REDEMPTION



Title: Redemption
Author: Mlle Elizabeth
Feedback address: mlleelizabeth@aol.com
Pairing: Clark/Lex
Rating: G
Disclaimer: Smallville is property of Millar & Gough, TRP, Ink and the WB. The original Superman concept is property of DC Comics and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster . I'm just temporarily borrowing their characters for fun, rather than profit.
Summary and/or challenge: AU from Covenant
Betareaders: Drkcherry and Peach



REDEMPTION

He had expected endless indoctrination, a recurrence of the painful scar from the previous summer, or at least a stern talking to. What he got was nothing. No sound, no light, no scent. He hadn't even been able to feel. He'd been dead, and there was nothing to do in the place that is death except think. He hadn't even been given thoughts to meditate upon. It was as if Jor-El had simply plucked him from reality and then abandoned him in the void. For all Clark knew, Jor-El had taken over his body and was kicking back in the penthouse suite at LuthorCorp, hand poised over the Annihilate Earthlings button, while dark-haired, doe-eyed, waifish young girls fanned him and fed him peeled grapes. It was a rotten image to dwell on, but it hurt a lot less than memories of his last week above ground, so he used it as a kind of temporary escape.

Those images of his last week, or if he were being totally honest with himself, the last year, were insidious, though, and eventually the Powerful Being about to destroy the human race would show his face, and that face was always his own. He was pretty sure only five people knew or even suspected his kryptonite weakness. If he became bitter enough, or spent enough time around the red stuff again, he knew he'd remove all five of them from the equation, without hesitation. Lionel Luthor wasn't even an issue. He'd just be flicking a toxic impurity out of a basically good mixture. Pete would be more difficult, but on Red K Clark knew he'd justify the act based on a combination of Pete's once manipulating him into wrongdoing, and Pete's own admission that he had trouble living with Clark's secret. His father, his real father that is, was already near death and, again, on Red K Clark had no use for the man. He'd already experienced and expressed that sentiment twice. His mother was another issue altogether, but if he had to, if he were pushed enough, Clark was afraid he could actually kill her too. He absolutely hated admitting it, but he knew that if he could kill Pete or Jonathan, when it came down to it, he wouldn't let her stop him, either.

And then there was Lex. On the day he'd entered the cave wall, Lex would have topped the list of Easy Kills. He'd bitterly dwelt on Lex's betrayal, on all those pretty lies Lex had fed him for the last three years. On all the things they'd done together and all the ways Lex had pretended to help him, had pretended to help his family or Lana or even Whitney of all people, and it was all just to exploit Clark. In the void, with nothing else to do, Clark had time to examine every single moment of a relationship leading to betrayal and finally concluded that, in reality, none of it made any sense at all. The one thing he managed to figure out was that nothing added up, that what he knew was that he really didn't know anything. And the minute he reached that conclusion, he found himself lying on the floor of the cave, naked but unhurt, with no idea how long he'd been gone.

That had been two weeks ago. Now he sat in the loft, preparing to do the same thing he'd done every day since being spat out of the cave wall. First, he'd review his routine and, if necessary, make slight adjustments. Next, he'd remove his flannel overshirt and sit cross-legged on the floor of the loft. He'd take out the cell phone his mother had insisted on obtaining for him the first day he got back, and call her to check on his father's status at the hospital. Then a call to Pete in Wichita, to see if any of the sources he'd managed to find had heard of attempts at jailbreaking, or if there was any news of Chloe. Pete always said no, and Clark always could tell Pete was lying.

His last 3 calls would be as futile as they were every day: "Mr. Luthor is not in his office this morning." "The number you are calling has been changed. The owner of the new number has requested that it not be released." "The mobile customer you have dialed is out of the service area, or has turned off their cell phone." Finally, just before leaving his sanctuary, he'd open dad's toolbox slightly and, gritting his teeth, remove the sharp shard of green rock he kept placed next to the edge of the top tray. He'd sharpen it, saving the dust in a little pile, and then carefully and as slowly as possible, carve three letters on the back of his left arm, then rub a tiny bit of the kryptonite dust into the fresh wound, to keep it open as long as possible.

