by Vivian Darkbloom
Lex permits Hope and Mercy to drive in convoy with him as far as the outskirts of Metropolis, then waves them away. He knows they're unhappy about this; Hope could probably recite an annotated list of all the times Lex has been attacked in Smallville but he's willing to risk a visit every so often just to get some time alone. And he is assured of being alone at the mansion. He hasn't summoned any servants; there'll be no one to tip off meteor-enraged assassins, nostalgic for the good old days when Lex was a full-time target.
It's nostalgia that has prompted Lex to come to the mansion. There are boxes of books from his mother's library stored in the attic. He could easily obtain copies of the books without leaving Metropolis but he wants to see his mother's handwriting in the margins, her name in the flyleaf. Similarly, he could have sent a driver to collect the books but he doesn't like anyone touching his mother's possessions.
Lex brings the boxes down from the attic and carries them to the library. Even in his absence, the bar is still kept well-stocked. He opens a sealed bottle, pours a scotch and settles in to read a bit of "Ariel."
Lex doesn't hear the faint crunch of gravel on the driveway or the sound of a key in the door. But he does hear the footsteps in the corridor and they propel him straight to the desk drawer where a gun should be.
The gun is gone. And since the alarm hasn't sounded, this intruder must have come armed with a key and a pass code: A servant -or someone who has bribed a servant?
Lex generally expects the worst but even he isn't pessimistic enough to anticipate Damon Copeland. Yet here he is, sauntering in like it's a reception in his honour. Lex leans back against his desk and coolly folds his arms but unless Copeland is a changed man, he will have noted the slight tremble in Lex's legs.
He doesn't look changed. It's been thirteen, no fourteen, years and he looks exactly as he did at Excelsior: Slim, dark, arrogant. He must be forty now - or a little older - but you wouldn't know it. He's smiling at Lex, as if this is a reunion between old friends.
"I'm expecting an opening salvo," Copeland says. "You're holding things up by not delivering, Lex."
Lex leans forward a little, keeping his face implacable.
"You're not welcome here. Get out."
"You know, I'd have put you in detention if you spoke to me like that at Excelsior."
"We're years removed from Excelsior," says Lex. "Fortunately." He looks around for his coat. His phone is in the pocket. There it is, draped over the chair. If he can just get behind the desk....
"Doesn't seem like years, does it, Lex?" Copeland tilts his head. "Seems like yesterday."
More footsteps in the hall. Lex eyes the door uneasily. A man walks in, carrying a box. He's younger than Copeland, with floppy blonde hair that momentarily reminds Lex of Lana's old boyfriend, Whitney. The man puts the box on the floor and looks at Copeland, waiting for instruction. Copeland doesn't take his eyes off Lex.
"Lex, you remember Tim? He was a few years ahead of you at Excelsior."
Lex does remember, dimly. He says:
"And still your faithful acolyte...that's sad, Copeland."
"It's Professor Copeland to you," says Tim, unemotionally. Lex raises an eyebrow and unobtrusively reaches for the phone.
"Um, no," says Tim and produces the inevitable gun. Lex sighs. It's a Clue game come to life, this bloody mansion. Would you prefer be stabbed, shot, strangled, poisoned or bludgeoned? Lex is a veteran of all five. He says:
"Copeland, what do you want?"
Copeland makes a fey gesture with his hand that deeply annoys Lex.
"I just wanted to talk, Lex. I've been following your career, these last few years. It's been, well - I won't mince words - it's been disappointing. Such squandered potential. I'd expected greater things from you-"
"I'm guessing you're expecting a cash outlay right about now?" Lex says. He watches Tim rooting around in the box. Tim's not looking at Lex but he's still grasping the gun.
"You're trying to control the conversation!" Copeland says. "Did you notice that, Tim? How Lex did that?"
Tim grunts and removes a jar of purple powder from his box. Lex watches, puzzled.
"You were always controlling, even as a boy," Copeland continues.
"If, by that, you mean I didn't like being controlled by you, you're quite correct," says Lex. He watches Tim remove more vials of purple powder. Assassination by Grape Kool-Aid? At least that has the virtue of novelty.
"I read about you in the newspapers," says Copeland. "And I think: nothing's changed. Lex is still the same indulged, rich brat he was at Excelsior; only the backdrop is different."
He's taken a few steps closer to Lex and is staring into his eyes. Lex has never liked Copeland's eyes; the pupils are dark and deep as the centre of a spiral and Lex knows for a fact they have certain hypnotic qualities. He keeps his voice steady.
"You know very well your tricks have never worked on me."
Copeland smiles serenely:
"What do you remember of my history lectures, Lex?"
Lex doesn't remember the content so much as the subtext, the power games. He doesn't answer. Tim has put the gun down on a book shelf and is stirring the purple powder, creating a small cloud around him. This can't bode well.
"To move forward, Lex, sometimes a man needs to go back and take a hard look at his past. Excelsior is part of our shared past-"
"Your time there doesn't bear examining," says Lex. Anger has seeped into his voice but he doesn't care.
Copeland shakes his head, dark eyes indulgent.
"I was talking about you, Lex."
If Lex can subtly move closer to Tim, he might be able to get to the gun. But Copeland's eyes are fixed on him. If he can just distract Copeland...
Copeland is close enough now for Lex to feel the heat of his breath. His hand reaches up to caress Lex's cheek.
"Perhaps I'm wrong, Lex, after all. You have changed since we last met. You've let people in, let them under your skin."
Lex grabs Copeland's hand and throws it off his face.
"That's good," says Copeland, softly. "Lowered resistance is good."
Lex tries to wrest his gaze away from Copeland and finds he can't. Nor can he look down at his feet or close his eyes; Copeland has somehow locked him into a staring contest and he can't break free. Peripherally, he can see Tim approaching with a beaker of powder. Lex summons all his concentration, in an attempt to focus on anything but Copeland's eyes: thinks of his mother's voice, Smiths' lyrics, quotes from Rilke, Clark's smile, back in the days when they were best friends.
Tim's voice breaks his concentration.
"I'm not his acolyte."
A laugh from Copeland. Lex manages to glance at Tim who's holding a handful of the powder.
"He's my special effects man!" says Copeland. The next thing Lex knows, he has a face full of purple powder. It's in his eyes, mouth and nose, tasting like cheap soap. Lex coughs and tries to get it off his face. He can barely see but the library seems to be turning around him. Turning? Oh fuck, he's not going to faint, is he?
The last thing he hears is Copeland saying, in a voice that's nearly affectionate:
"Face your past, Lex."
And then the world fades to black.
Clark's apartment is dark when he gets home. It's a power outage, nothing sinister, nothing Superman can fix, just a plain old brown-out. Not enough power on the grid.
Clark knows how that feels. He's been up for three days but hasn't seen the sun in a week. It's been a grey, gloomy autumn. He trips over something - laundry hamper? - on the way to the kitchen and wishes night vision was one of his powers. At least a bowl of cereal can be assembled in the dark and he might as well use up the milk before it sours.
His phone trills in the living room. Clark growls, debates a moment, then stubs his toe running to answer it. This doesn't hurt him but takes a substantial chip out of the wall.
Lois. Clark is too tired to deal with Lois right now.
"Kent, you need to get your pretty ass down to Smallville, stat. I think Lex Luthor's been kidnapped-"
"Then it must be Thursday," says Clark, wearily. He thinks kidnapping Lex should qualify as an international sport by now. Rescuing, reprimanding and otherwise monitoring Lex occupies a lot of Superman's time.
"I know it's not the first time, Smallville, but it's still a story."
"How do you know he's been kidnapped? And why are you in Smallville? I thought you were on Lex-watch at the University Alumni Ball?"
"Sly bastard slipped the net," says Lois, with a hint of admiration. "But I have a standing arrangement with Donald at the Smallville Gas 'n Go. He sees one of Lex's cars pass by, he gives me a call."
"So you went to ambush Lex at the mansion?"
"Cutting in on your old turf?"
"Oh, come on, Kent. Even when the two of you started tiffing, it was like your second home."
"Bickering, feuding, mutual Lana-sulking, whatever. Anyway....when I pull into the drive, there's another car there, beside Lex's, a rented Lincoln. So I figure Lex has visitors and I want to know who they are. The front door is unlocked so I slip in - it's completely dark. The only light is coming from the library and when I go in-"
Here, Lois takes a dramatic pause.
"You find a ransom note?" Clark guesses. "Signs of a struggle?"
"Stop interrupting. No, I find two strange guys, staring at me, calm as can be."
"They probably work for Lex."
"Nope, not the usual Luthorcorp suits. So I ask them: "Where's Lex?" and the older, dark-haired one says: "Not in this room, to be sure."
Clark shifts, a little uneasy.
"That is a bit weird," he admits.
"Told you. So I said: "And who are you?" and the other guy, a blonde haired guy, gets snappish and says: "He is Professor Copeland and you...." The guy pauses for a bit and just stares at me, then he says, get this! "And you are no one of importance. Nothing useful there."
"Wow," says Clark. No one talks to Lois like that, not mafia kingpins, copy editors or even disgruntled police sergeants.
"So I'm mad, I mean "useful" - really! - and I say "I wasn't planning on offering you any services. Now, how can I reach Lex?""
"And what'd they say?"
"Dark haired guy says: "It's a question! I can't answer it." And then both guys just....stare at me until I feel like I've got to get out of the room and-"
"Wait - they intimidated you? You were intimidated?"
"Yeah," Lois sounds as surprised as Clark. "Not at all like me, is it? It was just surreal. Lex gone and these two strange guys taking over his office...I think Lex might be in real trouble but there's no point calling the cops without any evidence...."
"Where are you now?" asks Clark.
"Motel on the edge of town."
"It'll take me a couple of hours to get to you," says Clark. "Stay put until then."
He can practically hear Lois rolling her eyes over the phone.
Clark swirls out of costume and into jeans and a sweater and still reaches the mansion in under a minute. He's hasn't been here in nearly a year and the same old mixed emotions hit him as he quietly walks through the front door. There are layers of memory in this place: games of pool with Lex, laughing and joking; Lex and his Warrior Angel comics and his legends: Lex risking everything to help Kyle and Ryan, doing endless favours for Clark.
The happy memories are tainted by the others: all the lies he told Lex here. The lies Lex told him; Stealing Lex's car to help Pete; Unlocking the door to that horrible room. Arguments, fist fights, rage, betrayal, blood, Lionel...
Clark pushes his thoughts aside and scans the rooms. Two skeletons in the library, otherwise the mansion is empty. One skeleton cocks its head, listening:
"Someone's coming," a voice says. "Someone new."
"Much traffic as a bus station, this place," says another voice.
How can they have heard him? Since they have, there's no point in further loitering. Clark throws open the library door. Two men stare back at him. The dark haired one says:
"I'm looking for Lex," Clark says, keeping his tone casual.
"Bit of a running theme tonight," says the dark haired man. He looks over at the other man who is gazing at Clark intently.
"He's got power," says the other man. "But I can't trace the source. Worth investigating."
"Hmm, you think?"
Clark doesn't like being talked about like he isn't there.
"I don't know what you mean; I just want to see Lex."
"How badly?" asks the dark-haired man. His tone is genial.
Clark is startled:
The dark haired man looks over to his friend:
"Are you picking up anything else, Tim?"
Tim shakes his head.
"No," he says, regretfully. "He's blocking me. Layers and layers of shield there."
Clark can feel his anger rising.
"Either you tell me where Lex is or I'm calling the Sheriff."
