Race With Destiny
by VampyrAlex and Chris J. Ueberall


Rating: NC-17
Category: First Time, Drama
Pairing: Clark/Lex
Warning: Death of a minor character, non-con (Not CLex.)

Summary: When Clark finds out he isn't the last son of Krypton after all, his life takes an unexpected turn. Only one person might understand him, but that would mean telling his secret and baring his soul. Can he trust Lex with his burden?

Acknowledgments from Alex: First and foremost, a huge thank you to Chris for the challenge and for turning this partnership into such an awesome experience. ;-D Also thank you to our betas and victims, Tehomet, Sherri, galahav, A.J. and Marita. To Dovya, for agreeing to publish our baby and putting up with our questions, doubts and general craziness. And last, but definitely not least, to Suzan Lovett for making our dream come true and letting us have one of her fabulous masterpieces for the original cover of the fanzine.

You can buy the zine at
Mkashef Enterprises

Acknowledgments from Chris: What she said! :-) And one more thank you to the M7 fandom around Ezra P. Standish which gave me a great friend, webmistress and writing-partner in Alex. I'd like to dedicate this story to my grandmother as it was the last story I told her about -- I wish she could have seen the final product -- and to my late cat Tammy, who certainly would have loved to lie on a Suzan Lovett cover.


Once in a while,
Right in the middle of an ordinary life,
Love gives us a fairy tale


In our galaxy far, far away...

It was doomsday.

The ground rumbled and shook almost constantly now, the earthquakes devastating what was left of the once glorious city. Whole districts had collapsed altogether. Fires could be seen raging out of control everywhere, too many for even the fiercely pouring rain to extinguish.

The Ursa River had long ago overflowed its banks, its roaring waters causing further ruin, volcanoes kept erupting from the surface of the planet, violently spewing ash and stone, while rivers of lava consumed everything in their path. The horrible screeching and groaning sound of twisting metal reached his ears as his city slowly crumbled to dust, the anguished cries of the wounded and the dying rising higher in the poisoned air.

Jor-El had been right; Krypton had been damned from the moment their sun had exploded.

Dar-El gave one last look at the planet he had always called home and then fled to his spaceship, rushing to the console and keying in the necessary commands that would take him out of harm's way. A flash of light crossing the dark sky caught his attention and he smiled grimly. Kal-El's pod, on its way to planet Earth. Jor-El had managed to fulfill his ultimate wish: to save his child from the destruction of Krypton.

He programmed his computer to lock onto the pod's energy reading, taking a deep breath as his spaceship took off. Watching from his viewpoint as Krypton grew smaller, he wondered briefly how many Kryptonians – if any – would be able to survive the death of their world. Jor-El's theories about the destruction of the planet had been ridiculed. His prophecy of impending cataclysm had been met with jeers and laughter. It was in men's nature to reject a truth that was too terrible to face.

Dar-El had watched from afar as Jor-El tried over and over again to convince the masses, to build ships vast enough to carry a large number of Kryptonians, to find suitable planets for new Kryptonian colonies to be founded. But without the support of their rulers, without the necessary funding, he had failed miserably. As the day of doom drew closer Jor-El had accepted defeat. He didn't have enough currency to build a spacecraft big enough for his family, so he and his wife devoted their last remaining energies to the task of saving their son.

As for Dar-El, he had spent the last months constructing his own ship. He had believed Jor-El's prophecy. How could he not, when he had known Jor-El since birth? Distant cousins, but raised in the same household, Jor-El had been both a nemesis and an obsession in his life. Always the better scientist, the bravest, the brightest, Jor-El had invariably made him feel like second best in the eyes of everyone around them.

But at the same time, Dar-El had been unable to resist his cousin's natural charm, or the unconscious promise in those wide green eyes. The time they had spent as lovers had been the best of his life... That is, until Lara came along and seduced Jor-El into marrying her. Nothing had been the same since and they had grown apart, anger and resentment digging a deep chasm between them.

And now it was too late for regrets. Krypton was about to explode, and even if Jor-El hadn't been a victim of the chain reaction caused by their sun's demise, he would soon perish when the planet exploded. But not all was lost. If he couldn't spend his life with Jor-El as he had fantasized so many times in the past, he would have to settle for the next best thing. He would follow Kal-El to Earth, and raise the child as his own. That way he would always have a part of Jor-El with him.

Dar-El watched as Krypton began to glow brightly, green fissures spreading like wildfire on the surface of the planet, signaling its imminent death. Dar-El touched the viewport lightly, as if touching Krypton itself, saying his final goodbye. Then, after making certain everything was going according to plan, he laid down in the cryogenic chamber that would keep him in a deep slumber while traveling in hyperspace.

Closing his eyes with a sigh, he settled down, his body beginning to relax as the cryochamber hummed to life. He was oblivious to the final disintegration of Krypton, the concussion waves that impacted against his ship, the fragments of the planet that smashed into it... of the severe damage they caused.

Smallville, Kansas
January 21st
, 2004

Clark sat on the wooden fence surrounding the farm, looking up at the star-sprinkled sky, knowing his parents were probably wondering where he was, but unwilling to go back just yet. He appreciated how overjoyed they were now that his vision had returned, but he really didn't think he could handle being around them at the moment. Not without having to act like everything was all right, and for once he didn't feel like pretending. He did enough of that as it was.

He sighed softly. It had been another unbelievable week in the life of Clark Kent. Attempting to stop a jewelry robbery, and ending up blind because his heat vision had accidentally reflected back into his eyes by a jewel adorned with kryptonite had been terrifying. Saving Pete from a mutant, having yet another awkward moment with Lana, and then confronting Lex about the dismissal of Chloe's father from the factory had only made things worse.

Rescuing Pete while dealing with blindness and having to adjust to yet another new ability – super-hearing this time – had been a challenge. He had put on a brave face for everyone, but the idea of having to depend on other people, of being that vulnerable for the first time in his life, had been frightening, to say the least.

As for Lana... things were definitely over between them. A part of him was sorry to let her go; he had grown so used to the idea of being in love with her. But the relief he had felt when she told him there was someone new in her life had been a revelation. Apparently his head had finally caught up with what his heart already knew; she had been a beautiful dream, something to cling to as his life spun out of control, but nothing more. There was no passion, no fire, no love between them. He wasn't even sure if there was any real friendship left.

But that wasn't what was bothering him. The root of his turmoil of late was always the same – Lex Luthor. He had been touched that Lex had taken the time to visit him at the loft, offering to contact the finest ophthalmologists. His soothing voice had healed something inside Clark, making him wish desperately that he could see his friend's face.

He missed the times when their friendship had been uncomplicated. These days it seemed like for every three steps made forward, they took two steps back. It ate at him, because he knew it was mostly his fault. Yes, Lex lied and schemed, but Clark's lies were so much worse, the wounds he inflicted so much deeper.

He couldn't even blame his actions on the need to keep his secret anymore. Lex was an intelligent man, he had seen too much over the last years. It didn’t matter that Lex didn't remember those seven weeks before being committed to Belle Reve, that the electroshock therapy he had been subjected to had erased the memory of seeing Clark’s abilities for himself. Clark knew his friend had to have guessed at least part of it and he was afraid. Afraid Lex wouldn't understand, afraid he would see disgust or fear in those sharp eyes, afraid his father was right about 'The Luthors'.

The sound of a vehicle approaching startled him out of his reverie and Clark was surprised to see that it was one of Lex's cars. His friend turned off the engine and climbed out of the driver's seat, burying his hands deep in his pockets as he walked slowly over to Clark.

"Clark, what are you doing out here at this hour?"

Clark gave him a small smile. "I needed to be alone for a while, to think."

Lex frowned. "Something wrong? Is it your eyes again?"

"Nah. Just your average teen angst," Clark joked, touched at his friend's obvious concern. "What about you?"

"I was coming to see you."

Clark's curiosity peaked. "Yeah?"

"Hmm," Lex said. "Chloe's father is back on my payroll."

Clark's breath caught in his throat at those words. "I'm really glad to hear that. But why?"

Lex's gaze bore into his in that special way he had, as if he was trying to look into Clark's soul. "I decided to heed your warning about my father. I'm not going back to LuthorCorp."

"B-but... all that stuff about your father having won a battle today and the war between you..." Clark stammered.

Lex leaned against the fence and looked up at the sky. "I've been clashing with my father practically from the moment I could speak, Clark. It gets tiresome after a few decades," he said, smiling faintly. "LexCorp will be more than enough to keep me occupied. As for Chloe's father... you were right. He was an innocent pawn in our games and didn't deserve to suffer for it."

Clark touched Lex's arm gently, feeling the welcoming warmth beneath his hand. "Thank you," he said, knowing without having to be told that Lex had done this for him.

Lex looked slightly surprised before his usual calm façade took over. "It's no big deal, Clark. Don't read too much into it. Besides, it will drive my father insane that I chose not to work with him," he added with a smirk.

Clark scowled. "Don't do that."

Lex's eyebrows rose quizzically. "What?"

"Put yourself down, belittle your decisions like that." Deciding maybe it was time to take another step forward, he continued, "I... I'm proud of you. Of being your friend." He could feel his face heating, but refused to back down when Lex's eyes narrowed.

After what seemed like an eternity, he could feel Lex relax subtly. Lex gave a curt nod. "Your friendship means a lot to me too, Clark. Now, I'm sure your parents are getting worried. You should go back inside. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Understanding Lex's need to protect himself, Clark let the subject drop. "Sure, I'll be at the Talon after school. Maybe we could meet there?"

Lex was already heading back to his car. "I'll see you there. Goodnight, Clark."

"'Night, Lex. Sweet dreams," he called out, grinning at his friend's brief chuckle.

Clark waited until Lex's car had disappeared into the night before walking back to the house. Somehow he didn't feel quite so down anymore.

'You're a lovelorn fool.' Lex laughed at his own expense as he tore his gaze away from the rearview mirror, where Clark's figure was already only a blur in the dark.

He wasn't sure what had driven him to the Kent farm this evening, except maybe the hope to mend at least a small fraction of his and Clark's strained relationship. What he had gained, though, was much more. Not only had Clark touched him, though only briefly, he had said he was proud of Lex, proud to be his friend. And the look in his eyes...

Clark had such beautiful and expressive eyes – windows of the soul. Lex hadn't known how much he relied on what he read there rather than on what Clark actually said, until sunglasses had hidden them from view. He was glad that was over, glad that Clark could see again, could see him again. Ruthlessly he suppressed the thought that he had hoped to help Clark through that dark time, to be his savior for once. In the end it was only important that his friend was all right again, not how it had happened. There would be other chances for Lex to show his worth to his friend, to help him when no one else would. Patience was – after all – a virtue. Though not exactly one very high on the Luthor list of virtues.

Lex sighed. As far as Clark was concerned, he was not only patience personified, he was also a saint. They had known each other for three years now and he hadn't made a move. Oh, he had flirted, yes, but nothing more than that. He couldn't say why he held himself back, since Clark's age wasn't a reason anymore; maybe he was too much the romantic, waiting for the perfect moment that hadn't yet come. Or maybe he was just a coward, afraid of chasing the most important person in his life away.

'And maybe I'm just melodramatic,' he chided himself. 'No, skip the maybe.'

He stopped at the crossroads far longer than necessary. He knew he should take the direct route home, so that he could do some work before going to bed. Taking back control of LexCorp would not be easy. Being thought dead and then having a nervous breakdown wasn't exactly terrific for inspiring faith or securing one's position. 'Especially not when there are certain weeks missing from your memory.'

He decided to take the long way. He could think better and was more relaxed behind a wheel than sitting on his couch. Probably because his father hadn't yet turned up suddenly in any of his cars. 'Not that I remember anyway.' He grinned, then amended, 'No, I would remember if he could teleport.' Because that would be too important to forget, like certain other things that he knew, though he couldn't place the origin of that knowledge, but still he knew. Like that he had run to Clark during his breakdown, that Clark had helped him. He was also certain that he had found out something concerning his father, something that would have given him the edge over Lionel. 'Edge – something to do with Morgan Edge.'

And there were other things. Images, dreams. Nightmares. He really had to investigate Belle Reve, because if that institution looked anything like in his nightmares some of those images might actually make sense.

Something came into the headlights of his car and automatically Lex slowed down. But the longhaired man kept to the other side of the road, staring at something in his hand that could have been a palmtop, or a cell-phone. The thought crossed Lex's mind to offer the stranger help, but then he thought better of it. With his luck, it would be a homicidal mutant bound on torturing bald billionaires or worse, a psychopathic reporter planning to write his life story, starting with his death.

He smirked. Melodramatic or not, since coming to Smallville Lex had learned to expect the unexpected and to just go with it. And one day, he hoped, he would finally -- among all the mutants -- get his alien. Luthor virtue or not, Lex could wait.

Dar-El looked at his tracking device in frustration. He found it hard to believe that Jor-El had sent his son to this remote place. True, it was better than Dar-El's landing site, a place called Siberia, but still far from anything that could be called civilization. Then again, maybe Kal-El's small ship had been damaged, too; that would certainly explain it, although Dar-El didn't think it likely. His cousin had always planned things through to the extreme, he had been obsessed with security and being in control of everything; that his son might have ended up somewhere by chance, rather than by Jor-El's planning, would be ironic.

And this was Earth, after all. Dar-El had recognized it by its yellow sun and the interesting powers he had developed, just like those Jor-El had described after returning from his forced visit to Earth as a youth. He hadn't yet figured out how to fly, though. Maybe that needed more time. However, the speed and the strength were incredible; no wonder Jor-El had decided to send his son here. Here where he would be a deity among humans, at a time and in a place where no Council of Krypton could forbid interference with lesser beings. He had to admire his cousin's ingenuity.