Now his day, such as it was, could start. He'd spend most of it concentrating on little things. Eating breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, tending cows and mending fences occupied most of his time. He had his senses back and he reveled in the feel of wood against his hands and the smell of eggs frying in bacon grease. If he was going to figure anything out, it would have to start with the little stuff.

After breakfast and morning chores, Clark stopped by the hospital with some breakfast and clean clothes for his mother. She'd already made up and put away the cot beside his father's bed and was sitting by his bed, holding his right hand in both her own and staring at his face intently.

Clark entered the room quietly, setting the basket of food beside her, then moved to hang the clothes up in the tiny cabinet that served as the room's closet.

"I'll sit with him while you freshen up," Clark said.

His mother smiled back at him gratefully and nodded, removing the clothes from the cabinet and taking them and her overnight case into the little bathroom. Clark took the opportunity to sit by his father, not talking, just watching for some kind of sign.

Martha returned after what seemed like just a few minutes, and pulled up a chair to sit beside him. "We've been here before," she said.

"The Nicodemus flower."

"He got better then," Martha said, her voice filled with hope.

Clark made no attempt to conceal the bitterness in his voice. "With help from Lex's merry band of research scientists, sure."

"Clark, no. I will not call Lex."

"All you have to do is tell me where he is."

"We've been over this and over this. This time I'm going to be the stubborn Kent around here. I will not tell you."

"I'm not going to try to "

"I don't care what you plan on doing with the information, Clark! The answer is still no! If what you are telling me is true and he had that room full of information on you, it's too dangerous."

"I just don't know, mom. He said it was about him and there were some things about it that didn't make sense. I know he won't offer to help this time. I just want to ask him, on the phone, what was in there."

He'd picked up the ability to watch someone without them realizing it the previous summer during his brief attempt at playing thug. If Martha knew he was lying, then she'd developed some interesting skills herself lately. All Clark saw on her face was a combination of determination and sadness. Maybe this time he was getting by her secret mother's intuition because he really did want to ask Lex what was in that room. That he also wanted to ask Lex about a million other questions was beside the point.

Martha didn't answer.

"He was okay to you when you found him."

"He was passed out on God knows what, Clark. He babbled incoherently the whole way to the hospital. And if Lionel Luthor being able to drug his son from prison isn't enough to scare you, the combination of Lex having information and Lionel being able to get to him from prison should."

"But "

"Clark, I'm going to go into town and pick up some groceries. You will stay here with your father until I come back. That is an order. I know you are lonely. If I could bring Lana back from Paris, or Chloe from wherever she is, I would do it in a heartbeat, son. And you can call Pete and see if he'll come visit for a weekend, or just talk to him any time you need to. But for your safety, and your father's and mine, you have to stay away from Lex."

With that, Martha rose and gathered her purse. She walked from the room hurriedly, but Clark knew better than to argue any further. He was going to get what he wanted, whether it was this morning or this evening or weeks from now. So, he went back to concentrating on little things. His father appeared quite weak and pale, but Clark noticed that he was moving around a little more, and breathing more regularly.

He made a mental list of areas of fence that needed fixing, of fields that needed to be mowed, of parts of the irrigation system that should be looked over that afternoon. He'd have to sit down with his mom and go over the books and farm supplies in the next day or so, but he hated to bother her with that. She'd insisted on doing the grocery shopping from the beginning, and he hadn't objected because she did need a break from this room from time to time, but financial woes were a different issue. Not that their finances were really in bad shape. Ever since Lex had paid off their mortgage in its entirety things had been fine.

And damn, there was another thing that just didn't add up. Lex hadn't tried to hang on as a partner. He'd given them the farm free and clear. He had no legal rights to the Kent farm and the Kents had no duties to him. Would he really just buy Clark off like that? He certainly hadn't had to do something like that last fall.

Clark stood and went out to the hall to pace. He still couldn't handle confinement in small spaces very well, and his father's hospital room had suddenly become a very small space.

And then the hospital itself became a small space, and Smallville and Kansas, and suddenly breathing was something he had to actively think about and something was pressing down on his chest, but everything inside felt completely hollow. He was in the parking lot before he realized what was happening. Feeling like a trapped animal, Clark resumed his pacing on the sidewalk by the back service entrance. He would have had to share the sidewalk in front with two fellow pacers and a small clump of smokers, and they might have wanted to talk, which was more than he could handle.

