Disclaimers, etc., can be found at the beginning of Part I



Part II


Clark opened the door to his bedroom, and motioned for Lex to follow him in. Lex did so and blinked as he took in the appearance of the room. He had visited Clark here more than once, both alone and in the company of Clark's friends, and he had always seen it as an extension of his friend's personality: free of extraneous clutter, but with plenty of untidiness that suggested an active life and mind at work. Now, the place was pin neat, with all surfaces clear of loose objects and everything precisely located to make it seem pristine. It looked like a museum exhibit-or a tomb. Clark noticed the unsettled look on Lex's face, and commented quietly, "I'm not sure who should go first here: you wanting to know what's going on, or me wanting to know how you figured it out."

Lex shrugged with a casualness he didn't really feel and glanced at Clark, noticing a bulge in his front shirt pocket. He reached out in a negligent manner and pulled the gold ankh out of Clark's pocket, then handed it to him. Clark took it, puzzled, and Lex took a moment to enjoy having turned the tables on Clark before explaining, "Your parents let me handle the arrangements for the gravestone and the coffin, even though they wouldn't let me near the other elements of the ceremony." Clark looked apologetic, but Lex waved him off as he continued: "The coffin was rigged with vibration sensors that automatically began operating three hours after it was buried. The gravestone contained a low-powered transmitter which had the sole function of preventing the transponder in the ankh from functioning. The transmitter only had about a twenty foot range, so when the ankh left the area of the grave, the transponder showed up rather quickly. When I got up the next morning, the signal was coming straight from this room. I didn't believe it at first, and I went to the cemetery. The ground looked completely undisturbed, Clark: someone tampering with the grave wouldn't have been able to pull that off. Which doesn't explain how you managed it, of course."

Clark nodded, then commented, "Considering the hi-tech scenario you just described, I would have guessed that you were expecting me to rise from the grave. Or did you have another reason for hiding a tracer on my 'corpse'?"

Lex blinked, and turned away slightly. Clark had seen many expressions on Lex's face over the years, but this was the first time he could ever remember seeing the older man look embarrassed. Clark waited, and after a few moments Lex replied quietly, "A lot of people around here knew that we were-are-friends, including people that might have some ideas of robbing the dead for fun and profit. I had an unpleasant feeling that you might not be allowed to rest easy, so I simply decided to make sure that anyone who tampered with your final repose wouldn't live long enough to enjoy their profits. I know certain people, Clark: that ankh would have been a death warrant within twenty-four hours to any other being on Earth who possessed it, and anyone else who assisted them."

Clark stared at Lex, paling slightly, then replied in a shaky tone, "Uh, thanks, I think." He took a deep breath, then added, "I guess it's my turn now." He turned away and whispered, "The main question is where to start, I guess."

"Well, for starters, you can explain where you got that convincing looking fake corpse, and why you risked blowing the whole thing to get that ankh, Clark." Lex wasn't bothering to hide his confusion. "I mean, if it was important enough to make people think you were dead, why take a risk like that?"

Lex watched Clark as his expression became visibly conflicted; clearly, he was having serious doubts about how to answer. After a moment, the younger man sighed and responded, "Lex, I don't know how to tell you this, but that was really me who was buried. Me with enough makeup to make me look like an embalmed corpse, but me nonetheless."

Lex shook his head in disbelief and replied, "Impossible. You weren't breathing, and I brushed your throat when I was pinning the ankh on you: you didn't have a pulse."

Clark grinned and explained, "Biocontrol, Lex. A little bit of meditation, and some other tricks, and I was able to breathe shallowly and slow my pulse enough to fool anything short of a real autopsy, which my parents were able to prevent. Simple."

Lex stared at Clark skeptically and replied, "Fine, but that still leaves you six feet under and in a closed coffin. I'm as much of a 'Buffy' fan as the next guy, but people don't dig their way out of graves, at least not without leaving a lot bigger mess than you did, and you would have been running a hell of a risk-" Lex paused in mid-sentence, then looked at Clark and grinned, asking: "A tunnel, right? You heard about some old tunnels beneath the cemetery and you arranged to be buried right next to one."

