Rubicon

by Michelle



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thank you to my lovely betas, Gwen and Mel, and also to the TWoPers who gave this a look-over when I first started on it and encouraged me to keep with it. All of the remaining errors are the result of my own contrariness in ignoring what was probably very good advice, and shouldn't be blamed on them.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've been writing fanfic for a while, but this is my first attempt at slash, so I'd appreciate hearing what you think of it. I started this thing a while ago, just after Visitor, so it was somewhat inspired by that point in the series, though it doesn't really have any spoilers.


The girl is dead.

That is not how this is supposed to happen. This story was surely meant to have another end. He's supposed to swoop in, save the day. He's the hero after all. It is what heroes do. It would have meant yet another lie for Lex, but Lex these days seems almost to have made his peace with them. She's supposed to be safely in the arms of the authorities, people who can help her. They'd played this story out before, the two of them. Hadn't she known? Didn't she remember?

But she's still lying there, her soiled, inelegant sprawl making her seem almost inhuman, more just a piece of bloody flesh than anything that might once have had life in it.

Until he looks at her face. There's very little of her left to recognize, even under the meteor-rock sheen, but he knows her anyway, he always knows them.

She'd had a life. She'd had a name.

Sarah. Her name was Sarah.

She doesn't look at all as if she's sleeping. It's too trite, too much of an easy cliche for this. But she doesn't look quite dead either. Nothing so final as that.

He'd sat behind her in math class for so many years. Sometimes, when he wasn't gazing at Lana or trading notes back and forth with Chloe, he'd watch her and the quiet looks she'd exchanged with Derek and think of his parents. In those moments, so few between, not even the sun in the form of a smile from Lana could quite dispel the rueful feeling that he was missing something somewhere, something he might have, if he forgot about the princess and looked for something more real. Something more common.

Except that is not how stories like this are supposed to begin, is it? She may have forgotten the script, but he can't afford to. This had all the makings of a fairy tale, the real kind, the sort Lex sometimes likes to tell on long afternoons with no Lionel in sight for days. The ones where the wolf is chopped open with an ax and Sleeping Beauty is dead, not asleep.

Her hair feels so soft between his fingers, almost alive . . .

Fairy tales have rules, and no son of Jonathan Kent could fail to respect that.

. . . and the tender curl of her fingers over her palm as it rests so gently on the floor is so open, so vulnerable.

Let's try this again, shall we?

Once upon a time there was a girl.

Yes, better.

Once upon a time there was a girl with hair the color of wheat at harvest and wide, mocha brown eyes. She'd lived in a fresh green land that stretched into distant horizons under a clean blue sky, until poison had rained down from that sky and changed the landscape forever. She wasn't a princess, though the story had one, if only tangentially. She was just a common girl, with lovely, ordinary dreams. She couldn't even be called beautiful, not next to the sad luminosity of the grave princess. But she'd been kind and gentle and when she'd smiled, her too-wide mouth lit her face with a startling, infectious joy.

I'm sorry. He wills her to hear it, to feel it, wherever she's gone now, but it isn't enough.

It isn't nearly enough, hadn't been enough even last year, when he thought there might be some hope left. He'd been too late, even then, always always too late, and what's the point of having these powers if he's only ever able to get there in time to see the inevitable end?

It had started out as just another Smallville story, not a fairy tale at all. Cute high-school girl and her solidly decent, devoted boyfriend out for a stroll in Mitchell woods when the girl's not entirely practical shoes send her tumbling down a slope into a pile of glowing rocks. The boy hurried down after, tripping on a root and the girl threw her arm up as if to stop his fall toward the jagged rocks waiting at the bottom of the hill. An instinctive, ineffectual gesture. Or it would have been if the meteor rocks hadn't changed her. Instead the meteors responded to her sharp need and the gesture threw out a wall of force which stopped the boy in his fall, stopped him hard enough so that he bounced back into a tree with enough force to crack open his skull. And the girl, who wasn't stupid, who knew all the stories of the meteor rocks, even if they never, ever talk about them, saw all of her pretty, ordinary dreams come to an end at her own hand. So she took herself to Smallville dam and threw herself from the top of it, only to have Clark the hero catch her at the bottom.

She hated him for it, tried to use her new-found powers to force him away, but they were too raw, too unfamiliar in her grasp.

As she sobbed out the story he told her that Derek wouldn't have wanted it, that it wasn't her fault. That someday she'd see differently.

He could be a real sanctimonious bastard at times.

Lex came with the authorities. He promised that he'd help her, that they'd find a way to give the girl her life back.

His smile was sympathetic, comforting, and the hand on Clark's shoulder was filled with all the solidarity he needed right then.

He thinks that might have been the moment he realized he was falling in love.

She'd looked ordinary then. It was somewhere in the space between that year and this that that had changed.

The joyful smile is gone now, just like Kyla's dazzling one and Derek's self-deprecating grin.

The words are too cloying, saccharine even for a fairy tale, but it was just human, wasn't it, to wish to romanticize the dead?

Except you're not human, are you?

Not nearly as it turned out, and since he doesn't have to share in humanity's frailties, he doesn't think he should be allowed to hide behind their excuses. Who knew how the beings from his planet acted in such moments? He doesn't imagine any culture which had apparently worshipped destruction so absolutely it brought an end not only to itself but an entire star system had much room for sentimentality. He wouldn't be surprised to find that they hadn't held the dead in any more respect than last week's coffee grounds.

Soylent Green is made of people. People!

He laughs, and the sound of it bouncing off the naked cave walls is more than a little hysterical even to his own ears.

