Clark hated Sam Phalen. He hated his beady eyes and crooked glare. He hated his beefy hands and the way they gripped the steering wheel. He hated how coarse his ugly shirt felt when it brushed against Clark's hand. He hated the way Phalen smelled like a gutter, and how he walked like he always knew where he was going, and how his movements were quick and jolted. Clark hated Phalen's haircut and voice and police badge and nose hair. He hated Phelan's cramped little car that smelled like smoke and drove like it was always almost out of gas. Clark hated watching his quiet little farm town rapidly turn into the big city through Phelan's filthy car window.

Clark hated Phalen more than he had ever dared to hate anyone before. He hated Phalen more than he had hated Whitney the night he was tied up, more than he had hated that bully that beat up Pete in the first grade, more than he had hated Tina for pretending to be Lana. Clark had always been told that he shouldn't get angry because, like most things, it was different for him. But Clark let himself hate Phalen for everything he would ever do to Clark and his family and Lex and anyone else. Most of all, Clark hated that Phalen didn't care that one of the most powerful men he would ever meet hated him so much. Phalen knew that Clark could kill him with a flick of his pinky finger, but he didn't act scared at all.

Twelve years of hiding his abilities from everyone around him had given Clark time to think abut what it would mean to reveal himself. By the time he reached high school, he had basically come up with two scenarios:

1: If Clark showed, say, Pete what he could do, Pete would stare in wonder and awe and curiosity and maybe even jealousy - so much so that he would entirely forget that his best friend had been lying to him for almost their entire lives. Lana would jump into his arms and they would run away together. Chloe would say in her matter-of-fact way, "That's cool and all, Clark, but I knew all along." The end, happily ever after - the whole bit.

2: If Clark revealed himself to someone threatening, he would give a quick demonstration of his strength and the bad man would run away screaming. That would be it. Everyone would be frightened of a really mad, really powerful guy, right?

Clark hated that Phalen didn't fit into either of his plans. The bad man knew everything, and he was more threatening than ever. Clark couldn't understand why this normal guy - no mutation, no nothing - was more at ease with him than even those who had some kind of powers. He showed no fear, no care in talking to Clark alone in his tiny car. If anything, he was even cockier.

"So kid," Phalen said gruffly, "where did these gifts come from, anyway? You got one of them secret labs on that farm of yours?"

Clark gripped the sides of his seat so hard that his fingers punctured the fabric. "Dunno," he said quietly. No answer was a safe answer.

"C'mon, kid, I bet there's something you're not telling me. Were you always like this? Freak accident, maybe? What's the deal?" Phalen stared at Clark as if the answer was written on his face.

Clark was looking out the window, searching for a patch of land where he could bail. He decided against jumping out of the car during an interrogation, though, and instead thought of ways he could avoid the truth. Freak accident seemed to be the more entertaining option. Was gamma radiation too obvious? That was the only form of mutation that he hadn't seen up close.

Then it hit him. "Meteor shower," he mumbled. "You know how it goes."

Clark smugly smiled to himself when Phalen looked slightly disappointed. "I heard the stories. Seems pretty common around here." They drove in silence for a few minutes, and Phalen kept his eyes on the road. Suddenly, the cop laughed to himself. "Somehow, Clark, I thought you were different." Clark ducked his head. "You're pretty unique, as people go. I thought maybe you, you know, touched down at Roswell or something."

Clark forced a laugh. "Yeah," he said glumly. "Who'd ever expect an alien to wear flannel?"

More silence. Clark never knew that Metropolis was so far away.

"So," he said minutes later, "were you always a cold-hearted bastard, or did that happen in a freak accident, too?"

Phalen ignored the question with disdain. "Good to see you're gaining a spine, Kent. Keep it up and one day you'll be a real boy."

Clark got quiet. "I really, really hate you, you know."

"That was the plan."

"No, Phalen." Clark was gaining volume. "I hate you more than I've ever hated anything in my entire life. Right now, I just want to squeeze you're ugly square head so hard that I'll be getting your brains out from under my fingernails for weeks. I want to take your grubby car, with you inside, and fling it into the Gulf of Mexico."

Phalen was still annoyingly calm. "And you probably could, too."

"I've known for a long time that I could kill someone without even thinking about it. I want you to know that this is the first time I've actually wanted to do it. You don't know what that means for me."

"No, I understand." The cop continued to talk like they were discussing last night's baseball scores. "It's gotta suck when someone comes into your life and threatens to take away your family and your freedom. Wouldn't want it happening to me."

Clark thought about that, and quietly asked, "Then why do you do it to other people?"

"Ever hear of Darwin, kid?" Phalen was looking at Clark again. "He and a couple of his scientist friends decided that the basis of life since the beginning of time has been the survival of the fittest. Whatever's best equipped for a certain area is the one that presides. Now, don't get me wrong - you're a pretty fit kid, Clark. But when you're taken out of your natural environment - Cow Town, USA - you have to face those predators who've adapted to the mean streets." He pointed out of the window, where the Metropolis skyline loomed. "Namely, me. I'm not the city's fittest for nothing, kid. This is how I survive."

"By hurting innocent people? By blackmailing families who don't want to be bothered? That's survival?"

"You know, kid, you're rare. And I don't mean that you're extraordinarily strong. In Metropolis, there isn't anyone who's as amazingly noble and naïve as you. Frankly, I'm amazed that you actually exist."

Clark looked out the window at the passing blocks, populated by people with strange faces, soot that hung in the air and buildings that touched the sky. The museum appeared like a mirage down an avenue, beckoning to the surrounding darkness. This was only Clark's third trip to Metropolis, and already he had decided that it could only hold mystery and despair. He glanced over at Phalen, beady eyes scanning the road and beefy hands twitching the wheel, and sighed.

"Sometimes, Phalen, so am I."