"He's seen a lot of strange things," says Tim, still staring at Clark. "Not much scares him."
"Do you think you're reading my mind?" says Clark. He can completely understand Lois's reaction to these two. Infuriating but intangible - there's nothing to get a grip on. The dark haired man, Copeland, smiles at Clark like they're having a friendly chat:
"He sees broad outlines, don't you Tim? Not the specifics. Still, it makes him a useful friend."
Clark watches a rather creepy smile spread across Tim's face.
"And what kind of friend are you?" says Copeland to Clark.
"What do you mean?"
"How far are you willing to go to help Lex?"
Clark glares at him, then asks again:
"Where is Lex?"
Copeland leans forward, like he's about to confide a marvelous secret.
"I put him in a jar," he whispers. "That jar."
He points to a grimy beaker on Lex's desk. It's filled with purple dust. Clark raises an eyebrow:
"And if I smash the jar?"
It's a sarcastic question but Copeland takes it seriously. He says:
"If you smash it, Lex stays trapped, forever. Do it if you like. It's not what I had planned but I try to keep an open mind. Hopefully, the same is true of you."
"Even if I believe you," Clark says, "why would you trap Lex in a jar?"
Both men seem highly amused by this.
"Who hasn't wanted to?" says Copeland.
"He has his own issues with Lex," says Tim, gesturing at Clark. "Long, complicated history, there."
"Then you should understand," says Copeland. "Subject closed! Now, do you intend to rescue Lex or not? I'm getting bored. Bored and thirsty. It's a bad combination."
Clark feels profoundly uneasy. These men are clownish but experience, his own and Batman's, have led him not to under-estimate the damage clowns can do. He says:
"All right. Tell me how to rescue Lex."
Copeland nods at the beaker.
"You have to go in after him."
"And walk into a trap?"
"Well, obviously!" Copeland says, amused. "But you're quite sure you'll walk out again. I don't need to read minds to see that...certainty radiates off you."
"Hangs in the room like a smell," says Tim, who has unsealed a jar containing more purple powder.
"What do I do?" says Clark, resigned.
"Look at me," says Copeland. "And let some of that formidable guard down."
Tim is hovering with the powder, running it through his fingers. Clark watches, unimpressed.
"Are you thinking you're going to drug me with that stuff?"
Tim laughs. Copeland says:
"No, it's just for show, really. My eyes do the heavy lifting."
He's quite close to Clark now. Clark suddenly wants to take a step back, which is ridiculous. But there's something about Copeland's eyes; they tug at Clark like a current.
"Picture Lex," says Copeland. "Look at me and think about Lex."
His eyes are locked with Clark's. Clark is astonished to find he can't tear his gaze away. Oh, this is bad. He's on the verge of trying to use his heat vision when Tim hurls the purple powder in his face. Clark sneezes and is engulfed in a purple cloud. The room spins - and then it feels like the floor has given way and Clark is falling. He feels a sharp pain, a severance, like a wire bisecting him. Then, despite his struggles, he sinks into unconsciousness.
Clark wakes up in the middle of a fall and lands with a crash, in darkness. It takes him a moment to piece together what happened: Lois...Lex in trouble (again)...mansion...weird guys...beakers...purple powder.
He's sprawled at the end of a long hallway. Is this still the mansion? He tries to scan the rooms but his X-ray vision isn't working. Clark quickly scrolls through his other abilities and they're all gone, everything. That pain he felt must have been his powers getting ripped out of him.
This is bad. Seriously bad. Clark could smack himself for his arrogance. He'd opened himself up to Copeland, confident he was invulnerable and Copeland had reeled him right in.
Clark stands up, using the wall to steady himself. There's a painting on the wall, a battle scene. It looks like the kind of art Lionel would have bought for the mansion but he doesn't recognize it. As he looks at the painting, a movement to the left catches his eye, a shadow flitting by at the end of the hall; a shadow the size of a large dog. Clark is about to follow it when he hears a noise, a faint jangling. It seems to be coming from the first door on his left.
Clark reaches for the door handle, moving a little more cautiously than he would if he had his powers. The room is dark but he can make out the outline of a bed, bookshelves, posters on the wall. It's a very small room for the mansion, if this is the mansion.
The rattle sounds again. It's coming from the closet. Clark walks softly over, grasps the handle and eases the door open. There's a flurry of movement inside so he takes a breath, reaches in, finds something warm and alive and tugs on it. He's hugely relieved when Lex staggers out. Better the devil you know (as Lex is so fond of saying.)
"Lex, what are you doing in there?"
Clark's eyes have adjusted to the dark now and he gets a better look at Lex's face. Lex, unflappable in the face of bombs and prone to lecturing Superman in mid-flight, is very pale and clearly scared. This can't be good.
"Are you okay?' Clark awkwardly puts a hand on Lex's shoulder. Friendly touches haven't been in their repertoire for quite some time.
Lex shakes Clark's hand away. His eyes are huge.
"Who are you?" he says.
Oh, definitely not good. Clark sighs.
"Lex, it's me...Clark."
Lex takes a step back, nearly cowering against the closet door. Clark tries again, in a gentler tone.
"It's me, Lex. You don't remember me?"
"Why would I remember you when I've never met you?"
There's something odd about Lex's voice. Clark can't quite pin-point it.
"If you write for The Inquisitor," Lex says, "You should be aware that my father took out a restraining order. You're not allowed to be within 100 yards of school property."
"School?" says Clark, thoroughly puzzled. "Hang on, Lex, where are we?"
Lex is looking less scared now and has taken on an angry posture; chin jutted out, arms folded.
"Nice try," he says. "Now who do you work for?"
"No one, Lex. We've-" Clark pauses. "We've known each other for ages, ever since you moved to Smallville."
Lex's laugh blends astonishment and derision:
"I've been to Smallville precisely once, six years ago and I've never felt the need to go back."
Clark takes a moment to do the math and doesn't like the results. Lex, his glare set on high beam, is radiating displeasure from his corner.
"Six years ago... Lex, how old are you?"
Lex seems to be mulling whether or not to answer.
"I'm fifteen," he finally says, sullenly.
"Oh, fuck," says Clark, with feeling. Superman doesn't believe in swearing but if any situation calls for it, this does.
He moves closer to Lex, to get a better look at him. Lex shifts a little, uneasy, hands clenching.
The good - or bad - news is that Lex is most certainly not fifteen. This is present day Lex, dressed in black cashmere head to toe and with a whiff of Scotch on his breath. But there's an uncertainty, a defiance, to his posture which makes him seem younger. The Lex with whom Superman argued about particle accelerators last week wouldn't need to hold on to a closet door to keep his knees from shaking. Clark says, gently:
"You're not fifteen, Lex. You're grown-up. I think that you were attacked-"
"Are you Sheppard's older brother? Or MacNeice's? This is just another ploy to fuck with me, isn't it?"
There's a tremble to his voice, a vulnerability that Clark hasn't heard in years. It removes any remaining doubt that Lex might be faking. He must really believe he's fifteen.
"I'm no one's older brother," says Clark. "Actually, I'm younger than you."
Lex greets this skeptically.
"You've got to be at least thirty!"
"I'm twenty-three," says Clark, a little offended. "And you're twenty-nine. If we can find a mirror, you'll see-"
Lex is shaking his head.
"No, I'm not going out in the hallway. I don't know how you're playing these tricks but when the headmaster finds out-"
Headmaster? And Lex had mentioned school before.
"Is this-" Clark pauses. "Lex, is this Excelsior? Your old school?"
"I don't know what you mean by "old school." I've been going here a few years."
Clark shakes his head.
"You graduated years ago. This isn't real, Lex. This is an illusion. I think that somehow Copeland has hypnotized us so you think you're fifteen and-"
Lex's eyes widen.
"Wait, Copeland teaches here?" Clark corrects himself. "I mean, he taught at Excelsior?"
"Yes, he's been here since the fall." Lex's expression is fierce. "I don't like him."
"Me either," says Clark, grimly. "Lex, we need to figure out a way to get out of here."
A worried look crosses Lex's face. Clark marvels at how much easier he suddenly is to read.
"I saw," Lex pauses, then meets Clark's eyes. "I saw a shape in the hall."
"Yeah, I saw it too," says Clark. "Dog-like shadow thing? Part of Copeland's bag of tricks, I'm thinking."
He turns back towards the door. Lex takes a step away from the closet, then stops.
"This," Lex says. "This could be a nightmare. I've had nightmares about being trapped alone in the school before. If we go into the hall, bad things could happen."
He somehow looks smaller than normal, almost fragile. Clark looks back at him for a moment, then says gruffly:
"It's not a nightmare. And you're not alone."
He's astonished to find himself reaching out a hand to Lex. He's even more surprised that Lex, after a few seconds hesitation, accepts it.
"Come on," says Clark. "Let's find a way out."
Lex lets go of Clark's hand as soon as they're in the hallway but Clark notices he's keeping pretty close. The hallway seems to stretch on endlessly. Lex is right - it is like something out of a dream. Clark wonders if this is all happening in his head, if his body is still slumped on the floor of Lex's library. It would explain why he's disconnected from his powers.
And yet...Lex's hand had felt warm in his. The pain from the fall had been real, vivid.
There's a skittering sound behind them. Clark turns and sees a dark shape pass by at the other end of the hall. Lex gasps and Clark reaches out to pat his arm.
"Let's go after it - run!"
Lex stares at him for a moment in disbelief but then follows him. The hallway has stretched again and it's like running in an episode of the "Flintstones", the backdrop repeating on an endless loop. Clark stops suddenly and Lex crashes into him.
"Sorry," Clark says. "Should have warned you."
"S'okay," says Lex. "Why does the hall keep doing that?"
"I think Copeland's playing with us."
"All the running you can do to stay in the same place," says Lex, unexpectedly. When Clark looks at him, he ducks his head shyly which Grown-up Lex never does. It's cute, Clark thinks. Then he thinks: did I just think Lex was cute?
"It's from "Alice through the Looking Glass," says Lex.
"My Mom read me that..." Clark says. ""Six impossible things before breakfast", right?"
"Yeah," says Lex, adding quietly. "My Mother used to read it to me too."
Used to? Clark thinks back. Lex at fifteen: he had lost his Mom pretty recently, just a year or two ago and Julian just a year or two before that. Probably not a good year to re-live. But then, Lex hasn't had many banner years, has he?
Lex is saying something:
"I think you're right; this isn't real."
"The never-ending hallway was your tip-off?" says Clark.
Small grin from Lex.
"Well, that and the fact that we've been charging up and down and no one's come out of the bedrooms. Normally, the whole floor would be out here to investigate what the hell's going on."
"Let's check the rooms next, then," suggests Clark. "See if anyone else is here."
Now that they've stopped running, the hallway seems to have reverted to a more manageable size. At first, Clark is cautious about opening doors but the first three rooms are empty and dark. If Copeland has created this illusion especially for them, perhaps he hasn't gone to the trouble of fully furnishing it.
Lex, beside him, is as alert as a cat, monitoring the hallway in all directions. His walk has changed, Clark notices. It's not his usual arrogant, liquid swagger; it's a younger, less confident version of the walk, the swagger "in utero", as though Lex isn't quite used to his body yet. Clark remembers how awkward he had felt at fifteen - all long limbs and huge feet made for tripping over.
At the end of the hallway, the last door leads to a stairwell. Clark steps in, with Lex following close behind him.
"How many levels do you see?"
Lex cranes his neck.
"Looks like six in each direction, maybe more."
"And how many floors should Excelsior have?"
