Gotham Underground

by Dana

By Dana
May 2003

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Clark/Lex

Category: Angst, Cross-over, First Time, Romance

Copyright Disclaimer: I don't own any of it, and profit only in feedback which, admittedly, is worth its weight in pretty boys.

Author's Notes: For the purposes of this story, feel free to imagine Helen has never existed. Much, much love and gratitude to Alax, Philtre and Velvetglove for beta, and to all my live journal friends who assisted greatly while this was a WiP.

Summary: Lionel threatens Clark; Lex offers protection. Special guest appearances by Bruce Wayne and his trusty manservant.

"Hello, Mrs. Kent."

Martha jumped a foot in the air at his silkily-voiced greeting. Not that her reaction was required to confirm she was where she shouldn't have been.

Not under any circumstances.

On business in Gotham, Lionel's LuthorCorp office suite should have been shut tight. Lex should have needed the purloined key that rested lightly in his pants pocket to gain admittance. Instead, the handle had turned easily, door swinging open to reveal modern furnishings that cast stark silhouettes in the muted fluorescence spilling from the vault safe. The heavy lead door had been pulled closed as far as allowed without locking the intruder inside the room, but the sound of papers being rifled could be heard above the low hum of the nearly empty building's climate control.

"Lex," she responded, and he had to give her credit for being a more adept liar than Clark, because barely a tremor shook her throaty voice as she pushed the filing cabinet drawer closed.

He watched her tuck a thick file folder into her briefcase as if she had every right in the world to do so. Sensible heels clicked in sharp staccato as she closed the distance between them, passing a long, low trolley of refined meteorite with nary a glance.

The green bars glowed neon under the bright lighting, but Lex pointedly ignored them, as well. It was indicative of his shock at finding Martha Kent committing an array of felonies that he took the unexpected discovery of his father's hoard in relative stride.

"If you're looking for your father," she began, tucking a long auburn lock behind her ear as she edged past him, pushing the vault closed behind her. "He's away all week, I'm afraid. He forgot some documents he needed."

Lex felt candid amazement as she patted her briefcase, looking him squarely in the eyes.

"Yes, I know." He looked back at the now locked vault and considered demanding she re-open it - her collusion in exchange for his silence. But she was moving quickly across the room, and blackmailing a Kent - any Kent - wasn't a decision he wanted to make off the cuff.

And how the hell had she gotten in the safe to begin with?

Martha paused at the door to the office, clearly waiting to usher him out. "Coming, Lex?" she asked, a tight little smile on her face.

Lex simply smiled back, a part of him perversely enjoying having caught Martha Kent elbow deep in his father's cookie jar. It didn't make him think any less of her. On the contrary, Lionel Luthor routinely gave people reason enough to protect their interests, and the Kents had plenty to protect. Frankly, it was gratifying to see them doing so in a relatively competent manner. Competent barring the unlocked door, he mentally tutored. That was sloppy work.

It was also good indication that whatever was going on, they'd be better served with Lex's intervention than without. He felt a familiar pang at the realization that he still had not earned their trust. Not even Clark's - not completely - and his friend seemed to slip further from him with every passing month.

"I'll lock up, Mrs. Kent," he promised, continuing with a wink and his trademark smirk, "Dad must be getting senile. He asked me to retrieve some information from his computer and forward it to him, as well. I'm sure if he'd remembered your errand he wouldn't have made us both travel all the way from Smallville on a Friday evening."

He spoke the last with a woefully long-suffering air that earning him an incredulous look from Martha, but she surprised him again by not immediately making her retreat. She was obviously, and rightly, reluctant to leave her employer's office open when she couldn't possibly have found it that way. Such a conscientious employee, Lex mused. His father was lucky to have her.

"I know my way out," he prompted, practically daring her to protest. As she cast yet another worried look about the space, he took a more reassuring tone. "I'll leave it just as I found it. Scout's honor."

And of course that bit of fiction would be what swayed her, because finally, full lips pursed in resignation, Martha stepped across the threshold. "Goodnight, Lex."

"Goodnight, Mrs. Kent. Tell Clark I'll see him soon," he couldn't help adding, not surprised when the sound of the closing door was the only answer he received.

Moving to lock the door, he shot another longing glance at the vault before rounding the imposing glass desk. He took a seat in his father's deep chair; leather squeaking as he leaned forward to turn on the computer, anticipation so palpable he could taste it. His father and LuthorCorp had been burned more than once by computer hackers - by Lex himself, in fact - and Lex's suspicion that he'd begun storing his most important documents off the LuthorCorp network were about to be confirmed.

Finding exactly what he'd expected - and maybe Lionel was getting senile if it could be this easy - Lex hurriedly forwarded the files he'd wanted to his own account without reviewing their contents. He was more concerned now with his father's interest in meteorites than any upcoming business acquisition. He suspected everything he wanted to know had just walked through the door inside Martha's leather satchel, but Lionel would have scanned copies of any important originals on his computer.

It didn't take him long to find a likely looking file containing dozens of sub-folders. His father's commissioned studies on the Smallville meteorites were there, and Lex was dismayed to find the results of his own studies included in the information. He was preparing to send the whole of the research on to examine at his leisure when the title of a sub-folder caught his eye.

Lex clicked on 'Lab Rat,' cold dread and foreboding twisting in his stomach even before the world as he knew it disappeared from beneath his feet.

A ghostly moon hung low in the late winter sky, a dark canopy sharply pinpricked with stars, their light wavering with the brisk night breeze. Clark could hear the soft lowing of the herd in the distance as he crossed the gravel drive and ventured into the dimly lit field.

Knowing Lex would be freaked out enough without having Clark jump out of the shadows at him, he trod heavily down the ancient wooden stairs.

It was way past his curfew, but he'd been waiting for his friend to show for the last two days - ever since his Mom had come home in a state of mild shock and told them Lex had caught her in Lionel's office.

In Lionel's files.

Okay, stealing Lionel's files.

After knowing him for a year and a half, Clark didn't have any doubt that Lex was at LuthorCorp for pretty much the same reason his mom had been. He also knew it was a sure bet that whatever Lex had been after to begin with, catching Martha would have altered his agenda. When it came to mysteries involving Clark, Lex had proven to be unbelievably tenacious.

Case in point - a lot of what Lionel had on Clark had apparently originated with Lex: the computer simulation of the car accident; Roger Nixon's interview notes with the crop duster, Eddie Cole; his brief possession of a disk composed of an entirely unidentifiable alloy. But it was Lionel who appeared to have put it all together by adding Dr. Hamilton's spaceship discovery and the ballistics analysis on the bullets that had impacted harmlessly on Clark's skin that day in the castle library.

Now it was even possible that Lionel had his sight at the time Clark had been shot, or later when he'd used his heat vision to torch the original Clark Kent file, and worse still, when he'd fallen helplessly to the floor in the presence of Lionel's cache of meteors. And what kind of sick fuck pretended to be blind, for Christ's sake?

Clark winced a little at the coarse language, unuttered though it was.

He was so screwed.

That was why he had figured Lex's eventual presence in the Kent's storm cellar was pretty much a given.

Lex didn't turn around when Clark reached the packed dirt floor; he stood ramrod straight, hands clenched at his sides. An electric lantern hung on a hook over the little ship and the tarp had been tossed aside in a careless heap.


The shrill chirping of a solitary cricket filled the small room.

"I'm glad you know," he tried again, and it was true. "I've wanted to tell you the truth for so long."

"You don't say."

"Lex, please," Clark implored, unnerved by the lack of emotion in his friend's voice. "You have to understand why I lied. My parents-"

"Are fools, Clark. You're all fools if you think they can protect you from men like my father." Lex's voice was cold and eerily distant. "I could have prevented this."

"Prevented what, exactly?" It was the million-dollar question around the Kent household these days, and one that made Clark sweat a little just asking.

"It's not your concern, Clark. Just let me take care of it."

Arrogant detachment, and Clark wanted to shake him, except Lex still hadn't looked at him, and it was all starting to feel like a really bad dream - or like one of those old black and white horror flicks about lagoon creatures and monsters from outer space - and Clark had the starring role, only he was the one scared shitless.

"Not my concern?" His voice pitched high, betraying the clammy, crawling fear that was making itself at home in his gut. "Your Dad knows everything about me. Even...He knows how to hurt me, Lex. What will he do?"

Lex finally turned to face him, but Clark didn't feel relieved. The pale features were haggard with exhausted emotion, distrust and disillusionment at the fore. They stared mutely at each other for so long, that Clark's perfect vision began to play tricks in the low light, and he couldn't read his friend's face at all, even longer, and Lex started to look like the monster. Then he spoke and it was just Lex again, the spell broken.

"He's not going to do anything. I'll make sure of it." Lex rubbed his eyes, tension in the lines on his forehead. "Jesus, Clark. So fucking stupid. You've got to get rid of this ship. He has to suspect it's on the farm somewhere."

"We're gonna bury it. I am. Once the ground thaws and we till the fields. If I do it before then it'd be obvious to anyone who came looking."

"When's that? It needs to be soon."

"It is soon." Clark shrugged a little, helpless. Farmers didn't schedule the weather in their palm pilots. "Next week, maybe."

Lex nodded absently and Clark could see the wheels turning behind pale eyes. He was taking charge of the situation and feeling better for it, but somehow it only made Clark feel more alone.

"Good. Until then get a lock for that door. I can't believe I have to tell you that."

Clark bristled at the censure in Lex's tone, explaining as if to a child, "We do have a lock. I took it off when Mom said you were snooping around in Lionel's office." He paused until he saw Lex catch the implication, continuing more softly, "I wanted you to see it, Lex. I told you, I'm glad you know the truth."

Lex's spine stiffened noticeably, shuttered eyes remaining impassive. "I need to get home. I'll contact you when there's anything you need to know, but until then-" Pale eyes shifted away, apparently scanning the cellar's deepest recesses. "-you should stay away from the castle. I'll be too busy for visitors."

"But... we need to talk," Clark pressed, ignoring Lex's illogical mandate for the moment. He took a deep breath and plunged into the deep end. "About us."


And Lex looked like he sincerely had no idea what Clark was talking about, which should have stopped Clark cold if he had any judgment left where Lex Luthor was concerned, but it didn't. He'd thought about this a lot the last two days, whenever he wasn't wondering what Lionel had in store for him. Starting over with Lex was the only good thing that could come from this whole mess and he didn't want to wait, even when he knew he probably should.

Besides, things couldn't really get any worse, right? Do this now, and all the secrets, all the scary stuff would be out there - he wouldn't have to worry about it any more.

Glad for the shadows that concealed his rising color, if not the quaver in his voice, he rushed onward. "Well, now that you know, I just thought... I mean, it was the secrets - my lies - that made everything so hard. Why we never..." He stuttered to a halt, mortified by Lex's silence. "That's what I thought at least."

A bitter half-smile twisted Lex's lips as his gaze raked up Clark's squirming form. "And now that I know the truth - that you're not a garden-variety Smallville freak, but a freak from a whole other planet - from another fucking species - you thought what, exactly? That we could go steady?" Vitriol soaked Lex's words, dripping like acid on Clark's raw psyche.

"Lex, please. I-" His throat clenched painfully, choking off the plea.

Lex shook his head. "Don't push me, Clark. This is not the time."

Clark ducked his head, unshed tears of fear and frustration stinging his eyes, and let Lex pass, alone into the cold, dark night.

"Lex, do you have a minute?"

A light rap on the doorframe announced Clark's presence, startling Lex out of his preoccupied daze. Late afternoon light fell in patterned blocks, blood red and lavender across his desk, the pre-dawn coffee service reminding him he hadn't taken a break all day - or hell, in the four days since he'd found out his best friend was an alien.

And that the most dangerous man he knew wanted to cut him open.

Still, irritation flared at the interruption - and at Clark himself. A curt dismissal withered on his tongue when he looked up at the boy filling his doorway. His body the classical ideal - a Greek statue in living flesh - Clark rarely looked his age - to Lex's frequent chagrin. But today he looked such a child, so uncertain of his welcome. Large hazel eyes were shadowed in a way that suggested he'd had some sleepless nights as well, and Lex suddenly felt the full weight of Clark's burden - increased by his own hurtful words - because, of course he had. As upended as Lex felt, it couldn't compare to what Clark and the Kents must be dealing with.

He pushed away from the desk, rising to move to the office's leather sofa. "Sure, Clark. I'll always have time for you."

Clark shuffled in, hands deep in his pockets. "I wasn't sure. You seemed pretty mad the other night." When he sat down, the length of the couch separated them. Clark often sat so close their shoulders brushed, and Lex felt the distance acutely. "I don't think I said it then, Lex, but I'm sorry. For everything."

Lex swallowed hard, uncertain what to say. Still coming to terms with the truth, and with Clark's duplicity, forgiveness wasn't ready on his lips; not yet.

"Are you- What will you have to do to get your dad to back off?" Clark asked, focusing intently on running his thumbnail the length of his inseam stitching and back again. "I don't want to be the cause of more trouble between you two. It's not fair that you should have to clean up our mess."

"It's our mess, Clark - yours and mine - not just the Kents' mess." Although Lex only half believed that was true. Take Jonathan Kent out of the equation and he suspected Clark would have told him the truth fairly early in their relationship, before the lies had begun to irreparably tear at the fabric of their friendship. "Let me worry about my father."

"If it's our mess you should let me help." Clark shifted closer, eyes more eager. "I could get into Lionel's office and the penthouse and take whatever he has that my mom didn't find. You know where to look, right?"

Lex shook his head. "It's not that easy. You could never be certain that you had every copy and, besides which, he knows what you are. All the pieces were there, and have been for some time. He's got to be close to making his move."

"What move?"

"Clark, I don't want you to worry about this. I'm on top of it. Just let me-"

"Damn it, Lex!" Clark exploded, rising to pace in front of Lex. "I have a right to know what's going on! Just talk to me, okay?"

Lex was suddenly aware of a pounding headache, uncertain how long it had been building behind his eyes. And he knew Clark was right - he deserved to know what was happening. Only Lex had little more than an educated guess at the moment, and his every instinct was insisting that he shield Clark from even that much, keep Clark ignorant of the extent of his father's threat, keep him just a boy, extraordinary though he was.

"Well?" Bright green eyes fixed him, and Lex saw resolute determination had replaced the fear.

"He- If it were me," he began, "I'd acquire a secure facility first. Someplace you could be kept indefinitely for study. I took care of the video of your mom breaking into his vault, but he'll know your file is missing. And he'd know that your parents would suspect him or me if you were to disappear, so he'll be careful to cover his tracks. The- the lab would have to be purchased with funds that couldn't be traced back to him, which is no great obstacle in itself - certainly he has accounts set aside for just such 'projects.' That does make identifying its location a bit more difficult." Lex rubbed his forehead, unable to reach the persistent ache, and told Clark the worst of it. "I've been through his personal e-mail and financial records with a fine-tooth comb and I haven't found anything to give me a clue what he's planning."

Clark sat down heavily, crowding Lex and deep in thought. "Maybe that means he's going to leave us alone. For Mom, maybe-"

He laughed bitterly. "Don't kid yourself, Clark. All it means is he wants this - you - very badly. He's being extremely cautious."

Raven brows furrowed in concentration while Clark chewed on his lower lip. "Hey, Lex? Couldn't he be using someplace like Level Three? An existing space we don't know about instead of buying something new?"

Lex had already considered that possibility. "After the Earl Jenkins situation I had the other plants checked out; Plant No. 3 was the only location with a sub-level. Anyway, even with an existing space, there'd still be massive expenses, retro-fits..." He trailed off, something tickling at the back of his mind. "Shit."

"Lex, what is it?"

"Fucking Christ." He all but ran back to his desk, Clark hard on his heels. "It's Gotham. The fertilizer plant there - they've been expanding the space. It's all above-board; the project's been in the works for years." Lex flipped frantically through the files in his desk. "Here it is. LuthorCorp's Annual Report to Shareholders. 'The Plant No. 5 expansion experienced over-runs of nearly half a million dollars,'" he read aloud. "Not too unusual in a project of this size, and a nice supplement to the millions my father would have had to invest personally."

"You think he's building another Level Three?"

"I'd bet LexCorp on it," Lex smiled, absurdly relieved, and shaking his head "And he's in Gotham City all week. I can't believe I didn't put this together earlier."

"We make a good team." Clark grinned. "What's our next move?"

Lex sobered instantly. "Your next move is to go home. Tell your parents what I suspect, and that I'll leave for Gotham City this afternoon to confirm."

Clark was shaking his head, his expression mulish. "I'm coming with you," he said, as if it were his decision to make.

"No, Clark. You're not." Lex sat at his desk, preparing to fire off a few e-mails. No telling how long he'd be gone, but he was confident the plant would be in good hands with Gabe.

"Look, it's my life we're trying to save here, right? I want to help." Clark dropped down beside his chair, peering up at him. "Please, Lex."

"You've already helped. You'd just be in the way if you came." He could feel Clark's steady gaze studying him, but refused to meet the questioning eyes as he worked.

"You're still mad at me."

"Clark, not now."

"Then when, Lex? I can't not know if you're ever going to forgive me. I- I want to be with you."

The fear was back in Clark's voice and Lex wanted so badly to wipe it away. A slight shift, a turn in his chair, and Clark's soft mouth would open under his own; he could already hear the low, anguished sounds Clark would offer as a balm for his soul. "Clark-"

"I know you wanted me, too," Clark pleaded, clutching at the arm of his chair. "Is it gone? Is it because I lied to you?"

"Get up," Lex demanded, horrified by his body's reaction to having Clark Kent on his knees, so close under hand.

"Or is it because I'm...because I'm an alien?" Clark shifted closer, pressing his chest against Lex's legs.

"Get up, Clark," he choked out, attempting to push the boy away, to no avail. Clark was as immoveable as granite. Classically carved granite, Lex thought somewhat giddily, looking away and taking a deep breath.

"It's everything," he finally continued, when it was clear Clark wouldn't be deterred. "If you'd told me last year - before Roger Nixon, before Desiree and all the rest - everything would be different now. You say you're glad that I know the truth, but the truth is you would never have trusted me with this on your own. So how can I trust in you? How can I ever be sure you honestly want this - that's it's not merely a calculated act of self-preservation? Giving me what you know I've wanted..." Lex swallowed down a lump in his throat, embarrassed at giving away so much. "What I've wanted since I woke up with you on the riverbank."

"I'm sorry, Lex," Clark whispered after a long moment. "I'll make this all up to you, if you let me."

"I don't want you to 'make it up to me,' Clark. Just give me some time to learn to trust you, okay?"

"Okay." Clark dropped a hand to his knee, thumb rubbing slow circles in the grey wool. "Like, how much time?"

Lex looked down into wide, hopeful eyes. "Like, maybe a lot of time."

Lex down-shifted the Ferrari as he took the I-70 on-ramp, enjoying the powerful purr of the engine under his body as he put Smallville firmly in his rearview mirror. He accelerated onto the highway - zero to one hundred and twenty in far less time than it took to shake Clark out of his thoughts - the peace of mind of high performance tires gripping asphalt a small consolation for the comfort he'd been offered and refused in the beautiful young man.

