Part THREE: the aftermath
It had been so long since he had seen the sun. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, taking in the glorious heat of the yellow star. He thought of the images that he had of his home planet, the dully burning red sun, the scarlet reflection in the ice. Though he hadn't ever been there, he still thought of it as home. He was different than everyone here; he still thought of this world as alien.
Turning around, he took in the sight of the facility he had been kept in for the past month. The fire still burned, and he could hear someone still alive inside: their shrieks were painfully pungent in his ears. He knew that he could run across the world and still hear those screams. Something inside him was disturbed at the thought.
He strained his neck, looking, as best he could, down his shoulder blade. There was a mass of blood and a tangle of healing tissue where the wretched box had resided. He could feel the tender itch of scars all over him fading, leaving one, prominent one in their wakes, which glowed dully red; its sharp twists and angles burning into his chest, before disappearing also.
Since he had been awakened, years ago, inside of Kal-el, the last son of Krypton, he had watched, dormant, silenced by the black Kryptonite and his dominant persona. Now though, that persona was weak, and cowered behind this stronger, more apathetic mask. The warped scar, now absent, that had claimed his chest was a reminder of this. He was not the outsider that had been raised by humans. He was the son of Jor-El and the last remaining descendant of his planet.
He searched through Clark Kent's memories, and looking for some sort of hint of what he should be doing. He knew of Earth's customs and history, and knew also that there were certain things that he, as a powerful and beautiful being, would have that most of the rest of humanity craved.
Money and sex, he thought, nodding to himself.
There was something else, though: power. Humans were a flawed race, but they could be capable of so much, if they had a cause to unite them. Or, perhaps, he mused, someone to unite them. It had been Jor-El's plan from the start--even before he had discovered his planet's demise was forthcoming.
But his most recent memories, the ones laced with pain and regret, with hatred and self-loathing, didn't allow him to pursue this valiant goal. Humans were more than just flawed. They had a basic evil that he had never before imagined.
He remembered being forced onto an operating table and the horror of knowing that he was being opened up like some sort of roast, and that his chest, his beating, breathing organs, all pulsating to a terrified beat, were some morbid display of deviation.
He felt violated. These people, these humans, had desecrated his body.
Distractedly, he peeled off the hospital scrubs that he had worn for the better part of his stay in the laboratory. The last time he had been in control he had worn this type of clothing also, and he thought fondly of the human who had helped him. She talked a lot. She had smiled rarely, but it had been a charming smile.
He searched through Clark Kent's memories one more time before pressing them into the back of his mind. He did not need them any more. Other knowledge, about his abilities on this planet, about the history and lore of his own planet, came to the forefront of his mind. A city, the last remnant of Clark Kent's thoughts, flashed into his head.
Looking back at the burning building one more time, he grinned to himself, and looking along the skyline of the alien planet, started to run.
Chloe checked her cell phone voice mail as she sped down a deserted highway towards Lex Luthor's newest secret laboratory. It was then that she realized, though she was still too preoccupied with Clark's capture to really think about it, that Lana was nearly hysterical with terror over Lex's release.
Lana thought that somehow, Chloe could help her.
But Chloe had someone else that she needed to help. Clark had been kidnapped and experimented on; his secret had been ousted in the most horrifying way possible. Chloe may not have been as quick to the rescue as Clark with his superpowers could have been, but she was trying, and hoping, desperately, that she wasn't too late.
Every time, Chloe mused, no matter what, she'd choose to help Clark.
The security surrounding the facility was suspiciously absent. When she reached the gate, she left her car, gazed curiously into the empty security stand, where a camera taped the tip of her car. She sat down at the desk and scrolled backward through the film. There were strange blank periods, where, she hypothesized, Lex Luthor probably requested that he not be caught on camera. Lex Luthor would never want to be associated with a place like this.
But other people came and went, joking with the security guard as though they were going to a desk job, instead of a facility that housed and tortured freaks.
She took the tape and put it into her purse.
She walked from this point, to the large, looming warehouse ahead. Smoke was unfurling in giant looms from one end of the building. When she craned her neck, it looked as though there might be a fire still burning barely out of sight. Pulling out the blue print she had printed off, she noted that this was the wing she had been heading for.
It was a large place, but it didn't take her long to figure out how to get in. As she approached the entrance, though, she was taken aback when she realized that the door had been torn free of its hinges, and tossed aside, leaving twisted metal in the door frame.
She looked closely at the wreck, but had no idea if someone had forced their way in, or out.
The halls were quiet. The walls were very white. Her breathing echoed softly.
The smell of smoke tickled her nostrils. She finally came upon another door that had been forcefully opened.
She gasped as she entered the room. There was a white operating table that was knocked aside, and the floor around it was littered with large blood droplets. There was a long, stringy blood spatter on the opposite wall.
It was that room. She knew it for sure, now, as she inspected the table a little closer; it was the room that had been in the video, the one where Clark had been strapped down, and the scientists, if that's what they were, had been operating on his chest. She shuddered.
She needed to find him.
So she moved on, counting the seconds it took to walk all the way along the string of blood that had danced across the wall, and moving reluctantly through the doorway. She was back in the hall.
As she walked through the hall, the occasionally came across more blood; either splattered violently on the wall, or left carelessly on the floor. She wondered if it was Clark's; she wondered if he was still alive, if he was weakened, if he was hurting; briefly, though she hated herself for it, she wondered if he cried out Lana's name when he was alone at night.
