M. Scott Eiland (eilandesq) wrote,
M. Scott Eiland
eilandesq

"Last Rites"

Posted here because FF.net is being wonky



Summary: Lex is present at two funerals.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they
remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Somewhat over three years after the first season
of "Smallville."

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@.hotmail.com) and
let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I
might want to see what else you've got.

Dedication: To Skye, whose recent stories have inspired me to
continue to improve my own.


LAST RITES


Part I


It was a hot July afternoon when they gathered to bury Clark
Kent. Fortunately, the service itself was held inside the Smallville
Community Center, which was at least air conditioned. The Kents had
intended to hold the service in a smaller venue, but the news of
their son's death had produced an outpouring of grief that had their
phone ringing almost constantly in the two days following the public
announcement, and Lex had predictably stepped in and rented the
center. One by one, the mourners filed in: former classmates,
teachers, and other inhabitants of the town who had come to know and
love the shy, handsome young man who had been struck down in such a
senseless way. Those closest to him were gathered in the front row,
visibly taking comfort in each other's company. The exception to
this was Lex, who sat quietly in the rear of the seating area: no
one chose to deprive him of his obvious need for privacy.

When all had arrived, and when the doors had been closed,
Jonathan Kent rose from his seat and addressed the gathering. He
spoke of his son with a quiet, deep pride that was obvious to
everyone listening, telling of how Clark had freely given of himself
to those around him, and how he had planned to continue to do so in
the years following his graduation from Smallville High. Then the
accident, and all of that promise was gone. Jonathan Kent paused for
a moment, swallowed hard, and concluded, "From what I've heard the
last few days, Clark touched all of your lives in some way important
to you. If any of you would like to speak, we would be eternally
grateful to know how it was that he made your life better, even as we
regret that he cannot be here to hear it for himself."

Jonathan sat down, and Chloe stood up, walking to the podium
and staring silently at the open casket and Clark's composed, waxy-
looking face before turning back to the audience and
beginning: "I've known Clark Kent for ten years. Without a doubt,
he is the most fundamentally decent, caring, and frustrating human
being I have ever met. He is the kind of person who would
unhesitatingly put his life at risk for a stranger, then refuse to
admit to his friends that it was a big deal. He was painfully shy
at times, and I really think he didn't have a clue about just how
attractive he was." She took a deep breath, then continued, "I've
been away at Metropolis University for the past year, and the worst
part of it was only being able to talk to Clark occasionally on the
phone and whenever I visited back home. I always told myself that I
would just have to be patient, that he would be there next year and
that there would be time for that then. . .time enough for
everything. I never expected that time would run out so soon."

Chloe blinked rapidly, then left the podium. One by one,
others followed. Lana, who had been in Los Angeles looking for an
apartment for her freshman year at UCLA when the news about Clark
came: the paleness which came from several nights without sleep and
little to eat was a stark contrast to the black dress she wore and
the redness of her eyes. She spoke quietly of Clark's generosity and
the quiet, implacable way that he had managed to win her heart over a
period of years. She omitted her continued confusion and regret
about how he had abruptly broken up with her two months before,
politely but firmly, and how she had in anger refused to speak with
him after that moment. When she stopped, her eyes were dry and her
expression was blank, but her bearing as she walked quietly back to
her seat was one of someone with a weight on her back.

Pete walked up onto the stage: even at eighteen, he still
looked like a freshman, but the events of the last few days had taken
their toll. He cleared his throat, then began to speak, but made the
mistake of looking at the poster sized picture of Clark, which showed
him with a cheerful half-smile and an amused look in his eyes. Pete
broke down, sobbing quietly, and stood there until Whitney-who had
just finished his sophomore year at Michigan State and had been in
town to introduce his fiancée to his mother-quietly walked up and led
Pete back to his seat, where his parents were waiting with helpless
expressions.