He could take it so easily. Take Clark and not question his motives in offering himself to Lex. But the timing was too convenient. Intimacy should follow truth, but Clark's truth hadn't been freely given - it was taken from him, and Lex couldn't trust anything in the wake of that.

Clark certainly hadn't trusted him. So many times Lex had proven his loyalty, his abject devotion, to Clark. So many lines Clark had let him cross to protect his secret without ever telling Lex what he was fighting for. Lex had killed for Clark and the Kents and they still had not deemed him worthy.

And now he would protect Clark again, by any means necessary, and against his own father - Lex spat the word in his head, easing the engine's whine as he ruthlessly shifted into fifth - the very reason the Kents had never taken him into their confidence, and perhaps rightly so. Lex couldn't deny the surge of scientific curiosity he'd felt at learning Clark was an honest-to-god alien. For a moment that lasted lifetimes, he'd sat at his father's computer and imagined the experiments he'd perform were he a part of Lionel's team. Experiments.

On Clark.

He'd stumbled into the suite's private bath and vomited his lunch, sickened by the sure knowledge that if it were anyone but Clark he'd have few qualms. That if it were even a Clark he knew less well, he might still have few enough to stop himself.

The taste of bile hadn't left his mouth in days.

Lex shifted restlessly in the deep bucket seat; the drive to Gotham would be a long one if he didn't find something less depressing to think about. He forwarded through the hundreds of CD's housed in the car's trunk until he found something from boarding school days - mindless electronica he couldn't put a name to, but it didn't remind him of anything or anyone Smallville-related.

A blur of motion in the rear-view mirror caught his eye and he squinted at whatever was gaining on his speeding sports car, casting a glance down to confirm that, yes, he was still topping one-twenty. His breath caught in his throat as the mass got closer, began taking shape as...

Lex shook his head, disbelieving laughter ruthlessly squelched when it sounded slightly hysterical to his ears. He squeezed his eyes closed for a moment before confirming...


His arms and legs were a flurry of motion, invisible to Lex's eyes, but the t-shirt and flannel clad torso was unmistakable. So too, was the look of determination Lex swore he could see in Clark's eyes and the set of his jaw.

And Christ, Lex had known Clark was fast, but this. He didn't even appear to be exerting himself. Lex's foot pressed imperceptibly on the accelerator, eyes never leaving the boy now racing on his bumper... and then - gone.

Lex looked wildly around, fighting the urge to slam on his brakes. Clark had simply disappeared from behind his car and strangely, that was more unnerving that having him there in the first place. A moment later he did pump his brakes, finally spotting Clark standing on the side of the road a hundred yards ahead.

A sigh equal parts relief and exasperation hissed through Lex's teeth as he pulled over for the grinning boy, who had cocked a hip in absurd parody and stuck his thumb out for a ride.

"Don't say no, Lex," was the first thing out of Clark's mouth as he tossed his duffel onto the floor of the car, wedging his lanky frame into the passenger seat. "You know I could get there a lot faster on my own, so try to be happy about the company."

Gritting his teeth against the urge to tell Clark he had no use for his company - Lex's pride would really get the best of him one day - he addressed the more practical issues, instead. "And what would you do when you got there? Walk into my father's hotel and demand he leave you alone? Oh, wait, you don't know where he's staying do you? And where are you staying, Clark? Gotham's an expensive town; have you brought funds?"

The dark head ducked in embarrassment. "I'd wait for you when I got there. I want to help, Lex. You've got to let me, okay? Or I'll go a little crazy, I think." A flush crept up the exposed skin on the nape of his neck, and Lex had the unwelcome impulse to press his lips to the pinkening skin.

"Clark, there's nothing you can do. You should stay as far away from my father and his lab as possible, do you understand me? Christ, what did your parents say? Did you even tell them you were coming?"

"I'll call them when we get there. I'll make them understand, and if I can't, I'll go home. I promise." Clark looked at him imploringly. "Please, Lex. Stop fighting me."

Hazel eyes and blue locked in a silent battle of wills before Lex finally heaved a sigh, pulling the Ferrari back onto the highway.

"Exactly how fast are you?"

"I don't really know. I used to time myself, but I keep getting faster." Lex could feel Clark grinning in the seat next to him, by appearances happy to share this with him. "Last week after I found out about your dad, I need to get away awhile. I ended up running all the way to the Panama Canal. It wasn't a direct route, though. I went pretty much due South until I hit the Gulf, and then I kept it on my left the rest of the way. I was back in time to do my chores before dinner, but I'm not sure how long I watched the ships going through. Maybe an hour," Clark paused to think. "So, best guess, there and back in half an hour."

Lex silently considered this new information.

"Have you ever been?"

"To the Canal?" Lex searched his suddenly sluggish memory. "No."

"A lot of cruise ships go through, and some private yachts, too. Mostly freight, though. It's pretty cool."

"A technological marvel."

"Yeah." Clark sent him a sidelong glance, offering, "I can see through things, you know. And sometimes I float in my sleep."

"You see through things?"

"Anything except lead. Lead also shields me from the meteors. I think that was in the file, though." Clark was turned in his seat now, back against the door. "You don't want to ask me about the floating," he inquired eagerly.

"Frankly, Clark, I'm having a little trouble wrapping my brain around it. Do you want me to ask you about it?"

"I don't care. I just want you to feel free to. You can ask me anything now, Lex. No more secrets," Clark promised, a beatific smile lighting his face, and Lex felt he'd found his best friend again. "It is pretty cool, though."

Lex grinned back at him. "I'll bet it is."

The sky was painted livid purple and orange as Lex turned into the drive of Wayne Manor. Centuries-old oaks bent twisted limbs across the path; in dark relief against the sky, the still winter-bare branches laced together like bony fingers, pressing down on their approach. The ambiance had Clark instantly on edge.

He knew Bruce Wayne and Lex were friends and business associates from comments Lex had made over the months they'd known one another, but all his efforts at learning more during their long drive had gotten him nowhere. The less Lex seemed to want Clark to know, the more worried he had become.

He'd actually started to wish he had brought money for a motel instead of just assuming he could crash wherever Lex stayed. He hoped Mr. Wayne wouldn't make a big deal of him showing up uninvited.

Lex pulled to a stop in front of the imposing home, a dark hulking mass of granite, leaded windows glinting with menace in the disappearing light. Clark grabbed Lex's bag out of his hand, slinging his own duffel over his shoulder, and followed him up the half dozen stairs that led to the door.

Letting his eyes roam the edifice, Clark started when he spied a leering gargoyle crouching above the doorway, long tongue lolling out, blank stone eyes seemingly insane.

"Geez, Lex, this place makes Luthor Castle look warm and homey," he leaned in to whisper. Trying for a light tone, but missing the mark, he vowed to just keep his opinions to himself until he was sure of his welcome.

He was still standing a little too close, breathing his friend's exotic scent, when Lex threw a smirk over his shoulder, lips curled in that way that Clark suspected he really shouldn't like as much as he did.

"Believe it or not, Clark, the same has been said of the respective owners." Lex's low voice broke through his thoughts and shimmied down his spine, a residual effect of the hours just spent within easy touching distance, his impulses tightly reined. "Just don't let Alfred hear you say it."

"Alfred?" Clark squeaked, as the door was pulled open, revealing the oldest, creepiest butler Clark had ever seen. And he'd seen a lot of them - in the movies, where, come to think of it, old and creepy was de rigueur. Man, this guy could make a killing in Hollywood.

Weathered, curious eyes seemed to sweep him from head to toe even though he stood behind Lex, and Clark fought the urge to shuffle his feet. Too weird.

"Welcome, Master Lex," the butler said in a cultured British monotone. "You made good time, as usual."

Lex only snorted in response, leading the way into a cavernous entry hall. Black and white checkered marble gleamed beneath their feet in the soft glow of gilded chandeliers.

"Master Bruce is out for the evening. Would you care for supper in the salon, sir?"

"I'll take a tray in my room, thank you, Alfred," Lex answered, pointedly, it seemed, leaving Clark out of the equation.

"And for the young sir?" Alfred asked, drawn face as impassive and unconcerned as his voice.

"This is Clark Kent. He eats like a horse, and isn't picky about the venue." Amusement threaded Lex's voice, and Clark knew he was enjoying his discomfort.

"Very good, sir."

Alfred didn't seem to notice the weird undercurrent between him and Lex, rattling off the evening's menu as he led them in a sedate shuffle to the second story and down a hall lined with portraits of men and women as gloomy as the house itself. Clark adjusted his hold on their bags, which the butler hadn't even attempted to take from him. Not that he'd have let the old man carry them; he just thought it was kind of funny.

"...and Cook has made a brandy bread pudding that I'm sure Master Clark will appreciate. Sir will no doubt prefer his brandy without the pudding."

Clark jumped when he heard his name, flushing even though neither of the other men had noticed, and then snickered at Lex. He received a wide, wicked smile in return and stumbled over his feet, coming up short when Alfred halted directly in front on him.

Lex's low laugh sent hot shivers through him.

"Your usual apartment, sir," Alfred crossed the room to pull closed the heavy velvet drapes before returning with a question. "Shall I prepare a room for the young master?"

Clark wondered if it was his imagination or if Alfred was stressing the word `young' whenever he referred to him. If so, it really was not appreciated.

"Yes, thank you, Alfred," Lex said, and they both turned to the door as the butler left the room.

He watched Clark fidget a moment from the corner of his eye before the boy began to survey the room, done in olive velvet and cream watered silk. He followed Alfred's trail to the window, peering into the blackness beyond before returning to drop Lex's bag on the enormous mahogany bed, finally flopping back on it in an attitude of profound exhaustion.

"I'm worn out."

"You don't say."

"I do say." Clark propped himself on his elbows, drawing a leg up on the luxurious velvet coverlet, and unleashing on Lex a look that could only be described as `come-hither'. "I could stay right here all night and be perfectly happy."

"Clark." Lex's voice held a hint of warning. He was finding it far too easy to slip back into their teasing banter of old, and he wasn't going to be rushed into anything.

Clark dropped back to the bed. "Well, I would be," he said under his breath.

Hiding a grin, Lex pulled his bag to the end of the bed where he began unpacking. Clark whistled in awe when he opened the closet door, and Lex looked around to see what had caught his attention. The boy bounded off the bed to take a closer look, forcing him into the room he supposed was probably bigger than Clark's entire bedroom.

"Wow, that's a lot of space for a guest room closet," he noted, and Lex didn't bother to clarify he was actually in the smaller of the master suite's two bedrooms. Clark would probably be scandalized by the idea of a husband and wife preferring to sleep alone.

Clark filled the doorway, arms stretched over his head to rest on the doorframe, t-shirt pulled up to expose an enticing strip of smooth, tawny skin, and Lex couldn't help but feel a little claustrophobic, despite the surfeit of space. "Clark, I'd like to come out of the closet."

Predictably, Clark's mouth fell open, but Lex missed any additional response to his deliberately provocative pun; a discreet cough issued behind Clark and he jumped back, revealing Bruce's manservant.

Lex silently thanked the old man for his impeccable timing, because hadn't he just decided Clark was pushing too damned hard? And come to think of it, why had he ever imagined he possessed the self-restraint to keep from pushing right back?

"Your room is ready, Master Clark. If there's nothing more you need, sir, I'll have your supper sent up."

Lex shook his head to the negative, fascinated by the high color rising in Clark's cheeks.

Clark lingered as long as he could, hoping Lex would invite him to return and keep him company, but in the end he followed Alfred down the hall to his own room. Much smaller than Lex's, it was still the most opulent bedroom he'd ever slept in, and he felt a little funny putting his plain cotton boxers and worn flannel shirts in a richly patinaed bureau he thought could go for a hundred grand on Antiques Roadshow. His mom would be in raptures.

And he so did not want to think about home right now. His parents were probably having fits about his note.

I've gone with Lex to see what Lionel's up to in Gotham. Please don't freak. I'll call later. Love you, Clark.

He eyed the phone on the writing desk like it might rear up and bite him, and that would be an excuse not to call home - but probably not one that his mom and dad would accept, he mentally lamented. There really was no way around it and at the light rap on his door, he directed the maid or serving girl or whatever she was to put his supper tray on the desk so he could at least blame his silence on a full mouth if things got too bad.

"Clark?" His mom answered the phone, and that was not good.

"Yeah, Mom." He tried to sound upbeat as he lifted a heavy silver lid and hungrily inspected a savory cut of roast.

"Is that Clark?" His dad spoke in the background. "You tell him to get his ass home right now."

Clark squeezed his eyes closed. "Mom, everything's okay, I promise. I'm with Lex at Bruce Wayne's house."

"Bruce Wayne?" Martha parroted, bewildered. "Clark, what's going on?"

"We think Lionel may be building a secret lab here in Gotham and we came stop him, I guess. Mr. Wayne is a friend of Lex's. Mom, you should see-"

"Clark, honey, you need to come home. It's too dangerous for you there."


"Don't argue with me, young man," she said in her sternest mom-voice, and Clark knew that with a child who was immune to the threat of spankings, the voice was everything. "We need to stick close together until we have a plan to deal with this threat. You can't trust... " Martha's voice trailed off, sounding uncertain how to finish that sentence.

"I can't trust a Luthor, right? That's bullshit," he cried, ignoring her startled gasp. "Lex is doing something about the threat, and I'm going to help him however I can. I have to."

"Clark, son?" His father's voice carried across the farm's second line. Great. Tag team guilt trip, table one.

"Hey, Dad."

"Son, you're scaring your mother. Now, I want you to head home right this instant. Tell Lex we'll handle this as a family. We don't need his help."

"We do need his help, Dad," Clark protested. "I need his help. And since it's me Lionel wants to dissect, I think I've got veto rights on this one."

"Don't you realize he and Lionel could be in cahoots on this? Please, son," Jonathan pleaded, "Just come home."

"He's not working with Lionel. He wouldn't ever hurt me, I know it. He doesn't even want me here. I made him bring me." Clark calmly explained, knowing he wasn't being listened to. "Look, Dad. I'm not coming home. Lionel's dangerous and Lex is going up against him, for me. He's a good friend to me - to all of us - and I'm not gonna let him go through this alone."

Martha's voice cut across his father's objection. "You're a good friend to Lex, too, Clark. You know that don't you?"

Clark shifted uncomfortably in the straight-backed chair. "I've really gotta go. I don't want to run up Mr. Wayne's long distance bill."

A long silence carried the soft sounds of his parents breathing across the miles to him, and Clark felt a pang of homesickness as he waited for one of them to say something. It was finally his mother who spoke.

"You'll call us tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, I promise." Clark picked up a heavy piece of silverware and pushed a stalk of asparagus across the bone china. "I love you guys."

"We love you, too, honey," his mom soothed.

"Just be damned careful, son," his dad warned.

"Okay. Bye." Hanging up the phone, Clark sat back with a deep sigh of relief. As bad as that had been, he knew it could have been much worse. He figured his dad's first impulse on reading his note had probably been to get in the truck and on the highway to Gotham, never mind that he wouldn't have had any idea where to find them when he got here.

Thank god for his mom.

He started picking at the cooling food, sure his appetite had left him. A few mouthfuls of the deliciously prepared meal and an empty stomach over-ruled his fatigued mind and limbs until he had sped though the meal, completely cleaning his plate. Leaning back and scratching his stomach, he wondered what to do with the tray. He didn't think he should leave it outside the door like he'd seen people do at hotels, but he didn't want to let the dirty dishes sit all night either. Finally, he picked the whole thing up and headed in search of the kitchen.

Still curious about Bruce Wayne and his connection to Lex, Clark took the opportunity, and the excuse of being lost, to poke his head into a number of the ground level rooms. Like Luthor Castle, the study seemed to be the most used room, and a flickering fire lent a warmth that had little to do with actual heat.

A bit further back, he found the kitchen, gleaming with stainless steel and modern appliances, and left his rinsed plates in the sink.

Returning the way he'd come, Clark turned a corner to find the old butler standing in the study's open door. Alfred cast a critical eye over him before inquiring, "May I be of assistance, sir?"

"No, I was just taking my dishes to the kitchen." Clark fidgeted for something more to say, stuffing his hands deep in jeans pockets. He'd been jumpy since they arrived, and he didn't want Alfred to think he was a complete geek. "Gonna sit by the fire awhile?" He tipped his head to indicate the blazing hearth.

Alfred pulled the door closed. "No, sir. I was just enjoying a cup of tea. I'm to bed, unless there's anything more you require?"

Clark just shook his head and wished him goodnight, wondering if he could have missed him sitting in one of the room's armchairs. He didn't think so, but it was embarrassing to think Alfred might have seen him snooping around.

He mounted the stairs three at a time, stripping down quickly and pulling on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms upon reaching his room. After brushing his teeth and washing his face in the adjoining bathroom, Clark slipped between cool, white sheets, more than ready to call an end to the day.

Clark slept fitfully, dreams full of shadowed threat, elusive ghost-forms and meteorite. Awaking to a grandfather clock chiming a half-hour deep in the night, his spine tingled with awareness. "Lex?" he murmured, twisting in the covers to find the man he knew was in his room.

A long shadow crept along the floor and up the door as it was pulled shut behind his visitor. "Lex?" he called louder, receiving no response.

Clark lay there for a couple minutes, feeling uncertain and vaguely uneasy, before deciding to go to Lex's room. Abandoning the warmth of his bed he considered throwing on a t-shirt against the old mansion's damp chill, but decided against it. Lex-skin always diminished his capacity for rational thought, and he'd be really disappointed if Lex wasn't similarly susceptible.

He knew it was a little manipulative, but he also knew Lex wanted him as much as he ever had - didn't watching him sleep pretty much prove it? - and he was determined to refute whatever reservations his friend now had about their evolving relationship.

Clark was surprised to find Lex's room dark and the older man breathing evenly in sleep. He fleetingly wondered if he was crossing a line when he slipped into the room, pushing the door closed as he leaned back against it.

The old latch clicked loudly in the silence and Clark could hear the slide of Lex's body over sheets - could almost feel the glide of that smooth skin against his own - before the room was flooded with light.

"Bruce?" Lex asked sleepily, and Clark's heart stopped beating. Super-speed would have been his best option, but he considered it a fraction too late because Lex had spotted him. "Clark?" He sounded confused, worried. "Clark, is everything all right?" he asked, a hint of panic edging his sleep-roughened voice.

Clark took a few halting steps into the room, wanting to reassure his friend. "I- I'm fine, Lex," he answered lamely. "I just...I thought you..."

...were in my room watching me sleep, so I decided to return the favor. You don't mind, do you?

God, he wanted to crawl in a hole. Just as he was about to stammer an excuse and get the hell out, a door in the far wall swung open, revealing a man who could only be Bruce Wayne - tall and broodingly dark, with an angular jaw and black, piercing eyes that locked instantly on Clark.

Beyond him, Clark could see another bedroom adjoining Lex's and comprehension ripped through him, tearing hope up by tender roots and leaving it to wither in his chest. He blinked back the moisture that threatened to well in his eyes and took another look at his new enemy, instantly more hated and feared than even Lionel Luthor.

