by Vivian Darkbloom
The first to die is Desiree.
She changed her name when she got out of prison and re-married right away. Though it's been eight years since Clark has seen her, he instantly recognizes the photo on the Planet's obituary page. In her picture, Desiree looks exactly the same, untouched by age. "Following a sudden illness...." the caption reads. He wonders if Lex knows.
He doesn't get suspicious until the following week, when his mother sends him a clipping from the Smallville Ledger. He hasn't thought of her in years, but it still saddens Clark to read that Sasha Woodman is dead. Poor ambitious, little Sasha. Consigned to Belle Reve for a few years after the bee incident, she had nevertheless managed to graduate from college with top grades and build a new life for herself in Metropolis.
Clark remembers Sasha trying to bully him out of the election, her tiny chin tilted up. She'd been a pretty girl but had deliberately downplayed her looks because Pretty wasn't what she was aiming for. And now she's dead at twenty four, of another sudden illness.
Clark is certain it's no fluke. If anything, the meteor affected have a higher resistance to disease than the rest of the population. Lex is proof of that. No, the two deaths are definitely not a coincidence. Possibly there's another Van McNulty on the prowl.
There are two avenues of investigation open to Clark. He can present this as a lead to Lois, playing up the angle of two young Smallville women dead before their time. Lois will seize on it, pursue it like a terrier after a rat, but her investigation will graze uncomfortably close to Clark's secret.
Clark opts for Avenue Two.
"It's probably Luthor," says Batman, grimly. Lex's robots gave the Justice League a lot of trouble last week.
Clark shakes his head.
"No, whatever's causing this sickness he'd be vulnerable to it himself."
Batman cocks his head:
"Then perhaps he's testing the sickness in order to test the cure."
Clark flies to Sasha's Metropolis apartment. No one has packed up her belongings yet. The apartment is immaculately tidy, the books lined up on their shelves, the tinned food sorted by height. And it's all very clean, except for a small pile of fine, powdery dust on her desk.
And that, that's odd. Clark runs the dust through his fingers, sniffs it. It has the texture of talcum powder and no scent. There's an envelope next to the powder. It's neatly slit with a letter opener and bears a printed label with Sasha's name. There is no return address.
Clark would bet that Desiree received a letter as well. And others too, perhaps. Someone is conducting tests - or exterminations.
He carefully collects a sample of the powder for Batman to analyze. He intends to head straight back to the Watchtower but instead finds himself flying back through Metropolis, in the direction of Lexcorp.
"Superman?" It's Batman's voice in his ear.
"I've got a sample for you," Clark says. "Sasha received an anonymous letter, packed with grey powder."
His throat feels strangely constricted. It must be the wind, blowing the words back into his mouth.
"Are you bringing it back now?"
Clark registers a flicker of annoyance. Bruce doesn't get to tell him what to do.
"Soon. I'm going to see Luthor first, to check if he's had any suspicious deliveries."
"Are you sure-"
Clark pulls the ear piece from his ear. His face is hot and it's not just the glare of the September sun. Batman always thinks he knows everything.
Mercy is in the lobby. She raises her eyebrow and weapon at the same time.
"Easy," says Clark. "I just want to make sure Lex is okay. People - former residents of Smallville - have been receiving toxic letters through the mail."
Her face flickers.
"Mr. Luthor is in the lab, working."
There's something in her tone Clark hasn't heard before. Worry. Can she possibly be worried?
"Mercy, is Lex sick?"
Before she can answer, Clark is speeding through the hallways. Lex has mottled the walls with lead and there's a symbolic sprinkling of kryptonite dust through some of the door frames but it's insufficient to keep Clark out if he's determined to come inside. The relevant door crumples with one punch.
"That's not considered knocking," Lex says, without removing his eye from the microscope.
"Desiree is dead," Clark says. "And Sasha Woodman too."
"Yes," says Lex. "Not to mention Jodi Melville and Derek Fox. There are probably others I don't know about yet."
Clark feels no regret for Derek, who'd been a thug through and through, even before the incident with Whitney. But Jodi had been a sweet girl, horrified at what the meteor rocks had made her do.
Lex cuts in on his memories:
"Why are you here, Clark? If this is a "J'accuse" visit, it's not particularly logical of you. I'd hardly spread a plague that would endanger myself."
"Are you sick?" asks Clark and once again, his throat tightens and the words have to force themselves out.
Lex doesn't answer.
"A letter? Lex, did you get a letter?"
Lex finally looks up and Clark sees that his face is paler than his lab coat, big circles under the eyes.
"Since when are you so concerned with my welfare?"
Clark has no answer for this. He feels big and clumsy, like he might make a sudden involuntary moment and knock all of Lex's delicate instruments into a million tiny shards.
Lex is staring at him.
"Clark, you're extremely flushed-"
Oh. That explains the heat. He hasn't felt like this since the very early days of his heat vision, when he had to struggle to keep his internal fires banked.
Lex takes a step towards him. His head is tilted; he's looking at Clark clinically. He asks:
"What about you? Did you get a letter?"
"No," says Clark, impatiently. They're losing the thread of this conversation. "You have to come with me to the Fortress."
"Your North Pole secret clubhouse?" says Lex. "Any other time I'd be delighted, Clark, but I'm on a tight schedule-"
"No, now," says Clark, "We have to go now." He takes a step towards Lex. Lex stares at him.
"Clark, I think you should sit down. We'll call a truce, get you some water-"
It should be simple to speed over to Lex, grab him and fly away. Clark manages the first part then, as if his speed has stalled, he finds himself standing behind Lex, with his arms wrapped around Lex's waist. There's pause, an awkward one, then Lex says:
"Care to explain this?"
Clark's thoughts are muzzy but he knows one thing: whatever's wrong if they can just get to the Fortress, the AI will know what to do.
"Are your powers cutting out?" Lex asks, interested. He wriggles in Clark's grip so he can turn around and face him. "Because that's probably a side-effect of the poison, along with the fever and-"
Clark's speed abruptly returns; he tightens his hold on Lex and they make a blurred exit from the lab, passing by a number of startled minions and through twin bursts of gunfire from Hope and Mercy.
