The End of the Beginning

by FayJay

Written for Livia's Bradbury challenge.
Thanks to the PPO folks, and to SA for her Beta.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly the denizens of Smallville belong to a whole host of people who are not even slightly me - DC comics, the WB etc. Don't sue.

The sound of breaking glass pulled Lex Luthor out of a dead sleep. There was a momentary sense of disorientation as he dragged reality back on like Cinderella's slipper and consigned the tangled dream images to whatever recesses of his id had produced them. He could hear his heart beating shockingly loud in the silence that followed the crash and his brain was automatically listing possible scenarios and running through his options, even as he reached for the light switch and blinked in the sudden flood of brightness. The faint recollection of red hair and dreams of falling all melted away as Lex swung his legs out from under the heavy covers and slid open the bedside drawer. His fingers closed over the handle of the 9mm and the knot of tension in his belly eased slightly. He was getting better at this.

Lex sat on the edge of the bed and listened hard. Nothing. He curled his bare toes in the plush surface of the rug and cradled the cool metal of the gun thoughtfully as he considered what to do next. In all probability it was nothing to worry about; just some priceless Sumerian vessel or Macedonian urn left teetering on its stand by the new maid and finally overbalancing in a draft. An irritation, but nothing serious. It had taken him a while to get used to the castle. Old buildings always made noises for no clear reason and his father's grandiose folly was no exception. Lex didn't believe in ghosts, but during his first weeks in Smallville the distant creaks of elderly timber and rattling windows had kept him awake with the sheer unfamiliarity of the place. And that was before he'd been attacked by an invisible servant, or had three violent dropouts walk through his walls.

To think Lex had expected Smallville to be dull.

Still no sound, and Lex was starting to question his senses. Perhaps he had imagined it, the way he'd imagined seeing Clark Kent's startled eyes staring into his own moments before the Porsche veered over the bridge. The way he'd imagined Clark's long limbs windmilling as the kid was smashed into the barrier and then flung out into empty air while Lex's heart had clenched in guilt and incredulity just that fraction of a second too late.

He rose to his feet and padded over to the door, conscious of his pulse thrumming against the handle of the gun and wondering whether he could kill someone in cold blood. Probably. The door gave the faintest of sighs when he opened it. Lex leaned out into the corridor and strained to hear.

The second noise, when it came, was very faint - certainly not enough to wake anyone up. It came from downstairs, he concluded. Near the Great Hall, from the sounds of it.


Lex crossed back over to the bed, plucked his cell phone from its place on the nightstand and thumbed the button. He waited impatiently while it connected to the network, and then thumbed one of the speed dial numbers. The dialling tone purred in his ear.

"Sheriff's office."

"Sheriff Miller? This is Lex Luthor." He spoke quietly, and was pleased to hear how steady his voice was. He didn't sound like a kid alone in a draughty old castle. "Sorry to trouble you so late - yes. No. Sheriff, I have reason to believe that someone is trying to break in to the building right now. Yes. Yes, right away, please. Thank you." He set the phone back on his nightstand and glanced at the clock. 3am. He'd been asleep for just over an hour. The discrepancies in last month's figures were still not wholly resolved and the strategy he'd outlined for retention of their client base wasn't foolproof yet. Lex felt very tired, very young and very, very alone. Nothing new there, but sometimes he just wished - well. No point in that kind of self-indulgence, but he would have liked to get a good night's sleep and wake up to nothing more disturbing than the business of keeping Plant 3 afloat and in the black. That really ought to be more than enough for one twenty-one-year-old to worry about, without a series of ever more bizarre attackers doing him injury on a monthly basis.

Another muffled crash followed by something like a groan. Whoever was downstairs had gotten inside without activating the state-of-the-art security system. For all the use it had been to him so far, Lex might as well have saved LuthorCorp several thousand dollars and simply left the front door wide open for any freaks or villains who happened to have a grudge against him. The safest course would undoubtedly be to stay put and wait for the cavalry.

