And dear God, it's hard to remember to write in the past tense. Feel free to critique at will. God knows, the story will need it.
Lex agreed that staying under trees was a good idea, with a kind of cool indulgence that suggested, just maybe, he didn't think being out in the open or within trees would make any difference at all. Intellectually, Clark knew that--a ship, for crying out loud, it's not like technology that could *travel through space* couldn't see through lots of leaves, but on the other hand, Clark was still working out the finer points of panic-reduction, and at this point, placebos were cool. They helped him breathe.
"Kal," Lex said softly from just ahead of him, and Clark blinked at how the word sounded in Lex's voice. How it seemed to neither fit at all nor really belong to anything or anyone like him. "When--"
"Dr. Swann." Frowning, Clark stops his instinctive need to lie, pushing the words slowly around the Jonathan-shaped lump in his throat. "He--that's what my--what I was named. Before here." Even to himself, he sounded more than usually stilted, but Lex didn't seem to be paying that much attention.
Every step in the mulch of the woods made him more jumpy, and he couldn't even explain why. Maybe something to do with the wasteland outside it, and that brought him around to look at Lex.
"Why--" Stopping, Clark tried to figure out a way to frame his question. "Did you notice--I mean, there's trees, but the fields--" Or, why fields and not trees?
"Yes." The crinkle in Lex's brow was a good indicator that Lex had been thinking the same thing. "It--I'd need to do analysis on the soil, but it makes me think about something I read about Russian during the Napoleon's march--"
It all comes back to history for Lex, and Clark couldn't even explain why something in him relaxed at the cool cadences of Lex's voice in historical analogy mode--or whatever it was called. Surreal, but grounding, too. It couldn't be too bad if Lex was still so relentlessly Lex-like.
Lex's gaze snapped to him, mouth curving in a thoughtful frown. "Scorched earth. When--well, to spare you the extreme detail, when invasion came, the Russians couldn't fight, but withdrew."
Clark waited as Lex's voice trailed off, and then Lex turned around, gazing through the trees as if he was seeing something Clark didn't. "It--well. The army--and the locals--would destroy everything. Even reports, when it was feared Napoleon would conquer, of sowing their own fields with salt. Scorched earth."
That put an entirely new spin on what Clark had seen, and he narrowed his gaze, wishing he had been given long-distance as well as infrared vision, but there were just trees and memories.
Shaking himself, Lex turned back to continue, and Clark quickened his pace to keep up, vaguely wondering exactly where they thought they were going. Find people, Lex had said, but people so far consisted of whoever was running that ship and those meteor rock citizens who Clark wasn't in a hurry to meet again anytime soon. He could pick up Lex and run to, like, California, but well, teh point of that was kind of lost. Assuming Clark could even find California.
"Anything else you want to share?" Lex asked, voice deceptively light, and Clark dragged his attention back to the man walking so calmly in front of him. "Such as, the ship? You recognized it?"
Oh damn. He didn't even realize he was coming to a stop until Lex was almost out of sight, and a few million answers crowded his head, not the least of which was, "me, recognize an alien ship? No, no, just you know shock" and Jesus, habit, stop. Stop.
"I--" Clark swallowed. No more secrets. At least, none that would be dangerous to keep. "You noticed the thing with the rocks?" Lex nodded slowly, without any surprise at all, and Clark began to wonder, just a little, exactly how much Lex had guessed before this day. "And the. The ship. The--the writing--"
"It's from the caves." Lex's certainty somehow made it easier. He really wasn't betraying anything, just confirming. A very fine line of difference, but it worked. Clark took another breath and nodded. "And how did you learn it?"
"Thing in the caves." And God, what did you call that anyway? "The key thing you found? Goes in it. It--sort of did this thing. Um."
"What thing?" For a second, Lex doesn't say anything, then something seems to light up in his eyes. Memory. "Walden. What hit him--"
"Yes." Wow, that was easy.