"Clark!" That's Lex's voice, registering a protest in his ear. Clark ignores him and leaps into the air, holding squirming Lex tight in his arms and begins the flight north.
Lex still doesn't like flying. He turns his head so he's facing Clark's shoulder, rather than the ground below.
"You're ill," Lex says. "You know that, right? The irrational way you're acting right now is a byproduct of the illness?"
"I know," says Clark. And he does. It doesn't change anything. He has to get them to the Fortress. The AI will know what to do; it will save them both.
They are soaring far above the outskirts of Metropolis now. Clark notices that Lex is a little heavy in his arms; on a normal day Clark can carry a truck and not heed its weight. But everything seems heavy right now. His eyelids sag, the wind weighs him down.
Suddenly, the ground is looming up, fast. Lex gasps and clutches Clark tighter.
"Sorry," says Clark and catches himself mid-fall. "I don't know why-"
And then the world drops out. They are falling, fast and Clark can't stop it, can't even slow it down. His powers are gone. He is going to die and he will have killed Lex. He tries to flip them around so at least his body will cushion Lex's fall. But it won't matter; without Clark's strength, they will both die.
"I'm sorry," he whispers again.
His enhanced hearing is gone too but he thinks - can he be imagining it? He thinks he hears Lex whisper "S'okay, Clark."
Then everything goes black.
Clark wakes up to sunlight on his face - and the smell of flowers? What? He tries to sit up but there's a weight on his chest, a warm weight. He reaches down and finds Lex. Apparently, he did manage to turn them around mid-fall so Lex landed on top of him. But where are they?
There's blue sky above him, gently waving branches. Clark shifts Lex so he can sit up and look around. They're in a garden. A very large, very ornate garden. There's a little waterfall directly in front of them and a manicured lawn, bordered with beds of technicolour flowers.
Lex makes a sleepy, grumbling noise. Clark tries to x-ray him for injuries but his powers are still missing in action. He settles for gently patting Lex down. Nothing seems to be broken.
When he's finishing Lex's left leg, Lex gives a sudden yip and sits bolt upright. Clark quickly withdraws his hands.
"Did I hurt you?"
Lex looks around, blinking.
"No, I was just startled."
Lex frowns, rubs a hand across his forehead.
"Weren't we falling to our deaths a minute ago?"
"Yes?" Clark thinks this is true.
"Then where are we now?"
"I have no idea," Clark says. "I woke up right before you did. I remember falling and everything going dark."
Lex is looking around the garden; his analytical look, the one that misses nothing.
"Do you think we're dead, then?"
Clark meets his eyes, trying to figure out if he's serious. Perhaps he is; his face is unreadable.
"I was thinking more along the lines of an alternate dimension," Clark says, cautiously.
Lex cocks his head, intrigued.
"Have you been to one?"
"Once, yeah," Clark adds. "But it wasn't like this."
Lex, a little shakily, rises to his feet, smoothes down his lab coat. Clark stands up too.
"Shall we look around?" Lex says. "Perhaps you could give us an aerial tour?"
Clark looks at him: is this a trick question? But he'll find out soon enough; there's no point in lying.
"My powers are out of commission right now."
Lex looks thoughtful:
"Did that happen before when you traveled dimensions?"
Lex just nods:
"On foot, then. Which path shall we take?"
They follow the nearest gravel path. It runs past the fountain, parallel to a tall cedar hedge.
"It's a bit like Versailles," Lex says "and a bit like Kensington Gardens."
"I've flown over Versailles," Clark offers, then flushes, wishing he could take it back. What a dumb thing to say. But Lex only nods again and says:
"I suppose one way or another you've been everywhere, haven't you?"
The path veers sharply. Lex steps around a corner of hedge and there's yet another garden, similar to the first, yet somehow different. Clark looks around, trying to pinpoint the change but naturally Lex is way ahead of him.
"Fall," Lex says.
"It was spring in the first garden; it's fall in this one. Different flowers and shrubs. Do you see-"
That's as far as Lex gets because suddenly something is flying straight at them. Or rather, it's flying straight at Lex. It's moving so fast Clark can't make out exactly what it is. It could be a bird, an enormous insect or just a black rip in the clean air. Lex lunges back and Clark bats the thing away before it can reach Lex. It flies away, apparently unhurt.
Lex takes a deep breath:
"What the hell was-"
It's at this moment a tree grabs him. It reaches down, wraps its branches around Lex like a cage and seems to be trying to lift him up.
"Fuck!" Lex tries to fight his way out. Clark tears at the branches, which wriggle like live snakes in his hands. The branches tighten dangerously around Lex, sinking into his chest. Clark takes a deep breath, tugs with all his strength and is able to pull the branches far enough apart for Lex to dart free. He expects the branches to attack him next but once Lex is out of reach, they subside, become inanimate again.
Lex backs away from the tree, eyes huge.
"Why do all monsters and mutants always want to attack you?" Clark grumbles. "You're irresistible to them."
Lex abruptly sits down on the grass. Clark sits next to him, warily scanning the sky for the next threat. For a few minutes, neither of them speaks. Clark notices that the garden is absolutely silent: no birdsong, no breezes.
"I take it back," Lex says, presently. "We aren't dead. And this isn't an alternate dimension."
"Then what?" says Clark. "Where are we?"
"It's a dream," Lex says. "A fever dream. I've passed out in my lab. I'm lying on the floor and I'm dreaming."
Clark shakes his head.
"That doesn't make sense. I'm here too. Why would I be in your dream?"
Lex gives him a scornful look:
"I dream of you all the time, Clark. You're not real. You're just a bit of scenery tossed up by my subconscious."
Clark is offended.
"I am real."
He swats Lex's arm to prove it.
"Anyway," Clark says, "If this is a dream, how do you know it's not me that's dreaming it? Maybe you're just a character in my dream?"