Dar-El would never forget the moment when he had first experienced his superior strength. He had been on Earth for three days back then, trying to find a settlement, but had not yet used any of the information crystals about Earth which he had copied from the El library, when he had had his first alien contact. Two men, one about his build, the other almost double his weight, and a small female. They had looked at him and said something, which he didn't understand, but their facial expressions and the sound they all shared was so much like laughter that Dar-El reacted to the supposed affront as he would have done on Krypton. Nobody laughed at an El. Certainly not a creature from an underdeveloped planet.

The shock on the big human's face, as one punch from Dar-El threw him ten meters through the air to land against a tree, had been highly satisfying. Just like the fear in the eyes of his companion as Dar-El had approached him to snap his neck. Killing the female had been an act of self-defense in a way, as her screaming had still been ringing in his ears hours later.

Only after the deed was done had it occurred to him that he could have used those three as a source for information – provided that they had been able to communicate with him. So he had taken a rest and activated the crystals. He knew it was only a small choice of his family's collection -- after all, the Els had studied Earth for generations – but it was supposed to provide him with a variety of languages and basic knowledge of human rituals. It took him the better part of a day to absorb the knowledge stored within the crystals and some more hours to recuperate. Afterwards he had stripped the smaller human male and put on his clothes -- realizing that his colorful tight Kryptonian suit had been the reason for the three Russians' amusement – before walking on.

The sound of an approaching car brought Dar-El back from his musings. Its flashing lights blinded him for a moment, burning his eyes -- which had been strangely sensitive for the last days – but he didn't look up. If anyone offered him a lift he would probably take it, just to see what else might be on offer, but generally he preferred to walk, or run. He was faster that way.

After a last look at his tracking device he put it into his side pocket. The readings were clear. Somewhere around here energy of Kryptonian origin had been active some weeks ago. Now the reading was zero, which could mean a malfunction of the pod, or that it was currently in slumber mode. Hopefully it didn't mean that whoever had found Kal-El had left the area with him. It wouldn't be a problem to take the child back by force, but if he had been taken to a big city then all the people there would be a complication to finding him. Especially without the right equipment.

Silently Dar-El cursed his misfortune. He wasn't really prepared to look for the child, since he had expected to land next to the pod. But considering the damage to his ship, he probably should be grateful to have arrived on the right planet, with at least some of his accoutrements intact. And he had a relatively recent reading. Maybe Kal-El was still around here. Surely Jor-El had made certain that his son would be found and taken care of immediately. Maybe his cousin's experiments in mind-control techniques had come in handy here. And even if not then he would just keep looking for the pod and its Kryptonian technology, which would be immensely helpful in finding the boy.

With that in mind Dar-El scanned the area; it was too late to start his search, and his eyes were blurring again. He blinked, considering his options. He could either run into town or ask at one of the nearby farms if he could stay for the night. The latter was risky, since not everyone welcomed strangers, and even those who did often asked unwanted questions, but on the other hand it meant no payment and no need for identification papers, and it wasn't as if anyone could really refuse him, if it came to that.

Dar-El sighed, looking around. Farm or town, what should it be?

Staring up at the dark sky, he decided to spend the night at a farm. As familiar as he was becoming with this new planet, he didn't feel up to wandering around in a strange town, looking for a place to rest. And he could see what had to be a farm not that far away. With luck, he wouldn't even have to announce his presence. It would be child's play to hide in a barn or cellar without being detected. A few hours sleep and he would be ready to continue his search.

His mind made up, he ran to the farm. There were lights shining in what appeared to be the main house, but he managed to hide out in the barn without being spotted. Wanting to be as sheltered as possible from human eyes, he climbed the stairs, curiosity taking over as he realized the loft was fully furnished. There were also what appeared to be school books scattered across every available surface, a telescope by the window, a dart board on a far wall, a globe depicting Earth, and several banners with the word 'Crows' and the image of a black winged creature. All things he had come to associate with human puberty in the weeks since he had crash-landed on Earth.

The large window seemed to draw his attention and Dar-El didn't fight it, going over to stand by it and gaze longingly into the night. His eyes automatically scanned for the light of Krypton, knowing that star would never shine again. He shook his head, frustrated once more.

'This is no time for melancholy, Dar-El,' he told himself. 'A brand new future lies within my reach. I will find Kal-El, and raise him as my own flesh and blood. We are the last sons of Krypton, bound together by unbreakable bonds. Together we will rule over this weak race.'

Dar-El turned away from the window and walked over to the couch, where he noticed a picture lying on the table. He picked up the small frame, taking in the red-haired woman standing in front of a blond man, probably the owners of the farm. But it was the third person in the photo that caught his attention. He looked younger than Dar-El remembered, the hair longer and more disheveled, but the face... Dar-El would never be able to forget that beautiful face for as long as he lived. There, staring at him with a smile, was a perfect copy of Jor-El.

He had found Kal-El.

January 22nd

It had been difficult waiting for the new morning to dawn, but Dar-El had waited patiently for the first rays of sun to brighten the horizon, not once leaving his post by the window. Rest had been dismissed after finding the photo of Kal-El. He had too much to think about, too much to ponder. Most important of all being how to approach the boy.

Dar-El had been expecting to find a toddler, not a teenager. The pod that Jor-El built for Kal-El didn’t have cryosleep; it would have been too dangerous for such a small child to be exposed to it. Instead it had possessed a brand new technology, which would have enabled Kal to grow while taking care of all the child’s needs during the long journey.

But the Kal-El in the photo… was a young man. And one that apparently had been living amongst the humans, had been raised by them, for a good number of years. This would change things considerably; Kal-El had come of age, was his own man now, and might prove harder to influence. He wanted his young cousin to reign by his side, preferably being pliant and malleable, not as someone who would oppose him at every turn.

This also meant the damage to Dar-El’s ship was worse than he first considered. When he had crashed in Siberia, he realized that there was something wrong, that multiple systems were malfunctioning for some reason. And even though one of the damaged systems had been the hyperspeed, his mind had never fully wrapped around the consequences of such a loss.

Stupid, since he was a scientist and used to thinking things through. His brain had obviously been working sluggishly after being in cryoslumber for so long. But he understood now; he understood just how long it had taken him to finish his trip. If Kal-El's photo was any indication, it had taken Dar-El well over ten years to reach Earth. It was unsettling, to say the least.

At least the cryochamber had remained intact. There was no telling what might have happened if that had malfunctioned as well. It was one thing to look his true age, but damage to such delicate equipment might have meant his death.

A sound coming from the fields had him looking out into the distance, to a small group of animals grazing in the pasture. Cows, he had heard them being called. A band of birds flew close to the barn, their cries almost deafening, and Dar-El knew there was something wrong. Suddenly all the sounds around him seemed magnified; the noise coming from the animals, farming engines roaring from afar, a news report on a nearby radio, even the wind in the trees. And the voices...

'Clark, breakfast is getting cold!'

'Coming, Mom!'

'I'm done. I'll be out storing the hay.'

Dar-El fell to his knees, hands covering his ears against the deafening clamor bombarding him. Impossibly loud footsteps seemed to surround him, getting louder and louder, hammering at his skull until Dar-El was certain his head was about to explode. And then, just as abruptly as it had vanished, the silence returned and the pandemonium creating havoc within him stopped.

"Who the hell are you?"

Dar-El's eyes snapped open, startled. He realized he was curled on the floor by the couch, hands still protecting his ears. Hovering menacingly over him, work gloves in his fist, and cold eyes regarding him suspiciously, was the blond man from the picture Dar-El had found the night before.

He almost laughed at the man's aggressive posturing, knowing he could break the human in two without any difficulty. But if Kal-El resided here, maybe the man was a servant or roustabout, and it wouldn't do to antagonize the boy without even having spoken to him.

Trying to appear as non-threatening as possible, he stammered, "I-I am sorry. I mean you no harm. My name is Daryl," he lied. "My car ran out of gasoline last night and I got lost trying to reach a town. I am sorry for trespassing on your property, but it was very cold and I was fatigued from my trek."

The blue eyes softened somewhat, but suspicion still lurked in their depths. "I'm Jonathan Kent, this is my farm. Come to the house. I'll see about calling you a tow truck, or maybe one of our neighbors can give you a lift to town."

Dar-El rose slowly to his feet, careful not to make any sudden moves. "Thank you, Mr. Kent, I appreciate it."

He swallowed his amusement when the human gestured for him to go first, obviously not comfortable with turning his back on a stranger. Maybe this race wasn't as foolhardy as he had first been led to believe.

Trudging along in front of the man, Dar-El thought back to the strange episode with his hearing. Jor-El had told him about the powers that came with the yellow sun, but had never mentioned having any problems controlling them. But in spite of Dar-El's time spent on the planet, only speed and strength had been easily mastered. The constant irritation in his eyes and the bouts of enhanced hearing were definite signs of new abilities, but so far they had come and gone randomly, causing more harm than good.

At the house he was greeted with unfeigned warmth by the red-haired woman – Martha Kent – and offered a plate brimming with comestibles, which he pecked at with curiosity. He didn't seem to require much nourishment since arriving on Earth, but the planet's edibles were actually very pleasant to the palate.

Footsteps on the stairs alerted him to a new presence and he finally got his first unobstructed view of Kal-El. The boy... No, the man had inherited his natural father's beauty and presence. Dar-El felt a spike of arousal course through him. It had been too long since he had bedded Jor-El, since he had tasted his cousin's sweetness, and Kal-El was too close to the real thing for comfort.

"Good morning," Kal-El greeted them all, eyes turning to Dar-El with obvious interest.

"'Morning, Clark. This is Daryl..." Martha Kent said, turning to him quizzically.

Understanding they were expecting a last name, Dar-El improvised, "Strand. Daryl Strand."

“Daryl Strand,” the Kent male said. "His car ran out of gas and he ended up sleeping in the loft."

Kal-El nodded. "I can drive him to town on my way to school."

"Are you sure, son?"

Hearing the concern in the man's voice, Dar-El realized Jonathan Kent wasn't too happy about letting his 'son' be alone with a stranger. Knowing he would never get a better opportunity to speak with Kal-El without any witnesses, Dar-El decided to intervene.

"That would be wonderful. I could pay for the gasoline and maybe find someone to take me back to my car. That is, if you do not mind, Mr. Kent?"

"No, no, that's okay," Kent replied, although Dar-El could hear the disgruntled tone in his voice. "Clark can take you."

"In that case, we should go," Clark said. "I'm already late to meet with Pete and Chloe."

Dar-El watched him say his goodbyes to 'Mom' and 'Dad', said his own farewell and soon they were on their way, the truck making good time on the dirt roads that led to Smallville.

Deciding not to waste another second, Dar-El ordered, "Stop the truck, Kal-El."

The truck swerved dangerously in his hands at the sound of his true name, and it took a few seconds before Clark had control back. He parked the vehicle by the side of the road and turned to Strand with a scowl.

"What did you call me?" he snapped harshly.

Strand smirked. "That name was given to you at birth. I was there when your father and your mother chose it for you. My name is Dar-El and I am from Krypton. In fact, Jor-El and I were cousins. Distant cousins, but related nonetheless."

"That's impossible," Clark murmured, shell-shocked. "I thought Krypton was destroyed."

"True. But like you, I managed to leave just before the explosion."

"If what you say is true, where have you been all these years?"

"I had no idea so much time had passed, not until I saw a photograph of you last night," Dar-El said. "I had my computer programmed to follow the energy readings from your pod when something unexpected occurred. My ship was damaged, probably a consequence of the demise of our homeworld. I lost hyperspeed and was unable to keep up with you. I was in suspended animation and unaware of the passage of time. Some months ago, an energy spike brought my ship to this planet."

Clark nodded, remembering the day he had destroyed his pod and the terrible shockwaves it had created. Not wanting to relive those dark days, he focused on the present. "You said that was months ago."

"Yes. Unfortunately I crashed in Siberia, and once again lost the signal that would bring me to your side. A new energy mark some weeks later led me to this area."

Heart aching all over again, Clark realized that second energy wave had probably been from the day when his father had made a deal with Jor-El, gaining the superpowers that would help him bring Clark back home from Metropolis, nearly losing his life in the process. Clark could still remember all the things he had done, the crimes he had committed under the influence of the red kryptonite while his parents despaired of ever getting him back. The remorse and guilt Clark felt in the face of his father’s sacrifice would never vanish.

"How do I know that this isn't some sort of a ploy?" he asked hoarsely.

Dar-El smiled. "Would you like me to show you my... special abilities? Perhaps lift this truck, or run to the farm and back in seconds?"

"This is Smallville," Clark said, knowing he was grasping at straws. "Everyone knows the meteor rocks have given a lot of people 'special abilities'."

Dar-El raised an eyebrow. "You truly believe I am lying?"

Clark sighed. "No."

Hope began to blossom in Clark then. After feeling like an outsider for so long, after feeling as though there would never be anyone else like him in the world, suddenly Dar-El seemed like a dream come true. He gazed at his fellow Kryptonian, taking in the dark, shoulder-length hair, the deep, brown eyes, the obviously powerful body hidden under jeans and a sweater.

"You must have been pretty young when you left Krypton, huh," Clark said, guessing Dar-El to be in his mid-thirties.

Dar-El chuckled. "My ship had a cryochamber, Kal-El; I didn't age a day during the voyage from Krypton to Earth."

Clark nodded absently, his mind already filled with all the questions he wanted to ask -- about his parents, about Krypton, about his true heritage. So much to learn, to try to understand... He didn't even know where to begin.

"So, why are you here?" he finally asked.

"To help you fulfill your destiny, Kal-El."

Clark frowned; that didn't sound right. In fact, it sounded too much like Jor-El and the writings on the cave about the last son and 'his quest to rule the third planet'. He still didn't know what that meant, but it looked like he wasn't the last son after all. And he had no wish to rule over anything or anyone.