Lex gave this serious consideration for a full ten seconds and then headed for the door. With some vague notion of looking composed - and because surfaces mattered - he paused to pull on a robe. He slipped the hand holding the 9mm into one pocket and then stepped out into the corridor.


The meteor rocks never ceased to amaze Clark. It seemed like there was nothing they couldn't do, and in his more superstitious moments he wondered whether they were actually magical, because nothing he'd ever learned in science class came close to explaining the mineral's powers. The Wall of Weird was just the tip of the iceberg. Take Mr Joshua Anderson, for example, who was currently nursing a bloody nose and glaring at Clark from the opposite end of the Great Hall. Maybe Chloe would be able to come up with a scientific explanation of why the meteor rocks in his well had enabled him to teleport himself across short distances, but Clark couldn't make sense of it. It was kind of like watching somebody being beamed away by one of those Star Trek transporters, only without the cool wobbly noise. Certainly looked a lot like magic. Only Clark's unnatural agility had enabled him to get any blows in, because as soon as he touched Joshua the guy pulled a disappearing act.

"How did you do that?" asked Joshua petulantly. There was blood on his shirt. "Nobody moves that fast."

"Well, nobody vanishes into thin air either," said Clark as he picked himself up from the floor and fought off a surge of the familiar meteor-induced nausea. Damn. He could hear his father warning him against using his abilities in front of anyone. "Mr Anderson, please don't do this. You need help. You're not thinking straight." He stepped forwards slowly; avoiding the spreading lake of spilled water and the flower-strewn wreckage of the vase he had knocked over a moment before, and tried to look reassuring.

"I need money, that's what I need." Clark swung around as Joshua's voice came from behind him. He was standing by the wall.

"Will you stop doing that? Please?" Clark was fairly sure that if he really used his powers he could move fast enough to knock Mr Anderson unconscious before the man realised he'd started to run; but his head was spinning from having made even fleeting contact with the man's skin. Besides, he felt kind of bad about the idea. Clark could remember the days when his dad and 'Uncle Josh' used to hang out on the porch most every Saturday night, back before Joshua's drinking problem had gotten out of hand. It just didn't seem right to use his powers against the man. Clark couldn't believe he'd just hit Uncle Josh. His mom would flip when she heard.

"What's with you Clark? How did you get close enough to touch me?"

"I - "

"And why do you stick up for this lowlife Luthor all the time?" He pulled one of the large swords down off the wall and looked surprised by its weight. Clark watched with growing concern.

"Mr Anderson -"

"No. No, damn it, he's got this coming. He shouldn't have fired me. I don't have any savings, Clark. Lucille took everything when we divorced. I really needed that job."

Clark squirmed. "I'm sorry, I really am. But you shouldn't blame Lex."

Joshua Anderson looked genuinely surprised. "Who the hell else am I going to blame, Clark? He's the guy that fired me."

"Well, yes, but - "

"No buts, Clark. Look at all this stuff - the kid doesn't understand about having to pay bills. I need money. He has money. And he owes me."

It did sound worryingly logical when he put it like that.

"But stealing's wrong," said Clark firmly. He was going to have to make a dash for it and knock the man unconscious. Maybe later on Dad could talk some sense into him; right now Clark was just concentrating on the immediate issue of keeping Lex safe from Uncle Josh and keeping Uncle Josh out of trouble with the police. He was pretty sure that the effect of the meteor rocks was only temporary; if it wasn't, then Clark had no idea how any cell was supposed to hold him. Still, time to worry about that later.

"Lots of things are wrong. You're a good kid, Clark, but you've got a lot to learn. Life isn't fair. Get used to it." And with that he vanished altogether. Clark blinked and looked around the room with a sinking feeling. Joshua Anderson was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, crap."


