by Lexalot

By: Lexalot

Summary: The road to darkness is one way.

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Clark/Lex, Clark/Lois, Lex/Chloe, Lex/Lana

Disclaimer: The WB keeps them on the shelves; all I do is take them down to do what I want with them every once in a while.

Inspiration and Reference: Movies - "Superman"; Music - The "X-Files" Movie Score, "I'm With You" and "Tomorrow" by Avril Lavigne.

Spoilers: Crusade, Gone, Facade

WARNING: Darkly dramatic material; Character death!

Thanks: To kitkat3979 for being my speedy beta and dicks_chick for being my test audience.

RIP Christopher Reeve, 1952-2004

~Metropolis, The Future~

Rain beat down on the rooftop of The Daily Planet. The giant globe spun in a gothic dance of light and iron. From where he was slumped on the ground, Clark could just barely see it over Lex's shoulder, through the heavy downpour of the storm and the blurring of his vision. He was almost completely numb, only a vague sensation of being alive still, the only thing he felt clearly was the pain of the green shot in his arm.

The darkness of night was filled with droplets that made the air shimmer. The sound of the water pelting them and the tar drowned out the bustle of the city streets several stories below. Lex towered over Clark as Clark fought to breathe, struggling to retain consciousness, raging desperately against the Kryptonite bullet lodged in his bicep. The two men were drenched by the cold rain, the overwhelming difference being that Lex's feet were only stepping in the puddles while Clark's red cape lay soaking in them.

Clark's large frame trembled as he forced himself to move, mustering the strength to glare at the man wielding a gun that was loaded with the one thing that could mortally wound him. Lex had already fired off one shot, just to slow Clark down, just to incapacitate him enough for Lex to revel in his suffering and savor a tasteless victory. Now Clark was waiting for the second shot, the deadly one.

"Is this the part where you tell me you've died before?" Lex's face was marble, and his voice dripped venom. "I have too, you know. Dozens of times. Only there's never been any way for me to come back. Not the way you have." His ashen eyes were afire, and his lips were sealed by a tight frown.

"That's because you never tried!" The words were garbled as this throat seemed to close up on him and his skin felt as though it were turning to stone as particles of the Kryptonite spread into his bloodstream. He choked his words out, spitting them at his enemy. "You stopped being the man I loved a long time ago. That was the path you chose!"

"I chose my destiny. Just as you chose yours." Lex lifted the gun and pointed it at Clark, aiming for his heart this time. "There's no going back for me, and there shouldn't be for you either." Lex cocked the gun and his finger poised to pull the trigger. He glared down at Clark, regarding the defeated hero for a long moment. Disdain. Spite. Loathing. All those things Lex directed at Clark in that instant were met bravely and without malice.

Lex's finger began to shake and his will to shoot faltered, slipping away as his finger from the trigger. He lowered the weapon. Frustration coiled in his eyes and disgust in his stomach. His mind thirsted for blood, but it seemed that there would not be a drop to drink.

Clark was staring up at Lex, boldly defiant still, yet practically begging for this war to finally end. "Don't wound what you can't kill, Lex."

Lex's grim countenance drained of hesitation. "Fine." He whirled around and swiftly fired.

As the pure adrenaline of panic swept through Clark, he was able to lift himself off the ground enough to see a figure frozen mid-step, and in a split second, the body went limp and fell into the pools of water that covered the roof.

Lois. With his abilities impaired and his sense scrambled, he hadn't realized she was on her way to save him. Between the shock and the Kryptonite, he stopped breathing in that moment. The whole world slowed to a halt, and he forgot that Lex was hovering over him, watching. Time started moving forward again, and at first, his breath only came in a few sharp bursts. His eyes grew wide and wet, gritting his teeth under the pressure of an agony so great that it was overriding the influence of green glowing rock stuck in his bleeding flesh. Then, he shook his head, and the raw fury exploded from within him. As he yelled as long and loud as he could, his scream echoed for miles, the sound of the rain muted by his deafening grief.

"Some wounds are just waiting to happen, Clark." With the moment of anguish interrupted, Clark turned to face Lex, scowling, his beautiful features marred by deep-seated wrath. Lex merely stared at him, blank, unreadable, absent. "There are no accidents."

~Smallville, Ten Years Earlier~

Clark ascended the stairs to the loft with Lois following close behind. "So what's the deal with you and Lex?"

He turned, furrowing his brow, immediately throwing up a wall for her to slam into headfirst. "What do you mean? Why are you asking about Lex?"

She snapped the attitude he gave her right back at him like a boomerang. "I'm going to meet the man that saved my cousin's life and went up against his own father to do it. Since you're Chloe's best friend I thought you might want to come with me so we could both thank him, but the way she tells it, you were awfully pissed off at him last she'd heard." She watched his eyes narrow and his face scrunch up into a thin mask of annoyance, and she saw all the repressed resentment behind it. So fresh and raw, unfettered and unrefined. "Wow! What could he possibly have done to earn that kind of wrath from everyone's favorite farmboy?" Slingshot, and she nailed him right between the eyes.

He winced like he felt the sting. "That's none of your business."

"Ooo, a bit touchy, Smallville? Geez! I mean, you'd think he was your boyfriend or something." Her grin was way too spunky, and the off-handed remark made Clark freeze instantly. When she saw him swallow hard and turn away as subtly as he could manage, her eyes nearly popped out of her head and her smile liquefied right off her lips. "Oh my God. You're kidding?" He failed to make any kind of response, and her mouth dropped open. "Oh my God! I'm sorry!"