For two hours, people walked up to the podium and talked
about Clark. A liquor store owner remembered how Clark had been
nearby when the freak earthquake from two years before had wrecked a
good deal of his store, and how Clark had helped him salvage what he
could from the mess, in addition to cleaning up. Principal Kwan
spoke fondly of a young man who-while not completely immune to the
temptation to misbehave occasionally-was a worthy example to those
around him. Whether it was pulling them out of the flaming wreckage
of a truck, or simply a kind word at a moment when it was really
needed, they remembered him, and most left the podium smiling through
their tears. As time went on, more and more people started glancing
back to where Lex Luthor sat: he seemed to be carved from stone.
When the last person had left the stage, Jonathan Kent, visibly moved
by the warmth displayed by the mourners, walked back up on the stage
and looked out to where Lex was sitting. After a moment, Lex
blinked, then met Jonathan's eyes and shook his head slowly.
Jonathan nodded, then called out, "Thank you all for your attendance
and your thoughts. The graveside service will be in an hour: anyone
who wishes to come is welcome."

Most of the crowd filed out, leaving Clark's parents and
friends to attend to final matters, including arranging the
transportation of the coffin to the cemetery. Lex got up from his
seat and walked in silence to the coffin, reaching into a pocket and
pulling out a small object, pinning it to Clark's collar. Martha
Kent quietly walked over to look at it: it was a loop of gold
trailing off to a slightly open bottom, with a bar passing
perpendicularly through the narrow part of the loop, and a single
large diamond resting at the point where the bar crossed the loop.
She smiled and rested her hand on his shoulder, feeling the tension
there, before asking quietly, "What is it, Lex? I've seen that
somewhere before, I think."

"It's called an ankh." Lex spoke quietly, and Chloe and Lana
drifted closer, sensing that Lex was speaking of something of great
importance to him. Lex looked down at Clark's still form, and
continued, "In ancient Egypt, it was the symbol of life, both in this
world and in the next. My mother told me about it when I was seven,
and it stuck in my head, I guess: the symbol of life for a
civilization that flourished for four thousand years before time and
events finally brought it down. It was a magnificent concept, and I
saw it as a challenge, to do and create things that would endure as
it did." He bowed his head, and whispered, "I thought Clark would be
there, to see them, and to create greatness of his own." He closed
his eyes, then turned away, walking off as the others watched him go
with compassion in their eyes.


* * * * *


The coffin slowly sank into the grave, as the mourners
silently watched. The tombstone was of white marble, and the
engraving on it was succinct:

CLARK KENT

1986-2005

BELOVED SON AND FRIEND


The friends stood, and in turn they each sent one shovel full
of dirt into the grave, watching as it tumbled downward and struck
the polished wood of the coffin. After they had finished, the
service ended and the mourners gathered to pay their respects to the
Kents. Lana saw that Lex was slipping away at the edges of the
crowd, and her mouth set in a thin line as she walked after him and
called out softly, "Lex, are you coming back to the Kents' house with
us?"

Lex turned, and Lana saw that the cold smile that was so
often visible on his face was absent: Lex looked tired, and old. He
blinked, and Lana watched as he visibly composed himself, and he
managed a genuine smile as he replied, "They never wanted me there
when he was alive, Lana: it's only fair that I respect their wishes
now that he's gone." Lana opened her mouth to protest, but Lex shook
his head sadly and concluded, "Let it go, Lana. Go with them, and
remember him. He deserves that." He turned away and walked off,
leaving Lana to shake her head in sadness and frustration.

Lex reached his car, and was about to open the door when he
straightened and sighed, calling out, "Not like you to attend a
funeral you had no part in causing."

"That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" Lex turned, and
Lionel Luthor was standing ten feet away, his limo visible some
distance behind him. The last three years had put a little more gray
in the beard and wrinkles on the face, but the eyes were as intense
as they had always been, and the older man carefully studied his son
before adding quietly, "I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner, Lex.
Even these days, word can be slow to get to Antarctica."

"I'm not sure why you bothered. It's not like you ever asked
to meet Clark, or showed any curiosity about him, for that matter."
Lex's tone was harsh, and the glare he directed at his father was
quite worthy of the elder Luthor as he added, "Unless you include the
private detectives you sent to investigate him and his family, of
course. I'll give you this: at least they were subtle this time."

"Experience has its dividends." Lionel shrugged, and walked
next to Lex. They stood silently for a moment, then Lionel
added, "He was an extraordinary young man, particularly for someone
growing up in a place like this. He was a worthy choice for a right
hand man for you, son. . .he would have been a great asset to the
company."

