Disclaimer: Smallville belongs to DC Comics (I think) and the WB. Any copyright infringements were not intended. This story was written for entertainment and not for profit.

Spoilers and Timing: Spoilers are for "Exile," "Covenant," "Crusade," "Run," and "Transference." This takes place after "Jinx."

Author's Notes:

I used the Kryptonian font for some of the dialogue in this story. Unfortunately, the Level Three Records Room does not make it possible to use the font on their site. To view this story the way it was supposed to be read, go here: http://www.angelfire.com/la3/daniellesbookshelf/stories/Endurance.htm. Here at Level Three, the dialogue that would have been in the Kryptonian font will be indicated this way: "/blah blah/".

/blah blah/ indicates passages spoken in Kryptonian that Martha and Jonathan can't understand.

::blah blah:: indicates passages spoken in Kryptonian that Jonathan can understand.

I know there's someone out there who is going to point out the deus ex machina in my story. Come on, you know you want to...

For those of you who doubt my Bart Allen characterization: let me just say that this is a one-person POV story and we have no idea what's going on in Bart's head. Maybe I'll write a vignette about Bart's thoughts as he speeds across country to see Dr. Swann or something. For those of you who doubt my other characterizations, well...um...just give me a good reason, okay? Come on, I need feedback! Please? My ego isn't getting any smaller if you stay silent!

Clark does seem to be unconscious a lot in this fic. Don't ask me why...<big grin>

I am looking for a beta reader for this fic. If you're interested, please let me know at sword_girl@lycos.com.

Summary: Kal-El isn't as gone from the lives of the Kents as they'd thought. The final confrontations must be made, but will Clark, Jonathan, and Martha have the strength to endure them?

-----

I could hear my pulse beating rapidly in my ears, making it difficult to hear noises coming from outside my body, not that I could hear much over the pounding rain. Listening to my heartbeat, you'd think I would have had another heart attack. So far, I hadn't, and I hoped it stayed that way. It wouldn't do for me to collapse, not now, not ever.

I glanced through the review mirror into the truck bed and wondered why my heart didn't stop right there from shock at what I saw. Martha was cradling Clark's head in her lap, trying to offer him some shade from the rain that had drenched them both within mere seconds. Martha was shivering from both fear and the chill. So was I, but I determinedly kept my hands steady on the wheel. I wasn't about to go careening off the road, just as I wasn't about to have a heart attack. Both would prove disastrous not only to me but to the two people who mattered more to me than anyone else in the world.

Clark convulsed. His left leg kicked out, creating a hole in the side of the truck bed. Some of the water that had gathered on the floor of the bed seeped out through the hole and onto the road. His eyes were screwed shut but his mouth was not; he screamed out in his native language, continually repeating the same phrase over and over, "/I, Kal-El, challenge thee, Jor-El, for the right of Leadership of the House of El!/"

I wished I knew what my son was saying. It was important, I knew, and it was Clark's only defense in this latest battle against his biological father, Jor-El. My hands tightened their grip on the steering wheel. I stared determinedly out into the weather-begotten night, glaring out at the darkness beyond the headlights. That asshole had messed with this family for the last time.

We passed the point along the road where the 'Welcome to Smallville' sign was set up, or had been set up. A mess of plywood was all that remained of the sign; obviously, a bolt of lightning had impacted with it. Lightning lit up the sky to the left; the thunder that accompanied it came at almost the same time. "Damnit!" I exclaimed, not liking this one bit. Our truck could easily become a lightning rod at any moment. We had to get away from the truck.

I pulled over to the side of the road and screeched to a halt. I was out of the cabin and climbing into the bed in a second. "That lightning could hit us any minute!" I screamed at Martha; even then, I could barely make out my own words. "We have to get away from the truck!"

Martha nodded and stood. I grabbed Clark's legs and she grabbed his underarms. It was difficult enough dragging a 6'3'' frame out of the truck without Clark's endless thrashing. The thrashing made it nearly impossible, but we weren't about to give up. Somehow, we managed it.

All three of us collapsed on the muddy ground. I could hardly breathe. My pulse was as loud as a marching band in my ears. "Jonathan?" Martha queried, placing a hand on my arm. She was also breathing heavily, but I guessed that, for her, it was from the exertion alone.

I glanced at her through water-sprayed eyelashes. "I'm all right," I said. To prove it to both her and myself, I hauled myself to my feet and draped one of Clark's arms around my shoulders. Martha draped the other over her shoulders, and then we proceeded to drag Clark down the road, traveling farther away from the truck with each slow step.

Clark had stopped thrashing as hard, but his body spasmed and twitched. He was a dead weight in our arms. "This isn't working!" Martha yelled at me. I knew she was right, but there wasn't anything else that we could do.

I glanced back. The truck was at least fifty yards away now; it would have to do until the storm cleared. With any luck, the lightning would stay away from our only mode of transportation and we wouldn't be stuck out here for very long.

Martha and I lowered Clark to the ground and crouched beside him. Martha placed a hand on his forehead. "He's burning up!" Even over the rain I could hear the fear in her voice.

Light flooded the area behind my back. Martha's head shot up and her eyes widened. "Jonathan!"

I whirled around and watched as a bolt of lightning struck down from the heavens at our truck. The thunder was deafening. The truck went up in bright flames kept alight by the gas and oil despite the rain.

Martha let out a gasp. My grip tightened on Clark's shoulder. We were stuck there. Jor-El had made sure of that.

Clark started thrashing again. We turned our complete attention back to him, forgetting about the bomb fire burning behind me. He shouted that Kryptonian phrase again. I really, really wished I knew what it meant. If I had known, I would have shouted it with him.

-----

Two nights previous

It was the shouts that woke us. Martha and I came awake with a start, looking at each other in confused bewilderment as our muddled brains tried to understand what we were hearing. We both came to the same conclusion at the same time. "Clark," we said.

I didn't know who got to our son's room first, Martha or me, but suddenly we were at his door. Clark was thrashing on his bed. There was a fist-sized dent through his headboard, and his bedside table, lamp, and alarm clock had been smashed to pieces. The bed had yet to give way, but it would soon.

Martha started forward but I grabbed her arm, holding her fast. I was just as frightened for our son as she, but if we got any closer we would likely be harmed more by Clark's flaying limbs.

"Clark!" I called, hoping my voice would waken him. He continued to thrash in the bed. His left foot came down once, then twice on the mattress. A loud snap heralded the foot of the bed crashing to the floor. I heard a number of crunches as whatever had been placed under the bed was crushed.

Clark slid halfway off the bed. As his knees hit the floor, he cried out, "/I will not yield!/" I recognized the language, if not the words; Clark often muttered in Kryptonian in his sleep ever since the Kryptonian language had been downloaded into his brain two years ago.

His next words were in English. "I am not Kal-El! I am Clark Kent!"

I exchanged a fearful glance with Martha. We knew now what was invading Clark's dreams: his memories of whatever Jor-El had done to him over the summer. What Clark's conscious mind couldn't remember, his unconscious mind could. Clark had told us months ago that he couldn't remember what had happened to him under the clutches of his psychopathic alien father. Those memories must not have been erased from his mind completely.

Ever since Clark's return and my release from the hospital, Clark had slept in his old room in the house. Martha wouldn't allow him to sleep in the barn, and quite frankly, neither would I. After almost losing him for good, we wanted our son close by. I could see now how wise of a decision that had been - if Clark had slept in the Fortress, we wouldn't have heard his screams and the noises of breaking furniture, and in the morning Clark would have passed it off as nothing to worry about. This way, he couldn't. We wouldn't let him.

"Clark! Wake up!" Martha cried.

Clark's eyes flew open and he jerked upright. We rushed to him. He was panting and glancing about in bewilderment.

"Are you all right, son?" I asked.

"Dad?" Clark questioned. His eyes met mine and I smiled reassuringly at him. He began to relax and I did, too.

Panic flashed across his eyes. Clark shot up and was across the room in a microsecond. He crouched down in the corner next to the closet. "Clark?" Martha asked tentatively.

Her voice only made him flinch. "No, you're not real," he said. His body began to shake. He hid his face behind his arms. "You're just illusions conjured up by Jor-El."

"We're real, Clark," I said, approaching him slowly. Clark cringed away from me, curling up further into a ball than before.

"Get out!" he cried. "/I will not yield!/"

"Clark, it's us!" Martha told him. "We're your parents. You're having a nightmare."

Clark was shivering now. He wouldn't look up at us. On an impulse, I stood up and hit the light switch. Turning the lights on had always worked to calm Clark down when he woke up from nightmares while he was growing up; hopefully, it would work again now.

Light flooded the room. Blinking, I turned back around and watched, waiting. Clark froze. Slowly, he lowered his arms and glanced about him again. His eyes met Martha's first. "Mom?"

She separated the gap between them and developed Clark in her arms. I crossed the room developed them both in a hug and squeezed as tightly as I could. I didn't want to go through that again, but I had a feeling that many more nights like this would be in store in the future.

I had despised Jor-El before, but now I loathed him. How could any father, alien or not, be the cause of so much pain to his own son?

One way or another, this had to end. We couldn't keep letting Jor-El interfere with our lives. I only wished I knew how to stop him.

-----

Breakfast was awkward to say the least. None of us had been able to go back to sleep. I felt tired but I was too wound up with fury to care. Martha was the only one who even tried to eat. Clark and I both played with our food but didn't even consider taking a bite of it.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Martha asked Clark.

I glanced up from the soggy remains of what was once cereal. He glanced from her to me and back again, then glanced down. Clark shook his head. "Maybe later," he said.

"We're here for you, son, whenever you want to talk," I assured him. If only I could do more than that. One thought of that energy rope that Jor-El had wrapped around my neck last spring reminded me that I couldn't.

Clark stood. "I should get to school," he said. He super-sped out the door. I watched the door swing closed behind him and sighed, frustrated that this was even happening.

Martha and I worked in silence for most of the day, both lost in our thoughts of what we were supposed to do.

I did everything I could around the farm to take my mind off of Jor-El to no avail. If anything, my anger worsened as I thought about it more and more. I wished I knew what to do. The options I had weren't the best ones. I could go back to the caves and risk being killed before I could do anything. Jor-El wouldn't even think twice about it before he crushed my windpipe. I could ignore Jor-El until he decided to make his presence known again. That, of course, wasn't an option. I could take Martha and Clark as far away from Smallville as I could, but that wasn't really an option, either. I'd always told Clark that running wouldn't solve anything, and it wouldn't help us in this case, either, because I had a feeling that no matter where we went, Jor-El would find us.

When Clark walked in the kitchen at lunchtime, we knew something was wrong even if the panicked look on our son's face didn't clue us in. Clark never came home halfway through the school day unless something bad had happened.

"/I spoke in Kryptonian at school,/" he told us.

