Skin Deep

by RivkaT

Lenore and Mary Ellen are so, so not responsible for this.

Clark's head felt like an orange in a giant Kryptonite juicer. Screwing his eyes shut against the bright morning sunshine, he rolled over and burrowed into the cloud-soft pillows. They smelled good, sandalwood and leather. The sheets were cool and smooth, but their slight weight felt mountainous against his aching skin.

Wait a second.

Clark didn't have pillows and sheets like this, and if he rolled over in his bed he'd fall onto the floor.

He opened his eyes, then closed them as sunlight stuck white-hot fingers in his eyes. Still, he saw enough to tell that he was in Lex's bedroom, in Lex's bed.


Naked, which was why he could feel the sheets all over his body.

Clark sat bolt upright, pulling the sheets up over his -

Okay, he was dreaming. He had to be dreaming, because there was no way, just no way, that he'd grown breasts overnight.

Although his head hurt a lot for a dream, and this was Smallville. Closing his eyes and sending a short prayer to the God of Kryptonians, he raised the sheet to peer underneath.

And swooned.

Somehow, overnight, he'd - come on, he could think it - he'd turned into a girl. With breasts.

In Lex's bed, naked.

Clark clasped the sheets more tightly to his chest - ack! - and tried to remember the previous evening.

He remembered the fight with the computer-thing in the caves, which had never really been nice to him since he'd rejected his destiny, or heritage or whatever you wanted to call it. He'd listened to its lectures far beyond the limits of tolerance. Bloodlines, rulership, blah blah greatness blah. But he'd just graduated from high school and his guilt was ebbing. When it had started up again last night as he checked in to make sure Lionel's researchers hadn't found anything new, he'd said a few nasty things and stomped off to the mansion to make Lex entertain him.

Lex had wanted to go out, and Clark had been restless enough to indulge him, so they'd taken a limo to Metropolis after negotiation ("Drinking or driving, Lex, but not both"). The people standing outside the blue-lit club Lex found were much more spiffily dressed than Clark had been, and he'd stopped at the bottom of the steps.

"Are you sure they'll let me in?" he'd asked, looking down at his faded red T-shirt from the school spirit drive his junior year.

Lex had looked at the shirt, which was a little small, and pursed his lips. "Even if you weren't with me, people wouldn't be looking at the shirt, Clark, unless it's to inform you that they'd be more than happy to eat Crow."

In fact, Clark recalled, at least two people - one girl, one untyped -- had said pretty much that to him once they were inside.

Clark hadn't been feeling rebellious enough to drink alcohol, even though he hadn't been carded, but the bar had energy drinks with bizarre Brazilian herbs that sounded cool, and they'd been really tasty. For once he'd relaxed and let Lex pick up the tab, though there was a blonde woman wearing a tiny, sparkly pink top who'd also bought him a few. She'd been a little disappointed when she found out that they were just energy drinks.

Now, Clark wondered whether it was possible that Brazilian herbs interacted with Kryptonian physiology in unfortunate ways.

He'd danced, if you could call it dancing, and Lex had danced. Clark remembered looking at Lex, smushed between two French girls, and knowing that, no matter how much money he had or how much red Kryptonite he wore on his fingers, he'd never be that cool.

After that, things got kind of fuzzy. Actually, kind of nonexistent. He didn't remember getting back in the limo, or returning to Smallville, or getting naked, or, you know, turning into a girl.

Rubbing his jackhammering head, he looked around for his clothes and saw them in a trail from the door to the bed. Other clothes, black and really frightening beyond his ability to contemplate at the moment, were mixed in. Scanning the hallway to make sure Lex wasn't approaching, he bolted out of bed and scooped up his boxers. But that didn't seem right, so he dropped them again. When he tried to pull on his jeans, they wouldn't go over his newly expanded hips, and his attempt to make them fit just ripped the denim in hard-to-explain places.

That left the T-shirt, which sort of fit.

Clark's hypersensitive hearing, set at superpowers plus hangover, picked up footsteps coming up the nearest set of stairs. He looked through the wall and saw Lex's familiar skeleton. Then he remembered that he was half naked. Also, he thought Lex might wonder why a random girl was wearing Clark's T-shirt.

Sometimes, superspeed was a real help. He sped out of the shirt, grabbed all his clothes and stuffed them under the bed, then tucked himself back under the sheets well before Lex opened the door. He closed his eyes and curled around himself as if still asleep; maybe Lex would just go away and let him think.

The door shushed open. "Excuse me."

Yeah, he'd thought that would be too much to hope for. Trying not to shudder visibly, Clark opened his eyes.

Lex was leaning against the doorframe, smiling his "I know you're going to forgive me for what I'm about to say, even though by all rights you should punch me out instead" smile. Even Lex's smiles were wordy.

"Um, hi?" God, he even sounded like a girl, voice all high and uncertain.

Lex looked down as if embarrassed, then back up, his arms folded loosely over his chest. Clark clutched at the sheet and sat up as Lex spoke again. "I'm terribly sorry to admit this, but I don't believe I recall your name."

Name? Clark blinked rapidly. Lex was wearing black pants and a purple shirt ("plum, Clark"), but no tie, which meant he planned to work at home today. Which was rather beside the point, but Clark's thoughts were jumping like popcorn on a skillet. Lex's smile edged towards the concerned, and Clark swallowed. "Uh - Kal. Short for Kallista," he added, memories of Saturday afternoons watching Xena giving him some confidence.

Lex sauntered into the room. Clark willed himself not to push back into the headboard, but his white-knuckled hands on the sheets probably gave away his nervousness. "Well, Kal, I'm Lex." He said it as if his words were a mere formality, since anyone within a thousand miles of Metropolis ought to recognize him. "I'm sorry to wake you, but I was wondering if you remembered what happened to my friend Clark, who was at the club with us. I seem to have misplaced him, and the driver says there were only two of us in the limo last night."

"I don't actually remember leaving the club," Clark confessed.

Lex smiled again, the one that mocked himself and the world about equally. "Then we're in the same situation." He reached the bed and sat on the edge, body turned so that he could see Clark, not more than ten inches away.

Clark drew in a deep breath, smelling Lex's citrus cologne, formulated just for him, as Lex looked him over. Lex's eyes were like the sky, calling him upward.

Lex's mouth was soft, softer than his Egyptian cotton sheets. Clark's heart gave a funny little lurch as he opened his mouth to protest and found himself kissing back. ("People will say anything, Clark, but no, I've never had sex with a man.") It was wet and a little sloppy, and when Clark remembered about morning breath he tried to pull back, but Lex followed as his head thunked back against the carved mahogany headboard. Clark felt as if lightning were crawling all over his skin, better than floating.

When Lex pulled back, Clark realized that he'd dropped the sheet and snatched it back up again. Lex's grin suggested that it was a little late for that. Clark was not thinking about that, though, so he held the sheet up like armor.

"As pleasant as this is, I really need to find my friend. I'll have a driver take you anywhere you'd like to go."

"You don't need to do that," Clark said hastily.

"Kal, do you know where you are? You're in Smallville, several hours outside Metropolis." Lex stood, putting his hands in his pockets. Clark looked away from his crotch-eye view.

"That's where I need to be," he said, extemporizing. Saying he was a Kent relative was out, since then he ought to be more concerned about Clark and, anyway, Lex had probably investigated his family to the seventh degree. "I'm visiting the Rosses," he said, relieved at his own ingenuity. Pete would help, and the Rosses wouldn't piss on Lex if he were on fire, as Pete had once said. "Old family friends."

Lex's face went blank for a moment. "I'll have the driver take you there. We are a bit outside of town."

"Oh, uh, thanks." Apparently his girl body could blush just as thoroughly as the real one. "Wait!" he said, as Lex turned to go. Lex put on his expectant expression, the one he used when someone was about to ask for something Lex had the money and power to give. "My - clothes. I can't find them."

That apparently didn't count as taking advantage, because Lex smiled without any more than baseline cynicism. "I'll have something sent up."

He turned again, and Clark watched him go, still feeling tremors from the kiss through his body. Clark had spent nearly a year accepting that Lex was never going to want him back, even if he could have overlooked all the lies, and now all the acceptance had vanished, much like key portions of his anatomy.

Paralyzed with misery, Clark didn't stop staring at the door until one of the household staff arrived, bearing sandals, sweatpants, a T-shirt, a sports bra and underwear still in its plastic packaging. The staffer was named Monica, Clark remembered, and amazingly she didn't smirk or stare or glare or do anything that he would have done in her shoes. She just smiled politely and left the clothes on the edge of the bed, closing the door behind her so Clark could get dressed.

He tried to do it with his eyes closed, but that didn't work very well. He nearly destroyed the sports bra pulling it on - how did women know which way was up on these things, anyway? - but finally managed to get everything basically in the right place. The T-shirt was a little tight and the sweatpants a little short. Clark wasn't complaining, as long as they covered up the strange new facts of his existence.

He had to let the driver take him to the Ross house - Lex noticed little details like that - so he spent the fifteen minutes of the ride trying to figure out what to say when he arrived. It was hard to make himself walk up to the door, and walking itself was subtly different, his center of gravity lower and everything bouncier than it should have been.

As he'd half hoped and half feared, Pete answered the door. He wasn't working this summer, just hanging out at home while his parents prepared for their empty nest. That had been Clark's plan, too, up until now.

"Hello," Pete said, his tone making Clark think of a cartoon dog with his tongue hanging out. "What can I do for you?"

If he were his own brother, he'd smack Pete. "Pete, it's me. Clark."

Pete's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Excuse me?"

"You know. Clark Kent. Your best friend from childhood. Alien from Krypton. That Clark."

Pete's mouth dropped open, and he put a hand against the doorframe to prop himself up. "Is this a joke?"

Clark sighed. "I wish it were. Look, can we go inside?"

The frown he received was almost as grim as Pete's anti-Luthor glare. He tried again. "It's really me. The guy who moved a spaceship with you, the guy you told about your crush on Chloe."

The dawning recognition on Pete's face wasn't at all reassuring. "Clark?"


Pete looked him up and down, and then back again, slowly, making Clark twitch and shift nervously from foot to foot. "What the - is this a Kryptonian thing? Like, at eighteen you go Suddenly Susan?"

"Can we do this inside?"

"Oh. Yeah," Pete said and stepped back, holding the door open for Clark reflexively.

In the kitchen, where he'd been eating snacks since a week after he met Pete, he sat down on one of the old wooden chairs. Sitting felt different too. He was an alien all over again.

Pete slumped heavily into another chair. "Clark, what the hell --?"

"I don't know." Quickly, he explained the previous night's events, leaving out any but the most necessary mention of Lex. Pete's mouth gaped wider with each word. And his eyes --

"Do you think you could stop staring?" Clark folded his arms over his chest defensively.

"Um, no," Pete said. "Look at them, Clark!" If Pete's eyes had actually jumped out of his head and rubbed over Clark's body, he didn't think they'd feel any more intrusive.

"Yeah, think about all the things wrong with that statement. And stop staring!"

"You think the caves did this?" Pete's gaze finally moved, so he was looking over Clark's shoulder.

"Either that or Brazilian herbs." Pete's look of confusion deterred Clark from further explanation. That and he didn't want a lecture about the dangers of partying with Luthors, which was unfair because not even Pete could have predicted this.

"What are you gonna tell your parents?"

Holy - He hadn't even thought about that; he'd just gone to Pete's so that Lex's driver wouldn't report back that "Kal" had done anything Kent-related. "I don't know. Maybe I can talk to the computer first. Maybe I can get it to change me back."

"No," the computer said. (Clark knew that calling it a computer was like calling Lex a small businessman, but he didn't have a better term.)

He cast a despairing look over his shoulder at Pete, who was standing at the entrance to the biggest cave chamber, watching the argument. "Why are you doing this?" he asked, his voice too high.

"Your destiny demands that you exercise dominion over this planet. Your refusal demonstrates your unfitness for Kryptonian manhood."

"Manhood? Okay, first, that's - that's discrimination!" Clark protested. "That's like saying that being a girl is punishment."

"If you do not find it punitive, why are you complaining?"

Clark gaped at the ship. "Because I'm not a girl!"

"A Kryptonian man of the house of El is meant to rule. If you do not rule, you are not entitled to the dignity of your house."

There was no reasoning with it, which Clark had already known. "I don't want the dignity of my house! I just want my dick back!"

"You had numerous chances to accept your role. You claim it does not suit you; I have therefore provided a different role. The transformation is not complete -- only the form is female, not the function. Still, it has removed many of the privileges you so thoughtlessly enjoyed and abused. You may find you regret your choice."

Clark puzzled over that for a moment. "Are you saying that if I agree to go conquer the world, you'll change me back?"

The computer made a sound somewhere between a bleep and a snort. "I do not believe you would make such a promise, and if made, I do not believe you would keep it. Your actions and your refusals to act have consequences, Kal-El. This is merely the first."

Actually, by now it wasn't even the fortieth, but the ship had very little grasp of, as Chloe would say, "Earth logic."

If he stayed any longer he was going to rip the cave apart with his bare hands, Kryptonian materials in the walls be damned. "Come on, Pete. Nothing's happening here."

He pushed past Pete and hurried out of the cave.

"You're going to have to explain to my parents," he said as they headed back to Pete's car.

"You're kidding, right?" Pete asked, stepping double-time to keep up with Clark's still-long strides. "I don't know what's going on any better than you do, and if they don't believe you, you can just pick up the truck or something to prove you're still you. I mean, you're sort of still you. Mostly still you."

Clark wanted to scream in frustration. He didn't want to be left alone with his strange new body, but then Pete being here wasn't helping that much either. Pete kept looking. It wasn't that he was scared of Pete, the way girls might be scared that guys were stronger and could do more than look if they wanted. But he didn't like it. Pete should know better; he should know it was still his friend Clark, the guy he played toy soldiers with and showered with and lots of stuff in between, none of which had ever before involved Pete looking at Clark as if Clark had stepped out of last month's Playboy.

"I don't know," he said, turning towards Pete. He couldn't look Pete in the eye, though, because he couldn't stand to see that look of confused lust, so he focused on Pete's left cheekbone. "I don't know anything any more."

Clark's dad was still out in the fields when Pete drove them back to the farm, and Clark's mom was off in town doing some bookkeeping for the Talon, so his parents still thought they had an alien son.

Clark was unable to keep Pete from fleeing, leaving him alone in the house while he waited for his parents to return. He wandered around, looking at old pictures of the three of them, wanting to recognize the person in the mirror as easily.

His face - the face - was similar, but smoother. The colors were the same, hazel eyes and stubbornly too-pink cheeks, bushy eyebrows that looked much more like a statement on a girl's face, smaller nose, same mouth. His hair looked and felt the same.

Lex thought he'd picked up this girl to sleep with, Clark realized, and watched his reflection shade to red. Had he noticed - had he thought -- ?

Clark remembered the exact time he'd become sexually aware of Lex. After the summer in Metropolis, when he hadn't been particular about which bathroom he got his nightly blowjobs in, he'd noticed boys and girls more equally. But Lex had always been more exotic than the rest of the humans, like an iridescent tropical bird or a snake, in Smallville only because of the whims of a filthy-rich collector. Too far above, too much for Clark. Until he'd seen the inside of Lex's wrist, the bluish vein like a reminder of how fragile he really was, when Lex was half out of his mind with the drugs his father gave him and hiding in Clark's barn. Lex had rolled up the sleeves of Clark's shirt and the realization of it, of how the shirt had touched his skin and Lex's and how jealous he was of the faded blue cotton, had gone through Clark like a forest fire. He'd been unable to breathe.

Then Lex had started talking about Julian, and he'd been ripped out of the fantasy of touching Lex into the reality of trying to take care of him.

Days later, when Lex was as safe as he was going to get, there'd been too much between them, even more than between him and Lana, for Clark to do anything about his newfound feelings. Watching (a nicer word than stalking, though possibly less accurate) Lex, Clark had seen how he seduced everyone in his path. That intimate tone, that unbreaking eye contact, was for the whole world, from Gabe Sullivan to the little girl who spilled her hot chocolate on him one winter day in the Talon. It wasn't anything special. That realization had hurt, possibly more than the knowledge that Lex wasn't into guys.

And now he was the right sex for Lex, but everything else was disastrously wrong.