"No," Lex says, shaking his head. "This has all the hallmarks of my subconscious, not yours. You probably dream of football practice and apple pies and a world in which people never abuse their parallel parking privileges."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Clark says, annoyed. "Some of my dreams are intense and you've played a major role in-"
More black shapes are hovering around them, like a cloud of moths, aiming themselves at Lex with relentless precision. Clark instinctively hurls himself at Lex and pummels the shapes away. He'd swear he can hear them murmuring to each other, coordinating their attack.
Clark pulls Lex to his feet.
"C'mon. A moving target is harder to hit."
They leave the second garden and enter a third. It's filled with topiary animals, an entire zoo's worth. Lex shakes his head:
"We can't stay here. Those animals are going to come to life. It's the first principle of sculpted hedgery-"
"It is?" says Clark, then "What? What did you just say?'
"Next garden," Lex says, firmly.
The fourth garden has a stream with lots of little bridges. Clark looks around for possible hazards: trees, moths, flapping black things. The coast looks clear.
"You still feel obliged to protect me," Lex says, suddenly. "After all these years, after all I've done....You could just leave me to my fate. Let these things take me."
"No, I couldn't," says Clark, irritated.
"But don't you want a peaceful life? Don't you want-"
"I want you to start behaving yourself," says Clark. "For starters, you could try not sending out a platoon of robots to eat all the parking meters in Metropolis."
Lex gives him a sly, sidelong look:
"Those robots were very popular with the citizens of Metropolis. They were cheering them on-"
"Well, they weren't popular with City Hall," Clark says. "Or with me, when I figured out you were using them as a diversionary tactic to steal an artifact on loan to the Metropolis Museum of Art. What did you want that thing for anyway? Tell me, it's not another attempt to build a portal because the last time-"
Lex's glare is almost enough to silence Clark but it's actually the flock of black birds flying towards them that ends the conversation. The birds have a huge wing span and long claws. Clark throws Lex to the ground and shields him with his body. The birds shriek in annoyance and Clark can feel their wings beating against his back. He swings an arm and smacks the nearest bird; it squawks and retreats. The other birds follow. Clark lifts his head and watches as they recede into the sky line.
They sit up. Lex sighs:
"See? It is a dream. How obvious can symbolism be? Crows - just like Smallville High's unappealing mascot. And did you see their talons?"
"Yes," Clark says. "As in "The Talon". I get it."
He glances at Lex. Despite the bravado, Lex is frightened. He also looks pale and tired.
"Lie down and rest a bit," Clark says. "I'll keep watch for more birds or trees - or whatever those other things were."
Lex looks at him. When he speaks, his voice is almost tentative:
"You won't leave?"
"No," Clark says. "I won't leave."
Lex nods and, rather stiffly, lies back on the grass next to Clark. He closes his eyes but the worried frown doesn't leave his face. Clark watches him for a while, unable to tell if he's fallen asleep or not.
A voice suddenly speaks, close to Clark's ear:
"Clark? Clark, honey?"
Clark stiffens. It's his mother's voice. But that isn't possible.
"Honey, if you can hear me....you need to let Lex go. That's the only way we can save both of you, if you let him go."
Clark looks around for the source of the voice. But there's nothing, just grass, bridges and flowers. He rests a hand protectively on Lex's arm.
"Whoever you are, I won't let him go. You won't take him."
"Clark..." The voice seems to be speaking from the sky, the air, next to his ear. "We want to help Lex, not hurt him."
"Yeah, I've heard that before," says Clark. An involuntary flashback to Belle Reve makes him set his jaw.
"You're not my mother," says Clark. He tightens his grip on Lex, who doesn't stir.
"Sweetheart, I am."
"Prove it, then."
There's a pause.
"Clark, do you remember," the voice begins. "Do you remember when you and Lionel switched bodies, how you convinced me that you were you?"
"You told me about the time you ran away and I had to call Sheriff Ethan to find you....and when we did, I called you "my special boy" and you still are, Clark. I think that every single day."
Clark's hand clenches involuntarily on Lex's arm. Lex murmurs something in his sleep.
"If you are my mother," Clark says. "Then where are you?"
"I'm right behind you, Clark. Just turn your head."
Slowly, Clark turns and he gasps because there's an enormous butterfly, with pinky-peach wings right there, an inch from his nose. And before he's finished gasping, the thing is spraying him with sickly sweet liquid; it's like having a bucketful of water thrown square in the face. The liquid runs down his throat and instantly turns Clark's stomach.
"Don't be sick, sweetheart. You have to keep it down."
Clark squints to try and focus his gaze but it doesn't work. The garden is blurring around him. Lex murmurs: "Clark?"
Soft hands are on Clark's face, stroking his forehead, wiping his chin. But he needs to see....
"Clark!" says his mother.
Clark blinks, his vision still swimming.
"Close your eyes, honey," says Martha. He has to be dreaming this.
"Clark!" says Lex again, a little frantic now.
Clark closes his eyes, rubs them with one hand. His other hand is still gripping Lex's arm because he's not letting go until he understands what's going on.
When he opens his eyes, the very last person he expects to see is Batman.
"Oh, thank goodness!" says Martha.
Clark sits up. A surge through his body tells him that his powers have returned. His vision de-fogs and ...that wall. He recognizes that wall. This is the Watchtower sick bay. Batman is standing on the right side of the bed; his mother is on the left. And Lex, Lex is lying next to him, still unconscious, making small, distressed sounds.
"He needs an injection," says Batman, "but he keeps fighting me. You both kept fighting me."
Clark looks at Batman's gloved hands, thinks of batting away the black birds and moths in the garden. He winces.
"Did I hurt you? I'm sorry-"
"Even without your powers, you're still very strong," says Martha. She reaches over and smoothes down his hair.
"I'm fine," says Batman. "But you wouldn't let me near Lex and he needs this injection."
His hand hovers over Lex's arm and Lex, his eyes clenched tight shut, thrashes in panic.
"I told him I wouldn't leave him," Clark says, stricken.
"Well, tell him you're with him now," says Martha. "If you could hear me, hopefully he'll be able to hear you."
"Hold his arm still," says Batman.
Awkwardly, Clark pulls Lex into his arms and cradles him. Lex struggles and moans softly.
