he wished he could have been here - - because if he had - -maybe he could have done something - -anything to stop the thing that had resulted in this.

But it had been a day - - a few days at most - - and he couldn't wrap his mind around how the world had come to this in that span of time. He couldn't fathom a war that could have accomplished this or a weather phenomenon or a meteor strike huge enough to wipe out every city on this side of the planet and leave the atmosphere intact after so brief a time.

What power on earth could have done this? Maybe not a power of earth at all. He felt a chill, followed by a molten rush of anger.

What if the fortress had been responsible - - what if that device that Lex had moved heaven and earth to bring to the arctic had triggered something horrible? What if every clue and every warning Jor-el or some other Kryptonian had left for clever humans to decipher had all been some insidious trap? What if - - God help him - - the aim had never been to protect the people of earth at all, but to destroy them if they ever gained that upper hand on the last son of a dead planet.

It made sense. Lex had activated the device and maybe the world had fallen down just around them. Jor-el might have been the original author, but it had been Lex's finger that pulled the trigger. Lex that was responsible for this - -for all the deaths - - for mom, for everything and everyone else that Clark loved ceasing to exist. Lex's fault that one way or another Clark hadn't been here to save them.

Grief came upon him, sudden and hard and he cried out. The salty taste of tears mixed with the anguish. Hate welled, bitter and strong and if the fortress had still stood, he'd have rushed back and torn it down, demolished it as thoroughly as this place had been.

Anger and pain demanded a doorstep at which to lay blame and since Jor-el was long dead, he settled on Lex. Lex, who had somehow initiated this. Lex who could never let well enough be. Lex who took the things Clark loved and tainted them.

If Lex hadn't come to the fortress, hadn't pursued Clark's secrets as if they were some holy grail, this never would have happened.

He couldn't touch his oh so conniving biological father, or the construct that had carried out his will - -but he could find Lex, and let his grief run free.


Part Six

 

Clark was gone. A whisper of wind and he simply ceased to be, leaving Lex alone on a stretch of weathered, buckled road. No matter that he'd experienced the sickening veracity of Clark's speed first hand - - it was still a freshly shocking reality.

He wasn't entirely convinced if the departure were a good thing or a bad.

Heart thudding behind his ribs, he turned back to face that other shocking truth Clark had brought him to. A city skyline rife with the jagged edges of ruin. Dark against a murky sunrise that did little to penetrate the haze that seemed to hang like smog over the city. He could smell it in the air, even a good mile from the edges of that devastated place, the scent of decay and corrosion.

The outlying areas, what might have been warehouse districts, industrial areas or suburbs were nothing but acres and acres of leveled rubble, a concentric ring of devastation that seemed to worsen the further it got from the heart of the city, as if whatever had happened here had become more destructive as it rippled outwards.

From the degree of damage he'd guess this was some war-ravaged city in the Middle East, but the sheer size of it, plus the surrounding flat plain land negated that theory. A nuclear event was also a possibility, but again, unless one counted Chernobyl, there hadn't been nuclear incident anywhere in the world for a good sixty years that might have left a city in this state. And anything recent - - say in the last few days while he'd been trekking through the arctic - - would have had enough residual radiation to melt him on the spot.

Fear made his pulse race and his stomach roll threateningly. But he'd lived with fear for most of his life, in one form or another, this lurking predator in the back of his mind that could either take him by the jugular and reduce him to weak ineptitude, or that he could control and mold to work for him instead of against.

He swallowed back bile and slammed the cage door.

Clark had brought him here so there must be a reason. Some alien design that Lex needed to figure out. That Clark and or the alien powers he represented were responsible for this sea of desolation before him was the most probable explanation. He shuddered once, uncontrollable, at the sheer magnitude of power it must have taken to do this - - to do what had been done to that other place Clark had paused at. Lex knew power intimately, courted it, pursued it, created it when it was within his capabilities- - and nothing short of a weapon of mass destruction should have been capable of this. Nothing human.