"What do you mean, 'my destiny'?"

"You do not belong amongst these humans, Kal-El. Living with them, pretending to be one of them. They are not like us. Even those closest to you will never understand you, what and who you truly are. You must let go of your past. These people – the Kents, your human friends – they have served their purpose. It is time to leave them, to show the world what you can do."

"And rule Earth?" Clark retorted angrily. "You sound like Jor-El."

"He had ambitious plans for you, true. And why not? With our powers, no one on this planet, or in this galaxy, will be able to stop us. Think about it, Kal-El, to rule over these humans, to have them catering to our every whim –"

"Get out!" Clark interrupted, voice rising dangerously.

"What?" Dar-El questioned, obviously startled.

"You heard me. Get out," Clark snapped. "You don't get to bully people just because you can run faster, because you're stronger, because the sun happened to give you an edge. That's not right. I'll never be what you and Jor-El want me to be. I'll make my own destiny, my own future. I will not be controlled by a ghost or by you."

Dar-El shook his head. "You have no choice, Kal-El," he said almost gently. "If you will not join me, the ones you love most will pay. Think about it."

And before Clark could say a single word Dar-El had disappeared in a rush of cold air, leaving the truck's door wide open.

Clark couldn't say how long he kept staring at the empty seat and the truck's open door. The thought of how annoying it was when people just vanished like that kept running through his mind. Then a strange noise intruded on his trance-like state. Something breaking? He looked at the steering wheel and realized that he was gripping it with too much force. Surprised, he let go and then smoothed out the imprints his hands had made.

"Damn!" Half an inch before his fist hit the ceiling he pulled his punch, desperately trying to get his anger under control. His family really couldn't afford another truck. Clark nearly choked on the thought. 'Family.'

What was it with his alien family? Were they all megalomaniacs bound on ruling Earth? And was he kidding himself by thinking last summer had only happened due to the red kryptonite ring? Was Kal – as he had called himself back then – who cared for nobody but himself, who took what he wanted, who liked feeling superior his true self? Maybe there was something evil in him, genetically programmed to rule over others?

Again he heard Strand’s words. 'They are not like us. Even those closest to you will never understand you, what and who you truly are.'

And it was true and yet not. His parents couldn't truly understand him; he was realizing that more and more. They loved him and wanted him to be happy, but they couldn't really see the world through his eyes. But there was one who could. And it wasn't Strand, Daryl, Dar-El or whatever his name was, but one Lex Luthor. Lex would understand. Not only the being different part, but even more so the being-asked-to-do-bad-things-by-your-overdemanding-father part.

God, he really wished he could talk to Lex. Really talk. But that would mean telling secrets, and that had always been a no-no up to now. Clark sighed, and leaned over to close the passenger door. All this brooding wasn't helping; it wasn't as if he could do anything right now. Making a face in the rearview mirror he started the truck again, knowing that he would be late, as usual. Always the same with Clark, Chloe and Pete would say, always the same.

Dar-El had no specific place in mind when he left the boy's vehicle. The dramatic exit had just seemed like the right thing to do at that moment. Now though, he wasn't so sure about it anymore. He realized that he had made a mistake by getting straight to the point instead of gaining Kal-El's trust first. He should have realized, by the way his young cousin deferred to the Kents as his parents, that he was still thinking too much in human terms and hadn't yet really embraced his Kryptonian origin.

Slowing down a bit, Dar-El got his bearings and circled back. He had no interest in ending up on the other side of this continent. He was still running faster than the human eye could see, but only slightly. He had found out that it was the ideal pace for thinking.

And thinking was something he needed to do now. He needed a way to convince Kal-El of his destiny. He had to make him see how far above the humans they were and that taking control of them was the logical path to take. And he had to remember that Kal-El was a young man, and if he was as headstrong as his father had been then he wouldn't be easily swayed. Dar-El grinned. Which meant that he had to take away Kal-El's choice in the matter. Easier thought than done.

First, he had to decide where to go. Dar-El stopped and looked around, too late to avoid getting hit by a car. At the impact Dar-El found himself suddenly airborne, then he hit the car's roof before rolling from it and landing on the ground. He lay stunned for a second, then got up, unhurt but angry. Prepared to take the driver on, he walked towards where the damaged car had skidded to a halt and looked into it.

His first impression was of long dark hair and the smell of blood. Suddenly the image blurred and he saw a bashed-in skull and broken bones instead. Dar-El recoiled from the image, then it was gone, and only the smell remained. He shook his head. What had just happened here? He didn't think he was losing his mind, but if this was a new skill developing it definitely lacked timing. With a shrug Dar-El stepped back, he would think about this episode with his sight later. As for the female driver there was no doubt that she was dead. She probably never knew what she had hit. Suddenly he registered the sound of a motor running nearby. And it was not the car he had damaged. Slowly he turned around. A limousine stood about six meters away.

The driver left the vehicle and opened the passenger door. A mass of hair was the first Dar-El could see, then a lean man in a suit appeared, straightened and looked directly at him, his expression a strange mixture of amusement and calculation.

"Impressive," the man said in an almost passionless tone, pointing at the damaged car. "Though you might want to move it from the road to avoid detection."

Looking back from the man to the car, Dar-El had to admit he had a point; there was nothing here that would explain the shattered front, windshield and roof. It would raise questions. And while he might not be afraid of human justice, he didn't need attention right now. So he lifted one side of the car up and pushed it from the road, down the decline; counting the turns it made before it once more came to a halt, partly hidden from view by bushes.

Turning back, Dar-El expected to see fear or at least respect on the limousine man's face, but got only the calculating look and a nod. It annoyed him at the same time as it intrigued him. Why was the man not frightened, or surprised? Suddenly he remembered something Kal-El had said. Something about 'meteor rocks giving people special abilities'. Was this man maybe one of those with special abilities? Was he unafraid, because he was certain he could take Dar-El on? Or was he just so used to seeing people showing strength and other powers that he could not be impressed anymore? Either theory was unsettling and needed to be investigated.

"You wouldn't by any chance be looking for a job, would you?"

It took a moment for Dar-El to register that the man had asked him a question. Him doing menial tasks for some human? The very idea was an insult. But then again, he needed some information and a base to start from. "What kind of work do you have in mind?" he asked.

"As a bodyguard, for a start. I'm a very powerful man and have many enemies." His tone indicated that he liked it that way, and was bound on becoming even more powerful and gaining more enemies. "And I pay very well." He smiled. "Your answer?"

Dar-El came to a decision in a second. He knew from the man's arrogant gaze that he thought he could use him. Probably believed Dar-El to have much strength but few brain cells. That suited Dar-El fine for the moment. Because, in truth, it would be him using the human. A human who was rich and had influence – everything Dar-El needed. How convenient.

He reached out a hand, knowing that humans sealed a pact that way. "It seems I will stay at your side from this moment on," he said, carefully choosing his words. Not that he would mind lying outright, but it was so much more interesting this way.

"Good." The man nodded, ignoring the hand. "What name's going to be on the payroll?"

Dropping his hand, Dar-El controlled his ire by reminding himself that the human would die anyway. "Daryl Strand," he replied finally, then raised a brow questioningly. "And you would be called?"

"Lionel Luthor." Obviously he expected his name to impress Dar-El, and found it irritating that it didn't.

"Okay, Mr. Luthor. Shall we leave then?" he asked, careful to sound bored.

Luthor looked from him to the car wreck and nodded. "Good point, Mr. Strand." With that he climbed back into the limousine. Before he could shut the door, Dar-El was already following, and settling down, opposite him.

There was no question that Lionel Luthor didn't like it, but he stayed silent. Maybe he didn't want to have a discussion with his new employee within the first minutes of meeting, or maybe he wasn't as unimpressed by Dar-El's strength as he had pretended to be. Whatever the reason, Dar-El reveled in the victory, small as it was.

Then he leaned back and smiled. Things were looking up. Destiny was obviously on his side.

Lionel relaxed back in his seat as his chauffeur resumed the drive up to the mansion. He glanced at the man sitting across from him, resisting the urge to frown. Perhaps hiring a perfect stranger so abruptly had been a mistake, but he had been waiting for a long time to get his hands on one of Smallville's numerous mutants. That he had stumbled upon one on his way to see Lex was too good a chance to pass up.

A man of Herculean strength was just what he needed, and who knew what else Strand could do? He certainly had no scruples or qualms about killing, at least judging by the scene Lionel had witnessed. Not that he had seen much; he had been too far away. But the violence of the impact had been obvious in the wrecked car, and the woman's face – from what Lionel had been able to glimpse – had been a mess of blood and bone, the long, dark hair, matted with blood, hiding most of the damage.

But Strand’s dangerous aura and his obvious defiance as he had climbed into the limousine were signs he would not ignore. As soon as he got back to Metropolis he would have Strand investigated. Their meeting might have been coincidental, but Lionel wasn't about to fall into a potential trap. A little wariness went a long way in assuring one's permanent health.

Bottomless brown eyes stared into his own, and Lionel was hard pressed not to shiver at their intensity. Intelligence and cunning lurked within those dark irises, and Lionel admitted to himself he had been wrong in his initial appraisal of the man; there was brawn there, yes, but also a clever mind.

He realized Strand had been too quick to accept his business proposition, to fall into step with a man he didn't know. Nor did he seem worried about the fact Lionel had seen his 'encounter' with the female driver. That clearly meant Strand didn't feel that Lionel was a threat to him.

Lionel suppressed a grin at that thought. Strand obviously didn't know who he was, or what he was capable of. But he would learn. He would keep Strand as his employee, have him do his bidding. The moment Strand got out of line, Lionel would have one of his employees deal with him. Strong as the man was, he would be no match for a bullet.

Lex fought the impulse to groan as he looked up from his laptop and saw his father storming into the study. He glimpsed past his father's thunderous expression to the man standing behind him.

Straightening in his chair and steepling his fingers, Lex allowed a small grin to break through. "Finally got around to replacing Dominic, Dad?"

"Good morning, Lex," his father retorted pointedly. "And this is Daryl Strand, my new bodyguard."

"Bodyguard?" Lex echoed, raising an eyebrow. "Who did you double-cross this time?"

"I didn't come here to engage in a verbal spar with you, Lex."

"Oh? Then why did you come? As I recall, we saw each other yesterday. What was so important that it couldn't be said over the phone?"

"Can a father not pay his son a visit without an ulterior motive?"

Lex chuckled at the poorly feigned indignation on his father's face. "A father, yes. You, no. So, what is it this time?"

"Fine," his father huffed. "I want you to reconsider your decision not to return to LuthorCorp. You belong by my side, Lex, running the business with me."

"We already discussed this yesterday, Dad. I'm not going back and that's final. Especially since we both know your offer's a sham, a way to keep me under control. I have no intention of 'sharpening pencils' for you or anyone else, Dad. I have my own company to run."

"You're making a mistake, Lex."

Lex looked up into his father's stern expression, and nodded slowly. "Perhaps. But whether I fail or succeed, it will be by my own doing. It's past time I went out on my own and took the initiative you always accused me of not having. I have nothing to prove to you, Dad, only to myself. And I have no doubt LexCorp will triumph."

Big words, but Lex found he meant them. All of his life, all he had ever wanted from his father was his love and approval, but he had always fallen short of the mark. It was time he stopped trying, time he recognized it for the losing battle it was. He would make LexCorp flourish. And not because he wanted his father's blessing, but because he needed to prove to himself that he could make it, that all of his father's snide remarks and put-downs had been nothing but ways of belittling him.

"I don't understand, son. When I first sent you to Smallville, you couldn't wait to return to Metropolis. Now I can't get you to leave this podunk town! This wouldn't have anything to do with the Kent boy, would it?"

If Lex hadn't happened to look at him in that moment, he would never have seen Strand’s slight twitch at the mention of Clark's name. It wouldn't have been worth noting, if not for the fact that it was the man's first indication that he was actually breathing and was not a statue. Lex wondered at the reaction, speculating on what the man might have heard about Clark, from his father or anyone else.

The thought that Strand might be in Smallville to snoop for his father, or even working for himself, immediately crossed his mind. Lex decided to ask Clark if he knew the man when they met at the Talon later. In any case, as soon as his father was out of his hair – so to speak – he would dig into the life of Daryl Strand. Paranoid he might be, but he wasn't about to let anyone mess with Clark or the Kents again.

Turning his attention back to his father, Lex smiled. "This has nothing to do with Clark. He's my friend, true, but he has no say in my decisions." 'Liar,' his mind purred instantly. "But it does have everything to do with you. I won't be your whipping boy anymore. I've had enough. Now, if there's nothing else..." he added, dismissively.

"This conversation is not over, Lex," his father snapped harshly.

Lex rose smoothly from his chair, planting his hands firmly on the desk. "Yes, it is. I'm extremely busy and I'm sure you have work waiting for you back in Metropolis. Goodbye, Dad."

Lex watched his father stalk out of the study with Strand glued to his back and sighed with relief. He was finally free from Lionel Luthor's dominance and it was an empowering feeling. Too bad he wouldn't have time to fully enjoy it, as he had some phone calls to make. Time to find out who Daryl Strand was and what his connection was to Clark Kent.

Clark sat at one of the tables at the Talon, looking at the small crowd. He was relieved when he didn't see Lana anywhere. He knew she had skipped school that morning to go to the doctor's, but he had been half-afraid of running into her here. The last thing he needed was another silence-filled, awkward conversation with her. And since Chloe and Pete had run off in search of that ever-elusive perfect scoop for the Torch, he was on his own for the rest of the afternoon.

Glancing at his watch, he wondered if Lex would show up at all. He could only imagine how busy his friend must be now that he had decided to stay at the helm of LexCorp. Clark was proud of Lex – for standing up to his father and following his own path, leaving LuthorCorp behind. While he had rarely mentioned it to Lex, the truth was he didn't like Lionel Luthor at all. How such a heartless man had managed to raise someone like Lex was a mystery to him.

