Undone

by Hope


Damn it Wendi! Damn it Jenn! Damn it!
But bless you, Kathie, for helping with my research.


Title: Undone
Author: Hope
Author's E-mail: rosenho@anywherebeyond.com Author's URL: http://rosenho.diaryland.com Disclaimer: I am only playing with DC and the WB's toys. I promise not to break them. Much.
Archive: If you like
Category: Drama
Rating: R
Spoilers: Season One, albeit vaguely
Summary: Intent is a matter of degrees. Author's Notes: Damn it Wendi! Damn it Jenn! Damn it! But bless you, Kathie, for helping with my research. Fandom: Smallville
Pairing: Clark/Lex

Flattened against rough brick, Clark tried not to think. Not about the antimony acrid scent clinging to his skin, or the chill of cold rain trying to wash the dirty streets clean again. If he closed his eyes, it felt almost normal to have Lex's hand curved against his throat, Lex's body taut against him, Lex's tongue in his mouth. A kiss, hot and slick, completely insane, and rainwater washing away the taste of him before it ever got a chance to linger. He had to be imagining the copper penny bite of blood on Lex's mouth, and suddenly Clark understood- really understood- Lady MacBeth. Even so, this was almost normal. Pretty much anything was almost normal, now.

-

At dawn, it had been any Saturday. Clark sped through chores around the farm to buy his freedom for the afternoon, then met up with Pete to poke through the new shipment of comics at Hammond's until threatened with permanent exile unless they bought something. Two packs of Spiderman trading cards and a change of venue to the Beanery later, they parted company when Kelly Lockwood, for the first time ever, actually laughed at one of Pete's jokes. Never one to stand in the way of true love (and that's how Clark put it, back when things were still funny and he could still laugh,) he left Pete to his flirting, and started for the south side of Smallville.

Saturday afternoons were the best time to bug Lex; when he was still wound tight from last-minute meetings, it was easy to talk him into doing the kinds of stupid things Clark's parents would swear their darling only child would never do. He'd probably be grounded for life if they knew what kind of fun Lex's degree in chemistry could provide. Once, they'd spent an entire afternoon detonating dry ice bombs in the gardening shed- cool enough all by itself, but especially funny with Lex wryly explaining carbon dioxide sublimation between explosions.

Shown into the foyer, Clark was only a little surprised to be informed that Master Lex was downstairs on the range. Luthor Manor boasted all kinds of bizarre amenities the original architects had never intended, and Lex probably didn't have much use for a dungeon, so a firing range sort of made sense. It wasn't any weirder than the lab in the garage, or the air hockey table in the ballroom. Walking downstairs, Clark shivered. Vent fans muffled the irregular clack and bark of gunfire, as well as draining away the ambient warmth in the basement. Though separated from the range by a glass-paneled wall, Clark could taste black powder in the air, sweet and dirty, and everything smelled like cap gun strips, only on a much grander scale.

Lex squinted behind yellow safety glasses, curved so comfortably in his stance that only the sound of the shot and a slight roll of his shoulders proved he was doing anything more than merely standing. Fascinated, Clark leaned closer to the glass to watch. He'd seen Lex with guns before, usually from the wrong side of them at that, but it was somehow different here: poise and form, equipment and control. Something like a waltz between shots, Lex would take a retreating half-step, peering down the range before raising his arms again- one two three, slipping forward, chest rising-falling, then the reverberation, one two three.

His sixth sense must have kicked in, because when Lex took the next half step back, he glanced toward Clark instead of his target. Relaxing, he pulled his ear muffs down to hang around his neck, waving Clark inside with his free hand. Slipping through the door, the cap strip scent was even stronger, almost palpable, and Clark blinked when he saw what Lex had been using for a target. Flapping lazily downrange, it must have been a promotional poster or something: Lex's dad, smiling crookedly in front of a huge LuthorCorp logo, now punctuated with daylight braille missives from his son.

"It's an improvement, don't you think?" Lex smiled, flipping a switch on the side of the booth to reel the target in.

Bewildered brows marking dark angles at just how many holes Lionel had right where his heart would be, Clark shook his head. "Kind of creepy, if you ask me."

Lex took the target down. "Which I did. I admire your honesty, Clark." Target put aside, he turned to lean against the booth counter, rolling his eyes up to examine Clark's expression. "You don't approve."

Sometimes, Clark got the impression that Lex was laughing behind those cool grey eyes. He was sure of it, actually, he just didn't know if it was with him, or at him. Still, Clark smiled and shrugged, certain Lex really didn't care if he approved or not. "It's just weird." And time to change the subject, before they ended up having one of those cryptic conversations that seemed to be more full of words than meaning. "What other surprises do you have down here?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Lex said, teasing as he turned to put his very dangerous toy away. Before he did, he held it up, away from Clark, its spindly frame seemingly too delicate to do what it had done to that poster, let alone anything worse. "Look familiar?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't know anything about..." The protest died on his lips, because actually, it did look familiar. But no, that was stupid, it couldn't be. He ventured a guess anyway. "Han Solo's blaster?"

Lighting up with a smile, Lex radiated a strange aura of pride. "Very good, Clark. Mauser Schnellfeuer, to be precise. Of course, the only way this is firing a laser beam is if I put a sight on it." He fit the gun back into its case, opening another to display a slim, silvery gun no bigger than the palm of his hand. "Walther PPK. James Bond's weapon of choice. Lightweight, very popular with the ladies."

Clark started to smile, tilting his head to one side, more interested in the boyish excitement creeping over Lex's features than the firearm. "The gun or James Bond?"

"Both, now that I think about it."

Pointing at the next case, Clark leaned forward a bit, curious. "What's in that one?"

Replacing the Walther, Lex smoothed his hand over the cherry wood case in question, looking back at Clark, apparently wanting to see his expression when he lifted the lid. It was a monstrosity of a revolver, blue-silver and menacing just lying there on a bed of cobalt velvet. "Smith and Wesson Model 29. .44 Magnum, the very definition of a gun. Dirty Harry made sure of that."

Suddenly, Clark smiled- laughed with realization. Lex wasn't excited about showing off his arsenal, he was waiting for Clark to pick up on the theme. He liked it when he understood things about him without being told. "So you only buy a gun if you see it in a movie?" Clark touched the grip, wondering if it was as heavy as it looked.

"Pretty much," Lex said, his gaze flickering down, softening his smile. He read Clark's curious touch and pushed the case closer. "Go ahead, it's not loaded."

