Impact and sound. Deafening crack that vibrated his eardrum even as pain seared along the side of his head.
Lex went down, crashing backwards into the snow, blackness crowding in around the edges of his vision, huge and pulsing with the beat of his blood. Between the edges of dark, he saw a crumpled figure thirty feet away in the snow. Vaguely, he thought it looked like Niko, but it was hard to tell from his face-pressed-into-the-snow angle.
Feet crunched in the snow next to him, a body blocked out the harsh glare of headlights. Clark? He thought it was Clark. Even in stark silhouette, Lex knew the angles of his body, the way he held himself when he was angry. But, it made no reasonable sense, that Clark was just there, where Niko Daniakos had stood a heartbeat or two ago. It made no sense that Lex was able to reason at all, when by all rights he should have had a hole in the front of his skull and a bigger one blown out the back.
There was the report of gunfire. The impact of bullets, the briefest of moments when he looked up and saw Clark’s jacket ripple from deadly little pieces of lead ripping into it and then Clark simply wasn’t there anymore. Like he’d winked out of existence – – or never been to begin with. Or was that last cherished hallucination of a dying brain.
Maybe he did have those holes in his head.
But then Clark was back, barely having been gone long enough for a trio of labored breaths, falling to his knees in the snow, leaning over Lex, face filled with fear.
“God. Lex? Are you all right?”
He reached out, big hands touching Lex’s face, cradling his head, tentatively stroking his thumb across the right side of Lex’s skull, from temple to behind his ear. It stung, like he was tracing the line of a burn. Lex blinked up at him, not even close to wrapping his mind around what had just happened. His head hurt. His arms hurt, pinned beneath him. His legs were numb with cold – – the rest of him fast following.
“It’s not bleeding – – much – – I couldn’t get to him in time – – I thought – – God.” Clark was babbling. Clark pulled him up, into his arms and it hardly mattered that the breath was compressed out of him, because the warmth was enough of a tease to make tenuous consciousness waver.
“What happened?” Amazingly enough Clark asked the question before Lex could, face pressed against the side of Lex’s head that didn’t have the throbbing line of fire.
“You got shot,” Lex said, dazed.
And Clark drew a breath, shuddering. Said softly. “Yeah, I sorta did. S’okay, it’s an old jacket.”
Lex couldn’t quite fathom that, even though he thought it was vitally important that he absorb every detail of this. Clark leaned back, pulling Lex against his chest, reaching behind him and releasing the cuffs. Only the bracelets were still on Lex’s wrists, cold and implacable, when his arms fell forward. There was a link of twisted chain on the right one.
Lex lifted a hand to his head, he could barely feel his fingers, but there was still enough sensitivity to trace the welt where the bullet had scored the side of his skull. His ear was still ringing on that side.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw two sprawled bodies in the snow. Two big, armed men, just taken down between heartbeats. He blinked, trying to form appropriate questions.
“Can you stand?” Clark was pulling him up, without waiting for an answer, arm around his waist, hand on his lapel. It might not have mattered if he couldn’t, Clark’s arm wasn’t loosening.
“Are they alive?” Lex asked, reflexively, because if they weren’t measures needed to be taken. Clark couldn’t be involved in this. Clark had – – done this.
Clark started a little. He hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. Who are they?”
“Niko – – Daniakos.” Lex said numbly, staring at the crumpled form. A good distance away, with no tracks in the snow to tell the tale of how he’d gotten there. Like he’d been flung by the hand of God.
“Why – – why’d he have his – – his stuff out?” Clark asked.
Stuff out? Stuff? Lex’s brain wasn’t firing on all pistons. It took him a moment to realize that that was Clark talk for penis. Had it still been out? He hadn’t noticed.
He laughed hoarsely, too cold and too dizzy to try and explain and wished a severe case of frostbite upon any tender body part exposed to the elements while Niko lay senseless.
“Why?” Clark turned him, hands on his shoulders and it really was a terrible loss, the heat his body had provided. The support of his arm. It was very likely Lex’s legs were going to crumble out from under him, brittle as ice. But Clark’s eyes were intent, like he thought maybe the answer might entail more than just old feuds of Lex’s.
“Sophia – – he thought I – – ”
Clark was questioning him, but Lex could see the holes in his jacket where the bullets had torn though. He had flattened slugs in a secured box, mementos of something he’d been unable to prove – – had maybe stopped wanting to prove somewhere along the line, because concrete answers would have forced decisions he hadn’t been willing to make.