Lex leaned forward, placing his hands on the car door and
swallowing hard before turning back to his father and
snarling, "Don't you dare! If you think I would have ever put Clark
in a position where you'd ultimately have control over his destiny,
you're deluded-or senile." His expression tightened, and he
concluded contemptuously, "Don't you have any competitor's daughters
to seduce?"

Lionel scowled, then turned away, signaling to his driver as
he stalked back to his car. Lex watched the limo drive off in a
cloud of dust, then shook his head and got into his car, not looking
back at the workers filling in the grave.


* * * * *


Lex's eyes snapped open, and he looked around for a moment,
trying to identify what had awakened him. His eyes fell on a small
blue light next to a doorway: it was flashing slowly and a low hum
was coming from the speaker underneath it. He felt a cold rage fill
him as he quickly dressed and walked over to the door, entering an
access code in the panel next to it. The door lock clicked open, and
Lex walked into a small room containing various items of electronic
equipment. He threw a few switches, and a small screen lit up. Lex
watched intently: the screen remained on, but blank, for five
minutes, and he was beginning to wonder if a gopher had managed to
awaken him from a sound sleep when a bright dot appeared on the
screen. Lex's jaw tightened, and he pressed a few more switches, one
of which triggered a tight-beam radio message to a satellite resting
in geosynchronous orbit. Lex stared at the screen for a moment, then
stood up and went back to bed. The equipment would do its job now,
and when he woke up in the morning, he would know what would have to
be done, and where to do it.


* * * * *

Lex sped along the road, in shock at what he had just
discovered. When he had examined the readings from the equipment, he
had checked the results twice, then driven to a now-familiar location
to confirm a suspicion. What had started as a wild hope now was a
cold certainty, and he was aware that the anger he had felt was still
quite present, though thoroughly entangled with rather different
emotions.

Lex screeched to a stop and got out of his car, walking
quickly towards the front door of the house. The screen door opened,
and Martha Kent stared at the intruder as she called out, "Lex? What
in the world--?"

"Hello, Mrs. Kent? Mind if I come in?" Lex barged past the
stunned woman, his eyes sweeping the room. Nothing seemed to be out
of the ordinary, but he knew better. He heard the footsteps behind
him, and he turned, grinning and calling out, "Mr. Kent. Long time
no see."

Jonathan Kent took a deep breath: whatever issues he had
with Lex, he knew the young man was not at his best right now. He
met Lex's calm stare and suggested, "Lex, why don't we go out to the
barn? There are some things of Clark's there that I know he'd have
wanted you to have."

"Really? And how exactly do you know that, Mr. Kent?" The
Kents both blinked as Lex asked the question in a cheerful,
irreverent voice. Lex frowned and added, "It doesn't seem right,
giving a guy's stuff away without consulting him. . .so why don't you
have him come out here and tell me himself?"

Martha paled, and Jonathan reddened momentarily before
calming himself again and replying in a low, grim tone, "Lex, I know
you're hurting, but this is not acceptable behavior. Clark's dead:
you're just going to have to deal with it like the rest of us."

"I noticed there wasn't an autopsy, Jonathan." Lex's tone
was matter of fact: he paced absently as the Kents watched him with
increasingly upset expressions. He looked back at Jonathan and
added, "Which is not surprising: everyone in Smallville knows that
it's more likely that the Earth would stop rotating than that you'd
do anything to hurt Clark." He smiled coldly, then concluded, "That
being said, I can make two phone calls, and Clark will be exhumed and
an autopsy will be conducted faster than you can say 'Zachary
Taylor.' Now, I repeat: where's Clark?"

"You miserable son of a--!" Jonathan Kent strode forward,
drawing his hand back to punch the intruder in the jaw, while Lex
stood there, preparing to block the punch without hurting Clark's
father-

"Stop it."

Both men froze: Jonathan slumped in defeat, while Lex tensed
with the effort it took to remain composed as he turned and saw
Clark, very much alive and watching him with a look of profound
sadness on his face. He smiled and called out, "Can't wait to hear
you explain this one."

Clark inclined his head, and motioned for Lex to follow him
upstairs. Jonathan stood in silence, while Martha watched the two
friends head up to Clark's room and muttered, "I wouldn't mind
hearing that, either."


