Kitsunegari

by Basingstoke


For Livia's X-Files title challenge.


Kitsunegari.
by Basingstoke (bas@yosa.com)

*

The Kents stood in front of the fireplace holding hands. Martha looked him in the eye, pleading, while Jonathan stared resolutely at the couch.

"It's been two days," Martha said. "This isn't like him--he stays out some nights, sure, but he would never miss two days of school in a row!"

"The police told us it's not long enough to file a missing person report. Not for a teenage boy," Jonathan said.

"But Clark wouldn't run away, and we've looked everywhere he could possibly be in town."

"We just--we need--" Jonathan pressed his lips together. Lex could see it ripping at him, the worry fighting the anger and the irrational resentment.

If he were his father, he would be gloating; he'd be looking for the angle, and he'd be exploiting this for everything he could get. But he wasn't his father, and he was worried too. "You need my help. You have it," Lex said. "You've had it for a day already."

They both sagged, visibly relieved. Jonathan glanced up, pulling Martha in closer. "But you haven't found anything," Martha said.

"One of my security cameras picked up unusual activities in one of the fields on the far edge of my property. It might be something, or it might be nothing. I've called in a tracker to find out. He just arrived."

"Dogs? You'll need something of his for the scent," Jonathan said. Lex nodded. "We have his jacket in the car."

He let Martha go and left the room at almost a run. "Thank you," Martha said. There were tears in her eyes.

*

Lex took the coat back to the stable where Bruce Wayne was preparing the guns. "Scent," Lex told him.

Bruce took the coat and inhaled deeply. He rubbed his nose. "If I didn't already know we were looking for a teenage boy, I'd know he was a teenage boy."

"Stop it. You're twenty-four. You're not old enough to make fun of adolescents yet." Lex straddled the bench beside him.

Bruce stuffed the coat into a plastic bag and handed it back to Lex. "Certainly I am."

"Almost ready?"

"Ready now." Bruce turned to Lex. A stripe of sunset turned his eyes a feral red and purple. "Why did you call me and not your father's tracker?"

"You're a hundred times better than my father's tracker." Once Bruce took his dogs out and tracked the route that Lex had taken when he drove up to Bruce's house--a week earlier.

"But now you owe me," Bruce said. He raised his head and the light turned his teeth red.

"I can pay." Lex stood. "If you're ready, let's go."

Bruce stood and swung the rifle over his shoulder. He wore his motorcycle jacket--which given his size, gave him a silhouette like Darth Vader's fridge--and picked up his motorcycle helmet.

"I have real riding helmets," Lex said.

"I know." Bruce put his own helmet on anyway. His face was invisible under the smooth black plastic. Lex shrugged into his wool jacket and riding helmet and picked up the other rifle. "Would you give me the watch your mother gave you?"

Lex whirled. "What?"

"For finding Clark." Bruce was invisible under plastic and steel. Inscrutable--Lex didn't know him, not really, not inside where it counted.

But the answer was simple. "I would, yes."

"You've changed. You told me you didn't care about anyone that much. You said you never would." Bruce touched his cheek. The soft leather of his gloves was warm from his body.

"I was sixteen when I said that, as stupid as any other sixteen-year-old," Lex said. He tilted his cheek into Bruce's hand and looked at his reflection in Bruce's faceplate.

"Hm. Now who's making fun of adolescents?" Bruce swept his hand down and pinched Lex's chin lightly, then pushed past to the room with his dogs.

*

Bruce brought his own horse as well as the dogs. It was, of course, black. Lex rode a sure-footed dapple-grey mare that he trusted to keep her head.

Bruce had been staring at the gap in the hedge for five full minutes. "So what's the story here?" Lex asked, finally. He didn't understand what Bruce's holdup was. They were losing light fast.

"Something dragged your boy through here. What I can't figure out is what exactly." Bruce held the reins in the crook of his elbow and tugged off his glove. He picked up a tiny tuft of something and held it up. "The tracks look like a Great Dane, maybe even bigger. But this is fox fur. Two layers, see?"