"Clark, what?" I asked.

He repeated what he'd just said, but it was still unintelligible. I realized he was speaking in Kryptonian. It was the first time I'd heard him speak it when he was completely conscious. Martha and I exchanged a worried glance.

"We can't understand you," Martha told him. "You're not speaking in English."

The panic in his eyes worsened. Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I spoke in Kryptonian at school," he said. He opened his eyes and looked at us hopefully.

I understood that loud and clear. "Okay, you're making sense now. When did you speak in Kryptonian?"

He let out a sigh of relief and sank into a chair. "I was in the cafeteria talking to Chloe. I didn't even realize I wasn't speaking English until Chloe looked at me weird."

"And you spoke in Kryptonian again just now," Martha summarized. "You didn't realize you were speaking it either time?"

Clark just shook his head. "If I concentrate, I speak in English. But the thing is, I can't tell what language I'm speaking in. Reactions from you guys are my only clues."

Martha and I exchanged a look. We were doing that a lot lately. "I think it would be best if you stayed home for the rest of the day, son," I said. "You can help us in the garden."

Clark only nodded, not trusting himself to speak in the right language.

"We'll get through this, Clark," I told him with assuredness. We'd gotten through too much already to just let something like this stop us.

We spent the rest of the day between picking fruit and vegetables and pretty much re-teaching Clark how to speak in English. I could see his frustration grow every time he spoke too quickly only for his words to come out in the wrong language, but bit by bit, we got him to relax and just concentrate a little more on what he was saying than normal. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. Clark had as much patience as I did. He was used to being able to do anything quickly: he could move quickly and he could think quickly. It had to be frustrating not to be able to speak what was on his mind at the speed he was used to.

It was a long day, and we all went to bed feeling a little discouraged. Clark was still speaking in Kryptonian without even realizing it. Despite this, I suggested that Clark should go to school the next day. I wouldn't let my fear that someone would hear him speak in that alien language and make the wrong connections overwhelm me. We would get a handle on this. We had to.

Martha and I held each other tightly that night. "Is it really wise for Clark to go back to school tomorrow?" Martha asked, voicing my fears. "What if someone realizes what he's speaking is the same language on the cave walls, or-"

I sighed. "We just have to hope that doesn't happen. If it does, we'll deal with it."

It was the same thing we told each other each time a new problem arose: we'd deal with it. We'd find a way to make it better. Usually, we did find a way to deal with it, but it wasn't always for the better.

Martha drifted off to sleep hours before I did. For a long time, I held her, staring at her face. She was still as beautiful as I remembered, but I was shocked to find how old she'd become as well. White strands streaked through her auburn hair; there were too few of them to see unless you looked really closely. Wrinkles marked the skin around her eyes. Creases from too many frowns permanently marred her cheeks. I clutched her tighter to me. I'd caused her so much heartache that summer with all the time she must have spent at my hospital bedside waiting for me to wake up. It was all my fault, too. I made a deal with Jor-El and then ignored that deal when it no longer benefited me. I should never have made that deal. Because of me, Jor-El came back with a vengeance, almost killing me to get Clark to cooperate. Clark was sucked into that wall and turned into God-knows-what, and it was all my fault. What was happening now with Clark's nightmares and speech indepiment was probably my fault, too.

Damn him. Damn Jor-El for doing this to us. It may have been stupid to make that deal with him, but it was because of Jor-El's mind games that this whole mess began. Manipulative, insensitive bastard. What kind of society, alien or not, could ever produce a man like Jor-El? Clark was capable of feeling compassion; why wasn't his biological father as capable?

I didn't remember when I drifted off to sleep, but the next thing I knew, both Martha and I were sitting up in bed, startled awake by a loud crash coming from Clark's room.

We rushed into his room again. I turned the light on just as before. Clark lay in a heap on the ground; the crash we had heard was his own body hitting the carpet. He was shivering and was curled up in a ball. He was also muttering in the inhuman language of his birth.

"/Mother!/" Clark cried. "/No, I will not yield!/"

I shook his shoulder. "Clark, wake up. It's just a dream."

With a cry of rage, Clark's hand curled into a fist. I watched as his knuckles approached my face too fast for me to move out of the way.

I thought for sure that I was going to have a heart attack right there. If my heart wouldn't do the honors of putting me in the hospital, I was certain Clark's fist would. Neither happened.

Martha gasped. Clark's fist stopped millimeters from my nose.

I glanced over the tips of his knuckles and into Clark's eyes. He stared back at me, wide-eyed.

"Dad?" he asked.

I nodded. "It's me, son."

His hand fell and I breathed a sigh of relief. Clark continued to stare at me, but now guilt had replaced his shock.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry."

I smiled. "It's alright, son. It's alright."

Fifteen minutes later, we were seated around the table clutching cups of hot chocolate. "What did you see in your dreams, son?" I asked him. I knew I wouldn't like his answer, but I had to ask. I had a feeling that his nightmares were the reason why he was having trouble talking, and the sooner we knew that for sure, the sooner we could find a way to fix it.

Clark took a deep, shuddering breath. "/I think I'm having-/"

"Slower, Clark," Martha said, placing a hand on his.

Clark, realizing he had been speaking in Kryptonian again, bit his lip and started over, this time speaking as clearly and carefully as possible. "I think I'm having nightmares of what happened to me this summer."

I nodded. I'd suspected as much.

"It's dark. I'm trapped in something - I can't move. I can hear Jor-El's voice - he's teaching me about Kryptonian customs. I try to resist him at first, but it becomes harder every day until one day I can't fight him."

Clark continued. The more I heard, the more horrified and furious I became. If there was any proof that Jor-El wasn't human, this was it.

Clark had spent three months in what sounded like the adult version of a womb. Jor-El spent those three months manipulating my son's mind and body into the perfect heir. When he'd finished, what would have been recognized as Clark Kent had been buried so deep that Clark compared it to drowning. Meanwhile, the alien entity that Jor-El had implanted in Clark's body, Kal-El, came more and more to the fore.

As selfish as it may sound, I was glad I hadn't seen Kal-El. Martha had enough nightmares of her encounters with Kal-El for the both of us, but what she endured was so little compared to what Clark had to go through.

I clutched my mug so hard I was surprised that it didn't break. When Clark finished his story, I stood up. I was shaking with anger. I was going to teach that asshole a lesson, once and for all. I wondered why I hadn't done it sooner.

"Jonathan?" Martha asked.

"That asshole has done enough interfering in this family. He's manipulated us, and we've just let him do it!"

Martha jumped up from her chair with so much force that the chair fell on its side. An absolute fury that mirrored my own radiated from her eyes.

My jaw dropped. I'd never seen Martha as furious as she was in that moment. If Martha had been gifted with heat vision, she would have reduced me to fine dust particles. There wouldn't even be anything left of Jor-El after one gaze from her.

"Sit your ass down, Jonathan Kent," she said.

Normally, I would have done exactly as she ordered. I would have been so shocked by the look on Martha's face, let alone the fact that she'd cursed, that I would have sat down on the floor and still be too dumbfounded not to realize I wasn't sitting in a chair. Not that day. I was too furious to do what was good for me. I'd built my anger up over the course of the last few weeks, and I wasn't about to back down now.

"Martha, if you think I am just going to sit back and wait for Jor-El to strike next then you are sorely mistaken!"

"JONATHAN KENT, IF YOU THINK I AM GOING TO LET YOU WALK OUT OF THIS HOUSE, THEN YOU ARE SORELY MISTAKEN! I SAT AT YOUR BEDSIDE FOR THREE MONTHS WAITING FOR YOU TO WAKE UP, AND I AM NOT GOING TO SEND YOU BACK INTO A COMA NOW!"

"/STOP IT!/" Clark exclaimed, jumping to his feet and slamming a fist down on the table. The tabletop splintered and broke. It fell in pieces to the floor.

Somehow, this worked. Martha and I were both shocked speechless. I tried to remember the last time Clark had broken a piece of furniture in a fit of temper but my mind refused to help me out; I found it difficult to think. The only difference now was that Clark wasn't angry. Now, he looked like an emotional, worn-out wreck.

I looked back at Martha. She looked at me. The hatred towards Jor-El was still there, but my rage had left me; so had hers, by the looks of it.

"I am so sorry, Jonathan, Clark," Martha said, begging us to forgive her with her eyes.

"No, it's my fault. I'm sorry," I said. I was such an idiot. Martha was right. I couldn't just go up against Jor-El without even a cock-and-bull plan, and I couldn't do it alone. How could I even think that I would stand a chance against Jor-El by myself? We needed to stick together, but if anything, this whole mess was forcing us further apart. Well, now that I realized that, I wasn't going to keep letting it.

I grabbed both of Clark's shoulders, forcing him to face me. "I'm sorry, son. I shouldn't have acted like that. I promise you we'll find a way to stop all of this, but we'll do it together. Alright?"

Clark nodded. He pulled me into a hug. I leaned into it and pulled Martha in towards us. I wanted them both close to me.

The group hug idea would have worked, but we forgot one vital thing: the broken table. Martha hadn't expected me to grab her arm. She took a step forward, only to trip over one of the broken table legs. With a startled yelp, she started to fall forward. She knocked Clark and I down with her. With our own startled cries, we all landed in a pile of tangled limbs on the floor.

For a minute, I just stared at the floor feeling dazed. Clark's knee was embedded in my stomach and Martha's elbow was digging into my leg. I wasn't sure what my squished left hand was caught between and wasn't sure I wanted to know. My other arm lay trapped beneath the weight of my own chest.

"Mom? Dad? Are you okay?" Clark asked from somewhere to my left.

"I'm fine, although I would much appreciate it if I could get up," Martha said somewhere behind me. I was having a little trouble breathing - Clark's knee was helping with that - or I would have concurred.

Ten minutes must have passed before we were able to completely extricate ourselves. I crawled away to a safe place in the living room, then turned around and glanced back at Martha and Clark. Both of them looked about as dazed and worn-out as I did. Martha was panting like me while Clark looked like he was slightly out of breath.

I wondered what this would look like if someone were to walk in on us now. The images that came to mind caused me to snicker. The snickers soon turned to outright guffaws.

Now they were both looking at me like I'd just grown a second head - granted it could happen in Smallville, but not this time. "Look at us," I said simply. My stomach hurt as I tried to breath and laugh at the same time. I couldn't seem to stop.

Martha and Clark looked at each other. Martha's lips twitched. Clark started to grin. I silently timed them as I waited for them to start laughing.

Martha lasted for two seconds. Clark lasted for three before he, too, gave in and started laughing almost hysterically.

It felt really good to laugh. I tried to remember the last time we had really laughed at anything. My memory wasn't as inaccessible as it had been the last time I'd tried to do this, so I could remember quite a few things clearly. I was dismayed that I couldn't recall a single moment in the recent past when any of us had been happy. It figures that a confrontation would be what we needed to break down like this.

