The Dragon Dances at Midnight

by Amanda

Thanks to Miss Windy for the mini-beta. She only read one scene, so the rest of the mistakes are mine. Also, thanks to Eric, my inspiration, resident expert, and pain in my ass (in a loving way). Also, for those interested in continuity, this story takes place between "Nicodemus" and "Stray." Any questions can be emailed to me, or check my lj ( for some general comments.

"Clark, man, clear your calendar for Saturday night."

"Why? What's going on?"

"The biggest party of the year, no, the century, and guess where it's gonna be at?"

Clark sighed, "Pete, just spill it already."

"Mike and his roommate are too poor to go anywhere for spring break, so they're just gonna chill here and maybe go up to Metropolis for a few days. Mom and Dad are leaving Thursday for a conference in Gotham, so..."

"You guys are throwing the 'party of the century,'" Clark finished, still unimpressed.

"Man, this party is gonna be a legend! Scott's bringing his best bong, and Mike's already talked to his old football buddies about chipping in for a keg." Pete's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "And Jed Carver's promised to pinch some of his brother's stash. It's supposed to be the best in the state--sells for top dollar in Metropolis."

Clark stared at him. "Pete, what my parents did to me after I had that party was bad enough and I didn't even have any alcohol! If you get caught, you're dead. Worse than dead."

"Who's worse than dead?" Without warning, Chloe popped up beside them.

"Pete, if his parents catch him having a party with alcohol and marijuana while they're out of town."

Chloe grinned at Pete. "You really are a glutton for punishment, aren't you? So when is this incredible night of drunken debauchery taking place?"

"This Saturday. You're coming, right?"

"Would I miss watching you the two of you shake and bake all night? Never!" she laughed. "Clark, you're so klutzy now that alcohol may actually improve your coordination."

Clark glared at her. "Thanks for the compliment, Chloe."

"Anytime." She looked at her watch. "Torch meeting in ten, and be on time for this one, all right?" She headed down the hall to her locker.

Clark turned back to Pete. "You know how bad this'll be if you get caught."

"And you know how great this'll be for my rep. Come on, Clark! Don't be such a drag."

By lunchtime it looked like Pete's "rep" was already as good as it could get. He was swamped by seniors, jocks, and beautiful girls, all clamoring for details about this fantastic party. Clark and Chloe could barely get near him.

"Already blinded by the light of popularity," Chloe sighed. "How quickly they forget the little people."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Don't you think you're being a little overdramatic?"

"I'm serious, Clark. If given the chance to go from insignificant newspaper geek to studmaster of Smallville High overnight, wouldn't you take it?"

Clark tried to choke back a laugh. "Studmaster? Chloe, how much time do you spend with Pete?"

Chloe looked pointedly at Lana and Whitney, who were taking brightly colored flyers from Pete's backpack and handing them out to the crowd. Clark followed her gaze. "Answer the question, Clark. Benchwarmer or star quarterback?"

Clark said nothing.

"You *can't* be serious."

"We need another keg! There's gonna be, like, at least twice as many people as I thought. I mean, how was I supposed to know that practically the entire student body would want to come?"

"Gee, maybe if you hadn't handed out flyers to the entire student body, you wouldn't have this problem."

"I didn't think it was actually gonna work!"

"You're really serious about the money, aren't you?"

"It's not a party without beer, and if my friends drink all of Mike's friends' beer, I'm the one who gets killed. So I need the money for another keg."

"And who do you think's gonna sell you a keg, short stuff?"

"Who are you callin' short stuff, redneck?"

"God, you two, knock it off!" Chloe moved in front of Pete, blocking him from having a clear shot at Clark's face. "What is wrong with you guys?"

"Mr. Popularity here is attempting extortion," Clark growled, thrusting a flyer at Chloe.

"Extortion? Extort this, farmboy!" Pete lunged forward, but Chloe held him back.

"It is pretty presumptuous," Chloe conceded, "but kegs aren't cheap. And if you know you're going to drink it, you should have to pay for it."