"If I could see, I wouldn't have had to call you," Lex said.

"I've heard you get strange things around here. Any strange animals?"

"I think so. Probably. I can call someone who would know for sure, if it's important."

"Not right now." Bruce dropped the tuft, put his glove back on and broke a branch off the hedge. He dropped it into a plastic bag and mounted his horse again. "Now would be the time to give the dogs a sniff of the coat," Bruce said.

Lex dismounted and took the coat from the bag, offering it to the two bloodhounds sitting patiently at Bruce's feet. They both wagged their tails as they sniffed at it.

"Scent," Bruce said sharply. The dogs ranged in opposite circles, then both sat down near the gap. "He was here," Bruce said. "Lex, follow me. Kids? Find!"

The dogs tugged at the leash, leading them into the forest.

*

Bruce stopped again, shining a flashlight up a tree. He pulled out binoculars and stared.

"Bruce?"

"Lex?"

"Yes?"

"Call your strange animal expert, okay?"

"Done." Lex got out his cell phone and typed in Gabe Sullivan's number. Chloe answered. "Chloe? It's Lex. I need your help."

"Sure! Is this about Clark?"

"Yes."

"You've got 200%. What do you need?"

"Information on strange occurrences based in the woods near Crater Lake. Especially strange animals."

"Especially giant foxes who can climb trees," Bruce said.

"Especially giant foxes in trees."

"Giant foxes in trees," Chloe said. "Okay. That's really not stranger than Bug Boy. Okay, I'll see what I can find and call you back. What's your number?"

Lex gave her the number and hung up. "Find, kids," Bruce told the dogs, and they set off again.

*

The trail took them along the sheared hills beside Crater Lake. Beside the giant crater itself, there were a number of cuts in the soft limestone where lines of meteors had punched through. The ground sparked with the occasional green of meteor pebbles.

The nearly full moon reflected off the black water below them. Lex let his mare have her head, trusting her to keep them behind Bruce and out of trouble.

The phone vibrated in his pocket. He answered immediately. "Lex here."

"Two days ago, Harvey Mill ran screaming down K-105 near Crater Lake," Chloe said. "The sheriff stopped him and he said something about a monster staring at him from a tree by the water. Now, they gave him a Breathalyzer and his blood alcohol was something like 25 percent, but still. Monster in the water."

Bruce dismounted and picked up a handful of earth, crumbling it between his fingers in a shaft of soft light. He touched his tongue to it briefly. "Good job. Is that all you found?" Lex asked.

"Um...Dr. Levin reported a dead bald eagle by Crater Lake. They stop there while migrating, right? He has to have all the dead ones autopsied."

"Anything strange?" Bruce remounted and shone the flashlight into the trees again.

"He said it was mauled into eagle tartare. Pre-autopsied, I guess. But not eaten."

"Hm. Thanks. Let me know if you find anything else."

"Will do. Are you finding anything?" Chloe asked.

"The bloodhounds have his trail," Lex said. "We'll find him. He's Clark."

"Yeah," she sighed, and hung up.

"We have a monster in a tree and a dead bald eagle by Crater Lake," Lex told Bruce.

Bruce nodded. "I've been seeing lots of tracks. I think we're in its home territory--and I really think this thing can climb, Lex. I just can't figure out how."

"Prehensile toes?"

"Maybe. But I'm seeing fur in trees that couldn't support more than fifty pounds. From the depth of the tracks, this thing must weigh at least a hundred."

"Maybe it...jumps. Or flies."

"Maybe."

"Honestly, I'd believe anything," Lex said, thinking of Earl and his jitters, Ryan and his mind-reading, Eric Summers and his temporary strength. "With what I've seen in people in this town, it's not at all far-fetched that a fox might start flying."

"Hm. Maybe I should make this visit a little longer." Bruce shot a quick smile over his shoulder.

"You're always welcome," Lex said.

They rode in silence, picking their way over the rough ground behind the dogs. "I didn't mean what I said, by the way," Lex said.

"When?"

"When I was sixteen."

"Oh."