He was Clark, her mind exclaimed. He would get through anything.
Her hands were shaking as she found another door. This one was just barely open, and the lights inside were on. The smell of smoke was stronger here, but she didn't feel as though she had found the fire. She reached for the door, and then stopped.
Clark wouldn't be hidden here, with the door open, and the lights so cheerily bright. This room felt bad. She shouldn't waste time, she told herself. Clark could be dying somewhere. Clark could be hurt.
She moved on.
The smell of smoke was thicker in this part of the hall. She coughed and tried to identify the smell in the smoke: was it bacon? The next door was blackened around the edges; there was a thick lock hanging open, it was dark with soot until the point where the metal had clicked out of the base of the lock: it had been closed while the fire had been burning strong.
This meant that someone else had gotten here before her.
As she pulled the heavy door open, she heard a sharp intake of breath. She shoved her hand into her purse and curled it into a ball; her knuckles rested against something hard as she inched her way into the carbon coated room.
The smell of meat was stronger in here. The room was not large, but there was a shape, about the size of a single bed, somewhere near the middle of the room. Around it was a perfect circle drawn out in deadened flame, as though the fire had been started here, in the middle, and had worked its way symmetrically outward.
Perhaps, she mused, the circle of flame had started on the outside and moved ominously inward, instead.
There was a soft whimper from the corner of the room, and Chloe whirled, expecting to see a terrified Clark huddled in the corner, reaching for her, thankful that she'd finally come and save him.
But she knew, before she even turned, that it couldn't be.
A small woman sat, kneeling, next to the horrifying sight of two blistered, bloated bodies. They weren't unrecognizably burned, and Chloe realized that they had probably jumped free of the flames and died of carbon monoxide poisoning before the woman had gotten there.
"Who are they?" Chloe asked, not wanting to get any closer; not wanting to guess because who they were, she suspected, would reveal to her a hint of who might had killed them. She couldn't believe that Clark--she couldn't even form the notion in her head.
"Just doctors who worked here," she said, her voice low and steady. "I didn't know them particularly well, or even like them. It's just shocking, you know?"
"Who are you?" Chloe asked. The woman stood, and she was much taller than Chloe was. She seemed strong; Chloe would have liked her immediately, if they'd met under normal circumstances.
"Nineva," she said. "I worked here, too."
"Oh," Chloe replied. "Why aren't you dead?"
Her voice was quiet. "I don't know."
Chloe didn't ask the next logical question. Clark might be a different person than she had known. Clark had been through torture and lived through his worst nightmare, and if he was alive... if he was alive, then she was happy. That was all she could ask for, she thought, looking at some anonymous man's blistered face. She suspected that people didn't leave here alive very often.
And now that she knew that something had truly gone wrong here, that there had been deaths and surely, they should call someone; she didn't. Her hand was still in her purse, and she opened her hand, letting that cold, reassuring thing fall into her palm. She didn't pull out a cell phone to call the police. She pulled out a gun, and she leveled it calmly at Nineva's chest.
"My friend was here," she said, her voice loud and steady. "You were part of the team that experimented on him. I want the research destroyed. But first, I want to know where he is."
Lana's hands shook as she applied mascara to her already long, curled eyelashes. She glanced in the mirror. She ran a brush through her hair. She applied one more coat of mascara.
Her hands wouldn't stop shaking.
Shot of vodka; sip of orange juice; has to pee. Her hands shook as she wiggled her underwear down her legs and pulled her skirt over her knees.
Viktor would be here soon. He wasn't Clark; he wasn't the police; but he was tall, and he would protect her. They would stand outside a club together, and he would glance at his guest list and she would position herself near the security guards.
She washed her hands. She ran her fingers over her tummy, taut under the tight material. She almost felt as though she'd dodged a bullet. She'd nearly had that monster's baby.
Chloe hadn't answered her phone all day. Maybe, Lana speculated, Lex had already gotten to her. Maybe, she wondered, as a crystal of sweat ran down her face, Chloe was dead.
She didn't know it, but Viktor was standing outside her door. He didn't know why he'd answered her calls; since Lex had been released from prison the money had stopped, and Lex refused to see him. He had no reason to be here. He felt nothing for her; she was a project, just a job. Yet, here he stood, rocking forwards onto the balls of his feet, as a nervous boy on a first day might do before ringing the doorbell.
He never could resist a girl in peril.
He knocked on the door.
When she slowly pulled it open and revealed herself, Viktor was startled at the mess that greeted him. She looked sexy as hell, he decided, but like more like a hot diva on cocaine than the pretty child with schoolgirl like innocence that he had met.
"Are you doing drugs?" he asked.
"No," she said, her voice low, dramatic. "Just had some drinks. I haven't slept for a while."
He offered her his arm, and she took it. She trembled slightly at his touch, and had to give it a few tries before she got the key in the lock.
"Lex isn't going to come after you," he said, trying to sound certain. In truth, he had no idea what Lex was planning, of course, Lana had no idea that how unsettling it was for him to have no idea. She just assumed that he expected not to be privy to Lex's plans.
They walked silently down the stairs. "Lana," he said, not looking at her. "I know I haven't known you that long, but there's something I need to say."
