No Retreat

by Arachnia43

Any and all feedback is always helpful and appreciated.


Author's Note: this is AU because it gets these boys together not necessarily because it strays that far from the show.

Rated R because Lionel is nasty and there is some violence. Warning for mushy bits though.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these Characters but man I wish I did.

Thank you for beta help LaCasta at and dossier. Any further typos etc. are purely mine and you may chastise me for these.

"Damn that boy's defiance! He'll see what this will start."

Lionel Luthor stormed through the lab knocking glass jars and test tubes to the floor with a satisfying crash. He'd found his son's secret lab and all his damning notes on meteor experiments and knew they could cause frightening consequences if discovered by others. If he could find it, so could the press. He didn't need this exposure while negotiations were currently in the works with Wayne enterprises for a buyout in Gotham. They'd shy away quickly to preserve their lily-white reputation.

Lex needed to be taught a lesson. At 21 he still defied his father indulging his interest in chemistry to the detriment of his business sense. Lionel clutched a piece of the meteor in his hand, rolling it back and forth through his palm as he simmered. Try as he might to mold his son to the type of businessman he would like, his son's resistance was a constant challenge. At times like this his frustration turned to pure rage.

"Get the helicopter ready, I'm going to Smallville." Pocketing the meteor fragment, he strode from the room, the staccatto of his heals setting an angry rhythm.

The castle was quiet. Lex was out and not answering his cell. Lionel paced the study considering his next move. He'd tried everything with the boy to get him to come to heel. Nothing was working. He needed to show Lex that he could hurt him, instilling fear that had faded as Lex had matured. Fear gave Lionel the ultimate control and he used it without conscience in all aspects of his life, finding it equally effective in business as well as in private life.

The rumble of a vehicle outside stirred Lionel from his thoughts. He moved to the window and looked down to see the edge of the drive. A blue pickup pulled in slowly by the service entrance. Lionel watched as a tall, dark haired boy got out and carried a box of produce to the kitchens. It was the Kent boy. He'd heard his son spent an unusual amount of time with this teenager; very odd behaviour for his wordly son. Lionel looked again. Long legs, a head of thick, unruly hair and the grace of a natural athlete. Perhaps this behaviour was not so odd after all. A noise at the door disturbed this train of thought.

"Lex, I brought those artichokes you...I'm sorry, sir. I saw the light on and thought Lex was in. Excuse me." Lowering his head, Clark started to back out of the room.

"Come here, boy." Lionel's tone was not to be disobeyed. "So you're the one Lex spends his free time with. Interesting how easily you enter his home without challenge from the staff." Lionel walked forward slowly to stand unsettlingly close to Clark. He lifted his hand to touch Clark's cheek in an intimate gesture. Clark backed away, startled and feeling suddenly light headed. His stomach clenched with nausea and he stumbled slightly in his backwards step. "Lex has always had good taste and I see that hasn't changed. You're really quite pretty."

Clark looked at Lionel Luthor in confusion. Lex was his friend and this was his friend's father. He should show respect but Mr. Luthor wasn't making much sense and seemed kind of threatening. His head was beginning to feel muzzy. Why was Lex's dad talking about how he looked? This was just weird.

"I'm sorry sir, but I have to go. I've got more deliveries to make." Clark"s voice waivered just a little with uncertainty. He tried to straighten up, determined to leave. He felt so sick. He needed to get out of there. Lionel merely moved closer, continuing to look him over. "Lex learned with Victoria that I control all aspects of his life, even his 'partners'. He can't keep anything away from my touch." He ran his fingers lightly up Clark's arm. "I hear my son actually cares for you. Well, more than he did for Victoria or any other. You're a novelty, a farm boy. I wonder if he would care so much if you were not so new."

Clark was immobile with shock. Lex didn't care for him more than Victoria. Did he?

Lionel ran a finger along Clark's lower lip, noting it's fullness. "It might be fun to wear down your edges and take off some of your shine."

Lionel pushed Clark against the wall , kissing him with a bruising force. Clark turned his face away to avoid that mouth but Lionel bit his ear instead. Clark struggled, pushing his hands against Mr. Luthor's shoulders but he could not find the strength to move him away. Lionel forced his leg between Clark's and ground his thigh against Clark's groin. Clark inhaled sharply with the pain and his struggles became more frantic. Where was his strength? As Lionel got closer he felt worse, as if a meteor rock was nearby.

"Don't." Clark's large green eyes were beginning to swim with tears.

"You're no better than any of the others." Lionel seemed satisfied, as if answering a question with the correct response. "Do you play the innocent for Lex? It's really quite appealing. Does he pay you? I heard your family was hard up for money. Did the sanctimonious Jonathan Kent give up the moral high ground for more practical routes?" Lionel's eyes were narrowed with rage, Clark's were wide with fear.

"You're crazy. Lex is my friend. Leave me alone."

"Is that the way of it then? Hasn't Lex made his move?" Lionel chuckled but there was no humour in it. "Don't worry, he will. My sources are never wrong." Lionel reached down to rub his hand over the front of Clark's jeans. "I could send your father a lovely gift for this." Lionel pushed forward again, pinning Clark's left side to the wall with an arm trapped behind him. Lionel grabbed the other arm holding Clark up with a hand on his upper arm. Clark turned his face towards the wall but Lionel would have none of that and pulled Clark's face forward by his jaw. Kissing Clark again, he dropped his hand to Clark's chest to rip open his shirt. He moved his hand along the firm muscles to pinch a nipple sharply. Clark gasped as his knees buckled.

"Oh, yes. You're ripe for it." Suddenly Lionel Luthor let Clark go and he stepped back. Clark sank to the floor and buried his head in his knees, wrapping his arms around himself as if to ward off further attacks. "Tell Lex to behave himself or he won't be the only one to feel my wrath. I can hurt you Kent, and your family. Lex hasn't learned that with only himself to care for. Tell him you and yours will suffer if he doesn't come to heel."

Lionel Luthor strode from the room in a whirl of long black coat.

Clark began to cry.

Chloe was finished that article for the Torch and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment as she drove home. With the weight of her deadline lifted from her shoulders, she could enjoy the sunshine, fluffy clouds and fresh country air. Well, maybe not the air, someone was fertilizing nearby. But life was good anyway, and possibly about to get better as she spied the Kent family truck parked just off the road. It was a dirt track that used to lead to a railway bridge. The bridge had collapsed and never been repaired making the road a dead end. It was odd that the Kent's truck was parked there.

Chloe pulled up behind it and was surprised to see produce in the back. Clark usually made deliveries on Thursday after school but he should have been done by now. Chloe stopped her car and got out.

"Clark?" she walked slowly towards the truck. As she got closer she saw movement in front of the truck and Clark suddenly popped up. He was looking at the hood and not meeting her eyes.

"Hi Chloe. What are you doing out here?" Clark's voice sounded odd.

"I was about to ask you the same thing. I've just put the Torch to bed and had to drop some of my dad's papers in Luthor's drop box. Shouldn't you have finished your deliveries by now?"

Clark cleared his throat. "I just needed a bit of a break. I had a rough day at school." Clark ran his fingers tentatively along the front of the truck's hood. It was the kind of gesture he made when unsure of others around him. Chloe knew him well enough to recognise the implication but not how he could be unsure of her?

"Clark, what's wrong?" She moved closer to him and he actually backed away from her. This was not right. As she got closer, she noticed a smudge on his cheek as if he'd hastily wiped wet away with dirty fingers. "Clark look at me." She closed the distance between them and looked up to see his eyes that he'd been hiding behind his fringe of hair. "Goodness, Clark, you've been crying!" Chloe had never seen Clark this upset before.

"Clark, tell me what's going on. Is it your parents? Has something happened on the farm?"

"No! Chloe, they're fine. I'm just not myself that's all."

"Clark, this is more not yourself than I've ever seen you. Even after the whole scarecrow thing, you didn't let it set you back. What happened?"

Clark looked off across the fields surrounding them and up at the sunny sky, taking in how surreal it all seemed. It should be dismal, stormy, something other than this cheery day.

"Chloe you've got to promise not to tell a soul and I mean even Pete, especially Pete. Something happened at Lex's place and I don't even know what to think." Clark sighed with resignation and sank down to sit on the front bumper of the truck. Chloe sat beside him and took his hand.

"You know I'd never betray you. You can tell me anything" Chloe smiled a little smile and looked up into his beautiful eyes. It was hard to see so much sadness in this man she loved. He may not know it and she couldn't have him, but it helped her feel close to do what she could, swearing to herself that her journalist nature would never do anything to take away his trust.

"I... I went to Lex's to deliver his order and he wasn't there...but his dad was. God... Chloe he was really mad and really scarey and he was yelling about Lex defying him and then he grabbed me and accused me of stuff and I couldn't get away from him. I felt so sick and he said...he said..." It started in a rush but Clark got stuck fast. He sucked in a sob and whispered, "I've never been so scared of anyone before... and the stuff he said Chloe...I'm not completely clueless. I've been on the internet and stuff but he said Lex likes that...and he touched me and I feel kinda dirty and kind of sick and...and.." another shuddering breath in "..and I can't tell anybody cause it would hurt my mom and dad and Lex and he threatened me and told me to tell Lex that if he didn't do what he was told he'd hurt me." Clark shuddered at the memory but found he was able to compose himself now that he'd said it. It was still real but he was getting perspective. Lionel could not hurt him. He must have had a meteor or part of one on him somehow.

"God! Clark, are you saying Lionel Luther thinks you and Lex are lovers?!" Chloe yelled in surprise.

"Chloe!" Clark hissed as if worried that someone would overhear. Chloe paused and looked pointedly at the empty countryside around them. Clark straightened to his full height, cracking his spine as if relieved and raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement. He could see that Chloe was surprised but not shocked and her reaction seemed to help ground him. Chloe always made things clearer.He stopped to consider. "Do you think it's true? I mean that Lex... likes me like that?"

"I think you'll have to ask Lex. I think you're going to have to tell him about this. It sounds like you're being dragged into something between Lex and his father and only Lex will know what that is."

"I guess you're right. I'll have to talk to Lex first. I don't want anyone else to know. If my dad found out that Mr. Luthor threatened me, he might get mad and end up hurt. I don't want anyone to get hurt." Clark seemed to slouch in on himself again. Carrying the weight of the world, Chloe thought. He'd obviously been hurt badly but his concern for others always seemed to come first.

Chloe couldn't resist the urge to touch him. How could anyone threaten and hurt this sweet boy. She touched his cheek with the palm of her hand making him look her in the eye. "Are you sure you're OK?"

"Yeah, I've never been that scared and it really freaked me out. It wasn't like I was afraid of pain... more like I was afraid of how truly evil he seemed. I can't describe the look in his eyes. I can't imagine how Lex would feel to have a dad like that." Clark looked at the horizon for a few seconds then back down at Chloe. He reached out and pulled her into a gentle hug. "Thank you."

"What will you do now?" Chloe tilted her head, happy to see her Clark returning to himself. Clark felt much better, with a purpose, or at least a first step. He was going to have to figure this out as he went along.

Chloe also stood, taking in Clark's more decisive stance. "Ready to take on Lionel Luther?"

"Ready to try. I'd best see Lex. Can I call you later?"

"Whatever the hour, you had better." she admonished.

Clark leaned down and kissed her cheek, "Bye Chloe"

Chloe backed her car out of the dead end lane and watched Clark drive off. This sunny day had taken a dark turn and she had no idea where this would lead.

Chapter 3 No Retreat

"Lex, you have to see this."

Lex sighed in frustration at the interruption and looked up at his Chief of Security. "What have you got."

"While you were away we activated all security cameras according to protocol and taped all movement within the house. No alarms went off so the tape went unreviewed until this am when we had an inquiry about your father's visit."

"My father was here? Why wasn't I informed immediately?"

"You arrived home rather late last night and he was here so briefly it was deemed it could wait. He left you no messages...Well except maybe this." Robert held out a video tape. "I'll leave it with you." Lex nodded in dismissal and took the tape. He set it on his desk and looked back at his mountain of paperwork. The paper wasn't going anywhere.

Lex stood and moved to his "recreation" room. He placed the tape into the VCR, hit play and watched a video of his empty office. He set the fast forward and slowed it again as an image of his father came on screen. There was no sound and the picture was black and white. His father appeared angry and paced the office after trying to make a call. Then he moved to the window and smiled secretly as he spotted something in the drive. He had his hand in the pocket of his long black coat and appeared to be considering something. He pulled something from his pocket looking briefly at it then replaced it. At that point Clark Kent entered the room and Lex almost broke the remote as his grip tightened reflexively. Clark quickly started to turn to leave. Lionel grabbed him appearing to threaten him. Clark seemed to stumble back and looked confused. Lionel's demeanor suddenly changed to seductive but still fired by rage. He began to touch Clark and Lex's stomach clenched in shock and sorrow. Large as Clark was he seemed unable to fight of Lex's father who kissed him. Lex felt his heart lurch as he saw Clark turn his head away. Clark looked terrified. The encounter lasted only minutes. Lionel backed off after more heated words and Clark sank to the floor looking broken. Lionel then turned and looked directly at the camera with a calculating smile. As he stormed out of the room the only image left was of Clark appearing to quietly cry.

Oh God, just by knowing Clark he was bringing him in to his personal world of hurt. His rage at his father was easily added to the simmering hatred he'd harboured for years. He watched as Clark's image slowly unwound itself and straightened. Standing slowly he seemed to shake himself and wiped at his eyes with the heal of his hands. He straightened his shirt and tried to pull himself together but did not seem capable. His chest was hitching as if stiffling sobs and he walked out of the room with an unsteady gait, knocking one shoulder against the door frame and reeling slightly as he left.

Lex stopped the tape and backed up till his knees contacted a chair causing him to almost fall as he sat down hard. The image of Clark's frightened look was burning into his memory and branding his heart. Innocent, friendly, unsullied Clark Kent. The best thing to have come into Lex Luthor's life in as long as he could remember. It was really quite humorous how much this boy meant to him. He wanted to give him everything even if it meant helping with his boyish crush on the local cheerleader. He would take Clark Kent as part of his life in any way he could just to have that sunny smile and open friendship warm his cold world. Instead he was giving Clark a walk in a nightmare. He needed to see him, now.

Lex grabbed his coat and raced to his Ferrari, peeling out of the drive at a speed that tested even this car's power. It was 3:00 pm on Friday, Clark should be just getting out of school. He raced across town to pull up to the school as most students swarmed out the doors. He waited watching for a dark head that towered above the rest. Lex spotted him easily, walking with his shoulders slouched and his head down. He appeared deep in thought. Lex again marvelled that such a handsome young man was not popular at school but his uncomman height and pale skin set him apart. The community he'd grown up with was a small town and unforgiving of those who stood out. Lex got out of the car and walked towards Clark, students parting like the Red Sea before him. Lex also experienced the lack of acceptance projected on someone who is different. If he could, he'd make his own world for Clark and himself.

"Clark, can I talk to you for a minute?" Lex seemed to startle Clark out of his reverie.

"Lex, I wanted to see you. I tried yesterday but you didn't get back til late. I've got to go home and do my chores, I missed some last night and have to catch up but it shouldn't take too long. Can I see you after supper?" Clark wouldn't look at him, studying Lex's feet.

"Can I drive you home?" Lex watched Clark steel himself as if going into battle.


Lex lead him to the Ferrari and watched as Clark folded himself into the low seat. Lex got in and started it up. They drove in silence until the school was out of sight then Lex spoke. "I know what happened. I have a security video in my office." Clark let out a breath as if he'd been holding it since they left the school. "I saw how my father treated you and I can't apologize enough for pulling you into our battle of wills. I never expected him to do something like this. I want to protect you but I'm going to need to know what he said."

"I have to get home. Can we talk about this later?" Clark swallowed admonishing himself mentally for being chickenshit.

"You eat at 6:00 right? I'll get you at 7:00. Clark, I need to know if you've told your parents."

Clark looked moritified. "God Lex, how could I tell my folks about this." Clark looked out the window at the pretty yellow farm house as they pulled in the drive feeling that his world was crumbling. Once they stopped Lex reached over to take Clark's hand and Clark jerked away reflexively. There was pain in Lex's eyes quickly shuttered to nutrality as he watched Clark get out. "I'll see you later." He backed cautiously out of the drive but once on the road, drove the Ferrari hard. His eyes began to swim with tears that he refused to shed.

Clark and his father worked in a steady rhythm. Automatically sharing tasks in tandem that showed years of practice working together and a rapport that came from silent understanding. Jonathan Kent was however anything but understanding at this moment. As he worked with his son, he could not get his mind off the events of the night before. Clark had come home late last night after his deliveries were made. Too late to finish the chores expected of him that Jonathan had had to complete. Jon had been annoyed and prepared to say so in no uncertain terms, until he saw his son's face. Looking at his son now he saw only a hint of that turmoil.