When pacing didn't ease his anxiety, Clark made his way to the cafeteria and gulped down two cups of coffee, black with sugar, which seemed to calm him despite the caffeine, but the something was still pressing down on his chest, and now his skin felt creepy-crawly. He sat outside his father's room, self-consciously rubbing the kryptonite-dusted cuts in his arm. It stung, but the stinging distracted him from creepy-crawlies, which was part of the purpose of doing it in the first place. He had to get a grip on himself. His mother didn't know about these little attacks and he'd be damned if she was going to. It would just be one more thing for her to worry about, and there was nothing she could do to help, so why tell her?

A hand brushing his hair out of his eyes startled him, and he looked up to see his mother. Perhaps his thoughts had invoked her. There was curiosity in her eyes, but she seemed to accepted his simple head shake, albeit with pursed lips.

"Have you had lunch?"

"Some sandwiches," he lied, with a straight face and a sudden longing for some sort of very bland food. "I'll get something more when I get home."

"Okay. You better go on now. There's at least one field of hay that should be mowed today, and it feels like a summer storm's on its way."

Clark nodded, absently. He knew his mother could tell he wasn't really there, but he didn't know how to bring himself back into the room. He really did need to leave now, so he bent his head and kissed her on the cheek, then sped away.

He was putting the mower up when he realized he was still floating around in his own head. Now he had some time to himself, but since he planned on being back at the hospital with some sort of food for his mother by five, he'd need to make the best use of that time that he could.

He inhaled a box of crackers his mother had left on the counter, and then took off to concentrate on the other new addition to his daily routine.

Perched on a sturdy limb several yards away from the Luthor mansion, Clark finally felt less closed in. He'd tried the windmill in Riley Field, the top of the High School and even the Daily Planet building, once, but none of them felt right. In this tree he managed not only to feel liberated from confinement, but also felt a sense of safety that none of the other choices could offer.

The first few times he'd come up here, he'd brought along a large handful of pebbles and spent his time throwing them to the other side of the estate. He was capable of throwing them much farther, probably all the way to Metropolis if he wanted. And he'd tried a couple of times, then worried he might hit an innocent passerby. Then he'd held back considerably and started trying to follow the stones as they flew to their faraway destinations. It had been a startling discovery that he could watch them fly several miles. No headaches, no fading in or out accompanied this newest talent. He simply saw, with precision and detail, the stone whizzing through the air and skittering along the highway, where it hit a rabbit in the head, killing it instantly.

He hated the feeling of remorse that followed and the fact that he'd taken a life without even thinking. After that, he'd try to look first and then throw. And he knew he'd made some kind of connection at that point, because that was the one time during the past two weeks that it felt like some of the weight had lifted from his shoulders. He still felt sullen, and he knew his attitude was piss-poor, just as it had been all year. Most of the other guys at school were sullen and had piss-poor attitudes as well, so that was okay. It helped him fit in. Even stuck in the cave wall he'd been self-aware enough to recognize that was simply one of the affects of wanting to be more adult than the world would allow.

But killing the rabbit made him even more cranky, and he knew it was his own damned fault. His father would have been terribly disappointed in him and that knowledge had sunk in so far that he had actually been disappointed in himself. He was supposed to know better than to do something without thinking it through, right? So he practiced with the pebbles. Look. Nothing there? Okay then, throw. Then that got boring, and he'd honed this new type of vision until he could see the writing on papers on a desk in the Daily Planet newsroom, and ripples on Lake Eerie. It was more fascinating to just look now, than to look and aim.

So far he'd avoided seeing anything disturbing. It took a lot of work, but if he saw something like that, he'd have to do something about it, and he was now afraid that what he would do would be the wrong thing. He hadn't saved so much as a kitten this summer.

The creepy crawlies were gone now, as he knew they would be. He still didn't feel quite right, and stared at the mansion, listlessly. There was no one inside. There hadn't been, any time he'd been here since coming back. The stone walls held no answers, just soothing patterns of minerals he had memorized by now. Maybe there were answers inside.