Clark paused again, this time for a longer interval, and Lex was about to ask what he was thinking about when Clark shook his head and replied, "There were no tunnels, Lex: at least there weren't any when I got down there."

Four years of life in Smallville, with all of the weirdness that it involved, allowed Lex to quickly realize what Clark was implying, and his reaction was one of disbelief rather than confusion: "You're not saying--?"

"I broke through the side of the coffin, then started digging a tunnel to a point I had picked out last week: an open area inside a section of thick brush. I waited for a time when no one was around, then came back here, where I've been ever since." Clark's tone was matter of fact, and he smiled slightly at the completely disbelieving expression on Lex's face, adding, "It takes a long time to get the dirt out from under your fingernails after that, believe me."

Lex shook his head, and a four year old question came back to the front of his mind: "Clark: that day on the bridge--?"

"You hit me square on at sixty miles an hour, and I dove in, peeled the top open like a beer can, and pulled you out." Clark spoke quietly, watching for Lex's reaction. The older man was silent, and Clark began to become uneasy. He waited a few more moments, then verbally nudged him: "Uh, Lex. . .are you going to say anything?"

Lex blinked again, then looked back at Clark calmly and asked, "Clark, if I hauled off and slugged you in the jaw right now I'd probably break my hand, right?" Clark nodded, and Lex sighed and continued, "All right, then I'll settle for giving you a dirty look and asking for an explanation. How, Clark? Is it the meteor rocks: did they give you these abilities?"

"Not exactly: I seem to have arrived WITH the meteor rocks." Lex's eyes widened at the explanation, and Clark nodded and added, "So I won't be running for President against you, Lex: not a native born citizen."

"Not to mention legally dead," Lex pointed out. He had absorbed the initial shock of the revelation, and the expression on his face was openly curious. He locked eyes with Clark and asked, "All right, I've got a handle on the how, but I'm still not getting the why, Clark. You've been hiding these abilities for years now, and you even managed to give me the slip when I was spending a hell of a lot of money to prove you had them. What's changed?"

Lex had noted that-in spite of the intensity of the conversation-Clark had seemed to be getting more relaxed as they had talked, visibly enjoying the exchanges with his old friend. Now, Clark's face seemed to close down a little as he sat down on his bed. Lex sat next to him, concerned, as Clark replied, "It's been getting harder to hide it, Lex. Things keep happening here, because of the meteor rocks and. . .other reasons, and I've almost been caught doing something inexplicable several times in the past year. It's been hard enough to keep my secret here, living on a farm and in a place where weird things happen almost daily: it's been uncovered several times, with only fatal accidents or comas keeping it from going public. I was scheduled to go to Metropolis University this fall, Lex: sooner or later, something was going to give."

Lex nodded, but still looked puzzled. Clark frowned, then continued, "That's not all, Lex. I've had time now to get used to my abilities, and I've decided that I want to use them to help people all over the world, not just here in Smallville, or even just in Metropolis. If I do that, I can do a lot of good, but I'm also going to attract a lot of unwanted attention from people who want to use me or get even with me. Sam Phelan found out, and you remember how that ended up." Lex's face contorted with anger, remembering how he leaned over the dying ex-cop, trying to find out Clark's secret and only getting a whispered curse before the man expired. Clark nodded, and continued: "With Clark Kent dead, I'll be able to operate more freely, without easily identifiable targets that can suffer for what I do."

Lex was appalled, and he didn't bother to hide it as he responded angrily, "Damn it, Clark! Those people aren't 'targets,' they're your friends, and you've caused them a great deal of pain by doing what you've done. I understand your concerns, and your intentions are good, but why couldn't you have come to me, Clark? I would have understood: we could have figured out a way to protect your identity, or at worst I would have been glad to provide any protection your other friends and family needed. You had to know that, Clark." He stood up, and grasped Clark's shoulders as he whispered urgently, "It's not too late, Clark. We can come up with some story about witness protection, or some meteor related weirdness, that explains why you had to fake your death. I'll pay whatever it takes to fake the evidence: you could be at your 'Welcome Back' party tomorrow, and go on from there. You don't have to be dead to save the world, Clark."