"Sorry, Charlton, didn't mean to steal your line."

Someone gasps, which is wrong, because there's only Sarah and Charlton here, and neither of them are very talkative right now. Maybe he is going crazy after all. A Flowers for Algernon moment to be sure, though of course the stupid, flighty rodent is never around when you need him.

He's lost track of the story, and that's not a very good sign for a would-be future reporter, is it?

But it is so hard to concentrate with her broken, sad little body lying there before him. The green glow had been leeching from her skin, leaving her only looking smaller, more damaged. It had eddied in a small pool around her body, only slowly draining away, returning to the earth like all things do in their time.

Except for you, never you. You can't return to something from which you never came. Even when, if, something manages to kill you, they might do you the honor of putting you in their ground, but the earth will never take your alien, indestructible flesh unto itself. Never, never will you be a part of this place, never be reborn, never returned into the cycle. No, you'll lie, forever untouched, sterile and alone. Death in its most absolute meaning.

He gasps, nearly chokes on it, and the pain that stabs through him is far worse even than Lana's necklace around his neck as he's bound onto a pole by the quarterback who's so much the son that every father would want. It's too much. He is too wide open to manage it, and the constant worry of control is never far away, always hovering just there.

You have to watch your strength, Clark.

Be careful with other people, Clark. They break much more easily than you.

He forces himself to look back at her, to remember what this is about.

Do you think they'll let me see Derek? she asked at the end, her voice a cracked and bloody whisper. Do you think that he'll forgive me?

He had no words for that, no words even to ease her last moments in the world. He had nothing of Lex's unfailing charm, or Chloe's empathy, or even Lana's quiet sorrow. And so her end was painful and ugly, with nothing like grace to it at all.

Her smile was sad and knowing, and even then the glow was fading from her. He forced himself to endure it, though it was like a bonfire beneath his skin. It was so important that at least she wouldn't be alone.

No, she said, I didn't think so, either.

They were her last words. She closed her eyes with a little sigh, and death had mercifully been not long in coming. Something hot and wet fell in splashes upon her cheek and his vision blurred for a long moment.

It's cold here now, cold enough so that even he can feel it, if only a little. It feels wrong, somehow, that he should allow her to lie, bloody and still, in this filthy, damp space. But he can't bring himself to move, to leave her here alone, even for the little while it would take to bring help. And while the firefly luminescence is receding from her, it isn't nearly gone yet. It isn't enough to harm him anymore, not really, though he definitely feels it. A deepening lassitude in his skin, like gravity has finally caught up with him again. His limbs are weighted down, clumsy, human. Sincere pain flares in the hand that strokes the snarls of her hair from her face, and little trails like ghosts of fire wind up his arms. But he doesn't mind, even welcomes it. It's a good pain, almost like a penance, and it feels cleaner than anything has in a long time.

The warmth is leaving her skin. It's still soft, almost velvety beneath his fingertips, for all that his mind is telling him it should be rougher. Beneath the too-thin, taut stretch of it he can still see something of her former prettiness in the delicate bones of her face.

"Clark?"

Lex's voice. He'd forgotten about him, which says quite a bit. The voice is tired and maybe a little pained. He would have said, once upon a time, that Lex would have to be near death to admit that much vulnerability, but Lex knows him very well by now, knows what he'll respond to, and as the days go by he's able to read Lex less, not more.

And that's the heart of the problem, isn't it?

"Clark?"

Voice more insistent this time, and for one, lovely moment, he feels nothing but uncomplicated hatred towards him. It isn't fair, no, not even his father would think so, but the unfairness of it makes it twice as seductive. He wants to stay here, with her, wants the space to mourn her, and maybe himself, just a little. He needs time. But there isn't any time, and he doesn't think that even a century of it would give him what he needs. This isn't about him, it never is, or should be, but although he can acknowledge that, it isn't quite enough to propel him into movement. If nothing else, the last three years have taught him that beneath all of his nice illusions of his own basic decency he is capable of extreme selfishness, even to the point of not so occasional cruelty.

So he can ignore Lex, ignore the fact that his overburdened, much worried parents are looking for him, ignore the image of Mrs. Johnston's round, careworn face in his head.

I'm sorry, he thinks at her again, brushing his thumb across the smooth curve of one eyelid.

She doesn't answer. They very rarely do.

I couldn't save you.

But you didn't come here to save her did you? It was Lex, always Lex.

No one was much caring about Sarah Johnston today, certainly not you.

The first death had been nine days ago. For early May, the weather was hot, even stifling, and everyone's tempers were short. Particularly Evan McGarrity's, a man who even under the best set of circumstances was never more than a few truck stops from Crazytown. Encountering a Luthor at the gas station filling up his latest shiny toy just after you've been forced to file for bankruptcy was not even in the same county as the best of circumstances. He'd felt relieved that the night had only ended with McGarrity threatening Lex with painful sounding death with the creative use of hood ornaments and fertilizer. Lex had just smirked and the police showed up with unexpected promptness. It seemed to be the end of the thing, though he'd kept an eye on Lex, Lex being Lex and therefore synonymous with psychotic killer magnet. McGarrity hadn't shown up and he'd breathed easier.

Until McGarrity's body showed up two days later, every bone in his body crushed in multiple places, blood leaking from his mouth, ears, eyes, even pores. It had taken the new forensic lab up at the county seat to ID him.

He'd gone hunting what he thought must be Smallville's latest mutant, though no one from school or the town had shown up missing or even acting very strangely.