"I'm here," Clark says, in Lex's ear. "Stay still, okay? You need this shot to get better."
Lex moans again and buries his face in Clark's shoulder. But he doesn't resist when Bruce turns his arm over to find the vein.
"Shh, shhh," Clark says. "You're okay." He brushes his hand across Lex's forehead and looks up to see his mother watching him.
Batman withdraws the needle and Lex is warm and limp in Clark's arms. He's so still that Clark switches over to x-ray vision and is reassured by Lex's calming heart rate. Batman silently checks Lex's pulse.
"He'll be fine," Batman says. "Just needs to sleep it off."
Clark gently relinquishes Lex, who settles back into the bed.
"How did you find an antidote?" he asks Batman. "So quickly....we weren't unconscious for very long, were we?"
"Seven hours," says Martha. "Seven long hours."
Clark squeezes her hand.
"I didn't come up with the antidote," says Batman. "I went to Lexcorp and got Luthor's notes."
"You mean Hope and Mercy let you-"
"Not willingly," says Batman, and there's a hint of a smile behind the mask. "The notes were meticulous. Luthor was three quarters of the way towards finding the cure. I simply finished his experiment."
Clark swings his legs out of the bed. He's wearing unfamiliar sweat pants, a little too short for him. Green Lantern's?
"But how did we get here?" he asks. "Last thing I remember, we were falling from the sky."
"I saw the footage on the news. It was horrible. It's so lucky Batman was there."
Clark turns to look at Batman.
"I was shadowing you in my plane," says Batman. "You were flying erratically, with Luthor clinging to you. When I saw you falling, I-"
"He lassoed you," says Martha, beaming. She reaches across the bed to pat Batman's arm. "Thank goodness. Then when you wouldn't take your medicine, he sent J'onn to the farm to bring me."
Clark gives Batman a stern look, which Batman ignores but Martha doesn't miss:
"None of that, Clark. I'd have been worried sick if Batman hadn't sent for me."
Clark stands up and reaches over to grasp Batman's shoulder.
Bruce doesn't accept praise or compliments well. He gives Clark a curt nod and turns back to the bed to check Lex's pulse.
Martha hands Clark a sweater. It's an old one, from the farm.
"J'onn said he'd fly me back when you were better," she says. "But perhaps I could have a drink with you first? Batman thought you might wake up dehydrated."
Clark is thirsty enough to drink anything, even one of Flash's truly horrible Energy drinks.
"Flash keeps the kitchen well-stocked," he says.
"Well, lead me to it."
Clark pauses in the doorway for a last glance at the bed. Like all the sick beds, it was designed to fit the members of the League; Lex looks small in it.
Martha insists that he sit down while she fixes him something to eat.
"I don't think much of your friend's dietary habits," she says. "Clark, there's nothing but junk food in these cupboards."
"Mom, Flash eats everything. He's got an incredible metabolism."
Martha gives him a fond look:
"Coming from a boy who could eat a loaf's worth of sandwiches in one sitting, that's praise indeed."
Martha sets tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich and orange juice in front of Clark. Then she pours a bowl of soup for herself. Strange as it is to have his Mom serving him lunch in the Watchtower, it's also weirdly comforting.
Clark stops cutting his sandwich in quarters:
"Do you remember the first time you were sick? Way back when you were very small?"
"Sort of," says Clark. "I was, what, four?"
"You had fallen and scraped your knee on a meteor rock," says Martha. "But your Dad and I, we hadn't figured out how the rocks affected you yet. I thought it was the flu and put you to bed."
"You sat by the bed, reading to me."
"You were clutching your old teddy," Martha continues, almost dreamily. "And I was worried about the germs. I wanted to take the bear away and wash it. But when I tried, you panicked, sweetheart. Your eyes got huge and you held onto your teddy like your life depended on it."
Clark smiles, vaguely remembering.
"I thought of that," Martha says, "because you were holding onto Lex in that exact same way today."
Martha runs her spoon around the edge of the bowl.
"And he was holding onto you just as tight....that's why Batman sent for me. They tried, Wonder Woman and Batman, but they couldn't pry Lex out of your arms without hurting both of you. And that made me realize, Clark, that was the precise mistake that we made, your Dad and I."
Clark feels his face flushing.
"It wasn't that we didn't like Lex," Martha says. "It was just....your Dad could never get past the fact that he was Lionel's son and I...." she pauses. "Clark, to be frank, I was a little frightened by the intensity of his feelings for you."
"He was so obvious," Martha says. "All those times, he'd turn up at the kitchen door and light up at the sight of you...and you'd beam back at him. He's never looked at anyone else that way, Clark. Not his wives, not his girlfriends...."
Clark feels a secret satisfaction because he'd thought he was the only one to notice that.
"I pushed you towards Lana," Martha says, ruefully. "Because I thought she was the safest option. Then when you and Lana grew apart, I thought "Lois. Lois is the one." But now....now I wonder, if we'd only given Lex the same welcome that we gave to Lois, taken him into our home, gotten him safely away from Lionel, maybe everything might have turned out for the better. I mean, Lois's life improved once she had a stable family around her; Lex's might have too."
A ripple of anger runs through Clark, a long buried grievance coming to the surface.
"You know that Dad never would have let Lex stay. He'd have said: "Once a Luthor, always a Luthor." I had to justify every single time Lex and I got together, defend Lex even before he'd done anything wrong. It became such a reflex to accuse Lex, without any proof, that it's no wonder....."
"That he eventually started living up to expectation," finished Martha, wryly. "I know, Clark. I know. We are the architects of the current state of Lex, almost to extent that Lionel is."
"Then what's the point," Clark tries to keep the wobble from his voice. "What's the point of talking about it now, when it's over, when there's nothing that can be done?"
Martha brushes a strand of hair behind her ear.
"That's just the point, sweetheart. It is not over between you and Lex and it never will be."
Martha shakes her head:
"You aren't "just enemies" now any more than you were "just friends" back in Smallville. You're still circling each other, the both of you, exactly as you did in Smallville, except on a larger playing field. First, the two of you wrangled over your secret, then it was Lana, and now it's control of Metropolis but these have always been excuses, ways of skirting around the truth."
