Past Grief

by Te

Past Grief
by Te
February 2002

Disclaimers: No one here belongs to me. I'm almost entirely thrilled.

Spoilers: Every episode, up to and including Leech.

Summary: Everything changes.

Ratings Note: NC-17 for sex, violence, and content some readers may find disturbing.

Authors' Note: Dark futurefic. I resisted the urge to write it, I really did. I just hope this gets it out of my system. The title and the mangled quote within come from... somewhere. A poem, I think. Any help figuring out which poem would be greatly appreciated.

For those of you who care about such things, the following songs were either directly involved in this story's inspiration or its creation: "Haunted" by Poe, "Love Song For A Vampire" by Annie Lennox, and "Smoke" by Ben Folds Five.

Acknowledgments: My God. So many people. My Webrain, of course. Sarah T. for numerous suggestions. Livia for fabu speed beta in the face of killing fatigue and actually having a life. Everyone who took the time to respond to the unedited story bits on my blog, too -- I could not have finished this without your support.

All remaining mistakes, inconsistencies, oddities, and confusing bits are entirely my own fault. Feel free to call me on them. thete1@earthlink.net

*

Clark thinks about the past once a year, every year.

He wakes up from the light doze which is all he's been able to manage for years (all he needs, really), places a soft kiss on Lex's sleep-warm cheek, dresses, and drives -- not flies -- back to Smallville.

There's importance in the ritual of it, something Clark thinks might be his attempts to give himself a religion. Something to believe in that he can't, necessarily, touch. Clark has put some serious time into studying the psychology of faith, its importance in human affairs.

He was, after all, raised human. He must have at least some of the same needs, same drives, no matter how often Lex tells him to put them aside.

To find his own way.

May is a good month for thoughts like that.

The first May twelfth he didn't drive, but rode in the back of Lex's limo and they chatted while the chauffeur drove. Not an important distinction.

A trip to Metropolis, ostensibly to tour the MMoMA, but really just to let Lex show him the sights. In those days, Lex could never quite stop himself from trying to find something, anything he could get away with giving to Clark.

It had been amusing more than anything else. Watching Lex constantly searching for ways to circumvent his father's restrictions on Luthor gifts. Sweet, too. Flattering. Well, back then Clark hadn't spent much time on the sort of introspection that would lead to thinking seriously about his relationship with Lex, and Lex's friendship wasn't something he'd ever wanted to question.

Clark didn't have enough friends to question anyone who made such an effort to be a friend.

But on that day... the call had found them, of course. Lex was never far away from his cell phone, something Clark still teases him about every now and again. Even if Clark could get the comm-nodules implanted, he'd never actually want one.

Lex had rushed them back to Smallville, straight to the hospital.

His father had already been dead, the steering column imbedded in his chest cavity.

His mother never woke up.

There were, of course, no airbags in their old truck.

No mutants involved, nothing for Chloe's Wall of Weird, just a road muddy with spring rains and an unexplained swerve.

Probably a deer.

As he drives, Clark lets himself remember everything he can call up -- and his memory has always been prodigious. His sneakers wouldn't stop squeaking on the hospital tile. Lex had been wearing relatively sober colors that day instead of his usual blues and purples. He remembers being both relieved and desperate to send Lex home to change.

As if it would've made a difference.

The first doctor they'd let him see had blood on his cuffs, and Clark's vision had gone out on him, zooming in and in and in until he could see the cells. They'd been alive.

He remembers Lex's hand on his arm, and how he hadn't let go, even when Clark started pacing.

The squeak of wet shoes on tile. The clack of Lex's more expensive ones.

His mother's blood-tacked hair, fanned away from her face. All that was visible was one eye, blackened. Swollen. Clark hadn't tried to look beneath the bandages.

He remembers the smell of cheap disinfectant and spending what felt like hours trying to think of something, anything natural that would have matched the green walls of the ICU.

He remembers just sitting there next to his mother after a while, but he's still not sure how he got there. And the itch under his skin that he'd only gotten a few times before at that point in his life. His body had wanted so badly to move, but of course he couldn't.

Leave his mother.

Lex's soft, low voice asking for his grandmother's phone number, and Clark had given it automatically, except that his grandmother wasn't there anymore.

It had only been two months earlier that the Alzheimer's diagnosis had come back, and Grandmother Helen couldn't live alone anymore... he remembers remembering that, and looking at Lex's puzzled face and not being able to find the words to explain.

Clark drives exactly the speed limit on the highways -- this, too is important. He thinks he doesn't want to get back to Smallville too fast, but that it would be... cheating somehow to drive any slower. He's never been sure if it's healthy, if he should be allowed the neurosis. Falls too neatly under the human concerns Lex chides him for.

He remembers that it was Lex who'd said it first: "You're alone."

He remembers that it wasn't enough of a question.

A statement of fact, accompanied by the most fascinating look of horrified wonder. Lex's hands had cupped one of his own, and Clark remembers their warmth and surprising hardness.

He was always surprised by Lex's hardness back then. It just hadn't fit with the rest, even when it seemed like it should.

He doesn't quite remember what Lex had said, because so much of his hearing had been focused on the steady, maddening beeps and hisses of all the equipment surrounding his mother.

His mother.

He can extrapolate, though. Promises that it would be all right, that Lex would see to everything, that he would see to Clark.

Lex would catch his eyes every time Clark turned around, and Lex's eyes had been dark with intent. Sorrow and a sort of need that Clark hadn't been able to look at too directly, or for too long.

It made things crumble inside of him.

His mother had insisted he wear a raincoat that day, even though the only one he had was a little too small, and too warm besides. Clark remembers taking it off as soon as they'd gotten into the limo, and the amused look Lex had given him.

He remembers the way Lex had talked about his own mother. His voice had shifted to a mixture of fondness and pedantry that Clark had chalked up to the fact that this was a story that, even if Lex hadn't told it before, had been holding ready to tell.

Back then he rarely thought about just how many things Lex told him. The relief Lex always, or almost always seemed to find in Clark.

The dark need in his eyes.

His mother had died later that night, while Clark was drinking the strong, bitter hospital coffee Lex had fetched for him. Mid-sip, the machines had gone crazy, but his mother never moved more than to just take those last increasingly labored breaths. The doctors had pushed him aside, and there had been yelling, and Lex had been there, right there at his side, and Clark had glared through the backs of the doctors and nurses and watched his mother die.

He remembers signing too many things.

He remembers that his sneakers still kept squeaking on the tile, and Lex yelling at someone about... something.

The memories got hazy then. Lex was a constant, though. Hand on his arm, hand on his shoulder, hand on the small of his back, pushing him through people sad-eyed, through people oblivious and lost in their own problems, through endless, endless people until they were in the warm, humid night.

He remembers watching the few insects out, sluggish and early, and not being able to do anything but stand still and stare at all the parked cars while Lex spoke into his cell. The limo came within a few minutes, and Lex had to help fold Clark inside.

Lex hadn't walked to the other side of the car, just nudged Clark away enough for him to slide in next to him.

And they drove away.

Clark remembers the feel of Lex's gaze on his face, and how he couldn't look at anything but the blank, black glass right in front of his face But then...

Lex had said his name in a low, rough voice. He sounded so close to tears that Clark nearly crumbled. He remembers clenching his fists. He remembers squeezing his eyes shut.

And he remembers Lex grabbing him and pulling him against his chest, soft fabric against his cheek and Lex's arms tight, so tight around him. His father had always hugged him just like that. Just like that.

And Lex had told him, ordered him to let it out.

And Clark had.

In retrospect, Clark realizes that they must have just driven around and around for a while, because it shouldn't have taken them that long to get to the castle. He can't remember Lex giving the driver any orders, but Clark has since learned that the best servants anticipate things like that.

At least, Lex's always have, and Lex wouldn't have anything but the best.

Clark remembers Lex setting him up in a guest room, and the chill of soft, smooth sheets. He remembers shivering, and that Lex had built up the fire himself, and then sat by the bed with cognac in a snifter that caught every trace of light. The beauty of it made Clark ache, but then, everything did.

He remembers trying to be angry at Lex refusing him alcohol, and failing miserably. Fatigue a weight on his chest, his limbs, his mind.

Lex had said, "I'll only leave you alone if you want me to, Clark, and then I'll be right across the hall."

Clark remembers staring at the ceiling for long minutes until the tears started again, remembers thinking he must've called them, because when Lex crawled into bed beside him, fully dressed save for his shoes -- Clark remembers the dampness of Lex's shirt, and crawling shame -- he'd realized that it was exactly what he wanted.

He'd torn the wet shirt off one-handed and hauled Lex against him, held him as close as he could manage, as gently as he could manage, and sobbed against the smooth skin of Lex's shoulder while Lex stroked his back.

In the days and weeks that followed, Clark can't honestly say that he'd never thought of the strangeness of actually living with Lex, but it had always been something he shied away from.

He couldn't even imagine talking to his friends, to his parents' friends... they lived in a world where parents didn't die like that. All except for Lana, and looking at her...

Clark remembers the first time he'd ever wanted to hurt someone he cared about. The warmth of the day, the scent of wildflowers.

His parents' obscenely fresh grave and the whicker of Lana's bay in the distance.

Lana had knelt beside him, one small, soft hand on his knee. Lex had left them alone.

Lana's hair shone in the sun, red-gold highlights like the purity of wealth.

Lana had told him, with great sincerity, that it would get easier. That the pain would ease, that the memories would keep them alive. And Lana had cried a little, and said "oh, Clark," and thrown her arms around his neck and hugged him hard and Clark had shook with the need to snap the frail, lovely stem of her neck. To press her face into the moist earth until she saw, because...

Because the sweet memories were rife with poison, land mines, danger. They existed only to break him down, only to keep him from moving on, and Lana should've known that, Lana with her life-long tragedy and...

Clark had pulled her off of him, and walked back to Lex's car, and welcomed the cool darkness within.

Welcomed Lex's hard, honest hands and practicality and efforts to cheer him.

To move Clark forward.

"That which is past hope is past grief, Clark," he'd said one night as Clark wept into the pillow. "Not too much past grief, but... you mustn't let this stop you. I... I won't let it stop you."

Eventually, he'd gone back to school. Half a year behind everyone else, but that had felt... right. He would pass Pete and Chloe in the halls and wave and keep walking. He took to eating his lunch in various secluded corners. His grades were the same as always, sometimes better.

Lex was more than willing to help him with sophomore physics, after all. It was...

Clark remembers trying to put it into words at the time, the way he had puzzled out things with his mom at the kitchen table sometimes, the sparkle in her eyes that said "I'm not going to give you even one more hint."

The way Lex's study had become their study, and Lex's paperwork would be pushed aside for Clark's homework pretty much whenever he needed it to be. And it hadn't taken long to figure out that Lex welcomed the interruptions.

More gifts, safely intangible, and he'd struggled to figure out how home could become someplace entirely new and different.

He hadn't been able to manage going back to the farm, not even the loft, and eventually Lex had had someone bring some of his things back to the castle. And it wasn't so much that he thought of the castle as home -- that would've felt like a betrayal then, even if he had been able to manage something so -- at the time -- ridiculous.

It was more that Lex didn't search his eyes the way everyone else did. The way Lex's grief, though real, wasn't the sharp, needy thing Clark saw whenever he was in Smallville proper, or at school, or anywhere his parents were known. Had been known.

"People don't know how to grieve alone, Clark," Lex had said. "They don't mean to hurt you, or be selfish, but right now they can't see you as anything but proof that your parents are dead."

And Clark had nodded, chewed on the thought in the dimness of the huge bed, his new bed that smelled nothing of hay and good, pure farm-sweat, and everything of himself and Lex, who spent most nights beside him.

Lex never asked him if he wanted to talk, just made himself available, soft under the hard shell of his body, warm within his long, lean arms.

"They push at you because that's the way loss is understood to most people, Clark," he'd said. "The only way around it is to nod, say the words they want to hear. Their grief is not your own, and never can be."

Lex's logic cool and safe, Lex's home echoing with none of his father's laughter. Lex's servants cooking nothing his mother would.

When he couldn't put off the guidance counselor anymore, it had been easy enough to parrot Lex's stock grief phrases back at him until he'd nodded, congratulated Clark on his mature attitude toward loss, and urged him to get back into the "swing of things" at his own pace.

Clark remembers studying the man, his wire-rimmed glasses slipping down his long, straight nose. Genuine concern in muddy brown eyes, but only under layers and layers of distraction.

He'd understood. Smallville High had its share of troubled kids, and it wasn't as if Clark was about to kill himself or burn the school down. Still, it had hurt a little to be so easily dismissed, even if Clark couldn't think of what he might say to the man. The stranger.

Lex had said, "there are never enough people who work at times like this," and he'd cupped Clark's cheeks in his hands and looked at him with the same affection, the same clutching heat that was so much easier to accept than everyone else's, because it had only to do with Clark. "I'm here," he'd said, and for a moment Clark had thought Lex would kiss him, but Lex only stroked his cheeks with slow care and pulled away.

Smiled that crooked smile that always made Clark remember that Lex wasn't so much older, after all, and it had fallen into place the way it never had before.

And after Lex had fallen asleep that night, Clark had sat up and watched his eyes move restlessly behind the soft, fragile lids and realized he had something to look forward to.

Something entirely new, and far, far, beyond the swing of things.

Lex wasn't home, but he was... life.

But life was also Smallville, and everything he could never be free of. The meteors, and all the terrible things they caused. Mind control and superior strength and so much madness.

Just once, Clark wanted to see the meteors do something good for a person, or at least affect someone who could handle the changes.

There'd been Cassandra, but even she'd been forced to give up normal sight...

From the castle's many balconies, cool stone beneath him and the Kansas sky wide and endless, Clark could look out over the town and see... everything. Nothing. Too much.

So many people angry, in pain, wounded and lonely and never loved enough. How many families had secrets that made his own look tame and pure? How much had his parents known about and said nothing? Done nothing.

Lex said it was just the world, and Clark remembers thinking about Victoria. Remembers reading the news of the takeover -- and he still thinks of it as the first takeover, because... because he'd been almost a part of it. Close enough, at least. He remembers sitting in the old coffee shop before it had become just another Starbucks, newsprint staining his fingers, reading about his friend in words that hadn't felt right.