“How did you find me?” he asked dully, staring at those bullet holes over Clark’s chest, knowing the skin underneath was smooth and whole.
“You called me,” Clark said softly, eyes wide and worried. “I heard – – shots.”
How many minutes ago? How many miles distant? And here he was.
“We should call the police.” Clark glanced at the bodies behind Lex, but his eyes came back quickly, shifting over Lex’s face, uncertain. Afraid maybe. Of him. A man that couldn’t even stop bullets.
How many tragic ironies were going to inspire humor from him tonight? Lex choked back the laugh, because it would have sounded mad if he’d let it out. Shook his head, and the motion made him dizzy – – faintly nauseous. He’d had a bullet graze his skull, he was lucky he wasn’t spilling brains on the snow.
“No. Not yet.” If the police were called in – – he’d be all night giving statements. He didn’t want his dirty laundry aired without damage control contingencies. He’d had enough of his dirty little secrets splayed across the papers recently already. He had more important things to think about at the moment than Niko getting his due. Niko, he could track down anytime.
“Lex – -?”
“I want to go home.” He pushed past Clark, towards the idling Hummer. His legs barely worked. He couldn’t quite feel his feet, just distant, painful tingles at end of his legs.
“How far – -?” he asked and he had to clamp his jaw afterward because his teeth were starting to chatter and he couldn’t control it any longer.
“Thirty miles – – give or take.” Clark said quietly. Still standing in the headlights.
“And you ran here, too?” Lex didn’t even bother to scour the area for the Kent truck. How had he found him?
Clark swallowed, skin alabaster and stark over the bones of his face in the halogens. He wasn’t blinking in the intensity of the light, just staring through it at Lex, as if it didn’t blind him at all.
“Yeah,” Clark whispered. “I ran.”
“Of course.” Lex opened the Hummer door on the passenger side. There was no way he was up to driving thirty miles back home. “I’m cold. I want to go home.”
“There’s a faster way.” Clark said.
Lex blinked and Clark was right there in front of him, like a ghost flickering from one spot to the next. Only there was nothing insubstantial about Clark. Nothing cold or transitory.
“How – -?” Fast. He didn’t even feel himself swept up. Just a blur of sickening motion that his head didn’t have quite the time to adjust to, before Clark was sitting him down in what might have been the stoop of the mansion doorway. He clutched at Clark’s jacket to keep from just folding to the ground, victim of vertigo, concussion and the beginning stages of hypothermia.
He dug for the keys in his pocket, but his hands were shaking too badly to align it with the lock. Clark took them out of his fingers, and opened the door. The warmth inside was not as welcoming as Lex might have liked, but it was whole temperate zones warmer than outside.
“Your clothes are wet,” Clark voiced the discovery and sounded aghast. Lex shed the coat, soaked halfway up the back and didn’t care that he left it on the foyer floor. He put a hand on the banister at the foot of the stairs and pulled off his boots and socks, not caring where he left those either, just wanting the frozen, wet things off his feet. Clark hovered at his elbow, distraught.
“Lex, are you sure we shouldn’t call someone?”
“I’ll deal with them later.” When he could stop the trembling in his limbs and felt less like something dragged out of a meat freezer. When he could think about anything other than Clark.
“I meant, about you? You don’t look so good.” Clark was hedging. Clark was nervous and Clark had a right to be. Lex wasn’t ready to focus on him yet. Right now the order of his priorities ran; hot shower, dry clothes, a fistful of whatever painkiller he could find, Clark.
“Would you start a fire in the study hearth?” He couldn’t deal with Clark dogging his steps upstairs. He needed a few moments distance to pull himself together.
“Lex, I need to explain – -”
“I agree. Not now.” He started up the stairs, not looking back. If he looked back he’d waver, and it was all he could to focus on making his legs move. Reach that first goal. Achieve it. Go from there. He could do that.
He reached the bedroom, kicked off the pants before he reached the bath and cut on the shower. He stood there and let warm water wash over him, a slow thaw that made his knees go weaker than they had been frozen. He sank down on the ledge at the back and shut his eyes. Moved to turn up the water heat after a while and paused at the jangle of hard steel still around his wrists. He blinked water off his lashes and held up a hand, stared at the dangling link of chain and was surprisingly not amazed. He’d had a considerably larger chunk of metal and glass in his possession for quite some time, similarly twisted and broken by contact with Clark Kent. So this was no news.