He wanted to remember what had happened last night, almost more than he wanted to change back, but his memory was a blank concrete wall.

Speculation had interrupted his personal inventory, which he resumed as a distraction. His hands were smaller, and he was a few inches shorter according to the marks by the kitchen door, which said he was an inch shy of six feet. He wondered how that was possible, given conservation of mass, then remembered that he'd been floating in his sleep for the past four years or so, which implied that he was somewhat outside the jurisdiction of the laws of physics.

He was really hungry, probably had been for a while but hadn't noticed. He made himself a sandwich from leftover chicken and drank straight from the milk bottle - it was a really bad day; he was entitled to bend the rules some.

The front door banged shut and Clark turned towards the sound, using his vision to see through the walls and recognize his father. He heard the sigh as his father pulled off his sweat-soaked shirt and used it to wipe his face. His father clomped up the stairs, tossing the shirt into the hamper and washing his face at the bathroom sink.

His father finally saw Clark sitting at the kitchen counter as he came down the stairs again, buttoning a blue shirt over his fresh T-shirt.

"Excuse me," he said, beginning to swell with righteous anger, "but this is a private home. Who are you and what are you doing here?"

Clark swallowed, but kept sitting. "I'm Clark. The Kryptonian computer in the caves did something to me."

"What?" His father's eyes narrowed as he advanced into the kitchen. "I don't know what you want, miss, but I think you ought to leave."

"I'm Clark. Clark Jerome Kent, the alien you found after the meteor shower, the guy who can see through walls and set fires with his eyes and lift tractors one-handed. The ship changed me into a girl as punishment for rejecting my destiny."

Now his dad's eyes were wide and staring. He gripped the back of a chair, white-knuckled. "If you're - if you're Clark, tell me something only he and I could know."

Clark thought frantically. "Uh - last time we went fishing, we only caught three fish, and one of those was so small we were only going to keep it because you said if we didn't have something to show for the day Mom would think we'd gone to the movies instead. And I said I didn't think one little fish was going to make a difference, and we ought to give him a chance to get bigger, so we threw him back." He paused, gulping air and looking up at his dad.

Who collapsed into the chair, closing his eyes. Probably thinking "this can't be happening," one of Smallville's more common and useless refrains.

"Clark?" he asked, weakly.

"Yeah." Clark nodded, even though his dad wasn't looking. "What am I going to do?"

"Wait - you didn't come home last night." Clark winced; he'd hoped that the whole 'girl' thing would distract his dad from that bad fact. "Where were you?"

"I was out with Lex," he explained, watching his father's face grow red with anger and concern. "But Lex didn't have anything to do with it. I just fell asleep, and when I woke up -"

"Woke up where?" If Clark could have gotten up the courage, he would have told his father long ago that he was pretty sure Lex didn't want him that way. But he didn't want his father worried over what was, after all, just something that was never going to happen.

Clark looked straight at his father. "In one of Lex's guest bedrooms. I got out of there before anyone saw me." This made the clothes hard to explain, but if his dad asked he'd just say they came from Pete's house. They didn't look much like clothes Judge Ross was likely to have around, but one of Pete's brother's girlfriends might have left them. Clark was getting good with the lies, if he did say so himself.

Fortunately, his father didn't inquire further. He put his hands on the table, palms down as if he were bracing to get up. "We'll work this out ... Clark." The hesitation before the name was barely audible.

"He's gone out in the field, Lex, but I'll tell him you called." His father thunked the phone back in its cradle as if it were personally responsible for Lex Luthor's existence. "That's three times now, Clark. I don't think we can put him off much longer."

"Mom should be home soon," Clark offered. "She'll help us think of something."

His father turned to him with an incredulous expression. "Like what? I don't think we can dress you like a man and expect Lex Luthor, or anybody else, not to notice."

"I don't know! Maybe - some sort of family emergency? So I, so Clark had to go away? And then - I said I was staying with Pete, so that takes care of me, I mean me now."

His father was nodding.

"It's a start. Your mother will be able to work out the details."

Clark sighed in relief. It wasn't over, but having a plan made him feel as if it was only a regular disaster, not like he was drowning with no rescue in sight.

"I've got to go back out and finish this fence," his father said, getting up.

"I'll help," Clark offered, as eager as his father to have something to do other than contemplate his new anatomy.

"There's no need for that," his father said quickly.

Clark puzzled over this. "Dad," he said at last, scandalized, "I'm still Clark. My powers still work. Just because - there's no reason to treat me any different."

"I'm sorry, s-I'm sorry, Clark." His dad shrugged, uncomfortable. "It's just - you look -"

"You better watch it or Mom will get mad," he warned, trying to make a joke of it. His dad looked like he could use Clark being brave right now.

That got him a half-relieved smile. "All right then. Come on and give me a hand."

Before he called Lex, Clark ran to Juniper, South Dakota, so far out in the middle of nowhere that Smallville was Mexico City in comparison. His mom had picked the place out of the big atlas and then they'd looked up relevant information on the web.

The gas station where he stopped was so outdated that the gas pumps used little whirring numbers instead of a digital display, and they didn't take credit cards. Clark waited out of sight behind some bushes until the owner closed up for the night, so he wouldn't have to explain how he'd gotten there without a car, and then went to the phone booth standing like a sentry beside the station.

He coughed a few times as he fed quarters to the phone, hoping to roughen his voice back to manhood.

Lex picked up on the third ring. "Yes?" Of course, he wouldn't recognize the originating number, so he wouldn't say his name first.

"Lex? It's me, Clark." That sounded okay, right?

"Clark, it's good to hear from you."

Clark exhaled silently in relief and sagged against the side of the booth.

"I was concerned when I missed you Saturday morning, but your parents assured me you were simply in transit to - where exactly?"

He made himself chuckle. "Miles from anywhere, really. Somewhere in South Dakota. I'm really sorry I didn't get to say goodbye in person, but Uncle Don's stroke was so sudden -"

"You don't need to explain, Clark," Lex said, his voice like unprocessed honey, thick and dark. "When someone needs your help, you go."

"He's not really my uncle," Clark continued, needing to get the story straight, "but he's an old friend of my dad's, and when they called -"

"Really, say no more. I hope you won't forget us here in Smallville, though."

"I won't," he promised, shifting uneasily on his feet. "I, uh, might not be able to call that often. The farm doesn't have its own phone, and I don't think I'll be getting into town that much. I just wanted to let you know -" He stopped.

Lex's measured breaths were loud in his ear. "I won't offer to help, but if you ever want me to offer -"

"I'll call you right up," he said, smiling and hearing the smile in his tone. "Thanks for understanding."

"Or at least accepting," Lex said, now molasses instead of honey, with just a hint of sulfur under the sweetness.

Clark swallowed. "Yeah, uh. I've got to go, so, you know, try not to get stalked by anybody while I'm gone, or anything like that."

"I'll do my best," Lex promised, and that had to be good enough.

When Clark hung up the phone, he pressed his forehead against the glass of the booth for a minute, grateful that the hard work of lying to Lex was over. Clark Kent wasn't going to see Lex Luthor ever again. He didn't feel it yet, but he knew he would.

This wasn't how he'd imagined an ending between them - bizarrely, it was a lot less traumatic than most of his scenarios for the final break, a break he'd always known had to come sometime, because Lex was never going to stop asking questions and dropping innuendoes. Maybe it would be better for Lex, never to know what he didn't know, to think that Clark just disappeared from his life for reasons unrelated to Lex's prying.

Now he could start to deal with the total fiasco that remained of his life.

"Try these on," his mother said, coming into the cubicle and tugging at the curtain that didn't quite close. Clark had tried not to look at the women in the changing room on the way in, but it hadn't been easy. He focused on the items in her outstretched hands.

"Do I have to?" He knew he was whining. And he'd already endured most of the humiliation at home, his mom measuring and calculating. All he had to do now was try on the bras to make sure they fit.

"Honey -"

"Never mind," he said and snatched the offending underwear from her. "Um, would you mind waiting outside?"

She nodded, looking concerned, which was pretty much her default setting over the past few years.


She ducked back into the cubicle, ready to hear and to help.

"I'm sorry I'm being such a jerk."

"Hey," she said, putting a hand on his wrist, "none of us got an instruction manual. As strange as it is for us, I know you're having a harder time."

He smiled helplessly at her, and she left again, letting the thick orange curtain sag back into place. Clark tried not to think about the people going in and out of the dressing room, walking by, able to see in. It couldn't be much worse than relearning how to pee had been, and that had been a lot easier than he'd feared, since it was really just a matter of sitting down.

Pretty quickly he was immersed in the structural challenges of getting the bras on and off, and forgot to be wary of surveillance. It wasn't brain surgery or anything, but it did require practice, and a couple of times he had to bend the little hooks carefully back into place after clumsy Kryptonian fingers pulled them apart.

"How are you coming, C - Kal?"

"Okay," he said dubiously. "Take a look?"

His mom's inspection was almost professional, which was paradoxically comforting. She adjusted the shoulder straps, but pronounced him otherwise well-covered. Four white and one black, enough to survive, went into the shopping cart.

As his mom went through the racks, looking for clothes that would fit, Clark watched the other shoppers. They'd picked a Wal-Mart on the other side of Metropolis, to decrease the chance that his mom would be recognized. Girls and women all around him were immersed in shopping, as intense as Pete was putting together his fantasy football team. Girls shopped in twos and threes, holding dresses up to their chests or skirts at their waists and swinging around to show each other before putting the hangers back or draping the clothes over their arms to try on later. They looked like they were having fun. Girls also shopped with their mothers, which looked less like fun and more like war. Clark saw one mother carefully pull out three different shirts in disgusting colors, each rejected in favor of the robin's egg blue shirt demanded by her daughter. The mother turned away to hide her smile, and winked when she caught Clark's eye.

Clark smiled uneasily back.

"What do you think of this?" His mother held out a shirt striped in black, red and white.

He shrugged. "It's okay, I guess." Frankly, there were too many choices. The men's section was a lot easier to navigate.

She looked disappointed.

Clark tried to figure out what he was doing wrong. "I like it?"

"You can pick something else out," she offered. "I just think it might be better to get things that are less like what you used to wear."

That made sense. He nodded.

"Though with your coloring, we should stick to bolder colors," she continued, rummaging through another rack and miraculously coming out with a white shirt in Clark's size, with a sort of scalloped collar edged with black.

He draped it over his arm just like the girls did, and she smiled at him.

She kept up a whispered narrative of all the different styles - the necklines alone had a dozen different names, not to mention tucks and gathers and biases. Clark wondered, as he smiled and piled more clothes over his arm, if she'd wanted a girl so she could do these sorts of things, girl things, just like Dad wanted a son to take fishing.

This was, all told, not as bad as fishing on the boringness scale. They ended up with a small but decent wardrobe, and Wal-Mart was cheap enough that it didn't make an enormous dent in Clark's college fund. His mom hadn't wanted to dip into the college fund at all, but Clark insisted. He knew as well as she did that the discretionary household fund was mostly dedicated to things that weren't very discretionary, like laundry soap and computer service.

By the end, he was learning to turn and show his clothes off just like the girls in the dressing room, and that seemed to make his mom happy.

Clark was about to pick up the ringing phone before he remembered that he wasn't around, and shuffled with impatience waiting for the old answering machine to pick up. With his parents off pricing seed stock in Grandville, he was bored and restless.

"Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Kent," Pete's cautious voice came out of the tiny speaker. Clark grabbed the receiver.

"Pete! What's going on?"

"Nothing good," Pete said. "Luthor just stopped by, looking for 'Kal.' Said he wanted to ask her - I mean, you -- to the castle for dinner."

Since the phone call from South Dakota, Clark hadn't seen Lex even from afar, and obviously Lex didn't call. Clark had been reduced to monitoring the Inquisitor and the Planet's society and business sections, which had some item or other every few days. Lex was going on as normal, which just went to show that Clark hadn't had a real place in his life even before all this.

"What did you tell him?"

There was a pause. Clark remembered to turn off the answering machine, just in case his parents played the tape later. "You sound kind of - excited, Clark."

"I just don't want to make him suspicious," Clark defended.

"Luthor was born suspicious. Anyhow, I said you were out but that I'd give you the message."

Pete's hostility was so apparent that Clark felt compelled to ask, "Is that all you told him?"

"I said I didn't think you'd be interested," Pete admitted. "Jerk just smiled at me and asked me to pass on the invitation anyway. Said he'd be in all evening."

Clark smiled, thinking of Lex's home theater. They'd been halfway through The Prisoner DVDs before Clark's sudden change.

"You're not thinking of going over there, are you?"

"Why not? There's nothing to do here," Clark pointed out, looking around the tidy kitchen. He'd been so bored he'd even cleaned his room, normal speed, but that had only taken a few hours. The Talon was off limits - too easy to make a mistake, or be seen by someone who'd ask the Rosses about their "guest" - and his parents wouldn't let him go into Metropolis one day sooner than necessary. The mansion was looking even better than usual.

"You know he's not interested in your conversational skills," Pete said sharply. "He says dinner, but you're on the menu."

"Lex wouldn't -" Well, okay. Lex would. "He wouldn't do anything I didn't want to do. I mean, he's - he'd take no for an answer." Of course, Lex could talk you into thinking you'd said yes, but that was different. Clark shook his head to clear it. Pete didn't need to know about the shivery feeling in his chest and lower down.

"Clark -" But Pete's tone was heavy with resignation. "Just - be careful, all right?"

"I'm always careful," he said and hung up before Pete could provide counterexamples.

Because Clark was not a girl, regardless of appearances, he did not spend a lot of time trying to decide what to wear. More to the point, he only owned jeans and one pair of black pants that fit, so dithering would have been fairly difficult. He did do a load of laundry so he could wear his nice white shirt, but the laundry needed doing anyway so that didn't count.

He left a note for his parents saying he was going over to Pete's, since they couldn't call and check, and hurried out of the house.

Then he realized that, if he ran full speed to the mansion, he'd be covered in dust. He went back, changed into a light blue shirt and jeans that wouldn't show as much accidental dirt, and walked at a normal human pace. It was still mid-afternoon, and Lex wouldn't be expecting him.

Clark was practically buzzing with excitement by the time he arrived at the mansion gates. He was surprised that the guard didn't open them as usual, until the man's appreciative once-over reminded him why. "I'm here to see Mr. Luthor," he said.

"Your name?"

"Kal Matthews." He'd picked the last name out of the telephone white pages at random. It sounded common enough that he wouldn't have to be related to anyone around Smallville.

Clark was left to shuffle around the entrance while the guard called the main house. The mansion's defenses had certainly improved over the past four years, though somehow the more determined, Lex-focused meteor mutants usually managed to get in. Clark preferred the ones who fixated on Lex to the Lana-obsessed ones, because Lex was both a little harder to find and also substantially better armed, both of which generally gave Clark a margin of error for his rescues. Lex was harder to distract, though, requiring extra explanation time.

Clark's musings cut off when the gates began to groan open. He slipped through and trotted towards the mansion proper, not really listening to the guard's shouted instructions. Only at the last minute did he remember to go to the main entrance rather than the kitchen.

Lex was waiting at the entrance. He was wearing a dark suit with a red tie, one of his so-called "stodgy" outfits he wore when doing business with people who found it hard to respect a youngster who dressed too well. Clark thought he still looked pretty good, but he had to admit that the suit was less likely to induce people to hold Lex down and molest him than Lex's better tailored suits, which was probably all for the best. Lex held the door open for Clark and followed him inside.

"Hi," Clark essayed, turning to smile nervously at Lex.

"Hello," Lex said, annoyingly smooth. His voice sounds like money, Clark thought. "The guard said you just walked up - I would have sent a car to get you."

"Oh, uh, no problem. The exercise is good for me," he said and winced at his super-lameness. "How have you been?" Oh, brilliant, a voice that sounded not unlike Jor-El's said in his head. Remind him that the last time you saw him you were naked and he didn't know your name, that'll make him respect you lots.

Lex smiled. "Well. And you?"

"Great!" he said, trying to make himself sound enthusiastic. "The Rosses are really nice."

"Still, it must be hard to find things to do in Smallville. Quite a change of pace from - where did you say you were from?"