The figure condensed out of the ether as Lex watched. It was like seeing a photograph developing, but quicker: first a smudge of colour where no colour should be and then, spreading as swift as one of Clark's familiar blushes, contours filling out and features rising into focus to reveal the prosaic and inexplicable form of Joshua Andrews (Anders? Anderton?), formerly a warehouse employee at LuthorCorp's Smallville plant and currently, it would seem, a freelance housebreaker. The man was standing in the middle of the hallway with an antique sword clasped incongruously in one large hand. Lex's grip on the 9mm tightened, but the scientist in him was entranced, trying to fathom out how Anderton (Anderson? Anderson) could possibly be materialising out of thin air; and meanwhile the businessman was contemplating the potential profits to be gleaned from patenting the process. He had scoured the grounds in vain for Jeff's mysterious green rose and searched high and low for a clue to the composition of the extraordinary tattoo ink; Hamilton was still working on recreating the effects of both, but so far he had come up with nothing. Now here was another unlikely goose with a brand new golden egg.

Somewhere behind both Lex-the-scientist and Lex-the-businessman, Lex-the-21-year-old-alone-in-a-dusty-castle-with-another-angry-Smallville-mutant experienced a rush of nostalgia for the simpler thrills and spills of Metropolis nightlife, where the most a person had to worry about at 3am was being poisoned by a bad supplier, or perhaps attacked by an irate boyfriend. An irate, but quite emphatically non-teleporting, boyfriend. He drew a deep breath.

"Can I help you?" asked Lex smoothly, a calculated lick of wryness in his voice as he stepped forward into the light. Joshua Anderson squinted up the stairs, fixed his gaze on Lex and smiled, before flickering out of view as abruptly as a light being switched off, leaving a fast-fading afterimage in the suddenly empty hallway. Lex blinked. He was already turning when the blade sliced delicately through the top layer of skin at the back of his neck and then stopped, and the unexpected ribbon of pain froze him into place. He waited, maintaining something like composure with difficulty.

"I thought I'd maybe help myself, Mr Luthor." Anderson was a large man; Lex could feel the body heat bleeding into the air an inch or two from his own skin, and there was no avoiding the sudden reek of cheap alcohol and sour sweat. He forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply, and ignored the way the pressure of the metal against his flesh fluctuated in time with Anderson's ragged inhalations. It was perhaps five minutes since he had telephoned the Sheriff's office. He calculated the probable length of time it would take for the police to arrive. Too long.

"What seems to be the problem here, Mr Anderson?" It was Anderson, he was almost sure. Joshua Anderson; the name that had been on Gabe Sullivan's lips far too often in recent weeks. Joshua Anderson: late. Joshua Anderson: absent. Joshua Anderson: drunk. A sad little mantra, which had eventually culminated in Joshua Anderson: fired.

As Anderson started to reply, and his concentration shifted to the business of making demands, or perhaps gloating, Lex moved forward and to one side, pulling the gun out of his pocket as he did so. It snagged briefly on the slippery fabric as he ducked and spun away from the wavering sword, and then he was standing ten feet away with the gun levelled at Mr Anderson's chest and his left hand raised in a placatory gesture. Anderson stared at him, looking more bemused than angry. Lex was conscious of a thin line of blood welling up along his neck; he must, he thought with a breathless trace of merriment, look like a French aristocrat saved from the guillotine just a hair's breadth before decapitation.

"Nobody has to get hurt here, Joshua. We can discuss this like reasonable men, whatever it is. I understand that you're upset." Although the severance package had been more than reasonable, under the circumstances, and it was hardly as if the man hadn't had warnings. Still - the possibilities were endless. "I think that we can help each other."

"You don't - " the man began, lifting the sword in the awkward manner of someone whose experience of naked steel was entirely derived from old movies. Lex backed up until he felt the wall's panelling bump against his bare heel; then he leaned back, comforted by the solidity of the wood against his shoulder blades, and trained the gun steadily on Anderson's chest. The polished oak felt blessedly cool through the Japanese silk.

"I don't want to hurt you, Joshua, and I don't think that you want to hurt me. Not really." Lex listened to himself using the man's first name in a firm but sympathetic tone, just like a cop on a bad TV show; and then realised that he was talking to empty air. Shit. "Joshua?"