His back was turned to her now, and she recklessly moved to close the gap between them, but he stepped closer to the window. "I didn't know, Clark." He cast a wounded glance over his shoulder.

She smiled timidly at first, then her eyebrows perked up and intrigue glinted in her eyes. "Really? You and Lex...?"

He rolled his eyes, more dreadful than anything else, like he expected to keel over out of mortification any minute.

She shook her amusement and tactlessness off, and then returned to deeply apologetic. "Nevermind. I'm really sorry!"

Though he could not yet look her directly in the eye, Clark turned around to face her again, his head hanging low. "You have to promise not to tell anyone."

"Oh, come on!" She spread her arms out, and it made her seem open like a book... or on display like a martyr. "You don't trust me?"

Now Clark was staring her straight in the eye, adamant that his skepticism was justified. "You have a big mouth."

"And you have a real complex, Smallville!" Her tone was abrasive, sharpening against him, using his own harsh judgment as a measuring stick. "Seriously, how many people in this town have done a number on you like this? Because it seems like just between Lana and Lex, you have some pretty big issues with people."

Clark's stare fell and he muttered his only reply. "You don't know the half of it."

"Hey." She cupped his chin in the palm of her hand and gently nudged it higher. "Chin up." Once their eyes were firmly locked, she spoke softly, nectar and truth in her voice. "I'm not going to say anything, Clark."

After dwelling in her comfort for a moment longer, he withdrew, his eyes darting self-consciously again, nervously putting a bit of distance between them again.

She lost herself in thought, and then turned back to him, their moment having passed without so much as an ounce of open recognition. "No one else knows?"

"No." He sat down on the couch, elbows resting on his knees, but his head was not hanging anymore. "Not Chloe. Not Lana. Nobody."

Without asking, she claimed the cushion right next to him. "Well, are you gonna tell me what happened?" She could feel his reluctance to talk to her as she sat down and waited for an explanation, but that didn't stop her from being curious. "I mean, Lex seems like a pretty good guy. He helped save Chloe's life by protecting her all summer long, so I have trouble believing he's everything the tabloids say he is. Besides, if he were, I can't imagine you'd have gone for him in the first place. So...?" She shrugged cluelessly, giving him another opening. "What went wrong?"

Clark inhaled deeply, and then laid it all out in a single breath. "We lied to each other." Lois squinted at him, trying to understand the things he wasn't saying or get him to say them. "About a lot of things, important things, and no matter how much I want to put all the blame on him, the truth is that we were never going to work with both of us always hiding from one another."

Lois only nodded, making it seem as if it were the simplest story in the world. "How long were you together?"

"Three years." Clark made the admission as though the amount of time had only just occurred to him.

She whistled a whew. "That's a long time to be with the same person." She caught the distinct mark of melancholic nostalgia as it dulled his jade green eyes. Then, she gave him her trademark smart look, the one where she thought she had the answer to everything. The same cock-eyed stare that was practically her signature facial expression. "Seems like too long to just throw it away."

His eyes begged that she check her insight at the door. "Or too long to have an entire relationship based on nothing but lies."

She looked at him sideways for a bit, one corner of her mouth curling as she tilted her head. "You want my advice?"

"Would it make a difference if I said no?" It was all Clark could say to keep from rolling his eyes.

"No." She grinned a smile worthy of the Cheshire Cat, smugly enjoying every opportunity to torture him. She became solemn enough that her meddling took on a more mature appearance. "The cure for lies is honesty, Smallville."

"Yeah?" More cynicism, and the depths of his hurt had yet to be tapped. "And what's the cure for betrayal?"

"Well, that depends." She threw his attitude right back at him, as was her favorite line of attack. "His or yours?"

He scoffed. "Any." He fidgeted as his eyes traveled the room anxiously. "It doesn't matter anymore."

"If it doesn't matter, then why are you tied up in knots over it? You obviously miss him. If there's nothing stopping you, why don't you just go talk to him?" She tried to meet his eyes again, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction. She let out a slow breath, accepting that the point where she gets shut out was upon her. She graciously stood to leave, and with pure sympathy, she addressed him one last time. "Look, all I'm saying is that you don't know anything until you take a chance." She started walking towards the stairs, ready to surrender her occupation of this fortress to his solitude.

"What if there is something stopping me?" He called out before she could set foot on the first step.

She paused and turned, quiet and leaving him free to elaborate, but he didn't. He only swallowed hard again. "Which would be...?"

"A large part of me will always love him... but I don't know if I want to be with him anymore. Even if I did want to, I don't know that I can." He emphasized that last word, loading it with hidden meaning, which even if she knew his secret, she could not begin to fathom.

"You should follow your heart, Clark." She stared at him, her long chestnut ponytail falling over her shoulder as she turned her head more towards him. "You've got a good one, and I'd trust it." As her hand rested on the wooden banister, she squeezed it tightly for a second. "Whatever you do, you should always do what your heart tells you." She smiled, but somehow her smile didn't shine as brightly as it usually did.

"That's the other thing." He gazed at her with restrained emotion she had never seen him direct at her, and she seemed to buckle. Imperceptible, at least to the human eye. "What makes it worse is that I think I'm falling for someone else." He held her stare, appealing to her with unspoken volumes, never breaking eye contact.

Lois returned his heavy stare, the lively aura that always lit her with hope and energy seemed to dim. "That is a dilemma." Without another word, she casually turned and descended the steps at a leisurely pace. She flipped the hood of her bright red jacket up to cover her head as she walked out of the barn and into the autumn drizzle. She slipped her hands into the pockets of the jacket, and she headed for her car.