Clark twisted slightly, freeing himself from Lex's grasp as he stood and walked to his window, looking out onto the farm and toward the horizon. After a few moments, he sighed and replied without turning around, "I know you could do it, Lex. You could explain it away, protect me and everyone around me from everyone else on Earth who wanted them harmed, or at least you'd do it better than anyone else I could think of." Lex felt warmth towards his younger friend, and he was about to continue coaxing him when Clark turned back to him with a look of accusation in his eyes and concluded softly, "But who's going to protect me from you, Lex?"

Lex reacted as if he had been slapped, and stared at his friend as he answered uncomprehendingly, "Clark, what are you talking about? I'd never-"

"Never finance Dr. Hamilton's experiments with the meteor rocks that led to the Nicodemus plant killing that man and nearly getting my Dad, Lana, and Pete in the bargain?" Clark's voice was cold, and the tone shocked Lex almost as much as the words. Noting the reaction, Clark continued, "Oh, and continuing to fund him at that private lab in Metropolis, leading to several deaths and threatening countless lives?" He mentioned three other, more recent incidents, and Lex was stunned at the details that Clark was aware of: that information should only be available in-- He flushed angrily, and Clark paused in his recitation and asked quietly, "You wanted to say something, Lex?"

"You've been reading my personal files, Clark." The coldness of Lex's tone matched Clark's now, and his expression was of outraged betrayal. He stalked up to Clark, and shouted from two feet away, "How long have you been invading my privacy?"

"Not for all that long, Lex." Clark's tone had gone quiet again, and Lex blinked and took a step back as Clark continued, "I knew your codes: you've been kidnapped several times since I've known you, and it occurred to me a long time ago that if you were in a really bad spot, there might not be anyone on Earth you trusted enough to get into those files. I obtained the codes for that reason, with the hope I'd never have to use them. I never did-until the day after the Prometheus Project incident."

Lex had thought he was immune to further shock from this conversation, but the mention of the Prometheus Project caused him to take another step back, then to sink into a convenient chair as he absorbed Clark's revelation. The Prometheus Project had been Lex's most ambitious goal yet: a new approach to controlled hydrogen fusion that-if successful-would have made every other source of energy in the world obsolete. The promise had blinded Lex to the potential risks, and he had ignored the warnings of a physicist on the project that the design had an unacceptable risk of running away and causing a multi-megaton nuclear explosion. The project had gone online two months before, without notifying any civilian or military authorities, and had quickly run out of control. Lex had been in the control room, listening to the grim reports of the scientists and wondering how history would view him, when the video monitors in the reactor room had all gone dead. By the time they had gone back on, radiation levels had returned to normal, and the entire reactor was gone, apparently ripped from the floor like a stray weed. A hole in the roof of the building was apparently its departure point, but an intense-if covert-investigation had revealed precisely nothing as to its fate. Clark had been elsewhere in the complex, doing a story for the school paper on one of Luthor Corp's hiring projects, and had said nothing to him at the time about knowing what had happened. Lex stared at Clark, and began, "Clark, I-"

Clark held up his hand, and Lex stopped in mid-sentence. Clark shook his head in anger as he explained, "I got rid of the reactor-tossed it out into space-but I couldn't believe that you had taken such a risk with the lives of innocent people, Lex. If that reactor had detonated, it would have taken Smallville, the surrounding towns, and half of Metropolis with it. I had to convince myself that it was just a moment of bad judgment, an aberration, so I went through your files, Lex: all of them." He looked down and swallowed hard, continuing, "You've been taking bigger and bigger chances over the years, Lex, trying to outmaneuver your father, gaining personal power, recruiting new allies. The amazing thing is, you've done relatively little direct harm to other people so far, but it can't last, Lex. Sooner or later, you're going to do something that kills or harms a lot of people, and I can't let that happen. As long as you stay on this path, Lex, we are going to be at cross-purposes, and I know how you deal with people who get in your way."

