Her shadow fell down the long corridor, listening to the murmur of voices in the rooms below. She thought one of them might have been Lionel, but could not tell through the closed doors of the study. Her hand fell on the railing, caressing the soft cherry wood as she stood on the landing. Lex had warned her not to venture below. Their argument had left a strain between them that was devastating. More than anything, she now wished the stone were in her possession, that she might give it to him, and earn back the trust that had vanished from his eyes. Something had driven her to turn it over into Clark's keeping, a whisper from the bloodstained element that was otherworldly and more powerful even than Isobel, as if the element belonged to Clark. As if it had been meant for him all along.

The voices were more insistent now. She knew it was perilous to linger where she might be seen and turned to go just as a rocking explosion of light shook the foundations of the mansion. It glowed through the cracks of the door, reflecting the length of the mirrors that flanked either end of the hall. Her astonishment was nothing akin to that of Lex as he watched his father writhe on the ground, in the clutches of a desperate sequence of seizures. The man who had raised him from childhood with such a brutal, unfeeling hand, now lay helpless, trembling in the wake of a powerful beam of light originating from his chest pocket. Lean fingers reached forward, slipping between the silk shirt and expensive jacket, but the element responded violently to his touch, sending him crashing back against the far wall, where his skull connected with hardwood. Lex fell to the ground, dazed. How long he remained there, he did not know, only that the light eventually faded and when he looked up, his father was laying unconscious nearby.

Thunderous footsteps brought his security team, throwing open the panel doors and stopping in astonishment at the sight of him kneeling beside his father's body. Lex gave orders for him to be removed in a dazed, obscure voice. So many voices were speaking to him, calling his name, whispering that he embrace his destiny. Lionel's cold countenance, the blank stare of his eyes, the limpness of his form as he was carried out, meant nothing; the only thing of value lay on the floor at a brief distance, a glowing silver stone of greater power than was fathomable. Lex crawled toward it, the glow of the insignia reflecting coldly in his eyes; he felt something rush through him as he drew near, an otherworldly power that was enticing. It took possession of him as his hand closed around the object.

He did not hear her approach as he turned away from his safe, closing the panel and encasing the element among his treasures. Green meteor rocks glowed within. He did not know why, but in the very back of his memory, he knew the rocks were important. Lana came down the staircase, taking in Lionel's form with horror, and now hesitantly entered into the room. She saw only the paneling as it slid shut beneath his hand, his stance as he leaned tiredly against it, face turned so that she could not see its expression.

"Lex," she whispered. She wanted to say more, but the words would not come.

The sound of her voice was like a melody in the midst of a terrible storm, causing him to turn and fix her with such a look that it nearly took her breath away. For one terrible instant, she believed Alexander had returned, for there was such fierceness dwelling therein, but then there was a softening of his countenance. With the light streaming through the windows behind him, Lex came forward to comfort her. She folded into his arms, embracing him with a shuddering gasp. She could not bear to voice her thoughts, the fear that had taken hold of her upon seeing that terrible white light, that he might have been harmed, or killed.

He held her without speaking, kissing the top of her head and breathing deeply of her delicate scent. Slowly, her eyes lifted to his, and he moved to cradle her face in his hands. Lana barely breathed as he explored her features with a lingering glance, his thumb lightly brushing across her lips. Lex leaned toward her, feeling her hands slide beneath his jacket. He barely touched her, his lips tenderly parting hers. When she did not pull away, he kissed her. Lana leaned into him, welcoming the experience that set her limbs to trembling. Whether it lasted for an instant or an eternity, she could not have known, only that there was nothing beyond that moment. She laid her head against his chest just over his heart, listening to the pulse, and closed her eyes. Lex's arm remained around her, the silence more profound than a thousand words.

Through the open doorway came a member of staff, appraising the situation with disinterest. "Mr. Luthor," he said as they reluctantly pulled apart, "the helicopter is ready."

Magic was gone in an instant, for she now remembered all the torments of previous hours, the blood that had been washed away from her hands, the meteors that would soon return to wreak havoc on Smallville. Lana's hand tightened around her purse strap as he led her through the eerie halls of the mansion. Most of the expensive items had already been taken away, put where they would be less likely to endure damage. The house felt strangely hollow without the footsteps of servants, for only Lex's personal security team remained. His hand fell on the small of her back and remained there as they passed out into the sunlight. Torrential winds created by the revolving chopper blades whipped her hair around her face as they approached the landing pad. She walked with confidence, her movements guided beneath his influence, but he knew the mansion could not be left, even to escort her safely from the township.

There was a growing storm darker than any meteor shower within his soul, threatening to overflow the constitution kept at bay. She helped prevent its immediate release, her presence allowing him to wage war on the evil that desired to be unleashed, but he could feel it growing stronger with each step. His father's deadened eyes lingered in his memory, a vision that he could not shake. He had seen what the stone had done to him, knew its power, the potential that it held for influence over those in its possession. The belief that Lana could be harmed through its presence overwhelmed him, encompassing his desires almost as steadily as the element itself seduced him with promises of power. Shouting to be heard over the roar of the blades, Lex said, "I'll meet you in Metropolis."

Horror flooded through her at the knowledge he would not be there, that she would face the impending darkness alone. He might have relented for the look in her eyes, but restraint bore in mind the necessity of remaining. There were answers that he must obtain, and only Clark could grant them. He would not leave the caves, not when in a few hours time they might be utterly destroyed. The answers lay within the chamber wall, and Lex had one of the elements. With another, he might obtain everything he sought.