Clark guessed him to be at least five years older than Lex; experience showed in the handsome creases of his face. Broad shoulders and a heavily muscled, lightly furred chest were revealed by the open robe he wore - dark green silk, with bottoms to match, and even his bare feet looked elegant in the deep rug. One hand was wrapped loosely around the neck of a crystal decanter half-filled with dark amber liquid.

Following Clark's gaze, sensual lips twisted mockingly, and the man's other hand was lifted to reveal two large snifters. "I'd offer you some, but I've only brought enough for two." His eyes slid to Lex, who was propped up in bed now, smooth chest bared to the sheets pooling around his waist. "Hello, Lex. Long time."

"Bruce." Lex's dark voice betrayed nothing of his feelings to Clark.

Bruce's smile widened, revealing bright white teeth and he looked back at Clark, eyes raking him from head to toe and back again. Clark felt his nipples tighten, acutely aware of his lack of clothing and the room's sudden chill. "Besides, you don't look old enough to drink. Let it never be said Bruce Wayne's corrupted a minor."

Lex made an unidentifiable sound that nevertheless suggested he knew the opposite to be true, but Clark couldn't spare him a glance. The man in front of him was too dangerous to turn his back on. He now had no doubt about who was in his room minutes ago, and he'd be damned if he was going to back down under the man's intimidation techniques.

"Who is this boy, Lex? This is a school night, isn't it?" he asked, never taking his eyes off Clark. "Surely it's past your bedtime."

Lex could see Clark's spine stiffening with every barbed insult and knew he should put a stop to it before Bruce found himself in over his head. He would put a stop to it. Shortly.

"Bruce, this is Clark Kent. Clark, our gracious host, Bruce Wayne."

Neither man made an offer of his hand, both staring at the other with open hostility. Lex could practically taste the testosterone in the air.

Finally, unexpectedly, Clark broke the silence. "It's getting pretty late, Lex," he began, still watching Bruce, who donned a triumphant smile. "Do you have business with Bruce that can't wait till morning?"

Lex folded his arms over his chest, cocking his head as he grinned with proprietary pride on the young man. "No, Clark. Nothing urgent."

Green eyes finally met his, shining with mute gratitude before Clark turned back to Bruce, a genuine, blinding smile lighting his face that rightly set the arrogant man back on his heels. Lex could almost feel sorry for his old friend.

"Then, if you'll excuse us, Bruce. It is past our bedtime."

And never let it be said Bruce Wayne didn't know when he was beaten, Lex thought as he watched his the man tip his head in acknowledgment before departing, silk robe fluttering in his wake.

The door closed softly behind him, and Lex eyed Clark, curious what he'd do now and suspecting nothing could be ruled out completely. Only that he would draw the line at strange alien marking rituals. And that `strange' was a sliding scale.

Clark's unprecedented reaction to Bruce had very effectively settled the question in Lex's mind of Clark's wanting him. Clark obviously felt at least some of the more primal emotions he stirred in Lex, and the childish demurrals that characterized his flirting in the past were hopefully just that - a thing of the past.

Or perhaps not, because Clark was staring at the floor now, high cheekbones stained a fevered hue, arms folded across his chest in belated modesty. He peered at Lex through a thick fringe of dark lashes. "I'm really sorry," he said miserably.

Not at all the tack Lex expected, and he sighed patiently. "What are you sorry for?"

"Did you want me to leave? Did you want..." Clark's brow furrowed as he fumbled for words.

"No, Clark. Bruce and I have some things to discuss, related to my father's business dealings here in Gotham, but it can wait till morning, as you suggested."

Clark looked at him hopefully. "Then you're not..."

"No," Lex smiled softly, amazed at the breadth of emotions Clark called up so effortlessly in him. "Not for a long time."

Clark nodded jerkily, features blank with relief. "Can I sleep in here, Lex? Just sleep, I promise," he hurried to explain. "I was having nightmares. They've kept me up for a few nights now."

Lex could well imagine the kind of dream-specters Clark was being haunted by, and pulled back the covers in invitation, leaning over to turn off the lamp when Clark settled in beside him. He lay down and gathered the boy into his arms, tucking the dark-haired head under his chin. "Just sleep," he whispered, as much to convince himself and his unruly body than reassure Clark, shifting to accommodate strong arms sliding around him.

"I'm sorry this is happening," he muttered into the soft mane, breathing the heady scent of cheap shampoo.

"I know." Clark nuzzled the skin of his throat, pressing the hard, lean length of his body closer to Lex's. "What will we do tomorrow?"

"Find out exactly what's been done at Plant No. 5. Then... I'm honestly not sure," he admitted. "What about school, Clark? I can't believe your parents are letting you do this - you did call and approve this with them, haven't you?"

Clark's answering chuckle was muffled against his skin. "This, Lex? No, I haven't gotten permission for exactly this." Lex started to pull away, but Clark held him fast, continuing with more seriousness, "It's spring break. They know I'm here. They want me to call them again tomorrow."

"And they were okay with you being here with me?"

He could feel Clark tense though he covered with a quick tightening of his arms around Lex. "Sure they were. They trust you."

Lex smiled sadly. "Liar," he softly chided.

Little by little Lex felt the stresses of the day draining from Clark's heavy limbs, his warm body easing inexorably into Lex's.

"Love you," Clark murmured sleepily, squeezing about his ribs almost painfully.

Lex thoughtfully stroked his hand down the warm, strongly arched back, fingers rising occasionally to twist in the curls at the nape of Clark's neck, until the moist, even huff of breath on his neck signaled a descent into slumber.

"He's a child, Lex."

Lounging against the closet's doorframe, Bruce watched from behind as Lex buttoned his shirt, a silk tie thrown over his shoulder.

"He's as old as I was when you and I met."

Bruce laughed derisively. "And look how well that turned out."

"It's different with Clark. And it's none of your business," Lex warned, eyes fixing the other man's in the full-length cheval glass.

"It's my business when it affects Wayne Industries," Bruce shot back, effectively steering them into safer territory.

Lex turned, buttoning his cuffs and considered how best to sway the older man. "You know I have no interest in LuthorCorp's Gotham assets, Bruce," he reasoned. "You stand to make a sizeable profit despite the risk to your venture with my father. Just be ready to act if it comes to that."

His friend waved a negligent hand. "Wayne Industries will defend its interests, but are you really sure this is necessary? How much threat can your father pose to this boy?" Sharp eyes watched for his reaction. "What's so special about Clark Kent?"

Bruce had been none-too-subtly pressing for details since Lex's call yesterday afternoon, in which he'd hinted at a coming rift with Lionel, asked for Bruce's hospitality, and possibly his assistance. It had taken one look at Clark for the uncanny bastard to decide he was at the heart of the matter, and Lex didn't try to deny it.

He looked past Bruce into the bedroom, satisfying himself that Clark was still asleep before his gaze returned with the barest hint of menace. "Any threat to that boy is tantamount to a direct attack on me. Remember that before you develop an interest in Clark Kent."

Understanding hit the dark-haired man swiftly. "My god, you're in love with him." His face showed candid disbelief, his voice a trace of pain. They'd been over and done so long ago, he hadn't expected Bruce to harbor such feelings for him anymore.

Lex smiled wryly, a touch of self-deprecation in the lift of his brow.

"My god," Bruce repeated, relaxing back against the door. "Lex Luthor in love. I never thought I'd see the day."

Lex laughed softly with his friend, slipping into a pair of sleek, Italian-made loafers. "You couldn't possibly be more surprised than I."

Bruce glanced down at his watch, grimacing as he made his excuses, and wished Lex luck. "Give me a call if there's anything you need," he offered as he left the room, giving Clark's sleeping form a thorough once-over on his way out.

Lex merely gritted his teeth.

Fastening his cuff-links, he moved to the bed, watching the broad chest rise and fall in slumber. Bared to the waist, Clark's lean, golden-skinned torso was tinted with a youthful blush. Pebbled nipples and softly-parted lips were stained a darker rose that begged Lex's mouth. Soft and lovely, and Lex's mind and body ached for such pristine innocence.

He couldn't envy Clark's peaceful repose, even having gotten little enough sleep himself the previous night. He knew the boy had needed it badly to have slept so soundly while Lex all but writhed on a self-constructed rack of torture.

Having Clark warm and pliant in his arms after imagining it for so long, Lex hadn't trusted himself to sleep. Each time he'd begun to drift, so had his hands, touching, exploring the responsive body as they were accustomed to do in his dreams, until an answering shift of Clark's hips or a low, needy whine brought Lex back to complete awareness. Awareness that Clark was eager, and available to him.

How easy it would have been to press him into the mattress, spread his thighs and take what Lex's body demanded; how Clark would have welcomed him.

And how Lex would have despised himself for taking advantage. So, yes, he'd realized the depths of his feelings for Clark. They could no longer be denied.

"Lex?" Sleep-thickened voice.

He raised his gaze to slivers of vibrant green awareness, smiling gently. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?" Sitting on the edge of the bed, Lex allowed himself the indulgence of his hand in warm, tangled curls, rubbing the silky strands between his thumb and fingers.

The boy sighed, closing his eyes under Lex's touch. "Mm hmm."

"You're beautiful in my bed." Lex watched a slow smile form on Clark's face, eyes opening to meet Lex's. "But if you insist on sharing it in every sense, Clark, I won't let you go easily."

"I won't ask you to." Clark softly vowed.

"Be sure. Absolutely sure," Lex warned, knowing the truth was he'd never be able to let Clark go. "You know what I've done to protect you as my friend. But as my lover? Nothing would be too much. I keep what's mine."

"So do I, Lex." He pulled Lex's hand out of the warm haven of his hair, turning his head to press his mouth to Lex's wrist. "Let me come with you today. I can be ready really fast."

Lex shook his head, pulse throbbing heavily. "No, it's better if you stay here. I need to speak with some of the contractors who've worked on the construction project, and there's a slim chance I could run into my father today. He can't know we're together on this."

"But I want to help," Clark insisted, lips spilling warmth against Lex's palm as he spoke.

"I have an idea how you can help. We'll talk about it tonight, okay?"

Clark still looked disappointed, releasing his hand when Lex stood to shrug on his jacket. "You'll be gone all day?"

"It's possible." Lex couldn't suppress a chuckle at the pout that piece of news earned him. "Just stay out of trouble, okay?"

"Trouble? Here?" Clark scoffed. "The most trouble I'm likely to see is a fireside chat with Alfred."

"Let me rephrase that, Clark. Just stay away from Bruce." Lex knew the warning belied his carefully casual tone, but he couldn't help himself. "I don't like the way he looks at you."

Understanding dawned in a brilliant smile, and Lex cringed a little. "That's funny, Lex, coming from you. And while I'm pretty sure it's you Bruce wants, if it makes you feel any better, I've already got myself a billionaire boyfriend." Clark looked at him coyly. "Don't I?"

"Just think about it, Clark. Be sure," he said, tucking his wallet in his back pocket. "I'll be back as soon as I'm able." He took one last look at the beautiful boy, still sprawled invitingly across his bed, burning the image upon his memories in case it should never re-occur, and left without another word.

Clark watched the door pulled closed behind Lex and stretched languorously, supremely satisfied with himself. Lex's warnings didn't deter him a bit because the look in his eyes - like his want for Clark was eating him alive - that was a bigger rush than waking up floating six feet above his bed.

And Lex admitting he loved Clark to Bruce Wayne?

A huge smile stretched Clark's face. Bigger even than the inevitable fall back to earth.

He hadn't meant to eavesdrop. He'd been drifting, languid in a sea of lucid sensation - the soft cocoon of bedding warm beneath his back while a cooler draft skimmed across his chest and belly, the scent of Lex always in his nostrils - drifting since Lex had rolled out of his arms, heedless of his murmured protest. Lulled by the sounds of real-Lex's morning ablutions, with dream-Lex's body sliding erotically against his own, he'd finally been brought to full awareness by the low cultured voice of the man he'd slept intertwined with through the night.

Clark had decided right then he wanted to wake up that way every day for the rest of his life.

Minus Bruce.

High school was going to be a bit of an obstacle to his plans, and Lionel, of course, but even he couldn't suppress Clark's optimism this morning. So Lionel and high school and then...Lex.

He threw back the covers and considered the rather significant problem a night in Lex's arms had left him, and how weird it would be for him to jerk off in Bruce Wayne's house.

Clark laughed under his breath. Not as weird as it would be for Bruce to have an alien jerking off in his guest room shower, Clark figured, pulling himself cheerfully out of bed.

Thirty minutes later Clark was pouring a cup of coffee from the dining room sideboard and trying to decide what to do with himself for the day. A glance out the windows revealed grounds that looked as extensive as Lex's, but wilder somehow. Not unkempt exactly, just less ordered.

A fine drizzle was falling, though, and Clark knew it was too cold outside for him to be out for long without a jacket to keep up appearances. Clark hadn't packed right; he hadn't expected Gotham to be so different from Smallville, or even Metropolis, but it was. Maybe it was because they were on the Northern coast, but everything seemed...darker here.

Like a perpetual mourning.

He shook his head, surprised by his observation. Lighten up, Kent, he thought. It's just a little winter rain.

"Good morning, Master Clark."

Clark started violently, coffee cup rattling on the saucer and his super-fast reflexes alone saving a spill. He turned to greet Alfred, fighting the rising blush in vain. It wasn't just that he apparently hadn't gotten rid of his jitters from the night before; he'd returned to his room this morning to find his bed already made. Alfred was too well-bred to say anything outright, but he wondered if the man would treat him differently knowing where he'd slept.

"Hey, Alfred."

"Master Bruce asked me to tell you he'll be in conference calls most of the day and unavailable to entertain you." Clark shifted uncomfortably. "But that there's an extensive weight room with sauna and indoor pool and an adjoining theatre and game room in the lower level of the mansion."

"Um... thanks," Clark supplied, feeling Bruce's insult, but thankfully only good intentions from the butler. "I think I can `entertain' myself."

"Very good, sir. Shall I have Cook prepare something for your breakfast?" Pale eyes a hue of washed-out green sparkled mischievously. "She despises making pancakes, but they're very good. I strongly recommend them."

Clark grinned, suddenly more at ease. "No, thanks, Alfred," he said, picking up an apple from a bowl of fresh fruit. "This is plenty."

Alfred looked at him disapprovingly. "Cook can put apples in the pancakes, sir."

"Really," Clark laughed, "I'm good with just this. But if you have a suggestion for lunch, I'd appreciate your advice."

The old man nodded sagely. "I'll see to it, sir. Leave everything to me."

Clark was still laughing when Alfred left the room, and still at a loss for how to spend his day. He wouldn't have minded a swim, but he didn't have any trunks. Besides, he didn't like the way it had been offered with the weight room, like Clark was just a dumb kid with a decent body. There were names for guys like that who slept with men like Lex, and he bet Bruce knew every one of them.

God, the guy was a jerk, and no, Clark wasn't going to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Jerk," he muttered, warming up his coffee before leaving in search of a library.

He found it opposite the study where he could occasionally hear both Bruce and Alfred's muffled voices. Selecting a volume on Galileo, Clark settled onto a long couch, where he could keep half an eye on the study door over the armrest at his feet.

Throughout the morning Alfred came and went, never seeming to notice Clark in his preoccupation. Wondering that Bruce's butler would be so involved in his day to day business, and since the book he'd chosen didn't hold any new information for him, he found his interest drawn more and more often to the men behind the door opposite, realizing after some time that there'd been a prolonged silence issuing from the room.

Curiosity got the better of him and Clark x-rayed through the wall, lurching upright and spilling his book to the floor when he found the room completely empty.

He must have fallen asleep and missed them leaving, the rational part of his brain supplied. But he knew it wasn't true - they'd simply disappeared. His conditioned brain scrambled for a plausible meteor-related explanation, but of course they weren't in Smallville. And then the Scooby Doo indoctrination of his formative years kicked in, and he knew.

Secret passageways.

Gloomy mansions always had secret passageways.

"Cool," he breathed, before becoming immediately suspicious, because... well, because.

Throw a creepy butler into the mix and you could bet there was foul play afoot.

He did feel a twinge of guilt over that last thought, like he was betraying a friend. Because, really, Alfred wasn't all that creepy, just ancient and a little eccentric, and when did Clark add 'afoot' to his vocabulary, anyway? He shook his head to clear the cacophony of thoughts clamoring in his head; none of them mattered. He looked back at the door across the hall.

What mattered was the lack of warm bodies in Bruce's study.

He concentrated on the room again, focusing until his eyes penetrated the door and the far walls beyond, scanning for what he knew he would find until ...there. A narrow, wood-paneled landing was concealed behind a small dry bar. Clark dropped his eyes, following the staircase down, until polished wood gave way to stone stairs carved into solid grey bedrock.

Clark blinked his eyes, coming back to the library. Uncertain what he should do, he picked the fallen book off the floor and set it beside him on the couch.

There really was no question of his going down there once he'd had a moment to think about it - Lex's warning to stay out of trouble and away from Bruce Wayne notwithstanding. Because Clark couldn't imagine any excuse for the covert movements of Bruce and Alfred that could be anything but nefarious - not with Bruce involved - and Clark wasn't about to stay here, or let Lex stay here another night if they were doing something illegal.

He moved quietly across the hall, keeping an ear tuned for any other household staff. Finding the door locked, Clark snapped the handle cleanly off, hoping it would look more like an accidental failure of the hardware than would the alternative - splintered wood - and closed the door softly behind him.

X-ray vision allowed him to find the mechanism that swung the bar, perfectly balanced and silent, from its recess in the wall. Clark slipped inside the darkened stairwell and began his descent, soon realizing that Wayne Manor was closer to the coast than he'd thought. The gently curving stairwell acted as an enormous flue, carrying a tangy scent of salt air.

The sound of the two men's voices carried to him, as well; far enough away to allow him an easy escape if either man decided to return up the blind passage he was descending. Their voices reverberated across a cavernous space opening up at the bottom of the stairs, which Clark could now see ended about two stories down. A natural cave, he guessed. Halting just before the rock wall on his right would have given way and exposed his presence to the men, he x-rayed again.

Brows drew sharply together as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing.

It was a natural cave, as he'd guessed, but a small fortune had been invested in technology. The cave floor and walls were tiled with a glossy black resin-plastic, and the space was brightly lit by halogen fixtures which hung from a support of metal scaffolding. Bruce was seated before a wall of large monitors - scenes of Gotham and the mansion grounds, CNN and local news stations. His back was to Clark and his feet were propped on a long console. Alfred was at a nearby table, bent over a lumpy pile of black rubber.

"What's the verdict, Alfred?" Bruce called.

The butler looked up, and Clark jumped back, certain he'd been spotted. He found himself suddenly staring at a mass of solid rock as his vision returned to normal. Christ this place was going to give him a heart-attack.

"Acid has a way of corroding, sir, even Wayne Industries polymers," Alfred replied, and Clark's ears perked up. Alfred sounded...younger down here. "But I think it will buff out."

"Good. That freaky bastard's ruined enough of my suits. Gonna have to start billing him if he keeps it up."

And Bruce sounded almost...cheerful.

Clark zeroed in on the pair again, more confused than ever.

"Well, sir, I've always maintained we should bill City Hall for your expenses, but the lack of a return business address is an impediment."