Clark had missed supper and gone straight to his room on coming home. He had not met his parents eyes when apologising and claimed to have been held up by Chloe with a problem with the Torch. Jonathan had started to follow Clark when Martha had put a hand on his arm to stop him. "Give him time. Clark has always come to us but he's older now and trying to make his own decisions. "We have to give him space and he'll let us know if he can't handle it, whatever it is."

"He looked really upset Martha." Jonathan answered, worried. "It won't hurt to let him know we're worried."

"Alright, but let him make the decision?" Martha asked trying to will her husband to back down.

Jonathan smiled "I know, I'm trying not to be overbearing." With that he climbed the stairs and knocked quietly on Clark's door. "Son, is everything all right?"

Clark rolled over on his bed and spoke to the ceiling, "I'm OK, Dad, just tired. Can I talk to you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, sleep well son."

"Goodnight, Dad."

Clark slept poorly. He'd been unable to contact Lex. He'd have to try to see him tomorrow but had no idea what to say. How do you tell someone such things about their father? He didn't know if he could mention what Lionel had implied. He had never thought of Lex that way but he knew he was more comfortable with Lex than even his oldest friends. Lex understood without having to explain. Lex was also an outsider. Lex had become a necessary part of his life, like breathing. He counted on seeing Lex to feel calm in his mixed up life. This would destroy that sense of calm.

The way Lionel had touched him had made him feel dirty as if he was a thing and without feelings. He remembered the feel of Lionel's beard, the roughness and he shivered. If Lex was to touch him would it be as frightening? Clark didn't believe that Lex would ever hurt him but he hadn't believed Lex's father would ever touch him like that! Clark's father reminded him often that Lex was a Luthor. Now he had an idea how horrible that was. "The apple doesn't fall far ..." his father's sayings rattled in his head.

Clark flipped over and punched the pillow and accepted the fact his thoughts would battle his feelings for the rest of the night.

In the heat of the afternoon, father and son worked in silence for some time. One trying not to say anything, the other agonizing over what to say. Finally Clark paused, leaning one arm across the handle of his pitchfork and watched his father approach with the wheelbarrow. "Dad, why do you dislike Lex so much?"

Jonathan sighed uncharitably. It figured this problem had the Luthor kid involved. "I don't know Lex well enough to dislike him, son. I just don't trust him."


Jonathan looked at Clark, surprised that the question didn't come with some "in defense of Lex" rider attached. "His father and grandfather were cut throat businessmen. Lex has been trained from birth to be like them. It's unlikely that he's not, no matter how much he wants to curry your favor now. He will eventually move on and I want you to keep enough distance to not get hurt."

"How do you know he will move on? We could be friends for life." Clark raised his chin defiantly with this protest.

"I don't know anything. All I can do is try to do what's best for you and make my judgements based upon my broader life experience. Unfortunately part of that experience has been to get a glimpse of the Luthor world. The rich and elite with spoiled children and little purpose in life. Lex may be trying to change but all of his life is involved with those people and their expectations. What he has here in Smallville is most likely temporary as he will have to return to that world."

Clark seemed to mull this over but his look was less than believing.

"Clark, I know I sound harsh to you but I just want to shield you from the bad that is out there in the big wide world. You'll always be partly my little boy that I want to protect. Watching you grow and make your own decisions is hard. I can't stop you from doing as you will but I hope you will always stop to at least consider my older opinion."

"I'll try." Clark smiled slowly. Jonathan walked over and ruffled Clark's hair feeling a wave of desperate love. He had lost the ability to protect this boy from those that could hurt him and that broke off a piece of his parental heart.

"Dad, Lex is coming to pick me up after supper tonight. Mom said it was OK." Clark's arms swung tentatively at his sides, one hip hitched out waiting for possible rejection.

I can't stop you he thought but said "Please Clark, just remember what I said." Martha was the eternal peacekeeper and seemed to genuinely like Lex. Jonathan watched his tall son walk with graceful strides back to the house for the evening meal realising that he wanted happiness for him at all costs. If that could only come to Clark from the son of Lionel Luthor then he would just have to get used to that fact.

Conversation was reasonably normal while they ate but Clark had to concentrate not to drift off in worry about the evening to come. His parents discussed the current prices on the farm report in the evening news while Clark made a few assenting noises and watched the clock. He helped clean up and do dishes as 7:00 pm came and went. At 7:30 he began to pace. He tried to call Lex but his cell was off and the house staff said he was engaged but would give no details.

"Mom, Dad, Lex was supposed to be here an hour ago. It's not like him not to call. I'm going to the mansion to check on him. I promise to be sneaky and not interfere if everthing's OK."

"He's a grown man son."

"He's not that much older than Clark, Jonathan. Five years older doesn't make him wordly wise. I'm worried too."

"Alright, but remember to be careful Clark."

"Promise. Thanks." Clark smiled gratefully, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.

Arriving at the mansion Clark used his x-ray vision to locate Lex in the house, looking for the distinctive bonestructure at the back of Lex's skull. He was in his usual study apparently speaking to another skeleton form. They appeared to be having an argument. Suddenly the other person hit Lex and he staggered back with the force of it. Clark gasped in surprise then dissappeared through the stone doorway in a blur of super speed.

Lex walked into his study and sat down still reeling slightly from the shock of Clark's withdrawal. He should have guessed this would happen. In his mind he'd known it was inevitable-- he'd just refused to see. Lionel Luthor made sure to control all aspects of Lex's life and this was bound to happen. Lex had been caught with no game plan or counter attack prepared for the endless war that was his family.

Walking up the stairs to his suite, Lex tried to organise his thoughts. He needed to think. Plot and counter plot is how his father worked. As Lex changed for dinner he began to list his options. The most obvious card in his favour was the video of Lionel apparently accosting a young man. Why had Lionel allowed this if he knew the camera was there? His final look up indicated that he knew. He must then feel that Lex could not use it. Possibly it could be discredited as a fake if the heir to the empire were to present it in court to discredit his predecessor, clearing the path to billions. Lex also did not know what evidence his father had kept on him from some of his more flamboyant youthful indiscretions. This would only mean a tense Detente. Lex needed an edge to eventually beat his father at his own game.

Lex continued to ruminate over his meal, eating little and watching the clock for the time to leave to pick up Clark. They'd need to go somewhere to talk, though after Clark's reaction to his touch this afternoon, it had best be a nice neutral spot. Lex felt his heart lurch again at the thought of Clark being nauseated or afraid of his touch.

He berated himself for letting down his guard. He had always kept an emotional distance. Until he'd sped off a bridge at 60 miles an hour and wakened to the face of an angel begging him not to die. Lex had felt a connection immediately. Particularly when said angel proceeded to faint from the effort of rescuing Lex, reversing their roles as Lex sought help. When Clark's father had arrived Lex felt a twinge of jealousy for the concern he saw there and a jolt of reality when the man had refused to shake his hand.

His subsequent dealings with Clark had cemented a friendship based on a single feeling, acceptance. Lex was amazed at how easily Clark accepted him as he was, without ulterior motivation. Clark's wide innocent eyes never closed him out, even if they were not always truthful. When Clark was angry with him it did not seem to come with a threat that could end their friendship, indicating that disagreement was allowed. Lex had never experienced this before and it was intoxicating. He said what he thought and did not constantly need to weigh his words even though this was second nature to him now. It was almost trust and near enough to it that Lex had begun not to care. The experience of having a friend who was not wary of him on one level or another was formerly something he had never imagined.

And so Lex's behaviour had begun to change seeking the warm presence of Clark Kent at every opportunity. Hell, he'd even taken to hanging out with high school students. Unfortunately, his father's spies had noticed. Lex had only recently realised his feelings for Clark were becoming more complicated. Having always been aware of Clark's physical attraction, Lex had begun to find excuses to touch him, unable to keep any distance, emotionally or otherwise. He also knew that nothing could possibly make Clark Kent, All American farm boy, return these feelings. Now that Lionel Luthor was involved the relationship as it was would have to come to an end. Lex's father was nothing if not thorough. This was something he would not condone. Lex had felt the force of Lionel's wrath in the past and at one point in his life he had actively provoked it hoping to get his father's attention even if it was brief and unkind.

Perhaps it would be best if this meeting was just a goodbye. His last chance to savour Clark's presence before he cut off all ties. The thought was painful but the memory of Clark being hurt by his father was worse. Lex had little time to make this decision. He'd need to leave soon to see Clark. Looking up from staring blankly at the centerpiece on the long dining room table Lex was surprised to see the dark form of his father standing in the doorway. He had not heard him enter and considering the man usually charged everywhere with great energy it was a bit of a surprise to see him so still and silent.

Lionel appeared to be studying him. "I'm disapponted in you, Lex."

Where had Lex heard that before, oh yes, weekly. Lex stood, walking casually past his father towards his study. Turning his head as he passed his father his voice dripped with sarcasm."Gee, I'm sorry, dad. I do try so hard."

"Is that what the Cadmus lab fiasco was? Trying hard? I found your Nicodemus records and I am once again astounded by your cat like ability to land on your feet. This could have been a disaster of mythic proportions."

"Well you always wanted me to emulate Alexander the Great, mythic proportions would fall in that category." Lex continued to walk forcing his father to follow him.

"Don't mock me, Lex. You need to start taking responsibility for your actions. You have a legacy to live up to and playing the mad scientist is not part of your destiny. It is time to give up your childish things."

"I stopped being a child long ago."

"Yet you continue to play with an illegal lab and that doesn't even touch upon your questionable social activities here in Smallville. Then there's your unnatural friendship with a local high school student. Don't think I don't know your motivations."

"You wouldn't be capable of understanding my motivations if I sent you a written prospectus. I've actually made friends here. I'm becoming someone I can be proud of. I'd have thought,Father, you would want that for me."Lex's voice was a challenge.

"I need you to be someone I can be proud of. I built an empire and I can't leave it to someone who won't respect the demands that it will make."

"I don't honestly believe you plan to leave me a thing, Dad. Surely you've figured out a way to take it with you by now." Lex smirked and Lionel clenched his fists."You just want another drone. Well surprise, surprise, I am my father's son and can't fit that mold."

"I need you to behave, Lex, and if I have to do that with a harsh lesson then so be it."

"Is that what that attack on Clark was, Dad? A harsh lesson? Because it didn't take. Don't forget I have that little incident on tape and you looked suspiciously like you enjoyed it. You know what they say, like father like..."Lex let the sentence trail off with a suggestive smirk.

Lionel spoke through his teeth "You won't use it. I'd unleash a pandora's box of questionable information about your life in Metropolis. Not only would that destroy you as my heir but I don't think your farmer's son would hold you in high esteem either. Don't forget the Nicodemus experiment is not public knowledge." Lex stopped to remember the look on Clark's face when he asked him about the book that night on the street. That was the closest Lex had come to feeling fear in some time. His expression became sincere for the first time. "If that's what it would take to keep Clark Kent away from harm I wouldn't hesitate."

"Noble sentiments, Lex, but it won't put the boy into your bed."

"As long as it keeps him out of yours." Lex accused.

Lionel saw red and back handed his son with all the strength of years of fencing. Lex staggered back with the force of it.

"I'm tired of your defiance, as long as you remain dependent on me you'll be grateful for anything I give you." Lionel stepped closer to Lex with a look of menace and Lex braced himself for another blow.

A new voice cut in. "I don't think so." Lionel looked back to see Clark Kent in the doorway with what could only be described as murder in his eyes.

Clark felt his heart constrict when he saw Lex with a smear of blood on the corner of his mouth. The assailant was Lionel Luthor, standing tall and angry, obviously threatening his son. Clark knew hatred in that moment. This was the man who had humiliated and demeaned him. Now he was trying to do the same thing to Clark's best friend and he wasn't going to stand for it. What was the use of powers if you couldn't protect the ones you love?

Lionel was speaking, telling Lex he would do as he was told. By this evil man?

"I don't think so." Clark stepped forward.

"Stay out of this, boy. My son and I don't need your interference. Go home and stay there. Forget you saw this and forget my son." Lionel turned to Clark in challenge.

Lex sighed in defeat. "Do as he says, Clark. It's best if we don't see each other again."

"I won't do that, Lex." Turning to Lionel, Clark seemed to grow a few inches in size using his stature to intimidate. "You can't do what you want and get away with it. You attacked me and Lex and I WILL report you."

Lionel laughed "You do know that I can own your family's mortgage with a single phone call. I can have your parents tossed on the street. Some people are above the law. I happen to be one of them."

Clark's heart began to pound with fury and outrage. He let it mask the undercurrent of fear that Lionel's threat inspired. "You're not above this." Clark grabbed Lionel by his shirt front and lifted him up onto his toes.

Lionel's eyes widened in surprise. "You wouldn't dare."

"I would if you hurt me or mine. You caught me off guard before but I'm not a little boy." Clark thrust Lionel back with disgust.

Lionel had not been touched in a threatening manner in years and it unsettled him. Ridiculous, he shook it off. "Physical threats will get you nowhere."

Clark backed up, controlling some of his anger. "Lex says there's a tape of you touching me. I can take that to the police. With my testimony you'd be spending time in a jail cell." Lex smiled, thinking Clark naive to think his father would ever go to jail.

"Lex will never give you that tape and even if he did I can produce a dozen more, each with different faces added to discredit the first. If Lex goes ahead with this farce he turns his back on his family, his name, and his fortune. I'll not just disown him, I'll humiliate him in the most demeaning manner. Lex knows I can do it."

"I won't let you." Clark's frustration was tinged with worry.

"It's alright Clark." Lex's tone was soft and calm.

Clark and Lionel both turned to look at Lex who was now leaning on his desk having resumed his normal casual stance. He took a moment to study the two men before him, noting that for the first time Clark had the confidence of a man. Perhaps this could work. Lionel had underestimated Clark, expecting him to be fearful and easily controlled. This new Clark was a wild card that could be played, Lex had only to assess the cost.

"Gentlemen, I feel we have come to an impasse." Lex sounded confident and businesslike. Clark shivered reassessing the situation and feeling slightly off kilter by the sudden change. "Clark's threat is very real. A victim to back up the tape's veracity. I could remain neutral, uninvolved, and you would gain nothing by playing your hand."

Lionel straightened his back and smoothed down his jacket, taking the time to evaluate this. Lex he knew, would act on threats but the boy? Clark's demeanor remained outraged. He stood tall and ramrod straight with his jaw clenched. He opened and closed his fists as if wishing to wrap them around Lionel's throat. He was his father's son and believed in the sacred right of justice. Lionel recalled knocking heads with Jonathan Kent in the days of the creamed corn factory take over. His son would most likely not back down. Time to regroup.

"Lex, you've let this get out of hand. Neither of us wants to take this further. You need to concentrate on strengthening your business accumen. I've shown patience waiting for you to realise this but no longer."

"I'm not giving up my life in Smallville." Lex had thought this through when his father had offered him the job back in Metropolis. Lionel took in his son's determined look.

"I will get you to do as I say but you will not like my methods."

Clark stepped forward. "I won't let you hurt him."

"Take care, Kent, Lex will tell you what it means to take me on." His expression was hard, hinting at things Lex did not want to remember. "We'll resume this later Lex." Dismissing them as no longer important, Lionel strode out, already contemplating his meeting at 10:00 am the next day.

Clark turned almost smiling in relief and saw Lex sag, seeming to deflate from a hardened businessman to a lost boy with the force of one sigh.

Clark approached Lex tentatively, mildly shocked by his friend's sudden vulnerability. Lex was strong, smooth, always in control. Wasn't he? Reaching out a hand he touched Lex's shoulder softly. Lex inhaled as if startled and immediately the look was gone. He smirked at Clark but the confidence did not shine in his eyes. Clark suppressed the urge to comfort him knowing this was not the time to let Lex know his facade was not working.

"We beat him at his own game, Lex. I think we should be celebrating."

"Much as I normally wouldn't pass on a chance to celebrate something, we might be a bit premature." Lex's tone was flat. He walked slowly to the window, looking out at the darkening sky. "Or at least, you can go home and celebrate. I don't think my father will bother your family. I don't think he needs to open this up to a larger audience. He's right to keep it between us and I'd be right to do that too. Go home, Clark. Get a good night's sleep and start new tomorrow. Tomorrow's the Farmer's Market, right?"

Clark drew his eyebrows together, tilting his head. What was going on? "Yeah..."

"Well, you'll need to be up early. I'm sure you have a busy day. Say 'Hi' to your friends for me."


"Look, Clark. You've been pulled into something you shouldn't have. Right now the door is open to get out while you can. I suggest you take this opportunity. It may not come again so easily."

Pulled into something? Clark almost laughed at the understatement. "I'm here now and I don't normally back down that easily. How can you think I'll walk away now? You're my best friend. I've done more for people I don't even know." Clark was beginning to feel exasperated.

"You're too smart to get caught up in this. You happened into the wrong place at the wrong time and my father used you to make a point. I got the point and I'm surprised you didn't." Lex's voice was almost condescending as if trying to offend.