"Three," says Lex wearily. "It doesn't look like this. This is like an Escher painting."
He looks exhausted, eyes shadowy. Clark says:
"Let's sit down for a bit."
It's even darker in the stairwell so they return to the hall. Lex, back to the wall, slides down to a sitting position, a move lacking in his usual grace. Clark joins him. They sit quietly for a moment and Clark notices how total the silence is. Even before his super-hearing developed, Clark had always been aware of the underlying ambient noises of different buildings: the hum of the furnace at Smallville High, the purr of central heating in the mansion, the breeze through the cracks in the barn. Wherever he and Lex really are right now, there's no soundtrack, apart from their breathing.
A shy, tentative voice from Lex takes some getting used to:
"You said we met in Smallville but I've only been there the one time."
"When you were in the meteor shower," Clark finishes.
Lex looks at him, clearly startled that Clark knows this. Clark tries to keep his voice light and gentle:
"It's how you lost your hair. And afterwards, you didn't have asthma any more and you hardly ever get sick."
Lex's voice is raw:
"I don't tell anyone about that."
"I know," says Clark. "Only people you really trust. We've-" He pauses. "We've had our ups and downs, Lex, but you did trust me enough to tell me that."
He wonders if Lex has noted his switch to the past tense. There are things that don't change regardless of age, the intentness, the intelligence of Lex's gaze among them.
"Do you believe me?" asks Clark.
Lex looks down at his fingers, locked in a ball.
"Whoever you are, I'm glad you're here," he says. "I hated being here by myself. I-"
Lex's voice breaks off as he stares over Clark's shoulder. Clark turns to look. There's a woman mid-way down the hall, floating in the air. Black dress and a white face. Dark, sunken eyes, staring at them.
Lex jumps up and runs for the stairs. Clark debates for a moment: follow Lex or pursue the woman? But when he looks back down the hall, it's empty. The woman is gone.
He follows Lex's footsteps up the stairs. Lex is a fast runner and without super-speed, hard to catch. Clark finally does catch up with him two floors up. Lex is breathing in quick, painful pants and his eyes are dilated to black points. Clark grabs him by a slim wrist.
"Did you see her?" Lex's eyes are wide. "Weren't you scared?"
Impossible to explain to Lex that a lifetime of invulnerability has made Clark immune to ghosts, bogeymen and all the usual night terrors. It's the potential of other people getting hurt that frightens Clark.
"She was very startling," Clark says. "But I don't think she's real - just Copeland prodding us for a reaction."
"Oh." Lex doesn't look any less scared, though he's trying valiantly. Clark can feel the pulse in Lex's wrist thumping wildly.
"Let's sit down again and you can tell me everything you know about Copeland," he suggests.
"Okay," says Lex, uncertainly. "This door leads, well it usually leads, to the wing where the senior boys have their rooms; I'm not supposed to be up here."
"Exceptional circumstances," says Clark, amused that there was a time when Lex actually heeded authority figures. He smiles and Lex gives him a nervous smile in return.
Through the door, they find another dark hallway identical to the one they just left.
"It shouldn't look like this," Lex says. "Look, it's the same painting from downstairs."
"Copeland is recycling his props," says Clark.
They sit on the floor. Lex keeps darting glances down the hallway.
"I think we're okay for a little while," says Clark, gently. "Copeland seems to need time to re-group between apparitions. You were going to tell me about him?"
"He's not a very good teacher," says Lex, frowning. "I've learned more about history through my own reading, through the books my father's given me."
Clark winces. Lionel Luthor's method of seriously warping your child in eighteen years or less: Volumes of Machiavelli instead of toys for birthdays, Sun Tzu instead of a bike.
"Copeland works on the theory that history is made, imposed on the masses, by the will of extraordinary individuals," says Lex, his eyes fixed on Clark.
This sounds exactly like Lionel Luthor's philosophy, or Lex's own from recent years.
"Do you believe that?" Clark asks.
"It's a persuasive argument,' says Lex, "but there's also the theory that history is made in the tiny, unpredictable details, the way Constantine's dream, just a dream, changed the outcome of a battle and the religious direction of a continent."
Clark has to suppress a smile; Intellectually, Lex at fifteen leaves Clark at twenty-three in the dust. Why doesn't that surprise him?
"Even though Copeland's not a great teacher, he does have a bit of a cult following," Lex says. "I know some students go to his room after lights-out. He asked me to go-"
"I can't believe Reynolds lets that go on."
Lex shakes his head.
"No, Reynolds left last year; I don't know why. The new Headmaster isn't as good. He's skilled at charming donations out of Alumni but he turns a blind eye to a lot of stuff."
"Does Copeland-" Clark pauses. Fifteen year old Lex is almost certainly a lot less innocent than Clark was at the same age but he still wants to tread carefully. "Do you think Copeland was hurting the boys?"
Slight flush from Lex.
"Not like that. Not, you know, sex. He likes these mind games-"
Clark leans forward:
"You mean like hypnotism?"
Lex rolls his eyes:
"His fan club claims it's more advanced than that. They say Copeland is able to transport someone out of our dimension for short periods of time which is nonsense because matter just does not work that way-"
Clark cuts off the science diatribe.
"How does Copeland allegedly do this?"
"He picks one person - some people are supposedly more susceptible than others. He puts them into the centre of a circle of boys and then describes an environment to them. Like a forest or a castle or something. All the other boys concentrate on his voice as he describes it while the volunteer stares into Copeland's eyes. This one guy I know, Neil, said that one time the volunteer actually vanished from the circle for a few seconds."
Clark considers this. That would mean the beakers and the powder really were just props, red herrings; that Copeland and Tim concentrating together are somehow able to create a temporary shadow dimension, based on Lex and Copeland's memories of Excelsior. Fifteen year old Lex remembers Copeland being able to sustain the dimension for a few seconds but fourteen years have passed since then. Copeland's obviously gotten stronger.
"Why do you think he was after you?" he asks Lex.
"My father's money, probably. He wouldn't be the first. He reacted badly when I turned down the invitation to join his little circle, implied I was scared."
Lex meets Clark's eyes, a fierce look on his face.
"I wasn't scared," he says. "But even if I believed Copeland - which I don't - I didn't want to let him get into my head. So he's made the last few months hell for me, taking little shots at me in class. I'm an easy target. The other boys always laugh. His stupid fan club tries to catch me in the halls and-"
Lex breaks off, swallows, trying to hold it together. Clark is struck, as he has been before, at how alone Lex had been after his mother died and Pamela left, how absolutely cut off from any form of support. Clark had sometimes felt alone too, as a kid but he's since realized that his loneliness had been a fraud compared to Lex's true isolation. Clark always had his parents to watch out for him and even before they knew his secret, Pete and Chloe had been unshakably loyal. Lex had only had Lionel and might have been better off without him altogether.
Lex draws one bony knee up to his chest and stares down at it. Clark reaches out a tentative arm and wraps it around Lex's shoulders. It's strange at first but then his body remembers back to high school, to the time when he could throw a friendly arm around Lex. It feels nice. Lex looks startled for a moment, then shyly pleased.
"Copeland's powers must have gotten stronger," Clark says. "But even so, he can't keep us in here indefinitely. We'll-"
Footsteps from the far end of the hall. Lex stiffens and Clark's arm tightens protectively around him.
"Just remember, whatever it is, it's not real," he tells Lex. "But stay close; we don't want to get separated."
They stand up. Lex is shaking, poised to run again. There's a dark cloud at the end of the hall. As it moves towards them, it separates into a group of boys. A group of boys in blazers and flannel trousers, some tall, some short. Perfectly normal for a boarding school except that none of the boys have faces. Where their features should be...is blank, a whiteboard wiped clean. It's unsettling, even to Clark who, after a Smallville upbringing, thinks he's seen everything.
Small, frightened noise from Lex. He tugs at Clark's arm.
"Let's go," says Clark. Copeland probably intends them to run but the alternative, standing their ground, might terrorize poor Lex back into having an asthma attack.
They run down the stairs for what seems like hours. Footsteps thump steadily behind them - the faceless mob in pursuit. As they round a corner, Lex grabs Clark's arm and pulls him out of the stairwell and into yet another generic corridor.
"Maybe we can lose them in here."
Clark doubts that. They run along the corridor, which is capped by an ornate looking door. When they reach the door, Lex hesitates and looks back at the blank-faced boys trooping in from the stairwell. Clark hears murmurs of "Luthor" and "Get them". How do they manage to talk without mouths? Copeland is playing ventriloquist, Clark guesses. Next to him, Lex shivers and Clark vows he will thoroughly kick Copeland's sadistic ass when they get out of here.
"We can go through here," Lex says. "It's the Ballroom. There's a door - well, normally there's a door - at the other end so we won't get trapped."
"Okay," says Clark and reaches for the door knob which has suddenly turned green. Not green paint, green stone. His hand automatically recoils.
The faceless mob is getting closer.
"Clark?" Lex says.
Now, the doorknob is brass again. It was a test, a fucking test, Copeland prodding around for Clark's vulnerable places. Clark grasps the knob and flings the door open. The room beyond is dark. Lex runs in and Clark slams the door behind them just as the schoolboys reach it. Discontented murmurs come from the hall.
"Now, we just have to make our way to the other side," says Lex.
Clark is fairly sure it won't be that easy. Even though Lex is standing right next to him, he can't see him. He's just a voice in the dark
"Take my hand," he tells Lex. "I don't want to lose you in here. Copeland might try and separate us, to psych us out."
Lex's hand slips into his, warm and slender. They take tentative steps across the floor. The darkness is impenetrable; it's like walking into a photo negative. Their footsteps echo through what sounds like a vast room. Otherwise, the room is completely silent.
Clark knows Copeland's got more tricks up his sleeve, would swear to it, and so is barely surprised when the lights abruptly come on, illuminating a huge room. The size of the room is less noteworthy than the fact that it's filled with floating women, carbon copies of the woman they had glimpsed in the hallway. There must be a hundred women in the room, suspended in the air like a gruesome mobile, all with inky black eyes, sunken faces, fish belly white skin.
Lex does what any fifteen year old would do, and screams. Clark keeps a tight grip on his hand.
"Lex, close your eyes."
Lex turns to him; a woman floats by, inches from their faces and they both jump.
"Trust me. Close your eyes."
Lex looks at him for a moment and Clark is furious at the terror Copeland's put into him. Or brought out of him because, face it, that terror's been there a long time. Lionel got there first.
Lex swallows and closes his eyes.
"Okay," says Clark. "We are going to walk through this room until we reach the other side. Then, we're going to go through that door. Keep your eyes closed and I'll guide you. Do you trust me?"
Lex is unable to speak but he nods, eyes squeezed shut. Clark grits his teeth and steers them through the clouds of floating women. As he'd thought, they're as intangible as shadows, if far more unsettling to look at. He forces himself to stare at them, to build up his immunity. Lex is trembling; the trembles run through his hand to Clark's. Clark tries to think of a way to distract him.
"Lex, I need your brain," he says. "I think Copeland keeps trying to scare us with these hallucinations because he's feeding off our fear in some way."
Lex is silent but it's not a frightened silence; He's thinking it over.
"Well, when people are afraid, they get an increased heart rate, pumping more blood to the muscles and brain." Lex pauses. "More glucose is released into the bloodstream and there's an increase in sweat gland activity".
Clark doubts if any of this applies to his physiology. He makes a rude face at a floating lady.
"Under stress, apocrine glands also release secretions," adds Lex. "But they come out through hair follicles so I'm not offering Copeland anything in that department."