He waved off a weak protest Clark didn't mean anyway, stepping back to give him room to heft it. The metal shone beneath fluorescent lights, a glimmer running along the sculpted barrel like water. As heavy as his father's shotgun, but infinitely more compact, just holding it made Clark's stomach turn over in a jolt that landed somewhere between entranced and queasy. It was cold, dead weight in his hands that slowly warmed the longer he held it, almost like it was coming to life. Clark turned to look at Lex. "You could kill somebody with this."

Understatement of the century, but Lex took it in stride, gently nudging the barrel away from his chest and back downrange. "Or stop an engine block. It's all in how you use it, Clark."

Clark murmured an apology, a faint blush coloring his cheeks at being corrected without even a word. No pointing guns at friends, got it. He raised his arm, focusing across the sights to the shadows at the back of the lane. From watching movies, he could imagine the sound if he pulled the trigger, like a cannon, like thunder. Maybe it would be so loud, it would rumble in his chest, and he sort of felt like Dirty Harry, just thinking about firing it. It was interesting: exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Counterbalancing against the weight, his fingers finally fell into a smooth, comfortable curl around the grip, and he heard himself ask, "Can I...?"

Producing another pair of glasses and ear muffs from somewhere, Lex was a flurry of motion and bemused commentary. He was saying something about speed loaders and westerns, but Clark didn't hear most of it- he was too distracted by amber shades of Lex's fingers transforming potentially deadly to just deadly with brass shells. There shouldn't be that much power in something so small, Clark thought. Abuzz with anticipation, for a brief moment he thought he might drop the gun when Lex returned it. Turning back to face the lane, he tested the Magnum's new weight in his hands and he had to admit, he kind of liked it. The dry ice bombs would have gotten Clark grounded for life; if his mom ever got wind of this, he'd be grounded for eternity.

"Go on and say it, Clark. You know you want to."

Lex didn't even bother to look over at him, busy pinning a new target to the wire- thankfully, just a black silhouette. Clark didn't know if he had it in him to shoot at an actual person, two-dimensional representation or not. Squinting one eye, then the other, he kept his gaze through the sights, and bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. A little trickle of tension worked through his veins, his hands wanting to grip, to pull the trigger back, myopically curious as to what might happen if he did. He raised his voice to be heard through the ear muffs. "Say what?"

Flashing a broad smile, Lex sent the target downrange, watching Clark's eyes get bigger and bigger, the further away it got. "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

"That's not how it goes," Clark told him, thrilled to be the one who got to be completely smug for once. "My dad's watched that movie at least six thousand times. It's, 'Being as this is the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?'"

For a second, Lex stood perfectly still, then started clapping, somehow making applause sound sarcastic. "Does your school's drama department know you can do that? That's a very rare talent you have there, Clark. I was almost scared."

"Shut up, Lex." Clark laughed when he said it, cutting a quick glance over to make sure he knew he was kidding. Sometimes, he could be touchy, but not today. Today, he was smiling right along with him, watching, encouraging him to fire with a slight nod toward the target.

The first shot was a messy rush of adrenaline, the astringent scent of newly fired gunpowder stinging Clark's nose. It had come alive, a mythical, fire-breathing beast with a terrible, feral roar. And it kicked, different from the way his dad's shotgun did, vibrating in his wrist and elbow, with a hard, solid pound that radiated to his shoulder. Clark felt electric, leaning forward to leer at the target. "Did I hit it?"

"I'm sure you hit something," Lex grinned, reeling the target in just enough to verify that it was completely untouched.

Dismay creased Clark's mouth as the silhouette floated downrange again, waving in a lazy arc on the wire. "Well, I would have, if it weren't so far away."

Lex rolled his head to look over at him. "Everyone's a crack shot at point blank range, Clark." Before Clark could sneer something back, Lex plucked the Walther out of its case to demonstrate. Hands expert, they cradled a gun too small for the stance he was teaching, but still looked comfortable all the same. Dipping at the knees, Lex shook out all over, a long, relaxed wave undulating through him. "Like this."

"So like... a baseball bat," Clark asked, trying to find a lax grip, because he followed the concept, if not quite the technique.

Considering this, Lex shrugged. "I don't know. If it's anything like a polo mallet, then no."

Clark's gun dipped when he looked over at Lex incredulously. "You're kidding, right?" Lex raised his brows in response, and Clark's mouth dropped open, pale eyes reflecting pity and shame on Lex's behalf. "I'm going to have to pretend I don't know you, Lex. That's sad."

"Poor little rich boy, that's me." Putting the Walther back in its case, Lex circled around Clark. He tapped the toe of his shoe against Clark's back foot. "At an angle, Clark. Hip forward to contrast your trigger hand. And relax. Think about organic apple pie."

Relaxing would have been easier if Lex weren't hovering just over his left shoulder. Clark could feel his heat, sense his keen eyes glittering and waiting- for him to fire, maybe to make a mistake. Sweat slicked Clark's palms, and he readjusted his grip again, forgetting to choke up on (the bat) the gun. Focusing over the sight, a dark veil of bangs fell into his field of vision. He tried to blow his hair out of the way, but only succeeded in rearranging it. Oh yeah, this was going to work. At least Lex would get a good laugh out of it.

Instead of laughing, Lex leaned closer. "Now breathe in," he murmured, so close that Clark could feel his breath fanning on his throat. It was justifiable proximity, near enough so he didn't have to raise his voice to be heard through the hearing protection, but it made Clark shiver in spite of the warmth spreading on his cheeks. He'd gotten over wondering if it was a bad thing that Lex sometimes made him feel sort of sexy.

Clark licked his lips, then took the breath. The target didn't seem so far away now. Neither did Lex; Clark could feel him moving, just a brush against his shoulder. It was barely a touch at all, but then his voice came again, caressing his skin. "Now exhale..." Clark did, a dark edge of electricity tingling on the part of his lips. Everything seemed to fall away, leaving just him and Lex, and this strange metal hand at the end of his wrist. "And fire."

Fire roared from his fingertips, matching the pulse pounding in his ears, and a sweet, dirty kiss of smoke filled his mouth. Skin vibrating, swept with heat, Clark barely felt the recoil this time. He blinked, clearing his dizzied vision. Twenty yards away, the target waved languorously, a single, perfect perforation punched through the silhouette's chin. Drunk with victory, Clark put the gun down, and turned back to crow his success. "I did it!"

Smooth, cool, Lex didn't move- not his body, anyway. His lips did- raising in a heavy half-smile; his eyes did too, flicking down to Clark's mouth before back up to meet his gaze. "Nice shot, Clark."