He took a deep breath, knowing he was dodging the real problem – Dar-El. School had taken forever, classes blurring together as his mind kept drifting back to their conversation in the truck. Should he take Dar-El's threat seriously? Would the other man really hurt his loved ones if Clark didn't help in his mad scheme to rule the world? He should probably warn his parents and keep a close watch on his friends.

The sound of a chair scraping against the floor had him looking up, directly into Lex's hungry gaze. For a timeless moment they were frozen, Clark's heart hammering in his chest, then Lex blinked and the moment was lost. Clark swallowed thickly, rubbing his suddenly sweaty palms against his jeans.

Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't completely clueless. He was well aware of what that look in Lex's eyes meant, he had been for some time. At first he had ignored it. There had been Lana in his life and he hadn't been ready to acknowledge the emotions lurking in Lex's gaze. Later on, he had been loathe to further complicate a friendship that, between all the lies and secrets, was already so complex.

Lately though, he found himself wondering what it would be like to have all of Lex's intensity focused solely on him, to have that brilliant mind and that vulnerable heart all to himself. But the secrets were still there, and so were the lies, and so he kept silent.


He realized he had been staring at his friend for far too long and smiled faintly, as a way of apology. "Sorry, just woolgathering. I'm glad you're here."

Lex nodded curtly. "I'm glad I was able to make it." He seemed to hesitate, then, "Clark, I don't know any easy way to say this, so I'm just going to go ahead and ask. Do you know a man who goes by the name of Daryl Strand?"

Clark's breath caught in his throat. How did Lex know about Dar-El? He suddenly feared that Dar-El had decided to make good on his threat to hurt the people he cared about. Lex didn't seem to be wounded or hurt in any way, but Clark knew how adept his friend was at hiding his pain, physical or otherwise. Forgetting where he was, Clark laid his hand over Lex's, which was resting on the table.

"Are you okay?" he whispered urgently.

Lex frowned, looking down at their joined hands for a brief instant before answering, "I'm fine, Clark. My father came to the mansion this morning, had a new bodyguard with him. I swear the man didn't so much as blink until your name was mentioned. My father introduced him as Daryl Strand, but when I tried to do a background check on him I came up empty. For all intents and purposes, he doesn't exist. But I'd venture a guess and say you know him, don't you?"

Wanting a few minutes to muster his thoughts, Clark attempted to change the subject. "You and your father talked about me?"

Lex gave him an exasperated scowl, letting him know he was aware of Clark's feeble ploy. "My father seems to believe you're the reason why I won't go back to work at LuthorCorp."

"And am I?" The words were out before Clark could censor them and he felt himself flush at the startled expression on Lex's face.

There was a lengthy pause before Lex finally answered, his voice sounding hoarse. "You're part of it, yes. And don't think I can't see what you're trying to do. You're dealing with the master of misdirection here. Talk to me, Clark."

'Talk to me, Clark.' If only he could. Clark sighed, forcing himself to not look away. His friend was easy to read, hoping Clark would trust him and at the same time expecting a dismissal. This was so wrong. Suddenly realizing that he was still holding Lex's hand, he let go of it and looked around. Nobody seemed to be watching them, but then again, Clark had never been very good at detecting onlookers.

"I guess I'll be going then," Lex said, already rising again.

"What?" Looking up at his friend, Clark realized that Lex had taken his action as an answer, and was doing what he always did when feeling unwelcome – he left. Panicked, Clark stood too. "Wait, I..."

"Yes?" Lex asked coolly.

"I'm coming with you." And wasn't it surprising how sensible he could be when he wasn't thinking. Clark grinned at the -- albeit fleeting – stunned expression on Lex's face.

"You are?"

"Yes." He led the way out of the Talon. "Let's find a quiet place to talk."

"Really quiet," Lex said dryly as he stopped the car, and Clark grinned at the comment.

Admittedly, this place wasn't much different from all the other side roads around Smallville, but it led to one of the outer fields of the Kent property, and as such it was hidden from view by a small hill. It had been where a very young Clark had first tested out his strength and speed – not that he planned on telling Lex that. It was just a place associated with privacy, and he had felt they would need some.

"The weather is good for the time of year. Do you think the harvest will be a good one?" For all that Lex sounded bored and nonchalant, his expression gave him away.

Clark smiled at him ruefully. "Sorry. Guess I just don't know where to start." 'And where to end,' he added mentally.

"Let's start with Daryl Strand. He knows you and obviously you know him. Tell me who he is, and what we're facing."

"We?" Maybe that speaking without thinking part wasn't so sensible after all.

Lex looked at him as if he'd asked a totally superfluous and stupid question. And maybe he had. A warmth spread through Clark, heating his face, and forcing his mouth into a wide smile. He really had it bad.

"Daryl Strand, Clark?"

Speaking of bad... "Um. He's a kind of relative. Of mine."

"A relative. Of you, not your parents?"

"Yes." It was nice to hear Lex speak of his 'parents' and not of the 'Kents'. Strange how small things became significant. No matter his origin, Martha and Jonathan were his parents.

"Clark, I had the impression you didn't know anything about your real family. I seem to remember we talked about that, you particularly wondering why they left you."

'Okay, Kent, now how to explain this without explaining... all?' He sighed for what he expected wouldn't be the last time. "I didn't know. Then. I found out about my birth parents last summer." And how he found out. Given the choice he'd rather still be in the dark.

"You knew for sure that you couldn't be my brother." Lex's calculating gaze was a thing Clark hated with a vengeance. It always made him feel like a bug under a microscope, not to mention guilty, because he wasn't giving away his secrets. "You don't like your birth family?" Lex's inquiry caught Clark unaware; he hadn't expected that line of questioning.

"Can't stand my father. Don't know about my mother. But he's almost like yours." Only when the silence began to stretch did he realize that he had spoken aloud.

"So they're still alive?"


"Then how do you know what your father is like?" You could almost see the wheels turning behind Lex's eyes.

'Brilliant. Think, Clark, think!' And there was the next sigh. "He kinda had plans for me, and doesn't take no for an answer, even being dead." And he really hoped he hadn't made that sound like a question.

Lex frowned. Then he shook his head and leaned over, lightly patting Clark's arm. "Look, Clark, I admit I hoped this would be the day when you'd finally trust me, really trust me. But obviously it isn't. So... Just tell me what you can and I won't ask for specifics. But I need something to work with."

'God.' Lana's necklace had never hurt like this. 'Speak, Clark, now!' some inner voice was saying, but he couldn't. All he was able to get out was a low, "I'm sorry."

"Me, too." Lex looked away, staring over the field. Clark could hear him swallow heavily. Then a deep breath and Lex turned back to him. "Let's try this again. Daryl Strand?"

Dar-El was currently prowling through his new domicile. Stopping at one of the big windows, he looked at the city beneath him. He had not been much impressed but pleased when seeing the LuthorCorp tower, for this symbol of wealth proved that Lionel Luthor was indeed as powerful as he had claimed.

Turning away from the window, he walked once more through his quarters. He knew the penthouse, where Luthor resided, was two floors above, while he shared this floor with three other employees. Still, compared to other places he had lived in since arriving on Earth, this was without question luxurious.

If he could just get rid of that annoying noise, he might actually like the place. But the constant humming in the background was getting on his nerves. He had already disconnected every single technical device he could find, but still the noise was there. He growled, trying to find where it originated. Certainly it could not come from a picture?

Suddenly he wasn't seeing the stupid-looking woman in the painting anymore, but instead thin wires and a small lens. The next moment it was the woman with the awkward smile again.

Daryl rubbed his eyes. Seeing through solid matter was without doubt a practical power, if it just would come at his bidding and not randomly. Still, he had found out where the noise was coming from. He did not need to be human to realize that this meant that he was being watched, probably no matter which room he was in. It annoyed him, but then again, it would have been the same back home on Krypton in a similar situation. Now that he was warned, he would cope with it. Maybe even use it to his advantage. He just had to learn to tune out the hum.

A thought occurred to him and he grinned. Then he walked over to the TV set and plugged it in again. He had found out a while ago that television was able to create a lot of noise; some of it he even liked.

As he handled the remote control and tried to find a channel he liked, his thoughts wandered back to the man he worked for and what he knew about him. Not that it was much. Lionel Luthor was rich and arrogant and thought of himself as dangerous. Dar-El grinned. That sounded a lot like Jor-El actually, only Jor-El had been all of that, while Luthor would learn what it meant to be truly dangerous once Dar-El had found his bearings in this world.

He looked at the screen and stopped zapping. Stock market. Now that was something he knew he had to learn about, but right now it was enough to gather that LuthorCorp had high ratings, while LexCorp did not.

LexCorp. Lex Luthor. Dar-El had taken an instant dislike to Luthor's son, though he had to admit the human had a certain sexual appeal. Still, his bald head reminded Dar-El too much of the god-spirit Esiget-Rah, who was a constant troublemaker in Kryptonian mythology, known to disrupt the gods' plans due to some strange views on balance and justice. Of course no one believed in deities anymore, but he was the kind of character that youngsters loved and grown-ups despised. And dreaming of him was supposed to be a bad omen.

Dar-El shook his head to clear his thoughts. Krypton had overcome superstition long ago, and now he had to overcome Krypton. Lex Luthor was nothing more than a piece in the game he would play with Kal-El, though how important a piece he could not yet say. Lionel Luthor seemed to believe Kal-El was important to his son, which would be of no consequence for Dar-El's plans, unless, of course, the reverse were true as well.

Lex waited patiently for Clark to answer his question, surprised at the amount of information he had been able to weasel out of his friend so far. Clark could be frustratingly closemouthed. Whoever this Strand was, his sudden appearance in Smallville had obviously put a dent in Clark's protective armor.

"You're not going to give up, are you?" Clark finally asked, sounding defeated.

Lex shook his head. "Not this time, no. There's something wrong, Clark. I can feel it. When I mentioned Strand back at the Talon, your first reaction was fear."

"Not for myself," Clark blurted out, then bit his lip, as if regretting the words.

Lex smiled gently; he had gathered as much. "I got that, Clark. Why were you afraid? Did Strand threaten you? Me? Your family and friends? What was it?"

Clark closed his eyes and exhaled softly. "He's... my cousin, distant cousin, from what he said. And he's like my father."

"Bad?" Lex guessed.

"Very," Clark replied, staring down at his hands. "He wants me to... go away with him. He told me he would hurt the people I love if I don't do as he says."

Lex felt a surge of anger at hearing those words. He wasn't about to let anybody intimidate Clark like that. Nor would he allow anyone to take Clark away from his family, away from him.

"I'm going to Metropolis. I'll find Strand and –"

Clark started at that, looking at Lex with panic-filled eyes. "Lex, no! You can't go after him!"

"Clark, I don't care who he is. He has crossed the line. I've dealt with his kind before. Men who think they can do anything because they have power, money or both at their disposal."

Clark shook his head. "You don't understand, Lex," he said, voice thick with despair. "He's not like everyone else, not like those men you were talking about. You can't confront him, Lex. You can't! Promise me. Please?"

Lex wanted to promise, he really did. But Clark's obvious anxiety only made it worse. Lex wanted nothing more than to find Daryl Strand and beat the man senseless. Perhaps some of what Lex was thinking showed on his face, because Clark lowered his head with a tired sigh.

"Damn it, Lex," Clark whispered.

Lex looked at the bent head, wondering what it was about Daryl Strand that was causing Clark to act so out of character. He had seen his friend face armed thugs without batting an eyelash, not to mention quite a few of Smallville's mutants. It seemed strange that Clark should be so unsettled about his cousin.


Clark raised his head. Their gazes met. Lex was suddenly aware of a change in the air around them. It felt charged somehow, electrified, filled with tension. He held perfectly still as Clark brushed a hand over his cheek, fingers gently touching Lex's lips.

"I can't lose you," Clark said in a hushed tone.

Lex swallowed around the lump in his throat. "You won't."

Serious eyes focused on him. "Those things you think I can do..." Clark began, sounding somewhat breathless. "Those things I always lie about, that no human being could possibly be able to do... All those things, Daryl can do as well."

Lex gaped at those words, too stunned to say anything. Before he could so much as breathe, Clark's lips grazed his and then he was out of the car, vanishing over the hill in the blink of an eye.

Clark only slowed down to a walk when he reached the farm. He had come close to finally telling Lex everything, too damn close. He hadn't meant to say as much as he had, but he had been unable to witness Lex's pain any longer, especially knowing he was the reason for the hurt and disappointment he could see in Lex's eyes.

He had meant to keep it simple, just about how 'Daryl' was his cousin and how he wanted to take Clark away. But when Lex had wanted to go after Dar-El, Clark had known he couldn't risk that happening. He hadn't lied; he couldn't bear the thought of losing Lex, not when he was just beginning to realize how much he cared for him. How much he... loved Lex.

If only Dar-El hadn't shown up. If only Clark wasn't terrified his cousin might hurt someone. Hurt Lex. Clark knew his friend, knew Lex wouldn't let this go so easily. Even suspecting what Dar-El could do, Lex wouldn't back down, he would still be plotting ways to stop him. It was Lex's nature.

Clark took a shuddering breath. Touching his lips, he remembered the brief kiss he had stolen from Lex. Nothing had ever felt so right; definitely not kissing Lana or Chloe. A mere feather light brush of lips had left him hard and flustered, his heart beating wildly.

He walked into the house, stopping short as he saw his parents sitting at the kitchen table, holding hands. Worry was visible on their faces. Fear struck at him as Dar-El's threat haunted him again.

"Mom? Dad? What's going on?"