"I didn't," Clark said. If he hadn't known Lex so well, he wouldn't have caught the way Lex's eyes dipped for a moment. He'd passed a test - one he hadn't known he was taking. He couldn't decide whether that was a good sign or a bad one, for Lex to be testing him. "I'm from Edge City." Lex hadn't spent much time there, and Kal had done a weekend in the club district, so he could fake his way through any further questions. "I like Smallville. It's - sunny."

"You won't find much natural light in the mansion," Lex said, drawing away from the door and gesturing for Clark to follow. "Actually, you won't find much natural anything here. My father says it's the ancestral family home, brought over from Scotland stone by stone, but I think he's tweaked history just a bit."

Clark remembered to look around at the familiar statuary, portraits, and assorted gewgaws that populated the public areas of the mansion.

"So, are you hungry? It's a little early for dinner, but I can have the cook put something together quickly."

Clark refocused on Lex, whose hands were in his pockets and who looked positively jaunty as he waited for Clark's response. "Oh, I - am I too early? I can come back."

"Nonsense." All Lex's attention was on him, for what seemed like the first time in years. He'd made himself forget what that was like, a brilliant fire that burned every inch of his skin, that made him want to pull away and move closer all at once. "I'll show you around, and then we can eat."

Clark didn't pay much attention to the tour, given that he'd seen most of it before, and what he hadn't seen was boring. It was much more fun to watch Lex, listen to him lecture, retelling stories Clark had heard years before.

Dinner was almost comfortable. They ate in a small room off the main dining room, with lots of linen and silver and white china rimmed with gold, a bowl of red roses in the center of the table and so many candles that it was like dining in the middle of the stars, something Clark blurted out before he thought better of it. Lex smiled at the cheesiness, and there weren't any dangerous corners in the smile, so it was good.

There was a lot of food, but to Clark's surprise, it was reasonably simple. His mom made pumpkin bisque, though his dad always called it soup, and the rack of lamb was enormous but straightforward. Even the molten chocolate cake was familiar from the Metropolis restaurant he'd gone to with Pete, Lana and Chloe before the prom. Despite all the lamb, he found it easy to eat the second cake that Lex had brought out from the kitchen.

Clark looked up from chasing the last chocolate goo around his plate to find Lex watching intently. "It's really good," he said, lamely, and was grateful that the candlelight disguised his embarrassment. "I'm sorry," he continued as he realized Lex was long finished, his plate vanished, "am I keeping you from something?"

"Not at all," Lex said soothingly. "It's nice to see a woman who's willing to enjoy her food."

Clark blinked back at him, feeling like he was in the wrong play.

"Would you like to watch a movie?" Lex offered. "I've had the cook make popcorn."

"Yes!" That came out a little too relieved, Clark thought. Or maybe too eager. It was hard to tell. When he rose, Lex rose with him. He's being polite, Clark realized, and it unnerved him. He hurried out of the room, heading towards the TV.

At the door to what Clark had christened "The Shrine," Clark stopped and waited for Lex to catch up.

"You found this place pretty easily," Lex said in an amused voice, and Clark froze. He should have let Lex lead the way.

"Don't worry," Lex continued. "I know your secret."

Clark's heart lurched into triple time, and he turned towards Lex, feeling like he was about to shatter.

"You did some peeking around the mansion when you were here earlier, didn't you?"

Relief made him gape for a second. Lex just smiled, as if he were enjoying some private joke. "Yeah, I did," Clark said when he recovered some composure. "It's so big," and that sent him into another radioactive blush that hadn't faded by the time Lex opened the DVD cabinet.

By insisting that Lex pick, Clark avoided showing non-girlish interests (notwithstanding the mental smack he got from his mom at the thought). Lex's choice was "Casablanca," which was pretty good.

Clark avoided some awkwardness -- on his part, anyhow; Lex refused to be awkward -- by sitting on the floor in front of the couch, Indian-style with the bowl of popcorn in his lap. Lex sat next to him, his knees pulled up to his chest, watching Bogart and Bergman and occasionally reaching out for popcorn. Out of the corner of his eye, Clark watched him lick the butter and salt off of his fingertips and tried to keep his breathing even.

When the credits rolled, Clark felt mixed relief and regret.

"I never get tired of this movie," he said, looking over at Lex.

Lex met his eyes. "Some things never lose their savor." That shouldn't have made his stomach flutter, but it did.

"Kal," Lex said and took the long-empty bowl from his lax hands. "Unless you say otherwise, I'm going to kiss you now."

Clark drew in a shuddering breath.

Lex's lips were chapped, but soft underneath. Clark closed his eyes, unable to bear the smell and sight and feel of him all at once.

When Lex opened his mouth, it was like falling into a nuclear reactor. Every cell in Clark's body yearned for Lex. Without meaning to, he found himself reaching out to touch, one hand at Lex's neck, another by his waist. Lex's skin was so fine that Clark wished for human vulnerability, just so he could feel it better.

He was about to push Lex down on the floor. Girls didn't do that, did they? Confusion pulled him half out of his sexual daze, and he broke the kiss, panting.

"I should go home," he said shakily, dragging his hands away from their explorations.

Lex pulled back. "If that's what you want ...." He was still turned towards Clark, his collar a little askew where Clark had pulled at it.

"That's not what I want," Clark admitted. Lex smiled, and Clark leaned forward to kiss him again. There was a spring coiling inside him, winding tighter and tighter with every brush of Lex's fingertips against his skin.

"May I take off your shirt?"

Clark was too busy shuddering at the feeling of Lex's hot breath in his ear to process the question for a moment, but he nodded frantically as soon as he realized Lex was waiting on an answer. Lex slid his hands under the shirt, lifting it as Clark's arms went up in instincitve compliance. Lex's thumbs brushed against the sides of Clark's breasts, and whoah that was a new feeling. He bit his lip to keep from groaning.

Lex pulled back and looked Clark over. He could feel himself blushing, and his hands almost went up to cover his chest, but then Lex returned, pushing him back against the couch, his mouth marching from Clark's neck to the line of his shoulder and then further down.

"I want to take off your bra."

What was this, some sadistic variant on Mother May I? Clark managed to breathe out "Yeah" as his hands searched out the long lines of the muscles in Lex's arms. Lex, who'd plainly taken off zillions more bras than Clark had in his brief career as a girl, made short work of the clasp, and after a moment of awkward tangling Clark was bare to the waist. Lex's hands - Clark's mind refused to process, but it felt amazing, and Lex made a sound somewhere in between a purr and a moan.

Clark was lying back on the floor now, Lex straddling him. His hips bucked up, responding to the golden twist inside, the need to move and rub and -

Lex's hand was moving between his legs, but blocked by the thick denim of Clark's jeans it wasn't quite right. Clark had to restrain himself from pushing up so hard it would have sent Lex to the ceiling. He made a sort of keening sound as Lex's tongue circled his nipple, then sucked it into his mouth.

He had a hand around Lex's neck, straining with the effort of just resting there and not pulling him closer.

"May I take off your jeans?"

Clark's head thunked back against the carpet. "Let's - uh - let's just assume the answer to the next three questions is 'yes,' okay?" He was extremely proud of himself for this long-term planning.

"Careful," Lex said as he popped the button at Clark's waist. "You shouldn't write blank checks like that." His breath was like a blast of summer heat against Clark's skin. Clark arched his hips, helping Lex pull the jeans and underwear down. During his slut phase in Metropolis, he'd never gotten naked, for obvious Kryptonian-shaped reasons, so having Lex's fingers on his bare thighs was almost as intimate as sex itself.

Clark kicked off the jeans from where they'd gotten tangled around his legs. Lex pulled back, bracing himself above Clark. The blue light from the TV was the only illumination, making Lex's face look distant and stony. Clark blinked up at him, completely at sea. Please, tell me what to do, he thought, wishing he knew how to speak the words.

"I could get lost in you," Lex murmured, and proceeded to lick his way from the hollow of Clark's neck to his navel, hands searching out places Clark hadn't known could feel so good.

"Please," Clark said. Progress, he thought. In a year or so of this, he might manage another complete sentence.

Lex, bless him, understood, and moved his mouth lower.

Clark didn't really know much about this part of sex. He'd never gone down on a girl when he was wearing the red ring, and Lana hadn't been all that enthusiastic when he'd made half-hearted attempts in that direction - he'd gotten the feeling she thought it was sort of gross.

"Gross" wouldn't have been his word for it. His eyes snapped open and his fists snapped closed as he tried not to punch any holes in the floor. Lex was using his hands to spread Clark's thighs further apart. His fingertips felt like falling stars against Clark's skin. His tongue moved up and down and around, strong and wet, making Clark gasp and tremble underneath him. Knowing Lex, he was probably tracing out dirty Latin poems.

He brought his hands up to his head, clenching them in his own hair to keep from doing something dangerous, as Lex pushed his legs up so his knees were touching his chest. The wet sounds were like the slap of waves against the lakeshore. Then the waves were sweeping through him, picking him up and crashing him into the earth again and again, until he made a weak, kittenish sound that made Lex pull his head away and pillow it on Clark's heaving chest. If Clark could have thought, he would have tried to compare it to his previous guy-orgasms, but at this point he couldn't remember anything that happened more than five minutes ago.

Lex's mouth was shiny. Clark couldn't have looked away if a bomb had exploded beside him.

He was still wearing all his clothes. This didn't seem right, and Clark brushed a hand down Lex's cheek to his collar, tugging experimentally.

"I'd like to be inside you," Lex said. Clark nearly tore the shirt off him, but settled for nodding and watching, his eyes burning, while Lex reached out and hit the remote, turning the TV off, then undressed in the darkness. He'd had a condom in his pocket the entire time, Clark realized as he switched to X-ray vision to watch. He'd planned this. At the thought, Clark groaned. Lex reached out and squeezed his breast, his fingers still damp from where they'd just been.

Clark was glad it was dark; that way Lex couldn't see him shaking. His legs spread apart at Lex's touch. He couldn't seem to get any air, as if his lungs were filled with mercury, heavy and silver.

Lex slid into him with his fencer's grace, a thrust like the edge of a sword, cutting him open without any pain. There were too many sensations. He couldn't tell one from another, as if his skin were a single nerve, as if he'd been hit by a sheet of lightning.

The second orgasm lasted longer and left him twitching randomly, pawing at Lex, only the lessons of a lifetime keeping him from clutching hard enough to hurt. Lex's face was tight with concentration, unfamiliar in Clark's X-ray gaze, his eyes closed and his mouth open, like a saint transfixed with God's ecstatic touch.

When he came, with a soft sound like he was trying to hide, Clark felt tears threatening. His skin so soft and slick, vulnerable as humans were vulnerable, his natural scent overwhelming the trace of expensive cologne, his breath panting hotly in Clark's ear - it was almost too much. Clark closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the carpet. "Oh my god." It seemed like a really profound statement, at the time.

Lex snorted, but in a nice way.

Would it be wrong to ask how long it would be until they could do that again? Clark hadn't ever had a need to master the art of the second date, or even the second sex act, in Metropolis. And he wasn't sure whether it was Lex or the different anatomy, but damn that had seemed to last longer and go higher than the orgasms he remembered.

While he pondered, Lex pulled back, the rustling sounds indicating that clothing and prophylactics were being put in their proper places. He kept his eyes closed when the light clicked on, even though his hands twitched to cover his exposed - well, now he had a lot more to cover than before, didn't he?

"If you want, we can move into someplace more comfortable," Lex suggested, already standing.

When he sat up and pulled his shirt to his chest, Lex was watching him, his gaze burning like the August sun. It was almost worth the disaster his life had become. Like the sun, it made him feel powerful.

"Yeah," he breathed and held a hand out for Lex to help him up. "That's a really good idea."

Clark managed three days doing his chores in the morning, going out into the fields until the afternoon, and then running to the mansion, where he stayed until well after midnight, before his parents caught up with him.

He knew he was in trouble when he saw the lights still on in the kitchen. Slowing to human speed, or maybe a bit below, he trudged across the yard and up the stairs to the kitchen door.

His mom and dad were sitting at the table, across from one another. Mom's hands were wrapped around a coffee mug. There were lines in her face he'd never noticed before. His dad's back was tense, shoulders pulled in tight under his faded plaid shirt.

Warily, he circled around in the disturbing silence until he reached his usual seat between them. He hesitated, one hand on the back of his chair.

"Sit down, s - Clark," his dad said, in the carefully even tone that meant bad news.

The chair scraped on the floor as he pulled it out, making his mom jump. Swallowing, he sat down, wishing he'd showered before he left the mansion.

His mom pushed her mug away and began. "Where have you been, Clark." Despite the word order, it wasn't a question. Her voice was soft, disappointed.

"With Lex," he said, because that was the crux of the matter and it would have been silly to say "the mansion."

"I don't want you seeing him," his father said before he'd even finished speaking.

Clark paused, trying to make his thoughts coherent. "I'm not going to stop." "I'm sorry" wanted to tumble out of his mouth, but he wasn't so he didn't add it.

His father's jaw worked and his hands clenched into fists where they rested on the table. "You can't -"

"I'd say we have good evidence there's not much I can't do!" he said, gesturing at his chest.

"Clark, you're too young to be making these kinds of decisions," his mom said, continuing on even as he opened his mouth. "It's different for girls. These things - sex - it has consequences, and you don't have eighteen years of experience with that. You have a few weeks."

"I'm not a girl! It's not a genetic change, I can't get pregnant, I don't have different hormones. I'm the same person I was last month." Clark was nearly purple with embarrassment, he was sure, but the anger at their interference was helping him with the words.

"He's taking advantage of you!" his dad burst out. "All he wants is -" He stopped and glared, unwilling to say the words.

"I've wanted him for years," Clark said raggedly. His mom drew in a sharp breath.

"Clark -" his father tried again, ignoring the admission. "It's dangerous for you. He's always wanted your secret."

"He wanted Clark Kent's secret," Clark corrected. "Kal Matthews is just someone he - uh, someone he just met. He doesn't know there are any secrets. God, do you know what a relief that is? It's like starting over."

"I know you feel - close to him right now," his mom interrupted, making Clark turn away from his dad. "But what happens two months from now? What happens when he - Lex doesn't have a good history with relationships."

Clark smiled, not happily, because he knew the answer to that. "Yeah, and I'm Mister Successful with relationships myself. A few months from now I move to Metropolis, just like we planned before, only I get my GED as Kal and then go to college. I know this isn't going to last. I know he doesn't care about me. Why would he? He doesn't even know me. But I can't - I'm willing to live with that." He picked at a loose thread on the red-and-white checked tablecloth, then forced his hand to still.

"No," his father said.

"The way I see it," Clark said, looking between the two of them, fixing his eyes on the commemorative plate for the Smallville County Fair that hung on the wall behind them, "one of two things can happen. I can stay here, doing my chores and spending the night here, for the rest of the summer. Or I can go to the mansion."

It was a calculated risk. A terrible thing to do to his parents, because he was playing on their fears that he'd run away again, but he didn't know how else to communicate his seriousness.

His father made an angry sound and stood up. His mother tugged at his father's arm, but he didn't sit back down.

"I'm not doing this because I want to hurt you," Clark said, willing them to understand. "But I'm going to make decisions you don't like. That's part of me being grown up. I'm sorry you're unhappy." And he was, with every cell, even though he wasn't about to change his mind.

He got up and went to bed without another word. Downstairs, his parents were talking, his mom's voice low and calming and his dad still agitated. He avoided listening to what was actually said, but it took him a long time to get to sleep.

In the morning, he did his chores without speaking to his dad. Usually they didn't need to talk, but it was different to be not speaking, instead of just happening not to speak. When he was done, he went over to the mansion, surprising the security with his early arrival, and stopped by the kitchen before he went up to the library. Lex's classics were mostly too boring and his science fiction collection just a little too close to home, no pun intended, so he ended up reading a lot of biochemistry, which was interesting enough to keep him distracted.

They settled easily into a routine after that. Clark woke, dressed, did chores, and headed over to the mansion, where he'd keep busy with Lex's books and DVDs until Lex was done working for the day. Then they'd eat and have sex, or have sex, eat, and have sex again, depending on how tense Lex was. Sometimes Lex would bring work home, to do in between sessions. Sometimes Clark would just watch him, surreptitiously if possible and openly if not. Lex didn't like exposing his body, but when Clark got the urge he could play with his X-ray vision and see anything he wanted. He could even see in the dark, when Lex was almost unguarded.