He shuffled in front of her and looked into her heavy lidded eyes. They were dark, and quivered, like the eyes of an animal that's been cornered. He was giving Lana such an intense, pleading look that Lana was sure that he was about to tell her that he loved her; that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, or something equally flattering and life altering. She didn't love him, but she always wanted to be loved--no matter by whom.
"You're drinking too much, Lana," he said solemnly. "You're just a little girl, with a little liver, and little livers have low alcohol tolerances..."
Lana pulled her arm away from him. "You're making yourself sick, Lana," he continued. "It's only seven o'clock, and you're already smashed."
"You're right," she said, voice low and steady. "You haven't known me very long. You've no idea what I've been through."
"A lot," he said, his eyes searching, too blue to be Clark's. "From what I've heard: betrayal, rape and miscarriage at the hands of Lex Luthor." She opened her mouth, to protest, to explain, she didn't know. "But that's no reason to drink yourself to death. Don't you have any friends, any family that can help you through this?"
Lana stared just past his ear, and his face swirled slowly around that focal point. "No," she said finally. "Not any more."
He held his hand out. Confused, defeated, Lana took it.
Viktor didn't know why he should care. But maybe, just for tonight, he did. "Then we'll deal; take it one day at a time."
He got her into his car. The light was less bright here, and without its scrutinizing glare she looked nearly healthy. She would still be the girl with the shocking good looks and perfect smile. Though, Viktor thought, her distracted sway would give away to sexual predators exactly how drunk she was. He reached over the gearshift of his car and took Lana's hand in his own. Maybe he wasn't being paid, but tonight, at least, he'd protect her.
He loved that he could run faster than anyone could see. He had landed after situating himself, and he ran as far as he could, not stopping to draw breath. He looked at everything, taking in the bright green of this world, so entirely different from the world he had been taught was his own. He had watched from behind Clark Kent's eyes for years, and he had always felt resentful and jealous of this boy who kept him from truly living. He had hated the scenery that Clark loved so much.
Now though, he took in the stark beauty of the landscape with nave appreciation. Some parts of this land had ice, and were staggeringly similar to Krypton, but some also had vegetation: trees, grass, corn, flowers, and sometimes he came across animals, and recognized them from his education. Finally he found the city he had been craving: Metropolis.
He stopped running.
It was then, as he stood silently in the middle of the sidewalk, with people rushing past him and bouncing off of him as though he were a street post when he realized that he did not match.
He sighed. People were staring.
A moment later he had disappeared, and was zooming through buildings, until he found suitable clothes. He did not feel bashful. He simply wanted to blend in until he had gotten his bearings in this primitive world.
He dressed himself entirely in black. It seemed unassuming, and he remembered how useful it had been for residents on Krypton: the dark colour would absorb more light from their dying sun, and would keep them a little bit warmer.
He felt no remorse from having stolen the clothes. These humans were an inferior race--they weren't worthless, and they were certainly not unintelligent, or even all that different from him, but that slight difference was everything. He could, and would, have what he wanted. There was no reason that he shouldn't.
He stole money, next. By the time that night had fallen, he had secured a room in the most expensive hotel he could find. He felt like he needed something cushy after the month he had spent sleeping in a cell, and the years before that on an old, lumpy bed.
The plan, however, was not to sleep. He only entered the hotel room to open the window all the way, noting what the building looked like, before he jumped.
It was a wonderful feeling; it was freer than he had ever felt. He had spent most of his existence jailed: trapped inside a body not his own; held against his will in a cage, experimented on and tortured. Flying over the streets of Metropolis, dressed in black and cloaked in darkness, he was free.
He wanted to learn more about this race of humans. He wanted to go where the beautiful, powerful people were and then, he wanted to conquer them. When he thought about it, he could accomplish so much on this world that the humans, so uniformly inept, could not. He could vanquish poverty, destroy disease; he could advance their technology and unite them as a common entity.
He was the son of Jor-El. He was not evil. He felt stung, though; his father had trusted these people, these Kents, these humans, with his life. His father had hoped that they would protect him against starvation, entrapment and discrimination. Right now, he didn't know if he was angrier at his surrogate family, for letting him suffer, or at his own father, for believing in the wrong people.
So he would be selfish for now. He would learn about what he'd been missing in life while he'd been held against his will. He'd experience, he supposed, what Clark hadn't.
He landed discretely in an alley.
He watched, for a while, as people walked by, their steps cautious, a little bit frightened, as though the dark hid from them what really lurked ahead. They looked, to Kal-El, like nearly blind pilgrims, hoping that each step would bring them a little bit closer to absolution.
They were heading home; they were looking for a decent bar; they were searching for a place to dance, to drink, to forget. Every one of them wanted comfort; a release.
He joined them, undeterred by the darkness. His pupils dilated, taking in the light of the moon so that the streets of Metropolis nearly glowed like it was day. He walked past long queues and anxious people, peering above the heads of others, checking how far away they were from the door.
As he walked past an especially prestigious looking one, he heard someone call out his name.
He looked back. There was a man, slightly shorter than himself, but nearly as broad, standing behind a velvet chord. He drew the chord aside and ushered Kal in. Kal didn't know how this man would know his real name, but could only assume that at some point in Clark Kent's life he must have used the name. In any case, Kal flashed the man a grin and then smiled apologetically at the women still in line. The simple knowledge of a name seemed to grant him access to a place that all these people desired to be in.
This was his advantage. It was subtle now, but it would grow.