He started walking, treading upon asphalt so weathered it was grey. Weeds valiantly shot up through the cracks and he saw a shifting trail of ants that had built a truly impressive mound where a section of road had been entirely torn away. So the place wasn't completely lifeless. But then insect life was more durable than human.

When he reached the edges of the city and the ring of absolute destruction that circled it, the rubble made passage difficult. Navigating ragged concrete and rusted metal jutting from the depths was tricky business without risking a turned ankle or a gash that likely, in this place, would result in a gangrenous wound.

It took close to an hour to weed his way to the edges the city proper, where the skeletons of actual structures still remained. Granted, not much more than the crumbled facades of buildings, and nothing that stood more than a story or two above ground level, but they were recognizable at least.

The roads were littered with debris, blocked entirely in places by mountainous slides of concrete and brick and twisted metal beams. He had no choice but to scale one such obstacle to pass, and stood at the apex afterwards, staring at the rising cityscape still dozens of city blocks distant.

Skyscrapers dominated the view, blocking out the hazy glare of the ascending sun. Dull grey monuments to power and prosperity. They were jagged and raw now, seared beyond recognition. All the glossy finish eroded away, leaving behind the pitted, raw underbelly of crumbling concrete, bare rebar and the rusting bones of iron at the core.

Lex felt that flitter of fear again, of isolation and hopelessness that this deathly quiet place demanded like some looming inanimate incarnation of Charon demanding its toll. He cursed Clark for abandoning him here, for even Clark's company would have been welcome, regardless if it came with anger and accusation. He drew a hissing breath, reminding himself that Clark was likely connected to this somehow. That Clark was not human. That Clark was more dangerous than any of those multitude of meteor mutants that had plagued Smallville since his arrival so many years ago.

He pushed the fear and that instinctive need for human - - god, not human - - camaraderie aside, but it was harder this time to cordon it off. He made his way down the other side of the crumbly slope, half sliding, ungainly wreckage giving way beneath his boots and caught himself with his wounded arm. It hurt, pain shooting from the shoulder wound to concentric points across his body. He saw stars and leaned panting against the thick base of a streetlamp that had remained solidly entrenched in the sidewalk when the buildings around it had crumbled.

He pressed the palm of his good hand against the wound, waiting for the pain spasms to dwindle. Something skittered in the shadows of the building from which the mountain of rubble had originated. He drew breath and stared into the gutted recess of the structure. He narrowed his eyes, and saw the shifting of something among the ruins. It ventured out into the light, large and low to the ground, long brown body, twitching antennae.

In a moment of horror, he realized what it was. Cock roach. Big as a basset hound, with small dead eyes. It scuttled down the rubble towards him and other shapes shifted in its wake.

He pushed himself from the post; dread warring with the astonishment that the things were so huge. And apparently not shy about running down food. Dozens of them were flooding out of the shadows now, skittering down the landslide of concrete on the heels of the scout. They made sounds, chitinous little clicks that set his teeth on edge.

Fumbling for his gun, he backed away as fast as he dared down a street littered with treacherous debris. He took aim, mindful even in panic that he had a little more than half a clip in the gun and only one extra clip in an inner coat pocket. He fired. Hit the scout dead on and soft insect insides spattered the road. He got a bead on the next closest, but it veered off from its course at him and moved to a gelatinous chunk of its fallen fellow instead, hesitating not at all in engaging in a bit of cannibalism. The others swarmed around to get their shares. Lex didn't pause to watch the gruesome scene, backing away another half dozen paces, gun still up, before turning on his heel and jogging down the center of the street, wary now of the dark crevices that hid things dwelling within building carcasses.