Lex--still trying to comprehend Clark's casual explanation of how he disposed of a multi-ton active reactor-struggled to deal with Clark's grim explanation for his change of outlook, and for several moments neither man spoke. Lex looked back at Clark, then stated softly, "Clark. . .I've tried to tell you over the years that sometimes things in life aren't cut and dried, that sometimes one has to do things that seem wrong on the surface-"

Clark shook his head, and replied, "No, Lex. That might justify some things, but not what I've found. You're after power, Lex, and I don't think you care too much who you have to go through to get it. You've helped a lot of people in this town, Lex, but it all would have vanished in one flash of light if I hadn't stepped in, and you don't seem particularly remorseful about it." Clark blinked, then concluded bluntly, "I can't do what I need to do and be your friend, Lex. Clark Kent is your friend: he has to die."

Lex watched Clark quietly for a moment, then responded quietly, "Clark, I had no idea you were thinking this way, no idea what my actions were doing to you." He looked away for a moment, then asked, "Clark, is there anything I can do to make you change your mind?"

Clark's eyes narrowed, and he watched Lex's face carefully as he asked, "Could you give it up, Lex? The pursuit of power for its own sake? The willingness to sacrifice lives to meet your goals? Could you live simply as a man of great ability who seeks to do great things, without having to violate the rules or otherwise cut corners? Is that ability in you, Lex?"

Lex began to open his mouth, to tell Clark that of course he could do it, or any other damned thing he had to do to get him to stay. He found that he couldn't: the damnable truth was that giving that all up would feel like selling his soul, and he couldn't do that, not even for Clark, even though there was a rather substantial part of himself that wanted to say yes, and mean it. He looked back into Clark's eyes, and knew that he couldn't lie to him, not about this. He closed his mouth, and shook his head slightly as he whispered, "I'm sorry, Clark."

Clark nodded, and replied in a voice that only trembled slightly: "I'm sorry too, Lex." As the epitaph of a four-year friendship, it wasn't much, but it was unmistakable nonetheless. Lex stood silently, and turned to leave when Clark called out, "Lex?"

Lex turned, and Clark locked eyes with him and spoke in a tone that implied that he was dealing with an evasive debtor: "Lex, I've revealed my secret to you because once you knew I wasn't dead, there was nothing that would keep you from pursuing it and dragging me back out of the grave except the truth. Doing so means that you know of people who still mean something to me, and gives you a potential means of manipulating me. On the other hand, I know things about you that-although I don't have any legally admissible proof of them-could do you great harm if I released them publicly. I am willing to bury what I know now forever, to never reveal it, in exchange for your solemn word that you will never in any way harm or manipulate the people I have known in this place for the purposes of gaining leverage or revenge on me. If you ever do, I will release the information, and quite probably come and kill you. Do we understand each other?"

Lex Luthor straightened slightly, nodded once, and left the bedroom, walking down the stairs and heading for the door. Jonathan Kent heard the footsteps and turned to see Lex coming down. He despised him for what he had driven his son to, and he stood to lash into the younger man for what he had done. The desolate look on Lex's face and in his eyes stopped him; for the first time since he met Lex, he felt genuine pity for him. He stood aside as Lex went out the kitchen door without acknowledging Martha, and the sound of a sports car engine roaring to life announced his departure moments later.

Jonathan and Martha exchanged worried looks, then headed upstairs, finding Clark staring out the window at the horizon again. Martha stepped forward, then called out softly, "Clark? Are you--?"

"I'm fine." Clark's voice was calm, but unconvincing, and Martha was about to press the issue when he added, "I'm a little tired: I think I'm going to take a nap. Could you bring me dinner in about three hours? I'll have to finish packing a few more things after I eat."

Martha nodded and replied, "Of course, Clark," and she slipped out of the room as Jonathan pulled the door shut. They walked downstairs, then sat on the sofa, both looking up at their son's soon to be permanently vacant room with helpless expressions on their faces.