He jumped from the tree and, slipping in the way he had about a million times before, Clark wandered the hallways. The dull ache in chest grew a little stronger. He paused before the weird room Lex kept full of his life, brushing his fingers on the door handle. It was empty now. That made Clark feel emptier, himself, which made no sense to him. He left that hallway quickly and pushed on to Lex's office. It looked exactly like Lex had been there this morning, and maybe left for a meeting.

Sitting down at Lex's desk, Clark let his hands drift over computer keyboard. Why had Lex left his computer here, unattended for two weeks? He was too trusting, and now Clark could hack his way in to get all the answers he ever wanted. Maybe. Chloe had been the hacker and Clark really hadn't learned much from her. But he did know a little about Lex, so maybe passwords wouldn't be that hard.

Lex's file security system was brilliant in its simplicity. Not only was the computer itself password protected, but each folder and file was, as well. Thinking as Lexianly as he could, Clark attempted first with words he thought Lex might consider easy to remember, but neutral like "Lex" for the password and "fertilizer" for LuthorCorp folders. When that didn't work, he sat thinking for a while, then with a chuckle had a sudden burst of enlightenment. "Baldy" worked as the password to the computer. "Bastard" got him into files on his father, and "shit" got him into the files for Plant No. 3. Instead of using things he liked as passwords, like a normal geek, Lex had used colorful invectives. There were files labeled "gold_digger" which had to be about Helen, a folder labeled "drain" which was the Talon's bookkeeping records, and a folder labeled "snark" which had to be about

Yes, that was the Chloe folder. Inside it there were files containing her interview of him for the Torch, information on Chloe's investigation of him and her deal with Lionel, as well as her internship with the Planet. There was an address there, as well, which he hoped was her new address since entering the witness protection program. And there was a video file.

Filled with a sense of dread, Clark click on the file and watched as the house, Gabe and Chloe went up in flames. Click play, boom, flames Click play, boom, flames. Over and over in horrified fascination Clark watched intently. He didn't notice that someone had walked into the room until they were standing directly behind him, watching over his shoulder.

A smooth, fair-skinned hand with a perfect manicure reached down to adjust the laptop's volume.

"It's much more effective, really, if you can hear the boom and the fire sounds."

Clark jumped at the sight of Lex's hand and sound of his voice.

"Chloe's dead," Clark whispered. Then with a firmer voice, "Chloe's dead."

"Chloe's fine."

"She doesn't look fine to me."

"Well, she is. I don't expect you to believe anything I say, but whether you believe me or not, she's fine."

"Who did this!"

"I did."

"You?"

"Well, not exactly. I didn't push the button that caused the explosion, but I arranged it, yes. And not to pat myself on the back, but it's a pretty good effect, don't you think, Clark?"

"It looks so real."

"It's all smoke and mirrors."

"But Lex, you can see the fireball around her head."

"Clark, did you ever see Armaggedon? Was that Bruce Willis' last movie?"

Clark slumped in the chair in relief. "What, are they computer graphics?"

"That would have been my first choice, but I had to assume there would be a studio audience, just in case my father had some minions watching. So we did it the old fashioned way, with some newfangled twists. Expensive smoke and mirrors, of course. I hired one of the best special effects companies in the industry, and pretty damned good stunt doubles, if I say so myself."

"We sprayed them both with a flame retardant one of my chemist friends has been improving. Clothes, hair, skin, everything. It causes a rash, but it's better than burning to death. You also don't see the pyrotechnic machine that's behind them, or the fireman beside it who turns it down long enough for the two of them to roll back behind it and get out the back door, then turns it back up again."

Clark turned with a questioning look at that last statement.

"We had to burn the house down to make it look authentic."

"Chloe looks so surprised by the explosion."

"One of the few benefits of dealing with Lionel Luthor is that your acting improves considerably the more you do it. We also rehearsed several times. The timing had to be absolutely perfect."

"So where is she?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why? Because you're lying about all this?"

Lex closed his eyes and curled his hands into fists. When he reopened his eyes after a second, Clark could see the resignation in them. "No, because you'd go see her and you'll be followed and you'll put yourself and your family in danger."