Before he'd felt nothing but desolation here, now, his skin crawled with the feeling that he was being watched. That furtive eyes followed his movements, biding their time. He kept the gun out and worked his way around the overturned hulk of a city bus. There were more vehicles now, as he moved closer to the heart of the city. Rusting wreckages that marred the roads, or lay piled against each other against the sides of buildings as if they were toys, tossed there and left to decay by the hand of a careless child who'd found better entertainment. The glass in all the window fronts he passed had been shattered. The remnants of it made the streets glitter, ground so fine that it hardly crunched under his boots. A naked manikin blackened by fire or mildew lay half off the sidewalk onto the street, one graceful arm extended as if in supplication.

The caricature of humanity was chilling and Lex passed by, tightening his jaw. He stopped at an intersection and stared up at the canyon of twisted buildings that rose around him. Almost intact, if you discounted shattered windows and crumbling facades that bared the substructures beneath. The tops were obscured by that same haze that he'd seen from a distance.

The street to the left had collapsed, and a slow seepage of foul smelling water trickled from exposed sewage and tangled underground piping. Ahead, maybe four city blocks, the street was completely blocked by a building that had not been so lucky as these. He took a right. Passed the shattered ground floor showrooms devoid of stock. Streets littered with debris and cracked pavement. He wasn't entirely sure why he kept walking, when everything ached, when his head swam with exhaustion, when there was no destination to this journey he'd undertaken. It seemed unlikely that the next corner turned would miraculously reveal the answers he so desperately needed.

Stopping and sitting down, taking a moment to rest mind and body, to try and make sense of the senseless, seemed the wiser course of action.

He kept moving. The wiser course of action hadn't been part of his repertoire for quite some time. He could ignore the pain - - he'd been ignoring the pain for longer than he'd had this wound in his shoulder. If he stopped moving - - if he gave his mind the time to absorb the enormity of what he saw - - getting back up again might not be so easy.

A street sign still stood, bent at an angle in the buckled section of sidewalk it was rooted in. The type was still mostly readable. 34th Street on one plaque, the other plaque half shorn off, only the 'Tem - -' remaining.

He let his eyes drift up, to the battered facades of buildings and felt a shiver of premonition ghost across his skin. There was something familiar here - - something that sparked recognition despite the overwhelming devastation of this place.

A glint of dull metal caught his eye and past the rubble of what might have been a parking garage that had come down between two sturdier high rises, he saw the source. A globe. Huge and patently irregular amongst the hard angles of concrete and iron I beams. It rested in the midst of the garage rubble, a great chunk of its curvature broken away, but most of the graven ring that orbited it remained.

The cold rationality he'd maintained through this journey through hell trembled, threatened by dawning comprehension.

He knew that globe. He'd looked down upon that globe a thousand times from his office window in LuthorCorp when it had glinted, proudly polished bronze under the Metropolis sun. He lifted his gaze to the battered building beyond - - weathered grey stone, the top few stories seemingly collapsed in under their own weight. If he looked at it just right, filling in the blanks that catastrophe had chiseled out, it melded into something he could put a name to. And beyond it, towering over like some decrepit giant in the murk, glass facing blasted away baring the dark interior like hundreds of gaping wounds - - stood LuthorCorp.

He whispered something - - meaningless sound of amazement/despair/incomprehension and staggered back a step, one knee going out from under him. He sat down hard on an overturned block of metal and felt the first dizzy rush of breathlessness. Familiar battle for air, when panic closed off his airways, and one he hadn't fought in years. Not since the advent of Clark.

He leaned over, head between his knees and forced calm. Stared at the cracks in the pavement and blanked his mind for the precious few moments it took to regain control.

Metropolis. It was impossible. Patently beyond belief that this could have happened in that time. It couldn't be - -and yet, here he sat, in the ruins of his city. A week ago he'd traveled this very street, setting things to order before his trek to the Arctic and his collision with destiny. He'd considered the possibility that he might not make it back - -had resigned himself to that probability - - and made arrangements. Made sure LuthorCorp would never give up the fight even if he weren't there to direct it.

God. How could he have known that he'd outlast this city? He'd expected conflict in his confrontation with the Traveler - - with Clark - - but not this. Clark had triggered something, some defense mechanism - - some dormant weapon of unbelievable magnitude and it had lashed out at the world. He must have. And how many dead because of it? How far had the destruction spread? Millions in Metropolis alone.