Part II


Clark opened the door to his bedroom, and motioned for Lex to
follow him in. Lex did so and blinked as he took in the appearance
of the room. He had visited Clark here more than once, both alone
and in the company of Clark's friends, and he had always seen it as
an extension of his friend's personality: free of extraneous
clutter, but with plenty of untidiness that suggested an active life
and mind at work. Now, the place was pin neat, with all surfaces
clear of loose objects and everything precisely located to make it
seem pristine. It looked like a museum exhibit-or a tomb. Clark
noticed the unsettled look on Lex's face, and commented quietly, "I'm
not sure who should go first here: you wanting to know what's going
on, or me wanting to know how you figured it out."

Lex shrugged with a casualness he didn't really feel and
glanced at Clark, noticing a bulge in his front shirt pocket. He
reached out in a negligent manner and pulled the gold ankh out of
Clark's pocket, then handed it to him. Clark took it, puzzled, and
Lex took a moment to enjoy having turned the tables on Clark before
explaining, "Your parents let me handle the arrangements for the
gravestone and the coffin, even though they wouldn't let me near the
other elements of the ceremony." Clark looked apologetic, but Lex
waved him off as he continued: "The coffin was rigged with vibration
sensors that automatically began operating three hours after it was
buried. The gravestone contained a low-powered transmitter which had
the sole function of preventing the transponder in the ankh from
functioning. The transmitter only had about a twenty foot range, so
when the ankh left the area of the grave, the transponder showed up
rather quickly. When I got up the next morning, the signal was
coming straight from this room. I didn't believe it at first, and I
went to the cemetery. The ground looked completely undisturbed,
Clark: someone tampering with the grave wouldn't have been able to
pull that off. Which doesn't explain how you managed it, of course."

Clark nodded, then commented, "Considering the hi-tech
scenario you just described, I would have guessed that you were
expecting me to rise from the grave. Or did you have another reason
for hiding a tracer on my 'corpse'?"

Lex blinked, and turned away slightly. Clark had seen many
expressions on Lex's face over the years, but this was the first time
he could ever remember seeing the older man look embarrassed. Clark
waited, and after a few moments Lex replied quietly, "A lot of people
around here knew that we were-are-friends, including people that
might have some ideas of robbing the dead for fun and profit. I had
an unpleasant feeling that you might not be allowed to rest easy, so
I simply decided to make sure that anyone who tampered with your
final repose wouldn't live long enough to enjoy their profits. I
know certain people, Clark: that ankh would have been a death
warrant within twenty-four hours to any other being on Earth who
possessed it, and anyone else who assisted them."

Clark stared at Lex, paling slightly, then replied in a shaky
tone, "Uh, thanks, I think." He took a deep breath, then added, "I
guess it's my turn now." He turned away and whispered, "The main
question is where to start, I guess."

"Well, for starters, you can explain where you got that
convincing looking fake corpse, and why you risked blowing the whole
thing to get that ankh, Clark." Lex wasn't bothering to hide his
confusion. "I mean, if it was important enough to make people think
you were dead, why take a risk like that?"

Lex watched Clark as his expression became visibly
conflicted; clearly, he was having serious doubts about how to
answer. After a moment, the younger man sighed and responded, "Lex,
I don't know how to tell you this, but that was really me who was
buried. Me with enough makeup to make me look like an embalmed
corpse, but me nonetheless."

Lex shook his head in disbelief and replied, "Impossible.
You weren't breathing, and I brushed your throat when I was pinning
the ankh on you: you didn't have a pulse."

Clark grinned and explained, "Biocontrol, Lex. A little bit
of meditation, and some other tricks, and I was able to breathe
shallowly and slow my pulse enough to fool anything short of a real
autopsy, which my parents were able to prevent. Simple."

Lex stared at Clark skeptically and replied, "Fine, but that
still leaves you six feet under and in a closed coffin. I'm as much
of a 'Buffy' fan as the next guy, but people don't dig their way out
of graves, at least not without leaving a lot bigger mess than you
did, and you would have been running a hell of a risk-" Lex paused
in mid-sentence, then looked at Clark and grinned, asking: "A
tunnel, right? You heard about some old tunnels beneath the cemetery
and you arranged to be buried right next to one."