For a moment, crackling quiet hung between them- Clark couldn't think of anything to say. The space between them could be measured by initiative; it only took a breath, the slightest shift, to close it. Awkward, tentative, that first brush of lips was revelation: sweet, soft fire that made Clark forget to breathe. Thought didn't really enter into it, just taste, just kiss, and distantly, Clark realized Lex must have been waiting for this. For once, he didn't pull back to examine a touch before deciding to accept it; he was just - there-, kissing, being kissed, his reserve fading on a shaky breath to leave him incredibly human.

Instinct urged, and Clark obeyed- get closer, touch, taste... and then cold. Lex leaned his head back, pushing off his ear muffs and frowning, his motion so fluid, the interruption barely seemed intrusive. Above them, the lights flickered, off, then on, and somewhere in the distance, a door closed. "Not now, David," Lex called, his jaw offset in irritation. Clark started to turn away, his face slapped with an embarrassed flush, but Lex brushed a hand down his arm- a casual touch that murmured 'stay.'

"My apologies, Mr. Luthor," the butler answered. "You have a phone call on your private line. The young woman wouldn't give her name, but she says it's an emergency."

Swallowing hard, Clark summoned a smile. He didn't want to know what kind of girl had Lex's home phone number, or thought to call him with emergencies, but his mind helpfully provided him with a catalogue of possibilities anyway. A beautiful, rich woman, no doubt- a coy princess who smelled like jasmine and spice, and probably knew what to do next when Lex kissed her. "Go ahead. It's okay."

Lex hesitated, glancing toward the door. Placid as glass again, he rolled his lips to purse, then stepped back. "I'll only be a minute."

"Take your time," Clark muttered under his breath, but Lex was already halfway upstairs, too far away to hear. Clark didn't wear petulant and jealous very well, busying himself with senseless tasks to keep from thinking. Peeling off the safety gear, he blinked, adjusting to color and sound again. Reality was brighter and louder than he remembered. Picking up the Magnum gingerly, he fiddled with it until he coaxed the drum to swing out, upending it to spill brass into his palm. He rolled the empty casings over with his thumb, then stuffed them into his jeans pocket.

Suddenly, the fans cut off with a whine, the range sinking to a new level of silence. Hearing footsteps approaching, Clark looked up to see Lex return, all sharp angles and precise motion as he came down the stairs. Something was wrong, and Clark's thoughts uncharitably ran to the many excuses Lex might use to ditch him. Clark put the gun back together and waited for dismissal.

Instead, Lex slipped through the door, leaning forward to offer him the cordless. "It's for you, it's Chloe."

Something was definitely wrong. Taking the phone, Clark wondered if he looked as guilty as he felt. It wasn't like Lex could read his mind, but he felt bad for assuming the worst anyway. Penance could come later, for now, Clark plugged one ear and dipped his head to answer his call. "Chloe?"

"Clark?" Chloe's voice vibrated tinnily on the line, a thick, damp note to it. "I'm sorry. Tell Lex I'm sorry, I copied his number from your notebook. I wasn't ever going to use it but you weren't home and... I'm in trouble, Clark."

The pit of his stomach dropping, Clark squinted at nothing, unnerved. That was just like her, saving scraps and bits of information just in case; the scattered train of explanation was less like her, her matter of fact recitation of danger lined with restrained hysteria. Clark's first instinct was to run, fast, hard to get to her. "What kind of trouble? Where are you?"

She exhaled a thin laugh. "Metropolis, somewhere. I don't know this side of town, and I'm afraid to go out." She went quiet for a moment, and it sounded like she was swallowing back tears. "I did something really stupid, Clark. Phenomenally stupid and I just... I just want to go home."

Panic twisted through him. He only knew field trip geography in the city: the zoo, the museums, Luthor Tower. Clark lifted his head to catch Lex's eye for balance. He was all the way on the other side of the range, putting things away, pretending not to listen. "What side of town? Lex knows Metropolis, we can find you."

"No!" Chloe took a deep breath, vehemence draining out of her with an explanation. "My dad doesn't know I'm here, and he can't find out. I'm still sort of... it's just bad, okay? He works for him, he'd have to say something."

"He won't tell," he promised, and that was the last time Clark was absolutely sure of anything.

-

Sexual, organic lines of the body aside, the Maserati was almost practical. It even had a back seat, all the better to carry Chloe back home to Smallville. Leaning his head against the window, Clark watched the blur of Kansas being eaten by Italian engineering, and he resisted the urge to look at the speedometer again. His last peek had told him far more than he wanted to know. He had no idea what the top speed might be, but Clark suspected the three hour drive to Metropolis was probably going to clock in at just over an hour if they didn't get pulled over.

Lex hadn't said much since talking to Chloe. Clark had finally handed him the phone so she could describe her surroundings. From the way Lex's face grew ever cooler as he listened, it was plain he had a very good idea where she might be, and worse, that it was a place even Lex didn't want to go. Still, without a question, Lex had just hung up the phone and left Clark waiting in the foyer for him while he changed clothes for a long drive.

Day gave way to twilight, the sky bruised with inelegant grey and purple, slate clouds hanging low and heavy. It threatened, the same way the unknown threatened in a city Clark could just start to make out on the horizon. He'd spent most of the trip imagining what might have happened. A thousand horrors, plausible to impossible, and he felt caged in the car. His body could do amazing things, he could have beaten Lex to Metropolis if he wanted to, he could have already been there, and -fixing- things, if he'd just known a little more. Those thoughts squirmed in his head, infecting him with a sense of helplessness that was, frankly, starting to drive him crazy.

Startled when they began to slow down, Clark finally looked over at Lex. Clad in black from his duster, to the soft leather driving gloves, he wasn't anybody's picture of the cavalry. Intensely casual, he barely checked the mirrors before swinging across several lanes of traffic.

"Where are we going exactly," Clark asked. His curiosity wasn't new, he'd wondered ever since they left the manor, but a destination that stole Lex's propensity for conversation loomed too intimidating to question until they were on the verge of entering it.

Lex's eyes never left the road, and his voice hummed on the same note the tires made against the road. "Ryder's Mile."

Every city had a little Gotham in it, and even one as squeaky-clean and all-American as Metropolis was no different. Once upon a time, when the city was nothing more than a few square miles of farmer's markets and cobbled streets, Ryder's Mile had been the downtown bastion of the wealthy. Over time, as carriages were replaced with automobiles, and agriculture gave way to industry, the wealthy abandoned the winding hill, leaving wide Victorians to renters, then squatters, then criminals, until it became a capitol of the illicit.