"So Copeland might have a symbiotic relationship going with us then?" says Clark. "He's feeding us shocks; we're feeding him sweat?" Another lady floats in their path and Clark firmly marches right through her torso.
"No, not symbiotic," says Lex, frowning a little, even with his eyes shut. "It's hurting us, not helping us so it'd be parasitic. Like insects that feed off a living host."
And that's a disturbing parallel - but the questions have served Clark's purpose and calmed Lex. They've nearly reached the door. Clark looks back over his shoulder and the ballroom is empty again. Copeland evidently doesn't want to waste his energy on effects that have lost their impact.
"We're here," says Clark. "You can open your eyes. They're gone."
Lex hesitates, then opens his eyes. He looks down the room, then back at Clark.
"I'm sorry I got scared," he says. "Those women. They look like the photographs Victorians took of dead people. My dad has a collection-"
That figures, thinks Clark.
"Anyone would be scared," he tells Lex, truthfully.
"You weren't," says Lex and Clark is struck by the expression on his face. He remembers looking at Lex in that exact way when he was fifteen and it's odd to see his admiration, his fascination, reflected back to him through Lex's eyes.
"Where does this door lead?" he asks Lex.
Lex seems to recollect himself and tears his eyes away, flushing a little.
"It -it should lead to the main entrance of the school."
And it still does - with one notable difference.
"There's usually a door here," says Lex, looking at an expanse of wall. "But it's all sealed up."
"Why am I not surprised?" says Clark. He can't hold back a sigh.
"There's this play called "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre," says Lex, dreamily. "I used to think Luthorcorp Christmas parties would be the nearest I'd come to living it. Obviously, I was wrong."
Clark takes a closer look at Lex. He's very pale and swaying on his feet. He needs to rest and Clark wonders if by running around like this they've been inadvertently fueling Copeland. Maybe they should stay put for a bit.
"Come on," he says to Lex. "Let's look for a room with furniture."
They find a room three doors down the hallway. It's exactly like the room where Clark first found Lex. Possibly, it is the same room. It's small but there's a bed and a chair and that's enough.
"Lie down and sleep awhile," Clark tells Lex. "I'll keep watch."
Normal, present day Lex always argues, even when Superman's trying to save his life. Fifteen year old Lex actually obeys Clark which comes as something of a shock. He quietly takes off his shoes and lies down on the bed, shivering a little, even in his black cashmere.
"I suppose there's no point getting under the covers," says Lex. "If none of this is real."
"It still might make you feel warmer," says Clark. There's a faint scratching sound at the door. Lex sits up, alarmed. The scratching gets louder and is coming from all sides now. It sounds just like rats in the walls.
Clark pulls the chair over and sits down next to the bed.
"Just another trick," he tells Lex. "Copeland's tired of apparitions so he's having a go with sound effects. If we don't react, he'll stop."
Lex nods, swallows and lies back in bed. He's turned so he's facing Clark.
"Did my father pay you - to watch out for me?"
Inevitable that Lex would think this. Clark leans forward over the bed so their heads are level.
"No, I don't work for Lionel."
Lex looks at him for a moment, considering.
"How'd we meet then? In Smallville?"
Delicate phrasing is required here. Fifteen year old Lex doesn't need to hear about the long list of traumas, betrayals and attempted murders in his future. It's key to divert him from asking too many questions. Clark says:
"You had car trouble coming in to Smallville and I helped you."
Lex tilts his head.
"The Porsche. But then after that you helped me."
Lex's eyes widen.
"I did? How?"
"I was attacked by the football team," Clark says. "They stripped my clothes off and tied me up in a corn field. I would have died of exposure if you hadn't rescued me."
Lex shakes his head.
"Do they make a habit of stringing people up in Smallville? I saw a guy tied up like that right before the meteors hit. I've always felt terrible for running away without helping him."
"You made up for it by helping me," Clark says.
Lex gives him an appraising look.
"I can't imagine you being bullied. You're obviously very strong... And the way you look," Lex pauses. "I mean, who would find you objectionable?"
This question, coming from Lex, wrings Clark's heart a little. It's on the tip of his tongue to say "You. You will find me objectionable. It'll drive you crazy when I don't tell you the truth and I'll make it worse by lying even when I don't have to. You'll keep investigating me even after you've promised to stop and I'll keep demanding favours from you after I've falsely accused you and physically hurt you. Then we'll really make things ugly by fighting over a girl that, a year later, neither of us will care about or remember why we wanted in the first place."
Clark doesn't say this. Instead, he says:
"They didn't like me because I was different; in a small town, sometimes, that's enough."
"It's also enough in a boarding school," Lex says, softly.
Clark wants to tell Lex that things will get better, for a while anyway. He remembers that there are happier stories from Lex's teenaged years. There's a future student council election to be won and at some point, Lex's ex-Navy Seal chauffeur will teach him to box which will put an end to the bullying.
"Do you think you can sleep?" he asks Lex. The scratching noise has stopped. "I'll be right here."
Lex gives him a long look, his light eyes turned to navy in the dim light. Then he settles down in the bed and nestles into his pillow.
Clark sits in his chair - a chair that's probably just a figment of Copeland's imagination -and tries to figure out what his next move should be. The trouble is, he's tired too and his thoughts are going in circles. And there's an idea: surely Copeland will need to sleep? He can't sustain this illusion when he's sleeping, can he? Or is the idea to keep Lex in here just long enough to make him vulnerable to suggestion? Fourteen years ago, Lex thought Copeland was after Lionel's money; chances are he still wants money now. He can't take over Luthorcorp in Lex's absence but he might be counting on a more malleable Lex emerging from the hypnosis. How long can you convince someone he's fifteen before he gets permanently stuck that way?
Clark sighs; inaction always frustrates him. Superman doesn't usually have to be patient. What makes it worse is he can still feel his powers, even if he can't access them. They're connected to him, but hovering just out of reach, a kite at the end of a distant string.
Lex shifts on his pillow, eyelashes casting delicate shadows across his face. It's strange to be able to sit with him like this. Clark and Lex have had very few moments of stillness in recent years. Arguments and interactions always seem to happen at lightning speed. Clark moves fast, Lex thinks fast. Theirs is a quicksilver relationship, half enmity, half...something else.
Seeing Lex so still and peaceful takes Clark back to the old days: Lex on the couch in the loft, elegant even sitting in a barn. Always having time to help Clark with homework or listen to his complaints about school. He remembers every conversation he and Lex have ever had, from their first meeting by the river to their argument last week. In contrast, the time he spent with Pete, spread over fifteen years of friendship, is nothing more than a pleasant haze. His conversations with Chloe have also blurred together, albeit in a very useful way; theirs were cumulative talks, forming the path that has led Clark to be a journalist, a good one, he hopes.
He remembers conversations with Lana about as well as he remembers learning to walk. Perhaps they had only one conversation in their repertoire: apologize, recriminate, regret, repeat.
It had been different with Lex. Like Chloe, Lex has helped to form Clark. Both of Clark's fathers, Jonathan and Jor-El, had held very cut and dried notions of destiny. There was the good route and the bad route; you chose one or the other. Once launched on a path, you were stuck on it. Lex, through conversation and example, has shown Clark that it's not always that simple and a great deal of life, by necessity, is lived in the gray areas. Superman doesn't compromise - but Clark Kent does, all the time. He's learned that there are not just two sides to every story; there can be a dozen or more.
Recently, Clark looked around the Fortress and realized how much of Lex's stuff he had stashed away there: All the various gadgets Superman has confiscated from Lex (some dangerous, some probably not), lab notes, serums, computer parts and one mournful looking robot. When Superman relieves Lex of a weapon, he adds it to the archive; there are filing cabinets filled with notes on Lex as well and that's in addition to the Daily Planet files Lois and Clark keep on Luthorcorp. It totally dwarfs the little Clark museum Lex had secreted away in the mansion once upon a time. Sure, Clark can justify his Lex-archive on crime prevention and public interest grounds but if he's honest with himself, he knows his research goes well beyond that. He knows the name of every lover Lex has had since 2001 (and a few before that.) His investigation has been as comprehensive and invasive as anything Lex had compiled on him back in Smallville.
Another irony is that after all the lies, after all the secrecy, how reliable Lex has proven to be at keeping Clark's secret. From Superman's first appearance, Lex was never fooled. But he hasn't given Clark's identity away; even Hope and Mercy don't know that the annoying Lois Lane's quiet partner doubles as their boss's nemesis. Nor has Lex ever exposed Superman's weakness to kryptonite to the public. And though Lex enjoys baiting Superman, with taunts and plots, he has never once moved the battle onto Clark's home turf.
Compare that with Lana, who within a day of knowing Clark's secret had more or less betrayed him to Lex and gotten herself killed in the process, leading to the hardest choice and the worst decision of Clark's life....no, he won't think back to that day. It always demoralizes him and he needs all his stamina right now to deal with Copeland.
Lex twists a little on the bed, half turning over. There's a sound, a steady murmur; Clark looks up and wonders if Lex is talking in his sleep but, no. There are two voices. One says:
"They're functioning too well as a unit. Lex is less frightened. The other one's sitting sentry like a block of granite. It's wearing me down..."
Clark sits up. That's Copeland's voice - and it sounds close, as though it's coming from inside the room. He hears Tim reply but can't make out the words. Then Copeland says:
"Well, I'm sure the red, blue and yellow spiral has to be his power source-"
Mumble from Tim. Copeland says:
"So, keep working on it. I'm going to try a fear bump on Lex."
"He can hear you."
That's Tim's voice, with a warning tone. Abruptly, the conversation cuts out. Clark thinks it over. Whatever "fear bump" means, it can't be good. But it does appear that by staying in one place, he and Lex have weakened Copeland's hold; if they can exhaust Copeland, outlast him, perhaps they can fight their way out of here.
If only he wasn't so tired. Clark yawns and stretches.
And then the baby starts crying.
The sound is faint at first and for a second Clark thinks he's imagining it because why would Copeland try to scare them with a baby? But then Lex is sitting bolt upright in bed, looking stricken and the pieces fall into place.
"Lex, it's not-"
But Lex is already out of bed and hurling himself at the door. Clark manages to get there first and block the doorway. Lex tugs at his arms and tries to push past him. Clark gently catches and holds Lex's hands.
"It's not Julian, Lex, it's not."
Lex recoils like he's been burnt. His face crumples. Clark awkwardly strokes his arms, trying to soothe him.
"Copeland would have read your school file. He'd know about Julian. It's just another manipulative trick."
Lex looks down at his feet. He's shaking horribly. The cries are getting louder in the hall, more plaintive.
"It sounds like Julian." When Lex looks up, his eyes are crystalline with tears. Clark desperately wants to pull him in for a hug but the important thing is to get him to close his eyes because what if Copeland plans on sending a fucking floating baby into the room...
"C'mon. Get back in bed."
Lex shakes his head and reaches again for the door.
"Lex, you know it's not real. It's cruel and horrible and I promise you Copeland will pay for this-"
Lex blinks and a single tear tracks down his cheek.
"But we're going to fight back. See, I have an idea."
Lex allows Clark to lead him back to the bed. The baby's cries are deafening now and are echoing from every direction. Plaintive Baby in Dolby Stereo: it's overkill.
"We're going to get under the covers-"
Lex crawls in and Clark follows. They lie under the blanket, nose to nose. Clark can feel the heat coming off Lex's skin; hear the hitch in his breathing.