"I do value your friendship, and I appreciate that you're willing to drop everything to help someone that you don't even know. I realize now how rare that is--that both things are. I didn't when I was sixteen."

"Oh."

"I was an idiot when I was sixteen, and--missing my mother rather badly when you asked. I'm sorry."

Bruce twisted back to look at him. "Lex. When you apologize you don't fuck around."

Lex rubbed his eyebrow. "I've had to apologize a lot lately; I think I've gotten the hang of it."

"Thanks," Bruce said.

*

Bruce stopped his horse on the far side of Crater Lake.

"Did you find something?" Lex asked.

"The dogs alerted." Bruce swung down from his horse. Lex followed, tossing his mare's reins over a low branch. Sure enough, the dogs were sitting and looking around in a small clear patch on the bluff. "He's here, or at least they think he's here."

Lex looked up into the trees, remembering the eagle; but they were too small and scraggly to even hold, much less hide a boy Clark's size. "He couldn't be--could he have been thrown in the water?"

Bruce touched Lex's shoulder. He walked to the edge of the sheared hill--then jumped back as the ground began to crumble under his feet. Lex grabbed Bruce's arm, steadying him, and they watched the dirt rattle down the side of the cut. Bruce knelt; after a moment, he crawled forward slowly.

"No," he said. "The ground looks different where it just broke away. Clark's as big as me, right?"

"Almost."

"Even unconscious, he would have made a mark falling. He wasn't tossed." Bruce crawled back from the edge.

Lex looked around at the clearing. "Not up," he said, "unless this is a fox that flies with a helicopter."

"Clearing isn't big enough for that."

"Not over the edge," Lex said.

"Not unless he was thrown hard--all the way to the lake's edge," Bruce replied. "Which I don't think is possible."

Lex looked at the ground. "Under."

"Under," Bruce said.

They both fell to their knees and spread their hands over the ground. The dogs investigated Lex's face with their noses, wagging their tails. He gently batted them away.

Lex crawled over the ground, feeling for--anything, anything that felt weird. The clearing was bare, almost grassless. Tiny shards of meteor in the soil pricked at his hands and beetles scurried under his fingers.

He found a hole. "Bruce! Is this something?"

Bruce crawled over and looked. He unhooked his flashlight from his belt and shined it down the hole. "It's not too deep, it's--oh, Christ." Bruce tossed away the flashlight and tore into the hole with both hands. Lex immediately helped; they collapsed the small, loosely packed hole and ripped into a patch of obviously disturbed earth.

Lex's fingers brushed skin. Warm skin; his heart beat faster. He dug as quickly as he could.

They unearthed a filthy, unconscious, breathing Clark. He was covered head to toe in the green-glittering black earth. Lex scrubbed the dirt away from his eyes and nose; the meteor shards scratched Clark's skin, pricking up a few drops of blood, but Clark was breathing clear and strong, and Lex thought he was going to cry with relief.

"There's a whole burrow in here. Can't tell how deep," Bruce said, shining his flashlight into the hole. "There must be a cave in the limestone. Dirt wouldn't hold up well enough."

"We need to get Clark to a doctor. We'll come back later if you want to go monster hunting." Lex felt Clark's neck. "Bruce, is there anyplace nearby where we could call in a helicopter? I don't want to move him."

Bruce shook his head. "I haven't seen any clearings closer than the road. Lex, we already have moved him, just getting him out."

"Dammit," Lex muttered. He suddenly realized Clark was shirtless under the dirt. He pulled Clark's coat out of the bag and draped it over him.

Bruce peered down at Clark. "He's been down there for a while. If he were injured, there would be bruises, I think."

Lex wouldn't know. He felt Clark's neck and slipped a hand down under his spine, searching for the heat of a bruise. He didn't find anything. "I don't know the first thing about this, Bruce!" Lex snapped in frustration. "How do you know?"

"I thought you got your ass kicked all the time?"

"I do. But not like this." He healed. After the meteor strike, he healed even a bullet wound inside an hour. But Clark was a normal boy and Clark was unconscious with no signs of waking up.