His mother rose from her chair. She walked over to him, and cupped his face gently. "Nell called, sweetheart. Lana was supposed to go down to Metropolis for a visit this afternoon. She never arrived. Nell wanted to know if we'd seen her."

"I haven't seen her all day. I know she was really excited about going to the doctor this morning. She said she couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel again, after spending so long with her leg in a cast and all those weeks of PT. She wasn't at the Talon this afternoon either. Chloe didn't seem worried, so I figured she knew where Lana was," Clark replied to his mother's unspoken question. "I better go see if I can find her."

He rushed out the door before his parents could argue. Just to be certain, he sped over to the Talon, asking around, but no one had seen or heard from Lana since the night before. He decided to follow the road that led to Metropolis, in the hopes of finding Lana with a flat tire, no spare, her phone's battery dead.

He was approaching Metropolis when he noticed an unusual spot of color half-hidden behind some bushes on the side of a slope. The twisted wreck that was the remains of Lana's car.

"No," he whispered, the blood draining from his face.

For a moment Clark stood in shock, his heart clenching at the sight, then he burst into motion. He rushed to the car, stifling a sob as he saw the motionless form in the driver's seat. Ripping the door away, he knelt down, his vision blurred by unshed tears as he desperately felt for a pulse.

There wasn't one.

Tenderly, as if he was afraid she would shatter in his hands, Clark lifted Lana's cold body from the car, placing her carefully on the ground. He brushed sticky strands of hair away from the once beautiful face, a tear falling down his cheek as he looked down at the person who had been such an important part of his life and dreams for so many years.

He took her in his arms, chin resting on top of her head as he rocked her back and forth. "I'm sorry," he breathed over and over again. "I'm so sorry."

He didn't know how long he stayed there, blinded by loss, embracing Lana for what would be the last time. He didn't notice when it began to pour, his tears mingling with the rain, nor did he notice when darkness fell. All he could do was drown in this gut-wrenching pain, as he wished he could turn back time. Hating himself for having so many powers and still being unable to save Lana.

He lifted his eyes to the sky, as the rain fell down on him, some distant part of him wondered if he would ever feel clean again. Emotions kept tearing at him – anger, despair, guilt – leaving him nearly incapable of coherent thought. As he lowered his head, his gaze leveled with the front of the car and the numbness surrounding him dissolved enough for him to think again. Lana's car had collided head on with something and from the shape, it hadn't been another vehicle. There was only one thing that could create such an odd mold -- a body. And only one other man who could have done so and walk away – Dar-El.

White-hot fury sizzled through Clark then, setting his blood aflame. A roar of primitive wrath burst from him as he shouted at the heavens, veins throbbing in time with his heartbeat.

"Dar-El! DAR-EL!"

Dar-El clenched his jaw tightly, resisting the urge to groan and show his pain in any way to those watching him. Both his eyesight and hearing were playing tricks again. The image of the anchorman on TV vanished, giving way instead to the confused jumble of wires, fuses and circuits inside the set. The sounds from the world outside were resonating within him; the clamor of horns, the shouting voices, the rain battering against the window mixed together in a deafening roar.

Above it all he thought he heard someone in the distance calling out his name, an edge of madness to the pained howl. Kal-El? Could it really have been his young cousin? And why?

Dar-El blinked and his vision suddenly went back to normal. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he discovered that the noise had evened out and that he could hear only normal sounds again. He looked out the window into the dark, unfriendly night. Whether it had been Kal-El or not was irrelevant. But perhaps he should pay the young man another visit. It was time for the last sons of Krypton to come together and rule the Earth.

No one tried to stop him from leaving the LuthorCorp tower, but then again, no one was fool enough to attempt such a thing. Dar-El had quickly become aware of how intimidating his glare was to humans. Of course, Lionel Luthor had dismissed him for the night – something which had amused Dar-El immensely – so he was free to come and go as he pleased. Not that the human could prevent him from doing as he chose, but for now it suited him to pretend to obey Luthor.

The rain seemed to have chased the humans into hiding, and, although the flood had stopped now, the streets were deserted. Dar-El sped away from the city, intending to travel to the Kent farm, when he suddenly spotted Kal-El. He was drenched, hair clinging to his face as he knelt close to the car Dar-El had destroyed that morning, holding the woman's remains in his arms.

Dar-El frowned as he approached. "Kal-El?"

Kal-El raised his head slowly, eyes blinking at him. "You did this," he whispered.

Dar-El saw no reason to deny the truth. "Yes." He shook his head as understanding dawned. "So much energy you waste on these humans, cousin. They are not worthy of your pain. She was nothing but a frail mass of flesh and blood."

But Kal-El did not appear to be listening. "You did this," he repeated, louder this time. He rose from the ground, having laid the body down gently, and stalked over to Dar-El. "You did this!"

Dar-El ducked instinctively so that the first punch zinged past his head, leaving only the faint hiss of air swishing past his left ear. But he was unable to prevent the next punch from hitting its mark. Pain flared in his chest and he soared through the air, breath knocked out of him in a rush as his body connected with the wet soil, feeling it give underneath him at the force of the impact.

He jumped to his feet just in time to block the next jab, engaging Kal-El in a full battle. This was not what he had wanted for them, but perhaps it would be beneficial. If he defeated Kal-El, his cousin would have no choice but to submit to him, and yield to his wishes.

As punch after punch was thrown, Dar-El realized winning might not be as effortless as he had first thought. They were equal in strength, but Kal-El was obviously more familiar with the best way to make use of it. A painful blow landed on Dar-El's midsection and he was falling yet again. Knowing he would have to act fast or lose to Kal-El, he bounced back up to his feet and before Kal could act, he extended his forearm, aiming a deadly knife-hand chop to Kal-El's throat.

He watched as his cousin slumped to the ground with a moan, hands clutching at his throat. Dar-El moved cautiously closer, gaze boring into Kal-El's wide eyes.

"It does not have to be this way, Kal-El. Join me and I will forget this affront. Defy me and I will hurt you."

Kal-El shook his head in denial, jaw clenched, hatred pouring off him in waves.

Dar-El shrugged. "Very well. It seems this lesson is not yet learned."

He leaned down to drag Kal-El to his feet, intending to beat him into submission, when he suddenly noticed Kal-El's eyes were shining with an odd red light. It took but a second for the fire to spread over his clothing. Dar-El cried out, trying unsuccessfully to put out the flames that seemed to be swallowing him whole. He collapsed to the ground, rolling furiously over the wet grass until the fire finally went out.

He remained lying on the soaked earth, panting harshly, welcoming the dampness seeping through his clothes. Looking down at himself, he realized his clothes had burnt to mere scraps, but his skin remained unblemished. Apparently, he was invulnerable to fire.

It was only then, as he glanced around, that he noticed Kal-El had vanished, taking advantage of Dar-El's distress. Obviously, his young cousin had some hidden talents. So be it. Things between them were far from over; he would find Kal-El and show him the error of his ways.

Clark had no idea where he was, nor did he care. The ground was dry and no one was around. That was all he had realized before falling to his knees, his hands on his neck, helplessly succumbing to the pain.

It was probably not the worst pain he'd ever been in, but it scared him more than anything – maybe except losing his sight -- because it wasn't caused by kryptonite. The only time he ever got hurt was because of the green meteorites or mutants -- that was a constant in his life, like the fact that once he was away from the green rocks and mutants the pain would stop. But now... What if this pain never stopped? What if...?

He tried to rein in his panicked mind. Tried to calm down and think through the pain. But it wasn't easy. Every breath hurt, every swallow was agony. 'Then don't breathe!' his inner voice told him, sounding a lot like Chloe. He grimaced. He could just imagine her making that joke. But maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. He could go a while without breathing, after all; not forever, but longer than the average human. Now was probably a good time to use this special ability.

Cutting back on breathing and swallowing was actually reducing the pain a little, as was refraining from touching his throat. When he had felt around his neck earlier, he'd been surprised to find no outward damage. He had expected to find his throat dented, and his Adam's apple crushed. But it was just extremely sensitive to his touch, as if it would dissolve under his fingers at any moment. He almost wished that it would. He was so tired.

This couldn't happen, could it? First losing his sight and now this. Maybe if he just lay down, maybe then he'd wake up in his bed and everything would just turn out to be a nightmare. Dar-El, Lana.

'Lana!' With a sob, he curled in on himself. Making a sound aggravated his throat again. The pain flared, but he almost welcomed it now. Punishment for failing Lana, for not avenging her.

"Why?" he started to ask as though a deity might be listening, but the question never made it to his lips. There was no comparison to the agony that exploded in his throat as he began to form the word. Like all consuming lava it ran through his whole body. It left nothing behind, no thoughts, no awareness – not even darkness.

At the ringing of the telephone, Lex looked up with a slight scowl from the lead box he was holding. If this was Nell Potter again, asking after Lana... It wasn't that he didn't understand Nell's worry, and he did care for Lana. He saw her as a sort of friend, really, but right now he was more concerned about Clark – as he was at any given time, actually.

He grabbed the phone. It wasn't Nell, but one of his informants, telling him that Daryl Strand had returned to LuthorCorp. No clues about where the man had been or what he had done, except that he had worn a different set of clothes than those he wore when leaving earlier.

Putting down the receiver, Lex stared into space for awhile, mulling over the implications. Why would anyone change clothes before returning to his apartment? His misspent youth gave him some ideas: Because the old clothes were spoiled beyond saving, dirty or bloody, maybe having semen on them or holes in them, all in all telling too much about what he had been doing. Or he'd just grabbed the first things lying around... Now, somehow he couldn't believe the last to be Strand’s style. That left the other theories.

He looked back at the box, again hearing Clark's words. 'Those things I always lie about, that no human being could possibly be able to do.' He wondered if Clark realized how much he had admitted with those words. 'All those things, Daryl can do as well.' Remembering the speed with which Clark had left afterwards, that would mean that Strand could have been anywhere although he'd been gone for less than an hour. But what had he been doing? 'He wants me to go away with him.' What if he'd been after Clark? 'All those things, Daryl can do as well.' Surely a fight with Clark would leave marks on his clothes...

Lex breathed deeply, trying to calm down. He was probably jumping to conclusions. For all he knew, Strand had just fallen in the mud and felt embarrassed, or had to change a flat tire -- no matter that he hadn't taken a car. Or... there surely were hundreds of reasons he hadn't thought about. Spilled ice cream, sudden diarrhea...

He was only realizing that he had dialed the Kents' number, when he heard the ringing. He glanced at his watch. It was late; the farmers would already be asleep, unless something had kept them awake. Lex mentally shrugged. He'd deal with Jonathan's anger, if he had to. It was something he was used to, after all. And he could always say he called because of Lana.

-"Clark?"- the worry in Martha Kent's voice multiplied his own fear tenfold.

"No, I'm sorry. It's Lex." 'Very smooth, Lex,' he admonished himself, but then he hadn't expected Clark to be missing. Hurt, and therefore unavailable – yes. But missing? "What happened, Mrs. Kent?" Not that he really expected an answer, but Martha surprised him.

-"I guess you heard about Lana,"- she began.

"Of course."

-"He went out to look for her, but that was hours ago,"- she said, and from her tone, Lex knew that she was afraid Clark had found the girl, hurt or worse.

"I could go and see if I can find him," he suggested immediately, wishing he had taken Lana's disappearance more seriously. But his first impulse had been to check if the Talon was missing money again. After all, Lana had run away with a new boyfriend once before. He hadn't followed that thought because he'd been preoccupied with Clark and Daryl Strand. Now he began to regret it. He should know by now that whatever else was happening, Lana was one of Clark's priorities. Not to mention that whenever something unfortunate happened in Smallville, she was the prime candidate for a victim, challenged only by Lex himself.

He smiled grimly while listening to Martha trying to talk him out of searching for Clark in the middle of the night. She was right, of course. He didn't know where Clark might be, and could easily miss him in the dark. And maybe his friend would come to the mansion – it wouldn't be the first time after all. He said as much, and finished the call after forcing the promise from her to call him when Clark returned, no matter the time.

He stared at the box of Saint George before him and wondered about destiny, coincidence and lives intertwined. He had always liked the leaden jewel case as a gift from his mother, remembering fondly how she had told him that it was supposed to be made from the saint's armor, but only nowadays did he truly cherish it. He had once given this box to Clark, then it had held Lana's meteorite necklace. Clark had given it to Lana, and finally, not so long ago, after a surprisingly nice talk in the Talon's office about dead parents and childhood memories, she had returned it to him. Smiling, but obviously embarrassed that Clark had given it to her. Or maybe embarrassed that Lex had given it to Clark in the first place?

Maybe both. Lex smirked.

Opening the box, he carefully stroked over one of the two items it held. "He has your powers," he murmured to an absent Clark. "What about your weaknesses?"

January 23rd

He was running down the road. He knew he was running fast, but he didn't seem to get any closer to his goal, which was a car, a wrecked car. His feet seemed to be mired in quicksand, every step took forever, like moving in slow motion. Finally, he reached the car. He ripped off the roof and looked into the accusing face of a dark haired girl.

"It's dangerous to be near you. People get hurt because of you. See. I told you to stay away. Now I'm dead. And it's all your fault!" she said, every word piercing him like a knife.

"I'm sorry," he cried, the words burning in his throat. "I'm so sorry, Mom." Gently he cradled the battered and bloody body in his arms. "It's all my fault. I'm so sorry. Please don't die. Don't leave me."

"It's your destiny, son."

He looked up into the darkened sky, and there between the gravestones stood a tall man, who looked a lot like Clark, except for his long hair.

"I'll choose my own destiny," he shouted, his voice raw with anger and pain.

"You are meant for great things. Do as I say and you will rule the world."

"No!" He jumped up and attacked, but where the man had stood there was nothing but a scarecrow. A bald scarecrow with his face.