Sooner rather than later, the laughter finally died down, leaving us feeling rather content. We sobered as we remembered what had led to this. I got to my feet slowly, then offered a hand up to Martha and then Clark. "We'll worry about what we'll do about Jor-El tomorrow," I said. "In the meantime, I think we all need some rest. We should be able to think better with clearer minds."

Martha and I headed for the stairs. Clark hesitated. "Um, Dad, Mom, I'm going to stay up for awhile, maybe watch some TV, if that's alright."

"Sure, Clark. Anything you want," Martha replied, worried. I squeezed her hand and led her up the stairs. I had a feeling Clark wanted to be alone, and I was certain that he would be all right without us.

Martha and I entered our bedroom and plopped down into bed. I held Martha close to me, too tired to do anything else, and waited for sleep to come. I found myself thinking back to a day a few weeks ago when Clark and I had a heart-to-heart about Kal-El and how he felt about it. Despite the fact that I had to do them often, I was never good at talking about anything that didn't have to do with farming. Still, with Clark, it was often necessary, and that had been one of those times.

<<Clark was leaning against the fence bordering the cow pasture, watching the sunset. It was a hot day, but like always, my son didn't feel it. Unfortunately, I did, but I'd ignored it that entire day and I'd ignore it that entire evening, too, whether or not I was talking to Clark; we didn't have air conditioning.

He didn't turn as I approached. He'd probably heard me coming the moment I stepped out of the barn and headed that way. He probably even heard Martha and I talking in the house. I wondered what else he could hear. It wasn't something we'd really talked about all that much. I wondered if his already incredible hearing had improved because of whatever Jor-El did over the summer. It was one of the things I was determined to find out.

I leaned against the fence next to him. "Hey, son."

"Hi, Dad," Clark replied, glancing sideways at me. "What's up?"

"I wanted to talk to you about what happened to you this summer."

Clark frowned. He stiffened and turned away from me. I tensed, offended, but still managed to not voice the reprimand that was on the tip of my tongue. "What did you want to know?" he asked.

"Jor-El did something to you, Clark, something he had no right to do-"

Clark suddenly rounded on me, his eyes alight with anger. Even though I'd have expected that reaction, I was still a little taken aback even though I knew that anger wasn't directed toward me.

"How do we know that, Dad?" he demanded. "How do we know that in Kryptonian society, fathers have every right to do anything they want to their offspring? Just because we're on Earth, how do we know if those laws become null and void? We don't even know how Kryptonians treat their children. Maybe what Jor-El did was normal. Maybe Kryptonians feel differently than humans, and the only reason I don't act or feel like them is because I wasn't raised in Kryptonian society. We don't know anything, Dad."

My mouth was open, but I couldn't think of anything to say. He'd apparently thought a lot about this. God, how could I not have seen this eating away at him? I knew it bothered him, but not this much. What happened to him during those three months?

Clark was no longer angry; now he was distraught. "I think Jor-El taught Kal-El about Kryptonian society, Dad. But I can't remember any of it. I'm still in the dark. I don't know anything. What if Kal-El was the son my father...my biological father wanted? What if Clark Kent would have been viewed as a...a freak on Krypton with strange customs and habits? What if I wouldn't have fit in there? What if I don't fit in anywhere?"

"Clark-"

He cut me off. "Dad, I don't want to be what Kal-El was. He was so cold. From what I remember and what Mom told me, I know he was everything I'm not. All he could focus on was his destiny, but...he didn't even want it. He was so focused on obtaining it that he didn't even think about reflecting on his feelings for it. He was completely unconcerned about anything, but he was so certain of himself, too. There was nothing he hesitated to do." He waved his arms in frustration. "I'm nothing like that, Dad. Sometimes I wish I could be so confident in myself that I won't be clouded by doubts every time I have to make a decision, but I don't want to be so completely out-of-touch with everything that my own mother can't recognize me. But, what if I'm supposed to be that way? What if I'm a freak for being so...human?"

That was enough. I took him firmly by the shoulders. "You are not a freak," I told him, staring into his eyes and emphasizing every word. I was surprised to find that I was shaking with barely contained fury. "I don't know what Krypton was like, Clark, but I do know that. Your humanity isn't a weakness, son, no matter what Jor-El or Kal-El believed. And I don't care if in Kryptonian society fathers have the right to manipulate their children, I still know they're wrong. No parent has a right to do what Jor-El did to you, Clark, no matter what the society dictates is right or wrong. I'm grateful that you weren't raised by that son of a bitch. Luckily for both of us, you weren't."

"Luckily?" Clark repeated, doubtful.

I nodded. "Luckily."

He looked so lost. Damn Jor-El for causing this. Clark shouldn't have had to live through any of this, not then, not ever, and yet Jor-El hadn't relented. He truly was a son of a bitch.>>

Martha shifted beside me, stirring me from my thoughts. "Jonathan, what are we going to do?" she asked me.

"Whatever we have to, Martha. Together," I said. I kissed her on the forehead and shushed her when she began to ask another question. "Rest now, love."

Unable to argue, she snuggled up even closer to me. We drifted off to sleep.

-----

It never occurred to me that when Clark told us he would be staying up that he would do such a dumb ass thing as going out to fight Jor-El by himself. It should have, but it didn't. You'd think I would have learned by now, but it would seem that I was incapable of learning from trial and error.

I woke around noon the next day to the smell of something burning. "Jonathan, do you smell that?" Martha asked.

I opened my eyes and sat up slowly. Martha was already sitting up in bed. I still felt exhausted. Just how late had we stayed up the night before?

I began, "Smells like..."

I realized what that smell was at the same time as Martha. We were into our bathrobes and slippers and down the stairs in a flash. We rushed just as quickly outside, then froze and just stared.

The field in front of our house was in flames. On closer inspection, I realized that the flames formed a design. I'd never seen the design before in my life, but there was no mistaking a Kryptonian symbol.

"This is just like what happened last May," said Martha. "A Kryptonian symbol just appeared in that same spot, but it was different."

"We've got to put it out." I ran back inside to get the fire extinguisher. Martha ran to the barn to grab the other one.

"Clark!" I called up the stairs. I opened the closet and pulled out the extinguisher. No one answered my call. "Clark?" I called again.

A glance in the living room told me it was empty. I ran up the stairs and peeked in Clark's room. It was also empty.

Biting back a curse, I rushed back downstairs and out the door to assist Martha in putting out the flames.

It took very little time to put out the fire. Afterwards, we walked back to the house. "Where's Clark?" Martha asked me.

"He wasn't in the house," I replied. "I have a feeling I know where he went."

Martha sighed. "The caves."

I nodded. "Why else would this happen?" I waved toward the burned symbol.

She grabbed my arm. "Jonathan, the last time a Kryptonian symbol appeared in our field, I went to the caves to find you lying on the ground unconscious while Clark had disappeared!"

I bit my lip. "Get the kryptonite in the barn. Take all of it - red, green, and black. I'll get the key and the shotgun."

"The shotgun?" Martha stared at me. "Jonathan, what are you going to use that for? Jor-El would kill us both if he saw us with that thing!"

Deep down I knew she was right, but I still couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Damnit, Martha, I am not going to go in those caves again unprepared! If Jor-El doesn't already perceive me as a threat, he's likely not going to care if I bring the damn shotgun or not, but I'm bringing it anyway! I am tired of letting him use us!"

I stormed into the house before I could say anything else I might regret. Damnit, hadn't we been through this already? How many times did this have to happen before we were allowed to live in peace?

I kept the octagonal key in a locked safe in the downstairs hall closet. Only someone with Clark's abilities could break that safe open, or so I hoped. The shutgon leaned against the wall next to the safe. I put the key in a pocket, loaded the barrel of the gun, and placed a box of extra ammunition in another pocket, then headed back outside.

Martha was waiting by the truck. She held a lead box. Presumably, the different veins of kryptonite were inside it. "Ready, Martha?" I asked her.

Her lips pursed into a determined line. She nodded. "Let's go."

We got in the truck and took off in the direction of the caves.

So much for a carefully constructed strategy. Hopefully, we would be able to make it up as we went along.

-----

Strange purple, blue, and white light streamed out of the Kawatche cave mouth, visible only because of the overcast sky blotting out the sun. We saw the strange light the moment we pulled up. Something was going on and I knew I wasn't going to like it.

We got out. I grabbed the shotgun from the bed of the truck. Martha fell into step beside me as I cautiously approached the mouth.

The light died down as we drew closer. I wrapped my hands around the barrel of the gun and walked inside, keeping Martha behind me. I could see now that the purple light originated from the inner chamber. We rounded the bend. Martha gasped.

Clark hung suspended in the air by a light shining through a crevice in the cave wall. Light swirled around him like rope, slapping against his body like a whip. Clark cried out with each beating.

Martha hastily pulled open the lead box. She pulled out the chunk of black kryptonite. Before I even knew what she was doing, she threw the chunk at the crevice.

Remarkably, this seemed to work. The black meteorite hit the crevice and sailed on through. An anguished yell filled the cavern. The light suspending Clark dissipated and our son dropped in a heap onto the floor.

"Martha Kent, you will pay!" Jor-El's voice boomed out of the walls, nearly bursting out Martha's and my eardrums.

The design on the wall rotated, opening another crevice. Red light shot from it, heading straight for the two of us...

"Mom!" Clark cried.

What happened next went by too fast for me to see. A six foot three body rushed at me and latched onto my right arm. Clark grabbed Martha's left arm, and then suddenly we were moving backwards so fast that everything was a blur.

The next thing I knew, Clark, Martha, and I were standing next to the truck. Clark let go of our arms after making sure we wouldn't fall over. "Are you guys all right?" Clark asked, anguish in his eyes.

"We're fine. Are you all right, Clark?" I asked.

Clark nodded. "Dad, please don't be mad at me. Jor-El's voice called to me last night - I tried to resist, but I suddenly found myself here and I couldn't get away-"

Martha and I wrapped our arms around him. "It's alright, Clark. We're just glad you're okay," she said, her voice muffled by the material of his tattered shirt.

The ground rumbled beneath my feet. "What the...?" We pulled back from the embrace and turned to face the cave. Rocks fell within the cave, stirring up great clouds of dust.

An enraged cry filtered out through the dust clouds from the bowels of the cave. The will of Jor-El's voice cried out a phrase in Kryptonian.

I turned to Clark. "What is he-?" I paused. Clark looked horrified.

"We've got to get out of here," he said.

He turned away from the mouth and grabbed our arms again, fully intending to rush us away with a burst of super-speed. He didn't see the tendril of purple energy sneak out of the cave toward him, but Martha and I did. "Clark!" we shouted together.