"What happened with you and Clark?" Lana's dark eyes appealed to Lex with a kindness that made his callous mask melt away, and the sadness began to show in his eyes as he glanced at the floor.

"It doesn't matter." He met Lana's stare again, his tone remorseful. "He'll never forgive me."

She set the box in her arms down on the counter in a pile waiting for Martha Kent to sort through. The mess had been lying around unattended all summer. She then turned back to Lex. "I wouldn't worry about it. Clark can be... well, Clark. But he always gets over whatever it is. You and Clark were good friends, Lex." She smiled delicately at him as he put on a falsely positive smile in return. She approached him, light and beauty radiating from her like she was the sun and he the cold moon. "You're the best friend he's ever had. He'll remember that one day. Even if he doesn't right now."

His eyes shone like glass in the light, and the Talon seemed illuminated by the pure hope that Lana offered him without judging him, without questioning the problem, without expecting anything in return. His smile grew in earnest, and his posture straightened from its former meek slouch. He laughed a little under his breath.

She stared at him, her doe eyes widening, nearly laughing herself without knowing why. "What?"

He stared at her for a moment, a genuine amusement shaping his features. "I think you're the only one left who puts such faith in me. And that includes myself."

"That's not true." Her most reassuring voice, like a velveteen security blanket. "What about Chloe?" Her eyebrows raised, convinced and trying to convince him of the same. "She believes in you every bit as much as I do, if not more."

Lex's eyes fell to the ground, lingering as if anchored there. The flicker of a sincere smile crossed his lips, then it faded and his eyes drifted to the side before meeting Lana's again.

She was quiet, and the silence drowned them in a sea of clouded water. "It's okay to get close to someone, Lex."

He took a tentative step toward her. "Is it?" Something deep and low, almost mischievously seductive in his voice. Something challenging that was now only a few inches from her and leaning in towards her lips with measured care. A slate gray storm gazed at her with adoration. When she didn't move away, he came within a single breath of her mouth. His eyes fell to the ground again for no more than split second, but it was enough for her to catch the hesitation, even if he didn't.

Lana didn't budge, didn't so much as blink. She simply stared at him, and unflinchingly spoke her objection. "What about Chloe?"

He pulled back slightly, searching her eyes for meaning, for an answer, for either of two shades of green, neither of which was there.

"Lex, you're here with me right now and I'm sure you think this feels right, but face it. You're wishing that I was someone else." She watched the confusion twist his expression upside down. "I'm in love with Jason. And you're in love with Chloe." An appeal, emphasizing the need for his understanding. "Even if you haven't fully admitted it to yourself yet."

He stood away from her, tucking his hands into his pockets. "Chloe." The way he said her name gave it all up, baring an untapped piece of his heart. The word was a curse at the same time that it was a blessing. "She's..."

"Bossy? Pushy? Opinionated?" Lana grinned, sharing her soul with him, as if he could take some of her confidence with him so that he might believe in something, perhaps himself. "Like I told Clark about him and Lois, that's how the great ones always start."

He feigned apathy, attempting to appear unfazed and failing at the task. He gulped, and the fear that crawled under his skin stripped it of the faintest flesh tone. "I was going to say different."

She closed the distance that had sprawled between them unnoticed until she realized he was on the other side of the room. "You were going to say too good for you." She placed her hand on his cheek and stroked it with her thumb, smiling at him like an angel, a messenger from some heavenly world he would never know. "You think she deserves the best." Her smile broadened impossibly bright. "And so do I." She kissed his cheek, and he got the message.

"Knock, knock." As she announced her presence with the words, she tapped lightly on the polished woodwork of the doorframe in which she was standing.

Lex looked up at the upbeat voice that rang so pleasantly familiar in his ears. "Chloe." Holding back the better part of his excitement at seeing her, he came out from behind his desk to greet her properly. "Come on in."

She entered the office, proceeding in uncertainly. "If you're busy, I can come back."

His face lit up, reflecting her simple cheer, while never losing his debonair exterior. "I deserve a break anyway."

"No kidding!" She laughed to herself. "After all you and I have been through this year?" She shook her head, and the relief put a gleam in her eyes that made her whole face shine. "I can't believe it's really over. The trial, the hiding, the constant checking over my shoulder." Her stance was almost triumphant, proud, taking it all in as if she never realized how precious a joy this freedom was. "Have I thanked you for everything you did for me this summer?"

Nonchalance, and a kind of false modesty that wasn't entirely false. "Only about a dozen times."

"I really don't know what I would have done without you, Lex." He seemed like he was on the verge of saying something, but instead one corner of his mouth curled. Chloe beamed even brighter, her tone full of her usual bubbly spirit. "Is that something dangerously bordering on a smile?"

If it wasn't a smile on his face before, it was now. "Just don't print it in The Torch. Might ruin my reputation."

She had to laugh at his suave wit. The jovial air about her sobered as she took a step toward him. "It's just been a while since I've seen you genuinely happy about anything."

"It's been a while since I had a reason to be." In turn, he took a step toward her.

"Are you though?" Sudden skepticism, and in that skeptical reporter's tone that she had mastered. Then, her tone softened, less cautious and more concerned. "I mean, are you really as happy as it seems? I know that you and Clark had some major blowout, and neither of you are talking about it. I just... know what that feels like." As she watched him become a blank page in an open book, she searched for the right words, staring at him lopsidedly with sadness and apprehension. "Are you... okay?"