In the forest, something barked.

"Lex."

"Yes?"

"That was a fox's bark."

"Fuck." Lex closed his eyes for a second, hating his options. "A hundred-pound fox," he said.

"Which flies."

"Fuck!" Lex sat Clark upright. "Wake up. Come on. Wake up, Clark Kent, or I'll have to carry your heavy ass out of here myself..." He patted Clark's cheeks. Clark's eyes didn't even flicker.

He slapped Clark hard. No response.

He slid the jacket over Clark's limp arms. "Can you get him sitting on the horse behind me?" he asked Bruce.

"No problem."

Lex handed Bruce his rifle. "You'll have to guard us against the giant fox."

Bruce nodded. Lex mounted up and Bruce lifted Clark up after him, letting Clark's arms flop around Lex's waist and his chin rest on Lex's shoulder. Lex listened to Clark breathe--still steady, still clear. He just wouldn't wake up.

"We need to get to the road," Lex said. "I'll call an ambulance and have it meet us."

"I can see it. Fifteen minutes from here," Bruce said.

The fox barked again. Bruce's horse snorted at the sound. Lex held Clark's arm tightly, not letting him drop as he called the house and the police.

The road was downhill from there, of course. The terrain around Crater Lake flattened at each end; north was the dam, south was Lover's Lane, where the high school kids threw keggers. They had crossed the dam and circled enough around the lake that the south end was closer.

Bruce's horse tossed its head as they picked their way through the trees. "We're definitely on that thing's home turf," Bruce said. "Tybalt hates it. Stinks of fox piss here."

"Do foxes mark trees?"

"This one does."

The dogs roamed on their leashes, apparently enjoying the strong smells. Lex's mare walked along solid as a rock. He patted her neck in thanks.

Clark's head bobbed with every movement. If he would just wake up...

Bruce's horse stopped dead. The dogs barked. "Lex, there's something--" Bruce raised a rifle. Lex touched the pistol in his jacket.

Bruce's horse screamed and reared. The dogs barked furiously. Bruce fought for control as the horse shied backwards, right into Lex's, and an enormous something ducked under its feet. Lex's horse startled away from both Bruce and the thing, then the thing jumped at her and she bolted.

Lex grabbed the reins and saddle with one hand and Clark's arm with the other, hanging onto both for his life and Clark's. He hauled the mare's head down with brute force, thankful that she was too smart to run when she couldn't see.

A rifle shot rang through the trees, then another.

Lex had no idea where the fuck he was. But in general--uphill was Bruce and the thing. Downhill was the ambulance for Clark.

Clark's eyes didn't flicker, even after the run.

Lex headed downhill.

With each step he could see more light from the bottom of the hill. He fought the urge to speed up--there was no telling what was underfoot.

His phone vibrated again. He debated for a second before picking it up awkwardly. "Lex here."

"Lex. Missing person report just came in. A college student went camping by Crater Lake and never came back."

"Chloe, I have Clark. I'm making my way back now. We're under attack."

"By the giant flying fox thing?"

"I didn't see it fly--"

Shadow. Overhead.

"Fuck. Chloe, if I don't come back, you can have my car. Any of them." And Lex dropped the phone and nudged his mare downhill at a faster walk.

Something landed behind them so close he could smell it. Before he could react, his mare whinnied and bolted, and Lex again could do nothing more than hold on.

He glanced behind them and saw--something like a bat, furry and winged, but he could have sworn he saw feathers as well. It moved with an ungainly limping stride that was probably the only reason he and Clark weren't eaten by now. It was huge, as big as a man.

Lex ducked his head as they ran into branches, trying to keep them off Clark's face. He pulled back on the reins, but his mare had the bit between her teeth and didn't give a damn about her rider any more. Something sharp--a branch, a wire, he didn't know--slapped him in the thigh, biting through his trousers and into his skin.

Then they crashed through the trees and onto the road, where, thank God, the ambulance was waiting. The Kents' pickup truck sat beside it.