Clark paused again, this time for a longer interval, and Lex
was about to ask what he was thinking about when Clark shook his head
and replied, "There were no tunnels, Lex: at least there weren't any
when I got down there."

Four years of life in Smallville, with all of the weirdness
that it involved, allowed Lex to quickly realize what Clark was
implying, and his reaction was one of disbelief rather than
confusion: "You're not saying--?"

"I broke through the side of the coffin, then started digging
a tunnel to a point I had picked out last week: an open area inside
a section of thick brush. I waited for a time when no one was
around, then came back here, where I've been ever since." Clark's
tone was matter of fact, and he smiled slightly at the completely
disbelieving expression on Lex's face, adding, "It takes a long time
to get the dirt out from under your fingernails after that, believe
me."

Lex shook his head, and a four year old question came back to
the front of his mind: "Clark: that day on the bridge--?"

"You hit me square on at sixty miles an hour, and I dove in,
peeled the top open like a beer can, and pulled you out." Clark
spoke quietly, watching for Lex's reaction. The older man was
silent, and Clark began to become uneasy. He waited a few more
moments, then verbally nudged him: "Uh, Lex. . .are you going to say
anything?"

Lex blinked again, then looked back at Clark calmly and
asked, "Clark, if I hauled off and slugged you in the jaw right now
I'd probably break my hand, right?" Clark nodded, and Lex sighed and
continued, "All right, then I'll settle for giving you a dirty look
and asking for an explanation. How, Clark? Is it the meteor rocks:
did they give you these abilities?"

"Not exactly: I seem to have arrived WITH the meteor
rocks." Lex's eyes widened at the explanation, and Clark nodded and
added, "So I won't be running for President against you, Lex: not a
native born citizen."

"Not to mention legally dead," Lex pointed out. He had
absorbed the initial shock of the revelation, and the expression on
his face was openly curious. He locked eyes with Clark and
asked, "All right, I've got a handle on the how, but I'm still not
getting the why, Clark. You've been hiding these abilities for years
now, and you even managed to give me the slip when I was spending a
hell of a lot of money to prove you had them. What's changed?"

Lex had noted that-in spite of the intensity of the
conversation-Clark had seemed to be getting more relaxed as they had
talked, visibly enjoying the exchanges with his old friend. Now,
Clark's face seemed to close down a little as he sat down on his
bed. Lex sat next to him, concerned, as Clark replied, "It's been
getting harder to hide it, Lex. Things keep happening here, because
of the meteor rocks and. . .other reasons, and I've almost been
caught doing something inexplicable several times in the past year.
It's been hard enough to keep my secret here, living on a farm and in
a place where weird things happen almost daily: it's been uncovered
several times, with only fatal accidents or comas keeping it from
going public. I was scheduled to go to Metropolis University this
fall, Lex: sooner or later, something was going to give."

Lex nodded, but still looked puzzled. Clark frowned, then
continued, "That's not all, Lex. I've had time now to get used to my
abilities, and I've decided that I want to use them to help people
all over the world, not just here in Smallville, or even just in
Metropolis. If I do that, I can do a lot of good, but I'm also going
to attract a lot of unwanted attention from people who want to use me
or get even with me. Sam Phelan found out, and you remember how that
ended up." Lex's face contorted with anger, remembering how he
leaned over the dying ex-cop, trying to find out Clark's secret and
only getting a whispered curse before the man expired. Clark nodded,
and continued: "With Clark Kent dead, I'll be able to operate more
freely, without easily identifiable targets that can suffer for what
I do."

Lex was appalled, and he didn't bother to hide it as he
responded angrily, "Damn it, Clark! Those people aren't 'targets,'
they're your friends, and you've caused them a great deal of pain by
doing what you've done. I understand your concerns, and your
intentions are good, but why couldn't you have come to me, Clark? I
would have understood: we could have figured out a way to protect
your identity, or at worst I would have been glad to provide any
protection your other friends and family needed. You had to know
that, Clark." He stood up, and grasped Clark's shoulders as he
whispered urgently, "It's not too late, Clark. We can come up with
some story about witness protection, or some meteor related
weirdness, that explains why you had to fake your death. I'll pay
whatever it takes to fake the evidence: you could be at
your 'Welcome Back' party tomorrow, and go on from there. You don't
have to be dead to save the world, Clark."