"See!" Pete retorted triumphantly.

"Pete, I am not paying you ten bucks just for the privilege of walking through your front door!"

"Then have fun sittin' on the front steps all night, 'cause I'm not lettin' you in 'til you show me the money!"

"You're supposed to be my best friend, Pete!"

"Would you listen to yourselves?" blurted Chloe, her voice rising. "This is utterly and completely pointless. Clark, just give him the ten bucks and stop being such a child!" She turned on Pete. "And you! We're supposed to be your friends, so start treating us like it!"

Clark rolled his eyes and pulled two rumpled five-dollar bills out of his wallet. Pete snatched them roughly out of his hand. They glared at one another. Chloe let out an exasperated sigh. "There. Now quit arguing and work or take it outside." She sat down at her laptop and started typing away noisily.

"Pete, I ain't not buyin' you and your little rugrat friends a keg so you can destroy the house! *I'm* the one who gonna get the shit from Mom and Dad about this party, not you."

"Come on, Mike! This party's already sealed my rep for the next four years! You gotta help me out, man, you're my big brother!"

Scott looked up from the kitchen table where he was polishing his electric-blue bong. "Mikey, give the kid a break." He stood up and held his hand out to Pete. "Gimme the money, I got it."

Pete's face lit up. "Thanks, man. I totally owe you one."

Scott waved it off. "No problem, dude." He grinned. "I remember high school. Fucking bitch, ain't it?" He punched Pete on the shoulder.

Scott headed out to his car, and Mike looked sharply at Pete. "Here's the deal. You and your little friends stay out of our way, out of our keg, and whatever you do, *don't break the fucking bong*. That's the best one we got, so you take your hit and get the hell out."

"All right, all right. Jesus, man! What's your problem?"

"You blow this, we're in deeper shit than you can possibly imagine. You wanna spend the rest a' high school in juvie?" Pete shook his head. "Then you gotta keep it under control no matta' what. Understand?"

"I got it! Come on, I'm your brother. Trust me!"

"Yeah, I trusted you the time you burned a hole in the carpet with the chemistry set. I trusted you the time you broke Gramma's antique mirror playin' football in the house. I trusted you the time you tried to sneak out the house that Halloween you was grounded and broke your arm fallin' outta the tree out front."

"I'm not a little kid anymore! I'm practically sixteen."

"But you still my little brother, and it's still my job to keep your ass outta trouble." Mike grabbed Pete and put him in a headlock. Pete laughed and tried to kick him.

Clark and Chloe could already hear the music coming from Pete's house as Chloe parked her car a half-block away from Pete's house. As they neared it, they could hear guys shouting and laughing. "God, he wasn't kidding, was he?"

It was so crowded they could barely even step through Pete's front door. In the living room a crush of bodies was moving to the deafening beat of some rap song. Clark and Chloe squeezed through the crowd and escaped to the kitchen, where half the football team was engaging in a massive game of quarters.

"Hey guys, down here!" Pete's disembodied voice just barely carried up the basement steps.

Descending the stairs, Clark and Chloe found themselves in a stoner's paradise. All the lights in the rec room had been replaced with blacklights, and the cloud of marijuana smoke emanating from the shimmering blue bong was almost palpable. Two obviously wasted girls were over in the corner trying to figure out how to work the stereo, and a bunch of guys in rock band t-shirts were debating the existence of God.

"Isn't this great?" Pete was smiling so hard that Clark briefly wondered if, in fact, everybody's parents were right and one's face could freeze that way. Pete surveyed the room. "This is where it's at." A willowy girl with curly black hair and a red sequined halter swept gracefully down the stairs and handed Pete a beer. "Thanks, babe," he said, subtly squeezing her ass as she went by. She turned and grinned flirtatiously at him, her hair dancing on her shoulders. "Now that's what *I'm* talkin' about."

Chloe rolled her eyes. "That's classy, Pete. You're a real paragon of maturity."