It was just – – unexpected to experience it firsthand, while he was conscious enough to appreciate it. The shocking part was the lack of ludicrous fabrications to cover it up.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, leaning against steam-warmed tiles, but the pads of his fingers were starting to wrinkle, so he assumed a good while. He cut the water and grabbed a robe from the hook by the shower. The mirror was fogged and he swiped a hand across the glass to clear a space so he could see where Niko’s bullet had grazed his head. A nice long welt, already bruised around the edges, a faint, bloody streak along the top. There was no way he was hiding that for a few days. He stared a moment longer, remembering the feel of the muzzle against his forehead – -remembering the feeling of knowing for a certainty he was going to die. And the shock of not.
He blinked, shaking himself back into focus.
He dried off and got dressed. The lure of soft, warm sweats was appealing, comfort clothes he could let his body relax in. Only relaxation was dangerous, when he needed his wits about him and God knew the way his head was throbbing, they were disadvantaged enough. Six years ago, if he’d had to deal with this, he’d have been as eager as a kid in a candy shop. Five years. Four. Now it made him shaky, and cold inside.
Confronting Clark with anything less than perfect control would be unacceptable, even if the remnants of a dozen or more scenarios of how this conversation might have gone were whispering at the back of his mind.
Slacks and a thin sweater and a shirt over that. Black, black and black, because anything lighter seemed inappropriate. It wasn’t enough to chase away the chill, but then it was highly likely that anything could. Lex thought of the heat of Clark’s skin. Generous warmth that dispersed chill with its welcome – – that created heat with the teasing spark of contact. He tightened his mouth and went downstairs.
The study doors were open, one of the stained glass panels shattered, though there were no shards on the floor. The floor as a whole, was debris free, the overturned cabinet righted, books stacked back on the shelf in no discernable order, things generally put back in their places, though he distinctly recalled leaving a monumental mess in his wake after his episode of insanity. The great hearth sported a cheerfully crackling fire, which took the edge off the normally cool air. The shattered window behind his desk, had been haphazardly patched with a piece of plywood, nailed to the frame on the outside.
“I figured, since nobody else was here to do it – -” Clark stood in the east entrance doorway, a broom in hand, one of the big kitchen trashcans just inside the door, that was no doubt filled with shards of broken glass. Lex glanced back at the boarded window and Clark shifted nervously into the room.
“It was letting in a lot of cold air – – I had the wood at home.”
Of course. And he’d run home, literally, and fetched it and put in place, then righted what would have taken a full staff of domestics hours in the span of time Lex had been upstairs.
He ought to be amazed, or aghast, or frightened, or enraged. What he was, was numb.
He moved towards Clark, held out his wrists, with the broken cuffs. Clark stared, swallowing, not making a move.
“Oh, go on, no reason to be shy now,” Lex said, condescension heavy in his voice. He wanted to see Clark do it, without chaos and adrenaline tainting the stark reality.
Clark’s eyes flashed a little at the tone, met Lex’s gaze for a moment, large and dark with emotion, then he looked down at the gleaming steel encircling Lex’s wrists. He reached out, both hands, big fingers grasping the tongue and the clasp of the bracelet on Lex’s right wrist and separating them, as if they were tissue paper facsimiles. He did the same to the other. A casual display of strength that was neither surprising or impressive enough to get past the walls of Lex’s calm. He’d seen other Smallville mutants with similar strength.
Lex held out a hand, a silent request, and Clark hesitated a moment, before placing the mangled cuffs in his palm. He picked one up, studying it clinically and Clark let out a breath of pent up air.
“Lex – – I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Lex shifted his gaze past the handcuff to Clark’s flushed face. Clark who was all passion and reigned energy, who couldn’t keep from clenching and unclenching his hands or shifting forward on the balls of his feet.
“You know what – – damnit, this isn’t the way I wanted to tell you.”
Lex canted his head. “You wanted to tell me?”
Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. And Lex figured that Clark’s declaration had been a rhetorical one. He hadn’t wanted to tell him anything. He hadn’t had a choice.
“Lex, I want to explain. You need to know that it wasn’t just you, I was keeping things from. It wasn’t just my secret, it was my parent’s too. If people knew, it might not have just been me that suffered from it, but anybody that knew. I was taught up all my life not to trust anybody and once you start telling the lies, it’s hard to just back out of them. I didn’t want to be known as the freak that lived down route 601- – I didn’t want people coming after us because of me. I just wanted normal. You can’t understand.”