Lex wasn't the 'heir apparent,' 'the canny scion,' or any of those other things they called him, or... he wasn't just those things.

The paper had made him sound like... like everything his father thought of him, and he hadn't been able to put any of it into words when Lex eventually joined him at the table.

Clark remembers how tired he'd looked, how restless he'd seemed, even though he'd been holding himself as still and casual as he always did.

His smile had been cold.

Clark remembers asking him if the chess game was over, and he remembers Lex's eyes going dark, so dark with that bleak need Clark had always wanted to shut away from the rest of the world.

Lex had said, "it never is," and left without even his coffee.

Clark remembers gazing out on the night sky, and trying to think about his future. Lex had left him mostly alone that day, but then he'd been busy after the bomb threat to the plant.

The meteor rocks had given one of the employees the ability to detach parts of his own body, which would then, for no reason Clark could figure out, explode.

There was a "multiple amputee" somewhere in Metropolis general that night, and questions on top of everything else in Lex's eyes.

Clark remembers wondering if he should have been spending his spare time walking the streets, peering through walls.

Wondering if he should get himself a map of all the places the meteors had struck, and apply it to the town map. Who lived where, and who was most likely to be the next monster?

His home town. His monsters.

And Clark thinks maybe that was the first night that it really sunk in. After Mr. Detachable, after ducking the questions in Lex's eyes -- always so much milder since Lex had seen him in the hospital that one day, and Clark had let him apologize for doubting him -- again...

After all that, with the stone so meaninglessly cool beneath his ass, Clark realized that he was alone.

Everything before, all the grief, all the tears... they'd been for his parents. For Mom who laughed so gently at him and Dad who was so proud.

They hadn't been for the people who helped Clark keep his secret. The people who kept a spaceship in a storm cellar, and did their best to help him learn to use his powers.

Those people were just as dead as Mom and Dad, though, and Clark was... alone.

He's a third of the way back to Smallville now, and the Jaguar is caught in traffic. A rush hour that has nothing to do with him.

He looks in the mirror, and this is part of the ritual, too. A brief part, because... because he doesn't age the way everyone else does. The raw features of the boy he'd been are perfectly evident fifteen years later. The same lines he'd had then, he has now.

His hair is longer, though. Much longer than he would've chosen to wear it back then, even if it's only just past his shoulders. Lex likes it that way, and Clark likes to make him happy. Another intangible, another attempt to ease the dark need that never wholly fades.

Sometimes Clark dreams of a Lex wholly satisfied, but thoughts of the future have no place in May.

Clark ties his hair back and the effect in the rearview mirror is better, closer. His sweater is red, a color his mother had been absolutely incapable of not buying for him, every time she took him shopping.

Clark tries on a sheepish mask, and shudders at the ghost in the mirror.

He hadn't told Lex that night on the balcony -- Lex had crawled into bed with him sometime during the night, and Clark had woken the next morning to find Lex sprawled across his chest, brow furrowed and arms clinging.

He'd stayed home from school that day, finding some sort of guilty relief in the bemused looks Lex would shoot him between conference calls and damage control. It was good to be the one there for Lex, even though he'd known even then that saying anything to that effect would've been a profoundly bad idea.

"I'm sorry I'm such bad company today," he'd said, and Clark had smiled and hugged him.

It was the first time Clark had ever paid attention to Lex's scent during the day, and it was gratifying to know that it was just as good to him as its sleep-warm alternative.

Clark remembers kissing Lex's cheek in his bright, bright office, autumn shining in riotous and defiant.

He remembers Lex clutching him hard for a damning, wonderful moment and knowing.

He would tell, and he would make love to Lex.

Of course, he hadn't taken into account the fact that Pete and Chloe might decide an intervention was in order, but in retrospect it should've been obvious. He really hadn't been seeing anyone, outside of school, for weeks.

The manservant had called that "Mr. Kent" had visitors, just as Clark was searching for the right words to begin his story, and Lex had pulled away immediately.

As though he'd been caught doing something wrong.

Clark remembers reaching out to hold his arm, enjoying the feel of the lean, hard bicep under Lex's thin shirt. Remembers trying to look a promise into Lex's eyes, and not being sure if he was understood or not.

"Where do you want to see them?"

"Do I have to see them?"

Lex had laughed, eyes flashing something both warm and hot at him, and asked who they were.

"A Miss Sullivan and a Mr. Ross, sir," and Clark had groaned, ran a hand through his hair.

"You really haven't been spending much time with them lately," Lex had said, and his voice had been gentle.

Clark remembers looking down at his feet, at the new sneakers that had appeared in what had become his closet when the old ones had taken one super-fast run too many. Remembers the relief of Lex ordering him to stop thinking about how Clark could repay him, because at the time there'd been too much.

And Clark had known how much Lex wanted to do everything for him. How every 'no' had hurt him on some level Clark couldn't understand.

And Lex had put his hands on his shoulders. "Look at me," he said, and Clark did. Pale, beautiful face serious. Adult in that way Lex never felt the need to preface with a warning. "Your friends are young. Younger than you in some ways, I think, and they miss you. It's okay that you're not ready to see them now, but... remember that you might not always feel that way."

Clark had grinned a little ruefully. "I guess I can't make you deal with them the way you've dealt with everything else."

But Lex hadn't laughed. "You know I would, Clark. I would..." Crooked smile. "If I did, their parents would be here in an hour with torches and pitchforks."

"Wha...?"

"Trust me on that, Clark. Go on. Just... let them down easy."

Clark remembers wondering when Chloe had cut her hair so short, remembers how it brought him up short in the door to the study, staring at the backs of her and Pete's heads and trying to think back to a time when they had been more than part of the endless masses of people Clark didn't want to deal with.

Couldn't deal with.

He remembers shaking it off, walking in and sitting on the chair opposite the couch. He'd plastered on a workable smile, but neither Pete nor Chloe had returned it.

Pete seemed vaguely taller.

Chloe seemed... older somehow, and Clark remembers making a note to ask Lex what he'd meant about relative age.

"What's up, guys?" he'd asked, and it had begun.

Where have you, why have you, how have you, why didn't you... on and on until the smile had curdled on Clark's face and he'd wanted to curl up in a ball. Wanted to run. Wanted another superstrong mutant to show up and give him an excuse to hit something.

He'd sat there helpless instead, his friends' words fading into something like a babbling whine. Their eyes had been so focused on him, worry and anger and hurt and, God, all that need.

May is the time when Clark wonders what he might have missed that day, what might have been said before he caught the tail of one of Chloe's sentences: "... keeps you locked up in here like some --"

Because it's entirely possible that if Clark had responded to something earlier, something other than that, things could have gone differently.

Instead, the only thing he could think about was what people were probably saying about Lex, about the horrifying possibility of foster homes, state care... of being away from Lex.

And Clark had told them both to shut up, feeling something sharp and cool shatter like ice at the back of his throat. Something too needful to hurt.

Clark remembers the way Chloe's face had colored, the way Pete had leaned forward. He remembers Lex telling him to let them down easy, that he'd want friends again someday, but...

They didn't live in his world anymore.

And it wasn't as though he would wish anything on them that would put them there.

"Lex is... Lex is making things easier for me, okay? He was there when they... when my parents died. And he's here now."

"But Clark, man! You know we're here for you, too! Or we would be if you hadn't disappeared off the face of the earth." Pete was reaching for him, and Clark couldn't imagine taking his hand.

It would be warm, and soft. Softer than Lex's. Full of sympathy.

"Besides, Clark, the Ross' are your godparents! If you should be staying with anyone, it's them." So much anger in Chloe's voice, under everything else.

Clark remembers holding in a shudder. Pete had a huge family, and a small house full of noise and laughter. Clark would be a silent space there, glaring as the blood on the doctor's cuffs.

"... what your parents would have wanted..."

"... weird to be here?"

"... Lex want anyway?"

"Clark, come on, talk to us!"

Let them down easy, Lex had said. Clark took a deep breath, and looked directly at his friends, each in turn. "It's hard --"

"We know, Clark!" Pete looked like he was ready to lunge at him.

"Jesus, please, just... let me finish, okay?" Waited for them to relax again, and did his best to come up with something to get them away. He could see his guidance counselor's muddy brown eyes. He could hear the stock phrases and feel Lex's amused smile against his shoulder. The arm around his waist. "It's hard to see people who knew my parents really well. It just brings everything back. I... I just want to get settled in my own head a little, you know? And being here is good for that. Lex is good for that."

Clark remembers searching their faces, seeing the concern, the unhappiness. Frustration and still all that need. He remembers scrubbing his hands through his hair, noticing absently how much it had grown.

"Guys, I just need some time, okay? Because right now... right now it still really hurts."

And that did it.

Pete finally settled back against the couch, Chloe's brow smoothed out and her eyes softened. She gave him a rueful smile. "I guess... I guess I never thought about it that way, Clark."

Pete looked up at him from under his lashes. "Yeah. We just thought... well, we missed you, you know?"

And Clark had watched them with the oddest feeling in his belly. Something like satisfaction.

Something like horror.

Because even though everything he'd said was true... he'd used his parents' death to get out of having to spend time with two of the people who cared most about him in the world. Used it.

Except that he had to, or else he would've had to leave.

Would've had to pretend to be a part of their world again, outside the castle grounds, outside of Lex's strong, hard arms and murmured truths.

Lex never lied to him.

And Clark remembers the awkward silence that followed, and Pete's manly punch on the arm, and Chloe pecking his cheek. He remembers feeling helpless, feeling utterly dazed.

He remembers collapsing back into the chair and staring into the fire for what could've been minutes or hours until Lex joined him, sitting at his feet.

Resting his head on Clark's knee.

He remembers wondering what it all meant, what it said about him.

And Lex had looked up at him, firelight casting patterns in his eyes, and told him there was no shame in needing space.

That there were times when everyone had to do things they hated to get what they needed, and it didn't change who you were inside.

That night, Clark had been the one clinging, and Lex had stroked his hair and back and whispered, "I won't let you go."

That was also the first night he'd kissed Lex, really kissed him.

"Ah, God, Clark, I can taste your tears..."

Hours in the dark, wound together and Lex had held him in a way no one ever had. Tight and possessive. Needful in exactly the way Clark could answer. All while whispering that he'd never push, never hurt Clark, never wanted to hurt him, always be there for him.

Kissing until Clark felt raw with it, even under the exhaustion. Aching for Lex and guiding his hand down to his waist without thought.

"Oh, Clark..."

Clark remembers the shock of Lex's hand cupping him through his shorts, so much more intense than anything he'd ever felt, though Lex's thigh had been moving against him for a while by then.

Something about the raw level of control in that touch, something about the way Lex never stopped whispering, never stopped promising things Clark had no trouble believing in.

And he thinks that must've been what stopped him -- belief, or at least the concept of it, and all that came with it. Faith, loyalty, honesty. The truth.

Clark remembers wrenching himself away, remembers how quickly Lex had sat up, apologizing even before touching the bedside lamp alight.

"No, no, it's not you, it's just..."

"Clark, you have to understand. We don't have to do anything you don't want to do. I don't want... God." Lex had scrubbed a hand over his scalp, eyes wild, mouth swollen and bruised from kissing. "Do you need me to leave?"

"No! I mean... no. It's just that there's something you should know before... before we do anything. Else."

Lex had always been able to make him blush back then, and then was no exception.

Clark remembers stumbling through the explanation, his carefully thought out speech lost in the haze of everything he wanted, everything he could have. He remembers the feel of his stomach lurching when he got to the part about lying to Lex, and he remembers wanting to beg forgiveness long before he was done with all the salient points.

Lex was silent throughout, first watching him steadily, then lost in thought.

"No one else knows," he remembers saying, over and over. "Not... not now that my parents are. Dead."

And in the end, he was left with that. Everything he was, everything he'd kept from Lex on display between them in the warm, buttery light.

Clark remembers trying to explain why he'd lied, and remembers how it all seemed so stupid. After everything Lex had done for him. After eating Lex's food, and sleeping on the bed that had stopped being his again.

Lex's bed, Lex's home, Lex's care.

Silence and silence for long moments, and then Lex had asked, "when were you going to tell me?"

"I... it's stupid. But... after what happened at the plant the other day, I realized that I didn't have anyone to talk to about. About my powers. I hadn't thought about it before."

Lex nodded slowly. "So if your parents had lived, you never would have told me?"

"I don't know, Lex."

"I see..."

"No, that's not true."

"No?"

And Clark remembers how strange it felt, that this should seem like the easy part. And how strange that he'd felt it was strange. "I always figured that when... I figured that I would tell the person I fell in love with."

"You're... Jesus, Clark! Do you know how long... I've been driving myself crazy --"

"The car. I... I know."

"The car. And Level Three. And the titanium bars you 'squeeze through,' and the breastplate..." And Lex was off the bed, pacing in just a pair of sweatpants. Still half-hard and viciously sexy.

Clark remembers wanting to curl up and hide, remembers trying to force himself to think of a life without Lex and failing miserably. There was nothing he could say, and nothing he wanted but this.

And halfway to Smallville Clark has to smirk at himself a little. Lex would disagree with that. As far as Lex was concerned, there was always something to be said or done. A way around, if not through.

He's not sure if Lex, his Lex, today's Lex would've given him the... reprieve that night's Lex had. All the consideration of the hour, Clark's age and grief and need.

Lex is... harder. Crystallized, more pure than diamond. And yet... Clark had been there for all of it, and sometimes he thinks he can feel that diamond surrounding him, growing around them both.

Clark doesn't doubt his place in Lex's life, closed in and safe in a way that frightens him sometimes. When he's not quite sleeping, when Lex comes home stinking of the smoke and brandy of back room maneuvering. When Lex braces himself with one hand and grips Clark's jaw with the other, fucking him harder and harder and blinking only when he has to.

They're safe.

It's just that sometimes Clark wonders about the rest of the world.

Clark remembers the way the emotions had run over and over Lex's face that night, so clear to him despite the dimness of the room. Anger, yes, and lust, excitement, need, confusion, hurt, blankness, blankness, and Lex had paused, mid-stride. Covered his face with his hands and growled into his palms.

"Lex?"