"Lex?" Clark's voice sent another jolt of adrenaline through his veins and he lowered the gun tentatively. He didn't waste time on wondering how the hell Clark Kent had gotten inside the castle again without a key, or how he could possibly have known that Lex was in trouble. Right now Lex's main concern was the fact that Clark was six feet something of painfully unprotected teenaged boy; and however impressive his muscles might be, Clark was certain to be wearing cotton, not chain mail. Lex felt physically sick at the thought of metal slicing through tender young flesh and bone.

"Clark? Be careful. There's a man with a sword, and - look, I know this sounds odd, but - somehow he can vanish into thin air."

"I know." Lex blinked. He'd been sure that Clark was in the hallway, but the kid was already practically at the top of the stairs. "He found you? Lex, please don't be mad at him. I know it looks bad, but he's just having a hard time right now. He's kind of confused."

"He's not the only one," said Lex dryly. Clark, he noticed, looked quite disgustingly fresh faced and bouncy, considering that it was the middle of the night. He was wearing the regrettable powder blue sweater - and Lex was quietly appalled to realise that he had memorised the entire contents of Clark Kent's pitiful wardrobe. Still, at least he didn't have a telescope trained on the boy's bedroom. There was no direct line of sight from the castle. He had checked. "Clark, why are you here?"

"Something Chloe said - we figured out it was Mr Anderson behind the practical jokes, although she still doesn't know how he's doing it. But I saw him practicing through the - through a window. Um. And he came to see my Dad tonight and Mom let him sleep on the couch. He was upset about Aunt Lucille. Mrs Anderson. Although she's not Mrs Anderson any more, I guess."

"Clark?" Lex really shouldn't be smiling, because there was still an inebriated mutant with a grudge and a broadsword lurking somewhere close at hand; but it was Clark, in all his disarming Clark-ness, and by this point Lex had developed a thoroughly illogical and positively Pavlovian tendency to feel safer in Clark's presence. Besides, he was always surprised to find that Clark really was just as pretty as he remembered. Possibly prettier. He felt the corner of his mouth twitching.

"Mmm?" Now here was an interesting thing: unless Lex was very much mistaken, Clark Kent was checking him out. Not in any conscious flirtation, to be sure, but Clark's eyes kept darting irresistibly down to the bare strip of skin visible between the open edges of Lex's robe. Lex felt his smile broadening.

"You aren't making any sense," he said, helpfully. Clark glanced back up and the colour rose deliciously across his cheekbones. Fifteen years old, Lex reminded himself with reluctance. Fifteen. And this was Kansas.

"Sorry. I - were you asleep?"

"Clark, it's three o'clock in the morning. In Smallville. Of course I was asleep."

"Oh." The pause grew, and Lex reflected that loose black pyjama pants would do nothing to hide a person's arousal, should a person be foolish enough to find himself alone with a blushing underage Adonis in the early hours of the morning. Just as well Lex wasn't that person.

"Sheriff Miller's on his way over," he said at last. "Do you think you can calm Mr Anderson down? Because I'd really like to talk to him. I don't think he realises how valuable this could be."

Clark stared at him blankly for a moment, and then an odd expression crossed his face. "His powers, you mean?" Lex was nothing if not astute; the stilted voice set off a dozen alarm bells in his head.

"His powers," agreed Lex, carefully. "Clark, think about this for a minute. My God, just imagine the potential here. If we can replicate this process in laboratory conditions the possibilities are endless; and right now what your friend Mr Anderson really needs is to have something going for him. This could make him richer than Midas."

"You, you mean. It could make you rich. Richer." By Clark Kent's standards, this was positively scathing. The atmosphere was growing frosty and Lex felt suddenly very tired. The shine on the golden egg was tarnishing as he watched.