But then what was left of Jessica Garret was found, a pile of broken flesh just like McGarrity's. The last place she'd been seen was at the Fordman's grocery, ranting as she always did about how someone should do something about those Luthors once and for all.

He'd doubled the search, found nothing more conclusive than the feeling of something, a slight draining as if from the meteors, but distant, only barely perceptible.

After Hiram Whitaker turned up after being fired from the plant for stealing, the police were forced to act. Three murders, all tied to Lex, and a police department never all that unwilling to find fault with a son of a Luthor, particularly one whose juvenile antics were legendary even out here in the sticks.

He'd protested Lex's innocence immediately, never doubted it. Even now, knowing what he did, he didn't think the possibility of Lex's guilt in such a thing would even occur to him. It was too obvious, too bloody and unnecessary. McGarrity was no more than the local crackpot, colorful but not dangerous. Jessica Garret had been hectoring Lex for years, usually loudly and publicly, but she was old and had been living off the charity of her children ever since Lionel Luthor's land buy outs had taken her farm. Lex had always just listened to her with a patience that might surprise those who didn't know him very well. These people were nothing to Lex, barely even a minor annoyance, and why, why would Lex risk everything so spectacularly over something so trivial?

Clark had turned to Chloe, because she was useful of course, and when had he started to think of people in terms of what they could do for him? Chloe turned up the evidence the police had been careful not to look for: strange anomalies in the DNA evidence as if something had caused massive, widespread mutations that alone would have been lethal, witnesses who spoke of something green and glowing near the victims' homes and the sites where the bodies had been found, reports of uprooted trees and boulders that had been seemingly cracked in half.

All of that said the meteors had something to do with it, and in Smallville nothing to do with meteors was looked into for very long. The town had too many secrets, secrets that wouldn't long bear the scrutiny of a Federal task force-or a detailed investigation by Lex's armada of lawyers.

So Lex was freed, only to disappear himself bare hours later.

And Clark, thinking of those horrific, unrecognizable bodies that still lay in the morgue, dashed all over Smallville, trying to pinpoint the sense of that feeling, find a scrap of a clue, anything.

He fell across the trail almost by accident, and again it was more a feeling than anything, though he could have sworn he could nearly see it, a ghostly green trail through the dark.

He followed it through the twisting paths of caves, followed it here, where he found the killer.

And now Sarah Johnston, too, was dead. Killed in the end by her own violent, untamed abilities.

He thinks about how easy it would be to lie there beside her. Just for a little while, not forever.

There are precisely twenty-nine people lying in Smallville cemetery because of the meteors, because Clark failed to keep them breathing. Sarah will make an even thirty. They'll lay her finally to rest in the same dark earth that holds her latest three victims, just a few plots away from her first: Derek Morello, one time Smallville High soccer goalie and captain of the Math-letes. Future husband of Sarah Johnston, though everyone had scoffed at that. No one finds their destiny in high school.

He's so tired, and she looks like she's found, if not peace, then at least quiet.

But Lex has other ideas. And, as usual, he may be able to put them off for a while, but never deny them forever.

"You're hurt." Sincere desperation there, and he's never been able to ignore that.

He lifts his head, just a little, but to someone like Lex it's as obvious as a shout.

"I'll take care of everything. You just have to let me help you." The much loved voice is so gentle, so soothing, so much of everything he needs right now.

He drops his hand from Sarah's hair.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

As he stands his body reminds him of the injuries that are apparently so disturbing Lex. She'd returned to Smallville blazing like a miniature green sun, and her hands on his skin had torn and burned. It doesn't matter. He'll heal. In a few days there won't be so much as a memory of the damage in his skin.

Lex is sitting, bound tightly in a chair a short space away. Outside of the worry behind the quicksilver eyes, he looks as calm as if he was conducting one of his board meetings: as if being tied to a rickety chair in a damp cave is just the latest in creative management strategy. Clark scans him, out of habit more than much else, but he's relieved when the only sign of damage he finds is the slight scrape across one of the flawless cheekbones.

He'd been so worried, desperation a near physical pain. There were three bodies already, and none of them had found their death easily. But he should have guessed. Lex is very good at being a hostage by now.

Cruel thought, and even he can admit it's aggressively unfair.

He walks around Lex and kneels to untie the knots, fingers thick and clumsy. Lex, finally acknowledged, sits easy and cooperative in the chair.

The ropes fall, but he can't move. Lex rises immediately with no sign of the stiffness he must be feeling from being bound so long. The long line of his coat blocks Clark's view of Sarah. His X-ray vision makes the barrier more psychological than physical, but the space it creates allows him to find air to breathe even so.

Lex, no one's fool, leaves him precious little time to think before he's swirled around the chair, always careful to keep himself between Clark and the body on the floor. He drops beside Clark on the floor, heedless of the stones and dirt, and Clark finds himself pulled hard into a fierce hold.

His arms come up instinctively around the hard planes of Lex's chest and the hand in his hair pressing his face into Lex's shoulder is the only sane thing in his whole world. He pulls tighter, maybe a little too tight, but Lex just makes a little sound of encouragement and shifts to hold him more firmly.

"Have you suffered some head trauma lately of which I was somehow unaware? You must have, because if this kind of stupidity came naturally to you, you wouldn't have lived past your fifth birthday."

Lex sounds furious, which is perversely reassuring. He smells so good, sharp as juniper with the clean scent of just Lex beneath it, and the firm press of that slim body beneath the thin clothing is even better.

"She already killed three people and glows a nice green color like the meteor rocks to which you react so well. But you decide, what the hell, I think I'll chase after her. What, you hadn't given me cause for a near heart attack in a few months so you decided to make up for it with panache? If that was the plan, congratulations, you succeeded."