"And you're going to tell me the plot of Warrior Angel number....um, number eighty-three."
A small pause. More loud crying.
Lex is puzzled but puzzled is good. Better puzzled than panicked or grief-stricken.
"We're going to block Copeland out," Clark says. "You're going to distract us by telling me a Warrior Angel story."
"You like Warrior Angel comics?"
"Yeah, I do. You introduced me to him."
Another wail from the baby. Lex's shiver shakes the bed. Clark reaches out, finds Lex's back and strokes it. After a moment, Lex says:
"Well, issue 83 is actually a really good one because it has multiple dimensions. Do you like those?"
"Absolutely," Clark answers, with perfect honesty. He likes anything that will divert Lex from the cries in the hall. Lex continues, voice slightly choked:
"Warrior Angel and Devilicus keep getting transported to these other worlds. They find out that they have a counterpart in every world but all the counterparts are different. In one world, Warrior Angel is evil and Devilicus is the hero so the good Warrior Angel and the good Devilicus team up to defeat their evil counterparts."
"Sounds like you'd need a score card to sort the good guys from the bad," Clark says.
"Yeah," says Lex. "I thought that was one of the more mundane dimensions. I mean, just having them flip roles is pretty obvious, isn't it? There's one dimension where they both live under water, another one where they're both soldiers in the same army. There's kind of a stupid dimension where they're fighting over this really boring girl-"
"That sucks. If they're going to slow the action down with romance at least the girl should be cool," says Clark. The baby's cries seem to be ebbing. His hand is still on Lex's back and he's relieved to feel the trembles have subsided.
"Actually, my favourite of the dimensions has almost no action," Lex says. "Warrior Angel and Devilicus are the only two people in the world. Because they're immortal, they've outlived everyone else."
Clark shivers a little.
"That sounds lonely."
"They're not, though," says Lex, softly. "They fill up the day with talking. The world has reverted back to nature so they have these long, philosophical conversations in pastoral settings, planning how to re-invent the universe..."
"Mmm," says Clark. "That does sound nice. Peaceful."
"Fans didn't like it though. Thought it was too peaceful. Not enough fighting."
Silence for a moment - and it's a proper silence. The crying has stopped.
Clark is very aware that his hand is still on Lex's back. But he doesn't want to move it.
"If my Dad didn't send you after me, how did you get here?"
More circuitous phrasing required. The last thing Lex needs to hear is "Well, I got a tip from my friend, the journalist. By the way, you and I? We're enemies now."
"I came looking for you and found Copeland. He wouldn't tell me where you were but agreed to send me after you." Clark adds ruefully. "I thought I could out-maneuver him but instead I walked right into a trap."
Silence. Lex shifts and Clark feels a huff of warm breath on his neck.
"You came here to save me?" Lex says. "Have you...have you made a habit of that?"
"We save each other. That's how it works with us."
What the hell? As soon as the words are out, Clark's astonished he said it. Of course, there was a time he really believed it, but that was years ago. Perhaps being in this illusion is causing him to regress as well.
Lex is staring at him, intently. Clark is acutely conscious of how close Lex is. They're face to face under a cocoon of blankets, separated by no more than a finger's length. All he can see of Lex, in the dark, is the gleam of his eyes and the pale tip of his nose. It's still quite enough to put ideas in his head.
It's not new for Clark to think about kissing Lex. The thought occurred to him, oh, several hundred times in high school but if he hadn't been sure how Lex would react he was absolutely certain how his Dad would. Despite years of hungry staring (and what he realizes now was some pretty flagrant jealousy of Lex's wives and girlfriends) Clark had never had the courage to act on his yearning for Lex. His life was already complicated enough.
Even when he and Lex had been circling each other around Lana.... even now that they're sworn enemies, Clark's attraction to Lex has never fully subsided. Only last week, during a Luthorcorp press conference he'd fantasized briefly about grabbing Lex and kissing him just to make him shut the hell up for once.
But here, in this bed, it's different. Lex possibly wants to be kissed, is maybe waiting for it. Lying there and staring at Clark with half parted lips and sleepy eyes. If Clark moved closer, cupped a hand behind Lex's head and pulled him in for a kiss, he doubts Lex would pull away.
But he won't do it, won't do it for the same reason that Lex didn't kiss Clark all those years ago, even when Clark was high on RedK that first time and blatantly offering himself up. This time, it's Lex that's too young. He might be twenty-nine on the outside, but he's fifteen and vulnerable in his head and has just been through a series of traumatic experiences.
Even if Clark won't kiss him, he can still comfort him. He stretches out an arm and pulls Lex close, until Lex's cheek is resting against his shoulder. Lex doesn't say anything but presses up against Clark, letting one of his arms fall around Clark's waist.
"Go back to sleep now," Clark whispers.
"Mmm. Okay." Lex yawns against his neck.
Clark listens to Lex's breathing grow soft and regular. He fully intends to stay awake himself and keep watch. But the bed is comfortable and Lex is so warm in his arms. His thoughts begin to haze and he thinks: a few minutes napping won't hurt, might even sharpen his wits.
When he snaps back into consciousness, he's not sure how many minutes or hours have passed. A sound woke him, Clark is certain of that. It wasn't Lex, quietly asleep beside him. The room is empty.
That's Lois's voice. Clark has a sudden flash of hope that it's all over, that they're back in the mansion but a look round the room puts an end to that.
"Is anyone there?"
It sounds exactly like Lois but Clark is almost positive it's another of Copeland's tricks. After all, Copeland has met Lois and is clever enough to have connected her appearance at the mansion with Clark's. If he wants to lure Clark away from Lex, this is an excellent way to go about it.
On the other hand, when Clark didn't turn up at the motel on schedule, Lois could very well have gone back to the mansion for a re-match with Copeland. She hates being intimidated and would return armed with questions, persistent as a terrier. Copeland might have chucked her in here just to get rid of her. Clark owes it to Lois to make sure. If it's another of Copeland's apparitions, he'll come back to Lex.
He gently detaches himself from Lex's arms. Lex makes a sleepy, protesting noise but doesn't wake. Clark pulls the covers back over Lex and slips quietly to the door.
Lois - or Not Lois - is standing in the hallway, a few doors down. She rushes up to him.
"Clark! Where the hell are we?"
Looks like Lois. Sounds like Lois.
"What did we have for lunch yesterday?" Clark asks, testing her.
Lois frowns at him.
"What? Did you hit your head or something? Look, I have to show you something in the room down here-"
So....Not Lois, then.
"What?" Clark asks, trying to keep his voice light and unsuspecting.
Not-Lois sets off down the hall, gesturing for him to follow. He wonders if he grabbed her arm, if he'd feel anything or if his fingers would go right through her.
"It's like a regular room," Not-Lois says. "But with a missing wall. Instead of the fourth wall, there's a window back into Lex's library and you can see Copeland and that other weird guy."
Has Copeland hidden an exit somewhere in the illusion? Why? Clark wonders: is he trying to lure me out so Lex will be left alone in here? Wants to split us up because we're functioning too well as a team?
Obviously, he's not going to abandon Lex. But he's curious to see the room. Not-Lois stops in front of a door and steps aside so Clark can enter.
It's just as she described it. The back wall of the room is missing and shows a view of Lex's library. Copeland sits at Lex's desk. Clark notes, with satisfaction, that he looks pale and spent. Tim is studying a beaker, which contains a swirl of red, blue and yellow. My powers, thinks Clark. Now, if he can only get in, restore his powers and return for Lex....
There's a click behind him. Not-Lois has shut the door.
"You're a remarkably gullible young man," she says. Lois's mouth is moving but it's Copeland's voice saying the words. It's horrible to see Lois's image used as a puppet but Clark is determined not to show how much it bothers him.
"I think you're getting tired, Copeland," Clark says, with a shrug. "Law of diminishing returns. Your house of horrors isn't working and I have no intention of leaving Lex."
"Nor should you," says Not-Lois. "It'll be Lex that leaves you."
All at once, five of the faceless schoolboys are in the room, as abruptly as if they'd dropped from the ceiling. They advance on Clark, who moves to walk right through them but, hell, it turns out they are solid. Copeland must be focusing all his energy on this room. Clark fights to get free of them. They aren't unusually strong but without his powers and tired as he is, he's no match for five against one.
They throw Clark down on a table and hold him down with cold hands. Not-Lois reaches into the air and out of nowhere produces a set of leather restraints. Clark re-doubles his struggles.
"Oh, enough," says Not-Lois. She puts a hand in her pocket and produces a huge piece of kryptonite. "You've been very unforthcoming, young man. All Tim's been able to read from you is you have a phobia of green rocks. Very esoteric of you, I must say. Fortunately, it's sufficient for us to work with."
She sets the rock on Clark's chest and though Clark knows this is an imaginary rock in an imaginary room, it still goddamn hurts. He moans and offers no resistance as the faceless schoolboys tether him to the table.
"What are you going to do with Lex?" he manages to ask.
"Ah, Lex," Not-Lois says. "Always a headstrong boy. I'd planned to keep him in here until he was ready to discuss a little matter of funding. Tim and I have a business venture going, you see."
Clark struggles against the restraints. The rock feels like it's burning a hole in his chest.
"You mean you use your powers to extort from people."
Not-Lois leans over him, her face inches away.
"We try and influence certain markets, yes. Don't pretend your dear Lex doesn't do exactly the same, in his fashion."
The faceless schoolboys are grouped around Clark. The two standing by his arms have produced knives from somewhere and are twisting them so that little shafts of light dance across the ceiling.
"But now that we've met you, we're content to put Lex on hold for a while. Keep him chained him up in his library while we figure out how you tick. Tim's very interested in your power source, Mr. Kent, as am I. We'd like you to tell us all about it."
Clark shakes his head which causes the room to spin. The kryptonite, illusion though it may be, is still making him sick and dizzy.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Not-Lois laughs. Very disconcerting to hear Copeland's cackle of a laugh coming out of Lois's mouth.
"No, of course not. Well, let's see what you have to say after a little alone time on the table, communing with your rocks."
The boys simultaneously raise their knives and slash through the sleeves of Clark's sweater, leaving two identical gashes. The knife points hover over his upper arms. When the blades actually cut into him, Clark watches it happen, sees the blood but doesn't feel anything. This is a hopeful sign; perhaps if he can achieve mind over matter with the knives, he can force himself to stop believing in the restraints and the lump of kryptonite on his chest.
Not-Lois is watching him with interest.
"Now, most people would find being slashed a far more traumatic experience than having an innocent rock placed on their chest. You're a most unusual young man, Mr. Kent. I look forward to hearing what you have to say."
"It begins with "Go" and ends with "Hell," Clark says.
"For now. But that level of bravado may be hard to sustain."
And Clark winces because Not-Lois has produced two smaller pieces of kryptonite from her pocket and is handing them to the faceless schoolboys. It's not real, he tells himself. It doesn't even quite look like real kryptonite; the shade of green is slightly off.
But it feels real and he closes his eyes against the waves of nausea and pain.
"I rather despise puns," Copeland is saying. "But in this case, it's truly hard to resist. I am about to get under your skin, Mr. Kent...."
And hands are pushing the green rocks into the slashes on his arms. The pain....Clark is suddenly transported back to a sunny day with his Dad on the farm, Van McNulty's bullet burning into him out of the blue sky.
"Scream, if you wish," says Copeland. "Lex won't come for you. I'm going to open an exit for him at the end of the hall and he will go through it. He lacks your unselfish character, Mr. Kent and I fully anticipate he'll want to bid on any information I uncover about you."