Lex moved away from the desk, retrieving two bottles of water from the bar. After listening for the twist-top sound that ensured the bottles hadn't been tampered with, he returned to his desk and handed one to Clark.

"You sound like my mother. She said it was too dangerous to see you, or even call you."

"Your mother is a very smart woman, Clark. You should listen to her."

"But you wanted me to come. You left this here for me to see."

Lex's short bark of laughter hurt far more than an angry denial would have. "I left this here for the people who tried to drug and kidnap me to see."

"But if they didn't arrange for Chloe to be blown up, won't they know it's fake?"

"Oh, but they did arrange it. I just happened to have a double agent in Loder. So they thought my plan was theirs. And I wanted to make sure they knew I saw Chloe die and wasn't hiding her somewhere."

"The passwords?"

"My father's as intelligent as you are, Clark. He figured them out months ago."

"So you didn't leave this here for me?"

"Clark, no matter what happens between us, I would never expose you to a video of your friend being engulfed in flames without an explanation of what really happened. And after your outburst at the Courthouse, I really didn't expect to see you for quite a while. Have you changed your mind about our friendship."

"No. I don't know. I I just want some answers."

"I don't think you're ready for them. You should go, Clark. Your mother's probably wondering why you haven't seen to the cows or shown up at the hospital for your evening visit yet."

"You're still spying on me?"

"I'm still concerned about you. Go, Clark. Now."

"How can I get in touch with you? I still want more answers."

"When the time is right, I'm sure you'll get whatever answers you need one way or another."

Lex shutdown the laptop, closed it, taking it, his water bottle and all its answers with him, gave Clark a final sad smile and left the room.

Suddenly aware that his mouth felt like cotton, Clark drank his water in one gulp. Enveloped by emptiness, he cursed the universe, in general. Lex was indeed correct that he was now late getting to the hospital, so after running at human speed out of the mansion, he used superspeed to get home and finish his chores. In a blur he tended to the animals, made sure all the equipment was put up for the night and surveyed the fence for repairs that might be needed before nightfall. He thawed and heated a pan of lasagna from the freezer, ate a large plateful without tasting it, and then fixed a plate for his mother.

By the time he got to the hospital, she had a plate from the cafeteria, and her face was full of worry.

"I'm sorry. I got caught up in a book and lost track of time."

"Cark, you're forgetting that I'm one of the two people who taught you how to lie."

"I'm sorry, mom. I, I was busy."

"You shouldn't spend your days moping at the Luthor house. It's dangerous and it's not healthy." She didn't sound angry, exactly. It was more like resignation, than anything, and somehow that was even worse.

Clark fidgeted with the plastic bag containing the rapidly cooling lasagna he'd brought. "I didn't just mope. Lex was there."

"Clark Kent! I told you not to see him!

"You always defended Lex to Dad!"

"And I always will." Martha sighed, heavily. "Don't you understand he's being watched, constantly?"

"So am I. Lex knows my schedule, that I'd be coming here this evening."

"Oh, Clark. This is exactly what I was afraid of. If Lex knows your schedule, then whoever is watching Lex knows your schedule."

"What should I do? Go into hiding? I don't want to leave you alone."

Martha picked at some limp, gray looking meat that was covered in brown goo and probably supposed to be Salisbury steak. "Whoever is watching both of you already knows you've seen Lex. Oh, God. The mansion's probably bugged. What did you talk about?"

"I think Lex checks for that, mom. I don't think he would have told me what he told me if he didn't."

"What did he tell you?"

"I found a video on his computer, of Chloe and Gabe and their new house exploding."

Martha looked up from her plate, eyes wide with shock. "Oh, no! This is even worse than I thought."

"No, mom, it's okay. It's a fake explosion Lex arranged so that Lionel would think she's dead. At least, that's what Lex told me."

"Do you believe him?"

"I don't know. I still don't really trust him. But he and Chloe were working together to get Lionel convicted, so I don't know what to think.

"Whatever it was, you've got to be more careful, Clark. No, don't give me that look! Go back to your normal routine. If we're really lucky, you somehow didn't get caught this afternoon. If you did get caught, we'll find some way to deal with the consequences."

"Can I stay here with you a while?"