Lex is shaking a little bit, though his grip remains firm, and Clark is beginning to realize just how scared Lex was.

"You look unbelievably edible in the most improbable things, but I have to say, corpse isn't a good look for you, so why don't you avoid that one in the future, okay?"

"Lex."

He can feel some of the tension leaving Lex's tightly wound frame, but only a very little. The arms around him relax and he protests before he can stop.

"Shhh, it's all right, you're all right." Anger gone in a rush, the gentleness back again. Lex lays a hand oh so softly on the side of his head as if he is afraid Clark might bolt. It isn't all that guaranteed that he will not do just that.

Lex backs away just a little with more of those same murmured reassurances. He runs a palm down Clark's arm and his hand stops at the charred marks in the shape of fingers.

"You shouldn't be on the floor," Lex says. Clark goes with him as he pulls at his shoulders because Lex is getting that wild and panicked look again and there is something very, very wrong about that.

He finds himself shoved into the chair and Lex is pushing his arms open before he swears and takes a step back.

"Jesus, Clark. It's ... I had no idea it was this bad. Why did you keep touching her when it was doing this to you?"

Open pain in the words and Lex is never this obvious. Lex is so good with words, so versed in using them as shields far more invulnerable than Clark's skin. There's a more honest fear in his eyes than Clark has ever seen there before, like Lex had never seen this coming and, confronted with it, doesn't know how to handle it. And Lex always sees it coming, and even when he doesn't, he still has a contingency plan.

"It's okay, Lex." It's not, really, but that is his line, isn't it? Clark Kent, good little marionette, never misses a cue.

A sharp look, and Lex is back.

"There's nothing about this that is remotely okay." Lex drops to his knees in front of the chair and Clark can see Sarah over his shoulder again. His mind starts to blank again and he almost gets up to go back to her, but Lex returns him to himself with a hand on his head, pulling his gaze downward to meet Lex's own.

"I need you to stay here. I can't do this if you fade on me again."

Lex must find something of what he's looking for in Clark's expression because he nods sharply and turns the overwhelming force of his focused attention down to Clark's torso. He hisses again and Clark looks down himself.

He's vaguely surprised at what he sees, and he's beginning to understand why Lex is looking like that. His shirts are in tatters and the skin that gapes beneath the rents is heavily blistered, like plastic that's not meant to go in the microwave. He can already feel it healing though, smoothing back into its natural shape, though he doubts even Lex can see that.

Lex pushes the flannel from his shoulders and it falls in a barely cohesive jumble of threads on the floor. Beneath it the damage is more obvious and Lex swears again when his questing fingers find a gash in his arm where her emerald fingernails had torn open the skin. Lex doesn't seem to like the sight of his blood, but he's almost reassured by it. It's been a very long time since he's seen it, and it's nice to know it's still red and not purple, or black, or even worse, green.

"She could have killed you," Lex says, and there's something like guilt in his voice. Even though that's his cue, Clark lets his line slip by unspoken.

Not five feet away is the body of a girl who once upon a time wore blue ribbons in her hair that flapped in the breeze from the open bus windows on their way to school and who in third grade had met the boy whom she would one day love for the rest of her life. That boy is gone now, too, and when Clark goes home he is going to have to tell this story and show the more visible wounds to his mother, who will wait until she thinks he is sleeping to cry over them. And so, you see, he doesn't have any more strength for compassion right now, nor really desire for it.

"You could be dead." Lex seems really stuck on that idea, and Clark thinks he might even be right on that point. Energy is little more than a theoretical concept right now, and the pain is coming back, bringing unwanted reality with it.

"She is dead, Lex," he says, and his voice is just a little too uncontrolled.

"I tried to help her," Lex says, eyes narrowing. "I did all that I could."

It's possible that Lex believes that. Likely even.

"I know," he says, forcing a smile. He's been lying for years. They get easier all the time, even where Lex is concerned.

Lex is usually better at catching them, no matter how practiced he's become, but it's been a long night, for both of them.

Lex just looks at him for a long moment, but then he smiles. A lovely, soft smile with only a slight edge to it.

"Yes, I think you do," he says. He places his hands on either side of Clark's face and Clark holds very, very still. The kiss that follows is surprising only in how good it is, so much better than even his best fantasies of how this moment might feel. Shockingly hot skin and lips so much softer than he'd thought, with just the slightest nip of teeth on his lower lip at the end.

He doesn't realize he closed his eyes until the warmth recedes a space.

He opens his eyes to see a smile even better than the last. In Lex's face there is such a shock of unlooked for joy and the smile is so stunningly beautiful it's almost painful to look at.

Lex stands, using his body to block Clark's view of the dead girl, and this is . . .

This is so much of exactly everything Clark has been wanting so desperately for he doesn't even know how long. More, really, and one kiss is all that it has taken to ensure that his fantasies will never ever again be enough.

And yet there's a part of him that's beginning to die, or maybe it's been dying for months and he just never noticed. And that part of him wants to ask why, why now.

In Lex's world a truck is a fair exchange for his life, and what, he is forced to wonder, is the going price for Lex himself?

Lex straddles his lap and sits down softly, careful of damaged skin, and the second kiss is even better than the first. Hard and wet and possessive, nothing at all soft about this.

Clark tries to protest, but it comes out sounding like a moan. Lex just leans in deeper and all of a sudden there's no air and he can't breathe, can't think, can't do anything but feel.