They did everything, and then they did it again. If it had been anything other than sex, Clark would have gotten bored spending so much time in the same places, staring at the same pillows or ceiling or art, but somehow boredom was not a problem. Neither, owing to his invulnerable skin, was rugburn, which was convenient for when they didn't make it to Lex's bed. When Lex was exhausted, Clark would head back home.

"You don't have to leave," Lex said, one night about a month in. He said it lightly, but Clark could almost see the danger signs flashing all around him.

"I don't - I'm supposed to be staying with the Rosses," he said, putting on his shirt and looking for his shoes. "And I haven't, you know, told them about this. Us."

"Kal, do you think there's anyone in Smallville who doesn't know exactly what you're doing here? Well, perhaps not exactly," Lex amended, and Clark obligingly blushed.

"I'm sorry," he said and fled. Lex didn't bring it up again, and he didn't act wounded or anything, so Clark fervently hoped it had just been a whim. Clark was not in favor of women moving into the mansion - they all seemed to get mad, if not murderous, once they did that - and he wasn't prepared to break that rule even for himself.

Clark was reading Harold Bloom on Shakespeare when he heard the noise from the garden, like a very large engine. He went to the window, looking down at the grounds, but didn't see anything. It sort of sounded like --

The thing that blackened the window as it bounded past was at least two stories tall. It pushed off from the exterior stone wall, and Clark heard the structure groan.

"Oh, no," he said, as he looked out at the supersized housecat now prowling the Luthor estate. It had a white bib, white spots over its eyes like clown makeup, and three white paws; the rest was black. A zillion tons of fluffy death. Clark had seen the barn cats playing with mice, letting them think they'd gotten away, grabbing them back at the last possible instant, skinning them by inches.

He swallowed. The cat's legs were taller than he was, the claws bigger than his head.

He really wished - not for the first time - that his parents had seen fit to send him to Earth with a robotic companion or, even, a Kryptonian dog-type animal, so he could be protected from these sorts of things.

Clark shrugged at the vagaries of fortune and zipped out into the garden, barrelling past security people with shotguns that were thinner than one of the cat's whiskers. He had to be fast, before humans were endangered.

The cat stretched, throwing its shoulders back as its claws raked up bushes and flowerbeds, and purred, a sound like a helicopter landing.

Damn. Did Krypto-mutants need to be cute? It was an unfair advantage. True, this cat was probably once someone's beloved little kitty, but things had changed.

He'd just have to be quick. Heat vision would be painful; he couldn't get his arms around its neck to break it; cats survived long falls, and even if he had a bridge off of which to dump it, this one seemed likely to survive a longer fall than most.

Flipping through anatomy books in his mind, very few of which dealt with cats, he tried to figure out what to do. The common housecat lost two-thirds of its brain volume compared to wildcats when it was domesticated, he remembered. That was probably a helpful fact if he had to outwit it.

One of the security officers reached the garden wall and stopped, taken aback by the sheer size of the animal. The cat turned its head and yawned, revealing a pink tongue the size of a car and fangs like cave formations. It blinked at the man once, twice. Then it gathered its feet underneath itself and began to pounce.

Clark was in superspeed before he knew what he was going to do, gathering the man up and moving him twenty feet back, then zipping to where the cat's mouth was about to snap closed on empty air. He jumped, landing on the broad plane between nose and eyes. "I'm really sorry about this," he said, though given how fast he was going he doubted the cat could have understood him.

Then he punched through its skull and into its brain, swirling his fist around to create the maximum damage.

The cat yowled, a high warble abruptly cut off as it began to collapse. Clark's back was to the mansion, so he couldn't see whether the security people were watching. He pulled his gore-spattered arm out of the dying body and scurried over the bulk of the cat, using hairs like climbing ropes. Once on the other side, he scanned through the cat, saw Lex's security approaching with caution (and big guns), and hurried home to get cleaned up.

He buzzed through the house, figuring that his mom would be more upset if she saw him in the clothes he'd ruined, and got into the shower. After the water had been running for a few minutes, he heard a knock at the bathroom door.


"Mom?" he called out.

"I thought that strange blur might be you. Is something the -" She stopped, obviously having seen the disgusting shirt puddled on the floor. The bra might be salvageable, and the jeans, but that shirt wasn't even going to make the rag bag. Blood, brains and bone fragments would do that to a garment.

"Don't worry," he said over the rushing water, shaking shampoo out of his hair. "The shirt was the only victim."

"Okay," she said, not sounding convinced. Clark turned the water off and reached for a towel to wrap around his waist.

When he stepped out of the shower, his mother's expression baffled him, until he realized that he really needed another towel. Possibly two more.

"Oh, jeez," he said, turning hastily away.

"No, honey, it's all right. It's just -"

"I know," he said, sighing.

He put on fresh clothes, ran down the stairs at human-speed but nonetheless managed to ignore his mother's called-out invitation to spend some time with her, and headed back to the mansion.

That night, Lex spoke briefly to his head of security before he came to dinner. "We had a bit of trouble in the back garden today," he said, shaking out his napkin as he sat.

"Really?" Clark gave him his best know-nothing smile. "I didn't hear anything."

"Yes, security went looking for you to make sure you were safe, but couldn't find you."

"When was it?" This question was one Clark wouldn't have asked two or three years ago. He was a slow learner, but the lessons stayed burned in.

"Oh, about ten-thirty."

Clark shrugged. "I was probably in the library annex. So what happened?"

"It's still something of a mystery," Lex said, stabbing at his fish as if it were responsible for his baldness. "Apparently, a giant cat got onto the grounds, and then collapsed and died, a hole bored through its head."

"Okay," Clark said, "'mystery' seems like an understatement. Giant cat? Like a tiger or a lion?"

Lex looked up and smiled. "No, a giant cat. Twenty-six feet tall, but otherwise a perfectly good pet."

Clark let his fork fall onto his plate. "You're kidding."

Lex narrowed his eyes.

"I mean, I knew Smallville was weird, the Rosses always said so, but I thought Pete made most of it up."

"It's probable that Pete Ross knows only the half of it."

Clark was very nervous then, so he stayed off the subject for the rest of the evening, and distracted Lex with better things than talking.

Now that home was as good as off-limits during the day, the mansion quickly became nearly as confining as the farm. It wasn't natural to be so isolated, Clark thought, and jaunts out to Minnesota and points west to help out during natural disasters weren't a substitute for normal human contact, because he couldn't afford to talk to people while he was performing superhuman feats. The mansion staff were leery of him, of Kal, and anyway if he talked to them too much Lex might think he was planning some sort of coup.

Lex as a lover was very different from Lex as a best friend. There were so many shared experiences, from jokes to near-death situations, that he could no longer mention, and lots of topics that he shied away from in case his opinions seemed too similar to Clark Kent's, in case he let loose with one of his dad's choice phrases. It was easier to keep the conversation simple and relatively uninteresting. The sex was great, but Clark was still lonely.

All this ran through his head the day he decided to ignore yet another parental decree and go to the Talon.

Pete wasn't there when he arrived, probably because Chloe and Lana both were. Though they'd pretended that they'd sorted things out before graduation, going to the prom in a group of four "good friends and nothing more," Clark thought Pete was doing the same dance with Chloe and Lana he'd done two years before, and was no more graceful than Clark had been. At least this time Chloe and Lana's friendship seemed unstrained, as if practicing on Clark had enabled them to keep their easy rapport untainted by the boys in their lives.

In fact, when he came through the door, Chloe was leaning over the counter, her right elbow dangerously near a cream-cheese frosted carrot muffin. Her back was to the door, but Lana's expression suggested that she was saying something slightly risque.

Clark remembered why he didn't like being out in public. Every eye in the Talon was on him, some openly and others trying to hide it. His too-good hearing picked up whispers with the word "Luthor" in them.

He set his jaw and walked up to the counter. Lana gave him a polite, cheerful smile. "Good afternoon, can I help you?"

Chloe, beside him, was not ashamed to stare. Clark wasn't sure there was anything left that she was ashamed of.

"Uh, a tall latte?" At least he'd mastered the feminine habit of making a statement sound like a question.

"Coming right up." Lana's professional smile was just the same, as if she had an infinite number of Xeroxed copies.

As she turned away, Chloe tapped him on the shoulder. "Hi," she said when Clark swiveled to face her. "Chloe Sullivan." She held out her hand.

Clark shook it. "Kallista Matthews," he said. Chloe had heard the name "Kal" associated with Clark before, and she was no dope.

"So you're the latest resident of the mansion," Chloe said. "We've all been wondering who the mysterious woman is."

He smiled nervously. "I'm not mysterious," he said. "I'm just visiting."

"From where?"

"Edge City." Consistency is the key to a successful lie, that and sticking as close to the truth as possible. Since he couldn't do the latter - any acceptable story was on another continent than the truth -- he had to rely on the former.

Years of experience let him actually see Chloe running through a list of questions in her head.

"So, is this the place where people hang out?" he interrupted, hoping to get a little control.

"This is as close as we've got in Smallville," she said, emphasizing the 'Small.' "It's actually co-owned by Mr. Luthor."

"Oh," Clark said, and made a show of looking around. "It's, um, not much like his decorating style in the mansion."

"That's Lana's influence," Chloe confided, as Lana returned with his order. Clark fumbled in his jeans for a five dollar bill, wondering again how women managed their clothing, with its too-small pockets and too-restrictive cuts. He managed to tug the money out of his front pocket, but it was a near thing. "Lana Lang, meet Kallista Matthews, late of Edge City."

Lana smiled at him, a pure brilliant thing that he'd once thought he'd die to have all to himself. "Welcome to Smallville."


"Come sit with us," Chloe urged, taking his arm. "We'll tell you all the town's dirty little secrets, and you can tell us what it's like to live with Lex Luthor."

"Chloe!" Lana squealed, shooting Clark an apologetic glance. "Chloe lacks that strange thing called tact."

"It's all right," Clark said, filled with a sudden nostalgia for Chloe's blunt inquiries. "She's only saying what everybody thinks."

"See?" Chloe pointed self-righteously at Clark. "Kallista understands the value of plain speaking. Take a break, Lana, and help me educate her about this one-horse town."

Lana went into the back for a moment and returned, taking off her green apron as she followed Chloe and Clark to a free table. Clark, buoyed by the presence of old friends, gave a little wave to the most obvious starers, who turned away, caught.

Clark questioned the two girls thoroughly, wanting to have an explanation if he slipped up and seemed to know too much about them. They finished each other's sentences and collapsed into giggles when some funny story or other came up. "You seem like really good friends," he said, a bit wistfully. He'd lost that chance with either of them through a combination of sex and species, but it was good to see them so happy.

Lana and Chloe looked at each other, and burst out laughing.


"A story for another time, Kallista," Chloe said. "Anyway, don't think I haven't noticed you changing the subject from you and Lex Luthor. How did you two meet?"

Clark looked down at the table. "It's not very interesting. We met in a club in Metropolis."

"Hmm," Chloe said. "What were you wearing?"

He shrugged. "Nothing special. A T-shirt and jeans."

"What color T-shirt?"

"Um, red I think. Is it important?"

Lana was staring at Chloe with mingled admiration and horror. "Chloe ..." she said quietly.

Chloe swirled her straw in the dregs of her iced mocha. "Just a theory I have, about what gets Lex's motor running."

It was like being in a dream, where you see the cliff edge and want not to go off, but just keep moving towards it. "What's the theory?"

She smiled, looking a lot like the giant cat Clark had dealt with the other day. "Just that Lex goes for a certain type of gorgeous, and primary colors always help."

"Chloe and I are going to Metropolis next week," Lana said before Chloe was finished. "Would you like to come?"

"Oh, I couldn't intrude -"

"Not at all," Lana said. Chloe nodded. "We're going to check out the stores, maybe go to a museum in the afternoon."

"Well -" Clark was weakening. He wouldn't mind having people to talk to who did watch broadcast television, unlike Lex or his parents. And this way he'd get to see two of his best friends before he moved to Metropolis. Get to say goodbye to them, even if they couldn't say goodbye to him. "I'd love to go."

"Great!" Lana said, smiling. "We'll give you a call."

Chloe nudged Lana. "Lana here has the direct line to Lex's home office. Benefits of co-owning a business with him."

Clark thought about what a girl might say. "Uh, were you and he ever --?"

Lana choked on her coffee. "No," she said as Chloe thumped her back.

"Lex would never make a move on the high school crowd," Chloe explained, searching Clark's face for something. "Buying the Talon was kind of a favor for a friend. Lana's just the working stiff who makes it all run. Anyway," she grinned at Lana, "Lana wears too much pink for Lex."


Clark smiled uncertainly. He could tell that Lana wasn't really mad, but this was treading far too close to dangerous ground. "I think it looks good on you," he said, as casually as he could. Now that he thought about it, he could see that Lana really was Lex's type, minus the big-city sophistication. He wondered if Lex had refrained from doing anything out of respect for Clark; Lex was still unconvinced that Lana was off Clark's wish list for good.

"Thank you," Lana said and raised an eyebrow at Chloe.

After that, Clark made his excuses and headed back to the mansion. He wasn't sure that a Metropolis trip was a brilliant idea, but then his ideas had rarely been brilliant and they'd usually worked out. Of course, they'd also gotten him sex-switched, but hanging out with Chloe and Lana was unlikely to have consequences quite as grand.

Clark was a little hesitant to bring it up, but he didn't want to give Lex any additional stress. ("I'm not tense, Clark, I just have to be vigilant every nanosecond of my existence.") So, after the welcome-home sex, he rolled over and stared at the ceiling and began.

"You can stop leaving those portfolios around. I'm never going to read one."

Lex didn't so much as twitch. "Excuse me?"

"Look, suppose I am a corporate spy. I'm not stupid enough to think that there's anything real in the files you 'forget' back here. So, you know, turn that devious mind of yours in some other direction."

Lex half-turned in the bed, staring at Clark in the near darkness created by the heavy drapes screening out the sunset. Clark could feel Lex's quads brushing against his thighs, and Lex put a warm hand on Clark's stomach, not quite caressing.

"What direction would that be?"

"Down?" Clark suggested. When Lex bent to comply, Clark had to throw his head back, pressing into the heavy down pillow, and laugh with joy.

After, when Lex was mostly disentangled again, he continued as if there'd been no interruption. "So, supposing you are a corporate spy, how do you plan to get information out of me?"

Clark threw his hands up as if in surrender. "You've turned me. I was going to hypnotize you and get you to confess all, but you've made me see the error of my ways. You're like the James Bond of business moguls."

Lex snorted, which made Clark look over incredulously at the source of such a low-class sound. "Not the Blofeld?"

They'd spent the summer between his junior and senior years working their way chronologically through the Bond films, with a detour into The Avengers after Clark declared his undying love for Diana Rigg upon viewing On Her Majesty's Secret Service. "Believe it or not, Lex, being bald doesn't automatically create a fellowship with every other bald guy out there."

"Not even the other bald magnates out to rule the world?"

"What, you --" Clark held up his hand and counted exaggeratedly on his fingers, "Blofeld, Daddy Warbucks, and ...?"

"I suppose it is a short list."

Clark was discovering that Lex's bedroom voice was even sexier in an actual bedroom. He snuggled up to Lex, pressing kisses down his chest. Lex wasn't going to be recovered for a bit, but that didn't stop Clark from playing. "It's the wrong list. I vote for Captain Picard and Warrior Angel instead."

"Smallville - ah! - Smallville doesn't need me for a hero," Lex said, running a hand through Clark's hair.

"Maybe you need you to be a hero." That was all the wisdom Clark had time to impart before he was distracted by more pressing matters.

"No, you don't have any information, which frankly I find reassuring," Lex said into the phone as Clark opened the door to the office. He hesitated, not wanting to interrupt, but Lex waved him in.

"No, I don't," Lex said, and rolled his eyes, which suggested that his father was on the other end of the conversation. "No, certainly not. And if I do, you'll be the first to read it in the next day's paper." Lex pushed his chair back from his desk impatiently as Clark suppressed the urge to listen in. "Goodnight," he said and put the receiver back in its cradle as if he were wiping something slimy off his hand. "Sorry, Kal. Grand Hotel not entertaining enough?"