"How've you been, man?" the door keeper asked. "I haven't seen you in ages." He did not hug Kal, though he wanted to. The boy had been a regular at the club for a few months, and had always been friendly to the bouncer.
"Adequate," Kal admitted. "But now, better than."
"What have you been up to?" He followed Kal a little ways into the club, and gestured for a different bouncer to take his place.
"Well," Kal grinned again, but it wasn't Clark Kent's winning smile; it was a knowing smirk. "Let's just say I didn't stay away because I chose to." The man nodded at the bouncer and his girlfriend as they walked past, and turned back to Kal, ready to inquire about the circumstances that kept him away, and ask about women and money and work.
"You went back home, I guess," he said, leaning up against a wall, next to the boy. He had sometimes doubted Kal's age, but had never asked for identification. There was just something about him; it was the swagger, or the smile, that told the man that he would be better off leaving it alone.
"Home," Kal repeated, and then laughed. Home was Krypton. Home was gone. "Hardly."
A girl, with wide, dark eyes and a weak, imploring voice, stared up at him. She stared up at Kal as though he were her savior, finally come to rescue her.
But Kal seemed not to recognize her. Slowly, the bouncer backed away. He recognized her. She'd come looking for him the last night that Kal had been around. He didn't remember recognizing the name she called him that time, either.
Kal looked down at her. While he could appreciate her physical beauty, he hardly wanted to look deep into Clark Kent's memories to discover who she was. He'd put that life behind him. If she wanted this body, if she wanted Clark, she'd have to settle for Kal.
He let a smile spread over his face. To be with Kal would be anything but settling.
Lana stared at the man through a haze. She knew that she'd had too much to drink, but she was sure, absolutely sure, that this man was Clark.
He'd been gone for so long. She wished she was sober enough to cry. She couldn't stand the thought of anyone touching her; every caress seemed a violation, but she knew that with Clark, it would be different. With Clark, she would be home.
"Where did you go?" she asked. She knew he could hear her, even over the music. She had seen what he could do, before the wedding she'd been forced into. She's listened to his testimony during the trial--he'd heard her heartbeat from halfway around the world.
"Does it matter?" Clark replied. His voice was different, harder.
"Of course it matters," Lana whispered. "Clark... what you did for me..."
"My name is Kal-El." He sounded sure. He could call himself Aster for all she cared.
"Take me home?" she asked. Her conviction wavered as he wrapped his arm around her. He felt foreign. But the hand on her arm was a Clark hand. His eyes looked like ice but they were Clark's green behind the frost. In that moment, though, she didn't care if he was Clark. He looked close enough that through the drunken film that separated her logical mind from the world, he was safe; he was home.
He was exactly what she'd been looking for. And maybe, she thought, when she woke up with him, it wouldn't be some nameless look-alike, the way it had been with Viktor. Maybe, when she woke up, he really would be Clark.
She closed her eyes and embraced the whirlwind that her night had become. They were suddenly inside, in a cushy hotel room; the dim lights revealing Clark, his eyes a touch softer; his smile less hungry. He held her to his chest, the way Clark had done so many times before. She muttered his name.
He was Clark. He was magical.
She loved him so much.
There were police everywhere. Some of them, she knew, were not police, exactly; there were detectives and scientists and Federal Agents. There were doctors, paramedics and, as of yet, no reporters.
Except Chloe. She stood away from the swarm of officials, clutching her camera to her, sneaking the occasional picture of the fire. Her hands trembled; she increased the shutter speed to get more light, but her shaking hands made the spotlights into streamers of colour. She wished Jimmy were here.
The woman that Chloe had found was in handcuffs. Nineva, she said her name was. She'd been very helpful at gunpoint. Chloe had taken the papers, the computer hard drives, the USB keys and the gun and placed them carefully in the trunk of her car. She'd returned to the lab; she'd called the cops.
They'd been interrogating her for hours. She thought that it was probably almost very early morning. She'd made up a story about scoping out a good site for a bush party, and they'd chastised her and soon forgotten about her. They were far more interested in what was in the building.
They'd found rooms full of test subjects. Chloe shuddered to think of the ordeal they'd suffered.
They'd found hours of video documenting what had been done to them. Chloe was glad that she'd gotten Clark's tapes out of there.
They'd found the charred remains of the scientists; the thick metal door torn from its hinges; hospital scrubs torn to bits and discarded on the front lawn; blood painted hallways and broken restraints.
They'd found the body of Lex Luthor. Chloe had eavesdropped the best she could, and from what she'd heard, he'd been practically torn apart.
She kept telling herself, again and again, that Clark couldn't have done this. Clark hadn't burnt those people alive or ripped open Lex's chest. He couldn't have.
But she couldn't think of any other being who could have.
She awoke strange feelings in him. He could feel thoughts forming, not his own, screaming in pain and anger. He could feel revulsion; he could feel hate. Clark Kent, just below Kal's conscious, wanted to know how the woman he had sacrificed so much for could possibly be living how she was.
Kal closed his eyes and let the alien thoughts wash over him. That this drunken waif could ignite such anger in his other self excited him. It aroused him; for once, he was not the powerless partner; he truly controlled his future. The emotions that the too-human Clark experienced were trivial to a Kryptonian like Kal.
And Kal could have this girl; she clearly wanted him. Kal could have her and Clark would have to take a backseat, and protest in his weak, quiet way.
The boy at the door, the one Lana had stood with, had looked too similar to Clark to be shrugged off. She had replaced him.