Clark twisted slightly, freeing himself from Lex's grasp as
he stood and walked to his window, looking out onto the farm and
toward the horizon. After a few moments, he sighed and replied
without turning around, "I know you could do it, Lex. You could
explain it away, protect me and everyone around me from everyone else
on Earth who wanted them harmed, or at least you'd do it better than
anyone else I could think of." Lex felt warmth towards his younger
friend, and he was about to continue coaxing him when Clark turned
back to him with a look of accusation in his eyes and concluded
softly, "But who's going to protect me from you, Lex?"

Lex reacted as if he had been slapped, and stared at his
friend as he answered uncomprehendingly, "Clark, what are you talking
about? I'd never-"

"Never finance Dr. Hamilton's experiments with the meteor
rocks that led to the Nicodemus plant killing that man and nearly
getting my Dad, Lana, and Pete in the bargain?" Clark's voice was
cold, and the tone shocked Lex almost as much as the words. Noting
the reaction, Clark continued, "Oh, and continuing to fund him at
that private lab in Metropolis, leading to several deaths and
threatening countless lives?" He mentioned three other, more recent
incidents, and Lex was stunned at the details that Clark was aware
of: that information should only be available in-- He flushed
angrily, and Clark paused in his recitation and asked quietly, "You
wanted to say something, Lex?"

"You've been reading my personal files, Clark." The coldness
of Lex's tone matched Clark's now, and his expression was of outraged
betrayal. He stalked up to Clark, and shouted from two feet
away, "How long have you been invading my privacy?"

"Not for all that long, Lex." Clark's tone had gone quiet
again, and Lex blinked and took a step back as Clark continued, "I
knew your codes: you've been kidnapped several times since I've
known you, and it occurred to me a long time ago that if you were in
a really bad spot, there might not be anyone on Earth you trusted
enough to get into those files. I obtained the codes for that
reason, with the hope I'd never have to use them. I never did-until
the day after the Prometheus Project incident."

Lex had thought he was immune to further shock from this
conversation, but the mention of the Prometheus Project caused him to
take another step back, then to sink into a convenient chair as he
absorbed Clark's revelation. The Prometheus Project had been Lex's
most ambitious goal yet: a new approach to controlled hydrogen
fusion that-if successful-would have made every other source of
energy in the world obsolete. The promise had blinded Lex to the
potential risks, and he had ignored the warnings of a physicist on
the project that the design had an unacceptable risk of running away
and causing a multi-megaton nuclear explosion. The project had gone
online two months before, without notifying any civilian or military
authorities, and had quickly run out of control. Lex had been in the
control room, listening to the grim reports of the scientists and
wondering how history would view him, when the video monitors in the
reactor room had all gone dead. By the time they had gone back on,
radiation levels had returned to normal, and the entire reactor was
gone, apparently ripped from the floor like a stray weed. A hole in
the roof of the building was apparently its departure point, but an
intense-if covert-investigation had revealed precisely nothing as to
its fate. Clark had been elsewhere in the complex, doing a story for
the school paper on one of Luthor Corp's hiring projects, and had
said nothing to him at the time about knowing what had happened. Lex
stared at Clark, and began, "Clark, I-"

Clark held up his hand, and Lex stopped in mid-sentence.
Clark shook his head in anger as he explained, "I got rid of the
reactor-tossed it out into space-but I couldn't believe that you had
taken such a risk with the lives of innocent people, Lex. If that
reactor had detonated, it would have taken Smallville, the
surrounding towns, and half of Metropolis with it. I had to convince
myself that it was just a moment of bad judgment, an aberration, so I
went through your files, Lex: all of them." He looked down and
swallowed hard, continuing, "You've been taking bigger and bigger
chances over the years, Lex, trying to outmaneuver your father,
gaining personal power, recruiting new allies. The amazing thing is,
you've done relatively little direct harm to other people so far, but
it can't last, Lex. Sooner or later, you're going to do something
that kills or harms a lot of people, and I can't let that happen. As
long as you stay on this path, Lex, we are going to be at cross-
purposes, and I know how you deal with people who get in your way."