"Lex, if his point is that he can intimidate you then he went further than neccessary to prove it." Clark was only now realising the extent of Lex's physical vulnerability.

"No, Clark. I think the point is more that I can't fight him and have people that I care about, people that he can hurt, in my life. My father wrote the book on ruthless."

"What about if he hurts you?" Clark's voice was almost a whisper, surprised his stomach ached with the thought. Lex paused a moment and Clark began to wonder about Lex's childhood. He'd x-rayed Lex before and noted a number of old injuries but had always assumed they were from sports.

"Ancient history, Clark."

"Is the blood on your lip ancient history, too?"

Lex brought a hand up quickly and wiped at the side of his mouth with long fingers looking at his hand and registering mild surprise to find blood. Clark watched this action with a surge of protectiveness. Lex had never looked delicate before, having a strong wirey frame and attitude to spare but now he looked delicate. No, fragile was the word. Like his skin held together by will alone and that if Lex let down his guard he'd bleed from a million cracks and fissures. Clark walked forward and took the hand with the small smear of blood, holding it palm up as if to read the future. Lex looked up and his blue eyes shone with a hint of moisture. He blinked once and it was gone. Looking into Clark's eyes, studying his features he seemed to be searching for something. He did not appear to find it and looked down again, appearing to study Clark's chest.

Lex sighed in defeat. "Go home, Clark." He pulled his hand slowly from Clark's and turned once again to look out the dark window. The low light from the window softened his features though his jaw was tight.

Clark's sixteen year old uncertainty returned in full force. He wanted to argue but didn't know how. He wanted to hold Lex and make the scary world go away. He wanted to beat the crap out of Lionel Luthor for making Lex look like this. He wanted to run home and have his parents protect him.

The last thought made him stop. How had Lex grown up without being able to think that last thought? He could protect Lex physically but Lionel Luthor did not work in the physical world alone. He could not be with Lex all the time to shield him and he could not risk exposure of his secret, particularly to Lionel Luthor. Clark did not know what to do. He reached out again to place his hand on Lex's shoulder but Lex rolled it, shrugging him off. Lex looked again into Clark's eyes but they were no longer searching and no longer unsure. "Goodbye, Clark."

Clark walked backwards a few steps, not taking his eyes from Lex. His chest was starting to feel tight. Breathing was hard. He'd take some time to think. Hanging his head, he walked out the door. "I'll see you later, Lex."

Clark sat alone in his Fortress of Solitude staring at nothing, his thoughts lost in the burgeoning sunset. It had been a regular weekend spent working on the farm, helping his dad and doing homework. Every minute of it had felt unreal. Today back at school, he'd been unable to pay attention or talk to his friends, brushing aside questions with lying reassurances of his own well being. He just did not know what to tell them.

He hadn't been able to see Lex and couldn't stop thinking of him. Clark was re-evaluating what he knew of Lex Luthor and was not particularly happy with the new picture or for that matter, with his conflicting feelings. The problem was that he could understand Lex's reasons for cutting him out but not how easily he seemed to do it.

It did not help that Lex would not see him. He had gone to the mansion and found that security would not let him in. The man at the door was also new, as he discovered when he bypassed security to get on the grounds. Security was increased to the point that he could not break in without revealing his powers. Lex, it seems had kept his promise to rid himself of staff that might have allegiance to his father. His calls were met with voicemail. He had seen Lex only once from a distance. Lex had walked stiffly, not looking up from the sidewalk and gotten into his car before Clark could get his attention. Clark wanted to talk to him and explain that he could help. Lex didn't know the whole story. Lex couldn't understand how much help Clark could be, how much help he wanted to be. If Lex knew his secrets...Clark could not believe he was thinking of telling Lex everything. Lex had just told him to go away and Clark was still reeling with the pain and burst of emotions that had caused.

Clark turned away from the loft doors and back towards his couch, sitting with an audible groan of stress from that hapless piece of furniture. Lex didn't want to see him any more. Lex didn't want...him! Clark punched the arm of the couch and it broke away without a sound. Clark caught it before it crashed to the floor and was immediately contrite. He was always caught a little off guard by his own strength when out of control.

"Clark, are you up there?" Chloe's voice interrupted his thoughts and Clark scrambled to hide the broken arm under the couch. "Just came by to see how you were. You didn't look good today at school and I know better than to believe that all's well. You never called and then at school you were definitely somewhere else. You even ignored Lana." Chloe came up the stairs with a determined look giving Clark a reason to feel mildly apprehensive. Take no prisoners mode could be scary. "I must admit though, you're improving as a liar, dubious a compliment as that may be." Clark chuckled internally at the thought that if she only knew...

"Looking for the inside scoop?" Clark smiled at Chloe, offense being the best form of defense against an intrepid reporter. He knew she only wished him well. He just wasn't sure what he wanted to tell her.

"You don't have to fill me in but after what happened Thursday night, I just wanted to offer my support." Chloe looked at him with sincerity, putting a sizable crack in his defensiveness.

"Thanks, Chloe, a lot of things happened and it's really freaked me out. I'm just trying to make sense of it all."

"Is it true that Lex likes you?"

"I don't know. If he did he doesn't any more. He sent me away and told me not to come back."

"Whoa, that's kind of drastic. What happened?"

Clark looked off above the trees, not seeing anything but the events of the week before. He told Chloe of the tape, what Lionel Luthor had said and the seeming impasse they had reached. He couldn't understand how Lex could send him away. Had he misunderstood all the caring he thought he saw in Lex's eyes?

"Well, Lex Luthor either has a noble heart or a strong streak of self preservation. Whatever his motivation, it may be the right thing for you." Chloe looked at the dark headed boy beside her and tried to will him to see the truth of this.

"I don't want to leave Lex alone." Clark's expression was forlorn and his voice a whisper as if the realisation was new. Chloe closed her eyes briefly as her niggling fears were confirmed.

"Are you saying what I think you are?"

"If I think I like Lex, would you be OK with that?" The big eyes looking down at her were vulnerable.

"Clark, I'm a Metropolis girl. I'm not naive." Chloe forced her selfish streak down past the sinking feeling in her stomach. "I will however, be disappointed for the female population of Smallville as the most gorgeous farmboy I know leaps off the market."

She smiled a big toothy grin and put her arm around his shoulder, gratified to see a burning blush on his handsome features. Trying to focus her thoughts away from how beautiful she really thought him to be, she made herself speak with a bit of a rush. "I'm just a little surprised about the sudden loss of a certain ex-cheerleader fixation."

Clark squinted his eyes in contemplation of his workboots. "I think that may have had more to do with who I wanted to be."

Chloe was incredulous. "Are you saying you wanted to be Whitney?" She was proud of her ability to stifle the derisive snort that almost escaped.

"Who wouldn't want to be popular, know I haven't been able to join sports at school." Clark was still looking internally, not seeing her surprise. "I've learned that Whitney needs Lana and Lana wants to be needed. I feel sort of the same with Lex. Lex makes my stomach hurt with need now that I can't be near him. I guess I'll have to accept that normal is not going to be part of my life."

"Well, I'd say you've got it bad."

"Yeah." His look should not have been so sad. "Just in time for total rejection. It'll take a bit but I'll get over it."

"Look, Clark out of my vast romantic experience, I can't tell you much, other than you have to go with how you feel." Chloe reached up and pushed his hair off his forehead in an almost motherly gesture. Who'd have guessed that love would make her altruistic.

"I know, Chloe, and thanks." Clark smiled and Chloe felt warm inside even though the last piece of hope for anything more than friendship with Clark had died.

"Glad to help." This time her grin became mischievous. "Just give it time before you break it to Pete."

Lex sat in the Talon enjoying the late Monday lack of customers. He'd come at this time deliberately knowing it would be slow and the teenage crowd that he currently wished to avoid would be absent. The weekend had been busy. He'd cleaned up his staff and reorganised his personal finances. He'd reassessed his net worth and moved monies to more accessable venues in anticipation of a battle with his father. Thank heavens his father's discovery of the lab had not led him to all of Lex's projects. Investment in scientific discovery was the foundation of Lex's dreams for a future empire of his own. Crap factories could remain in his father's portfolio. Lex's chemical engineering degree had been hard won. With his father's insistance he majored in business, the minor in a scienctific field had had to be earned while fighting Lionel's disapproval. Smallville and its interesting meteor history was dripping with lucrative potential.

Lex finished his coffee and left money on the table. He walked out into the late spring air that still held some crispness before summer's heat. Walking down the sidewalk towards his Porsche he felt a sudden pull on the back of his jacket and stumbled into the alley at the side of the building. A quick blow to his stomach caused him to double over in pain and nearly taking his ability to breathe. Fiery agony shot up his back as he took another hit in the area of his kidneys. A strong hand gripped him by the throat and pushed his back against the wall.

Recognition was immediate. "Dominic." The grip on his throat allowing little more than a whisper.

"Hello, Lex. Just dropping by to give you my warmest regards." Lex took another blow to the stomach as two more assailants held his arms.

"What, no word from your sister?" Lex sneered and the hand on his throat tightened uncomfortably.

"She doesn't care the way I do, Lex. I came to warn you that you might get hurt." Dominic's pale features held a self-satisfied, sarcastic smile.

"How touching. I'll be sure to mention your concern to my father." Lex tried to maintain his sarcastic tone but the attempt was feeble with pain flaring up his sides.

"Don't bother, Lex. He's well aware of my feelings for you and has removed his protection as a method of persuasion. Apparently you haven't been a good boy." Dominic barely contained his glee.

"At least I'm not a mindless, ass-kissing drone. I'm surprised my father ever let you out of that trunk." Another blow. Note to self, Lex, shut up.

"That was most unkind, Lex. But I have an excellent way to work out my trauma." Dominic fisted him in the side and Lex hissed with the pain. "Go home and think about this. I haven't touched your face but that can be arranged at a later date if you continue to be obstinate. Your father said to tell you he'd be flying in to make an announcement at the plant on Wednesday and wants all the workers assembled. Be ready." Dominic kneed Lex in the groin and walked casually out of the alley followed by his two thugs. Stopping at the entrance of the alley he admired his handywork as Lex knelt on the ground. "See you around, Lex."

God, that hurt. Lex tried to swallow back the bile that wanted to follow the contents of his newly emptied stomach. The room swirled and he leaned his head against the cold tiles on the bathroom wall enjoying the tiny relief it gave his pounding temples. He was amazed he had made it home. One of his discreet servants had immediately called for Toby. Lex made it to the bed and collapsed just as the lanky former surgeon entered the room.

"You look like shit, Lex."

"Thank you. How much is that medical opinion going to cost me?"

"As much as I can get." Toby grinned with satisfation. After burning out as a doctor in military service, he took perverse pleasure in screwing the establishment in any way he could, particularly the rich. The unique relationship of Lionel and Lex Luthor had been lucrative and quite honestly nothing shocked him any more. "You want to tell me what happened?"

"No, just patch me up as best you can and give me something for the pain that won't make me drowsy or stupid." Lex hissed as Toby prodded with gentle fingers. Grunting with satisfaction, Toby nodded to himself and made Lex turn over to examine his back.

"I should send you in for x-rays, Lex. Field medicine is my forte but I can't be sure you don't have some internal bleeding. I think you may have a cracked rib or two but nothing is obviously broken. That's a major relief. Nothing should be lacerated by broken bones but that doesn't rule out the possibility. At least your blood pressure and colour are good. Your kidney area is a real mess."

"I don't want to use the hospital unless absolutely necessary. You know I won't want a medical record on this." Lex's eyes were half closed with exhaustion.

"Yeh, yeh.. I know the drill but I have to try for your own good."

"Thanks, Toby." For once Lex's smile was sincere and grateful. Toby figured he was too sick to keep his usual attitude.

"Look, Lex, I'll give you something powerful for tonight so you can sleep but by tommorrow there's nothing for this that will keep you alert and not let the pain come through like a freight train. You're going to hurt for a while."

"OK, I can take tonight and tomorrow but I need to be alert for Wednesday." Lex again felt his bearings tilt as another wave of pain shook him. Toby pulled out a needle and gave Lex a shot, sending him into blissful oblivion. He stood to leave placing some pills and written instructions on the night table. Lex Luthor was a complicated young man and Toby admitted to himself he liked him quite a bit. He'd help any way he could. He enjoyed flying in the face of that bastard Lionel Luthor.

The sun shone brightly on Wednesday morning as the management and staff of Luthorcorp Plant # 3 assembled to listen to Lionel Luthor's announcement . Lex had to squint against the brightness that was making his head throb. Toby's pain killers were helping but it still took all of Lex's considerable control to appear nonchalant. Inside Lex seethed with worry over his father's next move. This would not be good.

Lex tried to focus as he looked out over the sea of faces standing before the podium. His father had given him 24 hrs official notice to pull this together and he had been incapacitated for most of yesterday. Thank heavens, Gabe Sullivan was efficient and had taken the initiative while the story was given that Lex was out of the country and unreachable. He still had some trouble with concentration as the pain was unforgiving. Movement was difficult. Lex had to look directly at his father and concentrate on what the man was saying.

"Due to management incompetence beyond your control, the plant will be subject to downsizing and a re-evaluation of production priorities. The plant will close temporarily while we remodel some aspects and bring in new management. This is effective immediately. The length of time required to turn this around is currently unknown."

Lex had just been fired.

Maybe the words were not registering. Management Incompetence. Lex's incompetence. His father was firing him and closing a division of the plant. Lex felt the accusation like a physical blow. All the acceptance he'd recieved here in Smallville was being ripped away. The town depended on this factory. Lost jobs would be blamed on him. His head began to pound in a rhythm with the throbbing in his sides. His father turned to walk away and Lex followed in shock. He grabbed his father's sleeve to stop his exit, arguing in defense of his workers and himself.

Lionel stopped, brushing off Lex's obvious anger. "You're not needed here anymore. Dominic will take over this position. Come home to Metropolis."

Lex stood in misery watching his father's helicopter lift off. So much for an impasse.

Lionel Luthor smiled as his helicopter lifted from the launch pad. "Checkmate, Lex." he whispered to the figure of his son below him. This would bring Lex back to total dependance. Lex was now fully aware that he no longer had his father's protection. He thought he had friends in Smallville but this would finally end that. According to his sources he was no longer seeing Clark Kent. Lionel's grin grew self-satisfied. What other friends he had were based on that relationship. With this blow to Lex's credibility he'd have trouble fitting back in to this small town. Besides that, he was now unemployed with no real money of his own. Lex had nothing. He'd hang in limbo until he realised he had to come to daddy. He would do it with his head bowed. This should bring Lex home.

Gabe Sullivan stood at the top of the steps leading down to the launch pad, suddenly realising how young Lex Luthor really was. Sure, he knew his age but Lex had always carried himself with a worldly air of experience. Right now he just looked lost. He also looked unhealthily pale and Gabe approached him slowly, unsure what to say when he got Lex's attention. He placed a hand on Lex's shoulder and saw him wince as if in pain. As he turned Gabe noticed dark circles under the boy's eyes as they seemed to have difficulty focusing on him.

"Lex, I'm sorry. I know you did your best and the plant was turning a profit."

Lex managed a small smile. "Thanks. It doesn't help much with this new development but thanks." Lex felt the world spinning and knew he had to leave soon. Lex's step stumbled and he caught himself.

Lex are you alright?" Gabe was surprised -- the boy looked physically ill.

"I'll be fine.." Lex said regaining his composure like shrugging into a well worn coat. Lex was good at appearing calm under pressure. "Give me 24 hrs to see what I can do."

Pete Ross was pissed off and sitting in the Talon picking at his wounds like a scab. His two best friends were acting strange, keeping him out of something, sharing looks he could not comprehend. Yesterday Chloe had pulled Clark aside to talk about the plant closing and not included him. He couldn't decide whether to let it ride longer or confront them about it. On top of that, the town was in an uproar. Lionel's announcement yesterday had left most of the town currently without work. No one knew what he meant by downsizing and things weren't looking good for this town. Word was Lex was the cause of it all and Pete could well believe that, having never liked the guy. Pete sat up a little higher seeing someone come out of the Savings and Loan. Speak of the devil and there he was. Lex had been noticeably absent from the local scene and people figured he was hiding in shame. Perhaps that was not true because he was certainly here now.

Pete leaned back in his chair watching Lex cross the street to his car. As Lex got closer a few of Pete's football teammates approached along the sidewalk and appeared to be talking to Lex. By the anger on their faces and Lex's controlled neutral expression, these were not fond greetings. Pete stood up. Mad as he was, he had a strong streak of honor in him and could never sit by while someone was out numbered. With Troy in the lead of that little pack, it could not be good..

Stepping outside, Pete heard the cursing that Lex was recieving. "Hey, Troy how ya doin'?" Pete smiled his most concilliatory smile and approached the group.