Clark didn't need an explanation, he watched the news. Chances were, if something horrendous were going to happen in Metropolis, it would be in Ryder's Mile. KMET even had a custom graphic for it: all in red, a fractured housefront with a white chalk outline imposed on top of it. Unless it had to do with drugs- then they replaced the outline with a syringe. Banishing that image from consideration, Clark sank down into leather and congratulated himself for not asking before.

Gliding down an exit ramp, Clark got his first real look at urban grime. Litter collected in the gutters, kicked aside by young, rangy men who shuffled back and forth just beneath the underpass. Hollow, hungry, their sharp eyes followed the black sports car with intent, and Clark probably would have stared at them until they were too far away to see if Lex hadn't told him to stop. "Just keep your eyes on the road," he instructed, then glanced down at Clark's clothes. "Are you wearing anything under that?"

Glancing down at his chest, Clark frowned. Suddenly he was offended by a yellow Smallville High sweat shirt? Color in general? "Yeah, why?"

"Take it off." Lex's eyes were everywhere at once, turning down a narrow avenue. His expression never changed. "Unless you happen to have an affiliation with the Gotham LoBoys. You don't, do you, Clark?"

Throat tightening, Clark only shook his head, pulling the sweat shirt off and rolling it into a tight ball. Chloe was stuck in the middle of gangland, jesus, -gangland-, and though Clark was pretty sure all the bangers in the world couldn't hurt him, he was suddenly, sharply aware that they could hurt -her-. And Lex. Lex, who walked like he was invincible, but proved time and time again that he was just flesh. Just human, and Clark had volunteered him for this without a second thought. Regret barbed in his chest, guilt rising up again to flatten his lips to a tight, pained smile.

"I didn't know," Clark said, working his way toward an apology. He was sorry for a lot of things now. Perspective was a bitch.

Before he could finish, Lex cut him off. "What are friends for?"

That only made it worse. For the sake of friendship, he'd driven them to the wrong side of town, would surely get out of the car and walk vulnerable along the sidewalks in search of Chloe- and he knew. He knew there were gang colors and that you shouldn't stare at the cornerboys; Lex had known where they were going, but he hadn't protested, he hadn't even hesitated because Clark had promised. "Thanks." It wasn't enough, but it was all he had to give.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Lex passed it over. "Call Chloe's cell, and get her GPS coordinates." So simple, and Clark never would have thought of it. He'd expected to drive around looking for landmarks to triangulate, but Lex, as always, had planned six moves ahead.

It took four rings before Chloe answered. She cried again when Clark told her they were nearby, soft, snuffling sobs that she tried to hide with chatter. Clark just kept talking, the only way he could reassure her, occasionally interrupting himself to tell Lex whether the numbers on the digital display were getting closer or further away. After a few blocks and accidental short cuts through filthy alleys, they rolled out onto Lorraine Avenue and stopped. The skyline had swallowed the last of the sun, and greenish streetlights painted ugly, industrial shadows on battle scarred concrete.

The Mile's Victorians looked different when they weren't on TV- hints of their former opulence peeked out behind peeling paint tagged with hieroglyphic graffiti. With their broken down porches and boarded up windows, they wore an air of resignation, old spinsters long abandoned by fickle beaus. This was as close as they could get with the cell phone hunt and seek, the middle of a darkening street populated with people who made no attempt to hide their curious glares.

Unfolding his long legs, Clark slid out of the car. Humidity hit like a wet slap, a thief to steal breath and draw sweat, circulating the scent of piss and garbage on oily currents. Looking around again, Clark swallowed a rising sense of revulsion and horror that people -lived- in a place like this. He'd only been there a few minutes, and his skin was already crawling. Get Chloe. Get out. Get home and scrape this kind of city off his skin and never think about it again.

He scanned through walls, through bricks, searching for her, a trick he'd have to craft a pretty damned convincing explanation for if he actually found her. It wasn't like she was a watch lost in a library. Bodies everywhere, sprawled low on floors, moving lazily, if at all. Some of them had needles, some of them, what he guessed were crack pipes. Every shape, every color, they were a perverted success of the melting pot, brought together by a mutual desire to stay in one place, yet go far, far away. All these buildings, so many people crammed together- finding her without trudging through each and every door seemed hopeless.

"Is that you?" Chloe voice cut through his ruminations, so hopeful, so desperate, her voice startlingly clear on the cell. "God, it is you. I see you, turn around."

"She says turn around," Clark murmured to Lex, continuing to look past the walls until he saw a clutch of children playing in the back of one of the houses, all the adults around them asleep. At least, Clark hoped they were asleep. Some burgeoning part of himself raged; bad enough that grown ups littered the Mile, but kids? Had they ever seen grass or trees, did they have toys, did they ever get to go to McDonalds? He was overwhelmed by the sheer brokenness here, so big that even he couldn't fix it. He wanted to cry.

Instead, he, they, followed Chloe's directions up the street, up dubious steps to a rust-colored door. Lex stayed Clark with the back of his hand, cooly neutral as he turned the knob, ignoring Clark's blurted demand to be allowed to walk in first. Lex thought he was protecting him, and Clark wheezed an absurd giggle. If he only knew... but he didn't, because he'd never told him, had to protect -that- secret at all costs. The strained laughter died when he saw Lex push his coat open, flashing a black, boxy gun in a shoulder holster at anyone who cared to look. It was a display to the people they were -walking- over (oh jesus,) to get to the stairs, -don't fuck with us-.

Later, Clark wouldn't remember the walk to the attic. All he knew is that somehow, they got from the first floor to the third, a gift of amnesia for a Saturday already full of too many things he'd never be able to forget. Down a crooked hallway, through a door barely on its hinges, and there was Chloe. Curled up in the corner on a dirty mattress, clutching the phone like a talisman, Chloe's head snapped up when the door opened.

At first, she didn't seem to recognize them, pressing her back harder into faded wallpaper as if to crawl away. And, at first, they didn't recognize her, either. Dark smears of lipstick and eyeliner stained her face, painted like a gothic doll and dressed to match in black mesh and combat boots. Her hair, purple streaks worked down in its natural gold, glittered in the pool of streetlight filtering through the dirty window.

By her side in an instant, Clark moved to gather her up, stung and confused when she recoiled. It didn't take long to figure out why. A dusky rosary of bruises dotted her skin, and Clark didn't need x-ray vision to see know there were more beneath the collar of her shirt. More on her wrists. More on her forearms. From far away, he heard himself ask her what happened, morbidly afraid of the answer.