Clark was talking fast, desperate and panicked. Lex just absorbed it and let it run its course, until Clark finally stood there, breathing hard, stricken in the face of Lex’s silence.
“I understand,” Lex finally said. “With the tragic end most meteor mutants meet, it was only prudent to keep a low profile. Caution was the only reasonable course. I even understand why you didn’t want people – – friends – – to know – – the fear of rejection – – the shame of being different. There’s nothing more demoralizing than being a teenager on the outside. I understand self-preservation, Clark.”
Clark shut his eyes, skin gone very pale aside from the color in his cheeks and lips. It was a good look on him, that china doll coloration, over perfectly sculpted bones. It made him seem somehow more fragile than he really was. It made Lex believe what he’d told Clark.
“I’m not,” Clark whispered, eyes still shut, voice barely audible. “A meteor mutant.”
Lex flinched. Felt a chink in the armor of his carefully maintained control. A little stab of dread, because that was also a possibility he had considered, and purposefully chosen to ignore, because considering what he knew about the alternatives, a meteor mutant was so much nicer an explanation.
“I’m sorry,” Clark said again, and Lex felt the edges of cold creeping up again.
I’m sorry was a mantra with Clark. He used it often enough that he either held the guilt of the world on his shoulders or he had no concept what it really meant.
Silence was more vivid than any question Lex could have voiced and Clark shifted under it. Almost, Lex didn’t want to hear explanations. Almost he could have stopped Clark from answering outright, and maintained the pretense and the comfortable illusion. Tranquil in his ignorance, but never content. He knew himself well enough to know that eventually the curiosity would eat him from the inside out. It always did.
He wanted to blurt questions out, about the meteor shower and the ship in the cornfield that he never had tracked down, so many curious things he’d uncovered over the years. He didn’t. Posing answers as questions was simply a path to convenient truths.
Lex moved to the bar, and laid the separated cuffs upon the surface. Not a glass or a container of liquid remained. Shame, because he could have used a shot of scotch.
“This is my home,” Clark gathered himself, following Lex a few steps into the room and holding firm. “It’s the only one I’ve ever known – – but I wasn’t born here.”
“Kansas?” Lex asked dryly, ghosting his fingers across the splintered surface of his desk. What had he taken to it? A fireplace poker, he seemed to recall.
Clark winced, not appreciating Lex’s humor. “Krypton. It was called Krypton. It’s – – not there anymore. I could show you the constellation where it used to be – -”
“Could you? How romantic.” Lex swung his gaze around and Clark squared his shoulders, narrowing his eyes. Lex knew too, the path those consecutive meteor showers had taken, the trajectories of where they would have originated.
“Lex – – I have no idea what’s going through your head right now, but I swear to God, I’m the same person who used to be your friend, and would like to be again. And that’s the truth.
“I didn’t even know until I was fifteen. I thought I was just another Smallville freak. They sent me here to save me. The planet was dying and nobody believed my birth father. And I didn’t even know that until – – until – – well, there was sort of this AI thing that came with the ship and the caves are kind of a doorway to someplace else – -”
Clark looked so earnest, nervous and sweating and so patently human in appearance that it was little wonder no one would ever suspect, until they saw what he was capable of and even then it was easier to believe the human explanation.
Lex sat down behind his shattered desk and listened to Clark talk, putting pieces together in his head. It wasn’t the fact that he was alien to this planet that finally got to Lex, but the realization that he was the same sort of alien as those that had come with the second ship. The same sort of alien as – –
“You knew.” Lex said softly, interrupting, the cold starting to melt away in the growing heat of anger. The numbness cracking under the sting of indignation. “They came here looking for you, the people from the ship. And you knew. You knew about Zod.”
Clark stared at him, the guilt written so plainly on his face he might as well have shouted it to the heavens. “Lex, I – -”
“You son of a bitch, you knew and you didn’t tell me. It’s one thing to keep secrets when all you’re afraid of is exposure – – when planetary invasion is at issue, I’d think you could bite the bullet and be a little more forthcoming.”
“I thought you were working with them. With Fine.”