"Oh, and the grappling hook on that one has a bent prong," Bruce rejoined, ignoring Alfred's remark. "Thought I was a goner there for a minute."

"That's a shame, sir," Alfred said with sincerity. "The prior company did better work, but they were very costly." He appeared to think about it for a moment. "Perhaps, though, in this instance, the extra expense would be worthwhile."

Clark choked back laughter, surprised by Bruce's distracted "Uh huh."

They seemed really...close. It was kind of sweet.

And Bruce...

Bruce was Batman.

Clark couldn't believe it, but it was so true.

Gotham. Rich guy with clearly way too much time on his hands. Behind Alfred glass doors slid open on a row of black latex suits, and an identical case nearby stored a lot of high-tech gadgets and toys.

And the Batmobile pretty much cinched it. Parked beyond the wall of monitors, Clark just spotted taillights in a sculpted fender over Bruce's right shoulder. He felt positively giddy with his discovery, and the endorphins in his system were telling him to do a bad, bad thing.

He knew it.

Getting a closer look at the car was a bad idea, especially with Bruce and Alfred right there, but fucking Christ it was the fucking Batmobile and x-ray vision just wasn't going to cut it. Clark had to get his hands on that thing.

Besides, it seemed safe enough, with Alfred bent over his task and Bruce's back to him, to speed into the next room. And he could be quiet. Bruce might be Batman, but he was still only human. Clark could be back on the library sofa in the time it took him to twitch.

And that was the deciding factor, a fraction of an instant later Clark was across the room, the rear of the console wall at his back and the gleaming black automobile in front of him. Crouched like a sleek, haughty cat, it beckoned him closer, and Clark obeyed, moving on silent feet.

"What's your impression of Clark Kent, Alfred?" Bruce's voice carried from the next room, freezing Clark in his tracks.

"He's a very interesting boy, sir," Alfred replied with a little too much gusto. "Very interesting."

"Do you think he can keep a secret?"

"Oh, I imagine he keeps a great many secrets, Master Bruce."

Clark squeezed his eyes shut. Shit. How long had they known he was there? Had he tripped an alarm in the study? On the stairs? Bruce's chair scraped as he stood up in the next room, and Clark turned to face him as he rounded the wall, a deadly serious expression on his handsome face.

For a long moment they regarded each other in silence, and though Clark knew he was in a more precarious situation than ever, he still couldn't suppress the grin that finally split his face.


He ducked his head, wishing desperately he didn't feel like such a little kid meeting his personal hero. But, if the shoe fit...

He smiled again at Bruce, extending his hand. "You have my word, Bruce. I'll never tell your secret."

The older man studied him thoughtfully a moment longer before stepping forward and grasping Clark's hand in return. "And I'll never ask for yours, Clark," he promised. "Although, if you wanted to tell me..."

Clark shook his head, brows lifting in chagrin. "Um, I think I'll pass for now, if that's okay. Too many people know already."

"Lionel Luthor."

"Yeah," Clark admitted, looking past Bruce to Alfred, who'd just entered the alcove.

"It's almost time for luncheon. I'll assist Cook if there's nothing you require," he addressed Bruce, and Clark realized it was true - Alfred was younger than he let on up in the real world.

"You go on, Alfred," Bruce urged. "We'll be up after Clark's had a chance to satisfy his curiosity."

Clark was all but bouncing on the balls of his feet as the butler left the room, turning to run a reverent hand along the lines of the Batmobile. Bruce watched him fondle his car with an air of amused tolerance.

"Well, it's clear now what Lionel - and Lex - want with you."

Clark stopped his inspection, catching Bruce's dark, unreadable gaze. "Lex doesn't want anything from me, and I don't want anything from him."

"It would be a mistake to trust him with your secrets, Clark." Bruce spoke kindly, and though Clark knew he was wrong, he didn't take offense. It seemed an alliance of sorts had been forged between he and Bruce in the last few minutes that would bind them forever.

"He already knows everything, and I trust him." Clark said simply, "I love him."

When Bruce regarded him with a mixture of concern and pity, Clark continued with a grin, "Besides, you're the one who should really be scared of Lex finding out your secret." He waited for Bruce's startled look to turn questioning.

"He'd kill for this car."

The Ferrari clung to the wet, twisting road, speeding an anxious Lex towards Wayne Manor. All day a vague uneasiness had been growing in him and he had a pretty good idea as to the cause. Never before had he been so much at a loss for how to deal with a threat to his interests. Lionel's assaults on LexCorp, his brother Lucas' brief usurping of him - they'd been child's play, the stakes inconsequential in comparison to Clark.

Clark was everything and Lex couldn't afford to make a miscalculation.

Worse, he'd never been less prepared for a confrontation with his father. Since the failed bugging of LuthorCorp he'd been in a self-imposed cease-fire where his father was concerned and currently held no bargaining chips of value equal to bonafide extra-terrestrial life.

His morning appointments with the construction contractors who'd worked the recently completed Plant No. 5 expansions hadn't yielded any information, suggesting a very substantial pay-off on Lionel's part. Lex hadn't pushed. He'd merely indicated his father's satisfaction with their work and his own intention to use them for an upcoming LexCorp project, but even the promise of a generous contract hadn't loosened their tongues.

On impulse he'd decided to have lunch at a diner near the plant and he'd had better luck there. At the intersection of a secondary highway and the turn-off to the plant, they'd had a front row seat to a parade of dump trucks removing earth from the site for nearly a week while the plant had been shut down. The regulars, a number of them plant workers, had speculated among themselves about the oddity of that, given the expansion was to be at ground level.

It was enough to remove any doubt in Lex's mind that Lionel had built another Level Three.

He pulled the Ferrari into the mansion's drive and close to the front door, detesting the sensation of cold drizzle falling on his scalp as he exited the car.

He needed inside that lab, but it was only mid-afternoon - too early for a break-in - and Lex was planning a hot shower and a long nap to compensate for the sleep he'd missed the night before.

And if Clark still wanted to join him, then he could probably think of a few other things to help pass the time.

Entering the mansion, he handed his jacket to Alfred and, at the butler's direction, followed the sound of deep, male laughter - Bruce's - to the back of the mansion. To Bruce's study, where the door hung ajar, a broken handle lying on a long table skirting the hall.

"Could I come along sometime?" Lex was halted by the eagerness in Clark's voice, his previous unease blooming sickeningly.

"I don't know, Clark. You might be a little young for that." Bruce responded conspiratorially, and Lex moved silently forward to see for himself the appreciative look on Bruce's face as he regarded Clark. Pathetically relieved to find them separated by Bruce's desk rather than seated together in front of the fire, until he remembered how much he'd been able to accomplish with Clark across the top of his own desk.

"Come on, Bruce," Clark tipped his head in an attitude he instantly recognized. "Please?"

Just at that moment the other man glanced up at Lex, a knowing smile suggesting he'd been aware of his presence all along.

Clark's head snapped around. "Lex!" he cried, eyes lighting momentarily before wariness clouded them. He glanced quickly back at Bruce and received a warning look that gutted Lex where he stood. "How'd your day go?" Clark asked, manner still warm but more subdued as he settled back into his seat.

Lex walked to the bar and poured himself a scotch. "Bruce, would you care for a drink?" he asked, ignoring Clark until he could rein in the unchecked suspicion and jealousy - the fury - that threatened to burst forth.

"It's a little early in the day, Lex, but why not. Pour me a brandy."

If it were anyone but Clark, Lex would think he'd been cuckolded, but it couldn't be true. Clark was too innocent, too damned...virginal to have betrayed him in the six fucking hours Lex had been gone.

Not that Bruce wouldn't have provided every temptation. He gave the smugly smiling man a withering look as he handed him a snifter of Armagnac, and moved to the couch along the wall where he could study both of them in profile.

Clark watched him take a long drink of his scotch, brows raised in nervous inquiry. "What did you find out today, Lex?"

Lookingimpassively at Clark, he replied, "We'll talk about it later, Clark. Privately."

As hazel eyes flicked away to Bruce again, Lex perceived the silent communication they shared. And it wasn't Lex is in a foul mood, isn't he. No, it was Lex suspects something and how shall we handle him. He drained his glass of the biting liquid infour long swallowsand rose to his feet.

"If you'll excuse me, I need a shower."

Bruce toyed with a ballpoint pen, batoning it between dexterous fingers. "Sure, Lex. I'll keep Clark entertained."

"Bruce," Clark hissed a warning.

Lex set the empty crystal back on the bar and left the room, denying the urge to drag Clark out by his hair.

He had no right to these feelings; he'd warned Clark away only that morning. The boy wasn't yet seventeen years old; his declarations of love couldn't be relied upon.

"It's not what you think." Clark's voice carried up to him as he mounted the stairs behind Lex.

Lex willed his voice not to shake though his entire body was trembling with the force of his emotions as he asked, "No? Then what exactly is it?"

Clark answered from immediately behind him as Lex entered his bedroom. "Just- I don't know. Bruce and I decided we could be friends."

It was sublimely laughable, but only a derisive snort escaped Lex. "Jesus, Clark. Are you really that naive?"

His eyes swept the room, noting the presence of a battered duffle bag on the silk-covered chaise, tennis shoes at the foot of the bed. He finally turned to regard Clark leaning back against the closed door, hands jammed into his jeans pockets. Long lashes framed doe eyes that dropped in uncertainty before meeting his again.

"He knows we're together."

"We're not together," Lex replied coolly. "You should move your things back to your room. We'll forget about last-"

"I don't want to forget!" Clark's eyes widened, pleading with him. "Lex, please... I don't know how else to say that I want you." He said softly, "Just you."

Lex's pounding heart felt as if it might burst apart inside his chest. He'd never needed to believe in anything so badly and in weakness his instincts made him strike out. "Well, you know what they say, Clark. Actions speak louder than words."

Clark stared unblinkingly, nervously licking his lips before he moved to cross the distance between them. Lex waited for him, the vicious thrill he felt sickening him. He swallowed convulsively around a knot of emotion hardening in his throat, tipping his chin to meet Clark's changeling eyes when he was close enough for Lex to feel body heat radiating through layers of clothing.

He kept his eyes open as Clark leaned in for their first kiss, watched Clark's eyes flutter closed as the cherub mouth pressed chaste against his. Plush lips laid tender promises, warm and sweet across the surface of Lex's mouth. He realized his own eyes had fallen shut, too, when Clark finally pulled away. They opened to a gently amused smile, Clark's eyes shining into his own.

"I love you, Lex."

The dam broke on the simple declaration, flooding Lex's already ravaged senses with the torrent of emotion he'd been suppressing for months. Long, tousled hair twisted in his fists and he pulled Clark in for a real kiss, his tongue pushing insistently past lips and teeth to finally taste, desperate to slake an unquenchable thirst. Forcing his way deep into slick warmth, the hard, fast thrusts of his tongue punctuated by sharp nips at full, red lips, and Clark couldn't keep pace.

It pleased Lex, this proof of utter inexperience, and something switched on in him, something primitive inciting him to riot, to plunder and take and claim. He tipped his head, licking into Clark's mouth from a better angle, and the boy was panting short, hot breaths into Lex, mouth hanging open, granting the access that was demanded while a silken tongue darted hesitantly out to play chase, the wet tease directing Lex's cock to painful attention.

His hands clenched in the dark mass of curls, mouth bruising on Clark's, as he pushed forward, twisting them around until the backs of Clark's knees were halted by the side of the bed and then he pushed further. A hard shove to the deeply muscled chest and the boy was on his back, staring up at Lex in a wide-pupiled daze, slack mouth shining wet, an invitation to so many things.

"Take your shirt off," he ordered roughly, pulling his own tie loose with one long stroke.

Clark quickly complied, t-shirt shed to bare smooth, honeyed skin that Lex could already taste melting on his tongue. The buttons of his shirt finally gave way to his shaking fingers and he tugged the tail from his pants, dropping it forgotten to the floor.

He knelt on the bed; one knee wedged high between wide-spread thighs, the heel of his hand rubbing a hard line up the length of Clark's arousal. A choked moan and the arch of Clark's long, taut body, and Lex's mouth locked on the stiff tip of a dark nipple, sucking hard on the excited flesh, pulling it into his mouth, rolling it across his tongue before delivering a stinging bite.

"Oh, Jesus, Lex," Clark twisted under him, hands clenched around fistfuls of velvet, shuddering hard when Lex's fingers gave the nipple's neglected twin a hard twist. "Oh, god."

His mouth descended on Clark's again, devouring desperate whimpers, his body shivering delightedly at the feel of Clark's hands - enough strength there to take him apart limb by limb - cradling the back of his skull, thumbs stroking absent circles on Lex's throat as he strained with need under him.

"You're mine, Clark," he rasped, dipping his head to suck a wet trail along the underside of a tempting jaw. "Not his." His hand was tugging at the buttons on Clark's Levi's. "Not my father's." Long legs lifted to wrap around his waist, squeezing tight as Clark's hips rocked instinctively into him.

"No one else's," Lex growled, slipping a hand inside to squeeze Clark's cock.

"No, Lex. Oh, god..." Clark panted. "Yours... yours..."

Lex pulled back, kneeling between Clark's legs and grasped his jeans and boxers, tugging them sharply off lean hips. Clark's engorged cock sprung free, thick and new, the smooth head slick and shiny, the heated, musky sex-scent that filled Lex's senses a pure aphrodisiac. Watching the defined lines of Clark's abdomen tighten and ripple in anticipation, he leaned down and took the head between his lips, suckling to gather the long-craved essence on his tongue. Clark's anguished moan had his own cock twitching in its ever-tightening space.

Lex pulled off and pushed Clark's knees up to his chest, impatient with the constriction around the heavily muscled thighs and impatient to see all of him. The boy thrashed beneath him when his fingers brushed the tight whorl of skin, and Lex's cock was throbbing a demand his brain couldn't even register.

He breached the tight passage with the tip of a dry finger before Clark's whimpered pleas reached Lex through his own senseless murmurings, bringing him back - fully back to the moment.

To Clark lying slightly stunned beneath him, used.


Lex shook his head in denial, mute disgust welling within himself.

"Lex, don't." Clark reached for him when he tried to pull away. "Don't stop..."

"Let go, Clark." Lex batted at the intractable hands skimming his ribs, holding him effortlessly in place. "It shouldn't be this way. God, I'm so sorry-"

Panicked eyes implored him, and Clark's hands gripped tightly, "Please, Lex, I need you. I need you to believe it's true."

Lex wrenched in Clark's immoveable hold, his pained gasp earning him immediate freedom. Clark sat up quickly, half reaching for him, the contrition on his blushing face at odds with the readiness of his still-straining cock.

And still Lex was tempted, more temptation than he'd ever known. He shook his head against it, squeezing his eyes closed on the erotic, longed-for sight of Clark - naked but for the jeans twisted around his knees - begging for him. "Not your first time, Clark. It's wrong."

"It could never be wrong," Clark urged, raw need in his voice. "You know you can't hurt me, Lex."

"I hope that's not true." Lex opened his eyes, letting Clark see whatever truth they contained and spoke as honestly as he could. "I hope we've both got something to lose here."

Clark looked as if he might argue further and Lex cut him off, turning to rummage in a drawer for fresh clothes and a change of subject. "I'm taking a shower and a nap. There's definitely a Level Three and I'm going there tonight to look for something I can use against my father."

"I'm going with you." The rustling sounds of Clark pulling his jeans up accompanied that statement.

Lex moved to the bathroom, looking at Clark only when he was sure the boy was half clothed again. "Yes, you are. I'll need your vision to help me get into the lab, but you're staying outside. I won't have you involved in the break-in."

Clark didn't argue with him, but he could see they'd be re-visiting this issue outside the plant tonight, at the worst possible time. "I'm tired, Clark. Why don't you go play with Bruce while I take a nap?"


"Clark." Lex's voice was hard, implacable despite the pain in Clark's. He still stung from his discovery of the pair in whatever secret they shared and he was not going to apologize for the provocative comment.

Without another word he closed the door behind him and turned on the shower. When steam was pouring over the glass wall he stepped naked into the stinging spray. Standing with his hands to the wall, he let the hot water pour off his back and shoulders until he felt some of the day's tension easing from his limbs, exhaustion from his week in hellish uncertainty replacing it like leaden weight.

After toweling off briskly, Lex threw on a pair of soft sweatpants and entered the bedroom again to find Clark asleep on top of the covers. Curled in a tight ball, he looked strangely vulnerable, unconsciously confirming Lex's belief that he should be handled with delicacy despite his insisting otherwise. Lex slipped between cool sheets and lay on his side facing the boy. Clark stirred under the light brushing of his thumb across wetly matted lashes.

"I've never meant to hurt you."

Worried, wounded eyes searched his face, and Clark leaned forward to press a warm kiss to his lips before shifting himself under the covers, accepting Lex's possessive embrace wordlessly.

Lex dozed for a couple hours, half-aware when Clark left the bed for a short while before returning to read quietly. The sound of turning pages and the feel of a big, warm hand filtered into Lex's dreams, stroking soothing paths across his scalp, and over his shoulders. Lex shifted closer, seeking the care in the soft touches, and when he awoke to the sound of a door opening, his head rested in Clark's lap, a strong arm wrapped around his shoulders.

He cracked an eye to Bruce's smirking gaze. "Jesus, Wayne," he croaked, voice hoarse with sleep, "I realize this is your house, but don't you ever fucking knock?"

"Phone," Bruce replied, holding up a cordless receiver, and it took Lex a moment to realize there was a call on the line. "For your boy."

"Hey, Bruce, can I borrow something to wear?" Ignoring the tensing of Lex against him, Clark reached for the phone, continuing, "Lex and me are going out tonight and I didn't bring anything dark. You've got something in black, don't you?"

Bruce gave Clark a long-suffering look before letting his eyes linger over Lex and answering, "Sure, Clark. Help yourself to my things."

Waiting until Bruce had left the room to take the call, Clark was lifting the receiver when Lex's hand darted out, grasping his wrist. Silvered eyes stared hard into his and Clark felt his stomach tighten in apprehension.

"You are going to tell me what happened today."

It wasn't a question or a request. Lex was seriously pissed and Clark just nodded his acquiescence. He'd think of something.

The phone call was his parents checking up on him, of course. He did his best to put their minds at ease about what was happening, but his best was sorely diminished by the sight of Lex leaving the bed in grey sweats that hung like really artistic pornography off angular hips.

Lex was so beautiful, all pale luminescent skin, the supple play of underlying muscles revealing strength in his slender frame. When he stood in the open door of the closet and hooked thumbs in the elastic waistband, pushing material down past a firmly rounded ass, Martha's voice was drowned out by the sizzling in Clark's brainpan.



Squeezing his eyes closed, he forced his attention to the call. "Yeah, Mom, I'm here."

Clark adjusted himself surreptitiously, keeping his eyes averted from the closet while he filled his parents in on their plans for the evening. Lex left the room without trying to catch his attention, leaving Clark silently cursing. He was going the have to think of something really good to explain the newfound ease between him and Bruce.

"You be careful, honey, and call us in the morning, okay?"

"I will, Mom," he promised. "I love you guys."