"Think if we get her drunk enough she'll forget to be sarcastic?" Pete addressed the comment to Clark while glaring pointedly at Chloe.

"She's driving, Pete."

"That is so lame, man! You know you can stay here tonight! So come on, I'll show you where the keg is."

Pete led them through a doorway into... "The laundry room?"

He shrugged. "Mike and Scott pretty much took over the upstairs." He set his own drink down and poured one each for Clark and Chloe.

Clark looked suspiciously at his. He'd never had alcohol before, and he had no idea whether it would affect him or not. He took a cautious sip. It was sour and kind of bitter. 'Guess you just have to get used to it,' he thought to himself. He let Pete and Chloe lead him back to the rec room.

"So, y'know, the thing about Christianity is that Jesus was all about peace and love and stuff, and then you have these people who go out and kill people an' shit in His name."

"Yeah, yeah," the guy in the Slipknot shirt agreed. "I mean, look at all the shit that went down during the Crusades. It's all the same God they were fighting for, they just call Him different names. So what's wrong with sharing?"

"Yeah, sharing! Like in kindergarten."

"So if they had all just gone to kindergarten and learned how to share, there wouldn't be any more war!" They all laughed.

"Kindergarten was so fucking stupid, though. Trace your hand and make it into a turkey for Thanksgiving and stupid shit like that. What about people who don't celebrate Thanksgiving?"

"Who doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, dumbass?"

"The Indians!"

"Yeah, 'cause there were so many Indians in kindergarten."

Clark rolled his eyes and turned to Pete. "Is this supposed to be fun?"

"Man, what's your problem?" Pete asked loudly, and Clark could tell that Pete was already fairly drunk.

Clark shook his head. "Nothing." He got up and went upstairs to look for Chloe.

It took a while, but Clark finally found Chloe in the living room, sitting on the couch with Lana, who looked upset.

Clark sat down beside them. "Hey, guys, what's going on?" he asked, concerned.

"It's Whitney," Lana explained. "I know he's upset about his dad, but I wish he would talk to me instead of just coming here and getting plastered."

"And I was telling her," Chloe added in a slightly slurred voice, "that she just needs to relax a little!" She giggled and took another swig of her beer.

"Chloe, how many of those have you had?"

"Only two," she replied indignantly. "Mike was nice enough to provide Coke for the teetall...teeloh...people who don't drink."

"Yeah, but there's rum in it," Lana whispered in Clark's ear. "And she had two of those, too."

"Hey, no secrets! We're all friends, right?" Chloe exclaimed, putting her arm around Lana's shoulders. "Come on. You two need to learn how to party." She got up and tried to pull Lana up from the couch, but only succeeded in falling on her ass. "Oops," she giggled.

Clark jumped up and scooped Chloe up off the floor. "You okay?"

"I'm fine, Clark," she said, jerking away from him. "I can take care of myself." Staggering, she started toward the kitchen. "Now, are you coming or are you just gonna sit there like bumps on a log all night?"

Lana gave him a pleading look, but Clark had already started to follow Chloe. Lana sighed and got up.

The basement steps were narrow and uneven, and Clark was terrified that Chloe would stumble and fall down headfirst, but she managed to get down safely without any assistance. Clark let out a sigh of relief.

"Chloe!" Pete yelled, rushing over and hugging her. "Where you been, girl? You missin' all the fun!"

"I had to get these two wallflowers to get off their asses and join the party!" Chloe answered, glaring at Clark and Lana.

"You just in time, guys. Jed just came in with the good stuff." Pete gestured to the bong, which was still glowing vividly in the black light. "Come on, Clark. You gotta try this shit. I mean, even your friend Lex--" Pete glowered at Clark as he said this--"prolly can't get shit like this." He knelt down in front of the bong and grasped one of the clear plastic tubes. "Get ready to have your mind expanded, my friend," he said as he took a deep pull.

Lana looked dubiously at Clark. He smiled halfheartedly at her and sat down on the other side of Pete. Cautiously, he raised the tube to his lips and inhaled deeply. His head spun, and before he could say anything, the edges of his vision darkened and he found himself drifting into a warm, fuzzy blackness.