Kal pushed those thoughts away, disinterested in names and histories, and swept the girl into his arms. They were back in his hotel room before the intoxicated girl could get her bearings. A name rose to her lips; soft and trembling, she whispered, "Clark."
"Sorry," he said, his voice deep and honest. "You have me confused with someone else."
Her eyes focused and she stared up at him in wonderment. He placed her down, gently. She clung to his hand, as though afraid he would disappear if she let go.
She reached up, with her other hand, and trailed her fingers down his cheek, pausing for a moment on the mole high on his right cheekbone.
"No," she said. "I haven't."
And she stood on her toes and kissed him; he took comfort in the human contact. After a month of being locked away, of being prodded at, of being torn apart, the touch of her lips took his breath away. His thoughts, and Clark's thoughts, trickled from him and left only exquisite silence. It was beautiful.
He wrapped his arms around her, and she was so tiny that his hands came back around to himself. He could feel her relax into his grip, as though she weren't trapped; enfolded in arms that could move mountains.
No matter what the man said, he kissed like Clark did; he held her like Clark did. It felt just different enough to be new, exciting, slightly terrifying. Wherever Clark had been, whatever had happened to him, it had changed him. She only cared that he could still love her.
Kal deepened the kiss, moved one hand to her head, buried his fingers in her hair, listened to the sounds of her sighing and their breathing deep and synchronized. She was indescribably small, and a desperate, human part of him was frightened by her delicateness. The larger, stronger part of him was incredibly turned on by it.
All at once, he shifted his hands to her thighs, and lifted her; legs wrapped around his hips and gripped.
He started to move, planning to slam her up against a wall, tear off her clothes and fuck her hard enough to leave bruises, but the tiny fingers of one hand caressed his own and at the last minute he turned, so that his back crashed against the wall.
Dry wall splintered.
She felt the world slow into a blur of pain and desperation. His hands were just a little too rough; a little too harsh. She could feel herself tumbling into memory, but it wasn't Lex's hands that haunted her.
She could remember how he'd touched her the few times they'd been together; softly, as though she were about to break; and after, how she'd begged him to touch her--this was what he'd been afraid of. It was this violence, this passion that he'd been too frightened of unleashing.
His fingers dug deep into her thighs. He pulled away from her.
"Clark," she whispered. They were both out of breath, gasping slighting in the aftermath of their kiss. Their eyes met, and she understood that he'd been through an ordeal as terrible as hers had been. Those betrayals had changed them.
"You can touch me," she said, pulling him close, burying her face in his neck. "I won't break."
Clark's voice was low; his words were harsh. His fingers clutched harder into her legs.
Lana's eyes flickered open. She felt shame boil in her throat as she realized that this wasn't the first time in the last few months that she'd woken up in a stranger's apartment.
Memories from the night before tip toed to the surface of her mind. Viktor had picked her up from her Metropolis apartment; they'd stood in front of the club, and she'd already been pretty smashed.
Then, a face flickered into her mind. She rolled over.
She reached out and touched his face.
Kal felt fingers brush across his cheek. Without opening his eyes, he let a flurry of emotions wash over him. He half wanted to recoil, to curl almost fetal and shudder from the horrible memories that touch had brought him. His second impulse was to crush the hand.
He stifled both. The hand was smaller than Sean's had been, and though similarly soft Clark Kent, the man of emotions and barely contained impulses, didn't exist any more. He couldn't exist any more. He was far too damaged; too torn.
He opened his eyes. A beautiful, exhausted looking girl was appraising him. He gave her a look--an almost sneer--and got out of bed. She squealed as the blankets fell off of her, and gazed at him as he walked, unabashed to the shower. Though his flight had gotten rid of most of the stench of that place, he still longed to feel warm water flowing over him.
He wondered if she'd still be there when he returned. He wasn't sure what the etiquette for emotionless sex was.
It hadn't exactly been emotionless, though. Clark was there, too, and the emotions he felt were powerful enough for the both of them. He turned on the shower, as hot as it would go, and stepped in, turning his face to the faucet. He thought of Clark's hatred, of the remnants of love and awe, of the disgust at the thought of other men touching her, of the terror that Kal might hurt her.
Lana stood outside the bathroom. There was a full length mirror there, and she ran her fingers over her hip. There was a hand shaped bruise there, and another on her shoulder. There were matching ones on either thigh. She hadn't been this beaten since Lex... even then, the marks were lumpy and nondescript. None were so perfectly shaped as these.
She placed her hand awkwardly over the hand print on her thigh. The other, she placed on the bathroom door. Where had Clark gone? Who was this robot who had taken over his body?
She thought of when Chloe had been taken over by a vengeful spirit. She thought of Chloe's parasite; of when the will of a fellow student and hopeful prom queen had slipped into Chloe's body.
Any of those could be afflicting Clark. He'd been gone for months; she had no idea where he'd been, or what had been done to him.
He emerged, a towel wrapped around his waist. Blushing, Lana pulled the blanket up off the floor and covered herself with it.
"Are you hurt?" he asked.
"Just a little," she replied.
"Clark," she said.
"My name is Kal," he said. "Sorry, I didn't get yours."
"It's Lana," she said, sounding shocked.
"Lana," he repeated. "It's a nice name. Reminds me of my mother's name."
"Martha?" she asked, desperately.
His brows furrowed. "Lara."