"You lied to me."

"I... yes."

"You let me... you let me apologize for not trusting you, and you were lying to me." Lex wasn't looking at him.

"I had lost my powers, I thought it would be forever --"

"You were hurt." It was too much of a question, and that stung.

"I can have the doctor's report sent to you, if you want."

Lex stilled, somewhere beneath the skin, and Clark winced. This could be going... better.

"I'm sorry. I... it's the first thing I learned, Lex. Never tell, always hide. Always lie."

"Not a very Kentish attitude." Lex was still tensed.

"They were afraid of people like Phelan."

"He found out?"

"I... kind of stopped a bus with my body. He saw. And then dropped a generator on me, just to be sure."

Lex spun around. "What? I could've... Phelan was an insect and I could've crushed him like one, Jesus, I practically begged you to let me..." Lex started pacing again. "Okay. Okay. Just... tell me why you didn't trust me?"

"Lex, it wasn't about trust. It was... it was my secret, but it wasn't only mine. I had to think about my family, especially after Phelan got my Dad thrown in jail." Clark crawled out of bed, deciding that just jumping the dozen feet or so would probably be a bad idea at that point. "Listen, Lex... I'd only known you a few months, and yeah, I trusted you, but I never expected to fall --"

"Don't say it again, Clark."

"Why not? It's true. It's the reason I'm telling you now."

"God, this... and you think you're in love with me. Fuck, I don't know what to think about first."

"I... do you need some time, Lex?"

Brief, tired chuckle. "Actually, I kinda think I do, Clark, but..." And Lex was in front of him, hands on his biceps and squeezing. Testing their strength in a way Clark's still not sure was intentional. There'd been a hard glitter in his eyes, and then it had been gone, replaced with the same concern, the same need he'd grown accustomed to. "I still hate leaving you alone."

At the time, he hadn't understood why Lex would sound so bemused about that. Anger he would've expected, frustration...

It hadn't taken long for Clark to learn just how often simple, human kindness surprised Lex -- especially when it came from himself -- but the reasons for that became clear with time.

At that point, though, it was just one more strangeness to chew on while he worked himself up to saying he'd be fine for the night.

Even if he couldn't ask Lex if he'd prefer it if Clark actually left.

When Lex left, Clark had gone down to the library, calling up the memory of some of the books Lex had mentioned in various conversations. It had already been his project to read them, read everything Lex mentioned, for so many reasons that Clark had never bothered to list them all out to himself, but...

It had been even more important then.

In that childish way he didn't want to examine very closely.

Samuel Delany was impossible at three in the morning, as was Ursula K. LeGuin. George R.R. Martin, though...

Clark remembers smiling to himself. This was... just a story. At least, it seemed that way. There was no question in Clark's mind that there would be a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that all of those things would be abundantly clear when he found them.

Even now, there are times when Lex's intelligence, his facility with seemingly everything he touches, frightens Clark badly.

All the knowledge he doesn't have, all the potential for knowledge he'll never have... He can read every book in every library in Metropolis within a month, and he'll be able to retain ninety percent of everything he reads, but the connections...

All those doubts he doesn't have.

Clark smirks to himself. Fifteen years, and sometimes he still wonders what Lex sees in him. How he could possibly be seen as a companion for a man who quotes Spanish literature and Japanese battle strategy and sings Italian opera when very, very drunk.

Lex has a terrible singing voice, but then, so does Clark.

But Lex still drinks him down with kisses, still clings to him in the night like someone drowning. Still questions him avidly about seemingly everything that comes to his mind. Devours Clark with his eyes like it's still the first time.

Always the first time, and never entirely about sex.

Whenever Clark is afraid of their diamond shell, whenever he wants to question, the fifteen year old boy in the back of his head asks him what he'll do without Lex's eyes.

What he'll be without Lex to, if not define him, then at least give him shape and space beyond the square-jawed, All-American Superman persona.

Beyond the glittering playboy the world sees.

Clark loathes Superman. The raw nakedness of the costume, like something just born. A faceless alien creature...

Righteousness more a second skin than a cloak and no mercy for the criminals -- no, villains -- who cross his path. A certainty in his own goodness no one could question.

Power leashed to a justice and a truth Clark walked away from a long time ago.

Rigidly moral and too powerful, universally beloved.

Weakness made strength.

The monsters aren't his anymore, not since Lex organized the mass clean-up of Smallville and Lowell County in general. Every meteor rock that once littered his hometown is counted and characterized and locked away behind security Fort Knox would envy.

Fort Knox is protected by the American government.

The meteor rocks are protected by Lex.

And Lex, for all his encouragement, his near zeal for Clark to explore everything that makes him alien, is the only one in the world Clark can be human for.

He wonders if Lex knows that. If he does, does he understand? Does he hate it the way Clark hates the costume?

He thinks... he thinks it might make him feel as safe as Clark does when he's bound and naked, chips of meteor inserted into his bonds.

Something in the quality of sound -- the wind resistance to the Jaguar, perhaps -- lets Clark know that the roads are emptying. The exits are fewer and far between, and the country, the real country, is close.

Home, though the castle is as dusty and sheeted as it was the day Lex first moved in, all those years ago.

Another part of the ritual -- the castle will be his last stop, and he will wind down with dinner at the caretakers' home. Play with their children, and proffer Lex's greetings and biannual bonus.

The Christmas bonus is always given in Metropolis, the caretakers' family brought up for however long they can stay.

Last year, the children had still been young enough for him to be only Clark, Lex's friend. He wonders if that's changed yet. After a while, he's always Clark, the Royal Consort, said or thought with varying degrees of contempt or relief.

It's 2017, and many people see Clark as the corrupting influence, the thing for which Lex should be feared.

Others, perhaps those who know better, see Clark as the mitigating factor.

They are, of course, all wrong.

Clark remembers waking in the mild chill of the library at the sound or perhaps the feel of Lex walking into the room. The fire had burned down to embers, and he stared at it nervously. Waited where he was, half-sprawled in a chair comfortable enough to have left him without even a mild twinge in his neck.

Still, Lex's warm hands on his shoulders were something to lean into.

"You never went to bed." It wasn't a question.

Clark shook his head anyway. "I didn't really feel like sleeping." Smiled ruefully. "At least, I thought I didn't."

Lex squeezed his shoulders a little, came around to crouch in front of him, hands cupping Clark's knees. The expression on his face was somewhere between serious and wild with some other emotion Clark still isn't sure how to interpret. "I've thought about things, Clark."

Clark nodded and swallowed. "Yeah?"

"Yes, I have. And I... I want this." Lex's laughter was wild, edged to hurt only himself. "I think I even need it --"

Clark squeezed Lex's hands under his own. "Yes, God, me, too --"

"Wait. You have to wait.

"Clark... if we're going to do this, there can't be. There can't be anything else. Do you understand what I'm saying? No lies. No misdirection. We..." Another sharp laugh, even wilder than the last. "We can't let anything come between us, not ever. We're not like other people. You're not even... ah, but a definition in terms..." Still another laugh and Lex was up and pacing, gaze going around and around the massive library, lingering nowhere until Clark finally had to stand as well.

Went to Lex and touching him was like touching pure current, vibrating and soothing and addictive and quite possibly deadly. "I love you."

"Ah, Clark..."

"Nothing between us again. Not ever. I'll show you anything, tell you everything..."

"Yes, yes, and... I will, too. And it will hurt, and I'll go a little crazy every time, and you'll hate me for it, sometimes -- no, you will, you will -- but I'll do it, because I have to, and you will not. Go. Away." And by then Lex was cupping his jaw again, anger there, need and loneliness and hurt and still so different from Chloe's eyes.

From Pete's.

This wasn't their world.

"Yes, Lex," he'd said. "Yes."

May is the time when Clark tries to put that night, that day into some kind of perspective. When he wishes, idly, that he'd thought of at least scanning the castle with his X-ray vision to see what Lex had been doing.

Had he been still everywhere but behind his eyes? Or had he paced, mad and wild with the anger, the shame, the hopes and dreams and plans?

Because it hadn't taken long to figure out that Lex had plans, that Clark was an integral part of them. And that if he *hadn't* been...

But then, that sort of thought is moot now.

There's a perverse sort of pleasure in imagining Lex stalking the halls and hidden spaces of the misplaced castle, gesticulating wildly at the air, arguing with the phantoms of all the selves he wanted and feared to be. It's a terrible image, more so for the ease with which it comes.

Lex had been more than a little mad that morning.

Clark is still never sure when he'll have that effect on Lex now, but he knows enough to know that he will.

Always.

He remembers the rush of pure feeling, elation and fear and worry for Lex, his Lex, that morning in the library. He remembers the dawn was tinged grey, a sure sign of the kind of bad weather that always made his father sigh in relief -- no drought that year.

He remembers shaking inside with the memory of the lines easing on his father's face, the pinched look fading from his mother's, and he remembers having just enough time to wonder what Lex must have been seeing on his face before his grip on Clark's jaw tightened further.

"No," he'd said, "you're here, now. Here. With me."

And then Lex had cupped his ass with his other hand and dragged them tight, so tight together. Heat and the tension of current, the tensile strength of something unimaginable keeping Clark there, right there, and Clark remembers moaning.

Remembers the sharp sting of Lex's biting kisses and remembers wondering who was being punished, and then there was only the two of them, somehow on the floor and rutting like animals.

"Oh, God, Clark, oh God God --"

Lex's sweatpants had been pulled down just enough, Clark's shorts torn away. The cool of the marble beneath Clark's back had nothing against the heat building and building, to the feel of sleek, smooth skin over hard muscle as Lex rocked and thrust against him, head thrown back, hands pinning Clark's wrists to the floor.

He remembers the frustration of it, the need that had nothing and everything to do with exactly what they were getting. What they were taking from each other. He remembers begging Lex to look at him, to see him.

He remembers not being able to tease the anguish on Lex's face from the joy, and how orgasm barely slowed them down.

Devouring each other under the spines of thousands of books, whispers and pleas and promises and the heaviness of Lex on his lip, his tongue.

The way he'd first flung his body back and away from what Clark was doing like something tortured. The way he'd eventually curled around and above him, gasping and desperate and more beautiful than anything Clark had ever seen.

They'd clung to each other in the brightening grey, Lex's fist curled with loose possessiveness around Clark's cock, Clark's mouth pressed to the pure curve of Lex's scalp, and he remembers trying desperately to remember not to leave marks there.

For all his care, Lex was still covered with bruises by the time they made it up to the bedroom, though none that couldn't be covered by his normal style of clothing.

Clark remembers thinking that day, that night was the start of everything important, and a case could be made for that, but...

There were other beginnings.

The first time Lex's father came down while Clark was staying there, and the... unfortunate? development of his ridiculously powerful hearing at the same time. Clark remembers very clearly moving further and further away from the rebuilt armory and the way Lionel's voice just seemed to get louder.

The things he'd said...

They hadn't been very different from the ruefully amused cautions Lex would give him to be discreet about their relationship. Sometimes Clark thinks that might have been the hardest thing to deal with about them.

Lex has always had more of his father in him than either of them wanted to think about, but then Lex has also never been able to make things as ugly as Lionel could. The difference, fragile as it seemed at the time, had been enough to keep Clark from seeing if he could run to Canada.

He remembers needing something to hold on to, even something as suspect as the differences between Lionel's tone and what he remembered of Lex's. Phrasing and nuance. Lionel was wrong about him, and about Lex, and Clark needed, so badly, to hear Lex say it.

He remembers wondering at Lex's silence, worrying about it. He never would've imagined Lex just sitting there and taking the sort of verbal beating Lionel was giving him, father or not. Something at the very heart of Lex that screamed defiance, but he was silent, and silent, and silent, while Lionel worked himself up higher and higher.

Clark remembers sitting in a corner of the wine cellar, listening.

He thinks there should've been a more obvious something to the moment, to the stretch of moments after Lionel finally shut up and before Lex started speaking.

He should be able to remember more than just the smell of dust, the endless chorus of the living soil beyond the walls of the cellar.

It was, after all, the first time he imagined killing someone who had never hurt him, directly or not, who had done nothing but state facts, who he had no personal connection with whatsoever.

If Lionel tried to send him away from Lex...

He remembers the way his stomach clenched at the thought and has to smile a little. Lex probably wouldn't have minded at all.

Back then, however, all Clark had done was tilt his head back and aim his vision at the armory. Lex had been sitting calmly on the one chair in the room that didn't look like it could double as a weapon, just in case.

Lionel wasn't so much standing over him as looming, and Clark remembers wondering what kind of person could look at their child, their only child, like that. He remembers the flex of his own fists, and the brief, wordless wish for an excuse.

"Well?" Lionel had said. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

And the angle was bad, but Clark could almost see Lex... smile. "Congratulations, Dad. You're about to be a grandfather."

"Christ, Lex. Well, I suppose I should be pleased you can still get it up for human females --"

And Lex was snickering so hard that he looked like he was going to choke, and Clark remembers smiling up at him. Remembers wanting Lex to feel it. They had, after all, talked about this. Lex had coached him perfectly before he'd gone over to the Ross', taught him how to look just old enough, just young enough, just sad enough, just calm enough.

He remembers the nights spent laughing over the idea of Clark being Lex's legal ward, and the dire threats about what would happen if he ever called Lex "Daddy."

He remembers the pillow fight that, of course, had to follow.

And he remembers forcing himself to refocus on the conversation three floors above, catching only the fragment of Lionel sputtering something about "you and the Wayne brat."

"Careful, Dad. WayneTech is moving into the biomedical field soon enough. I think you're going to want to keep a hold on that... temper of yours, considering our own future acquisitions."

Lionel laughed, which just made Clark uneasy. "My temper. Of course. Lex... I won't keep you from your... projects --"

"Thank you, I'm sure."

"But just remember -- you're twenty-two now, and this business with your new boytoy won't be as easy to erase as the rest of your intemperate decisions have been. Even if I felt like putting in the effort."

"Why, Dad, does this mean I'm going to be getting a new brother? I hear Sir Harry is doing his best to pawn his daughter around..."

And that, for some reason, made Lionel pause midway to the door. Made his voice strangely... soft, even through the bile. "Pandery suits the man far better than business ever did. Lex... don't get caught."