It was too late. The tendril hit Clark's back dead-on. His body spasmed. My heart stopped beating. The tendril beat against Clark's back for several agonizing seconds, then it penetrated Clark's skin and passed through it, bursting out the other side in the center of his chest.

Clark screamed...

...and then it was over. The purple light disappeared. Clark collapsed on his knees, gasping. Two circular holes had been cut into his shirt. His chest and back were scorched beneath those holes.

Martha and I hastily got him to his feet. The Earth rumbled even more; any minute, the caves would collapse, and we needed to get far away from them before that happened.

"Let's get him in the back!" I yelled over the noise. Clark was barely even conscious. We pushed Clark over to the back of the truck, then somehow pushed him up into the bed. Martha climbed in after him. I left her to close the back door then rushed around and into the driver's seat. I slid the keys into the ignition and, as soon as the engine revved, I put the truck into gear and high tailed it out of there. The whole time, it felt as if I was going agonizingly slow.

The cave mouth exploded behind us, sending dust and shards of rocks everywhere. I heard Martha cry and glanced through the rearview mirror at her. A rock had hit her in the cheek and left a nasty cut. My heart skipped a beat again, but instead of slamming on the breaks and making sure she was all right, I pressed my foot down harder on the accelerator.

The truck went faster than it ever had in its life.

The first hints of rain fell from the sky, slowly at first then rapidly. I switched the wipers and the dim lights on and kept driving. Visibility was poor, but I didn't dare slow down. One glance into the rearview mirror gave me a good reason why.

Purple and blue tendrils of light shot up from the unseen remains of the Kawatche cave system toward the gray clouds. It looked like the alien equivalent of a twister, and it swirled in the sky like a toy top. Then, as if seeing us, it stopped. The tendrils arched back toward the Earth and headed straight for our truck.

"Hang on!" I shouted. I didn't think Clark or Martha heard me, but it didn't matter; Martha had turned around and seen the tendrils for herself. She screamed.

I kept an eye on the road and the other on the approaching tendrils. "Come on, come on..." I muttered.

The tendrils took forever to get to us. I only hoped the maneuver I had planned would actually work.

They hovered in the air over the truck, then swept down in one smooth motion.

I stomped hard on the brake. The tendrils, still moving at sixty miles an hour, raced on ahead of us. The whole truck shook and I glanced in the rearview mirror. Clark and Martha were both pressed up against the back of the cab. Both of them cried out; Martha mostly from surprise and Clark from pain.

Silently praying for them to hang on, I put the truck in reverse, then sped back in reverse at forty miles an hour. Ahead of us on the road, the tendrils were only just stopping and pulling around, readying for another pass.

I pulled hard on the wheel. The car went sliding across the road. I stomped hard on the brakes when the car had turned completely around. I hardly waited for the truck to settle back on all four of its wheels before I put it back in drive and took off, heading back in the direction of the caves.

I glanced back in the rearview mirror again, fully expecting to see the tendrils heading straight for us. Instead, I watched the tendrils as they appeared to break apart. It looked like the black kryptonite was finally taking its toll; Jor-El's power was weakening.

I didn't dare take any chances. I kept driving, past the former Kawatche caves and onward toward the Smallville dam. We'd cross the dam and then continue on to the farm. It would mean putting a few extra miles to our journey, but I didn't dare take the shortcut; that meant turning around and facing the now-unfocused purple and blue energy in the sky behind us. I didn't think it would pursue us again, but it would probably still attack us if we headed straight for it.

The drive was a long one, made all the more longer by the now-pounding rain which reduced the roads to mud. I glanced frequently into the truck bed. Martha had Clark's head cradled in her lap. Clark was in the throes of a nightmare and kept tossing and turning. As I watched, Clark kicked a hole in the side of the truck with his left foot....

-----

Even though the farm was nearby, we were too tired to drag Clark all the way there. Our only option was to wait.

The storm lasted about twenty more minutes after the truck blew up. Martha and I were both shivering and numb when it finally stopped. Clark had stopped thrashing and had sunk into oblivion. His chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm while the bruises on his back and chest faded to nothing.

"Is it over?" Martha asked me.

I didn't know. I wished I did. At least Jor-El had stopped terrorizing us; either we'd gotten rid of him for good or he'd just retreated until the next available moment to strike. There was no way to know, although I really, really hoped that we'd gotten rid of Jor-El for good.

We hitched a ride back to the farm on our neighbor Jensen's truck. He'd seen us out on the road after the storm had cleared and had come out to see if we needed any help. He offered to drive us to the hospital to get all three of us checked out - being out in the rain hadn't done much for Martha's or my health, not to mention Clark's - but we convinced him to drive us back to the farm instead.

Clark woke up during the short drive back. "Are you all right, son?" I asked him when I saw him blink awake.

He began to respond, glanced at Jensen, then paused and began again. "Just fine, Dad. What happened?"

"The truck got hit by lightning. You passed out during the explosion."

Clark's eyes widened when he heard about the truck, but another glance at Jensen and he refrained from asking any more questions.

After we'd gotten to the farm and changed into some drier clothes, I asked the question again. There was no way that Clark was fine. None of us were fine. Maybe Jor-El was out of our lives for good; it was too soon to tell, but I really hoped so. While it was the thing I desired the most, I was too busy feeling worn-out and worried about Clark to even think about celebrating. Whatever Jor-El had done to Clark couldn't have been good.

"I don't know," was his reply this time. "I feel fine, but...I had the strangest dream after I was hit from behind by that energy. I was on Krypton, and I was fighting someone. I think it was Jor-El. There was a group of people watching us - I think they were some sort of council."

"What was it you were shouting?" Martha asked him.

Clark gave her a puzzled look. "I was shouting something? In Kryptonian? Um, I don't know. What did it sound like?"

Martha and I tried to verbally reconstruct what we'd heard. It didn't sound anything close to what he'd shouted, but Clark seemed to understand us well enough. His eyes widened in sudden understanding. "Of course...the fight I saw in my dream...we were fighting for head of our house..."

"You want to run that by us again?" I asked him, confused.

"What you guys heard me say was, /I, Kal-El, challenge thee, Jor-El, for the right of Leadership of the House of El./ Right?" At our nods, he continued, "What that means is this: I, Kal-El, challenge thee, Jor-El, for the right of Leadership of the House of El."

"What does that mean?" Martha asked, voicing both of our bewilderment.

"It's my family's house," Clark said, staring at his hands. "Jor-El had been in charge of it when I was born. The House of El was one of the most prestigious houses on Krypton. I was his heir. There was this old custom where a member of a house could challenge the head to a duel to the death for right of leadership. The head of the house would be forced to meet this challenge or lose his position by default because of his cowardliness."

Wow. Martha and I exchanged an amazed look. "How do you know all that?" I asked him.

Clark gave me a bitter smile. "I learned about it over the summer."

Martha and I were silent for a few moments as we processed everything he'd told us. Just how powerful was Jor-El, back when he was alive? It was a scary thought.

Martha said after a while, "So, in your dream, you were fighting Jor-El for the position of the head of your house?"

Clark nodded. "Only, I'm not sure it was a dream. I think I was really fighting him."

"Did you win?" God, I hoped he did. Otherwise, why would he even be talking to us now? That thought was even scarier.

Clark nodded. "I think so. I'm not sure. We were fighting, and I was about to...end it..."

He looked ashamedly down at his feet at the thought of killing anyone. I bit me lip. Despite my hatred for Jor-El, we'd always taught Clark that killing was not a good thing. As much as I still believed that, I wished for once that I could tell Clark that it was okay. Jor-El should have died completely on Krypton.

"Son..." I began, placing a hand on his. "I know I've always told you that killing is not an option, and that's still true. But if Jor-El didn't give you any other choice..."

He only bit his lip before hurrying on. "...Then I woke up in Jensen's truck. I think I won, but I'm not sure."

I felt my shoulders slump. If Clark wasn't sure if he'd killed Jor-El, then we couldn't be certain that we were free of him. Damnit it all! I should have known better than to get my hopes up.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Martha asked. The tone of her voice made me glance up. She was regarding Clark strangely. I wondered what I'd missed.

He flashed a smile at her. "I'm fine, Mom, though I think I do need to get some sleep."

"I'd say we all do," I said, imagining taking a very, very long shower. I sighed. "After we get some chores done, that is. The cows need to be milked, for one." I grimaced at the thought of the unhappy cattle.

We got wearily to our feet and headed outside.

-----

It was only as I was halfway through my own chores that I came to a realization. I hadn't had a strange day. My life had been filled with so many days similar to that one that I almost took it in stride. I would never get used to seeing Clark get hurt, and I was a little annoyed that we lost another truck, but I hadn't even started to react to the other bits. Most people would have been in such a state of shock after the day's events that they wouldn't be able to function, but not us.

Which was why I was a little confused when Martha sidled up to me in the kitchen the next morning. We'd all rested and begun a new day on the Kent Farm, one that we all prayed would be incident-free but prepared for them anyway. Clark had just left for school, wincing before he'd super-sped out the door. He'd missed two days of school that week and would probably cop a lot of flack not only from his teachers but also from his friends for not keeping them informed. There were at least five messages from Lana and Chloe on our answering machine.

"Jonathan, don't you think Clark has been acting a little odd today?" Martha asked me.

I laughed. "Well, of course he has. After what he went through yesterday?"

"I don't know if that's it," she said. "He's just been acting...different, like he'd switched bodies with someone again."

I looked up at her sharply. "You think Lionel Luthor has taken over his body again?" That was just as bad as the possibility that Jor-El was still at large.

Martha bit her lip and shook her head. "No, it's definitely not Lionel. Clark has the same characteristics and mannerisms he's always had, but they just seemed...forced, as if he was play-acting."

I gave her a look. I wrapped my arms around her and smirked. "Or maybe you're reading too much into it."

Martha sighed. "You're probably right. I just-after everything, I..."

"Shh." I pulled her in for a hug and gave her a lingering kiss on the lips. "How about we don't go looking for trouble, alright? If there is something wrong with Clark, we'll know soon enough, but I doubt there is. He seemed perfectly fine to me."

Martha nodded. "I probably just imagined it."

-----

As time wore on, I wasn't so sure. Two days went by. Clark didn't have any nightmares either night, and he wasn't unconsciously speaking in Kryptonian anymore. Chloe came for a visit, and from what I saw of them, she didn't think Clark was acting strangely. But, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that something was wrong.

I sighed as I walked into the barn on the afternoon of the second day. Clark was in the loft doing his homework. "Hey, Dad," he said, smiling at me as I came up the stairs.

"Hey, Clark."

"What's up?"

"We need to talk."

Clark closed his history textbook and sat back in his chair. I leaned against the railing post and faced him. "About what?" he asked.

"About what happened two days ago." I studied him but his expression didn't change. "Have you experienced any...side-effects of what happened to you?"