"We love you, too, son," his dad answered, still sounding reluctant about the whole situation. "You tell Lex I'm holding him personally responsible for your safety."

"Okay." Clark rolled his eyes. "I've gotta go, I think it's almost time for supper."

"Alright, honey. Be sure and thank Mr. Wayne for letting you stay, and try not to be too much trouble."

Clark grinned at the knowledge of exactly how much trouble he could make for Mr. Wayne and promised his mother he'd be good before disconnecting the call and heading in to raid Bruce's closet.

Outfitted in a pair of his own dark blue jeans and a body-hugging black turtleneck in what Clark guessed might be cashmere, he finally went in search of Lex. He and Bruce were leaving the study when he came around the corner, and Clark warmed under Lex's appreciative full-body leer.

His eyes slid to Bruce when he whispered to Lex in a false sotto-voce, "You should take the kid shopping, Lex. At least now he looks legal," before brushing past Clark with a dismissive, "You clean up nice, Kent."

"Gee, thanks." Clark didn't spare him a glance, holding Lex's hot stare as he stalked closer, and leaned in for a kiss, a trace of the previous night's jealousy gnawing on him. Lex tipped his head obligingly, and let Clark explore the recesses of his mouth. His slick tongue slid languidly along Clark's, his earlier urgency apparently in check. "What were you and Bruce talking about?" Clark asked with a final light kiss to the pink mouth.


Lex didn't elaborate. His hand dropped to the small of Clark's back and steered him in Bruce's wake to the dining room at the end of the hall. "Your parents alright, Clark? They don't need your help on the farm?"

"They're fine. And Lex," Clark looked at him pointedly, "wild horses couldn't drag me away."

Lex laughed softly at his evident frustration and directed him into the chair next to the one he claimed for himself on Bruce's left, who sat at the head. As at lunch, Alfred sat on Bruce's right and the girl from the night before - Margaret - served them all.

"Whatever you two are up to tonight, it might be better if it were left to Lex and me," Bruce offered when Margaret had left them to their meal.

"No." Clark and Lex answered together. "Thank you, Bruce, but we'll manage on our own," Lex finished for them both.

"Suit yourself."

Clark cut into the unidentified fowl on his plate - he knew it wasn't chicken, but it smelled great - and happily left Bruce to Lex. He was hungrily forking seasoned rice into his mouth when he finally became aware of Alfred's reproving regard.

"What?" He swallowed, brows raised in inquiry.

"Perhaps you should both leave whatever this is to Master Bruce. Gotham is his city, after all."

Lex looked oddly between the butler and Bruce, who said nothing. "Didn't know you'd bought the whole damn town, Bruce. I'm sure it will come as a surprise to my father, as well."

Clark quickly covered for Alfred, "He only meant we should let Bruce help if he can. Which he can't," he added with emphasis directed at the old man.

"As you say, sir." Alfred sounded skeptical.

"I think what he meant to say is I'm more capable, Lex." Bruce sat back and threw his napkin to the table. Lex grew rigidly still at Clark's side. "Why don't you go take another nap and leave tonight's business to Clark and me?"

From the corner of his eye, Clark saw Margaret re-enter the room just as all four men began shouting across the table at each other, his hand on Lex's shoulder keeping him in his chair while Alfred waved his arms in a wild plea for decorum.

She pivoted in abrupt and hasty retreat with such a scandalized look on her face Clark couldn't help but double over in laughter.

No one noticed.

Stinging drizzle fell relentlessly from day into night, the cold damp so pervasive it had seeped into everything. Fine droplets studded smooth glass with transient glitter, whisked away in efficient, but ultimately futile strokes.

The climate inside the Ferrari mirrored the elements and Clark's efforts to banish Lex's stormy disposition for more than fleeting moments had met with success similar to the wiper blades. The mood had lingered since dinner and Clark finally decided to approach the situation head-on.

In a manner of speaking.

He still had no idea how to explain the change in his relationship with Bruce, so that was off-limits. And he guessed that was pretty much all Lex wanted to know.

So, not really head-on at all. But still...

"So, are you going to tell me what you were talking to Bruce about before dinner?" Clark regretted his choice of opening gambit even before the thought had been fully voiced.

"Are you going to tell me why you're so comfortable in his clothes?" Lex retorted in exactly the vein Clark should have predicted.

"Lex, you know there's nothing going on between us, don't you?"

Lex snorted. "I know he wants you."

Clark sighed his disagreement.

"He didn't deny it," Lex pointed out with cool - he undoubtedly assumed irrefutable - logic.

"Of course he didn't!" Clark exclaimed. "Because if he did, the only explanation for his jealousy would be that he still has feelings for you."

Lex didn't reply, but Clark could see the tense flexing of his jaw by the instrument panel's glowing light.

"All I'm saying is, if I can get past the fact that you two used together," Clark coaxed, "then you should be glad about that. You're the only person I've wanted to be with for a really long time and now there's nothing preventing it. I just don't understand why you're fighting it so hard."

Lex shook his head almost imperceptibly, a shadowed profile, throat working around whatever he thought he shouldn't say. His voice was strained when he spoke. "I just want to get it right, Clark."

Clark smiled into the darkness. "You're my best friend. It couldn't be any more right, okay? And, um... in case you've forgotten? I'm a sixteen year old guy. And I'm a..." Embarrassment sat like hot coals in the pit of his stomach, diffusing prickling warmth throughout his body. "A virgin," he continued determinedly. "And I can't wait much longer."

The sound that issued from the driver's seat was less than sympathetic.

"I'm serious!" Clark objected. "You nearly killed me today with the almost-having-sex thing, and then that little strip-tease you did while I was talking to my mother? That really was not cool."

Lex didn't apologize, but his silence seemed thoughtful and they rode slightly more companionably for a few minutes longer, finally turning off the highway onto the access road for Plant No. 5.

The plant was a mile off the main highway, alone in a low clearing flanked by dense pine forest. Lex drove through the gates slowly, headlights switched off, and parked the car behind a thick copse a hundred yards from the facility.

He turned the engine off and reached between his legs, shifting his seat fully back on the smooth runners. "Move your seat back."

Clark adjusted his own seat the few spare inches the sports car allowed and turned back, the question on his lips muffled by Lex's warm, wet mouth. Clark opened his mouth and clutched at the front of Lex's jacket, groaning around the tongue lapping lazily into him in an erotically suggestive pantomime.

Long fingers carded into his hair, no command in them now, just permission, and Clark pushed into the slick heat of Lex's mouth, curling his tongue to lick behind a voluptuous lip, map the ridges behind white, even teeth.

Lex tasted faintly of coffee and brandy, and other, as-yet-unidentified things too rich for Clark's blood, a taste acquired and so long denied that, with the means to satisfy his hunger being offered so obligingly, he responded more as glutton than connoisseur.

"Mmm, Lex... so good," he murmured, sucking in a scarred lip to hold secure between his sharp teeth tracing the flesh with his tongue, and shifting in a fruitless attempt to lessen the ache steadily growing between his legs. He tongued the ridge of beautifully flawed flesh until Lex pushed him firmly away, relinquishing his treat with an inarticulate whine of protest.

"Shh, Clark. Lean back, against the door." A hand slid down the length of his squirming body to hook under the knee of the leg nearest Lex. "Put your foot up here, behind me on the seat." Really awkward twisting until his foot was wedged against the driver's side door.

"Lex, what are you-"

Sure hands were sliding under his - Bruce's - sweater, brushing lightly across his belly and then swiftly unbuckling his belt. "I'm going to suck you."

"Wha-? Really?"

Clark lifted his hips when Lex had opened his fly, body instinctively accommodating the craved touch while his brain struggled to catch up. With no room to maneuver the restrictive jeans down his splayed thighs, Lex simply reached into the placket of his boxers, hot fist squeezing just right around Clark's now painfully erect cock.

He pulled the length in long firm strokes, exactly what Clark needed. "And you're going to come in my mouth."

"Oh, my god," he babbled, but that was okay, some part of his brain supplied. It was too momentous an occasion for coherent thought. Clark's first blow job, and Lex was the one.

Cool ambient air stirred briefly over the fevered flesh when Lex pulled him free of his boxers, then a molten tongue swiped hard across the moist head, working with nimble fingers to slide back the sensitive foreskin. Lex's wicked smile flashed in the semi-darkness, shining lips poised inches from his cock.

"Lex, please," Clark begged, and he hoped Lex liked the way it sounded on him, because he could picture a lot of it in his future. "Please, do it, Lex. I need it."

"I know," Lex soothed as he settled more comfortably between Clark's trembling legs and took his swollen cock into his mouth without preamble.

Tight, wet and unimaginably hot - unimaginably perfect - and Clark's hips bucked off the seat, greedy cock forcing its way into an even tighter throat without invitation, but Lex accepted it readily, swallowing around him and humming encouragement.

Clark couldn't speak, couldn't think to form the words of awe and appreciation that Lex was due. His ragged breathing thundered in his ears with the sweet sounds of Lex's practiced lips and tongue working, slurping. He couldn't take his eyes off Lex's mouth, stretched tight around his cock.

A hand insinuated itself inside his boxers and his balls were rolled gently while his hips lifted with increasing, rhythmic urgency to meet Lex's bobbing head. He reached out a shaking hand to pet the naked scalp, not to hold Lex in place while he thrust hard into his throat, but the hand digging into the flesh of his hip was pulling, rocking, encouraging, and when a stiff finger pressed hard behind his balls, he couldn't help it, his grip on Lex tightened as he came in shuddering waves, pressed deep inside Lex and calling his name.

Clark quaked with pleasure as the scalding mouth continued to pull gently on his softening cock, firm tongue expertly working a succession of aftershocks through his limp body. Lex finally pulled off with obvious reluctance, tucking Clark away and falling back against his door.

Pale blue eyes glinted under heavy lids as Lex swiped a thumb across his chin and sucked it into his mouth - a mouth Clark suspected was now red and swollen and he whimpered frustration at a night that obscured his view.

A hand squeezed his calf before moving with the ease of ownership up the inside of his leg.

"Better, Clark?"

"Lex." Monosyllabic, but a complete word and Clark invested it with everything he could - all that he was feeling - unable to form a more fluid train of thought. The answering chuckle sent another little shiver through him.

"Now," Lex continued after a few minutes, voice low and coaxing. "Are you going to tell me about your day?"

"I found out something about Bruce," Clark volunteered like a hypnosis victim through the sex-fog clouding his head, because he didn't want to lie to Lex ever again. "A secret. He's afraid I'll tell, I think."

Clark's endorphin drugged senses locked on the sensation of strong fingers massaging the muscles of his inner thigh.

"Bruce has a lot of secrets. Which one did you stumble across?"

Clark peered warily into the darkness. "I can't say. I promised."

The fingers dug deeper, an involuntary reaction, Clark thought.

"You promised me there'd be no more secrets between us, Clark."

"This is different, Lex, and you know it," Clark pulled his leg into his own seat, shifting onto his knee to lean over Lex. He pressed a kiss onto reluctant lips, while his hand sought the bulge in Lex's soft pants. "Don't ask me to betray a confidence to prove my loyalty to you," he whispered, rubbing his palm into the hard line.

A warm hand cupped his face, lightly calloused thumb stroking high on his cheek. Lex sighed deeply and answered him. "I'd never do that Clark. And you have nothing more to prove to me."

Lex's mouth moved achingly sweet on his for a moment, long enough for Clark to catch a lingering bitterness on Lex's tongue that he belatedly recognized as himself. His hand was lifted away from the wool-clad cock and Lex pushed open the door. Clark grabbed him before he could exit the car.

"What about you, Lex? I want to taste you, too."

A low growl sounded in the darkness and Lex leaned back for another kiss, more demanding than before, and Clark eagerly gathered his own essence off Lex's probing tongue with his lips and teeth and tongue.

Lex pulled back abruptly, with a breathless little laugh. "Clark, stop. We'll finish this later."

"Lex, I need you," Clark whined, as hard again as if he'd never gotten off, and more than ready to see Lex's control vanish as well.

"Business first, then pleasure," Lex scolded, a smile in his voice. "The sooner we're done here the sooner I can get you back in that big, soft bed. And tonight, Clark, I'm not going to let you go until you've delivered on every promise you've ever made me."

The pad of Lex's thumb rubbing his lower lip emphasized his meaning, and suddenly Clark was as eager as Lex to quit the car's cozy interior, visions of tangled limbs and rigid cocks and stained sheets dancing like obscene sugarplums in his head.

"Come on." Lex slipped out of the car, keeping to the deeper shadows as they approached the plant, with Clark hard on his well-shod heels, eager to catch him on the off-chance he should slip on the rain slicked grass.

Clark was pondering the subtle and delicious scent of Lex's cologne, so barely there you almost had to press your nose into the hollow below his ear and take big, huffing breaths to get anything like enough of it. And maybe that was the whole point, he decided when his friend stopped without him noticing, sending Clark hard into his back and throwing them both slightly off-balance.

"Sorry," Clark mumbled, snaking a hand into the dry warmth under Lex's black overcoat. He pulled the hard body back against his own and dipped his head to sample the addictive fragrance.

Lex tilted his head, granting better access. "Clark," he whispered, "It's not that I don't appreciate your enthusiasm - I do - but could you rein it in? I think you'll agree this is serious business."

"Mmm. Sorry, Lex." Clark dragged his attention to the matter at hand, which was...

Oh, yes.

Avoiding vivisection at the hands of Satan.

Sufficiently sobered, Clark focused on the plant until his x-ray vision melted away the outer walls. Training his eyes downward through the floor - through earth and air ducts and piping - he finally reached the new Level Three. "I've got it."

"Tell me what you see."

Uncertain what Lex might be looking for, Clark described it all. The gleaming new lab was sectioned off, seeming to allow for multiple scientists at once. There were beakers and burners and a few other things Clark identified from Bio class, but the vast majority of the equipment eluded his understanding.

His description of a rather innocuous looking machine near a bank of computers caught Lex's interest and Clark went into fine detail until Lex declared with confidence that it was a DNA sequencer.

Which meant nothing to Clark.

"Genetics, Clark. Bio-terrorism. Or cloning. I have to get inside to know exactly what he has planned for you." Lex squeezed the hand still wrapped around his waist. "What else do you see?"

The rest made Clark a little sick to his stomach and he pulled Lex closer as he continued.

"There's a lab table. For me. And a cell." It was the cell that most frightened him. Built for an animal without the basest measure of privacy, empty but for a cot bearing a nylon mesh stretched across it, with no toilet or sink, even. Clark supposed the sprinkler spigots in the ceiling would serve to wash him and the cell clean. The water would sluice into the drain in the center of the floor. But worst of all, anticipated but sickening nonetheless: "There're meteors. Enough to kill me, maybe."

"He wouldn't want you dead, Clark," Lex assured softly, but Clark wasn't so sure.

His voice shook slightly when he continued, "It's in the walls. Recessed cubbies in the walls and the refined meteorite bars are in them."

"The levels would be easily adjustable then, once they determined your tolerance." Lex made a considering noise. "Crude, but effective. Much like my father."

"Yeah, there's a lead room off the lab where they could keep extra."

"Where's the access?" Lex asked, though he was less hopeful of getting into the lab with Clark's help. With the meteors already in place he couldn't expect Clark to go in, and without Clark's abilities he couldn't expect to defeat the facilities security protocols.

Before Clark could answer a twig snapped loud in the night and they spun around to face the man who'd snuck up on them unnoticed. Staring down the barrel of a LuthorCorp standard issue revolver attached to the requisite standard issue security goon, Clark mentally berated himself for letting his guard down.

"Get your hands where I can see them," the man ordered. A heavily padded jacket emblazoned with the LuthorCorp logo only emphasized the stocky man's lack of conditioning, and he fumbled with the safety on the gun he was waving vaguely in their direction. Clark pushed Lex behind him with a surprising amount of difficulty.

"Put your gun away. I'm Lex Luthor," Lex said in his patented don't-fuck-with-me-if-you-want-to-keep-both-your-balls voice, and Clark was mightily surprised when the stocky man only displayed a crooked grin in return.

"Oh, I know who you are. And I know you and Mr. Luthor are feuding," he said with the satisfaction of one in the know. "I bet he'll be real interested to know you're snooping around his plant in the dead of night."

Clark sighed at the man's dramatics. Eleven-thirty was hardly the dead of night.

Still, the threat he posed to their plans was real, and if the nudging Lex was giving his lower back was any indication, Lex thought so, too.

"I said get your han-" A yelp of pain attested to the guard's surprise at finding his arms suddenly pinned behind his back and a smirking Luthor picking his gun up off the ground. "How'd you do that?!" he demanded when Clark eased up on his hold.

Lex grinned in the darkness and addressed Clark. "We'll have to leave him here tonight. Find some natural shelter for him while I go to the car."

Clark started to protest but Lex obviously had a plan and since Clark definitely did not, he decided to go play along for the moment. At least until such time as Lex wanted to let the poor guy sleep with the fishes.

His superior vision allowed him to find what Lex desired. An outcropping of sandstone rock fifty yards deeper into the woods would provide cover from the rain, and when Lex returned with arms full they proceeded in tense silence.

"You can't leave me here!" the man squawked when Lex started binding his hands and feet with nylon rope.

"Lex, maybe this isn't such a good idea," Clark seconded, eyeing the red emergency blanket Lex had brought along.

"Nonsense, Clark. He'll be fine until tomorrow afternoon, when you have my permission to call rescuers."

The security guard - Alan, his nametag declared him - still looked scared. "What's tomorrow afternoon?" he asked Clark.

"What's tomorrow afternoon?" Clark asked Lex.

Deep blue eyes made a promise persuasive lips echoed. "Tomorrow's when we end this thing." Lex stepped close, pressing warm lips to Clark's. "Trust me."

A look of pure horror flitted across Alan's face. "Jesus help me, you two are some kind of Natural Born Killers, aren't you? I've got a wife," he pleaded, all but blubbering.

"Alan," Clark smiled, bending to tuck the blanket around the warmly dressed man. "Shut up."

Alfred was waiting to take their coats when they arrived back at the Manor, dour-faced but obviously relieved to see them home in one piece.

"Did your outing meet with success?" he asked Clark, who shot Lex a protective look before lying.

"Yep. Went perfectly as planned."

The old butler beamed at them. "Very good, sir."

"Where's Bruce?" Clark asked casually. Lex had clued him in on `the plan' on their way home and Clark was determined to get Bruce on board as soon as possible. Doing it without letting Lex know was going to be a little tricky, but he was super-powered. And a teenager. Nothing like a teenager for a little covert action.

"Master Bruce has business this evening. He did say he would be available if you needed him."

Sharp old eyes searched Clark's for a clue, but the stiffening body beside him directed Clark's response.

"Don't need him at all. Just thought we'd say goodnight," he replied, squeezing Lex's hand when it slipped into his. He could maybe catch Bruce in the morning, and if not, then Clark would just have to watch out for Lex himself. It wouldn't be the first time.

Alfred took demonstrable notice of the intimacy and asked Lex, "Is there anything more you require before you retire, sir?"

"I have everything I need, thank you, Alfred," Lex answered with the uncompromising proprietorship Clark was beginning to suspect came naturally where he was concerned.