The pain was the first thing he noticed. His head throbbed; his arms and legs were on fire. He struggled to open his eyes before he realized that he was blindfolded. As he crept closer to consciousness, he heard ragged, desperate breathing and it took him a moment to realize that it was his own. He tried to cry out, but his cottony mouth and parched throat betrayed him. He couldn't see, move, or speak. He didn't know where he was or why, and he didn't care. He just wanted the pain to go away.

He didn't know how long he stayed there before he heard the voice. "You lied to me."


The slap seemed to resonate through Clark's entire body. A lightning bolt of pain shot through his skull, and he whimpered, his voice weak and pathetic.

"You've been lying since I met you. And I almost trusted you."


Another slap. "No, please," Clark gasped.

"Do you know what happens to people who betray my trust?"


Pure fire lanced across Clark's back. He flinched away from the pain, pulling sharply against the restraints. Another blow landed. "Stop," he begged weakly, to no avail. The strikes came faster and harder. Clark's body jolted as though he were being electrocuted. The pain in his wrists and ankles intensified as he unwittingly fought harder and harder against the restraints.

"Are you ready to tell the truth now?"

"W-what do you want?"

The weapon had changed. The blows were harder, more intense. "I want the truth!" Lex roared.

"Just stop. Please," Clark's voice cracked. Tears slipped out from under the blindfold.

"You want me to stop?" Clark, braced for impact, shuddered when he felt a light, sensual touch on his stomach. As weak as he was, he could still feel himself getting hard. It didn't go unnoticed.

"You're not ready to stop." Lex pulled back Clark's foreskin and gently teased the tip of his cock before sliding his hand down the shaft to cup Clark's balls.

"No, please...not like this..."

"Not like what?" Lex jerked Clark's cock roughly. "Not like this?" He raked his thumbnail over the tip, and the pain shot straight through Clark's groin. Clark groaned.

"Oh, you like this," Lex assured him. He jacked Clark's cock lazily a few times, then moved away. Clark heard metal scrape metal, and suddenly his arms were no longer stretched above his head. He sighed in relief as some of the pressure on his wrists eased, then cried out as he was shoved roughly to his knees on the concrete floor. "Yeah, you'll like this a lot."

Without warning Lex thrust himself into Clark. Clark screamed as Lex pounded into him so hard he landed flat on his face. Lex pounced on him, drilling him into the floor as Clark moaned in pain and terror. Clark shuddered as he felt the warmth of Lex's orgasm. The pressure on his back lessened, but he didn't realize that Lex had stood up until Lex kicked him in the jaw.

"Are you ready yet?"

"Lex, I don't have what you want!"

"Oh, I beg to differ." Lex's fingers brushed the back of Clark's scalp. The blindfold fell away, and for the first time Clark could see the restraints that held him. They were just regular metal handcuffs--except for the glowing green stones that were embedded at random intervals. Green veins lined his skin and his swollen wrists were covered in blood and green-tinged bruises.

"All I want is the truth. Why are you the color of a Christmas tree, Clark?"


"Liar!" Another intense series of blows across his back. Clark didn't even bother to hold back the tears anymore.

"Lex, stop!"

"I'll stop when you tell me the truth."

"I am!"

Lex rolled Clark over with his foot, and for the first time Clark saw the expression on Lex's face. His eyes were cold and angry, but his mouth turned up in just the slightest hint of a grin. He was enjoying this.

"Lex, no...I can't...please, let me go!"

"The truth will set you free, Clark. Not me." Lex turned and walked away, out of Clark's line of sight. Clark couldn't hold himself back anymore. He began to sob.

Lex swept into the room with practiced grace. "I think he's ready, Doctor."

Dr. Hamilton looked up from the microscopic slide that was currently monopolizing his attention. Lex sidled up to him and showed him an exotic-looking knife with a green blade. The blade seemed to draw what little light filled the room straight to itself, not only reflecting it but seeming to magnify it as well.