Lex's mare shook her head as they burst into the lights and Lex wrestled her head down, managing to guide her down the road beside the ambulance. He tugged hard to one side, sending her in a circle.

He didn't see the thing--then it fell from the air in front of them and hit the ground bouncing. Lex's mare tried to rear but he wrested her head to the side, keeping her down--and he was losing his grip on Clark, dammit, he couldn't do everything--

The Kents' pickup truck reversed into the monster. It rolled, then jumped into the bed, barking at the cab window. Lex turned the mare around and got her to stand still long enough that he could dismount with Clark.

The truck reversed at speed, taking the monster with it. Lex hefted Clark into his arms and ran to the ambulance.

"What the fuck was that?" one paramedic shouted. The other one stood by the open driver's side door, staring down the road.

"I don't know! Just take Clark and get out of here!" Lex said.

The monster fell out of the sky and thumped down on top of the ambulance. It stared at Lex, baring white fangs.

From here, it looked almost human.

The ambulance leapt forward, knocking the monster off and onto the paramedic in a tangle of limbs. The paramedic screamed and scrambled, making for the trees.

"You shit!" Lex shouted at the driver, who was not reversing. Lex slung Clark over his shoulder and ran for the lake--he was a strong swimmer, even burdened with an unconscious charge. Always play to your strengths, as long as they are not the strengths of your opponent, his father's voice said in his head.

The Kent truck roared back down the road, nearly creaming the monster, but it managed to scramble away. Lex splashed down into the water and dived in, paddling out on his side with Clark draped over him.

Shadow over him. Lex took a deep breath, clamped his mouth over Clark's and his hand over Clark's nose, and dived.

The water was cold, fuck it was cold, but he let himself sink; he kept his eyes open and looked toward the moonlit surface. He saw the surface shatter into bubbles as the monster dived after them--but it was struggling, weak in the water, and it couldn't give chase. It stayed on the surface, wings outspread. Lex held Clark close and kicked his way to the surface some twenty feet away.

He took a deep breath, his lungs burning, and blew into Clark's mouth again to be sure.

The monster saw them almost immediately. It struggled but could barely move with its sodden feathers--and it did have feathers. It also had long, fox-furred hind legs and a tail, but its head was round, not elongated--like a human.

Maybe like a missing college student.

One wing of the thing was caught in what looked like fabric. It was twisted, looped over the wing and neck, partially hobbling it. If Lex could minimize the surprise factor, then he could get everyone out alive.

Provided Bruce wasn't already dead.

Lex paddled for the shore, keeping one eye on the monster and the other on Clark's limp form. At least the water had washed away the gritty dirt. The tiny shards of meteor rock had felt like needles under his hands.

"Clark! Lex!" Martha shouted as she ran down the shore. The lake had pushed them nearly to the western hillside. Lex waded up through the mud, hauling Clark by his arms, hoping he was all right.

"Oh, my God, where were you--" Martha fell to her knees beside Clark. Lex sat down heavily and caught his breath, staring at the monster in the lake. Jonathan ran after Martha, shotgun in hand.

"...Mom?"

Lex whirled. Clark's eyes were open--finally, finally! His hair was flattened by muddy water, his face was smudged and scratched, but he was conscious and his arms and legs were moving.

"What happened?" Jonathan caught up, glancing from his son to Lex to the thing in the lake.

"I...we..." Lex let out a breath and tried to figure out where to start. "Bruce and I tracked him. He was buried underground, up on the hill. We think it was that thing's lair. We were taking Clark down to the ambulance when it attacked. And Bruce is still up there." Lex pushed himself to his feet.

Water trickled past his ear--he was still wearing his helmet. He unfastened it and tossed it to the ground, running his hands over his head to try to wipe off the mud. "I have to see what happened to Bruce. Please, get Clark out of here."

"I'll go with you," Jonathan said. "I don't want to leave anyone behind."

"I'll be fine. I have a gun. I want Clark to be safe. Please, Mr. Kent."

Jonathan's jaw tightened. Lex pulled the pistol from his jacket pocket and checked to be sure it wasn't waterlogged; it wasn't. He had the best.