Troy Webber was a large, rather handsome boy, but the sneer on his face did little to enhance it. "I'd be better without this bastard walking around." He nodded in Lex's direction as Lex bent to unlock his car door, seemingly oblivious. Pete stood between them.

"Come on, Troy. You guys need to calm down."

"Back off, Pete. We don't have to kiss up to him. He's not the boss here any more. Matter of fact, seems he couldn't even get that right." Trevor's dad worked at Plant # 3, an ex-jock with no education and little hope of re-employment without the factory.

Lex who had appeared to be ignoring everything, spoke up. "Look, everything will be fine. You just need to be patient. The plant will reopen soon, I'm sure." His tone was even and friendly but the boys didn't want explanations. Their secure worlds had taken a frightening turn and they saw Lex as the cause.

"Oh, you're going to fix it like you fixed my dad right out of a job. My mom was crying last night. You gonna fix that too?" The circle around Lex and Pete got smaller."

"Look guys, this isn't gonna help anything." Pete stepped in front of Lex. Lex half-smiled at the younger man's courage. No wonder he was best friends with Clark Kent.

"Stay out of it, Ross. What do you and your lawyer family know about doing without?" Troy shoved Pete aside and grabbed the lapel of Lex's jacket. Pete saw Lex wince, surprising him.

Troy assuming it was fear, chuckled. He was a bully and was truly confident when unopposed. Lex looked a little green.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" a uniformed police officer approached the group and Troy immediately took a step away.

Lex's voice seemed strained. "Every thing is fine officer. These young men were just wishing me good luck."

The group began to move away but Troy took one quick step forward elbowing Lex in the side. "Yeah. Good Luck." Lex's eyes closed and his lips tightened to the point where the skin whitened around them. Pete, sensing something wrong, turned to the officers to thank them and reassure them that everything was fine. Apparently Lana had called them from the Talon, seeing the group and knowing them as well as Pete. The police officer was satisfied and turned to leave telling him to say hello to his mother. Being the son of a judge did come in handy. He watched as Lex tried to seem casual while putting a lot of weight on the car to steady himself.

"Thank you, Mr. Ross." Again an odd tone in Lex's voice as if the words were forced past something.

"It's Pete, Lex. Seeing as, according to sources close to both of us, I once held you at gunpoint, I think first names are OK." Pete's grin was apologetic.

"I didn't know you knew about that." Lex's smile did not carry the voltage of Pete's but it was sincere. "Thank you for your help. I'm sorry but I have to go." Lex felt faint and knew he'd have to leave soon.

"Oh, no." Pete argued. "That's Clark's line. And it doesn't work on me. What's going on?"

Lex felt the pain killers he'd taken to make it to the meeting give out. "I have to go home." he said in a whisper and turned to get in the car moving too quickly and overbalancing against the car. Pete came up and put a hand on his waist to steady him. Lex almost fainted with the pain. The edges of his vision went black.

"You can go but I'd best do the driving." Pete helped him into the passenger seat taking the keys from unprotesting fingers. Lex slumped, happy to give up control for a few minutes. As Pete pulled out, taking a teenage moment to enjoy the Porsche, Lex leaned his head on the cool glass of the passsenger window.

Martha Kent was planting in her garden when the Porsche drove up. She stood up in surprise when Pete Ross got out of the driver's seat and looked around him with a worried expression. He had not seen her kneeling in the garden. Martha took off her gardening gloves and approached the car.

"Pete, what's going on? Where'd you get that car?" Pete turned at the sound of her voice and looked sheepishly to the ground.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent but I wasn't sure what to do. Lex looks sick."

Martha's eyes widened in surprise. Pete walked to the passenger side and opened the door so that Martha could see Lex apparently unconscious in the beautifully upholstered leather seat. Martha crouched down to check him. Holding a hand to his forehead, he did not seem particularly feverish. She patted his face gently. "Lex... Lex wake up." A groan caused Martha immediate concern. Turning to Pete she asked "What happened?"

"I was just in town and saw Lex surrounded by some of the tough football players. I stepped up to find out what was happening but it was cool because they left, no harm done. Then Lex looked sick so I offered to drive him home. I think he passed out. I didn't want to take him to the mansion and this is the first place I thought of on the way. If you think he's OK, I'll take him home but I wasn't sure if maybe he should go to a hospital." Pete looked at Lex with concern.

"It was good of you to help, Pete." Martha's smile was warm, proud of Pete's good sense and kindness. She was aware of the Ross/Luthor history. She turned her attention back to the young man in the car. "Perhaps, with your help I can get him inside."

Lex woke to the surprising vision of two beautiful blue eyes approximately six inches in front of his nose. He gasped and tried to pull back but there was no place to go. Martha Kent also startled and moved back. She had been trying to get her arms around Lex to pull his shoulders out of the car when he woke.

Martha straightened smiling at the blush burning on the cheeks of the normally inscrutable Lex Luthor. "Well, it's good to have you with us, Lex. You had me worried for a moment."

Lex was actually flustered and his eyes could only meet hers briefly before searching through the car, taking in the house and most shocking of all, Mr. Pete Ross also leaning over him with a look of concern. "How...."

Pete spoke up. "I drove you. After your encounter with Troy, you looked sick. Then when you passed out, I came here."

Lex studied the dashboard in front of him remembering everything and swallowing his embarrassment. "Thank you. I apologise for any trouble this has put you through..." shifting uncomfortably, "I should go. I'll send a driver to give you a lift home, Pete. I'm sorry I caused you concern." Lex bit his lip, realising he was babbling. He looked at the two before him and wished to God he could just disappear. Loss of control was beyond mortifying.

Martha, empathising with his obvious discomfort put a hand on his shoulder. "Lex, I think you should come in for some hot tea before you go anywhere. You still look pale and I need to know you'll be OK before you get behind the wheel of a car."

Lex immediately straightened "I haven't taken anything." His ramrod spine showed hurt pride and Martha blinked in surprise at his defensive reaction, not having meant that at all. "I've just been overtired with all the excitement at the plant." He looked her directly in the eye and Martha tilted her head understanding the last to be an evasion.

"Well then, a moment of rest and some strengthening tea is just the thing. Pete, why don't you come in too." Lex was not up to an argument. Hoping to make this quick and escape home, he agreed and lifted himself gingerly from the car.

Martha indicated that they preceed her into the house and she observed Lex walking with such forced casualness it was almost funny. Unfortunately, he appeared deadly earnest in his attempt to cover up some sort of physical discomfort. Walking up the porch steps, his knuckles whitened as he gripped the rail and Martha had had enough. She stepped up beside him and put a hand to his waist, unprepared for the jerk of his body at her touch. They both stopped and she looked into Lex's eyes. "Let me help you."

Lex felt the stress of the last two weeks overwhelm him. The caring in her voice almost undid him. Almost. "I can fend for myself. I'll survive this." He seemed to mean more than just what was ailing him.

"Sometimes, it's best not to have to do things alone. Come and sit down." She took his arm and lead him to a chair. Pete watched the exchange with fascination. Seeing a very human Lex Luthor unable to stand against the caring ministrations of Clark's mom. Martha crossed her arms. "Open your shirt." Lex finally understood by her tone why two large men like Clark and Jonathan Kent could be subdued by this woman. Not one to give in to direct orders he looked her in the eye, prepared to refuse when she smiled at him the way he'd seen her smile at Clark. Affection and concern, a look he had envied.

Lex moved to undo the first few buttons, then hesitated, looking at Pete. Martha stepped forward. "Surely you're not shy." she teased. Lex looked down again and opened his shirt. Martha gasped at the livid bruises. She helped him take the shirt off and was surprised that they extended all the way around the trunk of his body. Purple and red and blue, showing the beginnings of healing to yellow. "Lex, you should see a doctor."

"I have. This will heal with time." He started to shrug one shoulder but stopped when it hurt. "I've had worse." Lex's blue eyes held the assurance of experience. Martha swallowed the nausea that thought brought on.

"Well, you should be resting. I can put on some ointment that should ease the discomfort."

Lex lay his forearms on the kitchen table and buried his face in them, hiding from Pete's shocked look and closing out everything but the soothing sound of Martha's voice. He was so tired. He could take just a few moments to soak up the feeling of comfort. He knew he was too old for this... but if he tried, he could pretend she was his mother. It felt like a lifetime since someone had taken care of him. For just a little while, he wanted to pretend it was love and more than the kindness he knew she would show for any wounded animal.

Martha got out her healing ointment avoiding the obvious question. Pete was not so silent. "Who did this to you?!" his outrage was heartwarming but Lex did not have the energy to answer. Martha interrupted.

"Pete, Jonathan's in the back pasture. Please get him for me."

Once alone with Lex, Martha began to smooth ointment over his sides with a gentle touch, not repeating the obvious question. The cooling smell of eucalyptus filled the air. Lex let himself rest knowing the arrival of Jonathan Kent would require all his energy and concentration. The smart thing to do would be to escape to the mansion. For some reason, possibly masochistic, he wanted to stay.

Chapter 11

Pete returned to the cheery kitchen from talking to Jonathan Kent, only to witness Martha Kent bullying the usually formidable Lex Luthor into a flannel shirt. Lex tried to put his own shirt back on but Martha over-rode him with the practical explanation that her ointment would ruin the expensive fabric. She handed Lex an old shirt of Clark's that was looking a little threadbare and turned to put her medicines away.

Lex lifted the shirt surreptitiously to his nose, closing his eyes and inhaling gently. The big flannel swallowed him in warm earthy colours when he shrugged it on. It was hard to believe that Lex Luthor could ever look small but his tired face and sagging posture buried in a too large shirt made him seem a small boy, a little lost in the world. Martha came back, eyeing him suspiciously as if expecting a revolt. Lex looked at Pete helplessly. Sighing with defeat he tried to straighten but only managed to sway a bit. Martha, noticing Lex's movement, asked Pete to help her as she placed her hand under Lex's arm to help support him. She stopped his protest with a single look. Pete took his other arm and they helped him up the stairs to Clark's room.

As they entered the room, Lex realised where they were and dug in his heals. "Look, I've been enough trouble and much as I'm grateful for the help, I really think I should just go home." Sleeping in Clark's room might turn out to be the worst form of torture, not that he could admit it to Martha Kent.

"Don't be silly, Lex. You need rest and I'm not letting you go back to that big empty mansion. Clark can sleep in his loft. He often does. " Her tone brooked no arguement and Lex again, gave in. His curiosity was overiding his good sense. What was the old saying about the cat? He'd rest a little and leave later when the Kents slept. He could send a gift tomorrow as a thank you. He didn't care if they wouldn't accept it.

She helped Lex sit on the bed and bent down to take his shoes off for him. "Get under the covers and I'll tuck you in." Martha smiled mischeviously.

"Who could refuse that offer?" Lex teased back.

Lex lay down and his eyelids drooped immediately. Shaking himself slightly, he looked up at Martha and Pete and said simply "Thank you." Martha tucked him in and followed Pete out the door turning to see he was already asleep as she closed it. "Come on, Pete," she whispered "I'll take you home."

Pete followed her, explaining that Jonathan would be back as soon as he finished. He had not wanted to stop and risk being stuck with the soggy ground tonight's rain was to produce. He needed to finish and had figured Lex could wait. Martha was secretly glad that any confrontations would wait til the morning.

Clark walked up his long dirt driveway thinking again with frustration about Lex Luthor. He slowed down with surprise as he saw a Porsche with Lex's vanity plates parked near the house. A huge smile burst forth as he ran to the house making sure to keep his speed within reasonable limits. Unable to contain his excitement, he shouted "Lex!" as he started up the porch steps almost sliding to a stop as Pete Ross and his mother came out the door.

Martha stepped in front of him blocking his entrance to the house. "Lex is sleeping right now. You can see him when he's awake."

Clark looked down at her in confusion. "Sleeping... here? What's going on?" He started to move past her but Martha restrained him with a hand on his arm. "He needs to rest."

"Why?" Clark tried to ask casually as his heart thumped in his throat while remembering the threats of Lionel Luthor.

"Clark, Lex has been hurt." Clark started to push past her but again she stopped him with her words. "He's OK, Clark. You won't help him if you don't let him rest. You don't want to make things worse." Martha saw his reluctance. She held both his arms, standing directly in front of him and looking into his eyes. Clark knew his mother would not change her mind and short of pushing past her, he would get no further. "Let him rest. You can help me take Pete home. He'll still be here when we get back." She pulled Clark back gently by his sleeve and he walked backwards towards the truck not taking his eyes from the house.

Turning suddenly away from the house, her statement truly registered. "What kind of injury, Mom?"

"I think someone beat him, honey. My suspicion is it was his father but Lex hasn't said."

"No!" Clark interrupted and this time pushed past her to run into the house. It was easy to locate Lex and he stopped outside his room watching Lex sleep through the door. Lex looked ill and small in his room. Clark could not bring himself to disturb him. He lifted his hand to gently brush his fingers against the painted wood before letting it fall and turning back towards the stairs. He wanted to cry. His mother stood at the bottom of the stairs and held her hand out to him.

"Come on, we'll talk while we drive." Clark followed her slowly back out to get in the truck. He sat quietly, swallowing back encroaching tears while his mother drove out onto the road.

Pete sat by the door wishing he could be anyplace else. Clark's concern for Lex made him uncomfortable and he didn't know why. Maybe it was hard to see his best friend care for someone he'd never liked. The silence dragged on for the short drive to the Ross' big old farmhouse. Pete decided to leave things alone, already thinking that perhaps he'd ask Chloe if she knew what was going on. "I'll see you at school tomorrow, Clark. Thanks for everything, Mrs. Kent."

Martha leaned forward with both hands still on the steering wheel to look past Clark. "You did a kind thing today, Pete. I'm proud of you." Pete grinned to himself as they drove away.

Looking up from an intense examination of his hands, Clark frowned and said "Mom, I have to tell you what happened that night I came home late from making deliveries. I didn't stay late to help Chloe at the Torch."

Martha pulled over, sensing her son's discomfort. She turned to him and took his hand in hers. "Clark, what is it, sweetheart?"

"When I went to deliver the produce, Lionel Luthor was there." Clark could not look her in the eye as he spoke of what had happened. Martha listened quietly while her mind shouted with outrage. He'd hurt her son! Lionel Luthor had gone too far. Her hands gripped the wheel with deadly force, imaginig Lionel's neck there. She took a deep breath and smiled at Clark with reassurance, stamping out the urge to ask why he had not told her before. This was not the most important issue and Clark looked too upset to tackle that question.

"We'll have to tell your father when we get back."

Lex woke to brightness on the inside of his eyelids. Opening one eye slightly, he noted that brilliant sunshine was warming his face from a window set in a yellow painted wall. Lex did not like yellow. Cheerful colours had no place in a room for sleeping. Darkness was necessary and he'd fire whoever forgot it and opened the curtain in his room. Slowly it dawned on him that he did not have a room with yellow walls. He opened both eyes, groaning slightly at the brightness and shifted to turn his head away. This caused a slight ache in his side. Oh yes, bruising, how could he forget but he did feel much better. Smiling to himself he remembered how he got here. This was Clark's room, apallingly wholesome in all ways. Not even a sleezy picture of Britney Spears on the wall. Constellations. Maybe Clark did look at more than Lana Lang through that telescope.

Lex put his hands down to push himself into a sitting position and stopped short when he touched someone's head. Looking down he saw Clark Kent half sitting and half sprawled across a wooden chair pulled next to the bed. Part of his chest, one arm, and his head were on the bed. Clark's breathing was even and Lex could see half his face in innocent slumber. Dark lashes against slightly flushed cheeks coloured a handsome profile. Clark Kent should've been illegal... well, actually, he was.

Lex could not resist the urge to run his fingers lightly through the silken hair. He'd wanted to touch it in a few fantasies but had suppressed those as quickly as possible. Lex had learned not to hope for the impossible. He also knew to recognise a rare opportunity. He decided to indulge, realising that he'd been doing just that since coming to the Kents yesterday. He needed to do Pete Ross a favour for bringing him here.

Lex pulled his hand back as Clark stirred, opening his eyes slowly and giving Lex a warm smile.

"Good morning." Lex responded with a slower smile unsure of his reception from Clark but encouraged by his presense. This would be awkward.

Clark Kent however, made things easy. "I was so worried about you. Are you all right?"

"Who wouldn't be better after your mother's worked her magic? I'm fine." Sitting forward he tapped his chest with one hand indicating his good health. "I was just overtired. Now that I'm good as new, I should be going." Lex started to get up but Clark held him back on the bed with sudden annoyance.

"You're not going anywhere until we talk. I've been trying to see you. I've been worried sick and you've been hiding. What's with you? I thought we were friends." Clark's voice was becoming louder as all the hurt of the last week came back to him. "You cut me out pretty easily. Does our friendship mean so little to you? Do I?"