"Not as entertaining as you," Clark said and walked over, slipping around the desk so he could lean against it, blocking Lex's access to his blotter and letting Lex pull closer, between his spread legs. "Are you going to be much longer?"

Lex looked at the silk robe Clark had appropriated ("It looks much better on you; red was never my color anyway."), which was open almost to where he'd belted it at the waist, showing more cleavage than J. Lo did. Clark was extremely proud of the effect. Lex reached out and slowly tugged the belt free, winding it around his hands and pulling it taut in a way that made Clark's mouth dry.

"I'm sorry I've been - tied up," Lex said. "What can I do to make it up to you?"

It was so good to be Kal, to be able to play with Lex and not need to stutter and misunderstand. Clark let the robe slip off his shoulders. "Turnabout is fair play?" he suggested.

Lex smiled.

The sound of footsteps in the hall brought Clark's head up from the volume of Dumas pere he'd been reading. He twisted on the couch so he could smile at Lex.

Only it wasn't Lex. It was Lionel Luthor, his hair flowing around his face like he was posing for a cheap picture of Jesus. Clark scrambled to sit up, wishing he had a sweater to pull over his T-shirt. "Uh, hello."

"Hello, Kal - it is Kal, correct?"

Clark nodded. He wasn't planning on saying any unnecessary words.

"Well, Kal, my name is Lionel Luthor. Lex's father." Lionel crossed the room, tugging at his pants as he sat, a move Clark had seen Lex make a thousand times. He managed not to cringe away when Lionel ended up less than six inches away on the couch.

Clark brought his knees together and swiveled a little so he could see Lionel, in case of any sudden moves. "Pleased to meet you." He held out his hand, reminding himself that he was invulnerable.

Lionel ran his thumb across the back of Clark's hand as they shook. Clark's eyes widened and his breath sped up. He was practically broadcasting freaked-outness, and Lionel had to know it.

He pulled back, feeling Lionel's fingers skim over his. Don't talk, his brain insisted, even as his mouth opened. "Lex isn't home."

"Oh, I know." Lionel smiled, his eyes insinuating things Clark couldn't even contemplate. "I wanted to meet the young woman who has my son so ... captivated."

Clark looked down.

"Modest, too." There was a pause, but Clark didn't raise his eyes, and Lionel continued, amused, "Where did you come from, Kal?"

That was ominous wording. Or was he just paranoid? Even paranoids have Lionels, Lex would say. "I, uh, don't think Lex would want me talking to you."

"Not so pleased to meet me after all, then."

Clark dragged his gaze up into eyes cheerful with malice. "You just - I don't think I should come between the two of you." And then blushed miserably as he caught his own accidental innuendo. Lionel's smile widened.

"No, we wouldn't want that." His voice rubbed over Clark's skin like a cat's tongue, rough and sensuous. "My son has a definite type, Kal. Tall, dark, usually intelligent, a well-formed figure. You look very much like his first two wives, and I imagine the resemblance is ... more than skin deep."

"I don't want to kill him," Clark snapped, regretting it as soon as the words were out.

Lionel's smug expression didn't change. "Yes, well, give it time. What is it that you do want, Kal?"

Lex. The name trembled on his tongue, but he clamped his mouth shut.

"As a father, I have a right to know more about my son's latest inamorata."

"As a father? That's a good one. Sure you don't mean 'as a rival'?" Lex's voice rang out from the doorway. Clark turned to him almost too quickly and breathed out in relief. Someone on the security staff had obviously divined that job security would be improved by notifying Lex that his father was in the building, and Lex had come to rescue him.

Should he get up and go over to Lex? "Stand by your man" started playing in his head, a distraction he needed like he needed a Kryptonite sandwich. He settled for a strained smile, which Lex didn't return.

Lex, meanwhile, had walked towards the couch, close enough that Clark had to crane his head back to see Lex's face. Lionel stood, presumably unwilling to be put in such an awkward position. Now Clark was looking up at them both, and he felt even more out of place. If they got to serious fighting, maybe he could superspeed out of the room unnoticed.

"Good to see you, son," Lionel said equably.

Lex's mouth twitched. "I wish I could say the same, Dad, but I know you hate being lied to. What do you want?"

Lionel put on a hurt expression, like an actor in a silent movie who had to exaggerate every expression. "I only wanted to meet your new friend - but, since you're here, we might as well discuss those lysine contracts you negotiated with ADM."

"Of course." Lex still wanted his father's approval, after all this time. The longing was plain on his face, right along with the mistrust.

"I should -" Clark said as Lex said, "Kal, would you --?" They both stopped, and Lex's indulgent smile improved Clark's mood remarkably.

"Give me a few minutes?" Lex suggested. If Clark hadn't known better, he'd have thought Lex's attention was fully on him.

Clark nodded. "I'll be upstairs." He had to wriggle a little to get off the couch without bumping into Lionel. He wanted to reach out and touch Lex, just his hand or his shoulder, but Lex wouldn't appreciate it.

He could feel Lionel's eyes, like overfriendly hands, on him as he left. Hesitating twenty feet down the hall, he debated eavesdropping, then realized that he wasn't debating; he was just listening.

"She's prettier than the last few," Lionel said. Clark refocused so he could watch, and saw Lionel moving to the sideboard where the liquor was kept. "But she seems ... I hate to say this, Lex, but do you think she's ... simple?"

Lex had his hands in his pockets, somehow lounging without leaning against anything. He was wearing a light gray shirt with a violet tie and darker gray pants; doubtless there was a matching jacket still hanging over the back of a chair at the plant.

Lionel poured his drink, neat ("It's not a statement of approval, Clark, it's a term of art."), and took a sip. "Nothing to say in defense of your lady love?" He was looking at the painting above the sideboard, the one that always reminded Clark of a starfield.

"Simply that I think your description is not quite accurate." Lex's smile looked real, and Clark hoped it was just the distortion of X-ray vision. It wasn't that he didn't know how Lex felt. He just hated to have Lionel hear it. "Did you come all this way merely to hit on Kal?"

Lionel laughed into his drink. "So suspicious, Lex."

"Just like you always hoped I'd be." Lex's stance hadn't changed, but the coiled tension under the calculated relaxation was more apparent now. "Your arrival dragged me out of a truly deadly meeting, but if you don't want to talk I would like to use my unexpected freedom some other way."

Lionel turned back to Lex, his face stony. "Zip up your pants, Lex. We have business to discuss."

Lex swallowed. "By all means, then." He gestured towards his desk, simultaneously moving to sit behind it.

Clark waited until they were definitely discussing food additives before heading up to Lex's bedroom.

Really big kitty-cats aside, the summer was quiet. Four years of meteor mutants working out the changes of puberty, not to mention Lex and Lionel's respective meteor research projects, had pretty much stripped Smallville of its freaks of the week. From occasional escapees and things Lex had said, Clark knew that Lionel still had huge stocks of refined Kryptonite, so it wasn't completely over, but that particular threat was no longer ever-present. He could enjoy his summer vacation and trust that Pete would call from his hangout at the Talon if any problems arose in town.

He did some running, out to places devastated by tornados, blurring around to help without being seen. He was going to need a disguise if he wanted to take up rescue systematically. There were a lot of tornados that summer. Global warming, Lex said at dinner, and talked about investments in genetic engineering to create weather-hardened grains. Clark listened and asked about the risks of Frankenfood; their conversations had gotten a little more substantial over time, even if they were mostly postcoital.

Lex talked about balancing risks and a third of the world going to bed hungry. When Clark ran around and saw all the devastation, he was a little more sympathetic to the idea of taking risks.

His first flight was, as always with his powers, accidental.

Clark was at a fire in Metropolis's Chinatown, using his vision to check for people, when he found two kids trapped on the fourth floor of one of the burning buildings. He could do a jump that high from a standing start, but just as he leapt, the crash of another building collapsing distracted him. He found himself hurtling towards brickwork instead of the nearest window. It wouldn't hurt, of course, but he worried about the building's structural stability. His superhearing allowed him to distinguish the sound of the children beginning to choke. Ridiculously, he put his arm out -

And stopped, hovering, his palm inches from the bricks with their paint beginning to blister.

"Holy s -" he began, then started to drop. But the children were dying. I can't fall, he thought, and rose, heading towards the window.

He punched through a pane, broke the catches, and lifted the window, minimizing the glass fragments that sprayed into the room. He was in a bedroom, decorated in a New Transformers theme. Two little boys in pajamas were cringing under a bed.

Clark lifted the bed. "Come on," he said.

They stared at him until he gave up and grabbed them, zipping out through the window as the bed began to fall. He concentrated and softened the landing.

How cool was that? He was so impressed by this new twist that he only remembered to speed away after a firefighter saw them and pointed.

In the Daily Planet story, one of the boys was quoted as saying that an angel rescued them, though the other insisted that it was Birzana, the anatomically exaggerated blue Transformer.

Lex was using his home gym while Clark lounged on a padded bench by the wall. Lex had given him a funny look when he'd said he'd come along for Lex's workout, but hadn't said anything. Clark had a biography of Lyndon Johnson to read - Lex's bookshelves were by turns enlightening and disturbing - but he was spending more time watching Lex lift what was really a goodly amount of weight, for a human.

Lex never seemed self-conscious, and didn't now, though he glanced over at Clark every few minutes.

"If you're not going to read," Lex said at last, "you could come over and spot me."

Clark put the bookmark in place ("It's a book, Clark, not a burger wrapper. Kindly treat it as such."), rose unhurriedly, and crossed the room to where Lex was lying on a bench. He was wearing sweatpants that weren't, in Clark's opinion, tight enough, and a long-sleeved gray shirt, now darker with sweat.

"What do I do?" This was a legitimate question. Clark had never dared to lift weights at school. There was no reason to court disaster when disaster was already his attentive suitor.

Lex explained, and Clark put his hands in position to keep the bar from crushing Lex's throat if his arms failed. Now that Clark understood the spotter's role, he didn't like the thought of Lex doing this on his own.

He wasn't used to seeing Lex from this angle, upside down. Lex's shirt clung to his chest where he'd sweated through it as his jaw clenched with effort, breathing in as the bar came down and out as it went up in raw pants that reminded Clark of how he sounded in bed when he'd had a hard day at work.


"Yeah?" Lex asked, bringing the bar up and pausing. His face looked strange and almost unfamiliar, the soft curve of his chin more vulnerable somehow than the polished curve of his skull.

"Would you do me a favor?"

Down again, grunt and up. "What is it?"

Clark smiled fondly. Lex would never buy a pig in a poke. Actually, it was hard to imagine Lex buying a pig at all.

Focus, Kent.

"Take off your shirt."

"What?" Lex blinked rapidly and strained to raise the weight again.

"Take off your shirt," he repeated. It was hard to tell with Lex rotated a hundred and eighty degrees, but he thought Lex looked puzzled. "I want to look at you," he explained, blushing (of course).

Lex's arms were trembling, and Clark took some of the weight, as little as he could manage, helping Lex raise it and put it back on the rack. Lex sat up as Clark came around the bench to face him. Lex's expression hovered somewhere between suspicious and amused.

Clark forged ahead. "You work so hard for those muscles - I've felt them -" and seen them via X-ray, but it wasn't the same - "and I just want to see."

Lex's face blanked for a moment, then formed into a smile he probably thought was more convincing than it was. "I can't get in the way of the quest for knowledge, can I?" Decisively, he reached for the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head.

"Yeah," Clark said, or maybe he just thought it. Lex's skin was wet, shining under the harsh white lights of the gym. Pale and smooth, like living marble, like a dream come to life through the intervention of a god. The sweatpants hung low on his hips, revealing the top of his pelvic cut, and the solid squarish muscles of his shoulders made coherent thought impossible.

Lex stood and walked around Clark, who swiveled to follow his motion as if there were a pulled-taut line connecting them. He picked up a small barbell, the weights the size of dinner plates, sat on the edge of a bench, and started doing arm curls.

If Clark had been a cartoon dog, his tongue would have been flopping down on the floor and rolling out like a red carpet. As it was, he just had trouble remembering to breathe.

Lex. Skin. Lex's skin. Lex's muscles.

Fucking hadn't been this intimate. God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen past Lex's wrists. The faint purple-blue of his veins, the scattered freckles on Lex's biceps -- Clark hadn't had trouble controlling the heat vision in years, but he blinked rapidly to dissipate the urge burning in him.

Lex kept up the exercises for several minutes, or possibly several months. Clark shifted in his seat, watching and feeling his heart speed up with the sheer excitement of getting to see what no one else could.

At last, Lex lowered the weights and looked over. "You really - " Lex hesitated, as if he were afraid he was giving too much away - "like watching this?"

Clark rose, strode over to the bench and dropped to his knees, grabbing Lex's legs and burying his face in the crease of Lex's thigh. He stuck his tongue out and tasted the sodden cotton of the sweatpants, feeling Lex harden underneath the fabric.

"Oh," Lex said faintly from above. The weights clunked to the floor as Clark tugged at the pants, unwilling to let go of Lex long enough to make undressing simple.

Usually Clark let Lex set the pace, because he was really, really good at it. But lust, and the opportunity to see Lex naked in natural light, made him aggressive. He stripped, pushed Lex down against the bench, his fingers skidding across Lex's sweaty skin, and straddled him.

"I don't have -" Lex said, looking over at his discarded sweatpants.

No condoms. Shit. Clark closed his eyes. He was going to die if he didn't have Lex inside him right now, not to mention that Lex was likely to change his mind about letting Clark see if he got a chance to think. "I can't get pregnant. Not ever," he said.

Lex let his head fall back against the black padded bench and looked up at Clark, unblinking. "All right."

Clark would have been more excited about Lex's trust, but Lex's trust was presently the least exciting thing about him. Raising himself up, he slid down on Lex's cock, both of them groaning together. Lex was biting his lower lip, his head turned to the side, his hands resting loosely on Clark's hips. Clark took Lex's hands and stretched them over his head, turning them until Lex closed his fingers around the metal crossbar at the back of the bench. Laid out like that, every muscle on his arms stood out, shiny under the harsh gym lights. Clark touched his shoulders, his nipples, his stomach, everything that Lex had never shared with him before, and rocked himself through two spine-snapping orgasms while Lex panted and twisted beneath him.

Lex kept his eyes closed the entire time, even when he came.

After, Clark collapsed onto Lex's body, occasionally licking Lex's bare shoulder just for the taste of his skin as they recovered. Lex brought his arms down and draped them over Clark's neck, increasing the skin-to-skin contact.

"When I was a rebellious teenager - as opposed to a rebellious twentysomething - I was very aggressive about showing off my freak body," Lex said drowsily, his voice slow and thick as syrup as his fingers moved across Clark's back. "It was a matter of pride for me not to care. Then I got older, and realized that all the display wasn't getting me anything I wanted to have. So I took my privacy back."

Clark closed his eyes, despising everyone who'd ever made Lex feel less than perfect. "I think you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

Lex's fingers froze for a moment, then renewed their stroking. "You need to see more of the world." But he sounded pleased, anyway.

Later, back in the bedroom, in the darkness Lex preferred, they were lying entwined, Clark waiting for Lex to pull away and sleep. Lex said, "I'm sorry, Kal."


"About the - children."

It took Clark a moment to figure out what he meant, and a lot longer to come up with a reply. "It's okay," he said at last. "I mean - I've known for a while. It's not - it doesn't bother me."

Really, it didn't. Clark knew it probably would matter to him more someday, when he was older and wanted to leave some sort of legacy. But right now, he didn't want children, and he wasn't sure that Kryptonians were really a force for good in the universe, what with the world-conquering and son-punishing they seemed to favor.

Clark's hearing picked up the sound of glass breaking on the other side of the mansion. He put down a disturbingly well-read copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook, scanned through the walls to ensure no one was watching, and zipped to stand just outside Lex's office door.

A really big guy with really big biceps was shoving Lex against one of the bookshelves. This, Clark thought, was his job, and when he did it Lex had fun. The guy looked strange, blobby, his bones blurry and hard to see with X-ray vision.

Clark pushed open the door just as the guy raised a fist the size of an unabridged dictionary.

"Lex!" he called out, leading the big - green! - man to turn away from pummeling Lex.