The explanation spilled from her, sputtered on great, gulping breaths as if she were trying to vomit it all up before they left. An expose, she said, a huge journalistic gambit that would catapult her light years ahead of everyone else trying to catch Perry White's eye down at the Planet. An investigative story only she could write, what - really- happened in clubs parents didn't want to believe existed. It was -ideal-, she'd terrify everyone over the age of 30, and anybody who mattered knew that scare pieces were a bullet train to byline.

Moving now, Lex managed to coax her off the floor with a distant, extended hand. Out of the squat, down to the car, and she never stopped talking. She met this guy from Metropolis U on the Internet, she said, in an underground chat room that supposedly led to all things rave. It wasn't hard to convince him to believe her cover. It was pretty simple, since it was the truth minus the little detail that she was writing a story. Just to make it real, she turned down his first couple of invitations. She wanted him to trust her.

The first time she actually went had been so dismally suburban, she didn't think the story would ever happen. About fifty kids, a good quarter of them from Smallvilleand hadn't that been fun, hiding from the Strange Brigade? all jammed together in an old mill with a lousy DJ and, from what she understood, bunk E somebody'd cooked up in their grandmother's bathtub. Ho hum, a beer blast without the beer, what a shocker. The second time was better- rather, more what she expected, housed in an abandoned factory just outside Kansas City, with a variety of drugs and semi-public sex acts, which she noted surreptitiously on the inside of her arm.

Third and fourth were more of the same, but she was starting to blend in enough that Lee, the Internet guy, started dropping hints about -the- party. The -ultimate-, people came from four states away just to hit this one, pharmaceuticals passed around in big bowls like candy, sex so kinky it broke federal laws, every perversion and diversion imaginable, and some that were completely indescribable. This was the scene that was going to help her win the RFK National... oh heck, why not go big, the Pulitzer, fame and, well, not fortune, reporters never got rich, but still. And he'd take her, if only she weren't so straight-edge about altered states of consciousness.

It was easy to pretend she was drunker than she was, to prove otherwise. Making out with him behind one of the big bass woofers didn't hurt, either. She wanted him to - trust- her.

Clark squirmed in the cramped back seat, listening to her tell this story as if it had happened to someone else. She kept laughing in all the wrong places, picking at her lower lip until he was afraid it would bleed. He wasn't reassured when she rolled her head back against the seat to look at him, her pupils pinpoints even in the dark, swearing that she'd had everything under control. Her dad let her have wine sometimes with dinner, cheap champagne on New Years Eve- she knew what she could handle.

It was all for the good of the story, lying to her mom and dad about going to Lizton with Lana for the weekend (she was the perfect alibi, completely clueless and nowhere near friendly enough to call and blow her cover,) and taking the bus to Metropolis to meet Lee for this mythic bacchanal. Drinking the beer he offered her before they set off to follow the clues that would lead them to their destination, that had been for the good of the story, too. Though it was only supposed to a story, though she was supposed to be impartial, she'd had a blast cruising in his old beater in search of waypoints.

That's how she was going to start the article, by the way, 'Scouring Metropolis for clues to reveal the location of the latest rave, Max (not his real name,) a junior at a local college, is already a five year veteran of the underground club scene...'

Eventually, they found themselves at a warehouse on the far east side, oh, and Lex should probably tell his dad that kids are using dilapidated LuthorCorp property on the riverfront as short-term amusement parks. Revelers weren't even trying to hide their cars, not that there was much to hide them from- rumor had it that the cops on this beat might have gone for a long, all-expenses paid trip to get donuts, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Inside, it was everything Lee had promised and more. Smoke and bubbles billowed out of atmosphere machines, a collective of young, corruptible flesh moving in unified chaos to music that was more beat than melody. Like science fiction, glowsticks and techno-wear glimmered in the partial darkness, illuminating the costumed and ordinary alike. Tribalists prayed to their trance-ambient gods, while candy kids fluttered from place to place, bestowing beads on strangers in the midst of their own, personal Mardi Gras. Along the walls, vaguely human shapes made the most of the shadows.

She was impressed that there was a first aid station set up just inside the door, less impressed at the stringy-haired girl laid out on a cot there, rubbing her arms with masturbatory fervor while an impromptu nurse coaxed her to swallow more water. Chloe smugly hoped they knew about water intoxication; she did- she'd done her research. Taking a paper cup from Lee, she glutted herself on visuals, memorizing club plumage, already crafting long passages for her article as she circulated through the crowd.

"I'll get the door," Lex said, sliding from behind the steering wheel and into the soft fall of rain. Just a brief interruption in Chloe's narrative, and until that, Clark hadn't realized they'd stopped. A better part of town now, the best part, maybe, swirling cream letters on a crimson awning introduced him to Leyte Heights, where Lex really lived when his father wasn't busy shuttling him to farm towns in the middle of nowhere. A doorman approached with an umbrella, wearing an expression of practiced disinterest as he stooped to shield Chloe from the elements.

Clark peeled himself out of the back seat in time to hear Lex murmur something to her about getting cleaned up before taking her home; a spark of jealousy flared up when she offered Lex a grateful smile, and Clark put overtime effort into being ashamed of himself. Keeping his eyes low as they entered the lobby, he was still blinded by all the glittering glass and gold, warm wood and creamy marble tile. Inside the elevator, an old man greeted Lex, unlocking the floor controls to select a penthouse number without prompting.

When the doors finally opened, and for a while, it seemed like they might never, it wasn't onto a hall, but directly into an obscenely lush apartment. So perfectly Lex, stepping inside was like touching him. Books- a lot of books, everywhere, on shelves and end tables, a few splayed face down, their spines cathedral arches to hold his place. Original watercolor art on the walls, Warrior Angel in repose, on guard, at rest, and Tinker Toys on the coffee table, which made no sense until Clark got closer- two red spheres and one blue, lashed together on yellow sticks: H2O. He didn't recognize the more complex creations; he hadn't gotten that far in chemistry yet.

Lex disappeared down a long hall, leaving Clark alone with Chloe. She wrapped her arms around herself, turning slowly to take in her surroundings. A transparent mirror image of her turned on the balcony's glass doors, a shadow self as insubstantial as her voice. "Wow, nice place."

"Yeah." Clark's gaze drifted over her, over this alien, timid girl masquerading behind Chloe's eyes. The bruises were darker in full light, obscene graffiti on her pretty skin; her shirt was torn, and holes punctured her stockings. Clark didn't know if that was deliberate or... something else. She hadn't finished telling her story. "Chloe?"

Flattening her mouth into a vague approximation of a smile, Chloe lifted her head, but looked past him. Everywhere, but at him. "I was phenomenally stupid, Clark. One minute I was taking notes, and the next minute, everything was rainbows. I could taste the music. I could hear colors."