"Look, Clark, you know the reason I didn't want you involved. Look at all that's happened. Imagine if this had happened to you. I couldn't live with myself. I needed to protect you and your family. My father was willing to keep you out of things if I did too. If I leave now, we still might keep you and your family out of it."

"You can't keep me out of it. I care about you, Lex." Clark tried to will Lex to see his feelings.

"I care about you too... and your family. That's why I'm doing this. I need you to see it and leave things alone."

"I CAN'T! Lex, I want you to know how I feel about you. It's been killing me not to see you."

"Look, Clark, you have lots of friends. One less is not the end of the world." Lex tried again to get out of bed and end this while he still had the willpower. A beautiful sleep-mussed Clark Kent was not helping.

"It is when it's you." Clark's heart was in his eyes and Lex understood his meaning in a sudden jolt, freezing him in place. God, all he'd ever wanted was in front of him, finally returning his feelings. How could he say no? He reached out to put a palm against Clark's cheek and Clark turned to kiss it gently.

"This is not good." Lex said sadly.

Clark pulled back quickly, hurt and embarrassed. He looked at the blanket on the bed and his voice became small. "I know you don't feel the same. I promise I won't mention it again but I still want to be a part of your life. Please Lex, can we still be friends?" Lex was silent for a moment as he again felt a stab of pain at the hurt he was causing. He should tell Clark he didn't care. He could walk away. His damaged soul, questionable past, myriad of secrets did not warrant this. Clark was goodness and innocence and if he left him alone he might stay that way. Lex had tried to be noble but fate had brought him here. He just couldn't turn away.

"God, Clark, I want to be more than friends. I've been in love with you for a long time now, I just don't want to hurt you. Anything to do with me will bring you pain, if not through my actions then through my father's. It's not smart to get involved with me and I should be able to step away."

"Please, Lex?" Clark was pleading and Lex knew it was more than he deserved.

Lex was talking more to himself now. "How can I walk away? You are so beautiful and so good. You make me feel that I can be a better person. It's more than I thought I'd ever have."

"Lex, you are a better person than you think you are. If you need me to show you, then you'd be silly to turn away. I on the other hand am not as good as you obviously think. Now shut up and kiss me." Clark bent forward and placed his lips gently on Lex's. His hand moved up slowly to cup the back of Lex's head and Lex sighed in surrender. Soft full lips nipped gently at his and he opened his mouth without thought. Clark's tongue traced his bottom lip, then moved in to touch his own.

"Clark? Breakfast is on and chores can't wait." The voice of Jonathan Kent on the other side of the door, made them jump. Lex hit his head on the headboard and Clark chuckled with happiness.

Rubbing his head and thankful for the return to sanity, Lex looked stern. "We'll talk more later. This is not resolved." Clark beamed as if he hadn't heard a word.

Lex sat on the Kent couch and tried to gather his strength. Jonathan had returned and spoken to his wife last night. He'd had lots of time to consider this.

Thank heavens Lex had not been subjected to an inspection of his wounds. Jonathan Kent sat across from him. He smelled faintly of the barn, his weathered but still handsome face was unreadable as he studied Lex in silence. Lex did not squirm; that had been drummed out of him a long time ago. He met Jonathan's look as evenly as if they were about to discuss the weather.

Finally, Jonathan broke the silence. "Do you want to tell me about this?"

Lex smiled ruefully, turning on his most charming smile. "Only if I have to." Jonathan looked at Lex with mild disgust and sorrow. Lex sighed with resignation, seeing no reprieve. "This is a message from my father. I am expected to return to Metropolis and to his control. I've been removed from my position at the Smallville plant to give me no place else to go. This was merely proof that I have no protection without him."

"How did it happen?"

"An old enemy took revenge." Lex put up a hand to stop the next question. "No, I never injured him but I humiliated him. He caught me alone and with a little help from two thugs made his point painfully well, making sure to give me my father's regards."

"Are you saying your father sent them to beat you?" Scepticism, thy name is Jonathan Kent.

"No, my father let it be known that he would not retaliate. Possibly even hinted at rewards for helping me see the error of my ways. Seeing that the gentleman, and I use the term loosely, who did this will take over my position at the plant, I'd say my guess was pretty accurate." Lex looked defeated. Jonathan took note of the exhaustion in the set of Lex's shoulders. He was unmoved.

"I've dealt with your father in the past. I admit it's made me doubt your true character. The fact that you are injured on my doorstep does not change that. It does however, give you a chance to convince me that my son will not be hurt because of his association with you."

OK, no pulled punches today. Lex decided to return the favour. "I can't guarantee that. You've probably noticed I've tried to distance myself recently. I'm sure Clark told you that my father threatened him."

A very quiet pause followed this. Jonathan Kent had pursed his lips. "How about you give me your version?" His fists tightened but his temper was firmly in check.

Lex shifted in discomfort, mental as well as physical. The guilt of having involved Clark once again overwhelmed him. "I think I'm going to need a drink to get through this one." Jonathan frowned in disapproval and poured Lex a glass of water. Lex accepted it with a wry smile. Jonathan Kent was not giving an inch. Lex acknowledged a losing battle and decided that the full story would be best. "Clark came to deliver produce when I was not home and my father was there. He was in a rage and took it out on Clark. Threatening him and your family because of his friendship with me." Lex could only look at the glass in his hand.

Jonathan felt as if his nightmares were coming true. Threats to Clark and his family struck deep. Lex's confirmation of Clark's story to Martha made it real. He moved to look out the window and compose himself. This farm would always ground him. He turned and sat back down opposite Lex. "You'd best give me all the details and so help me, Lex, if I find out you've misled me in any way this beating will look like a minor injury."

Lex again made direct eye contact. "I know you don't believe me but I would never do anything to hurt Clark or your family."

"Just tell me the truth." Jonathan was unforgiving. Lex gripped the glass like a lifeline and told him everything. Everything but what was in his heart.

Chapter 13

Lionel Luthor played with the rock he'd picked up at Lex's lab almost two weeks ago. He'd pulled it from his pocket and set it like a paperweight on the corner of his desk and had just noticed it again. It was an dull green, of no intrinsic value. Its interest lay in its effects on living things. They had tried once to grind it into use as a fertilizer product. It had been shown to promote growth in some plants but that had turned out to be a disaster. Good thing that Jenkins fellow had died.

If he recalled correctly it had been involved in the disaster created with the reanimation of the Nicodemus flower. Lex obviously felt it had some potential and had been trying to exploit that. Personally, Lionel thought it all a waste of time. Better to stick with the known; experimenting in the unknown had merely been expensive. That was Lex's bent and one of the reasons he needed to be controlled.

He looked at the report from his security people in Smallville. It was true then that Lex had been staying with the Kents. Lionel was mildly surprised, expecting Lex to be smarter than that. Lionel had thought it would be over by now. Lex should have come home. Lionel had been confident enough to schedule a meeting of the board next week to establish Lex into a new advisory position from which he could learn and eventually be shuffled onto the board. All he had to do was prove his business accumen. Until then, he would be right in the thick of things, which would allow Lionel to watch and mold him.

Lionel had purchased the Smallville Savings and Loan, only to discover the Kents had moved their account elsewhere. Lionel had to smile at the thought that Lex was learning. He would need another ace up his sleeve. It never would do to walk into a confrontation without leverage. Lionel drummed his fingers and considered the problem. Clark Kent could be useful in this. He was valuable not only to the Kents but to Lex as well. Emotional blackmail had its strengths. Lionel had merely to go to Smallville and acquire the boy. It would also provide a certain personal satisfaction after the way Kent had grabbed him in front of Lex. No one touched him in that manner. Kent's boldness had been too much. It wouldn't hurt to educate him in the proper respect for his betters.

Lionel looked at the green rock again, recalling both encounters with Clark Kent. The boy's behaviour had been diametricly opposed from one occasion to the next; weak and frightened the first time, assertive and powerful the next. The only difference in the two occasions had been the presence of Lex and the green rock. Perhaps, with Lex to show off in front of, he had felt the need to rise to the occasion or had had he been merely too surprised during the first encounter to strike back? Whatever the cause, Lionel wanted him as submissive as possible. Lex seemed to believe the rock could affect humans, or so his experiment with the Nicodemus flower would suggest. Lionel pocketed the rock deciding to do a test of his own. If the rock was the factor causing Lex's pretty boy to be submissive, it would certainly come in handy on this trip. If not, it didn't weigh much in his pocket and he'd drop it back into the Smallville soil where it came from.

Well, enough of this, time to fetch Lex home. Moving decisively, Lionel left to join Dominic in the Luthorcorp helicopter. This was the last time he'd chase after his son. If he wouldn't come, well, Lionel had been thinking lately that perhaps a new heir...after all, he was not that old.

Lex Luthor was shoveling cow manure. Clark Kent, working further down at the same task, was laughing at him. It wouldn't have been so funny had Lex not had a look of disgust on his face while doing it. Clark just found the whole thing hilarious. The farmboy in him could not resist the opportunity to laugh at the rich kid's discomfort.

"You're lucky I already finished the chicken coop in the time it took you to put on your farming gear." A familiar chuckle followed this as Clark had been laughing at Lex in Jonathan Kent's flannels and jeans every day since Lex had been there. "Now there's a smell only a farmer can appreciate."

Lex sighed, constantly surprised by the things he would do for love. "Clark if that's the sort of thing you like, I'll have to seriously re-evaluate this relationship."

Clark Kent pouted like a small child and moved in close to Lex. "What relationship? You won't let me do anything." His face took on a dreamy look and he ran his long fingers down Lex's firm chest stopping to rest his hand at the loose waist of Jonathan's jeans. The reminder of Jonathan Kent was a cold splash of reality and it allowed Lex to step back from temptation.

Clark also seemed to come suddenly to his senses, possibly thinking the same thing. He cleared his throat and took pity on Lex.

"Look, Lex, I know you insisted on helping me with my chores but I think you can sit this one out. How 'bout you go back to the house and ask Mom if breakfast is ready. I'll be done by the time you get back."

Lex eyed him suspiciously, waiting for the next jibe. "Thanks, I think I'll take you up on that. I deal with manure at the plant, but as management, I don't have much experience with its raw form."

Clark's grin got bigger. "Surely a corporate raider such as yourself has a knack for shovelling shit?" Big round eyes of innocence looked at Lex. "Metaphorically speaking."

Lex was unable to contain his snort. He could not be angry at that big toothy grin when aimed directly at him.

"Riiight, for that one I'm not coming back. This hour of the morning does not exist in my daytimer. I am therefore, going back to bed. I'll take up farming after I figure out how to grow cornrows on my head." Lex headed for the house, smiling.

The last few days had been good, almost idyllic. He and Clark had set boundaries. While things with Lionel remained unresolved, their relationship could go no further. This did not stop them both from grinning foolishly at each other on a regular basis and indulging in an occasional stolen kiss. It was an unspoken agreement that nothing occurred in the presence of Clark's parents. That would wait as well.

Too bad it would all end soon. They were setting themselves up for a confrontation with Lionel Luthor, baiting him with Lex's refusal to return to the mansion, let alone Metropolis. Lex just wanted to make the final break and be his own man.

After speaking with Jonathan, Lex had gathered with the Kent family to discuss options. Jonathan had been surprisingly willing to get involved in the fight. Lex suspected he was happy to finally be able to do something to protect his family, sensing his frustration with their fragile finances. He and Lex had come to an understanding if not trust. Their mutual goal of protecting Clark had made them allies despite their differences. The first order of business had been to take away the Kents' financial vulnerability. That had been done fairly easily once Lex had contacted a Gotham bank and backed their loan transfer. Jonathan still refused financial help from Lex but at least their mortgage was with an institution that Lionel could not touch.

Lex had wanted Clark to stay home but the Kents had been surprisingly confident in his ability to stay safe away from the farm. This was Lex's deepest concern but he could not over-ride Jonathan and Clark's insistence that he continue going to school. Lex had finally insisted that Clark never be alone. Clark had subsequently arranged to travel back and forth to school with Pete Ross whenever he was unable to take the bus. Lex endorsed this wholeheartedly, thinking to himself that the son of a judge would be an intimidating witness even to his father and an excellent deterrent. Martha had also encouraged this. Lex still felt the worry in his stomach. It was taking his appetite and fragmenting his sleep. He did not underestimate the ruthlessness of his father, even if the Kents did. It may well be their fatal mistake.

Lex sighed and suppressed these thoughts. He entered the warm Kent kitchen and let Martha know that Clark was looking for his breakfast. She laughed with a comment about the boy's hollow legs and fell pointedly silent as Lex poured coffee and ate nothing.

"Are you sure Lionel will come here?" Martha asked unable to stop herself from repeating a question she'd already had answered. Lex smiled with reassurance.

"I am out of his control now. It'll drive him nuts. Believe me, he'll come if for no other reason than to deck me before he tells me to go to hell." Lex tried to make light of the situation. Martha walked over and gave Lex a hug which he awkwardly tried to return.

"I have faith in you." Martha smiled at him. Lex smiled back, amazed at how such a small sentence could make him feel. He was beginning to believe he would do anything to keep this family safe, perhaps even bargain with the devil.

Pete looked at his watch cursing under his breath as he realised he was late. He'd been talking to Erica, lost track of time and missed his rendezvous with Clark. Clark had asked Pete very specifically to accompany him home this past week, so he would not be travelling alone. Clark had been a bit sheepish during the request but Pete had assured him he would be there. Pete didn't mention it to Clark but Chloe had let him know what had happened with Lex's father, or at least an abbreviated version of it. Pete felt protective of Clark who much as he was large, was just too naive. Pete understood the workings of the real world. He may have grown up in Smallville but he knew he had a talent for seeing the bigger picture.

Pete took a shortcut through an alley behind the Talon. He was supposed to meet Clark there, as they had both had to stay late for activities. They had decided to just meet and walk home as they'd miss both bus runs. Man, it sucked having so many brothers with one car to share between them. As Pete rounded the corner, he could see the distant figure of Clark heading down Fraser's path towards the short cut home. Pete ran to catch up, shouting, but Clark was too far to hear. Again he ran as fast as he could, cursing Clark's considerable lead. Clark was nowhere in sight and Pete kept running through the woods hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Just when he was ready to stop from shortness of breath -- riding the bench in football was not helping -- he saw some motion ahead.

All he could see was a black car through the edge of the trees. It must have stopped but was pulling ahead slowly. It disappeared down the road towards the Creekside Foundry. Oh well, still no sign of Clark. Pete pulled out his cell to call Chloe, hoping to hitch a ride home and avoid a long lonely walk, but realised he had no service. He forgot it was a complete dead zone this side of highway 8. Oh well, he was a third of the way home as it was, having just run the entire length of Fraser's path through the woods. Getting closer to the dirt road, Pete noticed something red in the bush near the edge of the woods. Moving closer he saw it was Clark's backpack. Clark couldn't have dropped this on purpose. Pete looked inside seeing an array of books similar to the ones in his own pack.

Pete needed to get to a phone. After a brief look both ways in indecision, he headed back to the Talon.

Clark was mildly annoyed at Pete for not showing up and decided he'd waited long enough. He wanted to get home to get his chores done and see Lex. Every day away from him was its own pleasant torture. He wanted to be with him but knowing he would see him right after school made it go by faster. Clark felt himself smiling all the time at school. Of course he'd had to tell Chloe. She'd hugged him and been generous enough to be happy for him even when he knew deep inside it hurt her a bit. Clark wanted to run home at super speed but since the Phelan incident he did nothing this close to town. That did not stop him from running as fast as an olympic athlete, pushing the edges of human believability.

Clark slowed before he emerged from the trees to cut across the dirt road that led to the Creekside Foundry. He saw a car slow down. The driver was a blonde man in his thirties and he opened the window to shout "Is someone there? I'm a bit lost and could use some help..." He had a friendly voice with a British accent. Dropping his backpack and prepared for trouble, Clark stepped out of the woods.

"You must be lost. This road leads only to an old abandoned foundry." Clark's smile was equally friendly but he did not approach the car. The driver leaned out his window, holding a small map.

"Am I here?" Clark moved closer to point to the location on the map, when the back door opened and a large man got out holding a gun. The driver also got out and Clark immediately felt sick. He clutched his stomach in discomfort as the driver held a fairly large meteor fragment out in front of him. He was pointing it at Clark like a weapon, as if he knew what its effect would be. Clark tried to move back but the large man grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the car. He was unable to resist and found himself being pushed into the back seat. Lionel Luthor sat near the opposite door and smiled at him.

Lionel chuckled in self satisfaction. This was going extremely well. The boy really did have some sort of reaction to the rock. He definitely worsened with an increased proximity to it. It would be interesting to see his reaction when surrounded with it. Lionel watched the boy clutch his stomach and moan.