Clark remembers waiting for the sound of the helicopter lifting off before speeding into the armory. Lex was pouring himself a drink, and poured another for Clark without pause. A vaguely sweet brandy that was, at that point, the only alcoholic beverage Clark could stand except for the beer Lex refused to stock.

And Lex wasn't pacing, wasn't even scowling, but Clark had come to know the unnatural stillness for what it was by then.

Punched Lex's arm lightly. "This is where we make fun of your Dad's hair, you know."

"No, this is where I ask you to be sure, absolutely positive that my father is out of sight before you do anything remotely..." And his smile was twisted and sharp. "Alien."

Clark remembers shivering and wincing, barely managing not to crush the snifter into a million tiny pieces. "Oh, I... I'm sorry. I waited until his helicopter was in the distance."

"But... didn't you say you were going to be hanging out in the sub-cellars?"

"Yeah, Lex, but. Heh. There's something new. I mean. With my powers..."

The corn on either side of the highway is tall and healthy, the crows wheeling down and away, down and away. These would be the control farms, the ones not using LexCorp's new sonic scarecrows.

Clark carefully refocuses himself away from his hearing, a trick he'd learned with Lex's help early on in their relationship. The sonic scarecrows give him a splitting headache, along with keeping the crops safe from the birds.

That day, and the days that had followed as Lex worked as hard -- if not harder -- as Clark at trying to figure out what to do about his hearing was another beginning of a kind. Repeating back everything he'd heard of the conversation and watching Lex's face for anything but the wonder, the excitement.

Lex's only concern was for whether or not it hurt him, everything else was about how Clark could use it to his advantage.

How they both could.

Clark remembers the way he could sometimes feel his mother's concerned gaze coming from somewhere just beyond the edges of his sight, weighing heavy on the back of his neck.

The way his father twisted every experiment with Lex -- always Lex, only Lex -- and seemed to thrust images, memories of Phelan to the forefront of his mind just when he least wanted them.

But Lex always knew when the ghosts were haunting, and how to chase them away. Sometimes a kiss, sometimes just a look. That look, and the memory of all the ways Lex had said "don't ever leave me" over the months and years.

He thinks some part of him must have understood what leaving Lex would mean to Lex, even then. It just wouldn't be like the boy he was to be completely oblivious. But all Clark can remember with certainty is the pure horror he always felt at the thought of being away from Lex.

In that other world that had stopped feeling real sometime around his mother's last breath.

There were a lot of nights spent together on the grounds, most of the castle shut down to have the minimum amount of staff around. Witnesses. In that, at least, there'd been no real change. Never tell, never get caught... but Lex was more of a confidant than his parents could've ever been, as much as they'd loved him.

Lex gave him reasons to love his powers, not least of which was the way his eyes would light up like a child's in pure wonder.

He remembers the first time he'd cradled Lex to his chest and run them to the outskirts of Metropolis, Lex's breathless laughter throughout their dinner at a hole in the wall Chinese place that still had the best dim sum in the whole city. And he remembers the way they'd planned, and how careful Lex used to be with him.

Always gentle with Clark's fears and doubts, or with what he'd thought Clark's fears and doubts should be.

But even then Clark could see nothing wrong with spying on the workings of a corporation like Agritech, which had made his father frown only slightly less often than LuthorCorp.

He remembers lessons in politics over dinner, and the delicate tracery work that went into tracking soft money contributions. He remembers watching from somewhere outside himself as Lex worked hard, so very hard, to make the case for industrial espionage without ever saying the words straight out, and wondering if he should be angrier than he was.

An easier question than he would've expected, but still...

He remembers interrupting Lex's carefully rambling discussion about what he would do with Agritech's holdings. "I thought you said we had to be straight with each other."

And Lex had paused, staring into the fire for long moments. Clark remembers wondering if this would be another first for them, remembers his belly clenching in fear of the fight that they could have.

That Lex must've been expecting, to be so circumspect.

But Lex had only smiled at him, gently and ruefully, and apologized. "Sometimes I forget that you're not... the same boy I drove a car into."

Heart in his throat like the racial memory of flight. "Everything changes."

And Lex had hmmed, somewhere at the back of his throat. Taken a sip of brandy. "The trick is, I think, to make sure we... change together."

Clark remembers the roughness of his own voice as he'd agreed, the way his desire for Lex could sometimes hit with the force of a blow. They'd spent most of the night in the study, clinging as tight as the first time, and berated themselves in the dawn for it. The castle and its short staff gave them freedom, but it wasn't to be abused.

He remembers drifting off to sleep before school, and Lex whispering "not too much" in his ear.

He hadn't understood then, but now...

Clark thinks it must've been first blood, long after Agritech was just another part of LuthorCorp -- or really, a part of Lex's ever increasing share of LuthorCorp -- but before anti-trust concerns became an issue.

He'd graduated high school early, no longer having anyone to hide his intelligence from, no longer feeling any great need to be normal.

Such freedom on the day Pete came to him and confessed that he'd been seeing Lana for weeks. In congratulating him, and in looking just sad enough to make sure Pete only worried about the right things.

It had just gotten easier and easier to drift apart from everyone after that, and after Lex had come through with Chloe's internship at the Inquisitor to Roger Nixon. Something like payment, or perhaps a parting gift.

Though he'd had his doubts about the internship. He had no reason to doubt Lex's control of the man, but it'd always seemed like having a leashed skink, small and more than a little loathsome.

They'd thrown a party for Chloe when she got Nixon's job by exposing his years of bribery. She'd only been twenty-three.

As the party wound down, and the guests left one by one, Clark had found himself in the cluttered study of Lex's penthouse with a thoroughly drunken Chloe resting against his shoulder.

"Know he had something... something on Lex..."

"What?"

"Nixon. Bastard. Creepy eyes. Sneaky hands." Chloe had made a gesture to illustrate that left Clark gently prying her away. "He had... stuff on Lex. Your boyyyyfriend..." And she'd giggled like they were twelve again, drunk on fermented cider in the hayloft with Pete, and Greg.

How long since he'd even thought about Greg? Clark remembers stroking her hair, and listening the way Lex had taught him. Studying everything about her, from the light sheen of sweat on her forehead to the pound of her heart, to the glassy-eyed stare that proved she was exactly as drunk as she seemed to be.

He remembers the long moments spent as she dozed with her eyes open, wondering when Chloe had become one of Them, because he hadn't meant to close himself away like that. He really hadn't. It had just been... something that happened.

May is for tracing his steps, every one.

He'd relaxed his face and his body, allowed Chloe to curl up on him again. "So what did he have?"

"I told you. Sneaky hands. Sneak sneak sneak..." And Chloe's hands had wandered again, but not too far. He remembers thinking about the days when he'd wished he'd wanted her, and feeling something like the gulf of generations.

He'd had to force himself to laugh, to be ineffectual in guiding her strong, competent little hands away from his nipples, his waist. "No, you big drunk, what did he have on Lex?" Tried to look glittery, and in search of nothing but gossip.

"Oh, well, I don't know!" More giggles and Chloe had finally just flopped down on top of him, hugging him with a boneless sort of innocence. "I'll find out, though..."

And she'd been snoring within a few minutes, brow barely furrowing when Clark had slipped out from under her to look for Lex.

He'd been giving orders to the servants, arranging gratuities for the catering service and decorators... all the little touches he prided himself on. Lex could teach someone with OCD how to organize. His bowtie had been undone, as had the first collar of his boiled shirt.

An elegant ruin, and only as drunk as he wanted to be.

Even now, Lex can shock Clark to the core with his simple desirability. Back then he'd been a force of nature, like being loved by the storm and utterly helpless to do anything but love it back.

They'd kissed right there in the middle of the floor, hired help looking anywhere but at them, family help smiling benignly. But when Clark got Lex alone, the only talk was about business.

Lex had, of course, told him just about every important thing about his past by then, with all the accompanying bitterness and verve that made Lex so animal raw sometimes. The talk had all been about possibilities, and Clark remembers the surprise on Lex's face when he'd brought up the worst case scenarios of Chloe finding something, anything, that could hurt him.

What would have to be done.

And though neither of them had said it aloud, there'd been wonder in Lex's eyes, and fear. First blood, if only in theory.

"I don't want to be my father," he'd said, and Clark had promised him he'd never be.

That he'd always, always have Clark to keep him safe.

Even if not in the ways they'd once both thought he would.

Dark laughter over dying champagne, and May is the time for that pang of realization. Clark had, after all, legitimized their diamond shell that night. He's old enough now to know that it would never have gotten so hard, so complete without Clark's own insistence.

There was the world, and there was the two of them. And the world needed them whole, no matter what. Back then, their safety had still been in question, and some decisions were necessary.

No matter how ugly.

On Lex's end of things was the cat and mouse game, the chess game played with his father.

Lionel Luthor has never quite... accepted is as close as Clark can come to the right word. He'd never expected to be welcomed as the man's new son -- or grandson as the media had bruited about in varying degrees of snide and insinuating.

Much was made of Bruce Wayne and Lex's shared boarding school past, and having met Dick Grayson at more than one enforced society function, Clark couldn't help but wonder.

There'd always been something strange about Bruce and Dick, and even then Clark didn't think underaged gay sex covered it.

Still, Lionel had made watching Wayne, and, by extension, his ward something along the lines of a homework assignment for Lex -- and, by extension, Clark. Something easily handed off to underlings, at least for the first several years.

Wayne Enterprises and LuthorCorp existed peacefully together in the business world, successfully dividing various markets between them. If Waynetech was more of a media darling than Luthorcorp, that was only to be expected.

Bruce Wayne cut a dashing social figure, and did it with ease, whereas Lex never quite grew out of taking his strangeness just up to the level of parody. The Purple Heir, and Clark was glad when they could finally come out about their relationship, even if they had been forced to make it sound like something out of a Disney romantic comedy.

There had been any number of girls and women they'd had to trot out to various events until Clark had turned twenty-one, most of them hand-picked by Lionel for beauty, breeding, and, most importantly, the ability to stay bribed.

Still, there'd been a few Clark and Lex had had to have sex with, and while Clark has considered himself bisexual since his mid-teens... well.

Lionel's choices in escorts always left much to be desired, as far as Clark was concerned.

"A sop to the old man," Lex had said. "A way to get him out of our lives while we do... other things."

And so it had gone. Pete gradually making a name for himself in local politics, Chloe doing the same with the Inquisitor. They always made sure to give her exclusive pictorials with the two of them and Lionel's whores, and Chloe proved herself discreet with the truth.

"Well, it's not like everyone with a brain *hasn't* already figured it out," she'd said, rolling her eyes. "Now give me a scoop. Who are the next heiress' for you two to wine and dine? Or will you share? Oooh, I know, maybe there can be a pregnancy scare!"

May is a time to think of Chloe and the way even her hair was brash, crass, and loud. For all her love of traditional journalism, the tabloid life suited her well.

"Less stuck-up," she'd said when Clark asked if she ever thought of moving to the Planet. And left it at that.

And really, life was quiet for a while. Clark got a degree in political science, discovering to his surprise and Lex's amusement that he'd taken enough elective courses in the subject to have a fully workable minor in theology.

Many jokes about the priesthood, and the corruption of monasteries across the world. Clark's affection for bald men.

He wound up getting a doctorate from M.U. in theology some years later, after his first in political theory.

Lex studied with him, though studying seemed less apt a term for it than simple arguing. Clark sometimes thinks that most of his papers could be summed up with "No, Idiot, This Is How You Go About Ruling The World," even though they'd rarely put it into words back then.

At least, not those words.

Destiny, and the mistakes of every krieghund who'd come before.

The world's pain and need, taken out of Moorcock's limited, if fascinating context.

Clark remembers the night he'd handed in his thesis -- months early, of course. They were on the roof of the LuthorCorp towers, wind taking all order from his curls, reddening his cheeks.

Lex had toasted him wryly, and they'd talked idly about Lex finishing his own doctorate in biochemistry. All the work they'd done with Clark's powers...

These days it's sometimes difficult to remember that under all of Lex's layers is a scientist in the purest sense of the word. A man perfectly willing to spend hours, days, weeks in underground labs, teasing out the mysteries of the universe, one by one.

There are parts of him that have been ruthlessly suppressed over the years, if not simply cut away to make room for parts more conducive to their plans. Clark thinks this is maybe what adulthood means, but it still saddens him a little.

Clark keeps a space for Lex's scientist, shoved somewhere between Superman's righteous fury and Superman's necessary secrets.

Metropolis has always had its fair share -- more than its fair share of creatures ready, willing, and able to destroy everything they've worked to build, from cyborgs to the sort of accidental mutants that Clark had, essentially, cut his teeth on.

Some not so accidental, and the labs are always quietly investigated, quietly acquired.

Some of the monsters are neither incarcerated publicly nor destroyed.

Clark will never let Lex forget his joy in the sciences, in the mysteries of mutated and alien flesh, however questionably gained.

He remembers the rush the day his increasing speed, his increasingly lengthy jumps had finally led to actual flight. Rougher than the Wright Brothers, wobbly as a broken-winged albatross, but God, flight.

High up over the grounds of the castle, back there for an "old-fashioned" Smallville Christmas that still had more media invited than the investitures of many country's new regimes. It had been accidental, really. Clark remembers trying to do anything but look down, and blaming his fear on too many Saturday morning cartoons.

And there, in the fields -- the same fields where Lex and Clark had done most of their experiments with the heat-vision and cold breath, all scarred and strange -- there'd been a woman.

Tall, dark-haired, and perfectly lovely. She wasn't looking up, and she was wearing entirely the wrong sort of clothes for a Smallville winter, except for the expensive-looking hiking boots over her stockings.

A city woman.

A city woman with a camera, taking pictures of seemingly everything, everywhere.

A journalist, and one far, far too early for the Christmas party.

Clark remembers the way the rage had surprised him. Not so much its presence as its chill. He had, of course, seen Lex angry before, but he'd never thought that he'd pick up Lex's style for it.

Maybe it was just the triumph of logic -- cool rage was so much more effective than the other kind.

Clark landed as quietly as he could behind a small hillock several hundred yards past the reporter, but still raised enough of a clatter that she looked around. Clark remembers cursing himself for not learning how to land before taking such a relatively long flight, but then... he might have missed the woman.