Lex took Hamilton's hand and gently slipped the knife's handle into the palm, brushing his smooth fingers over Hamilton's rock-roughened skin. "Feel that?" he asked in a half-whisper. "You hold the future in your hands."

"You handle the future," Hamilton retorted. "I handle the details."

"You underestimate yourself, Doctor." Lex took a step back, appraising the lab's specimens and equipment satisfactorily. "This is more than mere details." He moved behind Hamilton, standing so close that Hamilton could feel the heated breath on his neck. "Details are fragments. This is no fragment. This is the big picture." His voice dropped dramatically. "History will be made in this room tonight. Are you ready to take your place in it?"

Hamilton drew back, eyes flashing. "This is not a game, Lex!"

"I'd never dare suggest it was."

"This is the culmination of years of research. Research that I devoted my entire life to, that made me the laughingstock of the academic community! This is science at its essence." Hamilton looked at Lex with a fury that seemed to crackle in the air like electricity. "This is not one of your bullshit corporate games. You can exploit the resulting findings to your heart's content, but you will not insult my professional or personal integrity!"

"Easy, Doctor," Lex put his hand on Hamilton's shoulder, and Hamilton barely resisted the urge to wrench himself free. "There's no need for hostility. This is a team effort." He leaned closer, until his chin was only millimeters away from resting on Hamilton's shoulder, and his hand drifted down Hamilton's arm. "I'm on your side." His velvet voice sent shivers up Hamilton's spine.

"I'd hate to see what would happen if you weren't."

The corners of Lex's mouth turned up in an amused smirk. He cocked his head toward the doorway. "I think you know."

Hamilton turned to face him. "If that's how you treat your enemies, what do you do differently with friends?"

Lex's hand slipped into Hamilton's back pocket. "I use lube."

The footsteps jarred Clark from his semiconscious haze. Lex strode into the dimly lit room, shadows dancing menacingly on his pale, porcelain skin.

"I want the truth, Clark."

Clark didn't have the strength left to say anything. Lex kicked him. "I mean it, Clark!"

"No," gasped Clark. "P-please..." He braced himself for another kick, but it wasn't forthcoming. To his surprise, Lex knelt down next to him.

"I guess I have no choice, then," he said softly, releasing the meteor-rock-laden chain that bound Clark to the floor. "I'll just have to find out for myself."

"Clark, man, what's wrong?" asked Pete loudly, shaking Clark's shoulder. Clark was sprawled out on the floor, his eyes open but glazed. His skin was pale and glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, and he was trembling.

"Clark? Come on, man!"

Chloe stumbled over, falling to her knees beside Clark. "What's his problem?"

"I dunno," Pete replied. "He's just layin' there."

Chloe attempted to slap him across the face, but she missed and hit his neck instead. She giggled. "Oops, sorry."

Lana was just returning from the kitchen when she saw Pete and Chloe kneeling next to an apparently unconscious Clark. She rushed to his side. "What happened?" she gasped.

"Dunno," Pete answered, his voice thick. "He just took a hit and fell over."

"We have to call an ambulance!" She tried to jump up, but Pete grabbed her arm.

"Are you crazy? With all the shit we got here? No fuckin' way! No cops!"

"Pete, look at him! He needs help!"

"You ain't callin' no cops, bitch! You ain't puttin' me an' my brother away!"

"Yeah!" Chloe threw herself protectively in front of Pete, landing in his lap. "Don' call the cops on us. He'll be okay, right Petey?"

Lana looked down at Clark, sweating and shivering, and back to Chloe and Pete, who were drunk and stoned off their asses, respectively. Pete had a point. If she called 911, Pete and Mike would be in major trouble. But if she didn't...

"We have to do something!" she cried desperately.

"I know," slurred Chloe, trying and failing to sit up. "Who knows more about drugs than anyone in Smallville? Lex! He'll help us."

Pete shoved Chloe off his lap. "That bastard don't help anyone but hisself! He ain't gonna do nothin'."