"You took something?"

She laughed, an empty sound full of recriminations, calling herself stupid again without saying it aloud. "He put something in my drink. And I knew better. I did my research. I always do, but I was so caught up... and I trusted him." She laughed again, leaning her head back to share a strained smile with the ceiling.

Helpless, Clark fought through the numb ache settling around him to insist, "It wasn't your fault."

"I knew better." She clutched herself tighter, swaying away when Clark offered her his hand, the way Lex had done. Licking her lips, she shifted again, fixing her attention on a spot of nothing on the floor. "Thank you for coming to get me."

No right to know, Clark understood that, and understood that he had no right to ask either, but he did anyway, because they hadn't rescued her from an east side warehouse. Ryder's Mile was a lifetime away from the riverfront, and people didn't usually come back from parties battered with fingerprint shaped bruises. "Chloe, what did he do?"

With that, she did look at him. At him, into him, and right through him, all the light drained out of her. "I don't know. I don't ever want to know."

-

Breaking things wasn't an option, though Lex's penthouse boasted plenty of fragile possessions that would shatter beautifully. Glass tables, glass doors, lacquered beams, and marble mantles, Clark wondered how hard he'd have to hit marble to turn it to dust. How hard he'd have to hit Lee the Internet Guy to do the same. Clark didn't curse much- he could always hear his mother saying it was a crutch for little minds whenever he was tempted, but an abrupt chorus of that-bastard-that-son-of-a-bitch rattled around in his head anyway. Sorry, mom.

Most people didn't believe Clark -could- hate. Everybody knew who the scarecrow had been, who'd made that happen, but they still saw Clark playing basketball with Whitney. People laughed when he tripped over his own feet, but he still smiled and shared his history notes. A good-natured kid, that's how his parents' friends described him, but they didn't know -anything-. Yes, he was polite, he had a shy smile, and no, he wasn't very well acquainted with just how ugly the world could be, but he could hate.

He'd hated Phelan. The name alone made Clark's fingers curl to fists, it weighed on his shoulders and forced him to clench his teeth. Mulling him over later, not sorry that he was dead, Clark thought that at least twice, he could have killed him and felt good about it. That scared him, but only because it was the truth. Now, that same oily tension ran through his veins, but mutated: instead of fire, ice. Instead of passion, deliberation. Darkness sank down to take all the shy and pretty out of his features; he hated someone he didn't even know, more than he'd ever hated anyone. At least what Phelan had done could be undone.

Staring down Metropolis through the balcony doors, Clark didn't look back when he heard Lex return to the living room. Clark had plenty of anger twitching away beneath his skin, and some of was just for Lex. Irrational, impotent fury that Lex could take care of things he couldn't, that it only took him a few hushed words to convince Chloe to let his private doctor look her over, that she would look Lex in the eye and take his hand, when she veered as far away from Clark as she could without actually running. New anger that he had to ask, "How is she?" instead of already knowing.

"Sleeping." Lex lingered, then disappeared into the kitchen, voice trailing behind him. "She's had a hard time of it, Clark. She'll need a friend."

"Yeah, I kinda figured." So cold, but easy because Clark couldn't see the ripple of a wince ebbing across Lex's face. He thought that might make him a bad person, but he didn't have much of a conscience at the moment, and he wasn't about to hang around to let Lex dole out pearls of obvious wisdom. Something had to be done... he had to do something. No clue what, though, he'd make it up as he went along. There was something to be said for running on adrenaline and rage. Pushing off the glass, Clark was halfway to the door before Lex spoke again.

"Don't do anything you'll regret."

-

The rain had eased up a little, so Clark was only partially soaked when he walked into Metropolis University's library. Like any library, it smelled pleasantly of paste and paper. Mostly quiet despite the rustling of secreted bags of Fritos, the bright familiarity welcomed him with a cool blast of air conditioning. Scraping his shoes on the mat just inside, he dipped his head and started for the stacks. Tall enough, broad enough, as long as he didn't look anybody in the face, no one would question what appeared to be another damp student looking for somewhere to wait out the storm.

He'd run all the way, through streets shimmering in the dark, up and down busy broadways bustling with evening traffic. Covering the entire metro area on foot wasn't the most efficient way to find campus, but it had worked. It hadn't even taken that long, and he'd discovered he could jump over a car with sufficient motivation.

The run had also given him time to think. His mind wasn't immediately geared to strategy, but he was good at planning if he had enough information. Smearing wet bangs out of his face, Clark wound through the narrow aisles, past fiction and on into non-fiction and reference, smiling apologetically at drier students he had to brush by as he scanned the shelves. He found what he was looking for in the late 900s, the Student Directory.

In his quiet corner, Clark thumbed to the juniors and started skimming, his damp fingers leaving their impression on the pages. He'd reasoned it out, Lee wasn't a weird name, but it wasn't that common, either. If there were more than one, he'd talk to them all until he found the right one. It wasn't high tech or glamorous, but just like hitting every street to suss out the college, it would work. Clark didn't mind taking the scenic route, which was good because he didn't have much choice at this point.

Two Leighs, and a female Lee later, bullish tenacity paid off. Lee Mahoney, Howard Hall, bingo. Clark reassured himself that he was alone with a guilty glance, then carefully, quietly, tore the page from the directory before replacing it. Half a step to the side, and he tugged last year's annual free to find a face to go with the name. Quicker now with a last name, Clark was almost disappointed that the picture in the middle of page 87 hadn't captured a monster in black and white.

Lee Mahoney was just a guy, with a floppy fall of light hair, a high forehead, and an uncomfortable smile. Tearing that page out too, Clark folded it with the other and stuffed it into his jeans pockets. Something cool and sharp brushed against his fingertips, and he slumped a little when he realized what it was. .44 Magnum shells, empty reminders... no. He didn't have time for more guilt, or reflection, not now. He was busy.

Howard Hall wasn't far, and Clark only had to ask for directions twice to find it. He'd never been in a dorm before, but there were no grand discoveries to be had. Clark walked through a lobby full of students in various stages of dress, down a hallway decorated with safe sex posters, then up dirty, industrial stairs that served double duty as a smoking lounge. On the second floor, conflicting music drifted from open doors, and the scent of pizza and hair spray lingered in the air. He tried not to look when a pair of girls rounded the corner, wearing nothing but towels.

Stopping in front of 204, he read the whiteboard hanging at an angle on the door. "Gone fishing, catch us if you can." Whatever. He could hear a television inside, so he knocked and stepped back. Listening to movement inside, Clark plastered a smile on his face. That was his plan, play friendly until he could get that-bastard-that-son-of-a-bitch alone. His smile only wavered a little when a slight, bespectacled guy half Clark's size opened the door; for some reason he hadn't counted on a roommate. Peering past him, Clark tried to sound casual. "Hey, is Lee around?"