Who eventually turned back to her many cameras and notes and, well... there was only one thing to do.

Clark used his speed to move up to her, knocking her out as gently as he could manage and removing her property less gently. And then he ran her back to the mansion, stashing the cameras and notebooks and everything else he could find of value on her person. The best plan he could come up with was to make it look like a mugging, taking everything but the frayed strap of her bag.

He remembers laying her out carefully on the couch, having to wonder a little at the kind of woman who was smart enough to wear hiking boots but still vain enough to dress for a Kansas winter the same way she would for a luncheon.

There was a sharp intellect present in the set of her brow, the impression of a person who thought a lot, the way Lex did.

In the light of the lamps and fire she was... familiar, but Clark still hadn't been able to place her.

Lex had come in after a while, settling himself on the arm of Clark's chair. "Ah. An early party guest."

"She's invited?"

Lex had smirked at him for a moment, then walked over to the woman and picked up one limp hand, curling it into a fist and holding it up to his mouth. Then he... twisted his face into something like a ravening glare, and lightened the tenor of his voice. "Tell me, Mr. Luthor, how do you explain the suspicious retraction of Farmco's bid for the --"

"Oh, man, that's Lois Lane?"

"In the flesh..." And Lex had dropped her hand without ceremony, staring her up and down. "I suppose we should get Ingrid to make her an ice pack..."

Clark raised an eyebrow at him, and Lex smiled, eyes bright as a bird's. No shark had ever had eyes that alive. The photos were almost entirely of the Luthor grounds, places where the landscaping had been damaged by both Clark and the weather. Inconclusive evidence for anyone, even someone who was looking for something suspicious, but the digital camera had several pictures stored of Clark, and of Clark and Lex together and one function or another.

"She'll get nothing but the best of care here, Clark. For now..."

Unspoken, of course, was the necessity of finding out where and how Lane had gotten... whatever information she had gotten.

The first thought, however bitterly ironic, was that Wayne was watching for a chink in the Luthor armor the same way Lex and Clark were watching him. Lex never quite believed that, though, and it had been strange to watch him struggle for the words to tell Clark that it was something that would never occur to Bruce.

Spying on Lionel, yes, but on Lex?

Never. Still, Lex had no problem with Clark checking the lead after the holidays, after Lane had been sent back to Metropolis with a headache and a warning about some of the odder legends and truths about Smallville, Kansas, Meteor Capital of the World.

Clark had been as friendly as he could manage with Lane's endless questions about him, his background, his family. She was, at least, honest in her curiosity. Something Nixon had never been. She was also about as much fun as nails on a blackboard. Long legs easily keeping pace with Clark's own, a nearly unbearable goad. Lois Lane made him want to run away, and it was hard to stay polite.

When she finally dug a little too hard into the wound of his parents' death, when she mentioned Lex's name in just that tone of voice... reason enough to blow up at her.

"Well, Kent. It's good to see you at least have a temper. Most people think you're just Luthor's pliant little Ken doll," she'd said, smirking. "But I can tell there's more to you than meets the eye... am I right?"

"Most people, Ms. Lane?"

"Call me Lois. And yes, most people. Just like most people think Bruce Wayne is just a dim bulb of a socialite with a good name, and forget to check out his transcripts from Harvard."

Clark remembers narrowing his eyes at her, absently noting a few old, healed breaks in her wrists and legs, pulling back to note the perfection of her muscle tone under the skin. She'd been a fighter at some point, if she still wasn't. He could burn her to ash where she stood, but that wouldn't get them any closer to finding out why she was so... interested. "And what do most people forget to check about me?"

"Well, that's the question, isn't it, Kent?"

"Call me Clark. But I think you'll be disappointed."

Lois raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"There's nothing about me... to forget."

"Well, Mr. Unforgettable..." And Clark remembers her smile, remembers the realization that she was flirting with him and his own amusement and terror. "We'll just see about that, won't we?"

Still, it had been enough that she'd mentioned Wayne. Whatever strangeness about the man that Lex chalked up to Bruce's past just didn't feel entirely... right. Clark remembers his first trip to Gotham without benefit of a plane. He hadn't trusted his flight speed and stability back then, so he'd run the whole way. A decision he...

Well, he's still not sure 'regrets' is the right word. He'd never run quite that far before, never exhausted himself to the point where he took on an alien-sized endorphin rush. And sooner or later, he'd found himself on the doorstep of the Gothic monstrosity that was stately Wayne Manor, face to face with what was possibly the apotheosis of aging British butlers.

He remembers searching his memories for every mention of Bruce Lex had made over the years, remembers calling Alfred by name, and grinning loopily as the mildest, most polite look of surprise he'd ever seen stole briefly over the man's expression.

Gone as soon as Clark realized that Alfred knew exactly who he was, too, and that he probably sounded drunk off his ass.

He felt drunk.

And that just made him laugh harder, desperately trying to come up with something to say that wasn't too useless, and finally having nothing but, "can Dick come out to play tonight?"

At which point Bruce just sort of... appeared in the foyer.

Still just as tall as Clark, still more massive, as if he ate nothing but carbs and did nothing but lift weights all day, every day. Still, he was more lithe than you'd expect. And the strangeness there... was still there.

More than the social awkwardness of an overrich hermit, more than the simple tribal familiarity of yet another young, rich, pretty queer, more than... well, Clark stuck out his hand and grinned at the man. Lex liked him, and Clark remembers thinking at that moment that that was damned well good enough for him. Though 'thinking' was probably an overstatement.

"How are you, Bruce?"

"Perhaps not quite as good as you..." And Bruce had actually smiled at him, a darkling, sparkling thing that was far more real than anything Clark had seen on him in public.

Clark remembers suddenly seeing it, Bruce as Lex saw him, and making the decision right there. Bruce wasn't the one betraying them. "Don't worry, I swear it's a completely natural high. Remind me to actually stop taking... really long runs one of these days."

Bruce had clapped him on the shoulder, inviting him deeper into the gloom. "Endorphins are nature's guilty pleasure, enjoy them."

"Yeah, since that's the only kind of fun you're gonna get in this house --" And there was Dick, dressed in prep school chic and leaping nimbly from high on the staircase. "Hey, Clark. Never thought to see you this far east without Lex. He finally letting you out to play?"

And Clark remembers the way Bruce had frowned at Dick, all paternal and embarrassed and... else, but Clark also remembers that there'd been nothing to do but laugh at that. "Well, actually, I'm out here to make sure you get out a little..."

Dick was grinning at him in a cock-eyed way that actually reminded him a little of Lex-in-scientist-mode. Made him wonder if there were any vast underground labs in Wayne manor. "Lemme get this straight. You came halfway across the country to take me out to play?"

Clark grinned right back. "Yep. So can we?" Raised an eyebrow at Bruce. "I promise I'll get him back before... Wednesday."

Dick grabbed a jacket that Alfred had somehow just had waiting and laughed. "See you guys --"

"Dick." And something in Bruce's voice stopped Dick where he stood, that same sense of else, of other that pervaded the whole house, Bruce and Dick's whole dynamic... but Clark remembers that he was too fuzzy-brained at the time to deal with it.

"I know, I know, Bruce. I'll be back in time to... get enough sleep for tomorrow."

And they were gone, taking Dick's motorcycle after Clark had fended off questions about how he'd gotten there. Wayne Manor looked over Gotham City proper like a gargoyle in macro. To this day Clark hopes he'd said something at least moderately plausible, like having taken a cab.

They hit just about every night spot Lex had taken him to whenever they visited Gotham, and a few Clark knew he wasn't supposed to know about. At least, not as far as Dick was concerned.

Dick was only four years younger, but there was something weirdly clean about him, strangely young for all of the tragedy of his childhood and the fact that he'd been living with Bruce long enough to warp anyone.

Dick has always been the only person who can make Clark feel strange, like he isn't as well-adjusted as he could be, and that was the first night it became clear, Dick innocently showing off Gotham's darker sights, promising to protect Clark if things got too scary for him.

Something like Pete in the simple, teasing machismo of it, in the way Clark simultaneously wanted to tease back and make notes of it. Try to emulate it, as best he could.

Alien, alien.

The clubs were louder than Clark had come to like, but Dick was easy to communicate with -- developing a hand-signal language with Clark effortlessly. He was also easy to pick out on any given dance floor, shamelessly acrobatic in his moves and always surrounded by a crowd of admirers, even though he never stripped down as much as everyone else did.

Even Clark nearly wound up leaving one of his shirts behind, only ingrained caution making him tie the sweat-soaked thing around his waist.

But then Dick was signaling him toward the back, past the moderately frightening bathrooms toward the alley where Dick's motorcycle was parked and... ah. Dick pointed to his watch, and Clark could just pick up the vibrating whine that was the security system.

Wayne Enterprises was always coming up with new security patents, most of which under Bruce's aliases, claimed Lex.

A truly paranoid man.

And then they were in the alley, and Clark honestly doesn't remember what he expected to happen, but it wasn't Dick proceeding to kick the shit out of two would-be thieves that had already begun stripping the bike.

No obvious superpowers, just... and then there was a third guy, only making himself known when he dropped a flowerpot on Dick's head, and Clark had to join the fight.

Carefully.

Even now, Clark has a hard time pulling his punches just enough, back then it was a matter of trial and error more than anything else. Sometimes Clark wonders how he made it through adolescence without killing anyone by accident.

But it was over soon enough, the would-be thieves in the world's least-comfortable-looking puppy pile on top of the garbage bags, Dick up against the brick alley wall, palm pressed to his head.

Blood, black in the streetlights, and Clark had scanned him automatically, finding nothing serious in terms of a head injury, and... a costume.

Right beneath the perfectly stylish clothes that Clark could now see were tailored to hide any unsightly bulges.

Well. That would explain the weirdness.

Clark remembers the ride back to Wayne Manor, Dick clinging to his waist and bitching into the helmet-radio about just how much head wounds bleed. Knowing that he was supposed to believe that Dick knew that from his years as a circus kid, and knowing that was bullshit.

The kid had so many old breaks Clark wondered how Bruce managed to... well, get away with it.

Even in Metropolis people had heard of the Batman and Robin, and Clark had always known intellectually that there had to be a young man, a kid behind the Robin mask, but...

Damn.

He wasn't even going to ask about the tap pants. He wasn't going to ask about anything. Just get Dick back home to Daddy Batman and... and. How long had they been doing this, anyway? Batman had been around for a while, Robin for less...

Dick was of age now, had clearly chosen to live that way, and, like Clark, was still happily living with his... guardian.

Clark remembers the roil of feelings low in his belly, the effort he put into hiding them. A little shame-faced act for returning Dick bruised was a great way to avoid having to look into Bruce's dark (lunatic) eyes.

Secrets. Everyone had secrets, and... who was he to judge?

Still, it took Clark a while to figure out how to tell Lex what his oldest friend was up to out in Gotham City, and by then there were other concerns.

The continued presence of Lois Lane in his life being the most annoying.

Lois made him want to apologize to Chloe for every time he'd even thought of her as pushy.

And she came with minions.

Or a minion. Jimmy Olsen was too often lurking where he shouldn't have been, and there were times when Clark wanted to just punch them both through walls until they told him why they were always... after him. Sometimes he wonders how he managed not to.

Lex he would've understood. Lex had all the money, Lex had the smooth, bald head and grape-tinged wardrobe, Lex had a father who was either Midas or Satan, depending on who you asked.

But Clark was the one with secrets, and Lane picked up on that like the world's shapeliest bloodhound.

And then there was Lionel. Lionel who looked at Clark like everything that was corrupt and emasculate, everything that was ruining, well, everything. The Luthor name. The dynasty.

Lex loved to make comments about adoption, always filling in the nationality of the child with that year's winner for most tragically wartorn. There was so much that could be done in the world. That should be done, and never would be if men like Lionel continued to rule.

Clark pulls into a parking space in front of the Smallville Starbucks, forcing his vision to go through the usual contortion. The Starbucks is the strange thing, not the homey storefronts that remain even now. The electronic sweepers are the oddity, not the old-fashioned gas lamps lining the streets.

Smallville still smells the same as it always did, fresh and sweet like something from an optimist's dream of America. Sweet enough to overcome even the bitter stench of Starbucks' specialty roasts. The same cheap swill it had always been, really, but enough steamed milk made anything palatable.

Clark picks up a latte and walks. The day is sunny and warm enough that most people are wearing only light jackets, if any at all. Clark has always needed secondary observation for things like that. He was very young the last time cold affected him.

Dr. Ross has moved out of the old converted house and into a modernistic clinic, squat and uninspiring on the outside, rife with color within. Most of the artwork is by her young patients, though there were a few Miro prints that either fit right in or jarred the eye. Clark never has the same reaction to them twice in a row.

There are small seats and large ones, though even the large ones aren't very accommodating to his frame. There are twins gazing up at him with huge, solemn eyes that remind him of Lana at her prettiest, and Clark has a heart-stopping moment to wonder if he'd forgotten something important, like Pete and Lana having children....

But no, they've only been married for a couple of years, and Pete's serving his first term as a member of the House of Representatives almost entirely in Washington, while Lana is... here?

Somewhere.

These children are of no importance to him, and have no place in his litany. Soon enough, Dr. Ross calls him in. She doesn't look any older, but then she's the one Pete resembles most, all round cheeks and the sort of baby fat that never actually fades away. A warm, cute woman, even pushing seventy, and Clark remembers her sweet potato pudding, and his mother's only culinary failure in trying to reproduce it.

He remembers the sad knowledge in her eyes when he'd convinced them not to protest Lex's guardianship of him.

Clark thinks he might love Dr. Ross, and is gratified to hug her, scan her bones for signs of osteoporosis (none), her musculature for degradation (some).

Mr. Ross would've never allowed Clark to continue living with Lex without Dr. Ross' insistence. He's grateful for that, even if he's never found a way to let her know.

Perhaps he'll be able to help expand the clinic...

Expenditures of that sort had gotten easier some years back, when Lex and Clark had finally given up on subtlety and had Lane's home and office mail tracked and monitored. Not easy to do, considering that LuthorCorp had never been allowed to buy one single, solitary share of the Planet's parent corporation, but still possible, if dangerous.