Lana helped Chloe sit up. "No, she's right. Chloe, where's your cell?"

"Ummm...I think issin' my car."

"Okay, then give me your keys."

Chloe tried to reach into her jacket pocket, but she couldn't. Lana leaned over and took the keys from Chloe's jacket herself. Chloe giggled. "Lana!"

Lana rolled her eyes and ran upstairs and out the front door. She glanced up and down the dark street, wondering where Chloe had parked. She squinted off to the right and though she saw Chloe's car about halfway down the block. She ran straight to it, thanking God that she was right. She quickly unlocked the door and grabbed the phone from the dashboard where it had been charging. She dialed Lex's number with trembling fingers. She held her breath as the phone rang once...twice...

"Luthor residence."

"This is Lana Lang. I need to speak to Lex; it's an emergency!" The words tumbled out in such a rush that even Lana could hardly understand them.

"Lana?" Lex sounded annoyed.

"Lex, it's Clark. He's in trouble and he needs your help."

"What happened? Where is he?"

"We're at Pete's. He's having a big party, and Clark was smoking marijuana and just...passed out, or something. Chloe's plastered, Pete's stoned, and I can't call an ambulance or anything. You're the only one who can help."

Silence. Lana drew in a ragged breath, tears filling her wide eyes. "Lex?"

"I'll be right there." <click>

Lana fell back against the car and sank to the ground.

The table glistened under the harsh fluorescent lights. Its cold steel matched Lex's eyes as he inelegantly dropped Clark upon it. Lex had unbound Clark, trading the metal restraints for the softer, less destructive leather straps that dangled from the sides of the table. The whole table was lined underneath with meteor rock, so Lex hadn't had to make the restraints particularly strong.

Hamilton entered the room and Lex smiled, handing him the tray of instruments. "Is there anything else you need, Doctor?"

"No, sir, this should be fine." Hamilton turned the green knife over in his hand, grinning in spite of himself at the anticipation of the greatest discovery of his academic life.

Lex jumped out of the car and yanked Lana off the ground. "Where is he?"

"Inside." She led Lex to the rec room.

Lex gasped when he saw Clark. "You didn't tell me it was this bad." His years of clubbing had provided him with a plethora of knowledge (an appalling amount of it firsthand) about bad trips, but this was unlike anything he'd seen before.

"Help me get him out to the car," he ordered Lana. Before he could do anything, Pete jumped up and shoved him away. "Keep your hands off him, you bastard!"

Lex fixed his steely gaze on the obviously stoned teen, clenching his jaw. "If I don't get him out of here, he could die."

"An' if you don' get the fuck outta my house, Luthor, *you're* gonna die!" Pete lunged at him, but Lana held him back.

"Stop it!" she screamed, her voice quavering. She knelt beside Clark and put her arm around his shoulder. "Lex, help me."

Lex scowled at Pete, then obeyed. The two of them struggled to get Clark off the floor. "There's an alley behind the house," Lana gasped, nearly breathless from the effort. "Get him to the back door, and bring the car around." Lex nodded.

Lex and Lana carefully lowered Clark down onto the grass in the backyard. "I'll go grab the blanket from Whitney's truck," Lana offered. Lex nodded and took off in the direction of his car.

Lana spread the blanket out beside Clark and had Lex help her roll Clark onto it. "It acts like a stretcher," she explained as they lifted the blanket and half-dragged Clark to Lex's car. Lana settled him in the backseat, cradling his head in her lap. Lex shoved the transmission into gear and they sped off towards the castle. Lana prayed it would be fast enough.

The click of the tape recorder echoed loudly through the room. "Proceed, Doctor," instructed Lex.

Dr. Hamilton took a deep breath. He placed the point of the knife at the top of Clark's sternum and began to cut.

Clark howled, a frighteningly primal sound. Lana gasped in horror at the blood soaking through Clark's shirt. "Lex, hurry!" she shrieked, her chest tightening with fear.