Clark raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

This was getting uncomfortable. Why couldn't Martha do this sort of thing? She was much better at it than me. "Have your abilities backfired on you, or do you feel different in some way?"

"I feel fine," Clark said.

I must have looked doubtful, because Clark leaned forward. "Dad, it's okay. I'm not perfectly fine with the idea that I may have...killed...Jor-El, but I'll be okay, I promise."

"That's just it, son," I said, feeling frustrated with myself. "You may have killed a man, and you can't just go on like nothing happened."

Clark bit his lip and looked away. "I know, Dad," he said quietly. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "It bothers me, too." He looked up and met my eyes. "But I had to...just as I had to do this."

A shiver went down my spine. Clark's look had turned into one of fierce hatred in under a second, and it was directed toward me. My instincts told me to run while my shock kept me rooted to where I stood. "Clark?"

He slowly got to his feet. The mask of determination and anger was still in place. "He's here, although not for much longer," he told me. "I've nearly won."

My mind shut down on me for the second time in three days. I couldn't seem to comprehend what was happening. "No..."

It was Kal-El. It had to be. I recalled Martha's description of Jor-El's protégé and felt fear.

'He was so cold and detached. He had confidence without any arrogance, and he radiated power. Jonathan, it was the scariest thing I've ever seen, because when I looked into his eyes, I couldn't find Clark anywhere...'

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked. "Why not continue the charade?"

"Because there is no need," Kal-El said, "and there is now nothing you can do to stop me from meeting my destiny."

He walked over to the bed and pulled a lead box out from underneath it. I didn't need to glimpse inside it to know that the bits of red and green kryptonite were in it.

He placed the box on the table and stepped back. "Don't-" I said, stepping forward. I had no idea what I was planning to do, but I wouldn't just stand by and watch him destroy that box.

He grabbed my arm and squeezed. I yelled as I felt bones crack. He pressed down, forcing me to my knees.

The pain was too much, and for a long moment, all I could focus on was it. Kal-El wouldn't let me do that for long, though. He grabbed my chin and turned my head so I was looking at the table. I watched as Kal-El burned the lead box with his Heat Vision, reducing it to a mess of molted metal and crystal in a matter of minutes.

He let go of my chin, picked up the infused mineral and held it out for my inspection. "I've completely infused the radioactive kryptonite with the lead. It can't harm me now."

As if to demonstrate how much of his strength he still possessed, he crushed the infused mineral in his fist. Tiny pebble-sized fragments fell through his fingers to the table.

He let go of my arm. I lost my balance and collapsed, crying out again when I tried to brace my fall with my arms.

Kal-El's shadow loomed over me. "/I am Kal-El of Krypton, and it is time for my Reckoning./"

I heard a whoosh. When I looked back up, Kal-El was gone.

-----

Martha drove me to the hospital. I tried to pass it off as a farming accident, but the doctor took one look at my arm and pronounced that it had been broken by a human hand. Sheriff Adams was called.

"Are you trying to protect someone, Mr. Kent?" she asked me.

Yep, and you'll never guess who, I thought. "Sheriff, it was a simple farming accident. Maybe it just looks like the imprint of a human hand because of the tire treads."

She raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Tire treads?"

I nodded. "I was working under the tractor. I must have shifted some of the dirt around when I was crawling under it, because the next thing I knew, the tractor tire was rolling onto my arm. I managed to get out before my arm was crushed completely, thankfully."

When my 'confession' produced only a raised eyebrow from the woman, I pushed back the realization that I was becoming a good liar. I'd have to worry about it some other time.

Adams looked at Martha. "Mrs. Kent, can you verify Mr. Kent's story?"

Martha shook her head. "I was inside the house when I heard him yell. When I came out, he was kneeling next to the tractor clutching his arm."

It was equally startling to realize that Martha was getting better at it, too.

"Alright," Adams said, sighing. "I guess that's it, then. I'm sure I'll see you again, Mr. Kent, so until next time."

She left. Martha and I followed suit. My arm was now done up in a cast, adding to our already lengthy medical bills.

We got in the truck. Martha put it in gear and we headed out of the parking lot. "Where could he have gone?" she asked.

God, I wished I had an answer to that. The caves had been completely destroyed, meaning he wouldn't be going anywhere near them. The media was in a rage over their mysterious collapse. We'd watched the news in the hospital and listened to it on the radio over the last few hours, but all we'd heard were more reports about the caves; there was nothing about a six-foot tall invincible man anywhere. With Kal-El's ability of flight, he could easily be anywhere on the planet.

We spent the rest of the day in constant worry, going to every news web site we could think of and scoring the radio, television, and newspapers for any clues. We spent the whole time waiting for Clark or Kal-El to return to town, even though he had no reason to now that the caves were destroyed.

It was soon the next day, and then the next, and the next, and there was still no word. We spoke to Lex, Chloe, Lana, Lois, and even Pete, but none of them had seen him. I think Lana and Chloe both assumed that Clark had skipped town again like he had after he'd blown up his ship, and it wasn't like we could tell them otherwise. Lex promised to help search and so did Chloe, not that I really wanted the younger Luthor's help. Martha reminded me that, if I accepted his help, we could work together in finding Kal-El; otherwise, Lex would likely search in secret, and who knows what the billionaire would do if he found Kal-El first. He probably wouldn't tell us and would go out to get Kal-El personally, and that was something I'd rather avoid for a number of reasons. For one, it would prompt a lot of questions and even more suspicion towards us from Luthor. For another, there was no telling what Kal-El would do to Lex. While I didn't trust the man, I wouldn't let him get hurt if I could help it.

A week went by in a blur and we'd still found no sign of Clark. I watched the news like I had for the past seven days. There was nothing. It was as if Clark had disappeared off the face of the Earth.

I flipped through the news channels in frustration, then in a fit of temper threw the remote at the screen. "Damnit!" I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. Why were things fated to repeat themselves like this?

I stormed out onto the porch. Another storm was gathering on the horizon. It had been raining off and on all week as if the very skies were weeping for Clark's disappearance. Which was a strange mental allusion and something I wished I hadn't thought about.

It looked like a normal thunderstorm, but then how was I to know? Over the years, Jor-El had done some amazing things for a dead guy. I wasn't completely certain that the lightning bolt that hit the truck seven days ago wasn't Jor-El's doing. It was pretty bizarre for a truck to get hit by natural lightning, even in Smallville.

This was why I shouted up at the sky. For all I knew, Jor-El was listening, and it wasn't like I could go to the caves and have another confrontation with Jor-El there. "Haven't you done enough?" I shouted.

The screen door opened. I turned and saw Martha looking at me. "Who are you talking to?"

I sighed and collapsed in a chair. "No one." I brushed a hand through my hair in frustration. I didn't feel so good, suddenly, and knew it was probably because I'd forgotten to take my medication that morning. I doubted it would do me much good, anyway; Clark's disappearance was causing me enough stress regardless.

I ignored the worried look Martha gave me, and I hoped she wouldn't say anything. We both knew my health wasn't what it used to be, which was something else that could be attributed to both my stupidity and Jor-El's meddling. There was no point bringing it up now.

After a pause, she said, "We'll need to start harvesting soon."

I only nodded. It would be our busiest time of the year. We'd just managed to get through it in the past few years because of Clark. We didn't have any money to hire field hands with all the other expenses we'd had that year. If we didn't find Clark soon, we'd have to harvest without him. We'd likely lose half of our corn at the best.

"We may have to do without electricity for a while if we're going to hire some farm hands," I said. No electricity meant no way to watch the news. Maybe I could get a battery-powered TV set. "A few others things, too."

"Mr. Kent? Mrs. Kent?" The shouted inquiry was unexpected, to say the least. It was coming from inside the house.

We rushed inside. I didn't think either of us were expecting to see Bart Allen standing in our living room, but that's exactly who we saw. He wore the same red hooded sweatshirt and khakis we'd last seen him in.

"What brings you here, Bart?" I asked after I'd gotten over my surprise.

"I was just wondering what was up with Clark?" he asked us.

I looked at Martha. The same hope I felt was in her eyes. "You've seen him?" I asked.

Bart glanced from Martha to me. "Okay, you do know that he's in Quebec, right?"

"He's where?" I blurted.

At least he was still on the same continent.

Martha stepped forward. "Are you sure? Is he still there?"

Bart shrugged. "I saw him there a few hours ago. He was acting really weird, then he suddenly took off. Flying. I had no idea he could do that." He gave us another inquiring look.

"He's probably halfway around the world by now," I said quietly. "What exactly happened?"

"Well, I was trying out my French with this Quebecan girl, when all of sudden, I saw Clark standing in the field next to us. He was looking for something and he didn't see me. I followed him for about thirty miles until we got to this cave that's out in the middle of nowhere. I got there just in time to meet him when he left the cave. He was holding some sort of crystal or something in his hand. I said hello, and Clark just looked at me like he didn't recognize me. Then he said, um, 'Clark Kent no longer inhabits this body, Bart Allen. I am Kal-El, and I will fulfill my destiny.' That's when he took off, just shot up toward the clouds." He gave us a look. "What's going on?"

Martha and I exchanged a long look. "We have to tell him," Martha told me bluntly.

"Martha-"

"We need his help, Jonathan."

She was giving me the look, the one that it was rumored that all wives and mothers possessed. I should know; it was the same one my mother had used on me on many occasions. Martha didn't use that look on me that often. I knew she was right, but I didn't want to let someone else in on the secret. Still, what choice did we have?

It took a while to explain everything. When we'd finished, Bart sat back on the couch, mouth gaping. "Woah. Clark's an alien? And his father changed him into what I saw?" He laughed uneasily. "Talk about controlling parents."

"Do you have any idea where he might have gone?" Martha asked.

"He flew southwest," Bart said. "I tried to follow him on the ground, but after an hour or so he flew up into the clouds. I just kept running this way hoping to meet him here."

"He was heading this way? Are you sure?" I asked, my heart pounding. Perhaps finding Clark would be easier than we'd thought.

He shrugged. "I don't know. I was running across Lake Michigan when I lost him. He could have been going to Chicago for all I know."

Bart left with the promise that he would check around Metropolis and Chicago for signs of Clark. "I still know a few people who might help me out. Maybe I'll find something." Then he was gone in a flash of red.

Once he'd gone, I sat back in my seat and just stared out at nothing. It was good to hear that Clark was still around somewhere, but I just wished he was home and Clark was back in control, not Kal-El.

I stared down at my cast. Martha had decorated it with markered pictures of farm equipment. It had been her way of making things seem less glum, and looking down at them, I couldn't help but chuckle. Things would turn out; they had in the past, hadn't they? And if Bart had found Kal-El, although briefly, there was a pretty good chance he'd be found again.

I only hoped we found him soon, before Kal-El could do anything. I didn't know what destiny Jor-El had in mind for him, but I didn't think it was a good idea to wait and find out.