Clark tries to shut out the hateful voice, the pain. The faux-kryptonite is making the room swim, like a green whirlpool. He shuts his eyes. He understands how Lex must have felt now, hearing the baby, seeing the floating women, because though he knows for a fact that the stones in his arms are hallucinations, the pain is so intense it just might kill him anyway.
When he opens his eyes, Not-Lois and the faceless boys are gone. He is alone, strapped to a table in a dark room.
His voice sounds frail and weak. Even if it manages to carry to Lex's room, it might not wake him. Even if he did hear, Lex might justifiably think it was a trick.
"Lex?" says a new voice.
It's a woman's voice, sweet and gentle. Clark doesn't recognize it. Can Copeland be trying to mimic Lilian - or Pamela? Surely, he'd never met either woman. Perhaps he just anticipates Lex being receptive to a motherly voice, which is probably true.
"Lex!" Clark shouts.
The woman speaks again:
"That's it, darling. You're nearly out. See the light at the end of the hallway? If you come through there, you'll be safe, Lex. Far away from this horrible place."
Hell, if Clark was free he'd be tempted to follow the voice too. He makes another futile attempt at fighting his way out of the restraints. His arms burn from the stones and he's at the brink of losing consciousness.
A flash of bright light from the doorway jolts him back to the moment. The door is on fire, flames licking up and down. Why would Copeland bother? It's not like Clark's going anywhere
"Lex?" calls the woman's voice again.
Oh, of course. Copeland's treating Lex like a rat in a maze, nudging him the way he wants him to go. Even if Lex had heard Clark calling, he'd never make it through that doorway. No one would be brave enough. Clark's head drops back down on the table, utterly defeated. It makes it no better that it's his own arrogance, his certainty that he could beat Copeland at his game that has brought him here. Possibly, he'll die in this ridiculous, imaginary world and if ever there was a foolish, wasted death...
It's Lex's voice, coming from the other side of the door, which is now a sheet of flame. The flames flare higher at the sound of his voice.
"I'm here," croaks Clark but he doesn't expect an answer. What can Lex possibly do?
A moment later, he's astounded to see a figure diving through the flames. It crashes next to the table and frantically rolls on the ground.
And Lex stands up, patting down his arms for sparks that aren't there: scared but resolute.
"Clark? What - what the hell did he do to you?"
"You just walked through fire," says Clark, dazed.
"It's not real," says Lex, who still looks considerably shaken. "You showed me that."
"Wait, are you real?" Clark says. "Or another of Copeland's tricks? Because I swear-"
Then he does pass out for a second. When he comes to, the pain has lessened and the rock is gone from his chest. Lex is standing over him, fumbling with the restraints.
"Clark? Are you back with me?"
"The rock? Is it..."
"When I lifted it off you, it vanished." Lex has already freed Clark's legs and is working on the bands around his arms. "For hallucinogenic straps, these are remarkably hard to undo."
It's such a typically Lexian remark; Clark simply has to laugh, even if the laugh has a slightly hysterical edge to it. Lex's cool hand brushes across his forehead.
"'S 'okay. Look, your arms are free now."
But Clark can't move because he can still feel the kryptonite under his skin, immobilizing him. Lex's fingers sweep along his arms and discover the cuts.
"What are these? Fuck, Clark...these lumps." Lex bends down for a closer look.
"Are these...are these rocks? The bastard put rocks under your skin? That's so messed-up."
"Take them out. Please, Lex."
He opens his eyes and sees Lex's worried face staring down at him.
"None of it is real, remember?" Lex says. "If you close your eyes again, concentrate, you can make them go away."
Clark is embarrassed by the whimper that seems to come from deep in his throat.
"I've tried; I can't. Please, Lex."
Lex, looking very unhappy, pulls apart the tear on the sleeve of Clark's right arm. Clark winces as his fingers brush against the cut and Lex instantly pulls his hand away.
"I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't," says Clark. "The rocks are hurting me. Just reach in and do it, quick. Please."
The expression on Lex's face reminds Clark of his parents extracting Van's kryptonite bullet. They'd been terrified of hurting him, but oh, so brave.
"Close your eyes," Lex says.
Clark feels a jolt of pain in his right arm and opens his eyes in time to see Lex flinging a bloody rock across the room. It vanishes before it hits the wall. Abruptly, the pain in his other arm is gone too. Both his sleeves are intact again and there's not a trace of blood.
Lex is breathing heavily. Clark sits up and grasps his shoulder.
"Thank you. You fixed it."
Lex only nods. The doorway fire has stopped burning. Clark hops off the table and walks to where the door once was. Beyond it, there's nothing. Not even a dark hallway: just cold, dark nothing. Lex, who has come up behind him, peeks out and grimaces.
"No, I think this is a good sign," says Clark. "Copeland's energy is depleting. He can't maintain the full illusion of Excelsior any more."
"So this is End Game?" Lex says, nervously. "We've outlasted him?"
"No, you did," says Clark. "I'm the one who walked straight into another trap and needed rescuing."
The room suddenly suffers a tremendous jolt; it's less like an earthquake and more like a plummeting elevator.
"Get under the table!" Clark says.
They run for the table and fling themselves under it. The room has nearly stabilized but there are a few residual shudders and Clark could swear the walls are rippling, like a membrane wearing thin. He can hear panicked voices in the distance. One voice says "I can't hold it together, not with Lex still in there. It's too much."
"I think it won't be much longer now," he says to Lex.
Lex nods; he looks young and scared. Clark puts an arm around his shoulders and pulls him in for a hug.
"Hey," says Clark, gently. "You were amazing. I can't believe you came back for me."
Lex looks up at him, surprised.
"We save each other, right? That's what you said?"
Such an open, hopeful expression on Lex's face. It breaks Clark's heart a little.
Another huge jolt to the room and this time the walls definitely turn transparent for a second.
"Clark? What happens when this room vanishes? Where do we go?"
"We go back to now, to the present," says Clark, hoping this is true.
"Are you sure? What if we just fall into nothingness?"
"We won't. But in case we do fall, let me just-"
He pulls Lex onto his lap, trying to wrap as much of his body as he can around Lex's, to cushion a potential fall. He can't tell if the shivers wracking Lex's body are coming from Lex or the dissolution of the room. Even the floorboards look slightly translucent now.
Pause, then frightened voice:
"Tell me another "Warrior Angel" story."
Lex's voice sounds muffled; his mouth is pressed against Clark's shoulder.
""Warrior Angel" 107 is a retelling of "Orpheus and Eurydice." Warrior Angel descends to the underworld to rescue Devilicus-"
Clark peers up from under the table and the ceiling is definitely gone, replaced by a sheet of black. Also... the doorway's on fire again and this time the fire is coming towards them.
"Close your eyes," he whispers to Lex. "And keep talking."
"Warrior Angel and Devilicus are enemies by this point. It's a post-rift story. But Warrior Angel is still compelled to save him because they were best friends once and that's not something you can forget-"
"No, you can't," says Clark. Lex lifts his head and meets Clark's eyes for a long look, as a wave of fire curls around the table. Lex says:
"And he sees that Hell isn't quite what he expected; it's not fire and brimstone all the time. It's small humiliations, it's boredom, it's quiet betrayal, it's-"
But the fire is very near now and Lex is too scared to talk any more.
"It'll be okay," Clark whispers, gathering him close. "The fire's the last shot in Copeland's arsenal. And notice how we can't feel any heat? It's not even a convincing illusion."
"It's not that," says Lex.
Lex raises his head. Clark stares into those infinite eyes.
"Am I going back to a good future, Clark? I mean...are things okay?"
Clark raises a hand to cup Lex's cheek.
"They will be," he says. The room jolts again and Lex is staring at Clark, frightened but still trusting him. And he's so close - right there in Clark's arms. Clark tilts his head and before he quite realizes what he's doing, he's moving in for a kiss. Lex makes a startled noise but then he's kissing Clark back. His kiss is aggressive but his mouth is soft and his arms are tight around Clark's neck.
And at that moment the world falls apart.
It's like a magician's box collapsing in on itself. The walls of the room tumble and vanish, the table evaporates above them and the floor is turning cloudy.
Clark only has time to say "Hold on!" before they're falling. It doesn't feel like a real fall - more like the sudden drop that takes you from half sleep to deep sleep. It seems to go on for a long time.
The landing, however, does feel real. Clark hits the floor with a crash, legs splayed out and Lex sprawled on top of him. They've been in the dark for so long that the light in the library is blindingly bright. Clark squints but can't see. There's nothing wrong with his ears though and he hears the explosion before he sees the shards of glass flying at them. He flings himself on top of Lex and looks up to see the colours of his Kryptonian house streaming towards him; they hit his chest like a kick from a horse. And, just like that, his powers are back.
Someone is screaming and once Clark can focus, he sees Tim lying on the floor, bleeding from the shards of glass lodged in his face, arms and neck. He must have been holding the beaker containing Clark's powers when they crash-landed. Clark climbs off Lex and runs over to Tim. There's a jacket on the couch and he presses this against the largest of the wounds, which is in Tim's neck. Peripherally, he sees Lex pick himself off the floor.
Two of the Sheriff's deputies run into the room with Lois at their heels. One deputy radios for an ambulance for Tim and Clark cedes his place to the other, stepping carefully through the broken glass and purple dust.
"What happened?" asks the senior deputy, whom Clark vaguely remembers from his Smallville days.
"They were holding Lex hostage; there was an explosion."
"They were trying to extort money," says Lex. "Clark came to visit me and got caught up in the situation."
His voice. Even Lois must have noticed the change in his voice. When Clark looks up at Lex, sees him properly, the expression on Lex's face sears his heart. He looks exactly like a man who's regained fourteen unhappy years in the last thirty seconds.
Lois seems to have observed a change in Clark's face too. For once, her tone is gentle:
"Are you all right, Clark? You look a bit-" She glances over at Lex, who is clearly struggling to regain his usual composure.
"Copeland." says Clark. "Where's Copeland?"
"A car peeled out of here as I was driving in...wait, Clark; at least let the paramedics look you over. You and Lex both look like you've had a shock."
"I'll be right back," says Clark.
It's therapeutic to run. The early morning air is fresh, the fields fragrant. Clark catches up with Copeland's car on the outskirts of town and takes great satisfaction in burning out all four tires, stranding him. He returns to the mansion and reports Copeland's license plate number to the deputies. The paramedics arrive and load a moaning Tim onto a stretcher.
"He runs a con game with the other guy, Copeland," Clark tells the accompanying deputy. "It might be a good idea to keep them separated."
Back in the old days, Sheriff Adams would have snorted at the cheek of Clark Kent telling her how to run her investigation. But this deputy is a meeker sort and merely nods.
Lex finishes making his statement; Clark notices that he's left out any mention of hypnosis or Excelsior, giving the impression that he and Clark were held captive in the library. So Clark does the same, matching Lex's account exactly. Lois takes notes, transcribing his interview in brisk shorthand.
"While I waited for you at the motel, I did some research," she says. "It looks like this isn't the first time Copeland has pulled this hostage stunt. His name is linked to a number of other wealthy business people - all Excelsior Alumni, by the way - who've reported losses over the past two years. No one's pressed charges before but I bet they'll suddenly find the courage once they read that Copeland's behind bars."
The deputies thank Lex and Clark for their statements and leave. Lois says:
"Thanks from me, too, Lex, for giving me a quote." It comes out rather stilted. Lois isn't accustomed to being polite to Lex. Lex just nods with a half-smile and walks out of the library without saying goodbye. Clark notes, with a pang, that his usual walk hasn't returned yet. This walk is slow and tired.