"It's gone," Martha said. She had Clark sprawled over her lap. "It dived and hasn't come back up."

"I think it might be a person," Lex said.

They both looked at him. "A person?" Martha asked, sounding incredulous.

"Mutated from the meteor rock. Chloe said--a student was missing, a college student. I think that might be him." Lex pressed his hand to his temple, trying to think. "Please, just get out of here. Bruce is an excellent hunter, better than all three of us put together."

Jonathan clapped him on the shoulder, startling him. "Go. Martha, help me with Clark." He bent down and grabbed Clark's feet.

"Dad, I can walk..." Clark said weakly. Lex smiled and started running back to the hillside.

In a few moments he heard the truck start up. He looked at the lake, but the monster didn't surface again.

Lex thought about the possible caves in the limestone--caves that could reach down below the surface of the water--and ran faster.

He heard a slight quacking noise as he climbed the hill. As he came closer to the clearing where he had been ambushed, he realized it was his cell phone, still on.

"If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again." God only knew what Chloe thought had happened. He turned it off and stuck it in his pocket.

Lex heard a crackling in the brush and froze, gun outstretched. A rustle, a sniff, a thump, and one of Bruce's bloodhounds emerged from the bushes, wagging its tail wildly. It jumped up on Lex's thigh and tried to lick his gun hand.

"Quit it," Lex muttered, but he picked up the leash and took it along.

Tybalt the horse was entangled in a tree. The whites of his eyes showed and he danced sideways when Lex approached, so Lex left him alone.

Bruce grabbed him from behind. Lex squeaked into Bruce's hand.

"Shh! It's around here somewhere! It came up through the hole," Bruce breathed.

"Mmf," Lex said.

"Is Clark safe?"

"Mm-hm."

"Fantastic." Bruce kissed Lex's cheek and let him go. Lex gave him a look, but he just smiled.

Bruce had a tear down the sleeve of his jacket and had lost his helmet, but still had both rifles. He held one against his chest and watched the trees and the sky warily.

"I think it's a person," Lex whispered. "Don't shoot unless you have to."

"Are you sure?"

"No. But do you want to take the chance?"

Bruce's jaw twitched. He shook his head.

They heard a rustle in the direction of the horse. The horse danced at the length of the tangled reins. Bruce nudged him and they both crept closer, keeping close to the trees.

The thing walked out into the moonlight. It bared its teeth once--Bruce and Lex both raised their guns--but then closed its mouth.

It was a human. Or used to be. Its face was human. His face was human.

He was a kid, younger than either Bruce or Lex. Wet red fur clung to his features rather than obscuring them. Clark's t-shirt was twisted around his neck and arm.

He yowled. No--he talked. "Hlllp."

Lex lowered his gun. "Help," he whispered.

"Mother of God," Bruce muttered.

"Kliiiill me," the kid said through his twisted mouth.

"No," Bruce said, stepping forward.

"I'm fffucked UP!" the kid shouted. He stepped forward on the small paws at the bend o his wings. "I cah. I cyaaand ge BACK!"

"I refuse to take your life," Bruce said.

The kid shook his head. Spit flew from his fangs. He dug his claws into the earth and sprang at Bruce.

Bruce raised his gun--then reversed it, sidestepped, and clubbed the kid as he landed, knocking the kid out. "Lex," he said.

"Bruce."

"He wants us to kill him.

"I know."

Bruce looked up. "Should we?"

"No."

"He wants us to. Look at him, Lex, what the fuck kind of life is that?" Bruce's brow knotted.

"And what the fuck kind of wimp makes other people commit his suicide for him?" Lex snapped. Lex rested his hand on Bruce's rock-hard shoulder. "Bruce. Let him lie. If he wants to off himself, he can do it on his own time."

Bruce closed his eyes and let out his breath. "We need to do something for him."

"Sure. There's already one mutant in Metropolis General on the Luthor dime. One on Wayne money and we have a matching set." Lex reached up and hugged him. "You're a good man, Bruce."