First blood, true blood, had almost been lost in the rush of events that spring. One of their operatives had been caught rooting in Lane's files, and had allowed himself to be arrested despite the large amount of weaponry on his person and his supposed facility at using it.

A job for Superman, even if he hadn't -- quite -- existed yet.

A job, really, for Clark, in black from head to heel, faster than the eye could register. First blood, and messy, because there hadn't been any explainable reason for the poor bastard's neck to suddenly be broken.

Still, he'd already been back in the penthouse by the time anyone figured it out. And Lex had been there, in his way.

One hand tight around Clark's bicep, holding on as he paced with the headset on, effectively dragging Clark all over the apartment. As much invitation to listen in as he always had, but Clark had always liked the odd freedom in leaving Lex's phone calls to Lex.

He'd always liked watching Lex on the phone, where he could be obvious about what he was planning, what he was thinking, how he was analyzing whoever was on the other end of the line.

But this time, there'd been nothing on Lex's face but the mask he wore for his father.

Nixon had wanted a way out of prison, and had gone to Lionel. Nixon had saved all sorts of files, files Lex had hired him to make on... Clark.

Files Lex had thought destroyed, and though Lex had mentioned Nixon's original purpose to Clark, it had been surprising to see the data collected -- the notes, the interviews, the crude computer imagery of Lex sending Clark flying off a bridge.

Nixon.

Nixon, to Lionel, to... Lane. A few pieces here, a few pieces there.

Just enough to keep her on Clark's ass. Just enough to distract them, while Lionel slowly bought their staff, one by one. Who knew how many sets of stained linens he'd collected, how many of his whores he'd given the rape kit treatment to on the off chance that whatever condom Clark had been using broke.

Who knew what he intended to do?

And things happened very fast after that, really.

Dinner at the Luthor mansion just outside of Metropolis, an intimate affair with just Clark, Lex, Lionel, and Lionel's latest candidate for trophy wifehood.

Easy enough to make sure the majority of Lionel's staff was dismissed.

Easier for Clark to explain the new order of things to those few left over during a 'bathroom break.'

By the time Clark returned, Lex had wheeled a television into the dining room and flipped on the news.

Clark remembers the softly animal scent of Lionel's cologne, the man's vitality something rawly electric even then, something demonic. The woman was making a valiant attempt to ease over the awkward silences, Lex was looking at his watch.

At precisely nine fifty-eight, the Fox news reporter came on with a special bulletin about the state of Lionel Luthor's health.

The poor man had had a stroke over the weekend, one the family didn't wish to publicize too greatly.

The great industrialist was even then in the care of his loving son Alexander Joseph Luthor, and Alexander's long time companion Clark Kent.

Clark remembers, very clearly, watching Lionel for the break. The moment, more than any other, when the vanquished recognizes the victor.

He'd always liked to be around for Lex's victories, bitter or not. He's always liked watching Lex win.

But Lionel had... laughed.

Thrown his head back, long hair sickeningly reminiscent of Clark's own for far too long a moment, and laughed uproariously. "The stockholders? The executive vice-presidents?"

Lex smiled idly, stroking the screen of the television. "The stockholders know you've been... grooming me for this since birth. Frankly, they were getting worried about what would happen once you started going senile. As for your staff... they'll go quietly enough. It's amazing how useful it can be to have a pet journalist. But then... you know that." And Lex had smiled at his father.

"I can't fault your ambition, son. As usual, you've never thought small. But the reasoning..." A gesture in Clark's direction, saying everything.

"Dad, Dad, Dad. It was you who thought small. Even Alexander had a companion in arms."

"Alexander died young."

"No metaphor is perfect, Dad. So, my question to you. Are you going to take your rest cure like a man, or are you going to take it like a Luthor?"

"And the difference would be?"

Clark slipped his jacket off, revealing the syringes strapped to his arms. He had, after all, never had to worry about getting an actual hug from Lionel Luthor. Slipped a syringe from it's holder, and held it up to the light.

"Poison is a woman's weapon, Lex. Really."

"And fencing, while satisfying, is hardly conducive to a smooth transition between CEOs. Besides, this isn't even deadly."

"No?"

Clark sat back and watched. Lionel and Lex eyeing each other like predators, discussing life and death over brandy and the fortythousand dollar dining room table.

The trophy looked positively horrified. Clark remembers doing his best to reassure her, but in the end she'd had to become the subject of certain memory erasure experiments at the quietly revitalized Cadmus labs.

But then, that night, Lex had calmly explained the uses of the Cure, as Lex had been calling it since developing it on a whim some time ago. A re-engineered dose of something that had started its existence as curare -- paralytic, but not deadly.

"So, my choices are to pretend I've had a massive stroke, or to have a massive stroke?"

"Essentially, Dad."

"And I presume you have people ready to declare me incompetent? A judge ready to come out here in the middle of the night...?"

"Nothing so draconian. There's a nice, whopping dose of thorazine in the other syringe. We'll all go to court in the morning to get you declared incompetent. Like a family. I'll do my best to make sure you don't drool on your suit."

Clark remembers that the closest thing to victory, visible, tangible victory, was Lionel simply sitting and watching as the new staff replaced the old, as the dishes were cleared, as his orders were taken for supplies he would never again be allowed to order for himself.

As his records were searched, his labs found, his moles dragged into the light, kicking and screaming.

The process took years, is really still going on, and, in the end, Lex had been forced to administer the Cure, but still.

A first.

Or a last.

A lot of things are easier now that LuthorCorp is LexCorp.

Clark remembers the argument they'd had on the way up to Lionel's estate the second time, the syringes strapped to Lex's arm for once. Lionel had proven himself desperate enough to take the bait they'd left, bribing the "sympathetic" nurse Lex had purchased for him to send increasingly damning messages out to Lionel's former associates.

Of course, all of those messages had wound up in their hands, and there'd been some question about whether they would've done any good -- Lionel had never been one to make actual friends of his associates, but... there were rules to this sort of thing.

Lex had done Lionel the kindness of leaving him alive and healthy, despite the discovery of what he'd planned for Clark. Some of the tools in what would've become Clark's prison were edged with meteor rock, and the implications of that...

Well.

Clark had his own reasons for wanting to be the one to administer the dose, but the main one was simple.

No one should have to poison their own father.

And really, he could've lived without the impromptu lesson in the mythos of paternal betrayal, and things had gotten a little mean when Clark had asked who Jocasta would be this time around.

He hadn't realized Lionel had had an affair with Victoria.

Hadn't thought about the woman for years.

Clark remembers the rush of wind through the corn, through the hair he was starting to both hate and wonder about in ways that left him sick. Remembers biting back the question about when Lex would ask him to grow a beard, and not being able to bite back the rest of the simple bile. "He doesn't deserve to have this on your head, Lex!"

"On the contrary, Clark. This is exactly what he deserves. This is what we've been coming to since the day I was born male."

And Clark remembers the look on Lex's face, mobile and writhing against itself. Trying to form the mask Clark never wanted to see again. He'd decided to try another tack. "Imagine the insult, Lex. He's never seen me as anything but your freak of a catamite. For me to deliver the coup de grace..."

"Would be nothing but cowardice in my father's eyes and I can't..." And Lex had pulled over right there, tires squealing and actually moving beyond the shoulder for a few feet. Lex had buried his face in his hands, stayed there for long moments.

If Clark hadn't been able to see through it all he would've thought Lex was crying.

Sometimes he wonders if he should've encouraged him to do so.

He'd put a hand on Lex's shoulder anyway, squeezing gently, then that exact quality of just-a-little-too-hard that Lex had always liked. A reminder of who he was with. Of what they were, together. "Lex..."

And when Lex looked up, he stared through the windshield, still as he'd ever been. "I have to do this, Clark. I have to look into his eyes when the needle goes in. He has to see me. He has to."

Whatever he had to do, it was over quickly. Lex joined him in Lionel's study, took the cognac he'd had ready and downed it in a single swallow. For a moment, Clark thought Lex would lean into him, but he didn't worry much about the fact that he didn't. Lionel's home, even more than the castle had been before Lex's extensive redecoration, was oppressive.

Stark, dark... some soul-destroying combination of Victorian over-decoration and British hunting lodge, all dark wood and overweening masculinity.

The house as man.

Clark remembers wondering how long it would take to burn.

"Did you... was it what you needed, Lex?"

"He glared at me throughout. He didn't fight, he didn't say a word. I shot him up, and arranged his limbs.

"I left his eyes open.

"The new nurse will be here tomorrow morning... she can close them for him if she wants."

"He'll be blind..."

"And helpless. For the rest of his life. Or until the cure wears off... if he lives that long. I wonder if I should tell him about that. Give him... hope."

Clark remembers turning to Lex, studying the mask in profile. Looking for a way in. "Everything changes?"

Lex narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anything.

"Lex... not too much, remember? Not too... fast."

And Lex had nodded, and gotten very, very drunk on his father's liquor, and later they'd stood by Lionel's bedside together, and discussed the possibility of his blindness. Of the poison wearing off.

"Live in darkness, father," Lex had said, and opened Lionel's eyes wider still. "Learn regret."

And then they'd left, and Clark drove them home. Tucked his dry-eyed Lex to bed and wondered on the state of things.

He thinks it was that night when he first put serious thought into Superman. The world seemed to insist on his existence no matter what Clark did, and so... why not give them what they wanted?

Here in Smallville, the littlest children dress as Superman for Halloween, and the parents worry about them deciding to try flying.

They worry about the choice of colors, too, but he and Lex had discussed the issue at length. While Clark didn't want to go for the full night vengeance routine Bruce had -- and he still has to laugh about the expression on Lex's face when Clark had told him about that, the dreamy wonder in his voice as he'd said, "it explains so much" -- he also didn't especially feel like being a flying target.

Only his cape is blue, the rest simple black. The "official" costumes LexCorp produces come with reflectors.

Better to be a flying bruise than anything else, as far as Clark is concerned.

He remembers spending a good deal of time wondering what thought had gone into "Robin's" costume. The Caped Decoy? The Boy Hostage?

Lex had suggested that Bruce sent Dick into a fight first to stun the bad guys with his vibrant homoeroticism, thus making the inevitable fight that much more entertaining.

Clark grins to himself at the memory, and at the way Dr. Ross coos and fusses over him. Another part of the ritual, same as his shamefaced promise to come visit more often.

In truth, there's no good reason for Clark not to spend more time in Smallville, beyond his careful protection of his own hurts, his own small neuroses. There's humanity in keeping Smallville at a distance. Vulnerability to treasure within the heart of his life with Lex.

They talk about Lana and Pete, and Dr. Ross never hesitates about this the way Pete himself does. He's been with Lex for years, after all. Sometimes Clark thinks Pete will always feel guilty for "stealing" her.

Something in Lana passive enough, even now, to make the idea plausible, he supposes.

Lana's living in D.C., and this year will be the first Christmas they don't return -- Lana's pregnant with their first child. Clark thinks of the twins in the waiting room, and wonders about the world they'll live in.

Wonders if the hail-fellow-well-met man Pete's become is enough to counter Lana's endless, quiet sadness.

Clark promises to bring Lex the idea of holding Christmas in Smallville this year, and finds the idea isn't as... difficult as he would've thought it would be.

He wonders if Chloe would make time to come down.

Somehow it's very difficult to imagine her back here, especially since Lex had moved Gabe back to Metropolis some years back. Chloe is more urban than ever, all designer eyeglasses and bright, fragile fashions.

"... where'd you go, Clark?"

"Oh, sorry, Dr. Ross, I was just thinking about the old gang." Tries on a rueful smile to go with his pulled back hair and too-young face.

She eyes him curiously, sharp and measuring for long moments.

"Dr. Ross?"

Shakes her head. "I just remember the way Pete used to worry about you after your parents died, son. All shut up in that castle away from everything you'd known..."

There's a knot in his chest that Clark does his best not to show. No danger now, but... the feeling is the same as it ever was. "Lex... he really helped me, Dr. Ross. I know it must be hard to understand..." Tries a conspiratorial smile this time. "Lex has never been the most... normal guy around, but... he was what I needed in a hard time."

She nods slowly, face still a little hard. "Pete... we all worried he was taking advantage of you, you know."

"I imagine that it would be hard not to think that."

"But you're still with him."

"I love him, doctor. I have for a very long time."

Another slow nod. "He never comes down with you."

"He's never entirely sure of the welcome he'd receive, doctor." Clark winces inwardly, and tries to temper his words with another smile.

To his surprise, Dr. Ross laughs. The same rich, full one she's always had. "I suppose I deserve that, Clark. You tell him for me that he's welcome anytime, you hear me? You love him, and we all love you, and that's good enough for government work."

Clark grins as much as he can. "I will, ma'am."

They exchange a few more pleasantries, and soon enough Dr. Ross decides it's time for her to see her next patient. Fine with Clark, but... "Doctor...?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"Would it have made any difference if Lex was older when I became his ward? Or if I was younger?"

She shakes her head sadly. "The only difference that would have made a difference is your man's last name, son."

And back out in the sunlight, in the late spring sunshine, Clark thinks about the old, blind vampire receiving the very best care money can buy and supposes she's right.

Clark looks up at the blue, blue sky as he wanders in a way that could never be aimless. At least, not in this town. The skies aren't his anymore. Were only his for that brief time between his first encounter with Lois Lane and the birth of Superman.

He could, he supposes, fly at night the way he used to, but the world is too used to Superman now.

And for all his work in designing the thing, for all the irony of the S on the black spandex chest, the American flags on his biceps, the blind acceptance of the American people of the ubermensch... it's funny. It truly is.

In that way where Clark's stopped laughing a long time ago.

He and Lex had discussed the question of a mask, and tried several different models, but neither of them could believe the people stupid enough not to recognize Clark's profile in Superman's face.

They were, after all, a very public couple.

In the end, they'd decided on the simple black bodysuit that covered him from scalp to heel, flattening his hair to his head, blanking his face out utterly.

It wasn't as though he needed eye-holes to see, after all.

They'd worried some about the reaction to the costume. It was, after all, more than a little creepy at first look, but in the end Lex had convinced him.

"It's perfect, Clark," he'd said. "They can give you any face they want. Any race. You'll be the Hero of the People."