"You're not coming!" she demanded, desperation flooding into her voice.

It was striving to take hold of him again, shattering his sensibilities as he led her to the chopper. Men opened the door and ducked out of the way, the pilot awaiting her as he stared anxiously at the skies. "I have a pressing matter to take care of," Lex replied, and then, with hesitation, impulsively gave one last valiant attempt. "Lana, for your own safety, I need that stone."

The look she gave him was murderous, a glance of suspicion and disbelief like a lance through his heart, but it was too late to turn back now, and thus he forged forward recklessly, sensing a softening of her features as she beheld his earnestness. "Look, we all have a need to cling on to things, but eventually you have to loosen your grip. It's too dangerous for you."

Lana thought of the stone in Clark's keeping and regret threaded through her features, filtering into helplessness that she could not grant him this one thing. Shaking her head, she confessed, "I don't have it." She searched his eyes for forgiveness, and found only accusations. The internal struggle was evident, but the darker side was winning. He could feel it surging through him, the desire to simply take it from her. The impulse was overwhelming, repressed for the final time. Frustration, mingled with mild rage, flashed in his eyes, and coldly he replied, "Lies don't become you."

"It's the truth, Lex. I don't have it!" She wanted him to believe her more than anything, and yet knew he would not. It was as evident as the darkening skies overhead, shadowed with impending peril. "Trust me, it's safe. I promise!"

"Where is it?"

Madness overcame him in that instant, and he recklessly gave in to impulse, snatching her purse out of her hands and digging through it desperately, praying to find the element concealed within its depths. It was not there, but the damage was done. Lana beheld him in disbelief, anger foaming to the surface, mingled with disappointment. So his compassion meant nothing, his tender embrace, the touch of his lips on hers. It had all been a ploy to gain her trust, to get close enough to her to obtain the element of his desires. She wanted to weep, but chose raw fury instead, the desire to hurt him deeply flooding through her senses. There were a million things she might have said, but the only one which leapt readily to mind was more cutting than anything else.

"This was never about my safety, was it?" she demanded. "This was about you getting your hands on that stone!"

The truth of it was appalling, that for an instant he had allowed himself to be ruled through common desire for power rather than the nature of his heart. He regretted it for the damage it had done more than the action that had been taken, for there was no ready way to repair the look of absolute betrayal. Brushing the wildly blowing hair back from her face, he held it firmly between his hands, forcing him to look into his eyes. "Lana," he said desperately, "your safety is more important than any of this."

She wanted to believe him, but could not. It was too great a disappointment, too dark a betrayal. He would not have said it, and nearly didn't, but it came out in a whisper, the true echo of his soul. "You mean a lot more to me than you'll ever know."

There were a few tears now, as she lingered on the fringe of belief and acceptance, wondering if this was another farce to gain her forgiveness. Her lips parted, but no sound came forth, and she did not struggle to be rid of his awkward embrace. From behind them, the pilot urged, "Can't wait any longer, Mr. Luthor. We've got to go."

If any force upon the earth might have stopped the meteor shower in that instant, Lex would have moved heaven to obtain it, for the glance that he shot the terrified pilot was murderous. It was wrong to release her on that note, to send her away without making amends, to leave long hours to questioning in the hope that when he arrived in Metropolis, she would not turn away from him. Lex did not wish to remove his hands, but somehow he assisted her into the helicopter. The seat was smooth beneath her, the feel of his embrace still on her arm; she turned her head as the headset was placed upon it, unwilling to relinquish sight of him until the last possible instant. He moved as one broken, turning to watch the chopper as it lifted into the skies, his long black coat rippling around him.

It was only as they turned north and the mansion fell from sight that panic overcame her, the firm belief that she would never see him again. Turning to the pilot, she shouted, "Take me back!"

"What?" he demanded, wild eyes beholding her beneath the elaborate headset.

Lana had both hands clutched in her lap, twisting the cloth strap of her purse in an effort to relieve her concern. "Take me back!" she commanded.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lang, but I'm under orders to take you to Metropolis. Mr. Luthor was very clear. It's too dangerous to return."

"You cannot hold me against my will! I demand to be taken back to the mansion!"

"In a half hour, this area is going to be destroyed by meteors. You may have no respect for your own life, Miss Lang, but I am not willing to die just yet."

Arguing with him was futile, not that it would have granted them any hope of success. They were not ten miles from the mansion when the meteors began to fall. Memories of her childhood, of observing the devastation wrecked upon the town and her family, could not compare with the sheer terror Lana experienced as the helicopter swerved back and forth to avoid falling fragments, enormous flaming spheres that drove hard into the earth and set the fields aflame. Though the pilot said nothing, she knew that he was petrified. There was a strange calmness over her as she stared out the window.

It came so suddenly that they only felt it, the splintering as a massive meteor struck the back of the chopper, severing the tail from the body and sending them spinning out of control. Lana braced herself, watching as the world spun beneath them, trees and fields overturning as the pilot fought to gain some element of control. The ground was rushing toward them at a tremendous rate. Her last thought, before they plowed into the earth and everything skyrocketed into eternal darkness, was that at least he wasn't with them; at least he wouldn't be harmed.

Lex. Oh, God. Lex…