"Night!" he called to the butler as Lex pulled him towards the stairs.

"Good night, Master Clark. Don't stay up too late." He muttered his last admonition just loud enough to reach Lex's ears. "It's not good for a boy your age."

Miles of honey skin lay across creamy sheets, the lithe body squirming slightly in need and blushing modesty beneath Lex's hungry appraisal. Clark's pink tongue darted out to wet a pornographic mouth - green eyes dropping when Lex's rigid cock flexed in appreciation. A soft sigh and the rolling of lean hips - Clark's cock jutting from a thatch of dark curls - attested to his frustration. Still only Lex's silvered eyes touched the nude boy.

"I've waited a long time for you," he said by way of explanation, mouth dry and voice nearly hoarse with suppressed desire howling to slip its leash.

"Too long," Clark breathed, a little half smile coiling in Lex's belly, like something that could strike him dead.

He reached into the bedside table, Clark's breath quickening as he eyed the lube tossed onto the sheets. Lex wondered again, an ever-ill-timed ritual on his infrequent visits to Wayne Manor, who outfitted his quarters - Alfred or Bruce. He threw off the distracting thought with a slight shake of his head.

"I'm clean, Clark. I don't want to use condoms with you."

"I trust you, Lex." Wide open eyes stared back at him with a well-spring of confidence, and Lex silently vowed never to taint their depths with doubt or distrust. "I don't want there to be anything between us, either."

Letting his eyes travel again the length of the long-limbed boy - hard and chiseled as marble, but as soft and warm as anyone Lex had ever known - he voiced a final concern, not trusting himself to touch Clark before doing so. "I want this to be so good for you, but..."

But he was desperate to be inside Clark, hot and tight and all for him. He'd never felt so much the rapacious lord, driven to claim a partner unequivocally, and the claiming a thing mutually independent of pleasure.

"Stop worrying." A strong hand reached out, pulling him between thighs that opened in perfect invitation.

Lex slowly lowered himself onto Clark, every nerve alight with the slide of skin on skin, the coarse hair on Clark's legs and groin seeming to spark with electricity against him. Despite his brave words, Clark trembled beneath him and Lex kissed him tenderly. Every thrumming muscle in his body demanded he take, but his mind was just clear enough to give Clark this. He stroked down a trembling flank, gentling the boy with the unhurried play of his mouth until the tension contained in the strong body was released in a violent shudder.

Clark's limbs softened in sensual languor and his lush mouth opened wider, wet and welcoming. Lex's lust was driven to fever pitch with every stroke of Clark's hot tongue, every wanton arching of his body and every exploratory movement of big, farm-bred hands rubbing and gripping along Lex's arms and back and buttocks. With a final feathering of kisses along Clark's brow and temple, Lex pulled back onto his heels and spread heavy thighs wider apart, greedy eyes devouring his ultimate goal.

Clark's engorged cock strained upward, head glistening with the proof of his arousal, and Lex leaned down to suck lightly as he squeezed and warmed lube between his fingers. Not surprisingly, Clark tasted slightly different than any other man Lex had been with. Bitter, of course, but a purely alien spice danced on his tongue and he savored the burst of flavor when he pressed two long fingers deep into the needy body.

They moaned together, Clark's hips rolling down onto his roughly probing fingers. Lex pulled back to watch the sleepy-eyed boy writhe for him and added a third finger, twisting all three at once.

"Oh, fuck, Lex," Clark moaned and, bereft of Lex's body to explore, rubbed his hands over his own lean ribs and chest, lingering to pull and twist dark nipples - soentirely unanticipated that Lex could only groan his reply as he smoothed his cock with lube.

Animal instinct raged too potent to feel more than a modicum of guilt over not preparing Clark more thoroughly. The head of his cock breached the tight ring of muscle and Lex found himself in the closest thing to Paradise he was ever likely to have admittance to. He threw his head back, mouth open and panting, and pushed forward steadily until he was fully embedded in molten flesh.

Leaning low over Clark, cock flexing inside the boy, Lex pressed another kiss to the softly parted lips, taking his hitching breath as encouragement. Slipping an arm under Clark's waist, he sat up, leveraging strong thighs astride his own, and pressed ever deeper.

Clark lay back on the bed, all smoldering eyes and rippling muscles as Lex thrust hard into the yielding body, angling slender hips for his own gratification. Clark cried out in ecstasy and long legs fell further open, the regular gasps and jerks beneath him assuring Lex that by pure serendipity his pleasure was Clark's as well.

With one hand under Clark, lifting and tilting, and the other stroking a deliciously curved buttock, Lex pushed mercilessly into the tight sheath of Clark's body, eyes traveling the length of the boy who was taking him like he was made for it, and hadn't Lex always known it was true?

So much he wanted to say and Lex opened his mouth but nothing came out. He shook his head, a soft bark of laughter the only expression of his wonderment, eyes drinking in the longed-for tableau.

Dark curls were tousled and tangled from his thrusts, one arm tossed above Clark's head on the soft sheets, the other wrapped around a big, red cock leaking enthusiasm. Lex braced his free hand on the bed beside Clark and pounded in to the caressing curves, head bent to study the glide of his glistening cock in and out of Clark's clutching flesh, the frantic pumping of Clark's fist.

A drop of sweat fell onto Clark's taut stomach and Lex licked his lips as he looked at up at the sweet face, flushed and sweat-dewed, eyes squeezed shut and panting in near silence beneath him.

"Clark, come for me." His voice was low and gravelly with his exertions. "Show me."

Clark whimpered, eyes opening glazed, stroking in a hard and fast rhythm, matching Lex's increasingly erratic thrusts into him. Finally, twisting hard on the upstroke, ribbons of creamy come splattered hot between them.

Clark's keening cry drove Lex harder into his pliant body, gripped tight by the rippling shocks of orgasm. His thrusts became wild and frenzied before he spilled everything into Clark, twitching cock buried as deep as he could possibly get in a soul-deep desperation to lose himself in Clark completely.

Lex shifted forward, relieving the weight on his legs and, bracing an arm on the bed, took gasping breaths until he felt his racing heart begin to slow. Eventually, Clark began to shift lazily under him, but Lex held his hips firmly in place, impaled on his still-hard cock.

Satisfied and sated, heavy-lidded eyes looked at him in question. Lex bent down and dragged his tongue through the cooling come on Clark's chest, sky-blue eyes never parting from grass-green, and whispered with a low promise in his ear. "I'm not done with you yet."

His softening cock was gripped by a responsive quiver and Lex rocked slow and deep inside Clark, knowing it wouldn't take him long to be ready again - god, he'd dreamed of having Clark this way for so long...

Rolling his hips into Clark's warmth, Lex dipped his head for another taste of the spicy come, cleaning a fleshy nipple with the flat of his tongue, teasing it to a peak before sucking it hard into his mouth. A sharp bite had Clark arching hard into his mouth and Lex's cock filling with renewed interest.

A few longer thrusts and both were hard again. He pulled slowly out, feasting on Clark's protests.

"Turn over."

Lex's eyes held dark promises and a low groan escaped Clark. Flipping enthusiastically onto his stomach, he bent one leg at the knee, drawing it up even with his waist. Arching his spine and presenting his ass, Clark blushed hotly into the soft bedding at his own shamelessness, but Lex's low moan and the reverent stroking of a hot hand across the firm flesh he offered assured him his instinct was correct.

He closed his eyes and listened while Lex slowly pumped his wet cock and, bending over Clark, skated lips and tongue across his hyper-sensitive back. Tracing the bow of a sweat-salted spine, Lex called forth gooseflesh and a shiver. An anguished sound escaped his lips when Lex lowered himself flush against him, guiding his cock into the messy slickness between Clark's cheeks.

Stretched and filled again, his body seemed to unfurl, drawing Lex in like welcoming him home, and Clark strained to open himself wider. Lex buried himself deep and then pushed deeper with each lazy thrust, his frantic passion now slaked.

Smooth, satiny flesh made tacky with drying come slipped against his back for what seemed like forever, pebbled nipples boring holes into Clark's shoulders. Moist breath fell hot on Clark's nape as Lex mouthed him, burying his nose in damp hair and breathing him in.

Clark rode somnolent waves of pleasure, gently undulating under Lex's unhurried ride. Twining their fingers above Clark's head, Lex lowered his full weight as his thrusts became sharper, his swollen cock cleaving Clark again and again, every scraping pass flashing white-hot behind Clark's tightly closed eyes. Lex's breath sounded harsh and beautiful against his ear, and Clark twisted in growing frustration with the languid pace, grinding his leaking cock against the sheets in escalating urgency.

"So perfect, Clark," Lex groaned, finally driving into him with lengthening strokes. "Never wanted anyone like this...swear I never have..."

Emotion welled in Clark's throat at the raw honesty and he squeezed the lightly calloused hands, wishing instead he could wrap his arms around the too fragile body laboring over his.

"Want you inside me," the hot words were whispered against his temple, and Clark arched violently into the admission, come pulsing onto the bed as his orgasm crashed over him like an act of god.

Lex released a hand, reaching down to push a leg higher up, wider apart and, fucking him deep and powerfully, followed Clark into oblivion.

Lex was still gasping Clark's name when he finally rolled off, their sticky flesh as reluctant to part as Clark was to feel Lex slipping from his body. Lying prone and motionless even when Lex finally pulled himself from the bed, satisfaction coursed through Clark's veins as he reflected on the last half hour of his life.

The best half hour of his life.

Rolling onto his back, his muscles pleasantly stretched, Clark peered down the length of his body - skin coated with their sweat, saliva and come - and let his head fall heavily back to the bed. He really should get up and shower, but his sex-sated limbs wouldn't begin to receive that particular command, and he drifted, listening to the sound of the water pouring from the bathroom tap.

He'd fallen asleep, one arm crooked over the top of his head, fingers of the other hand trailing through the tackiness on his belly when Clark was brought back to awareness by the feel of a wet cloth warm across his chest.

He purred his appreciation and allowed Lex to bathe his limbs; eventually opening his eyes on an expression of such reverence it stopped the breath in his throat. The care and seeming reluctance with which Lex washed away the signs of their lovemaking vanquished any lingering doubt he might have harbored over never having heard an unequivocal declaration of love.

When Lex's ministrations turned to his cock it twitched with a half-hearted interest that brought their eyes together, both smiling with affection. Finally, Lex lifted his legs, knees bent and feet flat on the bed. The cloth slipped into the sticky mess between Clark's legs, and his breathe hitched as he accepted the profoundly intimate touch.

Lex bent to place soft kisses along the insides of both thighs, dropping the soiled towel onto the floor beside their bed. He stretched out beside Clark, drawing the bedding over their cooling bodies.

They lay quietly for a long while, eyes and hands softly exploring, Clark's face periodically breaking into an irrepressible grin.

"You look awfully pleased with yourself," Lex teased.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Clark asked, pulling Lex closer. "Remember that virgin thing I was complaining about earlier? It's not so much a problem for me anymore, thanks to you."

Lex's self-satisfied smirk had Clark hiding an equally-pleased grin against his chest. "I'm glad to help, Clark. Anytime."

"I don't feel any different, though. I mean," Clark hastily amended, "I do feel really, extremely relaxed. And happy. But, not really different, you know? I thought I would."

"You'll be cherry forever, Clark. Bright and shiny and new." Lex's smile was warm as he brushed a stray curl from Clark's brow. "I wouldn't want to change anything about you."

Clark looked at him with some skepticism. "Not even the alien thing?"

Lex took a deep breath as he considered the question and finally answered, "Not even that." He looked steadily into Clark's eyes before continuing. "I've never asked outright, Clark, but I've assumed that...if there were any danger...I mean, Jonathan Kent doesn't strike me as the type to harbor..." Lex grimaced at his stumbling attempts to articulate himself. "I have assumed that you are alone. That, arriving as a child, you have no knowledge of why you were sent."

Clark felt a deep pang of hurt at Lex's question, even understanding it had to be asked. He believed, too, that it would be the last time Lex doubted him. "My ship has some kind of intelligence. It's communicated with me about my home planet, Krypton. It was destroyed and my parents sent me here." Clark ducked his head in embarrassment. "They thought I should use my strength to rule Earth." It just sounded ridiculous when he said it out loud.

At the prolonged silence, Clark looked ruefully through his lashes, surprised by how calmly his lover appeared to be taking the news. Or maybe that was just the famous Luthor poker face. "I don't want to rule the world, Lex," he hastened to assure. "You know I wasn't raised that way."

"But I was. I do." Lex closed his eyes, rubbing a hand across his face. "It's fucking ironic, isn't it?"

Feeling for the first time the full weight of Lex's burdens and uncertain what to say, Clark leaned forward for a slow, wet kiss, bone-deep exhaustion precluding it leading to anything more. Slowly massaging the muscles bracketing Lex's spine, addicted to the slide of the silky skin beneath his fingers, Clark lay silently for some time, dwelling on the next day's agenda.

"Do you think he'll fall for it?"

"He has to," Lex answered. "With all the loose ends we've left lying about we couldn't hope for him to remain ignorant of our movements beyond tomorrow afternoon. He's scheduled to return to Metropolis day after tomorrow, anyway. It's now or never."

"Lex, I'm sorry I didn't come to you to begin with. I wanted to."

"Clark, don't. You know I understand." Beautiful blue eyes narrowed a fraction. "One thing, though. How did your mom get inside the vault?"

Clark knew his grin was a little cocky. "I spied on your dad from LuthorCorp's air ducts until I saw the combination." Shoulders shrugged as he continued, "I couldn't break in myself because of the meteorite."

Lex looked impressed, but he hid it quickly, warning, "Tomorrow you have to stay here, Clark." He tilted Clark's chin, forcing reluctant eyes to his. "I can handle my father, and it's too dangerous for you to try to watch over me. Promise."

Biting down his objections - they hadn't swayed Lex in the car - Clark gave Lex his promise.

He promised himself it would be the last lie between them.

Lex hadn't needed to call his father's office to know where he'd be staying. The Gotham Plaza was the most ostentatious hotel in the city, after all, though not the best, by far. Lex himself preferred The Quarterage on the south side - just as exclusive, just as luxurious, and much more discreet.

But Lionel always did enjoy being seen.

Even the most celebrated of the sunny breakfast salon's patrons tipped their heads in his direction as he strode commandingly into the room. He wore a good-natured - affectionate, even - smile for his son and a handsomely tailored suit in charcoal wool, everything about his appearance meant to leave the correct impression on his audience.

"Lex, son," Lionel called boisterously, squeezing Lex's shoulder when he half stood to greet his father. "What a surprise."

The smile on his face did nothing to betray that they both knew Lionel hated surprises. Particularly those sprung by his lamentably unpredictable offspring.


A white-aproned waiter pulled Lionel's chair out for him and an aromatic coffee was poured in custom-patterned china the hotel had been using for more than a century. Lex thought the heavy pattern rather ugly.

Lionel's gaze pinned him to his chair as the older man slowly sipped his coffee. "Well, Lex? This obviously isn't a social call. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"

Lex's lips had barely parted when his father's palm sliced through the air, cutting him off.

"No, let me guess. Keeping a corporation afloat, even one consisting primarily of a `crap factory.'" Lionel smirked as he threw Lex's own one-time description of the plant back in his face, "requires more than brash arrogance and the firm handshakes of a few small-minded rustics." Lionel heaved a sympathetic sigh. "You've finally decided it's all too tedious, and you're here to offer me your...empire at pennies on the dollar."

While Lionel laughed at his little joke, Lex gritted his teeth and adopted an expression of wry self-deprecation. "Nothing quite as dramatic as that, Dad. It's not LexCorp I've grown weary of, but Smallville." Idly toying with the heavy silver of his place setting, Lex lifted humbled eyes to his father's. "I'm ready to return to Metropolis."

"By way of Gotham, it seems."

Additional response from his father was delayed by the return of their waiter to take their breakfast order. Lex turned his head to stare out the solarium's floor-length windows onto the Plaza's formal gardens - an admittedly graceful feature of the hotel. The foliage was lush and green from the last night's rain, and Lex wondered perversely if the hapless security guard had fared as well.

Lionel's voice droned in his ears while he took slow meditative breaths and studied a dew-dropped hibiscus beyond the windows, mere feet from their table. The stark contrast between the gluttonous excess of his father's breakfast order and the inhuman conditions of the cell waiting for Clark was enough to sicken him.

And everything depended on not merely restraining himself from going over the table and wrapping his hands - hands that had killed once before in defense of the Kents - around his father's neck; he had also to keep any show of his disgust and deception from reaching his face.

From a man who read him better than anybody. Better even than Clark.

Alone again, Lionel continued, "Forgive me, Lex, but I'm not certain how your return to Metropolis concerns me. You surely didn't come all this way for a pat on the back? It's long past the time for recognizing that the inhabitants of that backwards community are not your peers." Lionel looked at him with eyes that sought every weakness by instinct. "Unless you mean also to return to the familial fold?" he added skeptically.

And this was the moment Clark's life might rest upon.

"I consider it a possibility," Lex reluctantly allowed. "With appropriate incentive and compensation, naturally."

The thick-maned head tilted back, eyebrows raised. "You have something in mind?"

"It would mean you giving up Martha Kent." Lex laid the bait.

Disgust and disappointment clouded Lionel's face and he threw his linen napkin onto the tablecloth. "Is that what this is about? Still trying to protect the Kents, Lex?"

"On the contrary. I mean to destroy the Kents and your partial ownership of the Savings and Loan would allow me to do so quite effectively." Lex's tight smile was pure challenge. "Unless of course you find Martha...indispensable."

"Mmm. I might be persuaded to part with the lovely Mrs. Kent." A lecherous grin oozed across his father's face. "Then he's finally refused you, has he?" A cynical laugh followed the crude remark as Lionel stroked his beard, razor eyes never leaving Lex's deliberately impassive face. "Smart boy. Inhumanly smart, one might say."

Lex looked askance a moment, apparently weighing the implication of his father's words, then nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yes, he is, and beautiful, too. He's quite...unearthly."

A smile so vile it made Lex's stomach roil followed his remark, and he forced an expression of mild shock onto his face as his father chuckled in acknowledgement.

"Clark is a very special boy," Lionel mused. "Have you considered him an avenue to the Kents ruin?" He took another sip of his coffee, watching Lex over the brim with an air of innocence. "Gifts such as his are invaluable, Lex. And your revenge would be doubly sweet."

Lex snorted at the absurdity. "You don't know as much about Clark Kent as you think you do if you expect him to sit still and be exploited."

"I wouldn't expect him to have a choice in the matter. An illegal alien would be very difficult to trace once it was inside our borders."

Lex did not miss the pronoun switch in his father's statement. There would be no more dancing around the issue. "Getting it inside our borders and keeping it inside are two different things, Dad. I've had that creature under almost constant surveillance since my arrival in Smallville, and it has no vulnerabilities."

Lionel's guarded expression couldn't fully reveal the rapid calculations spinning just behind pale eyes. Lex needed inside that lab, and he was betting his father's arrogance - his driving desire to always show himself the better man than Lex - would gain him entry.