"Which is what?"
Martha puts a hand over his:
"Lex loves you, Clark. He's loved you since the day he met you."
Clark blinks and looks down at his empty bowl.
"And you love him," says Martha. "The two of you are completely bound up in each other and always have been. But because of Lionel - and yes, your Dad and I - you've always been afraid to show it. So what should have been a healthy, loving relationship has become this never-ending obsession-"
Clark opens his mouth to protest but his mother's eye silences him:
"On both sides," Martha finishes, firmly. "How much time do you spend running after Lex? How much time does he spend trying to goad you? You see more of each other than you do of practically anyone else and Clark, it's such a waste. Why not....why not just tell Lex how you feel?"
"Because it's too late," Clark says. The words come out clipped and sour.
"I don't think it is too late," says Martha. "Yet. But it will be someday."
They sit quietly for a minute; the only sounds are the hum of the deep freeze behind Martha and the cold echoes of space beyond the Watchtower's thick walls.
Martha stands up:
"I should be getting back."
Clark nods and they walk together down the hall. J'onn comes gliding up to meet them.
"Mrs Kent," he bows.
"I'm ready to head home, J'onn, if it's a convenient time for you."
"Yes." J'onn, like Batman, is always succinct.
Martha stands on her toes to kiss Clark's cheek. She whispers:
"I hope it didn't bother you, sweetheart, me speaking my mind like that. It's been weighing on me."
"I don't mind," says Clark and tries to give her a bright smile.
He watches as the Javelin descends towards earth, then he speeds to join Batman in the sick bay. Batman is scribbling a formula on a scrap of paper and doesn't look up. Lex is sleeping peacefully, his head resting on his arm.
"He's recovering?" Clark asks.
"Yes," says Batman. "And I have a supply of antidote ready if any other meteor affected people get sick. The poison was a simple blend of kryptonite and thallium."
"It's toxic when absorbed through the skin," Batman explains. "It causes flu-like symptoms. Cutting thallium with kryptonite powder would make meteor affected people extra vulnerable and accelerate the effects of the poison."
"We need to find out who was sending the poison," says Clark. "It has to be someone who knows Smallville."
"Green Lantern is investigating."
Clark shakes his head.
"No, I should-"
"No," says Batman.
"No?" Clark raises an eyebrow.
"I need to keep you under observation for at least another twenty four hours. If your powers give out again, you could pose a hazard - and not only to yourself. John can cope with the investigation."
"Fine," Clark says and then wishes it hadn't come out quite so sulky. Then he yawns.
Tiny smile from Bruce.
"If I'm allowed to prescribe a nap...."
He's deliberately evoking Alfred's voice and Clark grins.
"Fine," he says again, and slips off to a remote corner of the bridge for a rest. He uses his hearing to tune into the rhythm of the stars, lets them lull him into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Clark wakes, hours later, with his mother's words still uppermost in his mind. He senses, before he hears, the approach of Diana, and stands up to greet her.
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Superman."
He always enjoys Diana's hugs; it's a relief to hug a woman who can't be hurt by him. She pulls back and gives him a measuring look:
"Perhaps you should rest longer?"
"No," says Clark. "I've eaten, slept. I feel much better."
"So does Luthor," says Diana, wryly. "He woke up and immediately started exploring the sick bay. Batman's transferred him to a holding cell."
Clark has to smile. Typical Lex, to hit the ground snooping.
Batman joins them.
"Luthor needs to eat. He hasn't touched the tray of food I brought him."
Clark switches on the screen that monitors the holding cells and there's Lex, in a borrowed t-shirt and sweats, pacing his tiny room like an indignant panther. Only someone who knows him as well as Clark could recognize how weary he looks, keeping himself upright by sheer force of will.
"I'll get some food into him," he tells Batman.
"Keep an eye on him," Diana warns. "He'll be all over the Watchtower, given the chance."
When he opens the door, Lex stops pacing and folds his arms, a challenge written through every line in his body.
"So I'm a prisoner, then?"
"No more than I am," Clark says.
"No, really," Clark says. "Batman wants to keep us both under observation, until he's certain your cure worked."
Lex tilts his head:
It's time for Clark to offer up a Mea Culpa, even though he knows Lex will enjoy this far too much.
"You were right," he says.
There's a tiny movement from Lex, like the flick of a cat's ear. Clark continues:
"I shouldn't have dragged you out of your lab. I was feverish and didn't know what I was doing. I thought I was saving you."
Clark thinks, though he wouldn't swear to it, that Lex's eyes soften a little, his shoulders look marginally less rigid. There's a short silence, then:
"What happens now?" Lex asks.
"We eat," Clark says. "C'mon."
Their progress down the corridor is slow because Lex is trying to see around as many corners and through as many doorways as possible. Clark puts a hand on his back to propel him onwards and jumps at the feel of warm skin.
"This t-shirt has massive holes in the back," says Lex, meeting his eyes.
"It's one of Hawkgirl's shirts," Clark says. "The vents are for her wings." He's moved his hand but his fingertips still tingle from the unexpected contact.
He's fully expecting Lex to put up a fight about eating anything from Flash's larder and is surprised when macaroni and cheese, of all things, gets an enthusiastic response.
"Pamela used to make it for me," Lex explains, sipping a bottle of water. The Watchtower doesn't stock Ty Nant but he's making do. Clark heats a frozen dinner for each of them and sets a steaming tray in front of Lex. It's strange to sit down for a meal with him again; it brings back memories of happier times, sharing muffins and coffee at The Beanery and The Talon.
They eat in silence but every so often, their eyes meet. Clark keeps noticing things and it's entirely his mom's fault. The curve of Lex's cheek, his slender fingers holding the fork, his mouth around the neck of the bottle. Back in high school, he'd stared and stared at Lex until his mental data bank of Lex images numbered in the millions. But he's supposed to have outgrown all that.