"It--what? Gave you information?" Curious. Like they were in a perfectly normal world where Lex could ask these questions and they might not mean the difference between life and death, or something like that.
"Language, some--I'm not sure of all of it. I can read it. Speak it." In theory. The words sometimes slipped out--once during a private moment in the loft and he's still not entirely sure Mom believed he was just practicing his Kryptonian language skills for fun. "It was weird." He still remembered the strange, light feeling of it, and while it wasn't exactly comparative to alone-time in the loft in terms of sensation, there's some uncomfortable parallels that he really doesn't think Lex needed to know about. "So. Um. The writing was my family's name. I think. El, anyway. For all I know, could be a trademark or something. Like, Hunts or something." Hunt's Ketchup, Hunt's Spaceship, and he couldn't help grinning a little. "I--I really don't know."
For a wonder, Lex only nodded, adding it to whatever little database in his head that he'd set up for This Very Damned Weird Day. There's a limit to how long anyone can sit around in shock and saying 'this can't be happening' without reverting to something close to quasi-normal, Clark thought as he jogged the few steps that separated them, falling into step beside Lex. And as long as all bizarrity stayed well out of range until, say, they *woke up*, well, then, everything was good. Or at very least, dealable.
You know, until they saw, well, *people*.
"Interesting method of transferring information," Lex mused, almost as if to himself as he stepped over a random root without stumbling, though Clark would swear Lex wasn't paying any attention at all to the world around them. "Direct download--some kind of computer? No, scans would have shown that, but maybe it can cloak itself somehow. Hide itself from conventional methods of excavation. Especially in that cliff base." Lex's voice stopped as he seemed to consider something. "So you put the key in, which activated it--but how would they--" Lex's eyes found his. "One of you was here before?"
"Kayla said that, yeah. And the cave sort of backs that up. A little." There are other things there, but Clarks' still working out the meanings. He just got the feeling that some of it was supposed to be figurative, because really, fires spouting from the earth in great gouts for his greater glory? Seriously. Even in Smallville, that was too weird.
Lex nodded and fell back into silence. Disconcerting. Clark wanted to know what was going on in his head. Or maybe he just wanted the forest to be a little less quiet.
"Hmm?" Still lost in Lexland, apparently. Maybe this was another kind of coping mechanism. Treat it all as a huge mystery instead of what it was. Which Clark still wasn't sure of.
"I--when we find people?"
Lex looked at him. "Yes?"
"What do we say exactly?"
From the sudden look of worry on Lex's face, he wasn't the only one who thought people, while great in theory, could be a little strange in practice. Because really, you can't just walk up to someone and say, hey, I'm sort of out of my *dimension*, timeline, whatever, and could you give me a short history of what the hell's going on? And why are people wearing kryptonite anyway?
"They recognized us--you at least," Lex pointed out, and see, Clark had been sort of trying to forget that part. "We'll worry about that when we actually find people. Though--" Lex kicked at the mulchy ground. "You--may need to stay out of sight."
May need to-- "Hold it. You think we should find people and then *you* go to meet them alone? Have you lost your *mind*?" People that wear dangerous to alien boy jewelry and didn't look exactly enthusiastic to see either one of them. Jesus. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Lex wasn't coping. Maybe this had driven Lex insane.
Lex gave him an annoyed look and kicked up a pile of rotting leaves. Strangely childish. "They didn't recognize me."
"And that guarantees no one will?"
"That guarantees--" Lex stopped short, and Clark wondered for a second if he'd actually somehow won that argument, reviewing the conversation in his head quickly, but no. They hadn't even gotten started. But Lex--Lex wasn't looking at him, eyes narrowed and then, sudden and shocking, he was *pushed*, and Clark was too surprised to even try to hold his balance, hitting the ground on both knees, scrabbling at the leaves and ending up with one wrist buried in solid dirt trying to catch himself. A vague blur of black and red and white as Lex moved by him, and he hadn't even known Lex *could* move that fast.