-----

I didn't think I would ever forget that scream.

It was the morning after Bart's visit. I'd been out milking the cows. I'd just finished milking the last of the herd when I heard it. It was coming from the barn. It was a scream not only of fear but of pain, and a good deal of both.

"Martha!" I cried, fearing the worst. I stood up rapidly, upsetting the bucket I'd just filled with milk and getting half of it on my pants. I rushed as fast as I could to the barn, wishing again that Clark was there. If he was, he could have been at the barn already, saving Martha more pain. But it was just me, and they were agonizingly long minutes that passed while I ran.

I saw Lana's car in the driveway. There was no sign of Martha anywhere, which meant that both of them had to be in the barn.

I ran inside and froze. My blood pounded in my ears as I took in the scene. Martha was lying in a heap below the far wall; a large dent in the wall above her indicated where she'd hit the wall before collapsing. Kal-El knelt in the middle of the barn, staring fiercely down at Lana, who lay on her stomach on the ground before him. Lana was unconscious, probably having passed out from the pain caused by the glowing crystal Kal-El held in his right hand. He held the crystal above a black tattoo on Lana's back. The tattoo was familiar; I would realize later that it was an exact replica of one of the symbols in the Kawatche Caves.

Kal-El looked up when I entered. He rose to his feet and stared at me. "You cannot stop me, Jonathan Kent," he said, clearly and forcefully. "I have already destroyed the kryptonite you have brought here since my departure."

"What do you want?" I asked.

"To fulfill my destiny," he stated without even missing a beat, as if it were the most obvious thing on the planet.

"What is that, exactly?" If only I could stall him. Bart was due to show up any minute now, and with the fastest man alive on my side, I'd have a chance against this truly alien persona inhabiting my son's body.

Kal-El glanced down at Lana and the crystal he held in his hand. "I will know soon enough."

He was going to take off, and he would probably take Lana with him. I could see him make the decision. I had to do something. "Are you sure you want to?" I asked him.

Kal-El paused and looked up at me, curious.

I continued, "Do you really want to do what Jor-El wants?"

I saw the anger cloud his face a split second before he super-sped toward me and sent me flying through the air and out the barn. I landed in the dirt on my bad arm.

Kal-El leaned over me. "I have had enough of your meddling, Jonathan Kent."

Before he could grab the collar of my shirt, a red blur rushed by. Kal-El lost his balance, twisted, and fell to the dust beside me.

Bart appeared holding a bent shovel. He dropped the shovel and helped me up. We scrambled away from Kal-El as he got to his feet.

Kal-El took a step toward us. In another lightning fast move, Bart had pulled a small lead box out of his pocket and opened it. I could see the glint of a green meteorite inside. Kal-El collapsed, gasping. I had to fight the paternal instinct to slam the lead box closed and run to his side.

I took the box from Bart. "Go help Lana and Martha. They're in the barn. Get Lana away from here as fast as you can."

"What about Clark?"

"I'll handle him. Go!"

Another blur and Bart had disappeared into the barn. I held the box out in front of Kal-El. I made sure to keep my distance so that he couldn't knock it out of my hands.

Kal-El glared up at me. The effect was lost by his grimace of pain. A cloud of confusion flew across his face. He blinked. "Dad?"

"Clark?" I asked, uncertain. It could be a trick.

Clark glanced around with as much strength as the kryptonite would allow him. "What happened?"

Damnit, if only I could be sure it was Clark. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"I was fighting...Jor-El." His eyes widened. "Kal-El took control after I'd won the fight. I was too weak to fight him....Lana!"

I closed the box with a thud, positive that this was my son. God help me if I was wrong.

Clark jumped to his feet. He took a step toward the barn and so did I. I didn't see Lana anywhere inside the barn, but I could make out Martha's form. Before I could go in and make sure she was all right, Clark cried out. He pressed his fingers against his temples and sunk to his knees.

"Clark!" I cried, torn between running to his side and running into the barn to check on Martha.

"Open the box!" he cried. "Open it, now!"

I pried open the lid and Clark fell the rest of the way onto the ground.

"How's it going?" Bart asked, appearing to my left.

"Where's Lana?" I asked him.

"I managed to wake her up and get her into her car." He nodded at the driveway. I turned and realized that Lana's car wasn't there anymore; I hadn't even heard it start. He continued, "I think she's okay. She seemed to be willing enough to get out of here, and she wasn't showing any signs of a concussion or anything so I figured it was safe enough to let her go in her car. I would have sped her away from here if I'd been able to pick her up."

I nodded. "Could you check to see if Martha's all right?" I said, wishing I could do it myself.

I didn't even see him go over to her and come back. "Her pulse is strong, but she probably needs to get to a hospital." He glanced down at Clark. Clark writhed on the ground, whether or not from the effects of the kryptonite I couldn't tell.

Suddenly, Clark went still. I nearly had a heart attack right then. I knelt down and felt for a pulse, almost collapsing in relief when I felt one. I closed the lead box.

"We need to get Martha to the hospital," I said, standing up again. Reaching a decision, I turned to Bart. "Bart, I need you to do something for me."

"What is it?" he asked.

"I need you to run to New York City." I gave him a street address. "I want you to find a Dr. Steve Hamilton. Tell him we need another bit of black kryptonite."

"Woah, woah. What if he doesn't trust me?"

I hesitated. It was a distinct possibility. Hamilton had never met Bart, and he wasn't aware of any affiliation the young man had with my family. I sighed and met Bart's eyes. "Do whatever it takes."

Bart looked rather surprised. I couldn't blame him. I bet I was the last person he expected to hear say something like that.

"Will it help Clark?" he asked.

"I hope so."

Bart nodded. "I'll be back in a flash."

And he was gone. I hurried into the barn, hoping that no more surprises would head our way. The last two weeks had been busy enough.

I had to get Martha to the hospital, but I couldn't just leave Clark there. I called Chloe. I'd worn a hole in the dirt floor of the barn by the time Chloe pulled up in her car.

"Mr. Kent?" Chloe called as she walked into the barn. She saw Clark and Martha and gasped. "Oh, my God! What happened?"

"Chloe," I said, interrupting any other questions she may have. "I need you to drive Martha to the hospital."

"What about Clark? He looks like he could use some medical treatment, too."

"He'll be fine." I hoped. "Please, Chloe."

She must have seen something in my eyes that stopped her from protesting further. "Alright."

We got Martha into Chloe's car and she drove off. I ran a hand through my hair as I walked back into the barn. Clark was still unconscious.

All I could do was wait and hope that, if Clark woke up before Bart returned, Kal-El wouldn't be in charge.

-----

Chloe called after thirty minutes.

"The doctor's checked her over," she said. "She woke up on the way over. They say she's going to be fine. She broke a few ribs, but that's the worst of the damage."

Oh, thank God. "Thank you, Chloe." I swallowed. "Look, could you-um-"

"Don't worry, Mr. Kent. Lana and I will take turns watching her. You help Clark."

I felt so much relief in that moment. "Thank you, Chloe. For everything."

I hung up and went back out into the barn. Clark was still unconscious on the barn floor. I'd tried to get him up the stairs to the bed in the loft, but he was thrashing too much for it to be possible. I'd eventually settled on getting him a pillow.

During the time I'd been in the farmhouse he'd begun to toss and turn. "No!" he cried out as I entered. "Get out of my body! /I am Clark Kent! I will not yield!/"

I hesitated. I wanted to run over to him and shake him awake, but common sense warned me against it. In the end, I sat back down in my chair and watched him, my heart twisting with every shout my son made.

Bart was gone for four hours. It felt like four weeks. He was actually out of breath when he appeared, standing, beside me.

"Took me awhile to find the place," he said. "And I did ask for the guy, but he wasn't there."

"Did you get the black kryptonite?" I asked him, standing.

He pulled a chunk of black rock from his pocket. "I found this. Hope it's what you wanted."

He handed it to me and I tapped a finger against it. It made the same noise kryptonite made. "It is."

I turned back to Clark, unsure what to do with it now that I had it. Should I hold it against him, hoping it would hurt Kal-El and not Clark? If only Clark would wake up. Then I'd know who was in control.

"/I am Kal-El!/" Clark shouted in his sleep. A moment later, he exclaimed, "/I am Clark!/"

"What's he saying?" Bart asked.

"I wish I knew," I replied. Did the black kryptonite have an effect on him even now? I took a few steps back just to be sure. Even then, it didn't seem to make any difference; Clark continued to thrash and mumble in Kryptonian.

"Jonathan?" Martha's voice startled me. She walked into the barn, human speed-walking at first before a grimace caused her to slow down.

I walked over to her and embraced her, careful to avoid her ribs as she wrapped her arms around my midsection. I pulled back and looked into her eyes. "Are you all right?" I asked her.

She nodded. "I'll be fine. How's Clark?" Then she glanced past me. She covered her mouth in shock. "Oh, my God, Clark! What happened?"

I told her about what happened. "Martha, I don't know if Clark or Kal-El is in control," I said after I'd finished. I held up the black meteorite. "I asked Bart to run to New York and get this, but I don't know how effective it's going to be."

Martha bit her lip and looked down at Clark. She looked back at me. "What about Lana? Is she all right?"

I turned and looked at Bart, who up until this point had been standing at the other side of the barn, keeping watch over Clark while we talked. "Lana woke up. Bart got her to leave. I think she's going to be all right. Martha, what happened?"

"Lana had come over to ask if we'd heard anything about Clark when Kal-El showed up. He flung me into the wall." She shuddered and placed a hand over the bandages hidden under her shirt. I rubbed a hand across her upper back. I knew, looking at her now, that there would be more nightmares tonight for the both of us. "I don't know what happened after that."

"Mrs. Kent?" Chloe's call made my eyes almost pop out of their sockets. Damnit, not this, not now. "You left your medical papers in the car..."

I thought about telling Bart to grab Clark and get the hell out of there before Chloe saw him, but I didn't. Bart didn't have Clark's strength; if he couldn't lift Lana, he certainly wouldn't be able to lift Clark. Still, I wished I'd done something other than just stand there like an idiot as Chloe entered the barn. She held the papers up in one hand, but when her eyes swept across the interior of the barn, the hand fell. "Is Clark okay?" she asked, worried and surprised to still find him unconscious after so long.

My brain desperately tried to think of some excuse. Martha began to stammer out a response only to be cut off by Bart.

"Um, Mr. and Mrs. Kent? I think he's waking up."

-----

My fingers squeezed around the black kryptonite in my left hand as I pulled the lead box holding the green kryptonite out of my pocket. Clark, or Kal-El, took his time sitting up. He groaned.

"Mom? Dad?" he asked tentatively. "Chloe?"

Martha took a step forward and I stopped her. "Martha, it could be Kal-El."