"Clark," she said, she begged.
He closed his eyes. Searching. Clark was gone. He couldn't say he wasn't pleased. It was a little unsettling, though, to be the only voice in his mind.
"Sorry," he said again. "Do you need money for a cab?"
She picked up her clothes, slipping them on as best she could. She didn't want to lose him; he was Clark, down to the blue flecks in his green eyes. "Can I get your phone number?" she asked.
"Don't have one," he said. He had grabbed another towel from the bathroom and was using it to dry off his hair.
"Don't have one," he repeated.
"My name is Kal-El," he said, and at last, recognition grabbed onto Lana and she realized.
The people from the ship, the ones hell-bent on destruction and they'd been looking for someone. `Callel', it had sounded like. She hadn't cared, at the time, she'd just wanted to get them to the meteor rocks. She hadn't even registered what they'd been looking for.
"Please, Clark," she said. "I understand, now. You don't have to lie to me anymore, I know. I know where you're from, what you are. I don't care, Clark, I love you. Please, let me call Chloe, let me call your mother." He frowned. "They'll know what to do. Or Lois, even, let me call Lois."
He knew that name. "Lois," he said. "She talks a lot." He smiled. "Doesn't like uncomfortable silences. Nicorette addiction."
Lana frowned. She had her cell phone out. She was dialing.
"I'm leaving," he said.
"Clark," she said. She seemed to be stuck; wishing, hoping, that Clark would suddenly be himself again.
Martha was on the phone. She was shocked; asking Lana to describe his behaviour. Kal moved lazily; pulling a shirt over his head, buckling a black leather belt around his hips. He was unsure what to make of this girl's words, but he couldn't force himself to care. She seemed shallow; without much history. These humans had little more to offer him than their stories.
"The door locks automatically," he said. Lana looked up. He could hear a woman's voice on the other end of the phone.
He had pulled on a pair of socks, and was idly tying his shoes. "You can call room service, if you want," he added. "Their Thai menu is spectacular."
Then, Martha yelled something, and he heard it. "Tell him," she gasped, "that I can bring him to the sign."
He paused. Lana held the phone limply by her head.
"The stones have been united. The sign is meaningless."
He took the phone from Lana's hand. He snapped it shut. Lana looked up at him, tears in her eyes, and she said to herself, over and over, that this was Clark. It had to be Clark.
"Can I call Chloe?" she asked. Her eyes begged; her lips trembled. He was looking back at her, now, but no longer with that unconcerned, uninterested expression. His eyes closed for a moment, and when they opened again, they were soft.
Kal thought of how it had been, sleeping with that giddy, drunk girl, and suddenly he realized that the girl standing in front of him was much more. She was broken; disturbed; she had been hurt badly--perhaps as badly as he had been. He reached out for her, strangely interested.
"Who hurt you?" he asked, and Lana nearly sobbed. His voice was Clark's again, she was sure of it. He reached out for her, placing one hand in the small of her back and drawing her close.
"You know who," she whispered, not wanting, not daring, to say his name.
"Babe," he said, his voice still soft, "you can tell me."
He wrapped his other arm around her, so that she was held in a hug, her face pressed to his chest. It was the closest to home she'd ever felt.
"Lex," she said.
"Lex Luthor?" he asked, holding her away for a moment, looking into her dark green eyes. She nodded, and he brought her close again. "We have more in common than I thought," he muttered into her hair.
She didn't understand it: his sudden compassion. But she wasn't about to question it.
A tear fell from her eye and he reached for her face, as though he'd heard the tear, and wiped it away. He tilted her chin so that their eyes met.
Kal loved what he saw in her eyes. The eyes mirrored the pain, the fear and the hatred of his own. She had buried her memories in alcohol and anonymous sex and he had locked his twisted self into a box in his unconscious, but they both were dealing as best as they knew how.
And he knew what she wanted. Strangely enough, he wanted to give it to her.
So he kissed her, holding her softly, inhaling her scent and then looked at her.
"Clark?" she asked.
"Kal," he gently corrected.
Clark had surfaced again; his presence was loud in Kal's head. With a tender grin, Kal forced him away, and moved his hand into Lana's hair.
He pulled her shirt over her head. He ran his hand over the bruise on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said.
She laughed quietly, surprising herself at the sound. "I don't care," she said. "I'm just glad you're here."
She threw her head back as he kissed down her neck, and for once, the feel of skin on hers didn't make her shudder. She couldn't remember the last time a man had touched her while she was sober, and it felt perfect. With one hand still buried in her hair, and the other rubbing the bruise delicately, he was Clark again, she was sure of it. She wanted to say his name over and over, she wanted to hold him close and chant it into his chest, whisper it into his hair, breathe it into his ear.
He swept her up, bridal style, and she laughed as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He lowered her onto the bed, taking a moment to pull off his shirt before he lay down next to her. He kissed her collarbone, jutting a bit too sharply from below her neck, and then continued downward. He paused when he reached the wire of her bra. He looked up at her, and his hand ghosted over her skin. Pinching the wire between her breasts, there was a quiet snapping noise, and the bra fell to the side.
His smile was cute, sheepish, perfectly Clark. He placed his hand on her stomach. "Does it feel right?" he asked, as though he knew exactly what she'd been through.
And for once, it didn't matter that his behaviour didn't make sense, or that he'd been gone for so long. It didn't matter that he was hiding things from her and always had been, or that he might be some sort of extra terrestrial creature. She leaned towards him and their lips met again. "It feels right," she said. She giggled. "You broke my bra."