By the time Clark righted himself, Lex wasn't anywhere in sight, but the sound of feet crunching quickly through dead leaves gave him the direction, and he jumped up, barely restraining himself from superspeed, because that might make him overshoot the mark and what the *hell*--
Obvious signs of progress, with low hanging branches still swinging softly and trampled too-thick undergrowth that heralded the path of someone who wasn't taking the time to find an easier way. The sounds were closer, and less like running, more like fighting, or maybe someone holding down Lex and killing him for some incomprehensible reason, and Clark hit speed without even thinking--
--skidding almost through a tree when he passed a blur of moving bodies. Grabbing onto the bark desperately, trying not to crumble it in between panicked fingers, Clark stared at Lex straddling the slim boy from this morning, one hand wrapped neatly around his throat, the other....
"Damn." Clark leaned into the gouged tree, sucking in a slow breath. Far enough away not to make him wish he was dead. Close enough to make him wish he could throw up. Lex wasn't looking at him at all, knees trapping too-thin arms and his face a mask of chilled indifference.
"Talk." The low, even tone promised all kinds of unpleasant things, and Clark made a choked sound as Lex's hand tightened. A vision of Lex with a gun slipped into view, and that expression may not be exactly the same, but maybe it's also too close to comfort.
Maybe Lex had reached the end of his coping abilities. That--couldn't be good.
"I--I wanted to make sure," the kid said. Eyes huge and pupil swallowing dark iris, turning them almost black. The almost skeletal fingers were gripping at leaves as if they held the key to salvation. "I--we weren't sure, and he took you away and you'd never let them--not if you were--and you said--"
Dark eyes flickered to Clark, fixing, widening even more, if that was even possible, and Lex's gaze followed. For a second--just a second--Clark thought that Lex wasn't even seeing him, but then the free hand clenched around the necklace, throwing it aside. Clark breathed out in relief as it left his range, walking over, and the kid began to struggle in earnest. Lex bore down with his knees, careless of the differences in weight and age, but the kid only fought harder, willing to lose skin and bone if it got him free. Like a rat in a trap, willing to do anything to escape, and Clark's breath solidified in his throat when those dark eyes met his, ignoring the hand tight around his throat, as if that would be a relief, to die strangled on a forest floor, than face Clark.
Staring at him in blank, unseeing terror, and Clark didn't know what it meant, didn't know why, but he knew he never wanted to see anyone look at him like that again. The pale lips moved soundlessly, but the shape of the word was as obvious as speaking.
Jesus. Slowly, Clark forced himself to step back, dropping onto his knees to simply watch, and Lex freed the kid's throat with a start, like he had no idea what he was doing. Eyes closing for a second before opening again, and the scary blank look was gone.
"Clark." Lex's voice was firm and very sure. "His name is Clark."
Somehow, that got the kid's attention, and he stared up at Lex. "But you--"
"Who do you think I am?"
A pink tongue crept out, licking dry lips, and Clark saw the gaze flicker to him again before jerking back to Lex. Like despite the fact Lex was the one who had chased him, the one holding him down, the one who had had his hand around his throat, Clark was still the one to fear. And that made no sense at all, except maybe it did, and Clark thought of the way those people had ran from the ship.
"Lex. You said Lex. The one who--we thought you were *dead*."
Maybe the air stopped for a second at the word--or imagination, that the very trees seemed to stop swaying and the tiny clearing grew cold and dark, or maybe it was the fact that Lex had lost that look of thoughtful cool, if only for a moment. Something flickering just behind his eyes, something unreadable that flashed out of existence in the time it took to draw a breath, but in that second, Clark thought he understood.
Like the farm for Clark, something had clicked and settled. Lex had just made this real.
"I'm not dead."
"They said he killed you." The voice was louder, and the dark eyes were fixed on Lex with--Jesus. Hope. "That he killed them all when he found them. Or that--or that they took you back and were going to do things--" His voice trailed off. "You not, though. You--but you're with him."