He stared up at the Daily Planet globe. At layers and layers of blue/green corrosion hiding the shimmer of bronze. He let his gaze travel to moss and mildew and struggling scraps of weeds grasping for life in crevices thick with windblown dirt.

This hadn't happened overnight. Or in a week, or a month. A building might crumble in a matter of seconds, but bronze didn't tarnish to the degree the globe had in anything short of years.

It was easier to comprehend Clark's alien technology raining ruin down upon the earth, than it was the apparent slippage of time.

He pushed himself up, felt whatever he'd been sitting on give a little under his weight and looked down at a battered newspaper box, face down on the street.

A heel to the edge flipped the thing over. The glass was splintered with spider web cracks, but surprisingly intact. Yellowed newsprint stared up at him from beneath it. Two quarters would have bought him a paper, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd carried actual change. He peered through the glass at the headline: City council passes Transit renovation proposal. In smaller print in the top right corner was the date. June 24th, 2012.

He stared for a moment, scrutinizing, letting it sink it and get a good hold. Four years. Unless this were some elaborate hoax, or some sick delusion he'd created inside his own head, this hadn't happened simultaneously with the fall of Clark's fortress of ice, but four years later. And by the blatantly boring headline on the front page of the Daily Planet, they'd been more concerned with the state of the subway system than the deconstruction of human civilization. No one had seen it coming.

He squatted next to the box, gun hand braced on the edge, mind whirling with possibilities. Time travel was not that far fetched a theory. Speculation in the field of quantum mechanics was widespread nowadays and inventive. The theory of special relativity, quantum teleportation, the application of wormholes and dozens of other hypothesis offered forth by legitimate researchers down to crackpot theorists.

Lex had indulged from time to time, in reading a thesis or two on the subject. A man that had concrete knowledge of the active existence of alien life on earth had no business turning his nose up at any extreme supposition.

The skin on the back of his neck tingled, a ghost of intuition making him look up, towards the looming slide of rubble at the foot of which rested the Planet globe. He thought he saw the shifting of movement in the shadow and visions of oversized insects flashed through his head. He started to rise, to get a better look, when something hit him, entirely unexpected from the other direction.

His feet left the ground and his back hit it, several yards distance, borne there by the not insubstantial weight of an enraged Clark Kent. The only thing that kept him from screaming was the air forcibly driven from his lungs.

It fucking hurt. Impact against buckled concrete sent pain racing through every nerve ending in his body. From shoulder, from the back of his skull, from a half dozen other parts of the human body reacting badly from sudden, forcible connection with the ground.

"You son of a bitch," Clark screamed down at him, face red splotched with emotion, streaks in the fine film of dirt coating his face from tears still leaking from glittering green eyes. Clark's fingers dug into his arms, bone bruising pressure. Clark's weight ground his body down into rubble.

"They're gone. Everyone's gone - - everything - - and it's your fault." Clark railed, jerking Lex up and slamming him back down for emphasis.

"Me? You delusional bastard. Are your lies so ingrained that even you buy them?" Lex yelled. It was an infuriatingly hypocritical claim and Lex rallied under the accusation, jamming the gun he'd miraculously retained a hold on, up under Clark's jaw. God, if he blew the lying prick's head off it might not solve the dilemma of a world destroyed, but it would go a long way to easing his own personal agitation.

"I wouldn't," Clark growled, not attempting to shift away from the press of the barrel. "Ricochet can be a bitch."

Lex snarled, grinding the gun up into the soft flesh under Clark's jaw. Clark had a valid point. It would be a goddamned waste of a good bullet and intolerable if the rebound took him out in the process.

"You couldn't just leave well enough alone," Clark cried. "And its gone - - Smallville, mom, Lana, Chloe - - they're all dead, all because you were a zealot on a fucking mission . . ."