"I'll buy you a new one," he muttered, his lips whispering over her pale skin. They ghosted over her nipples and she arched her back, moaning, burying her hands in his hair. Lying next to her still, he ran one hand down to her hip and over the bruise he'd left from last night. Instead of holding on to her, the way he'd done before, he just touched her, because he knew it was exactly what she wanted.
She needed this, the way that humans needed oxygen and nutrients to survive. She'd been waiting for this; for her beloved Clark to return to her. Kal wanted to fix her; he wanted to help her heal because he needed to believe that if there was someone that could help him heal, they'd do it, too.
So he kept his motions tender and soft and gentle. When he turned her on her side to face him, he looked deep into her eyes. When he draped her leg over his body he ran his fingers along it as though captivated. He opened Clark's mind, just a little, and brought out a look of longing and of affection and the total knowledge of his history with this rag doll of a girl.
This way, when he cupped her face with one hand and caressed her leg with another and buried himself inside of her, she could truly believe that they were making love.
And when he disappeared, she could read the note left on his pillow and believe that he'd opened up to her and been truthful, for once.
Lana, the note read. I will always love you. I always wanted to tell you the truth:* where I*' m from,* what I am*,* and now that you know I feel liberated*.* I wish that I could have given you what you deserve*.* I wish I could have stayed to hold you each time I saved your life*, or explained every truth of why I had to disappear.* I wish I could have taken you flying.
This time*,* when I leave*,* I can tell you the truth*.
I' m going home.
I will always be indebted to you;* where I*' m from,* people are cold and you*,* Lana Lang*,* are the source of my humanity*;* you have always been*,* and will always be the place from which I draw my conscience*.
You looked too peaceful to wake.
Live free and pure and know that I am always with you.
Love forever,* Clark*.
She held the note to her chest, clenched in her shaking fingers. She did not cry.
Chloe returned to Martha.
News of Clark had already reached her. Lana had called, Martha had explained, and she'd heard his voice.
Though Chloe had the tapes and files in her car, she couldn't bring herself to show the woman what her son had gone through. She paraphrased, instead.
"He was taken to a lab," she said. "I found the key in the caves, and so I started to suspect that he hadn't quite gotten to his ethereal classroom in the North."
"And you found him?" Martha asked, her voice breathless.
"I found where he was kept. I think... I think he escaped."
"Thank God," Martha gasped. "But Chloe, I think that he's been affected by black Kryptonite."
Chloe's eyes widened in shock. "Black Kryptonite?" she asked. "Green, red, silver... black?"
"It turns him into his Kryptonian personality," Martha explained. "Like how Jor-El programmed him. The same rock has turned him back, before. Lana was with him, but her cell phone hasn't been working since this morning."
"I can GPS it," Chloe said, pulling out her laptop and glancing around for an Ethernet cord.
A few hours later, they drove into the driveway of a hotel. Clasping hands, with the black-K in a bag, they stormed the lobby. Martha became Senator Kent, demanding the room number of "Kal-El" and the respective key.
But the door wasn't locked.
Lana sat cross legged on the floor. She was wrapped in a robe.
"I didn't want to leave until dark," she explained to a shocked Martha and Chloe. "My clothes are kind of skanky."
"He's gone," Martha asked desperately.
She held out the note.
"I know about him, Mrs. Kent," Lana said. "He's an... alien. He says he's gone home."
Chloe and Martha looked at each other, but neither one explained to Lana that Krypton had been destroyed; that Clark was the last of their kind.
Martha returned to the car to grab some extra clothes and Chloe helped Lana to her feet.
"He loved me," she said. Their eyes met, and she continued, "That's all I needed to know."
Chloe smiled sadly and stroked Lana's hair. She knew Clark better than Lana; he was never planning on leaving the planet. The letter had been to comfort her; to make her complacent so that she wouldn't look for him.
Chloe and Martha helped Lana into the truck and they drove back to Smallville. Martha set Lana up in the guest room since Chloe was already using Clark's, and she stayed the night, despite her responsibilities in Topeka.
Once Lana was settled in bed Chloe and Martha sat down at the dinner table across from each other, and they knew, without speaking, that neither one of them would ever stop searching.
Kal hovered somewhere above Egypt. When he closed his eyes, he could hear the sounds of the world. His senses had been much sharper since he'd escaped.
When he listened like this, it was clear to him that the world didn't deserve his anger. It was the noise of children that convinced him. He could hear the music of laughter and the sound of sobbing and it was innocent and pure and needed to be protected.
He thought of how nave he'd been before. He remembered how much he'd loved Lex, who had turned into such a... a monster. He remembered how he'd devoted himself to Lana and how he'd lied to her, to protect her, he'd believed. He thought of how she had spun from man to man and back to him, eventually. It nearly hurt him that it no longer hurt; that he no longer cared for her as he did.
He closed his eyes. Even now, it was hard to stop lying; even to himself.
Because when Lex had pressed that black meteor rock to his chest, he had been terrified that the spirit of Kal-El, the true son of Krypton, would come bursting forth like an angry beast that had been caged for years. He had thought that Kal would take over, like he'd done before, and leave Clark Kent as nothing but a passenger in his own body.