He drew in a deep breath, and then he began, his voice low and deep. "I'm trying to put the past behind me, and start over fresh. Isn't that what I should be trying to do? Move on?" He paused at how intimate he'd made the relationship sound without intending to give anything away. He dusted off the mental stumble, and kept going. "I just wish Clark and I could at least leave things on a better note than we have after our last few conversations. I can accept the fact that we're not friends anymore..." Friends. It was the lie within that word that tripped him this time, but he quickly recovered from that fumble too. "I can live with that, but I don't want to be entirely estranged from the only real friend I've ever known."

Another step toward him. "I know the feeling." Compassion, followed closely by a dose of harsh truth. "Believe me, we can't always have things our way. But sometimes, even if it does sound incredibly corny and cliched, that's for the best." The conviction behind her words lent them a good degree of credence. By the understanding in his eyes, she knew he agreed, and that it was safe to continue. "Clark's going on with his life, and you should be too..." She took yet another step closer to him, bringing them mere inches apart. A daring spark in her eyes as she nervously rolled them. "And he's not the only one who's ever going to care about you, Lex."

Now that he was so close, he drank in all the details that made her so beautiful in this moment. Her round mint green eyes, her skin like peaches and cream, and lips that looked as sweet as strawberries. And as he ran his fingers through her hair like rays of golden sunshine, he felt moisture on the outer layer of strands. His voice was so delicate that it was hardly audible. "Is it raining outside?"

"Showers," she replied almost dreamily. "But I think it's starting to clear up."

As Lex gazed at Chloe, a profound serenity overcame his face. He lifted his hand to her face and lightly brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek. Her eyes started to glisten. Wet, filling with affection, anticipation and hope. With his hand spreading over one side of her face, he held her gaze solidly. His thumb stroked the skin that flushed under his touch, and he leaned in, barely closing his eyes as hers stayed wide open, watching him. His lips came close to grazing hers. Suddenly there was a quick tone from the intercom on Lex's desk behind them, and the moment shattered. Lex pulled back and lifted his head.

Without Lex needing to answer, the voice of his head of security came over the speaker on his phone. "Pardon the interruption, Mr. Luthor, but General Sam Lane is here to see you."

Chloe sighed, suffering the awkwardness of a romantic moment interrupted, and her head rolled back before she looked at Lex again. "You'd better get that. He doesn't like to be kept waiting." She smiled at him knowingly as he reassumed his position behind his desk.

Lex pressed the button on his phone to respond and spoke down into the plastic device. "Send him in." Taking his finger off the button, he stared at Chloe, now seeming so far away on the other side of the room. "We'll continue this conversation another time?"

She smirked reassuringly. "You better believe we will." As she turned to leave, the doors to the office opened, and the General marched in, a permanent scowl written upon his face that scarcely changed when he greeted his niece.

"Chlo." His voice was warmer than his expression.

She grinned brightly as she passed him, a bit of mischief about her. "Hi, Uncle Sam." She waltzed by him, and out the door.

Lex gestured to the seat across from his desk, but his visitor politely dismissed his courtesy. "General Lane, I thought you'd have left town by now."

The General's gruff voice resonated throughout the office. "My daughter has unfinished business here. She has a commitment to finish at school. Once it's done, we'll be on our way."

He nodded, unsure how to respond or where this was leading. "So to what do I owe this visit?"

The General wasted no time. "As you are probably already aware, government contracts are being awarded to small town factories in this area lately. Lex, I'm grateful to you for what you did for my niece." He stood proud and tall, his face remaining rigid. "How would you like to secure a lucrative contract with the military for LuthorCorp?"

Lex raised an eyebrow and switched modes from humble savior to calculating businessman.

Lois knocked on Chloe's door, bouncing a little anxiously until she heard Chloe call out, "It's open."

As Lois entered Chloe's bedroom, she started biting her nails. When Chloe stepped out of her closet, Lois caught herself and immediately hid her hands behind her back. Still seeming uncomfortable, she readjusted, folding her arms instead. "Hey, how's it going?"

Chloe's brow crinkled, her reporter sense tingling. "Lois, what is it? You only bite your nails when you're really nervous about something."

Called on the nuances of her bad habit, Lois was unable to keep her eyes from rolling at herself. "Okay, I've been needing to talk to you, and your dad told me you got home a couple of minutes ago."

"Alright." Chloe responded with much trepidation, and then she waited for whatever was to come.

"This isn't going to be easy, so I'm just going to say it, okay, Chlo?" Lois was more asking herself than Chloe, because she could plainly see Chloe holding her breath. "I think I'm in love."

"With Clark? I know." Chloe's omniscient stare didn't compare to Lois' gape.

Her cousin's face went from stunned to impressed in under 2.5 seconds. Lois squinted, and her nose scrunched up as she gave Chloe a sideways look. "Was I that obvious?"

"Please! Ever since I got back, I've seen you guys. You and Clark have been alternately clashing and ogling each other all week. My crack journalistic instincts would have to be on the fritz not to pick up on the waves of romantic tension you two are broadcasting."

That skepticism that ran in the family reared its head. "You're not mad?"

"Well, for a while, I admit that I was really jealous." There was a small spike of angst in her.

Lois squinted and spoke eager to understand. "Yeah, I've kinda had that impression ever since after the pep rally."