Bruce touched his shoulder. "For a minute there, I wasn't sure," he muttered.

"Smallville meddles with your head. Trust me. I know."

Bruce hugged back. Lex leaned into him, not looking at the kid at their feet.

*

Lex knocked on the screen door. "Is anyone home?"

"Lex! Come in!" Clark's voice--strong and clear. The boy bounced back like a Superball.

Lex came inside and found Clark on the couch, wrapped in a quilt, munching on a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Clark waved him in closer. "Hey, have a cookie! Mom decided to spoil me today."

"I knew she was a wise woman," Lex said, taking a cookie. They were still warm. Lex sat on the couch next to Clark.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked.

"A little tired." Lex shrugged. "You?"

"I'm fine." And he looked fine; he certainly didn't look like he had been buried for two days. "What about Bruce? Is he really that Bruce Wayne?"

"Yes, he is, and he's still sleeping. He's jet-lagged, I think. He said he was in Moscow when I called."

"You called your friend the billionaire in from Moscow to look for me?"

"If my friend the billionaire had been missing, I would have called you. Fair is fair." Lex smiled and bit into the cookie.

Clark didn't look happy with that answer, but just took another cookie. "So...what happened? I don't remember a whole lot."

"What do you remember?"

"I was walking home from school and everything went black. And then I was wet. Then I went home and my parents told me we'd been attacked by some kind of monster." Clark raised his eyebrows.

"Well. Chloe and I went over to the hospital to see what we could find out. She's remarkably good at interrogation, did you know that?"

Clark grinned.

"The monster was actually a college student named Aaron Beecher who came out here for Spring Break. He was camping by Crater Lake when he decided to do something extremely stupid: he tried a werewolf transformation ritual that he'd read about in a book."

"He what?"

"He killed a fox, smeared himself with its blood, and tied the fur around his waist. Then a little chanting, maybe a dance around the fire, and the end result was--"

"Thanks to the meteor rocks, it worked." Clark leaned forward. The twist of his mouth hovered somewhere between amazement and disgust.

"Exactly."

Clark shook his head.

"But he couldn't change back. So he hung around the lake, getting more and more confused. And then he got hungry--and killed an eagle."

"What happened?"

"He changed again. Partially. He grew wings."

"Okay, so where do I fit into this? This guy is now a flying giant fox thingy--"

"He wanted to turn back into a man. So he picked you up, just because you're human." Lex frowned. "But he must have been confused--not that I'm sorry he didn't kill you, by any means, but he only took your shirt and then buried you in his lair."

"Maybe...he was thinking the shirt was like a pelt?"

"Something like that. I think it did work, though, partially. His head was the head of a man."

Clark grimaced and set down the plate of cookies. "What now?"

"He'll get medical treatment. If nothing else, we can shave him."

"Lex..."

Lex smiled. "I think I'm entitled to be crotchety after dragging your heavy butt to hell and gone," he said, elbowing Clark.

Clark elbowed him back. "I can't help being tall!"

"Oh, I think you can."

"And I so cannot help that you're elf-sized!" Clark said, giggling.

"Elf-sized? Elf-sized?" Lex jumped up and was about to put Clark in a headlock when the back door opened.

"Is that--Lex!" Martha dropped her basket on the table and rushed over. To Lex's amazement, she swept him into a hug. "Thank you," she said, kissing him on the cheek.

"It was my pleasure, Mrs. Kent," Lex said, and tentatively hugged her back.

"Your friend, is he all right?" She leaned back and clasped his shoulders. Her face shone with concern.

"Just tired. He's sleeping back at the house."

Jonathan came through the door then. He paused, for a moment, as Martha and Clark both glanced at him, but then he walked across the room to Lex.

"Thank you," Jonathan said, shaking Lex's hand. He looked down awkwardly. "Thank you." He thumped Lex on the shoulder, then turned and left again.

*

Bruce was still sleeping when Lex returned. Naked in Lex's bed. Lex decided to take that as an invitation. He slipped off his shoes and climbed in, curling up against Bruce's back.