"I'm already richer than Midas, Clark." Although sometimes he got the impression that everything he touched turned to dross. "But yes, this could make me even richer. Is there something wrong with that? Do you think that Mr Anderson could manage better on his own? Because he doesn't look to me like someone who even realises he's on to a good thing, let alone knows how to take advantage of it."

Adoption notwithstanding, Clark's resemblance to Jonathan Kent at this moment was remarkable; a truly compelling argument for the primacy of nurture over nature. The look of bull-headed pugnacity was incongruous on his girlish features; but really, there was nothing girlish about Clark Kent. Except for the eyelashes. And the mouth. Lex squashed the inappropriately unfraternal images that Clark's mouth always conjured up, and felt a wave of disappointment with himself for being so singularly incapable of taking Clark's friendship at face value. Clark's friendship was a cherishable thing; and just because sex was easier to deal with was no damned reason to try to make this just be about sex. The truth, unfortunately, was more complicated.

But he was so - Clark. So impossibly beautiful; and so wholly oblivious to this beauty; like some displaced seraph briefly sojourning in Smallville. Lex was only human, after all. How could it not be about sex? At least in part?

Christ. It was a wonder he hadn't started penning bad verse in Clark's honour. Lionel would laugh himself sick if he knew how far gone Lex was over a wide-eyed redneck kid not yet out of high school; one who was neither legally nor emotionally ready for anything Lex had to offer, even if he might want to be; and one who mattered enough to instil Lex with an uncharacteristic sense of compunction.

"Why does it always have to be about taking advantage?" asked Clark. His clear brow was crumpled into an expression of pure kindergarten disappointment with the world, and looking at it Lex felt unbearably old. The synchronicity of the remark, he reflected, really ought to be amusing; but Lex didn't feel much like laughing.

"Do you really think I'd cheat him, Clark?" He sounded almost dispassionate. Lex would be lying if he claimed that the thought of intellectual property rights hadn't fleetingly crossed his mind, but he wouldn't actually harm the man. It would be unnecessary. Inelegant. Joshua Anderson was no Harry Hardwick, and shooting fish in a barrel was simply no challenge for a Luthor.

"I don't - I - no." Clark looked confused and faintly guilty. "No, of course not. It's just that his gifts are - I mean," Clark stumbled to a halt and stared at Lex. "I mean he's special. His abilities shouldn't be used selfishly."

"Perhaps you should be telling Mr Anderson that," said Lex pointedly. "He seems to be labouring under the impression that this is exactly how they should be used." Clark sagged a little, and had the grace to look embarrassed.

"He's - he's mixed up," said Clark at last. There was another little pause, and it wasn't nearly as pleasant as the last one. "I'm sorry," he added, looking shamefaced. Lex, who was deriving a certain bitter pleasure from his unaccustomed possession of the moral high ground, shot a halfway haughty glance at the teenager and promptly melted at the sight of Clark's pathetically doleful expression. Damn.

"It's okay," he said with reluctant kindness. "He's mixed up. I understand that. But he's also armed with a Jacobean broadsword, Clark. Right now Mr Anderson could be looking at charges of breaking and entering and of assault with a deadly weapon. Or he could calm down and start using his brain - if it hasn't completely atrophied from lack of use - and realise that he could make an obscene amount of money without breaking any law at all. Now are you going to help me find him?"

"Yes." The syllable was uttered in a disarmingly chastened tone, and accompanied by a green gaze through lowered lashes that undid Lex entirely. Clark Kent did contrite very, very well. There were a distracting number of ways Lex could think of for Clark to make it up to him, but sadly none of them were legal in the state of Kansas. Besides, Lex was too damned young to start playing the role of dirty old man.

"Good. But for God's sake stay back, Clark. I know he's a family friend, but he's dangerous."

"Wait - assault with a deadly weapon?" Clark repeated, belatedly. "What? Did he hurt you?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle - but this isn't a joke, Clark. I don't want you getting hurt. I mean it."

Clark's eyes narrowed and he fixed Lex with a searching look. "There's a gun in your pocket," he exclaimed a moment later. Lex's mouth quirked involuntarily.