It hadn't happened like that. Instead of an explosion, there had been a shift, like a strong current. What he experienced was a singular moment where suddenly understanding had flooded every molecule of his being. And though he had pressed Clark Kent's memories away, pressed his humanity as far back in his consciousness as he could, he hadn't become a different person.
He hadn't become a robot, brainwashed by his biological father.
Kal opened his eyes and looked down. He'd drifted somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, he let the truth fill his mind; he realized that he was himself. Clark Kent, Kal-El, or someone new.
He understood his powers, his purpose and his heritage. He remembered, though he often wanted not to, his humanity and history.
At the time, in that lab, he had known what it would take to be free again and with terrible efficiency, had done it. He had executed his plan; he had taken back his life.
And he had still been Clark. He had become a horrifying version of himself; sculpted by the months of isolation and torture and solidified by the black stone. The stone had given him knowledge and confidence.
He had suddenly understood that he could move fast enough, even in his weakened condition, to tear the box from under his skin. Though he hadn't seen the sun in months, his ribs where the box had been fastened had snapped and healed within a few seconds, and as he smacked Lex across the room, his own blood flew from his fingers and painted the walls.
The world had slowed. He had watched as the guards had started to pull guns from lead holsters, and he disabled them before the Kryptonite bullets could clear the lead protection. He turned last to Sean, and tore the boxes from his hands before knocking him out.
His blood had sprayed over the walls. He stood silently for a second; he hadn't been the one to destroy the equipment that littered the room, but he was responsible for the human debris.
He had reached down and picked up the black stone; known, in that moment, that it would never hold sway over him again.
He had glanced at the mirror that hid Dr. Williams and some nameless woman.
The shards of glass hadn't finished falling to the floor before Dr. Williams senior and junior were in each of Kal's hands. His anger had been pure and conclusive. One of these men had betrayed him and put him here. The other had ensured his continuous pain and discomfort; had taunted him and treated him like an animal.
Unceremoniously, he'd thrown them into a room. The younger man was still passed out, but the gray haired Dr. Williams stared at him.
"Clark," he'd said. "Think of your mother. Think of that boy she loved."
Kal had looked at him blankly.
"You killed that boy," he'd said before he had done what he'd sworn never to do; what he'd never thought himself capable of doing.
His powers were getting stronger every second that the wretched box was out of his body. He'd started the fire around them with his eyes; an ability that they'd never torn from him. He had enjoyed how it had shocked the doctor and how he'd looked upon Kal as though he were the devil.
When he returned to the experimentation room, he'd stepped over the guards and picked Lex up delicately.
He'd walked slowly to the room where he'd spent every dark, horrifying night wishing he could see the stars.
"Clark?" he remembered Lex saying.
"No," Kal had replied. He sat on the edge of the bed. Lex had tried to sit up.
"God," Lex had hissed.
"We're more alike than you know," Kal had said softly, quoting Lex. "We both have this... darkness. I tried to protect you from it."
"Why me?" Lex sounded scared. Kal couldn't remember ever hearing him scared before.
"Not you," Kal had whispered. "I meant all of you."
Lex's face had twisted, and deep in the darkness of the Mediterranean Sea, Kal could still see that deformed, horrified expression.
He could still see how Lex's blood had bubbled around his finger tips, and how it had sounded, pathetic and plastic, as he'd punctured lungs.
He could hear the pop of each finger jammed between each rib.
And the earth shaking crack of his sternum breaking. Lex hadn't screamed.
Finally, Clark had looked at the corpse. His hatred was gone. He didn't feel scared or disgusted or guilty; he felt empty. He had gone to the sink in the corner of the room and washed his hands. He'd moved through the facility as though in a trance; he'd traced each memory of Lex in his mind and tucked it away, so that it was nearly as though he'd never existed.
He had heard the guards stirring. He hadn't cared if they escaped.
Now, he could hear that woman crying, in the facility, or somewhere else in the world. He hadn't really minded if she lived.
He could hear his heart beating.
He had torn the metal door at the end of the hall off its hinges. He could smell smoke.
Somewhere in the world, he could smell smoke, even now.
It had been so long since he'd seen the sun.
As he'd stepped out of hell and back into the world, he'd tilted his head back and remembered what it had been like to be Clark Kent. Now, as he watched the sun rise from miles above the earth, he remembered again: everything he'd done and everything that had happened to him.
He remembered his mom and Chloe, waving at him, his backpack over one shoulder and the farm house behind them.
He remembered Lex, grinning at him from across a pool table.
He remembered Lana, kissing him softly on the cheek after their walk in the cemetery and first real conversation.
And he didn't think that he could recover from this. He didn't think that this was a place he could come back from.
Unbidden, he thought of Lois Lane, and how she'd entered his life in a blaze of headlights and awkward grins. He'd asked who she was, and she'd replied as though he were an idiot not to already know.
A brief smile surprised his face and his eyes came open. He looked down and realized that he'd passed over the Mediterranean and was pretty close to the Swiss Alps.
Maybe he'd never be the Clark Kent he had been; maybe he'd never be able to forgive the people who'd captured him and humiliated him; but that didn't mean he'd never heal.
And as the yellow sun came out fully from behind the mountains, he let strength and warmth fill his body. Shifting from his passive position, he let his ugly thoughts fall away.
The scenery blurred beneath him and land became the Atlantic Ocean, which soon became land again, and ahead of him, the green faded to white and he paused, only for a moment, over Kansas before heading north.
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