Lex--still trying to comprehend Clark's casual explanation of
how he disposed of a multi-ton active reactor-struggled to deal with
Clark's grim explanation for his change of outlook, and for several
moments neither man spoke. Lex looked back at Clark, then stated
softly, "Clark. . .I've tried to tell you over the years that
sometimes things in life aren't cut and dried, that sometimes one has
to do things that seem wrong on the surface-"

Clark shook his head, and replied, "No, Lex. That might
justify some things, but not what I've found. You're after power,
Lex, and I don't think you care too much who you have to go through
to get it. You've helped a lot of people in this town, Lex, but it
all would have vanished in one flash of light if I hadn't stepped in,
and you don't seem particularly remorseful about it." Clark blinked,
then concluded bluntly, "I can't do what I need to do and be your
friend, Lex. Clark Kent is your friend: he has to die."

Lex watched Clark quietly for a moment, then responded
quietly, "Clark, I had no idea you were thinking this way, no idea
what my actions were doing to you." He looked away for a moment,
then asked, "Clark, is there anything I can do to make you change
your mind?"

Clark's eyes narrowed, and he watched Lex's face carefully as
he asked, "Could you give it up, Lex? The pursuit of power for its
own sake? The willingness to sacrifice lives to meet your goals?
Could you live simply as a man of great ability who seeks to do great
things, without having to violate the rules or otherwise cut
corners? Is that ability in you, Lex?"

Lex began to open his mouth, to tell Clark that of course he
could do it, or any other damned thing he had to do to get him to
stay. He found that he couldn't: the damnable truth was that giving
that all up would feel like selling his soul, and he couldn't do
that, not even for Clark, even though there was a rather substantial
part of himself that wanted to say yes, and mean it. He looked back
into Clark's eyes, and knew that he couldn't lie to him, not about
this. He closed his mouth, and shook his head slightly as he
whispered, "I'm sorry, Clark."

Clark nodded, and replied in a voice that only trembled
slightly: "I'm sorry too, Lex." As the epitaph of a four-year
friendship, it wasn't much, but it was unmistakable nonetheless. Lex
stood silently, and turned to leave when Clark called out, "Lex?"

Lex turned, and Clark locked eyes with him and spoke in a
tone that implied that he was dealing with an evasive debtor: "Lex,
I've revealed my secret to you because once you knew I wasn't dead,
there was nothing that would keep you from pursuing it and dragging
me back out of the grave except the truth. Doing so means that you
know of people who still mean something to me, and gives you a
potential means of manipulating me. On the other hand, I know things
about you that-although I don't have any legally admissible proof of
them-could do you great harm if I released them publicly. I am
willing to bury what I know now forever, to never reveal it, in
exchange for your solemn word that you will never in any way harm or
manipulate the people I have known in this place for the purposes of
gaining leverage or revenge on me. If you ever do, I will release
the information, and quite probably come and kill you. Do we
understand each other?"

Lex Luthor straightened slightly, nodded once, and left the
bedroom, walking down the stairs and heading for the door. Jonathan
Kent heard the footsteps and turned to see Lex coming down. He
despised him for what he had driven his son to, and he stood to lash
into the younger man for what he had done. The desolate look on
Lex's face and in his eyes stopped him; for the first time since he
met Lex, he felt genuine pity for him. He stood aside as Lex went
out the kitchen door without acknowledging Martha, and the sound of a
sports car engine roaring to life announced his departure moments
later.

Jonathan and Martha exchanged worried looks, then headed
upstairs, finding Clark staring out the window at the horizon again.
Martha stepped forward, then called out softly, "Clark? Are you--?"

"I'm fine." Clark's voice was calm, but unconvincing, and
Martha was about to press the issue when he added, "I'm a little
tired: I think I'm going to take a nap. Could you bring me dinner
in about three hours? I'll have to finish packing a few more things
after I eat."

Martha nodded and replied, "Of course, Clark," and she
slipped out of the room as Jonathan pulled the door shut. They
walked downstairs, then sat on the sofa, both looking up at their
son's soon to be permanently vacant room with helpless expressions on
their faces.