"You give it far too much credit, Lex. You should have come to me earlier." A bony hand raised in signal for the check. "Every hero has an Achilles heel."

Clark wasn't aware of his feet hitting the stair treads as he descended them, and it occurred to him that he might be floating on air, literally. Last night his world had been toppled off its axis because gravity was a barely-remembered sensation. A dopey grin stretched his face as he entered the breakfast room. He didn't try to wipe it away; that would be pointless. In fact, he felt it grow impossibly larger when Bruce eyed him over the top of his Gotham Herald.

"I'd ask if you slept well," Bruce said dryly, "but with all the thumping and moaning going on last night, sleep was an impossibility."

Clark stopped dead in his tracks, mortified at the thought of...oh, god had he been that loud?

"It must be true what they say," Bruce continued, obviously relishing Clark's discomfort. "Wayne Manor is haunted by ghosts."

Clark narrowed his eyes at the smirking man. "Oh, very funny."

Brilliant comeback, Kent, he mentally cursed, crossing to the sideboard to fill his plate. Back turned to the older man, the smile settled on his face again. He had a feeling it wasn't going away for awhile.

Not after the night he'd spent with Lex, shown so many things, initiated and tutored and played with. Clark had been allowed sleep in brief snatches, a tangle of sex-sated limbs, woken every couple hours by Lex's wet mouth sucking at his skin, stroking hands signaling the start of another lesson. Clark flushed hot to think of the things they'd done together, body still tingling from the silken touches.

A growling stomach pulled him from his reverie and he shot a sheepish look behind him. Thankfully, Bruce seemed oblivious to his stuporous vigil over the morning meal.

Apple pancakes were waiting in a chafing dish, especially for him, and he filled a plate. On top he piled bacon, scrambled eggs and hash brown potatoes. Setting his plate down, he went back for juice and coffee, pouring a large glass of milk as an afterthought when he spotted the moisture-dewed pewter pitcher.

"Alfred rocks," he opined as he took his seat.

Bruce viewed his heaping plate with a look of mild distaste, but he didn't argue.

"So, where's Lex?" Clark looked around eagerly for his lover. He smiled around a forkful of pancake and sticky syrup.

Bruce turned his attention back to his paper, plainly appalled by Clark's table manners. "He's gone out, I assume. I haven't seen him this morning."

"Out?" Clark swallowed.

His handsome face was hidden behind newsprint, but Clark could feel Bruce smirking. "I would guess so. Don't take it personally, Clark. It's never been Lex's habit to lie-in with his bed partn..."

Bruce's voice faded to background noise Clark realized he'd been ditched. Of course, Lex had said he'd have to stay at the manor while he met with Lionel, but Clark had had other ideas. Father or not, Clark didn't trust Lionel with Lex any more than he would with himself.

His brows dipped together as he worried a lip between his teeth. Maybe he was just being overly protect-

"Clark!" Bruce barked his name, black eyes penetrating. "Where's Lex gone?"

"He's..." Clark faltered. Lex was with his dad, and how could he explain the sense of danger he felt to Bruce without telling him everything - about what Clark really was, and Lionel's plans for him.

Last night he'd been good and spooked, and ready for Batman to swoop to the rescue, but in the light of day he wasn't so sure. He had a pretty good idea, too, that Lex wouldn't be happy to have Bruce involved. And Lionel was Lex's dad, after all. It was Clark he wanted for his lab, not his son.

"He's fine, Bruce. Just having breakfast with Lionel. I guess I forgot."

Clark forked another mouthful of pancakes into his mouth, barely tasting them anymore. Everything was going to be fine, he told himself. He'd just wait.

Bruce studied him with hawkish interest through his meal, but didn't press, which Clark was grateful for. Their secrets made them allies, but Clark was under no illusion that where Lex was concerned they were anything but rivals, and yesterday's enthusiasm was more tempered by this morning's newfound understanding of Lex's full appeal. If he were in Bruce's position, he'd do almost anything if he thought it could mean another chance with Lex.

"Excuse me, Master Bruce, but there's a situation I thought you should be made aware of." Alfred was unflappable delivering his news. "The Water Works has been locked down and the man inside is threatening to poison Gotham's drinking supply."

Bruce moved faster than Clark had ever seen a human move, even Lex, and Alfred scurried in his wake calling, "Witnesses report seeing a disfigured man flipping a coin as he entered the facility."

"Son of a bitch." Bruce growled. "How difficult can it be to keep one madman locked down?"

Clark supposed it was a rhetorical question because Alfred didn't answer. Once in his study Bruce disappeared down a fireman's pole that appeared behind a section of paneling Clark hadn't scanned the day before. Clark followed, wrapping a leg around the pole and stepping into air, catching a glimpse as he dropped of Alfred hurrying down the stairs concealed by the bar.

When Clark hit the stone floor of the cave, Bruce had disappeared and his eyes were drawn to the wall of monitors. Flashing red and blue, emergency vehicles surrounded the barricaded structure while a gorgeous blond reported the latest.

Clark started then gaped when Batman appeared silently by his side. Bruce looked a lot taller in his costume, probably because of the five-inch latex ears, but the effect was impressive nonetheless. Kind of hot, too.

He gazed impassively at the grinning still-shot of the man police suspected was behind the threat, a tick in his jaw the only sign Clark saw of his anger. A mass of scars covered one side of the villain's face, pulling it into a humorless leer.

"Two Face," Clark breathed, before asking eagerly, "Could you use some help?"

"Harvey Dent," Bruce corrected before brushing off his offer. "I can handle this alone, Clark."

"The Mayor knows you're on your way, sir. He's requested, and I quote, `you take care of him for good this time.'"

The strong jaw tightened again under the black latex mask and Clark was left in a wake of billowing cape as Bruce slid into the purring Batmobile. Without another word to either of them the car shot into a pitch tunnel, air crackling under the lick of white-burning flames.


"Yes," Alfred dryly concurred. "His entrances are equally as theatrical."

Clark couldn't help snickering a little at the slight censure in Alfred's tone. He knew it was underlied with affection.

Eyes drawn back to the impending tragedy unfolding on the big screens, Clark asked, "So how come Batman's never `taken care of' Two Face, anyway? Will he this time?"

Alfred shrugged a little, turning to climb the stairs to the house again. "You'd have to ask Master Bruce that question, sir. They were friends once, he and Harvey Dent."


Alfred halted at his surprised exclamation, eyeing Clark over a bony shoulder. "Good friends. Two Face is a constant reminder to Master Bruce of why he fights so tirelessly."

"To destroy evil, right?" Clark's face scrunched up in confusion; it didn't make any sense.

A sad smile softened the old man's face. "No, sir. He wants to save people."

The sleek black limo entered the property from a back access gate, rolling slowly through the thick woods. There would be no reason for plant personnel to venture this far behind the facility; no one to see the gaping hole in the earth where dirt track gave way to a smoothly paved and lighted tunnel.


His father smiled silently in the shadowed interior.

The door was opened by a well trained lackey staring blindly over their shoulders as they exited. Lionel pressed his palm to the security mechanism and Lex followed his father through the heavy steel doors that swung open in response.

They passed through a haz-mat detoxification room, white space suits hanging like specters outside chemical showers, and entered the lab proper. Lex didn't have to feign shock. Seeing it all firsthand chilled him in a way Clark's description had not - the inhuman conditions of the cell, walls studded with enough meteorite to drop the not-so-invulnerable-after-all Clark Kent.

"Jesus, Dad." A gravelly chuckle sounded over Lex's shoulder, and he barely suppressed his shudder.

"Impressive, indeed," Lionel congratulated himself. "The alien's weakness is found in the meteors it rained on the innocents of Smallville. They incapacitate it. A delicious irony, wouldn't you agree, son?"

"That's a DNA sequencer." Lex moved from under the "comforting" hand that had come to rest on his shoulder. His eyes roved the room searching for something, anything he could use as leverage against his father. "What's your plan?"

"Cloning, of course." Lionel all but preened.

And the applications were practically limitless. It wouldn't take many Clark Kents to effortlessly rule the world - not if they were unquestionably loyal to you. That was obvious. But the genetic applications were what most intrigued Lex, when he was completely honest with himself. Clark might well prove to be immortal, and if not so in the strictest sense, a man's longevity would be greatly enhanced by Clark's immunity to illness.

"And what will you do with Clark during the years it will take you to master - not human, but alien - cloning?" Lex circled the lab, grudgingly approving of the scientists' amenities. "Unless I'm very much mistaken, you're new to the field."

"Well, you are, Lex. Very much mistaken." Satisfaction rang his Lionel's voice. He threw open a door, revealing a small but richly appointed office within. "Before we discuss the particulars, I suggest we see if we can't agree on your `incentives and compensation.'"

Lex followed Lionel into the office, noting two other doors leading off the room, and took one of the deliberately uncomfortable seats in front of the desk. He wondered if the cliched furniture arrangement was in itself a ruse - his father playing at predictability - and reminded himself not to underestimate the man.

Careful not to appear too anxious, Lex laid out his terms, forcing himself to quibble over details when all he really wanted was to hear what research Lionel had already undertaken in human cloning. Better yet, to see - to acquire - proof of the highly illegal practice.

The phone on Lionel's desk rang and he answered it with an apologetic smile; close to sealing the partnership with his son, he was obviously feeling magnanimous.

"Luthor here." Lionel grunted as he listened to whoever spoke on the other end, long fingers stroking over his beard. "What is his condition?"

Lex stared into the shuttered depths of his father's eyes, expression impassive as his heart began to beat a little faster.

"I'll be right up." The handset was dropped in its cradle.


"Nothing too serious, I think." Lionel rose from his desk and circled to the door. "Still, it's best to put the fear of Luthor in them before a worker's comp attorney begins promising them the moon. You'll excuse me a moment."

Lex forced a commiserate laugh. "Of course."

His cell phone was dialing moments after the office door clicked shut.

"Wayne Manor."

"Alfred, put Bruce on."

"Master Bruce is in a meeting, sir."

"Clark, then,"

"One moment, sir."

An eternity later Clark answered, worry in his tone. "Lex?"

"Clark, listen carefully. Remember Alan?" At Clark's small gasp of remarkably prescient misgiving, he continued. "Yeah. I think he's surfaced ahead of schedule."

"Where are you?"

Clark was beginning to sound genuinely panicked across their connection, and Lex again cursed his father for putting them through this. "I'm in the lab, and I may not have much time to talk. If I'm not back for supper, get Bruce. He'll know what to do."

"He isn't here, Lex. I'm coming to get you."

"No, Clark!" Lex was up and pacing the small confines of the room. "The place is full of meteorite; you know that."


Lex lowered his voice. "I have to go, Clark. Please, just do as I say."

Lex slid the phone into his pocket, and leaned against an interior door, bracing on one hand as the other rubbed at a blooming headache. His gut was telling him that even now, the security guard was gleefully spilling details of his and Clark's transgressions - ignorant that he did so at the likely cost of his own life.

Bolting was a surprisingly tempting prospect, but unwise. If he were wrong, everything would be ruined. Besides, Lex Luthor wouldn't run from any man.

Resolved, he straightened, hand dropping to the door handle. His earlier curiosity piqued, he pushed it open onto a private bathroom. Lex moved to the second interior door and turned the handle.

Rage bloodied his vision and he blinked away the dizzying splotches. His hands steadied him in the doorframe, fingers clenching painfully hard.

"Ah, Lex." He jumped at his father's voice, badly shaken if he hadn't heard him re-enter the room. "You've spoiled my surprise. As incentives go, I had imagined that one to be a deal maker."

"You sick bastard." Lex turned his back on crisp cotton sheets, on walls configured like those in Clark's cell, but presently devoid of meteorite. He was less than surprised to find his father holding a gun on him.

"Of course, I hadn't yet been made aware of your alliance with the beguiling Mr. Kent."

"What are you going to do, Dad?" The title sat like bitter ashes on his tongue. "Kill me?"

"Oh, ye of little faith." Lionel's expression suggested he was merely dealing with an especially recalcitrant child. "Surely the fact of my recent willingness to kill your brother Lucas must convince you of my long-term commitment to you, Lex.

"No, I'll give you time to consider my proposal." Amusement and triumph shone from his father's eyes as he waved Lex towards the cell. "Not too long, however. If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Kent will soon be charging to your rescue and, as you see, we only have a single occupancy."

The barred door clanged shut, and Lex turned to stare at the man he called his father, biting his tongue on the threats and imprecations clawing apart his throat. If Lionel succeeded in harming Clark in any way, Lex would kill him slowly but uttering such warnings in his current position would only draw mockery.

Lionel waited a moment outside the cell, clearly expecting impassioned pleas that never came, his thin smile finally faltering under the muted promise in his son's eyes.

Night crept on Gotham as weary workers shut down the plant's heavy processors one by one. The lab below grew quiet while Lionel grew equally impatient.

Lex could see it in his face when his father finally quit the sanctuary of the office. The door was flung open and he stood motionless in the doorway, harsh features limned with contempt. Lex hadn't moved from the middle of his small space, eschewing the questionable comforts of the cell. A corner of his mouth quirked in a mirthless smile as they stared silently at one another.

There was no reason to think he knew of Clark's x-ray vision, no reason he would expect Clark to be forewarned about the presence of debilitating meteorite. Lionel had no doubt expected Clark to charge in after Lex as haphazardly as he'd done when rescuing his mother from the gunmen at LuthorCorp.

And Clark likely would have, even now, if he fully understood the lengths to which Lionel Luthor would go to achieve his goals. Lex had made his feelings perfectly clear this morning; he would not cooperate. And he had seen the judgment in his father's eyes: foolish, willful progeny; imminently expendable.

For the first time, he found himself grateful for the unaccountable friendship that had formed between Bruce and Clark. Bruce could be counted on to balance Clark's impetuosity - cool-headed and as ruthless as even Lionel Luthor. Where Clark's rigid morality would stop him short of crossing a black and white landscape into territory shaded grey, Bruce thrived in those shadows. He would not hesitate to allow the ends to justify his means.

Lionel finally stalked towards him, a travesty of a smile curling his lips. "Your Clark appears to be surprisingly circumspect regarding your safety, Lex," he uttered his son's name with a hint of distaste, furrowing his brows in mock confusion. "I wonder, was he worth it?

"How has it transpired that a sixteen-year-old farmboy brought the infamous Lex Luthor to heel? Reduced you to this?" A grandiose sweep of his arm emphasized Lex's fall from lofty heights. "Do you suppose the alien excretes exotic pheromones? Employs some other form of mind control? Or is it simply an extraordinarily gifted cocksucker?" A gravelly chuckle and a raised brow preceded the final taunt. "Rest assured, son, I'll have my answer. I look forward to conducting the experiments."

Lex went ice cold a moment, numb, before a flood of raw emotion tore through him. He swallowed hard, jaw clenching as the torrent sought to escape his throat. Lionel Luthor had just signed his own death warrant, and with a typically arrogant flourish.

"When this is over," Lex promised softly, finally able to trust his own voice, "I'll take everything you love away from you and make it my own."

Lionel laughed heartily at what he plainly considered an absurd threat. "Will you never learn, son? `Love' is what's gotten you into this mess. `Love' is a mistake I do not make."

"Your ego loves LuthorCorp."

"It's good to see you haven't lost your sense of humor, Lex. Truly, your optimism is inspiring, if sadly misplaced."

The distinctive hum of an elevator sounded faintly in the underground rooms and a slow smile spread on Lionel's face. Lex had listened to him make arrangements earlier. Security had been tripled - every entrance watched by at least two armed guards and the tunnel sealed by its heavy steel door. Only Clark with his inhuman speed could have breached the plant; only Clark with his uncanny abilities could have found the elevator to the lab concealed in Lionel's private upstairs office.

"I believe you have a visitor," Lionel smirked. "I'll go greet him."

Slipping a gaudy ring onto the pinky of one hand, the stone the same deep green of the meteors lacing the walls, Lionel opened the door, disappearing cautiously down the short hallway leading to the decon chamber. "Clark," Lex heard him call, "Don't do anything foolish, son. You and Lex can both leave here unharmed if you cooperate."

But it couldn't be Clark, Lex tried to believe. Bruce would have stopped him. If they had any sense at all, neither one of them-

If Bruce and Clark had- "Shit."

"Clark! Don't believe him!" Lex screamed, body pressed against cool steel bars, his building panic finally spilling over, unchecked. "Get out of here!"

Only his father's voice answered him, cajoling with utmost reason, "I know what you are, Clark. I'm only curious, you know. I'm sure you are, too. We can learn together, son. You've only got to trust me."

The scrape of a boot and the thready squeal of a metal hinge sounded from the beyond the decon chamber and a moment later the outer rooms were thrown into darkness. The lab itself was apparently on a discrete generator and remained garishly lit, all gleaming sharp surfaces.

"Clark, you can't hope to best me with such simplistic maneuvers. Lex is surrounded by meteorite. You'll never reach him. I have something you want and you have something I want. Negotiation is your only option." Lionel's voice called more stridently from the darkened void beyond the lab.

A prolonged silence followed and then a shocked gasp and the shuffling of feet, a mumbled imprecation by his father before inexplicably, "Who are- You're trespassing on private property...Guards!"

Lex craned his neck fruitlessly, desperate to know what was happening when his father stumbled backwards into the lab, clutching wildly at a table for balance. He called over the sound of expensive equipment crashing to the floor, "I demand you leave!"

Lex barely spared him a glance, eyes riveted on the shadows beyond the door as something slowly materialized, a thing in billowing black, bearing inexorably down on them.

"You're in no position to demand anything, Luthor," Batman sneered, halting in the door of the lab. "Illegal cloning is occurring on these premises and you can deal with me or with the authorities."

"This isn't what it looks like." Perhaps reassured by the lab's bright lights, by Batman's apparent unwillingness to enter fully, clinging to the shadows near the door, Lionel stood rigidly upright, threads of terror in his voice yet belying the stance. "I'll make it worth your while to just leave now. More wealth than you can imagine."

Lex stared in amazement at the Dark Knight come to rescue him, the comic geek in him struck dumb despite his situation. Another look at his father's stricken face and he revised his opinion of Clark and Bruce. They were geniuses.

"Too bad you can't use that money to buy yourself a soul, Luthor," The imposing superhero scolded, shadowed eyes flashing contempt. Then they turned on Lex and his breath caught in recognition.

He'd always suspected about Bruce - his friend had been almost as inept a liar as Clark in their early acquaintance, though he'd quickly honed his skills. But now he had his proof, and Lex decided to kill the man if he survived this night.

He tore his gaze away from the oh-so-welcome-comfort offered in the other man's eyes and spied his father reaching for the 9 mm he'd set aside earlier.

"Batman, look out!" Lex yelled a warning and quicker than he could track a gadget was fired from Batman's hand, long cord whirring through the air and connecting with the gun with a flat thwack. A deft twist of the wrist and the gun was jerked out of Lionel's grasp and back into the gloved hand.

Lionel gasped and cradled his stinging hand to his chest, the most unlikely mixture of disbelief and dread on his face Lex had ever hoped to see. His expression fell to blankness when the gun was in turn pointed at him. "Release the captive and you're free to go."

"Free to go?" Lionel parroted in obvious disbelief.