"Don't you mean the Volk?"

"Keep it up and I will make you wear the jackboots, smartass."

Laughter, and love, but Clark still regrets wearing the uniform while making love to Lex, even if it was just the once. Remembers hauling Lex back against his chest, those long, lean thighs spread over his own.

The subtle, hidden fly of the uniform pushed aside just enough...

He doesn't like thinking of that night. It feels too much like adultery was committed, even if he's not sure by whom.

Even though it was before Superman became... what he became.

A few averted muggings, a few averted rapes. Who was that cowled man?

In the end, though, it was Lionel who really created Superman. They hadn't found all of his labs, and they didn't discover that until the Great Blackout of '13, Metropolis covered in two feet of snow and all of the... things Lionel had created with the help of the meteor rocks collected before Lex's exile to Smallville.

A lot of people died over the course of those two days, but Clark managed to take some of the creatures alive.

Not the one who recognized him, though.

He's pretty sure that one had once been Earl Jenkins, and Clark had had to kill him after his cowl was ripped away.

For the best.

Dr. Hamilton had been pleased enough to have living specimens to work with, even if Lex himself always got the first shot with them.

Clark remembers Hamilton's impatience, and the slow turn he'd taken under Lex's care. He'd hated Lex in the beginning, but could any scientist resist the lure of unlimited funding and near-unlimited scope of creativity?

By 2013, Hamilton was as close to being their confidant as anyone could be, and he was certainly Superman's. The latest costumes were much hardier, thanks to Hamilton and the small, efficient staff he'd brought on hand over the years.

Cadmus Labs was part of the future. Their future.

But the night the lights came back on, the labs were safely in shadow. Safe behind Superman's cape, and his silent acceptance of the mayor's thanks, and the key to the city.

Lex, of course, took the opportunity to shake Superman's hand, giving him the sort of awed, adoring smile that would get him elected to the Senate just a couple of years later. Or maybe it was the way Superman had clasped Lex's hand in both of his own.

Media genius and so many, many layers of shit.

Lex thinks there'll be a future where this sort of thing is unnecessary.

Clark likes it when Lex is optimistic.

When they'd visited Lionel after the Blackout, the nurse had been positively burbling with excitement. Mr. Luthor had seemed so lively just lately, even though the news from Metropolis had been so very terrifying. "He even moved his hand!"

This time, Lex let Clark administer the dose.

And box his ears, just hard enough to deafen him. They dismissed the nurse and cared for Lionel themselves until the bruises faded.

Superman's birth, or at least Superman's fame.

And while the battle with the so-called Metallo had been more epic in scale, more severe in property damage, and certainly more physically challenging -- they hadn't taken into account the number of backwoods hermit types in Lowell County with advanced degrees in robotics and private collections of the meteor rocks -- there just hadn't been the drama of Lionel's Monster Weekend.

Endless darkness, blowing snow, and things that should've never been.

Lovecraft over Asimov.

The high school is the same as it's always been, though the banners are slightly less football intensive than they used to be. Clark has no one he feels like actually visiting here, but it's part of the tradition just the same.

It's a Saturday, so the place is almost entirely empty. The Torch office is locked, bare and boring without the Wall of Weird. Funny how they'd had nothing to do with it coming down, considering. Just a whim of Principal Kwan's, after one too many angry phone calls.

Clark visits the football field for a while, sitting in the rickety old bleachers and letting the wind slowly tease his pony tail apart.

Would he have cleaved to Lex quite so strongly if he'd been allowed something closer to a normal life?

Would he have made friends other than Pete and Chloe? The last he'd checked, Whitney was on the tenure track at some small liberal arts college back east. An English professor, of all things, and Clark has felt no need to interfere.

Clark looks out at the field and tries to wonder what it would've been like to be a part of the crowd, all letter jackets and a permanent place at the bonfire.

Would he still be tied here?

Would it be so bad? Strange how the ghosts are always stronger here than at the farm. While he'd happily sold most of the land to Lex, the house remained, and Clark knows Lex has done just about everything short of declaring the thing an historical landmark to keep it in good repair.

A museum of his childhood, really.

Nothing missing but those favorite clothes he'd long grown out of in spirit if not in body, and, of course, the spaceship.

Another Cadmus project, and it's been more than a little entertaining watching Lex work himself up periodically over not having more of an aptitude for the theoretical physics the spaceship proved entirely untheoretical.

When he gets to the farm he sits at the kitchen table, tracing patterns in the thin layer of dust over furniture wax. His mother would've liked the house this way, he thinks. Cleaner than she'd ever been able to manage with a teenager and a husband always covered in the detritus of farm work.

Or maybe it would've just felt empty.

Sometimes Clark wishes his parents had lived long enough for Clark to ask them about things like that. He wonders what it would be like to be an adult with them, and talk of adult things.

He wonders how disappointed they'd be.

Because he knows they would be disappointed. He's lied, he's spied on people. He's killed and hurt and done... a lot of things.

He knows enough about his father to know that saying 'the ends justify the means' wouldn't have been good enough for him.

He knows his mother would try to understand, but that disappointment would come from her like scent from a flower.

Lex is going to be president someday, with Clark's help, with Superman's. And Superman will be drafted by executive order, and set the world to rights.

No krieghund could ever find a better cure for the world's pain.

"We have a dream, Mom," he whispers to the sunny, empty kitchen, and feels the ghost of a smack to the back of his head.

Adult things, yes, but the Kents, his parents had never thought of life much beyond the farm. His mother had happily given up the city for this plot of land, and his father had harbored more than one thinly disguised dream that Clark would come back to it one day.

Small dreams, though... is it so out of the realm of possibility that they could have wanted something like this for Clark? Meant for larger things, they'd always said -- whether or not they believed -- and May is the only time Clark wonders if the difference is so great.

It's good to have a schedule for such things.

Clark remembers the way he'd craved order once his powers began developing, and the whole town was going mad around him. The way his parents could give him nothing but platitudes and static, helpless love. There's a beauty in order he's not sure they could've ever understood.

Perhaps not something anyone who hasn't known true chaos could understand...

Clark files the thought away as he leaves the house. The plan grows and changes like coral between them, just fluid enough for an intelligent hand to shape.

Just as Superman was born for the people through chaos, so, perhaps, should their New Order be born.

It would surely be accepted more readily then.

Most people need to be led to the right decisions, Clark has found.

And some people won't follow, no matter what.

Early on, Clark hadn't hated Superman so much -- if only because it meant that Lois Lane showed up at Clark's side far less often. Lois became... obsessed is the only word he can think of, spending a large amount of time on rooftops, demanding interviews in the name of the public's right to know.

Hamilton had finally provided him with a voice simulator to wear under the suit, and Clark had let himself be himself enough to haul Lois into his arms one day and fly her around in what he hoped were dizzying swoops and circles.

Just fast enough to give her a windburn that did nothing but put roses in her cheeks.

A beautiful woman, who didn't even have the decency to look a little green around the gills.

He'd sighed to himself and brought them finally to the roof of the Planet, setting her down in the shade of the great globe.

"What do you want to know," he'd asked, and smiled a little at her obvious frustration at his lack of an identifiable voice.

But she'd recovered quickly. "Well, for one thing, why the mask? Why hide so much if you have nothing to hide?"

And Lex had helped him prepare for this well enough. Certain questions were, after all, to be expected. "On the contrary, I have everything to hide. I have a life other than Superman, Ms. Lane, a private one. And I want to keep it that way."

"A straight enough answer... I approve."

"I'm glad."

She'd smirked at him. "You should be. Next question: what's in this for you? Who's bankrolling your operation?"

"Bankrolling...?" Clark did his best to inject just the right amount of surprise at her question into his voice, difficult because he had to compensate for the synthesizer. He shrugged. "I have powers, Ms. Lane. I try to use them responsibly. And spandex isn't all that expensive."

"You expect me to believe you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart?"

Clark stood up and paced, wondering if he was overdoing it, but a certain degree of passion was necessary for something like this. He remembers trying to be the boy he was, the one who had agreed with his father about returning Lex's first gift, even if only reluctantly. "Ms. Lane..." Scrubbed a hand over the smooth line of his head, looked at it as if it frustrated him to not have hair there. "Ms. Lane, I've read your articles. I know... I think I know what you're used to from people. All I can say is this: if I wanted something for what I was doing, why would I work so hard to disguise my identity?"

"Point taken... for now." And she smiled at him the same way she smiled at Clark sometimes, and he'd known something like dread. "What's your goal with this superhero shtick of yours?"

"Just to make the streets a little safer. I like... I like the idea of that. Batman and Robin don't even have any superpowers, and look what they've done for Gotham City! I couldn't hold back anymore."

"So you've always been doing this?"

"More or less. Just less publicly."

Lois shook her head. "I still don't get why you haven't accepted anything for this. Didn't Lex Luthor offer you a commission?"

He could get angry about that. A little. Clark has never liked hearing Lex's name on other people's lips. They never say it the right way. Lane was never an exception to that rule. "Listen, I guess this is just alien to you, but did it ever occur to you that I don't want money for this?"

"Oh, come off it, Superman. Everyone wants money --"

"I have a job --" And Clark bit himself off, turned away a little. Lane, of course, took the bait.

"Doing what?"

"I'm afraid that's none of your business, Ms. Lane. Let's just say that I have a job, and I happen to like it a lot, and it pays enough to take care of my needs."

She made something like a 'hmmph' sound in the back of her throat, as though he'd answered everything she'd wanted to know. Clark thought it was just as annoying as she'd wanted it to be.

The woman was a piranha in heels far too expensive for a journalist's salary.

"Do you have any other questions?"

"Are you an alien?"

"What?"

"Are you an alien? Because let's face it, most humans can't set things on fire with their eyes. Or run faster than a speeding bullet. Or fly."

"And that's enough to make you assume I'm an alien?" It had been easier than he thought it would be to insert a little self-deprecation into his voice.

"Well, it would certainly be one reason to hide your face..."

Clark laughed a little, and sat on the ledge of the roof, facing Lane, hands hanging easily between his knees. "True... But no. Unless my parents were keeping some serious secrets about me, I think I'm just some kind of mutant. Tell you what, I'll even give you this: I have my mother's eyes."

"In a box?"

Not hard at all to throw his head back and laugh at that. Lane was nothing if not... interesting to talk to. "I think you have issues, Ms. Lane, and coming from a guy who flies around in spandex and a cape..."

They'd talked for close to an hour like that, and sometimes Clark thinks that may have been where he'd gone wrong. The object of granting the interview had been to increase Superman's favorable press, of course, so alienating the woman had been out of the question.

Still, though... Clark thinks he shouldn't have gotten so friendly, so comfortable with her, despite how easy it was to talk to her from behind the cowl. They'd achieved something very close to friendship that day, and Lois hadn't been above calling on it.

And Superman hadn't been above answering it.

If nothing else, Lane had a genius for getting herself into trouble, leading Superman to hotspot after hotspot, giving him a fame that quickly went international -- even before he'd managed to save all those people from that volcano in Japan, those floods in Bangladesh.

And as LuthorCorp became LexCorp, and as LexCorp grew and grew, those hotspots got closer to Lex, giving Superman the opportunity to save them both.

Opportunities Clark didn't appreciate very much at all.

The cloning work Cadmus had done was getting better and better, but the neural transference technology was still years away. There were many times Clark considered locking Lex far away for his own good, plan or no plan, but... Lex wouldn't have been happy.

Clark suspects Superman relished every opportunity, no matter how many different "aw, shucks" routines Clark and Lex had him play for the press.

Clark is aware that there's a certain degree of dissociation there, that the triumvirate he feels isn't actually real, but that feels human enough, too.

Chloe has been immensely helpful, in her way. The Inquisitor always managed to find the most embarrassing pictures of Superman to print, and even faked a few for the April Fool's issues.

Even the first splashy cover of Superman carrying Lane out of danger had been worth it. Garish print declaring the woman to be Superman's girlfriend, separating gay socialite playboy and activist even further from the alien who would become Earth's Greatest Hero.

Worth it, but also regrettable.

At first, Lane had cut back on her flirtatiousness quite a bit, leaving their meetings to be almost entirely accidental, but she never stopped counting on him after that first day.

Never stopped believing in him.

And when certain sub-committees had begun looking into LexCorp in terms of antitrust legislation, when certain congressman failed to stay bribed and so had to suffer any number of tragic accidents, Lane had come to him in the same old way.

Clark remembers that evening, the sunset gleaming a thousand rainbows off Metropolis' skyscrapers and Lois' long, clean hair as she sat at the foot of the Planet's globe.

Her long legs had been crossed at the knee, her face set in the oddest expression of sympathetic outrage.

Superman had, of course, been present for the unveiling of any number of LexCorp's charitable works and they'd talked more than once about their hopes for the future of the company, their hopes for the new CEO. Clark remembers the older-sisterish way Lois had sometimes treated Superman. The obvious affection she'd had for his optimism, the way it allowed her to express some of her own.

That evening she'd pulled from her briefcase endless papers, weighting them down with seemingly every paperweight the Planet had to offer, and finally her own body in some ludicrously serious game of Twister.

A lot of paperwork, every bit of it damning as a scarlet letter.

Clark remembers asking her if she'd brought it to Perry White, yet, and the way she'd rolled her eyes and said she hadn't even told Jimmy. They would've saddled her with bodyguards, no matter how times she'd proven she didn't need anyone.

He remembers the light stain of her blush and the way she'd studiously avoided looking at him. "They would've cramped my style," she said. "Still, I'm not taking too many chances. I've got duplicates in my safe, that sort of thing."

Clark remembers feeling a pull then, and losing himself for long moments. He could almost hear Superman's voice in his head, computer-generated and full of loathing for what Clark had to do.

Full of love for... Lois.

She'd asked him what was wrong, and there'd been nothing to do but pull his cowl up to his nose, and kiss her as she gasped. Revel in the softness of her mouth and the taste of cheap coffee and the little ginger candies she was addicted to. Easy enough to quiet Superman that way, to lull him as he pulled her close, stupefy him with the feel of her breasts pressed against his chest as they flew away from the roof and far from Metropolis, to the little graveyard his feet have led him to, even now.