Her mild angst vanished as fast as it had been roused. "But I am done waiting around for someone who obviously isn't interested. I'm tired of dreaming. I want to be the dream for once." Solemnity. Then it melted into a delight she seemed unable to contain. "And I may have found it." She smiled broadly and watched her cousin's face begin bursting with curiosity. "I think I'm in love too."

The teasing glare Lois gave Chloe was now calling her on being sneaky. "I can't believe you weren't going to tell me! So who's the lucky guy who thinks he's good enough for my younger cousin?"

"It's Lex." Chloe seemed on the verge of combusting with infectious joy.

Lois grinned, glad to see her cousin so ecstatic after the ordeal she had just endured. She felt like a load had been taken off their shoulders. Until the irony and potential problems that she was sure Chloe couldn't conceive of started to sink in, at which point Lois' smile began to weaken. Her eyebrows raised and her gaze dropped to the carpeting. She fought off the vague sense of uneasiness that seemed like it might rain on this parade. "That's great, Chlo! That's so great. I'm really happy for you." Lois gave into the urge to wrap her arms around her cousin, and she hugged her tight.

When Lex walked back into his office, he was rifling through papers in his hands. He did not glance up from the contracts that sat in his hands until he got within a few inches of his desk. Suddenly, he halted. There was a large unmarked envelope sitting on top of his desk. He was sure it had been clear when he left, but he picked it up figuring it was most likely mail or something an employee had placed there so he could tend to it.

He slit open the sealed envelope and held out his hand as a computer disk slid into his palm. A manila folder slipped out after it, and as he flipped the cover open, his brow furrowed at the large stamp across the first page. Classified. His eyes darted around the room as he caught two more words in the type upon the page. Clark Kent. He crossed the room again, headed toward the door that had been left wide open when he came in, and he promptly closed it.

The light drizzle blanketed the town in a never-ending mist. As the wheels of Chloe's Volkswagen Beetle crunched the gravel, Clark stepped out of the kitchen on to the back porch, as if he sensed her coming. He stood, hands tucked into his pockets, and as she got out of the car and made her way up the stairs, he hid his face in a manner that was practically timid. She breezed past him and sat down on the bench swing.

There was silence for a moment, and neither of them looked at the other. The calm that surrounded them made them seem isolated, suspended in time.

Just as Chloe opened her mouth, Clark beat her to the punch. "There's something I have to tell you."

Her eyebrows raised, interest peaked and motor idling. "Whoa! You're volunteering to tell me something?" Her acerbic tone quelled when she saw his vexation ignite. "Sorry. What is it, Clark? I'm all ears."

"I..." He started and stalled. Drawing in a deep breath, he gathered his nerve. "I'm in love with Lois." His eyes met hers, evaluating, gauging her total lack of reaction, and when she finally bit her bottom lip and looked away, Clark paced back and forth in front of her and launched into full-blown rambling. "I wanted to tell you because you have a right to know, and I wanted you to hear it from me. I didn't want you to find out from someone else or the way you did last time, because I don't want to ruin our friendship." Guilt twisted in his voice more with every word he spoke. "I know she's your cousin, and I know you've had feelings for me, but I..."

"Clark!" She shouted to break him free of the downward spiral he was being sucked into, pacifying him with a sedate stare. "It's okay."

"It is?" He sounded confused and experimentally optimistic.

She let him know all he needed with a single nod, and he stood for a moment longer before taking a seat on the opposite end of the swing. She glanced over at him and a hefty weight seemed to press down on her in that instant. "I have a confession to make too, Clark."

His eyes met hers now with quiet reserve and dread.

"And all I ask is that you try to understand. Because I'm understanding about you and Lois... You and I had our moment. But the moment passed. It's gone, and this is a new moment. We're just trying to live in it, right?" Guilt, just beneath the transparent surface.

"Yeah, I guess..." Clark's tone was wary, just after his own guilt had visibly lifted off his shoulders.

"I'm in love too." Her eyes roamed their surroundings, and then she gulped before meeting his eyes again. "With Lex."

Only someone like Chloe who noted fine details would have seen the tell in his eyes, the almost imperceptible widening of his eyes for no more than a fraction of a second. Then, the astonishment written on his face became totally illegible to the untrained observer. "Lex?" Surprise, with the volume turned down several notches. He paused to stare at the boards in the porch floor and then he feigned amusement. "That's... unexpected." He shuffled his feet against the wood, fidgeted with his hands, and shifted uncomfortably. Then, his voice fell, laden with sadness and regret. "I thought maybe that... he and Lana..." He stopped, unable to complete that thought in any way he tried.

"Yeah, I was starting to wonder about them myself... but no, they're not." Her voice was painfully dull, her usual cheer absent from her entirely. "I couldn't stand for you to hate me."

Hearing Chloe say made Clark look at her again, because that remark caught him off guard. "Why would I hate you?"

"Clark, come on!" It was a plea. "You and Lex haven't exactly been on speaking terms lately." She hesitated, but then pressed forward with just as much intensity. "And it's not exactly a mystery to me why." This time, his eyes widened and stayed that way, filling with panic as he suddenly froze. She lowered her voice in an attempt to break the ice. "You and Lex had your moment too."

His focus shifted to the fields in the distance. And then, he echoed her tranquil tone. "Did Lois... or Lex...?"

"They didn't say anything, Clark. They didn't have to." Chloe almost laughed in spite of the unasked question. She could practically see the thoughts tumbling around inside his head. "I'm a reporter, remember? Give me a little credit, would you?" Concentrating, as if she could see right through him. "Look. It's pretty clear that you're trying to move on." Pausing a beat. "And so is he." She watched Clark switch between staring off into the horizon and glancing back at her. "No matter how I've felt or what we've gone through, you'll always be the best friend I ever had. I want you to be happy. And if it's possible, I want to be happy too."