"Kal-El?" Chloe repeated, confused. "What's going on?"

"It's me, Dad," Clark said.

God, I so wanted to believe him, but doubt made me hesitate.

He tried to get to his feet, only to start gasping. He collapsed back to the ground. "I don't have much time," he said. "I need the black kryptonite."

He reached out a shaking hand for the meteorite. I contemplated tossing it to him, but I doubted he would catch it in the state he was in. I walked over to him, reached down, and grasped his right wrist. I placed the black kryptonite in the palm of his hand.

Suddenly, Clark's left hand snaked around and gripped my wrist. I looked up into the cold gaze of Kal-El. I felt his hand squeeze around my wrist as he began to yank my arm away.

I resisted even as I felt the bones in my wrist crack. I'd have two broken wrists when this was over, but I still wasn't going to let the pain prevent me from keeping that black kryptonite in Clark's hand. Kal-El was trying to force the black kryptonite out of control with his body and I wasn't going to let him.

"Jonathan!" Martha yelled in warning. I felt my hand getting hot. Kal-El's eyes had turned yellow-orange. The air between his eyes and my hand was blurry from heat.

My hand felt like it was on fire. I screamed even as I tried to ignore the pain. I wouldn't give in. I couldn't.

I pushed, fighting against Kal-El's depleted yet considerable strength. I pressed the black kryptonite into his right palm.

Kal-El screamed, or maybe I did.

Light radiated out from the black kryptonite, bathing us both.

Both of us passed out.

-----

The ground was shaking. I felt it through my cheek, which was touching the floor. I could feel a headache coming on; in fact, now that I was becoming more aware of myself, I was pretty sure that I was aching all over. It felt like the time when Lionel, in Clark's body, had just tossed me into the kitchen cabinet again. Either that or I'd just woken up from a three-day drunk. I'm not sure which would have been worse.

Someone was talking. If only I could hear them through the cotton balls that had once been my ears. I opened my eyes, shutting them immediately when my eyeballs were exposed to an intense light...

...an intense light that was radiating from hundreds of clear crystals.

Wait a minute...

I opened my eyes again and slowly sat up. Nope, I hadn't hallucinated it; I was staring at a wall of sharp, jutting crystals trapped behind a smooth sheet of glass. I wondered when Martha had decided to re-decorate the barn, and where the heck she'd managed to find so many crystals. Then I looked around and finally realized I wasn't in the barn anymore.

I sat in a corner of a large, crystal-lined room. The floor was made of what I guessed to be white and black marble. Sitting on a raised platform at the opposite end of the room were ten people wearing strange, one-piece suits that extended up to cover their necks and half of their hair. Kryptonian symbols were etched on a patch of fabric on their shirtfronts. Their expressions, stony and aloof, reminded me of Kal-El's.

I heard a footstep and tore my gaze away from the onlookers. Standing in the middle of the floor and facing each other were two identical copies of my son. They, too, wore the strange clothing. To my left was who I was certain was Kal-El - his expression mimicked that of the onlookers'. To my right was Clark, who wore a determined yet nervous expression.

As one, the two turned and looked at me. Kal-El's face hardened, but Clark's broke out into a relieved grin. "Dad!"

I got to my feet and went over to him. "Clark, what's going on? What is this place?"

Clark gave me a resigned, anguished look. "Roughly translated, it's the Hall of Challenges on Krypton."

"Krypton?" I repeated, incredulous. "But, son, Krypton was destroyed."

"But it lives on through me," he responded.

I glanced around again, trying to digest what, exactly, he was telling me. "Are you saying we're inside your mind?" Even after everything, I still had trouble believing something like that. Clark hadn't been a mind reader the last time I checked, so how could something like that happen at all?

Suddenly, I remembered the black kryptonite. It must have done something to send us here, wherever 'here' was.

"I don't know," Clark replied. "I don't know how you can even be here, Dad, but I'm glad you're all right." He glanced down. "At least your hands are all right here."

I looked down at my hands, only now noticing that the cast was missing on my left and my right hand no longer felt like it was doused in flames.

Okay, I think my mind is officially shutting down now. I'm just a small town farmer from Kansas. How much of this alien stuff do they expect me to handle? This was getting to be a little too much.

Clark must have seen my panicked expression, because he placed a hand on my shoulder. "It's okay, Dad. You don't have to accept it. Not in this place." He sighed. "Unfortunately, I do have to accept it, and it's giving me the creeps."

He looked at something to his left. I turned and nearly gave myself a coronary right there. A body lay sprawled on the floor near one of the glass-shielded walls. I hadn't even noticed it before.

I felt a lump form in my throat and swallowed it along with the bile that had risen from my stomach. "Is-Is that...?"

"It's Jor-El," Clark said, his voice quivering slightly. His eyes met mine. "I killed him, Dad."

For a moment I had a flashback to that time when Clark was ten years old and scared out of his mind because he'd super-sped for the first time and gotten himself lost in the woods. When Martha and I had found him, Clark had run into my arms, knocking me over with the force of his contact. I'd told him that everything was going to be okay, that he didn't do anything wrong.

Clark was looking at me with that ten-year-old's expression, silently pleading with me to tell him it would be okay. But I couldn't tell him that, could I? Not this time. No matter how much Jor-El had deserved it, or how much Clark hadn't had a choice, I couldn't tell him it would be okay. Clark had killed a man, his own biological father - I swallowed down another lump when my mind realized the possible implications of that- and nothing would ever be the same again.

Instead of saying anything, I hugged him. Clark returned the hug desperately. It was a long time before we pulled out of it. I had to clear my throat a few times before I could form anything coherent. "What's-what's going on now, son?"

I saw him flinch when I said 'son', and my heart tightened in my chest.

Clark licked dry lips. "Kal-El challenged me after I killed Jor-El. We've been fighting on-and-off ever since. It feels like we've been fighting for weeks. Kal-El wins more rounds than I do." He glanced across the room at Kal-El, who stood posed, waiting for the next round to begin. He looked back at me. "Dad, what has Kal-El been doing in the real world? Has he hurt anyone?" He winced. "Besides you."

"Lana and Martha were given a few scares," I began. Seeing the anguish in his eyes, I assured him, "They're going to be fine, though I think Chloe and Lana are both going to want to know what's going on after all this is over." I sighed.

His eyes widened, this time in surprise. "You mean, I should tell them?"

"I hope not, son, I hope not." Hopefully, Martha would be able to stall Chloe, and Lana would be able to get over whatever Kal-El did to her. Either way, none of that was important at that moment.

"Clark, you can't give in," I told him.

Clark's shoulder's slumped and exhaustion crept into every one of his muscles. "Dad, I'm trying not to, but Kal-El's stronger and faster than me. No matter what I do, he counters it and then gets through my guard."

"What about-what about the black kryptonite?" I looked around frantically for it, but like my cast, it, too, had been left behind in the material world. What good did it do to send me here but not the kryptonite?

Clark nodded. "Right...the black kryptonite. I forgot...I think I can use that."

"How?" I asked, flabbergasted.

Clark's shoulders straightened with a newfound determination. He glanced across the room at Kal-El again. "You'll see." He began to take a step forward, only to hesitate. He turned back to me. "Dad, I've been fighting for weeks now. If this doesn't work, I may not..."

I grabbed Clark's arm. Oh, no, he was not telling me what I think he was telling me. I wasn't going to lose my son, damnit! But what could I do? "Clark, you can do this," I told him. "You aren't going to die."

Clark wouldn't meet my eyes. "Dad, I'll try, but I don't know if I can..." He swallowed and looked up. "Dad, you have to promise me that Kal-El will be stopped. That you won't let him kill anyone." Seeing me about to protest, he grabbed my shoulders. "Dad, promise me!"

I stared into his eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest. I wouldn't. I couldn't do it. I shook my head. "Clark, it won't come to that." I drew myself up to my full height. "Listen to me. You are not going to die. No matter how much faster Kal-El is or how much stronger, you are still going to win, and you know why?"

His brow furrowed. "Why?"

"Because you are Clark Jerome Kent," I said firmly. "You have never hesitated to save a life, no matter how dangerous it was to you or to them. Every time you developed a new power, you always found a way to control it, no matter how hard or impossible it may have seemed. Remember when you lost your sight, and you developed your super hearing?" I smiled. "Most people would have given up then, Clark. They would have been so depressed that they'd lost their sight that they wouldn't have been able to move on, but you did. You accepted it. Every time your powers got screwed up or left you, you still tried to help people, Clark, even though the odds were against you."

I nodded at Kal-El. "The odds are against you again, son, but you'll win. You have something Kal-El doesn't have: endurance. You've held on for a week already, Clark. Most people would have given in after a day, maybe not even that long. You can do this."

Clark took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right. I can do this." He smiled slightly. "You'd better step back, Dad."

I smiled back before retreating to the corner I'd woken up in. I turned around and watched, tense, as the next round began.

Clark straightened his shoulders before turning to fully face Kal-El. For a moment, their expressions were identical masks of determination. Then Clark settled into a fighting stance. "::I am ready,::" he said.

I came upon a new surprise. I realized that, even though Clark hadn't been speaking English, I still understood him. It probably had something to do with the whole dream aspect, and thinking about it gave me a headache. Besides, I was pretty distracted by the fact that my son was fighting for his life.

As soon as Clark spoke, Kal-El rushed at him in a burst of super-speed. Normally, Clark would have moved out of the way, but those earlier fights must have taken a lot out of him even if he looked fine. Kal-El tackled him, and then the two were rolling about on the floor.

When they stopped with Kal-El on top, I gasped. Their hands were wrapped around each other's throats, and their faces were turning purple.

"Clark!" I began, taking a few steps forward.

"::You cannot interfere, Jonathan Kent!::" I froze and stared across the room. The speaker was one of the people on the raised platform. She had risen from her chair to address me, but her face was as impassive as ever. "::The rules forbid any meddling once combat has been initiated. You must stay back.::"

I felt fury rise within me. That was my son out there! But hadn't I encouraged him to do this?

It took every ounce of willpower not to run out there and jump onto Kal-El's back or something equally drastic, but I stayed in the corner, feeling more like I was in time out than anything.

"Come on, Clark," I muttered.

Clark let go of Kal-El's throat, grabbed Kal-El's hands and began to force them off his neck. His leg shot up and kicked Kal-El in the chest. Kal-El went soaring across the room. He impacted with one of the glass-protected walls and the glass shattered.

I hit the floor and put my hands over my head, protecting myself as much as I could from the shards and crystals that flew everywhere. A few shards sliced through my hands and arms, making me wince, but that was the extent of the damage.

I sat up. A really sharp shard was stuck in my arm. It wasn't deep, but it hurt like hell. I bit my tongue before gripping it and yanking it out, then sat there gasping a minute at the pain. I turned my attention back to the fight as I tore a section off my shirt and wrapped it around the wound. The other cuts would have to wait.