"Liar," it said, over and over, "Liar."

He turned away, falling to his knees. In front of him, he saw the inscription of a gravestone: "Lana Lang -- Beloved and betrayed." He looked to the right, another gravestone: "Lillian Luthor." And another: "Martha Kent." And more: "Jonathan Kent." "Chloe Sullivan." "Pete Ross." "Lex Luthor."

He scrambled to his feet, frantically looking for a way out of the cemetery. Rain began to fall. It was thick and red. Drenching him. And there stood Lana, blood all over her face. "Why didn't you save me?"

"I... I..." He wanted to explain, but he couldn't form the words. "I di..."

A distant ringing sound grated on his nerves. He tried to ignore it, but it wouldn't go away, instead the ringing got louder. He looked around for the telephone, then started to look for his cell-phone, but there was no cell-phone. All he could find in his blue flannel shirt was a glowing green pendant. Startled, he threw it away...

His eyes flew open when his hand connected with something solid, then he heard his telephone landing on the floor. Lex grimaced and straightened in his chair. He couldn't remember when he had last fallen asleep at his desk.

-"Hello?"- a low voice said from the ground. It seemed his phone had survived the impact.

He picked it up. "Lex Luthor," he said, discovering to his surprise that his throat hurt as if he had been shouting for hours. Or crying. Pieces of his dream flared to life again. Lana in a car accident, Lana as his mom. He being Clark or Clark being him? 'What a dream.'

It took a moment before he could concentrate on his call. And even longer to really understand what Gabriel Sullivan was telling him. Lana had been found.

"Oh my God, Clark!"

Clark managed a slight, quivering smile for his mother when she rushed to his side the moment he stepped into the kitchen. The smile felt strange on his face and any moment it could dissolve into tears, but he had to try, for her sake.

"Son, what happened to you?"

He guessed his father was talking about his torn and dirty clothes, until his mother added, "Your throat looks like one big bruise, honey. Are you all right?"

So there was some outward sign, after all. He sighed. That at least he could do. When he had woken up in one of the unused sheds, he'd noticed with relief that he could swallow and breathe, with only a minimum of discomfort, but he hadn't been able to get anything more past his lips than groans and sighs. At some point, he had actually begun to laugh silently. Laugh until he cried again.

Was this some kind of trial by the universe? First test out how the alien farmboy copes with being blind, then once he's survived that, take his voice away? What would come next? Deafness? And then, amputation? Actually, it was remembering his blindness that had him calmed down at the end. For not being able to see what was going on had made him vulnerable and helpless in a way that losing his voice didn't. And he had regained his sight after a few days, so the chance was he would get his voice back, too. Right?

He just had to believe it. And then there was the part of him that would gladly give his voice if it meant that Lana were still alive. Tears welled up; he rubbed at his eyes with a mud-stained sleeve.

"Sweetheart?" His mother stroked his cheek gently. "What happened?"

He leaned into her for a second, then walked over to the cupboard and grabbed pen and paper. I can't speak, he wrote. Lana is dead. Found her near the road. The pen broke in his hand.

"Oh my God." And then he was in his mother's arms, holding her as she held him, crying on each other's shoulders. Only a moment later, another set of arms surrounded them both.

They stood that way for a while, then his father stepped back, coughing a little. "What happened, son? You look as if you've been in a fight. Has there been another mutant? Or..." His father hesitated. "Did you do this to yourself?"

The last question startled Clark and looking up from his mother's shoulder he could see the same fear in his mom's expression, although it was gone in a flash. How could his parents think that? Then he realized that with Lana disappearing he had never gotten the chance to tell them about Daryl Strand being another alien. And while he had been hurt before by mutants, usually the damage was as good as gone when he returned home. Maybe hurting himself over losing Lana seemed a logical assumption for his parents. Breaking away from the hug, he could only mutely shake his head.

His father breathed in silent relief. "Then what..." he started again, but was interrupted by the phone ringing. He glared at it, then took up the receiver. "Kent farm."

"That's probably Lex," his mother whispered. "He was worried about you."

But it wasn't Lex, as his hearing told him, but a crying Chloe, passing on the news that Lana had been in a car accident. A part of Clark was relieved that he didn't have to go back, but another part resented the men who had found her and were now touching her, seeing in Lana nothing but another job to be done.

A hesitant knock sounded at the kitchen entrance. Before his parents could say anything, Clark was already opening the door. 'He's still wearing yesterday's clothes.' The thought raced through Clark's brain as he looked at Lex, getting a once over from his friend as well.

Lex's eyes widened for a moment as he took in Clark's appearance, but then there was only compassion and sympathy in his gaze. "I just heard," he said simply, his arms slightly opened as if offering an embrace.

Clark didn't think, just let his instincts take over. He didn't know what he was doing or why, just that he needed more than a hug. So instead of hugging Lex, he grabbed his friend's hand and pulled him out of the door, away from the house, towards his loft.

Lex allowed himself to be dragged to the barn, somewhat bemusedly. He hadn't expected Clark to be back, or to react as he did to Lex's presence. After Gabe Sullivan had called and still without word on Clark's whereabouts, Lex had decided to take action, even if it was just to badger the Kents for more information about their son's state of mind before he went missing.

Seeing Clark alive and well – even if visibly bruised and battered -- was an enormous relief. It had brought home to him, once again, just how much he cared for his strong, stubborn, aggravating, brave, sweet friend. It also made Lex realize his first reasoning had been right; Clark had obviously been in a fight. Knowing that his friend was virtually invincible and that Strand shared that trait, it didn't take a genius to understand what must have happened.

They stood in silence for a timeless moment in the middle of the loft, a mere hair's breadth away from each other. Clark fidgeted awkwardly. Evidently, whatever impulse had driven him to bring Lex to his Fortress of Solitude had only taken him this far.

Almost of its own volition, Lex's hand came up to touch Clark's bruised throat gently. He knew that such a devastating jab would have instantly killed a normal human being. "Does it hurt?"

Instead of the expected reply, Clark shook his head, then shrugged. Lex took it to mean that it did hurt, but not unbearably so. Still, Lex frowned. Why hadn't Clark spoken aloud? In a flash, the answer came to him and he had to fight the urge to growl.

"You can't speak, can you?" Lex asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the anger out of his voice. The misery in Clark's eyes was all the answer he needed. "Was it Strand? What happened?"

Lex was completely unprepared for the rush of images the question engendered inside his mind. He gasped as he suddenly found himself in a deserted field with Strand, the ground wet and slippery beneath his feet as he poured his rage and sorrow into every blow aimed at the other man. He could almost feel every punch inflicted, every strike endured.

Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the images cleared and he was back in the loft, Clark's hands on his arms the only thing holding him up.

"I'm okay," he panted, responding to the unasked question in Clark's eyes. "I just... For a moment it was almost like I was there, as if I was the one fighting with Strand." Lex looked at Clark. "Did... Did he try to take you away?"

Clark shook his head and another image appeared, this time not so overpowering. It was of a car wreck and Lex could distinctly see the motionless body of a woman inside. This vision was also frighteningly familiar, reminding him acutely of the nightmare he'd had earlier, with Lana featuring as his mother. He suddenly wondered if there wasn't more to it than a mere dream. He didn't really believe in coincidences, and finding out Lana had died in a car wreck after just dreaming about it was too close for comfort. Especially when there was this strange thing happening between him and Clark.

"Strand killed her," he guessed and Clark nodded again. "I'm sorry, Clark. I know how much Lana meant to you."

Clark's eyes shimmered with unshed tears and this time he did hug Lex, squeezing him as tight as he dared and hiding his face against Lex's neck.

"It's going to be okay, Clark," Lex promised, embracing his friend tightly. He hesitated for a brief moment, then forged ahead. "Listen, I know you don't want me to go near Strand, but we have to do something. Do you know if he's... allergic to the meteor rocks?"

Clark pulled back enough to look at him, and Lex smiled slightly at his friend's surprised expression. "I'm not stupid, Clark. You've said it yourself -- I've seen you do many things no human being could possibly do. I have also seen you... react badly to the meteor fragments on several occasions. So, will they affect him the same way?"

Clark shrugged, then nodded.

"You're not sure, but it probably will," Lex translated. "I guess we'll find out soon enough. That might be our trump card. Although, how do we use it on him without harming you? It might prove tricky." He looked back at his dejected friend, realizing how much Clark must be hurting. "Clark, I want you to move in with me until this is over." 'Longer, if I have any say in it,' he added silently to himself.

Clark shook his head vehemently, eyes widening fearfully.

Lex frowned. "Why not?"

A new image came to him, of Clark's parents.

Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "You know, this new level of weirdness is unbelievable, even by Smallville standards." Seeing Clark's confusion, he asked, "You have no idea what's happening, do you?" At Clark's continued look of bemusement, Lex said, "Somehow you're projecting images into my mind. I saw your fight with Strand, Lana's wrecked car, your parents just now. And earlier today, I had this dream... I dreamt Lana died in a car accident, and in some parts of it, I had the distinct feeling I wasn't myself, more like I was you or vice-versa. I'm not sure what's going on, but it seems like a side-effect of your inability to speak."

He decided to put that aside for now. There was nothing he could do about it and, as Clark's still blank expression told him, this was new. Lex turned his attention to other matters.

"You don't want to leave your parents alone," he understood, pacing the loft. "How about this: I'll have two meteorite necklaces made for them, like the one Lana used to have. They can be ready tomorrow. In the meantime, I can have some of my security people guard the farm, all of them carrying a piece of meteor, all of them warned to look out for a mutant." When Clark still seemed to hesitate, Lex persisted. "If you're not happy with that solution, we can always have them visit some relatives, or I can find some far away place for them to stay. Whatever you want, Clark. I just... I need to have you close."

Clark gazed at him for such a long time, Lex had to resist the urge to fidget. Finally, Clark nodded and hugged him again with a soft sigh. When they broke apart, Clark brushed his fingers over Lex's cheek tenderly. 'Thank you,' he mouthed.

"You're more than welcome," Lex replied. "Clark, there's something else. After I got the call from Chloe's father about Lana, I called Nell. Sheriff Adams suspects foul play. She's launched an investigation into Lana's death. You and your parents have to decide what to tell her. I know you want Strand to pay for what he did, but the local law enforcers are not prepared to deal with someone like him. The safest thing for everyone would be for you to say you went looking for Lana, but didn't find her." At Clark's frustrated scowl, Lex added, "He's not getting away with this, I promise. You and I will find a way to stop him. But if we let Sheriff Adams and her deputies go after Strand, things could get messy. Don't forget he's currently under my father's protection. By noon today, Strand will have such an airtight alibi, no one will be able to contest it."

Lex waited while Clark looked out the window, his gaze lost in the green fields surrounding the farm. Finally, Clark's tense shoulders slumped and he nodded. He turned to Lex, expression fierce.

'Promise me,' he mouthed.

Lex knew what he meant. "I promise, Clark. We will get Strand. We'll make him pay for what he did. Together."

It was a promise Lex had every intention of keeping. Not so much for Lana, although her death did pain him, but because he would do anything for Clark. He had once told Clark he would do anything to protect his friends. That was nothing compared to what he was willing to do for someone he loved.

Lionel closed his laptop with a frustrated sigh. He had spent hours online and on the phone, chasing contacts, calling in favors, all for naught. There was no record of Daryl Strand anywhere in the system, not matching the age and description of his new bodyguard, anyway. Which, of course, made it clearer than ever that the man was using an alias.

Usually, that wouldn't be a problem. Strand wasn't the only individual with a shady past on his payroll; in fact, Lionel often preferred it that way. Having blackmail material on the people that worked for him was a way of keeping them loyal. But he had been unable to discover Strand’s real name. Nor had he found any dirt on the man, or the reason why he had resorted to using a fake name in the first place. And that just wouldn't do.

Knowing about Strand’s mutant powers simply wasn't enough. Of course, there was always the woman that Strand had killed yesterday morning. One of his people was already in Smallville, gathering evidence. If Strand ever thought of betraying him or turning against him, that evidence would find its way to the police, anonymously. But Lionel wanted more. He would have to keep an eye on his new employee. Lionel had no doubt that he would eventually discover Strand’s secrets.

Following Strand was obviously out of the question. The man assigned to watch him last night had attempted to do just that. He had reported back saying that after trailing his charge a block or so, Strand had all but disappeared into thin air. Considering all the things Lionel had heard about the Smallville mutants, that wasn't too surprising. That Strand had returned less than an hour later wearing different clothes was just another piece in the puzzle.

His eyes fell on the messages littering his desk. Eric Summers had called again, several times by the look of things. The boy was becoming troublesome, with his constant phone calls and demands to see him. There was no denying the subject interested him – all things Clark Kent did -- but he would be the one calling the shots, not Summers. Letting the teenager stew for a few days, taking him down a peg or two, would make him more pliable when the time came to press him for further information. Perhaps next week he would finally return one of the boy's calls.

He opened a file, skimming over the data collected on Summers. Apparently the boy had developed superpowers over night, and had been dubbed Super Boy by the local media in Smallville, before he had gotten out of control. After a confrontation with the police he had been arrested, a judge later sentenced him to Belle Reve. But evidently he was still causing trouble; two deaths had occurred in the establishment in the last few weeks, both teenagers Summers had associated with. Van McNulty's death had been pronounced a sports accident, but no one was quite sure how Ian Randall's body had ended up in a restricted part of the institution with a broken neck.

He wondered if Lex had had any contact with the three teenagers during his stay at Belle Reve, if he might know what had led to the death of two of them. Once again he regretted his haste to have Lex 'cured'. To learn that Lex had been aware of Clark Kent's secret only after the treatment had been administered and it was too late... It begged the question of what else Lex might have learned during his stay in that madhouse.