Silence answered her, but it was warm and kind, like the expression on his face that told her he truly understood. After a minute, he slid over on the bench seat and wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her tenderly as his eyes squeezed shut. Neither of them was in a hurry to let go, but soon, Clark broke the embrace. He pressed his lips to her forehead, planting a chaste kiss there. Then, he rose, and stepped inside the house. Chloe remained sitting on the swing, and even as her eyes welled up with tears, a smile was born on her face.

As soon as Lois poked her head inside to see Lex sitting behind his desk, she barged in with an explosion of energy. "Lex Luthor." She spoke his name with an exaggerated grandeur, not mocking, not impressed, almost purely theatrical. But then again so was much else about her. Her every step bounced, and the vivacious girl in her showed beneath the strong woman she was becoming. Her stride carried her right up to Lex's desk, where he sat in a regal recline. "I'm Lois Lane. Chloe's cousin." He was absolutely still, staring at her with vague recognition in his eyes. "Chloe Sullivan? Blonde, short, you saved her life?"

"I know who you're talking about Miss Lane." His voice was cold, detached, the distinct scent of apathy in the air.

She squinted, unsure where this attitude was coming from or if it was just normal for twenty-something billionaires. She continued, unabated. "I just wanted to thank you for what you did for Chloe. She wouldn't even be alive today if it weren't for you." No response save for a tight nod. Her brow creased as she got the feeling this glacial front was aimed squarely at her. "I'm sorry it took me so long to come see you, but ever since I got here, it's been one thing or another going wrong." She slipped into her easy-going manner again. "I don't know how anyone lives in this town anyway. The way Chloe tells it, Smallville is the world capital of weird."

"With all the lies, conspiracies, and betrayal, I would think you'd feel right at home here."

"Okay... Speaking of weird!" Ice seemed to be creeping up the walls. She took on a defensive edge, managing to be coolly sardonic about it. "Do you wanna let me in on what's going on here or is it a surprise?"

"Oh, I'm sure you already know. I'd be happy to refresh your memory." An offer with a threat behind it.

She folded her arms and stood self-righteously. "Please. Because I could use some enlightenment right about now."

"Couldn't we all." Lex glared at her in silence, his expression like sharp steel. "Does the name Clark Kent ring any bells? We can begin by talking about what you're doing with him."

The indignation that she wore so brazenly vanished instantly to be replaced by a reticence that did not come naturally to her. It made her uncomfortable, like she would rather have been invisible than there in that moment. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you knew... Look, I don't want to come between you two or what Clark wants... How do you know about that anyway?" She shook her head, slipping back into the discomfiture that seemed to define the day. "Nevermind. Not important. What is important is that you know the truth, and the truth is that Clark and I don't even know what we have yet, if it's anything at all, but..."

"But you're going to help him figure it out, aren't you?" Venom, pure and undiluted. "Then what?" He scoffed. "You know, it's amusing to hear you talk about truth. Especially when you're trying to seduce someone I care about just to lead him into your trap."

Lois' self-righteousness made a speedy comeback. "Excuse me?" She was stunned, but no so much that her acidic wit had abandoned her. "I'm sorry, I was looking for Lex Luthor, not a stark-raving madman. Do you think I could talk to him instead of Mr. Hyde?"

"If I'm crazy, then why is the General still in Smallville?" Lex threw the file folder down on his desk and shoved it across the table, pushing it at her. He watched her snatch up the file and flip through it. She paused and glanced down at him in disbelief. "You and your father are investigating Clark. Your Dad is using you to get someone close to Clark, and then the military is going to take him away from here, from his family, his friends... from me."

She gaped at him, trying desperately to keep from laughing at how absurd this seemed. "Just out of curiosity, what are you on? Seriously, do you even know what you're talking about? Where did you get this pile of bullshit?" She held up the folder, and tossed it at him, pictures of Clark, the meteor rocks, and surveillance photos of Clark and herself flying out as it landed. "Why in the world would the army be interested in Clark?"

"Why don't you ask your father? His signature is all over these documents. I believe you know that. You should know all of this, in fact. After all, his signature appears right over yours on every page."

Her eyes narrowed. "I'm beginning to see why Clark is having trouble being friends with you." She snickered as she thought of how she had come here grateful and reverent, and now she found only contempt coming easily. "It might have something to do with rampant insanity running in your family."

"And what would you say about the underhandedness that runs in yours?" Her reflection burned in Lex's eyes. "If you're smart, you'll leave, and you'll stay away from the Kents."

"I can't believe I defended you to Clark. I actually tried to get him to give you the benefit of the doubt. I don't know what Clark or my cousin see in you." Lois watched as Lex gulped subtlely behind his fury but his ire stoked greater still, unbridled. She spun on her heel and marched toward the door. Before she made it out of the threshold, she threw a glance over her shoulder at him, an underlying pity tugging at her. "You know, I've had to wonder; if I didn't want to lose everyone I held dear, what would I do? Maybe you should ask yourself that sometime." She stared at him a second longer, searching the vacant darkness for a spark, but finding none, and then she continued on her way, disappearing into the hall.

Clark and Chloe stared at Lois, and her eyes dashed back and forth between them. She was getting impatient with the tense silence. "What?"