EPILOGUE

Five Years Later


The door was six inches thick, made of titanium and reinforced with neo-plastic struts that would have sufficed to protect against a near miss by a thermonuclear warhead. It survived the first impact, though a huge dent appeared in its precise center. The second one tore the door off of its hinges and sent it skittering back into the room, allowing the icy cold and the sound of howling winds to penetrate the sanctuary.

Superman strode into the room, scanning with his super-vision to seek any spots that had escaped his attention when he had examined it from outside. He had discovered this place two days before, when he had noticed that the network of satellites that the United States, Russia, and other spacefaring nations had erected over the years had a glaring blind spot that happened to coincide with this otherwise rather nondescript mountain peak in Antarctica. After dealing with several other crises of the moment, he had flown to the area and discovered evidence that the place had been built by Luthor. Kicking the door in wasn't exactly by the book, with no innocent lives apparently at stake, but Superman knew that Luthor didn't have any legal claim to the mountain, and wouldn't raise a fuss.

It had been over four years now since Superman had revealed himself to the world, and the attention paid to everything he did in public view was obsessive, if predictable. He had filled out some since his high school days: heavy muscle rippled under the skintight costume. He found it amusing at times: his face was by now the most famous on Earth, yet none of his former friends seemed to have noticed that there was a bit of a resemblance between the new superhero and a now long deceased Smallville resident.

Those friends were all doing well, more or less, though he rarely had time to check on them these days. He had only been formally introduced to one of them: Intergang had attacked a regional journalism conference the prior year, intending to intimidate some of the attendees from pursuing certain news stories. Superman had arrived and incapacitated the criminals, and had turned them over to the police and was preparing to depart when Lois Lane walked over with a smile on her face, calling out, "Superman, while I've got you here, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

He had turned, and had come within a hair of flinching as he recognized the stunning woman by Lois' side. Oblivious to his reaction, Lois had continued: "Superman, meet-"

"Chloe Sullivan." He had interrupted Lois, then extended his hand, and Chloe took it, shaking it firmly with a surprised expression on her face. Superman had smiled and explained, "I've read your work, Ms. Sullivan-I'm very impressed with it."

She had smiled broadly and replied, "Thank you." He looked for signs of recognition on her face, but only saw simple respect and gratitude there. He had sighed inwardly and made his apologies before departing: there was a flood in Tanzania to dispose of.

Superman was relieved to find no traps or active sensors in the room. Since Luthor had discovered that he was vulnerable to the meteor fragments-now known as kryptonite-his life had been more interesting, in the ancient Chinese curse's sense of the word. There had been a couple of close calls, and the last one had caused him to design a new costume woven from late generation ballistic cloth, and with a titanium plate sewn in over his heart. No good against head shots, of course, but one couldn't have everything.

The place seemed to be abandoned. Superman could see a few stray fingerprints belonging to Luthor here and there, which indicated to him that Luthor didn't expect him to find anything incriminating-Luthor wasn't usually that careless.

The only remaining object in the room of interest was a small desk. Superman could see a thin manila envelope resting inside: its inside was apparently lined with lead foil. He tensed slightly, then walked over and reached in, retrieving the envelope. He carefully felt the envelope, and failed to detect any evident uneven areas that would indicate kryptonite nuggets, or a letter bomb. Cautiously, he opened the envelope and pulled out the lead foil. A color photo slipped out from between the folds and fell to the floor. Superman reached out to pick it up and froze: the picture was of an object he was intimately familiar with, and only his very discerning gaze could spot the signs of the digital alterations to the original that left the appearance slightly different. The tombstone read:


CLARK KENT

1986-2005

BELOVED SON AND FRIEND

MURDERED BY HIS BEST FRIEND'S AMBITION


Antarctica remained one of the most hostile places on Earth, even in that time, and there was no other living being for fifty miles. So it was that no one was present to perceive the quiet sobbing that could be heard over the howling sub-zero winds, as the Man of Tomorrow mourned the life and the friendship that had died five years before in a farmhouse in Kansas, leaving an embittered man and a wounded hero behind to continue with the knowledge of what might have been.



As before, comments are welcome and desired.