The guy made a face, disgust and irritation all rolled up in a single scowl. "No."

"Any idea where I could find him?" Clark worked on looking earnest and friendly. It wasn't hard, he felt an instant kinship with the roommate. Hate made making friends surprisingly easy. "He owes me twenty bucks, and I kinda need it."

"Good luck getting it," the guy said, already starting to close the door. "He's raving all weekend."

That's all Clark needed to know, and the polite boy from Smallville, Kansas remembered to say thank you before heading back out into the night.

-

Down on the riverfront, the polite (though not particularly well known for it) boy from Metropolis leaned against the side of his black Mercedes, his dusky eyes shadowed by an MPD baseball cap. Long and lean, Lex wouldn't have been all that noticeable to begin with, parked half a block down to watch the police raid LuthorCorp Warehouse #3 from a comfortable distance. A normally desolate street overflowed with a garish flux of partygoers, still glittering, blinking and flashing even as they lamented the death of fun.

Clark hadn't seen him yet; he wasn't meant to. But Lex kept track of him, watching Clark stalk the sidewalks, doubling back and forth, oblivious to the rain and uniformed officers trying to control the scene as he searched for one particular face in the crowd. Planning was good, but strategy was better. Lex had had no need to visit libraries or dormitories to identify their prey, he knew Clark's nature. A plodder, a plotter, he'd stormed out on a current of pure rage toward that first, logical step. So Lex skipped that one, and a few Clark alone had to navigate, namely the small matter of finding a warehouse Lex could locate blindfolded. This was his city, after all.

A well-timed anonymous tip had summoned the police. Lex knew from experience what the inside of a rave looked like, thick with effects, flashing lights and bodies, making it hard to recognize friends, let alone strangers. He'd waited for Clark to arrive with the other variable in the equation, then turned the party inside out.

Letting Clark believe he was doing this on his own? Just good strategy. Clark planned, but sometimes, too many times, he didn't think. That spontaneity was charming, if the lack of thought meant they ended up shin deep in a muddy creek, searching for an old barn Clark swore he'd seen years before- it was a liability when one desired a certain, specific outcome. Even moreso when the object of the game was revenge. Lex suspected Clark thought he was after justice, and if it made him feel better, he'd have no problem calling it that later.

Lex shook his head, flipping rain off the bill of his hat in wide arcs. He'd lost sight of Clark in a haze of emergency lights, and right now, he needed to see. It didn't take Lex long to find him again. Natural beauty had a way of sticking out in the midst of artifice. Gone for a moment, Clark reappeared on the city side of the street with a brilliant smile, his lying smile, coaxing a blond boy off to the side with his general harmlessness. Peeling away from the crowd, they started toward an alley, and Lex wondered what he'd said to draw him away. Probably something clumsy and artless, but on Clark, clumsy and artless were magnetic. After all, Lex had fallen for it, hadn't he?

Sliding off the side of the car, Lex followed at a discreet distance. His coat flapped behind him, cutting through wet air with each long step. As expected, no one noticed him much. Walking against the grain of traffic, the people pouring out of the warehouse thought he was a cop, and the authorities weren't worried about one of their own casing the edge of the scene. Lex hoped Clark had the sense to get a few blocks away before beating the everliving shit out of Lee. Certainly, there was plenty of chaos as distraction, but there was no point in -trying- to get caught committing a felony.

By the time Lex caught up to them in a distant alley, Clark's lying smile had disappeared. Hanging back, Lex listened to Lee detail the wonderful world of narcotics, complete with prices marked to twice their regular street value, to a Clark who pretended to be desperately interested. From the way Clark pulled his shoulders back, stretching out to stare at him beneath twitching black brows, Lex guessed Lee had about another minute to conduct his bad business practices.

"No, that sounds good, I knew you were the guy to ask," Clark said, stepping back as if to reach for his wallet, then lunged. Meat hit brick. "Because my friend Chloe said you could hook me up."

Lee gurgled something between a denial and an apology, and Clark pulled him back just to crack his head against the wall again. And again. And again. After second strike, Lex stopped smiling. After the third, he stopped watching and started to move. Under cover of inky darkness and blurring rain, he approached, wincing when Clark grabbed Lee by the shirt and spun him around to crash against the dumpster. Lee wasn't moving anymore, not voluntarily. His head rolled on a rubber neck, only in motion because Clark still hadn't stopped hitting him, because Clark still didn't realize...

The decision was made in a split second. Pulling the Glock from its holster, Lex raised his arm, exhaled a breath, and fired. Bone and flesh disintegrated, and a brain poisoned enough to drug high school girls too trusting for their own good splashed against already-bloodied brick. -Thatsnapped Clark out of it, his pale eyes going wide with shock. A heave shuddered through him, but he finally let go, windmilling backwards to watch what was left of Lee crumple to the ground in a graceless heap.

"Don't throw up," Lex ordered, shoving the gun in his pocket and grabbing Clark by the arm. Dragging him away, deeper into the city, Lex didn't want him to think too long about this. Clark hadn't known Lee was already dead when he fired, and if Lex had his way, he never would.

-

Flattened against rough brick, Clark tried not to think. Not about the antimony acrid scent clinging to his skin, or the chill of cold rain trying to wash the dirty streets clean again. If he closed his eyes, it felt almost normal to have Lex's hand curved against his throat, Lex's body taut against him, Lex's tongue in his mouth. A kiss, hot and slick, completely insane, and rainwater washing away the taste of him before it ever got a chance to linger. He had to be imagining the copper penny bite of blood on Lex's mouth, and suddenly Clark understood- really understood- Lady MacBeth. Even so, this was almost normal. Pretty much anything was almost normal, now.

They had run forever, it seemed, until Clark finally gave up and flung himself against a dirty wall to cry. Lex had been discarding pieces of the gun along the way, and each time Clark heard a piece of metal skitter across concrete, his skin crawled. When he closed his eyes, he could see Lee's head disappearing in a spray of red haze, over and over again. This was not how Saturday was supposed to turn out, this was not how any day, ever, should turn out. He must have been babbling, he knew his mind was screaming in a hysterical cacophony, but he finally shut up when Lex kissed him.

Pushing weak hands against Lex's chest, he turned his head to look away, toward where they were running instead of back, because he was afraid, even at this distance, that he'd see what they'd left behind. Brick caught his shirt as he slid down the wall. "Jesus, Lex. Oh God."