Kal-El and Clark were fighting at the center of the floor. Clark's nose was bleeding, and the back of Kal-El's black suit was torn in several places. There was even a crystal sticking out of his flesh, but he didn't seem to notice.

They were as vulnerable as I was in this place. Either that or they'd been fighting for so long that their healing powers couldn't keep up anymore. It made my heart twist in worry, and I forgot my own cuts.

Kal-El dodged a punch, grabbed Clark's arm and turned in place. He sent Clark flying. Clark hit the broken wall and fell to the floor with a cry.

Kal-El super-sped over to him, but Clark super-sped out of the way and over to the opposite wall. They faced each other again in the same positions they'd been in before the fight. They looked for all the world like the fight hadn't even begun, except now both of them sported several wounds and bruises.

"::You will not win, Clark Kent,::" Kal-El said. "::You are weak. You were too weak to do what was expected of you by our father, and for this reason you are too weak to be the head of our house.::"

Clark took a shaky breath. "::Perhaps the House of El just needs a do-over, Kal-El. Besides, you're not looking very well yourself.::"

"::They are wounds only,::" replied Kal-El. "::Our people do not depend on the flesh as much as Humans.::" He practically spat out the word like he'd swallowed a misquito. He smirked at me. I glared back. He addressed Clark, "::The one you call father is weak for this reason. Look at how he tries to stem the flow of his blood like his life is worth preserving.::"

A look of fury clouded my son's vision. He ran into Kal-El head first like his evil twin was a tackle dummy. Kal-El flew a few feet before hitting the ground. Clark stood over him. They glared at each other.

"::It's too bad you never learned the value of human emotions, Kal-El,::" Clark told him, "::and you never will.::"

Clark closed his eyes, his face twisting into a grimace. Something black shimmered in the palm of his hand.

"::No!::" Kal-El cried, getting to his feet. He tried to rush Clark, only to fall to his knees half way, gasping.

"::Stop!::" The Kryptonian woman shouted, standing again. "::The radioactive kryptonite is not allowed. The rules call for hand-to-hand combat.::"

Clark whirled on her. "::Then why didn't you interfere when Kal-El hit me with that sledgehammer earlier? If he can pull up weapons, why can't I? Maybe you are just a figment, too, conjured up by Kal-El?::"

She had no answer, I noticed. Instead, she seemed to flicker a moment before returning to solidity. Clark smirked, apparently having received confirmation for something - don't ask me what - then turned away back to Kal-El.

Clark now held a fully formed piece of black kryptonite in his hand. "::It took me until now to figure out how to do this, but I have,::" he said, nodding at the kryptonite. "::I've also just figured out a few things. You're nothing but a figment, Kal-El, created by Jor-El to replace me. But you can't. Because I am Kal-El, and I'm Clark Kent. You're just a...correction. That's why this hurts you. Black kryptonite restores a person, mentally and physically, to their natural state. That's why it has an effect on you and not on me. You're a parasite.::"

The walls shimmered, disappearing and reappearing like blinking Christmas lights. The Kryptonian observers also blinked in and out. Only Kal-El, Clark, Jor-El, and I remained solid throughout. A sinking feeling formed in my stomach. "Clark! We need to get out of here!" I called.

Clark glanced over at me, and in that instant, Kal-El made his move. Although obviously weak, he was able to knock the black kryptonite out of Clark's hand. The meteorite skidded across the floor and through the blinking platform.

Kal-El immediately stood up, rejuvenated. He punched Clark in the face and then the stomach. Clark caught his fist and punched him back. "Get the kryptonite!" Clark shouted at me.

Racing across the room, I stopped in front of the raised platform. It kept blinking in and out rapidly. The black kryptonite appeared every time the onlookers disappeared, but when I took a step toward it, my ankle collided with the edge of the platform, which had re-appeared.

It would be nice if I had super-speed. Unfortunately, I was still very human in this dreamscape. Clark and Kal-El were still fighting behind me, only Kal-El had become more desperate, I think. That didn't mean Clark was doing any better, though. I needed to get that black kryptonite now, but I didn't know if I could.

I watched the platform blink in and out, trying to time it. "Alright," I said, rubbing my hands as I readied myself for the jump I was sure I would need to do. "Now!"

I jumped...and I fell right through the platform and on the other side. I impacted painfully with the floor. Body aching and lungs screaming for breath, I scrambled over to the black kryptonite and snatched it. Then I turned around and repeated the jump, somehow making it a second time, although barely; my ankle almost merged with the platform.

"Clark!" I shouted, hoping to get his attention. Then I threw the rock.

He reached out for it and missed. The kryptonite bounced off his hand, bounced a few times on the floor, then settled five feet away on the far end of the room. Clark ducked a kick from Kal-El, reached out, and grasped the kryptonite. He whirled back around and held it up, catching Kal-El right on the chest.

Kal-El screamed. The kryptonite turned white and light spread out from his chest to the rest of his body. Then he blew apart...

...and everything exploded.

-----

I blinked spots out of my vision. Clark's eyes, only inches from my own, pierced my eyes as soon as I could see again. Wait a minute, that wasn't right...I shook my head, blinked, and tried again to get my barrings.

We were back in the barn, in the same positions we'd been before the black kryptonite had sent us into that dreamscape: with me leaning over Clark and him lying on his back on the barn floor. Only it was Clark who peered up at me through those green eyes, and not Kal-El.

Pain flared in my right arm and I jerked it back toward me while wincing through my teeth.

"Dad?" Clark asked, confused and worried.

"It's okay, son," I said, giving him a slight smile - it was all I could manage. "We're back home. Kal-El's gone. You did, son."

He smiled. "No, Dad. We did it." His smile widened even more. "Jor-El and his 'correction' won't bother us again."

Martha rushed over. "Oh, Clark!" She enveloped him in a hug, then turned and gave me one. Both of us winced. "Oh, my God! Are you two all right?"

"I think I need to go to the hospital," I said, holding up my right hand, which was burned slightly. Martha gasped. "Clark?"

"I'm just a little sore," he said.

"That really you, Clark?" Bart asked.

Clark looked at him, puzzled. "Bart? What are you doing here?" His eyes slipped past Bart and widened. "Chloe?"

I winced. I'd forgotten Chloe was there. I turned and looked at the girl. She was as white as a sheet.

Everyone else seemed to freeze, uncertain what to do. That meant I had to take charge. I reached into my left pants pocket for my keys, then tossed them to Bart. "You know how to drive?" He nodded. "You're taking me to the hospital. Chloe, Martha, get Clark in the house. We'll be back soon."

-----

Somehow, I didn't know how exactly, I managed to convince the doctor not to call the sheriff again, even if all burn wounds were supposed to be reported. I wasn't exactly the nicest patient, wanting to get home, and I think the doctor wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible. He did say he was going to call the sheriff in the morning. At least I wouldn't have to worry about it that night.

As we drove back to the farm, Bart asked, "So, I'm guessing Chloe didn't know about the whole Clark-being-an-alien thing?"

I sighed. "No, but she probably does now." Clark and Martha had probably told her. I wished I hadn't left that responsibility up to them, wished that we could have avoided it altogether, but I doubted even Clark would be able to explain it all away this time. I hoped he did.

Jor-El was gone, along with Kal-El. I didn't think it had sunk in yet, and that probably had to do with the fact that I was really, really tired, and really worried about what Chloe was going to do.

We passed Chloe's car on the road. It sped past us toward downtown Smallville. I tensed as I watched it pass. I couldn't see inside the cab.

A blue blur trailed after the car. "Uh-oh," Bart muttered.

"What?" I asked.

"Clark didn't look very happy. I don't think Chloe took the news well."

We reached the farm to find Martha waiting for us. "We told her," she said without preamble.

She looked so tired and worried. I probably looked the same way.

"Clark will take care of it," I said. Chloe was a reasonable girl. I may not have wanted her to know the truth with good reason, but if anyone could convince her to keep the secret, it was Clark. It had to be. There was nothing we could do but hope for the best.

Martha had been cooking despite the fact that she should have been resting. She said it was a welcome distraction. We offered to host Bart for dinner, but he declined and took off, going so fast we saw nothing but a long, yellow streak.

Clark returned after a few hours. He looked as worn out as us.

"How'd it go, son?" I asked him from my chair. Martha and I were sitting on the porch. The sun had set while we'd eaten dinner and the evening was a cold one, but we hardly noticed. I motioned to the chair next to me, expecting Clark to remain standing. He usual did, having so much energy that he couldn't even think of taking a rest. This time, however, he plopped down in the chair.

"I think she's going to keep it a secret," he said. "She needs time to think about it, though. She doesn't want to see me."

"She won't sell your secret to the Planet?" I asked, too tired to even try to mask my skepticism.

He shook his head. "No. I made her promise not to."

I sighed and leaned back in my chair, too tired to sit upright any longer. If only a promise couldn't be broken. "I hope we can trust her."

Clark matched my sigh with one of his own. "Me, too, Dad. Me, too."

"Chloe's a sensible girl," Martha assured us. "As long as we make it clear what being a part of this family is all about, she'll want to help."

I let out a shaky breath. If only I could share Martha's confidence. Still, there was a chance that everything would turn out alright in the end. They had so far. "We'll work it out somehow, son," I assured Clark, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Clark winced and moved away, and I let my hand fall back to my armrest. The mood was suddenly very awkward between us, and I had no idea what to do about it. What do you say to your son after he'd killed his own biological father, even if logic dictated that Jor-El had died fourteen years ago? The guy was an asshole who didn't deserve to be given the label of 'father', and I didn't feel sorry for his passing in any way. Still, it wasn't right for Clark to carry that sort of burden.

Clark took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm just feeling really tired right now."

He got to his feet, and I reached out and snagged his arm. He didn't move away this time, although he did flinch. "Clark, Jor-El didn't have the right to do any of the things he did to this family. And while I'll never regret his passing, killing is still not alright. All we can do is try to move past this and learn from it."

Clark nodded. After a long moment, a smile slowly spread across his face. "And now I can move past it," he said, softly, more to himself than to Martha or me. He looked at me. "No one's in charge of my destiny anymore except me."

I smiled back. "That's right, son." I got to my feet. "Though why don't you sleep on it before acting on this new freedom of yours?"

He gave me the full Kent grin. I felt myself relax. Martha did, too.

Clark suddenly hugged Martha and me simultaneously. Martha squeezed back tightly, probably ignoring the pain in her ribs by doing so. I didn't say anything about it.

"It's over," she said, and squeezed tighter. "It's all over. Nothing's ever going to tear this family apart again."

"Damn straight," I said. "Damn straight."

We still had a few problems to deal with, namely Lana and Chloe, but we'd deal with them. We were the Kents, and no one could get in the way of that now.

THE END