He wants to scream, but he has no breath for it, not even when Lex yanks his head back with near brutal force and that mouth leaves his to bite hard on his neck. A long wet lick follows the bite and Clark shivers. Lex makes an appreciative noise and nips his neck again.

It's Lex, and that means it's perfect and unpredictable and God, hot, but there's a part of him that can't even feel it. If this had happened a month ago, or last week or even this morning, he might have been able to take it, he might have been able to make it his, if just for a little while. Even a few weeks from now, when his brain has been able to rationalize this day, he might have been able to make excuses to himself, convince himself that he could have this.

But being offered it here, now, in the same moment when he's forced to realize that this can never be, is the surest way to make sure it never comes true. He raises his arms to lift Lex away, but his fingers just find the ridiculously soft fabric of Lex's shirt, and even better, the feeling of Lex beneath. He runs his hand in smoothing patterns over Lex's torso, enjoying the way Lex's hips press down hard against him in answer.

Lex has moved back to his mouth, but the kisses now are slower, deeper, more exploratory. Possessive.

Clark stops fighting and just allows himself to feel. Because clearly his selfishness extends even to himself and when he thinks back upon this later he apparently wants it to hurt. A lot. But he wants to pretend, just for this moment, and he thinks if he is going to have to give this up, he wants to know just what it could be. It'll make everything that much worse, but if he is going to have lost, he wants to have had something to lose.

He presses up into Lex and Lex's hands tighten in his hair.

"So good," Lex whispers against his mouth. "I'm going to make this so good for you, I promise."

Clark has no doubt Lex could keep that promise, if he can do this much to him after this night, with Clark sitting torn and half-dead in a nearly broken chair. He closes his eyes again and imagines what he might have if he just let go, if he just let Lex take care of everything: Lex lying in his bed, white skin glowing against wine dark sheets . . . the feeling of that skin like warm velvet against his and Lex's mouth again, but all over, moving down. The first taste of him, heavy and slick against his tongue and the sounds he knows Lex must make as Clark drives him over the edge . . . himself on his knees as Lex takes him, hard and savage, or God, Lex underneath him, wild and uncontrolled, his heels digging into Clark's back as Clark moves within him, slow and deep . . .

The two of them, breathless and satiated, lying in a messy tangle of sweat soaked limbs in Lex's bed on a long, lazy afternoon.

Lex is whispering something about everything in Clark's ear and he tries as hard as he can to hold on to the moment, but it is already slipping away from him. The images in Clark's head shatter into a million shards, each sharp as broken glass and hard as diamond.

"Lex."

Lex backs away, just a very little, and the way one corner of his mouth quirks up is a bit rueful, but it's still so open.

"My timing leaves something to be desired, I know," he says, "but I only have so much resistance when it comes to you."

The smirk becomes a small, contrite smile, so unguarded and so very uncertain that it makes breathing difficult again. In his face is unmistakable desire, and beneath that the perpetual thinking that is always going on where Lex is concerned. But there is also affection, unhidden and honest, and something else Clark doesn't want to recognize but thinks might be love.

Lex will forgive him nearly anything. He's had proof enough of that over the years. It's one of Clark's few truths, but there's a truth stronger than that.

Lex will forgive him nearly anything, but if there is a thing he will never forgive, not Clark nor himself, it is for Clark to see this side of him, naked and exposed, and turn it away.

He tried to fool himself that he was only giving up possibility, but it's more than that. He's known Lex for years, and he really ought to have known better. Forgiveness for Lex is the only black and white absolute in a world of startling color. If he commits himself to this, there can be no turning back, and the pain is so much sharper than he'd prepared himself for.

He thinks about endless rounds of pool and spur of the moment trips to Metropolis when Lex should really be on the phone with Tokyo. He thinks about spontaneous history lessons, and horrible B movies on Lex's insanely large TV over shared bowls of buttery popcorn and his mother's brownies. Rides much, much too fast in Lex's newest Jag. And then there's Lex himself, always so much easier in Clark's presence, always ready to listen to whatever banal tale Clark has to tell him, always so much more there than anyone else ever is.

"Clark?" Lex is considering him intently again, and he still looks so raw and nakedly concerned. Clark buries his head against Lex's chest because he can't face him looking like that, can't do this to him now. Superstrength means nothing here.

"You're freezing," Lex says, rubbing his hand on Clark's cheek.

He lifts his head to look at Lex again.

"I don't get cold," he says, and he doesn't, except he must be for Lex to feel so blazingly hot in comparison.

"You need to get out of here." Lex shakes his head, clearly angry with himself.

Clark wants to tell him not to, that he isn't worth it, not with what he's going to have to do in the morning.

Lex pulls him up and the world tilts a bit until Lex wraps an arm under Clark's shoulder and straightens him. It fits perfectly, of course, and Clark is beginning to think the universe's sense of irony is just a bit too self-satisfied.

Sarah is still lying there.

He reaches for her, but Lex yanks him back with surprising strength.

"If you think I am letting you go anywhere near her, you must be more deranged than even I thought."

He turns, and Lex is looking fierce again.

"The last time you touched her I had to shout at you for nearly an hour before you so much as moved your head. I could see what it was doing to you and you just . . . " His lips compress in a thin line and he shakes his head.

An hour? It wasn't that long, was it? Just a few minutes, surely.

Lex reaches to grab the hand that Clark had used to smooth Sarah's hair and jerks it up into the feeble light of the single lantern. Clark realizes with some surprise that the fingertips are burnt and cracked.

"Wait, she didn't touch you did she?" he asks, thinking of those mutations, and all of a sudden he isn't nearly as numb as he'd like.

