by slodwick

Big thanks to Tresca, who always puts up with me.

Clark was running.

Not at full speed, obviously; that wasn't an option with Pete following so close behind him. But he was definitely hauling ass. His heart was pounding wildly in his ear, his pulse elevated from both the concentrated effort to run at what could be considered a "normal" human speed, and sheer adrenaline. It was difficult to get a good stride going in such densely packed forest as this, but he did the best he could.

There really was no time to waste with a marksman like Lex Luthor chasing them.

A sudden crash, followed by a pained yelp caused him to slow down. He spun quickly, but he didn't see Pete anywhere. He was about to use his x-ray vision to scan the woods when he noticed the ground sloping steeply on his right. Stepping closer, he spotted Pete, lying face down in the small ravine.

"Pete!" he said as quietly as possible. "Hey, man, are you ok?"

As Pete moved to sit up, dried leaves sticking to shirt and one side of his face dusted lightly with dirt, Clark had to suppress his laughter. However, Pete's grimace quickly sobered him. Jumping down into the small opening, he was relieved to see Pete already moving to his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was carry Pete all the way home.

"Can you walk?" he asked.

"Man, Clark, I think I sprained my ankle." Pete responded, reaching out to steady himself on Clark's arm. "I may be able to walk, but I don't think I'll be doing any more running."

"That's just fine, Mr. Ross." Lex's voice announced. "You won't have to."

There was a small click, and Clark's face was a perfect picture of shock as he watched his friend's chest explode in red. He turned towards Lex, scarlet splatters streaming down his cheek, and watched as the gun was slowly aimed at his knee.

Lex looked him in the eye, smiled, and fired.

"Dude, Lex, you're not supposed to fire at such close range! Those things can really do some damage, you know." Pete grouched, rubbing his chest.

"Oh, lighten up, you sissy." Clark teased.

"Hey, I don't want to hear it from you. You got it in the knee. The knee. He pegged me right between the ribs." Pete stared down at the red paint dripping down his torso, as if he could hardly believe it was there, then glared up at a smirking Lex, who was now squatting near the edge of the ravine.

"You boys shouldn't have accepted the challenge if you didn't think you could handle it." Lex quipped. "I play to win."

"I guess so." Clark said, with his typical sunny grin. "I was certain the game would last longer than ten minutes, though."

"Oh, it's not over yet, farmboy." Lex said, his stylish safety goggles glinting in the sun. "Chloe is still back there somewhere. And you remember what we agreed to before we started, don't you? You two are now officially my prisoners. So haul yourselves up out of that hole, and help me find a nice, big tree."

"A tree for what?" Pete asked, wincing slightly as he hefted himself up the embankment, more than a little suspicion in his voice. Clark waited until Pete was completely out, and then eased himself over the edge.

"To tie you to, of course." Lex answered wryly, pulling a long length of stylish, purple rope from the stylish, purple backpack he had been wearing. Pete and Clark exchanged worried glances.

The ground was cold and hard beneath him, the rope holding them tight against the rough bark of the tree. Tight enough, in fact, that Clark guessed Pete was pretty darn uncomfortable. As much as he might sympathize with his friend, there were times Clark didn't really mind his powers. Of course, he'd had to fake a limp since Lex had shot him in the knee at such a short distance. The only problem now was remembering which leg was supposed to be injured.

Lex was on the other side of the large tree, checking his knots. Since they had climbed up to take their place as "prisoners", Lex had been explaining, in minute detail, how he had beaten them.

Clark could tell Pete was bored to tears, and still a little pissy about being shot in the ribs, but he laughed when Clark started making faces, mocking Lex. Not one to be ignored, Lex moved back around to their side of the tree, standing facing them.

Apparently, his father held annual corporate retreats here in the wooded portion of the Luthor estate, and insisted that his managerial staff participate in paintball combat. Something to do with some ancient ruler, and some ancient war, but Clark could never remember. It seems that Lex, as a team leader, had commanded the winning team for the past three years running. That, he explained, is why he felt comfortable taking on all three youths by himself.

"Well, actually, Lex," Clark interrupted. "You might not have caught us so quickly if it weren't for that bizarre hole. When Pete fell, I had to stop. What if he had been really hurt?"

"Yeah. If I had seen that thing coming, we'd be setting up an ambush for you right about now. And if Clark had just left me behind, he might still be in the game." Clark heard a bit of a reprimand in Pete's tone, and realized how much it burned him that Lex had bested them both.

"Well, now, boys, there you have it." Lex squatted down in front of the two tied boys. "That hero complex will get you every time. While your intentions may have been noble, Clark, a game like this requires cunning. You must always be on-guard, always be aware of your surroundings. Don't allow yourself get distracted. And, most importantly, know your enemy."

Clark and Pete both smiled a little too broadly at that, their eyes focused over Lex's shoulder. Lex, realizing his lapse, turned quickly, but it was too late.

"Oh, but you know me, don't you, Lex?" Chloe asked, quirking her head. She was about ten feet away, her paintball gun aimed squarely at his chest.

"Sorry if I interrupted your little 'male bonding' moment, but I really think you should take a seat." She said with a devious grin.

"This is all your fault, Clark." Pete said through his clenched teeth.

"My fault?! How is this my fault?" Clark exclaimed.

"You're the one who invited her along!"

"He has a point, farmboy." Lex chimed in.

"Well, I'm not the one who fell in a hole, am I, Alice?"

"Would you boys hold still, please?" Chloe said, her digital camera flashing. "I want these pictures to turn out. I'm thinking of making them my Christmas card this year."

"I think next time, Chloe's on my team." Lex said. "She's sneaky. I like that. It can come in handy."

"Heh. I don't know, Lex. I think next, I'll just kick all your butts again. Although, I'd come prepared; a defeat this grand really demands a video record."

"All your fault, Clark." Pete sighed.

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