"Well, are you ready to head back?" asks Lois. "We should feed you first. I bet your Mom would love to see you or I can treat you to pancakes at the diner-"
"Thanks - but you go on ahead," Clark says. "I - I want to stick around for a bit and make sure that Lex is okay."
For once Lois doesn't say anything. She surprises Clark by pulling him in for a quick hug before she leaves. Clark listens to the clack of her high heels tapping through the hall.
He scans the mansion for Lex, looking up through the floors and finds him in one of the tower rooms. Clark speeds up the stairs and pauses in the doorway. Lex is sitting on a window seat, legs curled beneath him, staring out a dusty window. He doesn't turn around when Clark hesitantly walks over to him.
There's no way this isn't going to be awkward. Clark, fearless in the face of super-villains and natural disaster, is a nervous wreck when confronted with a vulnerable Lex. The window seat isn't really big enough for the two of them but Clark manages to perch on a corner. Lex doesn't register his approach in the slightest, remaining still as a statue. They sit in silence for a few minutes, then Clark says:
"What happened to Copeland? Back then, I mean."
"He was fired," Lex says. His voice is tired. "One of the students in his fan club took a header out of a second-floor window while under a trance and broke his leg."
Another pause, then Lex says:
"You don't have to hang around out of pity, Clark."
"Don't flatter yourself," Clark says.
Lex looks up, one eyebrow raised.
"You acquitted yourself well last night," says Clark. "You saved me. I'm the one that gets to wallow in self-pity."
Lex draws a pattern on the dusty window with his finger.
"Being fifteen again....That was an unhappy time in my life, not a time I'd want to return to and definitely not a time I'd want anyone else to see."
"Even me?" Clark says. "C'mon, Lex you knew me at fifteen."
Lex sharply turns to face him.
"And you were perfect. Perfect boy, perfect family. Clark, you were a walking advertisement for adolescence."
"Except for stalking Lana, constantly pestering you for favours and attention and oh yeah, the big, honking alien secret," says Clark, amused. "And anyway, you were obviously a pretty amazing kid yourself."
Lex shakes his head.
"You walked through fire to save me, Lex," Clark says, softly. "How many people would have the courage to do that?"
Lex, once again, is resolutely not looking at him.
"What?" says Clark. No answer. "What?!"
Lex mumbles something. Lex never mumbles. Clark focuses his hearing a beat too late and misses it.
"C'mon, Lex, just say it. Whatever it is, it can't be scarier then floating dead ladies or walking through fire."
Lex takes a deep breath; when he looks up at Clark, his eyes, by sheer force of will, are blank and cold. He says:
"Do you know how hard it was to meet you for the first time all over again? To immediately like you and hope that you were my friend? To have you look out for me and," Lex pauses, "kiss me, and then to come back to a reality where we despise each other-"
This is the point at which Clark could re-hash old arguments: Clark and Lex's Greatest Hits. It's a well-worn path that leads to yelling and Lex waving his hands around and Clark storming out in a cold fury. But he doesn't do it because for once Lex isn't posturing; he really is hurting and the way his voice trembles a little on the word "kiss" has given Clark the opening he was hoping for.
Clark leans over and closes the short distance between them. Lex is wearing his fiercest expression but Clark sees through it to the hurt and fragility beneath. He cups Lex's face in his big hands and looks at him for a moment. Lex blinks but he doesn't try to get away. Clark's thumbs trace the fine arc of Lex's cheekbones, stopping at the corners of those perfect, odalisque eyes.
"Clark..." says Lex and because further conversation is the last thing they need right now, Clark shuts him up by kissing him. There's an instant of struggle, long legs and arms flailing beneath him and then Lex is returning the kiss, letting Clark's tongue into his mouth and reaching up to grab a handful of Clark's hair. Their noses bump together until Clark tilts his head and finds a better angle. He tentatively strokes Lex's head, unsure if this is allowed but Lex makes a pleased sound and arches into Clark's touch. Lex's skin is satiny soft and he tastes good. Really good. Clark runs his tongue along that little groove in Lex's lip, then licks a few long stripes along Lex's face. Tastes his cheekbones, kisses the bridge of his nose, licks along the curve of an eyebrow.
"Are you washing me?" Lex murmurs. Clark kisses the tip of his nose. Lex chuckles and pulls Clark's mouth down to meet his.
Window seats aren't ideal for necking. Clark pins Lex to the wall but there's no room to lay him down and properly touch him. He does manage to get one hand under the black cashmere and finds a nipple; Lex hisses, and nips at Clark's bottom lip, hard enough to draw blood from a normal man. Clark growls and hauls Lex up and off the seat. As soon as they're standing, Lex is wrapped around him like ivy, hands everywhere, warm mouth submitting to Clark's kisses.
Clark knows, with absolute surety, that he will come, right here, fully dressed, if he doesn't put a stop to this.
"Bed?" he manages to say.
Lex smirks, wriggles out of Clark's grip, grabs his hand and tugs him down the hallway. When they're nearly at the stairs, Lex stops, pushes Clark up against the wall and grinds against him for a scorching kiss. One of Lex's hands lightly snakes across Clark's crotch, causing Clark to flail and knock an adjacent painting off its hook. Then, just as quickly as it started, the kiss is over and Lex is calmly leading Clark down the stairs.
"That's considered teasing," Clark says. Lex's confident walk is back and Clark enjoys a long look at those kitty-cat hips in their full, slinky glory. He has plans for those hips: licking, biting plans. They reach the door of Lex's bedroom. Lex pauses:
"This is real, right? Not some hypnosis hangover?"
"You don't get to talk," Clark informs him. "Apart from "More!", "Please!" and "Clark!"
Lex gives him a stern look, folding his arms and jutting out his lower lip. Clark interprets this as an invitation to unfold the arms, carry Lex to the bed and renew his attack on that crushed-strawberry mouth. They lie side by side on the bed, arms and legs tangled, fighting to get closer to each other. Clark slips a hand under Lex's sweater and feels the warm, damp silk of his back. He's intoxicated by Lex's skin, Lex's mouth, the pulse behind Lex's ear.
"Oh God, I'm going to come," Clark says.
"Oh, so you're allowed to talk," murmurs Lex. Deft hands undo Clark's zipper, then...
"Oh, OH GOD."
Chuckle from Lex and doesn't it figure that the King of Teases would have the most diabolic, tantalizing fingers. Clark, wanting to level the playing field, fumbles with Lex's zipper. His fingers seem to have swelled to clumsy sausages and Lex is no help at all, tickling around the base of Clark's cock, gently flicking the foreskin and rubbing the wet tip with a light, teasing thumb.
Clark finally gets the zipper open - possibly by breaking it but he doesn't care. Lex's cock pops out of his silk boxers and right into Clark's waiting hand. He gives an experimental stroke and Lex gasps and thrusts into the circle of Clark's fingers. Just seeing this makes Clark thrust too.
"Here, let me..." says Clark and encircles both their cocks with his big damp hand. Slowly, he strokes back and forth and the friction of his hand - and Lex's smooth cock rubbing against his cock - are setting fireworks off behind his eyelids. Lex is doing things with his hands: petting Clark's hair, squeezing his ass. Clark's cock is leaking at the tip, wetting his hand; it won't be long now.
Lex scrunches up his face in a grimace, which somehow only makes him more beautiful; he moans, gives one big shudder and then he's coming - hot and wet - into Clark's fist. The sight of Lex, head thrown back in orgasm, and the feel, the scent of his come is enough to send Clark over the edge too and he comes in three machine gun spurts, all over Lex's designer cashmere.
They lie back and gulp and pant into each other's mouths. Clark fixates on Lex's golden-red eyelashes, the tiny freckles behind his ear and can't think about anything else for a while. He thinks he might be content to lie here and gaze at Lex forever. Then it occurs to him how much more of Lex he has yet to see. He sits up.
Lex, still panting, manages to say:
"Raise your arms up."
Lex blinks but obeys and Clark pulls off his sweater. Lex's nose gets snagged in the neck and Clark huffs in impatience at the delay.
"Now, you," says Lex, rubbing his nose.
Clark speeds out of his clothes. His cock, which should be thoroughly sated right now, is already twitching at the sight of Lex's chest. Creamy skin, tiny chocolate brown nipples, ridges of muscle on his tummy....He sits on the edge of the bed and goes to work on Lex's shoes. The right shoe doesn't want to leave Lex's foot and Clark growls at it.
"Knots....hard," says Lex, mockingly, in what's probably meant to be a caveman voice. Clark pauses long enough to plant a slobbery kiss on Lex's stomach, then returns to the shoe.
"Let me," says Lex, sitting up. His foot is on Clark's naked thigh and as Lex works at the knot, Clark seizes the moment and nuzzles his head. Lex conquers the shoe and Clark pushes him back on the bed and finishes undressing him: socks, pants and boxers - all gone. Lex lies back - long, lithe and perfect - and Clark takes a moment to stare at him. Naked Lex, finally his for the taking.
He straddles Lex's hips and Lex stares up at him. Clark thinks all the mysteries of the world might be solved in Lex's eyes. Compared to Lex, other people have eyes as flat and opaque as Snoopy dots.
"I need to tell you something," he says, then leans down to suck a nipple, small and perfect as a seed-pearl, into his mouth. Lex moans and arches below him.
"I have a secret," Clark says and bends down for a kiss. He loses himself in Lex's lips for a few minutes.
"So are you going to tell me - or taunt me?" Lex asks, a little out of breath.
Clark owes Lex a secret, has owed him for years. Lex had been so generous with him, offering up secrets, stories, family tragedy, even his precious St George box. Lex had tried to give him everything but Clark had been too frightened and too worried about what others might think to accept it. He's too late to offer Lex his biggest secret; fortunately, there's another, deeper secret, one that's never been spoken aloud.
"I'm waiting," murmurs Lex and bucks a little, brushing their cocks together and making Clark bounce. Clark pins Lex's arms above his head with one hand and puts the other hand over Lex's mouth to keep him quiet. Lex's eyes stare a challenge at him.
"Here's my secret, that no one else knows," Clark says. "I love you."
Lex's eyes widen and he tries to sit up. Clark holds him still.
"I love you when you're driving cars into me. I love you when you're trying your best to behave yourself. I love you when you lose your temper and bash cars with golf clubs. I love you when you're being a brat and putting yourself in danger. I love you when you're pissing off Lois. I love you when I'm taking fire-breathing robots away from you-"
"It was a fire-eating robot," says Lex, somehow managing to talk through Clark's hand. "You pushed the wrong button."
"I love fifteen year old Lex; I love twenty nine year old Lex. I love all the Lexes in-between. I love Corporate Lex. I love Scientist Lex. I love Mad Scientist Lex. I even loved you when you were trying to piss me off by fucking my ex-girlfriend. I loved you when I was fucking my girlfriend. I love you in caves and in China and on battleships and in barns. And if I haven't stopped loving you with all the fighting and jealousy and screaming that's happened between us, God help me, I am never going to stop loving you."
Clark removes his hand from Lex's mouth. Lex is staring up at him, mouth slightly open.
"Are you at a loss for words?" Clark says finally. "Because I might love that best of all."
Lex continues to gape at him, breathing hard. Then, he shakes his hands free and pulls Clark down for a kiss so bruising that Clark can taste Lex's blood in his mouth. He pulls back a little and licks the reddened lip clean. Lex whispers something in his ear; it tickles a little.