"Of course. I was hoping you would. Your father's heart has been a little more steady this afternoon."

Relieved at this bit of good news, Clark pulled up the rooms other chair and sat beside his mother. Neither spoke much for the rest of the evening, and finally Martha started yawning so Clark helped her make the cot back up so she could sleep.

It was time for him to go home and attend to his evening routine. The cuts in his arm were still burning from the kryptonite dust, which he washed off with soap and warm water. The cuts sealed themselves, immediately, leaving no scar tissue. On previous nights this had given him just enough relief to be able to relax and sleep a little. Tonight, however, the lack of pain only made his feeling of emptiness increase.

Sticking to his plan to concentrate on the details of day-to-day farm life, Clark checked all of the livestock, made sure all of the fences were closed and made himself a snack of peanut butter on crackers before bed. As he curled up and closed his eyes, hoping for sleep, the image of Chloe, surrounded by flames, floated to the front of his conscience. He could hear the boom of the explosion and Lex saying, 'I did it,' over and over. It made sense that Lex would have arranged a fake death for Chloe to protect her.

Clark fell asleep wondering what other things that had happened over the last year had been faked, by Lex or someone else. Maybe his whole world for the last year had been a lie.

Clark felt his arms and legs pushed in toward his stomach, as if he were back in the cave wall, but without the cave appearing around him. He started to claw his way out, but suddenly it was filled with the green liquid from the tank at Somerholt, and the pain was excruciating. Memories, one after the other, of the sound of Lana crying, of his father's face when he came to after being stabbed with Palac by Jeremiah, of Lex's still body on the table after the ECT, flooded his mind, appearing real, as though he could touch each person. Then Lex's eyes flew open, and he stood, the space around him taking shape as a cave. Clark could see Lex, but Lex apparently couldn't see him. Lex was panicking, calling for him. Clark tried to reach out of the cave wall, but he is too weak from the pain. He attempted to call out to Lex, to tell him that if Lex would just get him out of the green liquid, he would help Lex out of the cave, but a high pitched, piercing noise arose and drowned them both out. Lex looked around one last time, his face etched with sadness and fear, and then walked through a door that appeared and once on the other side, locked it with a key. Clark watched in despair as Lex walked down the hallway into darkness.

The moment Lex disappeared, the green liquid, as well as the pain and the memories, vanished. Clark suddenly felt a sort of euphoria, like he could do anything, and nothing on Earth could stop him. Still in the cave wall, he sensed a sort of shift coming, and knew his time there was done. Nearby, his mother sat in her hospital chair, sewing up his father's heart. She looked up from her needlework and said, "You're going to be late, son." "Late for what?" he asked, and she pursed her lips and said, "too late." Just as he started to ask her again what she meant, the image of Naman and Ziget reached over from the cave wall and yanked him out of the hole.

Clark woke up with a start, bathed in sweat. It was still the middle of the night, but he knew it was useless to try to go back to sleep. He dressed quickly in jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers, took a flashlight from the toolbox in the barn and started down the road leading out of Smallville. The Kewatche caves, the last place on Earth he should want to visit, were drawing him as they had two years ago when he'd floated there in his sleep.

Once inside the cave, Clark methodically examined the cave wall, pointing his flashlight at a few feet of wall at a time. There was nothing there that hadn't been before. The octagon-shaped depression was still covered over with rock. The paintings hadn't changed. He had them memorized by now, but he still looked each one over carefully.

When he reached the figures of Naman and Ziget, just wrapped around each other, he paused. They really weren't quite the way he remembered them - two separate entities wrapped around each other. They were more like conjoined twins - two halves of a whole. If that were the case, and if he were really Naman, then Lionel could not possibly be Ziget, because Lionel had never been joined to him in that way. But if Lex were Ziget, then according to the legend, Lex was indeed dangerous to him. Even though he had been furious with Lex, and willing to walk away from their friendship, Clark had never really wanted to believe the worst of him. But the same things that hadn't added up before tonight still didn't add up. If Lex was set on destroying him, why had he helped him out of the tank at Somerholt. If Lex had been using Loder to arrange for Chloe's safe disappearance, then he hadn't been lying when he told Clark that he hadn't set the FBI on the Kents. So why was Lex still investigating him?