They were now heading to the Creekside Foundry an abandoned wreck that had been destroyed in the meteor shower. The owners had not had sufficient insurance and it had been left abandoned for years. Luthorcorp had bought the place as its source for meteors during the fertiliser experiment that had ended so disastrously on level three. They'd left it mostly untouched since then but there had been a boy accidentally killed by falling equipment there last year. It was the Arkin boy whose mother had also recently passed, luckily for Luthorcorp. With no closer relatives, there was no one to pursue a law suit. Luthorcorp had since set up a regular patrol by their security and the police to keep out tresspassers. It would be an excellent place to hide the boy while Lionel went to the Kents to negotiate with Lex. Lionel needed to keep the boy close in case the game required that he play him like an ace up his sleeve.

Soon they pulled up to a large factory with rusty siding, falling off in some places. Large rents could still be seen along one side of the building. The car pulled around back where a large black limousine was parked near a single small door in an intact wall. Dominic got out first and nodded to the security guard who had just rechecked the premises. Lionel emerged next and smiled at Dominic, pleased with the events so far and acknowledging the need for few witnesses. His driver/bodyguard pulled Clark unceremoniously from the car. They'd wrapped the rock in a cloth and tied it around Clark's neck. The boy appeared to be getting worse and Lionel realized it could be inopportunely fatal.

They moved into the building and across to a wooden office built at one end of the large structure. Pulling Clark inside they tied his hands together and hooked them on a crossbeam jutting out at an angle to support the still solid ceiling. He hung limply, unable to support his own weight. Lionel untied the rock from around the boy's neck and backed away slowly to gauge his reaction. The greenish tinge became less apparent as he moved away but did not disappear even as he left the office. Looking around, Lionel took note of the fragments scattered throughout the warehouse.

"This should be sufficient to keep him under control until I return." Lionel watched as the figure tied to the post tried to regain his feet, from his almost kneeling position.

Looking out from under a fringe of dark hair, bright eyes blazed with hatred. Sweat was matting Clark's hair to his forehead and he spoke with visible effort. "You can't do this. Lex.."

Lionel cut him off. "I'll do as I please. Your reaction to these rocks is most interesting. Perhaps if Lex behaves I'll let him have you back. I'm sure he'll want to investigate this."

"Lex would never hurt me." Clark was panting as Lionel moved the rock closer.

"You really believe that, don't you. Lex has never done anything in his life without benefitting in the end. He'll get over you, pretty as you may be. He may think he cares now but he's young and still learning the meaning of true power. He's still my son."

"Not in his heart."

"We'll see soon enough." Lionel turned back to Dominic. "Between these rocks and this," he handed Dominic a gun, "he should give you no trouble. We'll be back soon."

Clark watched Lionel sweep out of the office in his long black coat, followed by the bodyguard and closed his eyes in despair. He had to do something but he felt so weak he could barely stand. Dominic and the security guard settled on crates near the office door waiting for their master's return like the spineless lackeys they were. Clark wanted to break them in half. He tried again to stand up but merely attracted Dominic's attention. Walking over, he laughed at Clark's struggles.

"So you're the cause of Lex's downfall. I really should thank you. Mr Luthor has come to depend on me much more now that his son has adopted Smallville as his home." Dominic was gloating. "I hope Lex defies his father. I'll be rid of him and his arrogance." He reached out to lift Clark's chin and make eye contact. "We can put you to good use, I'm sure." Dominic smirked meaningfully. "Unless, of course, Lionel just decides to get rid of you."

Dominic played with the meteor in his hand and moved forward, his lips near Clark's ear. Clark's vision blackened as he heard the whispered words, "Maybe Lionel will let me kill you both."

Clark glared at Dominic, shocked at the hatred he saw in the other man's eyes. Dominic smiled and hit him with the fist holding the meteor. Clark lost conciousness.

Pete doubled over in exhaustion as he reached the door of the Talon. Hands on knees, blowing dirt off the sidewalk with the force of his breath, he took a moment to slow his heart rate. He walked in and realised Chloe was not there. Pulling out his cell phone, gratified to see it was working at last, he hit the speed dial.

"Yeh!" came the loud reply.

"Chloe, where are you?"

"Just finished at the Torch and heading to my car. What's up?"

"I think Clark might be in trouble but I need to find out where he is and fast. Pick me up at the Talon and step on it. This could be important." Pete's voice held fear. Chloe took a moment to look at her cell in consternation before rushing to her car. She knew Pete was supposed to be walking home with Clark for security reasons, and if Pete had lost him somehow...

Pete hung up and stared out the door of the Talon willing Chloe to appear faster.

"What's wrong, Pete?" Lana Lang approached him gracefully with a look of genuine concern. "I thought you were supposed to be walking home with Clark?" Pete knew Lana and Clark had become friends but he doubted Clark had included her in this.

"Well, Clark went ahead without me." He shrugged one shoulder up, trying to appear nonchalant.

"Then why are you holding his backpack?"

"Ummm" Alright Pete, face the fact that you'll never have a career in espionage. "I found it on the path. Chloe's gonna pick me up and we're going to look for Clark." Pete saw Lana's concern, looked into her big liquid eyes, and the confession was out before he could stop it. "I think he might be in trouble."

"Shouldn't you call his folks?"

"And tell them I lost him?!" Pete almost squeaked. Lex Luthor was not the only one with a healthy respect for Jonathan Kent. "Geez, I was supposed to keep an eye on him."

Whitney took this moment to join in and asked in confusion, "Who's lost?"

Lana turned back with an affectionate smile. "Clark."

"Kinda big to lose isn't he?" Whitney was half smiling. Pete was getting annoyed.

"OK, look, Clark is involved in some kind of a fight between Lex and his dad. Clark's been threatened and I was supposed to stay with him to prevent anything happening. I'm a little bit late and the big, dumb jerk leaves without me! Now I found his backpack on the path and that's awfully suspicious. He may be OK but I've got to find him to be sure. I don't want to scare his folks if it's nothing." Pete's shifted restlessly from foot to foot looking again out the door.

Just then, Chloe's red car came into view. Pete was about to escape when Lana elbowed Whitney in the ribs. Looking at him meaningfully and nodding towards Pete, Whitney reluctantly understood.

"I'll go with you."

Pete hesitated but Whitney didn't give him a chance to protest. "Look, I owe Clark anyway. If I can help, I want to, and besides a little extra muscle may come in handy." Whitney smiled, warming up to the idea as he spoke. Pete looked at the tall muscular blond, considering the possible need for backup and agreed.

Lana wished them luck then changed her mind. "I'll come too. We'll take Whitney's truck and follow you. If we have to split up to search, no one will have to go alone. I'll just ask Zoe to call Clark's parents if she doesn't hear back from us in half an hour. If he's safe, we should know by then, if not, they'll want to search too."

Pete nodded, then ran to Chloe's car and jumped in. Pete filled Chloe in on the details as they drove down the Foundry road. Lana and Whitney followed in Fordman's latest bright red truck. Both vehicles pulled over well before the newly built gate that blocked the drive into the foundy. By mutual consent, they parked off the road near Greg Arkin's old treehouse. They left them there and ran to the much older fence that actually surrounded the site. A long black limousine was pulling out of the gate.

The black car that Pete had seen was nowhere in sight. This was the only destination on this road. It had to be here.

"Are you sure they came this way?" Chloe hissed as Lana and Whitney joined them.

"Yes. We won't know if he's in there if we don't look. Come on." Pete motioned for them to follow as he snuck through a hole in the fence. The others followed.

"How'd you..." Chloe pointed to the hole.

"Clark and I used to come here as kids but he never stayed long. Clark always got sick around this place and when Greg started to dare him to go in, we stopped coming." Pete shrugged. They walked along the bushes then dashed through the long uncut grass to look in a broken window. Clark, a blonde man, and what looked like a bodyguard were at the other end of the long open building in an old wooden office. The door was open and there was a large window that looked out on the workroom floor. Lana gasped when she saw that Clark was barely standing. His arms were tied to a post above his head. Pete signalled for them to follow and they moved to a torn opening near the end of the building. They crawled through and approached the end of the office, looking through the plank siding that made up the walls of the rickety structure.

Chloe gripped Pete's arm and Lana leaned slightly into Whitney for comfort as they looked inside. Clark looked sick. He was putting considerable effort into standing upright and swayed drunkenly as he tried to focus on the room. His arms were held above his head but his weight was not on them. If he could just keep standing his position would not be too uncomfortable. He rubbed his forehead on his upper arm trying to clear his eyes of sweat and almost lost his footing. Chloe's grip on Pete's arm began to hurt as she felt outrage begin to burn in her chest. This was her friend Clark and someone was hurting him.

"We need to go get the police." Lana whispered, her eyes were large with worry. Whitney held her hand and agreed with her completely, looking for confirmation from the other two.

Chloe sighed and rolled her eyes then looked to Pete for backup.

"We can't leave Clark like this. What if they decide to move him? We wouldn't be able to stop them and we'd never find him again. Besides, he looks like he's dying. We've got to do something fast." Looking back in, Chloe saw that Clark seemed to have rallied a bit and was arguing with the blonde. Chloe had never seen Clark look that mad. She felt a surge of pride at his bravery but it didn't last long as the blonde moved in close and hit him. Whitney started forward instinctively but Lana pulled him back. Chloe felt tears in her eyes to see Clark so helpless. They had to get him now.

"Chloe.." Pete could see his anger mirrored in Chloe's look. While they watched, Clark sagged and hung limply by his wrists while his assailant merely walked a distance away looking for a comfortable place to sit while he waited. Apparently keeping him undamaged wasn't necessary. Clark was obviously suffering. His breathing seemed to be an effort and his hair was matted with sweat.

Chloe turned away from the sight and grimaced with determination. "I have a plan."

"Chloe.." Pete tugged at her shoulder so she had to face him.

"Look, Pete, there's four of us and two of them."

"I don't like the sound of this." Pete was sceptical. Chloe straightened and looked at him with determination. "Clark has saved us all countless times. Are you going to take the chance and leave him here?" Lana nodded in agreement.

Pete looked hard at the blonde in front of him. "All right, what's the plan?"

"We'll distract them while you sneak up from behind."

"Oh. That's intricate and well thought out." Sarcasm dripped from these words. Pete was always the practical one when Chloe had a scheme.

"You got a better one?" Chloe had her hands on her hips her whispered voice becoming louder.

"How do you know they don't have guns?" Pete mimicked her gesture. Chloe generally travelled in straight lines when trying to get something done. Pete knew how to throw in a curve, often keeping them out of trouble. This situation was more frightening but the dynamic stayed the same.

Chloe considered this, knowing Pete. "We don't." She looked at the ground in defeat. "I just can't stand to leave him like this."

Pete put his hand on her chin to look in her eyes. Smiling a little, he tried to reassure her despite his own doubts. "It won't help him to get us killed. We need to consider everything." Pete looked to Whitney. "We need to be somewhere we can jump them before the girls get too close." Pete looked up remembering past dares in the girders above. "Give us two minutes, I know a way above that office. Go around the building to the other entrance and come in when you see me. I'll give a thumbs up when we're ready. You need to get them to come out of the door so we'll be behind them.

"Let's do this." Chloe was already removing the leggings she wore under her short skirt, giving Pete a lovely view of long shapely legs.

Pete put a hand on Whitney's shoulder, finding the other boy's solidness to be comforting. This crazy scheme just might work. Pete set his shoulders, taking charge. "Alright. Come on." A quick smile. "Time's wasting." The two ran further down the side of the building.

Chloe looked at them with a her eyebrows raised in surprise. Pete Ross in action gave her an interesting new perspective on her otherwise chronically cheerful best friend.

Lana interrupted her thoughts. " I think I know what you have in mind..."

Whitney followed the shorter boy as he moved confidently through the old building. Pete had said he'd played here when younger and was obviously familiar with the layout. This, at least, could be an advantage. Whitney thought back to how Clark had looked hanging by his arms in that office and felt his stomach churn. Had Clark looked that bad when he'd tied him up as the scarecrow all those months before? Whitney didn't want to remember. He'd pushed those thoughts aside. It was a frightening thing to face your own stupidity. Lana had helped him through and he loved her for it, but he needed to prove he was not that guy any more. This was his chance and he'd make sure Clark was alright or die trying. Clark had been good enough to try to be friends, had even helped him deal with his dad's illness. God, he owed him.

Pete was muttering about regrets as he stopped near a runged ladder that led to the metal rafters above. "We'd better take off our shoes. We're gonna have to be very quiet up there if we're gonna pull this off."

"Can you get us in a good position to jump them?"

Pete pointed up to the cross beam. "We used to swing from up there. Believe me, we can survive a jump and can reach a lot of this warehouse. Those ropes and weights will come in handy too. If we can't jump them, maybe we can pick them off."

Whitney looked up understanding what he meant. There was a virtual arsenal of potential weapons hanging above them. Whitney smiled with increased confidence. "I'll take the bigger guy. I still have a few pounds on you, Ross."

Pete grinned back. "It's a plan. We'll get up there and get in position. Give me a thumbs up when you're ready and I'll signal the girls."

Chloe and Lana rounded the building to approach from the other side. Each had adjusted their clothing to achieve the most revealing effect. Looking up and across from the door they could see Pete and Whitney moving in to position. Pete turned and saw them giving the signal to proceed. They entered the building from the other side. Lana adjusted her shirt one last time ensuring her entire midriff was bare. Chloe hitched her skirt a bit higher and they exchanged a knowing look. Walking with instinctive female seduction, Lana and Chloe came into sight of the office door.

Dominic stood, surprised to see someone entering the secluded building. He ran a hand down the front of his shirt, smothing away imaginary wrinkles, and moved towards them blocking the view of what was inside the office. "Who're you?"

Lana moved in close, oozing confidence she did not normally show. "Mr Luthor sent us. Didn't want you to get bored." She pouted and glanced up through her lashes. She ran a finger down his chest. "We've been well paid to 'entertain' you while he's gone. Consider it a reward for good behaviour."

Dominic was suspicious. This girl looked familiar. He looked back into the office making sure they could not see their captive from here. The security guard saw his look and came towards the door.

Whitney crouched on the foot-wide beam above and recalled that he liked football partially because it was on solid ground. He closed his eyes briefly, breathing in deep and calming himself. Pete had moved into position with the ease of long practice. Too bad Smallville's gymnastics team sucked. Ross had missed his true calling. Whitney clutched the beam to maintain his balance, running different game plans through his head. They wanted to move fast while the girls were still safe. Again he looked down, willing the guard to come out. They could not make their move until both were vulnerable.

Chloe had moved forward, beckoning the guard to come out with a crooked finger and a come-hither smile. Who knew the reporter could look so hot when she set her mind to it? The guard obviously appreciated it. Whitney picked up an old wooden counterweight. Its shape was mildly like a football though somewhat heavier. Weighing it with one hand, he found the solid feel of it comforting.

Dominic admired the lovely young woman in front of him but knew something was up. Lionel didn't give gifts. Even praise was a rare thing. These girls and 'girls' was the operative word here, were a bit too fresh faced for their attempted roles. Dominic decided it was not worth Lionel's wrath if he screwed this up. He grabbed the girl in front of him by the wrist and pulled her up against him.

"Who are you?" Dominic's face was inches from Lana's. Seeing this, the guard approached the second girl menacingly. Chloe backed up quickly, looking at Lana in terror.

Whitney's heart was in his throat and the adrenalin surged through him in a rush. He looked at Pete to determine his location, though he barely cared as he was about to act anyway. He stood up on the beam and applied all his skill to hurl the wooden weight at the blond man's head. He prayed that his aim was true. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Pete jump and land on the blond as he crumpled to the floor. Whitney then launched himself on the guard, knocking him over as he hit the man on his side taking him down with the forward force of his fall. The guard recovered quickly and tried to draw his gun. Whitney landed a punch sending the weapon skittering across the floor as the guard reeled. Recovering quickly the guard swung wildly. Whitney swayed back on his knees to avoid the blow and scrambled up to knock the guard flat as he tried to regain his feet. He grabbed the man's shirt front to push him hard against the cement floor stunning him with the force. Whitney lifted him again and let his anger out with the strength of his blow knocking the guard out cold. Getting up, he looked to see Pete had taken another gun from the blonde's jacket. The man had a nasty gash on his head and was also unconcious.

"Nice shot, Fordman." Pete's grin split his face. Lana ran to give him a hug. Chloe dipped her head slightly with a smile of approval. She picked the gun out of the guard's reach and put it into the waistband of her skirt. Suddenly bursting into a large grin, she ran towards the others and whooped with joy. She grabbed Pete in a hug that almost crushed his ribs. They all grinned at each other as the relief rushed through them. They took a moment to just breath in their victory, then turned to the office to get Clark.

Hanging by his arms, he looked weak and helpless. Chloe rushed to him, putting her hands on his face and lifting his head to try to wake him. Whitney lifted him from behind to take the weight off his arms as Pete untied him. He crumpled bonelessly and Whitney was surprised that someone that large seemed to weigh so little.

"He looks pretty bad. Do you think they drugged him?" Whitney looked at Clark's pained expression and heard him moan.