"Lube," says Lex, gesturing towards the bedside table.
Clark leans over and fumbles around in the drawer. Lex wriggles impatiently underneath him, which delays the search, as Clark is compelled to stop and kiss him a number of times in a number of places: mouth, chin, left nipple, right knee. Lex sits up and bites Clark's neck.
"Focus, would'ya?" Clark says.
The lube hasn't been used in a while; a bit of crust has built up around the applicator. Clark squeezes the bottle so hard it explodes in his hand, making Clark, Lex and a large portion of the bed all as slippery as goldfish. Lex laughs.
"There's a moral in that."
"I'll take my sex without Life Lessons, thank you," Clark says.
Then he gasps, because Lex, suddenly utterly serious, is lying back and spreading his strong thighs wide for Clark and looking up at him with those eyes, as hypnotic in their own way as Copeland's.
"I want you inside me," Lex says.
Clark's hands shake a little as he rubs the lube on Lex and then on himself. He leans down to kiss Lex's stomach, at the same time easing a finger-tip into him. The way Lex's ass just takes the finger, swallowing it into that tight, tight heat forces Clark to close his eyes for a minute, imagining his cock in there, in Lex.
He's not sure exactly what to do so he traces lazy spirals inside Lex and Lex seems to like that, grunting and pushing himself down to take more of Clark's finger, Clark kisses down Lex's stomach, nuzzles the shaft of his cock which is already hard again, nuzzles his balls, pink as the inside of a sea-shell. Lex moans:
"Now, Clark. Please."
One last kiss to the closest thigh and Clark withdraws his finger and licks it. Lex whimpers and rolls his hips closer. Clark hooks Lex's legs over his arms; his cock is right there, ready, purple at the tip and hard as basalt, and after all these years, this is really, finally going to happen.
It's not at all like having sex with a woman. Clark's first, gentle push is stopped by what feels like a brick wall of muscle. Clark pauses, unsure. He doesn't want to hurt Lex. Lex must see the worry on his face because he reaches up and strokes Clark's cheek.
"It feels good. Just take it slow, ease your way in."
And he reaches down a hand to help guide Clark inside him.
Once the tip of his cock is inside, the sensation is so overwhelming that Clark has to squeeze his eyes shut before the sparks behind his eyes set the room on fire. Lex shifts his legs a little and Clark is able to press deeper and the feel, the heat, the grip of Lex below him - the pleasure's so intense it's probably killing brain cells but why does he need to think when he can lose himself in Lex?
Lex reaches down again, to feel where they're joined. The touch of his hand excites Clark even more and he rams home with an involuntary thrust, harder then he'd intended. He grunts and Lex yelps.
"Y'okay?" is the most Clark can manage.
Lex, wincing a little, says:
"I'll be fine if you'll dispense with the sweet talk and just fuck me already." Then he laughs.
It's not the bitter laugh that used to punctuate his conversations with Lionel. It's not the theatrical laugh he uses to taunt Superman. It's a genuinely happy laugh, one that lights up Lex's eyes and splits his face open with a big, goofy smile. Seeing it, Clark is happier than he has been in years.
He thrusts into Lex over and over - this is nothing like the melancholy, candle-lit, missionary position sex he had with Lana. This is fucking. It's sweaty, it's hot and it's loud. The bed is creaking, the lube is making squishy noises, his balls are loudly slapping Lex's ass and Lex is alternating grunts and moans. The tip of Lex's cock is leaking onto Clark's stomach and Clark brings a hand around to stroke it, following the same rhythm of his own thrusts.
"Clark!" says Lex, then rather sweetly "Oh, Clark!"
Clark loves it that it's his name, not "God" or "Fuck" that Lex yells when he's about to come. Then Lex does come, splattering both their bellies. Clark mops up some of the come and licks it off the palm of his hand. He likes the way Lex tastes, he's decided. No surprise, really. Lex watches him, fascinated.
Clark feels his balls tighten and pulls Lex closer for the final thrusts. He doesn't realize they've achieved lift-off from the bed until he hears Lex gasp, then chuckle. One last thrust, taking him deeper into Lex than he thought he could go and then he's coming hard, long and loud. The echo of his yell is still bouncing around the room as they float back down to the bed.
"Wow," says Lex, softly in his ear.
"Mmm," says Clark, still enjoying the aftershock. He gently removes himself from Lex's body, making them both gasp, then rolls Lex onto his side and snuggles up behind him.
Lex rolls over to face him; they're nose to nose and lip to lip. Lex whispers:
"I've loved you for eight years and eleven days. Ever since you pulled me from the river. Since that first minute. Only you. No one else."
Then Lex arranges Clark's arms around him, making a little cage for himself. He settles his head against Clark's shoulder and falls asleep. Clark yawns and falls asleep too, lulled by Lex's breathing and the gentle, residual rock of the bed.
It's late afternoon when Clark wakes up. The room smells of sex and sweat. Lex is still in his arms but he's not sleeping. Clark can hear the flick of his eyelashes and his heart rate has quickened.
"Clark, are you awake?"
"Are you hungry?"
Their clothes are still sticky so they make their way down to the kitchen in matching sets of Lex's pajamas. The pajama top is too snug for Clark but Lex finds a hoodie in the depths of his closet which fits much better. Clark follows Lex down the stairs, admiring the swell of his ass under blue cotton.
The kitchen is huge, dwarfing even Clark. He helps Lex look through cupboards and freezers. They find caviar, goose liver, frozen swordfish - but there's very little in the way of quick, practical food.
Lex is completely befuddled by his own kitchen, staring into the deep freeze like he's never seen one before. It's cute.
"Do you never come down here?" Clark asks.
Lex shakes his head.
"The cooks always scared me, even when I hired them."
Clark makes a triumphant noise and produces a huge lasagna from the freezer.
"This takes care of me. But what are you going to eat?"
Lex rolls his eyes.
While the lasagna cooks, they eat crackers and drink red wine. Clark can feel Lex's unease building and though it's not unexpected - Lex always panics when people get close - Clark knows that this time it's crucial to cut it off before one of them picks a fight and wrecks everything. So he says:
"You're starting to brood. Quit it."
Lex sips some wine and gives him a serious look.
"That Warrior Angel story I was telling you when the room collapsed-"
"Orpheus and the lady?"
"Eurydice. Do you want to know how it ends?"
"For who? Orpheus or Warrior Angel and Devilicus?"
"It ends the same way for both," says Lex, quietly. "Orpheus wins the right to lead his love out of the Underworld. He walks and walks - but he has to trust that she's there behind him. He can't look back or he'll lose her."
"I can guess where this is going."
"Orpheus makes it to the mouth of the Underworld," Lex says. "But he doesn't hear footsteps behind him. He thinks the Gods have reneged on their bargain. So he turns around to check."
"And Eurydice is sucked back into Hell?" says Clark.
"In the comic, Devilicus returns to his evil ways." Lex says. "He loses his last chance at redemption." The microwave pings. Clark gets up and retrieves the lasagna, cutting a large piece for Lex and an even larger piece for himself. Lex watches him with worried eyes.
"Here, eat," says Clark, handing him the plate.
"No, hush. It's my turn to tell a story."
Lex looks at his fork like he can't quite place it but eventually does take a small bite of lasagna. Clark shovels in a few mouthfuls; an invulnerable mouth is an asset when it comes to piping hot cheese.
"Lex, remember Naman and Seget?"
"Our secret cave-painting identities?" says Lex, dryly. "Of course."
Clark shakes his head.
"No, see, that's what I thought at first, that they represented you and me. It wasn't until I invented the Superman persona that I realized I was wrong."
Lex looks intrigued which is good. Clark continues:
"Don't you see, Lex? Naman and Seget - they're both me, the two parts of me. Naman is Superman and Seget is Clark Kent. Without Clark's ties to humanity, Superman's purely a tyrant, a conqueror. And Clark without Superman.... well, you saw how I was starting to unravel by the end of my Smallville years. The pressures of lying to everyone and hiding my secret....Without Superman as an outlet, I'd have imploded years ago."
"So, you're saying for you, a split personality has been beneficial?" says Lex.
Clark spears a few more mouthfuls of lasagna.
"It has. And I think it could also benefit you."
Lex raises an eyebrow.
"You're recommending I start running around in purple tights?"
"No. But you've been slowly killing yourself by running around in Lionel drag for the last few years, Lex. At some point, you will have to face up to the fact that you are not your father. You will never be your father. And that's a good thing." Silence except for the purring motor of the deep freeze. Clark helps himself to more lasagna and watches Lex think. Finally Lex says:
"It's not that simple, Clark. In many ways, I am my father. I know you bonded with the fifteen year old version of me but you have to realize that's not me any more. That kid is lost forever. Any change to my personality was just an artifact of Copeland's hypnosis."
Clark laughs again. It astounds him how clueless Lex can be about himself.
"Copeland didn't change you, Lex! He merely changed the scenery around you and you instantly responded to all his cues. And that means that the sweet, smart, open-hearted kid you were at fifteen is still in there, just under the surface, waiting to finally to be free again."
Lex shakes his head:
"I know, I know. The Lionel stuff is ingrained there too and it will always be a part of you. But that's what I meant about the benefits of playing a dual role. The Lionel side of you can still be the hard man of Luthorcorp," Clark says, adding sternly. "Hard, yet law-abiding. He and Superman can take turns to keep each other in check."
Lex blinks. Clark continues:
"And the Lex side of you, the side that your mother and Pamela raised, the side that loved Julian and removes his vest in hostage situations to save high school students and takes a bullet for Lana and has come through for me over and over..." Clark pauses for breath.
"What about the Lex side of me?" asks Lex.
"He belongs to me," Clark says firmly. "Only me. Not Hope or Mercy or any of those gold-digging girlfriends or gun molls. Just me. Mine."
Lex looks down at the congealing lasagna on his plate. When he looks up, his eyes are hopeful but his voice is hesitant:
"So you really think you can love the best part of a divided man?"
"Well, you do, don't you? Please tell me it was Clark you wanted to kiss, not Superman. "
"Of course," says Lex but he's still worried. "But, see, the thing about Orpheus is-"
"I know the lesson of Orpheus," interrupts Clark. "I figured it out. It's "Don't look back." So we won't. The past is in the past."
"We have a lot of past to ignore," Lex says. His tone is skeptical but Clark can tell he's aching to be convinced. "There's a lot for you to forgive."
"And you," says Clark, softly. "But whatever we do, we can hardly make things worse then they have been for the past few years, can we? That's some consolation."
Lex rises from his chair and walks over to Clark. Clark puts an arm around his waist.
"Not telling you how I felt about you, suppressing it, made me into a pissy, jealous jerk in Smallville," Clark says. "And not just to you - I took it out on Chloe, Lana and my parents as well. So now I'm going to tell you every single day."
He stands up and pulls Lex in for a lasagna flavoured kiss. Then they step back and look at each other.
"So you're willing to give it a try with me?" Clark says. "Take the leap?"
Lex looks up at him.
"You really believe we can save each other?"
Clark wraps him in a bear hug.
"Then I do, too," says Lex, voice muffled by Clark's shoulder.
They stay in each others' arms for a long time. Clark finally ends the hug by kissing the top of Lex's head.
"Let's go back to bed for a bit."
Lex gives him a sly look:
"Now, that everything's settled, can I have my robot back?"
"I told you it eats fire, it doesn't breathe it. I built it for bomb disposal. If you'd only listened to me-"
And they walk back to bed, hand in hand, amiably debating the finer points of robots.
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