But Lex shakes his head. "No," he says, "she used her abilities. She had become quite adept at moving things, by the end."

It's wrong how relieved that makes him.

"We can't just leave her here alone. I knew her."

"The girl you knew died months ago," Lex says, more than a little bitter. "What happened tonight was a blessing."

There's a part of Clark that agrees whole-heartedly with that sentiment, the part of him that's also telling him that Lex is not something that was ever meant for him. But he wonders what Mrs. Johnston might say, or Derek, if he were still here to ask.

A moment goes by, brittle and awkward between them.

"I'm not my father," Lex says fiercely.

Clark lets a few seconds pass so that when he speaks Lex might believe him.

"I never thought that you were," he says, because it's true, though it's been a long time since it's been nearly enough. He leans in and kisses Lex, because it's the only thing that might convince him, and he thinks he owes him this much at least.

Lex leans in close for a moment, his free hand tangling in the tatters of Clark's shirt, but then he breaks the kiss and nods sharply. He pulls them towards the twisting paths out of the cave.

And of course his key chain contains a mini-flashlight.

Clark wasn't paying very much attention on the trip in, and he lets Lex pick their path. Lex moves as if he knows where they are going, which might mean everything or nothing.

He thinks about Lionel Luthor, and the things he must have done to put so very many edges in the son he claims to love. He thinks about his own parents, too . . .good solid people who just wanted a normal son, a child they could love with no thoughts of aliens or secrets or government labs. He pictures his father getting up every morning in the cold dark to work himself to death on the fields that will eventually claim his life, or at least its better years. And then there's Lana and her endless, endless tragedy and the Fordmans' empty house and the three, soon to be four, fresh graves in the church yard.

Lex isn't his father, not nearly, but sometimes he thinks that isn't the yardstick Lex should be measuring himself against.

There's another truth here, and it's not one he's known forever, though he thinks it was always there to be seen.

He is in love with Lex. It's something that crept up on him so slowly it was an intrinsic part of him before he realized it at all. After tonight there can be little doubt that Lex returns those feelings, perhaps more so. Lex has always been braver than he is.

But the truth is none of that can matter. Despite what the song tells you, love hasn't conquered anything at all.

He remembers the feeling of Lex's weight on top of him, the warm intimacy of his breath as he whispered things into Clark's ear.

Everything.

Everything, and coming from Lex that wasn't just a word. Everything in the way only a Luthor could mean it, as only Lex could mean it. Lex thinks on scales that make Clark feel claustrophobic in his own head. At twenty-four Lex is already poised to take over the world, though it's somehow deeply tragic in ways Clark can't really explain that someone as brilliant and generous and simply amazing as Lex should feel the need to.

He can break the sound barrier when he runs, and bullets flatten like wet clay on his impenetrable skin. He can bend metal like paper or melt it with a glance and the only thing guarding the people of Smallville's secrets or fiercely defended privacy is his willpower on any particular day.

His parents, his biological ones, put a three year old child on a spaceship and sent him off to remake a world of six billion people in his own image.

He isn't human, and there is no room for him in human error.

Lex could make him forget that, make him comfortable in his own skin. Allow him to forget for one minute that he was anything more than himself. Instead of being alien Clark or superfreak Clark or future world tyrant Clark he could simply be Lex's.

He has to stop for a moment, has to imagine that, too, before he can go on. The desire for it cuts so sharp he's shaking with it.

Lex's hand is warm on his jaw line and the little caress of his finger tips isn't helping at all. He feels as dizzy as if there were meteor rocks present, but it's just Lex himself. Lex has spent years looking for Clark's vulnerabilities and he's always thought it a little funny that Lex could never figure out he himself was a greater weakness than the meteors could ever be.

"Shh," Lex says, leaning up to caress the corner of Clark's mouth with his lips in a not-quite kiss. "It's all right."

And Clark wants to shout, shake him, force him to see what he does, if only so he doesn't have to be so alone here. Isn't Lex supposed to be the super genius in this relationship? How can he not see what is so very obvious?

But he nods, because having a mental breakdown Smallville's labyrinth of caves when you have completely no idea where you are or where you are going is Not a Good Idea.

Lex tugs and he goes along. After a moment Lex wraps an arm under his shoulders again and Clark doesn't even bother with a token protest.

Everything, and no, Lex isn't lying about that, which is what makes it so dangerous.

He isn't meant to have everything, not meant to ever feel entirely comfortable within himself. He's just a visitor here, and he doesn't think he can afford to forget that, ever.

He can smell fresh air, and after a few more moments of stumbling in the near dark, he sees a weak gleam of light up ahead. He's passed the entire night in this cave, heedless of the time rushing by, and now morning has come.

Lex propels them more quickly now, but Clark stops them in the last of the shadows before they reach that finger of dawn. The dizziness hasn't receded and the world is spinning madly as he shoves Lex against the wall. He remembers only at the last minute to place a hand between the rock and that bare, fragile skull. This time it's Lex who closes his eyes as he leans down to taste him again. Lex presses hard against him and the sounds one of them is making are nearly obscene. Lex grabs Clark's hair in a fist to yank him down more firmly and he's just devouring him, like he's starving and Clark is the only sustenance he's had for days, years.

Clark finally manages to pull away just an inch. Lex is panting hard against him, sensuous, mobile mouth open just a little. Clark runs his tongue over it one more time, the last time, mapping the shape of that scar.

"I love you, you know," he says, praying that Lex will know later that he meant it, what he meant by it, but he doesn't hold much hope for it.