"Whoah," the Hulk-like man said as Lex scrambled away. "Look at the luscious lady." He took a few floor-shaking steps towards Clark.

Clark felt the sickness that indicated that the guy, whoever he was, had a deep and intimate acquaintance with Kryptonite, possibly some meteor rock weightlifting combined with non-FDA-approved vitamin K. He staggered back against the doorframe, catching himself with one hand.

He was panting from the pain now, laboring to stay upright as the Hulk reached him and put one enormous paw on Clark's waist, pulling him painfully against the Kryptonite-infused torso.

It wasn't until Clark felt the Hulk's wet tongue on his neck that he realized he was being molested, not just hurt. It was like the first time he'd been hit by a car, the shock so great he couldn't quite understand it. The hand squeezing his breast couldn't be real.

"Get your fucking hands off her!" Lex's voice was strange with fury.

The guy's head swiveled, looking more like an action figure come to life each second, and laughed at Lex. Clark convulsed, his veins black and bulging where his bare arms were pressed against Kryptonite-tainted skin. All he could feel was the enormous fingers touching him, humiliating him.

He knew what to do. He sagged down, trying to drop to the floor so he could roll away.

The Hulk didn't let go. Instead, the pressure increased. Clark ground his teeth and struggled as much as the pain would allow.

There was a deep thud from above. Clark raised his head as the hands holding him loosened and he fell backwards, half out of the office. Lex was standing behind the Hulk, holding a marble statue of a faun now missing one of its arms, poised to swing again.

Clark scooted backwards, trying to get far enough away from the Kryptonite contamination to regain his strength. He looked up, hoping against hope that some new light fixture had been installed whose chain he could melt with his heat vision so it would fall on the Hulk.

The big green guy turned, roaring with pain, and put an arm up to block Lex's next blow, which took the remaining arm off the faun. A chip of marble caught Lex along his cheekbone, ripping it open as the Hulk used his other hand to punch Lex in the chest. Lex staggered back, dropping the statue as his hands went up to protect himself.

The Hulk smiled and kicked Lex in the stomach, sending him flying back against a bookshelf, which obligingly collapsed and rained rare books and objets d'art on Lex's head and shoulders. Lex slid to the floor, his eyes closed and his scalp bleeding in three places.

Clark was far enough away now that he had some strength back. There was a small bronze sculpture of a gazelle in the hallway by the door. He grabbed it by one hoof and hurled it at the Hulk, hitting right between his shoulderblades. One antler lodged in the muscle of his back, and now he was really screaming with rage and pain. Snarling, he reached back and pulled the metal free, flinging it back towards Clark. Now it was coated with Kryptonite-tained blood, and Clark could only duck as the heavy sculpture splintered the doorframe and skittered on the marble floor of the hallway.

The Hulk half-turned, staring murderously at Clark. "When we're done talking, you're gonna be real sorry you did that."

Lex was struggling to get to his hands and knees, still fighting. He gasped as his right arm collapsed, but managed to keep from planting his face in the floor by leaning more heavily on his left. The noise he made turned the Hulk'sman attention back to him. Clark watched, terrified, as the Hulk advanced on Lex, who looked up at his attacker fearlessly.

"I'm not getting paid enough for this shit," the Hulk said, bending down to grab Lex by the shoulders.

"Kal!" Lex called out as he disappeared behind the other man's bulk. "The hall closet!"

If Lex thought Clark was just going to run out on him to save himself -

Lex couldn't know that Kal would never -

But no, that instruction was too specific to be just about getting away. The Hulk was raising Lex for a throw that could easily break his back.

Clark decided.

The hall closet was locked; he punched through. Inside were shelves full of fusty blankets, boxes of gauze pads and other emergency supplies, flashlights, candles, an old broom. Nothing helpful. The microseconds were ticking away as he stood, flustered.

He couldn't say what made him decide to switch to X-ray. Whatever impulse it was, he owed it a lot: it was immediately apparent that some of the blankets weren't just scratchy wool. One pile was lead-lined.

He grabbed it all, shaking the blankets out awkwardly as he zipped back to the study, where the Hulk was frozen with Lex's body just below eye level. Clark threw the stiff blankets over the man's poisoned skin like a tarp going over a boat for the winter, pushing him down hard enough that he lost his grip on Lex, who twisted like a particularly slippery fish and managed to crash down on the man's shoulders, a bad landing but one that did the landed-on no favors. Clark dropped to his knees, right at the edge of the blankets, in case the guy kept trying to hurt Lex.

For a moment all anybody did was pant, punctuated by groans from the Hulk. Clark whacked him about where his kidneys should be. He didn't try to get up.

Lex looked up at Clark, his eyes wide, as he struggled to right himself on top of their assailant. "Good call on the blankets."

"They looked heavy," he offered lamely.

Lex, distracted by the effort of keeping their assailant down, just nodded. The man's green-flushed arm twitched out from under the blanket; Clark wobbled to his feet and stepped back as Lex grabbed the remains of the marble statue and brought it viciously down on the Hulk's shoulder. Lex raised his arm for another blow, looked over at Clark, and lowered the statue without striking.

When he leaned down to whisper vicious nothings in the man's ear, Clark made an effort not to hear.

After about a thousand years, Lex's security team showed up. Clark's glare at the sight of their incompetent faces, he thought, was probably more outraged than Lex's.

The Hulk was dragged out, still covered in lead, bound by fragile-looking plastic things like big twist ties, which Lex assured him were strong enough to hold against even a ton of pressure.

"Are you all right?" he asked as soon as they were alone again. He should ask about a doctor, but then Lex might ask about whether he needed one, and he didn't want to go down that road.

"I'm fine," Lex said, standing up from his desk, where he'd retreated to oversee the removal operation. Clark was still curled up at the corner of the couch, where he'd tried to look scared and harmless; he was pretty sure he'd achieved the former. Lex crossed the room and sat a careful foot from Clark. "What about you?"

He was close enough that Clark could feel his heat. Taking care not to grab on any bruises, Clark surged across the space between them and kissed him, kissed him like he should always have been kissed, to remind him that he was a wondrous man. No matter who was out to kill him.

Lex kissed back with careful enthusiasm. When they parted, he leaned back to get a better view of Clark. "Seems like I should face mortal danger more often."

Clark couldn't stop his fingers from clenching, too hard, on Lex's arms. "Don't joke," he said, and something in his face made Lex's expression turn from sly self-mockery to seriousness.

Lex put his hand up to cup Clark's cheek, the closest he was going to get to an apology, and Clark closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. There were lots of questions - was the Hulk really getting paid? If so, wasn't it almost certainly Lionel's doing, and thus Lionel's fault that his son almost died again? Not good lines of inquiry to pursue while Clark had no reason to suspect that Lionel's years of treachery were far from over. So instead he kissed Lex, whose dangerously fragile body was hot beneath him, and made love to him right there, barely tugging their clothes aside so that Clark couldn't see Lex's bruises and Lex couldn't see that Clark didn't have any.

Chloe's little green Bug was barely big enough for the three of them, Clark folded like a Swiss Army knife in the backseat, his head constantly banging against the glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary in the center of the back ledge. Virgin Mary in back; bobble-headed Buddha on the dash; silver star of David, what Chloe swore was a genuine gris-gris, and laminated square with Steve Jobs's picture on one side and Vishnu's on the other, all hanging from the rear-view mirror - Chloe's position was that Smallville was Bergen-Belsen for cars, and she wasn't going to shy away from asking any potential deity for protection for her beloved. For all Clark knew, she was right. At least she was still driving the same car three years later, something none of the rest of them could say.

Clark, wedged in the back, was designated the custodian of the Vanilla Coke, chocolate chip cookies, and sundry other supplies. Vanilla Coke was actually pretty good, he was surprised to discover. It was a good thing he was invulnerable, though, because a human his size and shape would have been a permanent pretzel by the time they reached Metropolis, not to mention that he kept hitting his head on the ceiling every time Chloe drove over a bump larger than a pea. The car had survived three years in Smallville; he couldn't really say the same for the shocks.

When they arrived in Metropolis, they went first to a shopping mall, where Chloe parked, stealing a space right from under the nose of an SUV approximately five times the size of her car. Two cinnamon buns and three bottles of water later, they strolled down the wide corridors, looking in windows and avoiding fellow shoppers. They could have been anywhere in America, Clark thought. ("The megamall is the bellwether of America, Clark. As the Limited goes, so goes the nation.")

Fashion wasn't so incomprehensible as all that, he realized. Lex was just as interested in his clothes as Chloe and Lana were in theirs, maybe more, and it was because they all had zillions of options, unlike Clark, whose appearance in anything other than about six different pieces of clothing would have been social death at Smallville High. He still couldn't get up the courage to look at himself in a mirror more than once a day, but he did offer opinions when Chloe's usual riot of colors threatened to become more of an insurrection.

In Old Navy, surrounded by thousands of T-shirts in ten separate styles and fifteen colors, Chloe and Lana started comparing the charms of the boys they'd dated. Clark was completely taken aback. He'd had no idea girls talked like this. They were worse than boys in the locker room. They were giggling.

"What about you, Kallista? Who's really made your head spin?" It was Lana who asked. Clark couldn't believe it.

He blushed miserably.

"Come on, enlighten us," Chloe urged.

"I don't think I should talk about Lex," he said.

"So it's Lex at the top of the list, eh?" Chloe grabbed a tie-dyed tank top and held it up to Clark's chest. "What about past guys?"

Clark stood there, paralyzed. If his face got any hotter, he wouldn't need heat vision to set things on fire.

"Kallista, was Lex your first?" Lana sounded shocked.

"Talk about starting off with a bang," Chloe agreed. "Pun definitely intended." She moved the top to her chest, gazing down at it critically.

"Look, can we - Yes, okay, yes. He's really -- You've seen him walk." They nodded. "Let's just say - truth in advertising, okay?"

They looked at him, wide-eyed, lips compressed to keep from squealing.

Chloe was the first to surrender to laughter, but Lana followed hard upon.

"You're not going to report on this, are you?" His voice was strained.

Chloe stopped laughing. "Of course not. Not everything is a story." She smiled wickedly. "This is just deep background."

Their laughter was contagious. Clark found himself chuckling along. At least until they started talking about him.

"Now, Clark," Lana said, not looking at either of them as she sorted through a pile of blue velvet jeans, "he was a good kisser."

Clark manfully (sort of) suppressed a smirk.

"A little heavy-handed, though," she continued. "He never really got the idea of going slow. Getting warmed up, you know." The words 'Lana' and 'salacious' had never before been associated in his mind, but it looked like there was a first time for everything. "Like there were only three points of interest under my clothes."

Chloe gave a choked giggle. "Clark and subtle aren't exactly in the same time zone."

Hey! Lana could have given him some indication, he thought resentfully, instead of bad-mouthing him to her friends later on. If she wouldn't help, what business did she have complaining?

"Are you going to try that on?" Chloe gestured at the shirt he was holding. He looked down and realized that he'd compressed the plastic of the hanger down into almost nothing where his fingers had been. Fortunately, the damage was concealed by the fabric of the shirt.

"Oh, yeah," he said, coming back to the present. "Are you ready?"

"Come on, ladies," Chloe urged. "Let's go be beautiful."

Clark wasn't really in the mood any more, but he dutifully tried on the dark blue top with the flowers embroidered around the neckline. Lana was right; it did look good on him, somehow drawing attention away from his chest towards his face. He bought it with the money he'd taken out of the bank yesterday - if it weren't for ATMs, he'd be completely screwed monetarily, but as it was he could get cash as necessary.

They took their bags back to the food court and french fries, and then it was away from the mall, thank goodness. The Metropolis Museum of Art was having a show on French Impressionists, and they drifted their way through it with about two thousand other people in search of high culture in the Kansas heartland. (That was a Lex thought, but Clark couldn't help it; he'd been contaminated by long exposure.)

After that, it was time for a mid-afternoon snack at a charming little cafe outside the museum. No wonder girls worry about their weight, Clark thought, if they're always eating like this. Then he looked at Lana and Chloe, glowing with the pleasure of a day free of responsibility, and felt ashamed.

They decided to walk down Third Avenue, Metropolis's answer to Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue, to scoff at clothes they couldn't hope to afford. The stroll made Clark reconsider fashion yet again. He couldn't believe that a reasonable person would stuff herself into some of the getups gracing the mannequins in the windows.

As they walked, a high-pitched sound caught Clark's attention. He focused his hearing and then his vision, and found himself looking down half a block, into the First National Bank of Metropolis - a bank whose ATMs had supplied him a lot of ready cash two years ago - where masked robbers were threatening about thirty customers and ten terrified bank employees. A security guard lay bleeding on the floor, and two others were on their knees, hands laced over the backs of their heads.

He owed the FNB. Although he'd given back as much money as possible, a lot had been spent, not to mention the cost of fixing the ATMs. While Lana and Chloe were discussing the merits of suede versus regular leather, Clark headed for the bank at top speed, blowing through the revolving door so fast that the robbers barely had time to turn before he was grabbing the shotguns out of their hands and knocking them out. For some reason, the tune to 'Little Bunny Foo Foo' went through his head as he made a pile of bent weaponry, hoping his Tasmanian Devil act would prevent anyone from getting a good look. If this counted as scoopin' up the field mice and boppin' them on the heads, he thought, at least he had experience in being turned into something new and strange.

Clark was ready to go when he realized that bank security cameras were probably better than most, and might have caught some image that could be slowed down. If he was identifiable on a tape going just under the speed of sound (he tried not to go faster than that because it tended to create too much noise), he'd be in even more trouble than if he just got caught near the site of some strange event as usual.

The patrons and cashiers were getting to their feet as Clark looked wildly around. He identified no fewer than fifteen cameras, and nearly tripped over one of the security guards as he dashed around disabling them with heat vision and brute force. His repeated trips through the confined space caused a wind to rise, sending papers shooting into the air in strange vectors and ruffling the hair of the confused people in the bank.

By the time he was done, police cars were pulling up to the front of the bank. He didn't want to go out the front, so he had to scan for a back entrance, then break his way through two locked doors, his hands fisted in his shirt to keep from leaving fingerprints, then scurry through the loading dock, slowing to human speed just before emerging onto the street.

He was beginning to realize that this hero stuff was even more complicated outside of Smallville, where people were more accustomed to the unbelievable.

It took him a few minutes to jog back to where he'd left Chloe and Lana, who were of course part of the curious crowd around the bank by then. Chloe had managed to corral one of the freed bank customers and was conducting an interview at the same time as she pointed her digital camera in the general direction of the bank entrance and snapped pictures, not even looking at the shots she was getting.

He snuck behind Chloe and Lana and tapped Lana on the shoulder. "What's going on?"

"Where have you been?" Lana wasn't snippy, only curious. "There was a robbery at the bank, but something happened to stop it."

Chloe's face was shining with enthusiasm as she talked to her witness about the mysterious wind that had blown through the bank and somehow disposed of the bank robbers. He could almost see the words of her story spilling onto the computer screen.

Clark shrugged. "Sorry, I was looking for a bathroom."

This counted as a valid excuse, and gave Chloe a lot to talk about on the way back to Smallville, as she tried out various descriptions on her captive audience.

Lex liked the blue shirt when he wore it to dinner that night, though Clark thought that the idea of him - Kallista - making friends with Chloe and Lana disturbed him slightly. Clark couldn't imagine why. He told Lex that he wasn't interested in finding out any gossip about him. Lex just looked at him, unblinking, and said that he wasn't at all concerned. After that, the conversation portion of the evening was pretty much over.

"I have a business dinner in Metropolis Friday night," Lex said. Clark couldn't see his expression, since he was currently tracing invisible lines on Clark's naked back as Clark lay with his face in Lex's light blue sheets. Somehow they'd ended up facing the bottom of the bed, with the pillows up by their feet.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Clark frowned. "Oh. Okay. I'll come around Saturday morning?"

"Actually," Lex said - were those Kryptonian symbols Lex's finger was inscribing? Clark shivered, and had to force himself to pay attention - "I thought you might be willing to come along. It's business, but it's business pretending to be social, and I'd consider it a great favor if you'd come along and make all the other men ragingly jealous."