"Shhh." Lex paced a short strip of ground, digging his cellphone from his coat. Dialing with his thumb, he sounded cool as ever, reporting his car stolen. He hung up, hesitated, then started to dial again. When Clark murmured his name, a question, begging for an explanation, he only held up a hand and murmured another hush. Whoever he was calling answered, and suddenly Lex was smiling. Smiling and laughing, making conversation with someone named Lila.

"I didn't see you there," Lex purred, turning to pace back over his steps again. Rain dripped off his hat, and for the first time since Clark pulled him out of the river, he looked something less than collected. But his voice, his voice was just fine. "You should have stopped by, I have a new toy. No, I didn't fuck him. Well, not at the opera anyway." He glanced over at Clark with a grim smile, shaking his head. "You're not his type, Lila. Now, if you grew a dick..."

Sick, Clark was going to be sick, a humiliated hot flush crawling on cold skin, sour bile rising up in the back of his throat. Lex had gone insane. That was the only explanation for this, for the fact that he was sitting in a murky puddle, freezing, listening to Lex talk about... fucking him at some imaginary opera, and jesus christ, they'd... he'd... there was a murder, and they'd done it. Clark had never thrown up before, and he was startled by the way his entire body shuddered with it, divorced from balance and thought.

On his feet again, Clark circled around Lex, on the verge of yanking the cell phone out of his hand when he finally hung up. "What are you doing?!"

"I need an alibi, Clark." He said it so easily, like it was - normal-. "Lila has the biggest mouth in Metropolis, by tomorrow morning, my escapades at the opera will be fact. I might even make the papers. Dad'll like that."

There had been times when Clark was afraid Lex would get too close to his secrets, but until that moment, he'd never been afraid of Lex. His familiar face, his soothing voice, but this was someone Clark didn't know at all, because he couldn't believe how natural Lex sounded trying to cover up a murder. Like he'd planned for it, just a footnote in a long list of dangerous Luthor games. "We have to go to the police. I'll tell them it was an accident, Lex. They'll believe me."

Lex's gaze never wavered. "You have gunpowder on your hands."

"But I can explain that." Clark didn't sound as convinced as he wanted to, glancing down at his hands, as if he could see the damning evidence.

"You have blood on your clothes."

And he did, a fine mist of red spattered on white cotton, and briefly, hysterically, he wondered if red was anybody's gang color. Slowly raising his head, Clark licked the rain from his own upper lip, trying to think of a reasonable explanation (lie) for the blood. "I live on a farm. Maybe... maybe I helped my dad slaughter a sheep or something."

"You want to bring your parents into this?" Taking Clark by the arm again, Lex nudged him back to walking. "Look, Clark. You don't deserve to go to prison, and I don't want to. This way, I'm the only one who has to lie."

Emerging from the alley onto a regular street, Clark blinked up at the hazy halogen lights above, his insides hot and dry, his skin cold and indelibly stained with something he knew he could never wash away. Lex was making sense, he always made sense, but he was wrong. They both deserved to go to prison, but Clark didn't say it. Not out loud, because this was all his fault. Lex never would have been in Metropolis today if it weren't for him. Weak, and empty, Clark just followed as Lex led, climbing into a cab when directed to, climbing back out of it when it stopped in front of Leyte Heights.

The man in the elevator was gone, so Lex pulled out his keys to start the long ride toward the penthouse. Clark only dared occasional glances over at him, ill at ease in this deliberate silence. Between floors 24 and 26, Lex took off the hat and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. His lips, his lashes trembled faintly, something terrible and human happening beneath his pale milk skin. Just past floor 42, Lex turned toward Clark, looking up at him with a funeral director's smile, wan and neutral. "How does it feel to know this is the last time you'll ever speak to me, Clark?"

"Lex, I won't tell." Clark had made enough promises for him today, it was the least he could do to make one to him.

"And I appreciate that, but we won't be friends anymore." Prosaic again, settling into eerie calm, Lex slipped his hands into his pockets, and took a step back. "You won't ever be able to look at me and not see what happened tonight. So, as a friend, I'm going to ask you not to try."

Clark felt like he'd been kicked in the chest, a dull ache spreading out to fill the space left by a breath he couldn't take. Some things just -were-. The sun rose in the east. Maple trees turned their leaves over to greet the rain. Lex was his friend. Even now, no matter what; Clark spread his hands, a futile, pleading gesture. "Lex, please..."

"Don't come by. Don't call." The elevator sighed, falling slightly to stop on Lex's floor. Stepping out, Lex didn't look back, and his posture made it plain he was not inviting Clark inside. "I'll send Chloe down, my driver will take you home."

Broken, Clark slumped against the back wall of the elevator. Ten hours ago, he and Pete had been reading comic books. As far as he knew, Chloe was still fine. Lex was tagging shots at a picture of his dad. Everything was close to right, and everything that didn't have to play out the way it had. Clark would give anything to start over again at dawn. Swallowing hard, Clark managed to creak a single question. "Why?"

"You can already destroy me," Lex replied, watching Clark in the glass balcony, keeping his back to him. "So I suppose I have nothing left to lose now. I love you, Clark. That's why." He seemed to shrink with the admission, but not enough to keep him from walking away, down the hall, to fade from sight. Only his voice lingered. "Wait in the lobby, Chloe will be down shortly."

-

Lex,

You asked me not to come by or call, but you didn't say anything about writing letters. If you don't want those either, I guess you can burn it or something. I thought you'd want to know that Chloe's doing okay. She's not the same, but she says she hasn't cried for a couple of weeks now, so that's progress. You were right, she needs a friend. She probably needs more than one, but I don't think she'll ever tell anybody else what happened.

Pretty big mystery going on in Metropolis, have you read about it? There was a story about it again this morning, the police have been questioning 'known career criminals,' because the coroner says this guy was beaten to death, and then shot in the face to make it harder to identify the body. Looks like it worked, because they still don't know who he is.

Anyway, everything else is pretty normal. Working in the garden with mom, working in the field with dad, going to school, the usual. We've been learning about the Cold War at school. Mr. Lahti keeps making jokes about how he used to teach this section as current events, and I know you like ancient history, but I'm kind of interested in this mutually assured destruction idea. It doesn't seem like it should make sense, but it really does.

I lied, Lex. Every day after that day on the bridge, I lied, because you did hit me. And I tore the roof off the car to pull you out. I didn't think about stuff like evidence and alibis then, but I'm glad I didn't. There's other stuff, but you're smart enough, you can probably work the rest out on your own.

I wish you'd come home. People miss you.

Clark



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