Lex didn't seem to move. "He didn't try to kill me." The words were careful, and Clark could almost see the way Lex was pushing aside everything else, living directly in this moment. "He--rescued me. From the ones that did kill them."
What the *hell* was Lex doing?
More shock, and the kid managed to project disbelief like light. "They--he got me out. Away."
"No human gets out of Metropolis alive."
There. Something. Clark rolled the words in his head, trying to find something useful in them. There was a Metropolis, and a Lex, and apparently, a Kal who looked a lot like him. A Kal who had maybe killed some people and maybe Lex, too.
The slow shake of the kid's head wasn't exactly negation--if Clark was the kind to categorize, he'd say that the same mind-bending weirdness he and Lex were feeling right around now was nothing compared to how this kid was taking the idea of this Kal getting Lex out. Of Metropolis.
Where humans don't get out.
There was so much wrong there that Clark pushed every thought aside, focusing on Lex, who was watching the kid carefully. "What's your name?"
"J-James." The voice shook. "You're Lex, aren't you?"
There was no way to deny that. "Yes. But--"
And the kid smiled. Huge and bright, almost sitting up before he remembered he was being held down, and staring up at Lex in wonder, like he was seeing God, like Lex had looked at that ship, like every question had been answered.
"My mother told me about you." His voice was--indescribable. "About what you've done. They--they say you'll save us all, that you'll drive them from our world, that you'll--"
"James." Lex lowered both hands into the leaves and pushed off, dropping into a crouch beside the kid. Instinct made Clark move, but one look from Lex sent him back down. Lex was playing a hunch. A really educated one, considering, but that kid had been wearing meteor rock and had been following them. "What did you hear about what happened to me?"
Slowly, James sat up--smart, not to make any sudden moves, but then again, in this world, maybe that was just instinct. Slowly pulling his legs up, he looked up at Lex with the kind of worship that people who get burned for God usually have. Terrifying as hell in the face of a child who was barely past puberty. If that much. "The entire cell was killed. One week ago. All the--everyone. No one knows who betrayed them. It was--it was everyone who was leading. It was--" The kid stopped, eyes wide. "They said--"
"They were wrong."
The kid's glance flickered to Clark, and somehow, it didn't even surprise him when James shifted closer to Lex, as if he was the best protection in the world. Not surprise, not even real pain, just this endless numbness that Clark hoped would never wear off.
No human gets out of Metropolis alive.
"Cl--Kal got me out and brought me back here. To find the others." And Lex could probably sell ice to Eskimos, as his dad might have said, with that voice. Persuasive as hell. Powerful, somehow. He made you believe. Clark had always known Lex was good at this sort of thing, but he'd never seen it turned on like this. The kid nodded slowly, almost dreamily, and that, Clark thought, is faith. Just believing. "He--wants to help."
"He--he *killed* them--"
"No. That was a lie that was--spread. To keep him from helping more." Jesus, Lex was pulling this out of his ass and doing it well. "We need to find the others. Now. I have to tell them--"
"Yes." Apparently, this qualified as an actual plan, because the kid was on his feet, face transfigured. And if he was careful not to look at Clark, Clark tried really hard not to blame him. Because Kal was apparently murdering people. Human people. James' people.
His hands felt sticky, and Clark didn't look down, didn't dare. Metaphorical blood that belonged to Kal just as surely belonged to him, if this wasn't all a hallucination.
"Will you take us?"
James paused, and Clark watched him wipe his palms over the faded, ragged jeans, pale face working. "They--Lex, they might--"
"We'll tell them. Explain what happened. But--we have to get out of here before we're found."
Apparently, that was a *good* reason, and James' eyes flickered skyward with a flinch that Clark felt like a punch. Nodding slowly, he stepped back, eyeing Clark warily before slowly reaching for Lex's arm. "I can show you. Come on. It's--you might not find it on your own. We're good at hiding."
Yes, Clark thought bleakly as he caught Lex's slow nod. They might be very good at it by now. And he has no idea if he wants to know why.