Spittle frothed at the corner of Clark's mouth, his nose ran with it, raw emotion, raw pain, raw anger.

"The zealots were working for you! Hoarding your secrets, hiding your ulterior motives. Killing in your name. This isn't my fault. This wasn't done by any power that belonged to me."

Clark's face screwed up, warped in pain, in denial maybe. The grip tightened and Clark cried out, a hoarse animal cry, even as he flung Lex away from him.

Lex hit the rounded curve of the Planet globe, slid down, a collection of aching bones and bruised flesh, head spinning, the taste of blood salting his mouth.

"I never - -" Clark started towards him, hands fisted, eyes anything but sane. "What they did - - I never knew - - I never wanted - - You triggered this when you brought that device - - everything was fine before that - - everyone was - -"

"I didn't," Lex gasped. It was likely he'd bruised a rib or two. God help him if there were broken bones. But it was pain that had to be ignored if he wanted to avoid worse. Flinging accusations at Clark when Clark had lost his hold on calm, no matter how logical they might seem, was probably not the smartest move, all things considered. And whatever else Lex might believe, he had to admit that the chances of Clark faking this bout of grief fueled rage, were slim. Clark had never been that good an actor. Which meant Clark didn't know.

"Look at the paper," Lex jabbed his good arm towards the newspaper box behind Clark. "If the device triggered this - - it waited a good long time."

Not even a flicker of understanding crossed Clark's features.

"Look at the fucking newspaper, Clark. Look at the date."

Clark's head turned and he looked down, despite himself. Hesitated and looked closer, eyes widening blankly. He shook his head, like a quizzical dog, and tore the door off the front of the box, flung it like a missile launched Frisbee across the street where it lodged in the already abused stone facing of the old Daily Planet Building. He pulled out a copy and the paper, yellow and brittle crumbled around the edges under his big fingers.

"2012." he murmured. "Is this - - ? How - -?" He beetled his brows, cast a wary glance at Lex as if he'd engineered the whole thing. But then, the thought that Clark and Clark's alien tech had done the same had crossed Lex's mind.

"You tell me. It was your tech that did it."

Clark narrowed his eyes, paper fluttering out of his hands with a dry crinkle, half disintegrating as it hit ground. Clark was breathing hard, looking up at the shattered buildings as if he were trying to sort it all out in his head.

"This - - this happened four years in the future?"

"The initial event," Lex agreed on that point, grunting in pain as he untangled himself from the debris at the foot of the Planet globe. He shoved the gun, useless against steel skinned aliens, in his coat pocket. Until he could find a weapon that did have an effect, dialogue was his only effective defense.

"This," he touched gloved fingertips to the corroded green of the globe. "Didn't happen overnight. Look around. This is more than destruction. It's decay. If we've shifted through time, we've gone more than four years."

Clark's face twisted again, the expression of a boy fighting back emotion, before he grimaced and composed himself, a man gaining a handle on grief. The look he turned on Lex was not pleasant, but neither was it poised on the edge of homicidal. There were things going on behind those oh so expressive eyes that Lex dearly would have loved to know.

"I didn't do this," Clark finally stated, grim declaration.

"You think I did?"

"You set it in motion - -"

"I followed the clues left by your own fucking people."

"If I'd have been here - - I could have stopped this."

"God complex?" Lex canted his head and thought, that in another time, another place, he might have gotten some enjoyment out of this little exchange.

"Everyone's - -gone." Some of the boy crept back into that dull statement, some of the pain edged it way back to the forefront of Clark's eyes.

That bit of movement that had snagged at the corner of Lex's vision before Clark had hit him like a runaway train, caught his attention again. He caught his breath, hand edging back into his pocket to find the comforting grip of the gun.

"Not quite," Lex said softly, carefully backing away from the edge of the rubble and into the center of the street. Clark gaped, following his gaze to the figures creeping out of the shadows.

No insects these, but human figures. Apparently the human race hadn't been obliterated after all.

 

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

 

 

 

 

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