It's almost a relief when Batman joins them. Lex's shoulders, which had relaxed, go rigid again. Batman undoubtedly notices this but he never bothers with preliminaries.
"We've traced a large black-market purchase of thallium," he says.
"Who bought it?" Clark asks.
"There's a series of pseudonyms," Batman says. "But the name behind all the fake names seems to be Hamilton. Dr. Petra Hamilton."
Clark and Lex look at each other.
"You know that name?" Batman asks Clark.
"Years ago, in Smallville, there was a Dr. Steven Hamilton, who studied the meteor rocks,"
"I hired him to research the effects of the rocks," Lex says. "But ultimately he succumbed to their effects and died of the same disease that nearly killed Earl Jenkins."
Clark stares at Lex; he can't quite believe Lex has finally told the truth about Hamilton. Lex looks back at him, shrugs.
"It's in the past, Clark. I'm sorry I lied about it."
So now they're tied for Mea Culpas, with one each.
"Did Hamilton have a daughter?" Batman asks.
"I didn't uncover a daughter when I researched him," Lex says. "But it's certainly possible. He was prone to having affairs with his students."
"If Petra is Hamilton's daughter," Clark says slowly. "And she has his research notes... that would explain the choice of victims. Smallville has lots of meteor affected people but the ones that have been targeted, Desiree, Sasha, Derek, Jodi... they'd all made their presence felt before Hamilton died. He'd have compiled files on them, maybe...."
"And on me," says Lex, grimly.
"Do you think his daughter wants revenge?" says Batman. "Or is she continuing his research?"
But this neither Clark nor Lex can answer.
"We have to find her," Clark says. "If she keeps looking for targets, she'll have no trouble finding them. Since the second meteor strike in 2005, there are a lot more mutants around."
"We'll keep looking, monitor any further thallium purchases" Batman says. "But, at this point, the trail has gone cold."
And with that, he leaves, his cape casting a swirling shadow on the kitchen floor.
"Drama queen," mutters Lex, and Clark will not laugh at this, even though Bruce does love a good exit line.
Lex toys with his fork, making tracks in the congealing cheese. Clark watches him. There's something he has to ask.
"Lex, when you were unconscious, did you dream?"
Lex takes a sip of water.
"Yes, actually, I had a very vivid dream. Did you?"
Clark takes a breath:
"I dreamt that you and I were walking through a series of gardens, talking, arguing. I kept fighting off birds and trees that were attacking you."
"Oh," says Lex, looking thoughtful. "I dreamt that we were walking through the wards at Belle Reve. You kept fighting off orderlies who wanted to give me injections."
"That's.... oddly similar," says Clark. "Parallel dreams."
"In the end, you left me alone," says Lex, softly. "You said you wouldn't - but you did."
"I know; I'm sorry."
And suddenly they're talking about something that transcends mere dreams.
Walking Lex back to his room is oddly reminiscent of the times he'd walked Lana back to her dorm. Lex pads along beside him, eyes darting everywhere, still trying to take in as much of the Watchtower as he can. When they reach the holding cell, he turns to face Clark:
"Are you going to lock me in?"
"For your own good," Clark says. It sounds unconvincing, even to his ears. Lex looks amused:
He turns and then abruptly stops on the threshold, his back to Clark.
"What?" says Clark and takes a step forward. Lex turns around, reaches up and cups Clark's face.
Soft, strong hand. Clark involuntarily leans into the touch. Lex's fingers flex a little on his cheek. But it's over much too soon. The hand is gone and Lex is walking into the room. Clark is compelled to follow, closing the door behind him. Lex turns, raises an eyebrow.
"Not that I mind the company, but-"
Clark backs him against the wall. He didn't think about it - just did it - but there's a certain exhilaration in knowing that there's no turning back now. He puts a hand on either side of Lex, boxing him in and stares at him.
Lex lifts his chin and stares back. Clark listens as Lex's heart rate accelerates, speeding the blood through that tightly coiled body.
Lex's face has always been a paradox: Sharp bones and soft curves, predator and prey mixed together. Eyes that used grow shiny with tears so easily back in Smallville - every time he and Clark had a fight, or Jonathan said something, or Lionel rejected him yet again. He'd closed himself off by the time he and Lana were a couple, the tears had stopped and Lex had begun to master his poker face. He'd lied to Lana glibly in a way that he'd never quite managed with Clark. And though Clark had known that this new, fenced-off Lex was at least partly of his making, he had still mourned for Lex's lost openness and vulnerability.
Now, he reaches out and gently traces the arc of Lex's cheek, down the strong jaw and around the plump, nearly babyish bottom lip.
Lex, ever so slightly, leans into the touch, his eyes locked with Clark's. Clark clasps Lex's face in both hands. So beautiful. So fragile. So fucked-up. And beyond everything else, so very much Clark's.
Lex has had enough of the scrutiny. He pounces. One moment his face is resting in Clark's hands, the next his mouth is pressed to Clark's, his arms reaching up and around Clark's neck. Their lips are a little greasy from the macaroni and cheese so it's a slippery sort of kiss, until Lex anchors himself by sucking on Clark's bottom lip.
Clark feels dizzy - the good kind of dizzy - and tentatively rubs his hand along Lex's back. His hand slips through one of the vents in Hawkgirl's t-shirt and he's touching bare skin. The muscles on Lex's back ripple, his kiss grows more aggressive and that's....that's Clark's tongue being bitten.
The room seems to wobble, spinning out of control. Clark needs to get the control back or bad, surreal things could happen. He'll accidentally set the room on fire or launch them both right through the wall and straight into space. He pulls back from the kiss and grabs Lex's hand.
Lex's mouth is shiny red from the kissing. His eyes are bright and dark at the same time. He shakes loose from Clark's grip, puts both his hands firmly on Clark's hips and backs him towards the bed. Clark gives a shaky laugh because Alpha Lex, even wearing baggy sweats and a girl's t-shirt, is truly something to behold.