"Not exactly Mae West, Clark. You need to work on your delivery."

"What? Lex, you have a gun. Somebody could get hurt."

"And yes, you're right. But I'm still happy to see you." He smiled. Clark wouldn't know how to flirt if his life depended on it; it was part of his rustic charm. "Of course I have a gun." Lex produced the weapon for Clark's inspection, automatically careful to point the muzzle away from the boy. "There's a limit to how many times a person is prepared to be attacked before they invest in some protection, Clark. Would you believe I felt safer in Metropolis?"

"I'm sorry." Clark looked inexplicably stricken; he really did have an inflated sense of personal responsibility. It was endearing.

"Don't be ridiculous, Clark. It's certainly not your fault. "

Lex didn't say: 'You saved my life. Repeatedly.'

He didn't say: 'You believe in me.'

He didn't say: 'Don't.'

He smiled.

And then Joshua Anderson materialised out of nothingness, running straight at them with the sword outstretched.

Several things happened at once. Afterwards Lex would replay these seconds in his memory over and over again, but he could never be sure how much conscious thought had gone into the tiny squeeze of his finger on the trigger. He wanted to believe that it had been to protect Clark, and it might very well have been to protect Clark; but it might just as easily have been simple and ignoble fear. Or it might have been nothing more than surprise; just a reflex movement innocent of any intent at all. Whatever impulse it was that flexed his finger, the bullet left the gun before there was any time for second thoughts. The sound shocked Lex just as much as it did Joshua or Clark.

But impossibly, firing at Joshua Anderson at point blank range, Lex missed. Because, inexplicably, Clark Kent was somehow standing in the way; and then Lex felt the impact of a bullet ripping through his own shoulder before his astonished brain had time to process what his eyes were seeing.

The floor felt very hard. Lex watched Joshua Anderson's startled expression dissolving into nothingness as metal fragments scattered through the air, but the receding likelihood of patenting Joshua's new-found ability no longer seemed quite as important as it had only a moment earlier.

He had shot Clark. There was no doubt in Lex's mind that he had shot Clark. Even though Clark had not been in front of him when he fired - and he was perfectly sure that Clark hadn't been there - still, somehow Lex had definitely just shot Clark Kent.

But it seemed that Lex was the one lying crumpled on the floor with his blood spreading across the rug like ink on wet blotting paper. They had used blotting paper and proper fountain pens at school, he remembered. Archaic. Clark undoubtedly used a ballpoint.

The pain in his shoulder was - considerable.

"Lex? Lex, I'm really sorry, I didn't mean - I didn't think - Lex, are you okay? You're bleeding."

"I'm bleeding," Lex agreed, because this at least was inarguably the truth.

"I'm sorry." Clark was on his knees, which was an image that had featured in more than one of Lex's daydreams; but never in quite these circumstances. His skin had taken on a greenish cast and he looked ready to faint. Or throw up. Or possibly both. "I felt sick - I just wasn't fast enough."

"Clark, don't be ridiculous," said Lex sharply. "And if you're going to be sick, may I recommend this rug? It's already stained beyond repair. Mrs Jenkins will have words with me when she comes in tomorrow."

"This is all my fault." Clark was perilously close to tears. For once Lex really could believe his friend was only fifteen years old, physique notwithstanding, and he felt another twinge of guilt for indulging in such graphic daydreams on a regular basis. He was definitely going to burn in hell. Lex mustered up a reassuring smile despite the pain in his shoulder, and knew a sudden and unexpected sympathy with Martha Kent. Clark's overpowering sense of personal responsibility and his determination to see the good in everyone could be exhausting; but it was precisely these qualities that made Lex want to protect him from too much reality. Lex was very much afraid that the world was going to break Clark's heart.