"I love you," he'd said, and it was true enough. Good enough for her to hear just before he'd snapped her neck.

Clark buried her next to his parents, arranging the fall leaves over the soil to make it look a little less like the fresh grave it clearly was.

And then he'd flown back to Metropolis and burned the files on the roof, and heated Lois' "hidden" safe until the papers inside were ash.

Regrettable, but worth it.

Worth it, and if he'd had to keep repeating it to himself long after he was back in his and Lex's penthouse apartment, then that was humanity, too, right?

The space where Lois' bones are, where Clark is sitting, is technically his burial plot. Lex had purchased it for him after hearing about what Clark had done.

He remembers the worry on Lex's face, the unasked questions. It wasn't as though there'd been all that many bodies to dispose over the years, but Clark had always been... uniquely qualified to handle the task.

Just not for Lois.

"Was it because she was a woman?" Lex had asked, and stroked the hair from his face. He remembers the smell of country fall had been all over him. He remembers the dirt under his nails.

"It was because she was Lois."

"Ah," Lex had said, and though he hadn't left him alone, he hadn't touched him, either. Just sat beside him on the couch, sipping plum brandy bought for its taste rather than its pedigree. Clark's favorite, and Lex held a snifter for him between his knees.

They'd sat in silence, Clark watching the sky darken to that faintly lavender excuse for night that was all Metropolis would manage. Superman's sky. Superman's night, if nights were his chosen milieu.

Clark never looked up that much anymore, for himself. There just wasn't much he hadn't already seen.

Still, the city's lights were beautiful from up here. Close enough to touch, maybe even without his powers.

And Lex was there, with him.

Always.

"Why did you do it, Clark?"

"You have to ask?" And Clark remembers the look on Lex's face at that moment, the confusion and worry. He's still not entirely sure he understands.

Lex's hand on his face, still hard, still callused. Clark had taken to fencing readily, and Lex had enjoyed the thrill of competition without the never-ending Lionelness of his father. "Yes, I do, Clark."

"She had a better grip on Senator Himmel's balls than you did."

"And she never would've let go, even if we'd convinced the honorable gentleman from Louisiana to reconsider." It wasn't a question.

Clark didn't bother to answer.

"You... cared for her." And Lex's voice was hesitant.

"Superman loved her."

Lex nodded slowly. The careful nod where it seemed he was afraid of jostling his brain too much. Clark remembers smiling affectionately, miles behind his face. "Superman... is still very young, Clark. Naive."

"Puppy love?"

"Idealism is nothing to be ashamed of."

"And if it gets in the way?"

"Can anything get in the way of the larger ideal? At this late date, Clark?"

"I... don't know."

Lex nodded again, and fetched Clark an etched basin and a cloth for his hands and face. He'd washed him clean with slow, meticulous care and kissed his mouth until Clark felt close enough to the surface of his own skin to respond. "Superman needed this to grow, Clark. And we need Superman."

"I... he... I'm scared, Lex."

Hands on his face, hard and sure. "I know. And I'll always be here."

There was a certain surreality to the weeks that followed, Superman's grief and rage given full reign as the Mystery of the Missing Reporter went unsolved for days, weeks.

Months.

Lex had offered millions of dollars in reward money for information leading to the recovery of Lois Lane, and then for any information at all. LexCorp, for a long while, had a semi-official division devoted to responding to the many people calling in.

A lot of them were even sincere.

Superman's black had meaning, now, for everyone.

The city was alive with it, screaming bloody murder against the villains who'd stolen the hero's true love away, screaming for simple blood as the weeks went by. Criminals walked small in Metropolis, and no one really cared very much about how Suicide Slum was gentrified, so long as it was.

Black hides all stains, and the people reveled in a hero so... human.

Nights were spent at Cadmus labs, and it was like being fifteen again. Lex's eyes always on him, Lex's hand on his arm, his shoulder. At the small of his back and pressing, promising.

The attempts to clone Clark had failed spectacularly to date -- something he was secretly glad of, as he didn't trust his ability to control Superman once outside of his own skin. Their army would have to wait.

But... there were Lexes growing, right before his eyes. Some still curled in on themselves, some spread out and comfortably floating in the pinkish amnion, eyes closed. Peaceful, even in what must be the endless fluorescent day of the lab. Of course, none of them were technically alive in any measurable way yet, but they were... soothing to look at.

A slight smile on this one, a tiny frown on that one, as his carefully etched lip scar was still healing.

Clark remembers wondering which one he'd choose, when the day came. If Lex would make the choice for him, ensuring that Clark would never, ever be alone.

The Smallville day is bright and sunny, visible even within the gnarled, quiet solitude of the cemetery. The trees here lived and grew on the dead, and the place had never been without its own gloom.

Any ghosts had long been chased away by generations of Smallville's youth, coming here to scare themselves witless on Halloween, coming here to mourn, coming here to drink and fuck on the graves of people who never could've imagined the world they lived in.

No ghosts at all, and so comes the next part of the ritual.

Clark focuses on the grassy folds of his father's grave, looks deep within. Lex had purchased the caskets himself, and they were still in excellent repair. Still gleaming faintly with the sunlight that managed to pour itself through the dirt.

His father had been excellently preserved, but the only thing Clark can recognize of him anymore is the breadth of his shoulders under his mouldering Sunday best.

Something dank and faintly green has grown over the salted gold of his hair.

The molds they'd used to prop his chest into something like the right shape are still as firm and rigid as ever.

His mother is next, and her rotting wedding dress is somebody else's gothic fantasy. Her hair remains untouched, spread out on the silken pillow. Some years Clark considers punching his way into the soil, to tear away a lock or two, but he always leaves it just as it is.

Lionel hadn't allowed Lex a lock of his own mother's hair.

Lois' hair blends too easily with the soil, her bones shifting with the soil into a position somewhere between tortured and suggestive. The obscenity is enough to ground Clark these Mays, and today is no exception.

Lois.

He'd never even considered the possibility of having her in his life, and Superman had never considered the possibility of not having her. A mutual blind spot, for all their observational skills.

To Clark, she'd been the biggest, prettiest mosquito to ever plague the earth. To Superman she'd been... a connection. A way out of Clark and into the world. Proof of his existence outside of the media, a closer touch than Clark would've ever allowed him to have with Lex.

And that's... not entirely a lie, but Clark's never been able to attach more to it. Not comfortably, at least. There was humanity and its attendant vulnerabilities, and the piquancy thereof, and then there was madness.

Clark had never loved Lois.

Lois would never, could never have done anything short of ripping Lex out of his life, one way or another. It had practically been her raison d'etre, whether she knew it or not.

Considering Superman's feelings about her, the way she'd awakened thoughts, desires, ghosts that he had no business having...

Clark has never been a stupid man, and he knows Lois' continued presence in Superman's life would've only widened the schism he both needs and fears. In a way, she'd saved him that night.

It doesn't hurt to be grateful.

Except when it makes him rage.

Granted, that happens less often now, and Lex always knows what to do... whether it's meteorite tainted bonds and long nights to re-discover what it means to hurt, or... not.

Chloe.

Clark rises from the graves and dusts himself off. His nails are clean, his pants stained in precisely the way the staff will expect them to be. Some of the castle staff has been there since Clark was a boy, the rest of them act that way. All the family he needs, their eyes say to him, if he should ever need.

It's a pretty thought.

The roads are hardly dusty at all as he makes his way to the castle, there having been enough rain this spring to keep it down. Climactic changes, and the latest articles had offered some hope that the predicted Midwestern dustbowl could be averted with responsible planning.

Responsible leadership.

The world will have it, even if not quite soon enough for his liking. Lex could, theoretically, make a run for the presidency in '20. He has all the money he needs, he's been a visible member of society, a loved member of the business class for a few years, but they'd decided to wait until '24. Patience.

They would make sure the Republicans took another election, setting the lion loose among the populace until they were ready for a leader both strong and compassionate, known for both his monetary success and generosity.

For his association with Earth's Greatest Hero, in the hero's time of greatest need.

They've had Clark's jokes about being 'First Lady' ready for years.

They will introduce the advances made in artificial wombs in the next year or two.

The advances in cloning sometime after that, when the inevitable backlash has died down.

Dr. Hamilton thinks they could have children someday, a thought he knows pleases Lex. Clark would bring them to Smallville with him every May, and introduce them to their grandparents, but he thinks he would leave their everyday upbringing to Lex and whatever staff he chose, their self-defense training to the inimitable and inaccurately named Mercy.

They shouldn't know the truth about Superman until they were old enough to handle it, and Clark thinks it would be a difficult secret to keep.

There are more cars on the roads then there used to be, though not much more than last year. Lex has expanded the old fertilizer plant over the years, but modernization and robotics have kept actual employee increases slow. Smallville is a living, thriving town, but it will never be a city.

Which suits it.

Walking into the castle is, as always, too much like stepping backward through time for comfort. The quality of the sunlight is different, but so much of the place is sheeted and bare that Clark can almost hear the ghost of clashing swords.

Can see Lex, strong, young, vital Lex, hurl a sword at him in obvious rage and switch to obvious pleasure in heartbeats.

Destiny.

Clark fingers the swords in the armory and considers waking Lex next May twelfth, bringing him down with him.

Showing him all the ways, all the whys and hows, but... he considers that every year. Rejects it every year.

And Lex knows well enough.

"I love you," he whispers, and wraps his arms around himself. Rocks on his heels on the hardwood floors. It's almost over for another year, but history has a way of growing, of speeding and speeding and nipping at his heels like that young idiot out west calling himself The Flash.

Slightly less annoying, though.

He thinks about asking Lex to make the call, that call when he gets to Metropolis, thinks about making it himself this time.

May is also the time to be grounded, to be held and surrounded by as much as he can manage.

Their shell is pure, but... there's Chloe.

Clark remembers one of the long, long nights after Lois' death, remembers lying naked, flat on his back on their bed. Waiting for Lex, waiting for morning to come with its promises of spiritual, physical retribution through the hands of his invisibly conjoined twin. Hero of the people, punishing the people for Clark's crimes.

Just confusing enough to soothe.

But Lex hadn't returned from the LexCorp towers alone that night.

And Chloe had been...

It had been the first time he'd ever truly seen her as a woman, he thinks. Nothing to do with her clothes, with the frown lines digging themselves into her brow even then and the smile lines on her cheeks.

Nothing to do with the waft of stale cigarette smoke and expensive bourbon as she took off her coat.

Everything to do with the sadness in her eyes, and the care.

Lex had left them alone the next morning, and Chloe had stroked his cheek like a mother. "He never told me why you needed this, Clark, but... that's okay. You know that, right?"

And Clark could only nod, sweep the hair out of his eyes and pull her down for a kiss, and then another. Her body was hard with hours in the gym, but her breasts were as full as ever, heavy in his palms.

Her hips were slender, her sex every mystery he'd thought he'd lost true interest in that first morning in Lex's library.

By the time Lex returned to the bed Clark had already entered her, already urged her strong thighs around his waist.

Lex lay next to them and they devoured her gasps together, shared them as they became moans, full-throated and shameless.

Later, she covered Clark's face in kisses and whispered that it would be okay, everything would be okay while Lex fucked him hard and slow and deep.

Lex was gentle with Chloe, and almost entirely chaste. That, too, was something Clark needed, something he still needs, though it makes him feel selfish. There was a stretch of months when the soothing, the balm of their arrangement was tested badly with Clark's jealousy, but then Chloe wound up getting an editorship at the Planet.

Somehow.

He smiles to think of it. Of the way it made him worry more at first, before he really thought about what it meant.

The first time he'd met her beneath the shadow of the globe, her toe scuffing the fading scorch marks.

Chloe always brought a flask and a pack of Du Mauriers, and she and Superman bonded just enough. He'd understood. Another gift from Lex, to replace what had been... lost.

Chloe, for all her newly vaunted status, missed the muckraking life and times of the Inquisitor sometimes, and Superman delighted in bringing her gossip.

Sometimes her laugh was the squawk of a crow, raucous and delighted. Sometimes she got very drunk indeed and gave Superman a cock-eyed grin.

"I'll never tell, you know," she'd say, and waggle her finger at Superman. "But when the revolution comes, I better not be against the wall."

Neither Superman nor Clark has ever been entirely sure how they feel about that, but... everything changes.

Without mercy, without exception, without pause.

If it ever became necessary, he would let Lex take care of Chloe's death. Humanity in the decision, fear and hope and love, oh love that aches.

He doesn't think Chloe dreams as large as they do, but... that didn't have to be a bad thing, after all. Lois had never learned compromise.

Chloe moved with the current.

They have genetic material from her, too.

Just in case.

There's a certain joy in discovering things they hadn't already considered, in the embroidery of their plans to something riotous in color and scale. Rigidly complete... or at least as complete as they can make it.

There are fewer and fewer moments like that, and just the night before Clark had wondered aloud what things would be like when their plans had come to fruition.

Lex had only smiled at him, pausing between carefully vicious bites to his chest and belly. "It never ends, Clark," he'd said and bit him again. "That codebreaker we brought in last year has some interesting theories about your tablet..."

And that... was something glorious.

Evening's coming on by the time he makes it to the caretakers' gatehouse, and the light above the front door is lit for him, warm and welcoming.

Clark pulls the tie from his hair and gives himself an animal shake. He barely has time to ring the doorbell before Mrs. Henderson is there with a smile and a wet smack of a kiss for his cheek.

The kitchen smells like apple pie, and there's a waft of Mr. Henderson's pipe smoke as he comes down the hall to greet Clark himself.

The kids get there first, thundering up with glee. Clark reaches into his coat pockets, retrieving candy for James, and a tiny porcelain horse for Emily. They beam up at him and hug his legs and chatter over and over each other.

He has at least another year to be Clark to them, and his grin is real enough.

Soon enough the table is set, but Mrs. Henderson doesn't let them sit until the centerpiece is just right, a trio of clipped sunflowers in a vase, bowing a triangle between the diners at the round kitchen table.

The effect is jarring, as even the gatehouse is decorated in a way that barely accepts flowers at all, much less these homespun giants, but they're bright, cheerful things. Nodding approval at them all with each stray breeze through the window.

Not too much longer now.

Not too much at all.

End.

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