Lex opens his eyes, and he takes Clark's face in both hands so very gently, as if Clark is something fragile, something breakable, as if he's not invulnerable after all.

Sharp, almost unbearable, and he should have known Lex would make him pay for this, even if he still has no idea.

Lex makes a lie of Clark's firm resolutions about last times by licking a stripe up his neck to the space right behind his ear.

"We should go," he says. "You have parents, and my people are always so unduly distressed at these little disappearances of mine."

Clark nods and pulls away, but Lex restrains him, just a bit.

"I'll make it up to you," Lex says. Amused, fond chuckle. "This gets much better with a bed, I promise you, and it just so happens that I have a nice wide one back at the mansion." Lex laughs again, simply happy. "Handcuffs, too."

And Clark finds himself laughing despite himself. "If I'd known you had such a kink for being tied up I wouldn't always be in such a rush to rescue you."

Lex glares at him, but the soft curl of his mouth is robbing it of any effectiveness.

Then Lex is pushing them forward again, out into the sunlight and into the open air. The sun is just rising above the tree line, throwing red light across the fields. They've exited the caves on a slight rise, and in the near distance Clark can see the road out of town.

His incredible clumsiness chooses that moment to make a reappearance and his foot catches on a stray rock. Lex catches him, concern sharp and focused. He pushes Clark to sit on a convenient rock and glowers at him again.

"You and I are going to have to talk about this habit of yours of chasing down known killers."

"Sure," he says, smiling again, because everything is so easy with Lex. "Can that be right after the discussion about why a certain billionaire can't seem to hire decent security?"

Lex raises an eyebrow. "Amazing. You've finally learned the value of the barter system. Perhaps there's hope for you after all."

But then the irony leaves his face and he's looking at Clark as if he's the one with the X-ray vision. "Are you going to be all right?"

It would be ridiculous to deny it at this point. He nods dully. The sun is dispelling the last of the sick dizziness from his head, and he feels nothing so much as supremely, numbingly exhausted.

Lex dives in his coat for his cell phone, but then he takes it off and drapes it across Clark's shoulders.

"It's cold out here," he says. It is, or would be if Clark were human. Contrary Kansas spring weather, from 90 to 40 in just one week.

He stands next to Clark, looking out at the road. The cell phone is finally deployed, and Lex starts ordering his people about with crisp efficiency. A general for the information age. Clark leans into him, and Lex's free hand settles into his hair, stroking just a little.

It fits so well Clark has trouble remembering why he's decided it's so wrong.

Except that's another lie, and he knows he's in trouble when he starts believing his own deceptions. He remembers just fine.

It was dark when he'd finally found Sarah's trail, at first just that sense of something off, but then more tangible. Broken trees and squashed underbrush leading up into one of the entrances into Kyla's maze of caverns.

It took a while, but eventually he'd heard them, and for once he was too early, or either much, much too late.

"I didn't ask you to kill those people," Lex said, and Clark had stopped, unable to move.

"They threatened you." He didn't recognize the voice, though he thought he should.

"Half of this town wants me dead," Lex said. "If that's justification for murder, I'd say you have your work cut out for you."

A shriek cut through the air, so painful Clark almost felt it.

"I did this for you, because of you. You don't take care of yourself, you don't see how they look at you. I had to protect you."

"You have an interesting method of doing that."

"I didn't mean for those people to die! I just wanted them to stop."

"Well you certainly accomplished that, didn't you? I had no idea you had such dedication for your work."

Clark crept forward. He had to see. He caught sight of a glowing green form sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around her legs, rocking back and forth. Another step and he was hit with a crippling wave of dizziness that sent him to his knees.

Lex, bound in the chair, didn't noticed him. Neither had the girl.

"You were the only one who wanted me, after," she said, and Clark wasn't entirely sure she was even aware of Lex at that point. "Mother, father, Diana, they all looked at me like I was a monster. You told me I had to learn to control my powers if I wanted not to hurt anyone again."

"And that's still true," Lex said. "Look what's happened. Just what I told you. You need help."

Clark, struggling to get to his feet, wondered if Lex might have a death wish.

The girl looked up, peridot tears flowing down her softly glowing face. "I tried," she said softly. "I tried so hard. You said I could help you if I learned, that you needed to know if the meteor rock powers could be controlled. I couldn't let them take you away, I couldn't be alone."

"Why did you follow me here?" Lex's voice was so cold, so unyielding.

"You were gone for so long. I was worried about you." She seemed to shrink into her self, and her own voice was small, barely able to be heard.

"I already have a protector, and believe me, he's trouble enough."

So cold it hurt, even if it wasn't directed at him.

The girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, though they were drying rapidly. "He didn't stop me from getting to you, though, did he?"

Lex was still and maybe he was finally realizing that the cavalry wasn't coming.

She stood slowly. "You don't care, do you? You don't care what this has done to me, and you certainly don't care about him. He has no idea, does he? What you are?"

"Leave Clark out of this."

She laughed, throwing her head back. "I can't. He's come to rescue you, don't you see?"

Lex turned, and for the second before his shields slammed back up there was nothing but perfect horror in his expression.

"It's too late for me," she said, "but maybe not for him."

She turned to Clark. "Look," she said, "look what happened when I came back here, when I was exposed to the meteors again."

The light flared up under her skin and it was like he was drowning in it. So bright you could barely see her under the brilliance. He fell, clutching his stomach, breath slammed out of him in a rush.

"Stop it, you're killing him," Lex said, a hint of desperation there.