Clark tensed, and Lex stopped his stroking. "I don't know -"

"I'd be extremely grateful," Lex promised, his voice suggesting a thousand things he'd be willing to do in compensation, which really wasn't fair since he'd probably do them anyway, but the tone nonetheless had the expected effect on Clark's better judgment.

Vanity intervened, even if sanity was sitting this one out. "I don't have anything to wear."

"I can take care of that," Lex offered.

Lex probably did know women's dress sizes, Clark thought, a little resentfully. He rolled away, grabbing a sheet to cover himself so that he could hold a non-sex-related conversation without a terminal blush. "You don't need to buy me a dress, Lex."

"Obviously, I do," Lex said, his tone indicating that he thought himself the only rational person in the room. "If that's all that's stopping you -"

Clark resolutely kept his eyes on Lex's face, as Lex did not share his opinions on naked discussions. "I don't want you to buy me things."

Lex's fine brows raised. "Are you worried that people will think I'm buying your presence?"

"I don't want to take advantage of you." Clark pulled the sheet tighter, but it didn't make him any more comfortable.

"You don't have a problem eating my food, reading my books and watching my DVDs," Lex said.

"I'm sorry," Clark said stiffly. "I won't -"

Lex reached out, snake-quick, pulling Clark to him so their faces were only inches apart. "I never thought you were taking advantage, Kal. I like fucking you and I like having you around, and I'm happy you can enjoy yourself in the castle when I'm otherwise occupied. How about this: I would like to dress you up and show you off. Will you let me do that?"

Clark had to drop his eyes. He could still feel Lex's gaze, patient and demanding at the same time. At last, he sighed. "Fine, but don't you dare give me jewelry, okay? If I feel like 'Pretty Woman,' I'm walking out."

Lex chuckled. "What jewel could ever compare to you?" That was a stretch, even for Lex, and Clark made an exasperated noise and jumped on him, pinning him to the bed with the sheet twisted between them. Lex's face, his smooth fragile head, his lush mouth - Clark had to stop and stare. Even after all the time he'd spent as Kal, it still amazed him that Lex wanted him. Wanted Kal, anyway.

Really, it was Lex who was more brilliant than any diamond. But there was no way he was attempting to say that one, so he leaned down and tried to make his opinion clear in other ways.

Clark thought he might be the first person to whom Lex had actually given keys to one of his cars (as opposed to having them stolen) since - well, since Clark himself, he guessed.

He was pretty sure it was wrong to feel disgruntled, as if a unique privilege had been taken away instead of given when Lex acceded to his demand for the car if he had to go to a Metropolis boutique.

Still, it was fun to drive the silver convertible, wind whipping through his hair, fast in the way humans could be fast.

The place Lex sent him to had a fancy French name and a blank facade, the kind of place you had to know about to get in. Clark was expecting condescension or at least horror at his jeans and T-shirt - he wasn't kidding about his horror of the Pretty Woman scenario. He should have known that Lex would find a shop staffed by people like that hotel concierge who was nice to Julia Roberts.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Matthews," the fortysomething saleswoman said, clasping Clark's hand between her own. "Mr. Luthor told me that I ought to make suggestions, but I'm here to make you feel your best."

Clark swallowed and trotted after her into the depths of the store.

The second dress he tried on was perfect. He knew it even before he saw the look on call-me-Jane's face, because he would have stopped and stared at the body in that dress, and Pete would have had a heart attack or a spontaneous orgasm, possibly both. He was no couture expert, so all he could say was that the dress, what there was of it, was a bright Crayola blue that fell to his ankles. Given the neckline (low) and the side slits (high), it was anyone's call whether it showed off more of his legs than his cleavage, percentagewise.

A bra was out of the question, a point in the dress's favor as far as Clark was concerned. But he needed extremely skimpy underwear, which the shop was happy to provide. Much happier than he'd be wearing it. The shop also had matching flat heels, flat both because heels were too horrible to contemplate and because he didn't want to be that much taller than Lex. The latter thought was probably sexist, Clark realized, but then Lex's business colleagues were likely to be sexist too.

If there had been any more fabric in the dress, it probably wouldn't have fit into the teensy trunk of the convertible.

Kal, guy-Kal, liked looking good and being seen. He remembered enough to pull this off, as long as the whole girl thing didn't send him into catatonic horror. Somehow it was easier with Lex; he could make up a whole new person but still be private, as if he was Kal just for Lex. Lex was used to being strange. Lex didn't expect him to talk like a girl or eat like a girl, much less think like one.

"I haven't seen you around much lately," his mom said carefully.

Clark took a blueberry muffin from the counter and took a bite, giving himself some time to think. "I've been doing a lot of reading at the mansion. You never know what might be useful with my powers, and there are books on just about everything, from first aid to metallurgy."

His mom nodded, brushing her hands against her apron as she went to pull out a canister of raisins from a cupboard.

"Mom?" Clark felt young and scared. She wasn't looking at him. He was hurting her, and he didn't know why. "What's wrong?" He abandoned the muffin on the table, taking a half step towards her.

She put the raisins down, picked them up again, and moved them to a different place on the counter. "It's just - I suppose I thought we'd be talking more. I know it's silly."

"It's - I'm the same person. I'm still Clark, your son."

"But I look at you and I see someone else." Now she was staring directly at him, her eyes wide and pleading for understanding, which coming from his mom was scarier than anything as petty as anger. Mom wasn't supposed to need understanding; she was supposed to understand.

This, he realized, was part of why it was easier to be with Lex. Lex didn't know he used to be Clark, so anything Kal did was just the way Kal was. He didn't look for signs that Clark's personality had undergone the same radical surgery as his anatomy.

"Do you think - do you think you'll ever get used to the new me?" His voice was low, broken.

She moved across the kitchen, pulling him into a hug that he still had to lean down into. "Oh, baby, of course." He shook, not quite crying, as she patted his back and rubbed his shoulders, just like she always had.

When he released her, she smiled bravely up at him.

"I guess this isn't what you signed on for, is it?"

"Honestly, we had no idea what we'd done. Only that you were the answer to my prayers, and that was all that mattered. It's still all that matters."

"I want to talk to you, about stuff. But it's hard, because -"

"Because it's about Lex." She said it without frowning or pursing her mouth into that concerned moue she got whenever he talked about his problems.

He nodded and picked up his muffin again, to have something to do with his hands.

"It's a terrible thing, to watch your child hurt. You'd much rather suffer ten times the pain yourself, but you can't. And this thing with Lex, honey, it just seems so dangerous. Not to your secret," she continued hurriedly, before he could interrupt. "To your heart."

Clark looked down, at his still-unfamiliar hands, powerful enough to stop a freight train, but helpless in personal matters. "It's too late to worry about that. I think, maybe, it was too late years ago. The only thing I can do now is appreciate what he has to give."

"Do you think - if he knew everything, what do you think would happen?"

The muffin crumbled in his fingers. "I don't think I'd end up in a lab somewhere, unless Lionel Luthor found out. But I don't think he'd forgive me for lying for so long, and then lying about who I was, just to get close to him. It's better this way. At least for a while I don't have to worry that his latest girlfriend is going to murder him."

She smiled at that and let him turn the conversation to other topics. She was a really good mom.

The night of the party, Lex came home early to shower and change. He stopped in the media room to say hello and make out for a few minutes.

He could live like this for a long time, Clark realized when Lex had gone. Actually, he wasn't too sure how he was going to stop.

When Clark went to the closet where he'd stashed his outfit there was a blue velvet box on top of the shoebox, and a lavender envelope on top of the box. Clark grimaced and opened the note. "I know you don't like gifts," it said in Lex's loopy script, "but consider this a loan." In the box was what had to be a diamond bracelet, glittering so bright under the closet's lights that it almost threw off sparks.

Clark put on the uncomfortable underwear, the dress and the shoes, but decided to let Lex do the honors with the bracelet. It seemed like the thing to do. It would almost be like being Lex's.

He waited in the front hall for Lex, grateful for the invulnerability that kept him from getting a chill from the air conditioning from all the skin he was showing.

When Lex appeared, Clark half thought he heard a swell of romantic music, cuing a pause for admiration. Lex's charcoal suit, lavender shirt and deep purple tie were just as flattering as Lex clearly thought they were.

As Lex broke his pose and approached, his eyes went to the bracelet in Clark's hand. Before he could say anything about rejection, Clark blurted out, "Help me put it on?"

When Lex smiled, Clark hated the idea of a night out with Lex's colleagues. Lex slinked up and took the bracelet. His fingers stroked across Clark's wrist, warm in contrast to the cool of the stones.

"You look really good," Clark said and felt just as awkward as the freshman who'd fallen all over Lana, without the excuse of Kryptonite. His face was inches from Lex's, Lex's eyes downcast so that he could close the bracelet's clasp.

Lex looked up. "Thank you." His eyes were clear, his face smoothed of its too-common frown lines. Clark smiled, an automatic reaction just like blinking in the brightness of the summer sun.

Lex turned away and went to pick up the house phone sitting on a low table against the wall. "Yes, I've changed my mind. Please have Martin bring the limousine around so we can leave immediately."

Clark looked at him curiously. "I was planning to drive," Lex explained. "But you've convinced me my time would be better spent in other pursuits."

Clark had to concentrate hard to keep the heat vision from rising at that.

They all but tumbled into the limo. Lex hit the privacy locks as Martin shut the door, and pushed Clark down into the yielding leather seats.

"Does this come off?" Lex asked, sliding the dress up Clark's thigh.

"Does it need to?" Clark replied and gasped as Lex's fingers slipped between his legs.

"Good point," Lex said before Clark pulled him into a sloppy, hot kiss that left Clark squiriming and trying not to send Lex through the roof. After some wriggling and a side trip to the condoms hidden in one of the limo's storage compartments, they ended up with Clark straddling Lex, underwear pushed aside, his knees digging into the back seat as he slid down on Lex's cock, Lex still fully dressed.

Lex buried his face between Clark's breasts, licking and sucking as Clark held on to the back of the seat and rolled his hips. "This is so good," Clark said, more to himself than to Lex. Lex's hands moved from his waist to his breasts and back, separated from his skin by thin fabric. It felt almost like being polished.

Lex was thrusting up, but Clark didn't pay much attention to his rhythm, pressing their bellies together, throwing his head back, letting his hands slip down to Lex's shoulders, the fine wool of his suit jacket nothing like the wonder of his skin.

When Clark finally shuddered through his orgasm, like flying through the colors of sunset, Lex made a relieved sound and grasped his hips hard enough to bruise anybody else. He jerked up a few times, panting against Clark's neck.

After a moment, Clark swung a leg up and flopped back against the seat next to Lex, who was looking a little glazed.

"Whew," Clark said, tugging at what could loosely be called the neckline of the dress so that he was no longer indecently exposed.

Lex smiled and reached for a tissue. "You're not tired out already, are you?"

Clark turned in his seat, raising his eyebrows in challenge. "Big talk, but are you planning to do anything about it?"

Lex finished zipping up his pants and slid smoothly to his knees, turning so that he was between Clark's legs. He put his hands on Clark's upper thighs and slowly drew them apart.

Clark blessed the extra footroom in the limo as he let his head fall back.

"So, Kal," Mr. Hargraves said, moving so close that Clark edged a half step away, "how long have you been with Lex?"

Clark used his polite liar's smile. He was pretty good at it by now. "I haven't really counted the days. The summer's gone by so quickly."

"Still, a woman like you must get bored, out there in the sticks. How did Lex get you away from the big city?"

The liar's smile stayed firmly fixed. "I'm visiting old family friends in Smallville. Lex is just a bonus."

Mr. Hargraves sniggered. "A big bonus, I'll bet."

Clark felt the smile begin to crack, and took a saving gulp from his glass, looking around the room. Lex was gone, probably cutting a deal off in one of the side rooms, and Clark wished that his powers included invisibility.

"Really," Mr. Hargraves said, putting a well-manicured hand on Clark's wrist, "I expect Lex is very generous with his lady friends. He'd have to be, right?"

"I'm not sure I understand you," Clark said slowly, all too sure, and pulled free.

Mr. Hargraves didn't take the hint. "Well, Lex isn't exactly - normal, is he? Physically, I mean, and that temper -- He's had two wives try to kill him already. Seems like nobody can stand the guy unless there's some other reward."

The impulse to immolate the jerk passed in a microsecond. "Mr. Hargraves, I'm not sure why you're saying all this to me."

"I'm just saying. And if you do decide that Lex isn't worth it, I know how to show a lady a good time."

By insulting her? This was ridiculous. Clark leaned forward, letting the idiot get a good look down his dress, and waited for the return of eye contact. "I doubt you can offer me what Lex does."

"Yeah?" Mr. Hargraves said, his voice a little hoarse. "Try me."

Clark reminded himself that Kal wasn't a real person, so she could say whatever she wanted. He dropped his voice to a near whisper. "See, Lex has a really big - no, enormous --"

Mr. Hargraves was turning pale, except for red spots burning high on his cheeks.

"-Unbelievable, really, and let me tell you, he knows how to use it, too. He can go for hours --"

"Excuse me," Mr. Hargraves said and fled.

Clark glared after him.

"What was that about?" Lex's voice, coming from behind, curled into his ear like scented smoke.

"I don't know," Clark said and shrugged. "All I was doing was praising your vocabulary." He turned and saw Lex's conspiratorial smile, which made him feel like a genius. An evil genius, but that was fine. God, Lex had a beautiful smile. Clark didn't understand why all the people in the world didn't fall over themselves doing anything they could to get that smile.

He let Lex lead him over to the bar, where Lex got another mineral water and Clark got a cranberry juice. "How's the party going?" he asked Lex, whose eyes were cataloging all the interactions taking place in the room. Watching Lex analyze and plot was exciting, and scary. It had hurt when Lex stopped analyzing his every move, when Lex took his attention and put it on more responsive subjects, but he'd known it was safer that way.

"Fairly well, idiots like Hargraves notwithstanding." Lex leaned over and brushed his lips across Clark's, his tongue flickering out for a moment like an IOU. "I need to circulate," he said with obvious regret. "But later -"

"Yeah?" Clark breathed.

"I'm going to teach you some new words."

Clark was glad he was leaning on the bar. Otherwise he probably would have fallen down as he watched Lex walk away.

He picked up his drink, hoping the ice would cool him down, and turned back to the bar.

When he looked up, the bartender was watching him, a refill already in hand.

"Thanks," he said.

"That one's a keeper," she said in return.

I wish you'd tell me how, he thought, but smiled at her anyway.

Lex peered over Clark's shoulder at the book Clark was reading. "The Golden Bough? Do you have an interest in the great myths?"

Clark, stretched out on the leather couch in Lex's office, wriggled his toes and turned his head so he could see Lex. "It's interesting, but he's kind of condescending to 'primitives.'"

Lex smiled and sat down right in the vicinity of Clark's waist. His hand brushed Clark's hair modern, resting warmly on the back of his neck. "I've often wondered which of our so-called advanced beliefs would seem ridiculous to more advanced species."

"Species?" Clark asked. "You mean, like aliens?"

Lex's thumb ruffled the fine hairs on Clark's nape, making him shiver. "Sure. Just a thought experiment, reminding myself that we're not as smart as we think we are, and that the ancients were smarter than we might want to believe."

"Tell me something the ancients knew," Clark requested, relaxing further into the soft blue leather, turning liquid under Lex's hand.

"Well, they knew women enjoy sex more than men."

The coincidence should have made Clark nervous, but he didn't think it was fear making him breathe raggedly and rock his hips just a little against the cushions. "Really? How'd they know that?" Now Lex was tugging his shirt free of his jeans, running a hand up Clark's spine.

Lex's voice was burnished satin, falling on Clark's skin in smooth waves. "Tiresias was one of the most famous soothsayers of his time. When he was a young boy he came upon two mating snakes, and separated them, just to be mischievous. He was punished by being turned into a woman. Seven years later the same thing happened again and he was turned back into a man."

"That was punishment?" Clark arched up like one of the barn cats into Lex's stroking.

"Maybe he'd gotten used to being a woman by then. Anyhow, Zeus and Hera got into a fight about Zeus's infidelity, and Hera claimed that men enjoy sex more than women. They summoned Tiresias, because he'd known both, and he revealed that women get nine times more out of sex than men. Hera, furious, blinded him, but Zeus rewarded him by giving him the gift of prophecy and a lifespan seven times that of a mortal man."