Lex screeched to stop inside the castle gates and threw open the car door. He choked down the panic that he was feeling, tried to project confidence and control for Lana's sake if not his own. "Get him inside," he commanded gruffly, pulling him out of the car.

They managed to drag him to the study. Lex rushed to the kitchen, coming back with two bottles of water and a towel. He ripped a few buttons off Clark's shirt in his haste to remove it. "How did he get cut?"

"I don't know!" cried Lana. "He just started bleeding!"

He handed her the towel. "Keep pressure on it." He opened one of the bottles of water and lifted Clark's head, pouring a tiny bit into Clark's mouth. He tipped Clark's head back and put his hand on Clark's throat, feeling for the muscle contractions that would indicate whether or not he was still able to swallow. The action was weak, but it was present. He gave Clark a little more water.

Lana looked at him questioningly. "What are you doing?"

"We have to remove the toxins from his system. Since I don't have IV equipment here, this is the only way." He helped Clark take another sip from the blue bottle.

Clark felt better. He wasn't as cold, and he didn't feel so pervasively weak. Unfortunately, that did nothing to improve his current situation. He was tied to a lab table, and Hamilton was cutting him open, examining him, while Lex stood by and dictated notes. It was his worst nightmare, and Clark wished desperately that it were only a nightmare. But nightmares didn't hurt.

"Examination of subject's chest cavity reveals no overt abnormalities with the exception of green blood, which will be examined in detail at a later time. Structure and situation of the organs seem comparable to those of humans."

Hamilton extended the incision, ending it just above Clark's crotch. Clark gritted his teeth against the pain, but noticed that it didn't seem as severe as it had just minutes before. He hoped that was a good sign, but he wasn't counting on it.

"I don't get it! Where's all this goddamn blood coming from?" Lex growled, exasperated. "More pressure. We have to get this under control."

Lana's arms ached from the seemingly futile effort. Tears were streaming unnoticed down her face. Why wasn't it working? What was wrong with him?

Lex helped Clark finish off the first bottle of water and tossed it aside. He gently laid Clark's head back on the floor as he opened the other bottle. He knelt next to Clark and brushed his hand across Clark's forehead. "Clark, are you with us? Say something, Clark. Please?" Nothing.

Clark could hear something. It wasn't just Lex's constant stream of observations and instructions. It wasn't a voice at all, in the traditional sense. But something was tugging at his mind, trying to pull him away from all this. He could feel concern bordering on fear, horror bordering on hysteria. And underneath it

He tried to latch onto it, grasping at the thin, intangible thread of hope that he would get out of this alive. In his mind's eye he imagined climbing the rope in gym class. He tried to climb towards this feeling, this force that he blindly believed could save him from this nightmare.

Clark's eyelids fluttered. It was barely perceptible, but Lex's finely honed scientific eye caught it. "Clark! Clark! Stay with me!" He looked deeply into the boy's eyes, searching for signs of consciousness. "Clark!"

"Doctor, what's happening?"

"The tissue damage is repairing itself!" Hamilton was stunned. "The body is becoming stronger, but..." he turned his attention to the boy's face and the brainwave monitor, "we're losing him. He's edging dangerously close to brain death."

"What the hell? That's not how it works!"

Hamilton gestured to the monitor. "See for yourself." He turned back to the incision, the deepest parts of which were beginning to knit together. "This is unbelievable. It goes completely against basic survival principle! What purpose does a healthy living body serve without a brain to control it?"

Lana glanced worriedly at Lex. "It's not working, is it?"

"We're going to get him back," Lex replied without the slightest hint of doubt. Lex looked into Clark's eyes again. "Come on, Clark," he said, his voice barely audible. "You can do this."

Clark's eyelids fluttered again, and he moaned softly. Lex let out a huge sigh of relief. "Clark? Clark, say something," he begged, shaking Clark's shoulder gently.

Clark stirred. His lips parted, and he took an audibly pained breath. "Lex?"