Laughter again. "You're right. That's what these powers you love so much do. They killed Derek, and they killed those three people, and now it's your turn."

Clark felt the world shift, like the atmosphere before a storm. He still doesn't know how, but somehow he managed to get himself up, propel himself forward so the force that would have killed Lex hit him instead.

It slammed him backwards into one of the cave walls, which shuddered and rained dust upon him.

"Clark, you have to leave, now," Lex shouted.

Ridiculous idea, of course.

Clark pushed himself back up, fighting the dizziness. She was looking at him, her eyes wide and frightened.

"It didn't kill you," she said.

"No," he managed.

"You shouldn't be here," she said. "This is just between me and Luthor."

He shook his head. "I can't leave him here, you know that."

"I don't want to hurt you ," she said. "I know you were trying to help me."

"You should listen to her," Lex said, and her eyes snapped to him, narrowing.

"He has to pay for this."

"It's not his fault," Clark said, taking another step towards her, forcing himself not to collapse.

"Please don't make me hurt you," she said, tears starting again.

"Just let me take Lex and you won't have to," he said, trying to keep his voice low.

She shook her head. "This has to end here. I'm sorry if that means you, too."

He took another step and she brought her hand up again. It sent him crashing into the wall again, but he got up more quickly this time. He had to.

Superspeed took him to her side. She grabbed him, strength surprising for someone so small, and her hands burned right through his shirt to skin beneath. He collapsed again, but she didn't relent.

"You see what he's done to me? What I've become?" she said, running her hands lightly over him, leaving trails of burnt flesh in their wake.

This close, the power in her was a palpable thing, snapping in the air around her like electricity. But he could also see her face, see the features beneath the green storm.

"Sarah?" he said. The energy was draining from him, and blackness was entering in its wake. He had to keep his eyes open, though, couldn't give in. He'd failed her before, couldn't afford to again. And there was Lex, Lex who would be dead if he failed in this.

"Yes," she said, drawing her hands from his flesh. "That was my name, once upon a time."

She rose, leaving him lying there, and turned back to Lex.

He lunged, not knowing where he found the strength, maybe from the same place that had supplied it the day of Earl Jenkins at the plant. He caught her ankle and yanked her back. His strength was well beyond his control, and she flew backward to bounce off of a wall.

She lay in a little heap for a moment, but then she stood, blood masking half of her face.

"Sarah," he said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

She smiled a little. "I know," she said. "I didn't mean to, either, but Derek's still dead."

Lex was shouting something, but neither of them were paying him any attention any more.

"It wasn't your fault," he said, knowing how little that meant, seeing that blood run down her face.

"That doesn't really matter, does it?" she said. "You should have let me die, that day."

She stepped forward, and he moved to block her, knowing it was useless with his strength draining from him like water. She shook her head a little sadly and gestured again. It sent him flying out of her path, into the same wall as before. This time the rocks cut his weakened skin and he couldn't fight the blackness any more. Dust and small stones started falling down.

"No!"

It was Sarah's voice, and the next thing he knew he could sense her running towards him, lifting him with her powers, throwing him out of the way. He tumbled ungently a few feet away and opened his eyes to see a section of ceiling fall down on her head.

"Sarah!"

He pulled himself over to her side. She was still alive, but barely. It was hard to move the rocks off of her without his strength, but he did it, one at a time.

She looked up at him, and there was pain in her face, but also relief.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I couldn't save you."

He blinked, tears blurring his eyes as she asked about Derek, as he sat there uselessly gripping her hand.

He hadn't been able to save her, and though he'd rescued Lex he couldn't save him, either. It didn't matter how many times he stopped the latest Lana-obsessed mutant, or saved a life or the entire town or the whole damn world, he could never make up for that.

It didn't mean he doesn't have to try, though, even if he has to give his whole life over to the effort.

The worth of a life isn't something that could be measured, or bargained for. He can't balance one life against a million. There is no math for that sort of equation.

It wasn't a lesson he thinks Lex had ever learned. He'd thought it didn't matter, that it was just a trivial difference between them, but now it had gapped into an unbridgeable chasm and he doesn't think even he could jump to the other side.

Some cars pull up and Lex drops his hand from Clark's hair so he can go to them.

Clark considers the growing morning around them. In the strengthened light he can see the fields beyond the road, the farmers preparing the soil for the new crops. The cycle begun again as it is every year.

Soon it will be June and with it graduation. A beginning there, too, though as Lex would say every beginning is just an ending from a different perspective.

He looks over at Lex where he's speaking sharply with his security people.

He gets up, clutching Lex's dusty coat around him and walks towards the line of the woods in the direction of home.

Lex calls after him. He turns, smiles at him and makes a gesture back towards town.

Lex frowns, the beginning of doubt in his expression.

Maybe he's not such a good liar after all. There's something reassuring about that.

He waves at Lex again, turning away from him, away from what could be.

Good-bye.

He can hear Lex hurrying after him, calling him to stop again. He doesn't stop. Lex is too overwhelming up close, his strength will never be enough.

When he reaches the concealing line of the woods he starts to run, only slightly fast at first. He hears Lex's voice again, puzzled, a little abandoned. Lex does know him so very well.

But he's already too far away and running faster.

He has a destiny. It's a word Lex would understand. After all, Lex is the only person he knows who uses it convincingly in a sentence.

If that destiny means that he can't have Lex, he has to make it worth what he's paying for it. What they're both paying for it.

He arrives at the farm just as the sun finally makes it fully above the horizon.

The fields smell fresh and wet, and the breeze is cool in his face.

It's going to be a beautiful morning.



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