Be that as it may, Lionel would definitely pursue this affair, if for no other reason than because it might bring him closer to understanding the mystery that was Clark Kent. And since it always paid to be prepared, he would have someone look into the lives of Van McNulty and Ian Randall. When he finally confronted Summers, he would have his facts straight.

The ringing of his cell-phone brought him back from his musings. "Lionel Luthor."

-"It's Beacon, sir."-

"Of course it is," Lionel drawled, annoyed. "This had better be good, Beacon."

-"It is, Mr. Luthor. It's about the girl that was killed yesterday..."-

"What about her?"

-"It was Lana Lang, sir. I thought you should know."-

Beacon was still talking, but Lionel was no longer listening. Lana Lang. Strand had killed Lana Lang. He resisted the urge to laugh aloud at the irony. Not that he had wanted the girl dead – she was no Chloe Sullivan, after all -- but Miss Lang was close to both Lex and Clark, and this tragedy was certain to shake the very foundations of their little group. Too bad he wouldn't be there in person to see it.

He leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh. Of course, he could always tell Beacon to phone daily reports in. It wouldn't be the same, but he would still get to hear all about Lana Lang's grieving friends and relatives. He would have to call Nell, and offer his condolences, feigned as they may be. It was a shame she was involved with someone at present; he wouldn't have minded consoling her in her time of need.

A slow smile creased his face as he gave the daily reports further thought. Yes, that sounded like a good idea. A very good idea, indeed.

January 28th

Lana's funeral was held five days later. With no clues as to what had really happened, no eyewitnesses and no suspects, the body had been released the day before, and Lex, along with a very distraught Nell, had made all the necessary arrangements.

The day was damp and gray; perfect for a funeral. Lex glanced briefly at the gathered crowd, wondering if there was anyone in Smallville not attending the gloomy burial. He remained with the Kents, sharing a sympathetic nod with Nell, while Clark silently offered his support to Chloe and Pete.

Very few people had been told about Clark losing his voice, most of them assuming he was in shock due to Lana's death. Lex didn't know what Clark's parents had told Chloe and Pete -- or Sheriff Adams, for that matter -- but he had seen Chloe give Clark more than one suspicious look, which meant the excuse hadn't been all that convincing.

Then again, this was Chloe. She could smell a lie from a mile away, especially when Clark was involved. Lex wouldn't be surprised if she knew more than she let on. Thankfully the bruising around Clark's neck had taken less than a day to disappear, leaving no visible trace of his fight with Strand. The last thing they needed was for Sheriff Adams to suspect Clark of being involved.

Clark had spent the last few days at the mansion with Lex. Getting the Kents, especially Jonathan, to accept that move had been anything but easy. The man was determined to see Lex as an enemy, and although they had had their ceasefires in the past, those never lasted long. This time they had nearly come to physical blows, the discussion rapidly becoming a shouting match. That Clark couldn't speak, and thus help out, had only made things worse.

It had taken Martha's even temper to calm everyone down. Then the biggest surprise: Clark had spent several minutes scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper, before handing the note around for all of them to read. It was then that Lex learned Clark's parents hadn't known about Strand’s abilities, his blood relationship to Clark, or anything else that had been happening. And Lex himself had finally discovered Strand’s real name: Dar-El.

Jonathan had thrown another tantrum about Lex having been told parts of the truth about Clark – and Dar-El -- but once he had calmed down, he grudgingly admitted that perhaps it would be better for all involved if Clark didn't have to spend his every waking moment worrying about them. Especially after being told what had really happened to Lana, and after hearing Lex pointing out to Clark that he didn't need to tear himself apart trying to protect everyone close to him. He would need to focus all his energy on stopping his cousin.

So Clark had packed a small bag and taken residence in one of the mansion's many available rooms, right next door to Lex's, in fact. Communication between them had been remarkably easy, partly because Lex seemed to have an almost empathic link with Clark, and partly because Clark's projected images kept popping into Lex's mind at the oddest of times. They still didn't know what to do about Dar-El, but both had agreed the meteor rocks were probably their best option.

As for the Kents, they had refused to leave Smallville and go into hiding, wanting to remain as close to their son as possible. Compromises had been made on both sides. Jonathan and Martha now wore meteorite necklaces – which were kept in a lead box whenever Clark came to visit – and two of Lex's security men were watching the farm. Both men were passing as hired hands – a necessary smokescreen to fool the rest of Smallville – and helping Jonathan with the workload. Hopefully their combat training would be enough against a meteorite-weakened Dar-El.

Daily phone calls were also obligatory, something Lex could have gone without. Since Clark still couldn't speak, Lex was the one who had to deal with Jonathan. The man's constant nagging about his son's health and general well-being -- while understandable – grated on his nerves. Lex didn't like being interrogated, and Jonathan's harsh tone and obvious vexation at having to speak with a 'Luthor' made Lex want to shove the farmer head first into a pile of manure.

He felt Clark stiffen beside him and looked at his friend. Clark's eyes were focused beyond the crowd. Following his gaze, Lex spotted Dar-El leaning against a gravestone, calmly observing the proceedings. He had to give Dar-El credit – he had balls. Seeing Clark ready to move, Lex placed a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head at Clark's quizzical look.

It wouldn't do to have a confrontation now, with all of Smallville watching. Later, though, Lex promised himself. Later.

One month later
February 28th

The field was dark and yet the gravestones stood out clearly. He was kneeling on wet ground, his hands wrist deep in mud. He could see feet around him and knew that their owners were angry, disapproving and disappointed. He heard their voices and accusations and guiltily accepted them for the truth. He was afraid to look up, afraid to see into the faces he loved. As he felt every word piercing him, he forced himself to continue listening.

"It's dangerous to be near you. You got me hurt. You killed my parents. You killed me." That was Lana.

"I asked you to take care of her, and what did you do? You let her get killed!" Now that sounded like Whitney.

It was the proof he needed to know that this wasn't his dream, but Clark's, since the accusations meant nothing to him. Once again he found himself caught in one of Clark's nightmares, and a part of him got irritated about the force with which his young friend clung to his guilt. Unjustified guilt at that.

As he had done before, Lex managed to separate himself from Clark's subconscious and became a bystander, watching the dream unfold. It had been disconcerting, to say the least, when it had happened the first time, but it was in the nature of dreams that you had the freedom to be both at the same time, the protagonist and an uninvolved observer. This was just taking it to the extreme.

Calculating, he watched the persons surrounding a kneeling Clark. Lana, Whitney, the Kents, a second Clark – who looked different, somehow meaner – and then Lex himself. Immediately after seeing himself Lex's perspective changed, and now he was standing in the semi-circle of accusers, looking down at a beautiful manchild. Clark wore the drowned rat look extremely well and Lex felt himself falling in love again. Then Clark looked up and Lex's point of view changed once more.

He saw himself, pathetic looking in hospital scrubs, and felt the guilt that was choking Clark into silence. Even here in his dreamworld his friend couldn't speak.

Anger welled up in Lex, or maybe it was Clark's anger, buried deeply but let loose by frustration -- whomever it belonged to, Lex took it and used it. Once again he separated from Clark and became his own person, but this time he didn't just watch. This time he acted.

There was a golf club in his hand and the image of Lana was the first to feel its impact. She burst into a cloud of dust after the second hit and Lex stared at her remains passionlessly. "It's dangerous to be you, Lana," he told the dust. "You'd have been dead three times over if not for Clark rescuing you again and again. He couldn't be there this time. Deal with it."

A wave of shocked surprise enfolded him and for a moment he saw himself standing in the cemetery, dressed in black, a fierce look on his face. He ignored it and turned towards Whitney. Wielding his golf club like a sword he cut the ex-quarterback in two, interrupting his litany. "She was your girl, jock. It was your job to protect her, but you went off to play soldier. Nobody let her down but you." Satisfied, he watched the two halves turn to dust.

"He left me." A shaking hand came into view and Lex looked at his own face. Paler than he could ever remember being, bloody tears running down his cheeks. "He lied to me. Over and over. And then he left me in their hands. They drove me crazy and he let them do it. He knew we weren't crazy and he never told us. He betrayed us."

Lex nodded. "But he also saved us and stood by us. And I happen to love him." With that he hit his mirror image and watched, mesmerized, as his head vanished into the night and his body crumbled. 'I guess that I feel kind of free now says a lot about me that I don't want to know,' Lex mused before looking towards Clark on the ground. "You know that would have come across so much better if I hadn't sounded like Gollum."

Amusement rippled through the dreamscape, but died down as Clark looked away from him towards his parents. Lex swallowed. His job wasn't done yet.

Facing the Kents was hard. He didn't mind so much hitting Jonathan, since he knew this to be nothing but an image, and the farmer's words about "Clark being a failure and a monster falling in with the evil Luthors" were fueling his fury quite nicely, but Martha was a different thing. She stood there with a disapproving scowl and tears in her eyes, holding onto a baby that Lex knew was dead. "You killed my baby," she said and Lex couldn't tell if she was accusing him or Clark. For a moment they were both the same person again. "You killed your brother."

"No! It was an accident!" It was him shouting and waving the club, but it was his and Clark's pain combined that swapped everything away in that moment and left them stranded on an island. Ignoring the pounding waves he could hear but not see, Lex crawled to where Clark was sitting and took his friend's face between his hands. Clark was crying.

"It wasn't your fault, Clark," he said while kissing the tears away. "Not the baby, not Lana. Nothing. They are just demons, not real persons. Ignore them. You aren't a failure and you are human, no matter what you can do." Another kiss, this time on the lips. "And I love you, E.T.."

A smile appeared on Clark's face and the waves around them quietened. "Love you, too," he said, and then his expression changed from happy to surprised. "I can spea..."

It was the last thing Lex got from the dream before a wave of disappointment woke him up.

Dar-El watched the Kent farm from afar. It was too early even for the most dutiful farmer to be up yet, so everything lay in darkness and silence. It would be easy to go into the house and grab one of the Kents, take them, maim them, kill them, do whatever he wanted. But there was no point to it.

Despite Kal-El calling these humans 'Dad' and 'Mom' it seemed obvious that Dar-El's first thought had been right, that these humans were nothing more than privileged servants to his young cousin. How else could it be explained that Kal-El had abandoned them at the first sign of trouble to hide at the residence of Lex Luthor? After his own threat against Kal-El's loved ones and his cousin's violent and emotional reaction to the death of that girl, Lana Lang, Dar-El had expected Jor-El's son to get his human parents to safety or at least prowl their homestead to protect them, but nothing of the sort had happened. So it stood to reason that these humans would not be a useful lever.

Lex Luthor though... Dar-El had barely started that train of thought when he found himself in front of the Luthor mansion. As before, he wondered why Kal-El would seek refuge here. The security might be enough to stop ordinary people, but would not be able to hinder him from coming and going as he pleased, if he were so inclined.

Curiously, he let his gaze wander over the wall to where he knew Lex Luthor's bedroom to be. With an ease that belied the difficulties he had had to get it under control he switched to his enhanced sight and focused. The wall disappeared and he could see two skeletons on a bed. He scowled, for he did not doubt that the second person there was his cousin. It took all of his willpower to not storm into the building and kill the human. How could that creature dare to touch what was Dar-El's? His anger needing an outlet, he left and ran into the woods, where he destroyed a dozen trees before he calmed down.

So maybe it wasn't refuge Kal-El was looking for, but sexual relief, and maybe he was in the mansion to protect his human friend. It was possible. But it could also be that there was more to Lex Luthor than his father believed, and that Kal-El was buying the human's loyalty with sexual favors in hope that Lex Luthor would find a way to get rid of Dar-El. That would have been Jor-El's tactic and the possibility could not be ignored.

For the first time Dar-El could relate to Lionel Luthor's frustration about his inability to collect information about his son's doings. From what he had heard, it had been Lionel Luthor's standard procedure to install surveillance equipment in his son's home and bribe his servants. But for the last month that procedure had not worked. The servants were loyal to a fault and all spying equipment installed and hidden by the best of burglars was almost instantly discovered.

Of course, Dar-El could have told his employer that with his special abilities -- which the young man called Clark Kent certainly shared – a microphone or camera was easily detected, as was the speeding up of a heartbeat when lying, but that was not in his own interest. It was more than enough that Lionel Luthor knew about his strength, speed and invulnerability to almost everything; it would put him at a clear disadvantage to give away his other powers. Especially since Lionel Luthor also knew of his reaction to the green meteorite fragments.

Nothing before had frightened Dar-El like the pain and weakness he had suddenly felt after Luthor had opened a small vault in one of his laboratories. Horrified, he had looked at the green glowing stones and his green veins and arteries suddenly standing out on his skin. That he was not as unassailable as he had thought had forced him to reconsider and adapt his plans. Finding a way to overcome his reaction to the stones was important, and so he had gone along with Lionel Luthor's suggestion to run experiments on him in hope of getting rid of his weakness, no matter the information Luthor might gather due to the tests.

That parts of his homeworld would be dangerous to him here on Earth had been a shock, but also a telling experience. It had led him to the realization that not only he and his cousin but everything Kryptonian was affected by the yellow sun and thus different or more powerful in what it was able to do than if it had been back home.

At this thought he grabbed his bag and pulled out the almost tetrahedral crystal he had brought with him from Siberia. For a moment he remembered his journey. He could have run to his ship and back in less than a day, without anyone knowing he had left the country, or even the city. But he had preferred to officially take three days off from work and take his time. He smiled. He had found three graves where he had left three corpses, and had briefly wondered who had found them. Then, dismissing that as unimportant, he had returned to his ship, finding it buried under snow but otherwise untouched.

It was easy to free it and get the crystal. Before, it had been an integral part of the artificial intelligence and power transfer of his ship, but now – if his calculations were correct – it would fulfill quite a different purpose. With a smile on his face he ran back to Metropolis.