Lex tips him onto the bed and climbs on top of him. The press of Lex's body against his is doing wonderful, cruel things to Clark's cock, especially when Lex uses a knee to work Clark's legs apart so he can lie between them. Lex won't stay still. He's kissing Clark but he's also wriggling on top of him. One hand is tangled in Clark's hair, there's another hand on his hip, and a hand skimming over his belly...how many hands does Lex have anyway?
Sex in the watchtower....he's having sex in the watchtower. Flash will be jealous. And he's making tons of noise because every flick of Lex's tongue, every stroke of his hand is making Clark groan. It's a bit embarrassing but please don't let him stop, please.
Lex squirms again and their cocks nudge.
Kiss to the nose. Lex grabs Clark's hands and pins them to his sides which is...cute. Clark is so close to coming now that absolutely anything could send him home, one more smirk of Lex's mouth, or if he moves that knee again....
Lex's hands are busily pushing down the waist band of Clark's borrowed sweat pants. (In his head, he can hear Green Lantern saying: "And these got dirty - how?!") Then, wow, Lex is tugging down the boxers and Clark's cock springs free, so hard, eager, and well, leaky, it makes him blush.
Lex climbs down his body and hovers over Clark's cock. At the sight of Lex's mouth so close to him, there, Clark gasps and has to close his eyes for a minute. Warm, practiced hand around his shaft, then Lex is licking him. Tiny, precise, tantalizing licks that have Clark writhing helplessly on the bed. Lex keeps his eyes fixed on Clark the entire time, never breaking their mutual stare, even as his pink-petal mouth is wrapped around the head of Clark's cock. Clark stares back, breathing so hard he's sure it must be audible all over the watchtower. Lex is also noisy; making sticky sounds with his tongue like Clark is the best dessert ever.
Clark reaches down to caress Lex's head and the warm satin of his skin, combined with the furnace of his mouth, makes Clark's balls grow dangerously tight. He gently tries to push Lex off because he knows what's about to happen and maybe Lex doesn't want it to happen in his mouth but Lex bats his hand away, latches on even harder and hollows his cheeks for one long suck.
Three wondrous whip-cracks through Clark's body. His back arches so high, he'd swear he heard it snap like a snare drum, and then he's spilling and spilling into Lex's mouth. He shuts his eyes again and lets the orgasm sweep over him a like a tidal wave.
A few small, soothing licks to his cock, a warm hand gently patting his stomach and Lex climbs back up to lean against Clark's shoulder. When Clark opens his eyes, Lex is still licking his lips, like one of the barn cats after an especially satisfying dish of cream.
"There!" says Lex.
"It's self-explanatory," says Lex, and settles back against Clark's shoulder, watching him with heavy-lidded eyes. Clark licks the tip of Lex's ear. He asks:
"You've always wanted to do this?"
"Obvious question," murmurs Lex. "Not worth answering." He reaches down and pets Clark's cock again, lying red and spent against his thigh.
"I've always wanted to do this too," says Clark and rolls them over so Lex is underneath him. "We were dumb to go so long without doing it."
"Like I said, obvious."
He'd like to rip the shirt right off Lex but mindful of Hawkgirl's wrath, gently pulls it over his head instead. Lex reaches down for the sweatpants but Clark gets there first and undressing Lex, seeing gray fleece give way to flawless skin, is a little blood rush all in itself.
He sits back on his haunches so he can really see Lex, who lies back indolently on his pillow. Most of Lex is creamy but some parts of him are pink. Clark wants to taste every bit of him.
"You," says Lex, waving an authoritative finger. "Clothes."
Clark quickly strips his sweats off and stretches out on top of Lex, the blissful press of skin rubbing skin. Lex makes a small noise, grips Clark's neck and thrusts upwards. His cock leaves a damp trail against Clark's hip bone.
"Soon," whispers Clark, into Lex's neck.
He lets his hands roam. They briefly circle Lex's narrow waist, then seek out all his softest spots. He finds tender skin around little brown nipples and inner thigh skin soft as the pad of a kitten's paw. Lex moans and scratches Clark's back, then throws a leg over to hold them together.
Clark wraps a hand around Lex's cock and gently flicks the head with his thumb. Lex rocks the bed with his thrust and puts his own hand over Clark's. They're nearly eye to eye and as Lex fucks Clark's hand, Clark watches the reaction play across Lex's face. Ginger eyelashes fluttering; those beautiful, fathom-deep eyes dilating to bright points. He's breathing hard, huffs of warm air that Clark can feel on his neck. When Lex's bottom lip trembles, Clark simply has to stop and kiss him. Lex grunts. His thrusts become wilder.
"You're beautiful," says Clark into the soft skin of Lex's throat and Lex grunts again and comes all over their inter-locked fingers.
Clark looks down at Lex panting on the bed. He smears his sticky hand across Lex's chest, then sets out to lick him clean, collar bone to belly button. Lex makes an approving noise.
Clark works his way back up to Lex's ear. He whispers:
"Just so you know....this is not going to be a one time thing."
"So you're not breaking up with me?" murmurs Lex.
Clark laughs and Lex does too. Clark can't even remember the last time he heard Lex laugh.
"When we were falling, when I knew I couldn't save us, I said "I'm sorry."
Clark props himself on an elbow so he can see Lex's face.
"And you told me it was okay. You forgave me - even as I was killing you."
Lex's mouth quirks but he doesn't reply. But Clark has to know.
"After everything, after all the anger, the fights, the rhetoric....why would you forgive me?"
Lex is quiet for a moment, then says:
"It wasn't a question of forgiveness. I suppose I thought, if I was going to die....at least, that would be an acceptable sort of death. Dying alongside you, your voice being the last sound I heard.....It's a better death than I deserve, really."
His eyes are a little shiny and perhaps Clark's are too. They stare at each other. Clark says:
"We'll make this work."
Small smile from Lex:
"You're very certain."
"Somebody once told me I only deal in absolutes," said Clark. "Wait, that was you! And you were aiming a torpedo at me."
Belly laughs now and Clark collapses on top of Lex, enjoying the way their laughter is shaking the bed. His cock has revived and makes its presence felt by nudging Lex's thigh. Lex, a little breathless, says:
He hasn't regained enough breath yet for full sentences. Clark waits.