"This lab will be destroyed and I'll be watching you, Luthor. One false step..." Batman let the threat hang - rather ineffectually, Lex thought - in the air.

Lionel stiffened, staring a hole through the superhero as if he had sniffed out a weakness. His eyes narrowed to slits, mouth opened to challenge when a bullet was audibly slid into the firing chamber.

"Release your captive."

Lex's smile was genuine, the smirk a deliberate goad when his father moved past him to key in the code for his cell. Lex stepped out the instant the door slid open, holding Lionel's defiant eyes. "Everything you love," he whispered.

"Now leave," Batman ordered. "And don't come back here, ever again."

Lionel pulled himself straight, his arrogant lines unbowed as he brushed haughtily past the latex-clad vigil ante still looming in the doorway. Lex breathed a sigh of genuine relief though he held no illusions that this was over.

He waited until he heard the elevator returning to the plant proper before moving across the room to the man in black, who had suddenly bent over in pain, leaning heavily against the wall as he gasped for breath.

Pulling the door shut behind him, Lex pushed him further into the tunnel until they were enveloped in darkness. Warm, hard muscles shook under Lex as he soothed with his hands and a soft voice, with his lips and tongue when the cowled head was finally raised.

A soft sound of surprise spilled into Lex's mouth as he stroked into the slick heat with his tongue. Big hands gripped his hips, a thick wet tongue answering his thrusts a moment before he was pushed away with a pained noise.

"Lex, wait. What are you- it's me."

"Who else would it be, Clark?" Lex grinned in the darkness. "Now shut up and kiss me."

X-raying cautiously ahead of him, Clark tiptoed down the stone steps of the Batcave. The Batmobile was in its place, indicating Bruce's return, but the television monitors were switched off, the lights dimmed. Maybe Bruce hadn't noticed his missing suit, then. Maybe Clark could return it with no one the wiser.

He reached the floor of the cave and trod softly across the tiled expanse, more careful this time about what traps the Batman might have laid in his lair. No laser motion sensors sprung to life, no strident alarms calling slightly fey English butlers forth in the night.

Clark noiselessly slipped the Batsuit into the tall case with the others, congratulating himself on a good night's work when from around the case loomed the Batman, silent and seemingly deadly in his intent.

Clark let out a small shriek and jumped back in surprise before he reminded himself that he was invulnerable, and took a shaky breath. "Jesus, Bruce. That's creepy, you know?"

A grim smile twisted the narrow band of flesh below his mask - the only part of him clearly visible in the darkened cave. Well, except for white-rimmed eyes that glinted black with malice. Clark didn't want to look at those, though.

"You said I could raid your closet," he joked, hoping for, but not really expecting laughs.

"Look, I'm sorry," Clark tried again, more sheepish after an uncomfortable and expectant silence, "You weren't around. I didn't know when you'd be back and Lionel had Lex trapped. He would have killed him!"

"So your only option was to pose as Batman?" Bruce made a derisive noise. "Clark, this isn't a game. It's my life."

"No, I know that, Bruce. I swear I'll never do anything like it again." Clark pleaded with his eyes. "It was Lex."

Bruce sighed deeply and pulled the hood off his suit, revealing a riot of dark, damp locks, before ducking behind the case to change into the clothes he wore this morning before the call from City Hall. His voice carried over the partition, echoing in the vaulted cavern.

"At least tell me you didn't expose my secret to Lex."

Clark toed a sneaker into the hard stone floor. "Um, well... I didn't mean to, but he knew it was me. But if it's any consolation," he hurried to assure, "he said he always suspected anyway. He said we're both bad liars."

Dressed in chic men's casual, Bruce was only slightly less intimidating, his expression murderous.

"Look, he won't tell. He promised."

"A promise is easily broken."

"He won't tell, Bruce." Clark cocked his head and hesitantly asked, "Why don't you trust him? I know you...that you for him."

The dark head nodded almost imperceptibly. "Lex has a well of darkness your light could never penetrate, Clark. It's in his nature."

Clark shook his head. "Loyalty is his nature. He's good. He won't tell."

Bruce sighed, resolved. "They're two sides of the same coin, Clark, a coin you've flipped for both of us. You're gambling all our futures."

They made their way silently up the stairs to Bruce's study, Clark feeling anxious about his friend's displeasure but uncertain if there was anything he could say to make things right. Through all his ups and downs with Lex, the push and pull that secrets and lies had exerted on their relationship, he'd never doubted his friend. He'd occasionally been angered when he feared Lex's obsession with knowing would destroy them, but never that Lex would destroy him.

Bruce swung the door to the passage shut behind them, lingering to pour himself a drink from the bar. When he turned he pressed a tumbler of amber liquid into Clark's hand with a self-deprecating lift of his brow.

"So, occasionally I've been known to contribute to the delinquency of a minor," he admitted, reminding Clark of their stand-off over Lex's bed two nights prior. It seemed a lifetime ago to Clark. "But it sounds like we've both had a hell of a day and I for one could use the company."

Clark dropped heavily into a deep leather chair and hesitantly sampled the scotch, finding it earthy and a little unpleasant. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, leaving the choice of topic up to Bruce.

"Not particularly," he replied of his day. "Although I should ask how `Batman' handled Lionel Luthor."

Clark grimaced. "Not very well, actually. I couldn't get close to him without revealing who I was, so I let him go. Lex is making some calls right now and the lab will probably be disassembled by morning. But that's a temporary solution. It doesn't change Lionel's interest in me."

Clark knew Lex now had a long-term solution in mind, a very permanent one. An uneasy part of him wanted it, too, but his father's voice was sounding persistently in the back of his consciousness. Something about the sanctity of life and the evilness of Luthors, but the message was all mixed up in Clark's head.

"He was afraid of you, Bruce," Clark thought out loud. "Of Batman, I mean. Do you think you could-"

"I'll pay him a visit, Clark."

Unexpected relief shot through Clark and he smiled across the desk at the older man. "Thanks, Bruce. I really owe you one."

"And one day I'll likely collect," Bruce returned a wry smile, "but for now we'll just say that's what friends are for."

Lex was foraging in the mansion's enormous refrigerator when Clark found him.

Left without transportation, Clark had run with him in his arms back to the Gotham Plaza Hotel where the Ferrari was still parked from Lex's breakfast with Lionel. In retrospect it was not that surprising that his lover hadn't enjoyed the experience. Lex appreciated speed but his alpha male sensibilities demanded that he do the driving, so to speak. Still, as Clark studied the shapely backside bent over the open vegetable bin, he secretly smiled at the remembered feel of Lex's hard slender body tucked into his, a cold nose pressed into the crook of his neck.

Electric blue eyes delivered their customary jolt when they met his questioningly. "Hungry?"

"Yeah," Clark replied, distracted by the sexy quirk of a smile.

A warm gaze traveled the length of his body. "What looks good?"

"Nothing." Clark shook his head. "I mean, I don't think I'm that hungry after all." He moved closer, placing his hands on either side of leanly muscled ribs. "I think maybe I'm more sleepy," he hinted.

"Well, I'm ravenous."

"Oh, yeah?" Clark thought maybe they were talking about the same thing, hoped they were, but trying to match double entendres with Lex made him acutely self-conscious of his still coltish legging. "You probably haven't eaten since breakfast. I'll just wait--Oh."

Sharp teeth tugged at the thin flesh under his jaw before Lex pressed the flat of his tongue to the vein throbbing in his neck.


"Yes, Clark," Lex was nuzzling behind his ear now and Clark's stomach felt as wobbly as his knees.

"Since you', hungry. And I'm, you know...sleepy, maybe we could eat something in bed. Together?"

Laughter and an unmistakable dare lit Lex's eyes when he pulled back to look at Clark, blushing hotly. "Or we could just fuck instead?"

And, god Clark loved Lex like this, happy and teasing and hot. On an impulse he hooked an arm behind Lex's knees and scooped him, protesting, into his arms. "That sounds good, too."

"Clark." Lex's tone promised severe repercussions, but his eyes still shone.

"Lex," Clark mimicked with a dare of his own. He might still be learning how to flirt, but as he shot through the mansion with Lex laughing a curse against his throat, Clark knew they were perfectly matched.

Charcoal clouds were stained muted shades of crimson on their heavy underbellies, the sun not yet risen, when a broad-shouldered figure swept unseen by hotel personnel into the Gotham Plaza. He watched from shadows as a waiter wheeled a breakfast cart into Lionel Luthor's suite. A few moments later the waiter left, and the hall was once again deserted. The black clad man stalked down the hallway to Room 2001 and rapt his knuckles insistently on the door.

Lionel's voice answered impatiently from the other side as the door was pulled open. Surprise and apprehension briefly colored angular features before his social mask dropped again and they exchanged pleasant smiles.

"Bruce. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Not waiting for an invitation, Bruce stepped past the older man, tossing his overcoat on a nearby chair. "I've come on behalf of your son. And believe me when I say, Lionel, the pleasure will be entirely my own."

"Would you look at this place?" Jonathan muttered as he and Martha climbed the steps of Wayne Manor.

Martha heard everything not explicit in her husband's words. Without even an introduction Bruce Wayne was judged as much a threat to their son as if he were a Luthor. She'd listened to his opinion on the matter throughout their drive to Gotham, begun at dawn, the moment the cows had finished being fed. "Now Jonathan, let's not jump to conclusions. You know how Clark can be..."

A teenage boy. A good boy, but Martha knew any teenager was bound to be thoughtless on occasion. She'd worried when Clark hadn't phoned the day before as he'd promised, but she really didn't imagine he was in imminent danger as long as he was with Lex.

"I'm sure he's fine and we'll finally have a chance to discuss the situation. Lex is a part of this now, but I'm sure we can all work together." She squeezed her husband's arm, understanding it was the lack of control he currently felt that was most upsetting to him.

Jonathan rang the bell and shot Martha a determined look. "He's coming back to Smallville with us today."

She didn't argue; she wished for that as well, and so just pasted on a smile as the heavy door swung open before them.

An older man so proper Martha could hear the British accent before he ever spoke a word peered at them down a long nose. "May I help you?"

"I'm Martha Kent, Clark's mother-"

She was stopped short by the welcoming smile that stretched the old man's face. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, please, do come in," he invited. "I am Alfred. Delighted to meet you both. Master Clark is an impressive boy."

Martha snuck a glance at her husband, who wore an incongruous mix of mild suspicion and fatherly pride. "We think so," she said. "Is he here?"

"Oh, yes, madam." He ushered them into a sunny parlor off the main foyer. "He and Master Lex had a late night and they've not been down to breakfast yet this morning," the painfully correct butler didn't falter at Jonathan's snort of disgust, "but I've been expecting them."

"Clark and... Lex...?" Martha wasn't exactly sure what she was even asking, but something in the butler's manner had perked her ears. Jonathan was a stiff and silent presence at her side.

"They're lovely boys, aren't they?" Alfred's smile was almost paternal. "And I've never seen Master Lex so content."

"Now, wait just a minute," Jonathan took a step forward, his voice just a little too loud. "Are you suggesting- Just what the hell's been going on here the last three days?!"

Martha saw the manservant's cool aplomb slip a moment as he realized he'd said too much.

"Alfred, why don't you prepare refreshments for our guests," a sultry baritone spoke from the behind them.

The voice belonged to the most strikingly handsome man Martha had ever seen, barring her husband, of course. Bruce Wayne was impressive on the cover of Time magazine, she decided, but deadly in person.

"Of course, sir." Alfred gratefully slipped from the room.

"What about our son?" Jonathan's patience was growing short.

Bruce stepped forward and offered his hand to Jonathan, who reluctantly accepted it with an exasperated sigh. "Clark's fine, Mr. Kent. He and Lex have had a difficult couple of days but the threat has been neutralized."

Her husband looked at Martha with open mouthed dismay and she shot him a pleading look. "Mr. Wayne-"

"Call me Bruce."

"Bruce," Martha smiled, "would you mind getting our son for us?"

Dazzling white teeth flashed and Bruce tipped his dark head. "Of course, Mrs. Kent. I'll go get him right now."

"And Bruce..." Martha blushed when the retreating man turned back with a lifted brow. "Call me Martha, please. And Jonathan, of course," she added as an afterthought when Jonathan heaved another frustrated sigh.

"Well, he seems very charming," she observed when Bruce had left the room.

"Good lord, Martha, he's young enough to be your-" Jonathan wisely censored himself. However, his voice grew increasingly agitated as he continued, "Bruce Wayne is a friend of the Luthors and he obviously knows something about Clark. And where is that...that manservant, anyway. I still want to ask him a thing or two..."

Lex and Clark lay twined together atop the enormous bed, quietly contemplating the pros and cons of quitting their room for much needed nourishment. They'd spent a lazy morning taking turns to convince the other, switching positions on the debate frequently, but by now they were both resigned to the event's inevitability.

At one point they'd gotten as far as a shower and dressing, but Lex had caught Clark smiling to himself as he sat on the bed, pulling on his socks, and the tell-tale flush that was creeping up from under his collar begged for exploration.

In the hour since, they'd half removed their clothes again, each exquisitely sated but still craving to see and touch. It could become a sort of game, Lex had decided, methodically tracing the bumps of Clark's spine with the tip of one finger - paying worship to every inch of the other's skin before satisfying themselves again.

Clark whined a protest at the knock on their door, but Lex called out an invitation to enter. It could only be Bruce, and he hadn't yet seen the man since learning his secret. He'd been looking forward to this.

Bruce took in the far-flung devastation of the bedding and its half-dressed occupants with an expression of one sorely put upon, but too well-bred to comment. "You know I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm afraid this honeymoon is over, boys."

Lex leaned up on an elbow and Clark flipped onto his back, his effort pressing them more closely together. Lex absently brushed his nose over Clark's silky curls as he answered, "What exactly are you talking about, Bat- I mean, Bruce?"

A decidedly evil grin settled on their friend's face and he let them wonder a moment longer before he announced, "Clark's parents are here."

"Oh, shit!" Clark groaned. "I forgot to call them yesterday!"

"It'll be all right, Clark," Lex promised as the boy jumped out of bed and searched frantically for his t-shirt in the twisted pile of sheets and comforter littering the floor. "I'm sure they'll understand when we tell them what happened."

"They'll want to take me home," Clark's voice was muffled as he pulled the shirt over his head. Lex was aware his weren't the only pair of eyes fixed on the flexing torso as the soft cotton slid down to conceal softer skin. "I want to stay with you until Lionel's been...until I know you're safe."

"That's no longer a problem, Clark," Bruce cut in. "I met with Lionel this morning. He's decided his interest in you is decidedly unhealthy."

"Really, Bruce?" A huge smile lit Clark's face.

Lex dismissed the stab of jealousy he felt on noticing Bruce's smile was more genuine than Lex had ever seen. Clark's enthusiasm was infectious.


"So we can go home," Clark grinned at Lex, before a look of worry settled on his face. "But I'm still going to have to tell them about us."

"Whenever you're ready to, Clark. And we'll do it together." Lex didn't look forward to that particular conversation with Jonathan Kent, but he'd be happy to have it behind them.

A snort of laughter brought their attention back to the room's other occupant. "I'm afraid Alfred may have already let that slip. Your father looked a little apoplectic when I first came on the scene."

"Nooo." Clark sounded like he wanted to die. "What are we gonna do?"

Lex pulled himself from bed and Clark into his arms, kissing him lightly until the grimace left his pretty face. "We'll just tell them. Don't worry so much, okay?"

Clark still looked a little skeptical, but reassured. "Okay. Well, get dressed. I'll go down and say `hi'."

"I'll be right there," Lex said, deciding his shirt was a wrinkled lost cause and digging through his clothes for a clean sweater.

"Hey, Bruce," Clark stopped in the doorway, "tell Batman thanks for his help, okay?" He didn't wait for Bruce's response, leaving the two men alone to regard each other silently.

"Batman didn't really threaten one of the community's leading investors?"

"No, Bruce Wayne did. And it cost me a substantial investment in intelligence."

Lex's brows raised in query. "You're sure he's convinced? Clark is...very important to me. I'm surprised he'd give him up so easily."

"I'm sure. LuthorCorp's won some lucrative City contracts recently. There were rumors your father was influencing the council in some way and a lot of bad blood's developed between him and the other major players.

"I acquired proof some time ago that your father has been blackmailing the Mayor for his support," Bruce shook his head in disgust, "over nothing more than a routine extra-marital affair."

"And Batman has allowed Gotham's Mayor to continue under such influence?" Lex asked skeptically.

Bruce shrugged. "Batman has better things to occupy him."

"Let me guess," Lex smirked. "Those contracts LuthorCorp won - Wayne Industries profited, as well?"

Another broad-shouldered shrug.

"So, you threatened to go to the media?"

"I did." A slow smile quirked the handsome face of his friend. "But your father knows the real threat lies with those other `major players.' His life expectancy would be severely curtailed once the details came to light. Like I told Clark, he decided his interest there was bad for his health."

"I appreciate you doing that, Bruce." Lex didn't share his friend's confidence that the threat had been neutralized permanently, but for the foreseeable future Clark was safe. Perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to get his hands any bloodier than they already were. But could ruining the man professionally ever be enough for him, now?

Something in Lex had been irrevocably changed yesterday in the underground lab. Clark's vulnerability was brought fully home, and Lex's resolve tempered to steel. He'd suspected it in himself when he'd warned Clark about becoming lovers, and he'd been right to. Clark's secret must be protected at all costs, because for Lex a scorched-earth policy would always be his overriding instinct.

He offered a grateful smile. "More than I can express."

Bruce brushed aside his gratitude with a shake of his head. "I should have offered to begin with, but I like to keep a little something up my sleeve where your father's concerned. Cashing in all my chips has me a little on edge."

Lex commiserated, "I know the feeling." Now he was indebted to Bruce because he had allowed himself to be caught empty-handed when Lionel's plans came to light.

"And that was before I knew Clark," Bruce elaborated. "He's too good for you, you know. He'll figure that out one day."

"Probably." Lex bristled despite agreeing with the expressed opinion. "But he's mine now, and I won't give him up without a hell of a fight," he warned.

Bruce's eyes dropped to the floor, a poignant smile on his face as he answered gently, "I didn't do it for him, Lex." The dark eyes lifted to meet Lex's more surprised blue. "When things fall apart, give me a call."

"Bruce..." Lex honestly didn't know what to say. "Thanks."

A wry smile was Bruce's only answer as he turned to leave, heading towards his own suite of rooms as Lex took the opposite direction to the stairs. He halted outside the sitting room containing the Kents for a moment to collect his thoughts and savored Clark's earnest declaration.

"I love him, Dad, and he's in love with me."

He felt profoundly grateful for the accident of fate that had brought Clark into his life so many months ago. Grateful to the generous boy who knew these things without ever being told.

A throat was lightly cleared at the end of the hall, and Lex blinked away the moisture welling in his eyes. He turned to find Alfred watching him from the dining room doorway. The kindly old man lifted a thumb in a deadly serious show of support and Lex grinned in response.

All eyes were on him when he entered the room, but Lex only saw Clark's hand reaching out to him as he crossed to the sofa. The familiar fingers closed tightly around his, pulling him eager and willing into their future.

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