“Right because there’s nothing like alien possession and being responsible for worldwide chaos and destruction to boost the ego. Didn’t it occur to you that even if I had been dealing with whatever the hell Fine was, it might have been beneficial for me to know a few fucking details? That it might have been worth your while to – – Oh, I don’t know, let me stretch my imagination and say – – try and talk me out of it? Expand my horizons? Give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that my endgame didn’t include the annihilation of human civilization?”
“Lex, we didn’t know.” Clark rounded the bar, advancing towards the desk and Lex shot up, fists clenched so hard he heard his knuckles pop. “By the time we were sure, it was too late – – we thought it was too late – – and I couldn’t do what needed to be done.”
“You mean kill me?” Lex asked.
Clark blinked at him, mouth working. “You remember?”
“No. Lana told me. Lana told me a lot of things. Did you have something to do with getting him out of me?”
Lex looked towards the fire, a muscle twitching in his jaw. “And was part of it – – of him – – still inside me, like you so helpfully suggested?”
“Yeah. But it’s gone now.” Clark added hastily. “We pulled it out, once we realized it was still there. I’m sorry I didn’t get him all the first time – – I just didn’t know. I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner there was still something of him left – – I should have.”
“How retroactively – – responsible of you. And while I was convincing myself I was in the midst of a psychotic break – -you were going to just sit back and hope I worked things out on my own? A subtle hint here, a fuck there and everything would be okay?”
“No. No, that’s not – -” Clark lifted a hand, reaching for him and Lex batted it away with a snarl.
“Don’t touch me.”
Clark dropped the arm, hurt and stared, all liquid green eyes and breathlessly parted pink lips, perfect skin and silky hair and none of it human. Lex wanted to scream.
“Who is ‘we’?” He asked instead.
“You said ‘we’ pulled it out once ‘we’ realized it was there. Who else was in on it?”
Clark hesitated, the faint flicker of guilt crossing his face. “Your dad,” he said softly. “And – – a friend, who helped unravel it. But I got it out.”
Lex shut his eyes a heartbeat, the thrumming pressure inside his head building. His father. Of course. Lionel was in on everything else, had a hand in controlling every other aspect of his life, why not the one’s Lex wasn’t even aware of as well?
“When? When did you do it?”
“The night I came to see you and you – – um, passed out.”
“And I woke up to you in my bedroom. Hanging around to make sure I woke up at all? I assume I didn’t simply faint?”
“Your dad gave me something. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t want – – I was trying to help you.”
“Yes, because we’d been scratching each other’s backs so thoroughly up until that point.”
Somehow, that last bit of information, the knowledge that his father had been confided in, had been on the inside of the loop, the whole time Lex had been struggling outside it, was worse than any other revelation Clark had made tonight. That Clark had been working with Lionel – – just like Lana – – that Clark had gotten close to assess Lex’s post remnant mental state or worse yet, to assuage some neurotic guilt was a greater blow than the not so shocking disclosure that he was more than human. A plethora of betrayals that made him see spots of red at the edge of his vision. Anger wasn’t an adequate term for what bubbled up inside him now.
“Get out,” he hissed, softly, because his voice snagged on the rising fury.
“Lex, please.” Clark reached for him, fingers grasping his arm, false sincerity on his face. It had to false – – working with his father – – Lionel’s recent interest, Lionel’s call to the Kent farm. Clark’s blatant denial out in the snow and he’d bought it, surrounded by the simple warmth of farm and the lure of Clark’s forgiveness – – the lure of Clark.
He jerked his arm out of the loose grip, shoving at Clark with both hands. The impact was jarring, and Clark moved almost as an afterthought. A blink of surprise before he took a willing step backwards.
“Get the fuck out.” Lex felt vaguely nauseous from the head wound and the painkillers on an empty stomach. If Clark didn’t get out now, he was going to lose his grasp on what control he had left and snap. He felt it building.
But Clark acquiesced, nodding his head once, mouth a tight line, brows drawn. He looked as if he wanted to say something, some parting apology or excuse, some new placating lie, or inept platitude learned at the knee of his self-righteous father – – oh, not his father – – just some human that had had a fondness for taking in stray animals and displaced aliens.
Clark took a step backwards. Turned on his heel and stalked to the study door, then he was just gone, no footsteps to betray his exit, no anything but a curl of disturbed air. Lex stared at the empty doorway, heart beating so hard it felt as if it were trying to escape. If there had been anything left to throw, he would have, but he’d already destroyed everything breakable he was capable of lifting during his last fit of rage.
But that was acceptable. He could find other outlets for his anger.