Clark returned to the area where the octagonal opening had once poured forth answers. He didn't dare touch it this time, as he wasn't about to be sucked into that hell of nothingness again. And that was another thing that didn't add up. If Jor-El had been waiting for him, and had wanted him back so badly, why did he suck him into the cave wall and leave him to rot?

The only other person who knew about Jor-El's last message was Virgil Swann, and they didn't exactly part on good terms. But maybe it was time for Clark to pay Dr. Swann another visit.

Giving up on obtaining further answers from the caves, Clark returned to the farm. Clark forced himself back into his routine of farm chores, then climbed up to the loft and tried to reach his mother at the hospital. There was no answer. He was running toward the hospital before he'd even finished snapping the phone shut.

Inside his father's room, a nurse was writing on the chart at the foot of the bed. "You're Clark, right? Are you looking for Mr. Kent?"

"Yes. I tried to call, but no one answered. Where is my father?"

"He was slipping in and out of consciousness, and seemed to really be improving, so they took him for some tests. Your mother is with him. You can either go down to the cardiac, or you can wait here for them."

"How long will it be?"

"Maybe an hour or so. It just depends on how busy they are."

"Thanks," Clark said. He rushed home to get clean clothes and a muffin for his mother, and left them on the room's table with a note.

Running faster than he ever had before, Clark covered the distance between Smallville and New York in minutes. The front door was opened by a servant, who ushered him into large room, empty but for a display case containing the spinning octagon. It looked just like it did on the computer in that awful room Lex had. Swann was not there, so Clark tried to reach in the display case and remove the disk. But before he could, Swann entered the room.

"I've been waiting for you."

"I thought that was Jor-El's message to my father."

Swann laughed. "I knew you would be back after Jor-El finished teaching you what you needed to know."

"I learned nothing from Jor-El."

"Are you so sure that's true?"

"From Jor-El? Yeah. The only thing I've learned is that I'm even less willing to carry out Jor-El's plan for me to rule Earth."

"You have your own plan now."

Clark nodded. "All I really want is to be the best person I can be. That should be enough."

"And what exactly do you think the best person you can be is?"

"Someone who cares about people, and wants to help them, not hurt them."

"You'd make quite an example for humanity if you did that. You know those are qualities most humans want in a leader? Would you be willing to lead by example?"

"I don't want to be an example. I'd rather stay hidden in the background."

Swann chuckled. "You want to be our secret protector? That's a heavy load to carry, Kal-El. And for someone with your abilities to stay hidden, you'd need a secret identity."

"I would also have to be perfect. Let's face it, Dr. Swann. I'm not. I've done things I'm not proud of. Sometimes I just want to tear down everything, kill the people closest to me. With my abilities, what's to keep me from doing things I regret again?"

"Do you think that's why Jor-El took you away? To keep you from ruling the wrong way, setting a poor example?"

"Maybe." Clark shrugged. "But I can't expect that to happen again, not that I really want it to."

"You were raised human, Kal-El. What keeps humans from doing that?"

Clark shrugged again. Understanding people had never been his strong point.

"True strength lies in being able to ask for help. Most humans find a complement to themselves, a partner who not only provides help, but who they also provide help to."

"Is that what you're doing with me?"

"No, Clark. Just like Jor-El's time with you is done, mine will be, soon. Your destiny lies elsewhere."

"According to the Kewatche legend, I'm destined to oh. The legend, is wrong, isn't it. Not wrong wrong, but off. Ziget doesn't have the power to destroy Naman, he has the power to stop him. And it's mutual So I was wrong about Naman, but Lex is wrong about Ziget. It's not that either Naman or Ziget is the hero, it's that the balance created by them keeps this world safe."

Swann answered with a smile.

Now he'd have to convince Lex, who was investigating him, who just sent him away. He'd have to convince Lex, who was about to lock him out of his life and walk into the darkness, that he didn't want to conquer the world as Naman, he wanted to use his abilities, and for Lex to use his also, so that between them they could make the world a better place.

Swann took the disk out of the case and handed it to him.

Clark stared at it for a few moments, then crushed it in his hand.

-End-

Continued in "Reunion"




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