"Clark always used to get sick around here. I've never seen him this bad though. Maybe he'll be better when we get a bit away from here. His Mom said he's allergic to the chemicals they used to use and that traces of them still effect him. Maybe he's just had too much exposure." Pete picked up his legs and between the two of them, they managed to get him to the fence. Lana and Chloe followed behind after taking the time to tie Lionel's men up. Lana put her arm around Chloe, noticing the other girl's distress.

"God, Lana, he looks so sick." Chloe's voice waivered with fear and tears burned her eyes. Clark grimaced in pain as they jostled him through the opening in the fence.

"We've got him now." Lana reassured the other girl. The boys set Clark down near Chloe's car and he rallied enough to try to sit up.

"Whitney?" Clark's voice was almost a whisper. Whitney crouched before him and gently wiped Clark's hair from his eyes.

"You're safe now, Clark. Pete and Chloe will take you to the hospital. You'll feel fine in no time." Whitney tried to put all his feelings into his smile. Clark had always been kind and he didn't deserve to look as sick as he did now. Whitney started to stand up but Clark managed to catch his hand though his grip was not strong.

"Thank you. You took a big risk getting involved." Even when he was sick he thought of the others. Whitney tried to shrug it off.

"Consider it a payment of debt. We're even now. Next time you piss me off, I get to knock you on your ass with no regrets." Whitney's smile was all white teeth and camaradarie.

Clark snorted, though it ended in a cough. "You can try," he answered through clenched teeth. The world took a small spin around him.

Lana walked over to take Whitney's hand. "Enough chest beating, you two. We need to get Clark to a hospital. Whitney, you and I should go for the police." She reached out and held Clark's hand briefly. "We'll check on you later tonight. Call if you need us." She kissed Clark quickly on the cheek and pushed Whitney playfully on the chest when he protested. Clark said thanks again as the two walked back, smiling slightly when Whitney asked why the conquering hero hadn't yet been kissed. Lana gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek. Further protests got him an enigmatic smile and a promise of 'later'.

Lana gave Chloe a final hug. She and Whitney got into his truck and backed out to the road. Chloe pulled in a deep breath blinking away any tears. Clark needed help and there was no time for anything else.

Chloe jumped in the car and gunned the engine while Pete helped Clark get in the back. She turned the car and headed back to town. Chloe drove as fast as possible on a gravel road and Pete sat in back trying make Clark comfortable. "Don't worry. We'll be at the hospital in no time."

Clark put a hand on Pete's arm. "No hospital, Pete. Just take me home." Pete glanced at Chloe who was looking in the rear view mirror. She returned the look with surprise. Clark's grip tightened. "Pete, Mom will know what to do and I have to get home. Lionel Luther was going there. Lex , my parents...they could be in trouble."

"Look, Clark, you may think you can save the world, but you're in no shape.."

Clark cut Pete off. "Please, I have to get home." He looked again to Chloe who pulled over and turned around to truly see them. Though he held his hand to his stomach and was slouching in the seat, Clark's eyes were clear.

"Are you sure you'll be OK?"

Clark managed a smile, sitting up a bit straighter. "I feel better already." He used the Kent charm with full force. "Please?"

Her smile changed. He was obviously better. And trying to manipulate her no less. Her next words were half aggravation, half relief. "You scared the crap out of me!"

Clark's hand came up to touch the back of Chloe's seat. His fingers played gently along the seam as he tried to straighten out his emotions. "I'm so sorry I got you all involved in this. What you did back there was the bravest, though possibly the stupidest, thing friends could ever do for a guy. I don't know what I did to deserve you."

"I'm sure it wasn't nearly enough." Chloe looked to Pete for confirmation and he smiled as the world settled back into normalcy. Nodding sagely he replied. "We'll have to milk this one for all the gratitude we can get. Don't think you'll get off easy, Kent." Chloe's eyes were tiny arcs of happiness behind the sheer size of her smile. Clark could not help but return it.

Clark enjoyed their warmth but his worry for Lex was eating at his composure. "Chloe, Pete, please take me home." The moment was gone and they all knew that things were not finished. Chloe put the car back into gear and headed towards the Kent farm.

The afternoon sun warmed Martha's shoulders as she pegged another piece of laundry to the line. A gentle breeze ruffled the cotton shirt she had just hung as she pushed the line away from her, dragging the next part through the pulley. She bent to pick up another shirt when she saw Lex Luthor exit the barn. She took a moment to study him as he walked to the wood pile. He was a strong young man of good height. He'd asked to be allowed to chop the wood for the physical exhilaration that came with hard work. Martha had been surprised that Lex actually enjoyed this type of labour but then remembered that he was in good shape. He most likely worked out. Lex picked up the axe and drove it into the wood with a powerful blow. Lex was certainly strong enough but he still seemed a bit fragile to her. Emotionally fragile. With all she had learned of his father recently she was surprised he was as confident as he seemed.

She had been watching him, trying to understand him when she'd begun to notice the undercurrent between Lex and her son. Their shared looks were a revelation on their own. Martha had known they were close but Lex looked at Clark like he was a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. There was hope in that look. What had surprised her more was that her son returned the look. She'd spoken to Jonathan about it last night and they'd weighed their options, planning a response if it was indeed true. Jonathan was not happy but she knew him for the reasonable man that he was when his temper calmed down. Acceptance may take time, but it would come. For all their discussion, it came down to the simple fact that they loved Clark and would not lose him over his choice of partner, whoever that would be. They trusted Clark's judgement and he knew Lex better than anyone. He must see good in him to love him. She and her husband had agreed their view of Lex had changed. Jonathan was worried for Clark's future but Martha reminded him not to jump to conclusions, yet. They merely needed to be prepared.

Martha smiled again at the reality of LEX LUTHOR chopping wood in her yard. Lex was wearing a flannel shirt and jeans that still had the store folds in them from the package. Martha had picked them up, as he needed farm wear and both Clark's and Jonathan's clothes were too big for his slim frame. He had accepted them this morning with a polite smile of grattitude and reassured her that he was not destitute. He was arranging his finances and would have it all in order soon. Martha had told him to shush and just say thank you. Lex's eyes had warmed with his smile as he opened the package and Martha knew she was starting to love this complicated young man. Returning to the present, she saw Lex stop as something along the drive caught his eye. Martha turned to follow his look.

A long black limousine pulled up the driveway of the Kent farm leaving a low trail of dust moving across the field in its wake. Martha heard the wheels crunch on the gravel and walked onto the front porch to watch it approach. It pulled up to the end of the drive and came to a stop with a final puff of dust like a dragon's sigh. Nothing happened and Lex pulled off his gloves and approached Martha. Just then, Jonathan came out of the barn and joined her on the porch. Jonathan put his arm around Martha as they waited. Lex remained stubbornly beside them. The driver's door opened and a large man in uniform stepped out and rounded the car to open the door. He returned to the front of the vehicle to stand imposingly with his arms crossed. Another man similarly dressed got out of the passenger door and stood next to him.

Lionel Luthor emerged, dressed in his customary long black coat and dark suit. The breeze ruffled his hair slightly, made his coat billow and writhe behind him. With a final squeeze of reassurance to Martha, Jonathan stepped down from the porch. Lex followed to stand at his side. Jonathan looked at Lex with a silent nod, acknowledging his right to be there.

"Mr. Luthor" Jonathan did not reach out his hand.

"Kent." Lionel's response was curt, looking past him at Lex. "I've come to collect my son."

"I don't believe he intends to go with you." Jonathan looked Lionel in the eye. He was slightly taller than Luthor, and certainly broader. He didn't use this to intimidate. He remained neutral, wary, waiting for the response.

Lionel scoffed. "He'll do what he's told and be glad for it."

"Your son is an adult and makes his own decisions. He is a guest in my house and wishes to stay." Jonathan remained casual, nonthreatening.

Lionel barely glanced at Jonathan, treating him as a minor annoyance. "This is between my son and me. I suggest you take your down-home opinions and go back in the house."

"This is my property and I can have you removed."

Lionel looked him up and down, finding humour in the idea. "You wouldn't dare." He turned back to Lex with a sound that was close to a chuckle.

"This young man is under my protection while a guest in my home." Clark Kent was not the only one who could imitate a stone wall.

"Your protection?" The chuckle became real and full of contempt. "That is rich."

"The law will protect me. Here in Smallville, the police are not owned by you."

"Who needs police? I can destroy this farm. I can influence your ability to sell your questionable produce. A word in the right ears and you won't be able to beg for change on the street."

"You can threaten all you like, but I think you'll find I also have some influence in this town."

"Not enough to free your son."

"What?" Jonathan's body became completely still.

"Isn't the younger Kent getting a little late?"

Lex was also immobile. His face was a mask, his expression unreadable, his voice even. "What have you done?"

"The boy has been detained pending the outcome of this little meeting."

Jonathan grabbed Lionel's lapel as fear lanced through him. "Where's my son?!"

Instantly, the driver had Jonathan pulled to the side. Jonathen jerked his arm free but kept his distance from Lionel, trying to choke down his fear and anger. He had to maintain control or this could be disastrous.

"Where is my son?" He repeated slowly.

"Safe." Lionel turned to Lex, smiling. "For now." Lex felt his stomach drop. He hadn't expected Lionel to have Clark. He knew his father was not lying. He felt the cliff's edge under his feet. One wrong step...

Martha started for the house. She was hoping to get the phone to call the police but Lionel's second bodyguard stopped her, taking her by the arm and moving her to stand by her husband. She took Jon's hand for reassurance. His grip was strong and warm but he didn't take his eyes from Lionel Luthor. Jonathan refused to feel helpless. "You can't do this."

Lionel's eyebrows went up, amazed at the man's obtuse response. "Watch me."

Martha and Jonathan held onto each other. Lex closed his eyes, burning the image of two more people he'd hurt into his extended list. Time enough for self-recrimination later, he needed to concentrate on his father. He could not let his father hurt Clark. That first attack had been for show, a video for Lex's benefit. Lex needed to know how far Lionel would take this and if he would hurt Clark for the sake of revenge. It seemed unlikely his father would risk the ramifications of hurting Clark if it wasn't necessary. It would be inefficient. Clark was probably only leverage. Lionel should have no interest in Clark without Lex to control. This would be endless if he didn't try to take Clark out of the loop now. Lionel would have to have him held somewhere. Somewhere temporarily out of Lionel's own reach as he stood here on the farm. That meant Lex had time to feel his father out. Surrender would be plan B.

Lionel Luthor walked forward, a dark presence in the glow of the setting sun. "It's time to stop this game and come back to Metropolis. We've danced around each other long enough. You've sowed your wild oats and pursued your foolish experiments and it's time to do as you're told. Get in the car."

"I'm not going anywhere with you." Lex moved to stand within inches of his father.

Lionel grabbed Lex's arm pulling him close and hissing quietly in his face. "Who do you think is going to patch things up when you destroy your life? I know you, Lex. You'll revert to form. You're not cut out for farming, even with a pretty boy keeping you warm."

Lex's face was a well practiced mask. Smirking, his eyes made a slow journey over the older man. "What makes you think I haven't reverted already? Clark is pretty but young. I imagined I cared for him but he's a boy, in high school no less. The Kents are a convenient sanctuary until my finances are in order. When I come back to Metropolis, it will be without you." Lex didn't let himself react to the whispered "Bastard" from Jonathan Kent behind him.

Jonathan tried to step forward and the limousine driver pulled his arm back. Martha put a hand on his chest. The driver would not let his arm go. The second man loomed large behind them. All four fell silent watching the battle of wills between the two Luthors.

Lionel smiled, his eyes lighting with laughter. "That's very good, Lex. Do you practice in the mirror?"

Lex let his anger surge and almost spat the next words. "I won't be your puppet."

"You're nothing without me." Contempt, impatience. How could Lex be so naive?

"I will live my own life." Lex's eyes narrowed with rage. "You taught me a long time ago that you don't care. These people have shown me kindness that I've never had from my own father. Why couldn't you have left Clark alone? I thought we had an agreement."

"You had one, Lex. I don't make promises. It's something I've tried to teach you." Lionel appeared satisfied, as if the arguement was over. "You'd best pack." Lex began to feel helpless. He couldn't leave Clark in his father's grip. He turned to the Kents but could see only worry in their eyes. He looked again at his father who leaned slightly forward and whispered in his ear, "Play your cards right and you can keep the boy. He has some interesting secrets that the Kents are desperate to hide. You can have him once we find out more about him. The Kents will be easily controlled, don't worry."

Lex jerked back and away from his father with disgust. "God! You never change."

Adjusting his tactics with the speed his father taught him, Lex schooled his face to be the picture of sincerity. "Let Clark go, forget about any secrets and I'll come back and be exactly as you ask." Lionel recognised the look.

"Don't pretend with me, Lex. You made the fatal mistake in caring for riff-raff."

"My fatal mistake was ever caring for you, you unholy bastard. Do you know how much pain the Luthor name has caused me? God, I'd give it up tomorrow if it would rid me of you." Lex was talking through his teeth. "I cringe at the thought that my mother ever had anything to do with you!"

His face contorted with rage, Lionel grabbed Lex by the front of his shirt.

"Pull over here." Clark's voice was strong and he seemed no worse for his recent ordeal. They were approaching the Kent farm. Chloe pulled over on the side of the road before they were in view of the house.

"Look, Clark, Lana and Whitney went for the police. I know this is some sort of thing with Lex and his dad." Chloe turned around in her seat to look at him. She placed her hand on the back of the seat and rested her chin on it. She looked at Clark expectantly.

Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath trying to clear his head. "I don't know if I want them here. Let me find out what's going on with Lex. I'll go in through the field and maybe, I won't be seen. We all know how well the element of surprise works." Clark grinned at his friends, amazed again at their recent bravery. Would he be so bold with no powers to protect him?

Chloe and Pete grinned back still high from their adventure. Pete sobered first. "It could be dangerous. Extra help won't hurt."

"More people in danger won't help either." Clark's concern was well founded. He opened the door and got out, leaning back down to speak to them. "Let me go first. If I need help, I'll come back and let you know. If I'm not back in 15 minutes, come and get me." He grinned and didn't give them time to answer. Turning away, he leapt deftly over the fence heading off through the field.

Chloe looked at Pete and shrugged. Clark had always been wierd. Pete just shook his head in resignation and checked his watch. "I'll give him 15 minutes, then we're driving up that driveway."

"Clark takes too many chances. It's amazing we haven't had to rescue him before." Chloe smiled at Pete with confidence. Who would have guessed that they'd become a rescue team?

Clark approached from the far side of the house. Seeing the limo in the drive, he'd sped around to the back to remain unseen. Lionel and Lex were arguing as his parents stood by the limousine flanked by two large men, obviously in Luthor's employ. The two Luthors were almost spitting at each other in rage. Clark admired Lex's ability to stand head to head with the fightening black presence of Lionel Luthor. Clark's experience with the man had given him a healthy respect for how scary he could be. He watched as Lionel moved forward, suddenly becoming physically threatening. Clark felt a stab of fear. He would not let Lionel Luthor hurt Lex again. He moved silently closer to hear what was said.

Lex was almost whispering as his light eyes shone with pure hatred. "I cringe at the thought that my mother ever had anything to do with you!"

Lionel grabbed Lex by the front of his shirt, his face contorted with rage. He pulled the younger man forward, raising a fist in blind fury, but was suddenly knocked over by a blur of blue. The green eyes of Clark Kent, slanted with hatred, were inches from his own. Clark had him by the throat.

Lex staggered back, stunned by the sudden change of circumstance. Blinking to re-orient himself, he gasped as Clark exhibited his strength, lifting Lionel from the ground. Lex turned to look at Jonathan in surprise and noticed the silver flash in the hand of the limo driver next to him.

"No!" Lex made the only move he knew he had time for, and leapt in front of Clark as the gun went off. Searing pain shot through his side and he fell against Clark, who turned releasing Lionel, only to catch Lex with lightning reflexes. Clark lowered them both to the ground, sitting on his knees and cradling Lex against his chest. Horrified by the blood spreading on Lex's chest, Clark looked to see his mother running towards him. Lionel backed up to the limo never taking his eyes off Lex. Jonathan fought the bodyguard behind them. He fell with a blow from the large fist of the driver.

Brushing his hands together, having finished with Mr. Kent, the driver turned to Lionel Luthor. Lionel backhanded him with all his anger.

"You idiot." The slighter man exuded menace as he told his bodyguards to get in the car and wait. Turning back he approached Lex. Clark Kent's eyes were swimming with tears, rocking Lex back and forth slightly.

Lex shifted slightly, pushing against the solid bulk that seemed to be trying to absorb him. "Clark, I'm OK. I'll survive."

Clark gave Lex an intent look, as if he could see right through him. It seemed to calm him and the corner of his mouth quirked up. "You've got to stop scaring me like that. My heart can't take it."