EPILOGUE

Five Years Later


The door was six inches thick, made of titanium and
reinforced with neo-plastic struts that would have sufficed to
protect against a near miss by a thermonuclear warhead. It survived
the first impact, though a huge dent appeared in its precise center.
The second one tore the door off of its hinges and sent it skittering
back into the room, allowing the icy cold and the sound of howling
winds to penetrate the sanctuary.

Superman strode into the room, scanning with his super-vision
to seek any spots that had escaped his attention when he had examined
it from outside. He had discovered this place two days before, when
he had noticed that the network of satellites that the United States,
Russia, and other spacefaring nations had erected over the years had
a glaring blind spot that happened to coincide with this otherwise
rather nondescript mountain peak in Antarctica. After dealing with
several other crises of the moment, he had flown to the area and
discovered evidence that the place had been built by Luthor. Kicking
the door in wasn't exactly by the book, with no innocent lives
apparently at stake, but Superman knew that Luthor didn't have any
legal claim to the mountain, and wouldn't raise a fuss.

It had been over four years now since Superman had revealed
himself to the world, and the attention paid to everything he did in
public view was obsessive, if predictable. He had filled out some
since his high school days: heavy muscle rippled under the skintight
costume. He found it amusing at times: his face was by now the most
famous on Earth, yet none of his former friends seemed to have
noticed that there was a bit of a resemblance between the new
superhero and a now long deceased Smallville resident.

Those friends were all doing well, more or less, though he
rarely had time to check on them these days. He had only been
formally introduced to one of them: Intergang had attacked a
regional journalism conference the prior year, intending to
intimidate some of the attendees from pursuing certain news stories.
Superman had arrived and incapacitated the criminals, and had turned
them over to the police and was preparing to depart when Lois Lane
walked over with a smile on her face, calling out, "Superman, while
I've got you here, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

He had turned, and had come within a hair of flinching as he
recognized the stunning woman by Lois' side. Oblivious to his
reaction, Lois had continued: "Superman, meet-"

"Chloe Sullivan." He had interrupted Lois, then extended his
hand, and Chloe took it, shaking it firmly with a surprised
expression on her face. Superman had smiled and explained, "I've
read your work, Ms. Sullivan-I'm very impressed with it."

She had smiled broadly and replied, "Thank you." He looked
for signs of recognition on her face, but only saw simple respect and
gratitude there. He had sighed inwardly and made his apologies
before departing: there was a flood in Tanzania to dispose of.

Superman was relieved to find no traps or active sensors in
the room. Since Luthor had discovered that he was vulnerable to the
meteor fragments-now known as kryptonite-his life had been more
interesting, in the ancient Chinese curse's sense of the word. There
had been a couple of close calls, and the last one had caused him to
design a new costume woven from late generation ballistic cloth, and
with a titanium plate sewn in over his heart. No good against head
shots, of course, but one couldn't have everything.

The place seemed to be abandoned. Superman could see a few
stray fingerprints belonging to Luthor here and there, which
indicated to him that Luthor didn't expect him to find anything
incriminating-Luthor wasn't usually that careless.

The only remaining object in the room of interest was a small
desk. Superman could see a thin manila envelope resting inside: its
inside was apparently lined with lead foil. He tensed slightly, then
walked over and reached in, retrieving the envelope. He carefully
felt the envelope, and failed to detect any evident uneven areas that
would indicate kryptonite nuggets, or a letter bomb. Cautiously, he
opened the envelope and pulled out the lead foil. A color photo
slipped out from between the folds and fell to the floor. Superman
reached out to pick it up and froze: the picture was of an object he
was intimately familiar with, and only his very discerning gaze could
spot the signs of the digital alterations to the original that left
the appearance slightly different. The tombstone read:


CLARK KENT

1986-2005

BELOVED SON AND FRIEND

MURDERED BY HIS BEST FRIEND'S AMBITION


Antarctica remained one of the most hostile places on Earth,
even in that time, and there was no other living being for fifty
miles. So it was that no one was present to perceive the quiet
sobbing that could be heard over the howling sub-zero winds, as the
Man of Tomorrow mourned the life and the friendship that had died
five years before in a farmhouse in Kansas, leaving an embittered man
and a wounded hero behind to continue with the knowledge of what
might have been.



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