The monitor screamed, announcing to all and sundry that Clark Kent's brain had official ceased to function. "No!" screamed Lex. "We did not come this far just to lose it all now!" He glared at Hamilton, but a deep undercurrent of anxiety was visible under the anger. "Do something!"

"There's nothing I can do!" Hamilton shouted back. "There's no such thing as CPR for the brain! What do you want, Lex? There's no reason not to continue the examination; the body is intact and still functioning at acceptable levels."

"But the plan is worthless without his knowledge!" Lex knocked over a table in his rage. "This wasn't supposed to happen! He wasn't supposed to die!"

"Clark, thank God. Stay with me, okay?"


Lex looked up at Lana with only the barest hint of a smile on his face, but his eyes betrayed his relief and delight. "Keep him talking. I need to check the wound."

Lana took Clark's hand and smiled at him. "You had us worried, Clark."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be," she replied. "You're all right now, that's all that matters."

Lex gasped. Lana froze. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he answered incredulously. He lifted the towel to reveal an utterly unmarred expanse of lightly tanned skin. "Absolutely nothing." He shook his head. "It must have been sweat mixing with the dye from his shirt. We just automatically jumped to the worst possible conclusion."

He tossed the towel aside. "Clark, do you think you can get up?"

Clark tried to push himself up, but his arms were like limp noodles. He shook his head and Lex and Lana immediately scooped him up and helped him to the couch. Clark sank into the plush cushions, exhausted. He felt better than he had all night.

"Clark, I'll call your parents and tell them you're staying here tonight. You're in no shape to be moved around. Lana, I can have my driver take you back to the party."

Lana laughed mirthlessly. "I think I've had enough partying for one night. I'm just going to go home and crash." She smiled sympathetically at Clark and squeezed his hand. "I'm just so glad you're okay."

"Me too," he said, managing a weak smile.

She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Feel better," she said sweetly, and headed out of the study.

Lex sat down in a chair opposite Clark. "Your parents aren't thrilled, but they agreed to let you stay the night. Now, do you think you can make it upstairs to bed?"

Clark nodded. "With a little help," he replied, a sly smile gracing his lips.

Lex grinned a little as he slipped his arm around Clark's shoulders, and the two of them made their way up the stairs together. The effort took its toll on Clark, though, and he collapsed heavily on the bed.

Lex helped him strip down to his boxers and t-shirt, and gently pulled the covers up over the younger man. "Do you need anything?" he asked.

Clark shook his head. "Lex, I don't know how to thank you. I saved my life tonight."

"Then I saved both our lives tonight," Lex replied earnestly. "Because I don't know what mine would be without you." He softly brushed his lips against Clark's, and was surprised and quite pleased when Clark returned the kiss. Lex parted his lips and began to explore Clark's mouth with his tongue, tasting cheap beer and marijuana and not caring at all. He entwined his fingers in Clark's sweat-drenched hair, pulling them both further into the kiss, into the connection that had been deepening all night. Without even breaking contact, Lex climbed over Clark and into the bed beside him. Finally, Clark pulled away.

"Lex...I can't...not tonight, I'm sorry--" he trailed off as Lex pressed two fingers to his lips, shushing him.

"I know. You need your rest," Lex agreed. He kicked off his shoes and socks and quickly stripped off his own clothes, settling in beside Clark. "But thanks to each other, we have the rest of our lives."

"Oh, God, what the hell did I do last night?" groaned Chloe, wincing at the sunlight streaming through the basement windows. "I feel like I got hit by a truck."

"Yeah, a Coors truck," retorted Mike as he waded through the wreckage of the rec room to where Pete and Chloe were sprawled out on the floor. "Come on upstairs. We got coffee and aspirin in the kitchen."

"Hey, where's Clark?" asked Pete, surveying the rec room. "When'd he leave?"

Chloe shrugged. "Who knows? I don't even know if I remember that he was here."

"Good point," admitted Pete. "I'll call him later."

The two hungover teens stumbled up the steps and into the kitchen, the past night long forgotten.

Or so they thought.

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