'It was just a dream,' was Clark's second thought, after awakening and not being able to get the word 'speak' out. Every day he hoped for his voice to return and every day went by without it happening. Maybe it was time to accept his fate and stop waiting for a miracle. He rubbed his eyes and swallowed to keep his tears at bay.

The mattress dipped and then Lex was leaning over him, one hand on his shoulder, the other on his cheek. His expression was worried, his eyes tired but inquiring about Clark's state of mind nevertheless. Remembering his dream, Clark had to smile. Lex – his hero. Always there when he needed him. Protecting him, even in his dreams.

"Are you all right, Clark? That was quite an intense nightmare there."

He nodded and his smile widened as he realized that he actually felt fine. Not perfect, but definitely better, somehow lighter, if that made any sense. His emotions obviously made it across to his friend, because he could feel Lex relax in the way he put more weight on Clark and repositioned his hand from Clark's cheek to his chest. His naked chest. A shiver ran through Clark at the contact. Immediately Lex withdrew his hand, but Clark grabbed his wrist and placed the hand once more on his chest. Directly over his pounding heart. Their gazes locked.

"Are you sure?" Lex asked, with eyes that seemed to darken while Clark was watching.

Clark nodded, his hand wandering from Lex's wrist upwards to his shoulder, marvelling at the way it seemed to mold into his palm. For the better part of a month they had slept together, because after being awakened seven nights in a row by Clark's nightmares, Lex had decided that while he didn't mind offering comfort to Clark, he did mind having to get up every night for that very reason. So, since Lex's bed was the larger one, Clark had begun to share it, and though there had been moments of sexual awareness, the sparks had been easily extinguished by Clark's mourning and gloom. But today was different, today he wanted the sparks to become a fire.

As if reading his mind, and maybe he did – Clark was never sure what images he was sending to his friend -- Lex leaned down and kissed him. A chaste kiss at first, nibbling at Clark's lips, teasing his mouth open with his tongue, testing his welcome. As if there was any doubt.

Clark threw himself wholeheartedly into the kiss, trying to get his willingness and readiness across with the one thing he had at least a little experience with. Okay, so he was no stranger to blowjobs, but being on the receiving end was one thing... For a second he flashed back to his wild months in Metropolis, which had been less wild in sexual ways than most people thought, due to Jor-El's 'gift' of a scar that began to hurt whenever one of Kal's acquaintances had touched it. It had really cramped his style.

"Clark? Second thoughts?" Lex's question drew him back from the memory and he silently cursed himself and Lex's sensitivity.

He shook his head, but could see his friend wasn't convinced. He needed more drastic measures. Pulling Lex down for another kiss, he then rolled them around so that he was on top and immediately began to smother Lex with kisses to his face first and then to his chest, reflecting for a moment how practical it was that they both slept with only boxer shorts on.

"Okay, okay, I believe you." Lex's laughter was like jumping into a cool lake on a hot day, joyful as well as cleansing and Clark was smiling so wide that his kisses became more and more nose-bumps, which, of course, made Lex laugh all the harder. Finally Clark gave up and just rolled onto his back, laughing silently himself, too amused to be embarrassed.

After his laughter had died down, Lex sat up and, still smirking, looked down at Clark, his eyes dark blue pools in which Clark wanted to drown – hungry eyes.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" Lex asked, a hunter playing with his prey. Clark didn't mind. He nodded, swallowing hard, but not in fear. Then Lex leaned down and began to devour him and Clark stopped thinking.

He hadn't known that his throat being licked was a turn on, that his nipples were sensitive to the lightest touch, or that a tongue in his belly button would make him writhe in pleasure. And he had never imagined that someone mouthing his cock through his boxers could count as torture and that he was a masochist to want it to continue.

Neither had he expected he would follow a huskily spoken order of "turn around" so promptly that he nearly threw the speaker from the bed. If not for Lex's chuckle and his chest pressed against Clark's back the mood would surely have been broken, but instead it just sent another shiver through Clark.

"So eager," Lex said into his ear. "So perfect." That was followed by a kiss to his neck that became a myriad of sensations as Lex's lips wandered down his spine and touched an especially sensitive place. Clark bucked in surprise at the unequalled pleasure that raced through him, panting from it.

"Whoa." That came from Lex, who doubtlessly had felt at least a part of his excitement through that strange link they shared. "I think this area deserves a thorough investigation."

'He's going to kill me,' Clark thought as Lex went through his 'investigation', which led to the statement that the spot was directly opposite Clark's belly button -- a fact that Lex obviously found very fascinating – but mainly meant that Lex would not let it be untouched for a second. Lips, tongue, even teeth, and fingers pressing, thumbs massaging. Clark lost count of what was happening as wave after wave of pleasure ran through him, making him buck and writhe in ecstasy and pant for breath.

As it was, the sound he was making wasn't even close to a name but the clearest tone that had come from his throat since losing his voice – or maybe ever. An image of Lex surrounded by a brilliant light appeared in his mind then everything seemed to explode into thousands of colors and for a moment Clark knew what it meant to be able to fly, unbound and unburdened. Then he knew nothing at all.

Lex returned to awareness slowly, trying to match the feeling of lassitude and joy to an activity, and on deciding that it had to have been great sex, realized that 'yes,' his sticky boxer shorts fit the theory. Opening his eyes, he smiled against the slightly wet back he was using as a pillow and licked at the sweat. Sweet. He licked again. Definitely sweet, if not overly so.

Muscles rippled in reaction to his doings, and his smile became a smirk as he swept his tongue over his partner's spine before sitting up and truly taking stock. Fondly, Lex looked down at Clark, who seemed to be still mostly on the knocked out side of things, not knowing what he had done. And how amazing he really was. Or how lucky Lex thought himself to be to have Clark's friendship and love.

'My beautiful alien.' If he'd still had any doubt left it would have been gone now. Although neither Clark nor his parents had ever used the A word, Lex had suspected for a while that this lay at the core of his friend's secrets. After all, Clark had been his favorite puzzle for three years, and there had certainly been enough pieces around for Lex to collect and put together. Dar-El and the nightmares were a kind of last clue that Lex – and no doubt everyone else – could have lived without.

Judging by his groan and fluttering eyelashes, it seemed Clark was on his way back to consciousness. His lips almost touching Clark's right ear, Lex whispered into it, "Earth to Clark, can you hear me?"

"Uh?" Glassy blue-green looked at him uncomprehendingly. And Lex decided that tousled, sleepy Clark would be able to get anything he wanted from him if he asked. 'Note to self: never mention that to him or you'll be whipped.' He sighed. 'Even more.'

"Earth to E.T.. Wake up, Loverboy. It's time to call home." A look at his alarm clock told Lex that it was indeed almost time to call the Kents, unless he wanted to risk Jonathan appearing on his doorstep with a pitchfork and freshly polished platitudes. And probably some new names for the 'resident evil' if he found said evil and his son in the same bed. It really would be better to call in soon; the man was getting more impatient as day by day went by without anything happening.

Clark blinked and then sat up so quickly that Lex nearly fell off the bed, just as a mixture of insecurity, horror and wonder flooded his mind. Clark's memories of recent events were obviously a little scrambled and he instinctively expected the worst. Lex smiled inwardly. He had been in his friend's place on more than one occasion, but since alcohol hadn't been part of what had happened, he fully expected the teenager to get everything into order soon. Finally the panicked look vanished and changed to shy as Clark looked at him inquiringly.

"Morning. And yes, you were fantastic." Lex couldn't resist the tease, and the blush that was heightening Clark's cuteness tenfold was fully worth the tumble from the bed afterwards when Clark attacked him. "Uh!" The boy was breathtaking -- literally.

'Sorry.' Clark immediately lifted himself from Lex and knelt beside him, his gaze running over Lex's body like a scanner, which probably meant he was being x-rayed.

"I'm okay, Clark. Don't worry." Lex grinned and lightly cuffed his friend on the forehead. He was delighted to see the carefree teenager reappear from beneath the depressed young man of late, and wanted it to stay that way.

Clark looked up and grinned, then pointed at Lex's crotch, mouthing, 'You came.'

"Yes." Lex smirked. "And without even being touched. It gives a totally new definition to the phrase 'mind-blowing sex'."

Pride and insecurity. Lex had gotten pretty good in interpreting his friend's emotions. So, it seemed his beloved wasn't sure he meant it. Sitting up he gently cupped Clark's face and looked into his eyes.

"It was not what I expected, I admit that, but it was great. I felt what you felt and your orgasm almost literally blew me into orbit. It was wonderful, it was perfect. Never doubt that." Once he felt Clark relax and saw the beginning of a smile, he underlined his speech with a kiss as breathtaking as he could make it.

They both smiled as they separated and Lex was about to get up, when he felt his friend freeze, his expression worried and Lex knew exactly what Clark was thinking.

'Do you think others might have felt it, too?'

It was an understandable question, because the first days after Lana's death Clark had somehow 'leaked' his emotions all over Smallville, leaving behind a trail of depressed people, who would suddenly burst into tears for no apparent reason, have nightmares of losing friends and family, or dream of the Luthors or Kents, apparently at random. If not for Chloe putting it on her Wall of Weird, followed by a joint discussion with the Kents and Pete, it would probably have taken them a lot longer to get to the core of the problem and start solving it, but two weeks after LD – Lana's demise – as Lex thought of it, Clark's feelings had begun to mostly stay his own, except for Lex, of course. They weren't sure if it was due to the relaxation techniques Lex had taught his friend or just a kind of natural tempering of that new power, but everyone had been glad when it seemed gone.

The damage control was almost too easy, since the Smallville residents were apparently more than eager to accept Lex's specialists' diagnosis that it had been a sort of mass hysteria in reaction to the traumatic death of Lana Lang, and that it had happened before in some small European village. No one but Chloe had wondered aloud why even people who had only briefly met Lana – if at all – should get depressed over her dying, but then she was prone to ask such questions and the Smallvillians were used to ignoring her. So Lex did too.

'Lex!' He was brought back from his musings by a strong hand grabbing his arm and shaking him lightly. 'Do you...'

"Calm down, Clark." Lex kissed him. "I don't know, but it doesn't matter. It wasn't a nightmare. If anything, most people would be more than happy to be woken up by a feeling like that, believe me."

Clark looked horrified, but the emotion he sensed was more like shame, and Lex wasn't quite sure why. "Hey, no reason to be embarrassed. It's not as if they caught us in the act. Or did you picture us in your mind when it happened?"

'Only you.' Clark blushed. 'Naked.'

Lex grinned. "Then it's really me who should be embarrassed, if they saw anything at all. So why are you turning into a tomato? Or is that a strange form of jealousy?"

'What...' The teenager seemed stunned.

"Maybe we should ask your parents, they would surely know if something leaked. Maybe one of them dreamed of having sex with me?" It wasn't easy to suppress the smirk but Lex was good at it. "We can do it, when I call your father."

A picture of Jonathan with a shotgun appeared in Lex's mind and Clark looked positively panicked. 'You can't ask my father! Are you nuts?'

Ignoring him Lex continued, "I guess it'd be better in person. Though, we probably won't even need to ask. If your father can't look me in the face we'll kno –"

He was interrupted by Clark pouncing on him. 'You bastard! For a moment I really thought...'

Lex laughed at that, which wasn't easy with Clark's whole weight pinning him down, but he couldn't stop it. His friend was just too easy to tease. And then his breath caught as he realized something that had slipped past him before.

"I can hear your thoughts," he said, nearly choking on the words.

Clark stared down at him. 'What?' he mouthed, but Lex could also hear it clearly in his head.

"I can hear your thoughts. Those directed at me anyway. It's not only feelings or pictures anymore. Having sex must have deepened the link." The thought made Lex happy, but he tried to keep that off his face. After all, he wasn't sure how Clark would react to the news. While it made communication between them easier, it probably felt like a loss of privacy, too – though Lex didn't think he could really read Clark's mind -- so he looked at him warily.

His friend's grin and the exuberant 'Cool' he was getting, was a nice surprise and he seconded it, but then Clark's next question hit him right out of the blue. 'Did you call me E.T.?' Clark wanted to know, pouting beautifully.

"Did I?" he asked back, trying to get himself out of that pinch.

'You did.' Fierce nodding. 'Are you comparing me to that...' There was no word coming, but a clear picture of Steven Spielberg's most famous alien. Clark finally seemed to be getting control over the link and especially its latest quirk.

"Of course not. It's short for 'extremely terrific'." Lex tried for an innocent expression. "You're far cuter than that gnome."

'Yeah, sure.' Clark looked at him skeptically. 'I should have a name for you, too,' he mouthed then, and sat back, obviously thinking.

Some stray thoughts made it over to Lex, who didn't really 'listen' to them, but instead enjoyed the way the morning sun reflected on Clark's hair and skin.


Now that one came through loud and clear, and Lex met Clark's gaze briefly. "If I'm a baby, you're an embryo, so you might want to reconsider that. Also, it's not very original."

He went back to watching, wishing he was a sunray and caressing Clark like that, until it occurred to him that there was no reason anymore to not do it. Kicking himself mentally, he reached out and let his hand wander over Clark's belly, up to his chest.

'Hungry Eyes.'

The thought caught him by surprise. "What?"

'That's my name for you.' Clark grinned. 'It fits you. And it is original.'

"It's too long," Lex argued, just because he felt he should. "Nicknames should only have two syllables."

Clark pouted then shrugged. 'You're so special, you need one more, and besides, I could always shorten it to H.E..'

Lex glared.

'Or Blue Eyes,' Clark amended hastily, with lips and thoughts.

Pacified, Lex nodded, and before Clark could come up with something else, he initiated a kiss, which led to more kissing and rolling around on the carpet and hands exploring and bodies rubbing against each other, until the phone rang.

Continue to Part 2