"Don't be melodramatic, Clark. Of course it isn't your fault. The man had a gun." But even as the words left his mouth Lex knew that they weren't true, and he mentally replayed the scene with mounting confusion. It made no sense. There had been no second gun, just an arc of silver metal slicing clumsily towards him and then - Clark's back, where Clark's back shouldn't be, and unexplained slivers of steel glittering in the air like lethal confetti. "Didn't he?" Clark's changeable eyes were enormous and his impossibly sweet mouth opened unhappily, only to close again without uttering a word.

Lex stared at him and experienced a sickening sense of reversal. He consciously took all the unquestioning faith that he had placed in Clark Kent and put it to one side, lambasting himself for such sentimental weakness as he did so; and he realised, with a lurch, that he had no idea who he was looking at. The uncertainties and suspicions that Lex had been so determinedly ignoring for months came crashing down upon him all at once - not singly, in deniable dribs and drabs, but en masse and inescapable. An avalanche of evidence.

Clark Kent was lying to him.

"He didn't have a gun, did he?" said Lex very slowly, never taking his eyes from Clark's face. "So what just happened here, Clark?"

"I," began Clark, but he ground to a halt under Lex's gaze and glanced miserably away. He still looked unwell; but on the other hand, for somebody who had surely (hadn't he?) just been shot in the back at point blank range, Clark appeared remarkably unscathed. "I'm sorry. I'm so - Lex, you're bleeding. We should get you to a hospital." Lex pulled himself to his feet, wincing, and clasped his arm gingerly. He ignored Clark's awkward attempts to help.

"I shot him. But the bullet hit me. How could that happen, Clark?" The memory of Clark Kent's startled face looking at him as the Porsche swerved towards the barrier was as vivid as if it had been a few minutes ago, not months. Imagination my ass, thought Lex angrily.

"I -"

"But then, how can a man appear out of thin air? How can somebody become invisible, or walk through walls, or make herself into a mirror image of somebody else? This is Smallville. People have secrets." Clark had stepped in front of Joshua after Lex pulled the trigger, but before the bullet could hit Joshua. This was blatantly impossible, but the laws of physics seemed to be in abeyance in this particular corner of Kansas. Especially where Clark Kent was concerned. Lex felt numb. "Do you have a secret, Clark? And I suggest you think very carefully about how you answer me. I mean it. If you're honest with me now, I'll forget about everything else." Clark stared at him desperately. "You thought you had to hide this from me. I can accept that. You were wrong, but that's okay." His mouth twisted, and it was impossible to keep the bitterness entirely out of his voice. "Why would you trust a Luthor? But I swear - I swear on my mother's memory that I would never do anything to hurt you." There was a painful little pause. "Talk to me, Clark."

The silence that followed was deafening. Everything hurt. Lex waited; and waited; and waited; until it became all too clear that Clark did not believe in him after all. At least he didn't try to deny that there was a secret this time, but Lex was having trouble feeling grateful for such small mercies. He stared at the shards of metal littering the floor and admitted to himself that they were indeed the shattered fragments of a Jacobean broadsword. Clark had been lying. Lex couldn't believe how much this mattered to him. When had he ever let anyone get under his skin like this?

"I can't," Clark said at last. "Don't ask me about this." Lex had never seen a more imploring look on any face in his life. "Please?"

He turned his back on Clark, closed his eyes and rested his forehead wearily against the cool surface of the oak panelling. He found himself feeling grateful for the simple pain of the bullet wound; it was something to focus upon, something concrete and manageable. Something he knew he could endure.

"Go away, Clark," he said softly, without looking up. He heard Clark's feet shift uneasily and could imagine, without needing to see, the stupid earnestness of Clark's furrowed young brow. "Just go."

"But I - but what if Joshua comes back?"

"Clark," Lex said again, maintaining his even tone with some difficulty. "Get out of my house. Now." There was surely no mistaking the anger just under the surface. He had never spoken to Clark like this before - had never been so cold or angry with the boy. Clark was used to being indulged and cosseted at the Luthor mansion. Let him get used to this instead. "And Clark?"

"Yes?" Clark's voice was thick with apology.

"Don't come back."

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