At the end of the lesson, Clark was naked and turned face-up, and Lex was sprawled over him. His tone hadn't changed. "Do you think women enjoy sex nine times more than men, Kal?"

"I wouldn't know," he said, his voice far less even than Lex's. "But right now, I don't think I care."

Lex actually laughed. Forget flying, Clark thought as he pulled Lex down, this is all the rush I need.

The costume was Lex's doing, albeit indirectly. Clark's peregrinations had been widespread enough that it took a while for the reports of a dark-haired Good Samaritan performing semi-impossible rescues to pile up. But when the Metropolis Fox station ran a story on the unknown super-girl who'd prevented five rapes, put out two fires, and deposited a gang of bank robbers in front of a police station with parking meters wrapped around them to keep them in place and their guns and loot in a pile next to them, Clark's parents really started to worry.

"What do you want me to do?" Clark asked after they'd all watched a repeat of the report that night. "You raised me to help people who need help. I can't go faster than they can see all the time."

"But you have to be careful, Clark," his father said. By virtue of not mentioning Lex or anything unrelated to farm activity, they'd been getting along reasonably well for the past few weeks. "What happens when someone finally gets a good enough look at your face that you're recognized?"

"I just don't know," he admitted. "If only there were something I could do so they wouldn't pay attention -" He stopped, the idea in his head unfurling like a leaf.

Later, he talked to his mom, who had to admit that it had potential, and knew how to help.

Two nights later, the news showed a town nearly underwater from a storm. The announcer said that hundreds of families were still trapped behind raging floodwaters.

Clark hurried upstairs to get dressed.

When he came down, his father shot up from the couch like he'd been spring-launched. "What the - you are not going out like that!"

Clark looked down at the bright blue outfit his mother had made from the dress. It was a little like the swimsuits contestants wore at the Miss America pageant, only without the sash. Also, Clark refused to wear high heels, but he'd agreed on sandals because sneakers looked too weird. Like the original dress, the costume was cut high where decency counseled low and low where propriety demanded high. Even with the flesh-colored pantyhose, he'd had to shave places nobody should have to shave, man or woman. "Think of it this way: Nobody will be looking at my face."

"Clark has a point, Jonathan," his mother said, wringing a towel between her hands. Like the name Lex Luthor, the third person pronoun had vanished from the Kent homestead.

There'd been enough material left over for a cape. It flapped out nicely in the wind as Clark flew towards his next mission.

"What are your plans when the summer ends?" Lex asked, putting down the bowl of ice cream. They were curled up on the couch in front of the television, letting the black-and-white credits roll. "Are you going to college?"

Clark had been ignoring the future quite successfully of late. "I'm not sure," he hedged. What he really meant was that he didn't know just how Kal was going to get a GED and gain admission to a decent college without any form of identification. He'd had vague thoughts of moving far from Kansas and trying to claim that "Clark" was a girl's name that everybody just got wrong, but that would leave him exposed to Lex looking for Clark Kent, and Lex would be none too pleased to find Kal using Clark's name.

"Well, what do you want to do with your life?" Lex's tone was even, just a little more than polite.

If he said "Stay here with you," Lex would probably take it the wrong way, like Clark was only after his money, because he couldn't imagine why somebody might want to be with him even if he were a pauper.

"I don't know," he ventured, looking over at Lex, his face cool and distant in the reflected light from the screen.

Lex had his problem-solving expression on. "Well, what do you like to do? What were your interests before you came to Smallville?"

Eating, sleeping, and going potty, most likely, was Clark's first thought, quickly suppressed. Humor, maybe? "I was born the night I met you," he said dramatically, tossing his head back as if to emulate Rita Hayworth playing Gilda. Or maybe whoever it was playing Johnny.

"In our case, maybe the morning after."

Clark gave him a rueful smile. Lex opened his mouth, obviously to continue the interrogation, so Clark cut him off. "I guess I want to know more about people."

Lex's raised eyebrow encouraged him to continue.

"I mean, look around - people do crazy things every day. Some people kill abortion doctors, some risk their lives to perform abortions. They join the army and throw themselves in front of tanks. They fall in love and run marathons and open restaurants. It fascinates me how any two people can look at the same world and see it five different ways. I don't know what I want to do. I just know I want to learn more about how amazingly varied people are, and maybe how we can get along anyway."

Lex's face was very serious, the way he usually wasn't around Kal. "That's a noble ambition. I think I have a good grasp of human nature, but in my case I use it for personal gain."

Clark ached to say something reassuring, something real, but Kal wouldn't know all the things Lex had done for him and for Smallville. "There's nothing inherently wrong with making money, you know. I want to make enough money to live decently, too."

Lex smiled at that, an intimate and relaxed smile that warmed Clark. "That's one of the differences between you and me. You think there's such a thing as 'enough.'"

"Only of some things," Clark offered, and leaned over to change the subject.

Clark trotted down into the darkened caves. He hadn't bothered with a flashlight.

"I just wanted to let you know," he said. "In a couple of weeks I'm going to Metropolis, and then I'm going to college, just like before. I still think what you did was wrong, but I'm not going to let you ruin my life. I can still do everything I planned to do, even if it takes a little longer. And, you know what? I'm in a relationship, a good one. I'm going to be happy whether you like it or not."

Feeling very adult and self-righteous, he took one last look around at the cave drawings, which seemed to be fading back into the rock, and headed back into the light.

The next morning, he was a man again.

The bedroom still smelled like them, like Kal and Lex, salt and sweet in the air like taffy. Clark hesitated.

There wasn't any choice. There never was, it seemed.

He left the envelope on the pillow on his side of the bed. The letter had taken him hours, which had made his dad crazy, but Kal's last act in the world had to be done with the minimum of cruelty. After all the effort, he still had only a poor offering.

"Lex," the letter read. "I have to go. I love you, and I always will. No matter where I am, that won't change. " He'd signed it and headed over to the mansion. There was a knot in his chest, like a fist clenched around his heart. It had been there since he started trying to write. He wished he were invulnerable to feelings. Then he never would have been in this mess in the first place.

Of course he'd known what the ship might do, even if he hadn't admitted it to himself. If he was happy in a girl's body, the ship would punish him by taking that away. He'd been willing to trade Lex for everything else in his life. It was an impossible choice.

Not impossible, his conscience reminded him. You made it.

Kal wasn't a real person. She didn't have a Social Security number or a high school transcript. She couldn't slide into a normal human life the way Clark Kent could. And he couldn't have asked Lex to provide all those things, even though he might have, because that would require an explanation.

You made your decision, Clark. Now live without him.

"Uh, hey," Clark said, ducking his head as he came into Lex's office.

Lex looked up from behind his desk. For a second, his expression showed surprise and pleasure, and then it smoothed into an emulation of those emotions. "Clark Kent. I had wondered if you were ever coming back."

He tried to smile. "Sometimes I wondered too. But my uncle's doing much better, and I came back so I could spend a little time with my parents before college starts."

"I'm glad to hear it," Lex said and stood, coming around the desk but not advancing any further.

"So, how was Smallville?" He took a few hesitant steps into the room. Lex had never excluded Clark from his personal space before, no matter how mad he was, but now it was like walking into a force field; Clark had to stop himself from retreating.

"Smallville," Lex repeated, turning away, showing his profile. "Smallville was -- very much as usual, if that word can be said to apply. And how was North Dakota?"

"Oh, you know, brown. Flat. Not much to do. I'm - I'm sorry I didn't write. It was just really busy out there. And hard to get into town."

"It's all right, Clark. I didn't expect you to write to me."

Clark had never skinned his knees falling down, and so he'd never grasped the concept of picking at scabs. But he thought he might understand a little better now as he watched Lex staring at his bookshelves. Lex's arms were folded over his chest, his hands grasping his forearms as if he were trying to comfort himself, his the only touch he wouldn't reject.

"So," Clark said weakly. "Pete says you got pretty close to his friend Kal while I was gone."

Lex smiled, almost a PR smile but with a hint of wistfulness. "Close. I suppose you could say that. We certainly spent a lot of time together. I don't think Mr. Ross approved."

"Did you love her?" This wasn't picking at scabs; this was grabbing Kryptonite and swallowing it down in gulps.

Now Lex looked quickly over at Clark, and just as quickly away. "I didn't fall in love with Kal."

"Oh." He ground his teeth. Their friendship had survived worse, he thought, accusations and investigations and three months apart when neither of them had come to the other's rescue. But this felt like an ending.

"Don't you have packing to do? I imagine you must be busy, with so much to do before you leave for Metropolis, and you only just got back in town." Lex's tone was polite, professionally interested, and it made Clark wanted to hunch his shoulders and disappear.

"Yeah, I guess. I'll, uh, call you later." He wouldn't, though.

"Goodbye, Clark." Lex wouldn't even look at him. He'd been given up.

Clark was halfway down the hallway before it hit him. Lex treated every conversation as if he were on trial for his life. When he was asked a tough question he didn't always answer what had been asked ("I've only loved two women in my life. One died, and the other betrayed me."), even though you thought he had.

Clark turned and hurried back into Lex's office. Lex was at the windows, staring out at the grounds. He turned at the sound of Clark's entrance.

"Did you forget something?" he asked politely. Clark crossed the room until they were only a few feet apart and Lex was forced to meet his eyes.

"You said you didn't fall in love with Kal. What does that mean?"

Lex's jaw worked and his eyes tightened with anger. "What do you think it means, Clark?"

"Don't play games with me."

"Oh, like you don't play games with me? I've spent four years opening myself to you and getting nothing back, and I'm done with it." That wasn't entirely true, on either side, but Clark couldn't let himself get sucked into the fight Lex was evidently determined to provoke.

He took a deep breath. "Okay. I don't know, but I think - I hope it means you didn't fall in love with Kal because - because you were already in love." He bit his lip and wanted to look away from Lex, knowing that his face was red enough to be seen from outer space.

Lex froze, just as if Clark had been superspeeding. His eyes widened, blue like a sky filled with infinite possibility. He swallowed. "And who was I in love with?" Think very hard before you answer, Clark, he didn't need to add.

Clark closed his eyes, gathering his courage. It wasn't as if he'd get to see Lex ever again anyway. He didn't have enough dignity to worry about losing it. "Me," he said, exerting every ounce of his control to keep the statement from turning into a question.

Silence, as if all the air had been sucked out of the room and they were in a vacuum. Clark opened his eyes. Lex looked as if he'd been hit on the head again. Clark's heart was hammering fit to raise a barn, and he wondered if Kryptonians could faint from tension.

"Because I do, I am," he babbled, unable to bear the wait any longer. "It was me all along." A confession, if Lex could hear it. "Just tell me, please -"

Lex's hands reached out for him, but fell short. "And what do I get if the answer's yes? Is that the price of your secrets?"

The words were harsh, the expression terrified.

He reached out and put shaking hands on Lex's equally unsteady shoulders, drawing him into an embrace. Lex didn't resist. Clark could smell his cologne, a faint trace of leather and oranges, and feel his pulse, fast as a hummingbird's.

Lex knew. Clark could feel it. Maybe what Lex had been looking for all along wasn't Clark's secret because it was secret, but because it was Clark's. Clark could give himself and never need to say the words.

It was strange to be bigger than Lex again, but it was natural to turn his head and kiss right above Lex's ear. Lex tensed, then relaxed, his body pressing into Clark's from knee to chest, warm and solid. Clark did the thing with his tongue behind Lex's ear that never failed to make Lex groan and arch his neck to be nibbled on, and Lex obliged.

Clark didn't get around to Lex's mouth for a long time. Lex was backed up against his desk, Clark's legs bracketing him, pressing close so that Clark could feel every inch. The shape of his lips was wonderfully familiar, the slick line of scar like the deliberate imperfection Lex said Moslem artists always introduced into their work, because only God is perfect.

Rubbing against one another was all well and good, but Clark was really looking forward to putting his male body to work. "Come on," he said, pulling back and tugging at Lex's hand. "Upstairs."

Lex didn't hesitate to follow.

At the bedroom door, Clark paused, uncertain. What if Lex liked Kal better? Lex might think he wanted Clark, but if he'd never done this before he might flip out, might change his mind.

Lex was watching him, head tilted just a bit. "Something the matter?"

"Were you telling the truth when you said you'd never had sex with a man?"

He grinned. "Define sex."

Clark snorted. He should have known. He strode into the room, letting Lex get just far enough ahead that Clark could tackle him to the bed.

They rolled around on the bed for a while, Clark learning the feel of Lex's body with bigger hands, Lex just exploring the vastly changed territory. Clothes got torn or lost along the way. As things got more serious, Clark slipped a hand around Lex's cock, loving the even greater softness of his skin there.

If he was going to tell Lex what Lex had been trying to discover for years, it ought to be in the most memorable way possible. "Hey," he said, nuzzling Lex's neck. "How's it feel to know you've been fucking an alien for three months?"

Lex's entire body stiffened, and then he came all over Clark's hand with a roar that could have been heard three counties over. "Jesus Christ!" he yelled a moment later, still shuddering under Clark's touch. "Jesus fucking - Clark!" He hammered at Clark's chest with his fists, Clark's ill-suppressed hilarity only heightening his tantrum. "You lying, manipulative --"

Clark covered his mouth with kisses until Lex's complaints went from muffled to completely silenced and his hands uncurled and splayed against Clark's skin. "I'll take that as, 'feels pretty good,'" he said when he pulled back.

"You -" Lex looked up, obviously trying to make his face hard and disapproving. Clark thought it was cute.

"Alien," he confirmed, stroking a wet finger down under Lex's balls. Lex groaned and his eyes rolled back in his head. "And you can do it again," he continued, dipping his head to nibble at Lex's ear, "any - time - you - want."

Lex couldn't even form words, but his indrawn breath was equally satisfying.

"I want to fuck you, too. Would you do that, Lex? Let an alien fuck you? You could still say you'd never had sex with a man, you know."

The lust-dazed expression on Lex's face suggested that he was regretting teaching Clark to talk dirty. Clark rubbed his erection into Lex's belly, earning another twitch from Lex's still half-hard cock.

Lex hooked one leg around Clark's and rolled them over, which Clark allowed. Lex was on his elbows, staring down at Clark with the fierce concentration he'd always devoted to Clark, from the very first. "You can fuck me," he said. "Not an alien. You."

Clark found himself burying his face in Lex's shoulder, unable to look up or speak.

"I wasn't completely sure it was you," Lex said by his ear. "Smallville weird works so many ways. For all I knew, she ate you and gained your memories, like a flatworm."

"You thought Kal was a cannibal?"

Lex chuckled and ran a hand down Clark's chest. "I thought telepathy was more likely. Anyway, once you actually called me from South Dakota, I discounted that possibility. You were obviously healthy and equally obviously concealing something new from me."

"You knew?"

"Not at first. But after a rather intense investigation of the Dakotas and various other inquiries, I considered it extremely likely that Clark Kent never left Smallville. I was willing to consider extreme possibilities, like my own personal Left Hand of Darkness. Stranger things happen in Smallville. Stranger things happened last year, if you'll recall."

Lex was just getting warmed up. Clark let him talk; Lex liked to talk and Clark liked to listen to him. They were a good match, like Jack Sprat and his wife, only without the wife. Definitely without the wife.

"You put chocolate milk on your cereal, which by the way is your second least attractive habit. You can't surf past an episode of the X-Files, even if it's the one with the killer kitty cats. Most people look up and to the right when they lie; you look down and to the left. You love to look at the stars, which I suppose stands to reason. And you smell the same."

"I didn't know." Clark sounded dazed in his own ears.

"We've both gotten better at concealment, haven't we?" The tone didn't require a response.

"So, my least attractive habit. That would be lying, hunh?"

"Close." Lex's fingertips traced Clark's hipbone.

"Lying to you?"


Clark's patience was never infinite, and this was a bad time to tease him. "So what is it?"

"You lie to me badly, Clark." Lex didn't sound too upset, though. His fingers curled around Clark's erection. "What did happen to turn you into a woman and back again?" He jacked Clark in rhythm with his thrusts against Clark's thigh.

For some reason, Clark found it difficult to respond. "Long - ungh - story."

"Later, then," Lex said, though he sounded a bit strained as well.

Clark smiled into Lex's neck. Later sounded good to him.


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