"Clark, if you can find....I'd let you.....if you want to....."
If it's a risk to raid Flash's supply cupboard, it's even more of a risk to do so naked and hard. But Flash has the only supply of lube on the Watchtower. He likes to use KY jelly to slick himself into his costume. Clark speeds to the cupboard, steals the jelly and is back before Lex has had time to miss him.
Lex is lying sprawled on his side now and Clark decides there is no position in which he is not perfectly seductive. He slides in behind Lex, back to chest.
"You'll....you'll have to tell me what to do."
"Give me your hand," says Lex and he coats two of Clark's fingers with the jelly. "It's up to you to figure out the rest."
This is exactly what Lex used to say when he helped Clark with his chemistry homework. Clark grins. He's missed bossy Lex.
Clark flips Lex onto his belly, kisses the small of his back a couple of times, then gently parts the cheeks of Lex's ass. He's a duskier pink here; Clark dabs him with the jelly until Lex whimpers.
The first finger slides in and, yeah, feels a little strange. Clark kisses Lex's thigh and runs his tongue along his crack. Lex likes this and starts humping the bed. Second finger. Lex whimpers again. Clark twists and wriggles his fingers until he thinks Lex might be ready. Clark's cock is certainly ready.
When he pulls his fingers out, Lex gasps. He rolls back onto his side and Clark, a little awkwardly, presses up behind him. He's nervous and Lex must notice because he says:
"There's no wrong way to do this, Clark. Relax."
"Okay," Clark says, lining himself up. He takes a deep breath and guides his cock between Lex's cheeks and....oh. Oh my.
It's very different than being with a woman and Clark wonders if it'll actually work because he's quite big and Lex is narrow. The tip of his cock that he's managed to wedge inside Lex feels completely amazing. It's throbbing and snug, surrounded by this hot, cushiony grip and Clark aches to just plow his way inside but he won't risk hurting Lex.
Lex shows him what to do, just the way he'd taught Clark to play pool. He shifts so Clark can get a better angle, grabs one of Clark's arms and drapes it across his chest and with a hiss, slowly eases himself back onto Clark's cock.
"You can move now. Keep going. A little deeper."
Clark finds his rhythm and they move together. Clark's thighs are pressed to Lex's, his hand is on Lex's hip and his face is buried in Lex's neck. Clark thrusts forward, Lex pushes back. Even the hitches in their breaths are synchronized. Lex hangs on to Clark with one hand and jerks himself off with the other. When he comes, his ass squeezes Clark's cock so tightly, that Clark gasps and nearly swallows Lex's left ear. One more impossibly deep thrust that makes them both groan and Clark is coming too.
Lex falls back against him. Limp, boneless and smelling so damn good: Sex, macaroni and cheese and Lex-skin. Clark gently pulls out and cleans them both up with Hawkgirl's t-shirt. He'll just have to buy her a new one. Lex rolls over and rests against Clark's chest.
Clark gently levitates them both and uses one foot to kick the covers down. They sink back onto cool, cotton sheets and Clark tugs the blankets over them. He pulls Lex closer, resting his chin on the top of Lex's head.
Lex says, sleepily:
Clark knows what he means. Why this, finally, now? He answers slowly:
"It was....It was something my mom said."
Sleepy blue eyes, half closed, look up at him.
"Remind me: what does your mother like? Carnations, diamonds, skyscrapers? I'll have some shipped to her tomorrow."
Clark laughs and watches Lex drift off to sleep.
Things aren't completely fixed, he knows this. Some aspects of Lex were broken a long time ago and might be beyond repair. But they can be accommodated, re-directed, perhaps. Lois won't approve; Lana - with whom he only recently reconciled - will probably stop speaking to him again; Chloe will bombard him with excellent Reasons Why Not and his mom, despite her encouragement, will still worry. Because that's what mothers do.
And as to the Justice League.... he's definitely not looking forward to explaining his new boyfriend to them. Clark sighs and his eyes roll up to the ceiling. That's when he notices the camera. The security camera that he'd completely forgotten about.
Well, maybe Clark won't have to tell them after all. But right now he's too tired to get properly embarrassed about it. He curls himself around Lex and is asleep in seconds.
Flash turns off the monitor.
"Well, that kinda....kept going, didn't it?"
"You shouldn't be watching them," Diana says, disapprovingly.
Flash holds up his hands.
"Definitely, not my choice, Princess. Bats and I had to check in every so often, to make they hadn't switched over to killing each other."
Diana shakes her head.
"Hey, I'm the victim here!' Flash says. "They ate my Mac and Cheese. And they used my jelly for unsanctioned purposes!"
When this doesn't get a smile from Batman, Flash looks worried.
"Look at it this way, Bats. A domesticated Luthor means a lot less work. If he's at home baking cookies for his man-"
"Then he's not causing trouble for us. I mean, statistically, Luthor-related plots account for about half our workload. With him keeping the home fires burning....I might even get to watch a few Central City play-off games this year!"
Batman shakes his head.
"It won't be that easy. This is Luthor."
"And what if this is part of a plot?" Diana says. "What if he hurts Superman?"
"Why speculate? Let's ask the one person who can actually tell us. Hey, J'onn?!"
J'onn glides up from the deck below and joins them.
"J'onn, can you take a reading from Luthor? A glimpse into his sleeping mind might help us understand his intentions."
J'onn raises green fingers to his forehead. The others watch. Even Batman turns to look, waiting.
"I see..." J'onn says. "I see something in Luthor that I have never seen in him before."
Flash gulps. Diana asks sharply:
"And what is that?"
J'onn looks at her for a moment.
"Hope," he says, softly.
Then he's gone, as silently as he arrived. Diana also leaves; it's her turn to patrol. Flash remembers that there might be some leftover donuts hidden at the back of the fridge and thinks he could go for a couple of those right now.
Batman, left alone, switches the monitor back on and just for a minute, watches the sleeping pair on the screen. They look....peaceful, which is not a word that frequently comes into Batman's thoughts.
He switches the monitor off and returns to his lab.
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