Chloe and Clark glanced at each other and then back at Lois. Chloe opened her mouth, and after hesitating a moment longer, she spoke. "We believe you, Lois. We do. It's just that... that doesn't sound like Lex."

Clark's worry was evident in his eyes and his heavy tone. "Or it sounds like Lex before he went into Belle Reve."

Lois' face scrunched up at hearing that. "He was in a mental institution?" Clark nodded at her with an ominous undercurrent to his words. "Shit! I shouldn't have said all those things about him being crazy."

Chloe looked to Clark, digging for an ounce of hope. "Do you think he might be suffering a psychotic break again?"

His only answer was a dubious shrug. "I don't know." He retreated into his own thoughts, and no one spoke. Then, he looked back at Chloe, his re-evaluation seeming to have triggered some shred of hope. "I don't think so. I mean, he didn't even really have a relapse last time. It was all staged."

"So... what do we do?" Lois seemed to ready to spring into action while Clark and Chloe were still mulling things over.

"Nothing," Clark answered. "At least not tonight. It's late, and we can't exactly do anything right this minute." He spoke with an air of authority, taking charge and thinking rationally. "You guys go home and get some sleep. I'll go see Lex tomorrow... once I've figured out what to say to him."

Chloe and Lois seemed to breathe a bit heavy on that note, reluctant but realizing that Clark's plan made sense. Chloe chimed in before Lois could motion for them to get on their way. "I want to go with you."

"I don't know if that's a good idea, Chloe." Clark's hesitation was obvious, but it faltered as he saw how resolute Chloe was about accompanying him to Lex's.

"Clark!" Her eyes pleaded of him as much as they demanded. "I'm going."

He gently nodded in agreement. "Okay." He was distracted, working on the problem as he spoke. "I'll come by to pick you up before I head out to the mansion."

"Thanks." She gave him a sober smile that briefly clung to her features and then wilted.

Lois suddenly had a burst of energy that seemed to come out of nowhere. "Hey, I almost forgot. Clark, I meant to ask you earlier. You didn't find a silver watch anywhere, did you?"

"No, I didn't. Sorry," he replied absent-mindedly.

"Great!" Lois shook her head, snickering under her breath. She exhaled a deep, long breath, and then put the hood up on her jacket as she looked at Chloe. "You have an umbrella, Chlo?"

She grabbed her bag. "I lost my only one during the last storm."

"It's starting to come down harder. You're gonna get soaked. I'll pull up closer to the porch." Lois headed for the door.

Chloe called after her, stopping her before she did something unnecessary. "No, it's alright. I'm just going from the door to the car."

She noticed the way Chloe and Clark seemed like an anvil had been dropped on them, and she made it obvious that she was giving herself a cue to exit. "Okay, I'm just going to start her up then." With that, she sneaked out the door and closed it carefully behind her.

A moment of silence swelled to encompass them in Lois' absence. Chloe placed her hand on Clark's and gazed up at him with a gleam of warmth, and he placed his other hand over hers, squeezing it lightly. Clark started speaking, as if only to break up the dismal mood. "Did Lois lose her watch?"

Chloe's smirked and more of her usual spirit infused her tone. "Yeah. It was her mother's. She gave it to Lois just before she died." Her eyes fell and her smile slipped away again. It seemed like they were unable to escape the morbidity. "She's pretty sure she lost it soon after she got here, and she's been going nuts looking for it. She's retraced her steps a few times, but she hasn't turned up anything."

Clark could only stare at her with an unspoken compassion. "I hope she finds it."

"Me too." After a minute, she seemed to break out of her melancholy haze. "I'd better go." She backed up to the door, then turned to open it. With a brighter smile than she had shown all night, she hurried out to the car, jumping in and slamming the door shut. The headlights cut through the fog and the car rolled down the driveway as Clark stood on the porch, watching them leave.

The green hills rolled for miles until the mist obscured the horizon. The soft drizzle had become light rain, and as Lex carefully maneuvered his way across the grass slope, he was getting wet, the moisture sinking into his finely tailored clothes. He paused when he saw the remnants of Chloe's safe house. The debris was scattered all around, every bit of it charred to a cinder. There was nothing left of the structure, save for bits of the foundation. Everything else had been utterly destroyed.

As his eyes roamed the distance, he noticed a bright red dot on a dirt path through the middle of a cornfield. He descended the hill, stealthily heading for the figure, using caution as he grew closer. He definitively recognized it as Lois' jacket, and his whole countenance took on the cunning of a predator. The hooded figure crouched, bent over the ground, running hands through the muddy water, and he quietly approached from behind. He held his breath and reached into his coat to produce a gun. Just as his prey lifted a silver watch out of a puddle, he spoke above the patter of the rain. "I'm not going to let you hurt Clark."

"Wha--?" Before an entire word could be formed, he squeezed off a round and shot his victim in the back. As soon as the bullet hit, the head jerked up, tossing the hood back. The instant he caught his first glimpse of the golden blonde hair, his heart froze and cracked in half, spilling a tear down his cheek. He gaped in horror as her head whipped around to catch sight of him. Her eyes were wide and quickly glazing over, and he winced to realize that her last impression of him would be as her killer.

He shook himself free of the impotence that had grabbed him in his shock. Rushing to her side, he gathered her up in his arms as she took her last breaths. "I'm so sorry. I am so sorry." Rivers streamed down his cheeks as the rain grew heavier and started to pour down on them. "Forgive me, please. Please. Forgive me." He was begging for absolution, but a faint gasp was the only response she had left in her. "God, no. Chloe?" He watched her eyes go still and the trembling subsided, rendering her body limp in his hands stained in her blood.