Lex never wanted to kiss anybody so much in his life. "Don't worry, Clark. I'll take care of your heart." They took a moment to reassure themselves of each other's safety.

Lionel couldn't suppress a mild shudder as he looked down at the pathetically weak young man he had called his son. Who was he trying to fool? Lex would not change. Lionel Luthor would never have become a corporate giant if he didn't know when to cut a bad loss. Lex required more effort than he was worth. Without the Kent boy up his sleeve, Lex would not be controlled. This was currently a waste of time.

Martha Kent started towards the house. "I'll call for help."

Lionel and Lex spoke as one. "Don't." Lex could still take control, even while injured. He pushed a hand against Clark's chest, sitting straighter and meeting his father's eyes with strength and purpose. "We'll call Toby."

Martha looked as if she would protest when Lionel spoke. He gambled on a hunch. "If you get a doctor, he'll report the shooting. You really don't want to involve the police regarding that rather odd child of yours, now do you? I may have to reveal what I know." Martha hesitated, a sudden look of terror in her eyes. Lionel turned his attention back to Lex.

"Take care of this, Lex. If you want a new name you can have one. Clean this up and you're free of me." Lionel Luthor turned and walked back to get in the limousine. Bending to pick up the gun, Lionel wiped its shiny surface clean of any finger prints with his monagrammed kerchief and threw it on the ground, closer to Lex. "You're dead to me, Lex." He did not look back again as he got into the limousine. He could no longer be seen through the tinted glass as it pulled out of the drive and headed back towards Metropolis.

As the limousine pulled out of the Kent's drive, Chloe looked in confusion at Pete. Clark had just left minutes before. The two made a silent mutual decision and Chloe started the car. Pulling slowly up the driveway, they were unprepared for the scene before them. Clark was kneeling on the ground holding an obviously injured Lex, while Martha Kent knelt beside a dazed Jonathan. They watched as Jonathan Kent shook his head and started to rise. Barely allowing the car to stop, Pete jumped out and ran to Clark. Chloe followed.

"Clark, man, what happened?" Pete knelt down beside his best friend. Chloe ran to Martha, helping Mr. Kent to his feet. Jonathan reassured his wife that he was alright. He looked about to reorient himself, noting that Lionel was long gone. Chloe and Martha walked with him to the others. Martha kept a hand under his arm as if unsure of his stability. Lex pushed Clark back and sat up without support, grimacing in pain, but his voice was strong. "How did you get away from my father?"

"Whitney, Lana, Pete and I make quite a rescue team." Chloe proclaimed proudly. "We even knocked out the bad guys. Lana and Whitney went to get the police to arrest them. We came here but Clark insisted on coming up first, hence our late arrival." Chloe looked decidedly disappointed, then shrugged. "We'll tell you all the details later. Let's get you inside."

Lex looked startled as Clark lifted him with no grunt of effort and carried him to the house. The others followed. Pete entered last, as he had stopped to pick up the gun, holding it gingerly in both hands. He set it on the counter with relief, glad to be rid of the odd deja vu tingle to the feeling of it in his palm. Clark set Lex on the couch and opened his shirt.

"Mrs. Kent." She turned to see Lex looking at her with sharp, intelligent eyes, despite his injury. "I need you to bring me the phone." Martha started to protest but he cut her off. "I need to fix this... Please." Chloe handed Lex the phone and he dialed and spoke while ignoring the efforts of the others to make him comfortable. His first call was to Toby who claimed to be able to be there within the hour. The next call was to Lana, who said the police had gone to the foundry and did they need help? Lex thanked her and let her know everyone was fine and that Clark was safe. Clark took the phone from him as he hung up and set it pointedly aside.

Martha grabbed some clean towels and bandages. "Lex, hold still and let us check your wound." Everyone had been reassured by Lex's composure so the still-seeping wound along his ribs came as a shock. Clark cringed at the sight of white bone. Lex did not look. Jonathan took Chloe and Pete outside when Pete turned a little green, deciding to take the opportunity to fill them in.

"It's a good thing he was a poor shot." Lex smiled at Clark, hissing in a breath as Clark lifted him to remove his shirt.

Martha pressed a thick bandage against the wound and left Clark to hold it while she went to find something to bind it. Lex was caught off guard by Clark's lips on his as soon as Clark's mother was out of sight. It was a bruising, desperate kiss, to reassure both of them that they were alright. Lex gripped Clark's shirt with his hand, comforted in the soft flannel, rubbing his fingers over the hard chest that he could feel beneath. He moved his other arm and his breath hitched with pain. Clark pulled away, instantly contrite. His eyes were wide and his eyebrows lifted in the middle, in an endearing look of question and concern.

"I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?" A big warm hand came up and touched Lex's cheek.

Lex's eyes fell closed and he murmured a negative, shaking his head slightly. "I just need to hold this arm still. The other, however..." Lex again ran his hand down Clark's impressive chest but halted suddenly. "What's this?" He poked his finger through a hole in Clark's shirt, a bullet-sized hole. He pushed Clark back, looking for a sign of injury. "God, Clark, were you hit? Are you bleeding?" Lex's voice was beginning to rise, his composure breaking.

Lex felt a rush of fear; forgetting his own wound, he moved to open Clark's shirt but Clark caught his hands, stopping him.

"I'm fine. I'm not hurt. Lex..." Clark caught Lex's face between his hands and made Lex look straight at him. "Lex, it's over."

Lex Luthor, scourge of the Metropolis social elite, wrapped his good arm around the solid reality of a Kansas farm boy who loved him and let out a sigh. Just one. It escaped his control purely on the grounds that he was overwrought, and wounded and well, dammit, in love. Unfortunately the moment was interrupted by a clearing throat behind them. Lex backed up slowly while Clark blushed scarlet. Martha brought a roll of gauze and knelt beside Lex to bind his wound.

"You two will have to cool it till your doctor friend comes. You don't want to make this worse." She gave Lex a knowing look and then frowned at her son. "I know I can trust you to show restraint." Clark tried to cover his shock at his mother's knowledge of his feelings for Lex. Martha just leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Your father and I love you and are just happy to have you safe." She kissed Lex in the same fashion. "Both of you." Again her look was meaningful. "I'm going to get the others." Martha started towards the door but stopped as she saw the gun on the counter. She picked it up with two fingers and turned back to Lex. "I think I'll ask Jonathan to bury this." Lex nodded.

As she left, Clark leaned forward again to rest his forehead against Lex's. "I'm weirded out that my mother seems to know about us."

"Your mother's a smart woman. I'm just a little shocked that she didn't seem to mind."

"That's my father's job."

"I think Toby may have to wait until your dad is done with me to patch me up. No use wasting time fixing up what may soon be mere dead meat."

"Dad will learn to love you." Lex just looked at Clark with disbelief. Clark shrugged one shoulder. "In time..." Lex's look did not change. "OK. Maybe a long time. We'll just have to take it slow. But, please Lex? Not too slow? I need to get you alone... soon."

"Promises. Promises." The smirk was back and Lex's blue eyes were hooded. He ran his tongue along his bottom lip as if tasting Clark there and Clark felt his body tighten in response.

"Get out the hose, Pete. It's flaming in here." Chloe stood just in the door, with her arms crossed and a big grin. Pete was looking at the floor, flustered.

Lex had the good grace to look embarrassed, hiding his shock but not entirely surprised Clark's friends were also aware of their 'relationship'. Apparently, Clark's ability to keep secrets only went so far. Clark shot Chloe a dirty look and she raised her eyebrows innocently in reply, then walked further into the house towards them. Jonathan and Martha came in through the door. Clark was grateful for the fact that his parents hadn't heard what Chloe had said.

Jonathan and Martha exchanged a look. It was obvious they'd come to a decision while outside. With a final look at Martha for reprieve, and getting none, Jonathan gathered himself as if going into battle. He walked over to stand by the two young men and waited until Lex looked him squarely in the eye. "It was a brave thing you did today, Lex. I know I haven't given you the benefit of the doubt in the past, but you showed me today where your heart is. You risked yourself to save my son and there is no greater proof of courage and loyalty than that. Thank you." Jonathan held his hand out to Lex, who took it with a firm grip.

"Thank you, Mr. Kent." Lex's smile was that rare warm smile he had always saved for Clark. Chloe blinked twice, seeing past his usual cool facade and confirming that Lex did indeed have what it takes to return Clark's feelings. Pete's quiet look indicated that perhaps he'd seen it too.

Jonathan broke the silence. "So, how DID you get away from Lionel Luthor?"

That night, in the Fortess of Solitude, Clark leaned on the open window, arms crossed, looking at the stars. Lex lay on the couch enjoying the view inside the barn. Toby had done a good job sewing him up and left him with some minor painkillers. The most interesting outcome of Toby's visit had been the instant rapport between Toby and Jonathan Kent, giving rise to the theory that Jonathan, for all his traditional values, had a left-wing spirit. Lex had spoken to Lana again, not wanting to call the police directly, and she had been informed, with a warning about pranks, that the police had not found anyone at the foundry. Apparently, his father was doing his part to keep this private. Jonathan and Martha Kent had also been surprisingly easy to convince that this was best kept quiet, while Chloe and Pete had conceded the decision to Clark's parents. Lex sighed, relaxing into the old couch, pleased that this had been reasonably easy to cover up.

Hearing the sound, Clark looked back over his shoulder, breaking Lex's train of thought. "Do you think your dad will really leave us alone?"

"No." Lex shifted up a bit on the couch, considering the question. "He will for now, but I intend to re-enter the business world. When I take him on, he'll know it and he'll come out swinging."

"You don't seem too worried."

"I can deal with my father in the corporate board room. I have my mother's money and I'm using that to restart. Dad hadn't counted on me receiving that from Pamela. He thought he'd frightened her away but she willed it all back to me, as apparently, my mother had intended." Lex had told Clark of the loss of his former nanny and Clark could still hear regret in Lex's voice when he said her name. Clark turned around completely and walked to Lex, enjoying the lean-muscled length of the man as he lay completely at ease. Kneeling beside the couch, Clark put his hand on the backrest. He had his arm across Lex, not touching him but preventing him from moving from his reclined position. Leaning in close, bringing one leg up onto the couch to lean over Lex, he basked in the heat he could feel from Lex's body. His eyes narrowed with intent. Lex shifted slightly. Clark inhaled slowly trying to calm the rush of desire he was feeling at Lex's proximity.

Lex decided to lie perfectly still, letting Clark take the lead. A large, warm, beautiful, young man filled his view, blocking out the world and all future concerns. How could he not enjoy it?

Clark touched Lex's forehead with his nose, his soft lips outlined the eyebrow and followed it down to the outside of Lex's eye. Kissing there, then moving lower to kiss Lex's cheek, nuzzling against him. He smiled as Lex's eyelashes brushed his temple when he blinked. He moved across to take Lex's mouth and the kiss became hungry.

Lex groaned into that talented mouth. Soft lips sucked gently on his own, a tongue darted out to touch his upper lip. Lex felt the heat in his belly spreading as the teasing mouth stoked his desire. He couldn't resist the urge to move. Arching gently, he rubbed himself against Clark.

Clark gasped and returned the pressure. His hands roamed down Lex's chest to find the button and zipper that were keeping him from what he wanted. Lex put his hands against Clark stopping him.

"Clark, wait. It's not that I don't want to, but we need to wait." Clark groaned and his voice was pure teenage whine.

"I don't want to wait, Lex."

"Your parents are expecting us back in that house soon and I'm not going in with a guilty look on my face."

Clark rubbed himself one more time against Lex, eliciting a strangled moan. "How about a satisfied look?"

"Clark, you are not helping here." Lex's resolve was melting. He decided to redirect their thoughts. "I can't believe you weren't hit by the bullet that went through your shirt."

Clark turned away abruptly. He sat with his feet on the floor and rested his elbows on his knees, no longer meeting Lex's eyes. Clark looked at the floor and his hands came together in front of himself, playing with his own fingers. Lex knew the look of fear and uncertainty. The bowed dark head came back up slightly but the look was unsure as Clark spoke in a whisper. "The bullet didn't miss me, Lex."

"Pardon me?" Lex could not believe he had heard correctly.

"Look, Lex. I know you've always wondered about me and I guess I should have told you sooner, but there was never a good time, and it's been my secret for so long, and my parents said I shouldn't tell anybody and it could be dangerous and ..." Lex grabbed Clark's arms to get his attention.

"Clark, you're not making sense."

"Lex, I have secrets."

Lex looked into wide, hesitant eyes and said what was in his heart. "I know and I don't care."

Clark's expression didn't change. "They're big secrets, Lex."

Lex half smiled. "Do you want to tell me?" Lex didn't know what he would feel if Clark said no.

"Yes...I'm just not sure how."

Lex tried to be patient and reassuring, though his heart was in his throat. Was Clark finally trusting him completely? "Clark you can tell me when you're ready. I love you."

"I think I need to tell you while I have the nerve. You may not be able to love me after this." Clark again had that look of fear. He obviously believed his secret to be big enough to frighten Lex off. Lex smiled inwardly; at least being a Luthor had had the benefit of making him not easily shocked.

"I'm an alien, Lex." Lex Luthor remained silent -- perhaps he could be a little shocked. "My parents found me the day of the meteor shower. You did hit me that day on the bridge...but I can't be hurt. You should never have risked yourself for me. When that bullet hit me, I didn't even notice in the excitement." Clark finally looked, trying to guage Lex's reaction but found his expression unreadable. Clark waited but the silence became deafening. "Say something, Lex."

"Are you sure Dad's men didn't hit you on the head?" Humour was a good way to cover shock, wasn't it?

"I'm not joking!" Lex leaned in for a quick reassuring kiss and Clark fell silent. He studied Lex trying to decide what the other man was feeling. Lex's mouth lifted on one side, almost a smile, not really a smirk.

"I'm sure you believe it, Clark. I, however, require irrefutable proof which you can provide at a later date. Right now, I just want to kiss you." The corners of Lex's mouth threatened to break into a grin. Lex had realised he really didn't care what Clark's secret was. Clark had trusted him with it. Even if it was the most far-fetched load of horse shit he'd ever heard. He'd suspected Clark was a meteor mutant, delusional had not been part of the picture. Then again, Clark had confided in him and he would stick by him and help him through any therapy he needed.

Clark was getting annoyed. He crossed his arms and frowned."We have my space ship in the storm cellar. Do you want me to show it to you?"

Lex thought about this interesting development, deciding not to worry about it now. He reclosed the space between them and forced Clark to uncross his arms. He kissed that irresistable, pouting mouth and ran his fingers through the dark hair. "Maybe later. Right now, I want to touch you."

Clark wasn't going to budge. "Do you believe me?"

Lex realised he did. Perhaps not all the details, but that could be scientifically investigated later. Clark was taking away the one thing Lex had known had stood between them. All his old fears of rejection lifted with the revelation that Clark had opened up to him. "Yes" was his only reply as he kissed Clark again, running his hands along Clark's back and chest. Lifting the back of Clark's shirt he ran a feather light touch along Clark's spine, marvelling again at the soft skin. It could not possibly be invulnerable, could it?

"Look at me, Clark." Bright green eyes opened and the look was pure trust. Lex ached with the need to deserve it causing a concious decision to believe...for now.

Clark smiled sweetly. His hair was standing in every direction from Lex's fingers, his lips were swollen red and his clothes were rumpled. Lex knew nothing in the world could be more beautiful to him. Lex straightened Clark's clothes, tucking in the shirt. He fixed himself then took a moment to comb his fingers through Clark's hair, making him presentable. Standing, he held a hand out to Clark who took it to lever himself up on long legs. They assessed each other, Clark brushed dirt from Lex's shoulders and they grinned foolishly. Clark started to leave the loft but Lex stood still, feeling a moment of panic at the overwhelming need to keep this boy in his life. Where would they go from here?

Clark turned back, seeing Lex's hesitation, held out his hand. "C'mon Lex. We'll be late for supper." Lex stepped up and took that hand with his own. The grip was strong but not hurtful. Clark's smile was blinding. Lex had to smile back. Acceptance and trust, he had that here. He'd worry about the rest later.

Lionel Luthor sat in the glass tower of LuthorCorp, looking out the window and seeing nothing. He did not mourn the loss of his son, feeling instead the lifting of a weight, a dead weight. Lex and his imperfections had been too much work. Lionel would start fresh with a new wife and heir. It was now even possible to predetermine the sex of the child. Perhaps he should go the surrogate route and not bother with a mother's questionable influence. He had a lot to consider and didn't want to take too much time on it. He'd set aside this Thursday to truly look at the pros and cons.

Closing his appointment book, he prepared to go home, thinking, hopefully, for the last time about that small town in Kansas. Clark Kent had been an interesting anomaly; a nonaggressive meteor mutant was previously unheard of. Traveling to Smallville, however, had resulted in one unsuccessful venture after another. Lionel was happy for no further reason to return.


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