Clark and Bruce were cast from the same mold, he thought. Both large, like an average man expanded. Both driven by the secrets behind their eyes. Both willing to tackle any problem, even ones they didn't know they could solve.

They both had dark hair and stunning blue eyes. Fantastic chest muscles, too; Lex was just shallow enough to notice.

"Mm." Bruce turned over. Lex nestled into his chest instead. "How...long was I asleep?" Bruce muttered, then yawned.

"About twelve hours. It's three in the afternoon." Lex rubbed his head under Bruce's chin, enjoying the scrape of stubble.

"What time zone...oh, never mind." Bruce rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Lex sprawled.

"Is the kid all right?" Bruce asked as he returned.

"He's fine. And the other boy is stable. I had him put into a private ward with a guard to minimize gawkers." Lex opened his arms and Bruce crawled in on top of him. "How do you feel?"

"Fine." Bruce planted one hand on Lex's chest. He stroked Lex's throat just above the collar of his shirt, frowning. "You..."

"Also fine."

"You have a lot of secrets, Lex."

True enough, but a non sequitur. "What brings that on?"

Bruce knelt up and tossed the covers back. He pushed Lex's shirt out of the way, unbuckled his belt and tugged his trousers and boxers together down to his knees. The look on Bruce's face was intent, almost a scowl: far from sexy. "Bruce, I realize we're hardly strangers, but your technique could use a little work."

Bruce ran his hands over each of Lex's thighs, inside and out, then looked up. Lex smiled.

"You were injured," Bruce said.

"Injured?"

"I saw the rip in your pants and the blood. You weren't limping. I thought you were being macho, but instead you're unhurt. How did you do that?" Bruce's hands on his knees were like iron.

Lex twisted out of his grasp and kicked him in the chest, just hard enough to make him sit back. He tugged his pants back up as he slid out of bed. He didn't stop walking until he reached the curtained windows.

Surprising that nobody had caught him in this game before. Not surprising that the person who caught him would be Bruce. Bruce, the hunter. Bruce, who found things out.

Lex yanked on the curtain pull. The curtains swung back in graceful folds, leaving the room blazing in the afternoon sun. "Remember when you pulled me out of the Thames?"

"I'll never forget," Bruce said.

Lex turned and leaned against the window. Bruce knelt on the bed, unselfconscious, focused on Lex like an eagle on a mouse. "The little bastards stabbed me before they dunked me," Lex said. "And I'm not sure, but I may have drowned as well. They pushed me in almost half a mile from the place where you pulled me out."

Bruce leaned forward on his hands. "How is that possible?"

"We're all mutants in Smallville," Lex said. He crossed the room again, slowly, coming to rest with his arm hooked around the bedpost. "I was caught in the meteor shower."

Bruce caught Lex's hand, turning it over in his own like it was something amazing.

"It made me bald. It made me heal. It's why I can't get drunk and it's why I'm not currently dead."

"The things I could do..." Bruce breathed.

Lex snatched his hand away and grabbed Bruce's chin, forcing his head up. "I am not a lab rat."

"Do with the rock," Bruce snapped, wrenching himself away. "You can't say you haven't thought about it."

"It's unpredictable. The same thing that healed me turned another boy into a monster. It's dangerous." The Nicodemus flower--Bruce would find out about that, Lex was sure, now that his interest was piqued. No need to spill everything now.

"I want to study it." Bruce's fingers spidered over Lex's waist and his eyes bored into Lex's eyes.

"Be careful. Remember, I care about you. I don't want you..." He waved his hand expressively.

"Turning into a giant bat?"

"Exactly." Lex leaned down and kissed him.

Bruce's hand caught his hand and his breath brushed against Lex's cheek and Lex kept his eyes open, wanting to see what Bruce was looking for, not quite able to relax; he backed up, finally, the faint blush erasing itself from his cheek as he smoothed his clothes over his body. "Lunch will be served in the game room," he said.

Bruce said nothing. Lex could feel Bruce's eyes on him as he left the room--seeking, searching, hunting again.

end.



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