The sudden quiet was eerie. It made his lean frame quiver, his skin clammy, and his veins like they were flooding with poison. He felt as if he were dying with her. His lips kissed her forehead, and as he stared at her, he whispered. "I'm fortune's fool."

The cage that had held Lionel when he was awaiting trial held him now as he greeted his visitor with an air of invincible complacency that seemed to extend beyond the bars of this cell.

Lex's eyes were hollow and red around the edges. "You were the one who sent me that package."

Lionel seemed appropriately bored. Par for the Luthor course. "Lex, I'm disappointed that it took you this long to come here. How did you finally figure it out?"

"Just a hunch, Dad." None of Lex's usual malevolent banter that he reserved for his father. "Why?"

His father's words belied his innocent tone. "You wanted a reason to hate her. I merely gave you one."

The brutal honesty of that statement made Lex shut his eyes, as he clenched and unclenched his fists. He met Lionel's eyes again, staring right into the soul of the beast. "All that research on Clark was yours," Lex uttered, defeat and disgust on his tongue.

"Clark Kent is your only strength and your greatest weakness." The casual way Lionel addressed Lex made him sound like a deranged prophet. "You love him so much that it can only turn to hate, Lex."

The voice that came from Lex seemed detached, devoid of depth, distanced by miles of abysmal vacuum. "I should have known it was you."

Lionel grimaced at his son's words of self-loathing. "Don't blame yourself, Lex. People will buy anything if it suits their purposes."

Lex broke eye contact as he turned his back to his father and took a few steps away from the cage. "All this to lash out at me, take your revenge, is that it?"

"I'm only trying to do what I always have, which is teach you, Son. You're the one who raised the stakes on the lessons." Lionel walked away from the bars, sat on a bench in the middle of the large cell, annoyance about him, as if he had been rudely disturbed. "As you said to me, Lex, you shouldn't wound what you can't kill."

Suddenly, Lionel heard an electronic beep, followed by another, and another. He glanced up and noticed the lights on the surveillance cameras were switching off, as if they were powering down. When all the lights were out, Lionel heard Lex's voice from behind him. "Then, I'll just kill what I can." As he turned, he caught a glimpse of Lex before he shot twice, hitting Lionel in the chest both times. As Lionel collapsed to the ground, staring incredulously at his murderer, Lex watched through the bars.

Chloe's house seemed deserted, but when Clark walked around to the backyard, he saw a lone figure on the grass. Lois stood with her arms wrapped around herself, her face covered in dry tears, fresh ones welling in the corners of her eyes. "This is so unfair. I only got her back a few weeks ago, and I just lost her all over again." She cast a glance over her shoulder at Clark. "But this time it's as real as it gets."

He approached her gradually, timidly placing a hand on her shoulder, swallowing back his own pain in an attempt to ease hers.

"And Lionel Luthor is killed in jail the same day." She shook her head, trying not to let the grief and anger devour her whole. "He obviously had at least one of his filthy hands in this, but whoever did that to him killed Chloe too, and they're still out there."

Clark's eyes burrowed past the suffering in her eyes to reach her. "I helped you before, and I'm going to do everything I can to help now too."

She nodded her appreciation, but his sentiments only made her eyes overflow again. "God! This wound... It's worse than anything I've ever felt, and even when I find the bastard who killed my cousin... I don't know if it's ever going to heal."

His heart felt like it might implode at seeing how she ached. His arms engulfed her and held her tightly to him. She let her head rest against his chest, her arms curled into herself, restraining the urge to sob uncontrollably. He stroked her hair, and she looked up into his eyes. Their gazes locked, and she saw the love she had for him reflected in his stare. "I'm going to take care of you, Lois. I'm going to take care of this and everything." He glanced away, as if the agony of this moment was too much for his soul to bear, as if he might break under the strain of it. "I'm never going to let anything hurt you or anyone I care about again."

"Some wounds are just waiting to happen, Clark." With the moment of anguish interrupted, Clark turned to face Lex, scowling, his beautiful features marred by deep-seated wrath. Lex merely stared at him, blank, unreadable, absent. "There are no accidents."

Clark glared at Lex with seething rage. He dug his fingers deep into the open wound in his arm and screamed as he ripped the warped bullet out of the hole it had made in his skin. With the solid Kryptonite torn from his flesh and discarded, the gash began to close, his power returning to its full extent. He stalked toward Lex and then breezed right past him without so much as a second look. His shoulders sagging and his head hanging low, he kneeled next to Lois' body.

"Is this the part where you take her in your arms and cry? Do everything including turn back time itself to save her?" Lex shouted across the rooftop of the Daily Planet, waiting for Clark to do something, anything, in retaliation, or in desperation. But Clark simply scooped Lois up in his arms, ignoring Lex's taunts. When he failed to elicit any type of reaction from Clark, he tried again to provoke the crestfallen hero he regarded with such abhorrence. "Don't wound what I can't kill, Clark? I'm not the one bleeding."

"No, you're not," Clark retorted through gritted his teeth, and then rose to his feet, carrying the woman he loved. He approached the edge of the roof, his focus fixed on Lois' pale face.

"What's your hurry, Superman?" Lex called out to him, bitterness biting into very syllable he spoke. "Rushing off to mourn for your bride?"

Clark turned his head to see Lex. "Why?" No resentment, or hatred, or animosity in his eyes, only great sadness and infinite pity. "She's not the one who's dead."

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